As zero waste week draws to a close, I wonder what I can do to reduce the amount of disposable items I use. I consider myself pretty efficient; I never buy water bottles, I refuse straws and I always take my keep cup with me when I buy coffee. However, I am far from living a zero waste life. Pretty much all the food I buy comes coated in a layer of plastic packaging; from the bag of apples, to my pot of humus.
Attending the ‘Sustainable Living Adventures in Zerowaste’ event hosted by Future Planet, on Wednesday 5th September, I heard from inspirational entrepreneurs trying to reduce the amount of waste we produce. The chair of the event opened by saying, ‘We don’t need to wait for the government to introduce new legislation – but by organisations and businesses collaborating we can collectively solve the problem’.
Consumer power is a strong motivator. Later we heard from a spokesman from Planet Organic, he said, ‘We can change the world by what we eat and buy’. This left me pondering: how do we know what the right thing to eat and buy is? A recent article in the Guardian outlined the environmental damage so-called sustainable products are having. For example, swapping from cow’s milk to almond milk is not as benefifical as orginally thought. This is beacuse 6,098 litres of water is needed to produce 1 litre of almond milk. And 80% of almonds are grown in the draught ridden state of California. This is far from being sustainable. Yet, we are told that cows are contributing largely to greenhouse gas emissions, so we should swap to alternative milks. Which is worse cow’s milk or almond milk? Or should we just survive without milk all together?
With many sustainable products we may be supporting the environment and our health in one way but we are hindering it in another. However, there may be obvious steps we can take to do our bit for the plant. At the event we also heard from Catherine Conway the founder of Unpacked. She created a framework for shops that negates the need for packaging. Planet Organic implements her scheme using the refill system. Customers bring their own reusable jars into the store and can bulk buy. It’s a system used in other countries. For example, when living in Montana, I found that it was affordable and convenient to buy in this manner in local cooperatives. Hopefully, in the near future supermarkets will introduce this way of shopping globally. For now roaming the aisles of Tesco in London, it’s impossible to find anything devoid of packaging.
There are other simple ideas, which no doubt have a positive impact on our planet. For example, I spoke to an employee at Olio, the food redistribution company. They find a use or a home for unwanted food and possessions. This way, instead of wasting perfectly edible food or intact clothing, these items can be utilised by someone who wants them. As they say: ‘One man’s junk is another’s treasure.’ You can download the app to see what is being given away in your local area, or indeed, find a home for something you no longer want.
We also heard from the founder of buy me once – a company which, lists items with a lifetime guarantee. By purchasing an expensive item once, rather than a cheap verision of it five times, we save money. We also limit our carbon footprint. This simple idea is really key in minimising the amount of waste we produce. Next time I need to invest in a new item of clothing or household possesion, I will use their website to find the most durable product on the market.
A company called Stuffster presented at the event too. They outlined the fact that in the USA 80% of stuff purchased is used less than once a month. Instead of having items left in the back of our wardrobes, why not resell the items back to the retailer? With Stuffster old items can then be converted into credits to buy new products. Meanwhile, the old items will be rehomed.
While I liked the idea of sending back items to the retailer to be resold, I questioned the idea of gaining credits to spend at the shop once more. Surely, this encourages us to buy things we don’t need. Getting money back instead may avoid this. After all, conscious purchasing is paramount in reducing the waste we produce.
The ‘Sustainable Living Adventures in Zerowaste’ event made me stop and think. Listening to Kate Arnell talk about how she has been working towards living a zero waste life for five years, showed us that it is possible. She composts her food waste at home with worms and buys almost all her cooking and cleaning products in bulk. She has swapped harsh cleaning bleaches for diluted vinegar and moved from chemical ridden, plastic, packaged deodorants to bicarbonate of soda.
Moving forwards, I am going to continue buying only what is necessary and I will begin spending more on items that have a lifetime guarantee. As it stands, even Kate can’t produce zero waste but she is working towards it, as I believe I am. Making simple swaps can make a difference, not only to the environment but to your pocket and health too.
What do you do to reduce the amount of waste you produce?