Uncommonly sensible ways to reduce waste

Living Well | Patricia Maunder | Posted on 05 January 2020

Being eco-friendly can be easy. These are seven stupidly simple ways to reduce waste.

You’re fighting the war on waste with reusable coffee cups, water bottles and shopping bags, perhaps even a compost bin, too. If anything more seems too difficult or, if you’re honest, too weird, consider these lifestyle tweaks you can easily adapt to with some fresh thinking. Although yet to go mainstream, these innovations and back-to-basics approaches make such good sense they could become as unremarkable as formerly loony-left habits like avoiding single-use plastic straws.

Close up of soap bars wrapped in paper arranged on shelf

Go back to basics by buying bars of soap rather than bottled body wash.

Seven simple, sensible and easy ways to reduce waste

Solid soap, shampoo and detergents

Many products that keep us clean come in plastic made from oil and, according to Sustainability Victoria, 17 million barrels of it are used for global plastic production each year. Recycling requires further resources, while some packaging components, including pumps and caps, aren’t readily recycled. 

Try switching from bottled body wash to good old-fashioned soap bars, ideally in minimal, biodegradable packaging. Why not give shampoo and conditioner bars a go?  Or try solid shaving, exfoliating, cleansing, dishwashing and laundry soaps, too. (More: Cleaning products you can make at home)

Regular and pure soap, which can be used for dishes and grated for laundry, are supermarket-handy. Lush sells many colourful, scented bath and beauty products in “naked” packaging, while The Australian Natural Soap Company’s down-to-Earth, made-in-Melbourne range includes laundry soap flakes and shampoo bars for humans and pets.

Adaptation challenge: Replacing ultra-convenient bottles of goo with solid bars is hardly a soap opera.

Farm-to-vase flowers

According to new farm-to-vase online business Floraly, one-third of flowers in Australian shops wither unsold. That’s about 40 million blooms thrown away annually, wasting the resources – including precious water – required to produce and transport them.

Floraly reduces waste to less than two per cent by working directly with growers to deliver cut-to-order flowers, which usually last longer than stock that can wait in shops for up to a week. They also avoid plastic packaging, never use florist foam, and are now delivering mini living Christmas trees complete with soil, pot and decorations.

Adaptation challenge: Similarly priced, if not cheaper than other delivery options, plus flowers are always fresh, so this is garden-variety easy.

Deodorants in simple packaging

Packaging on conventional deodorant requires considerable resources to manufacture, and roll-ons are often not recyclable. Increasingly sophisticated alternatives include Australian brand Woohoo’s deodorant sticks in cardboard tubes, as well as paste in tins and plastic-like containers made from sugarcane.

Applied in tiny amounts by hand, deodorant pastes are proliferating. Another local business, Earths Purities, sells it in smart cardboard boxes, and cardboard tubes of deodorant powder too. Refillable deodorants are also available, from Australia’s Asuvi.

Adaptation challenge: This might require some gentle mental arm twisting. Explore the expanding sweet spot between convenient chemical blasts and dubious old hippy options.

Fresh flowers arranged in cardboard delivery box

Pick farm-fresh flower delivery.  

Girl dressed in black pinaofre standing in front of white pillars

Choose sustainable fashion labels.

Deoderant stick in cardboard packaging

Swap plastic packaging for cardboard.

Deadstock textile creations 

Fast fashion’s environmental impact has been making news, especially since ABC TV’s War on Waste program revealed that Australia sends 6000 kilograms of resource-intensive textiles to landfill every 10 minutes. Among that is manufacturers’ surplus, also known as deadstock, which may also go to waste by sitting in perpetual storage. 

Some small, forward-thinking Melbourne businesses source deadstock instead of buying new textiles. Womenswear brand Kalaurie, for instance, which also makes each garment to order to avoid waste. Denimsmith even uses a local belt factory’s off-cuts for jean labels, and offers a repair service, too. BeeKeeper Parade’s upcycled bags, from backpacks to coin purses, are made with deadstock and donated fabrics. 

Adaptation challenge: This one’s in the bag! 

Moisture-wicking menstrual and incontinence underwear 

There’s little that can be done with tampons or sanitary and incontinence pads besides sending them to landfill. The sensible solution is high-tech undies by brands such as Australia’s Modibodi and America’s Thinx (available from David Jones stores). 

Essentially they have a layer of fabric that wicks away moisture, another that absorbs it – both brands claim up to four tampons’ worth, or 20 millilitres – and an outer waterproof layer preventing leaks. Just three millimetres thick, they also absorb odours and wash easily. Modibodi makes swimwear and underwear for men too. 

Adaptation challenge: If this scares the pants off you, try them at home, comforted by the money-back guarantee. 

BYO containers 

Almost everything seems to be sold in plastic, but some food businesses allow or even encourage shoppers to bring their own containers instead. At bulk-buy stores including The Source Bulk Foods outlets, purchase any quantity of grocery items from chickpeas to chocolate frogs in any clean container, including reused jars and takeaway boxes. 

Take the next step by bringing containers to the delis, butchers and fishmongers listed at byocontainers.org, and cafes and takeaway shops at trashlesstakeaway.com.au.  

Want a new container for getting meals to go – or bringing them from home – in style? Check out Melbourne-based BeetBox’s smartly designed options, and compartmentalised bento box-style LunchBots

Adaptation challenge: Start thinking outside the box with easily managed products like rice and pasta.