Today, we are all driven by the constant urge to consume; be it content, clothes, or food. Our lives seem to revolve around making purchases again and again. Now, while shopping sprees do tend to give us an endorphin rush, they are a terrible idea for a wide variety of reasons. Waste generation is at the top of this list. Think about it. How many times have you bought something only to never wear it or use it? And what of all the excess packaging of your e-commerce deliveries? All that goes straight to the landfills, adding to the clutter.
It is not just the environmental impact that is the problem now but also the toll the clutter takes on your mental health. Yes, you read that right. Overcrowding can actually affect the mind as well, making you uneasy and overwhelmed.
So what can we do? How can we make our lives simpler? First things first, let us cut down on all that waste.
What does Zero Waste mean?
Zero-waste, as the name implies, refers to a way of life that produces zero or almost zero waste production. It is a lifestyle that is focussed on reducing your own waste production.
To someone who is just starting out, the idea of zero-waste may seem extremely daunting. But the truth is that it really is not that hard. What is hard is sticking to such a lifestyle. A zero-waste living is not some trend. It is a way of living and requires you to be intentional and conscious of your consumption and purchasing habits.
The key is to make small changes to the way you approach your life. Remember, a zero-waste lifestyle is akin to losing weight; this is not something you can do in a day. It takes time and patience. If you rush into it, you will not be able to stick to it and the idea here is to create a lifestyle that you are comfortable with.
How to lead a Zero Waste life?
So how can you reduce your waste? We have a few tips that will help you:
1. Assess your waste
The first step to starting a zero-waste lifestyle is understanding where the waste in your household comes from. Are you buying too much junk food, clothes, cosmetics, or something else? Focus on the area through which you are generating the most waste and look for ways to reduce it, if not completely eliminate it. Try searching for more sustainable alternatives.
2. Ditch the plastic
We do not quite realise it but if you just sit back and look around your house, you will find a lot of single-use plastic. From bags to take away cartons to sachets and straws, there is a lot of plastic that goes unnoticed and straight into the landfills. Avoiding the use of such products can go a big way in cutting down plastic waste.
3. Reduce and re-use VS recycling
We are all very familiar with the 3Rs - reduce, reuse, and recycle. Often it happens that we are enticed to buy more of a product when it says ‘recycled’. Think of those apparels and shoes that are all made from recycled materials. We do not notice it but we might be consuming more and thinking it is better to buy something made from recycled materials as opposed to their virgin counterparts.
Instead of opting to buy anything new, make sure to use what you have. Especially for belongings such as clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery etc. take great care of them and make sure they last longer. Focus on reusing what you have and reducing your consumption.
4. Resist the urge to splurge
Giving in to temptation is something all of us are no strangers to. Once in a while, it does not hurt to indulge and pamper yourself but the trouble starts when you make it a habit.
5. Replace items that have run out
It is human nature to hoard. We all do it. It could be shoes, skincare, lipsticks, eyeliners, bags, or anything else. Collecting things brings a lot of joy. But here is the problem - neither is it the most sustainable thing to do nor is it kind to your wallet. Keep a one-in-one-out policy. Do not buy 3 vitamin C serums. Buy a serum only when your existing one runs out. Learn to love what you already have!
6. Sustainable swaps
Most of us do not notice it but there is a lot of plastic - especially single-use plastic - that has become a part of our household. By simply switching to more sustainable alternatives, we can all make a big difference. So here are a few easy and effortless sustainable swaps that you can try:
1. Reusable food wraps vs plastic wraps: Food wraps coated with plant-based waxes or beeswax have become quite popular today and for good reason; they are a more sustainable alternative to traditional plastic food wraps.
2. Reusable water bottles vs plastic bottles: Copper bottles have been a part of our culture and it is time to bring those bottles and jugs back! Copper in particular is known to help boost your immunity and help with digestion. Alternatively, you can also opt for regular stainless steel bottles and when you have a choice between a PET bottle and aluminium can, opt for the latter.
3. Reusable coffee cups vs take-away cups: Single-use plastic cups are not the best idea since they are difficult to recycle. Even the paper mugs you see actually have a coating of a plastic inside for insulation. So it is always better to keep a reusable mug or bottle.
4. Bamboo toothbrushes vs Plastic ones: This is probably the simplest swap. Most commonly available toothbrushes are all made of plastic and end up straight in the landfills. Given how many toothbrushes we go through in a year, making the switch to a sustainable bamboo-based alternative can make a big difference! Similarly, you can even switch to Neem combs.
5. Metal straws vs Plastic straws: Today, you will find a wide variety of reusable straws to replace the single-use plastic ones. Reusable straws can be paper-based or metal-based. Use whichever you prefer.
6. Home Cutlery vs Plastic Cutlery: Think about it: do you ever use that plastic cutlery that comes with your takeaway meals? No? Well, reach out to the restaurant or food delivery place and tell them not to send you any cutlery. Plastic cutlery is generally not made of recyclable plastic so it is better if you avoid it.
7. Cloth bags vs Plastic bags: If you are going grocery shopping, carry a cloth bag with you. Or better yet, you can even turn your old t-shirts into cloth bags. There are a great number of DIY videos for the same.
8. Tea strainers vs Tea bags: Say goodbye to single-use tea bags and say hello to loose-leaf tea. The latter has a richer flavour and comes in a wide variety of blends.
How can one stick to it?
As is true with any new habit or lifestyle change, working towards a zero-waste living takes time, practice, and patience. At times, it all may seem too daunting and difficult so here are a few tips on how you can stick to living sustainably.
1. Establish a why
Motivation is key and you need to have a solid reason for why you want a zero-waste lifestyle. Every time you feel like slacking off or start questioning why you are doing what you are doing, think of why you started in the first place.
2. Join a community
Talking to like-minded people, that are working towards the same goal as you, can be really motivating and helps you stick to your goal. If you are feeling low, reach out to someone who is also a zero-waster. There are a lot of community forums and groups available online too. You can even start a blog or a social media account documenting your journey. Start a conversation, inspire others and yourself!
3. Question what is normal
In our daily lives, we come across so many instances of wasteful consumption. Constantly questioning the status quo and being mindful of what is happening is a great way to stay focussed. It adds to the ‘why’ of going zero-waste in a sense.
4. Head outside
At the end of the day, everything we do is to do good for the environment. To live a healthier and greener life. So why not appreciate the beauty of nature in order to truly appreciate what you have?
Every once in a while, if not daily, take out the time to go for a walk in the garden or in your local community park. Go for treks or holiday with nature and greenery all around. Not only will these experiences refresh your mind but also they serve as a clear reminder of what you are trying to go zero-waste for: the environment and the planet!
What if you can't?
The decision to switch to a zero-waste lifestyle is definitely not an easy one and it takes time. So what if you feel low about not being able to actually go zero-waste? What do you do then? Well, you take a deep breath and be kind to yourself. Take note of all the steps you have taken to come this far. While you may not be able to switch to a zero-waste lifestyle completely, even the smallest effort can make a huge difference.
The tiniest actions - such as saying no to disposable cups or plastic straws - can make a significant difference! So do not let the larger goal make you lose sight of the smaller victories.
A zero-waste lifestyle may sound extreme but it merely involves making conscious consumption choices and being a smart buyer. It encourages you to be more mindful and aware of the decisions you may not take note of in daily life. With waste being an increasingly large part of our lives, the smallest action can make a big difference!
- Gauri Sindhu