10 questions about a zero waste lifestyle

Filed in Blog by on April 15, 2015 20 Comments
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zero waste bloggers networkDid you know there are Zero Waste Bloggers all around the world?

Inge, from Gruenish in Oregon, had the foresight to bring us all together in a network. At the time of writing this post we have 39 members from US, UK, CA, FR, DE, AU, PL and beyond.

One of her ideas was for us to answer the following questions about our zero waste experiences, before tagging 3 other bloggers.

This week, Stefanie from Zero Waste Familie in Germany tagged me, so here goes with 10 questions about my zero waste experiences!

How / Why did you first start switching to a Zero Waste lifestyle?

“Pass to all emergency services. This is a major incident. I repeat; this is a major incident. We require all standby aircraft available, and all available land-based emergency crews as we are in danger of losing Boscastle and all the people in it.”

boscastle flood 2004

That was the message to RAF Kinloss Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre from Capt Pete McLelland, flying above Boscastle, on 16 August 2004. On that day one of Britain’s worst rainstorms was unleashed on the hills above Boscastle, and I was standing in the village holding my three-year-old daughter in my arms.

It’s a strange thing when you wonder whether you’ll ever see your husband alive again. Weird thoughts go through your head. My thoughts seemed quite logical – I believed, 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.

boscastle 2004 flood
I set up our local Freecycle group – a way of keeping stuff out of landfill by connecting people with things to give away to the people who want them. I’d seen how this had helped victims of hurricane Katrina and it was my way of giving something back to the people of Boscastle. When the group became too big to manage, I split the group down into regions and handed it over to new people to moderate…

Then I was looking for a new challenge and a New Year’s Resolution when I came across Karen Cannard’s blog – The Rubbish Diet. I was inspired that in one week of her council’s Zero Waste Week challenge, she’d thrown away just one sticking plaster.

I thought “I can do that”.

It reminded me of our time in Boscastle where I’d seen people’s livelihoods washed out to see and it made me realise I wanted to make better use of the resources I had.

resources running out

I mentioned my New Years Resolution to my husband who looked at me like I was crazy, said he was too old to change and what difference could one family make anyway.

hubby

The fact that Mr Green was not on board with me one iota just made me more determined to succeed and do an ‘I told you so’ on this one.

I started putting my peelings in a container on the kitchen work surface instead of into the bin, I dutifully rinsed out my tins and separated the newspapers.

But by day three of finding beer cans in the bin underneath food leftovers and soggy teabags, this, like most other New Years Resolutions, was finished and I gave up.

Three months later, fate stepped in.

I read an article about some of the devastating effects our plastic waste is causing marine life and showed it to Mr Green.

He saw this picture:

a-turtle-at-the-mercy-of-a-plastic-carrier-bag

Put his head in his hands and said “That’s it. We’re never using another carrier bag ever again. And if we don’t have something with us, we have to struggle carrying it until we feel the pain and start remembering to take the alternatives with us.

Our zero waste journey had begun!

Since when are you pursuing a zero waste lifestyle?

In 2004 the seeds were planted. In 2008 they began to germinate. Reducing waste is like any other goal in life – it’s all about baby steps; put one small habit change in place, embed it into your lifestyle, then add something new. And focus on celebrating your successes, not beating yourself up for the things you can’t do.

What are some of your favorite ways to avoid trash?

Prevention, not cure

It all starts before you get to the checkout. Ask yourself before you buy something “What will I do with this product or packaging once I’ve finished using it?” That way you prevent bringing a problem home with you.

Pile-of-rubbish-on-suburb-007

Where is away?

A question to keep in mind when you go to throw something away is, “Where is away?

It’s not some magical place where things disappear.

It’s a landfill site, an incinerator, a ship to China or the bottom of the ocean.

“Away” is always somewhere else.

Once we’ve put something in the ubiquitous black bin bag, it’s out of sight, out of mind. We can’t wait to “get rid of it,” to absolve responsibility for it and, in some cases, forget it ever happened. My message is all about facing up to what we want to get rid of and seeing if there’s a better way to do things so we don’t accumulate so much rubbish in the first place.eWaste

Throwing money in the bin?

Then, consider food waste. Imagine you’ve just done your food shopping for the week. You’ve bought six bags of food.

Now I want you to take 2 of your 6 shopping bags of food and put them straight in the bin before bringing them into the house. Would you?

I didn’t think so.

But actually, the average household in Britain is doing exactly that – throwing away 1/3 of the food they buy…

According to The Story of Stuff, only 1% of the items we buy are still in use six months after they are bought. All the latest gadgets we can’t live without, the tools that promise to make our lives easier, the so-called must-have thing that guarantees us to be more popular/sexy/healthy – the majority of them end up in landfill in under a year. Keeping that startling statistic in mind helps keep those spontaneous ‘must have’ purchases at bay, because, let’s face it, we might as well just throw that money in the bin.

throwing-away

Make it simple, stupid

By removing the kitchen bin it makes you think “Is there a way to reuse or recycle this?” before automatically throwing it ‘away’. Why not remove your bin and put a recycling box there instead?

Compost, eggs and cooking

On a more practical note I love the challenge of creating a meal from nothing. Give me yesterday’s leftovers, the veggies starting to wilt, that last tablespoon of sweetcorn nobody wants to eat and I’ll knock up a feast that will have you asking for more!

I love the alchemy of composting and the magic of feeding chickens scraps and ending up with eggs – those two things fill me with a lot of joy!

And then there are some fantastic online resources that provide all the information you need. Check out Recycle Now for details about what you can recycle at your kerbside or at your local bring bank.

Try the Tetra Pak recycling locator to see where you can recycle juice cartons nearby by clicking on the map below:

tetra pak recycling locator

How do you have so much time to make all that stuff from scratch?

You don’t have to make stuff from scratch all the time and even when you do there are lots of ways to save time!

We can buy takeaway pizza in cardboard boxes that can then be shredded and added to the compost heap.

We can buy Indian takeaway in foil containers with lids that I then reuse.

The local fish and chip shop know me and instead of giving me a polystyrene container they wrap everything for me in paper which is added to the compost heap.

A pizza being cut with a wheel

Fancy a curry but don’t have the time to grind the spices? Buy a jar of curry sauce and recycle the jar! Maybe your children’s friends are visiting and you don’t want to alienate them with your weird ways. Fish fingers come in a cardboard box with can be recycled and beans come in a tin which is collected from the kerbside.

I PREFER to make my own cakes and biscuits; I know what goes into them and can make them for a fraction of the cost of shop bought with all that non-recyclable packaging.

Yogurt makers and bread machines make light work of creating food from scratch.

A slow cooker is your best friend – fill it up in the morning and come home to an amazing dinner.

Stir fries take minutes.

A juicer or smoothie machine mean you never throw ‘less than perfect’ food away.

When you’re in the cooking mood make several portions and freeze for another day.

When you come home from the shop prepare a few days worth of chopped vegetables and freeze them.

Grow salad in a windowbox, herbs in your windowsill and tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets.

1_6

A zero waste lifestyle is as hard or time consuming as you make it – and you can always forgo a couple of rounds of Angry Birds or a quiz on Facebook and spend that time in the kitchen instead…

How much garbage do you / does your family produce per week?

In 2009 we wanted to really challenge ourselves and see how low we could go. We accumulated just one dustbin of waste for the entire family – 2 adults, a child and a cat!

Now, we just live a ‘normal’ lifestyle and recycle as much as we can with local facilities, but don’t go to the nth degree. We’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt but in all honesty I feel I can have more impact if I inspire everyone in the UK to recycle one more juice carton than we can as just one family doing everything.

margaret mead

Must be expensive to cook from scratch. Are you rich?

It’s CHEAPER, so much cheaper! When you buy fruit and vegetables loose you can buy just the amount you need. And you don’t get home to realise a couple of apples in the bag are bruised or rotten. When you buy meat from a butcher you can get just three sausages, you don’t need to buy a pack of eight. The meat is fresher, and lasts longer, producing less waste. So although it may be more expensive than supermarket ‘value’ lines, you throw less away, saving you more money.

By making cakes, bread and biscuits you can slash your grocery costs. Buying in bulk from food co-ops means you can split the price with friends. Growing a little of your own food – even just sprouted seeds on your kitchen work top -means you can grow food for free and reducing food waste saves the average household over £700 per year. Think about it – eating leftovers, that would otherwise been thrown away, costs nothing to eat!

Food loop for consumers_0

Eating seasonal food, bought from local farmers markets or dug up on the allotment, slashes your bill and you can shop naked, instead of importing foods from all across the world wrapped in plastic.

Find out how I save over £1000 a year with a zero waste lifestyle.

What were the hardest things to give up?

Some habits really don’t want to go – even now we can arrive at the store without our reusable bags; that’s especially true if we’ve popped out without intending to shop and have made a spontaneous visit.

What are your compromise items (not zero waste but you still buy them)?

Disposable razors, packaging for things like rice cakes and ryvita, I still buy yogurt as I’m too lazy to make my own and never found a recipe that worked for me. I will only eat organic chicken and so far it comes in a polystyrene tray; I’ve not been able to buy it without packaging. If something is on offer in a supermarket, and it’s something we’ll use, I’ll buy it to save money on my grocery bill, despite the packaging – I like to think of it as doing my bit to reduce food waste!

Venus-razor

We have a 14 year old daughter and I don’t stop her buying things and bringing them into the house. So she might buy confectionery in non-recycable packaging or something for an instant ‘hit’ that breaks in a month or two and ends up in the bin. I choose to let her learn through experience rather than dictate what she should and shouldn’t do.

What are your favorite Zero Waste Blogs?

This is virtually impossible to answer because I don’t have time to follow and read all that I would like to. And I rarely have time to discover new ones, but some of the favourites in my RSS feed are:

Mommy Emu because she shares such practical and ‘real’ advice which you can implement straight away and she’s a woman of integrity.

Meg – although she’s not a ‘zero waste’ blogger I love her perspective on life; when I read her words I feel myself slowing down to savour them.

Anna doesn’t blog very often but her writing is full of ideas you can get stuck into. She often shares information I’ve not come across before.

I’m going to blag about Zero Waste Week too. It’s my awareness campaign site where everyone is invited to pledge to reduce their landfill waste for a week in September.

What’s one random fun fact about you?

My Mother was once offered 1000 camels for my hand in marriage when we were in Egypt.

Most of the men fell in love with my blue eyes because they’d never seen them before. According to them I looked like a cat…I’m sure the only reason my mother said no is because she didn’t know what to do with 1000 camels in the suburbs of England.

Screenshot_2

I’m tagging the following UK girls:

Karen

Emma

Annika

If you’re a zero waste blogger, please leave your link in the comments below and I’d love you to answer these questions on your site!

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (20)

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  1. Stefanie says:

    Thanks for your interesting answers! It is a serious theme, but you are doing it with a sense of humour. I love the way you write! Kind regards from Germany, Stefanie

  2. Inge says:

    Great read! I like a lot that you let your daughter learn through experience rather telling her what to do.

  3. Kathleen says:

    That was great fun to read! Thank you from the US!! Keep up the great work. Love to get your messages in my emails. Makes me want to do more.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Thanks Kathleen; glad you enjoyed it. Are you on my Zero Waste Week mailing list, where you get monthly newsletters from me? You’d get more of me in your inbox that way 😀

  4. Christine says:

    You know we never consider whether we can reuse what looks like waste. Sliced bread bags can be used in the freezer for instance – with a couple of slices of left over bread in for toast another day.

    • Mrs Green says:

      How times have changed in such a short period of time. In the 40s everything had value and nothing was thrown away. Now we live in a disposable culture and seem to have lost our sense of reusing and repurposing. Like your idea for reusing bread bags 🙂

  5. My boyfriend is at a similar point as Mr. Green was, but he’s slowly coming around, skipping straws, and single use bags, yay! Like you said, there’s satisfaction in inspiring others to give up a few items 😀

    • Mrs Green says:

      Great news that your boyfriend is now giving up single use straws and bags! Good luck with the rest of your zero waste journey together 🙂

  6. Mailyne says:

    I’m so happy that you and your husband are all alive and well. That must have been a scary thing to go through. I also think that you allowing your daughter to make her own choices and learn rather than dictate, is an example of a good mother. You already are laying the foundation and creating awareness through your own lifestyle choices. We can’t force anyone to join us, but obviously inspiring change is always good. Thank you for sharing all of this 🙂

  7. Yenican says:

    Nice initiative hats off to you all

  8. Lulastic says:

    Incredibly inspiring!

  9. Laura Hawkins says:

    Hi, my husband and i too have begun to try living waste free, 7 months in and it’s easier than ever. I really love reading articles knowing how other people manage their lifestyles and any struggles they may face.I’m commenting because I did want to mention one thing, items you don’t compromise on i noticed you said “disposable razors”.. have you ever thought about a safety razor? It might be a little more expensive out lay, but is a lot more cost effective in the long run as you’ll only need to replace the blade! Works a wonder for me 🙂

    • Mrs Green says:

      Hey Laura, Welcome to the site and thanks for your comment – how wonderful you and your husband have embraced the zero waste lifestyle. Are you signed up for zero waste week in September? You’ll find the details here: zerowasteweek.co.uk

      Several people have mentioned the safety razor; I’ve just been too scared to give it a go, but I really should! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  10. C BROWN says:

    Glad to find your blog. I am not zero waste, but our local dump does recycle most things including all grades of plastic 1-7. I’m trying to compost and do recycle everything I can. Never heard of zero waste before seeing this, but it’s a great concept. I live with Mr. Throw it Away who can’t seem to keep the recycling and trash separate, we do throw away the gel pads that catch the juice under meat packs, but all in all recycle far more than throw away.

    • Mrs Green says:

      Welcome! How wonderful you can recycle all the plastic codes! It sounds like you’re doing really well already; Mr Throw It Away just needs to learn one step at a time – I’m sure you’re doing a great job of leading by example 🙂 You could sign up for zero waste week; you’ll find the sign up at the top of this page: http://zerowasteweek.co.uk which takes place in September – this year’s theme is ‘reuse’.

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