This is my first blog post of 2017! I don’t think I’ve ever blogged this late into the start of a new year before. My blogging mojo has gone astray, but I’ve been determined not to panic. It’s happened before and it always comes back. I find it’s important not to force it, otherwise my writing sounds contrived.
We’ve spent the last few years making lots of changes to our lifestyle. Plastic bottles to reusable stainless steel, kitchen roll to kitchen rags, plastic sandwich bags to tiffin tins. Our most recent change has involved switching energy supplier to Bulb. It suddenly struck me just how many decisions are involved in changing to a more eco friendly lifestyle. It can seem daunting at first. From spending time on various zero waste groups on Facebook, I know that most people go through a very similar process to the one I did.
- They have some kind of epiphany or wake up call that makes them want to change their lifestyle, whether that is watching a video on YouTube about plastic in the oceans or seeing a bin overflowing with disposable plastics at a festival.
- They decide to turn over a new leaf and feel a strong desire to change everything at once.
- Recognising the enormity of this task, the desire to change is swiftly followed by feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of changes they could make and feel they ought to make. What should they do first? Give up plastic? Go vegetarian? Go vegan? Volunteer for Greenpeace?
- If they’ve asked for advice or recommendations in the group, someone sensible will probably tell them to make changes one at a time, perhaps tackling easier changes first before moving on to more difficult ones. This is great advice as it allows each change to become part of routine and second nature before picking something new to change.
- And off they go, embarking on their journey to reduce waste, meeting challenges along the way, celebrating successes however small.
I remember when I first decided to cut down on our plastic. I went on my first trip to the supermarket, determined to shop plastic-free. With a new awareness of plastic and packaging, the sheer volume of it in the supermarket hit me like a slap in the face as soon as I walked in. It started in the fruit and vegetable aisle. I desperately wanted to buy loose fruit and vegetables, but all I saw was a sea of plastic-shrouded produce. I managed to buy some bananas, apples (but not the kind we usually like or buy) and a couple of other things before moving on to other aisles, my confidence already dented.
That first trip went from bad to worse. They wouldn’t accept my containers at the meat, fish and deli counters. There seemed to be very little I could buy that was free of plastic. I came home deflated. Deflated, but determined. I thought about the way my grandma had shopped and provided food for the family when I was a little girl, which was the way she’d been doing it since my mum was a little girl too. Surely that was still possible?
I changed tack and shopped in the nearest market town. We cut down our meat meals to three per week and I started to use an independent butchers, where they let me use my own containers. I bought fruit and vegetables at the greengrocer’s stall on the market. I found somewhere I could buy and refill our washing up liquid, as well as buying soap unpackaged. I found a local shop that will order milk in glass bottles from the dairy. I decided to bake more.
It sounds easy when it’s listed like that, but all of these changes involved decisions. Was the price increase for milk in glass and meat from the butchers worth it? Yes, probably. What we’ve lost on the swings we’ve gained on the roundabouts. We’ve cut back in other areas and now have the money to spend slightly more on those things. Meat is more expensive, but we eat less of it, it’s locally farmed, it isn’t full of water and chemicals to eke it out and keep its colour, and I can buy it package-free. The milk we buy supports a local dairy and we can return the glass bottles.
Some decisions have involved compromise. We have very few bulk options in our local area, so we buy pasta in the largest bags we can possibly find in the supermarket and rice in large paper sacks from our local Asian supermarket. We also buy herbs and spices in large quantities in plastic bags from the Asian supermarket, which we decant into jars at home. It’s not perfect, but it’s a compromise.
I found a shop locally where they order their stock in bulk from Suma and sell it portioned out in plastic bags. They were happy for me to buy certain store cupboard items in my own containers if I gave some advance warning. Unfortunately, this didn’t really work out for us. It was a lot more expensive (dried apricots three times the price for example) and required a bit too much planning for me. So we currently buy those items in plastic. However, we know the option is there should we change our minds – another decision made.
The point of all this is to show you the real side of our zero waste journey. The reality behind all the carefully taken photos with the mess cropped out. The frantic paddling beneath the duck gracefully gliding downstream. There are challenges along the way, good days and bad, compromises, tough decisions. I have to accept what I cannot change and rejoice in doing what I can.
However, once decisions have been made and changes become second nature, the journey becomes less overwhelming. We’ve been on our journey now for a few years and I don’t think we’ll ever reach our destination, but we’re doing everything we can to help reduce our impact on the environment and that’s a pretty good feeling.