Zero Waste for beginners: Tips to reduce waste

Written by Christina Pichler, Dec 29, 2022

Our planet is drowning in waste. Almost every single product, from groceries and electronic devices to furniture, is neatly packaged. This packaging is practical for transporting but harmful to the environment. On average, we produce 1.5 kg of waste per day. These daily amounts of waste we produce add to gigantic amounts of waste. However, our resources are limited and zero waste is a solution-oriented way of living that reduces waste, saves resources and protects the environment.

What is zero waste?

Zero waste is a pragmatic and future-oriented concept that teaches us a sustainable and resource-saving lifestyle. Already used resources should not be discarded but used as new resources for other purposes or people. These ecological and sustainable product cycles are helping the environment and saving our resources.

The zero waste philosophy

The zero waste philosophy is based on the “5 R’s”, which will help you make decisions. So, ask yourself the following questions before buying new products or throwing away old ones:

  1. Refuse: Can I completely refuse certain products or sources of waste?
  2. Reduce: Do I really need certain products or as many products?
  3. Reuse: Can I use certain products repeatedly?
  4. Recycle: Can I use certain products in other ways?
  5. Red: Which products can I compost?

With these actions you can extend your products‘ life cycle and utilise every piece, so that you are left with only a little bit or no waste.

Zero waste checklist

Zero waste can seem overwhelming for beginners; therefore, we have put together a checklist with some basic items for everyday life to get started with your waste-free life.

  • Reusable lunch boxes, food containers, etc.
  • Reusable coffee cups
  • Bottles
  • Glass jars, preserving jars, etc.
  • Fruit and vegetable net
  • Shopping bag or basket
  • Fabric bags for bread and baked goods
  • Bamboo toothbrush and natural dental floss
  • Solid soap, solid shampoo, deodorant cream, etc.
  • Razor made of stainless steel
  • Washcloth and washable makeup remover pads
  • Wooden scrub brush, natural sponge, etc.
  • Sodium bicarbonate, lemon, vinegar for cleaning products

You don’t have to buy all of these items at once! Zero waste shall be sustainable and easily applicable. So, expand your zero waste equipment over time and only buy what you really need!

Zero waste tips for beginners

Now that you are familiar with the basic concept and equipment, we have some specific tips for your everyday life that are easy to implement for beginners.

1. Your reusable cup

You cannot function without coffee and stopping at a bakery or café on the way to university is obligatory? Then bring your own reusable cup because otherwise, you will get your hot coffee for takeaway in a single-use paper cup, which is discarded after only 15 minutes. The Eco Counselling estimates that every day 800,000 disposable coffee cups are thrown away in Austria.

So, your daily coffee for takeaway in a disposable cup is a big source of waste. It must not be this way and is easy to avoid by using your own reusable cup. Many cafés even offer discounts for bringing your own cup and sell reusable cups. In Vienna, there is a deposit system for reusable cups, for example myCoffeeCup. There you can borrow a reusable cup for €1, which you can use the whole day and then bring back to a partner shop. Coffee without a bad conscience.

2. Your reusable shopping bag

Buying a paper bag every time you go shopping is not only expensive but also a waste of resources. Therefore, it is worth it to bring your own tote bag, fruit net or foldable shopping bag. You can easily roll up or fold up these bags and store them in your backpack or bag.  For shopping sprees, a big shopping bag or shopping trolley is more convenient, since they are more stable. However, should you forget your shopping bag, you can buy a paper bag in the supermarket and use it more than once and for other purposes. Or if you are not too far from home, you can go grab your bag and get some movement in!

STUWO tip: Plan when and how often you are going shopping at the beginning of the week. If you plan a big shopping spree beforehand, you can bring your shopping trolley or shopping bag that day. This is easier to carry and you won’t find yourself at the supermarket without a bag!

3. Your food containers

You can bring your own food containers to the supermarket to avoid unnecessary packaging. Ask the employees at the meat, fish or cheese counter and weekly markets to pack your products in the food containers you brought. Use your own fabric bag for bread and baked goods instead of paper or plastic bags.

STUWO tip: When buying filled bread rolls or sandwiches, ask the employee to give them to you without packaging.

You can avoid wasting food and save money with the website or app Too Good to Go. Via this app, you can get leftover groceries and meals that would have been thrown away in restaurants and supermarkets before closing hours. You can get these goodies at unbeatable prices. Remember to bring your own bag to avoid using a paper bag.

4. Unpacked fruit and vegetable

The next time you are in the fruit and vegetable aisle, look for unpacked fruit and vegetable. Many products are wrapped in plastic; however, there are also loose products that you need to weigh. This is also an advantage because you only buy the amount that you actually need. It’s best to use your own fruit and vegetable net.

Instead of buying pre-packaged salads, mixed fruits, etc., get the ingredients separately. This way you can choose the ingredients you like and avoid unnecessary packaging. At farmers’ markets, you can usually buy fresh, regional fruit and vegetable that mostly comes without packaging.

STUWO tip: Some supermarkets sell “damaged” (mostly not perfectly shaped, but otherwise completely eatable) fruit and vegetable at a discount. This is a great opportunity to save food and money!

5. Vegetable boxes

Seasonal vegetable boxes usually come unpackaged, since they are delivered in reusable boxes to your address. You then exchange the empty boxes for a new filled one. This supports regional farmers and shortens delivery routes. Bio-Austria has a list of all the spots that sell these vegetable boxes. Even some supermarkets, such as Lidl, offer cheap, unpackaged vegetable boxes.

If a whole box is too much for you, ask your STUWO flatmate, neighbour or colleague if they want to share a box. Maybe you can convince other people of the zero waste philosophy.

6. Your water bottle

In Austria we enjoy excellent, high-quality tap water. So, grab your water bottle made of stainless steel or glass. This way you always have some water with you and don’t need to buy plastic bottles in the supermarket. If the water in your apartment is too calcareous, you can use a water filter. If you want to switch it up and try different flavours, you can try waterdrop or AirUp. If you need a vitamin kick, you can make a smoothie or fruit juice with a blender or juicer at home and bring it in your bottle.

7. Zero waste stores

Supermarkets are usually not very sustainable and considerate when it comes to plastic and packaging. That’s why there are zero waste stores, where you can buy unpackaged goods. There are more than 450 zero waste stores in Austria, which are sometimes called “unpackaged stores”. On you will find a map with all the zero waste stores, which you can then filter by location and products.

You will find everything you need – from groceries and hygiene articles to cleaning agents – in zero waste stores. For these products, you need your own food containers, glass jars and box. In some stores, you can also borrow or buy containers if you don’t bring enough.

To give you an overview of what you can find at zero waste stores, we have a short list:

  • Different types of flours, oats, spelt flakes…
  • Pasta, rice, quinoa…
  • Cornflakes, muesli, granola…
  • Baked goods, bread, pastries…
  • Sausages, cheese, meat, eggs, milk…
  • Chocolate, sweets, chips…
  • Cleaning products, detergent, washing agents…
  • Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, body and face lotions…
  • Toothbrush, brush, razor…

In short, you find more or less everything you need for your daily life. It’s best to just check out a zero waste store and browse the assortment.

8. Sodium bicarbonate

Long ago sodium bicarbonate was a staple in every household and for good reason! Sodium bicarbonate is somewhat of an all-rounder, since it is used for cleaning your kitchen, bathroom and clothes. You can easily and quickly make cleaning agents and detergents with sodium bicarbonate. You can even make homemade WC tabs, deodorant and bath bombs. Furthermore, sodium bicarbonate is a cheap product that you can get in any supermarket. Here are more ideas for using sodium bicarbonate.

Here is an easy recipe for making a basic detergent with sodium bicarbonate:

  • 1 tsp sodium bicarbonate
  • 1 tsp shredded soap
  • 1 splash of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • A few drops of essential oils (optional)

Add water and soap into a pot; heat it up while stirring, until the soap has dissolved. Then add the other ingredients and let cool. Done!

STUWO tip: When buying sodium bicarbonate, avoid buying individually packaged sachets that most supermarkets sell. We recommend buying bigger amounts of sodium bicarbonate in zero waste stores. This is cheaper and obviously more eco-friendly!

9. Zero waste in the bathroom

Your bathroom is a giant source of packaging waste, from shower gel and shampoo to face cream, body lotion, toothpaste     , plastic razors and tooth     brushes. However, there is a more eco-friendly alternative: solid soaps, solid shampoos, solid toothpaste, bamboo toothbrushes, steel razors and much more! You can usually get these products in zero waste stores, but also in many “normal” drug stores. Take a closer look at the alternatives! Oftentimes these sustainable products have natural ingredients and aren’t chemically polluted.

Do you want to make deodorant yourself? That’s really easy. Here is a recipe that allows you to save money and reduce waste. Furthermore, you know exactly what’s in your deodorant:

  • 3 tsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp sodium bicarbonate
  • 2 tsp potato, corn or arrowroot starch
  • 10 drops essential oils (optional)

Mix sodium bicarbonate and starch, then add the liquid coconut oil and stir until you have a creamy consistency. Add essential oils of your choice and put them into a pot. Done!

Want more? Here are more DIY recipes!

10. Bigger quantities & FoodCoops

Even though there are more and more zero waste stores, it can sometimes be difficult to get every single product without packaging. In such cases, it’s better to buy bigger quantities, so that you don’t have to buy individually packaged products. However, when buying groceries you should make sure that you can eat all of it. If that is not the case, then talk to your friends, family, neighbours or flatmates to share these groceries. You can also join so-called FoodCoops, where individuals or household join to buy and share big quantities of food. Here is a list of FoodCoop providers in Austria!

11. Worm box

The rest of vegetables and fruit are full of nutrients and it would be a shame to throw those away instead of composting them. However, most students don’t have the opportunity to compost. There is an alternative, a worm box, which you can keep as a compost stool in your apartment. Don’t worry, the worm box doesn’t smell bad and the worms are the most uncomplicated flatmates in the world. You can use the worms’ compost as a fertilizer for your plants.

You can buy or build a worm box. As soon as you have built the worm box and added the basic elements, such as substrate, worms and hemp mat, you can put your organic waste into the box and the worms will do the rest!

12. Zero Waste Fashion

The fashion industry is a fast-paced and unfortunately environmentally unfriendly industry that produces millions of tons of waste every year. Many of us have closets full of clothes, but only wear the same 10 outfits. Too often we throw away clothes that we have only worn a few times.

Before buying new clothes, consider these points:

  • Avoid synthetic fabrics (polyester, polyamide, polyacrylic, polyurethane, elastane…).
  • Choose natural materials (cotton, tencel, lyocell, linen, viscose, wool…).
  • Buy clothes in second-hand shops.
  • Buy durable, high-quality clothes.
  • Buy only clothes that you really need.

Before throwing clothes away, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I style my clothes differently to wear them in a different way?
  • Can I repair my clothes?
  • Can I give my clothes to friends, family or flatmates?
  • Can I exchange clothes with friends and family?
  • Can I make something else from these clothes? (e.g., cleaning cloth, bag from jeans…)
  • Can I donate my clothes to charity or bring them to a second-hand shop?

Zero waste is not only a trend but a complete lifestyle philosophy that is good and important for our planet. It’s great that you take that into consideration and do your bit. We recommend zero waste beginners to start with small and easy steps to avoid overwhelm. Choose zero waste tips to integrate into your daily life. Then set new goals and gradually reduce waste in your life. In the end, you not only do our planet a favour, but also your wallet!


We are happy to help!