As January draws to a close I can’t help but reflect on the previous year, and of course now is around the time of year that a lot of resolutions start to go out of the window. In general I don’t make resolutions besides just trying to live a more zero waste lifestyle… and that’s where I need to make a confession: I intentionally purchased some single-use plastic.
Let me back up to the start here and explain the events that led up to my purchase. Back in August my Grandad was diagnosed with a brain tumour and the doctors decided that treatment would be more detrimental in this instance so me, Paul and Grue packed up some stuff and moved back home for a bit to help take care of my Grandad until the end. My Grandad passed away peacefully at his home on the 17th November 2017. According to Hindu tradition the funeral should take place within 12 days, so we held the funeral on the 25th November. More people came to the house in the morning to pay their respects than we had anticipated and when we arrived at the crematorium not only were all the seats full but there were about as many people again standing up – it was nice to see that my Grandad had touched so many people! It was also one of those days where we experienced all seasons in one day: it was very foggy and cold to begin with, there was then a quick flurry of snow. On the drive to the crematorium the sunlight was almost blinding but nice and warm and then later on there was heavy rain and strong winds. Grandad used to love those days!
Anyway, the following morning, on the 26th November my Fitbit battery was low so I put it on to charge and then realised it had been a while since I last let it sync with the app, so I opened up the app and let it do its thing. After a little Sunday morning Snooze I had a quick look at my Fitbit stats and noticed that my resting heart rate had risen dramatically. Normally there are some daily fluctuations but my heart rate seems to have climbed and for just over a week had been fluctuating around the new much higher levels. I suddenly remembered an article I had read in which a man had asked for help in solving why his wife’s Fitbit stats had also done the same thing. Remembering the answer I went to the shop and purchased a home pregnancy test. Actually, I got 2 as there was only 1 type available: a Waitrose own brand twin pack.
The result was positive! Baby Hill is due 3rd August 2018. It’s been a crazy time mourning the loss of my Grandad but then also looking forward to welcoming a new life – still feeling a little torn at times to be honest.
There are a lot of things that will forever be out of my control from now on, but I will certainly do my absolute best to raise this baby with the least amount of environmental impact possible. Standby for future posts about cloth nappies and why we won’t be using plastic baby bottles. On that note, I should say that I will be aiming to post monthly rather than weekly from now on.
On the whole I know 2 little bits of plastic aren’t the end of the world but then I think about all the waste going to landfill and I can’t help but feel guilty. I was so happy when China announced it would no longer take the UK’s plastic waste, I thought it would finally force us, as a nation, to face up to our disposable plastic addiction and make a change for the better. Paul then pointed out that we’re far more likely to find some other developing nation to take our plastic instead… and I’m back to feeling pants about what we’re doing to our planet.
I wish you the very best of luck if you’re still hanging in there with your resolution(s) but I would also like to ask you to make 1 more, right now: please pick at least 1 thing to change towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle – reusable water bottle instead of disposable plastic ones? Can you go the rest of the year home cooking all meals to avoid takeaway/ready meal containers? Can you walk/cycle more? Even take your own reusable coffee cup? There are so many things we can change and over the coming months I’ll be attempting to bring you more ideas for easy changes. I just need you to commit to changing something. Right now we in Britain throw away enough waste to be able to fill the Royal Albert Hall in just 2 hours! That is simply not sustainable, but we can all work together to change that – it all starts with just 1 little change at a time. Lets not bully some small extremely impoverished nation into becoming our dumping ground. Lets not force someone else’s child have to scavenge through our litter to earn a living instead of going to school. Lets take responsibility for our own s**t for once. Lets make it so that the odd bit of disposable plastic (such as a pregnancy test) isn’t one day going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Lets save the effing planet!
With Christmas just around the corner, there are so many wonderful gifts on the shelves of every shop you walk into. Unfortunately you can pretty much guarantee that those gifts will come in far too much packaging! Sadly, I don’t have the answers on this one – I’ve been at this a year now and I am still struggling with finding zero waste gift options. Ideally, we would spend all year lovingly making the perfect gift for everyone on our list, and they in turn would absolutely love and cherish it for all of time. The reality is that most handmade items are likely to be shoved to the back of the cupboard for all of time instead – we seem to place more value on the generic store-bought items we asked for than we do the items that a loved one has spent months preparing as a surprise for us. That’s not the case in the Hill household, but it definitely rings true for other members of the wider family, and it’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of in the past.
So, if you know someone who will appreciate a homemade product, then fantastic! There’s still plenty of time to whip up a little something for them. For everyone else on your list, here’s a quick (almost) zero waste gift guide:
First up is the ecoffee cup – a reusable coffee cup with a difference! You don’t have to be a coffee fiend to enjoy these cups, in fact I’ll often be found at a coffee shop getting mine filled with hot chocolate this time of year. Every year 100 BILLION single-use coffee cups get sent to landfill. Carrying around a reusable not only cuts down on the waste going to landfill but most coffee shops will give you a discount for taking in your own cup. There are so many different types out there: metal, ceramic and sadly plastic, but what makes the ecoffee cup different is that it is made from bamboo with a silicon lid and sleeve, this means that should anything happen to the cup and it needs to be replaced then the lid and sleeve can be recycled (where facilities exist) and the cup itself can be composted. These cups are also available in so many amazing colours and designs – mine is purple but I’m so loving the new wooden effect designs and the William Morris collection is just gorgeous! A truly wonderful gift that will get a smile, help the planet and is easy on the wallet.
By now you’ve probably heard about the plastic microfibres being released from our clothes in the wash and ending up in our oceans, destroying marine life. For a lot of items it’s easy enough to switch over to purely natural fibres, but workout clothing is something I’ve been struggling to find… until now! Enter BAM, a bamboo clothing store with collections for men and women. Normally when I look at fitness clothes using natural fibres, they’re all intended for yoga and don’t really stand up to a HIIT session. Now for some this wouldn’t be considered a perfect gift, more of an insult, but for any fitness fanatic you’ll be golden! Potentially pricey but e-vouchers are available if you’d like to send someone a contribution towards a new outfit rather than paying for the whole thing. They do have regular clothes available as well as sportswear, but I was just so thrilled at seeing a natural fibre designed to withstand a hardcore workout!!
How about a magazine subscription? In fact, a number of magazines are now available as a digital subscription so you don’t have to worry about all those sheets of paper going into the recycling. Of course, the person you’re buying the subscription for will need to have a suitable device to view the content on, but these days I think most of us already do. It’s not just magazines, you could also gift an e-book to someone
Something every zero-waster always needs more of: glass jars! Whether its going to be for jam, chutney, a fresh batch of body lotion, these jars are an absolute must in our house, yet there’s never enough! Okay, so it’s not the sexiest gift in the world, but it is an immensely useful gift that will keep on giving for decades to come. If the recipient is a zero waster then a few empty jars will be an absolutely fine gift, if they’re not then you’ll need to fill them first otherwise you’ll look like a total d**k come Christmas morning!
The least zero waste option, but one of my favourites – BoroughBox is an absolute life-saver when it comes to gifts! There’s literally something for everyone, from cheese-making kits (that I was eyeing up for myself) to vegan picnic hampers, you’re bound to find the perfect gift for someone here. This wonderful site has actually saved me from having to buy a certain someone socks again this year! The Christmas pudding pic at the top was also from BoroughBox, click on the link to be taken to the product page.
Still need inspiration? See what little gems you’re able to unearth at your local charity shops – we’ve got quite a few here in Biggleswade, and some of the stuff for sale is actually brand new (in case the recipient is likely to turn their nose up at a charity shop gift). If you know someone who is an avid reader, you’ll most likely be able to find some pre-loved editions of books in a charity shop. We always get Paul’s grandparents an Oxfam unwrapped gift – you know, where you pay for a goat to go to a random African villiage – however, my only gripe with that is they send a card and things in the post, I’d much rather just put the money in the collection tin and then tell his grandparents which charity we gave the money to. I know they wouldn’t care if we did that, yet every year we end up still going with the unwrapped option – I’m determined to make this the year we break the habit!
There’s just one more, rather important, area that I haven’t mentioned yet – presents for little ones! Often the parents will be able to give you an idea of what they want/need. It’s almost impossible to get anything for them that will be zero waste. Best of luck finding something suitable for the miniature human(s) in your life! Just remember: most plastics that claim to be BPA-free instead contain BPS which has been shown to be just as bad, so do your research before hitting the shops, but always take your cue from the parents – if they’re happy to give their child any type of plastic then that’s fine, the last thing they want is a lecture about plastic, but if the parents prefer for their children to play with wooden toys then stick with that, even if you do think you’ve found a suitably safe plastic. If the parents haven’t given you any cues and they also haven’t come up with any suggestions for you, then the number 1 rule you MUST apply to buying a child a gift is to make sure you buy them something you secretly want to play with yourself!
Whatever gifts you end up giving, please don’t bother giving someone a store gift-card. You’re handing over a single-use plastic card and they’re unlikely to find something for the exact amount on the card so will have to add some of their own money towards any purchases, which has to be within a time-limit set by the store – and that’s all assuming you’ve got them a giftcard for somewhere they would normally like to shop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into shops for the first time only to spend a giftcard I’ve been given, ending up with stuff I didn’t need. Even if someone has said they want to save for X, from a particular shop, still just give them the money instead of getting the giftcard – it’s better for the planet, saves you trekking over to the shop and gives the recipient some leeway to change their mind. If you’re thinking of getting someone a giftcard because you don’t really know them/what they like that well, then the best present you can get them is a coffee – take them out to a coffee shop, or anywhere for that matter, and just spend some time with them, get to know them. Time spent together is so much more precious than handing over a bit of plastic.
Oh I do so love the festive season, it really is the most wonderful time of the year! From opening my advent calendar each day to hanging up my stocking for Santa (well, Paul) to fill with goodies… but, how do you maintain your favourite Christmas traditions when you’re zero waste?
Lets start with advent calendars. There are the traditional picture ones that every kid hates to get – you know the ones; they’re flat and you open each door and get just a nice picture – don’t even bother! Next up are the the chocolate ones that you’ll find in almost every shop you walk into at the moment – you get about as much chocolate in the whole thing as you do in a single bar and then you’re left with a large plastic tray encased in cardboard. Recently there has been an increase in alternative advent calendars – last year I had a makeup one… but again LOADS of plastic and cardboard.
There are some absolutely gorgeous reusable advent calendar options out there: On the years we have Christmas at our house I tend to put some chocolates into cotton drawstring pouches which I then hang on the tree… every day Paul and I then take a pouch each. It also means I don’t need to buy chocolate wrapped in foil to hang on the tree. You could also get some fabric paint to put little numbers on each pouch so you’re looking for a specific pouch rather than reaching for a random one. You could also do the numbers in different colours so each person is hunting for their own pouch on the correct day. On alternate years we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas day so we don’t usually bother putting a tree up… on those years we have a portable wooden advent calendar (bought for me by former colleagues), each drawer gets filled with chocolate, or sometimes something a little more special. The one I was given was already nicely decorated , although you can get plain ones that you can decorate yourself – great little project to keep kids (and big kids) busy on a rainy day! Hobbycraft have a range of plain wooden advent calendars available for under £20. Of course there are loads of pre-decorated ones available, ready for you to fill – prices vary considerably but a quick Google search will give you an idea of what you can get for your price range.
You can fill the advent calendar with absolutely anything – jewellery happens to fit inside very well (I should be so lucky!), although chocolate is somewhat traditional, small and inexpensive. The main issue with chocolate though is the individual foil wrapping it comes in. My all-time favourite chocolate shop, Montezuma’s, has chocolates available in glass clip-top jars (as loved by zero-wasters the world over!!), you can take the chocolate from the jar, put them into your advent calendar(s) and then reuse the jar for some Christmassy chutney or something. If you’re anything like my husband though, you’ll not want to bother with the advent calendar part and would rather just eat the chocolate straight from the jar! Alternatively, you could make your own chocolate very easily (again, fun little project to do with the kids). How about making up a batch of fudge as well so you’re not having chocolate everyday? The Snaffling Pig Co. has a great range of pork crackling in different flavours, which are also available in clip-top jars (albeit plastic ones). They also do a crackling and beer gift set which I know would go down well with quite a few guys I know.
Every year I get tempted to buy Paul a beer advent calendar but then I see the price and quickly back away. It would be pretty easy to make one though for a lot less. I’d first take a large box that would otherwise be going in the recycling (I tend to buy a lot of Christmas presents online), next cut bottle sized holes in the lid, place a bottle in each hole (maybe do the odd decoy one with chocolate or something instead of beer) and then I’d stick sheets of newspaper to the box to cover the holes (the free newspaper that gets put through the door every week). So this one isn’t really a zero waste option but it is reusing 2 items (box and newspaper) that would normally go straight into the recycling bin.
Instead of having a physical item, how about doing a WhatsApp advent scavenger hunt? Everyone in the group gets sent a list of 12 items (snowman, reindeer, OTT house lights etc) and each time they come across one of the items whilst out and about they take a pic and send it to the rest of the group – whoever gets all 12 first wins a little prize perhaps? Or maybe you could have a prize for each category and decide amongst yourselves who took the best pic in that category.
Alright, so there you have a few ideas for ways you can do a mostly zero waste advent calendar. So, what about the stocking?
First of all, how about making your own from old, worn out clothes? If you’re a knitter or crocheter you could always use up your scrap yarn to make an amazing, totally unique (and probably multi-coloured) stocking. The image above is a free stocking knitting pattern available on the Hobbycraft website. Failing that you can always buy one (just make sure you use the same one each year), and you can find ways of decorating and personalising it if you like. You could even go super old-school and use an actual sock!
Then comes the age-old question of what to put in it… Paul struggles with this even without us trying to avoid waste! Stocking filler gifts don’t have to be big, expensive things – save that for under the tree. So fruit is apparently traditional – the closest I ever got from my Mum was a Terry’s chocolate orange, but Paul’s Mum actually used to put a real satsuma in his stocking. Hankies are always useful for a zero waster, so I would suggest wrapping each thing in a hanky – perhaps a handful of nuts or any left-over chocolates, fudge or pork stratchings from the advent calendar? Bath bits like soap and bath bombs will always go down well, as will candles. If that’s a bit too girly, deodorant, pants and socks are always a staple in Paul’s stocking each year… I have no idea where they all keep disappearing to! Maybe this will be the last year I put those in his stocking, now that we’re trying to live zero waste. Anyway, to use a hanky as gift wrap just place the item in the middle of the hanky, tie the opposite corners together and then pop inside the stocking.
Of course you can put whatever you want inside a stocking or advent calendar, but please try to keep the 5 R’s in mind as you’re deciding what items to buy. I strongly recommend hitting local charity shops first and seeing what awesome bargains you can find before hitting the high street or online shops. The image at the very top is a photo of my dog posing with a little bone toy… someone I know had bought it for her daughter’s dog, but she didn’t like it at all, so rather than throw it away (which was her frst thought), she asked if she could give it to Grue, and he absolutely loved it! Yes, it was plastic so eventually has to be thrown away, but it is being thoroughly enjoyed first.
Best of luck with your own zero waste countdown to Christmas – please do let me know what you’re up to as you get ready for the big day!
Before making the switch to going zero waste in the bathroom, I first let all the empty soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles pile up. I also left the toothpaste tubes, disposable razors and loo roll tubes in that pile too. Why did I let all our bathroom waste pile up? Well I wanted to get a gauge on just how much waste we were both actually creating in this one room of the house… was it really going to be worth the effort of going zero waste? The answer was a big fat YES!!! That pile was so disgusting to look at I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of it. I just had to get rid of it as quickly as possible. In fact I had planned to let the pile build up for a year, but 3 months was all my sanity could take. I am truly sickened by how much rubbish was being created and thrown out by just the 2 of us in such a short space of time.
Now I should point out that my bathroom is not yet completely zero waste, but I have significantly reduced the amount of waste we produce. Here’s how:
The very first thing I did was buy an old school razor, shaving soap and brush. I remember watching my Grandad shave as a child and I’ve always secretly wanted a set like his, but I bought into the marketing… ladies’ razors were specially designed to fit the contours of the legs, never mind that it looks identical to the men’s razors, they are very different, honest! Look, it even as a soft feminine name like ’embrace’… The truth is that the razors ARE the same, they change the names and the colours but that’s about it. The whole razor is made from plastic, minus the actual blades, which are encased in a plastic housing requiring the whole head to be replaced regularly. I’m not even going to get started on the cans of shaving cream! So, the alternative to shaving with disposables is to go old school! I got my set from The English Shaving Company. There is only a single blade that needs to be replaced rather than the whole head. The brush I went for is synthetic, although there are natural options available – at the time of purchase I was more concerned about it being a reusable item, not so much about it being natural. The soap I chose comes in a natural wooden bowl and refills are available (if you don’t fancy making your own). A little while later Paul (my husband) decided to join me in using a reusable razor – he opted for a shavette razor, which is like the old cut-throat razors but instead of being sharpened, it uses the same sort of blade that my safety razor uses… we share the shaving soap and brush.
I’ve already talked about my switch from tampons to a menstrual cup, which you can read about here. It was that switch that got me started on a zero waste lifestyle… so technically that was the first thing I did before changing up my shaving habits, but the safety razor was the first change I made with the specific goal of living zero waste in mind.
I also started making my own soap. I was buying liquid hand soap and shower gel, both of which have now been replaced by bars of homemade soap… I was spending over £100 a year on liquid soap products, I now make my own for less than £10 a year. I know this one may be a little drastic for some people but there are other options available if you don’t fancy making them yourself. Lush have some utterly amazing soap bars available, packaging free! If liquid rather than bar soap is your thing, then you can also make your own from castille soap, or you can buy a huge bottle and decant some into soap dispenser bottles… not ideal, but it’s still better than buying lots of little plastic bottles.
In my last post I talked about how I bought 5 litre bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Before this I tried using my homemade soap bars to clean my hair. I’d read about going no-poo and knew there would be a transition period where my hair would feel grubby for a little while as the silicone coating from commercial conditioners started to break down, but the grubby feeling continued well beyond the transition period everyone else was reporting. I persevered a while longer, adding more vinegar and lemon juice into an acid rinse, but it didn’t help, I was starting to also get a soapy residue appearing on my hairbrush. I then realised the problem was the water quality in our area. Biggleswade is in quite a hard water area, which means the soap residue wasn’t being fully cleared out of my hair. I have to admit, I was really upset at the thought of having to go back to using shampoo… lathering up with who-knows how many chemicals, sending loads of individual plastic bottles to be recycled, spending sooo much money, leaving a silicone coating on my hair so that it “looks” healthy and of course there’s the harshness of the shampoo stripping all the goodness from the hair and scalp, which causes the body to secrete excess sebum (which makes the hair greasy) to compensate, making us wash our hair more often with the very same product that stripped the goodness away in the first place! I’m still not thrilled about it – can you tell?! I couldn’t carry on using just the soap by itself but Paul and I had agreed we wouldn’t make any big changes to the house, until it needs doing – no new kitchen until the cupboards start falling apart and no water softener until the boiler needs replacing for example. Instead I bought the large bottles of shampoo and conditioner by Faith In Nature. I have to admit, this stuff is expensive but it works a treat – my hair is soft shiny and smells divine! Whenever I stay up in Birmingham (at my in-laws’ house) I get to leave the shampoo and conditioner at home in Biggleswade. The water quality in Birmingham is absolutely brilliant, I can use my homemade soap to clean my hair without any residue being left behind. My Grandad isn’t well at the moment and I’ve been living up in Birmingham for the last few weeks so I can help take care of him – thanks to the Faith In Nature conditioner actually conditioning my hair rather than just coating it, I’ve been able to use just soap and not have any grubby transition period. My hair is soft, shiny and a bit more tangled straight out of the shower, but that only takes a few extra seconds of brushing to sort. In theory not stripping the hair with shampoo means the body will eventually get back to normal and not produce as much sebum, meaning you’ll be able to go longer between washes… as a fitness instructor that doesn’t really work for me – I can sometimes need to wash the sweat from my hair 2 or 3 times a day. I would recommend everyone at least try giving soap/no-poo a go and see how you get on.
I’ve also switched up my dental products. Before I was using a whitening toothpaste on my electric toothbrush and then using a tongue cleaner (which I’ve always done, it’s an Indian thing). The whitening toothpaste I was using also brought out a line of matching mouthwash and said it would enhance results, so of course I gave that a go for a while… To be honest, I changed things up a while ago and neither my dentist nor I can tell the difference. I first decided to try a manual toothbrush made from bamboo, rather than plastic – it can be composted once the bristles are worn, although we’re more likely to throw our ones on the fire as kindling. I’ve got nothing against the electric toothbrush, it just ran out of charge around the same time as I learned bamboo toothbrushes and I just haven’t bothered to charge it up again since. I also started making my own toothpaste. My first attempt at making toothpaste was effing awful, it just tasted revolting and was frankly unusable. I used up one more tube of shop-bought toothpaste and then decided to have another stab at making my own. This time I made a tooth powder and it is awesome! I made enough in one go to last me at least 6 months and it didn’t cost me a penny – I used ingredients I already had in the house. I still use my trusty old tongue cleaner but ditched the mouthwash a long time ago. Once you brush the plaque away from your teeth and gently scrape the plaque from your tongue, mouthwash is entirely superfluous – give it a try, I promise your breath will not smell! And let’s face it, £2 for a tongue cleaner that will last a lifetime versus £4.99 for mouthwash that will last a month – surely that alone is enough to give it a go?! You’ll be able to pick up a tongue cleaner from any Indian housewares store or online. Although you’ll likely end up paying slightly more if you do buy online, it’s not going to break the bank. You may have noticed this part has all been about what I do, not what we do and that’s because Paul isn’t ready to make the switch yet, he’s still buying toothpaste for now, and that’s okay – going zero waste is something we all need to do, but some people are able to make changes quicker than others.
There is just one area left that was a source of a lot of waste – toilet paper! This is an area I’m really struggling with to be honest. There are paperless, reusable options available – you simply use a cloth to wipe then drop it into a bag which you then throw into the wash. In theory this is the ideal zero waste option (until someone can work out how to use the three seashells that is) but I just can’t quite bring myself to do it just yet… I can’t even give you a good reason for not being ready! For the time being then we’re still using traditional loo roll. I opted for Cheeky Panda toilet paper as it’s made from 100% bamboo. Bamboo is such a wonderful thing – it grows in a huge variety of climates and is actually a type of grass, rather than a tree. Bamboo also reaches full height in just 4 months so it’s far far more sustainable than chopping down a tree (even if you are planning on replanting 3). My only complaints are that its slightly more expensive than the stuff you’ll get in the supermarket (although not a massive cost difference) and it does still arrive in a plastic bag. I purchased this toilet paper on a subscription basis so once that’s up I’m going to look into other options – I really like the bamboo and recycled options packed in paper from Who Gives A Crap and will most likely purchase from there in the future instead – if I don’t have the balls to give the reusable cloth option a go by then that is!
I’ve mentioned a couple of things I make myself and I will post the relevant recipes in due course. Next week though, I’m starting my Christmas countdown! There have been soooo many times that I’ve seen something I would like to implement or create, but then its almost always too late for me to give it a go in time for Christmas, so I’m bringing my blog plans forward a bit to give you enough time to try out my ideas for yourself. Over the coming weeks I’ll be going through ways to do Christmas zero waste style, including some awesome gift ideas. First up will be ways to do a zero waste advent calendar… yep, there’s options for big kids too! Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss out.
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):
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.
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.
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).
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! 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
…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.
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!