5 steps to start a zero waste journey

Zero Waste. You may well have seen those two words bandied about on social media, or seen the viral videos and TedX Talks; The family of four who can fit their entire years trash in a jar? The guy who actually wore his trash?

I strive to live a zero waste lifestyle. I say strive, because I will never actually get there! But to me that is not the point; the point is that we try. Each and every change that we choose to make, big or small, will add up to big change. We can make a difference.

The zero waste lifestyle is a life focused on living and experiencing, not accumulating and consuming, and all the while, not sending waste to landfill, and recycling less. Yes, I said that; recycling less. Stick with me.

Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home has a motto which is a life changer: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot – only in that order.

Refuse what we do not need (single use packaging)
Reduce what we need (stop the mindless shopping of low quality goods)
Reuse what we already have (jars, containers, bottles and bags to buy food, repair items, buy secondhand )
Recycle what we cannot reuse (ideally there should be very little left to recycle)
Rot the rest. (compost food waste)

5rWhen I first started this lifestyle, it was about reducing the size of the black bag I put out every week. It very quickly snowballed and was such a mindset shift that affected our outlook on our entire lifestyle, not just our rubbish bin. We now don’t even have a rubbish bin, because it would take me over a year to fill a black bag! I am saving time, saving money, we are healthier and most of all, we are so content!

Now you might still be thinking “But recycling less!?”. I am not saying we must stop recycling, I am saying we should stop buying things that need to be recycled. Just because it is recyclable or biodegradable does not make it good for the environment! Recycling is better than sending it to landfill, but we need to remember a few things:

– A lot of resources, such as oil, water and trees are used to produce recyclable or even biodegradable packaging.
– A lot of resources are used in the recycling process.
– Just because you place something in the recycling bin, doesn’t mean it gets recycled.
– Your packaging/cutlery/plate might be biodegradable, but biodegradable under what conditions?
– It might be biodegradable, but how much valuable resource was used to produce what is still a single use item?

Where to start? It’s so easy, and you don’t need to go completely overboard all at once like I did! Here are 5 changes you could make TODAY.

  1. Refuse plastic shopping bags – take your own – you are capable of carrying a few items in your hands or in your own handbag even.
  2. Refuse takeaway coffee cups – take your own reusable cup – some coffee shops offer discounts when you do this.
  3. Refuse single use plastic straws – remember to say “no straw please”. Sip or if you really feel you need a straw, use your own reusable stainless steel, glass or bamboo straw.
  4. Don’t buy plastic bottled water – carry your own in a glass or stainless steel bottle, or even in a flask in the car, to keep it cool.
  5. Stop using plastic earbuds – using earbuds is actually really bad for your ears, as you are pushing wax further down and stimulating over production of wax. Tons get collected off our beaches.

If you are interested in taking some steps to reduce your waste, you might find this group on Facebook useful – Zero Waste Journey South Africa. A group specifically for South Africans, with nearly 2000 people across South Africa, motivating each other, sharing info on places to shop and useful ideas.


  1. Luvvit! wannadoit! started with two Fanta bottles today after reading the mag article and it brings me a warm and fuzzy feeling to be able to recycle this way. Will see how it goes, Blanaid O’Meara


    • That is great that you are starting the zero waste journey. Ecobricks are a great alternative to landfill, but as long as they are used for “emergency waste”, and that they don’t become an excuse for buying items in non-recyclable packaging, just because that waste can go in the eco brick. We still need to practice the 5R’s and reduce waste. My concern is that with 1000’s upon 1000’s of ecobricks being put together, what happens at the end of their life? What happens when someone sells their property with an ecobrick structure, to a person who has not interest in plastic pollution? When that building deteriorates or gets knocked down, they will no doubt just send it off to the tip! Also, at the end of that buildings life, can those bottle be deconstructed and reused? Bottles contaminated with cement will not be able to be recycled? I think the concept is great – but it needs a lot of education around it. Good luck!


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