Living zero waste isn't the same for everyone. It is location specific and household specific. We all eat different things, shop at different places and have different priorities. Contrary to what many people think, moving to a zero waste lifestyle is not a hugely overwhelming task that takes a lot of time. It is just a series of steps. So much so that it was a lifestyle that we almost stumbled into. As what we were doing was causing our waste pile to get smaller we became more aware of what was driving our remaining waste. We could focus on specific solutions. We still don't have solutions to everything but enough to absolve the need for a landfill bin altogether.
So how do you live zero waste and what does a zero waste house look like?
Moving to living zero waste will always require changes but they won't be the same for everyone. We don't have kids which makes our experience different to many of our friends who live zero waste as a larger family. Your experience often depends on your reasons for opting to make the change. You can read our reason here: Why We Chose To Live Zero Waste In South Africa. Reasons aside, sometimes it's helpful to see how others do it.
1. We live simply. We simplified and continue to simplify.
We decluttered, decluttered and decluttered some more. Having excess stuff results in constant duplicates, breakages of items not built to last, things we have but don't use deteriorating, and collections of stuff we simply don't need, like freebies. We sold off, donated, upcycled, recycled and rehomed consistently for over a year. We did this with the intention of simplifying our lives, not necessarily to go zero waste. I cannot fully describe how life changing this process and the result was for us! It has to be experienced to be understood. When it comes to living zero waste, simplicity is key.
2. We replaced our landfill bin with a compost system, a worm farm, and recycling.
These 3 steps eliminate 90% of household waste immediately. Making the switch isn't difficult. Getting rid of our bin made us acutely aware of exactly what the wasteful items were in our home. We had to think twice before bringing something in that we couldn't deal with through one of these 3 methods. We really enjoyed the learning process of making the switch. Now it's just part of how we live.
Recycling only counts when done properly. It's about more than just putting all your packaging in the recycling bin. Not all packaging can be recycled and it's important to learn the difference. There are also common myths about recycling in South Africa that are misunderstood. We invested time chatting to staff at recycling centers and those in the industry to find out how and what to recycle to make sure our efforts were effective.
Ultimately the goal is to have less packaging waste that needs recycling but in the meantime we avoid using as much single-use plastic as possible. Instead of recycling bags I use a fabric laundry bag to store our rinsed and dried recycling materials. Our municipal recycling collection isn't reliable in our area and doesn't go to a center able to deal with all our recyclable material. Every couple of weeks I drop off the bags at a privately run local recycling station nearby.
A worm farm for leftover cooked food scraps:
Worm farms deal with cooked food scraps and animal products (depending on the type of worms) really well. I must confess to killing a few wrigglers and going through a couple different designs. Our worm farm wasn't a raging success from the outset. But once you get the hang of it, it works like a dream. We have used red wrigglers and black soldier fly larvae in worm farms. Each has their pros and cons. A worm farm is amazing if you are a family that generates a lot of cooked food waste. The diluted worm tea is great for our pot plants and the worms are a huge hit with the kids (or neighbours kids) and their friends.
A compost tumbler for raw plant-based kitchen scraps and cardboard:
If you follow a few simple principles composting is easy, even without a garden. You will be surprised by just how much compost you generate as a household. Buying compost is expensive and was something we did regularly. We no longer have this expense. It is also a great way to make use of our pizza boxes and egg boxes that can't be recycled.
3. We cook ourselves
This may seem obvious to some but it is a lifestyle we haven't always prioritized. We both had demanding corporate jobs and used to live on ready-made meals constantly. It was one of those sacrifices I initially accepted as part of the job. For many reasons, not just zero waste, we made an effort to change the way we ate and to cook more at home. We found ways and tricks to make it fit within our lifestyle without needing to spend time in the kitchen every day. We also endeavoured to trade out the processed foods for more natural foods. Once you cook with natural whole foods you realise how little waste you generate. And then there are the health benefits ... but that is a whole article on its own!
4. We make it ourselves
We had already started to substitute our processed foods, personal care and home care products for natural homemade alternatives, even before going zero waste was on the cards. More on why we chose to do this in our article: Why More Are Adopting The Natural Movement. Things like yogurt, chocolate, mayonnaise, toothpaste, shampoo, body lotion, face wash, hair wax, deodorant, washing powder, surface cleaners, fabric softener and dishwasher tablets we make ourselves. This is a personal preference based on our own desire to live more naturally. If you objective is only to reduce waste then this may not be necessary if you have access to a zero waste or a bulk shopping store. There are loads of quick and easy natural options for home and personal care products. Making our own has become part of our lifestyle, we find it incredibly rewarding.
5. We made the simple switches
It goes without saying that we also made the simple switches. Keeping a stash of fabric shopping bags in our car along with a travel mug and some containers for loose foods is something we have done for years. We opted to switch to smaller, more locally owned stores and businesses for our food shopping. We found the smaller stores more accommodating with packaging options. Finding 'your store' requires some footwork initially and will always be different in different areas but you develop some great friends in the process.
The Rewards Are Worth It
Whatever your reason or methodology, living without waste isn't the big investment in time and energy many think it is. Nor is it a change you can do in a day. It is a series of steps to Just Do One More Thing over a period of time. Living zero waste, which involves living simpler and more naturally, is a lifestyle that results in a greater feeling of contentment and fulfillment. It's a lifestyle that inherently feels right.