Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Category: lifestyle

8 tips for zero waste shopping

Once you make the commitment to reducing the amount of rubbish you produce, you suddenly see packaging EVERYWHERE, as if for the fist time. We’re so used to seeing all this packaging that we almost distrust anything that doesn’t come encased in plastic. I have to admit though, it was only quite recently that I realised the absurdity of buying a bunch of bananas that come in a polythene bag – bananas come naturally bunched together and within their own natural packaging (unless of course you’re one of those people who eats the skin – weirdo!). I would understand if some bananas became seperated from the bunch so the supermarkets wanted to bag up a bunch of singles – personally I’d still prefer to buy a load of stray ones and just skip the bag though, but I can see the appeal there for some people.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand… how do you go shopping and avoid excess packaging? The short answer is: plan ahead! With a little bit of planning before you hit the shops, you’ll be able to reduce your environmental impact and save some pennies while you’re at it. Before we get into it, I just want to say that this is not an exhaustive list and if I’ve missed anything please feel free to get in touch. So here it is, 8 ways to shop zero waste (in no particular order):

  1. Take your own bags! – Yeah, I know, I forget too sometimes… which is why I started to have a couple in the car at all times, one in my handbag and the rest hanging by the front door. Taking your own reusable bags will of course save you 5p per bag.
  2. Only buy what you need – So this is something that goes directly against all supermarket marketing plans because they want you to spend as much money as possible, which is why you need to ignore all those tantalising “deals” and instead make a shopping list (and stick to it). Before drawing up your shopping list, you may find it easier to create a weekly meal plan to then know exactly what ingredients you’ll need to buy. Don’t get me wrong here, there are deals to be had at the supermarket but just remember those deals are there purely to encourage you to spend more money per shop.                                                                                                                                        41Raw25uPIL._SX300_
  3. Buy loose – You DO NOT NEED A PLASTIC BAG for your veg! You don’t need the pre-packed plastic bag supermarkets like to sell vegetables in (for more than the cost of buying the same items loose) and you also do not need to pull a plastic bag off the roll in order to put a few carrots or whatever into your basket – is it really so bad to have a carrot roll around your basket as you make your way to the checkout? If the answer is ‘yes’ then please invest in some reusable cloth produce bags (or even make your own).
  4. Take your own packaging – I have a set of nesting stainless steel containers with plastic lids which I take everywhere with me. I buy all my meat from Franklins at Throncote – I just hand over each container and say what I would like them to put in it, they then weigh, fill, and stick a barcode on the lid, which I then take to the till and pay – job done! 20171104_122149[1] This way I’m buying local, the meat is of amazing quality, I can specify exactly how much I need and I don’t have to take home any single-use plastic packaging! I also take the containers to my Mum’s house to take home yummy left-overs; in fact I’ve also used the containers to take home left-overs from restaurants… when purchasing the containers I made sure to get ones that advertised themselves at leak-proof, which is just as well as I have needed to use them to transport soup before now. I was a little unsure about whipping out my own containers at first, because my husband assured me everyone would think it was weird, but I decided to give it a go anyway and sure enough I discovered absolutely nobody gave a f**k! Hence I started taking them everywhere.
  5. Shop around – This isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can, try to get your veggies from a greengrocer, farm shop or market stall – it’ll be nice and fresh, inexpensive, packaging free and will help local businesses. Here in Biggleswade we’re very lucky to have quite a few farm shops and market traders in the vicinity. This doesn’t just apply to veggies – check out your local butcher, maybe buy your bread from an actual bakery, is there a working mill nearby where you can buy flour? Better yet, can you take and fill your own container with flour? Its not just the supermarkets that have the offers, and there can be huge savings available if you’re willing to spend a little time shopping around… you don’t even have to leave the house. If there’s an item I need to buy from a chain store then I’ll look around online first, and that includes hitting mysupermarket.co.uk which compares all the major UK supermarkets and shows you where to get the best value. If you want, you can even compare items by calorie or sugar content rather than price.
  6. Buy in bulk – For those of you already familiar with the zero waste lifestyle, bulk to you probably means taking your own jars and containers to a shop, getting the tare weight and then filling up those containers with items from big bins full of household essentials. To everyone else, buying in bulk means buying a massive quantity of (usually) items that won’t spoil, like toilet paper for example. If you have a packaging-free bulk shop available in your vicinity then please do shop there as much as possible. For the rest of us, this is simply impossible – I’m not trekking down to London every time I want to fill up a mason jar with shampoo! Instead, I have had to go with the large quantity option (I did try another option first, more on that in the next post)… I have purchased 5 litre bottles of both shampoo and conditioner which I decant into soap dispenser bottles and refill as and when I need them. These 2x 5 litre bottles should last me around 6-8 months assuming my calculations are correct. Now, whilst buying a large quantity of something can equate to large monetary savings, this is simply not something everyone can afford to do, or at least not on their own – if you can, I strongly encourage you to split the cost with someone. It is a significant upfront investment but it will pay off in the long-run. In all honesty, I did resent paying £100 in one go for 2 bottles of haircare products, but I just have to keep reminding myself that in the same time period I would otherwise be spending £250 on smaller ‘normal’ sized bottles, which would overall also require the use of a greater amount of plastic than the 2 big bottles I have. I’m quite tempted to send the big bottles back once they’re empty to see if they can be refilled rather than recycled – I’ll let you know how I get on.
  7. Go old-school – and sign up to have a glass bottle of milk delivered to your door. Sadly, long gone are the days of buying a bottle of milk from the shop and having a 2p refund for returning the empty bottle. Instead, the next best thing is having a milk delivery. It costs me 5p  more to have a glass bottle rather than plastic from the supermarket, but unlike plastic, glass can be reused and (if it does break) is infinitely recycleable; and buying from the milkman instead of the supermarket is again helping support a local business. Oh and there’s no refund for leaving the empties on your doorstep to be collected – just the knowledge that each glass bottle represents one less plastic bottle being tossed out. Overall, more expensive, but still less than I’m saving on shampoo and conditioner.
  8. Make your own – From soap to toothpaste and everything in between, you’d be amazed at just how easy it can be to make your own household essentials, for almost no money. And let’s face it, who can resist the awesome smell of bread being taken out of the oven?! Even if you have a gluten-free diet, that smell will still get the mouth watering! I plan to share with you some of my favourite make-yourself zero waste essentials in due course, but if you’re keen to dive in before then there are plenty of recipes/instructions all over the internet – best of luck to you (especially if you’re trying out homemade toothpaste – my first attempt was truly awful!), please let me know what you tried and how it went.

One final thing I just want to say, with regards to shopping around – I understand mobility may be an issue for some people and would therefore encourage you to get in touch with others nearby who will be able to assist – for example, here in Biggleswade we have a Good Neighbours scheme whereby people volunteer their time to help others in the community, be it doing some shopping, ironing, giving someone a lift, DIY jobs around the house, or even just a bit of company etc. If you’re struggling to make it out to market or to a farm shop (or anywhere for that matter) then please do get in touch with the scheme organisers and see if someone is able to give you a hand. Conversely, if you’re out and about with your stash of containers and reusable shopping bags, maybe sign up for the scheme as a volunteer and help your neighbours to live more sustainably.

Next week I’ll be covering ways to go zero waste in the bathroom, including what works for us, what didn’t work for us, and eco-friendly alternative options – could you switch to reusable toilet paper?

Mind your R’s…

Hopefully you’ve fully mastered your P’s and Q’s by now, so it’s time to move on to your R’s. The 5 R’s of zero waste to be exact. In order, these are:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

Refuse – In my opinion Refuse and Reduce go hand in hand, but the basic premise is to simply refuse anything you don’t need. Stranger thrusting leaflets at you that you’ll barely glance at before throwing them in the recycling bin – “no thanks”; do you really need the shrink wrapped broccoli that costs more than the loose broccoli sitting next to it? If you don’t need it, don’t let it into your home.

Reduce – So you’ve whittled down your shopping basket to items you definitely need, without any excess packaging, but now you need to reduce the items you do need to things you will definitely get through. For example, if you have a recipe that calls for 2 fresh lemons then buy 2 single lemons rather than 6 lemons encased in a plastic net advertising it’s 10% off – you’ll save money (even with the 10% off), won’t have 4 lemons rotting on your kitchen counter and you won’t be sending a plastic net to landfill.

Reuse – We have so much stuff these days it can often feel like our houses are more storage spaces rather than living spaces – how much of that old worn out stuff can you re-purpose? From re-gifting items to using old clothes as dust cloths and even retaining shower water to use on your garden plants (if you’re so inclined) – there are so many things we can do around the home to breathe new life into the stuff we already have instead of spending money on yet more stuff. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to hit the charity shops, like they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure – just make sure you’re buying something you definitely need! Better yet, can you borrow an item from someone else?

Recycle – The second to last option, just one step up from sending your rubbish to landfill, yet so many people think that by putting their recycling bin out every fortnight they’re doing their bit for the environment. The truth is recycling still requires a fair amount of energy, granted it’s less than what is required compared to producing items from virgin materials, but it’s not great. There is a wide range of items that can be recycled these days so make sure you check the label on any of the items that you MUST buy. However, a lot of items that get sent for recycling still ends up in a landfill for a number of reasons. There is a lot to be said about the ecological impact of the manufacture, recycling and disposal of plastic materials in particular, which will be the subject of a later post. In fact I’ll cover a whole range of topics illustrating how recycling is not the answer in due course. For now though, the message is simply that we need to address the issue further up the chain. Supermarkets and manufacturers have their role to play, but so do you… try to avoid purchasing items that require recycling or landfill disposal (that includes the packaging the item comes in).

Rot – If an item doesn’t fall into any of the other categories then it will sadly have to go to landfill where it will slowly break down over time, emit noxious gasses as it does and leach potentially harmful chemicals into the soil. As it currently stands, Brits produce enough landfill worthy waste to fill up the Royal Albert Hall in just 2 hours! The current housing shortage in the UK means many houses have been (and are being) built on former landfill sites, yet as the population grows, so too does the amount of waste we produce.

It’s easy to put our waste in the wheelie bin, roll it out to the pavement and then forget all about it once the lorry comes round to take it away, but the truth is there is no such thing as “away”. Do a quick image search for “Smokey Mountain Manila” and just know that we are responsible for that. Those images, in such stark contrast to the image at the top of this post, is what is beneath the feet of most of us – here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have a layer of soil over it, but the contents are the same.

As you can see, our current way of living simply isn’t sustainable. We all need to throw away our disposable lives and make a change towards using what we already have and only buying what we truly need. Yes, I know change is hard – I’ve been at this for almost a year now and still have changes to make, but going zero waste isn’t an overnight all-or-nothing switch, it’s about taking baby-steps in the right direction. I mean, you can take massive strides if you want to, but living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle means making lasting change. The best way to ensure success is change gradually so you barely notice the difference. Make doing the right thing a habit that you keep building on, and one day you’ll look back and be amazed at just how far you’ve come, you’ll be amazed at the way you once lived, and all the waste you threw out, back in 2017.

So there you have it, the 5 R’s of zero waste, and hopefully some food for thought. Next week I’ll cover zero waste shopping in more detail – as much as I love living in Biggleswade it can be really hard to avoid packaging waste, so I’m going to share with you some very simple shopping changes (beyond plastic bags) you can implement wherever you live. I hope you’ll join me then, but if you have any questions or comments in the meantime then please get in touch.

It started with a cup…

…by which I mean my zero waste journey began with a cup. Still confused? Let me start by giving you a snap-shot of my what my life was like around a year ago…

I would wake up in the morning and take the dog, Grue, for a walk and use a nappy sack to pick up his poo – why a nappy sack? Because they’re a f**k load cheaper than buying doggie poop bags! After the walk I would go about my day, often buying bread knowing we would likely only get through half the loaf before it went mouldy. I would buy plastic bottles of milk, again knowing we probably wouldn’t get through all of it. I would also buy a plastic bag filled with potatoes, some of which were destined to turn green and start sprouting… and yet it didn’t occur to me at the time that I was wasting more money on rotting food than I was saving on poop bags!

So what does this have to do with a cup? Well, one day I was looking to mix up my regular workout a little and thought I might give aqua aerobics a go. The classes were on almost daily and were are extremely popular – The earliest class that had an open space was when I was due to be on day 2 of my next period (yes, this post is all about periods but this paragraph is probably the most graphic so skip ahead if you’re squeamish). Now for a lot of women that’s not a problem, just pop a fresh tampon in before you get in the pool and replace as soon as you get out – unfortunately day 2 tends to be my HEAVY day. I would typically need to use a max size tampon and would have to change it within 4 hours. But, I really really really wanted to give the class a try, so I hit the internet to see if anyone had come up with any alternatives and that’s then I discovered menstrual cups.

Menstrual cups, if you’re not aware, are typically made from medical grade silicone and are worn inside the body like you would a tampon, except instead of absorbing the flow, it gets collected and then emptied. They are reusable, lasting for up to 10 years, so are far kinder to the environment than their disposable counterpart and are generally kinder to the body – there’s no need to include a Toxic Shock Syndrome warning on the label and well, have you ever tried to remove a tampon too soon? You know, when it’s really painful and seems stuck to your insides to the point where the tampon itself appears to be breaking apart as you slowly wrench it out? That’s because the tampon actually IS stuck to your insides and has likely left some fibres behind on it’s way out. You see the tampon is designed to absorb, it’s doused in chemicals to make it even better at absorbing everything. It cannot distinguish between menstrual flow and natural vaginal discharge, which btw is how the body keeps the area clean and free of (certain) infections, so it soaks up everything remotely damp that it comes into contact with. So I decided to buy a cup, but then which one?

When buying a cup, there are sooooo many options – different shapes, sizes, colours. It was a little overwhelming at first. So, I took my time, did some research, stuck with my usual tampons and missed the aqua aerobics class in the meantime, and then I finally made a purchase. Why so many options? Well it’s because everyone is different. A woman’s age and whether or not she has given birth naturally will have an influence on the size/shape, having a high/low cervix will determine the length (or indeed absence) of a stem (which can be trimmed) for example. I may be skipping over quite a bit of important info here, so if you have any questions please leave a comment or drop me an email and I’ll happily respond.

Menstrual Cup

So the cup I went for was the Lumunu Moskito cup which I purchased from Amazon. I went for a small sized one with a stem. This one also came with a carry pouch for when not in use, a bamboo brush to clean it with and a sachet of lubricant. The second day of my next period I had to travel to London for the weekend and was really paranoid about putting the cup in wrong and leaking everywhere, and yes I know I should have stuck with the tampons for yet another cycle, but instead of taking the sane option, I put in the cup and then stuck a pad onto my underpants and off I went to become a Bodycombat instructor.

What I learnt on that first cycle was that I could now go 8 hours on my heaviest day without leaking (that’s double the time I could get from a tampon). I also learnt that removing (and to an extent inserting) a cup requires patience and practice – and you will more than likely make a mess whilst developing the correct technique (I had pretty much mastered it by the end of the second period). I also spent my train journey home working out that by using the cup instead of tampons (based on my average usage) I would save almost £800 over the 10 year period some cups claim to last for. For the record, I did not leak so the pad was thankfully superfluous.

It was also on my way home that I was telling my friend all about my cup-based adventure and she was very curious, especially with regards to the environmental and financial benefits, but confessed to preferring pads over tampons. I figured there must be an eco friendly pad alternative too, so I hit the internet again and discovered cloth pads. It is only a 30-40 minute train journey from central London to Biggleswade so I left it there for the day and continued my search the following day.

Whilst looking into reusable cloth pads I discovered each disposable pad contains as much plastic as 4 carrier bags and are also doused in chemicals aimed at increasing absorbency. I also came across a statistic saying the average woman will get through roughly 17000 sanitary products during her reproductive years (I’ll link to this stat when I find it again).

I was utterly shocked by this and immediately shared the info with my friend and sent her some links to places where she could purchase some cloth pads. Disposable pads are cheaper than tampons and a full set of cloth pads will likely cost as much (or more) than a cup, plus each will only last for 3-5 years, however my friend and I worked out that over 3 years she would still be saving around £250 – not to mention having less waste going to landfill.

It was around this time that I discovered many girls/women around the world are having to miss out on their education/work because they are unable to afford any sanitary protection. I resolved to start making some pads to ship out but I’ll save that for another post. Instead, I’ll leave you with the news that I have since been able to go along to some amazing aqua aerobics classes and my periods are actually shorter, lighter and pain-free now (can’t say for certain if it is because of the cup, just pointing out the correlation); and more importantly, my friend’s pads arrived just as her period finished but she has been unable to use them at all as she’s expecting a baby girl any day now!

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