If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a pivotal time where people are more open towards a sustainable lifestyle. Whether it’s for reasons involving environment, health, social, aesthetic, or time, whatever the case, sustainability has shifted from its once-impractical perception. And if these reasons aren’t compelling enough, there’s also the financial side of the coin to consider. For some families, adopting a zero waste lifestyle has allowed them to save as much as 40 per cent on their overall budget.
We spoke to four sustainability advocates that champion eco-living in their every day, Charlotte Mei, Susannah Jaffer, Olivia Choong, and Agatha Lee, and asked them to share their best zero waste tips with us.
The shift to a zero waste lifestyle can seem like a Sisyphean feat, but the most productive and helpful way to approach it is to begin. And if you don’t know where to start, start with taking a look at the items you use on a daily basis and consider the reusable alternatives you could replace them with. Agatha Lee (Agy), textile artist & co-founder of The Green Collective, shares, “You can start by doing an easy swap, bring a reusable cup or bottle when buying your coffee instead of using a disposable cup.” Because at the end of the day the little things add up.
As Charlotte Mei, nutritionist & sustainability and wellness advocate, recommends, “Think about things like reusable napkins. You can buy a set, and you’ll find yourself buying tissues at a much much lower rate. You’ll be reaching for them instead of the tissue paper to clean up minor spills, or to wipe your mouth at the dinner table, don’t we do that at fancy restaurants anyway? Ever since getting silicone bowl covers and food storage bags, I no longer buy cling film or ziplock bags! And with my reusable tea bags, I buy loose leaf tea instead of tea bags and they’re far cheaper. The added bonus here is that when you buy loose leaf tea, you’re cutting short the supply chain, and–I’m hoping–more money ends up in the farmer’s pocket.”
Think of it this way, reusable items are a one-off purchase that will last you years. For some items, the cost might seem higher in comparison to their disposable counterparts, but when you’re buying the latter you’re buying them monthly and those costs add up. Susannah Jaffer, founder of Zerrin, Asia’s sustainable fashion and beauty platform, shared that “In terms of reusables, I think that adopting a zero waste mentality doesn’t ‘obviously’ save you money in the short-term. However, reusable items can save you money in the long run–if you are using them consistently!”
In the long run, you save money by purchasing something once that will last you years. As an added impetus, buying reusables instills a generations-old philosophy to cherish what we already have and care for it better.
For many who have adopted a more sustainable lifestyle, bulk grocery stores are considered to be an integral part of the zero waste experience. Contrary to its name, bulk shopping refers to a sustainable form of grocery shopping by taking out factors like packaging and plastic waste and encouraging you to buy what you need. Olivia Choong, an urban farmer and environmental activist, shared that, “Because there is so much packaging waste [in standard grocery stores], I make sure I buy good quality items that last as long as possible. I usually don’t buy things I don’t need, and I focus on cutting food waste.”
Bulk stores aren’t limited to food either, Charlotte says, “Where I can, I shop at bulk food stores to get things like grains, flours, sugars, and even detergent.” From a sustainability and financial perspective, this method of buying saves you money as it makes you more mindful of what you buy and eat and can help you reduce your weekly waste. And to top it off, buying in custom amounts gives you more versatility so you can try new products in sample sizes before you decide if it’s right for you and your family.
Most homemade cleaning solutions use ingredients that are readily available in your pantry: vinegar and baking soda. The two are powerhouse ingredients that can disinfect surfaces, soften fabrics, deodorise the fridge and unclog the sink (amongst their many other expedient purposes). At its simplest, the solutions are just one of the two mixed with water, and at its most complicated, you could add essential oils or citrus peels for a more pleasant fragrance. Plus, the addition of vinegar means that your solution can also double up as an animal repellent. Instead of buying different household cleaners for a different section of your home, consider multi-tasking solutions that are far cheaper and just as effective.
Beyond the homemade stuff, you can also trade your other necessities for more sustainable and long-lasting substitute. Charlotte recommends, “A dishwashing block, ertha stocks one that’s vegan, gentle, and easily cuts through grime and grease. Also, instead of a sponge, you can use a wooden dish brush or a Sqwishful sponge made from wood pulp. I throw mine in the soil when I’m done since it’s 100 per cent biodegradable.”
Olivia shares that, “At home, I use my Marseille soap bar by OASIS skin to wash my face and body, it’s so versatile it can even double up for laundry, dishes, floors, and surfaces. And I use Leahlani’s Pamplemousse tropical enzyme cleansing oil to remove make-up so I save on cotton wipes.”
The Japanese have a technique called boro that is used to describe clothes that have been patched and repaired multiple times, it’s rooted in the philosophy that a piece of clothing should last you years and be able to withstand the test of time, even if it requires mending. It goes back to respecting the materials and not letting it go to waste. So the next time you want to throw an item out because it has a hole, a button missing, or it no longer fits, consider doing some easy mending, repurposing it, or getting it tailored. Agy shares, “At home, I have my sewing kit – perfect for repairing tears, fixing buttons, adding patches, etc to make the family’s clothes last longer. If you are mending a garment, not only are you preventing it from going to waste, but you are spending less on clothing. It will also make you think about going for quality garments that will last longer too.”
The greatest advantage we have with the accessibility of digital resources is that you can find a tutorial for almost anything. So if you’re new to sewing, you can take a look at this video to familiarise yourself with the basics:
Though sustainability in fashion gaining more traction, the misconceptions around second-hand clothing and swap meets have held many people back. The three most common reasons being hygiene, and style, and perception.
Susannah encourages a perspective whereby you, “View the rest of your shopping through the lens of zero waste. Fashion, skincare, and household products, these three facets more obviously will save you money in the long run. Especially if you’re consciously reducing the number of clothes you buy and are throwing out.” In 2019, Singapore’s survey shared that the average household spends $123 a month on clothing and footwear. By buying second-hand or swapping clothes (whether it’s with friends of a similar style or through businesses) you can easily save your spending on these costs.
Swapping businesses in Singapore have become more innovative in their format by issuing a tiered membership fee that gives you access to a handful or an unlimited number of swaps. There are also set guidelines in place and intensive quality checks to assure the hygiene of each piece. For Olivia, she suggests “Instead of shopping to update our wardrobe, we could swap clothes at The Fashion Pulpit or buy second hand and save money. On Facebook or through the app Olio, we can even get things in good condition for free. Singapore is a country with a lot of excess, and even among our friends, we could easily find items that we require that they no longer need.” On the note of style and perception, there are even options for second-hand luxury and designer items.