I have been putting off this topic for a while because I wanted to make sure I articulate and explain my feelings and my experience correctly. Coming from an understanding that not everybody has the same items in their household / same amount of time in their life and we all have different priorities.
When I started to look into the zero waste lifestyle I went through hundreds of #zerowaste hashtags on social media and saw the “cool” stuff. The stainless steal bottles / containers and straws / the glass reusable coffee cups and all the matching pantry jars and canvas product bags. I started to write a shopping list of all the things I will need to get started. Surely, living with less waste means I need new things. Well, in reality that is not entirely true. Firstly, because I actually had so many items at home already. I had a reusable plastic coffee cup / a stainless steel water bottle / tons of canvas bags I got from events or shops / dust bags in different sizes I got from products I bought over the years.
The more I learn the more I realised what this movement is all about and I got to the point of chucking out my shopping list and just use and reuse what I have.Bea Johnson got the 5Rs rule right- refuse / reduce / reuse / recycle and rot. She doesn’t mention “buy new because it looks good on the gram” anywhere.
My advice here is, please have a look around at home first and see what you can use and reuse before buying anything new. You might be surprised how much stuff you already have (therefore it is free) to start off this journey.
Let’s have a look at all the things essentials that doesn’t cost money.
This list is for those who has the time / willingness / mental space but lacking a budget. Those who are determined to start reducing their waste and also happy to tap into their sewing skills at the same time. Making changes is not just about money. But it could be for some so here is a list that could help through the first hurdles. So let’s start with the tool kit which although might seems “short”, in term of ALL the waste a person can produce, these items are indeed effective if they are used daily and can have huge impact if more and more people say no to their disposable twins.
The list comes with an assumption that a person buys items in glass jars / have old T-shirts/ cutlery and some plastic containers. Because overall not much needed and these items can help reduce so much already.
#1 Coffee cups. In the UK we use 7 million disposable coffee cups every day – that’s 2.5 billion every year. 1 in 400 gets only recycled + all the material and resources going into producing / transporting them. While the cheapest I found was for £3 (+ postage if you don’t have one close by) in @waitroseandpartners using an empty jar could do the same job. Jam / peanut butter / any jar is perfect to eliminate disposable cups and no cost involved to make the switch. Ask for a small or medium of your favourite beverage into a jar. Pop the lid on / have a cloth to wrap around it if it still too hot and you are good to go. .
#2 Water bottle – A million plastic bottles are bought around the world EVERY MINUTE and the number will jump another 20% by 2021. Either reusing an already emptied plastic bottle or using the jar again to get refills at cafes and restaurants is the easiest way not to occur any cost while having water with you on the go. If you ever bought drinks in glass just take that. Yes, glass can break when transported so be careful how you handle it.
#3 To lug fresh or bulk food around – to avoid new take away containers / plastic bags / doggy bags in restaurants / packaging for bulk stuff / over the counter package free items, use what you have. Washed up take away containers / glass jars again / towels and cloth or just an old T-shirt. There are amazing videos on YouTube on how to make tote bags out of old t-shirts with a minimal knowledge of sewing (no machine needed). Even old plastic bags will do. As long as those are kept away from landfill and getting reused (so there is no demand for new) producing less waste is still completely possible.
#4 Cutlery – I have been using a set of the boys plastic cutlery we already had (hand me downs) and take that with us in a piece of cloth. While I adore some of the bamboo sets aiming for zero wasters I felt there is no need if my aim is to avoid disposable. If only metal is available at home just wrap extra cloth around them and you are set to say no to disposable plastic ones.
Single use plastic is still causing so much issue not just in terms of once used (for a few minute generally) and became waste but at production and resources level. 20 million trees are cut down to make paper cups every year. /12 billion gallons of water are used in the making of paper cups annually./ If you were to save a cup a day for 40 years you would save 24 trees.
In the UK we are in a fortunate position having a well working waste management system but that doesn’t stop the fact that we are exhausting our resources and with the currently rate we’d need 1.7 Earths to keep up with the demand. So when using alternatives to disposables we are not only aiming for zero waste but preventing new being made.
Using your voice doesn’t cost a dime.
There are loads of ways to use our voice which can drive change / have a massive impact and cost absolutely zero money.
#1 Attending local / peaceful demonstrations is one of them. In 2018 March – in Keynsham, near Bath 25 brave customers ripped pointless plastic packaging off at check out in Tesco which helped pushing them towards announcing it in May that they will ban all non-recyclable plastic by 2019.
#2 Signing online petitions. in 2017, 373,000 people signed the petition via change.org to help dogs that served in Afghanistan find loving homes rather than being put down as planned. Around the world 272,334,385 people taking action on their website.
#3 Speaking up at work / your kids school or communities where there is avoidable plastic. Asking management to ditch paper cups to normal mugs / plastic stirrers / individually packaged sugar and sweeteners and all other single use items which are common in offices and workplaces. Anything which can be just a simple switch to them and a massive benefit to reduce waste. Also, a thought, with big businesses it always worth highlighting the cost saving aspect of it. Saving them money always a good card to play.
#4 Speaking up at restaurants / bars or any eatery you go. It is one thing to say no to straws or individually packaged crayons with your kids menu. My boys always offered some kind of kids entertainment wherever we go and they are almost always plastic covered or plastic tats. Mentioning your idea about their unnecessary packaging to waitresses or management might have bigger impact to change their practises. Extra layers of skin / huge smile / being kind and polite are key!
#5 Asking for recycled packaging when buying second hand online. Takes minutes to type in an extra sentence when purchasing something online but could prevent the seller to buy new packaging and just use what they already got.
#6 last but not least, share you journey. Doesn’t have to be on social media if it isn’t your thing just with your family and close friends / colleagues. Apparently we get inspired the most by people we know and are closer to us rather than strangers we came across on the net. Lead by example and share with compassion and understanding towards others as they might be in a different situation to yours.
The last and perhaps the most important ingredient which is also completely free.
Being kind to ourselves and others.
Understanding where we are all coming from. Not judging but encouraging. Aiming for a zero waste lifestyle can be overwhelming and even stressful to begin with. I certainly felt that way at the beginning. I pushed myself because I thought I had to do it all. I had to do it quickly. I needed to follow all the rules, ideas, DIY recipes, buy the “essentials” and above all, gave out well-intended advice to everyone I met. I wanted to get to the mason jar which has 3-4 years worth of my non recyclable. I couldn’t unlearn it all and I wanted others to know. To live by it as I tried to. I did get into unnecessary arguments because just wanted to push this idea to anybody who I spoke to for more then 5 minutes.
It was draining, stressful and tiring. I know now it was anything but helpful to my surroundings or to myself. So I calmed down and started to take those baby steps. With baby steps came a sense of calmness / control / joy and excitement for every little win. Letting things go I can’t control and the desire that I need to change others. Embracing the idea of “leading by example” and just do the best I can. Not beating myself up about the fails but either learn from them or accept them as they are. “If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Leo Tolstoy.