I’m challenging myself to go full crunchy, full zero waste, for one week.
The rules are simple:
- Avoid single-use plastic for one week, and no new plastic of any kind
- I get 5 “free passes”, for things I can’t live without
- If I already had something in the house which came in single-use plastic, I can use it – let’s not go nuts
- Document my switch outs and challenges
- Count and document any times when I tried, but failed, to avoid plastic
Challenge Starts: 16th March
Challenge Ends: 22nd March
What do you mean by “single-use plastic”?
Single-use plastics, otherwise known as “disposable plastics”, are items intended to only be used once before being thrown away. Things like grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, plastic cups and cutlery.
What do you think you’ll get out of it? Are you going to be full crunchy from now on?
Firstly, I’m willing to bet it can be done. I’m willing to bet, if I try, I could eliminate all single use plastics and non-recyclable waste. I want to see if that’s true. And, who knows, maybe some of the changes I make will stick? It can only be a good thing to try, right? But, no. Ultimately, I don’t think I have it in me to be full crunchy full-time.
What does this have to do with books? This is still a book blog, right?
Right. Books. Yes. We all need a little help along the way, so I’m going to share posts with different tips and tricks, book reviews, articles, which I’ve found useful.
What inspired you to do this?
I recently joined Young Living, who are the industry leader in farm to seal essential oils. Really beautiful, high-quality products, which I can honestly say changed my life. But, as many of you know, one of my goals for this year was to be plastic-free by 2020. I want the oils, but I don’t want the plastic.
A quick search revealed Young Living have committed to being completely plastic-free in 5 years, and that they provide their members with a whole host of suggestions about how to reuse and recycle their packaging. They’re a green company, and they’re going that extra mile, committing to making their company and their products the industry leaders in sustainability. Not going to lie, I love them for that.
This got me thinking: how could I challenge myself further?
A quick Google search led me to Kathryn @Going Zero Waste and her 31-day zero waste challenge. So here was something I could do… Only, I’m not sure I can do it for a whole month. I’m starting on less grand scale.
What does zero waste mean?
The term “zero waste” and “zero waste lifestyle” have become a buzz words for crunchies. Of which I’m proudly one. Crunchy to me sounds fricking delicious… Crunchy fried chicken… Crunchy bars… Crunchy cornflake cakes… Who wouldn’t want to be crunchy? Nom. I jest, but it’s actually really important to me that I make choices which will, hopefully, contribute to a healthier earth. Choices which contribute to a healthier and more informed lifestyle.
The term “zero waste lifestyle” is used interchangeably for three things. At the far end of the scale, there are people who send absolutely nothing to landfill – which is pretty extreme. In the middle, there are people who live a zero waste lifestyle and don’t send any plastics to landfill or recycling. Then, at the other end of the scale, people who only produce waste which is recyclable or biodegradable.
It’s a sliding scale. In reality we all probably fall on different places along it. Maybe even different places every week or every month, depending on what’s going on in our lives. In practise, I think most people are more “crunchy” than they think. In the UK, most households get three bins: regular rubbish, which goes to landfill; recycling, for paper, cardboard, glass and some plastics; and composting. People generally use those bins more or less correctly, because you can be fined if you put recyclable materials in the regular bin and vice versa. Since rubbish is only collected every two weeks for most of us, if you’re not recycling then you’re going to have an issue with overflowing bins anyway. It’s just become a very normal part of our lifestyle.
In the simplest terms, if you are living a zero waste lifestyle then the goal is to ensure you don’t produce waste which will pollute the planet. In practise, that means either eliminating entirely or limiting down your single use plastics and making more informed choices about the types of products you buy, keeping in mind what will happen to them at the end of their life and whether they can be re-purposed, recycled, or will just degrade naturally.
This seems like a lot of hard work… Why should I give a s**t?
There are lots of reasons why you should care about the waste we, as human beings, produce. Here are my top 3:
Some statistics for you:
The average household in the UK produces more than a tonne of waste every year. Around 31 million tonnes in total every year. This is equivalent to the weight of three and a half million double-decker buses, a queue of which would go around the world two and a half times.
In the US (bearing in mind it’s a much bigger country), people generate almost 300 million tons of rubbish in a year.
You can look up the statistics for your own country, it’s all publicly available information. But you tell me, think about it for just a second, how can we possibly safely dispose of that much rubbish? It does seem excessive. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Where is it all supposed to go? Like, really
In the UK, we produce around 11 million tons of plastic waste every year. So, scale that up by a couple hundred million tonnes for the US. The weight of around three hundred million double decker buses. And, in the UK, somewhere between 47% and 64% of that plastic is recycled.
This begs the question: what happens to what can’t be recycled?
If plastic is not recycled, the short answer is, it’s either burned (which releases harmful chemicals and contributes to global warming) or it ends up in landfills. Plastic takes around 500 years to decompose, so it just sits there in a gross, messy, stinking pile forever. And, to make things worse, while it’s sat there very, very slowly decomposing, it leaks pollutants into the soil and water. That soil and water is used to grow our food. We drink that water.
Around 165 million tons of plastic never reach a landfill. It ends up floating around in the ocean – where it threatens the health and safety of marine life. And an average of 8.8 million more tons of microplastics enter the oceans every year, tiny particles less than five millimetres long, from cosmetics, fabrics, or the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic, which are ingested by marine wildlife – and which we, in turn, then eat.
Do you like the idea of lots of tiny bits of plastic floating around your guts, in your bloodstream? I don’t!
And we have absolutely no idea what those bits of plastic, and the chemicals they’re made from, which are now swimming around all of our bodies, might be doing to us. But there are plenty of reputable scientific studies which have linked these toxic plastic chemicals to cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, infertility, endocrine disruption, and other ailments.
You might be thinking, “ok, but at least some of it gets recycled, right? That’s good”. Sure. When plastic can be recycled, that’s better. And the statistics look promising. Only, in reality, half of the plastic which is sent off to be recycled just ends up getting shipped overseas to sit in landfills over there, making those people sick. And the companies who were buying these bales of recycled plastic material are buying less and less, so eventually that too ends up back in landfill. Recycling is one part of the answer to the plastic problem, but it can’t solve everything.
Are you scared? Are you picturing every plastic fork you’ve ever eaten with, every piece of fish, every carrot, and wondering how many tiny plastic particles and nasty chemicals are swimming around your body right now? How many times your teething child gnawed on a plastic toy, and what they might have ingested that you couldn’t even see? Yep. Me too… It’s horrifying.
I know that global warming is a contentious topic. There are going to be people reading this who are absolutely adamant that it’s not real, it’s not happening. I’m not going to argue the toss with you. Go and read the studies, consider sources from both sides, look at weather patterns over time, and make up your own mind. I’m not here to convince you of anything.
However, what I can tell you for an absolute fact, is that all that stinky, gross rubbish merrily decomposing in landfill releases methane gas. That gas floats off, up, up and away, into our atmosphere. Not in dispute. And you have to know that that will have some effect… Albert Einstein said that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. You release millions of tonnes of noxious gas into the atmosphere, obviously it’s going to do something…
If you do believe in global warming, you already know that that methane gas is causing the atmosphere to heat up. As it heats up, the weather changes. We’re talking extreme heat, typhoons, flooding, hurricanes, and, eventually, when land disappears under water or becomes uninhabitable due to the changes in weather, the mass displacement of hundreds of millions of people.
If you really can’t believe global warming is a thing, I refer you to my first two points. But if you concede that there is even the most remote possibility that it’s real, it’s happening right now, why wouldn’t you want to do something to stop it?
Ok, I get all that, but it seems impossible… What can I even do?
First off, I would say that there are millions of people living some form a zero waste lifestyle right now. It’s not impossible. It can be challenging, but there are plenty of small, easy steps you take – and it all makes a difference. Plus, I promise you, some of the alternatives to plastic and non-recyclable products are fantastic. You’re going to save money and live a healthier lifestyle, with better products.
Yes, government legislation needs to play its part. Get signing those petitions we all see floating around Facebook. Write to your MP or your congress person and ask them what they intend to do about all this.
Yes, big business needs to play its part too. And you know what the best thing you can do to encourage businesses to change? Vote with your feet. Make informed choices about where you shop. Encourage your friends and family to make those same choices.
There are also plenty of less harmful alternatives to plastic being developed, or which are already in use. Educate yourself on those. Buy those.
And educate the people you love, your friends and family. Talk to them about the dangers of plastic. Talk to them about zero waste initiatives. Change what you buy them as gifts. Share articles on social media.
That’s it guys! That’s what I’m doing! Let me know your thoughts and comments, any tips and tricks!