As I’ve recently become interested in the zero waste and plastic-free movements, I’ve become more conscious of the products I use and the waste that I do produce. I thought it would be interesting to see how easily I could minimise my waste and my plastic use. Thinking of myself as an ‘already-fairly-environmentally-conscious’ person, I didn’t think it would be that hard – but oh how wrong I was.
I didn’t want to start off too ambitious and get discouraged, so instead of aiming for zero waste and zero plastic, I thought I’d first try consciously reducing my usage. The first step I took was to order some reusable cloth produce/ bakery bags online, and get myself a bamboo toothbrush.
Using the bags has going well. At first I felt awkward handing them to the baker to give me my buns or bread in, but I’ve never gotten more than a vaguely odd look, and they don’t seem mind using that instead of a paper bag. The trickier bit is when I buy a larger amount of bread and want to store it. Since the bags are mesh, and we don’t have a bread box, the bread doesn’t stay particularly fresh… They’re not particularly great for freezing the bread in either. Turns out plastic is pretty useful after all… For now I’ve put my bread in the freezer in a reused old plastic bread bag. Luckily in Germany it’s pretty typical just to shop fresh and only buy one or two days’ worth of bread. Otherwise I guess I’ll have to consider getting a tin or a bread box for better storage.
In general though, I do feel I’ve significantly reduced my usage of paper and mixed paper-plastic bakery bags, of which I was using a lot since I usually buy a pretzel or a bun for lunch everyday.
I’ve had somewhat less success on the toothbrush front – unfortunately it appears that the ergonomic advances in toothbrush technology over the past few decades weren’t all for nothing. My bamboo toothbrush has too much bristle-free bamboo at the end, and I always feel like I’m poking myself in the gums trying to reach my teeth at the back. Perhaps I’ll try a different one later, but for now I’ve sheepishly switched back to a plastic toothbrush with more comfortable bristle positioning and handle shape. I console myself with the fact that I only dispose of my toothbrush once every 3-4 months.
Researching and reading more from the zero waste community, I’ve come across a number of quotes that I feel aptly summarise the journey to be zero waste or plastic-free:
The hardest part of the journey so far seems to be that you put invest a lot of time, effort and brainpower towards small decisions that you used to not concern yourself with… and nonetheless you end up feeling like a failure multiple times a day, and having people think you’re a bit odd.
You spend twice the amount of time at the grocery store wondering things to yourself like, ‘What’s more eco-friendly, an aluminium can or a TetraPak?’ and gaze longingly at the sushi packed in single-use plastic, wondering if you could ask the sushi counter to make a new one for you and put it in your reusable container. Even then, if you’re a hardcore zero waster, you’ll still have to worry about the plastic price sticker, the wasabi package or the tiny plastic-fish soy sauce dispenser.
“Don’t EVER pack light if you want to avoid plastic. You must always bring all your accessories in your zero-waste ‘mom bag.’”
In order to succeed, it seems as though one must always undertake a lot of planning and preparation. I made the mistake of packing too light recently. While travelling in London, I thought was only going out for breakfast, so I only brought my tiny purse and my wallet with me. Four hours later, I found myself still out, walking around the city, parched and craving water… And I eventually succumbed to a guilt-ridden purchase of a large plastic water bottle.
The learning here is that if you’re trying to be zero waste or zero plastic, you better have a full travel meal kit with you, or have planned time for dining in, even for a coffee. As one blogger puts it,
“Being zero waste is not very efficient, but you could look at it as forced relaxation.”
All in all? I’m still very much at the beginning of this journey, but I look forward to continuing to make small changes that I hope will add up to a larger impact overall. I’ll be keeping you updated on how it goes!