by Sophie Barnes
We have produced more plastic in the last ten years than we have over the last hundred, yet it takes approximately 500-1000 years to degrade. Zero Waste is an attempt to reduce what we throw out to zero, making our lives 100% sustainable. It’s a growing online community. The Zero Waste Bloggers Networks unites zero wasters across the world, whilst the Facebook group Zero Waste Heroes encourages and advises individuals on how to avoid packaging at Christmas, make your own mascara, and use cotton instead of plasters in your first aid kit.
It’s impressive. Many of these Zero Waste Warriors never leave home without their own stainless-steel straw, plate, fork, napkin, cup, metal water bottle, cloth bag, homemade soap, and Kilner jar. They brush their teeth with bamboo toothbrushes and make toothpaste out of coconut oil, baking soda, and peppermint oil. It’s admirable, but seems like a niche activity for the hippy, tree-hugging types, not particularly practical.
However, when you look into it you realise that not only do we have an obligation to do something, but changing our habits is much easier than we think.
Zero Waste is an effective solution. Since waste is a form of inefficiency, zero waste saves us money and shortens production processes. It supports all the goals of sustainability: economic well-being, environmental protection, and social well-being. Zero Waste helps build local communities as they work together to curb waste, and removes the problem of landfill sites.
Being a Zero Waster is simple in Oxford. Here are six ways to get started:
- Get a compost bin and use your blue bin.
Oxford has one of the best recycling services in the country, so it’s no excuse not to use it. Getting compost bins is more challenging since there are concerns that students will misuse them. But if more people press for change, maybe one day we will succeed!
- Rethink where you shop.
In Oxford there are many alternatives to supermarkets that are significantly greener and cheaper. At the Gloucester Green Market (Wednesdays 9am – 4pm) you can buy all sorts of fruit, vegetables, and bread without plastic. Deals include five avocados for £1! There are also the many Covered Market butchers, veg stalls and bakeries (Mon-Sat 8am – 5pm). The East Oxford Farmers’ and Community Market (Saturdays 10am – 1pm) includes SESI, a refill station, where you can buy all sorts of dried goods if you bring your own tupperware. Their nuts and seeds are significantly cheaper than those from the supermarket.
If you still end up in the supermarket, there are plenty of unwrapped products to buy there too.
- Challenge yourself on snacks
One of the worst forms of waste is crisp and chocolate packets, as they are so hard to recycle or break down. Try to pack fruit or a snack in your bag that uses less waste or recyclable plastic. Maybe bake something and take that with you.
- Buy a water bottle and a coffee flask
It is very easy to take a water bottle or coffee flask with you wherever you go to avoid extra plastic. If you do buy coffee out, drink it in so you don’t waste disposable cups. If you do take away, don’t get the coffee cup lid as the plastic is not recyclable.
- Rethink toiletries
Most simply, buy everything from Lush. All their products are Fairtrade, environmentally-friendly, and plastic-less. This includes shower gel, shampoo, makeup, and other goods. Their products also last much longer, saving you money too. If you are super-keen, you can also try making your own coconut-oil-based toothpaste: this enthusiastic zero waster will show you how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIpTXQl7qT0
This is a quite a specific issue I became conscious of over my zero waste week. This is something we can’t always control, but if given the option, always say no to a receipt.
Most importantly, try where you can but don’t get demoralised when you can’t immediately cut down your waste to one thimble a year. It’s also easy to get caught out, whether it’s covering food in cling film before it goes in the microwave or having a yoghurt with a non-recyclable lid. However, the more you try, the more you’ll realise how unnecessary so much plastic is, and you’ll start to make your small impact on the drive to a greener society.