Achieving a Zero-Waste Lifestyle on a Limited Budget

Achieving a Zero-Waste Lifestyle on a Limited Budget

Achieving a zero-waste lifestyle on a limited budget is definitely possible with some strategic planning and creative thinking.

Australian households generate approximately 12 million tonnes of waste annually, placing the sector nearly on par with manufacturing or construction activities.

However, there is potential for change. With proper support, households can alter their consumption habits and adopt a zero-waste lifestyle. Our recent study delves into how Australians are embracing this concept.

We conducted interviews with residents to understand their current waste management practices. Subsequently, we encouraged them to devise and implement their own six-week household experiments. Their initiatives varied from home gardening and DIY repairs to embracing zero-plastic cooking and patronising bulk stores. We then facilitated discussions with policymakers to exchange their insights.

The findings indicate that while householders are enthusiastic about experimenting with change, transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle poses challenges.

Accountability for Recycling

For years, Australia relied on shipping waste materials overseas for recycling. However, when China implemented a ban on these imports in 2018, Australian authorities were compelled to expedite the development of improved waste management strategies.

In a genuine circular economy, every resource holds value and is consistently reused as it circulates within the system.

Yet, during this transitional period, the emphasis has predominantly been on recycling as a means to decrease the volume of waste destined for landfills.

Recycling bins placed at Kerbside often contain non-recyclable general waste, resulting in the accumulation of unsortable materials at waste management facilities.

Soft plastics, predominantly packaging, have posed significant challenges. Recent efforts have urged households to return soft plastics to supermarkets. However, the REDcycle initiative faced overwhelming demand, prompting Coles and Woolworths to halt collection on November 9, 2022, due to its failure to meet recycling commitments for months.

This setback followed the collapse of SKM, a recycling company in Victoria, in 2019. Warehouses became burdened with unprocessed waste, while some recyclables ended up in landfills.

Various Australian states, most recently Victoria, have banned single-use plastics, yet the effectiveness of these measures hinges on the accessibility of viable alternatives.

In 2018-19, households accounted for the majority of Australia’s plastic waste (47%) and food/organic waste (42%). Addressing these figures necessitates shifts in societal norms regarding lifestyles and consumption habits, alongside changes in retail practices, bolstered by regulatory measures and enhanced collection infrastructure.

Past studies have underscored the intermediary role of households, positioned between individual and community levels. Nonetheless, there’s a notable lack of recognition regarding the potential contribution of households to sustainability transitions.

Transformation through Experimentation

Transitioning to a zero-waste lifestyle necessitates alterations in household consumption habits and waste management approaches.

The lockdowns enforced during the Covid pandemic in Victoria offered both an opportunity and motivation for numerous individuals to adjust their consumption habits. Nevertheless, as life gradually returns to a semblance of normalcy, many encounter difficulties in sustaining a zero-waste lifestyle.

A series of household trials were conducted involving participants from Melbourne.

One mother of two aimed to achieve a 100% waste-free existence for six weeks, while another mother concentrated on eliminating plastic from her cooking. Some individuals opted to explore bulk stores, while a solo resident initiated a gardening project. Another woman living alone sought to acquire skills in clothes and bicycle repair, while a part-time sales associate, residing with his spouse, endeavoured to devise a three-week challenge promoting zero-waste practices among his peers.

Insights Gained

Participants expressed that they encountered considerable difficulty with household adjustments. They conveyed that the experiments demanded additional mental effort, time, financial resources, and determination.

Moreover, they emphasised the necessity for increased guidance and assistance to accomplish and sustain desired behavioural changes. Some individuals found the process motivating, prompting them to explore alternatives like opting to walk further to a bulk food store instead of resorting to the convenience of a supermarket.

Bulk food stores promote the use of customers’ reusable containers or environmentally-friendly packaging, such as paper bags, to eliminate the use of soft plastic packaging.

Not all changes were enduring. Transitioning to shampoo and conditioner bars necessitated thorough research and proved too challenging for one individual: “Just that one switch was so intense … it was expensive as well.”

Supermarkets caused significant frustration due to the prevalence of unwanted plastics. “The packaging is such a big problem. It’s just ridiculous. It should be stopped … There are very few items that you can buy that don’t have some sort of packaging.”

Social connections played a significant role in adopting a zero-waste lifestyle. One individual mentioned that her family expressed reluctance to fully commit to the zero waste journey, while another shared how her husband and children offered unwavering support throughout the process.

The issue of minimising food waste while having children at home was also raised. “It’s challenging to reduce how much food gets wasted with children. I have reduced how much I cook … I’ve tried to do stock takes of my freezer, my pantry, the fridge … to really focus on meal planning … But it’s really, really challenging … I think if it was just me, I would have a lot more success.”

Facebook groups proved to be a valuable asset “because it does make you realise that there are other people who are trying to save every piece of plastic from going in the bin.”

Homeowners expressed suggestions for facilitating easier adoption of zero-waste lifestyles, encompassing policy adjustments and systemic reforms. These suggestions involved enacting legislation targeting high waste producers, prohibiting polluting products, enhancing recycling infrastructure, fostering markets for recycled goods, promoting innovation, disseminating comprehensive information, and refining product labelling. Their awareness of zero-waste practices worldwide contrasted with their dissatisfaction with Australia’s systemic shortcomings.

“We need support and systemic change from the government (policy) and businesses (innovation) to drive down the amount of plastics associated with our everyday products,” one participant remarked.

The waste crisis escalated in 2019 when China decided to cease accepting Australia’s contaminated waste for recycling, leading to protests.

Making Zero-Waste Living Accessible

Significant changes are necessary to facilitate the zero-waste lifestyle. Conducting experiments within households could prove beneficial in formulating and assessing new policies. This hands-on experience enables policymakers to engage directly with people and aspects important to them, including parenting, social connections, communal meals, financial management, and caregiving. For the transition to a circular economy to thrive, it must be approached with a focus on the practicalities of daily life within homes.

DISCLAIMER:  This article is for informational purposes only. 2 Ezi is not affiliated with any environmental organisation.

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