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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

My Personal Waste Audit 2 Years Later

Assessing my own zero waste progress - gotta walk the talk!

I started this Zero Waste series in 2018 with an audit of my own personal waste. Almost 2 years later, and having written almost 20 articles later about this issue, where am I with my own Zero Waste effort?

It’s easy to spout out a list of things to do and tell people that they should do them, but am I walking my own talk? Time to find out!



Most of my stationery are actually hand-me downs from my mother (who hoarded an astonishing amount during her PHD years) as well as things I’ve kept since my high school years. I’ve also minimised the number of stationery I use, and I ditched single-use pens by switching to fountain pens, which completely changed my experience with writing.

set of often-used stationery

Half of these have been with me since my teenage years!

*items in red are not zero-waste, for now at least

I’ve also stopped accepting free stationery from conferences or events, unless it’s something I need, and am still working through the free pens and goodies I collected in my previous wasteful life.

remaining collection of disposable pens

My remaining stash of free stationery goodies I picked up in my previous wasteful life. Am still trying to use them up!

*items in red are not zero-waste, for now at least

When I do purchase new stationery, it’s usually because I’ve run out of it (eg: erasers, fountain pen ink), or I somehow lost it (eg: scissors, razor blade) or I want to try out something new (eg: a triangle-shaped glue from Japan that’s so much better at covering paper corners!) (only a stationery geek will appreciate this). In all cases, I buy with the intention to use it forever.

Overall self-appointed score: 4 / 5

While I buy things to last a long time and hardly ever throw out stationery-related waste, once in a blue moon, I do end up chucking emptied glue containers and dried-out pens (that I got as freebies and kept for years without getting around to using them) into the trash can.

How I plan to do better: Lose less things so that I can actually get to forever with them, purchase stationery that are designed to last and/or to be recycled at the end of its life.

Read more about Zero Waste Stationery


I switched to reusable bags years ago, and more recently sewed my own grocery pouches for buying fresh food. I carry a tiny, light, folded reusable bag with me at all times, along with my own set of reusable cutlery. I used to carry a metal straw too, but kept leaving them at restaurants, and now I’ve given up and simply stopped using straws. Instead, I just attach my mouth to the cup - radical, I know.

shopping  and dining out tools

Save for the straw which I have given up on, I carry all of these items with me in my bag at all times

Despite my efforts, I still amass a disturbing amount of waste, mostly packaging waste, especially from the grocery stores. Fruits and veggies are sold wrapped in plastic, as are all snacks and bread. When I order online, my purchases come boxed in layers of packaging, which led me to discover that bubble wraps now come in heart shapes and pink colours.

While I have not managed to quit online shopping, I have stopped ordering food delivery and all the packaging that accompany the food. I mostly cook at home now, and when I eat out, I sit at a proper restaurant and dine in. I avoid fast food chains and takeouts, and refuse straws and other unnecessary disposables.

That being said, I do sometimes purchase snacks or treats that inevitably come in some sort of packaging, or I forget to inform the waiter and my meal comes with the typical disposable items, or I didn’t bring enough reusable bags for a particularly enthusiastic shopping trip and end up using a plastic bag. I just roll with it and resolve to do better next time.

Overall self-appointed score: 1 / 5

This gets a poor score because it’s where I generate the most waste in my daily life, though not for lack of trying. How products are packaged is out of my control for now, and unless I plan to produce everything from scratch myself, I am stuck with buying plastic-wrapped products.

How I plan to do better: Buy groceries from farmer’s markets or wet markets rather than supermarkets, buy products from Zero Waste stores, campaign for supermarkets and suppliers to cut their excessive packaging down.


I switched to cloth pads and pantiliners a decade ago and never looked back.

cloth pads and cloth pantyliners

My stash of cloth pantiliners (that I made myself!) and cloth pads that have been with me for a decade now

I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner and why other women aren’t running to do the same - it’s SO MUCH BETTER in so many ways: it’s much more comfortable than scratchy disposable pads, much less wasteful and is a much more responsible way of dealing with our monthly flows than chucking things into the waste bin.

Other female friends have switched to a menstrual cup and rave about it too!

Overall self-appointed score: 5 / 5

I’ve truly gone zero waste here. The cloth pads I purchased a decade ago are still as functional as ever and nothing gets thrown out.

How I plan to do better: Achieve menopause and have no periods at all.


I experimented with DIY toothpaste recipes, but didn’t find it to my liking, so am unfortunately still using a store-bought toothpaste with packaging. But I did switch to biodegradable toothbrushes and floss, both of which go into my compost bin at the end of their life.

dental tools

My dental care kit

*items in red are not zero-waste, for now at least

I have also switched to naked shampoo and soap bars, and DIY my own oil blend to serve as hydrating lotion for my dry skin.

bathroom tools

Naked soap, conditioner and shampoo bars, plus reusable utensils

However, I do buy sunscreen and mosquito repellent that come in non-recyclable packaging, and am still struggling to finish store-bought creams and lotions that were gifted to me. I also buy perfumes, but they thankfully come in recyclable glass packaging!

packaged products I still buy

Packaging waste from these products that I still buy and use

*items in red are not zero-waste, for now at least

As for make-up, I don’t wear any and therefore don’t purchase any. Problem solved!

Overall self-appointed score: 3 / 5

I think I did pretty well, but also with lots of room for improvement. Minimising my hygiene and beauty needs was the best move in cutting out waste from this category, as it meant I wasn’t dependent on all sorts of products, and allowed me to be impervious to the incessant marketing industry trying to convince me of how ugly I am without them.

How I plan to do better: Buy from Zero Waste stores and continue finding zero-waste alternatives for things that I still purchase in non-reusable and non-recyclable packaging.


In the spirit of minimising, I no longer buy specific cleaning products, but have instead opted for a generic vinegar and water mix to clean pretty much everything. Sometimes I mix in essential oils in as well.

essential oils tools

My humble essential oil collection in glass vials

Cleaning products that I still purchase include dishwashing liquid, bleach and (at the request of our cleaner) floor cleaner. For handwashing, I have switched to a zero waste bar soap; unfortunately my family still prefers liquid hand soap that come in bottles. We replace the liquid soap using refills, but it’s still not quite zero waste.

set of cleaning tools

My stash of cleaning supplies.

*items in red are not zero-waste, for now at least

Overall self-appointed score: 3 / 5

I have come as close to zero waste as possible personally, but as a household, we still produce a small amount of packaging waste from the few products we still buy.

How I plan to do better: Buy from Zero Waste stores and continue finding zero waste alternatives for current purchased products.

Read more about Zero Waste Cleaning


I purchased soap nuts in 2015 and am still trying to finish them as we enter 2020.

soap nuts

Waste-free soap nuts for laundry

These soap nuts work really well for cleaning my clothes, but do not have a scent on them, so my clothes come out of the laundry smelling like… well, nothing. That is fine with me, and I highly recommend it. However, my family prefers scented detergents and continue to purchase them for their own use.

Overall self-appointed score: 3 / 5

Similar to above, I have come as close to zero waste as possible personally, but as a household, we still produce a small amount of packaging waste from the few products we still buy.

How I plan to do better: Purchase scented zero-waste detergent powder from Zero Waste stores once I finish using up my soap nuts.

Read more about Zero Waste Laundry


I have a decent amount of electronics, but nothing too excessive (I think!), and I tend to use them for a very long time. I have had my laptop for 10 years (and it’s still going strong!), my Kindle reader for 5 years and my phone for 2 years, but only because I lost my previous one in a snowboarding trip. I was forced to upgrade to a new iPad two years ago when my previous iPad declared that half the apps could no longer be supported on it. Not cool, Apple, not cool.

gadgets I own

The gadgets in my life

I only purchase new electronics when 1) the current one is beyond saving, 2) it is no longer supported by the manufacturer (glaring at you, Apple) or 3) I lose it. Aside from that, I am quite immune to new releases and trends, so I don’t purchase unnecessary upgrades just for the sake of keeping up (hence why I’m still using an iPhone SE when everyone else is already on iPhone 11). When my electronics or cables break and no longer work, I send them to a UMobile store for recycling, or to a recycler in Shah Alam if UMobile does not accept them.

Overall self-appointed score: 4 / 5

I’d give myself a perfect score if not for the fact that I have a tendency to lose my phone, cables and earphones way more often than I’d like. I am also pissed at Apple for making their older products obsolete, forcing me to buy newer versions despite the older versions being in perfectly good condition, and am considering leaving the Apple community because of this.

How I plan to do better: Stop losing things, and abandon unethical companies that make their products obsolete on purpose.

Read more about Zero Waste Electronics


I used to shop for and hoard a staggering amount of clothes, like any girl, but have since then come to my senses. I am now cutting down to a capsule wardrobe, and have given away 85% of my clothes. I have also come to understand my style preferences better, and what works and doesn’t work for me. Armed with that understanding, I no longer shop for new clothes unless it is specifically on my to-buy list, and even then it has to pass a few stringent criteria before earning a place in my wardrobe.


A work in progress

Overall self-appointed score: 4 / 5

Giving myself a pretty good score as I’ve come a long way in shedding the impulsive and wasteful tendency to buy clothes that I end up hating a week later, but not a perfect score because I am still working on putting together my capsule wardrobe! Clothes I no longer need are donated.

How I plan to do better: Keep working at what I’m doing now!

Read more about Zero Waste Clothes


I travel quite a bit, and similar to the shopping and dining out category, I end up creating a lot of waste despite trying not to. There’s waste from the in-flight meals, from the snacks I grab on the go and from all the other travel activities you typically do.

As much as possible, I dine-in rather than do takeouts, and opt for recyclable packaging rather than non-recyclable ones. If the place I travel to has no recycling bins, I will bring the recyclable waste with me back home to make sure they end up in the right place. I refuse plastic bags and carry my reusables with me at all times. But to be honest, for the most part, it is really difficult to avoid waste, given how our economy is structured, and sometimes you just gotta let go.

As for what I carry with me on my travels, aside from clothes, I have a ready travel kit that I keep stocked and ready to go. Currently, most are waste-free, except for the plastic toothbrush and plastic container with tooth tabs in them. Once I finish using these two up, I will switch to zero-waste alternatives.

travel kit

My travel kit, complete with clothespins and a rope for an emergency drying line on the go!

Overall self-appointed score: 2 / 5

This gets a low score because I do end up producing waste despite trying not to. How products are packaged on my travel path is out of my control, and sometimes options can be limited when you are on the go.

How I plan to do better: Be more prepared when traveling and make better choices.

Read more about Zero Waste Travel


I do arts & crafts as a hobby, and have discovered that some forms are more wasteful than others. I discard hobbies that generate unnecessary waste in favour or less wasteful ones. Instead of making art with paints and canvases, for example, I go digital with my iPad and stylus, producing no waste whatsoever (and no clean-up necessary!).

When I sew or do leather work or make jewellery or write calligraphy, I employ a utilitarian approach, where I only make something I truly need or have a purpose for, be it for myself or others. I also try my best to use only reusable or recyclable materials, and buy only what’s needed. This doesn’t always work, of course, and I still generate a small amount of waste, mostly in the shape of fabric cutoffs too tiny to be useful and lots of thread bits.

craft supplies

Craft supplies that I own

Since building a tiny house in late 2017, I’ve been drowning in paintbrushes, screws and miscellaneous tools to do all the home improvement projects I have in mind for the space. Am ashamed to say I have generated so much waste here, much of it construction waste like wood, cement and packaging bits. I try to give away functional pieces to others who may benefit, but the fact remains that I carry at least one large garbage bag with me out the door every time I leave the tiny house.

Overall self-appointed score: 2 / 5

While I think I do quite well in the arts and crafts category, my horrendous performance in the home improvement category is dragging down my score for this one. I have no clue how to manage construction waste and how to make paintbrushes last beyond one use.

How I plan to do better: The good news is that the tiny house is mostly completed, which means less and less projects on the horizon. Nevertheless, there will always be something to do or fix around the place, so I hope with more experience and exploration, I’ll learn more and be better about reducing waste in this category!


Since I’ve talked about how I do my shopping in the ‘Shopping & Dining Out’ section, here I will focus specifically on the kitchenware and food waste.

Firstly, I avoid all forms of disposables, whether it’s disposable plates, cutlery, cups or what-have-you. We use normal dishes that we wash and reuse for years. I also avoid single-use kitchen tissues or saran wraps, instead opting for washable cloths and beeswax wraps. Recyclable packaging waste goes into the recycling bins, and while useful containers like jars get cleaned and reused.

trash/recycling center at the house

The recycling sorting centre in my kitchen

kitchen goods

Switched from disposable kitchen tissue and saran wraps to cloths and beeswax wraps. Jars and containers all get saved and reused.

I stick to a mostly vegetarian diet, and all the vegetable scraps, fruit peels and food leftovers go into the compost bin that I DIY-ed for our apartment balcony. My family, however, are dedicated carnivores (in fact, I think my brothers subsist exclusively on KFC and kebabs), and those leftovers that are not too oily go into the compost bin as well. Foods too oily to go into the compost bin get disposed of ASAP. Animal bones tend to take longer to decompose in the bin compared to vegetables and fruits - this is not necessarily a hindrance, but it does mean I have to return the bones into the bin for multiple cycles.

compost bin

My DIY compost bin, sitting pretty on the balcony

Overall self-appointed score: 4 / 5

If it were just me, I’d give a perfect score as I hardly ever throw anything kitchen- or food-related waste, now that I have recycling bins and a composter. However, my brothers do order food delivery very often, and typically very oily and meaty food that the compost bin cannot cope with, so they do end up throwing away food waste in the packaging that the food came I delivered in. I have not been successful in persuading them to shake off this habit, and therefore I’m taking away a point because of this.

How I plan to do better: Auction my brothers off to the nearest willing person.


I don’t host parties, because I am anti-social and aspire to become a hermit, therefore this category does not really apply to me. I do however attend parties, and for the most part, do not generate waste while doing so. Occasionally the parties I go to utilise disposables, and depending on my relationship with the host and the general appropriateness of the circumstances, I will either whip out my reusables or simply go along with it in order to not be rude.

My gifts to others are increasingly leaning more towards experiences and services. While I still give the occasional store-bought products (usually unwrapped or wrapped in recyclable materials), more often than not I take them out for a meal or an activity. I also gift others in the form of skills: a painting or a hand-sewn item that I made myself, and this is something I hope to be able to do more of in the future.

stash of recycled gifting supplies

My stash of gift bags and ribbons to be reused

Overall self-appointed score: 4 / 5

I scored an easy win by not hosting parties, hahahaha, and for the most part don’t produce waste while gifting.

How I plan to do better: Be more creative in giving gifts that offer value without producing waste.


Tabulated together, my overall score comes out to:

Not too bad, but not great either. More than the score, what’s helpful about this exercise is finding out areas to improve and how to improve them. Hopefully, when I do another report in a few years’ time, I’ll have better things to say!

What about you? How would you score yourself on your zero waste efforts?

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