Try going zero waste cold turkey and you’ll fail. The key to reducing your waste is to just start your journey and see where the most natural place for you to start making small changes to your life is. We all have our own entry points to trying to live a Zero Waste lifestyle, which is an almost impossible goal, yet one I find very aspirational and motivating.
The first thing I had to do was manage my own expectations and define what ‘zero waste’ meant for me.
I started with fashion almost 3-years ago when discovered the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing. The reality that I contributed to the how cheap fashion and a throw away, wear it once culture, which mostly ends in landfill (destined to be there forever as most fast-fashion brands don’t use biodegradable fabric or toxic-free dyes) made me shudder. It just made me think about all of the bags of clothes I bagged up for the charity shop every few months for the past 10-years. I realised I was one of those fashion waste statistics… that’s when I knew I wanted to change.
I started with a 12-month clothes shopping detox
In fact, April 2018 marks the end of my 12-month fast fashion detox (which I restarted twice due to a couple of unconscious shopping purchases. I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t buy anything new and would try to be as resourceful and sustainable as possible. I allowed myself to buy ethical and sustainable underwear (thank you AmaElla and Y.O.U underwear) and buy pre-loved clothes if I really truly needed it (thanks eBay and Mary’s Living & Giving in Islington).
During the 12-months of shopping my own wardrobe, repairing clothes and bringing new life to shoes by taking them to the cobbler, I discovered just how disposable my consumerism had become. What started as a passion for sustainable and ethical fashion has evolved into something bigger and far more conscious for me. I am ‘aware’ – and this sense of awareness is guiding towards more ethical and sustainable choices, and ultimately I’m way less wasteful.
If you follow me on social media or the blog, you’ll know I am preparing for the Going Green Online Summit on the 24th April, so I have been collating my thoughts in advance on living a more Eco-friendly lifestyle and running a sustainable business. Whilst I normally talk about ethical fashion and sustainable style, this year I am talking about how we live, our values and looking at environmental issues from a broader lifestyle viewpoint.
One of the things that has helped me on my zero waste journey has been keeping a note of what litter I put in the bin and what goes into the recycling bin. At a simplistic level this has just helped me identify what impact 1-person can have. It’s a lot.
Being extra busy and going for zero waste…
This year I took on some extra marketing and communication consultancy work at a law firm in London, this has meant that I have been extra busy, fitting this in around all my other jobs has meant that I have been falling into ‘what’s easy mode’ and on days where I didn’t plan, I had to buy things on the go and seen my less friendly eco-behaviour creeping in.
Over the last 12-weeks, I tracked my purchases:
- Breakfast containers from Chopp’d X 12
- Sandwich box X2
- Plastic sushi box X 4
- Disposable cutlery X 10
Cups of tea X 15
- Plastic bags X4
- Paper bags X 8
- Ad hoc wrappers (non-recyclable) from snacks brought on the go – totalling 30+
Set a personal zero waste goal, start small and build on it
My personal goal is to try and be as zero waste on the go (and at work) as possible. I’m still working hard to reduce the plastic waste that seems to accumulate from deliveries to my home, but that’s another story!
What could your personal goal be for 2018? It’s never too late to start! Add your comments below.
Zero Waste at home and at the office
I made a few notes about the waste I have seen and contributed to over the past 3-months whilst contracting in the city and working in my other jobs.
- A high volume of perishable items are available in single serving packets, such as sugar, sweeteners and teabags – which all generate waste multiple times per day for each person
– Instead businesses could bulk in bulk (save money) and provide these in large glass jars in each kitchen with labels.
- Paper towels in kitchen areas tend to fill the bins… perhaps businesses could provide more reusable tea towels in the kitchens, and a fresh supply throughout the day as I know how unhygienic they can become!
- Sandwiches on plastic platter trays – these are a regular item I see in any business which often go to waste – I would suggest that catering consider investing in re-usable serving platters and ordering 25% less sandwiches for events
- Food waste goes into the same bin as regular waste – should businesses be offering a composting option?
- Recycling bins have a mix of recyclable and non-recyclable materials in them, in addition to people throwing dirty packaging into the bins (this creates more work for recycling companies and more often than not the toss dirty items to the landfill pile) – suggest businesses must have consistent communication going out to remind everyone that simply popping dirty items into the bin doesn’t mean it will be recycled, a quick rinse will mean their efforts won’t be in vein!
- Lunchtime packaging waste – there is a lot, from disposable coffee cups to single use boxes and containers used to grab breakfast or lunch on the go. Just take look at the overflowing bins in the streets of London. Wouldn’t it be great if employers gave employees their own travel mugs, lunch boxes and even had a stash in the kitchen so that staff can grab a cup or box before heading to the shop (as we all have days where we forget things) – if this was available, I think many of us would produce 80% less waste.
- Soap dispensers in the bathrooms that are single use could be replaced with non plastic containers fitted to the wall which can be refilled. Also, hand dryers… are more eco-friendly than throw away paper towels (which generate so much waste in the bathroom bins).
Armed with my notes, I will be going to the Green Committee of the company I am temporarily contracting for and offer them my suggestions. That’s all I can do, try and set an example to myself and others around me. It’s sometimes just a matter of confidence and having the courage to challenge the way something is done in your place of work. It can seem scary, but just think about the impact. Imagine, your impact multiplied by the number of employees where you work, then imagine their reach, their families and friends, and so on. It all adds up.
So that’s my observations during my 12-week journey during the busiest time in my career and personal life – I’m not perfect, but I am trying. That’s all any of us can do. Whether you’re an employee or a business owner, considering your impact is extremely important – we all have a responsibility to do the right thing.
Zero Waste tip
Identifying actions that happen on auto-pilot is a really useful way to get started going green…
Try keeping a journal for 7-days to see how much waste you create and what can gets recycled. At the end of the 7-days take a photograph of all of the wrappers, boxes and cartons – it’s a great way to see your unconscious shopping habits and see where you can make some small tweaks.
Good luck with your zero waste journey and don’t forget to tune into the Going Green event on the 24th April in support of Fashion Revolution week.
Roberta Lee is the Founder of the Ethical Brand Directory
You can find out more about Roberta and the directory by visiting the about page