One Family's Journey to a 'Minimal Waste Lifestyle'
For Zero Waste Week we are pleased to feature a guest blog by the Baines Family. By ignoring the daunting term of zero waste, they have achieved a 'minimal waste lifestyle' to be proud of. Here they share their adventures into the realms of reducing their plastic footprint as a young family...
"Our zero waste journey began rather suddenly the morning after watching A Plastic Ocean on Netflix. We knew the problems with plastic pollution were bad but hearing about the sheer size of the issue really shocked us. From then, we both knew we wanted to make a positive change to the way we were living. We’re now 18 months into our new ‘plastic-free’ life and we’ve never looked back.
When we started this process, our children were 6 months old and 3 years old and we were putting out a full black wheely bin, plus an extra 3-4 bin bags every fortnight. Needless to say, I was sceptical that we would be able to survive as a family with our waste filling only a mason jar, as you so often see when people are heralding their success on social media.
I was a total newbie when it came to the world of zero waste. It hadn’t ever occurred to me to use natural alternatives to my usual plastic-packaged, chemical-laden cleaning products and I had never even heard of cloth nappies. I didn’t know where to start. I was happy to take a slow-and-steady approach, gradually using up the items that we already possessed and replacing them with plastic-free alternatives when the time came. But my husband had other ideas and donated all our products to various family members in one fell swoop. This turned out to be a good idea as it meant that I couldn’t make excuses and actually, none of the changes were as hard or as daunting as I expected they might be.
It was quite a steep learning curve for us all with many nights spent Googling and researching suitable, more eco-friendly alternatives to lots of different things. We also learnt rather a lot about recycling. I didn’t realise that there were different types of plastic and that not all of them could be recycled. I learned all about how to find the plastic numbers printed on products and used this handy BBC chart – and several phone calls to our local recycling centre - to work out what could be recycled kerbside and what needed disposing of separately.
One of the first things we ditched was wet wipes, switching instead to washable, reusable Cheeky Wipes – and it’s still one of my favourite swaps to date. Next up was swapping our disposable nappies for cloth ones. This was a much slower process as buying cloth nappies can be expensive, but it will save you money in the long run. Our council provides a Real Nappy Incentive Scheme, which helped us to build our collection. Unfortunately, the nappies haven’t been an entirely smooth transition for us and we do have the occasional leakage, meaning we still keep disposables on hand for days out, nursery and holidays.
The next thing to go was the rather large collection of sprays, polishes and cleaners that were clogging up our under-the-sink cupboard. These were replaced by white vinegar, baking soda and castile soap, which will pretty much clean anything and everything! Our washing up liquid has been in the same plastic bottle for 18 months and gets refilled at a local shop and our washing machine runs on either soap nuts or an eco-egg.
The plastic bottles cluttering our bathroom were replaced with a traditional bar of soap and a shampoo bar from Lush. I have one plastic bottle of Faith in Nature shampoo that I’ve had refilled five or six times at a local shop. Our toothbrushes are now made of bamboo but we’re yet to find a replacement for toothpaste that works for us. Our deodorant is made of various essential oils and comes in a tin and my razor is a metal safety razor that uses old-school metal razor blades. All my sanitary products have been replaced with reusable bamboo cloth pads and a Mooncup.
When we go food shopping, we still visit Morrisons and manage to buy most fresh fruit and vegetables loose. I’ve got some cloth bags that my friend made from old net curtains that I take along with me and get lots of positive, inquisitive comments about. There are still some things we buy where the plastic is unavoidable, for example, cheese, rice cakes and many of the snacks for the kids still come in unrecyclable packaging. We had to do a bit of research to help us understand exactly what can and can’t be recycled kerbside and this helped us to make better choices in the supermarket. It’s pretty tough avoiding plastic entirely when you’re a young family with mouths to feed and a budget to stick to! But hopefully with the rise in interest about plastic pollution (thanks Blue Planet 2!), companies will start to take notice and invest in more earth-friendly solutions. Cling film has been ditched in favour of Abeego wraps and we never go anywhere without our flight of water bottles clanging around.
So, 18 months on and we definitely could never go back to the way we were. Once your eyes are open to it, you can’t switch it off. Our son is now nearly 5 years old and begs us to take him litter picking at the beach most weekends and often reprimands friends and family members if he sees them with an item of single-use plastic, his inherent passion for animals spurs him on!
We don’t actually like the term ‘zero waste’ as it makes it sound like something that would be unachievable for most. We prefer ‘minimal waste lifestyle’. We’re still far from perfect but we’re happy with the progress we’ve made so far. Our black bin now goes out once a quarter and is mainly filled with items we’ve litter-picked….our recycling bin on the other hand can often be found overflowing but we’re working on it!"