Social Responsibility Student-made The city

The Zero-Waste Starter Pack

Zero-waste: what is all the hype?

Zero-Waste, i.e. producing no waste diverted to landfill, has gone viral all over the web as a solution to our faulty Western waste management and our dramatic plastic pollution. In the UK, over 2/3 of our recycling waste is being exported abroad, mostly in East-Asian countries, because we do not have enough infrastructure for the amount of waste produced, or it is not financially viable to do so. This massively impacts the health and environment of local communities, crawling under our trash.

Zero-waste therefore presents itself as an environmental and social alternative embedded in circular economy, “Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle”, instead of a traditionally linear one “Take, Make, Use, Dispose”.

Here are the fundamental tips to start your zero-waste journey as a student, with items that you might already own, or can make yourself or find at your very own student-led zero-waste shop Want Not Waste on Oxford Road!

1.On-the-go items: trick yourself to be prepared

A lot of our daily trash is made outside of our home: meal deals, takeaways, coffee/plastic cups or plastic bags.

Having reusable items at all times will enable you to reduce your waste considerably with minimum effort.

Spotted at Want Not Waste:

  • Reusable coffee cups (±£5) & Water bottles (±£3): saves you 20p with every drink you buy on campus
  • Tote bags (±£2/free): replaces any plastic bags you might use
  • Cloths (±1): replace any small packaging for cookies, cakes and any other library sweets
  • Cutlery: always have a fork, spoon and knife in your bag to avoid any plastic cutlery

While shopping, always make sure you can find products in bulk and carry a small container if you’re planning to get wholefoods from Want Not Waste.

2. In-house swaps: identify the culprits and easy sustainable substitutes

The Bathroom

Let’s say there’s 6 people in your house. Each own 3 shower bottles: for body, hair and conditioner. A bottle lasts, on average, 2 months which means more than 9 bottles are replaced monthly. 108 plastic bottles per year per house – only for shower purposes. This doesn’t have to be this way.

Spotted at Want Not Waste:

  • Shampoo (NOAP), Soap (Emma’s soap) and Conditioner bars (£4.50 – £7) – no plastic packaging, lasts at least 6 months and works just as well.
  • Bamboo Toothbrush (±£4): fully degradable
  • Toothpaste (around £5-9) & Deodorant (£7): no plastic packaging. Available in powder, cream or tablets.
  • Toilet paper made from recycled paper (1£/roll)
  • Menstrual cup (£13) and reusable pads (±£7-15)
  • Beard oil (£3) – without the packaging!

Spotted at McGall’s:

  • Safety razor (±£11)
  • Mouthwash tablets (7£)

The Kitchen & housekeeping items

  • Loofah sponges or handmade from old textile can hold many bacteria, a bamboo brush is a better alternative
  • Washing-up liquid (£2.50/L)
  • Cling film to Bees Wrap (£12): this can be pricey when buying in shops, but you can make your own from less than £3 by buying a beeswax bar, placing some slices on old clothes/textile cuts and placing it in the oven until it has melted. This act as a great cling film replacement as you firmly place the bees wrap on open container, the heat of your hand will keep the cloth in the same preserving shape.
  • Fabric conditioner (£2/L)
  • Laundry liquid (£3/L)
  • Vinegar diluted in water: a great all-purpose solution for any surfaces – kitchen board, tables, windows etc.

3. How to dispose the unavoidable

There will always be some things that eventually end up in your garbage bin (like your empty shampoo bottle you swapped for a bar) – it does not stop there. The general waste should be your last option, always check if:

  1. It is recyclable wildly. You can find this out here and here.
  2. It has a recycling scheme at your general supermarket or university – see here for more information.
  3. It can be placed at Want Not Waste for specific TerraCycle Recycling schemes – you can find this out here.
  4. You can use a plastic bottle to fill with small waste to produce ‘eco-bricks’ (weighting min 330g for 1L bottle)
Eco-bricks made up of plastic waste

Shout-out to Harriet Bickley for making this comprehensive little booklet: “Easy everyday eco-actions for everyone”. There is also a printed version of the booklet available at Want Not Waste.

This being said…

Becoming totally package-free is more of a Utopian ideal than an end goal. The actual goal is to become mindful of where/how our products are being sourced, manufactured, further re-purposed, and supporting the local businesses that do so ethically. Most items listed you might already own: an old sport bottle to take out from the cupboard, some jars from your grandparents, tote-bags given in freshers week…

Lately, Zero-Waste has become this trendy lifestyle that implies you have to buy freshly designed and expensive items to be part of the gang. Nothing could be so far from the truth.

It is about you finding what can be replaced in your student/adult life for the better, challenging the status quo and taking a step further in engaging with Environmental Sustainability within your University campus and city.

You’re not alone

Your student-led zero-waste shop “Want Not Waste” on campus is there to help you start your journey and take it to the next level.

McCall’s organics in the city centre, Lentils and Lather in Withington, M20 Refills in West Didsbury and Unicorn in Chorlton are other good places to check out, but keep in mind it might get a bit pricier than Want Not Waste as your student shop is run by volunteers not seeking profits!

For more zero-waste shops in your local area, you can search your location on Zero-Waste near me.


You can find more about how you can reduce your waste in my video, the Zero-Waste Student Guide.

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