This year’s Zero Waste Week runs from 7th-13th September and the theme is ‘reuse’. Anyone and everyone can get involved, just go along to www.zerowasteweek.co.uk and make your pledge! My pledge is to purchase and use nothing that goes to landfill for the week. Self-promo moment – you’ll also be seeing a post from me on the Zero Waste Week website about some of my antics at work very soon!
Zero Waste Week is the invention of Rachelle Strauss, and you can read more about her journey and how she started this initiative on her website and in this article she wrote for the Guardian last year.
I started going down the zero waste path a couple of years ago, and for me it’s an ongoing journey – there are so many areas of our lives where waste just seems to magically appear! The decision to not use resources, or use resources that don’t create excess packaging, has to be just that – a decision. It doesn’t happen by accident. Our society set up at the moment is based around convenience – coffee to go, sandwiches to grab at lunch, and even if you do have the time to slow down you’re likely to be confronted by supermarket pre-packed vegetables, ready meals and a million special offers on food wrapped in plastic (my personal bugbear being multi-pack crisps – non-recyclable plastic wrapped in extra non-recyclable plastic just to sell us more crisps in one go!).
This is why I think zero waste is more than just not using materials – it’s a gently subversive action to protest against excess consumerism, and against choosing convenience over the destruction of resources. To me, it’s a very personal, tiny but polite way of saying ‘I want things to be better!’
And it can be tiny – because a tiny change by lots of people can have the same impact as giant changes by one person. So what I’m going to do is a little audit of the changes I’ve made so far, and hope that some of them might be helpful to other people, as well as seeing where else I can look to make more changes myself.
The first area I’m going to look at is the bathroom, because this is an area where it’s easy to create a lot of waste.
Shampoo and conditioner:
Almost every shampoo and conditioner in sold in the UK seems to come in a plastic bottles. If you don’t mind splashing the cash, there are some in metal and glass bottles, but everything is going straight in the bin after its finished either way, either to landfill or re- or down-cycled if lucky. Whilst recycling is better than the dreaded black bin, it still has to go through an energy-intensive process of being picked up, transported, sorted, made in to a new product, and then transported again.
One option is to give up shampoo altogether! Many people swear by natural methods including products such as baking soda and vinegar, and the internet is teaming with suggestions. However if like me, you aren’t on the ‘no poo‘ train, there are some other options.
The first are the lovely shampoo bars from Lush. These can be bought entirely packaging-free from shops nationwide, although you do still need to be vigilant against well-meaning shop assistants trying to pop them in a little paper bag at the checkout! There are lots of different smells and formulations for different hair types available, my personal favourite is the Godiva bar. Whilst they aren’t super-cheap (usually between £5-6), as long as you keep them dry between uses and don’t let them sit in a gooey pool of water, they can last for months, even on long hair.
My other option is location specific, but you may also find something similar in your area – refillable bottles. The wonderful Earth Natural Foods in Kentish Town, North London, has a self-serve refill section for a range of Faith in Nature shampoos and conditioners. So you are still buying a plastic bottle, but only the once!
Until I found the refill service, I struggled a lot more with finding a waste-free conditioner than I had with shampoo. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried to love them, the Lush conditioner bars were not up to the task for my hair. If you can’t find a refill service near you, the first thing I would suggest is to lobby your nearest natural/health food shop! Other options could include bulk buying from online sites like www.biggreensmile.co.uk or asking your shop to order it in for you, if they aren’t interested in going the bulk-buy route themselves (large tubs can be great for reusing in the garden for watering plants, or cutting in half for plant pots once they’re eventually empty). If you’re the experimental type, a quick internet search of ‘homemade hair conditioners’ throws up a whole world of options!
This one’s probably the easiest – soap! Whilst shower gel is the choice of most people these days, soap seems to be making a comeback, and local markets and craft shops can be nice places to pick up a handmade, beautiful little block. If you don’t believe me, this lovely post from Reading my Tea Leaves is a rather sweet love letter to the stuff which may convince you!
Loose soaps are available in all sorts of places, including Lush (of course!), but even if you can’t find one packaging free, even the average supermarket or department store will almost always have a few options wrapped just in paper.
If you’ve managed to find a refill shampoo place, you can always use that instead of course!
If you’re also after a body lotion for after your shower, I really would recommend getting your DIY on and making a batch of this lotion from the Wellness Mama, because it’s very nice indeed.
My search for a zero/low-waste deodorant has been a rather long (and not always pleasant!) journey. The Lush range wasn’t terrible, but the loose ones were a bit scratchy for me, and didn’t get me happily through the day. I tried a few glass bottle options from Planet Organic with varying success, and then one day I found it! The one –
The Organic Essence range comes in a compostable paper tube, a number of lovely smells, and is made from coconut oil and baking soda. Most importantly, IT WORKS!*
*If this isn’t true, and any of my friends are reading this and need to tell me something, please do.
Makeup removal and face wash:
For years and years I used baby lotion and cotton wool to remove my makeup. Once I realised that most baby lotions are petroleum-based as well as coming in a plastic bottle, and that the best use of cotton is not to be used once and chucked into landfill, I needed an alternative. After some experiments, I’ve found a bottle of almond oil (in glass, from the cooking section of the supermarket) and washable pads work just fine. If you like the feel of water on your face, after you’ve rubbed the oil on a wash cloth soaked in hot water works great too.
Different oils will work for different people, but some oils are just more pore-clogging than others. I found this very handy list which gives you loads of info on the pore-cloggy-ness of a whole range of different oils if you’re going to try it out.
This may not be on everyone’s bathroom list, but our kitchen is too tiny for a washing machine, so this is where ours lives.
Once again, it’s refills to the rescue, for laundry liquid and fabric conditioner. I started off with a large 5l bulk container and then decant them into smaller ones for every day use. The 5l tub means that visits to the refilling station are less frequent than if you stick with regular-sized bottles. Mine are from Earth Natural Foods (again), but laundry refills seems decidedly more popular than shampoo – I’ve seen refills in Budgens shops, loads of health food shops. The Ecover website has a search function for you to find your nearest refill point.
Fabric refresher is the other thing I make regularly, not only is it saving on plastic bottles but it is SO much cheaper! It uses a really simple recipe, like the one here lasts ages, and works just as well.
So whilst this is where I’m up to so far, there’s still a way to go. I’m struggling to find a non-plastic tube toothpaste that I don’t hate, and I’m completely addicted to dental floss. Essentially, all of the teeth-related stuff still needs a LOT of work – this is one place I think I may not be able to carry out my Zero Waste Week pledge in full. The problem is that I really hate going to the dentist, even for a check up, let alone anything more serious. I’m seriously committed to not letting anything bad happen to my teeth. This one is going to require some work and some extra thought…
I’d love to know what steps other people have taken, and what you have found more difficult. What resources have you found that have transformed your zero waste journey?