Zero Waste Home Improvement
Eliminating, substituting, and/or reducing the waste from our home improvement and DIY projects.
I have been continuously, if sporadically, working on the self-sustaining tiny home that we built two years ago, and am swaddled with all sorts of home improvement bits and bobs, from paints to cabinet doors to nails and screws scattered all over the place.
The house that gets bombarded with my home improvement schemes
Looking at all the mess, I find it difficult to imagine a zero-waste way of doing home improvement. And I’ll the first to admit that I did a terrible job of it with my own home build.
But just because one cannot fully eliminate waste doesn’t mean one can’t make a large dent in reducing them, so below are some things I wish I had done, and that we can all do when we’re about to tackle a home-related project.
When plotting your home build or home improvement project, anticipate ahead the waste that will come out of it:
is there a way for you to avoid creating that waste (avoid disposables, buy just enough, etc)?
if not, is there a way for you to reduce the amount created by purchasing just the right amount?
can you come up with other uses for the waste?
can you think of other people or organisations that could use the waste?
Knowing in advance how you will be handling any waste that comes out of the project will make it easier for you to deal with them at the end of the build or project.
MATERIALS & CONSUMABLES
Buy just enough
Whether you’re building an entire house or a cabinet for your kitchen or simply embarking on a quick paint job in the living room, you will already have a list of materials you will need, and a good idea of how much of each you will need. When possible, buy exactly just enough for what you intend to do, with a small extra in case something goes wrong. Avoid buying excessive amounts that you will not know what to do with later.
Save the extra
Some products, like paint, come in standard amounts, and is difficult to customise to your needs. But the good news is: when properly stored, the extra paint can last in storage for when you want to refresh your walls or project again. Same thing with extra wood, nails, screws, rope, etc - if you are a DIY-er, these things are always handy to keep. Check with the hardware store on the viability of storing excess material, and ensure that the product is properly sealed after use before putting it into storage.
Use in other projects
Any leftover material can be the building blocks of another project! Use scrap wood for small projects like keychains or cobble them together to make a gorgeous cutting board. Use the extra bricks to line a boundary in your garden, or to form an outdoor Jenga game. All the unused tiles can be made into a tray or turned into coasters. Get your creative juices up!
Donate or share with others
If you are no DIY-er and have no intention of making use of the leftover materials, then find others who will! Advertise your extra stuff on localised sharing platforms like Freecycle or Buy Nothing Project, and someone somewhere will snap them up.
Borrow instead of buy
Tools can be expensive to buy, particularly if you’re only an occasional handyman or DIY-er. Rather than purchasing tools that will only see the light of day once or twice a year, find a handyman friend who already has these tools and borrow from them. More often than not, people are happy to lend their tools and give you tips on how to use them - and if not, a small bribe of food will usually work!
Buy to last
If you find yourself with no choice but the purchase the tools, either because nobody you know owns them or because you will actually be using the tool often enough to warrant buying it, then buy a good quality one that will last years. Don’t buy cheap, disposable tools - even if you don’t plan on keeping the tools at the end, buying a good quality one means you can gift it to someone else who will appreciate it!
Use with care
Use your tools with good care. This is important for your more expensive machines and gadgets, but also holds true for small things like paint brushes and screwdrivers. A lot of people treat paint brushes and paint trays like disposables - using them once and then throwing them away for a new one - but these things can actually last if used and cleaned well. Take the time to learn the proper way to use a tool and the after care for the tool to stretch its useful life for much, much longer.
If you’re the handyman and DIY-er in your circle of family and friends, then be generous with your tools! Offer to share them, or if you’re entrepreneurial, start a tools library where people can pay a small fee to rent them for a short while.
A library to borrow tools from in Toronto, Canada
FURNITURE & OTHER PRODUCTS
Home improvement doesn’t always mean building things - sometimes all it takes a shopping spree! In this case…
Buy to Last
This goes for almost anything in life, but particularly for furniture and other homeware products, be it a sofa bed, a set of dishes or a microwave. It’s easy to be swayed by cheap versions available online, but be sure to check reviews. Always opt for quality and repairability - the end goal is not to use it and then throw it away, but to use it and to keep on using it over and over.
Whenever possible, opt to buy secondhand. While the quality and state of the items will vary tremendously, you can still find items that will work well for your needs. If you do stumble upon a good find, then don’t hesitate to give the item a second chance at life.
Maintain and care
Pay attention to the proper care and maintenance of your furniture and household products, especially with more tricky items like leather couches, cast iron pans and sensitive kitchen gadgets. Taking good care of your things means they will last longer and give you better return on investment from your purchases.When done well, your furniture and appliances can last for generations and be handed down to your children and grandchildren.
Refurbish or repurpose
When you no longer need the item, whether it’s because you’re changing up the look in your living room and no longer have a place for that neon couch, or it’s because you’ve purchased a newer, better version of the same thing, consider refurbishing the item to fit your new needs, or repurposing it for something else. The couch, for example, can be reupholstered to fit your new colour scheme, and old dishes or containers can be repurposed as pots for your garden.
Check out this refurbished and updated chair - from old school to modern chic!
Plenty of ideas on the internet for repurposing almost anything! Start here.
If refurbishing and repurposing are not viable options, and the item is still in good condition, consider donating it to others who can put it to beneficial use. Remember, someone’s junk is someone else’s treasure! Do a sweep of your family and friends for anyone who could use what you’re giving away, and advertise in the various sharing groups online, such as Freecycle or Buy Nothing Project.
If the item is in horrible condition and nobody wants it, then do ensure you dispose of it responsibly. Recycle whenever possible, and send it to the right bin or the right place.
RATE YOURSELF: HOME IMPROVEMENT
Achievement Award: Buy just the right amount, buy secondhand, and buy to last!
Points For Effort: Make use of the excess material you have, or donate to those who can put them to good use.
Um, Maybe Not: Too much hassle? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.