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Reducing Your Waste: An Eco-Guide

In this day and age there is an inordinate amount of waste. We all see it – plastic bags floating down the street in the wind, bottles clogging up drains, takeaway cartons being crunched underfoot on the pavement. We see the pictures too, of mountains of food, thrown away because it is ‘ugly’, or because it has gone past a sell-by date, oceans stifled with plastic. In the grand scheme of things perhaps my lifestyle change does little more than take a weight of guilt from my shoulders, but I keep thinking that if only more people were aware of how to live with less waste they would see how easy it is. I am writing this guide to share my tips on how to cut down waste on a personal level. If more people did this such a difference could be made, and in the meanwhile it is a very fulfilling way to live.

Number 1. Accept that it is not possible to live completely waste-free.

This is especially true if you are a student – online shopping saves a lot of time and a lot of arm-ache as you carry the cartons of milk and tins of baked beans back from the shop, but inevitably comes with extraneous plastic, even if you go for the bag-free option. And in our culture waste is everywhere – think of the packets of cakes that come in a plastic tray, wrapped in plastic cellophane, and then in a box. It is important to realise that going 100% waste-free is not always practical, and therefore don’t chide yourself if you find you have picked up one of those boxes of cakes, or have to do an online shop when essays are looming, or if you forget your ‘bag for life’ just one time. It is important to set yourself realistic waste-reducing goals!

Number 2. Think plastic.

Plastic is definitely the worst culprit when it comes to waste production – it take hundreds of years to degrade and there are so many ways it can be avoided. When it comes to cutting down plastic, it is important to consider ‘do I really need this?’. Instead of buying vegetables in plastic packing from the supermarket, buy them loose. Buy fresh bread from a bakery instead of big-brand loaves (bakeries are more likely to use paper bags).
A great investment as well is a long-life water bottle instead of the flimsy plastic ones from vending machines (long-life bottles are usually BPA free as well, which is better for your health)! And why stop there? Buy a long-life coffee cup (available from places like Paperchase as well as outdoor-pursuits shops) and take it to Costa or Starbucks with you – most of the time they are more than happy to make your drink in that rather than their disposable cups!

Number 3. Never underestimate the power of the tote bag.

Tote bags are a great way to cut down waste, and there are loads out there in all sorts of quirky designs and sizes. Sometimes they can seem a little costly, but they are well worth the expenditure as they last such a long time. Make sure you take your tote bag with you if you go to town, even if you don’t think you will buy anything – they will fold up small in the bottom of a handbag and can be used if you make even an unexpected purchase. Take them to the supermarket as well for when you buy loose vegetables (I put my veg straight into the trolley, but I understand that as trolleys aren’t always the cleanest things you might want a bag to protect the vegetables!), and for when you buy bread.

Number 4. Say goodbye to bathroom waste.

Cotton wool balls are so wasteful, even though they feel so nice and soft. Instead of using cotton wool balls or make-up wipes to clean the skin and take off make-up, use a specially-designated flannel. Simply rinse the make-up and remover off in the sink when you are done, and it is ready to use again the next day. The simple swap from tissues to a handkerchief also works along the same lines.

Number 5. Clean up the kitchen.

It is worth paying more money in order to buy a more durable washing-up brush than to spend 50p on one that needs throwing away in two months. I live in a student house with six people, and our washing up brush is still going strong 8 months later (Lakeland are particularly good for these). And paper kitchen towel needs to go – the durable washing-up scrubbers (I am thinking of the yellow ones with the green abrasive side) are a perfect replacement, and while they will not be immortal, they will certainly last longer than kitchen towel.

Number 6. Be sensible with sell-by dates.

Often sell-by dates, and even use-by dates, are often put on products just for guidance – don’t take them as gospel. The exception to this would be meat of course! Even milk and eggs can out-live their shelf-life. With milk, just give it a quick sniff, and if it smells a little sour then perhaps it is time to let it go. With eggs, place them fully submerged in cold water – if they lie horizontally then they are still fresh, if they stand fully upright then they have gone off (genuinely true, the gases produced as the eggs start to go off cause it to float upright from a horizontal position!). Vegetables most usually outlive their sell-by dates by weeks – my carrots that supposedly went out of date in the beginning of February are still FINE. Same with bread. If there is a bit of mould on a piece of bread, do not throw the whole slice away, just slice off the little bit that is mouldy.

Number 7, last but not least. Make do and mend.

Really consider if that jumper with a hole in the elbow needs to be thrown away. It is your favourite jumper after all, and it would be a shame to lose it right? I know that not everyone is amazing at sewing (trust me, I’m not either), but there are plenty of online tutorials for simple things like adding elbow patches, or sewing up a hemline. Something that I have done in the past when my jeans got a hole in the knee was turn them into a pair of shorts. If your shoes are going through, take them to a shoemakers to be re-heeled. Most of the time there really is no need to throw away. And if it is something you have just out-grown, or even something you do not like anymore, give it to a charity shop – they always welcome donations!

Cutting down waste is really about deciding what works for you, and it is best not to try and lose everything all at once. Perhaps start by cutting down bathroom waste, or by thinking about how you use your vegetables. Everyone must find a way that works for them, but above all it is about being aware of the world around you – even just looking in the waste bin to see what you throw away is a good first step!

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