Sunday 25 September 2016

Zero Waste :: Challenges

Let me start by saying that I am not living zero waste. However, since I discovered this movement last year, I have become more and more interested in it, and working towards reducing my waste considerably. I've always tried to be conscious of the environment, my mum drilled into me never to accept a plastic bag and to recycle like a fiend. I don't automatically throw something away because it's broken, I'm a dab hand with a needle and thread - you should see some of the toes in my tights!

Since I've started reading more and more about zero waste, I realise that I was complacent. I thought that refusing plastic bags and recycling was enough. But it's not. We are consuming more and more of the things that simply do not rot away. The rubbish in India was quite shocking, strewn along the streets in the city and throughout the countryside. The thing is, I know that we have a similar amount produced here, but we're just better at hiding it away. In India, the rubbish is all there to see on the road, but here ours is just piled up high in landfill.

Anyway, I realise that my measly recycling is not enough. So this year I have been attempting to learn new habits and make small incremental changes, taking tips from those who really are doing this zero waste thing right.

It's not easy, not at all! Here are a few of the challenges I have faced so far (my successes to follow).

Buying in Bulk

Buying in bulk is the mainstay in all zero waste advice. Yes, what a wonderful idea. To be able to take your own container to the shop, and fill it with exactly the amount of pasta, cornflakes, flour, rice, honey, oil etc that you need. Here is the problem for me; London has VERY FEW shops that offer any bulk products. Those that are listed at a reasonable distance for me on this handy bulk locator are generally only for coffee and Lush soap products. 

There is a pilot scheme in Muswell Hill Planet Organic - which is so far out of my way it is not a viable option. As Nature Intended sell a very limited amount of items in bulk - of which I would want to buy only oats - and the price is 3 times that of what I can buy in tesco.

I do my best to buy as much as possible without packaging in the supermarket see photo above for a typical week's packaging). I never ever take those crap plastic bags for fruit or bread rolls. I've deliberately chosen products that are sold in glass whenever possible. The thing is, if going zero waste necessitates shopping in the bulk aisle, I'm afraid I will not be able to make it there for the time being. 

Cleaning with vinegar

Our kitchen cleaner ran out recently. So I decided to refill the spray bottle with some homemade cleaner. Equal parts water to equal parts vinegar. It sure cleans well, but it also leaves your kitchen smelling like a fish and chip shop. I'm soaking some lemon peel in to attempt to soften the pong, but its certainly clear whenever anyone in our house has wiped down the surfaces!

ZW survival kit

The zero waste kit is a very important part of success of creating no waste. These are the reusable containers that you need to take with you so that you are not relying on disposable plastic boxes, cup or bags. I haven't yet used these on my weekly shop; although I should start to add this into my routine. I have never shopped at the deli & fish counters as I think these are more expensive than on the shop floor (see my point below). That would be another way to cut out some packaging though, so I'll probably try to add this as my next step on this journey. I have been pretty good at taking my keepcup with me so that I don't have to have a disposable cups when I get a latte. I even took this with me to Berlin and Greece! I have a glass water bottle that I've taken with me as much as possible as well. However, these items are heavy and/or bulky. If I want to take these with me, and keep myself waste free, I have to lug these things around with me. And in some cases (the keepcup) just incase I want to have a coffee. Sometimes I feel like I have a coffee to justify having carried the empty cup with me. Three times this week I forgot to take my cup, and three times I wanted to have a coffee (because this week felt like the longest of the year & I was particularly tired). Eventually on the third day I caved and bought a latte in a disposable cup. I haven't thrown it away yet. I'm going to try and reuse it rather than chuck it in the bin (suggestions for how please!). But this is one aspect that makes zero waste difficult, it can be quite inconvenient to always carry around your arsenal of containers!

Costly alternatives

Don't let anyone tell you it's going to save you money. At least not in the sort term. Maybe in the long run, since if you are really going zero waste you are going to have to cut an enormous amount from your life. So you will be buying less, because there is much less available to you once you are zero waste. 

This is something that is hailed as a positive from the movement, and I'm not necessarily disagreeing, but at least when you first start to switch to some of the alternatives you end up paying more. Case in point, I recently bought some white distilled vinegar to make the homemade cleaner mentioned above. There were two options in my local supermarket, one in a plastic bottle and one in a glass bottle. The plastic bottle was 39p, the glass one was £1. I chose the glass one, as this can be recycled without losing material integrity. It was the more expensive option though... 

Shampoo Bars & Body Butter

Beauty products are one of the main areas of plastic that it 'should' be easy to counter-act. I recently bought two bath bombs in Lush and in the bag (paper) that they came in, there was a brochure focusing on all of the products they sell that come package free. One of the ones I was most interested to try - and which I thought I could make the switch to easily, was shampoo in a bar. I realised that I actually already had a shampoo bar that I had taken with me from the hotel after my brothers' wedding (two years ago!) So I decided to give it a go. After the first wash my hair felt absolutely disgusting. As I brushed through the knots, a horrible layer of white soap scum started to build up on my hairbrush and my hair felt dirtier than before I washed it. Not to be disheartened, I decided to try it again, and this time spend much longer rinsing out the soap. Alas, after my second wash today my hair still feels completely full of crap. I'm going to have to wash it again with normal shampoo to hopefully remove the layers of soap. I rinsed it for a long time, trying my best to get it all clear, but obviously that was not enough. Maybe I should have rinsed for even longer, but that really defeats the object of being environmentally friendly, and you just end up wasting litres of water! I'm not going to be completely beaten, as I will still give a lush bar a go to see if they have a better recipe... but so far this must be deemed a failure.

My other beauty disaster was the whipped body butter I made from this recipe. I was very excited about this one, and had to order in most of the ingredients from online - not package free alas... I tried my best to get along with this, But it was simply too greasy. It's really not particularly surprising since it's only made with oils... but I was still disappointed. I have since found another recipe for a lotion, which I am hoping I will have better luck with. And I am going to use the excess shea butter in a sugar scrub recipe as well. So there shouldn't be too much waste. It really goes to show that there isn't a perfect plan to follow to get to zero waste, and it really is a case of trial and error to find a way that works for you. At least I am on the path though!

Glass & Plastic

I made homemade toothpaste as per this recipe and I was using it regularly - until the summer when it melted. Everything was peachy, and the toothpaste was living happily in my lovely glass jar. When one morning I dropped the jar by accident. It hit the sink as it fell to the floor and a large chunk of the bottom came off. 

I can see the logic of using glass instead of plastic. Plastic is really a devil of a material. However, glass is fragile and I'm not a particularly clumsy person but it's inevitable that at some point you might drop this and unlike plastic, it's not going to bounce but more likely shatter. As this guardian columnist also discovered, although rather than in the privacy of her bathroom her breakage was a little more public.

::Have you been interested in zero waste? Are you trying to live more sustainably? Any tips or tricks you can suggest to help me on my journey?!::
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