Zero Waste - Why We Need To Make Do and Mend

Living a zero-waste lifestyle always begins with taking a long, hard look at our lives. It is important to recognize that moving towards zero waste does not begin with that we throw away, but with what we choose (and choose not) to buy.

Looking at five 'R's of the zero waste lifestyle can help us work out how we can move away from waste in all its forms. We need to:

  • Refuse (to buy harmful products, seeking out ways to avoid contributing to damaging systems).
  • Reduce (the amount that we buy in general – moving away from consumerist, throw-away culture.)
  • Reuse (everything that we own or that comes into our homes for as long as possible. And make use of things that others might usually throw away.)
  • Repair (items we own, to keep them in use for longer. And ecosystems around us.)
  • Recycle (whenever and however we can.)


In this article, we will focus on the third and fourth words on this list – reuse and repair. This is a part of the strategy for waste reduction and sustainable living that is often overlooked. The concepts of reuse and repair might also be likened to the traditional phrase 'make do and mend'.


Why We Need to Make Do

When we need something new for ourselves or our homes, our first instinct is often to head out or go online and buy something new.

But it is important to understand that every time we buy something new, it comes at a cost. Each item we buy does not just have a financial cost. It also has a cost in terms of energy, water, and the use of land and other resources. Even the most sustainable items embody a range of costs.

We can lessen our negative impact on the planet by making thoughtful and careful purchasing decisions. We can look at the entire lifecycle of a product and consider what it costs at each stage – from initial growth or manufacture right through to the end of its useful life.

But before buying sustainable new products, we should think about whether we really need a new item at all. We should consider whether we can instead simply 'make do' with what we already own.

Reuse is a crucial strategy for reducing waste and living in a more sustainable way. Often, we can make use of items that we ourselves or others may otherwise have thrown away. We can shop thrift stores and second hand clothing vendors, for example.

But we should also recognize that we can also 'make do' with natural materials from our immediate surroundings rather than having to go out and buy something new.

What Does it Mean to 'Make Do'?

Being able to 'make do' is something wartime generations were very familiar with. Those experiencing rationing had no choice but to be frugal, and make the most of what they already had. Making do was also second nature to those living a pioneer lifestyle, or anyone who has struggled financially during times of recession. Our ancestors commonly found themselves in a position where they had no choice but to make do.

In our modern world, many of us are lucky enough to find ourselves in a position where we have access to a wide variety of affordable goods. We are surrounded by options, and many in the developed world are not used to having to make do.

Nowadays, making do can still come as a necessity. But for many of us, it has become a choice. But though it may not be essential for financial reasons, it is important to recognise that it is often the best thing to do for people and planet.

Making do is, in some respects, a deceptive phrase. It implies something less than, something not ideal. But making do with things we already own need not mean compromising our aesthetics, or settling for something worse. It is important to understand that when we 'make do' and reuse old items, we can get something as good as, or even better than, a new product.

By using plants and other natural materials from our gardens, for example, we can make do by making our own cleaning and beauty products that are healthier and better than commercial products. We can turn old clothes into beautiful, original new garments than no-one else owns, or upcycle old furniture for beautiful homes.

Why We Need To Mend

When we make do and reuse old items or things we already own, we can often find that items still have a lot of use left in them. They may be old and still be 'as good as new'. But things don't last forever. And it is important to combine the idea of reuse with the idea of repair.

We need to be able to mend or repair old items in order to keep them in use for as long as possible. And this is often overlooked by those trying to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of life.

If you want to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, you need to learn certain skills that will help you to achieve your goals. Repair skills are amongst the skills it can be important to learn.

For example, sewing and other textile related skills are crucial when it comes to keeping clothing and household textiles in use for as long as possible.

Other repair skills come under the category of upcycling and DIY. Understanding how to breathe new life into an old piece of furniture, for example, can be very useful. And simple woodworking and joinery skills, or even electronics or mechanical repair skills, can also stand you in good stead.

Mending old items, whatever they may be, helps us to follow all the five 'R's of zero waste living. It helps us avoid buying new things that contribute to harming people and planet. It helps us avoid buying new items, and it helps us to keep those items in use for as long as possible.

Make Do and Mend in Broader Ecosystems

We should all use our repair skills to keep items for ourselves and our homes in use for as long as possible. But making do and mending can also be applied to broader ecosystems. In addition to thinking about how we can apply the principles of make do and mend in our homes, we should all also be thinking about how to apply them in a broader sense.

As humans, we have a tendency to shape and alter the world around us to an extreme degree. But when we are trying to live in a more sustainable way, we should be thinking about adapting our habits and behavior to work with nature and natural systems, rather than fighting to change them.

We all need to learn to 'make do' with what our planet can sustainably provide. We must all strive not to use up more than our fair share of its resources. We should make the most of renewable, natural resources. And we should avoid excessive consumption of finite resources wherever we can.

Beyond this, we should be looking at ways to repair ecosystems we have broken. As humans, we can use our powers to shape our environments for good. We can restore degraded landscapes, improving biodiversity, improving soil health, choosing the right plants for the right places, and managing water and other natural resources wisely and well. Ecosystem restoration and conservation are key to a sustainable future. And thinking about the concept of make do and mend can help us to find a pathway forward.

How To Make Do and Mend

To make sure we are adhering to the concept of make do and mend we should all:

  • Take a long, hard look at what we already own before deciding to buy something new.
  • Choose second hand/ pre-loved items in preference to new items wherever we can.
  • Learn the skills we need to repair, reuse, or upcycle.
  • Alter or repurpose old items to give them a new lease of life.
  • Repair or mend old items to bring them back into active use.
  • Make full use of renewable resources our planet can provide. (But avoid taking more than our fair share.)
  • Look at how we can play a role in mending or repairing damaged or degraded ecosystems in our immediate environments and around the world.


Doing these things means that we can each be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. By making do and mending we can move closer to a zero waste lifestyle and a more sustainable future for all.