Hitting the 'Zero Waste' Wall
The decision to curb your plastic consumption and strive for zero waste living is a powerful one. A few months in you may have ticked off the biggies and wonder what to tackle next. Here’s our guide on what to expect when hitting the zero waste wall…
Once your eyes have been opened to just how much single-use plastic there is in the shops, streets and oceans, it’s impossible to 'un-see'. Whether it was down to documentaries like David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II and A Plastic Ocean, or Hugh & Anita's War On Plastic, thousands have been inspired to pursue a lifestyle free from plastic. However, while some swaps can be easy to adopt and maintain – reusable water bottles, coffee cups and food containers – there are a number of daily dilemmas that present themselves, which are trickier to tackle.
The washing machine
So everything’s going good, you’ve got the whole family onboard and you have seriously slashed the waste within your wheelie bins. But dealing with how you wash your family’s clothes, as well as the materials they’re made from can throw a serious spanner in the works.
Greenwashing* is something that needs to be considered when looking at alternatives to commercial washing powder, and while some brands will be kinder to the planet than others, it’s important to do some research into the chemicals used within them. The Eco-Egg is a popular choice, as are soap nuts, which can later be composted. If you’re dealing with wee-soaked nappies and bedclothes, or well-used sport gear though, you might find these gentler washing options don't cut through the odours left behind. This might mean introducing some bicarbonate of soda and pre-soaking, which if you’re time strapped, will have to be crammed into your schedule. Laundry powder in paper bags or cardboard boxes is a much better solution to the liquid detergents housde in plastic and needing plastic balls to use (just picture the mountains of round balls for liquid detergent 😱).
Additionally, your attention might also turn to the materials your clothes are made from, and the plastic microfibres they leave behind after every single wash (if made from synthetic materials). This poses the question of what’s the best option - get rid of all my perfectly wearable clothes and move to natural fibres, or stretch out as much life from my current clothes as I can, knowing they will drop microfibres with every wash? We’re believers in getting as much use out of items as possible. Do not contribute to the growing fast fashion landfill mountains. Introducing something like the Guppyfriend can help with microfibre pollution, while an effort to choose natural fibres in new purchases is a sensible idea.
* 'Greenwashing' is an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly.
Using a fully loaded modern dishwasher will probably save on water consumption, but tackling dishwasher tablets or detergent can be tricky. You can find recipes for making homemade dishwasher detergent from ingredients like Dr. Bronners castille soap. However, these solutions can come at a cost to convenience. Chances are, after working your way through many other plastic and chemical free swaps throughout the home, you may already be a bit time poor as it is. A good first step could be to stop using dishwasher tablets wrapped in plastic and switch to powder. You could stop using rinse aid and instead take a tea towel out the drawer to mop up any moisture on your crockery.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Peer pressure works both ways, and while the example set by you can encourage others to carry reusables with them, it can easily slip the other way too – and that’s ok. As many parents will know, when out with other families it can be difficult to deny your kids an ice lolly or packet of crisps when with company, even if the non-recyclable wrapping brings a tear to your eye! Even a punnet of fresh berries has an unrecyclable plastic film lid. The important thing to remember is that this isn't your ‘everyday’.
All this can seem overwhelming. It can sometimes feel that despite all your hard work and efforts, you only have to open Instagram to see someone going one step further, or poking holes in your efforts. Whether it’s pointing out the emissions of your holiday flights, or the negative effects of soya production and how your tofu might not be as sustainable as you think. It’s a complicated world when you dig a little deeper into what choices are sustainable. Research and transparency of information is improving all the time and you can't be expected to make the right decision every time – that’s why they put rubbers on the end of pencils ;)
Zero waste living is a pursuit, a journey, not necessarily an end game. While there are undoubtedly pressures afoot in the zero waste space, we all need to draw some kind of perspective on our efforts. Change IS happening, but the big results aren't going to come quickly or all at once. Don't let some of the more complicated decisions slow your momentum. Park them for another day when you can think through a brilliant solution, and smile. Be proud. You’re fighting the good fight!