Zero Waste: On the path to a No Trash Lifestyle

If you’ve followed our journey for any length of time, you’ll know we’re passionate about sustainability and the environment. Before this transition to living in England, we raised our own food, ate as much of it as we could, and found uses for the rest. We repurpose, upcycle, recycle, buy second-hand, barter, and trade. Even then, we occasionally create trash. I like to refer to our current lifestyle as “low trash.” Our goal is to eventually get to a zero waste lifestyle but we aren’t there yet. Like everything else in our life, it is a process.

Picture of a reusable grocery bag from the local zero waste shop called Earth Food Love. The bag has a drawing of a reusable jar being filled with dry goods, and it has the words "Refill Not Landfill" on it with the name, website, and address of the shop.
A Reusable grocery bag Rimakej’s parents gifted to us from the local zero waste shop here in Totnes called Earth Food Love. (Store not affiliated with HHH.)

The First Push Towards Zero Waste

The biggest step in this journey started when we moved out to the first property of Half Hectare Homestead in 2015. This property was an undeveloped plot in the middle of a semi-rural area where trash service wasn’t set up. We would have needed to call a company to independently schedule and pay for our trash to be picked up. I caught up with a new neighbor to ask what service they used and how much it was. “100 a month for bins. More for a dumpster.” Yikes. 

We knew we didn’t create nearly enough waste to merit the steep charges. Especially considering we were unlikely to fill up a whole bin over the course of a month. Our average trash amount was a single plastic grocery bag for the both of us for two weeks. Comparatively, the average American throws out 4.4 pounds (~2 kg) of trash per person a day! This gave us excellent motivation to really commit to a low trash lifestyle. Try not taking out the trash for a week. It’s amazing how quickly you start to pay attention to the trash you create when you suddenly have no place to put it!

The Transition

We started off by making our main trash can a small bathroom/office size trash can in the kitchen. I hadn’t had a full size trash can in the house since high-school, so this wasn’t a major change for me. We also set up recycle and compost bins alongside it to encourage us to only throw away what we really needed to. It took two weeks to fill up the trash, days to fill up the recycling bin, and about a week for the compost bin (we didn’t have chickens yet). Shortly thereafter, we wound up needing to switch the recycling bin to a full size trash can. We never set up a recycling service either. Instead, we wound up bartering with several friends of ours for use of their bins in exchange for taking their yard trimmings and fallen leaves. We were slowly led to participating in a circular economy, which had unintentionally moved us even closer to zero-waste.

Picture of a black barrel composting bin full of leaf litter.
One of the compost bins we filled in Rimakej’s parents’ back garden to create leaf mould in.

Zero Waste Challenges

The biggest challenge was to tackle our consumption habits. We began with making decisions on what fit our needs AND had the least wasteful packaging. With the goal of creating less trash, our diet rapidly changed along with it our buying habits. We began buying food in bulk while using washable cloth produce bags. We started buying directly from farmers markets and/or growing as much as we could. Also, we limited ourselves to buying pre-packaged only if it came in compostable or recyclable packaging. 

Picture of the creamy flavored and dark flavored bars of lovingearth brand chocolate in compostable packaging.
Chocolate bars packaged in 100% compostable packaging. (Brand not affiliated with HHH.)

This of course affected our finances and our ability to buy certain things. It is unfortunate that currently the most earth-friendly items are more expensive and thus out of reach for many people. If you can swing it, I promise it is worth it for a quality reusable alternative. I bought a high quality hollow ground stainless steel straight razor in 2014. I have not needed anything else to shave with since. For those of you curious, that winds up being around $0.06/day on shaving needs with no waste generated. No blades to consistently order and recycle as you would need to with a safety razor.

Simple Changes

Changes don’t have to be expensive though. We spent $20 for 4 stainless steel water bottles that have been in use for over 5 years now.  We also have two sets of stainless steel camp utensils (I think I paid $10 for both) we keep in Rimakej’s vehicle for when we’re travelling so we don’t need plasticware. Another step we took was to use charcoal sticks to filter our water that we store in gallon glass jugs. This eliminates the need to consistently throw away the cartridges in typical water filters. Once exhausted, the used charcoal can be broken up and added to the garden soil to enrich it. We also make and bring our own foods to hang out sessions, parties, and road trips. (Although our food allergies already make this almost mandatory for us.)

Every Step Helps

It doesn’t matter if you’re not where we are now or if zero waste isn’t one of your goals. Maybe your drive is to grow your own food, build a mini-cabin with reclaimed pallets, or petition for environmental justice from the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of the world’s pollution.

Decorative picture of gilled mushrooms growing in a vertical line through splits in decomposing stacked tree trunk slices.
Mushrooms: Nature’s small yet powerful waste pollution control. Photo by Rimakej Valentini.

What we do makes a difference with a ripple effect touching every person that knows us. Start where you are, focus on what you care about, and use what you have. Make the changes that make sense for you and your lifestyle. It is a journey with a million tiny steps. It took us over 5 years to get here and we’re still moving forward.

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