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. Still reducing

As I first mentioned when started this step (i.e. Step 2), it never really finishes. Throughout years we have collected quite a number of items under the umbrella of “necessities” in our lives and getting rid of all these artificial convenience take time and dedication. In some cases it also take lots of patience and perseverance to stick with it and do not get dithered by criticism or hardships.

Other things that we are in the process of reducing are:

1. Shampoos

Shampoos are “necessities” of daily life, aren’t they? Well you do not need to wash your hair every day and in some cases every week. It obviously depend on the type of your hair and there are so many people out there that agree with this. I am in the process of reducing my washes throughout the week. Every week I try to add another day or half day to my non-wash period.

But also you don’t have to use conventional shampoo to get the job done. The way we are all conditioned to using fragrant shampoos with all these exotic aromas and empty promises of growth and smoothness and so on just shows how marketing is a powerful tool that can be misused. There is no way by using a shampoo (that last couple of minutes on your hair at best) you get the silky shine or regrowth that they entail. But we still fall for them.

Anyway, my point being look into alternatives. I can tell you about what I have experienced.:

Soap Nuts are type of berries that contain saponin, a natural detergent. The shell absorbs water and releases the saponins which circulate as a natural surfactant in the wash water, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. I tried them a while ago and they are quite cost effective. A kilo can give you up to 35 litre of liquid (boil them in water) that can be used as shampoo (you can add essential oil to add the aroma you like), detergent, hand wash and body wash. They don’t make as much foam you are use to with conventional shampoos but do the job


If you want to get best idea about essential oils there is this free e-book that you can enjoy:

 

2. Dry shampoo

I use dry shampoo to longer my non-wash period. Now I make my own but there are lot of options out there many of them organic:

The key to using dry shampoo is to brush your hair few times a day to distribute the oil in the root of your hair to the whole length and then use the dry shampoo powder and brush again to allow the powder absorb the oil in every corner of your head. This is really useful as you don’t fee like you have greasy hair but you still haven’t wash it. So you can go about your life like you normally would.

3. All cleaning agents

I talked about these products in another post, and even though we don’t use whole lot of these kinds of products we still use detergent specially if I am washing reusable nappies as they are quite fussy and I don’t want to ruin their waterproof layer with soap nut detergent or homemade detergents. Also we use dish washer soap as distinguishing is mainly my hubby’s chore and he refuses to use anything that doesn’t foam enough in his opinion (i.e. soap nut liquid). Hence we are in the process of reducing, or convincing at this stage 🙂

4. Toothpaste

So I had problems with conventional toothpaste that have SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) not because they are carcinogen or anything (there is no proof or disproof on this). It’s just they make my mouth really dry, like seriously dry, so I changed to SLS free toothpaste and bought a few of this brand:


My plan is to make my own but before that I will give a go at the tooth cleaning powder that I heard so much about and will let you know how it goes. The reason I am changing from this toothpaste is not that I don’t love it because I do. It is fantastic but it lasts me only a month or month and a half if I really be careful with the amount I put on my brush. Disclaimer, I brush at least twice a day.
So the powder that I am going with is this one, happy to get suggestions if you out there are using something totally amazing:


5. New stuff in general

I am one of those people that can’t wear second hand clothing if I don’t know where it comes from but I have no problem buying new clothing or new stuff in general off of people who do not want them. So I became an avid second hand shopper (gumtreer). In the past year, we haven’t bought anything for the house, mainly kitchenware, that was from store. All came from people that own them, either bought them or receive them as gifts. This guarantees to get what I want as I research them and purposefully look for those items. Hence no sales person can impact my decision. Also I don’t pay the premium in-store price as these items are in the second hand category I can pay a fraction of the price and get a lot of discount if I haggle and the person I am buying from is also good recipient of haggling 😉

I also started making a lot of my own clothing also made couple of dresses for my daughter. This saves a lot of money and I get the material and design that I want. I never pay for the design (or pattern in this case), either make my own quirky pattern or search for free ones on the web.

My journey to zero waste living

In January 2010, I moved to Australia to pursue my PhD in Industrial Sustainability at the University of Melbourne. I am originally from Iran and it was during my research in Melbourne that my eyes were opened to the understanding of how our new industrial and consumptive life style is damaging the environment and our mother earth. Soon I joined the Climate Reality Corps led by Former US Vice President, Al Gore, to raise awareness about climate change and people power to convince politicians to act before it is too late when the climate change effects are irreversible.

I was one of 500 people from 94 countries who were selected to be trained by former US vice president Al Gore to deliver a version of the slideshow known to many as the basis of the award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The trip was partially funded by my successful Peter McPhee Award from Melbourne University.

As a climate leader, I was committed to perform at least ten Acts of Leadership within a year of my training. These were acts such as speaking and presenting my version of the famous Al Gore slide show, and I also did a number of presentations including an end of the year showcase of my Peter McPhee and Dreamlarge grants.

After completing training with the Climate Reality Project in Istanbul in 2013, I founded Engreeneers as a new sustainable engineering group funded by a University of Melbourne’s Dreamlarge Student Engagement grant. In collaboration with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and Australian Conservation Foundation, Engreeneers presented a series of group discussions on topics including sustainability and sustainability leadership. Each session ended with a list of ideas, recommendations or questions to be presented to the relevant expert guest in a follow up Q&A session.

Throughout all these volunteer works and studies, I realised that our current way of life is not sustainable and we cannot continue our consumptive living. Our current lifestyle is diminishing our bounded resources and filling up our landfills with trash emitting tons and tons of CO2 and methane. These emissions are the main sources of green house gas emission that is causing the climate change. Most of the problems in the world have simple reasoning behind them and reasonble solutions but the geo-political situations making those solution so out of hand that nothing is getting fixed and just deterioriate further and further. One example is the sheer number of poor and hungy people in the world that can be fed easily with the amount of food produced in the world but their number just increases each year and nothing get fixed, read more on this in Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity 1st Edition by Lester R. Brown (He actually signed my copy when I was at a conference in Columbus, Ohio, USA in 2012).

I soon decided that focusing on one aspect of action, zero waste living, and promoting it throughout communities can have more impact that just preaching change without clear and doable solutions. So I started first steps towards a zero waste household classes, seminars and workshops. These posts are written forms of those classes and goes into more details on how I started my zero waste journey and how I am still continuing to learn and make more positive changes for a less harmful impact on my mother earth.

These blog posts are to empower each and everyone of you out there to believe in the power of one and how it can grow to impact the whole world. So here I share with you step by step of my zero waste living journey. These are based on my experiences and do not count as my professional advice in any shape or form.

I want to inspire you, instigate action and make a change but also share my journey with those interested and feeling that somewhere few steps ahead or behind can provide them a different or maybe new perspective. I don’t think I even get to the end of my journey so long I live but having a record of my steps is heartwarming for me and those who care this shared cause.

Come on, hop on this journey with me and don’t be shy to leave comments and ask questions. As you see based on the dates of these posts, I am a novice in blogging and need encouragement to keep it up so I appreciate any word of advise, encouragement or constructive criticism. Just as a disclosure, your comments will be checked by me before posted on the site but I won’t be censuring any comments so long it is not insulting to anyone. Please also recommend content or posts that you find useful and relevant and I will try my best to accommodate your wishes within a time frame that will work for us both.

Ok let’s get to it!