clean living

I've been reading about the zealous proponents of a zero waste lifestyle for the past year or so, and their extreme (and extremely admirable) reduction of waste is inspiring. I don't think everyone should or could aspire to this level of commitment (and I also find it amusing that comparatively comfortable Americans are espousing a lifestyle that is one those in poverty carry out by necessity every day around the world). However, it's made me much more conscious of what I buy, where I buy it from, how I buy it, how I dispose of waste and how I cook, which can only be a good thing.

Climate change and pollution seem like a far away issue, often. But they are really not. Collective change and voting with one's wallet and consuming less and consciously are the foundation of what will lighten the use of fossil fuels. If we are not buying it, then (eventually) the manufacturing won't be done. It's not a huge political issue (well, it is) but one rooted in personal action, and one that can be managed elegantly and enjoyably. I think.

Some resources and reminders I've found helpful in reducing waste and so on.

/ DON'T / As in, don't buy it, or take it. Minimising stuff coming into your house is addictive. No, I don't need a receipt. No, I don't need a bag. No, I don't need a plastic fork, or a napkin, or a free pen.

/ BUY IN BULK / This can mean lots of things. I struggled to find bulk bins for dry goods like rice and spices in London, and it seems even more difficult in Hong Kong. However, fewer grocery trips and choosing to purchase a large sack of rice or flour or dish liquid each month rather than a 200ml option each week will still have benefits and minimise packaging. Delivery services, preferably local ones (ask for minimal packaging) are great if you don't have a car. Then you can nerd out and decant your groceries into glass jars and it's also much cheaper. Things like Dr Bronners soap are available in bulk 5L vats, I buy this and use it for handwashing, shower soap and hand soap.

/ BUY SECOND HAND, HANDMADE OR DIGITAL / Where I can, I buy things used. I prefer it, especially for furniture as it reduces offgassing and is more to my taste; I'm also obsessed with Vestiaire Collective where I can indulge my Isabel Marant habit for half the price. Most of the things I've bought may as well be new, to be honest, they're so lightly worn. I'm still working on the clothes thing, but books can almost always be found second hand, magazine subscriptions can be done digitally (try Zinio or own apps like The Paris Review), as can newspapers. Then you don't have stacks of magazines sitting on your floor which is really nice.

/ BUY IN GLASS (OR STEEL, OR WOOD) / Plastic is ugly, and it does awful things to your health and it doesn't degrade. And for some reason we still consider it as disposable. Since swapping over my food storage ie tupperware to glass alternatives I am far more careful with it. A glass water bottle is carefully looked after and beautiful. We don't have cling film or sandwich bags, keep a stash of reusable cloth bags by the front door, have two reusable coffee cups so we don't use takeaway cups, use wooden dishbrushes and cloth napkins instead of paper towels. When you're choosing packaging for cosmetics or food too, it can be helpful to look for glass alternatives. RMS Beauty is packaged entirely in glass, Weleda comes in metal tubes rather than plastic (although both add an unnecessary cardboard box to proceedings).

/ READ / I've enjoyed Reading My Tea Leaves ideas on the subject, measured and sensible and achievable. Her entire blog is full of ideas for simplification and careful living, her Habit Shift series specifically on small ideas for minimising waste. Trash is for Tossers is another good one, and then Bea Johnson's book Zero Waste Home, while rather extreme, is packed with ideas, many of which are summarised here. Also wonderful is Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace.

/ COMPOST & RECYCLE & DONATE / Goes without saying really, but utilising council programs for food waste, recycling and donating unwanted goods to charity rather than piling it all in the rubbish bin is a pretty basic beginning. Something I find helpful is to put my recycling bag in my larger rubbish bin and use a small bin for actual landfill rubbish. If you don't have a composting program, there are often options to take your own to farmers markets or to a centralised bin at a local garden. You can just freeze your scraps and take them once a week. Recycling isn't a solution to waste and comes with its own questions (where does it go, how much energy does it take to recycle something, does recycling plastic result in further waste and emissions) but it's better than landfill.

/ MAKE STUFF / Things like almond milk (soak handful of almonds in water overnight, blend, strain) are very simple to make and the result tastes nicer than the bought ones, is cheaper and doesn't create a tetrapak for the rubbish every two days. I'm not suggesting you make everything (who has the time) but there are certain things that might be enjoyable and straightforward to do so. For me, it's almond milk, face oils and toners (I buy bulk natural oils and blend up my own ones, or mix rosewater and apple cider vinegar and put them in a glass spray bottle).


  1. I love this post. I read it this morning whilst lazing about in bed (thanks for the help procrastinating) and then spent all day thinking about it and noticing areas I can tighten up creating waste around my own home. I really miss BIN INN. There is NO WHERE in London to go and load up on bulk items - and our kitchen is so tiny that if I bought a sack of rice, I have no where to store it. This is currently the bane of my life.

    Thanks for all of these tips!

    1. A pleasure! I loved Bin Inn at home. Depending on where you're living there is a bulk section in one of the Planet Organic stores (I think it's west) and the health food store on Newington Green has bulk bins for oats and rice and things. There used to be an amazing one in Clapton but it shut down sadly.

  2. This is so to the point! I've been trying to disrupt my old plastic buying patterns for about a year now and it's so satisfying to have to take the rubbish out less! I'm still by no means perfect, but a start is a start :)

    1. I know, it's such a nice feeling huh! And every little bit is helpful. Also taking out the rubbish is my most hated chore.