We live in a world where every year 2.12 billion tonnes of waste are dumped every year and it is doing nothing but growing. It’s a terrifying situation because all of this stuff has to go somewhere and not all of it will have broken down in our lifetime.
A zero waste lifestyle might seem pretty extreme at first glance but it’s a lot easier said than done, just a few small changes (and a couple of larger ones) can make a world of difference. Living in Dubai the idea of recycling, reusing and repurposing is still something quite alien but it is possible, you just have to sweet talk and fight for your ability to live the life that you want.
People might look at you strangely for pulling out a metal straw in a restaurant or putting your groceries into reusable containers. You may not get discounts at coffee shops for using a thermos rather than a take away cup and remembering your reusable shopping bags may seem like a giant pain in the ass but it’s worth it. I promise.
I am new to a zero waste lifestyle, I am slowly transitioning into it now. We have been using reusable shopping bags for about a year now when we do our groceries and I always make a point of declining a plastic bag if I space in my handbag for what ever it is I’ve bought. I try to opt for glass over plastic where possible, I wash and reuse jars for all sorts of bits, I try and avoid using paper towels instead opting for cloth and sponge and I’ve just got Beewraps for keeping food fresh without cling film or tin foil.
Taking on the zero-waste lifestyle is not about actually producing zero waste, it is about reducing, it doesn’t mean that you have to go home and throw away every piece of plastic in your house, it means that you use the plastic you have until it wears out and then you replace it.
So if you’re looking to make a bit of a difference and want to reduce the number of trips you have to take to the bin every week then here are a few changes you can start to make:
Everyday handbag essentials:
These bits and bobs are perfect to keep in your handbag while you’re on the go – you never know when you’re going to need them:
- Reusable Straw
A metal straw is the perfect solution to the mass amounts of waste created by plastic straws. Keep one in your handbag if you, like me, prefer to use a straw when enjoying a cold drink.
Make sure you buy a thin pipe cleaner to keep it squeaky clean!
These Klean Kanteen straws come with silicon tips in multiple colours.
- Refillable Water Bottle
Preferably glass but a BPA free plastic one will do just fine too – just remember never to leave it in a hot room / car and please, please, please, do not refill PET plastic water bottles.
It’s a bit tough in Dubai to find a place to refill your water bottle but when you start looking you’ll be surprised by the number of public water fountains there are around – I believe there are some in Dubai Mall.
These glass bottles from Non-Toxic Source are perfect for keeping on your person at all times.
- Fork, Spork or Cutlery Set
Plastic cutlery is used an awful lot in Dubai – and I’m sure elsewhere – I know for a fact that in my office we have a stack of plastic knives, forks and spoons that everyone uses rather than bringing in their own or having a set of office ones that could easily be washed up.
So why not just pack your own, and to save space get yourself an all in one like this Light my Fire spork.
Once upon a time people carried handkerchiefs in their pockets or bags instead of going through piles and piles of tissues, today that tradition is long gone.
But when you think about it a collection of hankies saves so much paper waste – recycled or not we go through a lot of tissues every day – and at the end of the week you just throw them in the laundry with everything else and you’re back to a full collection once again. Brilliant.
- Reusable Coffee Mug
There are so many travel mugs to choose from: big ones, little ones, tall ones, short ones, red ones, blue ones…the list goes on. Whether you’re an hot or iced coffee or tea person there is always one for you in all sorts of beautiful designs. There are ecofriendly ones, metal ones, plastic ones, glass ones…I mean really, you can find your perfect one with a little bit of searching.
In some places you will even get a discount for using one – I know Starbucks in the States offer it – but whether it works here yet, I don’t know, either way, you’re still doing your bit.
My favourite travel mugs are the Fressko ones, it has been on my wishlist for ages, they are beautiful, the glass, metal and wooden ones are just stunning.
- Small canvas or cotton shopping bag
Carrying an easy to fold up little canvas bag means that you’ll always have one on hand when you’re shopping. There are so many to choose from and you’ll often find yourself collecting free ones from exhibitions, events, etc. so you probably wont even have to spend any money on them.
Green Bags UAE have a great selection of styles and options.
Making a zero waste home:
- Ditch the paper towels
Swap out your paper kitchen towels for a collection of cloth ones, you can get them in bulk for next to nothing online and they do the same job and are easily washable.
Check out these Unpaper Towels
- Use Beeswrap instead of clingfilm and tin foil
Clingfilm and tin foil create an awful lot of waste but without them how do you keep food fresh? Beeswrap is a great product made of organic cotton and beeswax that serves the same purpose.
- Use washable ziplock bags
Reusable ziplock bags are easily available online, made of cotton, silicon or wax paper there are a number of options and each one is easy to wash and reuse, reducing the amount of plastic you go through day to day.
- Just Say No
Try and avoid medications for run of the mill seasonal illnesses and snotty noses, not only do they often weaken your immune systems and they also create a lot of waste. From plastic bottles and silica gel packets to aluminium wrapped tabs and cardboard boxes they amount of packaging is ridiculous; and when 90% of seasonal bugs can be fought off with whats in your kitchen cabinet, there is no need for it.
Want to know how to fight off the bugs sans drugs? Check this out.
- Freeze and Can food
Make the most of your shopping and freeze or can any excess you have – save it for a rainy day. Freeze fresh herbs in olive oil in an ice cube tray for quick cooking, freeze serving size potions of soup, sauce and stews to reheat when you can’t be bothered to cook.
- Replace paper napkins with cloth
Laying your table with cloth napkins instead of a stack of paper ones does a world of good for the environment, not only are they far more durable and therefore last more than one wipe after a messy meal but they also look so much nicer on the table – and it gives you an excuse to break out those napkin origami skills.
- Switch to a Safety Razor
Rather than buying a bunch of disposable razors that last a few uses, or those swish blades with millions of dollars worth of marketing that don’t actually make a lot of difference.
An old school razor with interchangeable blades last a lot longer and they cost you a whole lot less; they come without the fancy plastic packaging and they’re better for your skin – no chemicals on these bad boys.
- Shampoo, Conditioner and Soap Bars
Ditch the multitudes of plastic bottles cluttering up your bathroom sink by switching to shampoo, conditioner and soap bars – they come in a lot less packaging, sometimes none at all.
Most times these are also sulphate and paraban free which is ten times better for your skin.
- Diva Cup
This one is for the ladies: the Diva Cup. It is a game changer. I’ve had mine for about two years now and I have never once considered going back to regular tampons or pads. These silicon cups are reusable, dishwasher safe and so much more comfortable than anything disposable – they also reduce the risk of TSS.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can replace a number of your regular bathroom products from make up remover to hair masks and a million other things. It is the perfect thing to reduce the number of bottles in your WC.
- Turn off the Water while brushing your teeth
I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times – and for good reason. When you’re brushing your teeth you really don’t need to have the water running, turn it off.
- Loose the Loofah
Get your scrub on with something other than a plastic loofah – after all, do you know how much gross bacteria grows on those things! Use a natural sponge or luffa instead, they last longer, do a better job and they are biodegradable – just be sure to find out where they come from.
- Tree Free Toilet Paper
While most loo roll is made from recycled paper that doesn’t really make it okay. Want to know more have a read of this.
- When to Wash
Wash clothes when they are actually dirty, not everything you wear is dirty straight off the back. I know living in Dubai during the summer 90% of our clothes are soaked through with sweat but when that isn’t the case, remember you can wear things more than once – especially jeans!
- Dry on a line
Rather than using an energy sucking tumble dryer why not do things the old fashioned way, on a washing line – yes it may take longer, yes it’s a pain if there’s a sandstorm or if it rains but it’ll still dry.
- Wash a full load
If you don’t have enough to wash, don’t wash it…try and wait until you have enough to fill your washing machine before switching it on. It goes without saying why this is a good idea.
- Wash it cold
Obviously not everything can be washed in cold water – and obviously in Dubai the water isn’t cold all year round but by setting your machine to the coldest temperature saves on energy needed to heat the water up.
- Fight the Lawn
Ditch the grassy garden for something more useful. Plant food instead of grass to save on water waste and to produce something for yourself and your family.
- Reusable shopping bags
Two million plastic bags are used every minute around the world and once they’re emptied what happens to them? One of the biggest contributions to a plastic free planet is to swap out the plastic for reusable shopping bags.
Not only are they waste free but you’ll also be able to fit a lot more in them – meaning less trips to and from the house to the car.
- Reusable produce bags
Maybe it’s just me but when I’m doing my grocery shop and I have to fight with those rolls of plastic bags to put my veggies in I get so frustrated – that and people who stand in front of them faffing so you can’t get what you need (I’m a very angry shopper, do not get in my way).
- Buy in bulk
By shopping in bulk you are able to cut down on packaging waste and cost, items like flour, rice, lentils and anything else that has a long shelf life (including cleaning products) are good to buy in larger quantities. Once you’re home you can always repackage what you need into smaller containers for every day use.
- Ignore the marketing
Rather than shopping based on what a packet looks like try and choose items that come in reusable containers or things that are easier to recycle, opt for glass jars and cardboard boxes over plastic tubs and bags.
- Go Loosy Goosy, say no to packages
These days supermarkets prepackage everything for our connivence but that doesn’t mean it’s doing the planet any favours. Petrol stations sell apples, oranges and bananas each individually wrapped in plastic because apparently somewhere down the line someone thought their skin – which has evolved over thousands of years – wasn’t enough to protect them from the big bad world.
I know that personally, when I go to do my grocery shop and I buy a single piece of ginger, a hand of bananas, a mango, etc, and I don’t put it into a plastic bag I get a very strange look from the people at the weigh station and they always feel the need to check if I want one…
The fruit and vegetable market, a butchers or the fish market are the best places to go for a package free experience but if you are shopping in the supermarket always go for the stuff that isn’t already packaged.
- Avoid the Promotions
It’s always tempting to buy something that comes with a free something else, we’ve all been there, but unless you can say for sure it is going to be something long lasting and useful…put it down. Most of the free stuff you get when you buy something is rubbish, it’s cheap (that’s why it’s free) and it will end up in the bin before you know it.
I’m not talking buy one, get one free, I mean like the packets of pasta that come with a free bowl, the juice that comes with a free sports bottle or the soup that comes with a free baking pan (I’m not joking, I have seen that).
Eco friendly beauty:
- DIY Facemasks
Use honey, avocado, charcoal, oats, lemon juice, etc. to get glowing skin without all the chemicals and waste. Try one of these 13 simple face masks
- DIY Body Scrub
Keep your skin looking radiant with one of these easy homemade body scrubs.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has so many uses when it comes to natural and zero waste body care and beauty. It can be used as make up remover, a hair mask, lip balm, make up highlighter and any number of other things! You can even make your own body wash with it.
- DIY Toothpaste
Did you know that your toothpaste tubes are not recyclable? No really. So why not make your own with a few things you probably already have in your kitchen.
I’ve used homemade toothpaste for a few months and honestly it was the best thing ever. The coconut oil made my teeth stronger and whiter and even helped heal a cavity I could feel coming. The baking soda cleaned my teeth like nothing else, the biggest testament was after a night out of drinking sugary drinks and normally coming home with teeth that feel furry but instead they still felt clean.
It takes a bit of getting used to, there’s no foaming and it tastes odd but honestly, it’s a game changer.
- DIY Body Lotion
Make your own natural body lotion with a few simple ingredients, it’s so simple.
- DIY Lip Balm
Making your own lip balm means you can make it in your favourite flavour every time.
- Coral Friendly Suncream
Many of the suncreams you buy in the store are slowly killing the world’s coral reef so be sure to choose a brand that is coral safe.
Also, coconut oil makes for great protection against the sun – just be sure to stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, no matter what suncream you’re wearing.
- DIY Deodorant
Antiperspirants can block your pores and cause problems for your body, regular deodorants are filled with nasty chemicals and both of them come in plastic or aerosol cans, neither of which are good for the planet.
Making your own is cheaper, healthier and all round better for you and the world.
Where to shop zero waste in Dubai:
- Organic Foods & Cafe
You can buy nuts, seeds, flours and grains in bulk from their bins as well as refilling cleaning products – all of which mean you can bring your own containers and buy only what you need.
At Carrefour you can buy nuts, seeds, spices, meat and cheese by weight, giving you the ability to buy what you need in your own containers, just ask them to package them – you may get funny looks.
- Union Co-op
Similarly to Carrefour Union Co-op sells a lot of products by weight so you can pick and choose what and how much you need.
Other ways to live zero waste:
- Swap Books
Most book nerds probably already do this but instead of buying new books all the time why not trade in your old ones for other homeless books. Places like Costa Coffee in the Meadows, Crumbs Elyse on Sheikh Zayed road and I’m sure a few
- Donate to Charity
- Reuse old sheets, t-shirts, etc to make handkerchiefs, cloths and beeswrap
- Turn off the AC
- Try avoid palm oil
- Fight the impulse to shop
- Get houseplants (and return the pots)
- Meal plan
- Support local businesses
- Repair things when they break
Almost anything can be fixed, from phones and TVs to shoes, handbags and ripped clothes. There is always someone who can fix them and it’s probably cheaper than buying a new one!
Stained, tired or broken designer bag? The Bag Spa
Ripped trousers or a dress that’s too loose? Stitches
Worn our heel? Minutes
- Borrow before buying
- Be mindful of where the things you buy come from
- Pack your lunch
- Watch out for Greenwashing
- Walk when you can