Friday, 2 February 2018

Zero waste movement- the second half.

Ooh, I'm so excited about this! And also, a little cautious. 

Those who know me will have noted that whilst my love of nature is epic, I've always had a vacillating relationship with the 'green movement'. Some lifestyle changes have been incredibly easy for me to adopt, for instance, making and using my own compost and switching to Ecotricity. On other aspects I have lagged, perhaps most glaring are the massive amounts of plastic and various non recyclables which end up in either my recycling or black bin bag. As a member of Generation X who tried to 'save the planet', a busy mother and PhD student, I've become overwhelmed and jaded. Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of plastic etcetera in my life, jaded, well, just in general really. So, whilst I've been happy to focus on homemade food, gardening and swapping coal for 'sustainable' fuel logs, as for the other stuff, it's been a case of ignore and chuck it in the recycling or landfill. I've come across the odd article about zero waste in say, Permaculture Magazine but I didn't bother reading it because frankly, it looked boring and 'worthy' to me, not to mention unachievable. Somehow though, I suddenly reached Peak Plastic.

As with the mysterious ways of the zeitgeist, along come a plethora of inspirational (and mainly but not exclusively) Millennial young women, who picked up the baton from where I left off and are Instagramming, blogging and vlogging all over the place, thereby enthusing and inspiring an enormous audience. Wow! What a contrast to the numerous discussions I've been privy to in the 'green movement', whereby people bemoan the movement's inability to engage people on a significant scale. Now that we're all about social media (bleugh, I hate that term), suddenly zero waste is voguish, desirable and notably, attainable. Don't own a house upon which to install solar panels? No worries! You can focus on simple zero waste 'swaps' and baby steps, explained via You Tube videos, blogs and Instagram pictures. Over on The Insta, I'm finding #zerowaste to be extremely engaging but it could be argued I find #greenwashing more so (more on this later). Anyway, I could not applaud these movers and shakers (aka 'influencers') more and delightfully, my ennui has vanished and I'm on fire, seeking out different ways of doing the same old things. 

I think one of the phenomena behind the movement's success (apart from the obvious use of social media) is that (largely) this new wave of zero wasters are young and thus frequently eating out-therefore some of the most conspicuous examples of a wasteful lifestyle are tangible in their everyday life. If, for instance they get 'coffee to go' in the morning and then grab a (plastic) bottle of water and 'food to go' for lunch, it doesn't take much to make the link between this and plastic bottles washing up on beaches the world over. Likewise, it doesn't take much to make a great swap: make your own lunch at home, pop it in a reusable container, find yourself a refillable water bottle and be sure to remember your reusable coffee cup too, or more frequently, a KeepCup (so pretty, so expensive and goodness, so corporate!). Clearly, this is just one small act which pretty much everyone could do, with modest initial financial outlay, fast financial return and if achieved on a big scale, would have impact. (Yes, I am aware that some will be shouting at the screen, "But I never stopped doing that anyway, you idiot!" and good for them too.) So, right there with the zero waste lunch, we have motivation, a tight feedback loop (you can keep track of your lunch resource use) and I think, a satisfying feeling of accomplishment and empowerment. If you will, a sense of, "I'm taking my power back from those wasteful capitalist companies and I'm voting with my dollar". 

And who can argue with that? I can't and whilst I was naturally moving in a more thoughtful and less wasteful direction, I'm now fully engaged and excited. Yes, I'm 'detoxing' my bathroom cabinet; yes, I'm going to sew my own washable cleaning cloths; and yes, I'm making more effort to buy vegetables from places which allow me to bring my own reusable bags. But no, I shalln't be buying a KeepCup; and no, I don't need an army of gorgeous new metal topped jars, when there'll be plenty of jam jars I can recycle, if only I can get the damn labels off! 

The sort of image flying round the internet versus...*

low waste storage using old jars.**

Which brings me to my caution. You see, zero waste logic is that we need to reuse as much as possible and ultimately ensure that less ends up recycled or in landfill. To do that, look around your own home before making purchases- cherish those old towels and sew yourself some dandy menstrual pads (or whatever). When you've determined that you need to buy a new something, hunt down the zero waste version, which joyfully will be aesthetically pleasing. And this is exactly the other reason I believe the movement has suddenly gained so much traction- those zero waste images are generally gorgeous and it's so temping to slake our consumerist urges with not really buying less but buying different. As an example, some of the zero waste packed lunch images which garner massive online engagement involve an attractive new stainless steel lunch box (because apparently, you can 'endlessly recycle steel'), like so: 

Yummy! Who wouldn't want their lunch to look like this? ***

But in reality, my water bottle looks shabby- not chic!

Back in real life, my own zero waste lunch bag is a mildly frumpy yet practical Cath Kidston bag, the bashed up bottle above, a scavenged vintage napkin and a tawdy old plastic 'tupperware' box. Due to my kit's lack of glamour, it's not made my Instagram feed but it does work.  I see no need to buy anything new, not least because at lunch, I often sit with Environmental Earth Scientists and I listen to what they have to say:-

You can't have mining (metal extraction) without an environmental legacy and some of these problems may be in evidence many years hence; we need to recycle glass due to dwindling silica reserves; it's tricky to make nice clear recycled glass; stainless steel can contain varying amounts iron, chromium, molybdenum, nickel and more (and some of these elements can be particularly toxic, thus care must be taken in production); and there's also some doubt over the ease of recycling stainless steel due to the various types in use. Ergo, for the good of the environment, we should only buy a handsome new metal topped jar when we've exhausted the other options.

So, bravo to my inspiring online lovelies, hoorah that they're making eco-friendly choices look beautiful but golly, we've got to beware, lest we neglect the first tenet of zero waste- that of  first using what we already have- and with some believing that 2018 is going to be the year that zero waste goes mainstream, we'd better be on our guard! I think the very thing which is making the movement such a success- the aesthetic appeal- is also the place in which we could most easily fail; it's just so tempting to go out an buy a whole new 'zero waste starter kit'. As ever, we're seeking a simple solution to an infinitely complex problem and who could blame us? We can but try and it is so good that this conversation is happening and not before time! 

I can't wait to read what you all think, do feel free to comment below.


P.S. I would like to thank the Environmental Earth Scientists from Aberystwyth University, who tolerate my lunchtime jabbering and magnanimously contributed to part of the intellectual content of this blog post. 


*Image from The Note Passer

** Image from Treading My Own Path

***Image from Eqo

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