Zero Waste Week 2021 – Day Two

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.

Jo says:

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!

Frankie says:

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…

Ander says:

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.

Jen says:

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.

Ashia says:

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.

Tash says:

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.


zero waste week day two challenge

Today’s Challenge

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.

Posted in

Anna Pitt


  1. C. Pettem on September 7, 2021 at 7:26 am

    What mostly goes in our rubbish now is tissues. I can’t face a hanky.

    • Anna Pitt on September 7, 2021 at 9:04 am

      That’s actually one of my more recent switches – from tissues, to old fashioned hankies. I use my great grandmother’s handkerchiefs. I now much prefer that to tissues. For a start, you don’t get that awful mess if one goes in the washing machine.You never know, maybe one day you might feel like giving it a go, but if that’s all you have in your bin you’re doing really well! If any tissue users out there also have a compost, tissues can be composted too.

  2. Talitha Sanders on September 7, 2021 at 8:50 am

    I have found it hard to find snacks and cereals without plastic packaging, especially those the kids are happy to eat. My solutions for snacks so far have been fruit, baking our own biscuits and making popcorn. We have also been making our own oaty cereals such as granola, as oats can often be bought in paper bags at the supermarket.

    • GC on September 7, 2021 at 11:09 am

      Agreed! Sometimes you can find bulk food shops with muesli or common cereal but kids are often unhappy with unbranded options, unless you cover your packaging with stickers perhaps.

      • Suella Postles on September 7, 2021 at 1:48 pm

        Perhaps decant their favourtie brand into a glass container, and then keep toping thaat up with somethig less expensive and with no plastic? I make our own musesli with porrudge oat, sultanas,, dried apricots and sunflower/pumpkin seeeds.

  3. GC on September 7, 2021 at 9:53 am

    My biggest challenges are definitely medicine and vegetables. With the help of both Zero Waste Week and Plastic Free July, our household has worked hard to eliminate a lot of waste but those two areas are still very tricky as we have no local opportunities to get vegetables without packaging. With my medication, there are no clever plastic-free options, so it’s a comfort to be reminded that nobody is perfect – it is very much a balance between what you can do and your mental health.

    • Anna Pitt on September 7, 2021 at 10:24 am

      It sounds like you are well on your way with the Zero Waste journey. You’re absolutely right. We have to be calm and pragmatic about the things we can’t control and just concentrate on the things we can do. Thanks for sharing. It is a really important point.

      It is worth noting that pharmaceutical companies are starting to think about the environment. I know of a few successes where better packaging has been developed. There will be more, so hang on in there!

    • Suella Postles on September 7, 2021 at 1:49 pm

      Do what you can and keep sane is my motto!

  4. Nora on September 7, 2021 at 11:08 am

    My biggest struggle is definitely food waste – specifically single use packaging on snacks and ready meals. I have a variety of mental illnesses, and although I love cooking and baking, every few weeks or so I fall down into an episode of depression and anxiety and I don’t have the energy to cook from scratch.
    This is very personal, so CW – I also have an eating disorder, which although I’ve been trying to sort out myself because of being on a wait list for over a year at this point, means I waste a lot of food. To top it all off, I also have coeliac disease, and plastic packaging on bread rolls or other items – blegh. I try to be kind to myself about it but knowing how much I waste kills me. I try to remember about other changes I have made though, such as using reusable menstrual products, a reusable water bottle and coffee cup, my shopping bags, my plans to use refill shops for everything I can once I move.

    • Anna Pitt on September 7, 2021 at 2:43 pm

      The really important thing is just that… being kind to ourselves. We can just do what we can, when we can. It all counts.

    • Christine A M Fox on September 11, 2021 at 6:19 pm

      the Co-op have just started to recycle alot of the plastic wrap that covers gluten free bread etc – so you can feel a bit better when you have to buy those things

  5. Suella Postles on September 7, 2021 at 2:07 pm

    One of my bigger challenges was toothpaste without flouride. I can use Eucryl. but I found a really useful recipe in Stephanie Faffertie’s The Creative Kitchen which uses sea salt, diatomaceus earth and bicarbonate of soda. Add coconut oil if I want it creamy.Plastic fee and cheap!

  6. Suella Postles on September 7, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    Anna and Rachelle, We don’t do badly inour corner of south Nottinghamshire . Our county collects a lot of plastic, paper, metals and stuff and recycles ir, incinerating the general waste for public housing.,They also collect and then sell on green garden waste

    The co-op collects soft plastics and our local nursery/garden centre takes big plastic compost bags, and plant pots. We can also leave things on the pavement for passers by to help themselves to.

    There are multiple organizations that do plant ans seed swaps. Bus shelters are turned into minilibraries in small villages, sharing games, DVDS and CDs etc as well as books. Our most local one has been well kitted out with shelves etc by a retired woodworker who lives accross the road. And I’m on first anme terms with our lovely local licesnsed scarp man..

    There are also on-line sites for sharing and giving unwanted items in good condition, as well as charity shops, Abundance groups sharing food gluts etc.There are groups set up specifically for fiing broken items or mentding clothes for others, teaching them how to do it themselves..

  7. Pat on September 7, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    I used to get very stressed about things if not perfect. Now I stress less. I have even used disposable masks in town all summer as opposed to cloth ones. The reason is that, as a nurse, I know if high incidence of infection in an area (i live in a holiday area that has been overwhelmed by tourists this year. Our little town is so small you couldn’t socially distance) I would need to change my cloth one every 20 minutes. That’s a lot of hot water used to wash them. In contrast the hospital masks last 4 hours. I reckon that if I got Covid I would be using so much more energy from this earth that this use of a disposable is worth it. That said I wish they could be recycled near here. I look forward in next couple of weeks, now tourist season is waning, to returning to reusable masks.

    • Anna Pitt on September 7, 2021 at 5:35 pm

      It is always about working out what’s least impact, really and it would be very interesting to know the impact of the disposable masks compar3ed to only using a cloth mask for 2 hours. I don’t know the figures.

      I do know that there’s a greater impact using single-use glass, rather than single-use plastic. Those kinds of trends of avoiding plastic rather than avoiding single use are a big problem.

      A stay is hospital is certainly a very high carbon footprint and always best avoided, so as you say, weighing up what’s most important is the main thing. You already plan to return to reusable when it is appropriate. Sharing this thought process is really helpful to help people understand how to do Zero Waste without the stress and without making a higher impact by making the wrong kind of changes.

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  10. Tracy on September 9, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    We are trying to be less wasteful by using washable nappies for our baby. The prints are beautiful which is an added bonus. We have saved quite a lot of money and reduced our carbon footprint as less waste goes to landfill and there are less production costs than dispisable nappies.

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