Waste not Want not

I was brought up with a WWII mentality to everything. There was always a make do and mend, waste not want not and reuse and recycle mentality in my house. As I entered the twenty-first century, I knew that the values my grandmother had instilled in me through my childhood would be incredibly useful. For we need a war on waste and we need it to happen yesterday.

I’ve been trying to reduce my own impact on this planet for some time. But now it’s time to take it to the next level. Many of my friends and family are just as diligent as me, but as I look at the bins in the house where my flat is, I am reminded that I am maybe one in five in my attitudes and the next step is preaching to the unconverted. 

If you’re not careful, your Facebook/Twitter/real life echo chamber can have you believe everyone has the same habits as you. But it’s not the case. 

I also need some help from those who are doing better than me on this journey towards zero waste living. For we can all go one step further no matter how much we are already doing. There is always a new change to make and something new to learn.

My one-woman mission to reduce my personal waste over the last few years has been about making small, new changes to the way I shop and live every few months in the aim of reducing my impact on the planet. Small steps, one at a time. I think that works better as it can feel a bit militant (and ultimately unachievable) to make great enormous leaps all at once.

We’ve done lots of recycled craft activities with young people recently at Half Moon and I have loved getting young minds excited about how to reuse materials. This piggy bank was my favourite.

But. And this is a big but. I’ve just embarked on a few months of living in the Desert so I’ve gotta ask a favour of you lot back home in the UK. It is impossible not to produce rubbish here no matter how hard I’m trying: there’s nowhere to send the recycling and the ubiquitous blue plastic bags are littering the land, along with so much more besides. Though I’m ensuring not to create any personal waste, the waste from food packaging of the supplies here is impossible to avoid.

Sandblast, the UK-based charity that works within the Saharawi Refugee Camps to promote cultural activism, and with whom I am working while I am here, has supported a project in one of the five Camps over the last year to teach children about keeping their local area clean and litter-free. I hope to be able to support this project to continue expanding while I am here.

But, onto the favour. If you’ve been wanting to make a more concerted effort to reduce your impact on the planet and any of the below aren’t already part of your everyday war on waste and you’re interested in taking your habits up a level, consider taking a few on board. While I’m busy doing what I can over here, I’m asking others to take on my ways back at home… And give me new things to add to my list for when I get back!

My UK-based checklist for reducing my waste includes the following (the dictatoral tone is the way I talk to myself; I’m not shouting at you, promise):

  • You’re not allowed to buy it if you don’t have a bag big enough to put it in. Don’t ever accept a plastic bag. Ever. Even when they tell you it’s free. The lads at Khan’s Bargains in Peckham know my face and that fact even if they don’t know my actual name.
  • Never buy fruit, veg or anything else in plastic packaging when you can get them loose. And never put them in one of those little polythene bags just to weigh them. Again, the Khan’s guys laugh at me for this as I carry my individual peaches up to the counter but I carry on regardless.

Note: I found a Weigh and Save recently in Croydon having been looking for one since my uni days in Exeter. I took all the Tupperware I could carry and got loaded up with packaging-free dry goods. Best zero-waste day ever.

My bike basket is forever full of Tupperware.
  • Never buy meat or fish in a packet. If you can’t get to the butchers or the fishmongers, you’re not eating anything other than vegetables this week.
  • Take your Keep Cup with you everywhere. Journeys and conferences especially. If you’re at a meeting or an event and they only have plastic or polystyrene cups and you don’t have your Keep Cup, you have to go thirsty. (I soon learnt never to be without it.)
  • Carry an empty Tupperware box. And some cutlery. If you can avoid any packaging when purchasing food or disposable cutlery when eating it, do it. Also good to carry a set of chopsticks. Those throwaway wooden ones in restaurants are really bad for the environment.
  • Buy butter in paper rather than a plastic tub. 
  • Always buy those refill packs of coffee, washing tabs etc.
  • Switch to soap from handwash and shower gel.
  • Switch to a Mooncup/Organicup from any other sanitary product. Cleanest, freshest and most secure I have ever felt during all my years of periods. Fact.
  • Switch to wooden toothbrushes and wooden cotton buds.
  • Don’t buy any products which contain microbeads.
  • Switch to natural deodorant. So much less packaging and no aluminium on your skin.
  • If you’re not sure if you can recycle something, check with your local authority recycling scheme. They take lots more than you think and will recycle that stuff you’re just not sure about.
  • Never ever buy bottled water. Ever. If you have your bottle for life with you, eating establishments have to fill it up for you. It’s the law.
  • Never use paper plates or cups if you have ones you can wash and reuse.
  • If you can buy something in paper/card or glass rather than plastic or polystyrene, do. I’ve seen cardboard boxes of oranges in Sainsbury’s recently rather than those non-recyclable nets, for instance.
  • Reuse greetings cards as postcards (I’ve been trying to send only postcards to save on envelopes and those plastic sleeves cards come in for a while now).
  • Get crafty and turn cards into gift boxes.
You can make gift boxes for presents out of greetings cards.
  • Reuse wrapping paper and gift bags.
  • Plastic tub food containers are sometimes a better option than that coated paper stuff so just check the packaging regarding recycling it (thinking about ice cream specifically now). 
  • Reuse jam jars as storage pots.
  • If there isn’t a recycling bin in the street, take your recyclable rubbish home with you.
  • Buy in bigger bags and bottles and boxes as often as you can. 
  • Switch to Good Energy or a similar energy provider if you can. Move to a Hive System if you can.
  • Line your curtains to keep the heat in. 
  • Get a draft excluder on your front door.

Oh and almost forgot: cycle everywhere! That just goes without saying…

I’ve recently taken to cycling as close to the airport as I can physically get by loading my wheelie suitcase on the back of my bike!

    And here endeth the sermon from my waste-reducing moral high ground. 😉

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