A Zero Hero’s Journey
What’s it like to adopt a zero waste lifestyle? Karen Martin is Contracts Officer at Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority so knows more than most about how reducing waste is important for the environment. We quizzed Karen on how her journey was coming along, any tips or tricks she’s picked up, and found out that living a zero waste life isn’t always straightforward, but is definitely rewarding.
What made you decide to try living a zero waste lifestyle?
I decided to try to go for zero waste as a result of seeing the detrimental environmental impacts that waste was having on the planet, and the legacy we were leaving for the younger generations. I think it was kickstarted as I initially decided to go plastic-free, but then one thing led to another and I decided to try and reduce waste wherever possible.
Also, as I work for Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority we promote zero waste/waste minimisation messages to residents, I felt that I ought to get on board and give it a go!
What elements of the zero waste lifestyle have you adopted? Have these changed as you’ve gained more experience?
I started by looking at what waste was being produced and what can be reduced and how. I started with packaging – how could I reduce it? One solution was to ditch all the different cleaning products that I had and rather than have something for everything, I went for one all-purpose cleaner. But I also went back to more traditional methods of cleaning such as using vinegar/lemons for washing the windows, surfaces etc. I changed from the plastic pods to soap powder (which wouldn’t lead to zero waste, but would really help to reduce it and also reduced the amount of non-recyclable waste). I started shopping differently and only buying fruit and veg loose so no more plastic wrapping (or paper bags even). I also get my meat from the butchers rather than pre-packed in plastic wrapping.
I started to look around for refill options which would again reduce any waste and I could refill reusable containers. I downloaded the Refill app. As a family we stopped buying bottled water and bought a water filter and re-usable drinks containers. I found a business called Refill Reuse Renew, which supplies a range of items such as cleaning products, cosmetics and other household goods that are either disposable or refills and they deliver to your door.
Food was an obvious opportunity to reduce waste. I went through the freezer and made a list of all the items that were in it and what meals could be made. I also stored the items in categories so meat was all together, fish, veg etc, so it was much easier to see at a glance what we had. Likewise with the fridge. When I go shopping I write a list of what we need and so don’t end up coming back home with something we already have. Buying fruit and veg loose also helped me reduce waste as I bought only what I needed for the week rather than multi packs. I started making more use of the freezer, including using it to store bread as I was constantly throwing bread out that had gone mouldy before it could be eaten. Cheese is also good to freeze and I started to blanch veg and freeze it to stop it going to waste. I have even made pickles and jams (which although use glass jars, can be reused when I make another batch).
When it comes to clothes or unwanted items etc I’ll take them to charity shops (and of course, whatever materials can go to a Recycling Centre).
I have bought a shredder for garden waste so any of shrubs that are cut back are shredded and used for mulch in the borders. I was always told that tea bags are good for roses so I’m also giving that a go.
I also noticed that Boots introduced a trial recycling service for make-up items that cannot go into the household recycling bins, so I have been using that also.
This is still early days so I’m still learning, but I’ve certainly started thinking about what I’m buying, why and how, to ensure that I can reduce producing waste whenever possible.
What have the main difficulties been? Has anything in particular surprised you?
I think the main difficulty was finding what was out there, where could I find reuse/refill shops, what alternatives there were to plastics, where I can buy unpackaged food. There were not many alternatives to plastic packaging on the market and they were extremely expensive in comparison. It was apparent that there weren’t many options for refill where I lived without travelling distances to get to them (so not having a car would be a real barrier, but then that raises the issue of all that driving!) I spent many hours searching the web to see what the options and advice was out there. When I did find it, I found information confusing and while I was trying to reduce plastics I learned that not all plastics are bad and not all glass is good when it comes to reuse and recycling.
Getting to grips with the different Apps was also a bit frustrating, but I never really used social media so that’s probably why. I signed up to Zero Waste LCR and refill sites for tips and advice.
Have you got any advice for those wishing to follow your footsteps into zero waste?
I think my main advice would be to think what you want to achieve before you start. I don’t think I could ever go completely waste free, I mean I’m not going to stop buying make-up or stop using all packaging so you need to set realistic targets for yourself. Perhaps focus on one waste type at a time (e.g. food) and get that right before you move on to others. I think I tried to do too much too soon and have ended up doing a little bit of everything and feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information and the extent to which I needed to change how I shopped. I could no longer go to one shop for everything, as each one offers a different opportunity to help me achieve my goal.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. This isn’t something that you can achieve straight away – I believe it is a gradual change of life style
Our thanks to Karen for answering questions about adopting a zero waste lifestyle. Any external links in the article are not officially endorsed by MRWA and are for reference and information purposes only.