My Zero Waste Journey

This is a post I shared on another blog in December 2018. Since I’m still quite engaged in the topic of Zero Waste, I thought I should share my first steps towards waste reduction here once again. I will write an update soon on the progress I have made since then.

A couple of months ago, I started researching a lot on the areas of simplification and minimalism, but also began to try making my lifestyle more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Quite naturally, that brought me to people following a “plastic free” lifestyle, or even aiming at living a life of “zero waste”. I was hooked immediately and gradually began to implement some of those ideas into my own life. Here’s an account on what I’ve learned on the way so far.

Changing Shopping Behaviors

The first and most apparent behavior to change was the way I went grocery shopping. I switched from milk and yogurt in plastic cartons to products in returnable glass containers. I moved from tea bags to lose tea. While I had always brought linen bags with me to pack my groceries, I also started to pack fruits and vegetables into cotton nets instead of the usual plastic bags. In general, I’m trying to go to farmers’ markets more often as it’s often easier to go shopping waste- or at least plastic-free there.

Toiletries and cleaning products are a whole different story, as it turned out. I stopped buying make-up remover and in many cases using make-up altogether. Removing make-up works just fine with a little hand cream (in case of waterproof make-up) or just plain old soap and water. I exchanged my sanitary napkins to reusable and washable ones made from textile. For brushing my teeth, I had been using Denttabs for a while, and I bought a wooden toothbrush in addition. I started buying hand cream in metal tins instead of plastic containers. I moved back to good old soap bars instead of liquid soap. I plan to use those to wash my hair, too, once I used up my shampoo.

For cleaning products, I switched back to washing powder instead of gel – as that at least comes in a cardboard box instead of a large plastic bottle. I started experimenting with making my own cleaning agents, but at the same time, I’m still working on using up my remaining products in plastic bottles. I stopped using paper towels and paper tissues altogether and started using old-fashioned handkerchiefs.

A Long Way to Go

Many of the goods I buy are still packaged – in plastic or otherwise. Nowadays, there are many “packaging free” shops available in larger cities, where you can go and bring your own container to buy staples like pasta, rice, beans, lentils and so on. But I live quite far away from large cities and thus have rarely been to these shops. I’m trying to do what I can with what I have around me right now.

When going shopping in supermarkets, I prefer cardboard, paper and (returnable) glass to plastic and cans. In my mind, a little improvement is better than none. To calm my conscience a bit, I downloaded a (German) app called “Replace Plastic”, which lets you scan barcodes of products packaged in plastic. It then collects the customers’ complaints and sends them to the producers of the respective product, asking for plastic-free packaging.

However, I still believe that rather than throwing out all your products that are either made from or packaged in plastic, is not always the right thing to do. You bought that product once, so it would be a shame to throw it away without using it. That’s why a primary occupation over the last couple of months for me has been to use up various products – ranging from make-up and shampoo to cleaning agents and laundry detergents.

Minimalism & Decluttering to Avoid Waste

Finally, another critical step for me towards zero waste was a radical decluttering. I realized that often I bought new things just because I didn’t know I still had some replacements hidden away somewhere in my apartment. So I read the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying” by Mari Kondo and used her method. While I had always considered my lifestyle to be “lean” and somewhat minimalist, the book helped me a lot towards even more radical thinking.

My closet is now half empty after I threw out a large part of my clothes. I haven’t bought anything new since. Most of my shoes are now gone, too. Most of my books are gone, just like many of the small things that pile up more and more and that at some point fill your entire house. I moved some furniture around to fill the newly created space. As a consequence, a complete room of my apartment is now empty – except for a few bags of things I’m planning to sell/donate/throw away over the Christmas break.

And the best thing is: I feel great! I don’t miss a single thing! I feel like my apartment – and my life – is much better organized and structured now. I feel like minimizing and starting to reduce waste have also freed up some more space in my head, and I can think much more clearly now.

There’s still a long way ahead of me, but I enjoy employing this kind of radical thinking to everything I do, own or (want to) buy. Do I really want this? Do I really need this? Can I (re-)use something I already have instead? Both my apartment and my mind have never been as tidy as they are now.

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