How to reduce your avoidable waste

How to reduce your avoidable waste

Our top tips;

  1. Plan your week to avoid unnecessary purchases.
  2. Invest in reusables; get a water bottle, coffee cup, and bag for life to use every day!
  3. Say no to packaging – challenge your favourite shops, supermarkets and even your place of work or study to ditch unnecessary packaging.
  4. Always think ‘Do you really need it?’

The term ‘avoidable waste ‘has been used a lot in recent UK government publications including the 25 Year Environment Plan which set targets to eliminate ‘avoidable waste’ by 2050. But what really is ‘avoidable waste’?

Many people jump straight to images of straws floating around in the oceans on Blue Planet 2 and believe they have made a significant difference by transitioning to paper straws. In reality, straws make up such a small amount of the weight of waste produced by any person or organisation that swapping from plastic to paper is not the most sustainable action you could be taking.

To make a difference we need to be aiming to consume responsibly. Try to think about the full lifecycle of what you use on a day-to-day basis. Important questions such as: “How many people are employed to collect the raw materials?”; “How much fuel is used to transport this to the manufacturing plant?” and, “How much energy is needed to dispose of at its end of life?” should be considered.  Along with all the other steps in between, this can often help you to understand that the period of time you own any product is actually often quite a small proportion of its lifecycle.

The best way to prioritise the actions you should be taking is by using the waste hierarchy:


Ideally, we should prevent waste from being created in the first place. You can do this by making some simple changes to everyday items.

Zero Waste

Zero waste shops can be great for bulk buying food products including pasta, rice and coffee in your own containers that you can use again and again. Similarly zero packaging bathroom products including bars of shampoo, conditioner, and soap can eliminate unnecessary plastic packaging.

Lush – ‘One lorry load of solid shampoo bars holds roughly the same number of washes as 15 lorries filled with liquid shampoo, meaning less traffic on the roads- lowering your carbon footprint as well as wastage.’

Plan Ahead

Planning and preparing your weeks’ worth of meals ahead of time can reduce the need for buying lunch every day. Pre-prepared meals and “meal-deals” often come in lots of non-recyclable and/or unnecessary packaging which can also be expensive!

Go Digital

Do you need to write all of your work and lecture notes down? Are you sick of getting promotional fliers through your door or at work? Challenge it and request that you don’t receive them anymore!


If preventing waste is unrealistic then reusing your current items is the next best option. Many shops encourage the use of reusables by charging for plastic carrier bags and discounting the price of hot drinks in a reusable coffee cup. These provide great incentives but there are plenty of things you can also do individually.

Refill App

Try downloading the ‘Refill’ app to help locate local water fountains to refill your water bottle instead of buying a single-use one.

Reusable Household Items

Reusable makeup wipes/face cloths and refillable makeup containers can help make a daily routine more sustainable. Similarly, why use kitchen roll to clean up spills in the kitchen when you can use a rotation of washable cloths?


In a modern world of fast fashion, we are often too quick to buy new outfits for every occasion. Try asking yourself if you will wear the garment more than 20 times? If the answer is ‘no’, leave it and only invest in what you really need. When it comes to clothes you already own it is always best to repair, donate, sell and swap your old clothes so that they can be reused by somebody else instead of being discarded completely.


Join a local group in which members advertise a whole range of household items and clothes that you can collect for free. You can also give your old items a second life when you no longer need or want them.


This message can also be used in reference to other household belongings including electronics, books, films, and furniture! Each of the universities we work with host British Heart Foundation collections at the end of each academic year for staff and students to donate to.


When disposing of any waste, make sure you read the signage so that you know what can and can’t be recycled. Recyclable materials tend to include paper, metal tins and cans and clear plastics. If you aren’t sure, ask us!


Reduce your food waste by planning your weekly shops and if you still have food waste, can you compost it? Can you take it to a specialist food waste bin? Enva’s food waste is taken to anaerobic digestion with energy recovery which vastly reduces the carbon emissions when compared with food waste going into landfill or being incinerated.

To find out more what universities are doing to reduce waste, check out the ENVA universities blogs:


-This blog post was written by Robyn Thompson, NTU alumni and the Key accounts coordinator at NTU waste contractor Enva. Many thanks from the Green Academy team. 

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