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How to Go Zero Waste in London

zero waste in london

Living waste free can seem an insurmountable task… at first. I know I was pretty overwhelmed when I decided to push towards being plastic free. I believed I had to tackle absolutely everything at once and that I was the worst person on earth if I let a single plastic bag weave its way into my life.

Things (I) have calmed down quite a lot, but the mission continues. It’s fun to break things down, as it stops you getting overwhelmed. With that in mind, here’s ten methods you can use for living waste free in London (or any other big city. Or anywhere, really).

1. Take advantage of the many markets around the city

Here's ten methods you can use for living waste free in London (or any other big city. Or anywhere, really).

There are many alternatives to buying plastic encased produce at the likes of Sainsburys and Tescos… in the form of London’s many food markets. Among the expensive cheeses and food trucks, you can usually find fresh, seasonal produce – that won’t cost you a kidney.

I recommend finding one preferably within walking distance to you (or a short train ride away) and try to incorporate it into your weekly schedule.

My favourite is the Brockley Market, which is held on Saturdays. I walk there every week to buy seafood (which we ask to be put in Tupperware containers), produce (which goes straight into a tote bag), sourdough bread (ditto) and a jar of cheese, if I fancy a treat (so… that’s most weeks). I glare at the various people walking their dogs around the market, before heading home to my pet-less house.

For those interested, a full write up on the Brockley Market shopping experience is in the works.

2. Scrap as little food as possible

My composting journey has certainly been a whirlwind affair. We finally got ours up and running in the garden in late 2015. That provided a firsthand look at how much we were throwing into the bin… daily.

I firmly believe that it’s better to compost than to throw food waste in the bin. Rather than rotting away in landfill, it can be food for your worms and gardens. Re-purposing is fun, right? Yet, you can save money (and shopping time) by ensuring that you’re sending as little waste as possible to your composter through making the most of your food scraps.

I generally have two Tupperware containers on the go in the kitchen – one for the compost and one for vegetable scraps. I collect potato peelings, the remnants of garlic and onions, plus various other miscellaneous vegetables in this second container, which is kept in the fridge.

When I’ve cobbled together a decent amount, I chuck it in a pot with some salt and water and boil the heck out of it, until I have a decent amount of vegetable stock. I freeze the stock in jars and use it to make soups in winter (and autumn and spring and sometimes summer, because English weather).

Alternatively, you can use the scraps to add flavour to your meals! The Rogue Ginger has a good post on how she uses her vegetable scraps to make zucchini relish.

3. Put whatever is left into a compost

It’s when you’ve exhausted your options, that you should turn to composting. Yes, you can compost in London.

If your normal practice is to chuck your scraps into a community run compost bin, it’s best to double check what is allowed to be placed in there.

If you’re lucky enough to have your own, you can pretty much go nuts. I compost everything from food, to shredded toilet roles, to hair (my crazy European/Asian locks shed like mad). Here’s a comprehensive list of things that will break down in your compost, complete with a few surprises.

4. Use your own tins and bags to buy tea in bulk

If you’re British, you probably like tea just as much as anyone else in the world does (despite the stereotype, many Brits I meet go either way where the stuff is concerned). Many teabags are made out of and encased in plastic, which kind of sucks. Plus there is something really satisfying about making a pot of tea. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy the process of, nearly as much as the end result.

You can purchase loose leaf tea all over London. Rather than using the little plastic bags that are proffered by most stores, just bring your own cloth bag, or tin. These shops will have scales that they can use to determine the weight of your very own container and you can add loose leaf tea accordingly.

I assume the same could be done for coffee, for all my caffeine addicted Aussies out there (that is a stereotype that definitely holds true).

5. Nurse your coffee addiction, plastic free

Here's ten methods you can use for living waste free in London (or any other big city. Or anywhere, really).

Speaking of coffee, if you’re a serial drinker of the stuff, you could be going through up to several disposable cups of coffee a day.


Until these neat little cups hit Starbucks around the country (a girl can hope and dream), consider investing in your own!

I have a Keep Cup that I use both on the go and when travelling on planes, which greatly reduces the amount of plastic cups that I go through. It’s a nifty little thing to have lying around and I’m very fond of it.

Another option worth considering is forgoing your “coffee on the go”. Take five minutes out of your day to nurse your coffee in your local, sipping in solitude, rather than rushing in and out of the cafe. It could turn into a ritual that you really come to enjoy over time.

6. Carry around your own reusable bag and water bottle

London is a big, busy city with decent enough public transport. So, many commuters opt to use the semi-decent public transport system to get to work, rather than cars (in fact, I only know one person in the city who owns a car, they’re that rare).

Pretty much everyone I see going about the daily business, carries a bag of some description with them. So, it wouldn’t take much to throw a reusable cloth bag and your own drinking bottle too.

Having your own bottle will save you money. Your own bag will reduce your use of plastic bags, for those surprise trips to the supermarket on the way home from work.

7. Pre-pack your lunch to bring to work

Here's ten methods you can use for living waste free in London (or any other big city. Or anywhere, really).

Eating out can certainly break the bank over time and incur a lot of waste in the process.

If you’re blessed with a 9-5 job and therefore a routine, use your Sunday afternoon to prepare a range of meals for the week. You’ll save yourself both time and money, in the long-run.

8. Invest in a raincoat or heavy duty umbrella

Contrary to popular belief, it is not constantly raining in London. Still, it is easy to get caught out by the odd drizzle.

It’s the wind, that gets you. It’s not uncommon to see rubbish bins overflowing with discarded brollies at the end of a wet-weather day.

For this reason, it’s worth investing in a good quality umbrella, that can stand the elements. Or even better, buy yourself a raincoat! They’re long-lasting, durable and high fashion… if you ask me!

9. Look into making your own toiletries

Clever marketing strategies trick us into thinking that we need way more stuff than necessary when it comes to personal hygiene. Wrong assumption. Much of what you do require to participate in polite company, you can get away with making yourself.

I’ve been making my own toothpaste for AGES. My teeth are yet to fall out of my mouth. I keep it in a little jar that I take with me when I travel, along with my bamboo toothbrush. These don’t end up in landfill, which is grouse.

10. Repair or re-purpose old clothes

Ugh, fast fashion chain stores are THE WORST. It was quite disheartening to spend $60 on a blouse from Zara, only to have it fall apart three months later.

Keep your eye out for items that will evade trends and last a lifetime.

Darn old socks, or throw them in your rag bag. Use old shirts to patch up tees. Resole your shoes and take blouses with split seems to a tailor to get them professionally repaired.

Here's ten methods you can use for living waste free in London (or any other big city. Or anywhere, really).

These are only a few ideas – there are many more, but I wanted to go with a round number. If there are any methods you use to reduce waste in a big city, let me know about them in the comments.

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  1. All great tips, as far as 2 and 3 go, I can’t stress strongly enough that the real key to reducing food waste is not to buy things you don’t end up eating. I HATE seeing food go to waste, but the number of people I know or have lived with, who chuck away left overs or let things rot in the back of the fridge for weeks is unnerving. Obviously every now and then we buy things and then circumstances or laziness mean we don’t eat them before they become inedible, but if every week when you’re putting away your shopping, you’re chucking mouldy bread, or rotten fruit, or stinky meat, or squidgy veg, in the bin then for christ’s sake, rethink your shopping list (or even better write one in the first place, and stick to it!)

    1. Yeah, I do agree. I personally shudder to think of how many veggies have decomposed in the fridges of my past! Shopping lists can go a long way.

  2. some great ideas – thanks! I think the coffee cup will be the first one I take up – i can’t believe how many coffee cups I must go through on any week. such a bad habit!

  3. Agree with all the points you have listed here. Though I have been following many of them myself during travel, making own toiletries is one thing I have been skeptic about trying. I should probably try that next .

  4. There are actually good tips and most of them I’ve been practicing already. At first, it is hard to adjust, but then you have to do this to save almost everything and maximize the effort. We need to save our mother nature.

  5. Great post. I’m moving more and more towards living in this way too. I make most of my own toiletries now (coconut oil is god). And I never leave home without my BPA-free water bottle and tea infuser for my loose tea. It’s the way forward!

  6. These tips are very nice and are applicable where you live anywhere in the world. I often buy coffee outside but I don’t really bring my own cup, now that you mentioned it, I think that’s a really nice idea. And also in coffee shops, like Starbucks, I think it’s better to order your drink on their mug instead of paper cup. I think small actions like that can make a ton of difference if done by everyone.

  7. Fantastic post – I don’t think many people realise how easy it is to live with less wastage, small changes can make huge differences. One of the reasons I love travelling is that I have everything I need on my back, it has really taught me to live with more meaning rather than more possessions. Keep it up!

  8. Wow, this is such a friendly reminder to all the travelers to lessen the waste that somehow we produced. I like all your points here and a sure help to everyone. I like the idea of bringing your own cup of coffee, it doesn’t take so much money to invest on a good mug anyway. Thank you once again!

    1. Cheers! I love my cup, I take it nearly everywhere, or if I don’t have it, have my tea in a cafe and watch the world go by. It’s nice! From little things, big things grow.

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