Zero waste living in an apartment

This topic was requested by one of our readers/followers and I think it is a very appropriate topic as nowadays more and more people are living in apartments/units and places that don’t necessary have backyards, balconies or an outside area for gardening, composting or alike.

I lived in an apartment for as long as I remember, some of them had balconies, some had tiny backyards, some had none. I was in various stages of my zero waste journey and in any of these stages somehow I managed to move forward in an apartment.

Here are  my tips and tricks for zero waste living in apartments:

First make a plan

This is not different from the first step of 5R, the method that I initiated and follow. Make sure to have your goals set, communicated with those that live with you in the apartment, either your family or your roommates. Write what you want to achieve down and have it somewhere visible to everyone.

Then go through your lifestyle, your shopping, your eating and your work habits and identify points that you can improve upon in order to achieve your set goal. Make sure everyone take part in this exercise otherwise they will feel left out and that you are forcing your goals on them.

So now that you have a goal and you have ways to work towards that goal, it’s time to make plan for improving those things.

For example, you goal is to lower your organic waste in landfill:

One way is to compost, if you have a balcony with a shady area you can make or buy a worm farm (small one) but make sure to read about those (or wait for my next post on them) before committing to one as they can be high maintenance.

Another way is to get a Bokashi bin:

They are good for not too much organic waste specially offices or small apartments with few people. They don’t smell, and don’t make a mess so you can have them inside even in your kitchen.

What I did when I had a small balcony with no shady area was to get free Styrofoam Boxes from my local fruit shop and use those to bury my organic waste. It was a great bed for planting my potatoes, tomatoes, and herbs. My space was limited but as it was getting lots of oxygen, rain water and sunshine, the composting was happening so fast that I was amazed. I also composted my soap nuts in this manner:

Second reduce your consumption

What is important is we accumulate stuff when we have extra space, food, clothing, furniture, books and so on. You name it, we accumulate them all. When you live in an smaller area, for example in a small apartment, you know how valuable the space is. In another word, you value your space more than someone that has so much space doesn’t know how to fill it. So when I tell you reduce your consumption, you will thank me for it because as soon as you do this step, you feel lighter and find much more space around you that allow you to breath freely. So read on.

Reducing is not only about what we own is about what you bring into existence. If you buy something, you will bring it home in most cases and then have to put it somewhere so it will occupy space. But if you buy this thing from a shop or somewhere that is directly or indirectly connected to the manufacturer, you also trigger yourself as a customer to that manufacturer and shop. So they will plan more things for you. Even if you search for something on google, you are tipping bunch of businesses that you are potential customer so make them plan for your future when you are finally ready to make the purchase. So they go ahead and make those things for you and when you are ready they have it all packed and pretty for you. This might not seems like much in scale of one but imagine in a scale of million. Imagine if we all change behaviour and consume less. Many of unnecessary products won’t even been manufactured. Do you know how much time, resources, including energy, water and human manpower will that save.

So if you reduce your consumption in the long run you will realise that material things do not make you happy so naturally you won’t buy things that you don’t need as they don’t serve any purpose any more. If they don’t make you happy and they have no use so why should you spend your time, your money and your space on them.

This means you will only bring stuff home that you absolutely need. Hence, less waste. Because you need them so you won’t throw them out. Or you need to eat them so you eat them and the left over you compost.

You would say, what about the packaging. Well that bring me to the third:

Third reuse

The idea here is to try your hardest and get stuff that are reusable. Don’t think disposable, don’t think one time. Think always, all the time, multiples. Think bulk, think regrowth, think more than once.

Chances are packaged food are only usable once. Even if you take food from restaurant, have a container with you to bring the food home. Don’t bring disposable cutlery home where you have thousands of forks and spoons.

You might say, how about the fruit and vegetables that are in packaging. I say, AVOID THEM. Run Forest, RUN.

You can regrow most of your fresh herbs, vegetables and some of your fruit even in an apartment as long as you get some natural lights. So go to your local fruit shop and get some fresh produce. Why do you need those packaged ones any way. If any one has a purpose for those organic single sweet potato in a tray wrapped with plastic wrap in the supermarket, please comment below. Let me know so I get informed as I have no idea why those exist.

Anyway, let’s get back to reusing. So think actively about reusing things around you. Reuse all the jars you bring home, tomato pastes, pickles, pesto, other condiments. Use some of them to take soup to work (I have done this and continue to do so don’t you cringe!). Or maybe some others to make your own pickles. Don’t toss them out easily.

Reuse your old clothing that you can’t donate as rags and stop buying paper towels for the kitchen.

Reuse your milk cart and use it as watering can for your compost that you just made by reusing a Styrofoam Boxes from your fruit shop.

Reuse your plastic bags for your next trip to market or maybe make something new with them. There are tons of ways you can reuse plastic bags to make sandwich wraps, make plastic woven rugs, fuse them together and make a new more durable shopping bag.

I challenge you to look at your bin and find three things that you can reuse instead of tossing. Then try to do this on a regular basis. This will empty your bin after a while.

Want more ways to empty your bin:

Fourth start making your own… everything

I can’t say that I do make everything, specially with a 15 month old. But there was point when I was living in an apartment in Glen Eira that I did make our own everything 😉

From hummus, tomato paste, pickles to jam, cake, bread and so one.

Now I am making my own bread, so no packing come near my house for bread nor any waste go out of here as we bake fresh and eat fresh.

Most of the times, we still make our own jam. The bread and jam and also pizza dough are easy to make thanks to our bread maker machine:

We only buy bulk essential ingredients to make stuff. Like fabric then I sew a dress or design one and ask a friend to make me one. Have to admit her dresses are nicer with better finishing as she is a proper dress maker 🙂

Another challenge, for the next month actively look around you and observe what you buy on daily, weekly basis and think if you can find a way or you already know a way to make that easy and cheap. If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, find a way to do so. If you can’t find it on internet, YouTube or by asking your family and friends then keep it in your shopping list.

This will eliminate a lot of things that you had to buy and remove their associated packaging as well. Also add joy to your life as we enjoy providing for ourselves and our families. Even cake mix marketing campaigns after world war II got that right, “housewives needed to feel like a more integral part of the creative process” because they wanted to make something with their hands for their family and adding an egg and putting the icing on the made cake from the box allow them to feel like that.

But even after all these efforts, you can see a lot of packing every where, what can we do.

Recycle them if you have to

I always say recycle if you have to because recycling is not waste free. Even if we assume that what we recycle get recycled. It requires a lot of energy, water, manpower, time and other resources to make something out of recycled paper, plastic, metal and so on.

Think twice before recycling, think if you can reuse it. Or even better think even before buying it, think if you really need it and if so think if you can make it your self. So I am just repeating here but go through the steps for every single thing for two weeks and then you will do them automatically. After a month you realise a massive reduction in your house hold expenses, lots of happiness around and a lot less garbage and recycling.

Let me know what you think and if you take any of the challenges, comment on your progress and what you learn by the end.

Hope these tips help you too Laura.

 

Step 2. Reduce the size (Continued- part 2)

What took longer to eliminate

  1. Bread

So I clearly remember, it was late 2014 and by this point we were buying bread from our local bakery where shall be remain nameless. It was going well as it was package free and a relatively ok quality. Until one day we found a piece of spinach in the baguette that we bough that day. It would have been fine if my hubby didn’t mention that the baker had a piece of spinach in his teeth that day as well. ARGHHHHHHH!!!

So you know what happened we didn’t go back. Went and bough ourselves a piece of machine called bread maker, this is the one and I cannot recommend it high enough:

That changed our lives. As this trusty bread maker comes with a handy recipe book that has more than 30 types of bread, cake, jam and dough that made our lives easier, tastier and richer. We bake for people and give them when we visit them or when they come over and they seem not to get enough of our bread. We can make any type of bread, pastry, and dough including pizza, pasta, pastry and the list goes on.

The cost is not comparable with the store bough bread, no matter how fancy you go on material it won’t be more than a dollar for a freshly backed fancy fruit loaf or mixed nuts and grain sour dough. I told you there is no limit but your imagination. Go buy a bread machine and you won’t regret it. I recommend this one too if you are gluten intolerance:

This purchase pay itself off after a month of bread making and not buying. I would say this was one of the best decisions in my life and I stand by it forever. Easy, cheap and tasty, waking up to a fresh baked bread smell in the house and so much option at your fingertips, this is what I call perfect replacement.

 

  1. Sauces

So you probably remember that one of the early steps, was to reduce the amount of shopping and do most things at home, for instance cook your food at home. So we were using some premade sauces to do the cooking, namely Asian sauces and Pizza sauce. They were packaged and premade so brought in preservatives, bunch of ingredients that we couldn’t even pronounce and of course packaging, lots of it. to our house. So we set to eliminate them, the Asian ones were easy as we just replace them with a trusty combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce and fish sauce. The Pizza sauce was also easy for me to make but my hubby wasn’t a believer, so it took couple of try and errors to turn him as well. Just used a good portion of tomato paste, warm water, pepper and salt and if handy some dried herbs mainly oregano, thyme, coriander and parsley. After that we didn’t buy these and saved tons as each pack was roughly a dollar or two on special. Probably as you notice, we are making our own Pizza and this is beneficial from two aspects, first we save tons of money and second we know exactly what goes into our Pizza, have to confess having the bread maker for making the dough is a huge help. The dough still has to be kneaded and that is when my helpful hubby come into play.

Have to admit having invested in bunch of good and easy cookbooks also helped us a lot to create new foods and don’t get bored as well as eating well and nutritious food with healthy  ingredients. These are some of the books we have:

Step 2. Reduce the size

Reducing is the important part of the zero waste living, some refer to it as de-cluttering but I believe it is even more. De-cluttering is reducing your belongings but Reducing is minimising:

  • what you own
  • what you want
  • what you need both now and in the future

This step is by far the longest part of our journey as we still making changes, reducing on a daily basis what we own, what we buy, what we gather and what we think we should or should not bring to the house.

Eliminating things/stuff one by one was the approach that we decided upon, some go hand in hand with the previous step as we started making stuff in the house hence there was no need to buy them and some goes right into the fact that they were non-essential and could have been cut right out of our lives.

Here we go through each and every one of them, these eliminations might not be in order that they happened in our real life but they all happened at some point in early years of our zero waste journey:

What we eliminated with ease

  1. Bottled water

Bottled water must be one of the most over rated products on the market. In US people are now drinking more bottled water than milk or beer. Bottled water mainly contains tap water that in some cases are treated and purified but mainly is a glorified tap water, however as bottlers aren’t required to list the source of the water on the bottles there is no way to prove or disprove their advertising claims that their water come from purest spring waters on the planet. Moreover, the plastic or even the glass bottles mount to ridiculously huge amount of rubbish in the landfill or at best recycling loads that require massive amount of energy, water, time and man power to recycle.

Then there is the issue of fluoride that some bottled water companies use to lure the customers. They mention that you need fluoride for the health of your teeth. The fact is in most developed countries the fluoride is added to the tap water for some time already, for example back in 1945 fluoride was added to tap water in US. Therefore, you don’t need the bottled water to bring the all needed fluoride for the health of your teeth. Just fill your trusty water bottle

and enjoy all healthy and yummy drink that is water.

 

  1. Plastic bag

Plastic bags were made popular by a Swedish company in 1960’s. They were convenient and palatable to the 20th century men and women who were not largely as environmentally conscious as 21st century ones. Plastic bags are mostly not accepted by curb side recycling services and some stores like IKEA have banned them in their UK and US stores altogether (“IKEA to Phase Out Plastic Bags in U.S.”. GreenBiz. 2 April 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2017). There are biodegradable options for plastic bags and given that 60% of the plastic bags are reused as bin liners or for other purposes (Plastic shopping bags in Australia. Environment.gov.au (2010-06-13). Retrieved 7 May 2017), it is probably a good idea to use the biodegradable options to avoid extra methane and CO2 emissions in the landfill. But you can toss the plastic altogether by using your fold-able cloth bag.

In Australia, major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworth, do accept plastic bags and in general any crunch-able plastics, like wraps and other packaging that crunch in your hand, for recycling. They turn these plastics into outdoor furniture for Aussie primary schools and pre-schools. In 2016, customers returned more than 299 tonnes of plastic to only Coles stores to be recycled.

While you are at it, get rid of plastic bags for good and replace them with produce bags like these

or get your own reusable shopping bags:

 

  1. Takeaway coffee cups

Each of us drink at least a cuppa or two a day and these disposable coffee cups can be mount into a mountain of plastic or paper trash. The solution to this one is easy. This one is a replacement option and there are so many trendy reusable coffee mugs/cups you can enjoy instead of the disposable paper or plastic coffee cup. Get customised reusable cups and taste the caffeine in style. Or use some trendy designed cups for example on various sites.

Another part of the coffee cup that is wasteful is the coffee cup lids. They are usually made of plastic, the first of which was patented in 1967. When using a reusable cups, these lids are made of silicones or durable plastics that are washable and there is no need for tossing at least for couple of years.

On an ABC program in 2017, War on Waste, they ran a whole episode dedicated to coffee cups that are perceived to be recycling by most Australians but they are not really! As the lining inside the cup that prevent the coffee leaking out is a type of plastic that doesn’t get recycled in a paper recycling process hence has to be taken out before putting into the recycling bin. and that by itself is an onerous task that no one is willing to do. So better and easier option to toss the disposable cups and use one that just need a rinse after each use.

More in the next post….

 

Step 1. Rethink your journey

At the time I was living with my partner/husband with no children in the horizon. So I sat him down and had an honest discussion about what I believe in and how I think we should drastically but gradually change our consumptive life and led a simpler and more joyous living.

We both aspired to the path and agreed to do it in a way that will be lasting and not a short lived change.

The first changes we did were:

  1. Make a conscious decision of buying from market instead of supermarket to bring home less packaging
  2. Taking our shopping bags with us when we go for the weekend market haul
  3. Reusing plastic bags that were ending up in our house despite our best efforts
  4. Try to buy locally
  5. Religiously recycle instead of landfill
  6. Start and strive to make most of the food, bread, jam and in general our eating supplies ourselves in the house

These changes were conscious for about couple of years, when we were quite comfortable with them and they felt an essential part of our life style, more like a habit ingrained in our unconscious. However, being both immigrants-I am from Iran and my husband is from Colombia-we had visitors from overseas where consumption is unfortunately still mistaken as a sign of opulent living. So our attempt to have a simpler life was perceived as lack of economic means or outward stingy. It took me a while to change the dynamics and educate my immediate family on disadvantages of massive consumption but more on that in future posts.