by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 5th October, 2018
The zero waste movement aims to reduce our impact on the planet and how much toxic landfill waste we produce, by either eliminating our waste or switching to reusable, recyclable or compostable materials entirely. It's sprung up and gained momentum in recent years as a combative response to our current climate crisis. Every year, our global population of over 7 billion people produce 320 million tonnes of plastic, and this is set to double by 2034. This figure doesn't even include the amount of food waste, textile waste and other forms of waste that we all produce in our day-to-day lives. It's not hard to imagine how this is having an impact on our planet. For one, we are running out of places to put all this waste, our sewer systems are struggling, our landfills are filling up, and we can see plastic pollution everywhere in our rivers, oceans, cities etc. While there is a growing awareness of how much plastic we use and throw away, it is still very easy to simply buy plastic and throw it away, without every thinking about the consequences. The majority of the plastics we throw away will end up in landfills or in the ocean. When put in landfills, the plastics start to heat up and produce a greenhouse gas known as methane, contributing to global warming. When it ends up in areas such as rivers and oceans, the plastic pollution makes it difficult for animals there to survive.
By reducing our waste, we can not only help to slow this problem down, but also become more mindful of our consumption and find more frugal ways to live. Of course, it's not expected that everyone can give up plastic altogether and never produce any landfill waste ever again because this isn't practical or realistic, which is why these movements focus on creating a joint effort between the companies that produce the waste products and the consumers that throw them away.
As the holiday season draws closer, we naturally start to accumulate more and more waste from gifts and other material items bought such as decorations, gift wrap and costumes. This is a year - round problem, but it's especially prominent during celebratory times and luckily, it's one of the easiest to prevent in your life. To a certain extent, it is unavoidable - sometimes we need certain products, and there's no way to get them without accumulating packaging. In many ways however, we can change our spending habits to reduce the amount of material packaging we aquire.
A lot of the packaging and harm that comes from buying gifts comes not only from the production of the gift itself but from the shipping and packaging of the items. Online shopping is incredibly easy, but it is having ramifications on our environment. Transportation emissions from shipping internationally add up, as do the packaging of those items for transport. Instead, try and buy whatever gifts you want in a store itself. Not only will you be reducing packaging, but you may well save money, get a better idea of the quality of the gift, and hopefully support some local businesses.
As more and more people become aware of the impact that their spending habits have on the planet, more and more shops are appearing that feature ethically-made, sustainable products. Many of these shops are also family-owned or small businesses. Instead of heading to the usual high-street brands, try finding a gift (whether it be for yourself or someone else) from one of these retailers. Often times they will use compostable or recyclable packing too, or re-use their old packaging. While these shops may be slightly pricier than, say, Amazon - you will have the reassurance that the workers who made them are paid well, and that the product itself isn't destroying the environment.
"A picture's worth a thousand words and an experience is worth a thousand pictures" - as the zero-waste movement grows, so is the minimalist movement, which go hand in hand. Minimalism rejects non-essential items such as material gifts, in favor of experiences, or monetary donations. Offering a chance to have a meal, or experience something completely new and exciting to your loved one can often be much more meaningful than a material gift. Use the gift-giving season as a time for bonding and creating memories rather than creating waste.
Buying second hand is the holy grail of zero-waste shopping. As a society, we have a huge problem with buying clothes or products, using them very little and then chucking them away when they could be re-used by another person. This leads to massive amounts of textile and plastic waste accumulating when it shouldn't be, and drives the production of even more textiles and plastics, that could have been avoided. When possible, go to local thrift stores or charity shops and look on sites such as ebay, depop, gumtree, craigslist or online thrift stores to find pre-loved items that you can use. Not only will you likely save a lot of money, you'll be giving your money to real people rather than large companies.
Packaging from food is often one of our biggest sources of waste, but there are lot's of ways that you can reduce it. Again, to some extent it is unavoidable, we need to eat and not everyone can find bulk options or has a local farmers market. All we can do is try our best, and ask the shops that we do buy from to change their packaging habits.
One of the best ways you can not only reduce the amount of waste you produce, but also the impact of your food in greenhouse gas emissions, is to buy from local markets. Local farmers markets will almost always have an abundance of fresh, affordable produce that is locally grown and sold without being wrapped in a bunch of plastic. Because the produce is locally grown, the impact of transporting the food is greatly reduced. They will often offer plastic carrier bags however, so make sure to bring your own re-usable bags along to avoid this waste. Because the produce is locally grown, the impact of transporting the food is greatly reduced. If you can, try to find a farmers market that offers organic produce, as this will help to reduce pollution from fertilizers and pesticides. Get reusable straws, cups and cutlery. A lot of the waste we produce from buying food items comes from the containers and cutlery that accompany them. Have you ever stopped to think how many coffee-cups (or any other type of disposable cups) you have actually used and thrown away in your lifetime? For most of us, the answer is a lot - and these coffee cups will nearly always end up in a landfill, regardless of whether the company promotes them as recyclable. This problem is easily avoidable however by buying a reusable coffee cup and reusable cutlery, and taking them with you when you leave the house. It may sound like a hassle at first, but over time it becomes second nature and you'll be astonished at how much less waste you produce. Not only that, but many establishments are now offering discounts to anyone using a reusable cup, so you'll be saving money too.
How many times have you wrapped your left-overs in saran wrap and gone on with your day, without thinking about where all that plastic goes? Everyone's guilty of it, but wrapping your food in single-use plastic really doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about it. You use the plastic once and then throw it away, only so you can go and buy more plastic, to throw it away again. By switching to re-usable food packaging in your home, you can buy it once and then never again. Many people use cloth, beeswax cloth or even just old plastic bags to wrap up their food, clean, and then re-use again. You can even make your own beeswax wraps at home at barely any cost.
So often, the only options available to us when buying food are individually wrapped, small portions of produce such as nuts, seeds, grains and cereals. All of these items preserve well and can be bought in bulk instead, if you know where to look. Buying in bulk helps to reduce your food packaging waste substantially, especially if you take your own reusable produce bags rather than using those provided by the store. Popular chains such as whole foods normally offer a wide selection of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and grains in bulk - with the added bonus that you'll be making less trips to the store to buy food.
The fashion industry is having a huge impact on our environment and is a large contributor to the pollution of our environments. Cheap, plastic fabrics are in high demand but don't last long so they quickly are tossed out in favor of more cheap plastic fabrics. In the process, large amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted and tones of fabric off-cuts are scrapped. By switching out our clothes for more longer-lasting and sustainable alternatives, not only will be saving money, we'll also be saving the environment.
As already mentioned, buying second hand is probably the best way you can reduce your impact of your wardrobe and start supporting "slow fashion". Thrift shops are popping up everywhere and can often be a great source of high-quality cheap clothing, but if there's none near you there's also a wide variety of second-hand sites online.
The manufacturing process plays a huge role in how a piece of clothing affects the environment, and the well-being of the workers who make that clothing. Looking for brands that are certified as organic, and who use sustainable production techniques (such as using natural dyes) ensures that you're clothing won't already have a large carbon footprint when you buy it.
When you're buying clothing, look for fabrics that are sustainable, will last long and bio-degrade one day. Fabrics made from bamboo, hemp and organic cotton are often a good bet.
Our diets can also have an impact on how much waste we create and how much of an impact we have on the environment. For example, over 40% of all the waste in the ocean comes from the fishing industry, and that's a low estimate at best. With marine life suffering due to plastic clogging up their natural habitats, changing our eating habits can have a profound impact on the environment we live in. It's not just plastic pollution though, it's estimated that the animal agriculture industry actually contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the entire of the transportation industry, globally. Luckily, it's pretty easy to change our diets to reduce our impact.
Buying locally greatly reduces the emissions produced from transportation of food. Although it doesn't eliminate all of the waste or pollution that comes from food production, it can certainly make a difference not only to the environment but also to your local community to start buying local.
Organic produce simply means food that is grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. This is important because the run-off of those fertilizers and pesticides can damage and pollute local environments as well as important ecosystems much farther away. This is leading to a destruction in natural wildlife and a decrease in biodiversity, which isn't good for anyone.
As mentioned, the animal agriculture and fishing industries are having a huge impact on the health of our planet, and are some of the biggest contributors to global climate change. Cutting down on our consumption of these products helps to bring down your own carbon footprint, as well as reduce your overall waste.
Transporting ourselves to and from work, holidays, school and more takes it's toll on the environment, as you are probably aware. Everyone knows that the cars we drive and the planes we take have an impact on the environment, but few are aware of the steps we can take to reduce this impact. While transportation is unavoidable in some cases, we can definitely help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we produce as we move around.
Probably the most commonly heard of way to reduce your transport emissions is to start taking public transport more often. It's often cheap, and can be quick and efficient, especially if you live in suburban areas or big cities. Alternatively, buy a bike if you don't already have one, this an excellent way to transport yourself quickly and efficiently, without producing any greenhouse gases.
This is a tricky one for many people, so it may be something to consider further down the line. If you're in the market for a new vehicle however, consider switching to a hybrid-electric car, which cuts your emissions down considerable by powering the car partially with electricity. If you're seriously looking to cut down, there are some entirely electric cars out there which, if charged with solar panels, would technically be completely emission-free, but unfortunately this just isn't an affordable option for many people yet.
Wherever possible, it's best to try and avoid long-haul journey's. Not only do they use up a lot of fuel, they're often unnecessary. If you're going on several long-haul flights per year, see if you can cut down and spend a few holidays closer to home. Of course, with work and family commitments this isn't always possible, but at least taking a few more local vacations can help. One long-haul flight is estimated to contribute around the same amount of carbon emissions as one person uses in an entire year - so cutting down and really save a lot.
How clued-in are you to your own energy consumption? If you're like most of us, probably not a lot. However, becoming more aware of our energy consumption and finding ways to reduce or change it is key to living a low-impact lifestyle. The easiest way to do this is to install a meter that tracks and records how much energy you are using, where you are using it and how much it is costing you. You can now even find ones that link up to your phone so you can check your energy consumption wherever you are. Another important step you can take is to check with your energy provider whether you can switch to renewable energy. Many don't advertise it well, but a lot of energy providers are now offering their customers the chance to switch to 100% renewable energy, which is a huge step in the right direction.