Most of us are now aware of the huge problems surrounding waste, in particular plastic. We’re inundated with information, horror stories, scary predictions about the future and sad tales about nature and animals. I for one feel deeply frustrated by the slow response from big companies. Despite the relentless warnings of the risks to ourselves, the environment, our water sources, animals and marine life, we are producing more plastic than ever. If you, like me, are fed up of waiting for someone else to sort the problem, then lets take it into our own hands. Let’s reduce our waste together. Lets share our tips and tricks and bypass those greedy multi million pound companies that have no conscience or guilt.
It’s difficult to compile everything in one blog post, much like it’s tricky to eat a whole watermelon in one sitting. But, if we cut it into small manageable slices then we can savour each bite and gain perspective on the task at hand.
But, I’m just one person…what difference can I make?
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, after all, I am just one person. But if we all make small changes to the way we live, then huge changes will follow. When we work together, we are stronger than any big company. That’s the moment we unleash our full potential. Those big ‘ol companies will be running in the opposite direction fearing for the future of their plastic factories.
Over the last couple of years, we have made many tiny changes to the way we live, shop, eat, and think. It’s been a really slow gradual metamorphosis from the people we were a few years ago, to the people we are today. These small incremental changes and swaps have never felt like a sacrifice or a chore; we aren’t inconvenienced in the slightest. On the contrary, we’re as free as butterflies fluttering on a summers afternoon.
We’ve equipped ourself with knowledge, snatched back control, saved lots of money and we’re now living in alignment with our ideals rather than being at the mercy of products and companies that leach the earth, contribute to more waste, unfairly employ people in disgusting conditions and kill wildlife and animals.
So, here are our top tips on reducing waste:
There are so many items that can be reused over and over again. One of the biggest problems are single use items. Carrier bags, straws, packaging, plastic bottles, napkins…the list goes on…and on…and on. Many of us have reusable shopping bags, and that’s great, but it’s a drop in the ocean, there’s so much more that can be done.
We noticed that most of our waste came from the kitchen, in the form of plastic packaging on fruits and vegetables. I repurposed a pair of silky hippy trousers that my sister brought back from a trip to Asia. I made them into reusable produce bags. Because they are so lightweight, I can purchase loose items without any additional price gain. I now go to the green grocers/market/supermarket and buy all of our fruits and vegetables without packaging.
I’ve also found a couple of amazing shops where I can buy most of our grains, beans, nuts etc without packaging. Additionally, we take our reusable plastic containers to the deli counter to buy loose olives, and I take an egg box with me to buy local eggs. This means that we’ve radically reduced our weekly waste. For the residual products that we can’t source without packaging, we choose the most ethical, natural, package free alternatives. For example we buy brown sugar in a paper bag, rather than in a plastic bag, we buy cheese from the deli counter wrapped in paper, etc.
If we’re able to make these changes in a foreign country with a language barrier, then think of how easy it is for you to implement these easy steps in your native country. At least you can easily explain your motivation and inspire others.
Grow things in the garden
We’ve begun to grow some of the things we eat. We now press our own olive oil from our nine trees, preserve our own olives for eating, make lemon jam, make carob syrup from carobs we’ve foraged, produce our own walnuts, make raisins, dry mint for tea and grow vegetables. There are many more ideas on the horizon, one of them being chickens for eggs.
Regardless of how little space you have, it’s possible to grow and forage things. In the UK we foraged elderflowers for elderflower cordial, sloes for making sloe gin, blackberries and apples for crumbles and pies. Why not buy some seeds and give growing a try?
Say no to unnecessary waste
One of the simplest things we can all do, is say no to unnecessary waste. Say no to plastic bags, straws, leaflets, paper napkins, plastic cutlery and polystyrene trays at the fish n’ chip shop. It may seem scary to say no, but most of the time, people will support and commend your actions. I remember walking into a fish n’ chip shop in the UK (where else!) and asking for no polystyrene tray. The women behind the counter said that she fully supported my efforts and felt worried about the consequences on marine wildlife. Be polite, explain your motivation, smile and lead by example.
Be prepared when on the go
This is key to succeeding in reducing waste. When we first began to reduce our waste, we would often forget our reusable bags, reusable coffee cups, reusable straws, reusable water bottles etc. We would kick ourselves when we suddenly realised that we were unprepared. We’ve learnt to keep our reusable bags in the car. We also have a bag that we take out with us that contains our reusable water bottles, straws., coffee cups, bags and containers. That way, we don’t get caught out when on the go.
Additionally, we always have two pairs of gardening gloves and some sacks in the car. This is so that we can litter pick when we go to the beach or see rubbish lying around. We’ve become quite partial to a spontaneous beach clean. It’s not “below” anyone to pick up litter. Push your ego to one side and start picking it up.
Find easy alternatives and swaps
There are so many easy swaps and alternative choices available nowadays. Accept that it’s a gradual process, but systematically swap to alternative options that reduce waste. It’s taken a while, but we’ve now swapped out lots of everyday items for reusable, sustainable, package free alternatives. Here are just a few.
- Plastic toothbrush – bamboo toothbrush
- Plastic straw – reusable bamboo straw
- Plastic bottles – a single reusable water bottle
- Plastic disposable razors – a reusable metal safety razor
- Dental floss – biodegradable dental floss with no packaging
- Tissues for runny noses – homemade handkerchiefs
- Deodorant – homemade deodorant
- Cleaning products – homemade DIY cleaning products
- Liquid soap – bars of natural olive oil soap
- Laundry detergent – homemade olive oil laundry liquid
- Cling film – place a plate/bowl over food or use beeswax wraps
- Tampons and sanitary pads – reusable sanitary pads or a mooncup
- Packets of seeds – save seeds
- Buy plants – take cuttings
- Firelighters – use olive oil on newspaper
- Bottle of shampoo – shampoo bar
- Tea bags – loose leaf tea`
Be mindful of the choices you are making
It’s easy to live life without a second thought for the origins or impacts of the products or services we use. What about if the child working in a sweat shop was stood in front of you? What if the whales and turtles were chocking on your plastic carrier bags, what if your rubbish was dumped in your back garden instead of in a landfill sight, what if the water from your house watered the vegetables in your garden…would you be happy to shower them in bleach and toxic chemicals and then eat them? Is it a case of out of sight, out of mind? Well here’s a fact, waste doesn’t just go away. It’s merely moved somewhere else. Chemicals don’t disappear, they get reabsorbed somewhere else. Maybe if we saw the knock-on effects of our lifestyles, we would care more?
Be mindful of everything you do. Think of the jumper you are wearing, what is it made of? Where did the materials come from? Did someone pick the cotton? Were they paid well? Was the wool sourced from sheep that had a good life? Where did the dye come from? Were the toxic leftovers dumped in rivers and streams? Who stitched your jumper together? Were they paid well? Do they work in satisfactory conditions? Now apply this method of thinking to everything you buy, eat, wear and consume, then times that buy 7.8 billion people…that’s change, right there.
Choose natural materials over plastic materials
Sometimes we can’t avoid buying something new, buy why not try to choose natural materials rather than plastic. Natural materials aren’t always sustainably and ethically sourced and produced, but in my opinion, it’s a step in the right direction. Choose the broom with the wooden handle rather than the plastic handle. Buy a metal dustpan and brush that will last a life time rather than the cheap plastic set that will break imminently.
Cook from scratch
Convenience foods produce a large amount of packaging in comparison to home cooked meals. It may be quick and easy, but the price you pay is: an unhealthy diet and excess packaging. When you cook from scratch you are able to source the core ingredients without packaging, and can henceforth keep waste lower. By baking and cooking at home, you have more control over your diet with the bonus of contributing less to landfill.
Start a compost heap
It’s quick and easy to start a compost heap in the garden. All fruit and vegetable peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds, egg shells etc can be rotted down to make beautiful compost for the plants in your garden. It keeps unnecessary waste out of landfill, provides a home and food for bugs and worms, produces a supply of nutrient rich compost, and reduces the need to buy compost from the shop sold in plastic bags.
Try DIY beauty recipes, cleaning recipes, anything!
We make our own deodorant, lip balm, and all cleaning sprays for our house. I’ll write about our homemade cleaning sprays very soon, but in the meantime, start to think of the products you use, the health effects of breathing in so many chemicals and the effects of those chemicals being flushed down the toilet and drain. How close are you to finishing the bottle of bathroom cleaner? Will you choose a natural DIY option next? Always think outside the box, there’s always a solution.
Buy less, buy second hand, reuse, repurpose
None of us want to think of adults and children working in sweat shops to produce our clothes, but the reality is that buying new clothes comes at a huge price. When you try on that pair of trousers, or blouse, think of the implications. Do you even need that item of clothing? Are you buying it for a fleeting moment of joy? Could you do without it? Is it ethically and sustainably sourced? Could you buy second hand instead? Call me ruthless, but the answer is that you probably don’t need it. We all have far too much clothing, and a new garment is often bought out of boredom. Boredom of the existing clothing sat in our wardrobes. Think of charity shops, eBay, gumtree, freecycle, second hand junk shops and flea markets.
Give to charity, sell, swap
What do you do with unwanted possessions? Do you throw them away? If you already donate them to a charity shop, then bravo to you. Unfortunately many items go to landfill for no reason at all. If you have a functioning item then there is ABSOLUTELY no reason to throw it away. Even if you think it’s worthless, someone else will see it as treasure. One mans rubbish is another mans gold. Nothing is insubstantial, the smallest of items can be reused by someone else.
We used to do a lot of carboot sales in the UK. It’s surprising what people will buy. I’ve sold used gift bags, a set of empty jam jars and a saucepan with a broken handle and no lid. Think twice before chucking things away.
Write to companies
When we lived in the UK, I used to write to companies, either expressing my gratitude for their packaging, or asking them to reconsider the packaging they have. I’ve written to Tesco, dog food companies, Abel & Cole, suppliers on Amazon etc. Demand that they take action, if we all make a stand, then they have to change.
There are solutions, don’t be disheartened
I’m guilty of being overwhelmed by the problems in the world, but doing nothing is far worse than making a few small changes. Have I inspired you to think outside the box and be proactive? Be the change you want to see, it’s down to all of us to make some effort. Let me know about the changes you are making to your life…I really am interested to know. It can feel lonely to think differently, rest assured, you can tell me all about your eco changes and thoughts here:)
My objective is to reach zero waste. Have you heard of this expression before? There are some truly inspiring individuals that don’t produce any waste at all. That’s right…nothing. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer everyday. If you are interested in zero waste, I can recommend Trash is for tossers.
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