We recently watched a documentary that inspired us to create a zero-waste home. We’ve always been mindful of the destruction of plastic, but this film has pushed us to make significant changes to our lifestyle. The documentary is called A Plastic Ocean, and it’s available on Netflix.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how documentaries have entirely shaped our values, whether it’s veganism, environment or fashion. Now we can add plastic-free/zero-waste to our list.
The moment that got us in the film was a graphic scene of scientists cutting open the stomach of seabirds only to find over 200 particles of plastic in their system! It was horrific. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are a couple more key takeaways from the documentary:
- Packaging is the largest end-use market segment accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage.
- Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
- A plastic bag has an average “working life” of 15 minutes.
- Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the previous century.
Check out the Plastic Oceans website for more confronting facts.
Much like previous documentaries that have challenged us, we’re going to take action. We have a responsibility to look after this planet, and all of its inhabitants and the time to do it is now.
So we’ve created this post as a bit of a plan of how we would use these principles to create a zero-waste home. This, however, is not only about eliminating plastic from our lives but anything that’s single-use or has a poor quality design to only last a short period.
This post is broken up into six key areas of the home; kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, study/home office and food.
Let’s get into it.
When we audited our kitchen for waste, we noticed that we didn’t have much plastic. We had four plastic containers which we regularly reuse for things such as freezing leftovers or storing food in the fridge.
That would be the first tip. If you have plastic containers for storage, plastic straws, cutlery, serving spoons or anything solid for that matter, don’t throw it out!
As minimalists that love decluttering, this is where our two values collide. What happens when you no longer need a plastic item? Do you get rid of it to help your decluttering efforts, or do you keep it to save the environment? One method is focused on you while the latter is focused on your impact on the environment.
After watching the popular Aussie TV series, War on Waste, we’ve realised that plastics don’t get recycled as often as you think. And despite what you hear, plastics don’t get broken down. In fact, once a plastic item is made, it is here forever (it takes at least 450 years to decompose and sometimes as long as 1,000 years!).
If anything, they just become microplastics in our ocean, which then goes back into animals, humans and anything else that accidentally consumes these little particles of plastic.
If you have quite a bit of plastic in your kitchen already that you don’t use, see if you can give it away or donate it.
The initial benefit of plastic is that it was made to last long (in most cases). So if you can pass it on, maybe another household can continue to get value out of the items for many years to come, while hopefully preventing future purchases of plastic.
If we were to give ourselves a score for pots, pans, Tupperware and cutlery, I’d give us 8/10.
Next up, zero-waste pantry
On the surface, I thought we did a pretty good job of limiting the use of plastic in our pantry. Maša has always done a fantastic job of keeping our pantry topped up with plant-based whole foods. We use jars to store all of our nuts, seeds, grains and legumes, and we buy all of these items in bulk.
But…we do still have some more niche products that we order online that are wrapped in plastic. These items include things like miso paste and vegan cheeses. We don’t have much in this category, but it certainly poses an opportunity to make these things ourselves and limit waste.
Here are our key tips for creating your zero-waste pantry:
- Store all of your dry whole foods in jars and buy them in bulk.
- Store your herbs and spices in smaller jars and also buy them in bulk or grow your own.
- Use saucepans and containers to store food in the fridge.
- We use old tins or pots to store our potatoes lined with a paper bag.
- Consider making your own niche products to eliminate soft plastics like pasta, nut milk, sweets and juices.
It’s also worth considering what you use to wash your dishes, pots and pans with and wipe your benches. We love products that are made of organic, natural fibres like jute, coconut and sisal. Our bottle brush, veggie brush, pots and pans brush and kitchen brush are all made from these materials. We also love what these guys are doing!
Creating a zero-waste bathroom is easier than you think.
The first quick win is with your toothbrushes and toothpaste packaging. We use biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes with charcoal bristles (note: currently no toothbrush has biodegradable bristles on the market that are also vegan, so they are made of plastic). You can literally throw these toothbrushes in the yard when you’ve finished using them, just make sure you pluck out the bristles first.
We also use biodegradable floss. Small things make significant changes as regular floss uses nylon (which is super strong and doesn’t break, ever) and that can be very damaging to any animal that comes in contact with it.
Toothpaste, on the other hand, is a little more challenging. We use certified organic toothpaste because of the performance and health benefits. However, in Australia, certified organic products have specific packaging requirements which mean, in this case, the product we use comes in plastic.
Update: we’ve recently been experimenting with these mint flavoured toothpaste tablets made from charcoal, and I love them!
With that, the plastic used to package certified organic products is recyclable. We’ve joined a program called TerraCycle that is free to join and free to send your un-recyclable items too. They recycle and repurpose everything from your makeup containers to coffee capsules.
An increasingly popular alternative is to make your own toothpaste and store it in a glass jar. See below video tutorial on how to make your own vegan zero-waste toothpaste.
If you use bars of soap, look at ethically made products with eco-friendly packaging. So many have palm oil or animals fats/milk in them.
With shampoo, conditioner and body wash, see if you can top up your contents at a local food co-op. If you don’t have access, maybe consider making your own soap products or buying bars instead of liquid. If you want to go all the way, you can implement the no-poo method.
Like toothpaste, we use certified organic shampoo, conditioner and body wash with recyclable packaging.
Opt to use stainless steel shavers over plastic and replace the shaver heads over time.
With makeup, you can either source products with sustainable packaging, or make your own. There are lots of great recipes out there for creams and foundations.
Or you could choose not to wear makeup at all 🙂
For things like toilet paper that mainly come in plastic wrapping, opt-in for brands like Who Gives a Crap or Pure Planet. We’ve been using them for over a year now and love that our toilet paper gets posted to us. We never have to think about it!
Now ladies, when it comes to that time of the month, Maša uses things like reusable menstrual pads and cups. These will last you a very long time! Women in Australia alone produce more than 45,000 tonnes of menstrual waste each year!
For the most part, our bedrooms are not as wasteful as other areas of the house. A lot of your success is going to come from what you decide to bring into your room.
This is where shopping second-hand is so powerful. When you need to declutter your wardrobe, and your items are still in good condition, give them away or sell them.
If your garments are ruined, see if you can turn them into cleaning cloths.
If they’re not usable, some charities accept damaged clothes and recycle them into rags or other textile byproducts.
When looking at bringing new clothes into your minimalist wardrobe, consider the materials that are used in the garment.
Are they natural or plastics? When we buy clothes that are made of plastic, our skin struggles to breathe, tiny threads wash up into our waterways when they are put through a washing machine, and they are generally not quality pieces of clothing anyways.
So look for materials like organic cotton, linen, hemp and a few others that are mentioned in this wonderful post.
Denim is something that I struggle with because I want to support fair trade practices, organic materials and sustainable practices. Brands like Nudie have a great range of unisex jeans.
The reason I struggle with pants, in general, is that I wear them quite a lot and no matter how durable and thick the material is, I wear them within a year typically.
I have asked my mum on numerous occasions to patch them up for me to give them a longer life. Don’t be afraid to fix things instead of tossing them because they are ripped, or a button has come loose. Grab that sewing kit or ask someone that knows what they are doing to help you.
Bed linen is another excellent opportunity to buy ethically and sustainably. We love our organic bed linen that came packaged in a sustainable organic cotton bag.
You pay a little more, but you support fair work, organic farming and businesses doing great things. Rather than having ten different bedding options, have 2-3 great quality ones. Who needs that much choice!?
Zero-waste study/home office
In preparation for this post, I went to a local office supplies store. It’s incredible how much you see when you’re aware of waste. Isle after isle there was plastic everywhere!
This got me thinking. What would a zero-waste office space look like?
First of all, I would question why stationery is needed.
Technology can replace a lot of what we require in our home office. For example, instead of buying a new to-do list paper pad from Kikki-K, use an App like Wunderlist. We have used this for many years now and would be lost without it. We use it for everything from work tasks to shopping lists.
Another example is investing in a tablet like an iPad Pro and Digital Pencil to replace traditional pen and paper.
Talking about pens, before buying new ones with plastic packaging, have a good look around your house and in your bags. Quite often, pens are lying around. If not, ask your family. Use what you can without having to buy new. We haven’t purchased a single pen in over a decade!
Think about how many staplers, tapes, pens, pencils, pads, ink cartridges, calendars, diaries, notebooks, paperclips we’ve bought over the years. There’s no need to go and buy more of the same because it’s prettier, new or promises to achieve more. A book that says “inspirations” will not make you more productive!
If you do need to buy office supplies, look for suppliers that use recycled and have recyclable packaging. There are more and more on the market all the time.
Also, I can’t stress this point enough, use technology where possible. The combination of photo scanning, PDFs, apps and cloud storage can eliminate the need for most stationery products.
It’s hard to talk about creating a zero-waste home without talking about food. So far, we’ve mostly talked about sustainable fixtures such as storage containers and stationery.
Food, on the other hand, is perishable, which causes more opportunity for waste. That’s why it’s so important to have some standards when buying food to eliminate this daily waste and using all the food that you have purchased.
We throw out so much that has either gone off or has started growing a new kind of nasty life form on it. The best way that you create a zero-waste food plan is to create a meal plan.
You only buy what you’ll use for that week (perishable foods) or do what we do, cook with whatever we have in the fridge and pantry. We want to plan more but end up running out of time.
If you aren’t confident in just whipping something up from ingredients you have around; then I’d suggest meal planning.
If you know that you don’t usually use much of an ingredient you need for your cooking but need it for a specific recipe, only buy how much you need. If you can’t, then give some away to family, friends or homeless shelters.
Another thing to consider is composting and growing your own vegetables, so you only pick what you need, and the waste that you do create goes back into your garden.
Three tips to eliminate food waste:
- Only buy the food that you know you will eat that week (if perishable)
- Freeze leftovers, don’t let it go off in your fridge
- Get creative with your recipes to make sure nothing ends up in the bin
Just like the bathroom, zero-waste cleaning can be pretty much all DIY with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
There are so many recipes online for products to make, but if you’re time-poor, most bulk selling shops have a section for cleaning. Our local food co-op, as well as bulk foods stores both, have cleaning products in bulk. The downside is that sometimes they don’t have the best choice/quality of products.
The other thing to consider is all the cleaning utensils you use. Like the kitchen, there are many different cleaning brushes and sponges that come made using natural fibres.
We use old t-shirts for wiping and natural fibre scrubbers for things like soap scum and mould.
We also use organic soapberries (aka soap nuts) for our washing which are harvested in Nepal from trees and are berries that produce a natural form of soap. They are hypo-allergenic, which makes it perfect for those with allergies or sensitive skin.
They also eliminate the need for fabric softeners as they leave clothes feeling soft and fresh. You can make cleaning concentrate on them by cooking them to clean your kitchen and bathroom as well.
Once you’re done, you toss them in your garden or compost. Nothing ends up being washed into our waterways; it’s a win-win situation. We also add a few drops of essential oils to the bag of soapberries for a beautiful fresh scent and extra anti-bacterial properties.
When you think about it, things have improved in the zero-waste movement. Having bulk stores more accessible and DIY videos and blogs at our fingertips, we can all do our part for our planet, fellow humans and the animals by taking the time to care and put in more effort and thinking about what the single-use plastics that we have in our lives are doing.
Your zero-waste home
So those are our tips for creating a zero-waste home as a minimalist. It’s incredible to see just how far the movement has come along and I’m excited to how we can collectively reduce our footprint.