From opting for reusable kitchen roll to shopping second-hand for most items, more and more people are learning to cut the amount of rubbish they throw out. Here’s how one family do it
Jen Gale only recently emptied the black bin for the first time in 2022 despite living in a four-person household plus pets. The mum, 44, and her family were keen to cut back on waste where they could, and now live a zero-waste lifestyle in their bid to protect the planet. Starting small, the family, from Warminster, Wiltshire, began by buying second hand and visiting zero waste stores.
Over the years they chucked away less and less – and this year, it took them NINE months to fill their black waste bin.
Speaking about how they did it, Jen says it’s not as hard as you think. The mum-of-two, a sustainability author and podcaster, said: “We just thought that if we wanted to reduce our waste, we’d start chipping away at it over time.
“Now ten years on, it took us months to fill our black bin.
“The only things that really go in it are plastic that can’t be recycled, although we don’t have much because we buy a lot of things packaging-free.
“In some respects it costs more, such as shopping at zero waste stores and getting fresh veg boxes delivered, but we save money buying second-hand to make it up.
“Once you have established new habits, it doesn’t really take a lot of effort to maintain them. It eventually becomes your new normal.
“Last year we put our black bin out for the first time in April and we wanted to beat that this year – which we did!”
Jen, husband Ben, 46, and sons Will, 13 and Sam, 11, all pitch in.
Her top ideas involve cutting down on food waste by composting food waste like egg shells, tea leaves and banana skins, because their local council doesn’t collect it.
The family invested in a ‘Green Johanna’ bin from Great Green Systems Ltd – a compost bin which you can put all food and garden waste into.
She said: “This one step reduced our waste by at least 25%, and makes for way less smelly bins!”
They also meal plan to avoid over-buying food, and Jen recommends having an ‘eat me first’ box for leftovers, opened food and things that are near their sell-by date.
She added: “Food waste is a great place to start – it’ll save you money when you try to cut down too.”
Jen said another technique to reduce their waste is to lower the amount of single use plastics they buy – by buying the biggest sizes possible.
For yoghurts, they get the 500ml pots instead of lots of little ones.
She explained: “My husband takes some to work in a pot or pouch. Nom Nom Kids pouches are brilliant for kids.
She added: “For crisps we buy the share bags and just portion out onto plates, bowls or lunchboxes. Again, places like Nom Nom Kids have some cute little sealable pouch things you can use for lunchboxes.”
Jen said the family also make a habit of shopping zero waste when they can.
She acknowledged this can be a little pricier than supermarket shopping but it’s a good tip to reduce waste if you can afford it.
They visit a zero waste store when they’re nearby, but the rest of the time Jen says a good website to look at is Good Club – an online store which delivers the zero-waste food to you.
She said they order their staples like pasta, rice, dried fruit and lots of snacks to be decanted into pots.
Jen said: “Sometimes it can be a little more expensive, but using a zero waste store can be cheaper as it means you don’t have to get a full-sized bag of things when you only want a small amount.
“If you can do it, shopping at zero waste stores has made a huge difference to the amount of waste we end up with.”
The family also collect and recycle ‘flexible plastic’ – things like bread bags and plastic packaging from bananas – at supermarkets.
Many supermarkets have introduced a recycling scheme for this in recent years to give people the opportunity to recycle things they can’t at kerbside collection.
She said: “I’m on the fence about this and looking for more information about what is actually happening to it, but there’s no doubt it’s helped to reduce our landfill waste.”
Jen said they make a habit of buying most items they need second hand, as it comes with less of the original non-recyclable packaging – and saves them money, too.
And a more unusual trick – which Jen explained was ‘met with resistance from others in the family’ is not buying kitchen roll.
Instead, they use reusable wipes, Cheeky Wipes, which they also use for napkins and mopping up any spills.
Jen said what actually ends up going in their waste bin is very limited – such as butter wrappers and netting for buying lemons or oranges.
Their small kitchen bin gets taken out once every couple of weeks – but for this family, that’s totally normal.
Jen said: “Zero waste living has become so normal to us, that it doesn’t feel restrictive.”
For Zero Waste Week this week, the mum-of-two said now is the perfect time to begin making changes to your lifestyle.
She said the first step, though ‘unglamorous’, is to have a look in your bin and take note of the things you’re throwing away.
Jen suggested picking one thing you commonly chuck in the bin, which you can try to reduce – and suggested food waste might be a good place to start.
She said: “I recognise privilege has allowed us to do all this. We have space in the garden for a composter, and we get a weekly fresh veg box delivered.
“Some things might be out of price range, but there are things everyone can have a go at.”
While not every family might be able to take seven months to fill their black bin, any changes are a good start – and it took a decade for them to get to this stage.
She said: “We’re not precious, we can see the lure of the quick convenient and easy option.
“But I don’t feel we have had to turn our life upside down and become eco-warriors living in a yurt to achieve what we have.
“You have to allow yourself to be imperfect, but to develop a nice set of habits that don’t feel too difficult.”