It wasn’t long ago that I would get excited at the mere sight of anyone selling anything zero waste near me.
Don’t get me wrong…we still try to live an eco-friendly lifestyle but I’ve developed a healthy level of skepticism towards all things “zero waste”.
Reducing our waste is complicated and the fact is that living entirely zero waste isn’t just unrealistic for most people…it’s impossible.
Somewhere along the way it became fashionable to store everything in glass and carry a stainless steel water bottle.
Is zero waste about protecting our planet or about having matching glass containers with bamboo lids (while the Tupperware and empty passata jars ended up in the bin).
The truth is that there are much bigger issues than some zero waste influencers are talking about and big businesses are doing a good job of distracting us from their exploitations.
I’m not saying that reducing our waste is a bad thing…individual action is important if you’re privileged enough to be able make those changes.
However, putting ourselves under incredible pressure to save the world single handedly isn’t necessarily the most effective way to combat climate change.
So, I wanted to share a few things that I wish someone had said to me when I started googling “find zero waste near me”:
1. Forget about the zero waste image.
When we started on our zero waste journey, I was totally fascinated by the beautiful images I was seeing everywhere.
Truth is that zero waste isn’t picture perfect (not in our house anyway).
Zero waste is about reusing, upcycling, repairing, making-do and going without.
We need to consider whether our time and money is best spent trying to replicate a fridge like this or if it would be better used elsewhere?
2. Don’t be green-washed!
Be wary of zero waste swaps that may actually do more harm than good.
So, using a single-use paper bag for your mushrooms instead of a plastic one isn’t necessarily a good thing.
And those cotton totes that are often marketed as “eco” are even worse!
I’m not saying that we should continue using plastic bags. Litter is a huge problem.
We need to use what we already have and campaign for policy changes that prevent their use rather than promoting lifestyle change with freebies and “bags-for-life“…which by the way have hugely increased plastic waste.
Iceland’s sales of such bags rose tenfold in the past 12 months, and Tesco increased its sales from 430 million to 713 million.
I have to mention glass too…
…because so many companies are green-washing us!
Glass is really carbon-heavy to produce. It is only better for the environment (again aside from problems with litter) if it’s reused.
Buying everything in glass and chucking it in the recycling may help ease the conscience but a glass bottle needs to be reused over 5 times before it becomes more energy efficient than a standard plastic bottle.
However, if you are privileged enough to be able to find a milkman that delivers in glass bottles that are reused then that’s great.
3. Consider carbon footprint
Carbon footprint is complicated and as consumers we often underestimate the impact our diet has on the planet.
Take my lovely Kilner jar full o zero waste rice as an example…I did good…right?
Global rice farming, it turns out, could have the same detrimental effect on global warming in the short term as 1,200 average-sized coal power plants, according to the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund advocacy group. That means the grain is just as damaging over the long term as annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. combined.
The methods used for growing and producing our foods vary greatly which means that their carbon footprints do too.
Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as opting for local produce though.
A 2009 report found that in the UK, the production of tomato, pepper, and cucumber is worse for the environment than chicken and turkey (because of the need for heated greenhouses).
Carbon footprint food labels are now being introduced by more companies and will aim to make it simpler for customers to understand what it cost the planet to make it.
Quorn and other food companies are reportedly considering putting carbon labels on their food.
So, do you choose the plastic-free strawberries from overseas or the mainland grown strawberries that come in a plastic tub?
It’s a tough choice but worth considering given that air-freighted soft fruit can produce ten times the CO2 emissions of those grown seasonally in the UK.
4. What about ethics?
There are more people trapped in slavery today than ever before and 1 in 4 of them are children.
Billions of pounds worth of laptops, mobile phones and clothing likely to have been made using slave labour are being bought by UK consumers every year.
Do we really feel comfortable buying electronics, fast fashion, coffee and sugar knowing that slaves have been involved in its production?
Options for buying second-hand are always worth exploring before buying new.
However, sometimes the only option that makes sense is to limit or completely stop purchasing.
Sending kids down mines so that we can have the latest gadgets just shouldn’t be happening in 2020.
Sometimes we’ll buy an item because we’re told it’s better for the planet.
For example, natural cleaning products are becoming more popular with many people making their own.
Essential oils are often used in these DIY recipes and as a result deforestation is taking place to keep up with the demand.
At home we diffuse essential oils occasionally (especially Eucalyptus for congestion) and choose Plant Therapy Essential Oils as they respect the International Union for Conservation of Nature (the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it).
Palm oil is another example of a product that has been boycotted by many people because of the deforestation that takes place to keep up with demand.
The problem is that palm oil is actually a really efficient oil so any alternatives we seek may actually be worse for the planet.
Researching every company probably isn’t realistic but asking bigger picture questions about the items we buy is one way we can use our privilege positively.
5. Use your privilege wisely
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to zero waste stores.
But…wouldn’t it be amazing if the resources we all put in to avoiding plastic packaging on an individual level was focused towards demanding that governments and big brands make real changes.
We have to start acknowledging how difficult it is for underprivileged individuals to join in the zero waste movement.
We have to stop blaming those who can’t participate.
We have to truly start caring about how our actions impact upon others.
6. Zero waste is an ideal
I’m not here to put you off searching for a zero waste store nearby.
I truly don’t want this to come across as a “don’t bother with zero waste” type post.
It’s not the be-all and end-all though and it’s certainly not worth putting a heap of pressure on yourself in an attempt to curb green guilt.
Find out what works for you.
If you have a garden then composting food scraps will be a lot easier amd more useful than if you live in a flat.
There are loads of little things that are relatively easy for many of us to achieve…refusing straws or bringing our own bottle.
We must remember though that we can’t do this on our own.
As long as we’re focusing on our own zero waste journey, on “our” planet…it won’t be enough.
We need to be rebuilding communities.
We need to be campaigning, writing, protesting for change.
So, is it worth googling “zero waste near me”? I’d love to hear your thoughts…