Losing weight and saving money are still top of the nation’s New Year’s resolution list but many people are embracing a new challenge this year – waste reduction.
The ABC’s War on Waste brought the issue vividly to life, inspiring many to change their ways – if they just knew where to start. It doesn’t help that the waste-free lifestyle is often associated with expensive organic bulk food stores or articles about people who can fit all their rubbish for the entire year in a tiny jar.
It may seem like you can only achieve this if you have cash to spare and hours on hand to make your own soap. But others argue that waste-free living actually saves money. What’s the truth of it?
Hannah Thiem, 21, from Camperdown in Sydney, has been trying to reduce her waste for the past three years with varying success.
“I think part if it comes down to how ‘Instagrammable’ you want it to be,” she says.
It might be hard to quash the urge to buy lots of new Mason jars to fill with coloured beans and grains from the health food store, but you can definitely do it without.
Maurice Cabrera, the manager of Alfalfa House Community Food Co-op in Newtown, Sydney, suggests looking at what you already have in your pantry. Much of the packaging from food you already have may provide a great new home for your bulk-bought food. Old pillow cases make great carriers for fruits and vegetables too.
Alfalfa House sells fresh produce and also dry goods like flours, herbs, spices, rice, grain and legumes in bulk, and customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable packaging to shop with. The co-op also offers free, sterilised, preloved jars for items like cleaning products as well as new jars for $1-3 for food.
Cabrera believes waste-free living can actually create savings for consumers. “I can see how the general perception could be that it is more expensive, but when you strip back what you need to cook with on a weekly basis in terms of the quantities that you need to use, that’s where the cost-saving is made.”
Almost everyone has a story of buying a very specific ingredient for a new recipe that they never use again, but when you buy without packaging, you only need to buy the amount the recipe calls for.
Thiem started on her waste-free journey when she still lived with her parents and has now moved out of home with her husband.
“I’ve definitely gone backwards recently because it is pretty expensive,” she says. She buys meat from butchers with her own containers and loose vegetables in the supermarkets without much extra expense, and most baking goods pose few problems. However, she was shocked by the price of pasta, which is under $1.50 per bag from the supermarket but $10-15 per jar at some bulk food stores. She’s prepared to pay some premium but that’s “just not even comparable”.
Thiem finds cooking herself reduces food packaging waste, and also makes some of her own cosmetics, including deodorant and toothpaste.
However, this has some drawbacks. “I find it annoying the link between environmental stuff and make-your-own, because you have to spend all your time making things, but I think there is some truth to it,” Thiem says.
This is where shops helping people to live waste-free come in handy. There’s a huge variety of these, but if reducing costs is your objective, co-ops owned by members may provide the best solution because members pay close to cost price and there’s often a further discount for volunteers.
Alfalfa House sells cleaning products like laundry powder, shampoos and body wash in bulk so you can avoid making them yourself.
“The high cost of living zero-waste is your time … but once you’re up and running, then it’s very simple,” Cabrera says.
Tips for waste-free living success:
– Search through your pantry and cupboards to find containers for food as well as existing plastic and cloth bags to use; pillow cases can easily be used to carry fruits and vegetables, and keep them nice and fresh – Start incrementally by product, and only start buying package-free products once you have run out of their packaged alternatives – it will seem like less of a change this way and will also reduce or stagger your set-up costs – Invest in a high-quality, reusable water bottle so you stop buying plastic ones – Buy a keep cup if you drink takeaway drinks – Make your own lunch, eat lunch in cafes, or bring your own lunchbox if getting takeaway food and ask for your lunch to be put in this if buying it – Look for workshops or Facebook groups for tips on how to make your own products – Alfalfa House runs some – Do it with friends for moral support, and don’t beat yourself up if you forget something or haven’t reached a particular goal by the time you had wanted to – Look around to find a type of bulk food store that works for you, or head to farmers’ markets