Welcome to Zero Waste Week 2021!
This is the 14th Zero Waste Week campaign. Can you believe it?
For those of you who have been here since the start, it’s fantastic to see you again. And for those of you who are new – welcome!
It really feels like we’ve moved from being a small group of dedicated people, taking small steps to reduce our waste to… millions of people ready to take action and following our lead.
Reducing our waste is one of the most readily accessible, measurable and achievable climate actions every one of us can take. It feels really good that we’ve gone from feeling a bit weird about our desire to waste as little as possible, to feeling pretty cool and on trend! There are now so many people taking steps to reduce their waste and make better use of resources, and the focus seems to have shifted. Now, people are wanting to know how we do it, rather than why we do it.
It’s wonderful that we’re all still coming together to solve a massive global problem – the problem of waste. On the other hand, it shows we’ve still got a problem that needs solving!
But problem solving is what we humans do best, right?
Despite a very peculiar 18 months around the world, there are still positive changes happening. We’ve seen a huge rise in interest in Refill and Reuse as a way of life. More and more people are carrying reusable water bottles. There’s not just a popular outcry to ban things like plastic cotton buds and disposable cutlery, but there’s legislation to back it up and force the hand of those who are reluctant to change.
With this as our backdrop, we’ve decided to do something completely fresh and new for 2021. We’re crowdsourcing the content so that YOU inspire people to take action.
We’ve been on a fascinating journey this year, interviewing people from all walks of life who are on the Zero Waste path. There are now lots of people, who like us, are fully committed to a life with less waste. For many people now, the stress of knowing when to put out their bin is a thing of the past. For these lucky people, they did manage to go out more than their bins despite the lockdown!
What’s really great is that there’s no Zero Waste model that anyone has to stick to. Zero Waste is a journey, and the goal is to reduce waste, but there are many, many ways to achieve that. There are so many different paths we can take. Somewhere out there is someone just like you who is on a Zero Waste path. They might be a few steps ahead of you or a few steps behind you – obviously by steps, we mean a proper socially distanced 1.5 metres apart!
Wherever you are on that journey, it is always good to know you are not alone. And other people’s stories can inspire and motivate you. So this year let’s shine a light on the many people who are treading the Zero Waste path, whether they’ve got their superhero cape on or they are still breaking in their zero waste wellies.
One of the things we’re often asked is how we got started on our Zero Waste journey, so it seems like a good idea to kick of this year’s Zero Waste Week with just that question.
I’ve been on a Zero Waste journey for so long, I can’t actually remember when it all started. As a child, I remember being so impressed that my grandparents could repair anything and everything and nothing seemed to go to waste. In my teens, I visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in North Wales and I was inspired by things like an old radiator painted black being able to boil a kettle. I think that’s what really sparked my interest in living a little differently and making use of what I have rather than buying new. Making the most of our earth’s precious resources felt like an obvious life choice to me.
I do know that it wasn’t an overnight decision. It was just one small thing, followed by another, and another. I started out by recycling or reusing anything I possibly could. I can remember having a cupboard in the kitchen for things I needed to take to the recycling centre, long before we had kerbside collection or recycling banks at supermarkets. If things broke, I’d take them to my grandparents to find out how to fix them, or I’d repurpose them. I can remember darning a pair of socks very badly when I was about 13, and cutting both toes out of a pair of clogs and painting flowers on them in nail varnish rather than throwing them away when one split at the toe. I went to school proud to wear my uncle’s old school blazer with our school badge sewn on to it. His blazer was what I thought of as a proper wool blazer. My school had horrible synthetic ones. I had to wear a synthetic one for my first year at the school but then grew out of it. My grandmother fished out the blazer from a wardrobe and suggested I try it on. It was way too big, but I got that ‘you’ll grow into it’ from Mum and that was what I wore for the rest of my school days. By the way, I never did grow into it, but I did pass it on. It’s probably still going strong.
Despite my frugal beginnings I did go through the early years of adulthood feeling as though I was on a never-ending cycle of earning money, spending it on stuff and working hard to earn money for more stuff. Although I’ve always been pretty good at recycling and had the good fortune to live in the English county of Oxfordshire, a place where recycling has always been made easy and always been comprehensive, I did worry about the amount of recycling I was creating. From memory it was in 2001, that I first started to think about cutting down the amount of packaging I was using. Luckily I lived close to a farm shop where I was able to go along with my own bag and containers to buy food unpackaged. I still did occasional trips to a supermarket, but I did try to have the attitude that if it wasn’t available at the farm shop, then I probably didn’t need it. By 2003, I tried to stop endlessly buying stuff – clothes, furniture or ‘house tat’ as I tend to call it. I set myself the challenge of buying no new clothes for the whole year. It turned out to be a lot of fun and was perhaps the start of a slightly more conscious journey to reduce my waste. It was in the years my daughters were at secondary school that really brought it home to me that we lived differently, though. We’re a sociable household, and we seemed to have an endless number of teenage children spending time at our house. This brought with it a huge amount of waste and the endless question of “Mrs Pitt, where’s the bin?” We didn’t have one in the house! We just had a recycling system, a compost bin and the generally neglected residual waste bin outside by the gate. So that’s when we set about really thinking about our waste as a family and gently helping others to waste less. For example, my daughters decided it would be less wasteful if they ordered pizza when groups of friends came round. Instead of ending up with a load of plastic waste, we just had a few cardboard pizza boxes to either recycle or compost depending on how messy they were. The children then just divided the cost of the pizzas between them instead of all of them bringing a load of unhealthy pre-packed snacks. It was a small change, but it made a big difference.
The seeds for our Zero Waste lifestyle were sown in 2004. On a rainy day in August, I was browsing a shop while on holiday in Boscastle – a popular village in Cornwall; England.
Within twenty minutes of torrential rain, the tide came in and the two rivers that straddled the sleepy village rose by seven feet. Flood waters carried away 75 cars, 100 buildings, and finally, the bridge that would have led us out of the village. About 150 people were airlifted to safety. As I was standing with my three year old daughter in my arms, wondering whether I’d ever see my husband again, I was trying to make sense of what I was experiencing.
I came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that everything I’d read about climate change was happening.
Not in 50 years’ time, but now.
And in that moment, I decided to be part of the solution – for my daughter’s sake.
I went home and set up my local Freecycle group – a fantastic online service that connects people with things to give away with the people that want or need them. The group grew in popularity, so I eventually split the group into smaller communities and handed it over to new people.
By the beginning of 2008 I was ready for another challenge.
I found the perfect New Year’s Resolution:
I was going to recycle more.
At that time, we were recycling NOTHING. Not one baked bean tin, newspaper or glass bottle –it was all going into the dustbin. If my husband overslept on bin collection day we were in serious trouble having to deal with all our waste for the next week.
Well my new year’s resolution lasted about 3 days. By the time I’d fished newspapers out of the kitchen bin from underneath vegetable peeling and used tea bags I’d had enough. So much for my will power!
The trouble was, this nagging thought wouldn’t leave me.
Later that year I read an article about marine life and how it was being affected by plastic. You’ve probably seen the heart wrenching pictures of turtles and albatross who have been killed or injured by ingesting plastic. I showed an article to my husband and he nearly cried. He put his head into his hands and said
“We are never taking another plastic disposable carrier bag EVER again…”
And so began our personal Zero Waste challenge.
Let’s hear from some of our Zero Waste Week Ambassadors to see what got them into reducing their waste.
Zoe, author of Eco-Thrifty Living, says:
After my second child was born, I didn’t want to return to work. My husband asked me how we could afford for me to stay at home when we had just moved to a bigger house and had another child. Plus I was buying expensive eco friendly and organic products. I decided that was an excellent question and set about working out how we could save lots of money without compromising on my eco friendly principles. I saved a lot of money and a year after I went back to work I quit my job. I never looked back. One of the key ways I saved so much money was by reducing my waste.
One of the first things I did on my “eco thrifty journey”, was to look at my cleaning products. Especially baby wipes. I realised I had been paying over the odds for so called eco friendly baby wipes. On closer examination I found they weren’t eco friendly at all. So instead I chopped up an old towel and made some reusable wipes which lasted years.
I started my Zero Waste journey in August 2018 in preparation for Zero Waste Week that year. The Councillor who I used to work with at the time told me how far I could go to reduce both my waste and recycling, so I accepted the challenge! I already recycled a lot, 89%, but I knew I could go further. The thing is that reducing my waste got me thinking and I suddenly had the Zero Waste bug thing where I couldn’t stop. On the 1st January 2019 I decided to do it for the entire year, and see if I could hold all of my waste (non-recyclable waste, mainly plastic) in one bin, hence my #1bin1year. On 1st January 2020 I opened my bin and checked how I did and the things I learnt that year!
Here’s what I did.
I opened my bins and spread the stuff all over the kitchen floor. I then separated it by type and then I could see what I could reduce in future. Total of three steps:
1-Measure what you produce without changing your behaviour (baseline)
2-After a full week go through it, and make a note of what is in there. Make a list of how you can reduce it
3-Check your bin after another week or a month and you will see a reduction which will motivate you to keep going further.
It’s not just a few Zero Waste Ambassadors who are reducing their waste.
Maths Teacher, Ashia, says:
Whilst at university I became interested in reducing my waste and was lucky to have a refill shop just down the road from my house. I started buying as many of my dried goods as possible there instead of getting them from the supermarket wrapped in plastic and things started to escalate from there. I’m also a keen cook so enjoyed trying to make things myself that I wanted to avoid buying in the shops due to their packaging.
Critical Care Nurse, Tash, says:
I think it was my husband, Steve , who started us off by obsessing over the recycling bin (which he still does). I think Steve and I both launched into our eco-journey when we moved to our current home. Our 2 eldest daughters were very small and in 2008 we moved from a council house we had bought and renovated in town to a new build in a nearby village. Steve and I both spent a lot of time with older relatives as small children. For Steve, it was his grandparents who were virtually self sufficient and grew and reared nearly all their food. For myself, I spent a lot of time with my great Aunt and Uncle, who took on the role of my grandparents. To me they were Zero Waste champions, they were so frugal and creative. I have many happy memories of planting seeds in saved butter pots, an amazing compost pile and a host of creative recipes created by Aunty Nancy to use every bit of food (these were always delicious) .
When we moved, we found ourselves with more garden surrounded by fields in a semi-rural setting and we simultaneously wanted to live in a similar way to our grandparents. We started growing food, foraging, making suspicious home brew and even started a small business making wines and other homemade concoctions all bottled in cleaned and reused bottles. We adopted a “make do and mend” mentality wherever we could.
Naomi, who works in publishing, says:
I have been conscious about recycling and waste for many years. I am very concerned about climate change and am eager to learn as much as I can about it and how I can do things to help. My zero waste journey starts now! I’d say, the 3 Rs is a good place to start: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Day One Challenge
Help us grow this movement.
What was the very first thing you did to reduce your waste? Tell someone about it – put it on social media with the hashtag #ZeroWasteWeek or just mention it in conversation. You never know, you might inspire someone to take their first step on the Zero Waste path.