10 Ways to go Zero Waste

In the hope that he will be able to forge some lasting habits – and to see how difficult it really is – eco-chef and food waste activist Tom Hunt has given up packaging for 30 days to go waste zero.

There are many ways we can choose to lessen our impact on the environment from eating higher welfare food to reducing our energy consumption. One part of my everyday life that has been getting me down recently is packaging.

When inspired, I always want to take on the world and make all changes at once, but often it’s best to take the slow approach and to make changes little by little.

On average, each person in the UK throws away their own body weight in rubbish every seven weeks. The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Put together, this comes to a total of 31 million tonnes per year, equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses, a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times.

For most of us going ‘Waste Zero’ isn’t necessarily an option. Our everyday commitments takeover and don’t allow us the time it might take to plan rubbish out of our everyday lives. But waste is an issue that contributes considerably to climate change and one we can all tackle a little to improve our contribution to the earth. Some of the solutions I’ve discovered during this experiment are easily achievable and are actually really fun to do.

The more I care about the food and the environment the more interesting people I meet and the more enjoyment I get out of life and my food.

Here are my top ten ways to reduce waste. I’ve prioritised points that will have the most impact and that are the easiest to maintain in everyday life.

1. Make your own packaging kit

Tote bags, satchels and cloth bags store ingredients just as well or better than a plastic bag or conventional packaging would. Also, keep jam jars and containers for filling with ingredients at home. They will become more valuable the less packaging you buy. Go a step further on your weekly shop; take clean tea towels to wrap bread in, find an egg store that will let you trade in your egg containers and if you’re lucky a fresh milk farmer who will exchange and refill your milk bottle for you.

2. Shop at your local market and buy in bulk

Having a good local market that I can visit once a week has been the most beneficial and enjoyable aid in becoming waste-free so far. Most markets sell lose products that you can fill into your own packaging kit. I found that people at these markets were really pleased to help. If you do come across a product with packaging that you feel you need, consider if you really need it or if there is an alternative brand that doesn’t use packaging. If the only option is to buy a packaged product, buy in bulk containers and check they are recyclable.

3. Buy from unpackaged shops

Long-life products like nuts, seeds, spices, grains and pulses are often available from unpackaged or bulk buy shops and usually cost less than their packaged equivalents. Around 15% of the cost of a product is usually just the cost of packaging.

4. Carry your own water bottle and coffee cup

Throwaway water bottles and coffee cups are easily replaced with a thermos bottle to carry around with you. This will also save you a lot of money from buying unnecessary products.


5. Buy from shops not online

When ordering online a lot of excess and often non-recyclable packaging is used. Gather a list of items you need over time and do a trip to the shops when you need to, taking your packaging kit with you.


6. Toothpaste, cosmetics and cleaning products

Toothpaste tubes are almost impossible to recycle, I buy Lush’s toothpaste powder in a reusable and recyclable tub, but you could also use bicarbonate of soda bought from a bulk buy shop. Cleaning products normally litter my cupboards but becoming waste zero has emptied the cupboard and saved us a lot of money. I’ve replaced these products simply with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Bathroom soap and shampoo can be bought in bars without packaging from shops and markets.

7. Reuse and repair

In just 10 days, I’ve reduced my waste to almost nothing. Unexpectedly I’m starting to value the packaging I do have or can retrieve off other people, whether its jam jars or carrier bags. If you do buy something with packaging, up-cycle it into something useful… Olive oil drums can become pot planters, material remnants can be used to wrap presents or sown into canvas bags, and glass bottles can be used to refill with oil and vinegar. Because of the different valuable components electronic goods are best repaired and if not recycled. Clothes can be bought second hand and given to charity shops.

8. Grow your own

Growing your own vegetables is the best way to reduce your waste and to really know what has gone into your food. Seeds can be bought and sown into the ground or planters made out of cardboard that will compost into the ground. Harvest your vegetables fresh, as you need them, as nutritious as can be.

9. Compost

Once you’ve removed packaging most of the waste we are left with is compostable food scraps, paper and cardboard. Preventing this waste from going into landfill is very important and I believe one of the most symbolistic and impactful choices we can make. Composting our brown waste turns waste that would have been harmful – potentially causing harmful gases in landfill – into the very substance that feeds us… Soil. Councils often have composting schemes, but if you have a small garden I’d recommend composting yourself. Providing yourself with free rich soil to grow your own vegetables in pots or beds. If neither of these options are available consider going to a waste plant or to a friend who needs compost.

10. Root to Fruit Eating

Buy seasonal and local ingredients that are from plentiful sources, that you truly value for their nutrition, taste and quality. Eat more vegetables and eat them in their entirety, including root greens, herb stalks and peelings – these parts of the vegetables often hold the most nutrition too. When eating meat, make sure it is pasture-reared from farms that consider nature. That way their production won’t have been done so wastefully, turning their potentially very harmful waste manure into fertiliser.

Do you have any tips & tricks of your own? You can share them below.


Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt

Tom Hunt is an eco-chef, director of Poco restaurant in Bristol and author of The Natural Cook.