By Kate Arnell
Does the state of the climate and environment concern you? Have you been thinking about how you can be more sustainable in your life but feel overwhelmed and are not quite sure where to even start? Or perhaps you've already started the journey and are looking for the next thing you can change. Well, Kate Arnell, TV Presenter, sustainable lifestyle and eco blogger and Soil Association brand ambassador has provided us with eight easy to follow tips and suggestions on how to live more sustainably based on her own shift towards a zero waste lifestyle. Enjoy!
1.Swap disposables for reusables
When I first embarked on my zero waste lifestyle, switching to reusables had one of the biggest impacts and shopping without packaging became a lot easier. I invested in some reusable stainless steel tins to take to the butcher’s counter as well as some reusable organic cotton cloth bags for produce and dry goods. A reusable on-the-go coffee cup and stainless steel water bottle replaced their disposable counterparts.
In the bathroom, I use a stainless steel safety razor (which isn’t as scary as it sounds!) and it will last a lifetime - the all-metal blades cost only 10p each and can be fully recycled. I ask my hair salon to refill my glass bottle with their organic shampoo and a bar of unpackaged organic soap works as my body wash. When the time-of-the-month arrives, I reach for my reusable menstrual cup. It’s honestly a game changer and I probably talk about it waaaaaay too much to anyone who will listen!
2. Try grocery shopping without packaging
This might sound odd, but trust me, it’s easy once you’ve worked out where to shop. Firstly, I quit supermarkets and now only buy food in grocery shops, farmers markets and specific stores that sell what I need in bulk bins where I can fill up my own containers or bag.
When I go grocery shopping here’s what I take with me:
3 stainless steel tins - I hand these to the butcher to put the meat straight inside. He weighs the tins on his scales and I only pay for the weight of the meat.
3 or 4 small cloth bags - I use these for things like bread or mushrooms
2 large reusable shopping bags - I place all loose veggies inside one (carrots, onions, green leafy anything, potatoes, apples etc) and give them a wash when I get home. I use the other large bag to carry the tins of meat
If I want to buy any dry goods such as grains, nuts or popcorn, or make occasional purchases like olive oil, wine, beer or tea then I go to specific shops where I can get a refill. I have written a blog post about where I shop for these items in London and I simply take the relevant container with me. Oil and wine require a reusable bottle. Beer is bought using a refillable glass growler. And things like popcorn, grains, nuts, seeds etc only require a cloth bag.
3. Refuse freebies.
Every time I accept a freebie (samples, pens, keyrings etc), I am saying “hey, I love this cheap piece of plastic! Please drill more oil from the ground to create more!”. Not to mention that these things become one extra chore to deal with once you take it home.
This also applies to things like straws! We’re adults. We don’t need straws. It’s a tube of single use plastic that will probably end up in the ocean and possibly up the nose of some poor turtle who will feature in a viral YouTube video where the straw is painfully extracted over an excruciatingly long 20 minutes. All we have to do is remember to say “oh, and no straw please” when ordering a drink. I like to add a dramatic hand wave similar to that of a Jedi for extra emphasis!
4. Quit plastic
The trouble with plastic is that it doesn’t biodegrade. Nature doesn’t have an answer for it. Instead, it lasts for hundreds of years and on top of that, it loves to absorb toxins. So a piece of plastic in the ocean can become a sponge for pollutants and once eaten by fish, will become more and more toxic the further up the food chain it goes…. And then we eat it. Plastic poison, anyone?
Plastic can also leach into things like foods and drinks and once in our bodies, they are known to disrupt hormones and some like, BPA have been linked to cancer! So what I’m getting at here folks is that…. plastic isn’t cool.
But, plastic is everywhere! A simple walk around my local neighbourhood isn’t complete with a few squashed plastic water bottles rattling along the curb side, carefully placed coffee cups lined up on someone’s garden wall or a rustling plastic bag dancing in a tree.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by all the plastic, I started out by making small changes which have added up over time. The best place to start for me, was with the single use, non-recyclable plastic. The stuff that wraps most of our groceries! The stuff that up until fairly recently didn’t seem necessary.
I have also replaced my plastic toothbrush with a wooden one that has natural bristles. I no longer use tea bags as guess what? The majority of them contain plastic! And loose leaf tastes waaaaaay better! Metal cans are often lined with plastic, so are all disposable coffee cups which means they won’t be recycled. EVER. And check shower gels and toothpastes for microbeads (often labelled as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon) which are so small they pass through any water filters and go straight into the ocean!
5. Choose organic
Organic food is a no-brainer for me. It’s more nutritious, free from harmful chemicals, and is grown with nature’s natural rhythm. It also produces exceptionally healthy soil which actually helps to reduce climate change because healthy soil sequesters carbon!
If it seems to cost a little more, that’s probably because we’ve been exposed to cheap food-like-products containing toxic and synthetic ingredients for far too long. The more we buy organic produce, the more the price will drop and non-organic farmers will start to switch to farming organically due to demand. Remember, shopping is voting! I honestly don’t think anyone should have to eat food which is coated in pesticides! As I no longer buy a lot of the things I used to (chemical cleaning products, disposables like kitchen roll, cling film, tin foil etc) I am happy to spend a little more on good quality food.
But choosing organic doesn’t stop at food. Think clothing too! We often forget that the cotton clothes we wear come from a seed growing in a field. Organic cotton feels lovely and it gives power back to the farmer. A large percentage of cotton today is actually genetically modified (estimated 30% globally and around 90% of the all cotton grown in India is GM). Suddenly that cotton t-shirt isn’t as natural as you thought, right?
Because of this, cotton is often called the world’s dirtiest crop, owing to its heavy use of insecticides (using 16% of global insecticides - more than any other crop!) and water, high emissions and land use. But not all cotton is created equal….
A certified organic cotton farmer is required to also grow food crops to increase the biodiversity of their farm and fix nitrogen in the soil. By farming organically, farmers don’t expose themselves to harmful pesticides and they have food security! If the price of cotton suddenly drops one year or they have a failed cotton crop, they can use their other food crops to feed themselves nutritious organic food or sell it instead. Finally, they can keep the seeds from each crop to replant year-on-year, something farmers of GM crops are not permitted to do by the seed companies.
Knowing the good organic cotton can do for the environment and for the lives of farmers and their communities means that those organic cotton pyjamas suddenly feel even better, don’t you think?
6. Buy second hand
By choosing second hand items over new, we are saving on resources and breathing new life into things that may otherwise end up in landfill. And because second hand items cost a lot less, it’s a great way to save money too! Hooray!
Remember, second hand shopping doesn’t just mean you have to trawl through chaotic rails at your local charity shop, although they have gotten so good in the past few years you may be pleasantly surprised when you venture inside! There are also options like dress agencies/consignment stores for a more luxurious experience (I once found a vintage chanel bag!) and online is always worth a look: eBay, Gumtree, Freecycle, Vestiaire Collective. I even ask friends on Facebook if they have what I’m searching for.
I always look for items that are made from non-toxic, long lasting materials. For kitchenware, I avoid anything coated with Teflon (aka non-stick!) and all plastic utensils. When it comes to clothing, I choose only natural materials such as wool, leather, linen and of course, organic cotton!
I recently went to a discussion around food waste and one of the panelists exclaimed “we’ve got to cook our way out of this mess!”. She was referring to our current industrial food system, our reliance on convenience foods and the detrimental effect it is having on our health and environment.
Learning to cook is one of the most empowering skills. And I’m not talking about taking a professional cooking course. Get chopping an onion and go from there! A recent article I read even suggested that cooking is healing, which I completely agree with. It’s something we have done for generations and only in recent years have we become so disconnected from it by outsourcing our meals to companies who are using cheap ingredients that aren’t good for us.
Many of us (myself included up until a few years ago) feel we don’t have the time to cook. Make time. I have re-prioritised and finding time to cook nourishing food for my wellbeing is one of the most important things I can do. I’m really into slow cooking at the moment as it is incredibly easy and so tasty! As a result I no longer rely on over-packaged, over-processed convenience foods.
8. Just start!
Whether it’s signing up to a milk delivery that comes in a reusable glass bottle, growing your own herbs or switching to a green energy supplier, every action we take has an impact. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t!
I found the five Rs really useful when starting out:
(Apply these IN ORDER!)
Refuse what you do not need. Think freebies, gifts, flyers, samples, straws etc. It will take up your time having to store them and space in the landfill once used/break.
Reduce what you do need. I have found I don’t really need a lot of the things I thought I did: Clingfilm, kitchen roll, tin foil, etc.
Reuse. Swap any disposables with a reusable option, eg water bottles and disposable coffee cups.
Recycle. But only as a last resort. I actually recycle less these days because the quantity of packaged items I bring into our home in the first place has dramatically reduced.
Rot. I wish I had started this sooner. Last year, I got a worm bin that sits on my balcony. Most days I add any food scraps (except meat, dairy and citrus) and let the worms work their magic.
A HUGE thanks to Kate for providing all this easy and usable tips. We hope you've found it as helpful as wel have?
Kate is a TV Presenter, sustainable lifestyle and eco blogger and a brand ambassador for the Soil Association. You can follow Kate's blog, Eco Boost, or watch her YouTube channel which goes by the same name here. Kate can also be found on Instagram and Twitter.
Sonia X x