Our Zero Waste playing field - successes and struggles
So I said I’d go through in a bit more detail where we are with our zero waste journey, and where we want to be. I figured I’d break it down into a few different categories and we’ll see how it goes from there.
Near where we live there are a couple of street markets. These aren’t exactly your high quality, fancy farmers markets (although there is one in a nearby park on Saturdays). No, these are bog standard fruit and veg stalls where you can get more than enough fruit and veg to last the week (or more) for under a tenner. Sure, it probably isn’t going to be winning any prizes for ‘most middle class courgette of the year’, but we can get our fruit and veg without plastic bags for around half the price (or less) than we would find its cellophane-wrapped sibling in the local supermarkets.
We also do our best to grow our own on the walkway outside our flat - this year we’ve had a fair amount of success with tomatoes, chilli peppers and sweet red peppers. My purple-sprouting broccoli were getting really close to being harvestable, but we went away for a week, and although they got watered plenty, a biblical horde of slugs must have found their way up to our floor because when we got back the leaves had been stripped from every single plant.
One of our first big steps towards zero waste at home has been getting towards zero waste tea and coffee. We used to buy big multipacks of hundreds of teabags, which was definitely frugal. But most teabags in the UK have plastic in them, and although I love my tea, I don’t really want the teabags to be sticking around for thousands of years after I’m dead. Luckily there’s a fantastic shop near us that sells coffee beans and tea leaves in bulk. You bring along your own container, fill it up with the tea or coffee of your choice, weigh it, and take it to the check out. It’s perhaps a bit more expensive and less convenient than tea bags and supermarket coffee blends, but it definitely helps the planet.
One area that isn’t great still is in some of the other pantry staples we need. For example, protein sources like tofu or fake meat all come heavily packaged in single-use plastic. We’re gradually learning how to make our own, but the additional problem is that we live in a fairly small flat, and we share a freezer with our flatmate. That makes it really hard to make things in bulk, which then gives us the extra problem that it’s not really economical to make small quantities of these staples. So it’s a challenge, but we’re trying to figure out how we can do better.
In accordance with our frugal approach to many things, neither of us really gets takeaway hot drinks all that often. However, we both have our own keep-cups so we can take a reusable cup with us on the odd occasion we do find ourselves desperate for a caffeine fix while we’re out. I got mine at a work conference, so it is plastic, but reusable, and very sturdy. Plus I get a little frugal glow out of knowing that it was free and I’d wanted one for ages!
We also have two cutlery kits that can easily fit in our bag when we’re out with a small knife, fork and spoon, and metal chopsticks. They pack up neatly and make eating out so much more convenient (although we are both definitely working on reducing takeaway lunches). We also refuse straws and often will bring our own, as I recently got a multipack of loads of different sized straws that can also come with us in our bags. These really are the easiest swaps to make - the one problem is remembering to take them with you, but I’m getting better at that every day!
Laundry and housekeeping
One thing we’ve been doing for years is making use of refillable washing-up liquid and eco-balls to do our laundry and washing up. My cousin got a set of eco-balls when she had her first child - they are a convenient, easy to use, zero waste and hypo-allergenic way to do your laundry. Each one lasts up to 1,000 washes. And no single-use plastic! I’m very interested in switching to soap nuts though as they do a very similar thing, but without even durable plastic. As for the washing up liquid, we found a shop near us (another one!) that does refillable Ecover washing up liquid. I now have a collection of about six bottles that I take with me to go and top up every few months. The shop isn’t so close that I can do it on the regular, but it’s close enough that really stocking up on washing up liquid is feasible. However, something I really want to try is making my own - I’ve seen a few recipes involving grating up castile soap, and I’m pretty sure I can make that myself so… watch this space!
We’re also gradually replacing a lot of our housekeeping products with home-made or zero waste alternatives. I’ve been using microfibre cloths to clean with for a pretty long time now, so that was a swap I made without realising it. We do, however, have a swiffer broom (you know, the ones that use disposable paper towels and pre-soaked mop heads to clean with). I love it because it’s really effective and easy to use, but I know that I need to figure out how to make some zero waste and reusable towels that I can use instead of the disposable ones. It’ll probably be a bit of a sewing project.
We’re working on cosmetics at the moment, but we’re not quite there. For example, we’ve shifted over to Georganics mouthwash tabs, charcoal floss and toothpaste (stand by for our reviews) and have been using Nuud deodorant for a while (it’s amazing). Nuud is fantastic because the deodorant lasts for a few days at a time so you don’t need to use much of it in one go, and the tubes are made out of a biodegradable material made from sugarcane, so it’s using up plant waste and doesn’t contribute to the planet’s problems!
Our next step is shifting to zero waste shower gel or soap, shampoo and conditioner, as well as cleanser, toner and moisturiser. We’ve got a few recipes for those we’re going to try out though, so hopefully we’ll be able to do away with single-use plastics there forever!
Make-up is the next stage after that, but neither of us see much point in disposing of what we already have just because the packaging is plastic. That would be more wasteful than just using up what we have and replacing it zero-waste style when we’re done. The trouble is, neither of us wears make-up very regularly so using it up takes quite the while!
First up, we have a cat. He’s a fussy little guy (does anyone have a cat who isn’t super fussy? Can I come and worship that animal?), so he only eats premium-supermarket branded cat food. We tried him on some much higher quality stuff when the vet suggested that his upset stomach might benefit but he refused to eat it at all. So, back to the Gourmet multipacks it is. On a frugal note, it’s great that this brand is his favourite because we can get packs of sixty foil pouches for about £20 locally. However, the packets themselves are not recyclable and beyond that the meat he needs to eat is definitely not ethical. We tried to offer him some fresh fish (no bones) once, but again, the picky little chap turned his nose up. I’ve seen a few recipes for home-made cat food so we might give that a try, and I’ve also seen recipes for DIY cat treats so there are definitely options out there!
Then, as with all cats, there are the other things he needs to have a high quality of life that we haven’t worked out whether it’s possible to do zero waste versions of. For example, because of his medical needs he’s an indoor cat; that means we need a litter tray for him. We have a small flat, so the best way we’ve found to keep the place odour free is to use a ‘litter locker’. This comes with canisters of single-use plastic bags that you roll through the system to keep a nice, odourless box of clumps until it’s easy to go and empty the bin downstairs. We haven’t found a litter locker system that uses for example, biodegradable bags. We looked into using flushable litter which would make it much easier, but cat feces contain toxoplasmosis bacteria, so it isn’t really hygienic or safe to flush cat feces into the sewage system. In Denmark, apparently, their filtration systems can cope with cat poop, but I’m not so sure what the situation is in the UK.
So for now our cat remains a big barrier to being able to go fully zero waste. We’d love to reach the point where, when we can move somewhere with a garden that gives us more flexibility, we can move to a point where we need less in the way of litter and disposal methods, and can shift towards a more eco-friendly but cat-welcoming lifestyle - but that ain’t going to happen for a good few years.
So that’s where we are now - what about you? Are you interested in Zero Waste living? Have any tips for some newbies? Or do you have any advice on how to persuade a cat to prefer a different kind of cat food…?