What if a small action you made today could have a huge impact? Did you know the Australians produced 2.7 tonnes per person of waste in 2014-15, according to the National Waste Report.

I discovered a TED talk on the 11 February by Bea Johnson which revealed a movement I never knew about called Zero Waste, people that were mindfully producing far less rubbish. Following the TED talk I devoured as much material as possible and talked to many people about what I had read. My work colleague found Australian author Erin Rhoads book Waste Not by  in the library and got it out for me. In my article today I will share what I have learnt from the zero waste movement and how I have applied it to my financial journey.

Text on the left says Erin Rhoads Waste note Reduce your Waste and Maximise your Happiness theeconomiss.com. On the right is an image of Erin holding her Waste Not book

What is Zero Waste?

Living zero waste works well for frugal folk on a budget as the movement calls people to buy as a last resort: before buying you should look to borrow, repair or repurpose items. When buying items should be second hand or ethically sourced from local producers to reduce the carbon footprint.

Waste not: Use what you have and ask your Community

Rhoads points out that when many people go Zero Waste they buy expensive products which defeats the purpose of being zero waste. Instead look at the products you have around you and look at what you can use. For frugal folk like myself this process can save you a lot of money.

In 2018 I had already gone the entire year with no clothes, shoes, underwear or socks purchased, I have already been working to ethically shop and reduce plastics on my weekly grocery shop, for me the zero waste movement seems to be a further extension of the things I have already been doing.

Several weeks ago I moved into my tiny rental apartment. It was my goal to source as many items for my home as second hand items as possible. I contacted my friends group with a list of items I needed.

I received many items to keep or borrow due to their kindness including a bookcase, coffee table, a fan, a chair, crockery, kitchen utensils and a chrome cast. I asked if anyone had recyclable jam jars they didn’t want and I got many old jars. For me that was old jars for the recycling to set up my pantry: Moccona jars for ingredients and smaller jars for meal prep (my tiny house as a tiny fridge and no freezer and jars have been the best way of storing items.

Waste not: Buy second hand

Rhoads recommends buying second hand as opposed to buying new if you cannot borrow from a friend.

On top of the items I got from friends I bought many items off Facebook marketplace including two drying racks for $5 each, a coffee machine for $10, a microwave for $20, cushions for the bare cane chair on my balcony for $20 and kitchen items for $5.

I also found an old broken and dirty kitchen trolley on the side of the road that I cleaned up, took off the wheels and am now using in my kitchen.

Waste not: Make your own

Being zero waste also appears to environmental folk like myself. When I moved into my new house I had already decided I was going to go as chemical free as possible and had started making my own cleaning products. You can imagine how delighted I was when I read more about the zero waste movement and the recipes and ideas to take this a step further.

Think outside of the box… for someone like me who already makes their own pizza base and organic chicken and vegetable stock from scraps a further step could include investigating how to make my own pasta or pasta sauce.

In Rhoads book there are so many different food, cleaning and cosmetics recipes to help you get started.

Life changes since reading this book

This book has made the most fundamental changes for me mentally that I have experienced in such a long time.

In 2017 I went to India for work. The plastic pollution and way humans were treated in clothing factories shocked me to my core and I’ve spent the last two years trying to actively reduce my plastic usage, clothing consumption and food waste whilst also increasing my charitable giving.

Before reading the book I was already using a keep cup, a reusable drink bottle, a reusable straw, reusable produce bags, I had been using a mooncup for my period since I was 21, I had started using crystal deodorant, I had started using a shampoo soap bar and apple cider vinegar for conditioner, I had started making my own cleaning products.

A Zero waste grocery shop that Kim did and laid out across her kitchen table

Since reading the book I have made further changes based on Rhoads advice:

  • Downgraded to a compost bin and an old jar for rubbish and decided to significantly decrease my waste production. I have gone from a large bucket of rubbish a week to a small jar.
  • Discovered a community garden in Morningside, Beelarong Garden, that will take my compost and found out Brisbane city council supports composting – if you want to get started they will even give you a composting caddy
  • Found two local companies 4Real Milk and Barambah Organics that sells milk in glass bottles (glass can be recycled many times versus plastic that can only be recycled once.
  • Started collecting my soft plastics and receipts to take to Coles and Woolworths to recycle as opposed to throwing them in the rubbish bin
  • Learnt about the cosmetics plastics recycling scheme at Biome for other hard to recycle items. I will collect these items to take back
  • Stopped purchasing items such as flour, rice, oil, vinegar, laundry liquid, lentils, black beans and so on in containers and buy in bulk instead. I have done a price comparison across my local bulk shops (Source in Bulimba, Wray in Cannon Hill and Naked Foods in Camp Hill) to find the best deals
  • Found a local butcher that lets me purchase my meat in my own containers and a local vegetable shop next door that sources it’s vegetables from Queenslan
  • Keeping paper envelopes, scraps and receipts to use as recycled note paper
  • I’ve started taking my own container to Hawthorne Garage to buy my cheese zero waste
  • I’ve bought second hand cloth napkins
  • I’ve stopped using my pod coffee machine and have instead been getting metal tins refilled with coffee at Merlo and using a plunger at work and a stove top peculator at home
  • Buying toilet paper that is wrapped in paper instead of plastic and recycling the outside paper and the cardboard roll

Things I want to do

Despite my efforts I am still aware there are still a lot I can improve:

  • Find second hand pasta machine on Facebook marketplace to make my own pasta, pasta in the bulk shop is crazy expensive
  • Search for a second hand soda stream machine on Facebook marketplace to make my own soda water and tonic water
  • Reduce my water consumption
  • Further analyse and go through my belongings and give things away

In summary

You can help the environment and your wallet with a few small changes: ask your community for help and see what is around, buy second hand items instead of new items and try making your own products. I have been surprised just how fulfilled I have felt from seeing the impact my small actions have made. There will be 52 less bags of rubbish in the landfill because of my direct actions. If it starts for you with using a reuseable coffee cup, reusable bags, buying less stuff and using what you have your direct actions will have an impact. No human can be zero waste but we can all make steps to reduce our waste.

You can subscribe to the Rouge Ginger website, follow Erin on Instagram or Facebook and buy her book, electronically or physically over here.

The Economiss is a single, female, millennial on a mission to buy her first home in Australia. A Kiwi by birth, she jumped over the ditch in 2011 after she finished her tertiary qualifications in search of employment. Between 2011-2016 The Economiss worked, saved and travelled across ten different countries and completed another degree. In 2017 The Economiss started super charging her finances, saving over 32% of her after tax income towards her house deposit as well as cash flowing four overseas trips. In 2018 The Economiss decided to share her journey rewriting the narrative around millennial finance and saved 40.5% of her after tax income. In April 2019 she his her $80,000 house deposit goal. Do you have some tips to share or want to be featured on the blog, please get in touch!

Book club: Waste Not – reduce waste and save money
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