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How Zero Waste Malaysia Helps Me Save Money (& the Environment, A Little Bit)

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Confession: I entered the zero waste world a few years ago for its money-saving potential.

It’s been great. The communities are helpful, warm, encouraging. I had fun testing and trying out new lifestyle changes inspired from members of the zero waste community, sustainable living community, low impact community and so on. Among others, they encouraged me to:

  • include more plants and grains in my diet,
  • use a menstrual cup,
  • carry my reusable water bottle when going out,
  • stay car-free,
  • keep used coffee grounds to use as fertiliser,
  • significantly reduce my fast-fashion shopping,
  • and even helped me stay smoke-free (no more cigarette butts waste!)

All of which saved me a TON of money as a result.

The hard part: the plastic-free part of zero-waste lifestyle

So by this point, I thought I’m doing okay with this zero-waste lifestyle thing. But there is this one part that is hard for me to do. The plastic-free part of the zero-waste lifestyle.

I admit that I am, at best, meh about the whole ‘create less plastic waste’ and ‘save the environment’ aspect of the zero-waste lifestyle.

Plastic is, after all, cheap. My priority is saving money. I don’t really want to commit to a plastic-free lifestyle if it’s going to add more cost and trouble into my life.

But at the same time, I also want to be good to the environment. Especially now that the no-plastic awareness campaigns are in full blast. You also may have seen the dead sea creatures with plastic-filled stomachs. Read about microplastics in the marine life we consume. Watched fishes get stuck in single-use plastic bags..

I know that I have been so spoiled by plastic’s convenience and cost that I find it hard to live a plastic-free life. Even after I know how damaging plastic is, I still buy fruits and vegetables packed in plastic. I still buy bubble tea sold in single-use cups. Sometimes I’d forget to bring my reusable bag to the groceries and just pay the 20 cents.

I make some effort and some lifestyle changes here and there, yes, but I don’t know if I even deserve the ‘you tried’ gold star.

Zero Waste Malaysia as a resource

Yeah, it’s hard, but I didn’t say I’m giving up. It’s slow progress but it’s progress.

The Zero Waste Malaysia Facebook group has been a great resource in this journey. I’m mostly a lurker there, but I’m always blown away by the quality content. I highly encourage you to join if you’re interested in the zero-waste, plastic-free lifestyle. Some of the things I’ve seen include:

  • How they shop without using plastic bags (bring own bags) and order food without single-use plastics (bring own containers)
  • Attempts and recommendations to reduce, reuse, recycle and upcycle
  • Zero waste-related workshops, seminars, public talks, events and fairs
  • How other countries create and implement unique solutions
  • Things that aren’t often shared in the media, like how plastic pollution looks like IRL, and more

I’m also super impressed by Zero Waste Malaysia‘s Zero Waste Resources map. Look at all the zero waste options available! In the map, you can find:

  • Bulk food
  • Community Compost/Garden
  • Furry Friends’ Corner
  • Household Products
  • Personal Care Products
  • Repair Services
  • Sustainable Businesses and Services
  • Thrift Shops
  • Traditional Wet Markets, and
  • Recycling, Upcycling and Waste Disposal Centers

Click on the map to find zero waste options near you! You can add your recommendations (or your sustainable businesses) in the map too!

Making plastic-free lifestyle more affordable

As I mentioned, I am primarily motivated by savings. I would love to save the environment, but I don’t want to pay, like, triple the usual price for plastic-free equivalents of things I need, you know? I think many of you are in the same boat too – it’s important for us to balance cost while we do the right thing, because times *are* tough.

I made a plan on how to incorporate plastic-free lifestyle into my frugal life so it doesn’t cost too much:

  • Using a product’s plastic packaging as an excuse to not buy something. Food is my weak spot, but I’ll try my best
  • Resisting zero-waste products that I don’t really need. For example, I don’t need metal straws. Or special product bags, since I have lots of tote bags (and old t-shirts that I can turn into bags). Or another tumbler. Sometimes the marketing gets to me but I’m resisting.
  • Slowly moving away from conventional household and personal care products? This is a hard one, perhaps the hardest. I’ve never tried non-plastic toothbrushes, do they even work? And it’s so easy to restock at the supermarket rather than making separate trips to HIVE or the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) shops.
  • Start going to the wet markets (with my own containers). Also a hard one, because it requires separate trips.
  • Hyping up zero waste in my own capacity so that there will be more zero-waste businesses. If you’re thinking of a business to start, you should know that (1) there is demand, and (2) the demand is growing!

Speaking of that, I want to share some links and resources that may help, if you do happen to be entrepreneurial:

Links and resources for your future zero waste / sustainable living business

Share with me more links and resources if you have them 🙂

How about you? Where do you fit in, in this whole zero waste thing? Are you all-in? Are you just starting? Are you cost-conscious like me? Share with us more resources, tips and hacks that work for you in the comments section so all of us can learn!

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  1. True, the journey sometimes is so hard. There are days that I want to drink tealive and have to use their plastic cup (since I did not bring my own reusable cup). I feel so guilty afterwards but felt better after drinking my bubble tea. 😁😁😁😁

  2. Personally, I won’t ever be able to go zero waste. However, I reduce wherever I can and recycle for those I can’t.

    Stuff that I have been doing –
    1. Recycle – Separate the recyclables and bring them to the recycling centre. There are two in my hood.
    2. Use something kau2. E.g. T-shirts. There are many stages from going out to home to floor cloth before throwing. Alternatively, also give away all clothes that are in good condition. I just gave away a large paper bag of running vests to a friend for her son. The kiddo no wears them daily.
    3. Bring own water in own bottle. Have been doing this since a kid and more so when working cause why pay RM2 for a drink when food is only RM6/7. Also, saves a lot of money. Best is when travelling – that bottle can get refilled easily.
    4. Composting – used to do this diligently but have fallen off the bandwagon.
    5. Coffee beans as fertilizer – get them free from Starbucks and Coffee Bean even if you are not buying anything. Just ask.
    6. Reusing old cups as pots. I do this in my bathrooms. The money plants grow in water in the plastic cups from McD’s frozen coke, 7E’s slurpees or even Starbucks.
    7. Upcycle – old Starbucks paper cup had colour added to it and is used as stationery holder. Also, have others that are used as coin boxes. To do one day – upcycling old pallets into furniture.
    8. Bring own bag. Penang took the lead and it became a habit. Always have a few in the bag + extras in the car. Good quality plastic bags can be reused while the lousier ones can be used for rubbish. Guilty habit – buying rubbish bags cause I need them to fit properly.

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