5 tips to help your family go zero waste

By Natasha Sim | Parents Avenue’s Writer |
All images courtesy of Ruth Yap, Jiki John and Lee Lee Ee except where indicated

Ruth would like to show a picture of Tanjung Lipat that she captured a few months ago.

Have you ever thought about living with little to no waste? That’s what the zero waste movement is about. 

It’s minimal living at its core. Or “going back to how our grandparents lived,” says Ruth Yap, Founder of Zero Waste Sabah.

For modern families, that sounds like a tall order. Given all the things we just have to buy, hence accumulating trash we eventually have to throw. 

But zero waste mommies Ruth, Jiki John and Lee Lee Ee show us that living waste-free is not as hard as it sounds, and share with us their big tips on how to do it! 

Image credit: https://wastelandrebel.com.

#1 Practice the 5Rs 

Adopt green habits by committing to the 5Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rot. 

And the biggest waste culprit? Single-use disposable plastics (SUDP).

All three mommies refuse all SUDPs every single time they leave the house. 

To make it easier, Ruth brings her ‘zero waste on-the-go kit’ every time her family heads out. 

The kit includes a reusable straw, fork and spoon, three handkerchiefs and three reusable ‘ziplock’ bags.

Ruth and Jiki's zero waste shopping kit. Shopping tote bags are sewn out of used food packaging.

All three also bring their own bags and containers for every shopping trip and grocery run. 

“We bring our own periuk to buy meat, and tiffins to tapao cakes and kuihs,” Lee Ee said, in addition to refusing plastic straws. 

Start small with plastic straws, then move on to refusing larger plastics like grocery bags. 

“Most importantly, keep doing it bit by bit. Some days you may fail, but try again,” says Lee Ee.

Lee Ee gets her children involved in making garbage or eco enzyme

#2 Find alternative solutions to disposable products

A little help from Google with help you find waste-free alternatives to commonly used household and sanitary products. 

For example, Lee Ee uses her own homemade chemical-free garbage enzyme to clean her home.

It’s a solution that stops Lee Lee’s dependence on chemicals that aren’t usually safe for pets and children, as well as stops her from buying yet another packaged item.

As for items like wet wipes, Jiki says she simply uses little wet towels for her 4-year-old daughter when they go out and no longer depend on wet or dry tissues. 

Ruth uses cotton balls and water to clean her 1-year-old daughter instead. And now that her daughter can stand, “I just use a bidet to wash,” Ruth said. 

Both Jiki and Ruth have also opted to cloth diaper their children, considering the 3.5 billion pieces of diapers stuck in landfills each year in Malaysia

Jiki takes it a step further by simplifying her toiletries. “I only have a soap and rosehip oil for my skin. Nothing for my hair. I don’t use shampoo or any product anymore on my hair,” Jiki said.

Left: Jiki and her daughter at the market. Right: Jiki's daughter in a secondhand princess dress.

#3 Shop local. Shop pre-loved. Consume less. 

Jiki has become more conscious of her consumption habits by living zero waste. 

According to her, she’s saved a lot on grocery shopping because her family tend to avoid food and drinks in SUDP or if the packaging are unrecyclable. 

For clothing too, she strictly purchases second-hand items to promote a circular economy which is more sustainable for the environment in the long-term. 

Meanwhile, Lee Ee transitioned into a zero waste lifestyle after she quit her full-time job and realised she needed to cut back on spending.

Ruth shows us how she shops at the market.

Thus, she began to shop less at supermarkets, and opted to shop more at tamus and fresh markets. 

It soon occurred to Lee Ee that produce at the market often come with little to no plastic packaging and wrappers. 

From then on, she began to learn more about the detrimental effects of plastics to our planet.

Similarly, Ruth does more of her marketing at fresh markets and the local tamu.

Shopping local also ensures that you generate a smaller carbon footprint.

Jiki's daughter and her tiny patch of garden made of composted soil.

#4 Start composting to reduce food waste

It’s difficult to find a zero-waster that does not compost. All three moms do too!

Ruth says all her kitchen scraps are composted, while food waste are kept for her neighbour’s dog. 

Kitchen scraps include fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells and onion and garlic skin.

Citrus and fruit peels can be made into the garbage enzyme that Lee Lee uses to clean.

Meanwhile, Jiki is vegetarian and plants her own vegetables using her own compost. 

At the end of the day, Jiki does not even have a bin in her home’s kitchen anymore because she barely has stuff to throw away. 

“Let’s put it this way, I only need to take my trash out once a week now because I do composting,” Ruth added. 

Clearly, composting is the way to go!

Ecobricks are plastic bottles stuffed with non-biodegradable plastics. Image credit: Wikipedia.

#5 Make your own, upcycle and find a way to reuse anything

Ruth still finds herself unable to avoid some plastics sometimes despite her best efforts. 

These plastics may include packaging from snacks or drinks such as rice, Milo and biscuits.

However, she’s managed to innovate a novel way to reuse those packaging by sewing them into shopping tote bags.

For the zero waste mommies, an item does not need to be immediately thrown away once it’s broken. 

The first step is to always find a way to repair it before finding a new life for the item. 

Even used oil can be repurposed to make hand soaps. 

Meanwhile, Lee Lee collects unavoidable small scraps of plastics that can be stuffed into large mineral bottles to make ecobricks, which are then used as building blocks to make furniture, homes and more. 

Nothing is wasted, nothing thrown. 

Join the Zero Waste Sabah Facebook group to learn more about the movement. 

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