This week (7th - 11th September) is Zero Waste Week, an award-winning campaign to raise awareness of the environmental impact of consumer waste.
Sustainable Merton Community Champion Gilly tells us more about the campaign and how we can all start to make the small changes that matter.
What is Zero Waste Week?
Founded in 2008 by Rachael Strauss, the concept is a simple one: an opportunity for us all to consider and implement ways to live our lives in a way that minimises the waste we produce. It also aims to encourage methods of recycling, reusing and reducing our need for large quantities of unnecessary packaging and non-essential consumables.
The term 'zero waste' is, in fact, more of an ideal than a widespread possibility. But the ideology is very sound and the more ethically and morally driven we are, the greater our chance of successfully refusing, reducing and finding new ways to do things to lessen our environmental impact.
Why is it important?
There's never been more need to take care of our environment and reduce what we use and how we dispose of it, but equally, never has there been such a wealth of information and range of great innovative products to help us do so. By taking small steps, we can all make a difference together.
Dedicating a specific week to this serves not only to highlight the problems we all face, but provide ideas and support for those less familiar with confronting the waste issue. What started as a local awareness campaign in the UK has now become a globally recognised initiative that has individuals, businesses, schools and whole communities worldwide, doing their bit.
How can you get involved?
Businesses, individuals and organisations can all take part in trying to find ways to reduce the waste they generate and live a less consumer-based lifestyle.
The Zero Waste Week website is a good place to start for support and information. All this week they will be highlighting different waste concerns via their blog and their hugely informative newsletter - go to the web page here to sign up.
If you've made the decision to join in, begin by having a think about what you can do and how to do it that will make it feel easy and preferably become a habit. When things are a big effort they're much less likely to be taken up.
Start by following these simple actions suggested by sustainablejungle.com:
Reduce what you do need: really consider what and how much you actually need before buying and shop more 'responsibly'.
Reuse by re-purposing what you don't want, or by using non-disposable items such as reusable bottles or metal straws.
Refuse what you do not need. We generally all have too much. Think carefully: do I really need that?
Recycle or donate what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse. Compost or recycle the raw food or peelings you don't use.
To help you get going, here are some easy but very impactful ways you can make a difference:
If you tend to eat lots of fresh fruit and veg, this is one of the fastest ways to reduce what you send to landfill. Composting reduces the need to put uncooked food waste in the rubbish bin, therefore, reducing the amount of bin bags for collection. Peelings and raw waste is organic matter that is valuable for enriching the soil, especially if you like to grow your own veg. Compost bins are available in most DIY stores and from many local authorities at a discounted rate.
Reduce food waste by buying less, freezing and keeping track
The average household throws out around 4.5 million tonnes of food each year. Much of this is edible but just beyond its sell-by date. How does this happen? Poor fridge and store cupboard management is often the cause with busy families losing track of the food it has and when it should be eaten. Try creating a designated 'Eat Me First' shelf. Move all near-their-sell-by-date foods onto the shelf and put fresh items toward the back, ensuring the older food doesn't get left to go off. A very simple tip but one that should see the average household rescue many items of perfectly edible food each week. If you have too much of something or are struggling to find an opportunity to eat it, think about donating it to your local food bank or community fridge so others can benefit.
Collect hard to recycle (but still recyclable) things
Recycling is a last resort, but alas sometimes we do find ourselves there. Before throwing away anything out of the ordinary, do a little research first to see if there are any designated drop-offs (like municipal recycling facilities) or dispose of them through Terracycle who recycles all sorts of things. Examples of these hard to recycle (but still recyclable) items include e-waste, batteries, polystyrene, toothpaste tubes, electric toothbrush heads, etc. Also consider donation sites such as Freecycle or your local Neighbourhood/Community app such as Nextdoor.
Always carry a reusable water bottle and coffee cup
Sounds simple? That’s because it is, but it’s so effective. You can save an average of 156 bottles annually by just using a reusable bottle alone. Download the Refill App and look out for Refill stickers in the windows of local businesses.
Earlier this year, Sustainable Merton launched Refill Merton; the borough's local chapter of the award-winning Refill campaign. Find out more HERE.
Shop in bulk and from refill stores
Buying in bulk reduces time and packaging used for shopping. Stock up in one of the many zero waste refill shops that are to be increasingly found locally or order online. Avoid packaging altogether by taking your own glass or metal containers with you. Buying concentrates of items such as washing liquid gel, shampoo or dish wash detergents all dispose of the need for multiple plastic containers. Looking for dry goods or soap and shampoo or clothes washing bars wrapped in paper or card are even better.
Sustainable Merton Business Champion and Merton's first zero waste shop, Zéro offers a wide range of waste-free products which are sold in bulk or without disposable packaging and, where possible, come from organic or fair-trade farming and from local producers.
Carry re-usable shopping bags and refuse plastic produce bags
By carrying a lightweight fold-able fabric grocery bag, it's easy to completely eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags. Several major supermarkets have now removed these from sale replacing them with the stronger 'bag for life' or brown paper bag.
Dispense with those flimsy plastic produce bags by either buying items completely loose or invest the few pounds needed for reusable net bags, available from many supermarkets or widely online.
Aim for zero waste personal care and beauty items
A simple change to make but, aside from food and drink, these are the products we buy most often so finding zero waste alternatives can make a big difference. Essentials like toothpaste, floss, deodorant, toilet paper, shampoo, soap & conditioner, skincare and makeup can all be found in plastic-free containers or wrapped in paper.
Blog by Gilly Carr, Sustainable Merton Community Champion and Founder of Luxecycled.com