Cover image: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a27214575/how-to-live-zero-waste-no-plastic/
Above image courtesy of @lesswastelaura
Often, when you come across the zero waste movement online, you’re met with shiny matching mason jars, and perfect pantries filled with plastic free goods. Personally, I think it’s important to show the reality of reducing waste. And let me tell you - it’s not all Instagram-able.
My journey started in 2018. During my final year of university (I studied Geography and Environmental Science), I was challenged to make my new year’s resolution to live with less waste. I’d just been on a New Year’s Day walk, and was horrified to find plastic waste washed up on a white sandy beach on the east coast of Scotland.
After returning home, I realised I wouldn’t be able to go cold turkey - immediately live a waste-less life. I started to notice that everything came in plastic packaging, and I realised that the best way to change my habits was to find easy switches for my everyday essentials, researching along the way - and discovering a world of possibilities.
Not all swaps were as easy as others. Swapping to a bamboo toothbrush was a simple like-for-like, but shampoo bars… oh they took a few tries to get a perfect match! But it’s not just haircare conundrums that hold people back from living a low waste life. A major problem for many is accessibility.
Accessibility looks different for different people. For some, it’s geographic - not having the infrastructure around them to enable a low waste lifestyle. For others, it’s price - ethical and sustainable products can sometimes come with a higher price tag. And often, it’s time that holds people back - the time and flexibility needed to find a perfect swap can sometimes feel overwhelming.
This being said, nearly 3 years on, I have found I am saving time, money, and stress by living in a simpler way. I have reduced my consumption - not just swapping out my unethical and wasteful products, but also reducing the volume of what I buy.
I consume less because I need less. I consume less because I see we have to limit consumption to really break through to environmental care. The world consumes more than it can cope with - but we can slow it down. It’s a privilege to live in a waste free way - mostly because the system is against us. But if we are afforded this privilege, I think we should use it - to shop and live differently, and to challenge these broken systems.
Since starting my low waste journey, I have actually saved money overall. No more new clothes every weekend, no new nails and makeup for every occasion. I slowed down, spent less, spent differently, and spent with more thought.
There’s popular saying in the low waste community:
‘We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need many people doing it imperfectly.’
So with this in mind, I would love to leave you with my top tip for anyone wanting to live with less waste. It’s to do a waste audit. I believe the journey to zero waste is much simpler and more effective when we have a targeted approach to waste reduction, and this is a great place for anyone to start:
1. Collect all of your waste (landfill and recycling) for 2 weeks. Then, lay it all out and have a look.
2. Pick your 'worst' items. Maybe it's meal deal sandwich boxes, plastic bottles of water, or something else - but identifying your 'worst' items can help you target your waste reduction strategy.
3. Then take a few of these 'worst' items, and make an actionable plan for how to reduce them - and keep repeating to continue at a sustainable pace.
Written by Laura Young.