8 tips for a zero-waste lifestyle

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Just by existing, we can’t possibly go zero-waste. How, then, do we achieve the zero-waste lifestyle? Illustration by JL JAVIER

Editor’s note: Anna R. Oposa is the Executive Director and Chief Mermaid of Save Philippine Seas, a movement to protect the country’s marine resources by empowering ‘seatizens’ toward collective action and behavior change. She graduated with a degree in BA English Studies from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, and obtained her MSc in Conservation Science from Imperial College London. She is committed not to buy clothes, books, makeup, and skincare products in 2019 (but gifts are welcome).

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — By virtue of my job as a marine conservationist, I have become a zero-waste advocate. In a 2015 report, the Philippines was listed as the third largest contributor of ocean plastics globally after China and Indonesia. This “recognition” is rooted in an ecosystem of issues — the lack of political will, extended producer responsibility, recycling facilities, and discipline — and it manifests in sachets, straws, and bags we see in and out of the water.

While I carry my kit of reusables and lead an NGO that promotes the reduction of single-use plastics, I’ll be the first to admit that I am far from being zero-waste. Like many, Marie Kondo’s Netflix show “Tidying Up” sent me into a cleaning frenzy, which revealed how much I own. Did I need to buy those Uniqlo pants in four different colors, or two tubes of my favorite lipstick because they were on sale? No. But I bought them anyway.

While sorting which clothes to keep/donate/give, I was reminded that waste is not only inefficient, but also costly. It even takes resources (time, effort, finances) to get rid of it! I was also reminded that zero-waste isn’t limited to eliminating single-use plastics; it covers the world of stuff: clothes, books, home/personal care products, and food.

Just by existing, we can’t possibly go zero-waste. How, then, do we achieve the zero-waste lifestyle?

Perhaps the term itself is problematic and should be repositioned: “zero-waste” isn’t necessarily the present state, but the goal — or at least, as close to it as we can get. Here are some lessons, tips, and recommendations I’ve picked up a decade into my zero-waste journey:

Assess what you accumulate and dispose of. Common culprits are retail-, beverage- and food-related. Before we hit the 3 Rs of reduce-reuse-recycle, we must rethink and refuse. From your waste audit, identify alternatives. Chances are, you already have them: the friend you can borrow books from; a top you can mix and match with other pieces; a tumbler; foldable bag; utensils; and food container. The last four items form the building blocks of your zero-waste kit. Start bringing this around, and use it.

Plan ahead. Prepare a weekly meal plan, buy your ingredients, and pack meals for school/work. Don’t say you don’t have time — make time. This will save money, and may result in healthier choices, plus little to no food waste and packaging. Confession: I used to buy pre-packed salads from the supermarket a few times a week, which cost about ₱190/salad. A week’s worth of plastic-free vegetables subscribed from Good Food Community begins at ₱320, and supports small holder farmers. While this service is only available in Metro Manila so far, you will still spend less when you buy the ingredients separately at the market. Pro tip: check if your school/office has a coffee maker and use that instead of buying overpriced coffee from cafés. Don’t forget to bring your reusable tumbler!

Zero-waste requires trial and error, especially for home/personal care products. I tested several shampoo bars before I found two that worked. I switched to a menstrual cup last year, and learned (the hard way) it can be a disaster to clean in public restrooms. I still use tampons when I know I can’t change it in a private space.

Not all waste is created equal. When choosing among products, pick what is reusable and/or recyclable. This is the “lesser evil.” As much as possible, buy items that can have an afterlife. Turn your trash into cash by selling your recyclables to junk shops, or bringing them to the nearest mall with a recyclables fair. Glorietta has it every first Friday of the month, while all SM malls, except Makati and Cubao, hold it every first Friday-Saturday of the month.

Unfollow social media accounts and unsubscribe from mailing lists of your favorite retail stores and influencers. Don’t walk into shops “just to kill time.” Out of sight, out of mind. If you must buy, buy items that are built to last, and items you’ll actually use.

Support stores that offer refills so you only buy what you need and reduce packaging. In Metro Manila, options are Ritual in Makati, Humble Market in Mandaluyong, and Got Heart in Quezon City. There’s Croft in Davao, Happy Earth Store in Cagayan de Oro, and soon, Naked Pantry in Cebu.

Resist the urge to judge others (or at least don’t judge out loud). If you want to influence others, set an example and share the positive outcomes.

We will have moments of weakness, and that’s okay. The zero-waste life doesn’t happen overnight. Honor your pace, and give yourself — and others — a break. Committing to a zero-waste lifestyle is about progress, not perfection.