The 7 R’s To Zero Waste: How To Live Without Excess


The 7 R’s of Zero Waste;

Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Rehome. Replant. Rot.

Plastic is quite literally taking over the world in which we live. It’s killing our marine life, killing our oceans, polluting our land and the bottom line? We don’t need it. In nature, there is no trash; it’s an entirely human invention. So why the heck do we get through so much of the stuff?

It’s estimated that, in a year, 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute. And with a realistic life-span of just fifteen minutes a bag, it’s a wonder that we’re still using them. And it’s not just bags that are the issue. In the US and UK alone, over 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every single day. Across the globe 500 million plastic bottles are used yearly. Think it ends there? Your chewing gum contributes to the 100,000 ton that is discarded yearly, which is made of synthetic rubber, another form of plastic. And if you’re still using facial cleansers that contain microbeads, there can be up to 300,000 beads in every damn tube. The only thing more shocking that the sheer volume of plastic we use, is how easy it is to live without it.

I get how hard and daunting it can be. A simple trip to the grocery store can have you coming home with more excess plastic packaging than produce. When plastic is so easy to use it can seem hard to turn away. But there are seven easy ways to live more of a zero waste lifestyle, and it’s not as hard as you think; it’s all about embracing change.


It may seem like the most obvious of them all, but the first is to start saying no. Whether you get your morning coffee on the go, your smoothie from a stand, or you pop out during your lunch hour to grab takeout it’s easy to refuse the plastic options given to you. Take along a reusable coffee cup and ask for it to be put directly into your cup. Do the same with smoothies, and refuse a straw. If you need a straw to drink it then either invest in a reusable cup with a built in straw or purchase a reusable straw and leave it in your handbag. As for lunch, get into the habit of either making your food before you go (which will also have a positive impact on your purse strings) or do the same with a reusable container.

At the market, try to buy loose produce that doesn’t come encased in multiple layers of plastic. Or if you’re lucky enough to live near a farmers market, schedule a trip there weekly to get your produce fresh and support local farmers. If you’re buying bulk ingredients such as lentils, nuts and seeds, then get into the habit of taking along old glass jars and asking for them to be filled up directly. Many stores will weigh the jar before and after and you’ll be charged fairly. Buying in bulk often works out cheaper, too, so you may just find yourself saving some pennies along the way.


We tend to shop on impulse and often end up with piles of clothes we never even wear. As soon as you leave a store, your clothes decline in value by 60%. So not only is it a waste of money, but it’s taking up closet space and fast fashion more often than not exploits the workers who made your clothing. Fast fashion isn’t made to last, therefore if you even get around to wearing it, it’s not made to last very long, and then you’ll be contributing to the toll that textile manufacturing has on our planet.

When shopping ask yourself, ‘Do I really need this?’ So many times I’ve bought an item of clothing only to get home and discover that I’ve got something similar sitting there. Secondly, try it on. Again, I’ve often come home after a shopping spree and thrown something in my closet only to try it on months later to find it’s hideous and unflattering. Thirdly, take a time out. If you’re considering buying something then go back to it at a later date. You may find the impulse has gone, and if it hasn’t, then you’ll know it’s something that you really want over something you feel compelled to buy on a spur of the moment.

Go through your wardrobe and either donate your items to goodwill, or even to a friend. Or, if you’ve got serious amounts of clothing, why not sell them? You could put the funds towards something that matters.

Reuse (and repair)

I used to be the worst person for throwing out what couldn’t be fixed and splurging on new items. It was almost a habit to do so. But you get stuck in this endless cycle of buying items, which you’ll eventually throw away and repurchase, and it’s costly and unnecessary.

Think about all of the disposables you use, and try to construct ways to replace them with items that will stick around and also be good for the planet. Here are a few ideas to get you inspired:

  • Cotton pads → washable cotton rounds
  • Tissues → handkerchiefs
  • Tea bags  → loose tea used with a tea strainer
  • Plastic + paper bags → a cotton reusable bag
  • Bottled water → reusable water bottle
  • Cleaning wipes → a microfiber cloth
  • Tin foil/cling film → place in the fridge with a dish towel over the top
  • Coffee filters → a french press


After you’ve started to refuse plastic and reduce the amount you find working its way into your home, there shouldn’t be very much left to recycle. But if plastic does somehow appear then get seriously about recycling. Read the back of your packaging to see whether it’s recycled or not (you’ll be surprised by what still cannot be recycled – another reason to ditch the plastic) and those will then go on to be reused. Brands like the clothing chain Matt & Nat use recycled plastic bottles and turn them into super trendy, vegan friendly handbags. Cool, huh?


Decluttering the home is a great way to save both money and the environment. When you live in a tidy and organized environment, you’ll be able to find all the things you want in a quick and easy fashion, so you won’t end up buying duplicates to replace items you’ve either lost or forgotten. Plus it’s a really great way of helping out those around you so that they won’t have to buy something new if you no longer need the item yourself.

We’re all guilty of upgrading, whether it’s our sofa or our phone. But instead of throwing an old item into a drawer, or worse, the garbage can – why not get into the habit of rehoming? Things like CDs, DVDs and console games are easy to rehome. You can either gift them to someone else or to a charity shop, or there are places that buy them back from you online, making it easier to let them go.

When upgrading your cell phone it’s easy to throw your old one into a drawer and forget about it for years to come. Why not give this to someone else, or sell it online to companies that will recycle them on your behalf. When it comes to furniture, instead of splashing the cash and buying brand new, why not look at what you have and then visit a few upcycling blogs for some inspiration on how to breathe new life into your old furniture.

Clothes are another thing that tend to accumulate. More often than not we forget items we own amongst the hordes that hang in our wardrobes. Clearing them out and filtering through them allows us to keep clothes we know we’ll wear, and also rehome the ones we no longer need either to charity, friends and family or selling them to companies that recycle them. Alternatively you can donate clothes to companies who donate them to impoverished countries where clothes are deemed a luxury than many can’t afford. And if you’re a parent, you’ll know only too well how many kids clothes you collect over the years, which barely get used as kids tend to grow so quickly. Why not help out someone you know by donating a bag of clothes to them? It can save them a lot of money, and it’s great for our environment.


Hopefully by the time you’ve started to compost (further down) you’ll have luscious garden soil and your produce will be growing well. So the next step to living a zero waste life is to use everything, and that includes seeds that you’d throw away; use them to regrow more wonderful foods to feed your family. You’ll be surprised by what can be regrown. A few ideas for some of the foods that you can replant in your garden are:

  • Avocado; the seed that you’d usually throw away can be used to grow your very own avos. Pierce the pit with four toothpicks and submerge in water until a stem sprouts. Once it’s 6-7 inches long cut it back to 3 inches to promote growth and once it grows again place in a pot outside.
  • Garlic; why not take one bulb of garlic and grow lots more? All you need to do is place the bulb or single clove in water, covering the garlic, and then wait for it to grow shoots.
  • Lettuce; do you get down to the base of lettuce and throw it away? No need. Take the leftover lettuce and place it in some water, around two fingers deep, and wait for roots to grow. Once they do you can put the plant into a pot outside with soil.
  • Basil; always have this wonderful herb on hand by growing it yourself. Take 3 to 4 stems of basil and place them in some water, and wait for the stems to reach around 5cm. Then separate the stems of basil and pot them separately and wait for them to grow.
  • Onion; chop the bottom of the onion off with the roots still intact and allow for it to dry someplace well ventilated for a few hours. Then take a plant pot with fresh soil and create a bed for the onion, before placing it inside.


Get into the habit of turning your kitchen scraps into compost. Automatically this lessens the amount that you send to landfill. It’s been estimated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that up to one-fourth of landfill waste could have been thrown into the compost, and when we compost we produce nutrient-rich soil that can be used in our organic gardens and on farms. Adding compost to your garden soil is a great way of helping to produce both delicious food and ornamental plants, so it’s a real win win.

Not only will it make your garden bloom, there’s also the reduction in greenhouse emissions that come from when you consciously choose to compost. In fact, if we all took the time to compost then the methane levels on our planet could be drastically reduced.


Lora O'Brien

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