Waste-free? As in no rubbish? No plastic that can’t be reused? No packaged food? Sounds impossible, or really hard work, but here’s the big thing – everything’s hard work until it becomes a habit.
It started after I came back from Bangladesh with Y Care International, where everyone threw their rubbish onto the ground and it rotted there. The reasoning from a lot of the people in Bangladesh when we ran focus groups and workshops was that there were simply no bins. The UN want to clean up our oceans and cities before 2030, but how can we do that if people don’t know how?
Taken from our workshop on the environment in a local school in Birisiri.
No bins meant more litter, and there were no binmen to get rid of mass waste, but here in the UK it’s like a goldmine; bins and binmen, and a refuse collector can make up to £25,000 a year in the UK. We have recycling bins for glass, paper, card, certain plastics, and cans on our doorstep. It struck me: why aren’t any of us using it as much as we could?
We’re all subject to throw some cardboard in the bin when it comes ingrained in our takeaway packet. We’ve all brought a bottle of water when we have a million gym bottles at home. Sometimes, it’s not about the planet; it’s about it not being convenient, and not being easy, and not being a habit yet.
I found something interesting on the Government website. “The UK and other EC Member States must meet a target to recycle 50 percent of ‘household waste’ by 2020.” (GOV.uk, December 2016). Doesn’t 50 percent of household waste seem a lot easier than going waste free? That’s 50 percent of all waste, anything that would leave a house.
There is by no means a reason for you to do anything more than what the Government aims. Unfortunately, I’ve never really been good at doing anything half-arsed. I’m also halfway there already as a vegan with a bag for life, and using a bus ticket on my phone instead a paper one. I started with this video of the women everyone saw on Buzzfeed with 5 years of her trash in a single jar (the facebook post is here), where she talks a little bit about how she does it. Here are some of the things that I found in my house made unnecessary waste:
- microwave meals and takeaway: this goes without saying, the amount of waste from a microwave meal packet is usually all of it, unless it comes with a cardboard cover, and as for takeaway you never know what the packaging will be. A good solution, I found, is that if I really cannot live without an easy meal for a night, is to buy one of the new health tubs that a lot of supermarkets are doing, and the lid fits back on perfectly and there you are, a snack pot for later. As for takeaway, either avoid the non-cardboard (so, in this case, pizza is the best choice), avoid mini sauces even though they are amazing, and reuse the clear little rice tubs from your Chinese to your hearts content!
- plastic wrapping on fruit and veg: the vegan lifestyle leaves me buying a lot of things in bulk – dried beans, chickpeas, dried fruits, leafy greens, mangoes, so on. Why do they need to wrap mangoes in plastic? Who knows, but it’s plastic that wont be going anywhere for thousands of lifetimes. I actually thought it would be more expensive to buy fruit without the wrapping, since in bigger supermarkets it was only the organic stuff that came naked. Low and behold, a local veg shop was the lifesaver, but more on that later. Also, something that had never occurred to me that I read online, is that you don’t need a composter to throw your veg trimmings into. Any leftover winter veg/onions can go in the freezer for stock later or be replanted, and skins/cuts can go straight on your plants outside.
- aerosol canisters: deodorant and dry shampoo were my biggest ones, and while I still haven’t found a good dry shampoo to replace my favourite big brand one, the Lush No Drought dry shampoo and T’eo solid deodorant are my go to products. Either recycle the bottle at home or in store, or collect five (including cleanser and body wash bottles) and get something for free!
- wrapping paper: something I didn’t take into consideration was that it was December, and I needed wrapping paper. Something that saved my zero waste life (and my money) was newspaper. It took some scouting to find a newspaper page that didn’t either say something horrific or have an ad, but eventually I found something. Wrap it up with a ribbon that can be used again or some brown string, put a paper tag on it, and recycling the leftovers. Something I couldn’t replace was sellotape, but I can work on that
- cotton pads and packet face masks: this was the hardest one for me. I suffer with really bad break outs and then incredibly dry or oily skin, and removing all of my makeup at night is the only way I know I’m helping my skin. I do this usually with a micellar water and cotton pad, and finish it off with a face mask from a little packet or a sheet mask. It took some working out with the lady in Lush, but I got the 9 to 5 cleanser and some high quality face cloths, which I use once to remove all my makeup in place of a cotton pad and then rotate in the wash. Then, I got the Just to Clarify self preserving mask; this thing just sits on my shelf and looks after itself and I dip into it every other night, and I don’t have any more packets to throw away after one use
- snack pots: I love graze packets, either buying them or getting them delivered, but even though they have that little tub you could use, its too small and doesn’t have a lid. I started buying my own raisins and dark chocolate to recreate my favourite tubs, but putting them in little snack pots and taking them out. This means that I can fight off those little hungers when I’m out, too, and save on buying more crisp packets when I’m walking around
- plastic spoons and sandwich bags: this was almost as hard for me as cotton pads. I love sandwiches, and am a serial sandwich bag purchaser. One invention; reusable sandwich boxes. I got one in TK Maxx for less than £3.00, and fits a sandwich in it perfectly. Another good one I’ve seen is reusable sandwich wraps, or a standard lunchbox can probably do
Some of these are things we all see everyday about saving money, too. Make your own lunches, make your own snacks, carry your own water. It literally costs nothing.
Think about it – yes, you’ve got that bottle of shampoo in your cupboard that you got on sale, and it will probably last you another 4 washes, and then you can recycle that bottle, and replace it with a waste-free alternative. That can be as simple as buying the same thing and recycling it again, or, if you’re a bit extra like me, going and buying a solid shampoo bar or a soap. Think about it, you’ve got all those tubs of hummus in your fridge, but instead of throwing that tub away at the end, use it for snacks for work.
Bring a bag. Make your own granola snacks. Don’t settle for the easy way when the long way can clean the ocean and save the planet, and buy local and fund money back into your community. Aren’t you tired of the money going anywhere but in your pocket?
Here are the most important things I have learnt whilst incorporating zero waste into my life:
- Lush is going to save your life – it’s not necessary, you obviously can give back to your environment with a cheaper recyclable bottled body wash or moisturiser (Original Source has lots of vegan and sustainable sourced options, and are usually in poundland), but for me Lush was a starting point – no packaging on a shower gel???? Crazy
- Buy local – I went to a local grocer on Shirley High Street, and I got enough potatoes for a month, 2 sweet potatoes, 2 giant mangoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and fresh grown spinach in bunches for £3.50! She said it to me and I stood in shock. £3.50 for what was probably going to be bulking 4 or 5 dinners for me? Seemed impossible. The hardest part about it was saying I didn’t need the little open bag that the spinach came in, which she happily took back.
- Act on the voice in your head – It’s so easy to ignore, but once you start thinking about your waste footprint, you get habits. Can I get an alternative to this? Could I make this at home? What’s in my freezer instead of this takeaway? So on, so on. It’s hard, but it gets like second nature. I’ve only been doing this a week and I already take twice as long in supermarkets because I’m reading so many labels.
Something else is that I was not successful. I still produced what I feel is a lot of waste this week (about a carrier bags full) and, granted, it is less than I would have made normally, but I have yet to have a truly waste free day. If there are any three things you and I can take from this, it would be the three above. Even just swapping out one product you buy on the regular like a aerosol or packaged food for something homemade or without packaging, then it will make a bigger impact that you were making before. Aren’t you fed up of money going anywhere but in your pocket?