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:
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.