Disposable products may be convenient, but they aren’t ideal. They’re often more costly than their reusable alternatives. Furthermore, they aren’t sustainable because they collectively take up ever more amounts of space in landfills that nobody wants to live near.
The ideal situation would be to create a circular economy. In this sort of economy, every item would be a treasured resource, and there would be no waste at all.
In reality, it would be challenging at this point for Australians to create an entirely circular economy. However, every Australian can do their part to handle waste more responsibly and reduce their carbon footprint.
There are many small and relatively easy steps we can take to reduce waste and use resources more efficiently. These involve changing your buying habits to swap out disposable items and replace them with more environmentally friendly options.
The following are some easy zero waste swaps you could consider making:
Swap out single-use batteries and replace them with rechargeable batteries
If you have battery-powered tools and gadgets, or your kiddos play with battery powered toys, you can save a bundle over the long term by making an upfront investment in high-quality rechargeable batteries. This swap also helps to keep high volumes of single-use batteries out of landfills.
Trent Hamm at Lifehacker has posted a real-life example of how much cost savings you could realistically expect from making this swap. It took his family a couple of years to break even on the upfront investment they’d made in a battery charger and rechargeable batteries. After that, they enjoyed a total cost savings of about $77.44 every year.
Swap out single-use food packaging for reusable containers
If you’ve been using plastic sandwich bags or paper lunch bags, consider swapping those out for reusable food containers such as lunch boxes, bento boxes or Thermos bottles. If you buy dishwasher safe containers, you won’t have to spend much additional time washing them, making this an easy zero waste swap.
You can also swap out single-use plastic cling wrap and replace it with reusable beeswax wraps. Your food will stay just as fresh with either type of wrap, but you’ll spend less in the long term when you eliminate the ongoing expense of cling wrap – plus you’ll send far less plastic to the landfill each year when you make this swap.
Swap out liquid laundry detergent for zero waste laundry sheets
Liquid laundry detergent is frequently packaged in plastic bottles. These can sometimes be recycled, so at first glance, it might seem that they are reasonably sustainable – but that isn’t the case.
Recycling plastic is more complicated than you might think. This is because Australians generate more plastic waste than the recycling industry can reliably absorb and use.
In the past, Australian plastic was typically shipped to China and other Asian countries for recycling. Asian countries are no longer accepting the sizable volumes of waste plastic from us that they used to. Unfortunately, here in Australia, we lack the necessary recycling facilities and manufacturing base to make proper use of recycled plastics.
The end result: Frequently, your recycled plastics don’t actually get recycled; they are more likely to end up in a landfill than they are to actually be reused.
It’s therefore a mistake to go on acting as if recycling is the most effective solution to the waste crisis we’re experiencing; it may seem painful to admit as much, but recycling is not turning out to be as viable as we had hoped.
For us to actually be successful with a recycling model, we would need to create more demand here in Australia for recycled raw plastic materials. As things are currently, there is not enough demand from our existing manufacturers to successfully dispose of all the plastic waste we’re generating. This situation is unlikely to change unless we were to revitalise our manufacturing base and specifically reward reuse of plastics.
Instead, a more realistic solution is for Australian consumers to stop using so many single-use plastics. In many cases, it is an easy matter to bypass plastics all together in favour of biodegradable packaging that can easily be composted.
One example: you could stop buying liquid laundry detergent packaged in plastic bottles. Instead, swap it for zero waste laundry sheets that are kind on your clothes and the environment. The laundry sheets will get your clothes just as clean, but you won’t generate massive quantities of plastic rubbish when you use them.
Swap out plastic-packaged body washes for ordinary bar soap
Body wash and bar soap accomplish the same basic goal: You use them to get clean. From an environmental standpoint, a bar of soap packaged in paper is preferable to a plastic bottle filled with body wash. If you compost the paper soap wrapper, the purchase becomes a zero waste one.
Swap out disposable nappies and use cloth nappies instead
Each of your babies will need an estimated 6,000 – 7,000 nappy changes before you’re able to successfully potty train them. Imagine the horrendous environmental impact of tossing that many disposable nappies into the landfill.
Of course, the greatest downside to cloth nappies is the loss of convenience that disposables offer. Most of the other items on this list really are easy swaps. This one in particular isn’t so easy to do; in all honesty, it requires heaps more effort to accomplish this swap, because you’ll have to do mountains more laundry with cloth nappies than you would if you were to use disposable nappies.
Despite the extra effort required, there are multiple reasons it is still worth considering making the swap to use cloth nappies:
First of all, you’re likely to save thousands of dollars if you choose reusable nappies over disposable ones. This is particularly true if you have more than one child; if you care for your cloth nappies carefully, you’ll probably be able to diaper more than one child with them. Furthermore, you may be able to sell your cloth nappies to another mum after your child is successfully potty trained.
There are many different styles and designs of cloth nappies, and the costs for each can vary widely. So your total savings will depend on the specific choices you make.
If you buy your cloth nappies all at once, you’ll likely spend somewhere between $300 and $1,000 upfront. The cost savings comes about in the long term as you eliminate the ongoing expense of buying disposable nappies. According to ABC News, one mum calculated her overall long-term savings from cloth nappy use to be around $4,000, even considering the substantial costs of water and electricity for washing.
If you don’t have $300+ available to spend upfront, you could buy one or two cloth nappies at a time as you can afford them. Perhaps you could make it a goal to buy a few cloth nappies each time you receive a paycheck. Doing this, you can build your stash over time.
Second, by making the choice to use cloth nappies, you’ll keep a massive amount of waste out of the landfill, which contributes significantly to solving Australia’s waste crisis.
Third, you massively reduce your baby’s exposure to all the toxic chemicals that can be present in disposable nappies. Disposable nappies commonly contain harmful substances such as polychloro dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), ethylene benzene, xylene, toluene, polyacrylates and phthalates. These substances are not only potentially harmful to your baby; they can also be detrimental to the environment. They are best avoided, and cloth diapering provides a comparatively safer solution.
So you can see that this zero waste swap is worth considering, even though it isn’t the easiest one to implement. Even if you can only manage to use cloth nappies on a part-time basis, every bit helps.
These zero waste swaps can all help you to minimise your environmental impact and live more sustainably. Some of these swaps can also help you save money and reduce your living expenses.
Even if you only make a few of these zero waste swaps, you’re likely to enjoy cost savings in the long term – and at the same time, you’ll be contributing positively towards a solution to Australia’s waste crisis.