It’s all fun and games doing package free shopping until you arrive home with rice spilt in your rucksack and olive oil leaking over your earphones.
Sometimes I miss those heady, carefree days when I would skip down the aisle of a supermarket, flinging plastic-wrapped pasta and vegetables into a basket with barely a second thought.
Nowadays, finding a cucumber in a shop that’s not shrouded in clingfilm is enough to induce peak excitement and Sunday nights are spent carefully weighing out all our household recycling by category to log the numbers on a special online form.
The Bristol Waste Nothing Challenge launched on April 1 2019 with a simple premise of getting 50 volunteer households across the city to cut their rubbish and recycling down to nothing – or as close as possible to nothing – in a bid to help the environment.
It’s a noble and, yes necessary, cause and one I confess I agreed to enter into primarily because of an unfulfilled childhood dream of owning a wormery, which was supplied as part of the support pack given to all participants.
There was perhaps also an assumption that this would be a relatively easy task.
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The reality is that much of our modern society is pitched against people trying to make sustainable choices. While there have been many notable breakthroughs, particularly in Bristol with the rise of zero waste shops and refill options, we are still far from set up to enable the average household to easily cut down their waste.
Let’s start with supermarkets. Several retail giants have pledged to cut down on unnecessary packaging, but these words don’t tally with the row upon row of shiny, laminated fresh fruit and vegetables on shelves in pretty much every mainstream supermarket.
Then there’s the cost factor. Having no children, I’m able to justify paying 60p for a single unwrapped pepper rather than £1 for three in a pack. But many can’t make that choice, so it’s past time the big name outlets put their money where their mouths are and enabled shoppers to make environmentally-friendly and cost-effective purchases.
Mooncups, and other eco-brands, are a great sustainable period product, but the initial £20 outlay is painful for many and impossible for some. Reusable nappies are back in vogue and being embraced by some challenge participants, but many face similar barriers of cost and inconvenience.
It’s not all negative though – far from it. There are some genuinely great discoveries to be made as part of the zero waste journey. Whether it’s reusing and upcycling, or making homemade gifts and snacks, many have taken this chance to be creative and get the whole family involved.
There are savings to be made too. Homemade hummus, as it turns out, is delicious, simple to make, cheaper than the shop-bought version and you get way more.
Bristol’s treasure trove of independent fruit and veg shops, delis, markets and zero waste outlets are a Godsend and, if you shop seasonally, can be as affordable or even cheaper than high street equivalents.
The thing here is that while many neighbourhoods have a plethora of local shops on their doorsteps, many don’t. A massive step change is needed across society and it needs big companies to do more than pay lip service to the eco movement.
Sharing her thoughts, Zero Waste challenge participant Kath Thorne says: “The most challenging aspects of the challenge for me have been finding fruit and veg without packaging (all the greengrocers near me in Knowle are closed when I finish work). I’m vegetarian and eat mostly vegetables and whole foods, which I find are either cheap and wrapped in plastic, or expensive and not wrapped in plastic.
“It’s a really difficult choice and I have resorted to buying an expensive weekly organic veg box and supplementing with supermarket-bought veg.
“I think my top tip would be – every small change helps! We are constantly being told to change our habits for ethical reasons, however if everyone just made one small change, it would have a significant positive impact.
“As someone who suffers from eco-anxiety and often feels overwhelmed with the state of our planet (at work and in my personal life), I found the following quote extremely helpful and empowering: ‘Be imperfectly vegan, be imperfectly zero waste, be imperfectly plastic-free, be imperfectly sustainable. Small conscious changes are better than none at all’.”
One thing that’s certain is there is no going back. A year-long challenge at a grassroots level in Bristol has been the catalyst for permanent change for many of us involved, but there is still need for widespread change to make zero waste the obvious choice for all.
Tips from a plastic-free pioneer
Bristol is home to environmental campaigners who are shaping the national discourse. City To Sea’s Steve Hyndside shares his advice:
“No one is perfect and we are all looking to do our bit, so my advice is to start simple and make easy switches.
“Something everyone can do is to pick up a reusable water bottle every morning so you can refill it with free water when you’re out and about. If just one in ten Brits refilled once a week, we’d save around 340 million plastic bottles a year. Download the Refill App today to show over 20,000 places where you can Refill for free.
“Pick up a reusable water bottle every morning so you can refill it with free water when you’re out and about.
“How about start carrying a reusable coffee cup? Every year Brits throw away billions of blighters.
“From here, your journey away from single-use towards reusables just keeps going. Is a plastic bag really better than a rucksack? Is a plastic milk carton really better than a glass bottle delivered to your doorstep, shampoo bottles better than bars?”
For help with tips from #PlasticFreePeriods to reducing holiday waste, visit: at www.citytosea.org.uk.
Ellie Pipe is News Editor for Bristol24/7
Main photo by Ellie Pipe