Starting out with Zero Waste Living

Our early forays into zero waste life...

You might have gathered that we’re all about self-improvement here. We’re also very much focused on reducing the impact we have on the planet, whether that’s through eating a plant-based, vegan diet, or walking and cycling as much as possible to reduce our fuel consumption (we don’t own a car, but then again, does anyone in London really need to?).

And one thing we’re working on is zero waste living. For accountability’s sake, we’re not living zero waste yet, and in the situation we’re currently in, that’s unlikely to be totally possible for a while. We don’t have as much control over our time, our local environment or what shops we can reach as we’d like, and being vegan it can be harder to find some waste-free equivalents if we want to keep a rounded diet. For example, we drink fortified soya milk, which we just can’t make in sufficient quantities at home, and we can’t really add the vitamins and other fortified minerals that we would need to maintain our health.

So our zero waste journey is going to be a case of working out what is doable, and what isn’t, and gradually making the swaps we need to achieve a much better, more zero waste lifestyle.

Our goal is that by the end of 2018, we’ll be producing 75% less non-recyclable waste than we do now, and by the end of 2019 I hope that we’ll get to the point where we’ve reduced our waste production by around 90% from where we are now. Maybe we’ll even get to the point where we can start keeping our rubbish in a kilner jar, like Lauren Singer.

Why, though?

Besides the environment, why do we think going zero waste is important? I mean, that sounds like a stupid question - the environment is a huge cause for us, and a real driver in helping the world. It feels hypocritical to live this vegan lifestyle with such a focus on ethics, if we don’t commit more fully to those goals and reduce our environmental impact further.

However, there are loads of other aspects to the zero waste lifestyle that appeal. For instance, you won’t need to be around here long to hear us talk about frugality, minimalism and self-sufficiency. These are all qualities which really appeal to us. And zero waste fits into that in many ways. For example, why spend £8 or more on a takeaway lunch with a crappy plastic container and cutlery you throw away afterwards when you can delight in packing a more nutritious meal at home for £1.50 or less, bringing your own cutlery and knowing that you’re sticking to your own dietary goals.

Also, we both feel like the modern world has lost a lot of skills. Sometimes the older ways work better - you don’t always need to be buying something new to replace something broken, or when you could just as easily make it yourself. I love baking bread, for example; it’s easy, cheap and therapeutic. I can add my own mixes of nuts and seeds, decide whether I want something wholemeal or refined flour and generally control the whole process. Plus, when the loaf is made, no plastic wrapper to put up with. We’re finding that making our own seitan is super simple, and from that our own fake meats become a delicious, easy and nutritious centrepiece to any meal. One of my goals is to get to the point where our fake meat tastes so good we can serve it up to our carnivorous families at Christmas, and they won’t complain about the difference! With commercial bought fake meats it’s never quite that satisfying.

So where are we right now?

I’m going to go into more detail on all of these areas in future posts (including showing you some of the things we use to reduce our waste production) but at the moment we’re pretty good in some areas and pretty bad in others.

Areas we do well:

  • Takeaway coffees and meals out: we have our own keep-cups (I got mine free!) and cutlery kits including reusable straws that we try to remember to take with us regularly to reduce single-use plastic while we’re out and about.

  • We try and get fresh vegetables at local street markets. These aren’t quite your fancy ‘everything’s organic and all our cabbages were individually nurtured and had lullabies sung to them at night…’ type places (although there is one nearby). But they’re cheap, local, and pretty decent quality.

  • We try and grow what we can on the small patch of walkway outside our flat. We live up a few floors so there’s no garden available.

  • We get loose tea leaves and freshly ground coffee in bulk at a local health shop

  • We refill our washing up liquid (although I’m about to try making our own!)

  • We also use ‘ecoballs’ instead of laundry liquid to do our laundry, and I’m really interested in Soap Nuts.

  • And on a personal care note, we use reusable, washable sanitary stuff for periods (mooncups and reusable pads) and love them.

Areas we struggle:

  • The cat. He’s a demanding little guy and the only food he currently wishes to eat is a supermarket brand that comes in plastic pouches. Also, there’s the litter tray… So this one’s definitely a work in progress.

  • Cosmetics - we’re moving in the right direction, using things like nuud deodorant, and have just switched to georganics dental care stuff (toothpaste, floss and mouthwash), and bamboo toothbrushes. I also have a metal safety razor that deserves its own post, really. But we still have a lot of make up and some other bathroom products that we need to use up before we can switch to zero waste equivalents.

  • Vegan staples - we are trying to make more and more of our own, rather than relying on pre-packed options from shops (it’s also potentially cheaper that way) but we’ve got a way to go here.

So what’s next?

Basically we wanted this post to be a bit of an accountability post. Here’s where we are now; we’ve tried to lay it out fairly clearly. Future posts will track how we get closer and closer to a zero (or as-low-as-possible) waste lifestyle, including what we do to get there. And every step of the way we’ll be sharing tips, tricks, recipes and lessons learned with you guys.