Lifestyle,  Zero Waste

A to Z of Zero Waste: H – Homes

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.


How can we have a zero waste home? We often see the image of zero waste as perfected "zero waste kits" and bulk shopping, but a zero waste life encompasses every aspect of our lives, including the place we spend the most time, our homes. There are so many ways we can make our household less wasteful and be less wasteful in how we approach creating our homes.
Have you noticed that many fast fashion stores have started to sell homeware items? That is because we are now consuming homewares in the same way we do fashion, with new items needed every season and going in and out of fashion very quickly. The emphasis is on the trends, not the quality of the item or the people who made these items probably with minimal pay.
Here are ten general principles that come into play when thinking about a zero waste home as a whole:

1. Take care of what you already own

Once you own something, then you want to keep it working for as long as possible, especially if it has elements that cannot be reused. Upkeep of your belongings is a great way to be zero waste as it keeps your things in use for as long as possible. So de-scale your kettle, oil your wooden chopping boards, clean your refrigerator coils etc to keep things lasting as long as possible.


2. Repair
When something does inevitably break or stop working as well as it should do, try to repair it before throwing it our. Check online for videos, ask a friend for help, take it to a repair cafe or even get a professional to do it for you, just don't throw it before seeing if it can be revived!

3. Discard responsibly
If something does eventually come to the end of its life, make sure it ends up in the right place, especially if the right place is somewhere other than landfill! If it still works (e.g. if you're decluttering or need too downsize and you don't need all your furniture) try to get it rehoused by someone who wants it by selling it online, offering its to friends or selling it on to a second hand store. If it is broken but has useful parts, see if they can be given to someone who can make use of them, or at least recycle the components correctly. Did you know that the correct disposal of the refrigerator units currently in use is the number one way to prevent climate change according to Drawdown.
Some items will always end up in landfill, but that should be a last resort after trying all other avenues. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

4. Buy less new things
This is generally true for all of zero waste living but is especially true in our homes. If we buy less, we are creating less demand for more things to be made which usually means less ends up in landfill. When we buy too much, resources are not only wasted in that product but upstream in the production cycle - of all materials that go into creating products that we buy, only 1% of them are in use 6 months later. So 99% of all those resources end up as waste within 6 months (1). But with our houses especially, we usually buy more than we need and our houses become cluttered and full, meaning time is wasted organising and re-organising our space. When we buy less we reduce the pressure on our time, our wallets and our planet. Think about whether you actually need an item or whether it's just in fashion, because you may be surprised!

5. Use what you have
When you think you need to buy something new, try to evaluate whether you actually need to buy anything at all, or whether there is the possibility to use something you already have to serve that purpose. Can you reuse a certain item or upcycle it to serve the need you have? Do you need that avocado slicer, or could you just use a knife? Do you really need to buy new glass jars or can you just reuse ones that came with food in? I have one plant pot that is actually just a cute mug where the handle was broken. Reusing what you already have is a great way to avoid waste.

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6. Buy second hand
But sometime we need to get things, perhaps you are moving into a new unfurnished flat and you need furniture, what then? The answer is to buy second hand. Not only does this reduce the demand for new items, it also keeps items that already exist out of landfill. Usually it also is cheaper than buying new, meaning you may be able to get better quality second hand than you could have afforded new, or find an interesting design piece that was out of your budget. Honestly, sometimes you don't even need to buy these item, people are giving them away for free as they no longer need them and want to prevent things ending up in landfill. Try asking friends and family if they have any items they were thinking of getting rid of - you may be surprised what you could get for free.

7. If not second hand, buy better

There are somethings that may not be possible or sensible to buy second hand, or no matter how hard you look you can't find something that would fit in the required space, then you might need to buy something new. Look for items that are good quality and should last a lifetime, especially looking out for items with a long or lifetime guarantee. If you're buying wooden products, look for hard wood not chipboard items, as they are easier to upcycle in the future, and look for FSC certified wood. Look for items that will not go out of style and that you will always find beautiful. Buy from shops that use fair labour practices, buy products that are Fairtrade or buy products that are made in the UK. If you can, support local makers who may be able to make the item to your exact specification as this limits the carbon footprint of the item and you can often ask for no packaging.


8. Prioritise energy efficiency

When buying a new electrical item consider all the things we discussed above, but also it's very important to consider the energy efficiency of the product so that you're not signing up to run a very inefficient and wasteful item for its whole lifetime. On this theme, try to fit your house with LED lightbulbs which are very energy efficient, and if you are able, install a smart thermostat which reduces waste heating energy. Read more about zero waste energy here.


9. Choose natural elements

Wherever possible prioritise natural materials like wood or metal instead of plastic in your home so it is able to be reused after you are finished with it. This may be less important if you are buying second hand as the most sustainable product is the one that already exists. You can also choose natural elements in your decoration of your home, choosing to feature plants instead of other decoration items as these will biodegrade at the end of life or if they get damaged. Choose to feature a bowl of beautiful fruit as a centre piece for a dinner party, put cut greenery from your garden in a jar instead of buying cut flowers from abroad, and instead of using artificial scents if you have guests coming over, try brewing coffee or making bread to make your home smell amazing. Most candles are petroleum based so use fossil fuels to create making them a non-sustainable resource, and they also release more damaging chemicals than other alternatives. If you are not able to give up candles, try to use soy or beeswax candles, although these also have their production issues.

10. Tips for Restoring  houses:
  • Choose eco-paints which release no VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) which are air pollutants.
  • Use reclaimed wood, reclaimed stone or tile when you are able
  • Consider secondhand fittings such as cabinets and baths - sometimes you can get much better quality and design than if you bought new.
  • Look for ethically made items and FSC certified wood.
  • Ensure good quality insulation, window glazing and window coverings, to make your home heat efficient.
  • Prioritise energy efficient electrical items
  • Install water saving devices like water aerators and water-saving shower heads.
  • Install solar panels, solar heating devices or micro wind generators if you are able.
  • If you have a garden, kit it out to help you be more sustainable with water butts, compost bins and areas to grow your own food.

There you have 10 general tips about have to have a zero waste home. It's not all about buying beautiful glass Kilner jars, wooden toilet brushes and essential oil diffusers. You can have an incredibly low waste home without buying anything new, in fact that is likely to make your home more zero waste than if you went out shopping. We need to relearn the mindset that quality is better than trends and that things you bring into your life should be able to withstand whatever life throws at them, not break at a slight gust of wind. When we are conscious about what we bring into our home, we are creating less waste, and less stress for ourselves in the future.

References:

  1. Paul Hawken, Natural Capitalism, (1999) p. 81
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