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A waste warrior's guide to saving our planet and living sustainably

A waste warrior's guide to saving our planet and living sustainably

It's not rocket science

Text: Brent Taalur Ramsey


Anita Vandyke, former engineer and author of A Zero Waste Life, shares her favourite tips for reducing waste — without losing your lifestyle

Last year, in Singapore alone, 815,200 tonnes of plastic waste were sent to the landfill, of which only 6% was recycled. A majority of this includes disposable items such as straws, takeaway containers and plastic bags, making that number increasingly alarming when you consider how around the world 500 billion single-use plastic bags are being used every year — that tallies up to a startling one million bags being purchased and "thrown away" at any given minute, before eventually filtering down into our oceans, or scattered throughout our forests.

With the global plastics demand expected to reach 334.83 million tonnes by 2020, it's more important than ever to question the throwaway culture we live in, and ask ourselves what role can we play in protecting our planet — even if it's as simple as saying no to single-use plastics.

Whenever the term "zero waste lifestyle" is mentioned, it's easy to imagine the most radical scenario; that, in order to stop producing waste, one would have to move to a remote jungle somewhere and live completely off the grid from mainstream society. But really, zero waste living isn't about the extremes; it is about doing the best you can to lower your personal impact on the planet by making small changes in your everyday life and living more sustainably.

In her new book A Zero Waste Life: In Thirty Days, Anita Vandyke provides a practical, hands-on guide to living a zero waste lifestyle — which is one that, in her own definition, means leaving a gentler footprint on the planet. 

As Plastic Free July has officially come to an end, we asked the former rocket scientist (yes, she actually graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in Aeronautical Space) to provide a few of her favourite tips on how to continue limiting our impact on the planet.

Turn off autopilot and make yourself a zero waste kit

"Much of our waste comes from ingrained habits; it's time to turn off the autopilot and make the zero waste switch. And the easiest way to live a zero waste life is to make new habits and make those habits easy for you to adopt. Make yourself a zero waste kit and leave it by the front door with your shoes or in your car.

I made a zero waste kit that I always have with me, which includes a stainless steel drink bottle and straw, a cloth napkin and a reusable spork. To ensure I never forget my kit, I put it in a drawstring bag, which can easily transfer from handbag to handbag."

anita vandyke, zero waste life

Replace the disposable

"Replace disposable items such as paper napkins, plastic grocery bags and disposable coffee cups with cloth napkins, reusable cloth grocery bags and KeepCups (reusable coffee cups)."

 Use what you have

"It's tempting when starting on your zero waste journey to buy everything new and make it all look super chic and sustainable. But in reality, the best way to get started is to use up what you have first before you buy anything new. You save money and you also save resources!

Here are some tips: Use up your plastic containers and upcycle jars before you buy anything new. I even raid my neighbour's recycling bins to get more jars. Just sterilise them and remove the labels using a paste of bicarbonate soda and coconut oil."

"Use up your plastic containers and upcycle jars before you buy anything new. I even raid my neighbour's recycling bins to get more jars. Just sterilise them and remove the labels using a paste of bicarbonate soda and coconut oil"

Make second-hand your first choice

"Whenever you need to buy something, try to see if you can buy it second-hand first. Look at local thrift stores, ask neighbours and friends, or try eBay — make a good effort to try to buy second-hand before buying new."

Go naked!

"I love seeing produce that is unpackaged! Mother Nature has already created her own packaging for her fruits and vegetables, we don't need to wrap it in plastic. For loose produce, I use reusable produce bags to help with the weighing process. This includes loose-leaf salad leaves and small produce items, but for everything else I go naked! It's time to #freethefruit and enjoy package-free food. Let's choose the naked option instead!"

anita vandyke, zero waste life

Choose glass, paper or stainless steel options

"It's always best to go the zero waste option in which no packaging is used, or you bring your own containers. But when it's not possible, the low waste option is a great alternative to plastic. It's time to look for the plastic-free alternative — such an easy switch."

Go outside!

"Head outdoors and enjoy doing activities, such as hiking, swimming or simply just sitting still and being with nature. By enjoying the outdoors and seeing how amazing Mother Nature is, I have come to appreciate that every step (no matter how small) is important in helping our planet."

Waste warrior Anita Vandyke is the author of A Zero Waste Life, a practical 30-day guide to radically reducing your waste. Available internationally on Books Depository

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