The key to starting your zero waste journey is not to fixate on bringing everything down to zero. It’s impossible to go for totally zero waste, and you’d be setting yourself up for failure unless you live on a plot where you till your soil or make your clothes.
Reducing waste is about bringing awareness to your daily choices, such as recycling, bringing a tiffin carrier for your takeaway, or reducing your reliance on anything single-use, such as cling wrap, cotton pads, straws, and more.
How much or how little you change your lifestyle is up to you; the point is to learn about the cause and apply some accountability to your choices. Many would initially hesitate to start recycling as it often means more errands.
A zero waste lifestyle also often requires forgoing the enticing convenience of many things (such as single-use plastic utensils to forgo dishwashing). Still, we fail to realise that convenience comes at a cost, but you need to start incorporating zero waste now.
Zero Waste: Recycling And Reducing Usage Of Single-Use Plastics
Incorporating these zero waste habits can start small, separating your recyclables from your trash and searching for the closest recycling centre to dispose of them. Carrying around your metal straw, utensils, and drinking bottle can replace refusing straws, single-use plastic utensils, or drinking bottles.
But since then, bulk and refill stores have become part of the solution for things like detergents, cleaning supplies, and food containers that people use daily. These stores are for consumers to bring their containers to refill everyday household items, rather than purchasing items at the supermarket and discarding empty containers regularly (even if these containers are being sent to a recycling centre).
Two established stores in the Klang Valley are The Hive Bulk Foods in Bangsar and KitaRefill (formerly known as BYOB Damansara Kim). The latter store carries a range of products, from laundry and kitchen cleaners to floor cleaners and other specialised cleaning products, such as pet shampoos, bleach, glass cleaners, and stain removers.
They also carry personal care products such as shampoos, hand soaps, and shower gels. Refiller Mobile is a refill store on wheels, a kitted-out van that provides convenience if parked in your neighbourhood for the day or week.
This van, like the roti-man or dim sum man who drives around your neighbourhood selling his wares, sells refills for household cleaning agents, personal care products, and dried food. Their Instagram account (@refillermobile) keeps track of where they are, and they suggest you book with them to ensure they have the supplies you need when they come to your area.
Read: Can Money Buy Happiness?
Zero Waste: Buying Second-Hand
Instead of buying a new item outright when we need it, we should consider getting it another way. Purchasing second-hand extends the life of an item, and this would counter the rapid and alarming trend of fast fashion or fast furniture – a rampant supply increase to meet demand, creating an exorbitant amount of waste.
When these items are manufactured, a large amount of CO2 and wastewater is released into the environment. These items take up space in our landfills as well.
However, the connotation of second-hand (or thrift) shopping still has the association of ‘old’ and ‘trash’ in Malaysia: the assumption that these items have become of such little value that they are as good as trash to be thrown away.
“Most people understand ‘thrift’ to be extremely cheap, and the clothes in traditional thrift stores usually come from bundle gunny sacks or are obtained through donations,” explains the founders of LOOOP, a newly opened “consignment-based pre-loved clothing store” in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail.
LOOOP was founded by Bay Doucet, Adani Bakhtiar, and Emma Khoo, who all saw a gap in the local market regarding second-hand shopping.
They don’t consider themselves a thrift store, as curation is a big part of LOOOP’s service: “Our focus is on keeping quality clothing from our community in circulation, providing a service that helps people sell their clothing to ensure zero waste,” they say.
As a consignment store, LOOOP only has clothes on the floor for eight weeks. Any unsold item would be returned to the consignor. Consigning and shopping at LOOOP is a whole experience.
For consignors, there is an option to share a story about the piece you’re selling with its new owner, and for customers, the eight-week cycle ensures that items at the store will always be fresh. It brings awareness to the items you are purchasing and the novelty of the item is the only one at the store.
It’s a chance to give clothes new life—using a garment does not have to immediately end when it’s suddenly out of style or no longer serves its owner. Despite that, the issue of overconsumption and overproduction is larger than just one small company.
“We cannot claim to be the solution towards zero waste, but we are striving in our limited capacity to prevent clothes from ending up in landfills by giving them a second (or third, or fourth) chance,” they add.
This does not mean that they do not accept fast fashion items, as the accessibility is what makes it complex. Fast fashion, after all, makes it possible for many people to access clothes at an affordable price point.
With that, the founders of LOOOP have this to say: “Rehoming fast fashion to some degree also encourages more consumption because people feel they have a ‘sustainable’ avenue to dispose of their items. For now, we feel
it is more important to have an access point for sustainability as the local market begins to hold these conversations and mature in the industry.”
Furniture, like fast fashion, is a consumer good that is frequently overlooked. Getting rid of furniture and other large household items isn’t as easy as getting rid of clothes.
“Some of the biggest contributors to furniture waste is fast furniture. A lot of cheaply made items are imported from China and sold at extremely low prices on Shopee,” shares Christopher Rudra, one of the founding partners of Unearth Store, a second-hand furniture store at Shah Alam, Selangor.
Like with fashion, the fact that goods can be made quickly and cheaply encourages people to use and get rid of them quickly.
“While it’s great that the average Malaysian now has access to a wider selection of items, we would compare it to the development of single-use plastics: the exponential waste resulting from this higher quality of life will result in a net negative for us all,” he adds.
We often overlook the impact of furniture waste since it cannot be easily disposed of or recycled like other types of waste, leading it to be thrown out thoughtlessly, ultimately ending up in landfills. Furthermore, a single item can
be made of different materials—a combination of wood, steel, and various plastics and polymers. This makes them affordable in the first place, as solid wood furniture is expensive.
“We source our furniture supply from consumers looking to clear out and resell unwanted home furniture,” says
Rudra. Another appeal of the Unearth Store is that they offer to pick up unwanted furniture, otherwise known as “furniture removal.” Rather than dispose of it, they find new homes and uses for the goods.
Zero Waste: Mend, Swap, Sell
What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You have a lot of things you would like to dispose of but are unsure what to do with them other than throw them in the trash, undoubtedly sending them to the landfill.
Part of living a zero waste life is figuring out if you can fix or mend whatever needs disposing of or replacing. You could find a new owner who might want to find a new use for it, whatever that might be.
After all, the saying ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ wholly applies here!
For that reason, multiple social media communities and online marketplaces encourage these exchanges. There is Facebook Marketplace and the app Carousell for selling used items. There are also thriving giveaway groups on Facebook, of which users are encouraged to give away unwanted items to people who may need them for free.
Style swap groups and parties have also been held for participants to swap fashion garments – a chance to get a new wardrobe without purchasing new items and extending the life of their old items.
Ultimately, these options are there so that people can think about what it would mean to change the waste they put into the world. It’s never too late to start the zero waste lifestyle, and like any habit to cultivate, it begins with awareness and some small steps towards realistic expectations.