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Counting the cost - simple steps to a 'zero waste' life

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by: Sustainable Startups
counting the cost   simple steps to a  zero waste  life

Nelson Environment Centre's Karen Driver said the idea was to create a "circular economy" for products and waste. Rather than something being made, used, and dumped in landfill at the end of its useful life, it's about repurposing it so parts are reused, not thrown out.

"To achieve zero waste properly you need everyone in the chain thinking about it, but it really comes down to the design of products," Driver said.

Manufacturers and product designers need to have a product's end-of-life in mind when they make it, giving thought to how it might be reused, fixed, or recycled when they're choosing materials.

But everyday consumers have their part to play too.


Driver's first tip is don't buy it if you don't really need it. Avoid products that are single-use, like plastic bags or bottled water. Even if something is able to be recycled, it's best to cut down on anything that creates waste, as recycling isn't without its own environmental impacts.

"If you're needing to buy something, just think about the lifetime costs of it,"Driver said.

She suggested buying things that can be repaired - wooden-handled garden tools instead of plastic, for example - and spending a bit more on items like clothes, choosing quality garments that will last longer, rather than cheap items that need replacing every year.

Buying unpackaged fruits and vegetables is a big one too. Driver said it not only cuts down on plastic from packaging and bags, but it can be cheaper for the consumer, as loose items often have lower per-kilogram cost than packaged goods. She said buying loose items means you're more likely to only buy what you need. 


Anything you do own, in terms of plastic containers and bottles, reuse as much as possible.

"Reuse it until it's not reusable anymore and then recycle it," she said.

Glass jars and more durable containers can be better in the long-term, however. Driver said places like Bin Inn or organic co-ops will let you bring your own containers to be refilled, to avoid relying on single-use bags or containers.

Products like beeswax wraps for food and sandwiches are available as alternative to plastic wrap that only gets one use before its tossed in the waste. Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes are a more sustainable option than their plastic alternative.


Driver said where people often came unstuck was thinking they had to change everything at once. She said a better approach was to take it a step at a time.

"Like composting for instance. If you put all your vege scraps in the bin, just think about if you could compost it," she said.

Worm farms, compost bins, and bokashi are all popular systems , and the Nelson City Council offers a $20 discount for composting materials. 

She said the Nelson Environment Centre were happy to advise people as to how they could manage their food waste based on their living situation. Bokashi systems work well for apartment-dwellers or those without gardens, for example. 


If something can't be broken down by nature's processes, isn't able to be reused, and can't be repaired or repurposed, the last option is to recycle it.

Driver said the Environment Centre took old electronics, including cellphones, and where they couldn't use the parts to remake new devices, they would recycle them. 

The new government was going to look at ways to charge a levy on vehicle tyres, to help cover the cost of recycling them at their end-of-life, she said. 

She said both central and local government had a role to play in providing a framework for manufactures to be responsible with end-of-life management for products, and give incentives where necessary to encourage companies to think about "product stewardships".

In Kaikōura, the council realised its landfill was nearly full and didn't want to have to dig a new one, so has been encouraging zero waste practices. Auckland Council has also been setting up community hubs to teach residents how to repurpose things and encourage them to think differently about what is waste. 

Because for consumers, Driver said, the first step was to look in their own bin.

"Have a think about what's the biggest thing you've got in your bin, in terms of volume or weight, and think about how could you reduce that."


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