Tips on how to get started on zero-waste living

·4-min read
Zero waste shopping and sustainable lifestyle concept. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Zero waste shopping and sustainable lifestyle concept. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

By: Aarika Kim

Welcome to the Earth Month series, where we highlight environmentally-focused food as well as inspiring stories by people in Southeast Asia, to help you celebrate our planet.

You’ve probably heard of the term “zero-waste living” being thrown around more often lately. As its name suggests, zero-waste living is the practice of generating as little waste as possible.

In 2014, Asia generated 870 million tonnes of plastic waste, accounting for 43% of the world’s total. In Singapore alone, households generated an additional 1,334 tonnes of plastic waste during the city’s lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Worldwide, it’s without a doubt that the pandemic has generated additional waste thanks to all the disposable masks, gloves, and other single-use plastic items.

If these numbers scare you, there is still time to lead a more sustainable life and reduce your dependency on single-use items; you can take some easy steps to do that. Plus, with Earth Day coming up on April 22, what better way to get started?

Shop using a cotton mesh eco bag. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Shop using a cotton mesh eco bag. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Start by making a list of items or habits you often do to determine what’s realistic for you.

Before you embark on zero-waste living, make a list of all the items you regularly purchase, your purchasing habits, and what lifestyle habits in general are. An example of lifestyle habits could be that you often purchase aluminium capsules for your coffee machine, grab meat from your favourite deli on the weekends, or get takeaway pastries from a cafe near your place before heading into the office.

Once you’ve got these all figured out, you’re able to map out if zero-waste living is something sustainable and realistic for you.

Refuse additional packaging

As visual creatures, we’re always tempted to purchase items with the prettiest packaging. After all, if we’ve already mentally committed to purchasing a certain thing, we might as well go all the way and get the one that pleases us, right?

If you want to start leading a zero-waste life, opt for items with minimal packaging. It can be as easy as refusing to grab a plastic bag when purchasing fresh produce at the supermarkets or purchasing items from a wholesaler like Scoop, The Green Collective, Unpackt, and more.

If you live in Malaysia, NUDE The Zero Waste Store, Bring Your Own Bottle and Go Bulk are great places to shop.

Live in the Philippines? Echo Store, Human Nature, and Katha Lifestyle Store are your best bets.

Indonesia? Naked Inc., Saruga Package-Free Shopping Store, and The Bulkstore & Co are all available for your shopping needs.

There’s bound to be a zero-waste store wherever you’re based.

Learn to reuse items

From coffee grounds to eggshells, and glass jars, properly researching how you could reuse items or things considered as waste could be helpful.

For example, you could use coffee grounds and eggshells as fertiliser for plants.

What you can use: Textile eco bags, metal straws and tea infuser, eco-friendly kitchen tools, bamboo toothbrush and cotton buds, reusable cotton pads. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
What you can use: Textile eco bags, metal straws and tea infuser, eco-friendly kitchen tools, bamboo toothbrush and cotton buds, reusable cotton pads. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Try cutting down on single-use items

Once you’ve figured out what your lifestyle and spending habits are, you’re able to cut down on single-use items. For example, if you’re always getting coffee before heading to work, you can start taking a reusable cup with you. If you take away lunch often, why not bring a reusable container with you?

While these lifestyle changes might require some additional planning and washing up, they’re definitely worth it. Using a reusable container might even save you some money as more establishments are charging for takeaway cups and containers.

Consider composting

Food scraps like fruits, vegetables, and grains can all be composted. You might even consider getting a mealworm farm to help compost food scraps even faster, and their waste can serve as fertiliser for plants.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once.

If you’ve made it this far in researching zero-waste living, pat yourself on the back. At least, you’re trying.

Living waste-free can be difficult, and if your contribution to this movement is to bring a reusable cup or switch to a menstrual cup instead of using pads and tampons, that’s a good step to take. The whole journey of going waste-free is just that, a journey. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re unable to turn your entire life into an eco-friendly affair just yet.

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