Zero Waste Home

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Dr. Funda Ustek is a Researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London, at the Department of Sociology. She is part of the ERC-funded “ARITHMUS: How data make a people” research project ( She works on the issue of missing people in statistics. She obtained her Doctorate from University of Oxford, Department of Sociology (2015) on the invisible labour of women workers in the informal sector; and a Masters from University of Oxford, Department of Social Policy and Social Work (2010) on the invisible educational disadvantage of second-generation migrants in Denmark and Germany. She currently works on refugee and migration statistics to understand how mobile populations go missing in official statistics. She is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, and her travels and personal experience as a migrant (in Denmark and the UK) is an ever important inspiration for her work.

Funda spoke with us last year at Intersect and was kind enough to write this piece in response to this year’s theme, Home.

When I was asked to write a piece on “home”, thousands of ideas went through my head. Home is a word that is frequent in our everyday language, but stands for many things which we rarely stop and think about. For many, for instance, it is probably, a roof over one’s head, as its lack thereof is called homelessness. Yet, for others, it can mean a sense of belonging to a place where one’s parents, distant relatives are from in a past life, yet, one still associates with. Concepts like “home town”, “home country” represent these. In the technical world even, the “Home” button takes you to the main page, or the page where you started to begin with. In all of these, home represents something familiar, often with associations of recognisability. My research usually centres around focusing what is unfamiliar within the familiar, and what we often ignore for the sake of familiarity and recognisability. The informal work that is very well ingrained to our rather formalised understanding of work v. home distinction for instance is one. So I work with domestic workers to tackle the questions of what is home and what is work. You might appreciate that when one’s work place is a home, too, the distinctions between work and home become fuzzy and blurry. Similarly, I work on migrants and how they are categorised in official statistics and how they would categorise themselves in official statistics. Depending on the kind of statistics compiled, “home country”, “home address” or “language spoken at home” could enact different imaginations of what is a home, and who has one, or who really feels “at home” in their country of residence.

In this short piece, however, I will approach “home” from a more personal angle. I have been [trying to] turn my home into a “zero waste home” for the past four months. Zero waste, of course, is an ideal, and though in the world of bloggers and vloggers, you might see people fitting their household trash of four years into a small Mason jar, for me, zero waste is more of a journey, rather than a completed task. And while the ever increasing number of articles, news pieces, videos done on zero waste home seem to focus on the “how” question, that is, how to turn your home into a zero waste one, I want to say a couple of words about “why” I have embarked on this journey to begin with.

I mentioned earlier that I am interested in studying the fuzzy and the blurry in my research. And a couple of months ago, I realised that there was one big fuzzy and blurry in my own personal life that I actually never thought about before. And this was my rubbish. Yes, indeed, I was very aware of the rubbish collection days for our street, I meticulously tried to recycle every little thing I could and I tried to produce as little food waste as possible, but my vision was limited to my waste until it left my household. I did not know what happened to it afterwards, or the things I put into my recycling bag did indeed get recycled. On a theoretical level, of course, I was aware of heaps of landfill sites across the world (e.g. the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), and I was aware of the environmental costs of industrial production or the amount of food waste that is happening in Britain, and across the world. I found out that the UK generated 202.8 million tonnes of total waste in 2016; of which households were responsible for 13.7%. While this might seem like a small percentage in comparison to the industrial waste, which constitutes more than half of the total waste in the UK[1] , it still entails that each of us produces about a kilo of waste every day. So switching from this theoretical level to a personal level meant that I became aware of the fact that just bringing my cloth bags to the store (to avoid the plastic bags) was not going to be the solution.

Zero waste home means that I try to bring as little non-consumable and disposable items to my house as possible. It means that I do not recycle more, but I recycle less; and I especially try to avoid plastics (for reasons why, I highly recommend the documentary: A Plastic Ocean by Craig Leeson). It means that I try to shop package-free where possible, or try to identify package-free sources of everyday items as much as possible.  I try to compost as much as possible, and though my local council does not collect food waste separately, I have identified public food waste bins where I can bring my food scraps. This, surprisingly, is not as difficult or tricky as it sounds, and definitely not as limiting as people who have experimented with it for short periods of time have claimed. It is, as many zero waste writers have commented, just a different way of looking at what you bring to your home, and what you end up removing from your home. As I indicated earlier, I do not think my rubbish would fit into a Mason jar, and it is, at this point, not my goal. It is rather becoming aware of my own participation in the global waste production and the implications of my otherwise would be unaware everyday decisions. After all, the earth is our “home”.

Funda Ustek Spilda

Some recommendations for thinking about zero-waste home

  1. Bea Johnson, 2013, “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life”, Particular Books
  2. Bea Johnson, 2016, “Zero Waste is not recycling more, but less”, TEDxMunster
  3. Lauren Singer. 2015, “Why I live a zero waste life”, TEDxTeen
  4. Lindsay Miles, 2016, “The non-disposable life”, TEDxPerth



Please have a watch of Funda’s talk if you have enjoyed reading this post!

“Seeing a number is not the same as hearing someone’s story and among all the uncertainties of
refugee statistics it is easy to get caught up with making statistics more accurate but forgetting the
very conditions that make refugee statistics so uncertain.”

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