Zero Waste challenge – Week 1

As you guys probably know by now, I do love a challenge. What I like even more is getting other people involved, especially when I think it’s for a good cause.
Waste minimisation has been my top priority in the past months, so Giac and I are currently challenging ourselves to live Zero Waste for two weeks.

The first week, which ends today, was all about using anything we already had that came with a packaging, assessing the amount of waste we produce on average in seven days, considering exceptions and compromises, while also refusing to buy anything that comes in plastic and trying to limit any packaging to recyclable materials at the same time.

The second week –assuming that at this point we have used up anything we had already purchased- is going to be about refusing and reducing even more, hopefully avoiding anything that comes in packaging at all, as well as assessing side effects such as whether we are saving money or we are eating better etc.

This is a review of the first week.

First of all let me tell you, this has been much easier than expected. Giac and I are already very aware of the rubbish we produce and we’ve been on a journey to minimise it since we moved to New Zealand. So we were already having a head start.
However there are things we are still struggling with (as in, items we find it hard to refuse or we haven’t found an alternative to yet).

This is all the rubbish we created in the past seven days, divided in recyclable (on the right) and not recyclable (on the left). I haven’t included all the compost, but just imagine a mountain of banana peels and tea bags as tall as you.

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Recyclable: pasta packaging, tin, paper scraps (tea box, notes etc), soy milk carton, flour packaging, paper napkin, toilet paper rolls (let’s ignore the fact that we used five rolls in seven days).
Not recyclable: makeup wipes, floss, receipts, fruit stickers, various plastic packaging, chocolate packaging, oatmeal packaging, canola spread container, contact lenses + container, chewing gums, various plasticky labels.

This is the result of a combination of consuming goods we had already and refusing to buy as many packaged items as possible.
In order to keep out mental sanity we decided not to go cold turkey and give up all packaging altogether. We decided to refuse as much as possible while still buying things that we think we need and we haven’t found an alternative to yet.
Below is a list of things we managed to refuse, things we compromised, and some final thoughts.

Things we refused

  • Spinach
    I do love a green smoothie. I always put spinach in my smoothies, however when I wanted to make myself one on a Friday, I realised I didn’t have any spinach and I couldn’t just go to the supermarket and buy it because spinach comes in a plastic bag. So I had to wait for the farmers market on Sunday to buy some in bulk. Zero Waste is all about being organised!
  • Sugar in coffee
    We’ve been to Starbucks a couple of times in the past week, and normally we’d both grab a sugar to go with it. Now we are either bringing our own sugar from home in a small container, or we simply go without.
  • Painting my nails
    I rarely do it, but sometimes I enjoy nail polish. However, removing it means using a cotton pad (landfill) and nail polish remover (toxic), so my solution was simply not painting my nails. I’m sure I’ll get over it.
  • Art supplies
    I didn’t need to buy any, but I did go visit my favourite art shop the other day, only to sadly notice how pretty much everything is wrapped in plastic. Will need to find an alternative to that.
  • Bread
    The bread we normally buy comes in a paper bag with a plastic insert. I haven’t got round to make my own bread yet, but for now we resorted to buying loose rolls instead, which also turned out to be cheaper.

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  • Incense
    My inner hippie loves some incense. I burn it pretty much daily. That’s why I ran out of it and I’ve been looking for some packaging-free sticks. The ones I found were not really my favourites so I haven’t bought any yet. I really like coconut and nag champa but they come in paper + plastic. Will see if I want to go with the less preferable flavours but in the meantime more research is needed!
  • Chocolate
    Giac is addicted to Cadbury chocolate. The packaging, however, goes straight to the landfill. As an alternative I’ve been baking like crazy to make sure he gets a daily supply of cookies instead.

Things we compromised

  • Pasta
    Unfortunately, pasta in bulk is not really a thing yet. I’m more of a rice person and could happily live without pasta (despite being Italian), but Giac has pasta pretty much every day. So we did buy it, after making sure we found a brand that has recyclable packaging.
  • Soy milk
    Haven’t got round to make my own milk yet. I will try for sure in the future, but for now I’m taking it one step and a time and still buying soy milk, as long as it comes in a recyclable packaging.
  • Condoms
    Probably TMI here, but lots of contraceptives are wasteful. I’ve been considering switching to Daysy, but haven’t made up my mind yet. This probably requires a separate blog post as it’s quite a broad subject, but in the meantime any suggestions in this field would be more than welcome!

Where we shopped instead
In order to minimise the amount of packaging, we went to the farmers market on Sunday (nothing new here, we shop at the farmers market on a regular basis already), and for anything other than fruits and veggies (i.e. rice, sugar, spices, seeds) we found this nice place in Newtown called Moshim’s (go check it out if you are in Welly) which has a huge selection of goods in bulk. We brought our own bags and jars, and ta-daaa! Zero Waste shopping.

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I also made my own shampoo, switched to a new face wash, and will try to make my own face cream as soon as the raw ingredients I ordered arrive (recipes coming soon!).

Overall conclusions
Forcing yourself to set aside every piece of rubbish you produce really makes you aware of it, and personally it still feels like we accumulated a lot. Compared to the average household, though, I think we did pretty well.
For me, the best way to transition is not to go Zero Waste overnight but to take it one step at a time. Replace what you need as and when you run out of it (i.e. I still have a couple of face creams that I’m going to use up before I make my own, so I can re-use the containers as well), take your time  to do your research and find sustainable alternatives. Ideally you want to go package-free, but if you can’t try at least to find the same item in a recyclable packaging.
Keep in mind that the point of living Zero Waste is accepting the fact that recycling is not the solution: refusing is (part of) the solution. So an even better approach is to consider whether something you want to buy is something you really need. You’ll find that nine out of ten times you can probably go without.

bananas

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