I was never a big one for green issues despite growing up in a household where composting and recycling have always been the norm. I thought it was just a goody two shoes phenomenon. It’s only in the last year or so that I have become more interested in a zero-waste lifestyle. That isn’t to say I lead a zero-waste lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination, but I am much more aware of what I’m using and wasting and consequently now I’m working towards having much less of an impact on the environment.
I have wondered in the past how much of a real difference one person can make when it comes to ‘saving the planet’ but I’ve come to realise that:
- a) one person really can make a difference to their own life and contribute to saving the planet at the same time – bingo!
- b) the more I have become aware of the excess in my life, I can now see it in all aspects of my life.
Some perspective in the form of number crunching
- The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Put together, this comes to a total of 31 million tonnes per year, equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses, a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times.
- We produce and use twenty times more plastic today than we did 50 years ago.
- UK households throw away between £250 and £400 of potentially edible food every year
- The UK produces more than 100 million tonnes of waste every year, one tonne is about the weight of a small car. In less than two hours, the waste we produce would fill the Albert Hall in London, and every eight months it would fill Lake Windermere, the largest and deepest lake in England!
- At least two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from plastic ingestion.
- 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found.
- Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic.
- A plastic bag can kill numerous animals because they take so long to disintegrate. An animal that dies from the bag will decompose and the bag will be released, another animal could harmlessly fall victim and once again eat the same bag.
Is zero-waste a step too far?
Zero-waste implies the obvious, absolutely no waste. To achieve that in today’s modern world, would be quite impressive. Wherever you go it is hard to avoid encountering items that essentially will become landfill, right from the coffee cup you grabbed on the way to work to the milk carton that you used to make the cup of tea when at work. Plastic and other non-biodegradable items have made their way into every aspect of our lives making it hard to even contemplate going zero-waste; kids toys, drinks, convenience food, food packaging, bathroom products, stationery, furniture… the list goes on. Nevertheless, ‘less is more’ and if we can create less waste, make more meaningful decisions about how we consume and live our lives, we and the planet will be all the better off for it in the long run.
I certainly didn’t approach my journey with this head on because it was just far too overwhelming and I didn’t know where to start. However, once I became aware of the concept I started to see waste everywhere! This post is designed to inspire you and offer ideas about how you might start to make a difference in your own life and local community.
Waste you might not have thought about before?
In our fast-paced, convenience driven world it’s easy to go through our day without even questioning what disposable stuff we have used. Its only when we really start to think about it, that we realise how waste ends up in landfill or in the sea.
- Tissues – until this year I never really thought twice about going through a whole box of tissues while I had a cold. They just decompose right? Well yes they may do but if you put them in the bin they go to landfill where it probably takes longer for them to decompose than they would in your own compost bin full of rotting veggies. That’s my not so scientific take on it. The zero-waste option you ask? The good old handkerchief has made a comeback in my life. I bought 15 organic handmade cotton super soft small hankies from Etsy which I can bung in with my washing once a week. These are so soft that disposable tissues just don’t cut it now! They may have come from across the world (I didn’t really factor those environmental impacts in which I will now try to consider in future purchases) and cost me a small fortune in postage, but I have saved at least £30 year and saved the planet from my snotty tissues.https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/94636645/12-perfect-little-cotton-hankies-organic?ref=similar_listings_row
- Cotton wool pads – I now use fewer chemical cosmetic products in my daily regime but I was using cotton wool pads to remove my make-up (note: coconut oil is a great natural, cheap non-chemical alternative). Every day I would use two pads that would get thrown in the bin. Since starting my zero-waste venture I started to feel guilty about this and looked for alternatives. I came across these great UK handmade washable super soft cotton pads (6 for £7 including postage) http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Earth-Softly-Washable-cleansing-pads-NEW-Washable-Face-Pads-/231062347591
- For the ladies out there – moon cups! A revelation to me when I started researching alternatives and feeling guilty about the tampons and sanitary towels that end up in landfill. Surely there has to be a better guilt-free way? Yes there is, in the form of a moon cup. This is a small silicone menstrual cup that can be emptied into the shower. It takes a little time to get used to but there are even videos on YouTube to help you avoid any mishaps! Although I haven’t experienced this in my short trials, some ladies have said they get less period pain – bonus! http://www.mooncup.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKEAiArvTFBRCLq5-7-MSJ0jMSJABHBvp0Q-ReLucdaXbPUZ4-A8040ForsA3Ez1IgV__eO6xFkhoC-Rvw_wcB
Other areas to consider
- Bottles drinks and cans – get a favourite plastic free bottle and let it be your best friend.
- Packaging on fruit and veg – If you are shopping at a supermarket put your veg and fruit straight into the trolley or basket, (you’re going to wash it anyway!), use paper bags if you have to, or even better shop locally at a farm shop to support your local community (they use less packaging usually too!)
- Cosmetic bottles – If you make your own cosmetics you can re-use your bottles/jars to store them in. Also, buying ingredients in bulk causes less waste or you can source what you need from somewhere that uses less packaging.
- Plastic free cotton buds
- Carrier bags – take a thin fold up bag when you go out for any purchases that you make, so you are not taking a disposable plastic carrier bag each time you purchase something.
- Buying hot drinks – what happens to all those disposable cups for your coffee or tea? We throw away 2.5bn cups in this country every year. Cups that have been treated with something called polyacetylene, making it coffee-proof but also very hard to recycle. Take a cup with you. Helen bought an Ecoffee cup and which she takes with her when out and about http://ecoff.ee/
- Cling film/foil- this is something we often use without even questioning the impact plastic has on the planet. Think of those cute sea turtles! Instead why not try containers or jars or over bowls with plates.
- Takeaway cartons- be a devil ask for your takeaway in your own container!
These are just some examples of where you can make positive changes really quickly and simply. Once you start to adapt to these steps you will no doubt find yourself identifying more areas in your own life where you can consider zero-waste alternatives.
To maintain this:
- Remember, having less stuff means we have less waste to consider.
- Non-essential items ultimately create a waste product, so buy intentionally – fully consider the impact if you don’t use the item.
- Recycle what you can (see your local council website for what you can and can’t recycle in your area).
- You will need to carry some essential items with you: carrier bag, cup, container, so consider what you will need before leave the house/planning and preparation.
- You won’t be able to stop waste all at once – ease yourself into it gradually.
People who are really going for gold with zero-waste, some producing only a jar full of waste per year: