Zero Waste: Reusable food packaging.

Zero Waste Tips - Avoiding waste in everyday life

On average, every person in the EU produces about 502 kilograms of waste per year[1]. That is well over 1 kilo per day. Although most countries in Europe separate waste, only a small proportion is actually recycled and reused. Most of the waste ends up in landfills. This is harmful to the environment and also directly to people. Harmful emissions, toxic combustion gases and plastic packaging that takes hundreds of years to decompose are causing enormous damage to our planet.

More and more people today agree that we must make huge lifestyle changes. There is a big movement that says “No!” to waste. Zero Waste is a philosophy motivated by sustainability and strives to create no waste in everyday life. Five simple principles apply in order of importance: avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost. Many bloggers and sustainably motivated people already live the Zero Waste lifestyle – some pioneers only produce enough waste to fill a jar in a whole year[2].

It might sound daunting at first but it’s much easier than you might think. We look at different areas of life and give you tips on where and how you can avoid waste each day.

Zero Waste in the bathroom

For most of us, the day starts with a visit to the bathroom. This is a good place to start to reduce waste and take a step towards plastic-free living:

  • Plastic toothbrushes usually end up in the trash after about three months. A bamboo toothbrush is a more sustainable alternative. The renewable raw material is compostable, and the bristles of the toothbrushes are usually made of organic plastic or natural bristles.

  • You can also save some waste with your toothpaste. Many packaging-free shops now sell toothpaste tablets, which saves plastic waste from the packaging and water from the production. The tablets can easily be stored in a tin or a jar.

  • Along with body soap, you can also buy soap shampoo! A bar of soap is long-lasting and perfect for travelling. Again, a small metal tin is ideal for transport.

  • Seek and you shall find: There are now even environmentally friendly alternatives for dental floss, razors etc. There are many resources online with lots of information about these products. Exchanging ideas with friends and family can also give you new ideas.

Just before bedtime is another time for a bathroom visit. If you wear make-up and want to wash it off in the evening, there are packaging-free alternatives to make-up removal wipes. Washable cotton pads or a simple flannel and soap are usually enough to clean cosmetics and sweat off your face. Reusable cotton pads, wipes or flannels can be put through the washing machine and used again and again.

Zero Waste in the Kitchen

In the EU we produce an average of 117 kilograms of organic waste per person every year[3]. Our organic waste includes fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and even wilted flowers. Some fresh food waste is simply due to poor storage and early spoilage. Good planning and storage can greatly reduce organic waste. You can find many tips online on how to store fruit and vegetables properly, and maybe your parents and grandparents have a practical tip or two to share.

Large preserving jars are ideal for storing dry food. Simply thoroughly rinse out used jars from applesauce, pickles, or similar and reuse them. The jars are airtight, dishwasher-safe and long-lasting.

You can avoid waste when drinking coffee. Avoid using expensive single-use capsules or pods machines. Your money is better spent on a packet of fair-trade coffee and you can make excellent coffee with a stove-top espresso machine or a French press.


Reusable dishes and jute bags help save packaging waste in everyday life.

When you have used up your straws, cling film, napkins and other disposable products, replace them with more sustainable alternatives. You can now buy glass or metal straws and you can use beeswax wraps as cling film and reusable fabric napkins. With a little time, you will find more places in your kitchen where you can replace packaging waste and disposable products with sustainable alternatives!

Plastic-free household

From the soap dispenser in the bathroom to washing-up liquid and household cleaners, most of us have all kinds of plastic bottles in the household. This is a great place to save some plastic because many items are easy to make yourself at home. Vinegar, citric acid, soda, baking soda and curd soap can be used to make a wide range of DIY cleaning products. Just look online for tips and ideas. You can store your homemade household products either in airtight jars or thoroughly rinsed out cleaner bottles.

If DIY projects are too time-consuming, you can buy alternatives like a bar of hand soap to forgo the plastic dispenser. When buying hand soap, look for cardboard packaging or go straight to packaging-free shops. When it comes to detergent, go for powder as these are usually more effective, often contain no preservatives and are packaged in recyclable cardboard.

AttentionMaking your own household products has a long-standing tradition and is easier than you think. Ask your parents and grandparents for their favourite household tricks!

AttentionMaking your own household products has a long-standing tradition and is easier than you think. Ask your parents and grandparents for their favourite household tricks!

On the road without packaging

Packaging waste can quickly accumulate – especially when you’re travelling around. We have a few simple tricks to avoid waste if you take your breakfast or lunch to work or school.

Avoiding waste on the road – the basics

There are many alternatives to foil and bread bags. Glass, metal, or BPA-free plastic lunch boxes are reusable and easy to clean. Beeswax wraps are ecological and safe and almost as flexible as aluminium foil while being are easy to wash and reuse. If you’re handy with a needle and thread, our DIY bread bag tutorial might be of interest to you.

Fruit, nuts, and other snacks can also be stored in jars or reusable bags to be always at the ready in the office. This is a great way to avoid a trip or two to the vending machine and to save some more plastic waste.

Nowadays many coffee shops allow you to bring your own reusable cup. Some cafés will even give you a few cents off your bill! By the way, the glass of water with your coffee should come from the tap. Invest in a drinking bottle made of stainless steel, glass or BPA-free plastic and you will save money in the long run. Various initiatives reward the use of reusable bottles – participating shops show a sign that they will gladly refill your bottle for free.

CheckIn many cafés, you can get your coffee-to-go cheaper if you bring a reusable cup. It’s also best to bring your lunch box for your sandwiches!

CheckIn many cafés, you can get your coffee-to-go cheaper if you bring a reusable cup. It’s also best to bring your lunch box for your sandwiches!

Part of the zero-waste lifestyle is getting around in an environmentally conscious way. Ideally, you should travel on foot or by bike. This not only protects the environment, but it’s good for your health. If this is not possible, carpooling or public transport is the next best thing. Many public transport companies now offer their own app for buying paperless tickets. Cinemas, theatres, concerts, and other cultural events may also offer online tickets. Find out in advance whether a ticket needs to be printed out.

Eating out sustainably

You’re going out for dinner and already know that the portions are huge? Pack the leftovers ready for tomorrow’s lunch and avoid polystyrene and aluminium packaging. And if you’re visiting the ice cream parlour afterwards, skip the cup and eat the ice cream out of a cone. You can also do without drinking straws completely. Many drinks can be drunk without a straw, and there are sustainable alternatives made of glass or stainless steel for use at home. Avoid disposable cutlery by carrying travel cutlery made of stainless steel or wood.

Zero Waste Shopping

Zero waste shopping – that is, not producing waste when shopping – Is something that takes a bit of research and practice. Most of us cannot avoid shopping altogether and packaging waste, receipts and plastic bags lurk around every corner. Learning how to shop with a low impact is important. Our tips make it easier for you to get started and show you how you can avoid waste while shopping. The general rule is:

Buying food in a packaging-free shop.
  • Whether it’s food or clothes: Write a list in advance! You can keep track of what you need and only buy what you really need.

  • You should always have reusable bags with you when you are out and about. These ecological alternatives to plastic bags mean you no longer have to buy bags at the checkout. Bonus: You may even save some money!

  • If possible, do without the receipt. Some shops only print out receipts on request. This is a simple way to make no waste.

NoteAlthough more and more shops now offer recyclable receipts, you should still do without them wherever possible. All non-recyclable receipts should be disposed of correctly and not put in recycling bins. It’s best to dispense with the receipt right away!

NoteAlthough more and more shops now offer recyclable receipts, you should still do without them wherever possible. All non-recyclable receipts should be disposed of correctly and not put in recycling bins. It’s best to dispense with the receipt right away!

Buy packaging-free food

  • Fruit and vegetables are sold packaging-free at weekly markets and also in many supermarkets, so you have a choice to not buy them in plastic.
  • Even bread and rolls from the bakery can be stored in a cotton bag.
  • Some supermarkets even allow you to bring your own containers to the cheese and meat counters.

If you have a packaging-free shop in town, it will be easy to adapt. You can usually fill cereal, cornflakes, coffee, tea, etc in jars and tins that you have brought with you. Another advantage of packaging-free shops is that you only need to buy as much as you need.

Apps like ‘Too Good To Go’ and many food sharing providers offer supermarkets and restaurants the opportunity to have their unused food picked up for little money or sometimes even for free. The idea is you can have a quick look through the app at breakfast and maybe pick up a bargain after work!

Zero Waste shopping tips

Whether clothes or household appliances, they always need to be durable. It pays to invest in quality and above all, you must be willing to repair things rather than buying new ones. You don’t even need to own many tools and appliances yourself. You can share a drill and lawnmower with your neighbour or borrow them from friends. You can either donate old clothes or give them a new lease of life with a little work with your sewing machine. Upcycling is the keyword!

When buying new things, look for quality and a timeless design. You can wear your new T-shirt next summer rather than replace it.

Conclusion

Living zero waste sounds like a big change at first. In reality, however, it is a lot of small changes that can often be easily integrated into everyday life. Not everyone can afford to shop at the local market or are able to cycle everywhere. But even the smallest changes will lead to saving money: By using reusable bags and drinking bottles, you not only save plastic in the long run but also money. A good water bottle will last forever and may even encourage you to drink more water. Don’t be put off if you can’t go completely packaging-free overnight. Every little waste avoidance measure counts and small steps make the change easier and lead to a more conscious approach to packaging waste.

References:

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Municipal_waste_statistics
(last accessed 23.02.2021)

[2] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/zero-waste-families-plastic-culture
(last accessed 17.02.2021)

[3] https://www.compostnetwork.info/policy/biowaste-in-europe/separate-collection/
(last accessed 23.02.2021)

Image sources:

iStock.com/Ekaterina Morozova

iStock.com/Nomad

iStock.com/Nomad

iStock.com/Ekaterina Morozova

iStock.com/GrapeImages