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Zero Waste

Zero Waste is a set of principles focused on preventing waste, with the goal of ending the 26 million tonnes of rubbish the UK produces annually. To achieve this, the following steps are used in order, to limit the volume of materials and goods we consume, and ensure they are disposed of responsibly when finished with.

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

How to make a change

Refuse and Reduce

  • Refuse single-use items such as plastic carrier bags and straws, plastic wrapped foodstuffs, and single use cutlery. Ways to do this include shopping plastic free in your supermarket, opting out of junk mail, turning down freebies at conferences.
  • Reducing focuses on only buying what you need and redistributing what you already own but do not need responsibly – for example by donating clothes to charity or reselling them on an app such as Depop.
  • Have a look at zero waste shops either in Birmingham or online (linked below), to see what products you could be sourcing packaging free.


  • Lessen the demand for new items and prevent older items from going to waste by reusing whatever possible. Some permanent reusable alternatives include: a cloth tote bag for carrying shopping, refillable water bottle, reusable coffee cup, metal straw for drinks (if you’re someone who always uses a straw), a handkerchief instead of tissues, washable or reusable period products or a menstrual cup, stainless steel safety razor, beeswax wraps for food instead of clingfilm (or use a food container or jar with a lid). Rechargeable batteries are an easy swap to make, and make sure you recycle any non-rechargeables at an appropriate facility.
  • Purchase second-hand goods wherever possible to reduce the demand for new products. Almost anything can be found second-hand either via charity shops or online, although a little extra time may be needed to find what you need. It is particularly easy to find good quality second-hand clothes, technology, crockery, and books. It may be possible to either rent or borrow items such as tools which are harder to find second-hand. Repair and mend products to extend their lifespan.


  • Current recycling infrastructure is unable to keep pace with the volume of waste we create, and creates a huge demand for energy, which is why refusing, reducing, and reusing come first. For materials like plastic, quality decreases with each recycling process. However, recycling is still a useful tool for limiting the environmental impact of waste we cannot avoid – it takes 70% less energy to recycle paper than it does to make it new from raw materials.

Recycling at home:

  • Recycling materials is better than sending them to landfill but beware of ‘wishcycling,’ I.e., putting non-recyclable materials in with the recycling in the hopes that they will be recycled too, as this disrupts the process and can lead to entire loads of recycling being dismissed. Clean and dry recycling when necessary, such as tin cans or plastic food containers.

Waste you cannot recycle at home:

  • Find recycling points for materials such as batteries, bread bags and drinks cartons, which can be recycled but need to be dropped off at specific collection points. Find local recycling schemes via Terracycle for drop off locations for materials such as pens and highlighters, contact lenses or makeup containers. It’s worth starting with the items that you use the most, e.g., if you drink a lot of juice, then start collecting the cartons, and take them to a local recycling point when you have enough.


  • It is important that waste that can be composted, like food and organic materials, is disposed of properly rather than being sent to landfill, as waste in landfill produces harmful greenhouse gases. If you have a garden, setting up a compost heap or bin is a simple process. If you do not have a garden, you may still be able to get composting, through a small indoor composter – which can utilise either worms, organic matter, or electrical components to break down your food waste. To compost as much as possible, when buying disposable items make sure they are ‘home compostable’ not ‘biodegradable.’ Many items, such as compostable plastic free sponges are now widely available. Ask a neighbour with a garden, or a local allotment, if they would be able to take your food waste for composting.

Example Actions

  • Invest in a reusable tote bag and use for shopping
  • Switch to a plastic free alternative for (x) products (e.g., sponges)
  • Start your own compost
  • Collect and recycle cartons at appropriate facility

Useful Links

Composting Guides: Garden composting guide by the RHS.

Home composting guide by The Spruce.

brummie cup is a Birmingham reusable coffee cup initiative, for a £2 deposit you can borrow a reusable cup for your coffee from participating cafes, and return it when you’re finished.

Zero Waste Shops in Birmingham, for ethical plastic and packaging free goods:

The Clean Kilo (Digbeth and Bournville).

Roots Market (Jewellery Quarter).

Zero Waste Shops Online:

Vegan Kind Supermarket:

Good Club:

Blossom and Hops:


The Reusers (Sutton Coldfield) is an organisation that rescues, restores, and recycles second-hand items, many of which are diverted from being sent to the next-door tip, they have a shop with items including antiques, bikes, electricals, furniture, garden, and sports.

Online community groups such as Community Reuse Birmingham or Stirchley Swap Shop for trading items with people in your local area, have a look via Facebook. /

Olio and Too Good to Go are apps for sharing and collecting leftover and surplus food in your area. /

Gumtree and Freecycle are online platforms for either giving away or selling unwanted goods, where you can list or find items that you need. /

Traditional platforms such as Ebay are still an excellent way to find second-hand goods.

Depop and Vinted are online and mobile apps for selling clothing and household items. /

Terracycle have a range of different recycling schemes for materials which generally can’t be recycled at home, and list local drop-off points via their map.

Download an Action Plan so you can set your own goals!

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