Category Archives: Zero Waste Home

This is Sara’s blog: “Zero Waste Home” about her experiment in managing a zero waste home.

Two Week Challenge Completed!

Second week of landfill rubbish.

Second week of landfill rubbish.

I have completed my two week Zero Waste challenge, this is what I am sending to landfill this week.  There are two bags of frozen vegetabes that came from a clandestine rubbish bag that appeared in a corner of the kitchen. From that bag I rescued a plastic disposable cup and the bag itself which was a bit dirty from a plant I was given as a present, so I washed it and hung it on the washing line to dry.  Apart from the vegetable bags I am satisfied that I have achieved my goal of reducing the rubbish in my home to almost nothing.  I didn’t have to put my black bin out this week!

This week I am sending the following to landfill:

  • Two frozen vegetable bags.
  • Some plastic film – I can’t remember where it came from
  • Cellotape- someone sent me a letter in a paper envelope and put cellotape in a criss-cross on the back of the envelope.
  • The plastic from a Veet wax strip- I hope to eliminate these if I get the hang of sugaring.
  • The plastic from another Huggies Bed Mat that I had forgotten about.
  • Plastic seals from bicarbonate of soda and baking soda containers, I bought these knowing that a little bit of plastic film was going to save me a lot in the long run as I would be using these for baking and toiletries.
  • A used tea-light, cotton buds and a plastic seal from a bottle which I found under my bed when I was cleaning the floor.

How My Life Has Changed So Far

zero waste

The two week challenge may be over but my house has not seen the last of Zero Waste.  It has been such a positive and empowering experience that I am going to continue in my endeavour not to send rubbish to landfill.  A whole new world has opened up to me now that I am conscious of waste and I do not want to go back to the dark days.

  • I now shop differently, I choose different products that I didn’t notice before, I read the recycling information on the packaging and I am discovering new places to shop.
  • I am baking my own cakes at home which has multiple advantages: it keeps the children entertained, the house smells great and the oven heats the kitchen.
  • I have been given a spinach plant and hope to start a vegetable patch, in the meantime I am buying seasonable vegetables from White Oaks organic farm.
  • I am composting my kitchen scraps along with grass cuttings from the garden.
  • I am learning to make my own toiletries and have switched to using the Mooncup.
Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog




Adventures in Homemade Toiletries

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Trying to cram months of learning into two weeks is not easy and I have only scraped the surface of the world of homemade toiletries.  I find the idea of being free from the packaging, expense and dependency on these products really attractive.  There are a lot of recipes to be found on Google and reviews and tutorials on YouTube.  I would like to spend more time mastering these methods but for the purposes of this two week Zero Waste experiment here are my findings:


I visited the Body Shop in Foyleside today as I had heard something about biodegradable shampoo.  At first I thought this was a reference to the bottle it came in but I learned that it refers to the actual shampoo. The bottle is a recyclable PET code 1 plastic (like most shampoo bottles) – I’m becoming an expert in these matters!   I knew that conventional shampoos contain harmful chemicals such as the foaming agent Sodium Laureth Sulphate but I had only thought about the harm this caused to humans.  It never crossed my mind that the shampoo that goes down the drain when you wash your hair could be toxic to aquatic organisms.  I spent £11.50 on shampoo and conditioner which is a little bit expensive but worth it remove daily exposure to harmful chemicals. Read more about The Body Shop’s Environmental Policy here:

Today’s expedition to the Body Shop ended six days without shampoo or “no poo” as the movement is commonly called.  The goal is to stop shampoo dependency so that the natural oils in your hair find their own balance.  The problem is that there is a transition period of about 2 to 6 weeks where your hair will feel dirty.  I experimented with every day kitchen ingredients as shampoo alternatives:
Baking powder and water as a shampoo alternative- I found this worked pretty well but didn’t leave my hair as clean as shampoo would.
Apple Cider Vinegar and water:  This is supposed to make hair shiny, it didn’t in my case although it’s possible I didn’t use it correctly.
Oatmeal, baking powder and pure cocoa powder:  A recipe for dry shampoo for brunettes, rubbed into the scalp and brushed out.  I was skeptical about the idea that putting food in my hair was going to clean it and I didn’t feel any cleaner after trying it.  An hour after using it I couldn’t take it any more and rinsed in the shower with baking powder.

Hair Serum

For many years I have used coconut oil to tame my frizzy hair, it works well and it only takes a tiny amount.  It is also good for hydrating the skin but too heavy for the face in my experience.

Dental Hygiene

I have replaced toothpaste with bicarbonate of soda for some brushings.  It works really well, my teeth feel clean afterwards but I miss the minty taste.  I have found recipes on the internet with peppermint oil and xylitol but I don’t have any of these ingredients to hand.

Oil Pulling is an Indian oral hygiene method that I discovered last year.  You take a spoonfull of sesame, sunflower or coconut oil and swish it around your mouth for 15 minutes once a day.  Doing this on a consistently will remove plaque and there are claims that it can improve overall health and cure all sorts of diseases.

Rinsing the mouth with salt and water is a effective alternative to mouth wash.

Hair Removal

Sugaring is an old method of hair removal, the ingredients are:
8 units of sugar: 1 unit of lemon: 1 unit of water

I had one failed attempt at this, apparently it takes several goes to get the consistency right.  It is supposed to be a honey coloured light consistency, mine turned into a thick tar that stuck to the saucepan.  I tested a drop for temperature on my finger and I have the blister to prove it.  This will definitely take a lot of practise. It smelled good though.


Shower gel bottles can usually be recycled but I bought some bar soap in order to reduce the packaging to just the cardboard box it came in.  I haven’t used bar soap since the eighties I remember my mother combining several ends of bars into one new one, they certainly were a less wasteful generation.  I assumed that bar soap would contain less chemicals than its liquid counterpart but on inspection I discovered that the particular brand that I bought last week
also contains the dreaded Sodium Laureth Sulphate.


I have read that deodorant can be replaced by lemon juice although I haven’t actually tried this.
I have never been able to stand the smell of deodorant and I find the best way to be odour free is to eat healthily and avoid animal products.

Ear Cleaning

I found these organic, biodegradable cotton buds in The Body Shop today for £2,50 a box.  I’ve been using a wash cloth on myself and the children and that works well and is less expensive.

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I asked permission to take the photograph for my Zero Waste blog and got a strange look from the shop assistant.  I’m getting used to that look, it’s part of being a Zero Waster.

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog

Zero Waste for Girls

An Alternative to Sanitary Towels and Tampons

At the beginning of my Zero Waste experiment I purchased a Mooncup in Boots, Foyleside for just under 22 pounds.  I had heard of them years ago but I never really thought about making the change until I started thinking about Zero Waste.  Like disposbale nappies, sanitary towels and tampons are just more readily available.  They are advertised on TV and magazines, we are introduced to them by our mothers and school teachers and they are in every corner shop and supermarket.  Yet, we are never taught about the pollution caused by the manufacture and disposal of these products which either end up in landfill or the sea.

Advantages of the Mooncup

  • As a one-off purchase that will last for years it will save you a fortune.  22 Pounds may seem a lot, but how much do we spend per year on disposable products?
  • It is healthier for you as most sanitary products contain bleaches or pesticides.
  • Tampons can leave fibres behind that dry you out and cause infections.
  • Anyone who has used tampons will have seen that they come with a Toxic Shock Syndrome warning.
  • It’s a Zero Waste product, you won’t be sending anything to landfill or sea each month.  It even comes in recyclable packaging!
  • Toxic chemicals are released into the environment during the manufacture of tampons and sanitary towels which are made from synthetic petrochemical materials.

Nature Walk at Culmore Point

Last Tuesday I went for a walk to Culmore Point after leaving my son at nursery, intending to take some photographs of rubbish on the beach.  We have lived here for six months and we soon learned after our first walk out to the Point that it’s not a nice place to bring the children, because it is full of garbage.  There were beer cans, plastic spoons, toys, containers and ironically a carrier bag with the message “keep calm and carry on”.  However, I had never really stopped to notice what the main component of this trash was: sanitary towels, they were everywhere.  I took a photo of each and every one of them and at home I counted about 40 photographs.   Local people tell me that the River Foyle is disgusting and polluted, to me this is absolutely unacceptable. I want to be able to enjoy a walk by the Lough and bring my children there so I am sending my pictures to the council and local environmental groups to see what can be done about it.

After my experience at Culmore Point I am more adamant than ever on using the Mooncup.
I haven’t tried it yet but here is a very complete and informative review by a woman who has been using it for five years. (Some strong language at the beginning of the video).

Mooncup Review by Freelee

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog

Organic Farm Shop

I am halfway through my second week of my Zero Waste Home experiment. I have come to understand that becoming a Zero Waste home cannot happen overnight and it would probably take me six months to a year to finish using and find replacements for all the products and items that are non recyclable. I still have toothpaste tubes and a cupboard full of plastic bags as well as  countless other items all over the house.  Nevertheless, my black bin won’t be going out at the end of the week, as it is almost empty.

Seasonal Veg Box from White Oaks Organic Farm.

Seasonal Veg Box from White Oaks Organic Farm.

I want to continue with this experiment as it has been a positive journey so far.  The most exciting discovery I have made during the past couple of weeks is White Oaks Organic Farm which sells seasonal vegetable boxes for seven pounds. They only deliver to Donegal so I cycled down this morning from Culmore with my three-year-old on the back of my bike.  The box the vegetables come in is polystyrene but I had brought my own bags so I left it with them.  The potatoes came in a plastic bag but I was too tired from cycling to do anything about it.  I might be able to wash it and recycle it at Sainsbury’s, or re-use it. These vegetables are of high quality, organic and the plastic is minimal so I am over the moon to have found an alternative to shopping in the supermarket.

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog

Seven Days of Landfill Rubbish

This is one week of landfill rubbish, unfortunately a lot more than I had anticipated but it’s still a very small bag compared to what we usually throw away.  Another family member who was minding the kids pulled items out of the cupboard that were bought before Zero Waste and had been set aside, despite instructions not to.  Strong warnings have been issued for next week!

What we're sending to landfill this week

What we are sending to landfill this week

  • A plastic bag that contained carrots, bought before Zero Waste and had to be used up.
  • Plastic film from the inside of a cardboard box of biscuits.
  • Plastic film that came inside an envelope containing an application form.
  • Plastic film from the top of a tofu container bought before Zero Waste.
  • Plastic film from the top of a pack of mushrooms, also bought before Zero Waste.
  • This is the worst one: a ball of plasticine, which was discarded on the floor, coated in floor sweepings (could have been composted) and wrapped in a plastic bag (could have been reused).
  • Plastic from some stickers the kids’ Grandmother gave them.
  • Plastic bag that contained herbs, bought before Zero Waste.
  • Wrapper of Jacobs crackers.
  • A couple of pieces of coathangers that my children broke.
  • A soup mix packet.
  • The plastic from a Huggies Bed Mat. Of the paper, I threw away the soiled part and kept the clean portion to reuse.
  • Chocolate bar wrappers.
  • I forgot to include in the picture the leftover food from earlier in the week, that I’d kept sealed in the fridge.

Changing Attitudes to Waste and Sustainability

So all in all I’ve been successful in drastically reducing my rubbish.  It’s quite easy to get two small children on board but harder for adults whose lifetime of habits are already established.  A few people have told me that they would love their household to go Zero Waste but their family wouldn’t allow it.   It’s easy for me to change because it was my own decision to do so.  I  have changed my ways because I am living under threat of an incinerator being built near my house.  I understand that others are not ready and may never be.  Nevertheless, the planet is in trouble and we should have started making changes years ago. This is why the government has to step in and create legislation forcing industry to redesign the products that cannot be recycled.  We have the precision of technology to land the Curiosity Rover on Mars and we can’t think of a better way to deliver a packet of crisps to consumers other than in non-recyclable plastic.  The human race’s priorities are strangely inverted.  Bolivia recently passed a law which recognises the Earth as a “dynamic living system” and grants the planet protective rights comparable to those of a human being.  If only other nations would follow this example.

Screening of Trashed at QFT

Last Thursday I attended a screening of Trashed at the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast.  Along with Friends of the Earth I talked to a roomful of teenagers about Zero Waste and my Zero Waste Household experiment.  They were as shocked as I was by the film and I was able to explain to them how I was already taking action on a small scale. I was very impressed by these young people who wanted to organise a viewing of the film to the rest of the their school.

I will finish this post with a snippet of conversation from Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael:

“- People need more than to be scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.

-Yes. Definitely. Stopping pollution is not inspiring. Sorting your trash is not inspiring. Cutting
down on fluorocarbons is not inspiring. But this . . . thinking of ourselves in a new way, thinking of the world in a new way .”

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog


Zero Waste Children

What my rubbish looks like now.

What my rubbish looks like now.

Clean Rubbish

Today is our sixth day of living as a Zero Waste Household.  I have completely changed my attitude to rubbish now and I am convinced that everyone should try being Zero Waste for a few days. I no longer have a disgusting smelly bin in the corner of my kitchen and I am never going back to that again.  It’s absurd to complicate rubbish by mixing it when it is so clean and simple to keep it separated.  I have two plastic bowls on my counter, one for paper and cardboard and the other for kitchen scraps which I empty last thing at night.  I make sure not to overcompensate when I cook so that no food gets wasted.  We’re eating a lot more healthily as most processed food comes in packaging.  There are no biscuits, crisps or chocolate here, and it’s evident in the way that my children eat up their dinner.  We are spending less and throwing away less. It just goes to show what a wasteful society we are.

Unavoidable Plastic

As the house detoxes the “omniplastic” rises to the surface.  I gave my fridge a good clean out and I had to throw away some packaging, so unfortunately my black bin won’t be 100% empty at the end of 2 weeks.  My toddler wet the bed last night and I had completely forgotten that we were using Huggies Bed Mats which are plastic and paper.  I’ve replaced these with a couple of towels, I know I could get a plastic sheet but I don’t want to consume further.

Evading a Mutiny

The other day someone turned up at the house with chocolate bars for the children and I couldn’t deny it to them once they had seen them.  I have to tread a very fine line in order to avoid a mutiny.  My son finds all aspects of recycling fascinating: separating rubbish, different coloured bins, rubbish lorries, magnets that pull out metals in recycling stations, etc.  However he’s not so fond of the idea of sacrificing his favourite treats.   I want this to be an educational experience and not an imposition, otherwise he will not be on board with it.  I don’t want a repeat of him shouting “I hate Zero Waste!” all over the supermarket the other day when I explained that we would not be buying Oreos.   I found him a more recyclable alternative and that evening we sat down and wrote a letter to the manufacturer of Oreos asking them to change the packaging.  He said “they’re not going to listen to me” and while I thought he was probably right, I told him that if enough people asked them the same thing they would have to listen.

Yesterday I cheated, I took him to the shop, bought him some chocolate and threw the wrapper in the shop’s bin.  He said “but that’s not Zero Waste, Mummy”, I never thought I would have heard him complain, but children never fail to surprise you!

Recycling Station by Tarek

Recycling Station by Tarek


Lessons from my Grandmother

It dawned on me this morning that I was going to have to learn to bake.  Apart from one attempt at a cake, I’ve never felt the need before.  Why would I when I can buy cakes in the supermarket ready made and nicely packaged?  My mother and grandmother baked, but I am from a generation of consumers and convenience.  Now I just need to find ingredients that don’t come in plastic.

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog

A photograph with a kitchen table full of food.

First Zero Waste Shopping

Today I arrived at Sainsbury’s for my very first Zero Waste shopping, not knowing what I was going to fill my reusable bags with.  I am surprised at the amount of fresh produce I was able to buy, with one drawback- most of the organic stuff is highly packaged so I had to go with regular. There were mushrooms in paper bags and I discovered that plastic nets can be returned to the carrier bag recycling bin in the entrance.  Overall I am happy with the amount of loose veggies I could get. Some of them had non-recyclable stickers on them but my children took care of those at home by sticking them all over each other and now I am not sure what happened to them – problem solved.  I had to go without lettuce and spinach as all the leafy greens were engulfed in plastic, so I will have to find somewhere else to buy them.   Also, I wasn’t able to buy many dried goods either such as lentils, seeds and nuts which we eat a lot of in our house, but at least I found some rice in cardboard box.

I felt somewhat self-conscious with a mountain of loose fruit and veg so I went to the self checkout where I spent a good half hour identifying everything on their system and putting it through.  I did my shopping in two lots. Once I’d stuffed all the fresh produce into my rucksack I went back in and started exploring the rest of the aisles. I began reading packaging, shaking and squeezing cardboard boxes of crackers and cereal to try to ascertain if there was any plastic film inside them.  I was confused by recycling symbols, claims of environmental friendliness but no recycling information on Alpro cartons, and claims that foil and plastic film could be recycled, but where?

After a while I looked at my watch, more than two hours had passed and I almost forgot about picking the kids up from school.  As with any lifestyle change, it will take time to get the hang of. I spent under £50  which is half of what I would usually spend.  My shopping looked different when I got it home, lots of rectangular brick shapes, all very neat and old-fashioned looking.  It is liberating to be free from all that plastic!

My kids were having fish fingers for dinner and the smaller one left about half of what was on his plate.  Cooked food and meat can’t be composted so I have a dilema of what to do with it.  It isn’t worth keeping but I can’t throw it away either.  A pet would come in handy right now.  Usually I would chuck it in the bin without a second thought.   I’ve put it in a sealed plastic container and stuck it in the fridge. I’ll worry about it tomorrow – like a true waste management consultant.

Another dilema I dealt with today was the toilet roll issue, because it comes in plastic.  I managed to find a box of recycled tissues for 45p, which is a good solution.  Other countries I have lived in such as Egypt aren’t as dependent on toilet paper as we are here.  The toilets there have a little tube with a tap positioned at the right angle for you to clean yourself with water.
It’s far more hygenic to wash yourself rather than using paper in my opinion. That’s how I cleaned my children when they were babies, I very rarely used wipes.  Just think, 27,000 oxygen giving trees are cut down every day to make toilet paper, just because we think it’s convenient. However, at this point I am not going to subject my family to any extreme measures.  The kids have already given up their afterschool Oreos and that’s enough trauma for one week.

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog

Two Week Zero Waste Challenge

Why Zero Waste?

Derry is currently under the threat of having to host an Energy to Waste plant for the next 25 years. I oppose this development because I am worried about the detriment to air quality, local produce and health.  These concerns are not unfounded, Doctors Vyvyan Howard and Paul Connett have spoken compellingly in Derry on the dangers of living in the vicinity these incinerators.

After watching the documentary Trashed at the Foyle Film Festival I was so disgusted with the human race that I decided it was time to start practising what I preach as a Zero Waste North West campaigner.  As a two week experiment I am going to find out how difficult or easy it would be to live as a Zero Waste household.  My black bin goes out tomorrow and once it is empty I have resolved that it will stay empty until the next collection in two weeks’ time.

What Have I Been Sending To Landfill and Why?

It’s time to do some soul searching- in my kitchen bin.  So I performed this rubbish bag autopsy to see what it was that was coming out of my household in significant quantities that couldn’t be recycled.

There was quite a lot of organic waste in there, some plastic bags and packaging, a cotton bud, fireplace residue, tinfoil, a teabag wrapper and a chocolate bar wrapper. By composting and making different choices as a consumer, I’ll be able to reduce my waste drastically. Do I really need to have my teabags individually wrapped?  Isn’t there a better way to clean our ears?  Can tinfoil and plastic bags be recycled somewhere?  Is there somewhere to fill up my own containers when I buy rice and pasta?  I hope to find the answers to these questions over the next two weeks.

DCC, Can We Have Our Brown Bins, Please?

Other areas of Northern Ireland have brown bins for their organic waste, why have ours in Derry been locked in a recycling centre in Strathfoyle for years?  People are willing to recycle, but the proper systems are not in place. There is no justificiation for incineration.  Luckily I have a composter in my garden which I can use, but many people in Derry don’t have that as an option.

Instead of being frustrated and wondering if or when the council is ever going to get their act together, I have decided to empower myself by becoming a Zero Waste pioneer.  I refuse to participate in the destruction of my local community.  As Gandhi said: “you must be the change you want to see in the world”.

Zero Waste Home - Blog

Zero Waste Home – Blog