I’ve been reducing the environmental footprint of our house and lifestyle for a while and about 6 months ago I decided to try and go zero waste. I’ve not got to the magic tiny mason jar of landfill waste for a year yet but I have changed several things to reduce my waste. Here’s 5 things I’ve learnt so far:
I thought I knew all my waste, I did not
I’d spent a couple of weeks tracking what went in my landfill bin, working out other less frequent waste items and making a list. I thought I knew the problem I was facing. I was wrong. As I started to more intentionally reduce my waste and work on the harder things, I noticed so much more that I hadn’t clocked before. I also found that although I set out to get rid of landfill waste, I don’t want to create any waste really, even if it’s recyclable. I now have a longer list of items to get rid of than I had when I started!! But it’s more accurate and I’m a great lover of things being out and in a list. If it’s on a list you know what you have to deal with.
I also spent a couple of weeks in April tracking my food waste as part of the Project Drawdown annual EcoChallenge. It made me think about whether I could do something different with my vegetable peelings and that I need to do some better planning and eating things up to avoid them going off. One of those weeks I also ate out a lot more than usual and it made me think that we don’t see the waste that’s caused as a result of our meals in restaurants or cafes. I have to confess that I haven’t done anything with this awareness yet (see point 5 below) but it was definitely eye opening.
We need options
This sounds obvious but there tends to be a very small number of options so when things change, it can have a big impact, in both directions. When I started out at the beginning of the year, there was a zero-waste shop where I live and I could get dry goods and bathroom stuff from there so those items were on my “already done” list. I talked to the 2 owners a lot and knew that they were working hard to reduce plastic from their supply chain and bought as locally as possible. Sadly in March they decided to close down as they were not seeing their families enough. I had a couple of weeks of worrying about how to stick with the zero waste plan. Without somewhere to take my containers for bulk buying, I’d got serious problems! There was some light briefly as someone else has taken over the business but their prices are crazy (£20 for 600g cashew nuts!!). I accept paying a bit more than in a supermarket but that’s nuts 🙂 There is another zero waste shop which is a 15 minute drive away. It’s in a town where a friend lives and is en route on various journeys so I’ve been a couple of times when I’m there anyway but I no longer have a reasonably priced zero waste shop in walking distance.
In better news, Waitrose now officially allows you to take your own container to their deli counters so that helps for meat, fish, cheese, olives etc. The train company have an app so I don’t have to buy paper train tickets. Sainsburys lists the packaging for it’s own brand items in the app when you order so you can make sure you’re buying ketchup in a glass bottle not a plastic one.
I find it hard to work out the overall impact of what I’m doing and what the right choices are. Like:
- the carbon impact of driving 15 minutes to a zero waste shop so that I can buy food without packaging – I always combine it with doing something else
- buying a pastry for breakfast sometimes and the vegan one is wrapped in plastic but the normal one with dairy I can just take in my hand. I’m not vegan but I am trying to reduce how much dairy I eat because of the treatment of dairy cows and the greenhouse gas emissions. In this situation one, the plastic free option wins
- is it better to find clothes online from a sustainable company but they come in packing when delivered (and it’s often not clear what that packaging will be like) or to buy something from a local shop where I don’t know its origin or how workers are treated in the supply chain?
- Is it better to use a vegware compostable paper tea cup in the office or a reusable cup made from plastic? I always use the reusable one because single use of anything seems foolish
There’s a lack of good information about these sorts of things and how to make choices. More consumer information is coming but I need it now please!
It’s all about the tribe
When I first posted about aiming to go zero waste I was apprehensive about posting my list of what I’d done and what I still had to figure out. Would people judge me for some of the things I haven’t done yet? You won’t be surprised to hear that people were great, not judgey and had helpful questions or suggestions. A colleague saw ground coffee on my “hard” list and recommended a place nearby where you can buy beans in your own container and they’ll grind them for you. A friend on Instagram suggested a brand of sun cream that comes in an aluminium container. I also had several people see what I’d already done and ask for recommendations of which brands I use, which was such a pleasing, unexpected effect. And my lovely other half recently gave me birthday presents all in reusable packaging and no awful shiny wrapping paper, which was almost better than the actual presents, although those were a photo of bees and jewellery he’d made me so it’s hard to compete with that! I wasn’t expecting to change anyone else’s behaviour as a result of posting it and I’m thrilled to have had a small impact. I’ve learnt to be brave, put it out there and people are really supportive! No-one’s perfect after all and this isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing what we each can and that’s a lot easier with your tribe around you.
Life gets in the way
On not being perfect….. my main problem is time. I’m working more than full-time, doing a part-time masters and trying to do some fun things too! Making changes and finding new options takes quite a bit of research or adds time into the day and I’m struggling with that. Lunch at work is a particular problem. There’s no canteen in the office so I go to a sandwich shop and that inevitably results in packaging waste. I’ve tried taking left overs in a couple of times, which is ok but then I can’t eat the leftovers for dinner that day! I could make a sandwich in the morning and take it with me but somehow I can’t get myself to fit that into the 40 minute slot from 6am when I’m getting ready and leaving the house. Maybe I just need to focus on that one thing for a couple of weeks and make a proper effort? I also have weeks when I miss the veg order reminder email or the loo paper reminder email and we end up with none or too much and I don’t seem a very good judge of how much milk we drink so that tends to run out and then there’s the conundrum of living without it for a couple of days, the rest of the family drinking oat milk or getting a plastic bottle.
I find clothes shopping hard too. I don’t buy many clothes and always try and buy good quality that will last but I would like to buy second hand only. I do that with books and camping kit and things like that but I have a mental block with clothes. Not because I have a problem with second hand clothes but because I have general problem with clothes shopping – not knowing what I like and what looks good. Trying to cope with that in a second-hand/charity shop where there’s only one of each item and you have to rummage around is just too much for me at the moment. I’m settling with a small number of quality clothes bought from companies with a conscience as a compromise.
Having said all that, new ways become habit so now if I’ve forgotten my reusable cup or bottle then I just don’t buy a take away coffee or a plastic bottle of water. I’m so much more aware of the waste I create, in fact I see it everywhere and feel guilty about it often. I love making steps to reduce my environmental impact, learning more about it and continually working to be better. I’ll get to that tiny mason jar, one thing off the list at a time.