Towards Zero Waste

I read a few weeks ago that Wales is almost halfway to becoming a ‘zero waste’ society. With 48% of their household garbage being recycled, they’re doing better than almost any other Western country.

Reducing one’s impact on the environment is one of the key aims of minimalism (and minimalism is a key tenet of Escapology), so my partner and I got to thinking about how we could nudge our own household closer to the zero waste target.

We were already casual recyclers of the usual materials (plastic, glass, paper, cans), but we were still producing a bag of miscellaneous garbage every week. These are the steps we took to further minimise what we send to landfill:

– We checked the details of what can be recycled in our neighbourhood. It turns out that Tetrapacks (milk and juice cartons) can be recycled but we’d always ignorantly binned them. So now we recycle those.

– Our area has no municipal compost programme and we have no garden, so a sizable portion of our waste has been vegetable matter. My girlfriend’s parents, however, live in an area with a compost programme, so we keep it all in a Tupperware box, which I then carry to their house on our weekly visit.

– I never used to bother recycling small pieces of paper like bus tickets and grocery receipts. Fiddly, innit? But now I do.

– We’ve committed absolutely to reusable grocery bags. We never accept a single-use plastic bag from a shop now. Ever! I hate carrier bags. When they’re not suffocating babies or choking sea turtles, they’re hanging forlorn and muddy in a tree. Let’s stop using them.

The only things left in our garbage at the end of the week are non-recyclable plastic wrappers, beer bottle tops, and egg shells. It can be squished down to the size of a tennis ball.

Garbage management is not going to help directly in your escape, but looking after the environment will help us all to live in a better world. Like they do in Wales.

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Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

8 Responses to “Towards Zero Waste”

  1. Liz says:

    You can compost those egg shells! And in my town, the beer bottle tops can be recycled.

  2. Andy Triggs says:

    Eggshells can go in the compost too! Or keep them separate and give them to your lady’s folks for slug control.

  3. Oh my God, I checked and you are correct. I`m stunned.

  4. You`re correct about the egg shells it seems. Great!

    I`m still not sure about bottle caps as it is unspecified on the official websites and all images of recyclable bottles are capless. But if they`re made of steel or aluminium, they can surely be recycled, I would think. Maybe the plastic gasket inside them is a problem, or the corrugated edges.

    I actually return my beer bottles to the grocery store for reuse rather than recycling. I`ll ask them if they also collect the caps.

    A search around the Web brings up divided opinions on recycling bottle caps (though obviously if you know for sure that your town welcomes them, then that is fine).

  5. Anna says:

    I also use reusable shopping bags, but I get the plastic ones a couple of times a week and then reuse them as garbage bags. It seems to make sense – otherwise you have to buy garbage bags. Still not sure which is better, but I guess there’s a bit of cash saving too, not having to buy garbage bags and just reusing the plastic bags you get from the supermarket.

  6. At least that’s a productive use of single-use bags, Anna. I currently do (and have historically done) the same. I’ve got about twenty bags lurking under the kitchen sink from when I was less of a hardcore bag-refuser. That should last me about twenty weeks at this rate of garbage bag usage, and I’m sure some others will sneak into the house one way or another. Running out of the bloody things is not something I’m worried about!

    Buying garbage bags does cost money, it’s true, but there’s the added bonus of them being biodegradable if you buy the good ones, which are very available these days. Not that I’d fork out for any garbage bags. I’m too tight. I’d find a way around it.

    Possible alternative to accepting two new bags per week: steal them from a friend or relative who never remembers to shop with reusable bags. They probably have a big pile of them somewhere. Beats taking fresh ones from the shop.

    I should confess that I’m obsessed with the carrier bag issue. I even subscribe to The Guardian’s RSS feed on the subject. Extremely loserish, I know. It just strikes me as symbolic of careless consumer ways: such terrible global results caused by such a pointless thing.

  7. Anna says:

    Stealing them from a friend or relative who doesn’t use the reusable ones is a great idea!

    I have to say, the take up rate on the whole resuable bags thing has been pretty impressive in Australia. People have gotten into it in a big way. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t take their ‘green bags’ (what we call them here) to the supermarket with them – but I guess different areas might be less into it.

    At the Queen Victoria Market (the main fruit, veg and meat market in Melbourne) they have stopped giving out plastic bags altogether – you have to specifically ask if you want one, and then you have to pay for it. Which I think is great!

  8. I’m glad bag usage is better in Australia. England is letting down the whole UK. Wales and Northern Ireland do really well and Scotland is OK, but England is terrible.

    At our local market here in Montreal, plastic bags will come with everything, but the stall-holders don’t seem surprised by green bag users so it can’t be unusual. I bought some mushrooms in a plastic container this week though and the container was made from the dreaded ‘Plastic 6’, which is non-recyclable. I’d never even seen it before! So, yeah, we even have to watch out for bad materials at non-supermarket outlets.

    Death before carrier bags!

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