Zero Waste Week this year is from 7-11th September. It's an international awareness campaign to make participants critically analyse and reduce their waste. But how exactly can we do that in 2020?
So 2020 has been interesting to say the least. It's been a rollercoaster for so many different reasons and safe to say, life will probably never be the same after this. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent guidance and restrictions have also had a huge impact on waste. With an understandably large increase in single-use PPE, and many businesses stopping accepting reusable zero waste products, many of us have seen our bins fill up more than they did in 2019.
Ways to still be Zero Waste in a pandemic
1. Many coffee shops have stopped accepting reusable mugs and are only using disposable cups, even if you sit in to drink. So how about for zero waste week you make your coffee at home in the morning? If you need it later in the day, pop it in a thermos so it will stay hot into the afternoon. For you busy people it may also save you time when you're not having to dash to the coffee shop on your way to work. You'll probably end up saving your self some money as well as waste, helping yourself live zero waste on a budget, or save to upgrade your home coffee equipment.
2.Supermarkets seem to have increased the amount of plastic packaging around fruit and vegetables since spring making it much harder to have a plastic free food shop. Perhaps use this week to look into ways to get produce plastic free outside the supermarket:
- Farmers markets
- Local produce co-operatives
- Vegetable box schemes
- Community gardens
- Growing your own (plan ahead for next year)
I also have a whole article about shopping zero waste if you don't have access to bulk shops or unpackaged items, whether that's pandemic related or not for you!
3. Can't get your take-away lunch in your own container any more? For zero waste week, how about you make your own lunches? Making food from home often leads to less food waste, as well as less packaging waste. It doesn't need to be a boring sandwich, so spend some time on the weekend deciding what you would love to eat that week. For those of you who are busy, you could also batch cook all 5 meals in a slow-cooker to save yourself time. This is another tip that could even save you money this week too.
4. Continue using all the reusable items you can. Although publicly some reusables may be refused, you can still use many items yourself. Like your water bottle, reusable bag, cutlery, and cloth napkin when you're on the go. In the bathroom you can still use reusable cotton pads, a reusable razor, and reusable menstrual products.
5. Foods like meat, cheeses, milk, eggs etc (animal products) have a huge carbon footprint, but they're usually also heavily packaged. Reducing the amount of these in your diet not only reduces your rubbish, but also reduces your carbon footprint. See whether you could try meat-free meals for Zero Waste Week this year and just include a lot more vegetables? September is a great time to try as it is harvest time for a lot of amazing fresh produce.
6. Cooking or baking something you would usually buy in packaging (or that you can now only find in packaging) is a nice way to challenge yourself to reduce your waste. You might find an amazing new recipe that you'll make again and again, or you may never repeat it again, but either way is good.
7. Food wastage went down during lockdown, but has crept back up once it was eased, and may even be higher now with restaurants struggling to know how much food to order or prepare. So another important area of waste to tackle in your home is food waste. Shop your fridge and cupboards first before doing a food shop, and start there for planning what meals you want to eat. Make a meal plan for the week. Pop a basket in your fridge and drop any food that needs eating up first in there. For many more tips on food waste, check out this post.
8. Bulk buy without the bulk shop, by buying larger quantities of things. If your options are limited, surprisingly, you can usually still reduce your waste by buying larger volumes. This little magic concept called "surface area to volume ratio" means that often if you buy a larger quantity you end up with less packaging than if you bought lots of little packets. Things I still buy in packaging but in larger quantities include 5L of hand soap and washing up liquid, 10kg of rice, 5kg of pasta, 48 toilet rolls, and the biggest bags of frozen peas I can find!
9. Repair something broken that you were going to throw away. Learning to repair, and cultivating a "make do and mend" attitude is such a vital skill for us all to learn. We need to relearn how to take care of our belongings so they last for longer and don't end up in landfill. Perhaps during Zero Waste Week you can research how to repair something you own so you come out of the week with a new skill and something you've saved from landfill. But if you're busy, paying someone to tailor your favourite item of clothing or reheel your shoes for example, is also a perfectly good way of reducing waste and keeping things in circulation, whilst supporting local people with amazing skills.
10. If you do need to buy something new, or a zero waste product or unpackaged item during Zero Waste Week, think about supporting a small local business instead of a giant corporation. Small businesses are struggling financially in this pandemic, and the recession we are finding ourselves in will only hurt them more. Putting your money into local businesses means that more of your pennies and pounds stay in the local community, employing and supporting more local people, to build resilience in your community. Find recommendations from your local unpackaged shop, on etsy or from instagram.
Remember however, that physical waste is only part of the problem for our planet, and it is not your responsibility alone to fix it, so reducing our individual waste is only one part of the action we need to take. We need to engage with policy change too - which can seem overwhelming so I've broken it down a little for you here.
This Zero Waste Week, can you take the time to sit down and write to someone with the power to change something on a big scale? Examples of this would be:
- Writing to a company and asking them to reduce their packaging - an example can be found in this petition to CEOs of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and McDonald's.
- Writing to your local councillors and asking them to start food waste collections, invest in public transport and walk-able towns, and support local green energy initiatives.
- Writing to your government representative and asking them to support a Green recovery plan for our economy and climate.
- Write to your boss (or boss's boss) and ask them to change your office to a renewable energy supplier or to divest your pension from fossil fuels.
- And as always, vote whenever you get the chance!
2020 is a year we will not forget in a hurry even if we wish we could, but even though it has thrown us all in a spin, doesn't mean we can't still do a lot of good for our planet. Let us use this week to analyse what we're doing in our own lives, reduce our own waste, reduce our carbon footprints, but fundamentally to do something that helps everyone in our local communities or country to reduce their waste too!
Are you going to join in with Zero Waste Week 2020?