Back in the day, we had the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse Recycle. Now there are five in popular mainstream culture – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.
I think I once came up with about 30, but we’ll stick with just five for today!
One of the popular myths about a Zero Waste lifestyle is that it is costly. Well today I’m seeking to bust that myth and to show you how it can save, or even make you money, when you get the five R’s in place!
My partner in grime, Anna, calls this precycling. It’s all about reducing waste by avoiding bringing items into your home which will generate waste. Or as I like to put it to journalists “You have to ask yourself ‘what am I going to do with this product or packaging when I’ve finished using it, BEFORE you reach the checkout!'”
Or as your Grandmother might have said – prevention is better than cure!
Refusing is the most challenging aspect of a Zero Waste lifestyle, because let’s face it, most of us like to acquire stuff. We live in a world where we are bombarded with marketing messages all the time. Aggressive advertising plays right to the heart of our emotions; telling us we can’t be happy, healthy or accepted until we have bought a particular product or wear this item of clothing. And so many people buy things to get a quick ‘hit’ in order to fill an emotional void.
However, it’s also one of the easiest ways to save money on your Zero Waste journey, because you’ll be avoiding unwanted purchases. According to research, Britons have £10bn worth of unworn clothes in their wardrobes. Half a million households have got 5-10 games consoles in their homes. And according to Annie Leonard, author of the Story of Stuff, only 1% of what we buy is still in use 6 months later – the rest has been consumed or trashed.
Keep in mind the difference between a want and a need whenever you’re shopping, and see how much you can save.
The reduce aspect is very similar to ‘refuse’. But you can take it one step further. My cleaning supplies are the perfect example. Many years ago I started reading labels on cleaning products and realised that most items were simply a slightly different ratio of the same ingredients, but with different labels and scents. So now I’m all about the multi purpose!
For example, plain old bicarbonate of soda will cover 80% of your daily cleaning jobs and a white vinegar and water spray makes a multi purpose cleaner. For your personal care routine, you can use products like coconut oil to cleanse your face, moisturise dry skin and condition your hair. You can reduce packaging buy purchasing refills for products such as laundry detergent.
When you’re shopping for food, first take an inventory of what you have at home. Then plan your meals around those foods and make a list of any extras you need. When you go shopping, stick to your list (and don’t shop when hungry!). This will save you buying things you don’t need that might end up as food waste. When you consider the average UK household throws away £50 per month of edible food, it’s clear how these savings can add up. I even have a couple of reversible skirts in my wardrobe, which is a fantastic way to reduce the number of items of clothing!
Eventually, as you need to replace items, you can consider whether you are using anything disposable that could be replaced by a reusable item – such as handkerchiefs instead of tissues, washable cloths instead of kitchen roll, reusable menstrual products or refilling a water bottle.
Reuse is a wonderfully creative aspect of a Zero Waste lifestyle. Not only is it fun and rewarding, but it can save you a lot of money too. We all too readily throw things away because we cannot find a use for them, but sometimes all we need to do is think outside the box. Social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram are full of amazing reuse ideas and you are only limited by your imagination.
My Granddad’s answer to everything in life was ‘ a little bit of solder!’ and I used to watch in fascination as he’d mend broken toys, fix electricals and mend leaks. Whether you start with the basics, such as turning over letters and writing your lists on the back, reusing glass jars for storage or move to upcycling furniture and mending textiles, it feels good to adopt a ‘waste not, want not’ mentality.
Other ways to reuse are to shop for things second hand – use auction houses, online local noticeboards or charity shops – there’s nothing quite like finding that perfect something for a fraction of its original price and knowing it’s having a good second life with you! And you can borrow books for free at your local library – what’s not to love?
Although we generally focus on keeping things out of landfill, with increasing awareness of climate change, the ultimate form of reusing is with energy. While you generally have to pay an initial upfront cost to install something like a roof of solar panels (although in many areas you can still get them for free), this can be seen as an investment in terms of how much you will save on your bills in the long run. Not only this, but zero waste homes could have a higher future value.
And don’t forget your coffee cup – taking your own cup to some coffee outlets, will save you 25-50p per cup!
This is the area where most people begin their Zero Waste journey. And with good reason. Recycling is free to do and very simple to begin, especially if you make full use of your kerbside collections.
But did you know you can actually make money from recycling? I’m a child of the 70s and I remember collecting old Corona lemonade bottles and returning them to my local shop for 10p. I’ve always wondered why the deposit scheme died out. It seems such a no-brainer to me. I used to actually pick old discarded bottles out of hedges, so I was effectively motivated to litter pick.
Here are some ways you can make money from recycling today:
- H&M will give you a voucher when you drop off a bag of unwanted clothes
- in some countries, LUSH will give you a free face mask when you take back their black pots for recycling
- you can sell used ink cartridges to companies that refill them
- You can get paid for collecting aluminum cans
- Companies will pay you for bags of clothes – expect to get 40p-60p per kilo
- You can get paid to recycle plastic bottles in reverse vending machines [in some Tesco stores]
- Ocado pay you to take back carrier bags which they then recycle
- Sell corks on eBay! Yep, these things you throw away can be snapped up by brides-to-be and crafters.
- Beauty brand MAC will give you a free lipstick when you return six packaging containers
- M&S shwopping. Take a bag of clothes to your local Oxfam store. If you have an M&S item in there, you get a £5 M&S voucher.
The ultimate form of recycling is composting, so if you have never done this before, it is worth learning as much as possible about the practice and how beneficial it can be to the environment as a whole. It doesn’t have to cost you anything to set up and you can save a fortune (not to mention all those plastic bags) on buying compost from a garden centre. My book can help you get it right.
And don’t worry if you’re living in a small space. There are composting options such as wormeries that you can set up. From this you’ll get a wonderful natural fertiliser you can use on house plants – for free!
While there are some areas in which going zero waste can be expensive, there is plenty that can be achieved for little or no money. Please add your suggestions to the comments below, so we can inspire everyone to try a Zero Waste lifestyle, regardless of household income.