Cut the trash: The ultimate zero waste guide

Living well shouldn't cost us the Earth. Follow these tips to get your groceries, devices and your next fashion fix sustainably

Article by Becca Inglis | 14 Sep 2021
  • The Refillery

Okay people, it’s time we talked about waste. If you weren’t already suffering some base level climate anxiety (ah, the Gen Z zeitgeist), then by now you’ve probably (definitely) had the fear of god struck into you by the IPCC report. 

Message received, planet Earth – it’s high time we cleaned up our act and stopped pushing our throwaway problems on to nature.

Sure, it’s difficult to feel like you can change the world when oil companies continue to chuck greenhouse gases into the air. But also, wouldn’t it be nice if we could stop microplastics from polluting our oceans, food waste from secreting methane, and cotton from guzzling up all the water and causing droughts? 

Yes of course it would, and these are all things that are in our power to change. Here are a few of our favourite places that can help you cut waste from your life and regain some climate optimism. 

Zero waste groceries

Despite many a painful Google search about putting the right plastic in the right bin, recycling just isn’t happening on the scale we need it to. Only 9% of plastic ever made has been reprocessed, while the rest has either gone to landfill or blown into our rivers and seas. 

A far better option is to cut food packaging altogether at zero waste grocery stores. You can bring your own containers to the shop – huzzah, a way to reuse your leftover plastic bottles and tubs! – and fill them with all the dry food, fruit and veg, and cleaning fluids you need. 

Edinburgh is well-served for low impact shopping, from The Refillery in Newington to the Eco Larder in the West End, Weigh To Go in Leith and The Good Store in Inverleith. We’re even getting our own zero waste supermarket in Dalry, to be run by Locavore – one of Glasgow’s favourite package free shops. 

Over in Glasgow, the Zero Waste Market covers the East End, while Society Zero serves the West End community – including with a pay-it-forward scheme for those who need it. In Dundee you’ve got the Birchwood Emporium or The Little Green Larder, both of which offer some luscious looking veg boxes. 

Rescued food

Food waste is actually a bigger contributor to climate change in Scotland than plastic is, with an estimated 987,890 tonnes scraped into the bin in 2013 compared with ​​224,000 tonnes of plastic. 

Before you go and spend more money on new groceries, see if you can acquire some rescued food and get creative with your recipes. Groups like SHRUB Coop’s Food Sharing Hub in Edinburgh and the Too Good to Go app in Glasgow help to divert surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants, while Dundee’s West End Community Fridge makes food available to their local community to tackle food poverty. If you've got cans to spare, consider donating your leftovers to help these projects.

Slow fashion

Another thing that SHRUB Coop is really good at is helping us to repurpose our pre-loved clothes. Unlike your regular charity shop, SHRUB’s Swap Shop gives back 20% of the value of what you donate in tokens, which you can then spend in the store. 

R:Evolve in Glasgow boasts three swap shop hubs in Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Hamilton, where you can bring in your old fashion items and, you guessed it, swap them for a fresh look free-of-charge. 

Upcycled electronics

Built-in obsolescence is a huge drain on your wallet, which is annoying enough when you’re trying to stretch your finances through uni, but there’s a hidden cost to electronics with an expiry date too. 

The UK generates around 1.5 million tonnes of electronic waste every year, and up to 82% of us have no plans to recycle or sell on our devices once they fall out of use. Don’t be that guy. Places like the Remakery in Edinburgh and WEEE Scotland in Glasgow will take in your decrepit electronics and re-use them for parts, or simply give them a repair (remember those?). 

If you are looking for a new device, you can use the circular economy to your advantage and buy a refurbished one for cheap. A MacBook Air goes for around £250 from The Remakery, which is one heck of a markdown from buying brand new.

Digital communities (see also, free shit)

Facebook might be dead, but it’s still good for one thing – asking strangers to give/receive miscellaneous stuff. The Meadows Share is probably Edinburgh’s most notorious Facebook group for picking up random bric-a-brac. Last we checked there was a bagful of corks up for grabs, but you can also source your more traditional bits like chairs, mirrors, or spare light bulbs. 

Glasgow’s equivalent is Sharing Is Caring Glasgow And Surrounding Areas, or there’s the Glasgow Southside Sharing Community, where you can post saying you want to borrow something and people will actually lend it to you. Incredible scenes.