As of September, I am now a home owner, an identity that makes me feel immensely mature and grateful, but I now empathise with all those who told me that it would be up there in the top most stressful experiences of my life.
Now that I’m settled in and actually have a wardrobe and a working washing machine, I’ve started focusing on the more important things: Where can I buy decent, sustainable food? Where can I recycle? How can I change my energy tariff to renewables rather than oil and gas? How many episodes of Stranger Things can I fit in after my evening commute? Etc. Etc.
On the topic of recycling, it’s a bit doom and gloom. We live in a flat complex, and the bins provided are locked away in this tiny dungeon. In our first week, we gleefully walked down to the ‘dungeon’ with our recycling, ready to get that sense of instant, environmental ‘do-gooder’ gratification.
Inside, we were met with moulding food scattered on the floor, random bits of plumbing, and a torn and dusty pushchair. Behind these, we found the bins. There are three large vestibules, but none of them have labels. I would like to say that one of them is green-ish in colour, suggesting recycling, but it might be algae or some sort of bacterial spread. You peer inside, and every single one is filled with black bin bags and loose rubbish.
So, what did we do? We did what every other person would do…
We drove around West London trying to find a recycling unit. Finally, we found one at a Sainsbury’s, and have had to return there every week since.
I don’t know about you, but this is what I would call a big effort, especially when a) time is a limited resource, b) we are having to drive somewhere in order to recycle, and c) I know deep down that the majority of recyclable items will sadly head to landfill anyway, so apathy kicks in.
But, having been passionate about the environment since I can remember, and currently being on a campaign to eliminate single-use plastic water bottles at a London University, I have this frustrating mix of awareness and accountability on my moral conscience.
I needed to think positively and proactively.
That is when it hit me: why am I focusing so much on managing our plastic waste when I could be preventing or re-valuing the waste in the first place?
Ta da! A new plan was borne!
Rather than rinsing out milk bottles with soapy water, or using kitchen paper to remove the last smears of peanut butter from a jar, we can spend our time exploring our area for local grocers, researching cool ways to make detergent, and buying really cool reusable shopping bags.
Who’s excited? I am.
Step 1: Education and Inspiration
I decided to focus mainly on plastic waste, but am trying to cut down on other materials as well. To educate myself, and inspire my partner to get involved, I started researching into how to easily reduce your plastic footprint.
I then, in true Envirovisuals form, drew an infographic of my findings.
This infographic is now proudly plastered on my kitchen cabinet as a colourful daily motivator. For more information on each particular icon on the infographic, head to this fantastic website, but the main gist is:
Ditch the plastic straws
Stop chewing gum (except if it is natural gum)
Use matchsticks rather than lighters
Use a reusable grocery bag rather than single-use plastic bags
Switch to cardboard boxes rather than plastics – e.g. for dishwasher detergent
Choose a higher quality razor rather than disposable ones
Switch to a reusable water bottle (and coffee cup!)
Prepare your lunches in advance rather than buying packaged food
Take a reusable lunchbox to restaurants (if there are ever leftovers…)
Swap the plastic forks for proper cutlery
Choose natural face products that don’t include plastic beads
Shop at grocery stores and farmer’s markets
Step 2: Do it and document it
Excuses need to be removed, and an expectation to just commit needs to take excuses place.
Start a Facebook group, tell your friends and family, post about it. Anything to make you more accountable, and align that internal value to be more sustainable with an external action.
It’s Day 2 for me, and I am already realising how easy certain changes are and how others will probably take a bit more organisation. Shameful stats here: I know that our household waste is around 1 bin bag and 2 recycling bags per two weeks. Let’s see what it is at the end of October…
The easiest changes so far are:
- Buying the reusable water bottle and coffee cup;
- Preparing lunches in advance;
- Ditching plastic straws;
- Ditching gum.
I have also just ordered some reusable grocery bags, and a friend just recommended Milk & More to get proper milkman, glass bottle milk.
The harder changes are:
- Taking my own metal cutlery with me (it’s just…odd);
- The constant dilemma of whether I should use the existing plastic products I have (e.g. razor, shower gel, Arial washing tub) or buy more sustainable alternatives.
I am sure there will be a lot of trial and error, and I know that for me that if I don’t edge myself into this lifestyle, or beat myself up for one slip, I will stumble at the first hurdle. It’s about re-thinking and re-valuing, and making lifestyle changes fun rather than a chore.
In the next month, I will be thinking up more creative ways to not only prevent plastic waste but also re-value plastic. For example, any bottles or tubs I do have leftover can become plant pots or insect hotels, or I can make art out of them.
It’s going to be an interesting, challenging and eye-opening change, but one thing is for sure; it is way, way better than entering the ‘dungeon’.