Starting anything new generally comes with a few teething problems. Can you remember when you first started a new hobby? Okay, so there’s always that person who’s a total natural and seems to do everything perfectly right from the get-go. But most of us have to learn as we go along, make a few mistakes, gradually progress, learn some more and then eventually we might feel we’re passable at a certain level and so we get hungry for a little more and take the next step.
When you’re learning with others, it often helps to share the struggles. Sometimes we end up solving problems – our own or other people’s – by doing that. That’s why I thought that after talking about how to get started for day one, it would be a good idea to get some of the challenges and difficulties out in the open straight away. When you know what’s in store for you, it sometimes makes it easier. When someone else has struggled with something and they found a solution, that can help, can’t it?
We asked a few people who are on a Zero Waste journey what their greatest struggles have been and we thought we ought to share our own struggles too.
A few years ago my family took up running. We were on holiday, my daughters were both keen dancers and they both wanted to get some exercise so as not to lose their fitness over the summer holidays. They suggested we might like to go for a family run. That seemed like a ridiculous suggestion, but they pointed out that we all had a pair of shorts and some trainers and that we could just go a little way, starting slowly and see if we like it.
So we did. We decided on a little circuit that was about 2 kilometres. I can remember running a little way, then having to stop and walk a bit to catch my breath, running a bit more, walking again, and then saying, see you at ‘home’ to the rest of my family when I felt totally done in! It felt like a huge effort, I was hot, sweaty, embarrassed and even a bit grumpy, but rather than just walking home the rest of the way when the girls and Mr Pitt went on ahead, I found myself continuing the run-walk, run-walk and I eventually turned the last corner to home at a run and made it back. I heard: “Well done, Mum! You did it!” And that was it. I’d started something – not very well – but I’d started.
Since then I’d say I’m mostly a runner. But I’ve had my share of struggles along the way. I literally fell down a rabbit hole when out running one day and had a mile and a half to limp home. I went away on holiday when I was training for my first half marathon and felt so annoyed that I’d not packed my trainers. So I walked to the beach in flip flops and ran barefoot on the sand every day – just to get started on my training plan. I frequently go through times when I’m so busy / stressed with work deadlines that I can’t get out of the house to run, so it feels like starting again when I do eventually get back into regular running. Sometimes I spend all day with the intention of running and then can’t actually be bothered to go. I feel disappointed always when I’ve not run. When I do run, though, I feel good. There’s a sense of euphoria even.
To me Zero Waste is a bit like running. You need to start gently and build up. There might be times when you’re doing really well, but there will be challenges too, like when you forget your shoes – or rather on the Zero Waste journey – you forget your shopping bags or your reusable coffee cup or you haven’t got time to cook from scratch so you order a take-away or grab a ready-meal on your way home from work.
I built up from just doing my best to getting good at recycling, through thinking about whether something was recyclable before I actually bought it, to now doing 90% of my shopping unpackaged at farm shops and my local Refill store and most of my family now cooking good, healthy food from scratch packaging free. (I guess that’s my half-marathon). It’s become easier and easier as the years go by and my Zero Waste choices don’t feel like a challenge now, but just normal life.
Over the years, I have felt that some family and friends have felt I’m a bit batty because of my Zero Waste habits. I feel that’s gradually becoming less and less the case and more people are supportive of my choices or are even joining in – in some cases even becoming more Zero Waste than I am! However, there will always be people who don’t agree with your choices – whether they voice them or just ignore them. The hardest thing I find now is not getting upset when other people bring waste into my life. How do I overcome it? Well, breathe deeply and think of the waste that I do save.
I’ve actually learnt to manage certain situations to reduce the waste that people can bring to my life. For instance, I make sure people know they don’t need to bring food with them to a party – (remember those?). If I know their idea of bringing food to a party is to pick up something packaged on the way over. I’d rather save them the trouble, and me the waste. So I make sure I make it clear there will be enough food and not to bring more! When I do want people to bring something, I’ve learnt to be specific. This works. Non-recyclable waste is really obvious in my house because I don’t have a bin, so I know there’s a lot less of it when I do have people round. I’ve even had people actually tell me when they bring something packaged that they picked it up because they saw it would otherwise be wasted. How cool is that to a Zero Waster! I’ll always buy packaged food if I can see it might otherwise be wasted.
Really though, I do think it is important to remember to control the controllables and not get stressed about stuff outside of your control. Don’t get stressed about what other people do! It is all still worth it.
The biggest challenge I face is that I’m limited on where I can go shopping. I suffer with agoraphobia and panic disorder which can mean getting out of the house is impossible some days! So I rely on supermarket deliveries to my door.
I’m so grateful for this service, but I end up with a lot of non-recyclable packaging. If I was free to shop where and when I wanted, I could seek out more packaging-free options and I’d probably buy less and shop more often in order to run supplies down between shops. However, I don’t beat myself up about this; I do what I can in other areas of my life and, like many of us on this Zero Waste journey, I’m doing the best I can.
Let’s hear from some of our Zero Waste Week Ambassadors to see what their biggest struggles are.
Jo Chidley and Frankie Jacklin both struggle with sourcing food without the single-use plastic.
My biggest struggle with my Zero Waste journey falls within food packaging waste specifically. It is so difficult to get seasonal fruit and vegetables that are not in single-use plastic packaging at an affordable price where I live. Accessibility is the issue, whereas in the city more people have access to Zero Waste stores to purchase loose items. It’s not impossible though, as I now source my seasonal fruit and vegetables from a local farmer. It has just taken that little bit of extra effort to make it happen and it’s been so worth it as I now have a story to tell around my food with knowing the provenance of the products.
For example, the Piccolo tomatoes I source locally which are perfectly ripe and ready for you to use in a salad, in a pasta sauce, or just a snack. I know that they have come straight from the East Coast of Scotland in sustainable packaging through a logistics network that only uses electric vehicles, which is so much more exciting than saying…I bought these in a plastic tub from the supermarket!
Plastic food packaging is the most difficult waste to avoid, but with more and more refill shops opening up this has made life a lot easier.
Claire Carter says:
Before COVID, we were doing pretty well with reducing our plastic and single-use items in general. We are a family of 5 and I’d got our recycling bin to only half full every 2 weeks. During the lockdowns, our use of plastic went up which felt like a backwards step. I decided as long as I was doing my best, that was ok.
A word of caution, though, from Zero Waste Week Ambassador, Ander…
During my ‘hardcore’ Zero Waste year where I challenged myself to reduce my waste to nearly zero, I ended up only producing two carrier bags worth of waste for 12 months. It was a bit stressful at times as I set myself a red line that if I could get it somewhere without packaging I would cycle to it. Well, I cycled a lot that year… I don’t do that anymore, but it is ok because I still generate only a jar of waste a month, and I live calmly and happily ever after.
Moral of the story…
Don’t beat yourself up, or set your sights too high. Just do what you can, when you can, and the waste reduction will come naturally, easily and without any battles with loved-ones who are not quite on board. That reminds me: whenever I do a talk or workshop, people want to know what my family think of my Zero Waste Habits. My two children are now in their mid twenties. They and my husband are all as Zero Waste conscious as I am. I asked them why – or how – we got where we are now. They said it was because it was never a battle – it was just a gradual build up of things we got better at, and there was a clear reason because we looked at the impact. For several years my children have brought me “random bits” they don’t know how best to dispose of – this usually happens when moving house. I accepted the challenge – sometimes using the bag of bits for my more advanced waste warrior workshops. I’d say we’re at the point where the struggles are now the fun bit. They provide challenge and conversation now, rather than stress. So tread lightly along the path and worry not. Every little helps.
And what do other Zero Heroes experience?
Naomi, a teacher from North Wales says:
My biggest struggle is trying to make sure that I always have enough water in my reusable water bottle. I now take a spare bottle of water to work in a reusable bottle as I can’t use the water fountain at work at the moment.
Jen and Ashia both struggle with toothpaste.
Toothpaste tubes used to be my biggest struggle. I have started using toothpaste tablets instead. It took some getting used to and I didn’t manage to find tablets with fluoride in straight away but now I have discovered there are plenty of brands to choose from and my local refill shop sells them as something you can put in your own jar, so no packaging at all.
Toothpaste! I’ve tried so many different options and just can’t find anything I really get along with. Currently I’m using the Colgate recyclable tubes, but I’d like to find a better alternative.
My biggest struggle is in work and is something that is not resolved. Hospitals use so much plastic and single-use items. The COVID pandemic has increased this beyond measure with the necessity of PPE. It concerns me greatly that there is no system for separating waste for the products that don’t have to be incinerated.
Can you relate to some of these struggles? There’s a saying: “A problem shared is a problem halved.” Ok so we know that’s not quite true, but we also all know it does usually help at least. Maybe someone else has the same struggle that you have, and they may have found a way round it. Perhaps you’ve got a magic fix, that could help someone else.
What has been your biggest challenge in trying to reduce your waste? Tell someone what it is and maybe they can help you find a solution.