Zero Waste Week: how low can you go?

zero waste week

Next week, from the 4th to the 8th September, it is the 8th annual Zero Waste Week. The UK alone generates over 200 million tons of waste, much of which ends up in landfill. The Zero Waste movement asks, ‘What happens when you throw something away? Away isn’t some magical place; it’s landfill, an incinerator, the bottom of the ocean, litter or the stomach of an animal. It’s always somewhere else…’

Actions you can take for Zero Waste Week

Become a champion recycler

Recycle! Many of us pay lip service to this. We may rinse out cans and bottles and put them in the Council’s kerbside collection scheme, but what about plastic bottles? And Tetra packs? They can be recycled but most end up in the bin. Check which items your council collects for recycling. If they collect food waste, make sure you have a bin and use it. If they aren’t collecting items like textiles their websites should say where local collection points are. What about batteries? Many councils don’t take them but you can recycle them in a lot of supermarkets and hardware stores.  If your local council isn’t doing enough, complain and let them know what you think.

Reuse wherever you can

Lots of things we casually chuck ‘away’, can be reused. Fold up and reuse wrapping paper, carefully open and reuse Jiffy bags, cut your letters open with a knife and use paper envelopes again, either for sending letters or writing lists.

If you have children or grandchildren, keep a ‘bits and bobs’ box for crafts. Bits of foil, coloured paper, sweet wrappers, toilet and kitchen roll tubes, fancy wrap, ribbon, string, etc can be magically transformed into art.

You can reuse all kinds of containers to sow seeds for your garden. Toilet roll tubes, yogurt pots, margarine and ice cream containers all get your plants off to a good start. Plastic containers can be cut into strips and used as plant labels too. I use these types of containers to freeze soup in when I make a large batch.

Reuse plastic bags. I rinse out and keep bread bags if we have them and wash and reuse the zip lock type bags several times.

Buy products that can be refilled.  Ecover has a list of refilling stations on its website, so check out if there is one near you. Support companies who actively reuse their own packaging. For example, Lush give you a free face mask if you return 5 plastic pots.

Reduce your food waste

I wrote posts on this here and here. Reducing your food waste means there is less to go to landfill, plus you will buy fewer items in the first place, meaning less pollution from the production and transportation processes. In addition, you will save money! Reducing your food waste is a win-win situation.

Bread is commonly thrown away. If you won’t use a whole loaf, cut it in half and freeze some. As there is usually only me and Mr S in the house these days, I buy a sliced loaf and put it straight in the freezer. We defrost and use only what we need as we go. Also, there are so many recipes to use up old bread, such as bread pudding. You can find my favourite recipe in my post Why you should make a meal of leftovers.

If you do nothing else this Zero Waste Week, see if you can cut down on your food waste. It is easy with a bit of planning.

Make conscious purchases

When you do purchase something new, be conscious about it. Is there too much packaging? If the packaging can’t be avoided, is it reusable or recyclable? Where does the item come from? If it is from Australia and you are in the UK, can you buy more locally?

You can avoid packaging altogether if you take your own containers to shops and supermarkets. If you are near local independent shops, try buying your bread, meat, fish and vegetables from them as they are less likely to be overpackaged.

Support makers who use recycled materials in what they produce. You can find a range of items made from recycled materials at Protect the Planet.  Does it have to be new? Buy second hand when you can.

Make do and mend

Develop a war time mentality. Our grandparents had to be creative and ingenious to make things last. During the war years, every week was Zero Waste Week! You could learn to sew and repair clothing or transform fabric into something else. Developing DIY and carpentry skills can save you money as well as keep your stuff in good order so that it lasts longer and doesn’t have to be thrown away. Rather than buying new, can you upcycle what you already have? There is plenty of inspiration here.

Cooking rather than convenience

Do more cooking from scratch. Making a pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes creates less waste then buying a jar. As well as making your own sauces, there is less packaging involved if you bake your own cakes and biscuits. You can even make your own crisps!


Transform your garden waste and household peelings, teabags, etc into wonderful compost for your garden. I have a post all about composting here.

If you don’t have the space for a compost heap, most councils collect material for composting. Food waste collections even take cooked food, meat and bones as commercial composting can cope with these.

Don’t forget your reusable bags!

Keep reusable bags somewhere you won’t forget them when you go shopping. I always have two foldaway reusables in my handbag. In addition, I have 5 or 6 large reusable carriers in the car boot for when I go to the supermarket.

Drinks on the move

Invest in a decent reusable bottle. Some eco-friendly alternatives may seem pricey but will save you money in the long run. I have tried a few and really like this one from Amazon.

Give up the fizzy drinks when out and about as well. Pack a reusable bottle of fruit juice or squash as a more eco-friendly alternative.

Take your reusable coffee cups when you are out and about or a good flask. We rarely leave the house without ours.

Consumer power

There are other things you can do apart from avoiding over packaged goods and taking your own containers when you buy food. How about buying washing powder in a cardboard box instead of liquid? Even better, try an Ecoegg or some Ecozone Soap Nuts to do your laundry.

Think about disposables. There are so many items we use regularly and then just toss in the trash.  You can buy bamboo toothbrushes, for example, reusable sanitary towels or a Mooncup . Instead of using cotton wool pads, invest in some washable cloths (I use these).  Invest in a decent pen and buy refills rather than the usual disposable plastic ones. I have yet to be brave enough to scrap the disposable razors, but you can buy metal ones! Ditch the kitchen roll and just keep a stack of old towels cut into squares to wipe up spills and splashes. If you have a baby, an initial investment in real nappies will cut waste and save money in the long run. You can spend a lot on fancy velcro ones, but old fashioned terry nappies are very cheap and did well for generations!

Buy solid shampoo bars and revert to old fashioned soap, rather than using hand wash and shower gel. Think of all the plastic bottles you will avoid if you do!

Stop junk mail

I can’t believe we all still receive junk mail. It is so expensive for companies to send out and mostly ends up in the recycling. This Citizen’s Advice Bureau article tells you all you need to know to prevent it arriving.

You don’t want it anymore, so who does?

As you have gone to the trouble of reading this much of Zero Waste Week post, I am sure you don’t bin stuff that other people can use. You know that you can sell your unwanted items at a car boot sale, on eBay or you can donate them to a charity shop. However, don’t forget Freecycle and Freegle. People will often take items that the charity shop wouldn’t touch and you definitely couldn’t sell. I have given away kitchen cupboard doors, non-working electrical appliances, battered old furniture and an excess of plants and seedlings. In addition, I have sold and given things away on Facebook.

Just buy less

Even better than recycling or reusing is to avoid purchasing some things in the first place. Question each of your purchases – do you really need this? Do you already have the same thing at home? This will save you money as well as reducing your environmental footprint – a win-win situation!

Spread the word! Encourage colleagues, friends and family to take part in Zero Waste Week. Paste it all over social media. Share this blog post!

Zero Waste Week resources

Sign up to receive helpful newsletters and resources on the Zero Waste Week website.

The Story of Stuff

My Plastic Free Life

Love Food Hate Waste

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12 thoughts on “Zero Waste Week: how low can you go?

  1. There is so much to take in here, Jane, I’m staggered at the wide variety of methods you have sourced to help us all do our bit for Zero Waste, not just for a Week but forever. We can all do better, I’m sure. Junk mail is my bugbear, but not through the door, as I’ve managed to get rid of lots of that by the mailing preference service which I signed up to many years ago, but the leaflets that fall out of the Saturday and Sunday papers. Indeed, we seldom now have the Saturday paper (a broadsheet) because of all the various sections that we don’t want, coupled with the leaflets inside the magazine … indeed, the magazine with the Sunday paper comes in a PLASTIC BAG as it contains many leaflets – often as many as eleven – which, of course, the paper wants us to have because they help pay for the paper, but then they bleat on about saving the planet while using thousands of plastic bags for their magazine! The answer is to stop buying the newspaper, but we do like to read it, and we do recycle it afterwards.
    Terry nappies … well, they have to be soaked, then washed on a high heat wash, a softener used for the little person’s bottom, and a nappy liner which can be re-used, if also rinsed, soaked in Nappisan (or whatever is used these days) and washed and then dried (in a tumble dryer in winter). All this is high-energy usage, so perhaps disposables aren’t that bad, if they go into an incinerator – but there is no easy way, is there, as incinerators cause CO2 to be expelled into the air. But our younger son ended up with a bad case of nappy rash even though I was through with hygiene, and it was very painful for him. And how uncomfortable, a soggy Terry nappy, especially when it’s on overnight. Modern disposables do keep the infant dry, at least. So there’re pros and cons with both Terry nappies and disposables.
    I looked at buying a long-life bottle for when out-and-about, but they’re all plastic and not only that, expensive, so I simply use an old plastic bottle that I wash out carefully and refill from the tap when we go out. I also make sure to wash the area around the top, from where we drink, plus the cap, very carefully, as that would be where germs would congregate.
    We also keep bread in the freezer and only get out what we need. We sometimes buy a Cranks loaf, which isn’t a cut loaf, so I slice that up and re-bag it, and take out a couple of slices at a time. And, surprisingly, it is no more expensive (the Cranks lovely bread) than the Co-op’s own Ancient Grains granary bread. The only problem is that Cranks bread does go mouldy rather quickly if not used within a day or so, because it doesn’t have preservative in it (and it’s all the better for that, surely?)
    We also visit the charity shops and the antiques’ centre (just because it sounds posh, with the word ‘antique’ in it, it doesn’t mean it’s always expensive!) for replacement china – our lovely Royal Worcester cups and saucers were £3 each (including the saucer) when to buy new they are much, much more!
    And finally … The cardboard backing in a packet of ankle- or knee-highs is ideal for shopping or To Do lists.
    Margaret P

  2. Lots of great ideas.
    Way back in the 1980s I invested in a battery-operated Ladyshave – nothing fancy, it was only around £5.
    Over 30 years later it’s still going strong!! Even better – use rechargeable batteries!!

  3. Forgot to add that the husband and daughter both use one of those “Sho” reusable bottles and they really are fantastic. They keep cold drinks icy cold all day, and while they don’t use them for hot drinks, the reviews are great for that too!

  4. I tried that ecover link – it said my nearest refill store was Falmouth which it told me was 3,000 miles away!!! Something a bit odd there! Looked on the map and actually nearest is in Norwich which is still too far away. Big gap for Suffolk. Used to get refills about 20 years ago locally but no longer

  5. WOW! Your family is doing great – let me see where I stand:
    Recycling is mandatory in Toronto – my apt. building has 1 dumpster for garbage – 1 for recycling (it all goes in the one) – 1 Green Bin for compost – You will hear about it if you mix up things and you must clean cans, bottles * tetra packs etc. before they go into recycling. It is the same deal in fast food restaurants, food courts, onboard transit and bins on the street. I can take things like batteries & LED bulbs to IKEA for recycling.

    I have cut way back on plastic wrap, ziplock bags etc. & I do reuse foil wrap and wash & reuse ziplock bags.

    This is something that I have been tackling every week – the one area that I still have a bit of trouble with are salad greens – since it’s just me I really do have to plan when to purchase this so that I can use it up before it goes bad. Otherwise I freeze extras and use up leftovers so I’m quite pleased with my efforts in this area.

    Living on a pension has made me much more aware of how much $ I spend on what I WANT vs. what I actually NEED. I have one small purchase in mind for my apt. and only need a couple of bras and a new pair of shoes for the Winter as far as clothing is concerned. I also do the bit now where I wait for a day or two to see if I can find an alternative or if I change my mind before actually spending the money.

    I’ve always been good about this – I look after my things and my clothes so they last for a long time. I’ve never been one for “Fast Fashion” – I’ve always preferred quality over quantity so I’m pretty much set for this one!

    While I love to eat out and my socializing tends to be around food, I have now persuaded many friends to meet for coffee or an ice-cream rather than a meal – most have been fine with this as we all have to watch our pennies & none of us needs the extra calories. I am also the one who likes to entertain so I will often have friends over for a simple meal and a nice dessert – all HM as I do enjoy cooking. I am determined to haul out some of those cookbooks on my shelves and try a lot of new recipes this Winter. As I mentioned on a previous post – I was shocked to discover that I have nearly 200 portions of proteins alone available to me from my small freezer compartment & pantry – that food is getting used up!

    I don’t have a garden but we do put organics into Green Bins out back of the apt. and it goes to a central composting area in the city.

    Always carry one or two.

    I have a metal water bottle and a thermos for hot drinks

    I do sign petitions and at the moment I am boycotting US grown food due to our ongoing tariff war with them. A shop known as the Bulk Barn allows us to bring our own containers – we just get them inspected and weighed when we first enter the store – this means that I rarely have to use a plastic bag – I keep a set of lightweight glass jars of varying sizes just for these purchases. When I can, I buy loose produce and have it weighed without using a plastic bag. I have looked at items like the bamboo toothbrushes but they are a bit out of my price range at the moment.

    This has been reduced but is still a problem – and it comes from companies/agencies that I can’t tell to stop – it is unsolicited & very frustrating.

    I donate books to my church – they have a big sale each May that brings in thousands of dollars for various Outreach Programs so we can donate all year long. I also have a social club general meeting that I attend each month and they have a book exchange table so I also bring in a few to them – and I don’t pick up any!
    I often offer clothing that no longer fits or I’m a wee bit tired of to a couple of friends who are grad students/low income earners or else I can also bring these items into our church as we run a “store” for the homeless. If it’s a household item I always check with friends or neighbours to see if there is a need – if I was more tech savvy I could sell some items online – did go in with a friend for a garage (car boot) sale last summer.

    Well, a forced early retirement has made this a reality! 🙂

    So – how did I do?

  6. Hi Jane, this is such a great post packed with so many ideas! I like to think that I make a good conscious effort to cut down on waste, but I could definitely do better in some areas – I’m certainly guilty of sneaking a few things into the main waste bin when they really should be recycled! I’ll definitely be taking these tips onboard 🙂

  7. I was pleased to see this month that the Womens’ Institute magazine, WI Life, is now being delivered in a compostable plastic wrapper. It still has numerous paper flyers in it though!

  8. An interesting post thank you! Not sure about the link to refill site – it was many miles away!

    Has anyone got an ecoegg? Are they good? I found the soap nuts completely ineffective so went back to traditional powder.


      • Hi Jane

        Thanks for your reply.
        That’s great that you’ve got one!

        Please would you keep us up to date on how effective it is and if you’re happy with it. I don’t know anyone else who is using one and after my disappointment with the soap nuts I’m more cautious about investing!

        Have a good day.

        Best wishes Sally

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