A Beginner’s Guide to Zero-Waste

Aayushma Gurung
July 22, 2020

Two years ago, "eco-conscious" would not be the term I would have used to describe my lifestyle. My days were fuelled by takeaway coffees (often multiple a day), purchased meals, plastic bags and no hesitation when it came to using the infamous plastic straw. I'd blame the ubiquity of single-use plastic in my daily life on my busy uni schedule, and tell myself that I had no time to remediate these behaviours.


One night, out of pure procrastination, I watched a documentary on Netflix called 'The True Cost', which provided a confronting insight into the environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry (I highly recommend watching it). This was a wake-up call and a reframed perspective on the environmental damages which are disproportionately burdening developing countries. These impacts are a result of long-term behaviours of privileged societies that currently operate on convenience and profit. Rather than doing my assignment that night, I fell into a rabbit hole of research into environmentalism, and this was when I discovered the term, "zero-waste".

What is Zero-Waste and why is it important?

"Zero-waste" is a goal and an effort to emulate a sustainable cycle of discarded materials through "responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging and materials" [Zero Waste International Alliance].    

We produce about 260 million tonnes of plastic each year. According to a Greenpeace report, about 10% of this ends up in our ocean with 70% of this debris sinking into the marine ecosystem.

A zero-waste lifestyle operates around five principles:

  1. Refuse - unnecessary/excessive packaging
  2. Reduce - buying things you don’t really need
  3. Reuse - and repurpose-
  4. Recycle - preventing trash from going to landfills when possible
  5. Rot - start composting organic waste


How you can get started

Living a zero-waste lifestyle doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be able to fit an entire 2 years' worth of your waste into a single mason jar. When I first started off trying to live more eco-consciously, my efforts only lasted for short periods. I even splurged on a $35 keep cup and a $65 stylish steel bottle, in the highly ambitious hopes that I could make disposable cups/bottles a thing of the past. The reality, however, was that I hadn’t developed a habit of carrying my reusable products yet and each time I forgot, my motivation to continue my commitment would diminish. 


My problem was that I was aiming for perfection or nothing. But as Zero Waste Chef, Anne Marie Bonneau, puts it: "We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly."


I by no means live a waste-free life. However, I've found that by following zero-waste principles when making everyday decisions, I've cut down my waste significantly. My advice would be to just start. You'll make mistakes but that’s ok!


Tips that helped me:


  1. Start by introducing simple swaps to cut down on disposables.

Most of us students drink more coffee than water, but coffee cups are actually not recyclable due to the plastic lining inside the cup which is used for insulation. Buy a reusable cup, or for a budget hack, you can get an old jam/pasta jar, a small tea towel, and an elastic band to create a DIY cup.


Invest in a metal straw, and carry around spare cutlery with you to avoid using plastic utensils when you're out. Take reusable produce bags with you and challenge yourself to do your next grocery run 



  1. Repurpose and recycle 

Like the budget coffee cup hack, look at what you already have and see what you can do with them. Self-isolation has seen me slowly transform into a plant fanatic. But as I don’t want to keep buying overpriced plant pots (plus I'm too lazy), I've decided to use empty yoghurt tubs to house my plants and they're a perfect size!


  1. Upcycle/Thrift


Despite being more ethical and sustainable, let's be honest, I’d have to sell a kidney to afford a slow-fashion wardrobe. A much more affordable alternative is buying second-hand clothing.


Have a wholesome thrift outing with your friends and find some affordable gems. In the current climate, social distancing is important so there are also virtual options such as Depop and Facebook marketplace (some buyers are negotiable which is a bonus).

  1. Compost

Composting is a natural process which transforms your organic food waste into nutrient-rich food for your garden. A concerningly large portion of the waste which ends up in a landfill can be composted and put back into the earth.


If you live in an apartment like me, I recently discovered urban composting kits which produce minimal odour and are just as effective as regular composting! An alternative is to place your leftovers in a paper bag and pop them in your freezer (it's not as gross as it sounds). You can boil this to make veggie stock, or you can drop it off at the end of the week at a local compost drop-off location (you can find your nearest drop-off site here)


  1. Finally, do your research!

Ignorance is bliss, but climate change is a narrative that we all need to be aware of. Knowing the statistics and the impact of making sustainable choices in your day-to-day life is the key to turning this into a permanent lifestyle. If you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to check out the resources provided below.






Tips and Tricks (explained much better than I did):


Companies/Extra Resources:

Note: Some companies tend to ship their reusable products in plastic packaging (a bit counterproductive) so remember to check the FAQ section to see if their packaging is zero-waste.