The Essential 5 R’s To Your Zero-Waste Journey

Written by Yeu-Gynn Yeung

The zero-waste lifestyle has been making a buzz in our nation’s headlines. More people are trying to opt for the minimalist, zero-waste life. Zero-waste living doesn’t mean storing a year’s worth of trash into a mason jar (even though that would be rather cool). It means being mindful about the waste you produce and prioritizing the wellbeing of the environment. We don’t often give much thought to our trash – out of sight, out of mind, right?

Malaysia is the third worst country in the world for plastic waste – which goes into the ocean, landfills, drains and god knows where. At this rate, we’d be on the verge of an environmental disaster within just a decade or two. If we can take small steps to reduce our plastic waste and other trash, we’d make a great difference to the environment. Here are the essential R’s to beginning a zero-waste lifestyle and you’ll need to be familiar with them in this order:

1) Refuse

Zero-waste begins when you refuse things. Refusing items will significantly reduce most of your trash. For example, you can begin to refuse plastic bags and bring your own cloth tote for grocery shopping instead. Don’t hesitate to refuse freebies that do not add any value to your life. While most Malaysians can’t resist freebies, when was the last time you used the free mug you received? Ask yourself if you actually need the free item before receiving it. At any rate, most of these supposedly free items aren’t exactly free. They come at an expense, like you’ll have to spend a certain amount of money to claim it. Plus, it creates more packaging waste. It’s just not as free as it seems.

2) Reduce

After you refuse certain items, you can begin to reduce your overall consumption. You may begin with reducing your consumption of processed food and source for real food instead. For example, instead of buying cookies from the store, you can start baking your own cookies from scratch and storing them in reusable glass jars. For example, to reduce waste on Christmas, you can actually use newspaper and paper bags to wrap presents. Instead of hosting a gift exchange, try to organize a book exchange instead with the good books you already have. With the consent and agreement of your friends, you’ll be creating a sustainable Christmas tradition for yourself and others around you.

3) Reuse (and repair)

Instead of using disposable items, get items you can actually reuse. It’s a small, but significant step in your zero-waste journey. If you have disposables, you can continue to use them and replace them as they run out. For example, replace your disposable razors with safety razors and plastic containers with tiffin carriers. Bring a set of metal straws and a cute cutlery set when you eat out, so you can use them whenever the need arises. When something is broken, like a zipper in your jumpsuit, take it to the tailor to be repaired (or sew it back yourself). Realistically, you’ll need something new from time to time, so only get new stuff to replace your old ones that can’t be repaired.

4) Recycle

Now that you’ve got your zero waste journey moving, you’ll have significantly less stuff to recycle. Some plastics, paper and glass items need to be recycled though. When you decide to tidy up your place like Marie Kondo, separate recyclables from the rest and take them to be recycled. These recyclables have sustainable resources can still be reused, so they do not go to waste in landfills. Meanwhile, as we speak of recycling, instead of buying new items like clothing or books, try getting them preloved. New items like clothing, actually contribute to waste production, and in some cases, forced labor. Fast-fashion is neither ethical nor sustainable. Some items don’t actually need to be thrown away, they just need a new home.

5) Rot

Last step! You probably won’t do this often but your dinner leftovers can always be composted into fertilizer. If you’re trying to grow your own herbs like rosemary or thyme, this fertilizer will be such a great help to their growth. You can turn vegetable peels, tea leaves, used coffee grounds and crushed eggshells into compost. These leftovers are really nutritious to growing plants. Some of us dream of a little garden in our home, and surprisingly, your leftovers may just be the answer to help your dear garden grow. Plus, by growing your own little garden, you’re actually creating a sustainable life for yourself.

Realistically, you’ll still produce some form of trash, of course, just significantly less than before. Don’t feel pressured to go all-out on your zero-waste journey. Just take these steps and remember the five R’s to reduce your impact on the environment. Having friends who share the same philosophy can be helpful in leading a zero-waste lifestyle. These tiny actions will eventually make a difference to the environment. Let us know about your zero-waste progress in the comments below. We’d love to hear about your achievements!