Beginning your Zero Waste Journey

The Waste Problem

The average European throws away 500kg of waste each year; in Ireland that number is double. This places us at the 7th highest per capita municipal waste producer in the EU. Individuals and businesses produce municipal waste, making it the easiest to change through individual action. While there is easy access to recycling services throughout the country, there is often confusion as to what we can and cannot recycle. This has lead to only 60-80% of what we put in our recycling bins actually being recycled. For information on what can or cannot be recycled click here.

What is Zero Waste?

The term ‘zero waste’ seems to be popping up everywhere these days, but that doesn’t mean it is a new concept. Paul Palmer coined the term ‘zero waste’ in the 1970’s through his company, Zero Waste Systems. Zero Waste Systems was developed to reduce the amount of chemical waste in laboratories, but has since spiralled into an international environmental movement through blogger Bea Johnson. Johnson’s blog brought in the 5 R’s of Zero Waste as a way to re-evaluate how we manage waste:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

The idea of zero waste is to reduce one’s waste footprint slowly until it is minimal or non-existent. This may seem like an overwhelming task, but taking small steps toward becoming zero waste have a greater impact than you think! Here are some steps you can take to help you with your zero waste or waste reduction journeys.

De-Clutter

You know that jumper you have in the back of your closet that you can’t remember the last time you wore? The first step to going zero-waste is taking that jumper from the back of your closet and taking it to a charity shop or second-hand store. Take inventory of what you have around your house and realise what you do not use. Giving items a second life de-clutters your life and reduces the amount of single-use items in circulation by those in need.

Reducing Plastic

Certain plastics can take up to 450 years or more to decompose. In other words, a plastic bottle that does not get recycled properly could end up in our oceans or a whale’s stomach 400 years from now! One way to prevent this from happening, and reduce your use of plastic, is to simply choose products with paper or no packaging. Here are some easy steps to reducing your plastic use:

  • Stop using chewing gum. Chewing gum is made from a synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  • Buy cleaning products that come in cardboard boxes instead of plastic bottles.
  • Avoid frozen food as even those in cardboard packaging can have a thin layer of plastic that’s not recyclable.
  • Say no to take-away plastic cutlery and straws. If you need a straw, buy a stainless steel or glass one.
  • Buy your dry groceries such as rice, pasta, and porridge and grains in bulk to reduce overall packaging
  • Use of refill options for cleaning products

Reducing Single-Use

Single-use items are often made unsustainably and are not recyclable. Owning a few ‘lifetime’ items to replace single-use items serves two purposes: reducing your waste and saving you money in the long run! Here are some money saving tips to reduce your single-use consumption:

  • Buy a keep-cup instead of using the disposable cups at a café. Here’s a map of places in Ireland offering keep-cup discounts.
  • Choose rechargeable batteries over disposable batteries
  • Use a reusable bag for your groceries

Homemade Products

Homemade cleaning or beauty products don’t only reduce your waste, but they often have fewer chemicals and provide natural, more affordable solutions. Here are some of our favourite recipes:

Household All-Purpose Cleaner

Mix the following ingredients together and pour into a reusable spray bottle:

  1. 4 tablespoons baking soda
  2. 1 quart warm water

If you want to add a fresh scent to your cleaner:

  1. Lemon rind
  2. Rosemary sprigs

Glass Cleaner

Mix the following ingredients together and pour into a reusable spray bottle:

  1. 2 cups water
  2. 1/2 cup white or cider vinegar
  3. 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol 70% concentration

If you want to add a fresh scent to your cleaner:

  1. 1 to 2 drops of orange essential oil

Hint: Make sure it’s not a hot sunny day or the mixture will dry very quickly and leave streaks

Natural Hair Conditioner

  1. 1 part white vinegar
  2. 5 parts distilled water
  3. 5-10 drops of your favourite essential oil like lavender, orange, lemon, or peppermint

Natural Bronzer/Bronzing Cream

Mix together the following ingredients until you get the colour you prefer. For a bronzer simply use these ingredients, for a bronzing cream simply add the mixture to your favourite lotion!

  1. Cocoa power
  2. Cinnamon
  3. Arrowroot (optional)

Eliminate Food Waste

Nearly 25% of household black bin waste in Ireland is food waste. Composting is the most effective way to eliminate your food waste, but there are things you can do to reduce the amount of food waste ending up in your compost bin as well. Here are our favourite tips:

  • Turn Sunday Roast leftovers into a Monday night Shepard’s pie.
  • Freeze veggie scraps to turn them into a homemade broth or stock.
  • Take leftovers from restaurants home in your own container to reduce restaurant waste. This can be done with your table’s bread or your dishes.
  • Use smaller plates for children to portion out their food accordingly.
  • Freeze produce or vegetables to prolong their shelf life. Remember to fully cool your food first and blanch any vegetables before putting in the freezer.

For more tips on reducing your food waste check out the EPA’s A to Z of Foods

Increase Your Impact

Love these suggestions but looking for more ways to reduce your waste? Take part in any of our community programmes to become waste reduction champions! Participants in our Community Action Programme cleared over 4,265 kgs of waste last year alone!

We offer a variety of interactive workshops for primary and secondary students to empower them to become active community leaders. Some of our Water Explorers have even developed campaigns in their schools to switch to recycled paper to further reduce waste!

Will you take up the not-so-difficult challenge of reducing your waste?