Nine easy zero waste things I'm doing right now, and five more I need to do ASAP

Disclaimer - I'm not currently zero waste, I'm nowhere near zero waste, and I don't reckon I'll get anywhere near zero waste any time soon. I am definitely not the lass that gets all her rubbish in a jam jar. That said, I'm definitely trying to drastically reduce the non-recyclable/reusable/compostable waste that I'm responsible for.

This post should really be called 'nine things I'm doing to cut down the waste I make etc etc' but I thought zero waste is a good, if less accurate, way to describe it -- lots of people are familiar with zero waste, but it's an unattainable target for most, alas. Still, I reckon cutting down on waste is doable for most people in some way, depending on what their time, cash, energy, and life allows.  Whatever step we can take, even if it's a small one, it probably one worth taking. Zero waste is a journey, and I'm definitely at the beginning.

Here's what I'm doing already:

1. Make lunch (better)
Lunch is pretty much always the highlight of my day. Normally, when we break for lunch, there's the option of going to the hospital canteen, getting an expensive meal from one of the nearby chains, or busting out something homemade. I'm always going for the latter.

If making your own lunch sounds like a bit of a faff, you've got a point. Mr Flicking the Vs has access to a microwave at work, so he takes in leftovers from last night's dinner to heat up. I don't have a microwave at work, so I batch cook one week's lunches in one go. I make a massive lot of rice with green lentils. Then I roast a load of veggies with chick peas or beans, and slather on a dressing. It's not going to win any awards, but it's cheap, it's filling, and it's as zero waste as I can make it.

And I don't care how desperately, painfully uncool this confession makes me, but... I also have a Thermos flask. Yep, due to this fine little piece of industrial design (and teaching aid for physics professors), I can have a cup of my favourite tea wherever I am. Not only does it cost me around no pence, it means I can have a tea without having to get a paper cup with a plastic lid that'll end up in landfill. If I'm lucky, I've brought some cake with me too. Lunch doesn't get any better than that.

2. Ditch the plastic toothbrush
I've started buying toothbrushes with wood or bamboo handles. Granted, the bristles are still not recyclable, but it's a step in the right direction. (I've yet to find the perfect brand though -- one I bought came with a plastic wrap around the toothbrush, which didn't strike me as very zero waste). Also, Zero Waste Club, which sells wood handled toothbrushes, will plant trees when you buy stuff from them, which sounds like a good deal all round.

3. Make my own bread
Me and Mr Flicking the Vs are no gluten-dodgers. We like our bread. Wholemeal, white, rolls, bagels and buns - we love them all. Only, I don't like the plastic wrap that bread comes in, so I've learnt (and taught confirmed kitchen fearer Mr FtVs!) how to make bread. Because we're both busy and lazy, we have to make the least effort bread we can, so it's soda bread (which doesn't need to rise) and Doris Grant (which doesn't need a knead) loaves all round.

My next plan is to start making double batches and chucking a few in the freezer, so on those days when baking bread is just too much effort, I can just pull out a loaf and defrost it.

4. Find a better way of washing up
Those plastic scrubby things though. Those. I've had enough of them. I'd been looking for alternatives for a while, and stumbled across a couple of options: one is typically a cloth-based product wrapped around some sort of sponge, the other is made of coconut fibres and has a more scrubby texture. I've bought a load of the latter type, and they're pretty decent. They come with a minimal cardboard sleeve and can be composted when you're done with them.

5. Toiletries with reusable or recyclable packaging - or none at all
My first victory on the zero waste front was finding a place near me that sells Faith in Nature soaps without packaging, which is great (I use soap rather than shower gel, not only for the plastic thing, but also because it's cheap. And I really like cheap).

I've also switched to a refillable anti-perspirant instead of traditional deoderant, and I've managed to turn used coffee grounds into a body scrub for about 1 minute's work.

And, while it's not zero waste proper, the likes of Lush and Bloomtown do vegan toiletries where you can return the packaging for recycling. (If anyone's got any ideas of zero waste make-up, send them this way.)

6. Be prepared - for cake
When I'm going into school or work, I normally keep my stuff in a small rucksack. In said rucksack, there's always an empty tub and a fork. That way, if I happen to pass a cafe that sells vegan cake, I can get them to put it into my tub to takeaway, rather than theirs. And with the fork, I can eat the cake whenever I've got a minute to sit down.

I've also always got a reusable bag on hand. I was given one of those ones that fold down into a pouch about the size of your palm, so I can stick in my bag and forget about it, but it's always on hand if I need it. Single use plastic carrier bags begone!

7. Get a veg box
The zero wasteness of signing up to a veg box scheme will depend on which one you go for, but most involve getting a load of veggies in a cardboard box. The veggies are often sold without packaging, or in paper bags, and usually the veg box companies will take back the cardboard box to reuse it next week. The one I use isn't entirely packaging free, but it's a big reduction on the same stuff from the local supermarket -- and they also sell porridge oats in paper bags, which is I've never seen anywhere else. Handy, given the amount of porridge I eat. Don't get me started on flapjacks though. Those are a crime against oats.

8. Join a library
When I was a kid, going to the library was a weekly treat. You could go and pick up four books and take them home for free. How amazing is that? When I moved to a new neighbourhood a few years ago, I was delighted to find there was a library within walking distance. It's community-run, and I'm very pleased to be able to go and use it. Turns out borrowing books for nowt is just as amazing when you're a grown-up as when you're a kid.

9. Go vegan
Obviously. It's a better use of resources, of energy, of land, of antibiotics, kinder to the environment, to threatened species, and so on and so on.

What I still need to do:

1. Buy in bulk
There are two bulk-buy shops that I know of in London - one in Haggerston (currently shut), and one in Clapham Junction - and sadly neither's near me. But I'm going to try and make an effort to get down to one of them and stock up on things like rice, nuts, grains, and spices in bulk.

2. Get a Mooncup
I have no excuse for not having done this already, apart from a lack of knowledge about the whole using-a-Mooncup business. If anyone's got any useful information or recommendations, send them this way.

3. Speak up
How much packaging comes on most things isn't really down to the shoppers themselves, it's mostly down to the people that make and sell the products. If we write to them, phone them, email them and let them know how we feel, then they'll know there's demand for zero waste products out there, and hopefully respond. With that in mind, how's about signing this petition: petition:

4. Find zero waste chocolate
I'm not shy about eating chocolate, but however hard I look, I really struggle to find a chocolate supplier that doesn't wrap their products in at least one layer of plastic. Again, if you guys know of chocolate that's sold in recyclable packaging and is on the Food Empowerment Project's list (thanks to JoJo of Vegan In Brighton for introducing me to that), then I'd love to hear about it.

5. Get comfortable with a growler
Yeah, I know. Growler meant something different when I was a kid too. Nowadays, I understand it to mean a refillable booze container, and a couple of beer shops near me sell them.  You buy a large glass bottle or jug, fill it up with beer or wine, and when you've emptied it, bring it back and get a refill. Zero waste booze is my kind of booze. I'm going to find out whether those shops near me sell vegan beer refills, and if they do, I'm going to be the proud owner of a shiny new growler. No laughing at the back.

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  1. I think doing little things towards zero waste and sharing these is good. While I am far off I do make some efforts. I love your comment on the library. It makes me happier than the idea of reading e-books. We have a company in Australia (I think they are aussie but on checking the website see they have a UK website) called Who Gives a Crap that do toilet paper that is recycled and comes in paper packaging rather than plastic - though it might be an interesting one to check out if you haven't heard of it.

  2. This is a really admirable list and I am totally with you on pretty much all of these. I buy books that I know I want to keep (course ones, or course related) but otherwise loooove the library! I also work at a University and can get unlimited borrows from their library which is aces.

    I am kind of doing okay with lunches at the moment. I remember maybe half the time. But I reeeeeeeally need to get into some bulk buying and don't really have much of an excuse not to.

    Also, well done on the bread!! I used to have a bread machine and used it almost daily until it died. I'm sad we don't really have the counter space for one now because we are both bread fanatics.

    Uhh, and I am happily exempt from a mooncup because my IUD has magically halted my periods 100% :D There will be a tiny T shaped bit of plastic that gets thrown out after 3 years of course but hopefully that's less wasteful than 3 years' worth of tampons!

  3. I'm so impressed with this list Joey. I also love that you have a thermo flask and would definitely join you if I didn't run part of my commute home from work most days. That routine, which I love for fitting exercise in, does play havoc with my waste efforts. However, I've recently ordered a collapsible reusable coffee cup and hope to figure out more similar products soon! I do at least take my lunch (and squeeze the associated container into my running backpack) and we try, but there is so much more I could be doing. Thanks for the great set of ideas.

  4. Thanks for your efforts towards the environment. About the bread — are you familiar with Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day? You make up a dough which is stored in a big container in the fridge for up to two weeks, and you take what you need to bake loaves whenever. I used to do this before my gut forced me to go gluten-free. (They now have directions for GF bread so I may take it up again.) You can get the book from the library, or I can email you the recipe. My solution to too many books was to get a kindle, but that doesn't work for cookbooks which I like to hold in my hand.

  5. I admire you sharing nine things and like you were are trying to reduce our waste too, something that my husband feels strongly about too, but we are so far off ever being zero waste. Even though I am a cookbook hoarder, I do love going to the library and supporting them as many have closed in recent years. We are pretty good with taking in homemade lunches.
    One of our goals is to buy vegetables without plastic or minimal packaging.

  6. I love, love, love this blog post! You're aspiring to be "zero waste" in the same way I am and I'm genuinely excited to come back to the UK, jump into this new lifestyle with both feet, and be reunited with libraries. Whilst travelling it has been SO HARD to be anything approaching zero waste - I mean I live out of a hand luggage sized backpack so I certainly don't buy much but even bananas here come wrapped in plastic. I always take a reusable bag out with me and I have a reusable mug for my matcha latte problem (so excited to be reunited with my Thermos though!) but without an address it's hard to get hold of things like bamboo toothbrushes!

    Chocolate wise I love Loving Earth if you can do raw. It's in a cardboard sleeve and has a biodegradable plastic-esque wrapper underneath. Alter Eco (available from IHerb) has cardboard and foil but sadly the IHerb packaging is often plastic heavy. I feel like Booja Booja's refrigerated choc is plastic free but it's definitely not an everyday chocolate!

    I can't wait to keep following your journey!

  7. Wow, you're doing way better than I am, I'm only doing a few items off of your list. I thought I was the only one who loves the library. Thanks for the inspiration. :-)

  8. I love that you always have a pot for cake in your bag! I've been trying not to get any takeaway quiche/cake unless I have my own pot to put in, which is so far having the rather sad effect that I don't really get cake-to-go any more. I need to be more prepared!


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