Low-waste Lifestyle

waste in a jar

When I started on my journey to zero waste I joined the Facebook group Zero Waste Ireland and it really opened my eyes to the extent of waste we send to landfill in this country. So I audited all of our purchases in an effort to reduce the amount of waste we generate, particularly if it’s not compostable, biodegradable or recyclable.

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Having done a bit of research into Zero Waste it seems that the terms means different things to different people. To some it’s primarily about preventing waste from going to landfill or incineration by designing circular life-cycles for products, including recycling. For others this doesn’t go far enough and their goal is to prevent waste in the first place. When you think about it this makes a lot more sense. Even if packaging is compostable, biodegradable or recyclable, it requires a huge amount of material and energy to produce, distribute, collect and dispose of. Not only does this use up precious resources – particularly if the packaging is plastic – it also a waste of human energy, not to mention money!

And swapping to compostable, biodegradable or recyclable isn’t as easy as it first seems.  A lot of the packaging that we use in Ireland is not compostable, biodegradable or recyclable. Paper or cardboard with a waxed or plastic finish is not compostable, biodegradable or recyclable. And to be honest recycling in Ireland is such a mess that even if something is marked as recyclable and collected for recycling, it may not actually get recycled because it all depends on whether someone somewhere wants to buy it.

Okay so you want to get in on this zero waste lark, but you’re worried that it’s going to be so expensive and time-consuming! Well it needn’t be. You decide what works for you and what doesn’t and just do that. It’s not an all or nothing situation so just make the changes that suit where you are at here and now.

Here are some painless ways to start your journey towards zero waste living.

  • Use a reuseable coffee cup instead of disposal cups. The technology to recycle coffee cups exist but not in Ireland and every take-away coffee cup used in Ireland currently goes to landfill / incineration. Eek!
  • Use a reuseable water bottle. I’m perfectly content with tap water but if you’d prefer filtered water invest in a filter on your tap or a filter jug. Brita accept back used filters so you’ll be able to circle that supply line too!
  • Bring a reusable bag for ALL shopping trips. People are fantastic at bringing reusable bags to their supermarket but don’t seem to remember them when going to other types of stores. Although compostable or recyclable paper bags require raw materials, energy, money to produce, distribute, collect and recycle. I keep a foldable shopping bag from Reisenthel in my handbag. My one has lasted me over 10 years and when i lost the pouch that it goes into Reisenthel very kindly sent me a replacement in the post. And if you forget your reusable shopping bag and need a paper carry-bag that’s fine, just try to use the one bag for multiple shops and don’t take one from each shop.
  • Don’t bother with cling film. Put food in bowls and cover with a plate instead. Quicker and cheaper!
  • Buy the best quality products that you can afford to avoid breakages.
  • Repair rather than replace – If you can get things repaired where you can. Personally, we’ve had our metal bed frame and our lawnmower repaired by our local hardware store and bought second-hand parts for our vacuum cleaner from the Hoover store in Harold’s Cross.
  • Put up a ‘No Junk Mail’ or ‘Addressed Mail Only’ sign on your post box.
  • Buy larger sizes of your favourite products. Buying 1kg of something is obviously going to use less packaging than two packets of 500g.
  • Aim to buy products that do multiple jobs; you will be amazed at how many things you can use  bicarbonate of soda and vinegar for!


Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

3 thoughts on “Low-waste Lifestyle

  1. I’ve been thinking of going minimal waste for a while now, the only qualms I have relate to frozen foods (some things just aren’t available fresh where I live), and buying eggs. Going to toss the last one though, since I’m planning to go back to being vegan.

    Seems really nice! All the best with it 🙂


    1. Thanks for comment Sharma. I wouldn’t worry about frozen food or eggs. Low waste living is about doing your best – not doing it perfectly. If we all do what we can we’re heading in the right direction.


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