So you want to be zero waste? Easy steps to sustainability

sneak peak: easy ways to reduce your environmental impact with single-use plastics, food waste, fast fashion and more

So You Want to be Zero Waste? Easy Steps to Sustainability, imogen molly blog,

The zero waste movement is growing at lightning speed, and I for one want to be part of it. I am by no means living a zero waste life, but I do try in my day-to-day life to make conscious, sustainable choices to minimise my impact on the planet.

First things first, though - being zero waste doesn't mean following a certain type of diet, so if you're interested in how your diet can impact the environment then I wrote a post talking about just that, and why we're all so focused on plastic instead.

This little list is a few ideas for reducing our overall environmental footprint, and I'd love to hear your suggestions too!

1. reusable coffee cups and water bottles

Obvious, yes. Easy? Also yes. This is one of the simplest swaps you can make, and it also benefits you very directly. Almost all coffee shops will give you a discount if you bring a reusable cup, and even if they don't give you money off, they'll still let you use it. In the UK alone, we throw away seven million coffee cups every single day, and fewer than 1% of them are recycled. As for water bottles, almost all cafes/restaurants/eateries will fill these for free. One million plastic bottles are bought worldwide every minute, and by 2021 that figure is expected to increase by a further 20%. You can also get smoothies to go in a reusable bottle, but just make sure you'll be able to drink it - a bottle where you unscrew the top will be better for this than one with a spouty bit!

2. glass jars (and other receptacles)

For bulk-buying! If you're lucky enough to live near a supermarket with bulk bins, glass jars are your friend. This is a relative novelty for me, as there wasn't anything in either Cardiff or Edinburgh (that I was aware of) when I was living there, so having a Wholefoods near me in London is still pretty exciting. You can take your own stuff along for things like rice, quinoa, muesli, granola, oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, even freshly ground nut butters.

3. reusable shopping bags

Not plastic bags for life, although they're better than single-use 5p carrier bags. I'm talking about tough, sturdy bags designed for endurance and constant use and heavy groceries - especially if you're lugging heavy glass jars around full of rice and cous cous and dried beans...

4. prep lunches

Think about a lunch from Boots/Pret/a supermarket - it's wrapped in endless packaging that just gets chucked away afterwards. When you're cooking your evening meal, just scale up and pop a couple of portions in tupperware/glass/stainless steel containers for your lunches!

5. love your leftovers

Food waste is one of the biggest contributors to climate damage, so don't throw that slightly wrinkly pepper away or the half portion of pasta that's not quite enough for a full portion on its own. Pop the remnants in the fridge, then get creative and you'll be surprised by how tasty the results of your efforts can be. Even the peelings, choppings and discarded ends of your veg can be used by boiling them up and making veggie stock. Everything has a use if you look for it!

6. BYO

Bring your own... everything. Whenever you're getting takeaway food, you're taking a container and disposable cutlery that will, at some point, find their way into the bin. Bring your own though, and you're peachy! They'll be pleased too as you're not using up their resources, win win.

7. produce bags

Does it strike you as weird that supermarkets charge for plastic bags at the checkout, but not for the ones in the loose fruit and veg section? Because it strikes me as super weird. For Christmas last year, an eco-friendly chum of mine gave me a bunch of cool sustainability stuff including some produce bags. These are light enough that they don't add any weight, so when you weigh your goods you're not being charged any extra, and you can be happy in the knowledge that you're not contributing AND you're keeping your fruit and veg clean!

Also, as a rule, local markets have loads more zero-waste options for groceries than supermarkets because almost everything is loose rather than pre-packed. They'll automatically throw your stuff in a plastic bag, but just let them know you have your own and your impact goes down to zilcho. Plus, you're supporting local trade!

8. compost

This is one I really want to get better at. Living in central London, composting opportunities might seem few and far between but there are actually remarkably easy, convenient and - importantly - clean ways of composting inside. A quick google will throw up loads of solutions, and if you can't compost then you can still have a food waste bin that you then put out with your rubbish for collection.

9. silicone mats

Did you know: tinfoil is really difficult to recycle, so lots of recycling facilities won't accept it. So bye bye tinfoil, silicone mats are here! Instead of lining a baking tray with foil when you cook, lay a silicone mat down on the tray instead. You'll save dosh, they're easy to clean, and you'll never have tinfoil in your bin(foil) again!

10. shop savvy

Whether you're doing a clothes swap with friends, buying from second-hand shops, or spending a little more to support eco-friendly brands using recycled materials and responsible, ethical business practices, you can do your bit. Just think, if it's from a huge retailer (even if it's an expensive, high-end retailer), it's likely not sustainable. Do your research into a company and decide who you want to support. After all, we vote with our dollars (or our great British pounds). If you want to know more, I cannot recommend highly enough that you watch Stacey Dooley's BBC documentary on the fast fashion industry.

There are loads more things you can do, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm (sadly) not doing all of these all the time, but I have ambitious goals to massively reduce my impact. People might scoff at what you're doing because it's 'effort', but frankly if a little personal effort is what it takes to look after our planet, I'm happy to do that - we don't have a choice.

What easy sustainability steps do you take in your day-to-day life? I'd love to hear ideas!


  1. We've started using beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm for our sandwiches. We bought ours but there are youtube videos on how to make your own. It's an easy change to make and another win against single use plastic.

    1. Oh yes I've heard of beeswax wraps! They look like a great option - I'll definitely be investigating whether there's a vegan version of them because you're right, it's a really easy switch. Good call!

  2. You can get silicone lids which can be stretched over bowls of leftovers or open cans/jars instead of clingfilm and then reused multiple times.

    1. That sounds really good! We used to use something similar for half-used tins of dog food (mmm delicious...) but they couldn't be stretched, so that sounds like an even better option. I'll investigate, thanks!

  3. The glass jars point that you raise for bulk-buying, #2, was in all supermarkets in the 1970's. I think it died a death simply for hygiene and wastage reasons. Too many people coughing and sneezing over your bulk cornflakes, sugar, rice and so on was not only unpleasant but also one never knew how dirty the hands were that were rooting around in the produce. At least with fruit and veg you can easily wash it first. In addition the mess was extra-ordinary and a cleaner was always on hand for sweeping and mopping up the sticky mess that loose sugar becomes. Let's hope the dispensing aspect has been sorted this time around.

    Regarding tinfoil, you know it can easily be washed and re-used as well. However, my question is why line a cooking tray with it anyway? A cooking tray is fine as it is, whether non-stick or good old steel.

    1. There's definitely a point there about hygiene, but I think due to its popularity, bulk-buying is improving in that respect. In the Wholefoods near me, they have grains etc. in those dispensers that come out at the bottom so it avoids that, but when there's a big sack of stuff being guddled around in and spilled all over the place that problem still stands. Hopefully the more people start doing their shopping this way, the better the processes will become!

      As for tinfoil, yes you can wash and reuse it but it does then eventually get thrown out and although recyclable in theory, a lot of facilities don't recycle it as a rule because they can't go through and clean everyone's grubby tinfoil in order to do so.

      Lining a baking tray is pointless in a lot of cases, but if you're baking e.g. sticky oatmeal cookies or something, it can be easier to peel them off however a silicone sheet would work even better in that instance! The other time I would line a baking tray is when living in a shared house, because a lot of the time the baking trays are absolutely gross and stuff is properly welded onto them (I know, grim) so it's more for food hygiene than anything else...


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