Over Christmas last year, I was shocked to see just how many bin bags of waste my family and I produced, mostly of ripped wrapping paper and Christmas leftovers. I wasn’t about to shove my hand in and rescue recyclables and make bubble and squeak from the wasted food, but it did force me to make a decision that I had been toying with over the last few months.
This year, I’ve been making it my mission to live a zero-waste lifestyle – and with zero-waste week in full swing, there’s never been a better time to follow my lead.
I first became conscious of zero-waste after discovering that as a country we’re failing to reduce our waste and preserve resources. The UK is aiming to increase recyclable waste to 50% by 2020. We’re now in 2019 and as of the last survey, we’re still 6% away from that target. That doesn’t sound a lot, but since the UK produces over 31 million tonnes of waste a year that’s 1,860,000 tonnes of waste not being recycled.
I started making changes to my lifestyle after I noticed I was producing a 12-litre bin bag of rubbish a week and contributing a tiny amount to recycling.
To counteract my food waste I started by buying fresh produce from local vendors rather than pre-packaged produce at the supermarket. I also swapped my regular hair and skincare products for naked products that do not come in any kind of packaging but can be stored in metal containers. Most of these products came from companies such as LUSH, which uses organic materials and recyclable pots, as well as offering naked products.
Not only have I reduced the number of shampoo bottles I get through but also reduced my food waste by a bin-full. By buying locally sourced foods I’ve been able to purchase exactly what I need when I need it, rather than buying more produce than I require because my options are limited to a large plastic bag.
Any food waste I do produce, I either add to my outside compost bin or use in recipes such as soups, stocks or stews.
I now only shop at places that offer food products without any packaging whatsoever. I have a number of local bulk stores I can buy dry goods from in pre-purchased containers and inexpensive muslin clothes. Some stores are even offering wet goods, like milk in glass jars and freshly squeezed orange juice, all at affordable prices.
Zero waste extends outside of food and cosmetics though, it also extends to homeware goods like biodegradable toilet paper and cleaning liquids. Say goodbye to the branded products your parent’s use and say hello to the inexpensive and powerful cleaning product of vinegar. Only 55p!
When I first approached zero waste I thought it was going to be an expensive lifestyle, but I’ve actually found it’s the opposite. After buying the initial pricier materials, like organic hair products and containers for food, I’ve actually spent less money than ever on all of my household goods, and it’s shows! Because of my reduced spending I’ve been able to start saving for a mortgage – in my early twenties!
Also, since we’re discussing benefits, the Christmas pounds I put on are very quickly coming off thanks to the amount of fresh produce I’m eating!
Obviously, I’m talking as a Londoner with fairly easy access to resources. But don’t despair, there are plenty of bulk-buy shops across the UK, plus a number of online services where you can purchase zero-waste products inexpensively worldwide.
There are also easy changes you can make in your everyday life to get you started.
Consider what you’re buying at the supermarket. Avoid plastic packaging and choose recyclable options instead. Also, remember to take your own containers, muslin bags or tote bags and avoid purchasing carrier bags.
Buy a reusable drinks bottle and top it up at work or at home rather than purchasing drinks on-the-go.
Search online for various organic and environment-friendly companies that can offer you an alternative to self-care products.
Check your local council’s websites for further details on recycling, composting and where you can deposit these items safely.
Half of a zero-waste lifestyle is educating yourself in what contributes to excessive waste and finding ways to counteract it. I’ve still got a way to go, finding alternatives for toothpaste and my favourite brand of mascara, but I’m working on it week by week.
After all, the alternative to a zero-waste lifestyle is over a million pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, 10 million tonnes of excess food and 15.7 million tonnes of waste going into landfill in the UK each year.