This weekend is Earth Day – a time to highlight global support for improving environmental sustainability and bring together millions of people, cities, and organisations across the world. As part of the sustainability committee at Sopra Steria, part of my role is to raise awareness of initiatives amongst our employees, I am also thinking about the importance of individual action, including my own.
Going into 2018, the images I saw in Blue Planet 2 such as the albatross parents unwittingly feeding their chicks plastic, and the proliferation of media stories about the impact of plastics on the environment prompted me to think more about the waste that arises from my own lifestyle choices.
What does Zero Waste mean?
Zero Waste is as simple as it sounds: it’s all about trying to live without waste. Everything we use should be reused or recycled or composted; nothing should go to landfill; ideally more and more of what we use will contain materials that have already been used before. Everything that we produced or consumed should be returned back to society or nature – so products are either reused, recycled or biodegrade.
In reality it’s not so simple. Look around your supermarket and you’ll see thousands of products in packaging that cannot be recycled, everything from our food and drink, to cosmectics, to cleaning products comes in single use plastic and the challenge is how can we elimate this. .
How to get started
Arming myself with a list of all the places that stock zero packing products. I was ready for the challenge and started to plan how to adjust my lifestyle. I planned to reuse first, using my newly acquired home composting bin second, then recycling and finally sending non-recyclables to charity.
The first step was to eliminate all single use plastic. From the morning cup of coffee in the plastic-coated, non-recyclable cardboard cup, to the disposable cutlery used at lunch and the unnecessary food packing at supper, most of us have a lot of waste in our day-to-day life. For instance buying a coffee daily is 30 cups and lids a month, all which end up in landfill, and may take hundreds of years to decompose. More importantly, it is 30 cups worth of materials that had to be mined, shipped to factories, manufactured, and then shipped to my local Starbucks. Thinking about the life of a coffee cup, from origin to where it ends up, its environmental impacts become clear and throwing a cup away every day seems unconscionable. Suddenly, using a reusable mug seems like no-brainer.
Secondly, was composting all my food scraps. I found that this step alone eliminated about 50% of my waste. Living in a second floor flat with no garden made this more of a challenge, I found a friend willing to take my scraps in their home compost heap which has made things much easier. But there are plenty of local councils who have composting services and there are lots of alternative options such as indoor womeries here.
The final stage was to address the longer use plastic items, buying cosmetics that come unpackaged (such as solid shampoo from Lush) and finding suppliers who will refill your cleaning product, eco companies such as Ecover are more than happy to refill existing bottles – find a local one here.
By making a concerted effort to eliminate waste from my life, I have been able to reduce my waste footprint by about 90%. The remaining 10% was made up of parcels covered in plastic, make up where there isn’t alternative packaging and longer use items such as headphones, tupparware that do break down eventually. The best result of this month-long experiment is the simply way it has enabled me to change my habits and make a difference. It showed me that I can reduce my waste by a huge proportion, without requiring me to spend more money or make much more effort, and I have continued to live a low-waste life.
It is debatable whether it is possible to be truly zero-waste in modern society due to the complexity of our supply chains, but there are very easy ways to reduce the sheer amount that we as individuals get through. What’s more, in the process, by changing the way we consume products – choosing products with no packaging or recyclable packaging – we can have an influence the companies who sell them to us.
In any case, in sustainable living, it’s far more important to ensure we don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. I have put time into changing my routines to make how I live as sustainable as possible and have no intention of going back. While I’m not going to stress if someone accidently puts a straw in a drink I order, I will continue to search for no-waste solutions to my everyday decisions. If we all take small steps in our personal lives, and continue to campaign for companies and governments to affect larger change, we can make a difference.