Is It Possible To Go Zero Waste On A Budget?

Is It Possible To Go Zero Waste On A Budget?

The zero-waste lifestyle is in – and it rightfully should be.

Malaysia generates about 38,000 metric tonnes of waste on a daily basis. Of that amount, 76% of waste goes to the landfill. Only 24% of waste goes into either recycling or waste separation.

Unlike its Asian counterparts like Japan and South Korea, Malaysia is way behind in terms of waste management. While Malaysia is looking at ways to phase out landfills and coming up with a more effective waste management system, the process is still at its infancy.

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According to Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, the ministry is studying four different methods for waste management – biomass waste management, waste-to-energy (WTE), incineration, and bio-digestion to assess which is the most suitable for implementation.

However, aside from waiting for the authorities to enforce laws and a better waste management system, the responsibility also falls on Malaysians to be more conscious about their daily habits.

We still predominantly rely on the ‘throwaway culture’, which means our first thought when it comes to waste management is to throw things away. Domestic waste does not get separated at the source and everything gets lumped together – even though Selangor actually has a policy that requires people to separate their wastes before throwing garbage out.

In our hectic lives, we never stop ponder on the consequences of sending all of our waste to landfills, and if we will one day end up in a world surrounded by trash and contaminated water supply systems.

So why don’t Malaysians manage waste properly?

Fortunately, the zero-waste lifestyle is slowly gaining traction in Malaysia. The zero-waste lifestyle is essentially changing your daily habits so that all products are reused or recycled and no waste is sent to landfills.

We spoke to a few Malaysians about the zero-waste lifestyle, and most of them seem to agree that the zero waste lifestyle is not for everybody. Some have never even heard the term ‘zero waste’ before.

“I think for the most part of our lives, we have been ignorant, so it’s hard to change our habits. It also requires a lot of commitment,” says Talitha.

“My girlfriend is really into it, but for me, I find it really difficult. But not impossible. It’s also not entirely practical. For example, if I’m going to the movies, do I bring a container for the popcorn?” says Gerard, a senior bank manager.

Dinesh, a business owner, thinks that product manufacturers also play a role in our journey towards reducing waste.

“I believe that manufacturers play a big role in this. They should practise the reduction of packaging or using more eco-friendly and reusable packaging. For example, chip packets come with so much plastic and so little chips,” he laughs.

“I think there are a few factors that we have to consider. Countries like Sweden are very much into the zero waste lifestyle and they’re proud of it. The society needs to get to a certain mindful level to appreciate this – and we still have a long way to go,” says Jim, a Malaysian engineer based in Germany.

“Social equality here is also still far from balanced. So the mindset of the majority is too preoccupied in making a living – they don’t have time to worry about zero waste.”

Zero-waste blogger Polly from Green Indy agrees with Jim’s take on practising the zero waste lifestyle.

“When most people think about the zero waste movement, they think of ultra-privileged folks with a massive amount of expendable income to spend on fancy products. Zero waste on a budget is simply an impossibility. Is that a fair assessment?”

“To a large degree, yes. People can only participate in the zero waste movement because their basic needs have already been met. People can only participate in the zero waste movement because they have access to stores with plentiful options. People can only participate in the zero waste movement if they have a surplus of money and time at their disposal,”

However, Polly adds that while she does have privilege and access, she doesn’t exactly earn enough to join the bourgeoisie.

“We are a family of two with a tight budget, a big goal of being debt free in the next year, and the intent of heading towards zero waste. If we can make it happen, chances are some level of a zero waste lifestyle is pretty attainable for a lot of people. Zero waste on a budget is possible.”

It’s okay to start small. You don’t have to jump right in and make major changes to your lifestyle that will eat up a large chunk of your monthly budget. Here are a few tips on how you can go zero waste on a budget:

 Start with your kitchen

The basis of living the zero waste lifestyle is mostly saying no to items that will result in inevitable waste. Making the conscious effort to refuse wasteful, single-use items is the first step to a zero waste lifestyle.

The kitchen usually contributes to most waste, which also makes it a great place to start. Some of the items you can pledge to stop buying or using are paper towels and plastic bags. Paper towels can be easily substituted with washcloths or kitchen towels.

Cost over 12 monthsRM10.20 (cloths reused) RM129.60
10 pieces of washclothsPremier Kitchen Towel (6 rolls)
RM10.20 RM 10.80

Bring your own reusable bag when you go shopping, or buy one from the check out counter if you forget. Make a list of things you need so you don’t buy unnecessary items that will end up going to waste. Replace all plastic containers with glass ones.

Aside from that, you can also shop at places like The Hive or Nude The Zero Waste Store to make it easier to buy items without plastic packaging.

Be picky about what goes on your skin

Almost all of your beauty and bath products can be DIY – or have been DIY-ed and being sold at a store.

Again, you don’t have to throw everything out and start from scratch. The next time you run out of a product, for example, shampoo, try to opt for an organic option instead of running to the nearest drug store. Visit zero-waste stores, scan their options and see what works for your budget. If you’re too lazy to drive out, you can easily purchase them online.

If you want to make shampoo on your own, it’s also fairly easy. You only need two ingredients – baking soda and water. It could be your fun weekend project!

Making shampoo  Buying Shampoo  
Baking soda RM4.90 Herbal Essence shampoo RM20.90
Water Free

By making your own shampoo, you save RM16 a month, and a lot more in the long run.

Stop buying more clothes. You really don’t need more.

Yes, we know it’s difficult to resist that buy one free two offer at your favourite clothing store. As tempting as it is, think of all the clothes already taking up every inch of your wardrobe. Much more than that, think of all the clothes cramped in the bag that you’re waiting to donate or sell. Do you really want to add on more clothes to the pile?

It’s not enough to just know where your clothes are coming from, it’s also important to know where they’re going to end up. Go back to your wardrobe and see what you can mix and match or spice up with accessories – and you’ll be reducing a whole lot of waste and saving a lot of money.

Don’t head out without your (free) zero-waste essentials

It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as throwing cutlery, metal straws, and Tupperware into your bag. These are all items you already have at home – which means they don’t cost you anything. You’ll be well prepared in any case – whether you need to stop by for food or drinks with friends.

If you love heading out for Starbucks, make sure you get your drink in a mug if you’re dining in, or in your own tumbler if you’re taking out. You save RM2 for every drink you get in your own tumbler too!

Say no to paper at any given time 

It’s fairly easy to avoid waste at work. More and more companies are going green and have reduced that frequency in which they print documents. If you really must print, make sure to use both sides of the paper – and then reuse it for taking down notes during meetings. Stop buying or using Post-Its and memo pads – use your notepad in your phone or laptop instead.

It is hard to change when we are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. However, it is possible to make small changes every day and gradually change our habits for the better.

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