Now that the ‘#wastefreeweek challenge’ is behind us, we invited Maggie who runs a sustainable behaviour change campaign, #MyWeekWasteFree, to write Illustrate a blog on some of the easiest ways we can cut out waste from our lives. The challenge we face doesn’t stop after just one week!
Over to Maggie:
I’ll admit it, I knew plastic was bad way before the ‘Blue Planet effect’ (Thanks, David). Studying environmental science, it was drummed into us in our lectures, yet I still bought my hummus in a plastic pot, wrapped sandwiches in cling film and bought bread covered in plastic film from the supermarket. Why? Because not only did I trust that 100% of the plastic I recycled was actually recycled, but because the idea of zero waste was so alien and unachievable for my broke-as-hell student self.
It’s been reported in a 2017 study published in Science Advances that a monumental 91 percent of global plastic doesn’t get recycled, and around 79 percent finds its way to landfills or other parts of the environment. If those recycling and consumption rates continue, around 12,000 metric tons of plastic waste will crowd landfills by 2050, researchers estimate.
I would scour Instagram pages of zero waste bloggers and “influencers”, lusting after their perfect shelves laden with identical, labelled jars of beans, their organic cotton produce bags, bamboo cutlery sets, expensive stainless steel lunchbox collections, and their organic raw vegan lasagnes made from scratch, intimidated by their perfection. So much so, I had a mental shopping list in my head of things I needed to buy in order to become ‘zero waste’, totalling hundreds of pounds.
It’s got so bad that “pantry porn” is now a thing. Seriously.
Fast forward a few years and many zero waste ‘fails’, my view of what it means to be zero waste has changed massively. For me, living zero waste isn’t about fitting all my rubbish into a jam jar at the end of the year, it’s about doing what you can within your means. I live in Bristol where you’re spoilt for choice with three zero waste shops as well as hundreds of fruit and veg shops offering plastic free foods. But, there will be times in your life, like moving to a new house or having to buy a new washing machine or laptop, where plastic use will be unavoidable.
Not only this, but I’m acutely aware that not everywhere is as plastic-phobic as Bristol. But trust that things are changing. Just this month supermarket giants like Morrisons and M&S committed to eliminating all single use plastic bags from their stores nationwide. So, if you do live in an area with limited alternatives, rest assured it won’t be for long. So, keep an eye out because plastic-free alternatives will be popping up in the coming months.
There are some amazing spots in Bristol to grab your groceries free of plastic packaging. Pictured here is Zero Green in Bedminster, one of many bulk food stores in Bristol.
Essentially, zero waste is just another word for people working towards a circular economy. Unfortunately, for the everyday person living in our linear economy, producing rubbish is inevitable so my message to you is don’t get bogged down about it! For me, zero waste is about empowering yourself, your friends, and your family to rethink their habits and to consume with more conscious thought. Ultimately, don’t get stuck on the ‘zero’. All you can do is make the best choice you can with the options available to you.
Now we’ve got the misconceptions out of the way. Here are steps to take to reduce your plastic waste that doesn’t involve breaking the bank:
- Educate yourself
- Rethink your buying habits
- Make some small investments
- Shift your shopping
- Slow down
1. Educate yourself
There are some brilliant free documentaries out there to educate you on the issue. My favourite is ‘Albatross’ by Chris Jordan which examines the plastic problem on a tiny island in the vast Pacific Ocean. It’s been described as “poignant and poetic, lying somewhere between arthouse film and a narrative documentary” and I highly recommend giving it a watch because it changed my life. ‘A Plastic Ocean’ is a great one as well that you can rent for around £3.50. Alternatively, you can head over to my site to download a zero waste starter pack I created which contains all the information you need to motivate yourself to start your zero waste journey.
Albatross chicks are starving to death with bellies full of plastic - photo taken by Chris Jordan
2. Rethink your buying habits
This illustration by Sarah Lazarovic perfectly summarises the new approach to consumerism we should all work towards.We are bombarded with advertisements on a daily basis convincing us to buy things we don’t need. Our over-consumptive brainwashing needs to change because our worth extends beyond material ‘stuffs’. Generating less waste starts with buying less. Although this is one of the simplest messages, it’s one of the hardest to break.
When you are about to make a purchase, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really need this?
- Can I make do with something else or can I borrow from a friend?
If the answer is no, then just buy better. This means buying second hand or from ethical and sustainable companies. Look for good quality, if it’s already coming apart at the seams before you’ve even bought it chances are it’s not going to last you long.
Not only will this new approach alleviate your environmental footprint but will also save you money to spend on real-life experiences.
Thrifting will become your new best friend.
3. Make some small investments
Don’t think you have to go and spend hundreds of pounds on new zero waste gizmos, just use what you already have until they wear out and choose better next time. The main everyday items I would recommend buying are:
- A stainless-steel reusable water bottle
- A Keep Cup if you like coffee on-the-go
- A safety razor instead of plastic disposables. This may seem like an expensive investment, but you will save money in the long run as you only need to change the blade every 6 months or longer which only costs around 15 pence
- Unpackaged soap bars instead of hand and body wash in plastic packaging
There are also hundreds of free ways you can reduce your plastic waste. One of the most important is just saying ‘no’. Say no to single use plastics like cutlery, straws, bags, and cotton buds. By doing this you will be saving hundreds of single-use plastic items from landfill every year.
With a collective effort, we can prevent this being the future of our waterways.
4. Shift your shopping
Shifting what you bring with you shopping will prepare you for any impromptu shopping visit. I don’t leave the house without my tote bag that contains:
- My stainless-steel water bottle
- My Keep Cup
- A reusable container for on-the-go munchies
- Cutlery from home
- Some reusable produce bags and containers, such as old plastic bags you have lying around, cotton produce bags, and old Tupperware and takeaway boxes for any loose fruits and veggies or meat from the butchers you might grab on the way home from work.
My everyday essentials. Just by carrying these things around with me I’ve significantly reduced my plastic output through the refusal of plastic cutlery, bottles, coffee cups, bags, and takeaway containers.
You will also need to shift what you shop for. You will inevitably find yourself moving away from the processed ready meals to a healthier diet based on whole foods, which is not necessarily a bad thing!
In order of environmental damage, the packaging you should avoid like the plague is you-guessed-it plastic. This is because it never biodegrades and pollutes the marine and terrestrial environment. It’s said that Tetrapak (cartons) can be recycled but their eco-damage remains somewhat questionable. Both glass and metal can be recycled infinite times and are considered the eco-friendliest packaging, along with paper as it biodegrades very quickly. Nevertheless, all these materials require raw materials to be extracted from the Earth which obviously has a negative environmental effect, so it is always better to bring your own containers.
Finally, you will need to shift where you shop. Farmers markets and fresh fruit and veg shops are perfect. Just bring your own reusable produce bags. To see where your local zero waste shop is go to zero waste map. Alternatively, you can join local zero waste groups on Facebook, or simply find out for yourself! I have a mental map of what I can buy and where which helps to cut down my plastic waste when food shopping.
No, you don’t need to shop with a wicker basket like a 1940s housewife, but you get the picture: Buy your food package free.
5. Slow down
In my opinion, this is one of the most important take-home messages for sustainable, long-term behaviour change. Our incessant plastic waste is indicative of our fast-paced-too-busy-to-sit-in-and-have-a-coffee lifestyles. We are always on-the-go and don’t make enough time for ourselves because we have too many deadlines and appointments. The next time you pop in for a coffee or lunch, sit down and enjoy this 5 minutes you’ve given yourself. By making more time for yourself you will find yourself making more purposeful decisions and less incidental mistakes.
So maybe you will cut plastic out of your life completely, or maybe you will just make one simple switch like getting a reusable coffee cup. It’s a journey so enjoy it and remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.
I encourage you to accept the #WasteFreeWeek challenge and download the starter pack which contains all the information you need to start your week. Attempting a zero waste week can be really eye-opening and is not as nearly as impossible as you may think it is!
If you have any questions about cutting down your waste, or to find out more information you can email Maggie at email@example.com or visit her website.