Living Zero Waste in Auckland, New Zealand
Since 2017, my fianceé (Natalie) and myself have been trying to live a Zero-Waste Life. I’ll keep this page up to date with our progress and what we’re doing to achieve this.
- The Principles
- Compost at Home
- In the Kitchen
- In the Bathroom (and Laundry)
- Feminine Hygiene
- Out and About
- Other Resources
Today, people think that recycling is being green. It’s not. It dismisses the production costs (and energy use) of a product, it dismisses the recycling cost (and energy use) and it dismisses the transport costs (energy use) to do all this. Finally, unlike glass or aluminium, plastic is not infinitely recyclable, so often when we recycle we’re just kicking the bucket down the road. One cycle.
Refuse and Reduce, first.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. This is the mantra we’re used to, but what we often miss is the order of the R’s and focus almost entirely on Reycling. Bea Johnson wants us to stop focus on recycling more, and instead Recycle Less. She adds an extra R: Refuse, and brings emphasis to the original first R: Reduce.
The goal is to stop bringing trash into your home (or life), in the first place. Not to get rid of it in a nice way. That’s the main focus of this page; how to do this successfully in Auckland, NZ. What to buy, and where. How to avoid single-use plastic (once you start seeing it, you see it everywhere. It’s ridiculous!)
Refusing means saying no to waste you don’t need. Bags when you buy something, only to take it out of the bag 30 seconds later. Straws with a drink. Serviettes. You are constantly being given free rubbish, say No.
Even though some things are infinitely recyclable; it’s still important to consider the energy costs of production and recycling. An infinitely recyclable object that gets single-use is still incredibly wasteful. Food in tin cans is better than food in plastic, but not as great as food purchased in a glass container; but only if you’re going to reuse that glass container. Or paper bag.
Another new R: Rot. Anything that can rot, should be composted at home. Not thrown in the trash. In the trash it will contribute to the production of methane instead of the carbon dioxide it will produce in your organise compost at home. Methane is much more destructive to the environment than carbon dioxide so this is already a great reason to rot at home.
But there is a second. It takes energy to transport your trash around. Moving it from your house, to the landfill is unnecessary energy that is being wasted, and even more greenhouse gases being emitted by those rubbish trucks.
We’ve spoken a lot about recycling. It should be the last resort (our goal is Zero Waste, so trash is not an option!) However if you recycle, let’s hope you’ve made choices that lead to infinitely recyclable products, and that you can’t find any other use for the product.
Compost at Home
Composting at home isn’t hard, and you actually have a number of options. I live in an apartment, without a balcony, in the middle of the CBD, and I compost. Plus, I had choices.
Composting in an apartment
When you live in apartment, admittedly your options are much more limited than if you have your own backyard, but you still have some. You need to choose something that is fairly odourless (even if you are lucky enough to have a balcony, you want that to be usable, social space!) I decided on vermiculture (worms!) but you can also try Bokashi or indoor electronic composters that promise to turn foodscraps into compost in 24 hours!
I decided on worms because Bokashi seemed like a hassle (and in the end requires you to take the Bokashi end-product to some kind of soil to mix in with) and the electronic gadget seemed a bit over the top when some worms could do the trick.
I’m a designer and pretty picky about what goes in my house. So I bought an Urbalive Indoor Worm Farm on Amazon and sent it over to New Zealand using YouShop. This thing sits in the middle of my apartment; most people don’t realise it’s a worm farm until I show them. It doesn’t smell, or leak, and the worms stay put. It’s fantastic. A year into using it (with basically just my waste) and I haven’t had to use the second level yet. I assume this will change once Natalie moves in.
You don’t have to break the bank to do this though. A friend bought an indoor worm farm from Mitre 10 or Bunnings for around $20. It’s not designer, but it works just as well.
Composting with Outdoor Space
If you have more space, I’d recommend the Hungry Bin. I haven’t used it myself (not having outdoor space), but if I did, this is the one I would buy. But again, you don’t need to buy a designer compost bin—and if you have a lot of space outside, you don’t have to worry too much about getting worms involved either.
In the Kitchen
You eat a lot healthier when you decide to go zero-waste. But it’s not all easy, in fact, this is one of the hardest things about going zero-waste.
This is fairly easy. Most supermarkets in New Zealand have bulk bins but I have never tried going there with my own container—you should! There are also a number of Bin Inn outlets around New Zealand. The closest ones to us are in Howick and Onehunga, which is pretty far away from the CBD. We don’t shop there; but Natalie’s mum does and she loves the Bin Inn! They let you use your own containers.
There is a place near the CBD for whom package-free products is their whole schtick, and so we go there. It’s called GoodFor, and they only offer packaging-free goods. If you are near Ponsonby, they deserve your custom. Also, everytime you shop there, they make sure one tree is planted in East and West Africa, by the good folk at Trees for the Future.
You can bring your own containers, or buy some there if you don’t have any. This is a great opportunity to clean and re-use anything you’ve bought that comes in a glass container (like mayo, or pickles, or guac). This store is fantastic and they have all the dry-goods you can probably think you’ll ever need. Except spaghetti. Sadface.
So I spend a lot of time talking about energy efficiency, and I know that meat is very energy inefficient. Even though most livestock in New Zealand are raised on pasture, and not being fed grain or corn (food we could eat instead): the land they are raised on, could be used to create a lot more food if it were used for crops instead of livestock. Raising meat is not a very efficient way to create food. Also, our rivers aren’t safe to swim in anymore and the agriculture industry (not just dairy) deserve a large proportion of the blame. But I like bacon, it’s in a lot of what I want to cook. And as long as we start to clean up the aforementioned mess (checkout Smartass below who plant trees next to streams while we wipe our butts), I don’t see why meat can’t have a role in a sustainable lifestyle.
Currently, I’m pseudo-vegetarian (and possible vegan!) Why? I can’t find meat without plastic in the CBD. It is very hard. I struggle without bacon, Natalie struggles without bacon, and chicken. When I go to Countdown, they will single-use a plastic bag to pickup and weigh the meat, before placing it in my container. Not good enough. And there isn’t a butcher in the CBD I can visit. So there we are, I’m basically vegetarian thanks to plastic. Have to say, the food I make is still extremely tasty so it’s not that bad.
I would like a great butcher in the city though. Can someone please open one? I know there’s meat delivery to The Store in Britomart, but this requires ordering the previous day (before 6pm) and I haven’t had enough foresight to do this yet. I’m also skeptical if they will deliver plastic-free. A friend has used them: great butchers but they deliver everything vacuum-packed. I’m unlikely to use them without a guarantee that they aren’t going to remove the meat from a vacuum-pack just before they place it in my container.
So what on earth happened that we can only get milk in plastic bottles or treta-paks now? Wasn’t there a time when all milk came in reusable glass bottles? I know we went away from milk delivery, but did we have to go this far? Why can’t supermarkets still handle the trading in of empty glass containers, in exchange for milk in glass containers, previously returned? Milk can be delivered to supermarkets in large tanks, that are reused. The supermarkets can refill empty glass milk bottles and then sell the milk.
Not even the “fancy” milk comes in glass.
So we’re going to experiment to see if we can make rice or almond milk at home. Because apparently these also only come in tretapaks.
Update: Milk comes in powder form. I don’t know how this evaded me. I knew we exported milk powder by the truckload, but I didn’t think to buy it myself. I’m on the lookout for milk powder that you can buy in your own container, or even some that is sold in cardboard or aluminium or glass. Let me know if you have an answer.
I freaking love cheese. Natalie freaking loves cheese. Basically all the cheese at the supermarket is wrapped in plastic or some non-compostable wrapper. I can’t definitively say all the cheese, but I’m pretty sure it’s all of it. We looked. Hard. So this was tough for us. Giving up cheese was something we had started to resign ourselves to…
Until we found a cheese-monger (this is totally a word) at the local market in Takutai Square! So now, every Saturday, we go to the market, armed with our cheese container, and get pieces of cheese cut off from big wheels or blocks of cheese, for the week. It’s great cheese, we get to taste it before we buy it, and it’s packaging free!
Fruit and Vegetables
I thought this would be easy. There’s that big section you’re basically forced to walk through with all the loose, unpackaged fruit and vegetables, in every supermarket. Right? Wrong. Look again. Almost everything comes in plastic. All the greens, are wrapped in plastic like a bouquet of flowers. Almost everything is stickered, or tagged, in some way. It’s so frustrating. So we don’t go to the supermarket anymore.
Right in the middle of the CBD, on a Saturday morning, there is La Cigale Market. And at that market, we get our fruits and vegetables. Packaging free. Local, organic and all those buzz-words. It’s cheaper, the produce is bigger and brighter, and more colourful and I feel much better about it!
We head out, armed with our glass Keep Cup, a Gather tote bag, a container (for that cheese) and some Produce Pouches. In fact, those Produce Pouches and container goes straight back into the tote bag when we’re done unpacking at home, so I never forget anything.
We’ll see; I haven’t run out yet.
Liquor, Wine and Beer
We’re currently collecting all of these bottles as we plan to use them as decor at our wedding. When we’re not collecting them, though, I’m not going to feel too bad putting them out to be recycled. They’re at least made of glass which is infinitely recyclable.
We do love a Gin and Tonic though, and used to buy Tonic Water in cans for these. I’ve since stopped doing so; opting for making Tonic Water at home, using our Soda Stream and tonic syrups that I buy online. So far I’ve tried the one from Sodapress Co. These syrups come in glass bottles (infinitely recyclable), and the Soda Stream gas canisters are returned to be refilled after we use them.
In the Bathroom (and Laundry)
The bathroom is a place that seemed like it would be difficult to get rid of single-use plastics. But it hasn’t been our biggest challenge! Here’s how we’re going with it.
The Ecostore products are fantastic, but buying them instead of other products at the supermarket isn’t doing anyone that much good. The beauty with their products is that they will refill their bottles; you get to reuse the containers and save a bit of money!
Our routine involves having 2 or 3 of each item at home. We collected empty bottles in one place, and keep the full ones in another. When we reach the last bottle of something, it’s time for a trip to their flagship store in Freemans Bay. It’s a short walk, and we get to go by the beautiful Victoria Park on the way.
Here are a couple of other ways we are further reducing the amount of products we have to buy and use:
- If you use the loyalty card at Ecostore (and make sure to make big trips) you will frequently get free bars of soap with your purchase. We use these now instead of handsoap in a dispenser. There’s a double benefit here (and you can make use of this even if you don’t shop at Ecostore): bars of soap are much more efficient to transport because they don’t contain excess water. This means they last longer, and are much for efficient to use than liquid hand soaps.
- I don’t wash my hair with shampoo or conditioner anymore. Natalie still does—I can’t convince her to stop, but I have. My hair has never been better. It’s not dry, or look dirty and oily—yet somehow I have been able to style my hair without any product. Much better than any product. I talked to my hairdresser about this and he confirmed that he didn’t wash his hair either, that I’m not imagining things when it comes to my hair being easier to style, and that shampoo and conditioner is extremely unnecesary.
I read of many people using bamboo toothbrushes. We haven’t thrown out our plastic toothbrushes just yet, they still work. When we do need to replace them, we’ll look into bamboo toothbrushes.
Toothpaste. This is a fun thing to substitute. There are many, make-it-at-home remedies online. This is ours:
You can find all these ingredients (including the container) at GoodFor or at most bulk bin places. To make the toothpaste, mix the following ingredients in a container. Done. It sets at NZ temperatures, so to use it, we have a spoon which we use to scoop out a pea-sized amount, and soften in our mouth before we start brushing.
- 4 tablespoons of coconut oil
Surround the mixing bowl with warm water to soften the coconut oil so you can mix in the other ingredients with ease.
- 2 tablespoons of baking soda
- 1 tablespoon of ground cacao nibs
- 2 packets of Stevia sweetener (comes in compostable packaging)
The Stevia we got from New World (also available from Countdown). I made our first batch without it, and I thought it was fine. But Natalie tried it, and instantly spat it out. Some people taste baking soda much stronger than others. The great thing about home-made, is if you don’t like it, you can change it. So we bought Stevia, softened the toothpaste, and mixed in the sweetener. It’s easy going now!
Are we worried about missing fluoride in our toothpaste? No. If I understand this correctly, our water is fluoridated to the optimal point to help prevent tooth decay. Fluoridated toothpaste provide an additional benefit to this fluoridation, but since other natural toothpastes, like Grin, choose to leave out fluoride; I’m not too worried.
We were using Toothy Tabs from LUSH. They used to come in cardboard boxes but apparently people complained the boxes were getting wet in their bathrooms. I mean, they could have a glass container they empty the box into? So now they come in little plastic bottles. This not great, but the bottle claims it is made from 100% recycled plastic, and the store says I can return these bottles to them, and they will make sure they get recycled. This is much better than what happens to toothpaste tubes. I assume; I don’t know what happens to them, do you? Ok, there’s this. Essentially I called out LUSH about the packaging and they haven’t responded, despite saying they would, so we started making our own.
We still use toilet paper. There are some who stop using toilet paper and completely move to cloth; but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon with us. I did struggle to find toilet paper that doesn’t come wrapped in plastic though. But, I did. And again, you have options.
We bought 3 cartons of Smartass toilet paper (because that way we got free shipping!) I love this toilet paper for a few reasons:
- It looks great. I’m not kidding. Read up on me being a designer and picky about what things look like in my house. These look great in the bathroom.
- It’s not produced from trees; instead it is made from a sugarcane waste-product (bagasse) and bamboo (which is very renewable and not very resource intensive to produce.)
- It’s free of bleach, ink, dyes and perfume. I seriously had a moment of “Why do we even bleach toilet paper? This doesn’t need to be white to do its job?!” Fortunately I don’t have to worry about that with Smartass.
- They plant a tree (for every carton sold) along a stream bank around New Zealand—helping to make our rivers safe to swim in, again.
- They look good, did I mentioned that already?
Smartass comes to about $1 a roll. Not unbearable, but not the 30–50c you are used to at the supermarket. There’s also Green Cane, but they don’t have (in my view) completely plastic-free packaging in NZ (they do offer this overseas though!) They cost basically the same, don’t look as good and come with “plant-based cellophane” in the packaging that requires “good composting heat” to breakdown. I recommend Smartass.
Other than using Ecostore detergent, we didn’t change much about our laundry routine, except for one thing. We bought a clothing horse. I tried really hard to find a nice bamboo one (picky designer) but we couldn’t get one that wasn’t ridiculously expensive. We settled on one from The Warehouse and it’s fine. I feel much better about using much less electricity to dry clothes, and I think my clothes feel better for it as well.
Makeup and Makeup Removal
Hello, Natalie here! I use makeup on a daily basis. My night routine usually consists of taking my makeup off with makeup remover, then washing my makeup free skin with a cleanser. It’s hard to avoid single use plastic when buying these products. Here's some tips I can pass on:
- Face wipes are a terrible waste, and are expensive. I’ve replaced them with reusable muslin face wipes from Ecosprout (also available from Ecostore in Freemans Bay). These are much softer and nicer to use than regular, single-use face wipes. When they get a bit stained, I just throw them in the wash with the rest of my clothes and they are good to go again.
- Coconut oil as makeup removal. It changed my life. I used to buy a $70 high end makeup remover, now I just pick up Macro Organic Coconut Oil from Countdown for $6, and it does the same job. Plus it makes my skin feel so soft and hydrated! There are a few different brands - I picked this one because it was the only one which came in a glass bottle (recyclable, yay!) and it contained the worlds ‘virgin’ and ‘organic’.
- I have yet to find a good face wash for my ultra dry skin, that does not come in plastic. I currently use Cleans All from Skinfood which has fully recyclable packaging. I’ve been considering trying out Parsley Seed Facial Cleansing Oil from Aesop next, which comes in glass. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!
I am not a particularly adventurous person. Ludwig usually has lots of ideas (mostly good) and I warm up to them over time. Therefore, it was daunting for me to give up my trusted pads and tampons, and start exploring alternatives.
There are three things I investigated: menstrual cups, period-proof underwear and organic, biodegradable tampons.
Menstrual cups are a popular alternative to disposable products. I decided on the Ruby Cup because when you buy one, they give one to a girl in need. This seemed like a great reason to choose Ruby Cup because they all seem effectively the same (a silicone cup of basically the same shape.) I got the smallest size, which they recommend for women who have not given vaginal birth. It took bit of trial and error for me to get the hang of it. It’s definitely harder than inserting a tampon. However, once I got the hang of it, it was amazing - like not having a period at all! Once the cup is placed inside of you correctly, it opens and creates a sort of suction, which makes it completely leak proof for up to 10 hours. Plus, because it is made from 100% medical-grade, soft silicone, it is so much better for your body than bleached tampons made of synthetic fibres. Double win. Oh, and did I mention they last for up to 10 years - a good chunk of money saved on pads/tampons which can go to your house deposit (you need every bit you can get in Auckland, right?)
Thinx are “period-proof panties”. They look and feel like a regular pair of underwear, but act like a pad. Personally, I use them as a back-up to my menstrual cup, in case it leaks. I sometimes use them on the first / last few days of my period when my flow is light. They are also great if you experience some spotting or breakthrough bleeding throughout the month.
If you can’t stomach any of the above, think about it for a while longer. Talk to your friends, or watch videos online made by other women. I didn’t warm to these ideas quickly and so I did spend some time looking into ethical disposable solutions. The brand I’d recommend is OI; they make tampons, panty liners and pads that are all 100% biodegradable and appear to be an ethical company. Unfortunately, their products require high amounts of heat to decompose, so this will only happen in a landfill or commercial composting facility. Not great and I won’t be using them, but better than forever plastic. However, if you care for the environment even a little bit, you really ought to try the menstrual cup as your first alternative. Maybe that sounds a little harsh? It’s scary, I know. But hey, if you really can’t make it work, at least you gave one to a girl in need :)
Our zero-waste lifestyle comes out of a desire to live ethically. And that extends to our clothing. Where possible we won’t buy new clothes, and we definitely won’t buy from any store that we can’t verify is ethical. We rely on an app called Good on You to check that.
Often this means we can only shop at more expensive stores. The Country Road Group are included in that list of ethical stores we can shop at. They are also fairly expensive. You’ll know their stores: Country Road, Witchery and Trenery. Fortunately, this means we can’t buy in to fast fashion. We buy quality clothing that costs a lot but because it lasts a long time, and we get to shop so infrequently, we end up saving in the long run. Also, I must mention this: my $70 Country Road white t-shirt is the softest and best t-shirt I’ve ever had!
Natalie has also found Tatty’s on High Street to be a fantastic place to go experience retail therapy without the guilt.
We also try to fix things that might otherwise be thrown out. I have a pair of boots that I love. The laces gave way, I replaced the laces. Then the sole started coming off, and I took them to be repaired by a local cobbler. It cost the same as a new pair of boots to repair the ones I already had but:
- I love these boots. They look great (and now have more character), but more importantly, they are comfortable and worn in. I won’t get that with new boots.
- I’m not contributing waste. Yes, new boots would have cost the same, but they would also come with hidden costs.
Out and About
I’m that strange person who goes into an Indian restaurant and asks for takeaway in my lunchbox. Or into a BurgerFuel with my lunchbox. I go to Mexicali and order a burrito that isn’t wrapped in foil and is instead placed directly into a brown paper bag (I should take a lunchbox!) And I refuse plastic bags, plastic cutlery, and serviettes when offered. I’ve never been refused service for any of the above (although sometimes people don’t understand the point of my request and I end up with packaging, inside the lunchbox!)
I won’t order coffee to-go if I don’t have my Keep Cup with me. And I don’t buy water, or use a plastic water bottle. Instead, I always carry either a glass BKR bottle or an aluminium drink-bottle from when I worked at Apple.
I don’t own a car (after moving to San Francisco and surviving without a car for 2.5 years, I was determined to stay carless.) Natalie does. However, we only really use the car to go visit our parents in South East Auckland, and that’s only because the public transport to Botany is horrendous. The car is the bane of our existence, and we hate trying to deal with finding a place to park it when we’re both in the CBD. For now, the car spends most of its days parked at Natalie’s flat, out in the suburbs.
When she moves to the city, we plan to leave the car in South East Auckland with her parents, and will only use it to make our way around the Howick, Pakuranga and Botany area to visit friends and family who live there—because public transpot within this region is even worse than to this region.
We do believe in walking. A walkable city will be a healthy city. The best thing you can do for the environment, is to move to a city. So we choose to live in the city where we have the best access to public transport, access to the most diverse set of entertainment and have the least impact on the environment.
We also believe that cities are the most likely place that zero-waste change can occur. They are much denser than the suburbs. Which means they have more people within walking distance to potential stores that sell goods which are package-free. And that’s good, because package-free food often means it need to be bought closer to when it’s used. And a walkable city makes those short, quick, shopping trips feasible.
With Auckland’s City Centre seeing a 924% growth rate over the last 20 years and no sign of it slowing down: if you were going to open up a shop that would benefit from walkability, anywhere in New Zealand, it should be in the center of Auckland City.