Throughout the week, I share approximately 10% of everything I do on social media. How do I know that? I assigned a numeric value to my activities and compared against what I posted to establish what I want to share more (or less) off. Data and statistics play a key role where I currently work and it is certainly rubbing off on me. Up until now, it was never something my artistic brain type considered when working on a blog post but since I am planning on writing more about causes that matter to me, you can expect the writing style to shift slightly and include more numbers and data.
One of the numbers I am concerned about relates to the world’s waste. According to Eurostat in 2016 the total waste generated in the EU by all economic activities and households amounted to 2 261 million tonnes. This is the weight of 415 395 921 elephants. To put things into perspective, there is an estimated total of 415 000 elephants left in central Africa and parts of East Africa. It is slightly alarming that there is not much information available about what the waste numbers currently are. On the bright side, Lithuania was (and I would like to believe still is) doing really well recycling its plastic packaging comparing with the rest of the EU.
I could sit and discuss the extent of the problem for hours but for now, I will stop here. This post is about acknowledging that the problem is there and the simple solutions we can all implement into our daily routines to help improve the situation.
1. Invest in a reusable cutlery set
Mine is from Bambuka (£15.99) and I had it since April 2019. Even though I use the cutlery almost every single day the set still feels and looks brand new. It is made from bamboo which is naturally antibacterial and is the fastest growing plant on earth. It is worth mentioning I eat a lot of colourful soups and sauces yet bamboo is easy to clean and the colour from the food does not transfer on the cutlery.
Besides spoon, knife and fork, the set also includes chopsticks. I often use them when I cook something at home. A metal straw is also a nice addition because you can carry it in the bag on its own. It would be difficult to calculate exactly how much single-use cutlery I avoided using because of this set but it was certainly enough for it to pay off.
Most importantly, the cutlery set is 100% biodegradable and comes in a plastic-free packaging!
2. Waste-free beauty and self-care routine
The following swaps probably made the biggest contribution in reducing the waste I generated in the past year. They were so easy to make I would never go back to the less waste-friendly alternatives.
Bamboo-fibre reusable make up remover pads (£6.99) – I used to go through one bag of non-reusable make up removers a month. That is a lot of waste, especially because it is not something you can recycle. I would recommend this particular set because you get enough not to have to wash them too often (especially if you are travelling, when you are not – just pop them in the washing machine), they are durable (I have been using mine for more than a year – still in a great condition) and skin-friendly. Extra points for the plastic-free packaging. I have also tried reusable cotton removers but the quality was much worse and my skin did not like them.
Safety Razor (£27.99) – Full disclaimer: This required a little more effort and getting used to. There is a lot of helpful videos on Youtube.
There are options available within different price range but I love Bambuka’s beautiful design and durability. A safety razor is one of the items that pays off in the long run and they are made to last a lifetime. Of course, safety razor blades are disposable but since they are made entirely of metal, they can be recycled. Please remember the blades are sharp and might hurt workers if they are not disposed of correctly. You can check information on how to correctly recycle on your council’s website.
Reusable Cotton-Swab – How many cotton swabs do you use per month? I would assume quite a few which makes this another great way to significantly reduce your waste. The one I have is no longer available but it was about £3.99. At first, it felt weird but now that I have been using it for a little over a year it feels completely normal.
Zero-waste bars – So far I have only tried Lush zero-waste (in this context meaning no packaging and nothing left after you use them) products. I tried everything from shampoo and conditioner bars to body care. Shampoo bars are great for travelling but my hair did not approve them for everyday use. When it comes to body care… I think that highly depends on your skin type. Powder deodorant did not work for me yet Aromaco (£6.50 / 100g) was a pleasant discovery. I have been using it as an alternative to the plastic-packaged options for almost two years. I could not find information about the shelf life anywhere but I just used my first bar for a year and will do the same with the second one. This is certainly one of the swaps which require a bit more research – at first, it gave me a rash (ew) but turns out that is completely normal when swapping to natural body care. Now it works like magic.
Bamboo toothbrush (10 for £8.87) – Another item I have been using for more than a year which at first try felt weird but in no time became my absolute favourite thing. I would even go as far as to say for me bamboo toothbrush works better than the plastic toothbrush + they are 100% biodegradable and made from an eco-friendly material. If you are unsure how suitable bamboo toothbrush would be for your teeth type (or if you should get different bristles) it might be a good idea to speak with your dentist first.
3. Invest in a reusable drinkware
Emphasis on invest. Ideally, for something to be perfectly low-waste you would like to get one item and for it to last a lifetime. I had at least five reusable water bottles but they would become non-usable within months – either by breaking (glass) or by becoming impossible to wash (non-glass parts). You then have to spend more money and buy more products which defy the purpose. After reading online reviews I ordered a bottle from Chilly’s (£20.00) and you know what? It has absolutely paid off. One year later the bottle still functions and looks exactly how it is supposed to. An added bonus is that you can use it for both cold and hot drinks.
If you are like me and spend a lot of time (yes, pre-covid) on the go a reusable coffee-cup might also be worth an investment. Mine is medium from KeepCup (currently £17.77). I agree this is a lot of money to spend on a coffee cup, however, I had mine for almost two years and it has certainly paid off. The quality is great, it does not leak, the cup is easy to hold, there has been no colour or taste residue from drinks. I even dropped it a few times but there are no scratches.
Furthermore, in a lot of places, you will get a discount when you bring your own cup. It also helps to save time, money and waste because instead of buying coffee or tea you can make one at home before leaving for university or work. I am not a fan of consumerism and rarely talk about buying things but if you are someone who drinks coffee on the go this is a must.
As a student, every year I have to get a bunch of books for my course. Yes, there are libraries but most of the time they will only have a couple of copies available so you either have to only study in the library or miss important material. As a law student, I know there is a very high change the law will change throughout the year and there will be a new edition the following year. This means there will virtually be no market to resell the books or donate them to the library. It will all go to waste.
As an individual, I like to spend my free time reading. The libraries are currently closed or do not always stock the books I want to read. If I buy a paper version there is always a chance that the book will be poorly written and not interesting. An item like this will just collect dust on the shelf and become an inconvenience when moving houses. Charity shops are filled with unwanted reading material and somehow adding to that pile feels even worse than landfill.
A solution to all of that is e-books. If you have an e-reader that is even better because you will know the screens are more eye-friendly than computers, you can fill your library with thousands of books and it will still weight virtually nothing. Added bonus – it will pay off because e-books are often cheaper than the paper books.
I had my Kindle for over five years and often use it for my academic and leisure reading. It is especially comfortable to carry on the go or to read on a windy day. Of course, paper books will always have their charm but that is all part of the balance and can still contribute to the low-waste lifestyle. You just need to be more conscious about what you buy. For example, photography or coffee table books I would get in print, that is part of their value.
5. We are what we eat
I can only speak for myself but the food I eat certainly has an impact on the way I feel. Going vegan works for me and helps to reduce my carbon footprint, however, there are other things concerning food and the kitchen that can contribute to a low-waste lifestyle.
Reusable produce bags are getting a lot of attention on Instagram. I personally simply buy my vegetables loose or choose packaging-free options. For many many years, I have been carrying my own bag when I do grocery shopping which has most certainly contributed to reducing the number of waste I create every year. It is one of those things that requires zero to none effort.
If that is something you are doing already – well done! A level up requires slightly more planning but still relatively low effort. I have noticed that if I do my grocery shopping once a week and plan my shopping list in advance I do not buy unnecessary things (which creates waste) and actually use everything I buy (which prevents food waste). Meal prep and buying in bulk is another great way to significantly reduce your waste.
Everyone who worked in the hospitality industry will be familiar with FIFO (First In, First Out) which means you should first use the oldest things. When unpacking groceries this would mean shifting the oldest items to the front of the shelf and putting the new ones (that last longer) in the back. This way you will be more likely to use the products before they expire and reduce waste.
If you are doing all of the above already, I would suggest also looking into the packaging of what you buy. It can be as simple as buying loose tea instead of teabags. Most of the time the difference between the price of something that is fully recyclable and something that is not will not be too bad. Shopping at the zero-waste stores and bringing your own container might also work for you!
6. Shop responsibly
The easiest way to reduce waste is by not creating any in the first place. I will write a separate post about sustainable wardrobe and shopping so I will not get into too much detail now but as far as it concerns all the other items I think it is a good rule of thumb to start by asking yourself:
- Do I actually need this item?
If it is something that is on-trend at the moment but will have absolutely no use in my home in two weeks time that sounds like a waste to me. Buying second hand is also worth consideration. I am especially pleased that the stigma of secondhand items being a ‘handoff’ is starting to wear off. You can get second-hand items that were never used or worn and are still in perfect condition. Imaging that ending up in the landfill!
- How versatile is the item?
A great example would be Wax + Wick Grapefruit & Sage Natural Soy Wax Candle from Firera Home (£25.00 gifted). It comes in a high-quality box and glass jar which can be reused for multiple purposes. The candle burns for many hours and once it has finished I use my jar for storage. If you are interested in taking this even further I recommend looking into repurposing.
- How durable is the item?
It takes practise to learn how to tell if an item is well made or not but that is part of the process! With the internet at our disposal, it is easy to research and gather feedback from other customers. There is nothing more satisfying than finding something that you truly like and then having that item to last a lifetime. If you need inspiration just check Firera Home shop. The owner Maria has a meticulous eye for high quality ‘made to last a lifetime’ items.
7. Look around you
Remember the social media example I used in the introduction? Nobody is better equipped to assess your habits than you. By identifying which of your habits create the most waste you can focus your time and research into the alternatives.
Examples: I like to wear my hair in a bun. I noticed I would buy plastic hair clips but they would often break and I would have to throw them away to buy more. A solution to this was to get a brass hairpin.
Example questions to ask: Is there a magazine subscription you could move online? If you use a lot of stationery at work could you use refillable pens? Have you opted-in for the paperless billing? Could the traditional Friday night takeaway from the cafe downstairs be served in your own reusable container? If there is a product you notice you have to throw away and buy a new one again every month what are the alternatives? If you are giving someone a present is there something you already have that can work as a packaging?
8. Learn to say ‘No, thank you’
This is slowly changing but most of the places will serve your drink with a straw unless you ask them not to. The same applies to single-use cutlery for the takeaway or a bag at the clothes store. All you have to do is ask. For example, when ordering online in the order comments section you can ask for no plastic or reused packaging material. A few years ago such requests would attract weird face expressions but not anymore.
The same applies to university fairs or events at work. A free promotional pen might be useful but do you really need a neon pink hat with the name of the brand you would never support or a promotional power bank which will break after the first two uses?
9. Rent or borrow specialty items
This is not something I have noticed happening a lot in the UK but it is quite common in Lithuania. Let us say you are going camping and need camping gear. You know someone who goes camping every month and has all the equipment. You are going for the first time and do not even know if you are going to like it. If you buy your own camping gear and then decide it is not for you the investment will go to waste. If you borrow from your friend, look after their stuff and return after the trip – everyone is happy and waste-friendly.
I completely understand why people avoid borrowing items. Businesses do not want us to normalise borrowing. I personally tend to feel uneasy when I use something borrowed or rented, especially if there is an expectation of something in return attached. It should not be like this. Renting and borrowing is such an easy way to reduce waste and should be normalised.
It is great if you can buy something for yourself but what if you do not have to? Things are made to be used. Of course, it is important to be careful with something that is not yours but things happen. Items break. If you are worried about your friends getting mad for accidentally breaking their stuff this can be discussed as part of the ‘borrowing agreement’.
By vote, I mean voting in the local and national elections but also directing your money to the companies who are focused on reducing waste (beware of greenwashing). I have a feeling this will become even more important and talked about in the next few years. As an individual consumer, we might not feel like we have the power to change the market but as a group, we are the market. By supporting officials who are taking actions (not only talk about taking actions) to solve the waste problem, we choose how we want the world to look in the future.
For the sake of the argument let me generalise just this once. By supporting independent businesses working towards improving the waste situation you can fund someone’s dream and their children’s dinner as opposed to some morally questionable CEO’s fourth Ferarri. In reality, it is not always this straightforward but the example perfectly illustrates the beauty of the power we as consumers have.
Thank you for reading, I sincerely hope you will find some of the tips helpful. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions or want to discuss the topic further!
This post is part of my Conscious Living Series: Part One ‘Connecting home & nature’, Part Two ‘Ten simple ways to reduce your waste’, Part Three (will be linked here)