Zero Waste – Zero CashKate Stuart
There is no getting away from how inhibiting cost can be to a zero waste lifestyle. The zero waste movement, like it or not, has sprung from a place as equally privileged as the place from which our society grew to believe that landfill, micro-plastics and fast fashion where acceptable, despite their impact on the planet. But what happens when you can’t afford to buy a steel water bottle to replace the cheap single use plastic water bottles, or can’t pay more in the supermarket for package/plastic free groceries?
For many people on the journey to producing less waste, the cost of buying expensive accessories and replacements for single use items just can’t be justified, but there are ways to contribute to the reduction of worldwide waste that cost nothing, and can have a huge impact.
I chatted with Rachelle Strauss, the founder of the #ZeroWasteWeek campaign, which seeks to raise awareness of the impact our waste is having on the planet. I asked her about the challenge of reducing waste on a limited budget. “I make it my mission”, she told me, “to show how zero waste can go hand in hand with SAVING money. I estimate that my lifestyle saves me around £1500 per year. Once you’ve stopped wasting food (the average family throws away £60 of edible food per month), no longer need to buy disposable items (menstrual products, kitchen towel, clingfilm, batteries) and grow a bit of food or make your own compost, the savings really add up. So for those without a disposable income, I’d say forget about swooning over perfect instagram shots of glass containers and the latest must-have zero waste item and look at what you already have at home. Reuse jars for storing things in, view ‘leftovers’ as ‘ingredients’, cut up old t-shirts into reusable bags or cloths, swap unwanted items with friends or work colleagues. After all, the most zero waste purchase of all, is to buy nothing and use what you already have!”
With the notion of “work with what you have” in mind, here are some of my best ZERO COST ideas to help reduce your waste production, without it costing you a penny.
-Go Paper-Free. Ask the companies you deal with, from energy suppliers to banks, to switch off your paper correspondence and email you instead. It’s free, and the reduction in your paper waste per annum could be massive! Plus, if you email them, it won’t even cost you a phone call. Unhappy with all the junk mail that arrives with your post every day? Royal Mail have a free opt out service you can access here.
-Get savvy with your leftovers. A Telegraph story published earlier this year stated that a third of the food produced for human consumption worldwide, is lost or wasted every year, equating to roughly 1.3 billion tons if you go by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s reckoning. Getting creative with leftover food by freezing or making new meals can save not just money from the weekly shopping budget, but can reduce the waste contribution hugely. As Rachelle told us, reframing leftovers as ingredients for a new meal is key here. This is an AMAZING blog post by Jack Monroe that will really help you with the whole “reframing” thing, and make those leftover potatoes or over-ripened bananas work as ingredients for new meals. For food waste that can’t be consumed, and for those without the means or space to run a wormery or compost heap, check out this link for ShareWaste, who help connect people who compost with people who have waste they don’t want to send to landfill.
-Say goodbye to cling film. The zero waste movement is all over beeswax and soy wax wraps as a replacement for cling film right now, but what if the price tag is more than your budget will allow? Making them can be cheaper (watch this mini tutorial to find out how to can make your own beeswax wraps) but even then, you need to buy stuff to do that. Storage for packed lunches and leftovers doesn’t have to come at a cost. Use a plate to cover food in the fridge, wash out and re-use jam jars and pickle jars for storing leftover sauces, soups or casserole – you can even keep bread and bagel bags to reuse for freezing leftovers or carrying sandwiches to work in. Ice cream tubs and metal biscuit tins (the ones that are all over the shops come Christmas time) make great packed lunch boxes, and there are some great online tutorials for making washable cloth sandwich bags. Even without a sewing machine, making a cloth napkin to wrap sandwiches in, and then washing it when it’s been used will keep your sandwich, pie or pizza fresh until lunchtime.
-Get crafty! Using cloth handkerchiefs, cloth kitchen towels (like these UnPaperTowels), cloth produce bags and cloth napkins all help to reduce single use waste from being produced, but the cost can be prohibitive. If you have a sewing machine, consider cutting up old bedding (either your own, or a bargain from a charity shop) to make your own – napkins, handkerchiefs and kitchen towels are a simple square, hemmed around the edges and you can add a layer of old toweling for extra absorbency on the kitchen towels. For produce bags, you can find simple drawstring bag patterns on Pinterest
-Swop shops! Local pass-it-on/swop groups are where local families can pass on items they no longer need to people who need them. If there isn’t one in your area, set one up! The internet makes it so easy to connect with others – make a facebook group and get local people passing their used items and clothes on, instead of sending them to landfill.
-Finally, don’t give up! It’s easy to feel like there’s no point when you are seeing the impact other people (with more disposable income) are having on their waste but remember firstly, that it’s not a competition – we call can only do as much as we can in our own lives with the resources we have. And secondly, carry the thought that we are in it together. Each one of us, making small steps, but making those steps with so many others, all heading in the same direction, can equal huge collective leaps towards a happier, healthier planet for us all.
Have you made an impact on your waste production without spending lots of money on extra “stuff”? Use hashtag #noserialnumbermagazine and #zerowasteweek to tell your stories on social media, and we will share the best stories to inspire others this #ZeroWasteWeek
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Kate Stuart is an artist, writer and craftswoman based in the North East of England, specializing in up-cycling, quilting, zero waste living and painting.