Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Back in 2018 we decided to use cloth nappies with our baby once she arrived, a decision I have never looked back on and a decision which has changed my life. Before I joined the cloth nappy community I did my bit, I recycled what I could, I never sent anything to landfill which still had a life in it, I was blissfully unaware of what was really happening in the world around me. Now I’ve met a number of like-minded Mums and had my eyes opened to the true impact of waste (including recycling) and what other simple changes I could be making to reduce my impact on our world.
When I saw our local library was running a Working Towards to Zero Waste course, I jumped at the chance to attend. I wasn’t sure of what to expect because I felt that we were already doing as much as I was prepared to and the areas I know we fall down, I wasn’t prepared to change (and that’s OK, we don’t need to be perfect). The course was fantastic, yes I was already doing a lot of the things we were recommended, but I learnt so much more about our impact and was given some handy tips of more simple swaps we could be making I hadn’t previously considered.
The course was run by Cate Terry who has been following a journey towards zero waste since 2018. She explained the reason she had named the course Working Towards to Zero Waste rather than Living Zero Waste because it is almost impossible to follow a completely zero waste lifestyle, even if you choose to live in a hut in the woods. With everything we consume there are three disposal processes: Linear, can only be used once; Recycling, can be reused a number of times but will end up in landfill/be incinerated; Zero Waste, is entirely (including all packaging and travel) consumable or compostable.
In the Kitchen
We started the day looking at our kitchen which is probably one of the most wasteful rooms in the house. I learnt that across the world we create 5 million tonnes of plastic per year and only 45% of it is recycled, even with the 5p bag charge, we are still using 13 billion plastic bags a year which each take 100 years to decompose. Some scary statistics.
The most widely discussed idea for combating kitchen waste was zero waste shops. We’re lucky we have five in our area. Although, we all also all agreed that the challenge with these shops is being prepared, you need to be carrying a suitable container, and be able to go at a time that suits (as they are all independently run most have shorter opening times). Planning and preparation is required, which as a full-time working mum is not always doable.
Cate made a good recommendation of always keeping a few jars in your boot so if you do find yourself passing then at least you have your containers. Alternatively, if you find yourself needing to dash to the supermarket for dry goods, buy the biggest quantity you can to reduce the amount of packaging used over all.
We each shared some of the tips and tricks we used for reducing our kitchen waste which included:
Beeswax wraps or simply covering a bowl with a plate instead of cling film
Cutting and freezing leftover vegetables and herbs
I found I was doing a lot of this already, although did learn that I could freeze a lot more things than I ever knew I could before - including eggs!
Next we moved on to paper, where I learnt that in America the average worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper per year, and a large proportion of this is considered as waste (from things being printed incorrectly, left on a printer and thrown away or printed in error).
When surveyed 40% of people considered themselves paper people, and I must say I am probably one of them. While I do prefer my books on a Kindle, if I need to read a report I like to print it out, and when taking notes I like to do it by hand. There will be no changing paper people like me, so we again look to ways we can reduce this impact, for example, at work our printer is set to automatically print double sided, if someone gives me a message on a page torn out of their notebook, I keep the page for other short notes I need to take until it is completely full.
Paper is often considered the better option because it is more widely recycled however it is sadly it is also most used by manufacturers as greenwashing. One sad example of this recently was Boxed Water trying to tempt you away from buying plastic bottled water with one in a cardboard box. However, as Marina McCoy from Waste Free Earth pointed out, while individually all of the elements within the waterproof box are recyclable, as soon as you combine them together they are no longer so - meaning in this case plastic is the better option (because it can be recycled).
With a larger movement towards sustainability now than ever before, wrapping paper is one that more and more people are wising up to. Yes at Christmas and Birthdays it is nice to have beautifully wrapped gifts, often it makes part of the gift giving itself. However, as I explored in My Sustainable Christmas post, there are many more wrapping options which offer just as beautiful results without costing the earth (literally). In the course we also explored the Japanese art of Furoshiki, wrapping with cloth. If you know a scarf lover why not wrap their gift with a scarf, or for crafters, use sheets of fabric they can go on to turn into something else, adding to your gift making it a double present!
In the Bathroom
After a short break we moved into the Bathroom and Cate shared these astonishing facts with us:
These were some rather shocking statistics, especially considering most of these items are not recyclable through home recycling methods. We discussed some of the recycling methods available via Terracycle for some of these items, such as The Body Shop taking in cosmetics packaging, and most opticians taking in used contact lenses and their packaging. Then we looked at reducing, and Cate shared with us a recipe for homemade deodorant, dry shampoo and face balm. We also considered reusable products such as the Last Swab to replace disposable cotton buds.
The toothbrush is one area I am struggling to change, we use a bamboo brush with H and I now have one for travelling, however, for everyday I prefer an electric toothbrush. I was therefore delighted when Cate introduced me to Oral B compatible brush heads which can be posted back after use, where they will be recycled.
To end the day, we looked at clothing, specifically fast fashion which is second only to oil as the world’s greatest polluter. We learnt that 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothes are sent to landfill each year and 700,000 tonnes are sent to charity shops or to be recycled (that’s enough to fill 450 Olympic-sized swimming pools).
Only 57% of people recycle their unusable textiles, most charity shops will take these and sell them by the kilo to either be given a new life. Or for those beyond repair, they are shredded and used to stuff household items such as sofas. Since the arrival of social media there has been a sudden surge of people not wanting to be seen wearing the same outfit twice, meaning that the high street stores have increased new lines from two seasons of clothes to a new wave every six weeks or so.
We discussed the ways we have been trying to reduce our reliance on fast fashion, including only buying second hand, buying local handmade items, and borrowing or swapping clothes with friends. This is not to say we will never buy new clothes again, just with more thought in future. Cate shared with us this fun take on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs when we next feel the impulse to buy a new outfit:
We finished the day making three pledges of things we were going to do to support our Journey to Zero Waste, mine are:
Try making some of my own beauty products
Keep boxes and jars in the car for impromptu refill shop trips
Change my Oral B electric toothbrush heads over to recyclable ones
Overall it was a really enjoyable course, and I learnt a lot which I hope I have been able to share with you here. I would love to hear your thoughts and any pledges you are making to live a more sustainable lifestyle.