Social media and the news might be waging war against packaging but it’s hard to believe when you walk down the aisles of a supermarket. Individually packaged snacks, shrink-wrapped fruit and veg: almost everything is snugly tucked into plastic sleeves, trays, and bags. So how on earth are people cutting back on waste, or even going zero waste?
Cutting back on – or altogether cutting out – waste isn’t easy, and it’s not something that happens overnight. However, every change counts, and there are small changes that you can make to suit your budget. Here’s how to get started on the zero waste journey:
Say no to plastic bags
The 5p charge on single-use plastic bags has already made an astonishing difference, with the UK’s top 7 retailers reporting an 83% decrease in single-use carrier bags in 2016 and 2017 (compared to 2014, before the introduction of the charge).
To decrease this further, remember to bring your own reusable bags when you shop. A reusable plastic “bag for life” usually costs around 15p, and can be used over and over again. Even better, invest in something stronger: cotton tote bags and jute shoppers are far more sustainable and will last a lifetime, and string bags are perfect for fruit and veg.
You can also refuse excess packaging where possible – do you need to put loose carrots into a plastic bag? How much protection does that bag really offer? Fruit and veg are naturally blessed with skins and peels that are designed to take care of the yummy bits. Just give it a rinse before you start cooking.
Say no to as much single-use plastic and paper as you can
Plastic bags are the obvious culprit, but they’re not the only one. With our kitchen cupboards, bathroom shelves, supermarket aisles, and fast-food counters so reliant on single-use plastic, there’s a lot we can do to cut down on what gets binned: (Some will require you to be prepared!)
Carry a reusable metal or bamboo straw if you drink lots of soft drinks
Invest in reusable cutlery that you can keep in your bag
Take inspiration from grandad and buy reusable cotton hankies instead of using paper napkins
Eating out? Carry a small tupperware in your bag if you’re likely to take leftovers home
Choose takeaways that use less packaging and less harmful packaging – paper over plastic, every time
Use your hands – no, not instead of cutlery! – if you can carry a takeaway box in your hand, do you really need a bag?
Local shops can be more pricey, because they don’t produce food in bulk, and therefore accumulate higher costs. However, if your budget allows, shopping locally has a whole host of benefits:
More environmentally friendly
More likely to be organic
Supports local businesses
It’s not always the case, but local business who supply produce from nearby, small-scale suppliers often use less packaging. Why? Produce that has to travel further and through more hands in the chain of manufacture tends to be protected by more packaging. Local businesses are also more likely to prioritise environmental factors than larger chains, who are cost-driven by financial boards and shareholders.
Say no to things you don’t need
Everyone loves a freebie. You’re walking through a train station and handed a keyring, a cardholder, a pen – who can say no? Why not, eh? Well, actually, because it’s another thing that’ll end up in the bin, or another bit of clutter that you could do without.
You might argue that these promotional freebies have already been made, so what difference will you saying no make? Well, if you think of the bigger picture, companies will see fewer and fewer people accept plastic freebies, and will purchase less next time, until they give up on it altogether.
The behaviour of consumers – that’s you! – ultimately drives the behaviour of businesses, both big and small. If we collectively refuse wasteful products, businesses will have to get creative with how they can catch our eyes without creating waste.
Buy in bulk
There are two main reasons to buy in bulk: firstly, a single large packet uses far less packaging than several small ones. Secondly, many things that you can bulk buy can do without packaging.
Local grocers and food markets often sell food like rice, pasta, grains, etc. from large bins, and provide plastic or paper containers for you to fill yourself. Alternatively, you can usually take your own container to fill – tupperware, reusable and resealable bags, jars, and tins are all perfect for this. They’re also far more sightly to stack on kitchen shelves than single-use plastic secured with a laundry peg!
Donate things that might be useful to someone else
Do you go to throw things out as soon as you’re finished with them? Could someone else make use of it? Old clothes are a prime example, and can be donated at clothes banks or to charity shops. That even applies to clothes that are no longer wearable – fabrics can be separated and reused, to give them a new lease of life.
The same goes for electricals, crockery, ornaments – everything! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and many things that are “dead” can be reused for parts.
Can I reduce, reuse, or recycle this when I’m done?
Going zero waste requires extreme and sometimes costly lifestyle changes, so it’s just about doing what you can. Anything you can do to reduce the amount you throw away makes a difference. If we continue to throw things away at the same rate as we are doing now, there’ll be more plastic in the sea than there are fish by the year 2050.
Remember that there is no ‘away’
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is what happens to the things that you throw away. They might be out of sight, but you should try to keep them in your mind and remember that there’s really no such thing as “away”. Rubbish emptied from bins, is carried around the country – or even around the world – to landfill or “waste management” facilities. Often this waste is buried, burnt, or stacked up.
In the UK, 30 million tons of household waste are thrown out every year – that’s about 80 times the weight of the Empire State Building. While some of that waste can be recycled, much of it is shipped around the world, where it becomes someone else’s problem. How have you been reducing waste at home or in the classroom? Let us know on Facebook.
At Bristol Aquarium, we’re dedicated to reducing our environmental impacts, and to helping you to do the same. We already do not readily offer plastic straws or lids on our cold drinks and we’ve long scrapped any kind of plastic bags offering only paper or reusable bags for life. We are working with our suppliers to apply pressure on reducing as much single-use packaging on our products as possible but there’s always more that can be done! Read more about being a bit more eco-friendly on our blog where we talk about the problem with plastic straws, ocean-friendly food shopping, and how to waste less water.