Susan wrote to me with an interesting conundrum.
“The problem for me at the moment is reconciling plastic free with cruelty free. I don’t have a huge budget so some products that do fit both criteria are too expensive. Any thoughts would be much appreciated”.
I’m sure many of you can resonate with Susan’s query. Maybe you have a hard time choosing organic vs local produce or are trying to balance the budget with wanting to support small scale manufacturers. It seems living a zero waste life is full of compromise.
I certainly find that myself. For me it’s balancing act between convenience (we all have a hundred things to juggle, right?) and feeling good about my choices. Some things I can do 100%, other things I have to let go of because I don’t have the time or resources.
Here are some things to keep in mind when faced with zero waste dilemmas:
Choose your battles
I like to think of us all as pieces of a jigsaw – we each have our hierarchy of priorities whether it’s unpackaged, vegan or fairtrade. Mindful consumerism based on any of those criteria lead to changes for the better and together we make up the whole beautiful picture of sustainability and social responsibility.
Susan is concerned with cruelty free, so that’s her starting point. Over time she might add more criteria to her shopping habits, but it’s important to start with small, incremental steps to avoid burnout and stick with the criteria you feel most passionate about.
One thing at a time
The first thing I tell people is to choose your battles wisely. You can’t do everything, but you can do something.
It can get overwhelming, expensive and confusing trying to swap everything in one go.
What are the things that take the smallest effort, yet would yield the biggest result?
Start with those. And once you have a new habit in place, then choose another one.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. And having a little knowledge can be such an overwhelming thing!
While we are blessed to live in the internet age, it can be terribly confusing to wade through conflicting advice.
So, either pick one person who shares your values who you will listen to for suggestions, or, better still, dig deep within and find out what feels true and right to you. What makes your heart sing? What feels right? What makes you feel fulfilled and content with your choice? Stick with that.
Do one thing well
Sure you need to be armed with knowledge, but too much research can lead to analysis paralysis. Lots of people get so much information about so many things, they fail to take action.
And it’s action that will make the difference NOT lots of information in your head!
So instead of trying to do everything, pick just one thing to commit to. Rinse. Repeat.
You’re probably seeing a pattern by now – choose one thing, make the switch, do it well. Avoid overwhelm. And just keep going!
Similar to analysis paralysis, failing to take action or make a change because the perfect solution isn’t out there, isn’t much help either!
This goes back to my first comment about our lifestyle choices being a compromise a lot of the time.
You don’t have to do this perfectly, you just need to do something. Anything, that takes you closer to your goal.
After all, if everyone in the UK recycled just ONE tin can, we’d be stopping over 60 million tin cans ending up in landfill.
Back to Susan’s question – here are some solutions that help reduce waste AND are cruelty free:
Waste Warrior Angela has the same concerns as Susan. She says “Can you to remind people that plastic free, environmentally friendly needs to go hand in hand with cruelty free too? It’s no use using a plastic free soap bar if it has been tested on bunnies.” Angela tells me that Nature Watch foundation is her shopping bible for cruelty-free.
For general household cleaning, baking soda (bought in cardboard), vinegar (bought in glass) and soapnuts (available in compostable bags) will handle most jobs.
Coconut oil (available in glass) can be used on the skin and hair in a myriad of ways. You can also use it as a base for homemade toothpaste and deodorant. Likewise clay (available in paper bags) is gentle on the skin and cleans hair too.
Fancy learning a new skill? Making bar soap, which can double up as shampoo bars is a fun way to begin your zero waste / cruelty free journey. You can bulk buy supplies online, and while you might get a bit of plastic packaging, the overall packaging will be much less than the amount of liquid soap / shampoo you’d buy in a year.
I once worked at a golf course and remember one of the members asking if he could borrow the washing up liquid to wash his hair after the game! While it’s not something I recommend, I do think we’ve been hoodwinked by clever marketing that makes us believe we need a number of different products for different things. Read the ingredients of many products and you’ll find the same stuff, perhaps in different ratios with different scents.
So get into the ethos of buying less! Why buy shower gel, shampoo and soap when a simple bar soap might do the job of all three? In the kitchen and bathroom your favourite brand of washing up liquid and a cloth are fine for washing, sink, bath, kitchen surfaces etc. Personally I make up a bottle of anti bacterial essential oils with water in an old bottle that I use on all the surfaces from the oven hob to the dining table to the work surfaces and even the floor.
It’s about reducing what you buy which reduces plastic use and then cruelty free is easier to manage because you have less products to research!
Sadly, it’s virtually impossible to find every purchase you make meet some, let alone all, of the sustainability criteria we would like.
So ask yourself one vital question before you make a purchase:
“Do I WANT this item, or do I NEED it?”
We can’t buy our way into sustainability, so in the end buying less is usually the best option!
I’ve spoken a lot in this post about feelings such as guilt, overwhelm and perfectionism. These are things I’m hearing about more and more from Zero Heroes. While there are support groups, such as my Facebook Group, where you can get help from like-minded people on a zero waste journey, there are times when you might need professional help, such as through BetterHelp.com – who offer online counselling.