4 months ago, we wrote an article about Zero Waste. It listed a lot of scary stats that convinced us that the Zero Waste movement is real (and necessary). So, we decided to start our own hyper aware journey to a life without plastic and generally lower waste. We had grand ambitions, having been inspired by folks like Kate Arnell, Lauren Singer and Bea Johnson.
How did we do? This article serves as a check in for us, to pat ourselves on the back for our progress and top up our enthusiasm in areas where we’ve totally failed!
Here’s a list of the things we did to smash our waste generation by at least 50% with really, very little additional effort or impact on our lives:
Composting essentially means to convert food scraps / waste into soil again (the circle of life 🙂 ). For us, this has absolutely been the number one (and easiest) hack to reduce the sheer volume of trash we put out on the street every week. We have previously dabbled in composting but because we’ve been somewhat nomadic over the last 10 years, we hadn’t been disciplined enough to get a good routine going. We eat A LOT of fresh fruit and veg so the build up of peels, ends, bits and bobs that can’t be used was ending up in the rubbish. This is BAD because food waste does not just harmlessly breakdown, it actually releases methane, which as we know, contributes significantly to climate change.
Now to be really clear, there is composting and then there is composting… given we don’t have a garden (yet) we are super lucky that our local council collects and composts food waste for us. All we have to do is separately collect the food scraps in a compostable liner (we use one of these to help) and pop it out on the street for collection. We’re aware that not everyone has this luxury but there are other options:
- Some councils offer communal collections (a big bin in your neighbourhood)
- Check out your local interwebs for information on how to find these (for example, Recycle Now in the UK has a recycle locator)
- Some farmers’ markets accept food waste scraps
- You can compost at home! I actually can’t wait to do this with my own little worm farm and veggie patch…but first, I need that garden so watch this space!
Ok to be fair, we were already doing this but it’s worth pointing out! This works well for two reasons:
- First, farmers bring their delicious goods direct from the farm. This means we’re buying healthy local produce and minimising all that commercial waste generated through a “normal” supply chain
- Secondly, the farmers and stall holders are willing to package up their raw goods straight into my produce bags and containers without plastic packaging. For those that can’t, we just reuse their own packaging each week and it works perfectly well for the most part
I’ve already alluded to this above, we’ve been using calico shopping and produce bags for grocery shopping. They’re easy to find online and you can typically buy them at a good supermarket. I found our cute little numbers on Etsy: produce bags and Hipster Giraffe tote. We also re-use the plastic bags we’ve accumulated, over and over again before recylcing them (luckily our local council can recycle them). Annoyingly, we haven’t always got all this right (see the “losing” section below) so plenty of room for improvement.
This is probably the most recommended zero waste tip around and for good reason given the sheer volume of waste created by single-use plastic bottles and coffee cups. We carry our little stainless steel drinking bottle with us whenever there’s a chance we might end up having to buy something (e.g. travelling, exercise). We do tend to leave it behind for day to day life as we typically have access to glasses / cafes etc.
We are coffee nuts. So, addressing coffee re-usables has been important to us. While we don’t get take away coffees all that often, now that we’re uber aware we just take our own cup or sit down and enjoy!
This strategy has worked for the most part. Though, we have been caught out once or twice (see “losing” below)
Ive done it! I was actually rather nervous of this one (for obvious reasons) but I did it and its totally fine… in fact it is so much better! It has made life a lot more simple – I literally need to carry only the mooncup with me which is a godsend when I travel. I can’t believe I never cottoned onto this earlier. I would encourage my female friends out there to give it a go! If you still need convincing, this video from Kate Arnell convinced me it was a good idea and I’m glad I listened. From what I’ve read on the interwebs there are a ton of different “cup” options (shapes and sizes) out there. If you’re thinking of trying it, I went for the Mooncup given the aforementioned video but it’s worth trying different brands if a cup doesn’t immediately gel with you. Make sure you also read the guidance and get the right size.
There’s no great solution here but given this is a daily activity, something had to be done (many of us animal lovers have seen the horrendous image of a seal with some nylon floss wrapped around it’s neck – haunting!). I’ve read so many articles and this one from Wasteland Rebel was the most informative. Given ease of access and price, I have initially opted for WooBamboo’s silk floss as the floss itself is compostable and WooBamboo have come up with a clever design where the outer packaging is also the container, which at least saves one piece of plastic. Bear in mind though, this is not a vegan (or an entirely cruelty free option) but it is much much better than regular floss. Per WasteLand rebel, the best possible options are as follows:
These are such interesting little guys. They’re dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap. It’s quite incredible how well they work. We pop them into the little bag they come with, add some essential oils to make them smell good and throw them in the machine with the laundry. Also super handy for travel, you don’t have to carry bulky liquid or powder – 6 little nuts should get you through 1-2 weeks (depending on your household washing needs). The nuts are also reusable – you can mulch them up and use them as a household / pet cleaner. After that, they’re compostable. A zero-waste cleaning alternative! We’ve been using the Living Naturally brand which works great but there are loads of other brands selling the same thing around the world.
While we can congratulate ourselves on our significant improvements, there are so many things we haven’t (yet) addressed for various reasons:
Even with our uber focus on being aware, we’ve been caught out with plastic several times, for example:
- Insisting on sitting in the cafe to drink our coffee but wrongly assuming it will be served in a glass cup and not a takeaway container – this has happened 3-4 times, always when we’re in a rush and don’t think to check
- Similarly, ordering a smoothie at a cafe and realising too late that it comes in a plastic container with a straw
- Forgetting to ask for no bleeping straw!! Or asking for no straw while awkwardly trying to explain why, ultimately confusing the person and ending up with a straw!
- Being handed packaged goods on planes and taking them, without thinking
There’s been a number of completely avoidable situations where we’ve ended up consuming plastic including:
- Forgetting our reusable bags / backpack when heading to the supermarket
- Knowing that we’ll have to eat on the go and not taking food / water with us – thus ending up buying food on the go, which always comes in plastic
Some things come to mind as obvious fixes but we haven’t addressed them yet because we either haven’t developed the right habits or because we haven’t figured out alternatives:
- Takeaways: We’ve gotten into a terrible habit of Friday night takeaways + Netflix documentaries. Absolutely worth going out to a restaurant instead (and then watch Netflix)
- Dress ups: It does seem to be part of our culture to have regular dress up parties that either require a single use outfit, renting an expensive costume or being really organised and making something. I’d love to say we’ve done the latter but we’ve ended up with annoying costumes that will never be used again. I’m trying to convince my workplace to allow a dress up library so we can reuse these costumes, but I’m not so sure it will fly.
- Online shopping: We lead such busy lives and ordering online is so convenient and easy. Amazon has some sustainability initiatives as do many other retailers, but it’s still not ideal or nearly as good as buying locally from bulk providers. I’m not sure yet how to solve this one but am certainly trying to load up and batch buys together to reduce the number of parcels. We are, of course, also being careful about who we buy from (as is evident by what we do here at Sustainable Jungle) to minimize impact as much as possible.
It’s feels really good. Like soulful good. And there’s so many other areas that we’re excited to explore, we have so much more to achieve in our quest for a life without plastic and waste. Importantly, we realize that we’re on the scale somewhere, along with everyone else. We’re going to continue to experiment and improve our position through positive habits that reduce our waste as much as possible. Do share any thoughts / comments / ideas you have… we always love a good zero waste hack 🖤