Could your garden be the key to your zero-waste ambitions? Gardeners at the National Trust’s Knightshayes estate in Devon have grown luffa plants to produce their own sponges in an attempt to cut down on waste. They are as easy to cultivate as courgettes, according to the kitchen garden supervisor, Bev Todd. Just sow the seeds in April or May in a warm and sunny spot, and give the plant a support to scramble up. Once the fruit matures and withers, squeeze it to loosen, and peel off the skin. Wash and remove the seeds and flesh, hang to dry and voilà – your own sustainable sponge.
If you find that inspiring, Zoë Morrison, a blogger and the author of Eco Thrifty Living, has another green-fingered suggestion: “I like to regrow vegetables from their bottoms, so that they can be saved from the bin or the compost heap.” She has successfully regrown lettuce, celery and leeks this way.
But it’s also important to avoid bringing waste into your home in the first place: buy loose fruit and vegetables, fill up on dried goods and cleaning products in a zero waste shop, replace tinfoil and clingfilm with wax wraps, plan your meals and buy only food you need. Helen White, a special adviser on household food waste at Wrap, says that storing your groceries in the right place is half the battle in tackling food waste. “Most fresh produce is going to be better in the fridge, but not bananas, onions, pineapples or potatoes.” Pass on unwanted food via apps such as Olio or invest in a wormery to get rid of odds and ends, recommends Jen Gale, the founder of Sustainable(ish), a social enterprise. And get involved with sites such as Freecycle and Freegle. “It’s a great way to pass on stuff the charity shop won’t take,” says Gale. You never know who will take your castoffs.
We asked Guardian readers for their own unusual methods for reducing waste at home. Charlie Laffitte, an electrician from Orléans in France, recommends using grey water from the washing machine to flush the toilet. Mary Sweeney, a marketing specialist from Cleveland, Ohio, suggests washing plastic bags so they can be reused. But the standout was Emer Brangan, a health researcher from Bristol, who made her own tissue holder using the fabric from an old umbrella after realising how much waste was generated by the handy plastic-wrapped tissue packets she had used before.