September 24, 2021 10 min read
If, like me, you feel a pang of guilt every time you throw something out, but don’t know where to start with improving the situation, then just trying to be more conscious for one week can make a huge difference and kickstart some good habits.
I’ve always been conscious of how much waste I produce and that it’s not a good thing, but life has a habit of getting in the way and when you’re short of time it's easy to be tempted by the “convenient” options. So this year, I finally decided to participate in zero waste week to kill two birds with one stone: I could finally get round to being more eco friendly, and It would make an interesting story for our magazine.
I set myself two goals for the week; to produce as little landfill waste as possible, and to find some permanent swaps for creating less waste. In hindsight, I think I was a little naive. I’d initially assumed the challenge would mostly be centered around food waste and packaging (which coincidentally, I found the easiest thing to deal with), so that’s where I focused my preparation.
I had grand plans to do lots of prep and a waste audit of the week. However, I was unwell for a couple of days and the week quickly slipped by. I did thankfully make it to The Eco Larder, the plastic-free supermarket on Howe Street in Edinburgh, just before the start date, and desperately sought out their advice. I think my exact words to the wonderful employees, Maria Nina, and Nico, were “I’m doing a zero waste week next week and I have no idea what I’m doing, please help me”. I spoke to Maria Nina for the best part of an hour going through her easy swap recommendations and getting a tour of the shop. Since I was just passing I didn’t have any containers to buy anything this time, but I felt a little more prepared knowing what it was I needed and left with what would turn out to be a false sense of optimism. I stopped by the supermarket that night for dinner and made my first swap of the week - a glass jar of pasta sauce instead of the plastic pot I usually go for. The same glass jar now sits proudly in my cupboard filled with sugar for tea and coffee.
When it came to Monday morning of day one I had some fruit for breakfast along with some instant coffee out of a glass jar and I was feeling pretty accomplished with my zero waste breakfast as I threw the apple core in my garden waste bin.
This is probably where my first piece of advice comes in - check your local councils rules on what can and can’t go in each recycling bin - I’d had no idea fruit and veg scraps could be added to my garden bin before this week and it made things so much easier!
However, when I ventured into my bathroom I was overwhelmed with the amount of plastic in everything - my shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face wash, hand soap, moisturiser, toothpaste, contact lenses, deodorant, makeup - and somehow none of it was recyclable. Even though I knew these products wouldn’t necessarily count towards the week's waste, they were still unnecessary waste I would be throwing out to landfill eventually. I’d seen all of the swaps offered in the Eco Larder but I was very hesitant to change any of my skincare and makeup as I’d spent a lot of time finding good products that worked for me. I think this was maybe when that bit of panic started to creep in. If I couldn’t recycle it then what on earth was I going to do with it?
For a while I’d been buying refillable soaps but I’d never actually seen a refillable pack to buy in my local supermarket, so (carelessly) I’d just been binning them. I did a quick google search to see where I could buy them and ended up coming across a company called Terracycle. They run free recycling programmes for hard-to-recycle materials. I found out that I can recycle a lot of my bathroom stuff that was causing me stress through them. The only downside I suppose is that you have to travel to different drop off points to recycle each thing. I also had a problem finding what to do with my face wash packaging - my preferred brand isn’t on the Terracycle scheme and nowhere on their website does it talk about sustainability (I have since emailed them about this and I’m waiting for a reply). I decided to clean out the old face wash bottle to take to the zero waste shop as a refillable.
I had to remind myself here that reaching absolutely zero waste and never using anything ever again that was destined for landfill is a near impossible goal. It’s more about cutting down and reusing what you have and I had been making the challenge of zero waste a bit too hard for myself.
Day 2 was when the week started to get a little bit hectic. I had woken up early, though not early enough, to make myself a packed lunch before work. This was my first time bringing a packed lunch to work, so not only did it take longer than expected causing me to nearly miss my train, but I severely underestimated the amount of food I would need for the day and was starving by the time I made it home.
After the mistakes on Tuesday I decided to get up even earlier on Wednesday as I had to sort my containers for finally heading to the Eco Larder to buy everything I needed. I like to think I’m a pretty organised person in day to day life but I will admit it seemed like Zero Waste Week was taking over my brain and remembering one thing had made me forget another. So again, I left the flat feeling accomplished with all my freshly prepared containers only to realise at the train station I had forgotten my store key and had to go back and rush for the train again. Annoyingly in all my panic I had forgotten to buy a train ticket on my phone and had to purchase a paper one from the train conductor, my first landfill item of the week. Once I got into work I set about making a spreadsheet using the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Rot) to keep track of what I was throwing away and where and what I was needing to buy at the Eco Larder.
My second tip - Be organised! I have to be honest I don’t think that jumping into this with little prep to try it out for a week is a very good idea. It was fun and a challenge and I have learnt a lot - but, the stress of remembering all the extra reusables and lunch and visits to different shops was a lot.
The trip to the Eco Larder was genuinely some of the most fun I’ve ever had doing a food shop. I took my friend along to take some pictures in exchange for dinner and we had a blast. I was aware though that my plastic bottles and takeaway tubs were a far cry from the ‘pinterest’ zero waste hauls in glass mason jars you see on social media. But, for me, going out of my way to purchase glass jars instead of using what I had would have made no sense. Two of my favourite purchases I made were reusable cotton pads instead of disposable ones (I've used them everyday since buying them) and shampoo and conditioner. I swapped my usual Pantene for the refillable argan oil one and I’ve not looked back. One thing I found harder to get behind were the toothpaste tabs. I think they are a great thing for travel but I’m still not used to the concept of using a tablet to brush my teeth so I don’t think that will be a permanent swap. I went out for dinner that night and I am still in two minds whether that really counts towards my Zero Waste Week. Yes, I personally wasn’t throwing away rubbish but I have no idea what the restaurant does with their waste so I counted that as a little black mark against my zero waste goal.
It was a warm day on Wednesday and my colleagues, well aware of my Starbucks Frappuccino addiction, were pondering whether I would be able to get my usual fix in a refillable cup. I ventured into the Starbucks with my reusable coffee cup and chatted to the lovely barista who told me that they used to sell cups that had straws for Frappuccinos but were sold out. I was a little disappointed but I managed to get an iced coffee to satisfy my sweet caffeine craving instead. Since this, surprisingly, I haven’t bought a Frappuccino and I’ve been using my reusable coffee cup much more. Maybe a week without one was the detox I needed!
Third Tip - Really think about what you buy and if it’s a necessity. Small tweaks like me ordering a different coffee that would work with what I had still meant I was getting that caffeine fix but helping the environment too.
Thursday & Friday
I found the rest of the week went much smoother. I seemed to get into the swing of things and even got an, almost, zero waste lunch from M&S. I used a recyclable veg bag to carry my apple and orange and picked up a pain au raisin from the bakery section. Success! Or so I thought. The apple had a sticker on it! I was so livid I threw the sticker in the bin in a fit of rage. I had been trying to save all my waste for a summary photo at the end of the week, but it’s amazing how much that sticker got to me after 5 days of effort... At the end of the day though, I guess one sticker is better than all the sandwich boxes and juice bottles I had been throwing out after lunch almost everyday.
Over the weekend I tried my hand at making some bread. I borrowed my mum's bread maker and bought a pre-packaged bread mix which was recyclable. I had planned to make a trip back to the Eco Larder and buy my flour and yeast but it wasn’t a practical option. In future if I was to keep making my own bread I would definitely stock up on ingredients there. Obviously, making your own bread is more effort than picking it up off the shelf at Tesco but the smell and taste of fresh bread made it so worth it for me. It just so happened that my mum had been cleaning out her old clothes that were in her attic that weekend too and I found a few dresses I really wanted to keep. There was an old gingham dress from 1996 I really liked but something wasn’t quite right about it when I put it on so I decided instead of being wasteful I would up-cycle it. The friend I dragged along to the Eco Larder is also a whiz on the sewing machine and works in embroidery, so again, I enlisted her help and we set about making tweaks to the dress. I am so happy with the results and even though summer is almost over I’m sure I’ll find an excuse to wear it.
For my fourth tip I’d say - look at what you have and see if it can be changed to fit what you need now. I know my mum was going to donate those clothes to charity so they wouldn’t have ended up in landfill but something that you don’t want to get rid of for sentimentalities sake or that will have to go in the skip can probably be up-cycled into something you’d use.
This week has been a real eye-opener for me. In some ways the week itself was a far cry from my normal life in terms of being organised and stressed about things I usually never thought about. However, it was also a fun and educational journey. I knew when I went into the week I didn’t want it to seem as though I was posturing and everything I did that week was going to go out of the window at midnight on the last day of the week. I really wanted to know more about the zero waste life and how achievable it was. There are definitely a lot of swaps I’m keeping and the Terracycle scheme is going to be great for recycling things I’d normally throw out. I'm definitely happy with my results at the end of the week and the amount of landfill waste I produced was noticeably less than the weeks before, mostly in the lunches I was buying at work. I do think I’ll need to spend a little more time living the less waste lifestyle to see what really sticks. It was fun to make my own bread and up-cycle some old clothes but whether they are sustainable to keep up all the time I’m not so sure. The hardest thing for me was and still is all of my makeup and skincare. In talking to Maria Nina at the Eco Larder she also expressed that finding good products that were eco friendly was difficult. It just goes to show that as consumers, we need to keep pressuring companies to do something about their effect on the environment.
My final tip - go easy on yourself! It can be a huge adjustment to your normal way of life. There is a reason it’s called a zero waste ‘journey’. No one can always get it right and unfortunately the way our world works makes achieving that goal even harder. There are a lot of zero waste communities out there and I found joining a zero waste facebook group helped to alleviate some of my stress even if it was seeing people struggling to find swaps like I was. If everyone made a few little swaps it would dramatically lessen the amount of waste in the world - you don’t have to take it to the extremes of zero waste to make a difference!
Here are some resources and tips I found super useful throughout the week;
I also wanted to say a huge thank you again to Maria Nina and Nico at Eco Larder for all their help. I couldn’t have done this week without it! Let us know in the comments any of your fave swaps or tips for living with less waste.
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