Zero Waste for a Week Challenge

What is the Zero Waste for a Week Challenge?

The Challenge is to try not put anything in your rubbish bin for a week, but you can still recycle or compost items. If you end up with any waste at the end of the week, make a note of what it is. Try and think what else you could use or buy in future that you could re-use, recycle or compost, so if you took the challenge again there would be nothing in your bin at the end of the week. See what you change you can incorporate from your zero-waste week into your everyday life.

The Challenge encourages people to shift their behaviour to avoid waste, especially food waste, rather than simply recycling, reusing or disposing of it.

Avoiding waste is a better strategy because it leads to savings in the energy, water and resources used to extract raw materials, transport and produce food items, and for packaging.

The Zero Waste for a Week Challenge was formally run by Merri-bek City Council between 2010 and 2013. Although the official program is now finished, you can still use the information on this page to complete your own waste challenge.

Why do a Zero Waste for a Week Challenge?

Around 30,000 tonnes of waste goes to landfill annually in Merri-bek - that’s around 525 kilograms per household per year and enough to fill 11 Olympic sized swimming pools.

According to those who responded to the evaluation survey in 2013, all respondents managed to reduce the amount of waste in their garbage bin at the completion of the Challenge. 

How can I reduce common sources of waste?

Turn food waste into food for your garden

Using Council’s Food and Garden Organics bin is the easiest way to reduce food waste to landfill. 50% of the average household garbage bin contained food waste before the introduction of the Organics bin in 2019. Order a Food and Garden Organics bin.

Alternatively if you want to keep your food waste local and benefit from using your compost on the garden, you can purchase a compost bin or worm farm from Council. These are available at wholesale prices with free delivery or visit CERES or your local nursery or hardware store to purchase one.

Ditch the plastic bags

Most people by now have now started using reusable shopping bags. This is a positive step for the environment however many people are still using single use plastic bags for their fruit and vegetables at the supermarket. Try using resuable bags when buying your loose items at the store.

Getting your daily caffeine hit

Cutting down on waste means cutting down on disposables, which means breaking the take-away coffee habit. Try sitting in and enjoying your coffee or carry a reusable coffee cup with you. Reusable cups are small and light so you can take one with you everywhere and never be caught out when coffee calls.

Box it don’t wrap it

If you enjoy taking your own lunch to work or school you will need to think about how you package it. Many people rely on single use cling film for sandwiches, biscuits and snacks. Try using a reusable sandwich container or lunchbox to keep your sandwiches or snacks fresh and in one piece.


Disposable nappies take up to 10% of the average garbage bin, but for those with young ones most of your bin might be filled with nappies for the first year or so.  There are many modern, easy-to-use alternatives to disposable nappies, for more information view our brochure here

Personal hygiene products

There are many good reasons to avoid buying disposable pads and tampons. Most women in their lifetime willl use on average 11,000 tampons or pads. In Australia and New Zealand well over 700 million tampons and 1 billion pads are disposed of in landfill every year. Both come in non-biodegradable plastic packaging and, unless you are choosing organic products, they will contain bleaching agents which are harmful to the user and to the environment. An alternative is to use reusable pads and menstrual cups. Both are available online and at wholefood stores.

Compostable partywares

When organising events, parties and functions if you are unable to use real crockery and cutlery consider home - compostables as an alternative to disposables. It is possible to find a large range of plates, cutlery, cups and other items made from bamboo, palm leaves and corn starch online. These can be composted rather than landfilled. Please ensure these don’t contain compostable plastic, as this will not home compost. This product only breaks down in a commercial composting facility, with only ten across Australia. Any compostable plastic products cannot go in Council’s Organics Bin either.

Avoid packaging

One of the biggest challenges when cutting down on waste is avoiding plastic packaging. Everything these days seems to come wrapped in plastic of one type or another! There are numerous shops in Merri-bek that offer loose, bulk items such as rice, pasta, cereals, grains, coffee, nuts, flours and refillable options for olive oil, shampoo, laundry liquid and washing up liquid to name just a few. You can take your own containers to fill up and save on packaging. 

Refresh your recycling knowledge

Purchasing items with recyclable packaging will also help you reduce waste. Check the recycling page to refresh your knowledge of what can go in the kerbside recycling bin and chose items that come packaged in these materials. 

Some other ideas to help you reduce waste

  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables – avoid packaging and produce healthy, organic food. Visit Sustainable Gardening Australia for factsheets, advice and information.

  • Buy organic produce - join a box scheme for your organic vegetables: avoid packaging and have fresh organic produce delivered to your door.

  • Use the All Recipes website to get recipe ideas for food left over in the fridge or pantry. You can type in ingredients and it will find you great recipes.

  • Join a local home grown produce exchange and swap your excess fruit and vegetables.

  • Visit the Food page for information and resources on how to cut down your household food waste.

  • Make your own cleaning products – avoid packaging and keep your home free of toxins. Visit Back to Basics Cleaning for advice, recipes and tips.

  • Use rechargeable batteries – avoid single use batteries.

  • Buy products that last - consider what the product is made from and how well it is made rather than just what it costs.

  • Choose products with replaceable parts – you may not be able to reuse the whole product but reusing a part of it is better than nothing.

  • Drink tap water – avoid disposable plastic bottles. Learn more about the environmental impacts of water bottles at the Story of Stuff website.

  • Buy second hand – chose to reuse. Choosing second hand over newly made products saves resources, water, energy and CO2 emissions.

  • The Rubbish Free Guide offers tips and suggestions on how to reduce or eliminate waste to landfill. Presented as a comprehensive A-Z you can search by product for waste free alternatives. 

Find out about other waste reducing actions you can take as a resident or worker in Merri-bek. Visit the Zero Carbon Merri-bek website for more.