Going zero-waste (or less-waste let’s be honest) is my newest healthy choice; it’s healthy for me but mostly for the planet (and what’s good for her is good for all of us). I’ve always been an enthusiastic defender of the environment, and I work in a place where people are as well – which is really inspiring.
What does zero-waste entail?
The three well-known Rs of living zero-waste are reducing, recycling, and reusing; as simple as that. I’m already up and running with recycling, so I’ll focus on the two others.
Why going zero-waste?
There is one thing that makes me really really mad is how we (we, the industrialised world) are carelessly devastating the planet. We’re sorely using its resources, excessively consuming, and producing zillion of tonnes of waste. Here are a few blatant facts just so you have an idea (Source: Tree Hugger):
- We throw out over 50 tons of household waste every second. A number that will double by 2030;
- Every year is it estimated that around 500 billion plastic bags are used globally;
- Every year, 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year; the equivalent of 5 grocery bags per every 300 meters of coastline across the planet;
- Plastic is one of the most enduring materials we make; it takes an estimated 500 to 1,000 years for it to degrade;
- Fifty percent of the plastic we produce is used once and then thrown away immediately.
Blimey! Don’t you find this alarming? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As naive as it might sound, I believe we can all do something about it right here and right now. I reckon we could all make an effort to be more conscious consumers and to take into account the impact that our purchases have on the environment. Don’t get me wrong, I have way too many clothes, too many pairs of shoes and I like travelling to remote foreign countries. I’m not going to be in the extreme but I’d like to make some sustainable changes in the way I consume (food, but not only).
I’ll share my experience with you, and maybe it’ll inspire some to try lower their carbon footprint (you can calculate yours here if you want to have an idea).
Where/when do I start?
That’s quite easy for me as I have just moved to a much smaller apartment; smaller kitchen, smaller fridge, smaller bathroom – which means a lot less space to store and accumulate stuff. It’s the perfect timing to put in place new habits and stick to them; and I find it quite exciting too!
Have you ever paid attention to the amount of packaging we generally get when we go grocery shopping at the supermarket? Everything is wrapped up in plastic or cardboard, and often both. Here is quite a fact : the average amount of waste generated per person in the European Union was 475 kg in 2014 (check out the stats). 475 kg, I don’t even know what that looks like!
You got it, my first hobby-horse will be (a lot) less packaging . My diet being 85% plant-based, it shouldn’t be too hard to reduce the waste I produce. Going to the farmer’s market instead of my local Carrefour is already a good start, and it’s nice to have a chat with the producers. I can use my own grocery bag and don’t get any kind of plastic whatsoever (because it’s a fact, even on market you get plastic bags).
In Brussels – and in many cities – you can now find refill stores, aka zero-waste store. They sell “loose foods”, which means that you take as much as you need from larger containers – and you can usually bring your own: glass bottles/jars, paper bags, vegetable nets, etc. They don’t only sell fruit and veggies, there is a wide range of products such as olive oil, nuts, bread, biscuits, pasta, rice, flour, cereals, meat, cheese, wine, juice, etc. It might be a little tiny bit more expensive (and not all the products to be fair) than a regular supermarket, but offers quality and gives the opportunity to buy local and seasonal.
I get a lot of food waste, mainly from juicing. I normally use compost bags but the kitchen in my new place is too small to have 4 bins in there. Doing a bit of research online, I’ve found a free compost a few streets away from my new flat, flipping awesome! Every other day, I’ll just have to go with the food waste and drop it there!
DIY Cleaning products
A couple of months ago, I organised a workshop at work on how to make our own cleaning products. My friend Lucie shared her experience and gave us a few recipes she’d found in Bea Johnson’s book: Zero Waste Home (on my reading-list). I made my very first dish soap, an all-purpose cleaning spray and laundry soap (recipes soon!). They’re cheap, efficient, and don’t contain any harmful chemicals.
IKEA vs second-hand stores
As I’ve just moved out of my former apartment and owned close to nothing, I needed new furniture, kitchen stuff, curtains, etc. The easiest would have been to go to Ikea and buy everything there. Nah, I didn’t quite exactly do that. First of all, I don’t want my place to look like page 321 and 478 of their catalogue, completely soulless; and second of all, why would I buy brand new stuff when I can buy second-hand items that are cheaper and in good condition? I’ve found a few good deals on second-hand websites and stores, on Facebook groups and also by word to mouth; and yes I did go to IKEA to buy a few unavoidable items.
Other easy changes
There are also a few quick changes that I have already put in place, and a few others that don’t require much effort:
- Using a glass bottle instead of buying plastic bottles;
- Packing lunch in a reusable lunch bag/box instead of buying a sandwich wrapped in a km of plastic or a soup in a plastic bowl;
- Bringing your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurants that let you use them;
- Eating leftovers – in my opinion, throwing away perfectly edible food is a crime;
- In stores, snack bars, restaurants, refusing plastic bags, straws, etc. If you always go to the same juice place, don’t throw away the cup – clean it and reuse it!
There is so much more I – you, we – can do, but I reckon that even the smallest changes add up to sustainable results and can make a massive difference. So where will you start?