The Zero Waste Home.
A guide to creating your zero waste
bathroom, wardrobe, kitchen + office.
bathroom, wardrobe, kitchen + office.
The Zero Waste Home
A guide to minimizing your waste generation
America is the king of trash. Estimates suggest that Americans produce around 4.5 pounds of waste per day, and while the US represents only 4% of the global population, they are responsible for around 12% of the global municipal solid waste (MSW) figure. Put simply, it’s time to take a good, hard look at our personal waste generation.
However, while those figures may be shocking, there are some people generating significantly less non-recyclable waste by reevaluating our “take, make, dispose” culture and adopting a zero-waste approach. This growing movement is designed to slash waste output and place greater emphasis on valuing resources, with the added bonus that it may save you some cash and give you a host of new skills at the same time.
So, if you’re interested in zero waste, or you simply want to cut down your waste generation, we’ve brought together a wealth of zero waste tips to help you get started. Read on to discover how, room by room, you can make a difference for the planet and begin to design out waste!
The Zero Waste Bathroom
When it comes to your bathroom, there’s an abundance of scented products wrapped in plastic that aren’t easily recycled. Add to this, disposable items such as toilet paper, cotton swabs, and other single-use items, and the smallest room in your house becomes the biggest waste generator.
Data taken from Zero Waste Week shows that in 2018 alone more than 120 billion units of cosmetics packaging were produced globally. In fact, Netherlands-based group LCA Centre found that if refillable containers were used for cosmetics, as much as 70% of carbon emissions associated with the beauty industry could be eliminated.
As consumers, we have the power to steer cosmetic companies to implement more sustainable practices and move towards sustainable and refillable packaging, and there are plenty of ways to vote with your dollar and increase pressure on the industry.
For example, swapping shampoo and conditioner bottles for bars will not only reduce plastic waste but take up less space too (both in your bathroom and along shipping routes from the factory to your home). There are also alternatives for face scrubs, cleansers, and moisturizers, and the option to turn your kitchen into a lab and make your own cosmetics.
Other Zero Waste Ideas for Your Bathroom
1. Plastic-free razors
Two billion plastic razors a year end up in landfill. Switching to reusable razors or plastic free options is highly encouraged.
2. Refillable makeup
Switch to makeup that is packaged in reusable containers or uses post-consumer recycled material. Additionally, recycle your used mascara wands through Wands for Wildlife.
3. Refillable deodorant
Spray deodorants not only create plenty of packaging waste, but also use hydrocarbons and/or compressed gases notorious for their contribution to global warming. Use refillable or zero waste alternatives instead.
4. Reusable makeup removers
Cotton production takes an incredible amount of water and other resources, and many cotton-based products in the bathroom are single-use. Try reusable cotton rounds instead of single-use makeup removers or reusable ear swabs.
5. DIY toothpaste
Traditional toothpaste is packaged in plastic tubes and often uses questionable ingredients. Why not create your own toothpaste when you likely have all the essentials in your home? A win for the environment and your smile.
The Zero Waste Wardrobe
The fashion industry is considered the second most polluting on the planet, and the rise of fast fashion over the past two decades is compounding the problem on a shocking scale. Not only does the manufacturing of garments create huge amounts of waste, but the garments themselves are very often damaging to the environment.
Did you know that polyester, and other synthetic materials, are made up of tiny fibers that are making their way from your washing machine into our water supplies? These tiny threads shed from the fabric have been found on shorelines and in fish on both the macro and the micro level.
A study funded by Patagonia found that on average synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers during each wash, with older jackets shedding almost twice as many when compared to new jackets. These fibers travel from your washing machine to your local wastewater treatment plan, with around 40% of them entering rivers, lakes, and oceans.
The best way to avoid these microfibers is to purchase clothes that are made of natural fibers. Of course, as consumers we can only purchase what is sold by companies and in the market, however, purchasing new “eco” clothing when we still have plenty of serviceable garments in our wardrobes is not always the answer. Using what we have to the end of its useful life and then mending wherever possible is an option. Alternatively, simply washing those clothes less often is also becoming more popular and helping to extend the life of wardrobes.
Other Zero Waste Ideas for Your Wardrobe
1. Buy recycled materials
Many brands are now turning to waste as raw materials within their products, recycling everything from ocean plastic through fishing nets to old tires.
2. Swap or sell
For clothes that are gathering dust in your wardrobe or no longer fit, swapping, selling, or donating helps minimize waste and conserve resources.
3. Microplastic bags
To help minimize microplastics entering the water, bags that can be used to wash potentially harmful garments are now available.
4. Repurpose and upcycle
Old clothing, particularly cotton, can be used as rags, filters, or filling for cushions. Additionally, with a few craft skills you can upcycle clothing into other items.
The Zero Waste Kitchen
Everyone needs to eat, and it’s next to impossible to keep your kitchen free of waste when the options at your nearest supermarket are double- or even triple-wrapped in plastic. Current estimates suggest that around 30% of garbage in the United States is from containers and packaging, and most plastic films and bags cannot be put in your regular recycling bin.
An easy way to avoid excess packaging in your kitchen is to purchase items in bulk. In many large cities there are stores that strive for zero waste, however, if you don’t have a packaging-free store near you, wholesale stores make it easy to shop in bulk, helping you reduce your impact on the environment and, in most cases, save money. By purchasing your pantry staples in the largest manageable size, the amount of packaging is reduced as well as the number of trips to the grocery store—saving CO2 emissions on frequent transport trips.
When it comes to plastic bags, recycling is essentially impossible, as they gum up the machines within recycling facilities and cause multiple issues. Some grocery stores have collection bins for plastic bags and films, but as always, it’s best to swap and switch to multi-use bags that can be reused instead of relying on single use.
Reusable food wrap, such as Bees Wrap and other brands have been created to eliminate additional plastic waste and provide a natural alternative to plastic wrap for food storage. Silicone oven paper is another good option to replace single-use items like parchment paper and aluminum foil. In many cases, these products can be reused within your kitchen to store food or cook with.
Minimizing food waste is another avenue to explore—with organics forming the largest single component of MSW in the US—and organizing your pantry to cut out waste is the first place to start. This should be an ongoing project, and planning meals around what needs to be eaten, rather than what you want to eat, will help you avoid waste by ensuring food never goes bad.
Other Zero Waste Ideas for Your Kitchen
1. Bokashi and composting
Composting food waste is not only reserved for those with a garden. Bokashi techniques alongside vermicomposting can be practiced in a home or apartment.
2. Using all of the product
Although having fallen out of favor, many “waste” food items can be eaten. For example, carrot tops can be used for pesto, broccoli leaves for salad, and potato skins for homemade chips.
3. Homemade cleaning products
Making your own cleaning products minimizes single-use packaging. It has also been shown to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in your home.
4. Make milk alternatives
For things like oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk, you can simply soak dried products in water to create your own milk alternatives and completely cut out packaging waste.
The Zero Waste Home Office
The home office is growing in popularity, with more people than ever working from home for at least part of the week. This means that all of that waste usually confined to the office, be that paper, plastic, food waste, and e-waste, will now need to be dealt with by you.
E-waste, in particular, is the fastest growing waste stream in the US, and striving for zero waste is highly important when you consider the amount of resources used in its manufacture and its potential toxicity when disposed of improperly. Additionally, the fact that e-waste is not easily recycled further compounds the issue, and so increasing awareness surrounding zero e-waste techniques is paramount.
Ensuring you use your electronic products for their entire life span, rather than upgrading unnecessarily, will help to reduce the number of devices in circulation. Additionally, selling or donating unused devices to someone who can use them will help keep resources in circulation.
One particular issue surrounding e-waste is planned obsolescence, and in an effort to combat this, the right to repair movement is currently gaining traction around the world. It’s hoped that the movement will increase pressure on manufacturers to design more easily repairable devices that can be used for longer, with the movement also pointing the way towards modular electronics that can be “infinitely” upgraded.
Other Zero Waste Ideas for Your Home Office
1. Move to the cloud
Moving and storing your data in the cloud means less demand on your hardware and a reduced dependence on portable storage devices.
2. Think twice before you print
Printers not only contribute to e-waste once units are no longer usable, but also more than 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are thrown out each year. Then, of course, there is the paper issue! If printing is necessary, source a responsibly-forested paper.
3. Use rechargable batteries
If your devices use regular AA or AAA batteries, use rechargeable batteries to cut down waste.
4. Buy cross-compatible accessories
Wherever possible, buy accessories that work with everyone’s devices. Alternatively, moving your household to the same brand of devices can cut down on chargers, power adapters, headphones, and cables.
The zero-waste movement itself is growing quickly, and today, there are many more options available to consumers than even two or three years ago. As it continues to expand, it should become both easier and cheaper for everyone to minimize waste and keep resources in circulation as long as possible. This, in turn, will help the recycling industry deal with “true” waste more effectively, allowing more materials to be kept out of landfill.
At this point, it is also worth remembering that zero waste is a journey and not a destination. Each step on that journey requires continual assessment and implementing some or all of these methods in your household will take time. However, starting that journey now will give you time to assess, sort, and plan–finding a system that works for you. Additionally, talking about your journey with others will help spread further awareness of how we can eliminate waste and encourage more people to get on board.