Adopting a zero-waste lifestyle can seem to be rather daunting, especially if you’ve followed (like I did) several zero-wasters on Instagram, who are all about shopping in bulk and making your own stuff. Here are seven ways to reduce your waste without too much trouble.
1. Bring your own water bottle.
Doing this will reduce the number of bottles you have to buy on a daily basis–thus reducing the amount that ends up in our landfills, and hopefully help you stay hydrated throughout the day.
The budget option–and this is what I do–is to fill up a bottle (plastic, sorry) multiple times a day. I got this bottle free as a company gift–to my sister, which I then repurposed for my own use. Other options would be to reuse bottles that used to contain green tea, H2O, etc., although these can really only be used for a couple of weeks before they should be thrown away (or recycled, if possible).
If you do want to invest in a proper bottle, preferably stainless steel, you can try Klean Kanteen (about S$28 to S$56, of which 1% of the sales is donated to organisations dedicated to preserving wild places). You can also save more by buying second-hand, and washing it thoroughly.
Estimated Savings: If you used a plastic bottle every two weeks, that would cost you about S$104 per year, so that’s about S$48 in savings.
Bonus: You can put hot liquids in it without worry.
2. Bring your own tumbler.
I don’t drink coffee, as it doesn’t work well with my digestive system, so if I head to a Starbucks or Coffee Bean, I usually order either tea or a hot chocolate. Since I made a conscious choice to start on this zero-waste lifestyle, I make it a point to have the drink in the café, so I avoid using their take-away cups. You can either buy their tumblers (I still have one as a keepsake from Kyoto) or get a Keep Cup.
Bonus: Some coffee places will give you a slight discount if you bring your own.
3. Use a menstrual cup or period panties.
Reduce the amount of trash generated every month (sorry boys) by using reusable options like a menstrual cup or period panties. The first is suitable if you’re used to inserting a tampon, it’s a similar method. What I like about this is that you can’t feel the flow, unless it leaks, but that’s a lot less fluid than you would see with a pad or period panties. I usually use a combination of period panties, menstrual cup and pads, because my periods are generally much heavier (and I’m also paranoid about using the cup).
Estimated savings: Assuming you use pads during your cycle, you might pay about S$5.95 for a pack of 16, so that would cost about S$45 in a year, as compared to about S$30 for a Freedom Cup, which is a one-time purchase for about fifteen years or so, or about S$47.6 for a pair of hiphuggers from Thinx, thus saving you more money in the long run.
4. Pack your own lunch (or use glass tupperware)
I’ll be honest and say I’ve only done this once this year–mainly because I now live with my in-laws and it’s not very convenient, at least for me, to cook at their place. I fully intend to change this once we get our own place and cook more. I did, however, purchase a glass tupperware (although with a silicon cover, which I don’t use when I reheat the food).
Otherwise, you could always use your existing tupperware. I abandoned my usual practice of bagging vegetables and fruits in ziplock bags and packed them in tupperwares instead, which saved me from using eight bags. Hopefully that makes a difference.
You can also schlep it around when you buy takeout, although it may or may not be possible to get stallholders to use the containers. I tried it recently, and was flatly rejected as not being company policy–an alternative might be to get them to put the food in a plastic container (to ensure that they’re giving you the same amount as everyone else) and then transfer it to the glass container. Of course, if they’re passing you the container to transfer yourself, it might not be worth the hassle.
Estimated Savings: I don’t think there will be much of a saving honestly. In Singapore you can get plastic containers every time you take-out (or in local terms dapao) and they usually charge you about 20 to 30 cents more each time. It costs (as per Lock and Lock’s website) $31.80 for three 1.1 litre plastic tupperware and $40.85 for two 840ml glass tupperware, unless you minus off the amount you’d spend on ziplock bags (about S$39.80 if you use them every day), then it’d be a total savings of S$31.80.
Other Alternatives: Surprisingly (at least to me), you can get affordable glass containers at a lot of places, like Daiso, or even Ikea. Otherwise there’s always second-hand options.
5. Use up whatever you have. Recycle the packaging if possible.
It doesn’t quite make sense to toss out all plastics because they are evil and they will not biodegrade for many years, so what I suggest (and what other bloggers do too) is to use up whatever plastic containers you have and then recycle them if possible (look for the symbol on the packaging). What you do throw, try to recycle if possible.
Try not to use plastic for food-related items, but the containers can be repurposed to organise small objects or clothes. If you have plastic cups–like the kind you get when buying boba or bubble tea, you could use that also to put seeds and soil and plant your own garden, even if you live in an apartment. There’s many articles on this topic, here’s one from TreeHugger.
7. Bring your own cutlery.
This is more useful if you takeout regularly, so you can save on the single-use plastic cutlery that they give–your own cutlery is likely to be more durable anyway, I remember my brother managed to snap the fork quite easily when he was a child. You will get strange looks when you refuse the cutlery and the accompanying plastic bags, but generally they will still accommodate you anyway.
Just bring the cutlery that you regularly use from home and you should be set. This might include a fork, knife and spoon, and maybe chopsticks (since some Japanese restaurants use wooden, single-use chopsticks). If you need to wash the utensils, remember to bring a towel or handkerchief to wipe them dry.
Any others I missed? Let me know in the comments.