Learn the zero waste basics

Get to grips with the basics of zero waste

Getting to grips with the basics of zero waste and understanding the waste hierarchy are the first steps to a low or no waste lifestyle.

It all begins with the waste hierarchy. Once you understand that, you can make informed choices at home, at work and in the shops.

The waste hierarchy

The waste hierarchy - refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, rot, recycle, disposal

Most people are aware of the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle. But there’s more to the waste hierarchy than recycling. The hierarchy shows the ways we can deal with waste, from best to worst. Think about the hierarchy when you make choices and you’re well on your way to a no waste life!

Refuse: Say “no” to things you don’t need, like a straw in your drink or a plastic bag for your shopping.

Reduce: Before you buy anything ask yourself “do I really need it?”, “do I already have something that could do the job?”, “could I make/grow it myself?” and “could I borrow or rent what I need?”

Reuse: Before you throw something away or put it in the recycling, could it be used again by yourself or someone else? Could it be made into something else?

Repair: If it’s broken, could it be fixed?

Rot: Will the thing you need to throw away rot? Some foods and grass/garden waste can be composted if you have outdoor space at home.

Recycle: Before you throw something away check if it can be recycled at home or at one of Bristol’s Recycling Centres. When you buy something, think about if the packaging is recyclable. If not, is there a recyclable or unpackaged alternative?

Disposal: Only throw things away if none of the other options are possible.

The consumption hierarchy

A graphic showing the waste hierarchy as explained in the article.

We like to call this the ‘buyer-archy’ as like the waste hierarchy, it shows us how to make responsible choices to avoid waste. This time, it we’re looking at ways to make the most of resources and avoid buying new.

The six elements of the consumption hierarchy are:

  • Use what you have
  • Borrow
  • Swap
  • Thrift
  • Make
  • Buy

Next time you need something, check the ‘buyer-archy’ and see if you can reuse, borrow or make something instead!

Make the most of Bristol’s recycling system

A Bristol Waste recycling collector takes items from a black box and puts them into the side of the truck

In Bristol there are lots of options for recycling. We provide an extensive kerbside recycling service for houses and small blocks of flats.

Larger blocks of flats have Mini Recycling Centres (MRCs). We also have Recycling Centres where you can recycle and reuse many more materials. You can find out more on our household webpages.

TerraCycle collect hard-to-recycle waste products such as pens, pet food pouches, contact lenses, toothbrushes and crisp packets. In Bristol there are many TerraCycle community drop-off locations, which you can find by looking on their programme pages.

Know what you waste

A general waste bin on a Bristol street

Before you make any changes, it’s a good idea to think about what you already waste. Are there common items that end up in your bin each week which you could try to reduce? Or are there some items which could be recycled? Knowing what you waste can really help in reducing the amount and result in more conscious choices when bringing things into your home.

Activity: conduct a bin-vestigation

Become a detective and carry out a “bin-vestigation” – an investigation into the contents of your bin. Find out exactly what you are throwing away, and if any of it could be reduced, reused or recycled. We’ve put together handy instructions and a recording sheet to help get you started.

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