'Exactly what I did to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. With a baby.'

In today’s world, the greatest indication that a trend has officially entered the zeitgeist is how often it is Googled.

Since January 2017, Google searches for “zero waste” have more than doubled, while over on Instagram, three million posts have been tagged #zerowaste.

There are hosts of bloggers (myself among them), who are documenting their efforts to go zero waste, sharing their tips and advice (as well as artfully arranged Instagram shots of mason jars and homemade cleaning products) with an increasingly engaged community.

With the world’s plastic pollution crisis now gaining greater media coverage, it’s causing many of us (not just traditional environmentalists) to question how we are contributing to the problem, and what we can do to curb our use of plastic, particularly single-use items.

Those who are fed up with the inertia by government and big business on climate action are focusing on what we can change – our own behaviour – thus, the rise of the zero waste tribe.

The game changer.

Up until a couple of years ago, I was largely oblivious to the many environmental issues the world is facing.

While I had a cursory concern for the environment and took small steps to be “green” – always switching off lights when I left a room, turning off the tap while I brushed my teeth and separating my recyclable rubbish – I also shopped for fashion like it was a competitive sport, downed a daily coffee from a takeaway cup and used a multitude of single-use items in my home.

Once I became a mother in 2017 though, my whole worldview changed. The future wasn’t just my future anymore; it was my son’s. And it became vitally important to me to start caring for the very planet he, and all children, will one day inherit.

As I learnt more about how we each have an impact on the environment through our everyday actions, I sought to overhaul my family’s habits and in doing so, adopted a zero waste lifestyle.


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At the foundation of the zero waste lifestyle are the “five R’s”, laid down by venerated zero waster and author of Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson, who is largely credited as bringing the zero waste movement to the masses.

Johnson’s advice for those looking to adopt a zero waste lifestyle is this: “Refuse what you do not need; reduce what you do need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse; and rot (compost) the rest.”

Some of the first zero waste changes I made were easy. I purchased a few items for my “zero waste kit” – a glass water bottle, a KeepCup and a few cloth bags – and swapped out single-use items with reusable ones such as cloth napkins instead of paper towels, beeswax wraps instead of cling wrap, and a tea strainer and loose leaf tea instead of teabags.

When it came time to replace personal care products I sought out plastic-free alternatives, like bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo cotton buds, soap and shampoo bars over liquid soap, muslin cloths instead of disposable makeup wipes and a stainless steel safety razor over disposable ones.

The next big steps.

Through our State’s Detox Your Home program I got rid of the dozens of plastic bottles of toxic cleaning chemicals from under our kitchen sink, and replaced them with good ol’ vinegar, baking soda and castile soap.

This works just as effectively as conventional cleaners (perhaps with a little extra elbow grease!), prevents dozens of chemicals from polluting our waterways and doesn’t pose the health risks of commercial products.

I started shopping at farmers’ markets and bulk food stores in order to avoid buying food in plastic packaging. I built up an impressive collection of glass jars and containers (zero wasters are all about their glass jars) and hand these over at delis (even supermarket delis) to eliminate the need for single-use plastic containers.

I have never been met with resistance when I hand over a reusable container. If the person serving you looks a little puzzled, try making a joke (I find, “I’m saving the planet one plastic container at a time!” works well).

I’ve handed over glass jars for cheese, olives, takeaway coffee (when I’ve left my KeepCup at home), and even ice cream.

Food waste was another big area to tackle. According to the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), 35 per cent of the average Australian household bin is food waste.


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ZEN MASTER // In the third part of our “How to live zero waste” series, we look at the “final” steps you can take to go zero waste. Being truly zero waste takes commitment, and given the society in which we live in is set up to thwart our efforts at every turn (here’s looking at you junk mail), being able to say you’ve “completed” your zero waste journey will be near on impossible until the system changes. What I mean by “final steps” is tackling those remaining areas in your life that are still big waste generators. Are you ready to take the final steps to live zero waste? Link in the bio ???? . . . . . . . . . . . . Image: @plantedinthewoods . . #zerowasteparty #zerowastegifts #zerowastecelebrations #alifelivedlightly #lifelivedlightly #zerowaste #zerowastelife #zerowastelifestyle #zerowastehome #zerowastegoals #zerowastetips #zerowasteblogger #journeytozerowaste #lowwaste #zeroishwaste #plasticfree #stopplasticpollution #saynotoplastic #ecowarrior #sustainableliving #sustainablelifestyle #slowliving #recycle #reuse #wastefree #wastefreeliving #protecttheplanet #greenliving #ecofriendly

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That food then ends up in landfill emitting methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

We initially used a Bokashi bin but later upgraded to a worm bin. This nifty food composting system looks like a regular green bin but it houses up to 10,000 worms that happily chow down on our food scraps, producing liquid fertiliser and castings which can be used on our garden.

The baby factor

Given babies seem to necessitate a whole heap of paraphernalia when they come along (more often than not made from plastic), going zero waste when little ones are in the equation may seem tricky.

But Johnson’s five R’s though still apply when it comes to going zero waste when you have a baby.

Firstly, be discerning about what baby items you really need (trust me, you don’t need a plastic bath thermometer) and try to source second-hand items from friends and family, online buy/sell/swap groups or eBay if you can.

Swap out those dozens of bottled bath products and nappy creams for a mild soap bar and olive oil, and use cloth wipes and nappies, or at least source eco-friendly disposable nappies.

Opt for wooden toys, natural rubber teethers, dummies and bottle teats, which can be upcycled, and stainless steel or bamboo feeding equipment.

Zero waste… Who’s got the time?

One of the purported downsides of living a zero waste lifestyle is that it requires extra work.

Our ubiquitous use of single-use plastic has continued to rise in large part due to its supposed timesaving qualities. As many women are burdened with the “double shift” of home and work, they need a quick, versatile way to feed their families, which many pre-packaged foods facilitate.

While living zero waste can certainly require a time cost in the beginning, once your new routines have quickly been established it really shouldn’t be anymore onerous than being “non-zero waste”.

A little more forward planning may be required (remembering to take your KeepCup/glass jars/reusable water bottle with you, for example), but for me, that’s a small price to pay to help save the planet.

For more from Emma, you can read her blog here or follow her on Instagram here.

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