Zero Waste: How to produce (almost) no waste | STUWO

Supermarket shelves are challenging. A lot of the vegetables get a second skin, meaning that they are wrapped in unnecessary plastic packaging. Nicely lined up, we find a huge selection of drinks, most of them in non-reusable bottles. Conveniently, most candy is ideally proportioned for consumers, which helps with eating smaller portions, but also creates a lot of waste.

As you can see, going to the supermarket means a lot of waste. But waste production doesn’t end there. Every Austrian citizen generates an average of 146 kilos garbage per year. The daily waste we produce adds up to huge mountains of garbage, which we tend to ignore since our garbage disposal system is working excellently. However, the resources of our Earth are indeed limited and every garbage bag means that resources are wasted that entails a long chain of disposal.

So, we love that you’re here because we will help you with your mission to lead a zero waste student life. It can even be beneficial for your wallet. Here are our top 12 tips on how to avoid waste!

1. Reuseable cups for your coffee

Quickly stopping at a bakery in the morning to get a freshly brewed coffee on the way to university – does that sound familiar to you? Many students start their day like that. Nevertheless, enjoying coffee on the go has a big impact on the amount of waste we produce. The Eco Counselling, financed by the Vienna Environmental Protection Department, has summarized the consequences of estimated 800,000 disposable coffee cups per day in Austria. Around 4,500 trees, 160 million liters of water and the annual electricity consumption of more than 9,000 Austrian households are used for disposable cups (only in Austria!).

On average, the to-go cup is only used for about 15 minutes before it ends up in the trash. Due to the plastic coating on the inside, it cannot be recycled. An incredible amount of resources goes to waste for a very short usage – time to change something about that!
Simply bring your own cup with you. At some cafes, you can also buy reusable cups. Deposit systems for reusable cups, such as myCoffeeCup, are also increasing in popularity. By bringing your own cup you can fully enjoy your beverage without feeling guilty for producing unnecessary waste!

2. Your all-time companion: shopping bags

Are you one of those people who always stop at the supermarket on their way home? Some purchases come unexpectedly and therefore you probably don’t always have a big bag with you. You can change that easily by using cloth bags, fruit nets or small shopping bags that you can easily roll up and put in your backpack.

Should your purchase turn out to be bigger than expected, you can still buy a paper bag that you can also use for several times. If your supermarket is right around the corner, you can also make a short detour home. Especially in big cities, there is a supermarket on almost every corner and it only takes a few minutes to quickly get a bag, a shopping trolley or even a shopping basket.

3. Your own packaging and containers

If you write your shopping list and are willing put more effort into avoiding waste, you can also take reusable packaging with you. At the meat, fish and cheese counter and at weekly markets you can usually ask for the food to be packed in your containers. You can also bring your own cloth sack to the bakery. Even if you buy a sandwich, you can ask the person behind the counter to give it to you without packaging.

Here is another tip on how students can save. The website and app Too Good to Go has declared war on food waste in Austria. With the help of the app, you can pick up leftover groceries and meals from restaurants and grocery stores in the evening at unbeatable prices and in your own container. So, you can enjoy your cheap meal and save waste.

4. Buy unpackaged vegetables

Consistently avoid packaged vegetables. Not only tomatoes, cucumbers and broccoli are often wrapped in plastic in supermarkets, but the vegetable counter is usually full of plastic packaging. Bringing you own fruit nets helps to avoid using disposable bags.

Ready-to-eat meals and already cut salads in plastic bowls seem very practical at first, especially for a healthy lunch break, but they produce a disproportionate amount of waste. If you buy the ingredients individually, you are not only doing something to avoid waste, but you can also enjoy freshly cut vegetables on your plate. It is even easier at your local farmers’ market: Here you can find fresh, regional vegetables and can usually go completely zero waste.

5. Try a veggie box

Seasonal vegetable boxes are usually free of packaging, as they are delivered in reusable boxes to a location of your choice. The empty box will be exchanged for a full one with fresh vegetables from your area. This supports regional farmers and avoids long transport routes. If a whole box is too much for you, ask your STUWO roommates, neighbors or colleagues if someone would like to share one with you. Maybe you can get several people excited about the “zero waste” movement. At Bio-Austria you will find organic kisterl suppliers all over Austria. Even some supermarkets offer mixed veggie boxes, for example Lidl.

6. Glass bottles

In Austria, we are lucky to be able to enjoy excellent tab water. Buying water in plastic bottles from the supermarket is not necessary at all. If you still want to level up the water from the tap, you can use a water filter for instance. Since this creates garbage as well, look for an option that is as durable as possible if you do not want to go without it.

Having your own bottles made of glass or steel will save you the walk to the beverage department in the supermarket if you get thirsty on the way. If you want a little more flavor, you can make your own fruit juices and smoothies using juicers. Not only will you save a lot of plastic but you will also know what is inside.

7. Shopping in Zero Waste Stores

Would you like to go a step further and buy food completely without packaging? In most big cities, you can already find packaging-free shops, often called “unpackaged shops”.

Not only can you get rice, pasta and other freely fillable foods for your reusable storage containers, the supply is constantly expanding and sometimes also includes non-food items such as cleaning agents, other everyday items such as toothpaste, skin and hair care.

8. Zero Waste skin care

An alternative to shower gels and shampoos in plastic bottles are hair soaps and variants for showering, also available in unpackaged stores. It might take a while to find the right soap for your hair type, but don’t get discourage if you can’t find the perfect one right away. You’ll find it eventually!

Another and increasingly popular way to avoid waste in everyday life is to use deodorant creams. They are usually much gentler on the skin than other deodorants, but still protect you against unpleasant odors. Deodorant creams are also easy to make by yourself. Try this deodorant cream recipe from Smarticular yourself with your favorite fragrance using essential oils:

  • 3 teaspoons of coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons of potato, corn or arrowroot starch
  • 10 drops of essential oil (optional)

Mix baking soda and starch. Then gradually add the liquid coconut oil and stir until it becomes creamy. Add your aromatic oil and pour everything into your container. Finished!

9. The answer to everything: baking soda

In the past, baking soda was the staple in everybody’s household. Somehow, we forgot about the versatility of the white powder over time. Instead, kitchen and bathroom cabinets are filled with various plastic bottles. However, baking soda is so versatile.

It helps with minor ailments in the kitchen, bathroom and with your clothes. You can even make toilet tabs, deodorant and bath bombs with baking soda. Smarticular has collected over 250 uses for soda in the book “Das Natron Handbuch”. You can find some of the great uses of baking soda directly at Smarticular.

10. Zero Waste in smaller towns

Even if the number of unpackaged shops continues to grow, small cities often do not offer the possibility of zero waste shopping. When shopping, make sure that you buy larger portions, but not too large so that you have to throw away half of them, especially groceries! Washing machine powder, for example, is easy to store, which is why you can get the big pack here without a doubt.

You can also become a member of so-called FoodCoops. In these food cooperations, individuals and households come together to buy local products in bulk. Here you can find a list of FoodCoop providers throughout Austria.

11. Make a worm box

The leftovers of vegetables and fruits are full of nutrients – it would be a shame to throw them away. Most students do not have the option of composting. However, a worm box, which is basically a compost stool suitable for every apartment, fits in every flat and in every student apartment, doesn’t stink and the worms are probably the most straightforward roommates imaginable. The vermicomposting obtained is also an excellent fertilizer for your indoor plants.

12. Zero Waste Fashion

Mending your own socks: That used to be standard. Nowadays you throw them away and simply buy new ones. However, we do not even wait until the item of clothing is worn out. We buy something, wear it briefly and throw it away. There is even a term for it: fast fashion. The lifespan of clothing has reduced immensely.

Cotton production, the dyeing of clothes and the transport of clothing are major climate killers. When shopping, becoming more aware of the production chain that is behind every T-shirt. This is the first step in order to avoid waste here as well. By the way, you can give old clothes with major defects a second chance by, for example, using it as a cleaning cloth.

Nevertheless, many people have little treasures slumbering in their closets that are no longer worn. One possible solution: just hold an event to swap clothes with friends and acquaintances. It’s going to be a fun activity that will also enrich your closet.

The zero waste movement has already established itself among students. You reading this blog is proof of that. To walk and live more consciously and in harmony with the environment is a very meaningful and future-oriented action.

However, to be completely waste-free is initially a very ambitious, perhaps unrealistic goal. Give yourself a little time. The first steps are the most difficult because we have to change our habits. Ideally, you start with small changes in order to grow into the task and take new steps on a regular basis. Just set yourself new goals every month.

We at STUWO wish you a lot of fun with a zero waste life.


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