In May, I agreed to do a challenge – make zero waste for one month. Did I really manage not to make any trash? What kind of changes did I have to implement in my everyday life? Did it make a change in my habits? In this post, I will tell you about my emotions first and then show you all the changes I made in my habits in order not to make trash.
What is zero waste anyway? The definition according to the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) is the following: the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of all products, packaging, and materials, without burning them, and without discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health.
My emotions after the zero waste month
So, at the beginning of my zero waste month, I needed to make some changes in my habits. Mostly, what I felt I had to do was a bit more planning in my life. This decision meant for me that I went to buy things without package in my own jars and bags (and not in supermarkets). Besides, I made my own products that usually come in plastic. I also composted and needed to recycle all the things that I used and did not use anything that I could not recycle. Also, not to forget the coffee cup. Not to forget the bottle. If I forgot, no coffee on the go for me! No buying snacks in the kiosks – which saved me also money.
The only area that I didn’t make changes is the household (dish washing liquid, sponge, cleaning products), because I live in a shared house with 30 people. But in the future, this will definitely be on my list!
When I told my idea to my mother, she asked me if I was planning to starve. In her opinion, it would be very hard to get food without packaging. Well, it is from big supermarkets. The only thing that came in my mind when I went to the supermarkets was “Oh wow, look at all these things I cannot buy!” The solution was to go to the Saturday market (or in Kapani) we have in Thessaloniki with my own jars and fabric bags and buy my things there. And, for milk for example, there are stations where you can go with your bottle and fill it! The market life was fun, saved me money and helped me plan what I will eat.
The challenge of zero waste also made me more creative on the food for example. When I went hiking in Mount Olympus, I couldn’t buy any snacks or energy bars, because everything is packaged. So I made snacks on my own. It saved me money, tasted good and I knew exactly what was inside my food.
The zero-waste swaps
I realized that I use many things daily that are packaged in plastic. And it is very hard to find things not packaged in plastic. That is why I chose to make a lot of products myself. In many cities, there are also places where you can go with your own jar and fill it up with shampoo, dish-washing liquid, laundry liquid and so on, but it was hard to find it in Thessaloniki. So, I made the things I needed myself.
The other things I started using daily were a reusable water bottle, a reusable coffee cup, a reusable food box and a fabric bag for groceries. I bought reusable straws, that are not really essential, and I prepared mason jars for shopping. Also, small fabric bags for fruits can be very useful, but I managed without them for this month and now I am planning to make them myself. For the trash, I composted all the food scraps. But this is something you have to dig into to do it at your apartment. However, there are also some companies that pick up your biodegradable waste from your house!
This is a personal part for everyone but I will outline some parts of it – dental, body and intimate. Hygiene was the part I made the biggest changes for myself because, in the beginning, I realized that a lot of the packaging comes from all my potions of face wash, shampoo, toothpaste and so on.
For dental hygiene, I have a bamboo toothbrush which is biodegradable and I make my own toothpaste (next chapter) and mouthwash with coconut oil. For the dental floss, I haven’t made the swap to sustainable option yet (which exists), because I still haven’t finished the one packaged in plastic. This is something very important to outline. It is not important to make all the changes at once and buy a lot of expensive jars and things. The most important is to try to use everything you already have.
For the body, I used the same soap for my face, body and hair. As a conditioner I used Apple Cider Vinegar with water. Besides, I made my own deodorant (all of this in the next chapter). That’s all. The only thing I still made some waste with are the contact lenses – but they don’t have any biodegradable alternative. The only thing I can do is to use one-month lenses instead of one day option.
Intimate part contains using toilet paper, for women period, hair removal and safe sex options. Don’t worry, it is possible to be zero waste in all these fields.
So, all the toilet paper comes in plastic packages, right? Well, I found an option that was wrapped in paper and that’s what I bought. But there are shops which also sell for example toilet paper made from recycled paper. There are different options for women, like for instance washable cloth pads, but the most popular are menstrual cups. They are used in a similar way as tampons. For hair removal, there are many different options – you can find the best ones here (link). But here again, as I have an electrical depilation machine, I should not just throw it away and buy a new alternative. As for the the safe sex, there are different companies who make sustainable options for condoms.
The diy part
As I mentioned before, I made many products on my own to avoid packaging. All I had packaged before in plastic, in this case, I made on my own. I started with deodorant and toothpaste. I also made myself a laundry liquid. It works and the laundry smells good after. I bought a natural biodegradable soap to wash my body, hair and face (what a jackpot!). As conditioner I am using Apple Cider Vinegar 5% mixed with water. This is something that I thought I would never do. Washing my hair with a soap! Who even does that? Well, now I would not even imagine doing it again with liquid soaps and all that plastic. When vinegar and soap seems too much, you can also buy bar shampoos and conditioners. For example, Lush is selling many different options without plastic package. And they smell very good!
So, I made it. What now?
Well, of course, I also failed during my one month journey. If I forgot my bottle, I could not drink water before I was in a place with a cup to take water. It happened once that I bought a plastic bottle of water because I had forgotten my reusable bottle and could not handle being without water. When I had my friends visiting, they brought me sweets from Estonia that were in plastic and I couldn’t resist. Failed. And, of course I did not always manages but at least I tried to carry ends of apples, banana peels and my glass beer bottles home, to compost or recycle.
But well, in Greece the recycling is anyway very questionable so I am not sure these bottles will find their way to be recycled. There is also an option to bring your bottles to recycling machines. These are widely used in my country but in Greece they are harder to find.
In the beginning I was really scared to fail. However, I soon realized that what is really important about making waste, is to be conscious about what you are buying, why and if there is an alternative to the plastic package. If we all care together and if we all make ONE more sustainable decision every day, we can make a difference. So the answer to the question “Now what?” is that I will continue to try to live low waste as perfectly as I can.