Welcome to our series of posts on the A-Z of zero waste!
An overview of everything that has been shared so far can be found here.
As we talked about in our second article, "B - Bring your own", a lot of the waste we generate in our society today is due to our incessant hunt for convenience. It is probably due to living in a consumeristic society that we judge worth on how productive you are, and so how much money you can make. So the more productive you can be, the more valuable you are. That's nonsense of course and incredibly damaging for anyone with health problems or who has a disability. But if society tells us that our worth it determined by how much we can earn, then of course we are going to look for ways to boost productivity and look for convenient solutions. Here's where business comes in. They take something that we can do ourselves, and "do it for us" which allows us more time (probably to earn more money to spend on these more expensive convenience items). However a lot of these "convenience options" are not more convenient. They cost more money - money it took us time to earn so we may not actually be saving money, but also they often generate more waste than if we did it ourselves. So that's what we're talking about today, how you can DIY your way to reducing waste.
Two caveats to this point:
- If you do have a health issue that stops you doing something for yourself that someone else could do, please know this article is not targeted at you and you can do what you need to remain healthy. This article is for able bodied individuals who can do these things physically.
- DIY will not always be less wasteful that buying something or getting someone to do it for you. Often it is, but you will need to weigh up these things yourself to judge what is creating the most waste. Something that needs 74 different items that you will never use again may be more wasteful to DIY than to buy pre-made.
The first and biggest group of things you can DIY is food items. Making your meals at home often generates less waste than buying a store bought alternative, especially if they're highly packaged. The great thing is that when you make it yourself you can also alter the recipe to mainly use things you can get with minimal to no packaging. The internet is your friend here and simply searching for what you want to make will likely show up lots of different options for you to try. Hop on to ecosia and search for what you fancy eating this week.
Now there are too many food options to mention all the possibilities but there are a few areas that are great places to start reducing waste by DIY-ing:
Pre-prepared food - unless you have a disability, or due to social situations are in accommodation with absolutely no kitchen facilities, you are likely able to chop up vegetables. Sometimes it is tricky I know, my husband finds it funny watching me try to cut up a pumpkin or squash, and it can take more time, but we make do. Buying pre-prepared fruit and vegetables is not worth it if you are an average person. You think it saves you time, but as it costs more, and you had to spend time working to earn that money, does it actually save you time? It generates a huge amount of packaging waste but also contributes to food waste. The food waste issue with pre-prepared food is two-fold. Have you noticed that the cubes or slices of butternut squash are always perfectly shaped? I'm not sure where the odd shaped slices and chunks are going. If the producer is sensible then they will include them in other products like soups and smoothies, but you can't guarantee that. At home you would eat the whole squash. Also pre-prepared food often goes off more quickly as it is already chopped and open to the air for mould spores to have access to the food, so as it now has a shorter shelf life than a normal squash with it's protective skin, it is more likely that some of this will go to waste.
Breakfast options - often very packaged. Could you mix your own muesli from bulk items, or make your own granola and avoid the box and plastic bag? Can you bake bread? Could you bake a tray of your own breakfast bars or flapjacks instead of individually wrapped ones? How about blending your own breakfast smoothie instead of buying it in a bottle? Can you make your own morning coffee instead of popping into a coffee shop?
Takeaway foods - these are often hugely packaged and wasteful. If you often order the same thing, can you learn how to make it yourself? Even if it has some packaged ingredients, if you make it often you can buy in big quantities to avoid waste. Also it will save you money and often can be a healthier version of your go-to takeaway. What about your "to-go" lunch? In the UK our lunch-on-the-go habit generates 10.7 billion separate items of waste over a year, including sandwich boxes, crisp packets and napkins(1). If you DIY yourself a lunch box then you can avoid all the waste of that meal deal. I almost never make a lunch for myself - instead I always make enough dinner the night before so I will have left overs to take for lunch. This option saves me time so is still a "convenience option" but one that doesn't generate extra waste. And the takeaway coffee - make your own at home before you go and take it with you in a travel mug if you need.
Snack foods - are incredibly over packaged and mainly in non-recyclable plastic or mixed material packaging. However there is a lot of snack items you could make yourself with a little planning and time. Flapjacks, cake bars, cakes, biscuits, crackers, popcorn, trail mix, dried fruit, fruit leather, crisps and hummus are ideas I can think of just off the top of my head whilst writing this article. Realistically most snacks can be made by you will a little ingenuity.
Basically any thing packaged - this won't work for everything, and can run the risk of generating more waste but it's worth thinking about. Every time you throw away a piece of rubbish, look at it and think whether you could have been able to make that item yourself. Perhaps it is a stock cube wrapper - can you make veggie stock from vegetable scraps? What about if you eat chicken breasts - buying a whole chicken and breaking it up yourself may generate less waste? Do you drink plant milks - can you make your own? The internet is an amazing tool here, just search what food it is and check out a recipe to see if you could make it yourself. You might be surprised! Usually DIYing food saves a lot of waste and also saves you a lot of money so is worth trying. But remember that if you need to buy lots of packaged ingredients then it may not be worth it, and you do need to weigh it up yourself.
What about non-food items? I think DIY can reduce waste in practically all areas of life but here are ones that may be more related to the zero waste "lifestyle". You do not necessarily need to buy anything new to go zero waste (except perhaps reusable menstrual products) but often we are told on instagram and social media that we have to. This is because consumerism is a huge problem and we have been conditioned to solve any problem by buying something. But that attitude will not help us reduce waste. The best way to reduce waste is to use, reuse and repurpose what you already have. Things you already own are the most sustainable option! So here are some ideas:
Some basic sewing skills will go a long way to reducing your waste. It doesn't need to be fancy, and you definitely don't need to go out and buy a sewing machine!
Cloth bags - I do love a cloth bag. They are great for buying bulk food in but you do not need to buy new ones. Cotton takes a huge amount of water to grow, and converting the cotton plant into a cloth bag uses more water, energy and other resources. I bought second hand dust bags to use, but you can so easily make cloth bags from stuff you have lying about. You can make cloth bags from t-shirts! You can make cloth bags from old scarfs! You can make cloth bags from old bedding! There are so many options and but making these yourself you are massively reducing the waste of producing these items.
Clothes - You will often se people trying to say that the most sustainable, and least wasteful option for clothing is (a) organic, (b) natural materials or (c) locally made. In reality its none of these and the most sustainable option is the clothes you already have. Repairing these will always be the least wasteful option! If you like you can also go full Sound of Music and create hour own clothes out of old curtains but that's only for bonus points.
Knitted/crocheted wash cloths - once you have finally worked through the never ending supply of plastic kitchen sponges you may wonder what you replace them with. Making your own little wash cloths can be a great option. You can use old wool from unravelled jumpers or even string. Even more impressively I believe there is a way to make yarn from old t-shirts so give even the tattiest of tee and extra lease of life!
Knitted soap saver - can you put your crafty skills to further use and create a little bag for your soap scraps? This keeps them together for you to use in the shower and extends their life.
Beauty products - these are often very packaged and so some clever zero wasters have started creating their own beauty products. I have a recipe for DIY dry shampoo which is one of my favourite DIYs. Acala is a online zero waste healthy and beauty store and they have tutorials about how to make zero waste beauty items, and they sell they also sell the ingredients plastic free! If you use the code "10-ZEROWASTEDOC" you can get 10% off too. (This is an affiliate code so I will earn a little money but I support Acala and use them myself too!)
What else? Well the possibilities are endless! What about making your own furniture, or at least doing little jobs like recovering chairs instead of buying new ones or refinishing the top of a damaged table? Your imagination is the limit here! It will not always reduce waste but it is always worth considering!
Society tells us we need to shop our way out of the problem of climate change and plastic pollution but that is simply not true and an old way of thinking. It will not heal our planet.
We need to re-learn skills that have been a little lost to our generations like cooking, sewing, building, repairing and generally just doing it ourselves! What's your favourite zero waste DIY?