We have been a relatively waste aware family for some time. At least I thought so. Back in September last year our wheelie bin was only ever half full on the fortnightly collection day and with 2 compost bins in the garden, our garden waste bin was only occasionally used. Our recycling bin was however usually filled to the top. Still, not too bad for a family of 3? Cloth nappies and some other reusables had already been a no brainer, and I thought I already avoided excessive packaging.
I was looking online for a clip about zero waste week from a few years back that I wanted to share with a friend who was struggling with overfull bins. It turned out to be zero waste week again right then and through that, with the help of Rachelle Strauss, I found my way to the Zero Waste Heroes Facebook group. Thanks to the amazing and friendly support from the group (and other groups I’ve joined along the way) I soon realised we could reduce our waste by so much more! With this support we have considerably reduced the amount of waste we produce over the past year and a bit. This has involved a change in shopping habits, a few changes to our diet, and a bit more of making things from scratch, but I am really pleased that we have been able to make a noticeable reduction without any drastic lifestyle changes.
We started out by asking our local council to swap our landfill and garden waste bins for smaller ones. This could already accommodate our fortnightly waste. By gradually making a few more swaps for reuseables and being more aware of waste when shopping we now only put our smaller landfill bin out for collection, usually less than half full, every 6 to 8 weeks. The garden waste bin is still used occasionally. We don’t have a food waste collection but have pretty much eliminated food waste to landfill by composting more and getting more out of things that would normally be wasted such as making stock from vegetable peelings and vinegar from fruit peelings (my first batch is on the go now).
The recycling has been harder to make significant inroads into but finally, after more than a year of trying to avoid packaging and reducing the amount of junk mail through the door we are at the point where we can ask the council for a smaller recycling bin too. We have just about reached the point where it is regularly only half full each fortnight.
So, we are still on a journey of waste reduction, but we are making progress. I really wanted to write this post to say thank you for the support of the fantastic online community of fellow waste reducers , on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and fellow bloggers. We would not have got anywhere near this point without you all, and I look forward to continuing the journey.
I am sharing this post on Waste Less Wednesday with Skip the Bag
That time my challenge was to only buy second hand clothing for a year. Excluded from this were shoes and underwear, and things bought with birthday gift vouchers. As I went through the year I found I couldn’t get leggings second hand so allowed these new (loosely under the underwear category since I tend to layer them under dresses).
Actually the challenge was far easier than I expected and by the end of the year I had amassed loads of “new to me” clothing, along with far more new shoes and underwear than I possibly actually needed. And I felt good because I had spent lots in charity shops. Although I went back to buying some new clothes, I continued to get well over 50% second hand.
Back in September last year I signed up for zero waste week and shortly after decided that perhaps it was time for a new clothes related challenge. This time I was not just going to not buy new clothes, but not buy, or acquire, any additional clothes, shoes or underwear, whether new or pre-owned ( with one exception – see below). Because this was a tougher challenge ( certainly one my husband thought I had 0% chance of sticking to), I set a more modest timescale – until Christmas, and set myself one exception which was a pair of specialist shoes needed for an arthritic toe as the old pair had started giving me blisters.
Actually I had only bought one item of clothing since July – a second hand dress which turned out not to fit and was donated back to charity. So effectively my challenge began in July.
Allowing myself an exception for shoes in advance was perhaps not such a great idea as I quickly ordered a pair online (mistake to browse ebay after a glass of wine – I should know better) . In the end I didn’t keep them – my old boots turned out to just need breaking in again for the winter and soon became comfortable again, and the new shoes didn’t really fit so after a few weeks I listed them back on ebay and sold them on.
Christmas came and went. My only challenge really was a Christmas do at work which required a posh outfit. I already had a gorgeous black satin fishtail wiggle skirt from Coast in the cupboard, picked up in a charity shop a few years earlier and never worn as I had struggled to find any shoes to go with it that I could actually walk in (I’m usually in either summer Birkenstocks or clumpy MBT boots). A friend came up trumps with a pair of flat pointy court shoes she’d picked up in a charity shop which she lent me for the evening. And my auntie lent me a lovely black lace top and a silver scarf (since we had a black/white/silver theme). My auntie is a bit skinnier than me so the top was a bit on the tight side but altogether I was really happy with the outfit and I could even walk (and dance) in the shoes which friend now has on standby for me to borrow again should the need arise. And I had a lovely evening.
So, I made it until Christmas, and do you know what, I still couldn’t really think of anything I needed or even particularly wanted by way of clothing. I unexpectedly received a gift voucher from work for long service and really struggled to spend it. After buying some things to help with my zero waste journey such as lush deodorant bars and storage tins, a loofah, a soap dish and replacing a really scratched wok with a hopefully longer lasting enamelled one, I could only think of looking for clothes for the remainder (I was limited to a specific shopping centre) but really wasn’t inspired by anything so aside from a nightdress ( as I had got rid of 2 just before starting zero waste – as my mending efforts had failed) I bought some “functional” items – a thermal underdress, a pair of leggings and a couple of pairs of bamboo socks. Aside from those I have still not acquired anything new, or even second hand.
At the start of this I shared my challenge with the folk over at the Zero Waste Heroes Facebook Group to give me some motivation. Someone commented that I would learn to really love the clothes I had. I wasn’t sure, I thought I might get bored , but actually they were spot on. I have culled quite a few things I wasn’t so keen on ( to charity shop) and most of my wardrobe is now things I really like (including the purple woollen dress in my post from a few years back).
So, my challenge has extended to cover 9 months, and I have to say that it has really changed my attitude towards buying new clothes. I found that:
1) I already owned way too many clothes
2) I could donate some and still have more than enough
3) Asking whether I need something really helps, and has extended way beyond clothing
4) Because this attitude has extended beyond just clothing I have saved an average of £250 per month on my personal spending. Considering I was mainly buying cheap second hand clothing to start with that is a phenomenal amount!
Going forward I will continue to ask myself how much clothing I really need and when I do need something be sure it is something I really love, and which fits me really well. I like the recycling element of buying second hand so will continue to do this but where I do need new I am going to focus more on buying such new items from ethical companies – it may cost more, but I will be buying fewer items.
I have been invited to a charity clothes swap party next week (arranged by the good friend who kindly lent me her shoes). So I am going to have a day off, at least, from not acquiring anything new to me. But I am determined that I will bring home fewer items than I donate to the swap. More about that in a future post.
I am still sorting out items to swap but so far have picked out 2 coats, a pair of velvet trousers (freshly dry cleaned and embarrassingly still unworn from the last clothes swap a couple of years ago) and a skirt to go:
What is your approach to buying new clothes and how often do you clothes shop?
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It has been a couple of months now since we stepped up our efforts to reduce our household waste (more about our reasons for this in a forthcoming post) so I thought it was time to do a bit of an audit of what these changes would save from going to landfill or needing to be recycled over the course of a year, and also to see if we are saving any money along the way. We had already been doing quite a few things to reduce our waste, but today I’ll just cover the new ones.
Since the UK’s zero waste week in September we have:
1. Replaced individual bottles of sparkling water with a Soda Stream. This comes with just 2 plastic bottles that can be reused for around 2 years (not sure what happens to them after that if you continue to reuse but they are labelled with a date).
Based on an average of 10 x 50cl bottles per week this has already saved quite a few bottles. Over a year we will be sending 520 fewer plastic bottles to our recycling centre.
With the Soda Stream costing us £40 and the gas refills costing £7.99 (enough to make 60l each), we will also save around £150 in the first year, more thereafter.
2. Swapped boxes of Lyons individual coffee bags for loose coffee roasted locally and ground straight into my own container.
We were buying around 1 box of 18 bags most weeks as well as less frequent packs of ground coffee so will be saving around 50 cardboard boxes, plus 900 foil wrappers and paper bags, and around 6 foil ground coffee packs over the year. In terms of cost, the freshly ground coffee is more expensive than buying ready packed ground coffee but compared to the coffee bags we were buying there is probably around £1 per week saving – so approx £50.
3. Been making all of our own bread in a bread maker. We had been making it about once a week before and making it all saves approx 2 plastic bread bags per week – 100 over the year. More tricky to work out the cost here since we are eating more bread (as also being more determined to pack lunch each day) and the loaves aren’t the same size as the purchased ones so I have not assumed any saving. As far as possible this is put on during the day to use solar power.
4. Purchased re-useable coffee cups to use when we get takeaway coffee. Between us we use them for around 3 coffees per week – a saving of around 150 paper cups and plastic lids. No cost saving here.
5. Been reusing a bag to put fresh croissants in each week instead of putting them in a fresh one each week. This will save approx 50 paper bags with plastic windows. Cost neutral.
6. Avoided packaged fruit and veg more conscientiously than previously. Although I did already buy loose fruit and veg most of the time, just choosing not to buy some packaged items probably results in around 3 items less of plastic fruit and veg packaging per week – 150 over the year. Since the prices vary I haven’t worked out if any saving – generally loose veg is cheaper but bizarrely it is sometimes more expensive.
7. Cut down the frequency with which I use shampoo from every 2 days to once a week (washing with water in between), with the intention of transitioning to a “no poo” (no shampoo) routine as described here.No poo information This has the added benefit of saving water and electricity as showering is quicker without the shampoo, and less styling product as I only use it after the shampoo. Since son had his hair cut very short he has gone straight to a water only routine for haircare. Shampoo always lasted me ages anyway so perhaps I used less than most but at a guess this will save around 4 plastic shampoo bottles each year plus the same again of conditioner. In the longer term I expect to cut out other hair care products too. Approx financial saving of £15-£20, and potentially a saving on our water and electricity bill too.
8. Used my own containers a few times so far for buying cakes, and once for sausages and chosen unpackaged alternatives where possible. This is difficult to quantify but even if I only manage this once a week it would save 50 items of packaging.
9. Made my own cleaning liquid – from the recipe here: How to make eco cleaning spray. I reused an existing spray bottle. If I make it up once a month this will save 12 bottles. Also made a pet-safe cleaning solution which will save a further 6 bottle. Cost saving of approx £20
10. Reduced our use of kitchen towel and cling film/foil – replacing with washable cloths and abeego beeswax wraps/ existing plastic boxes/reusing other packaging. Estimated reduction, not giving these up totally, of 12 kitchen rolls and 2 rolls of clingfilm/foil.
11. Committed to not buying any new clothes (even second hand or swapped) until at least Christmas. This hasn’t saved anything from landfill since I would give my unwanted clothes to charity or sell or give away, but it has definitely saved money. My personal credit card bill has only had 4 items on it apart from my train fare to work since Sept, and those 4 items have all been to do with reducing waste (abeego wraps, reusable coffee cups, a Lush deodorant bar and a book for the Sustainable Book Club). My average bill has dropped by £250 per month over the last 3 months, due to a combination of not buying any clothes/shoes and just by being in the mindset of not getting other stuff I don’t need. Whilst I don’t expect to sustain that level of savings, an average saving of £100 per month is reasonable, even if I reintroduce more occasional clothes buying after a few months. £1200 if sustained over a year.
12. Switched to soap nuts for clothes washing. The size bag I bought should last over 300 washes compared to around 20 for the laundry detergent I was buying before. At an average of 5 washes per week this should last me all year. The soap nuts did come in a plastic bag, but just one compared to 13 boxes or bottles (varied which one I used) of my previous detergent. The soapnuts are compostable when they have been used, and can be poured on the garden to deter slugs. In terms of cost the detergent I bought before varied from £2-£5. Over the year the soap nuts should save around £25.
13. Only used a flannel and water for facewashing. I was doing this a lot of the time anyway but switching to this full time will save around 15 packs of cleansing wipes per year, and around £30.
14. Tried using a cloth handkerchief – since I only own one at the moment ( thanks to a friend who gave me it as a gift probably around 20 years ago and I had kept it in a drawer unused till now) I haven’t yet saved many tissues, but have hankies on the Christmas list!
15. Purchased a machine washable washing up sponge.
16. Buy our eggs direct from the farm and return the boxes for them to use again. Approx 50 boxes per year, and as they are also cheaper around £20 saving.
17. Eked out a stick deodorant that had gone past the point where it fell out of the plastic dispenser for at least a month after I would have normally thrown it away. I’m now about to move on to the Lush deodorant bar but after that I will try making my own – I already have the ingredients anyway for this recipe.How to make your own deodorant
18. Replaced frozen chips with fresh ones made form a sweet potato (as quicker to cook than regular potatoes). We don’t eat chips all the time so maybe 6 packs per year.
19. Replaced shaving gel with coconut oil in a glass jar.
I’m sure I have forgotten some things but over a year just these changes will save around:
550 plastic bottles and sprays
100 cardboard boxes
900 foil sachets and paper coffee bags
12 rolls of kitchen towel
2 rolls of clingfilm/foil
15 packs of face wipes
150 coffee cups
Plus a variety of other assorted plastic and paper packaging.
These changes should also save us around £1500 which is an added bonus.
We also made around £200 selling items we no longer needed on ebay.
And we still have way too much in our bin!
The changes described above are in addition to the waste reduction measures we already had in place. I’ll save those for the next blog entry as this one is getting really long, but these included:
It has been a few weeks now since I have intensified my efforts to shop without packaging, particularly plastic, but there seem to be so many instances of it just being so unnecessary. Just a few examples from this weekend’s food shopping trips:
Bananas – Morrisons, to be fair, had a huge display of totally unpackaged bananas, but right next to it were just as many wrapped up in plastic – why? Bananas already come in a fairly substantial skin, making them ideal for transporting to and from the shop, and wherever else you then want to take them, just as they are. I just can’t see why buying them in plastic is even an option and I really wanted to ask the other customers choosing them why. I suspect they hadn’t even considered the impact.
Cucumbers – this is one of the very few green things that my son will eat, and now the small crop we managed to produce in our garden is over I am back to shopping for them. I absolutely could not find a cucumber that wasn’t wrapped in plastic either in the shops or on the market.
Newspaper – surely these don’t normally come in plastic? And since a quick web search about living without plastic came up with articles from the very same newspaper, shame on them. At least this one prompted a conversation with the person buying it who also felt it to be quite unnecessary.
Sweetcorn – when in season these are actually a great one for getting unpackaged, but the rest of the time, hugely overpackaged.
In my efforts to reduce packaging I have switched to getting much of my fruit and veg on the market where most of it is loose, but still trying to avoid plastic appears not to be the norm. Today I visited a different stall which I had noticed was more popular. I asked the stallholder to pop the veg straight into my cloth bag and offered it across the stall. “Don’t you want it in here first?” she said, holding up a plastic bag. “Er, no, actually that is why I have come to the market with a cloth bag and a shopping trolley – I don’t want any plastic.” She looked a bit puzzled. Anyway, I did manage to get my potatoes and some broccoli in the cloth bag (having declined the cucumber and green beans I really wanted but which were all sealed up in plastic and, in the case of the beans, a polystyrene tray too), but she insisted that she couldn’t weigh purple sprouting broccoli without putting that in at least a paper bag. Why? The potatoes were all muddy yet she weighed those fine so why was purple broccoli so tricky?
Meat is the thing I have not really tried to get without plastic, but rather to just get less packaging by buying it from the meat counter rather than in a tray. The butcher put his hand into a plastic bag to pick up the meat then turned it inside out. I’ve no problem with that – this is just one bag and they do need to pick up the meat hygienically, and it suits me to have it in said small bag to put in freezer when I get home. But then he went to put it into another bag as well. “It will be fine in just that one bag” I said, “I don’t want a second one, I am trying to reduce plastic packaging”. “Of course,” the man said, “trying to get in good habits before the plastic bag charge comes in”. Well, actually no, and I don’t think that charge would apply in this case anyway. Then he goes ahead and still puts it in the extra bag. I obviously still need to work on that one.
I had tried the butcher’s the previous week trying to buy some chicken pieces. I explained that I only wanted them in a single bag not multiple layers. Problem was, I wanted to buy free range chicken pieces. The butcher offered to cut up a whole one for me – I’ve no problem with that – and then proceeded to pick up a whole chicken sitting in a polystyrene tray in order to unwrap it, cut it up and then rewrap the pieces for me. Not quite what I had hoped for. I had a similar issue when using the milkman so the glass bottles could be reused, and as I wanted it fresh each day – fine unless you happen to want organic milk which for some reason only comes in plastic bottles and it turned out our milkman only delivers twice a week so no advantage to me over getting it from the supermarket myself.
So another zero waste week may be over, but that’s no reason to give up trying to reduce packaging and other waste. I have found this week really useful for focussing the mind on ways of reducing the packaging and other unnecessary stuff we bring into the home, and finding about new ways of avoiding or reusing thing – many thanks to the addictive and informative discussion on the Zero Waste Heros Facebook Group .
It has been tough, and we still have plenty of waste, but the week has focussed my mind on finding ways to reduce our waste further.
I am now the proud owner of some abeego wraps to use instead of cling film. ( from Boobalou) And doesn’t the half eaten mango in our fridge look lovely in it?
I now know that you can buy specially made reusable kitchen towel (rather than just using cloth serviettes / tea towels etc) and even spent a fascinating hour one evening reading blogs about washable toilet roll ( or “family cloth”) – not sure I am convinced about that one yet but some people obviously love it – see this fascinating post from Becoming Peculiar . Didn’t imagine I’d be doing that at the start of the week.
I asked the council to replace our standard sized wheelie bins with smaller capacity bins – this will focus the mind on maintaining a lower level of waste.
I have had a mini sort out and given things away to foodbanks and refugee collections for example.
I’m starting to put together a zero waste appropriate christmas gift list of reusable stuff to replace disposable items ( and guess what everyone will be getting from me too).
I have also bombarded my facebook friends with loads of information about reducing waste – sadly not a single one has liked or shared anything at all so thank goodness for the friendly folk at the Zero Waste Heros Facebook Group for keeping me from getting too depressed by this.
Of course even if we think do all start actually thinking about the packaging, zero waste is a long journey – the reality is that most of us have to shop in a supermarket and most things are overpackaged. Legislation may be the only way to overcome this, and I don’t see that as likely any time soon. But, there are easy things we can all do to reduce our waste where we do have options, and every little helps. There are some easy swaps – even just swapping that multipack of individually boxed portions of raisins for a single large pack and putting a portion for your kid’s lunch into a reusable small pot helps, or choosing the yoghurt in the recyclable cardboard carton over the plastic one.
My favourite change, and one I could have done long before was to ditch the convenient individually packaged bags of fresh coffee we discovered a couple of years ago and go back to using loose coffee in a cafetiere – we have a fantastic local shop that roasts and grinds coffee and who didn’t bat an eyelid at me taking my own container for the coffee. Now, knowing little about different coffees, we just have to work our way through the huge selection on offer to find the one we really like.
Anyway it’s now Ditch the Disposables week – bring it on.
It’s zero waste week in the UK this week ( starting 7th Sep 2015) so I thought I’d share a few of the things we already do, and extra things we could do, to reduce the amount of waste we produce, although we are still far off from zero. I think we are already pretty good at the re-using and recycling. We need to work much harder on reducing the stuff we get in the first place.
So here are some ideas:
If you have a baby, try using real nappies. There are loads to choose from out there to find one that works for you and you may find your local authority or a nappy adviser can loan you some to try. We used prefolds ( which are actually the ones you fold up yourself) as we found these to be cheapest, easy to wash and dry, and that they fit our baby best. They were also the ones offered by the laundry scheme we started out with before deciding to do it ourselves. But you can also get many that are already shaped to fit and fasten with velcro. And even if you use them part time (e.g. using disposables on holiday/ when out or at night) you’ll still be reducing your waste by loads. We also used washable towelling wipes to clean baby with and although we used disposable liners I see you can now also get washable nappy liners. Supernanny talks about the Benefits of cloth nappies You can get loads of useful information from the Real Nappy Information Service
Having used the real nappies it seemed logical to also switch to washable sanitary pads – and I would never go back. They are so much more comfortable. I only use disposables on holiday now and find them really crinkly and uncomfortable. I just keep a lidded plastic bin by our ensuite loo and chuck them in to soak with some Napisan. Then they just go in the machine. If you can find microfibre fleece versions I find they are the easiest to wash and dry. You can also find out about these from the Real Nappy Information Service and there are plenty of patterns for making your own on Pinterest.
Compost what you can – it is not only fruit and veg peelings that can be composted. You can also put in paper, cardboard, grass cuttings, and we also add the litter and bedding from our pet rabbit – this is quite safe to do with herbivores. But you do need to get the mix of ingredients right so check out the Composting Guide. At the moment we still have to throw away cooked food waste/meat but you can get composters that will deal with these too which I am looking into – e.g. bokashi and wormeries.
Before recycling, see if there is something else the item can be used for. The cardboard tubes inside toilet roll can be recycled or composted ( they help by making an air pocket in the compost) but they can also be used for crafts, can be filled with hay and veg for the pet rabbit to play with, or in winter we stuff our till receipts and papers that would otherwise need to be shredded into them and use them in our woodburner – quicker and easier than compacting the paper into logs which you can also do.
If you have food that is going off see if there is something you can use it for even if it can be composted. Overipe bananas are great in smoothies and muffins. If you have no time to bake now you can peel and slice them and bung them in the freezer to add to a smoothie at a later date ( straight from frozen). There are lots of recipe ideas at Love Food Hate Waste
Choose products with no or less packaging wherever possible, and check that any packaging can be recycled or composted. The supermarkets don’t make this easy. In the summer we grow some of our own food but we do struggle with packaging over the rest of the year / for things we can’t grow easily. I’m determined to get more of my fruit and veg from the market and meat from the butcher’s or at least the butcher’s counter in the supermarket where you can get just what you need and are likely to get less plastic packaging, but this will require a change in my shopping routine. We drink a lot of sparkling water which comes in plastic bottles and even if we reuse them for tap water a couple of times they soon fill up our recycling bin. So this week I have ordered a soda stream so we can make our own and reuse the bottles. The other thing is liquid hand soap – I would say just change to bars ( you can easily get with no packaging from stores such as Lush) but my husband complains they leave a soggy mess on the sink – so our compromise is that I’m going to bulk order 5 litre refills to refill the smaller containers. We already get our washing up liquid and laundry liquid refilled in a local store.
Make your own if you can – I’ve just made lots of plum jam using plums from the allotment but you can also forage plenty of fruit for jam – see other recipes on this blog. I just reused old jars for this (sterilising them first). Since we got a bread machine we make a lot of our own bread too.
Think about using less of products – I’ve been looking with interest at people who have transitioned to using no shampoo – just washing their hair (and bodies) with water after a transition period of using shampoo substitutes . Although I’m not at the moment planning on going that far, it is very easy to use a little less shampoo, or shampoo less often – I have gone from shampooing every other day to every 3-4 days so far without any noticeable difference – and I probably already have enough shampoo in the cupboard to last me another couple of years. If you are interested you can find out more about ditching the shampoo at No Poo Method
If you are crafty, try making something out of your rubbish – you may even be able to turn it into a business.
Sell on or give away the things you don’t need any more – try Freecycle, ebay, gumtree or local facebook pages or donate to your local charity shop. Buy the things you need this way as well – it’s easier than you might think. A couple of years ago I decided to only buy preowned clothes for a whole year (excluding shoes and underwear) – I already bought a lot of stuff this way but thought this might be a challenge. Actually it was quite easy, even when I had something specific in mind, and I sometimes now get shoes this way too as you can often find ones only worn once or twice. My challenge is really just to buy less, particularly new clothes.
Hope some of these ideas are useful – please comment below if you have more to add. My Pinterest Board Reduce Reuse Recycle has links to more useful sites and ideas.
Du zéro déchet à l'écofrugalité. Faire Mieux avec moins ! Une famille qui se sensibilise aux gestes éco-citoyens et qui cherche à réduire son empreinte sur l'environnement par la réduction de ses déchets, la recherche d'économie d'énergie, de l'anti-gaspi ... Changer ses habitudes pour protéger son environnement : c'est possible!