Low Waste Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth

As more people are moving towards a low waste lifestyle it can seem as though with the myriad of ‘low waste alternatives’ on the market that you’re going to have to fork out a lot of money. However, as someone who started living low waste as a broke university student I can tell you that it doesn’t have to cost the earth, in fact in most ways low waste is actually cheaper. A lot of the low waste alternatives, the ones that are actually useful, last much longer than they’re disposable, wasteful counterparts. But as we’re getting closer to ‘No new September’ (Blog post on that coming soon) I thought I’d give you a few tips on low waste techniques that don’t cost anything.

1. Be more energy conscious

This one may seem like a no brainer but a lot of people still waste needless energy in their day to day lives. Turn of lights when you leave a room, turn your electronics off at the wall instead of leaving them on standby. And one of the most important things that will not only lower your energy bills and reduce your consumption but will also help you sleep better is turn off your TV’s and other screens when you go to be. So many people I know watch TV or Netflix in bed and then leave it running when they fall asleep, looking at a screen just before you go to sleep reduces the amount of melatonin your brain which makes it harder to fall asleep and causes any sleep that you do have to be less restful. Instead of watching TV try reading a book before bed or listening to some mellow music, it’ll calm your brain and allow you to sleep better and has the added advantage of using far less energy.

2. Refuse excess

There are many wasteful bits of excess in our everyday lives that we don’t think about such as receipts, bills, catalogues etc. Most of these have online alternatives, try taking a few moments out of your day to opt out of paper bills and bank statements and instead get them sent to you via email. Same with catalogues, I know that I have an issue with agreeing to sign up to catalogues when I’m in shops but practically every company has a dedicated website so there really is no need to accept them. Also if given the option refuse your receipt, a lot of places will provide a digital receipt now so you cans till keep on top of anything that you may need to return, but for everyday things like groceries etc just refuse the receipt.

3. Learn to make do and mend

This is not a new concept, but it is one that has unfortunately gone out of the mainstream consciousness. Instead of simply throwing out clothes and other items when they begin to wear out try mending them instead, there are plenty of tutorial videos online that will teach you basic sewing skills. For more complicated items such as electronics look in your local area to see if there is a repair café. Repair cafes are springing up more and more and most of the time they’re free and you can learn some useful skills and possibly make some really good friends whilst there.

4. Talk to your local council

For most people it seems pretty clear which items are recyclable, and which aren’t. Plastics – recyclable, paper – recyclable etc. However, there are certain things that councils don’t recycle, depending on their recycling facilities and budget. Try contacting your local council to find out if there is anything that they don’t recycle, and then you can avoid buying products that contain them in the future.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wastemas

It’s the season of giving, and by giving I mean needlessly consuming and spending, which let’s be honest is what Christmas has become. I’m not trying to be a party pooper, and seriously whichever holidays you celebrate I hope you have a great time, but try and remember what is important this time of year (and all other times of the year). Supporting each other, being with loved ones and helping those less fortunate.

There are plenty of ways in which you can still enjoy the holidays and reduce waste/ not buy into the consumerism culture.

  1. Think honestly about what it is that you need/want this holiday season.

I had real trouble finding things to ask for this year when my family members wanted to know what I want as a present, and that’s because i’ve rewired my thinking. Practicing mindful living has made me take stock of what is important materialistically in my life, and the answer is not a lot honestly. I live very comfortably as I am now, I don’t need new clothes, I don’t care about the latest gadgets anymore, so what is there to ask for?

How about asking friends and family to donate the money that they would normally spend on you to a charity? If you still want something to open then many charities provide ‘gifts’ this time of year. For example Friends of the Earth are giving out ‘Christmas Bee Saver Kits’ with a minimum donation of £12.

2. Think about gifts beyond what you can buy

  • Many people show their love through well thought out gifts that they know their family and friends will enjoy, and i’m not saying that we should stop that, but there are more ways of providing gifts than spending money on fancy new items.
  • Provide experiences – things such as experience days, trips, lessons etc – one of my most memorable gifts was when my nan bought me a ‘walk with hawks’ which allowed me to spend the day learning about and watching various birds of prey with a group of other enthusiasts.
  • Provide your time – why not gift your loved one with the promise of your time, whether it be the promise of helping them move/decorate, going out to the cinema together, having lunch. If you have children then why not create a little coupon book with things such as ‘a day of play’, or ‘mum cooks with me’ etc (I don’t know what kids like).
  • Make your gift – Some of my most treasured possessions are gifts that were handmade, for example the quilt that one of my best friends made for me for my 18th birthday, or the story that the same friend wrote for me one year. Don’t worry if you are not super creative, just putting the thought and time into making your gift will make it all the more meaningful.
  • Re-gift or buy second hand – Re-gifting gets a bad wrap (unintentional pun), but as long as your not giving it back to the person who originally gave it to you then I don’t see what the problem is. If you think that someone else will get more enjoyment and use out of something than you, and as long as it’s in a decent condition why not re-gift it? Also, look in charity and thrift shops for your gifts before buying new, you could find something extraordinary and you’ll be helping a good cause while you’re at it.
  • If you buy, buy local – Finally, buying new gifts should be a last resort in my opinion, but if you’re going to buy new then patronise your local businesses before you give your money to giant multinational corporations. The quality of the gift will often be higher because they have more to lose from shoddy workmanship, and the conditions in which the product is created will often be better because things are normally locally sourced and not from sweatshops.

3. Use this time to think of others

Why not donate your time/money/unneeded items to those less fortunate this holiday season? If you can’t do all three that’s fine but look for things to help out with.

  • Time – volunteer at a soup kitchen, help hand out blankets and food to the homeless, invite a lonely older person to your house for Christmas dinner (there are charities that will put you in touch with people who want that, don’t just pick up a random pensioner off the street). There are plenty of foundations that you can join that really need the extra help (all year round but especially during the cold months).
  • Money – make a donation to a charity, give money to the next homeless person you see (or if you don’t want to give them money then buy them a hot meal). But be vigilant about which charities you support, the Salvation Army will be making the rounds again this holiday season however I will personally never donate to them due to their harmful, anti-LGBT rhetoric and archaic values.
  • Unneeded items – many charities offer donation boxes for the homeless and the poor all around the world, why not check your cupboards for unneeded canned goods, toiletries (seriously sanitary towels etc are a godsend for these things), and even children toys. This is a great time to teach your kids about giving to those less fortunate and about how fortunate they themselves are. My old school used to do a christmas shoebox exchange where each child filled a box with old toys etc which were sent off to children in the third world.

How you can help:

Here are some links to various charities with advice on how you can help out this holiday season.

Money:

  • Friends of the Earth and their ‘Bee Saver pack’ – giving you the tools to help save the bees
  • KidsOut and their ‘Giving Tree’ – helping children who have escaped domestic violence
  • Unicef and their ‘Inspired Gifts’ – providing lifesaving supplies to children and communities around the world
  • Savethechildren and their ‘Virtual gifts’ – life changing gifts for children in third world countries
  • Refuge and their ‘Christmas gifts’ – give a christmas present to a woman or child that has escaped domestic violence
  • WWF and their ‘adopt an animal’ – protect an endangered animal and get a cuddly toy
  • Centrepoints and their ‘More than a gift’ – buy a homeless person christmas dinner, a gift, or a bed for the night
  • Impact and their ‘gift tokens’ – help restore a persons health and improve their life through medical funding

Time:

  • Crisis at christmas – volunteer to help run one of Crisis’ homeless centres, from cooking to counselling there is plenty that you can do
  • Age UK’s ‘telephone befrienders’ – Age UK are looking for people to have a 30 minute chat with a lonely older person once a week. Seriously just 30 minutes a week.

Unneeded items:

  • Local foodbanks – you can find out what is needed at your local food bank and help take part in the ‘reverse advent calender’ where you donate an item of food everyday in the run up to christmas.

Don’t Use It As An Excuse

A few of my recent posts, namely ‘‘Never Fear Failure’ and ‘We All Have a Part to Play’, have unintentionally softened the message that this blog is trying to send. Which is that we must all do our best and try our hardest to reduce our impact on the environment. I don’t want to put you off, or come across a bitter and angry (which I totally am so it might happen anyway) I only bring this up as I have been seeing a lot of posts on various social media platforms about how the framing of climate change as a personal failure is wrong because companies are the biggest polluters. But whilst it is true that big companies and multimillionaires are to blame for the vast majority of environmental degradation and climate change (around 70%) I fear that people are using this as an excuse to stop trying.

Just because others have a bigger impact doesn’t mean that you get to stop trying to reduce your own. We don’t live in a vacuum, that one plastic bottle that you bought because you couldn’t be bothered to fill up a reusable one and bring it with you isn’t really just one plastic bottle. It’s millions, because there are millions of others out there that are doing exactly what you are doing and we need to stop.

And conversely, those of you who are saying that your actions don’t matter because large companies are doing more damage than one person can repair, what are you doing to hold these people accountable? I haven’t seen petitions or marches for harsher restrictions on companies so much as i’ve seen people using these facts as a scape goat to stop looking at their own behaviours. You can bitch and moan that the fashion industry is ruining our water supply, or that animal agriculture is causing more greenhouse gas emissions than cars but as long as you keep buying and consuming their shit they’re going to keep doing it.

So yes, it’s true that eating the owner of one fortune 100 company would do more to help the environment that becoming a vegan ever could (and i’ll talk about some of the drawbacks of veganism on environmental protection another time) but I don’t see anyone killing Jeff Bezos anytime soon so until then do something to reduce your own damaging impact!

There will be things that you can’t give up, there will be mistakes that you make because hey! nobodies perfect. But you have to try. Refuse that plastic straw the next time you order a drink, so that someone who actually needs a straw can still use one. Take public transport, or ride a bike to work so that someone who can’t physically do those things and has to rely on cars to get places still can. Push yourself to do better, if you forget to take your reusable coffee cup out with you then you don’t get a coffee, don’t reward yourself for failing because then you won’t get better. And for those of you out there (once again mostly rich people)  who think that your own personal enjoyment of something somehow negates the damage and is somehow more important the the protection of our planet then maybe take a hard look at yourself.

And if you are the owner of a multinational corporation or a fortune 100 company (although I doubt there are any of those reading this) stop fucking destroying our planet for your own profits and take some goddamn responsibility.

We All Have a Part to Play (But Some Need to Play a Bigger Part)

Whilst researching ideas for this blog I find myself coming up against the same blocks again and again. Mainly the ‘how is me making small changes going to help the environment’ and ‘how much of an impact am I really having on the environment in the first place’. How many of you have bought something wasteful and justified it to yourself with ‘oh it’s just this one time how bad could it be’. I know that i’ve done that on multiple occasions. Sometimes it’s the only way, for me at least because I am incredibly hard on myself, to temper the guilt. Even when i’ve had no other choice, for example if I can’t afford the eco-friendly, organic version of something that I need and therefore have to buy the cheaper, more wasteful version.

Now i’m not saying that you should take this as an out, yes you should go easy on yourself if you make a small slip up, but you should keep trying (I went into more detail in my ‘Never Fear Failure’ post). My main point in this is that sometimes there are things that we have to do that may be wasteful. For example there are many disabled people that have to use plastic straws, and they should not be made to feel guilty about that. What we as a community need to do is allow them to do this, and to help them by not using plastic straws ourselves.

The main point I’m trying to make is that there are some people out there who have a much bigger impact that others, these are also the people who have the ability to reduce that impact. A billionaire who has a private jet, multiple sports cars and a huge multinational corporation are the main causes of pollution, not that one coffee that you bought on a whim the other day. Unfortunately these are also the people who profit the most off of this pollution and waste, they are the ones who create these pointless products, who market what should be long lasting items (phones, clothes etc) as disposable junk that needs to be replaced on a regular basis.

So how can we make any meaningful impact if out actions are just a drop in the ocean? We try to influence others to add their drop too, and if enough of us work together then the people who can contribute more than a drop will have to start paying attention. Now if there’s one thing that I have learnt it’s that word alone won’t be enough, especially in this capitalist society that we currently find ourselves in. So if they won’t listen to our words then what will they listen to? Our wallets.

In today’s society buying power is what will change the consciousness. So use that buying power to support small local businesses, use it and refuse to support those massive polluting companies. Boycott, protest and petition. I myself have been boycotting both Coke and Amazon for a variety of reasons, and not only has it saved me money because it’s forced me to think about my purchases, but it has also helped me to find smaller businesses that I wouldn’t have found other whys.

So the take away of this post is: You alone cannot save the world but you need to do your part to improve it anyway.

Low Waste Learning

One of the last things you may be thinking about as you prepare to go to university, whether you are going back or heading off for the first time, is reducing your waste. But i’m here to tell you that not only can it be relatively simple but can save you money as well, which as a student is something that will definitely be on your mind. These few tips that I learnt from my uni days should definitely come in handy for those first few weeks of settling down.

1. Don’t take everything

One of the mistakes I made when I first headed off to uni and moved into my shared flat was bringing everything that I could think of. Not only did this cost me more money than I needed, multiple trips to pick up crockery, cooking equipment etc. but it was also unnecessary. Most of my new flat-mates had done the exact same thing which meant that we had every cupboard in our kitchen crammed full with more pots, pans and plates than any of us needed to use.

Most university’s will have a day within freshers week where you can buy the things that you need at rock bottom prices, things that have been donated by students the previous year. When I went off to do my Masters and moved back into student accommodation with a new set of flat-mates, we did just this. I already had most of the things that I needed but my flat-mates didn’t, and we managed to get all of it for around £20 per person.

If you do go this route then please remember to donate anything that isn’t broken back to the university to help the next set of students when you leave again.

2. Freshers fair

You may think that the freshers fair is just where you go to pick up free pizza and sign up for societies but it is also a great place to stock up on free stuff. Most stalls will offer free stationary such as pens, pencils, rulers etc. (seriously I don’t think I used anything other than my student finance and Arriva travel pens that I got from the fair the entire time I was at uni). You can also stock up on tote bags which are great to use when shopping because they don’t incur the 5p charge that plastic bags do and you can reuse them for years.

A few other gems that I have picked up during freshers include: A thermos, a money bank, calendars, and so many money off vouchers that I think I lived off of free pizza for about a month.

Also don’t be afraid to go each year, yeah it’s called freshers fair but you don’t have to be a fresher to get free stuff.

3. Textbooks

Now this one depends on which subject you’re taking. For me textbooks were a waste of money as scientific books are basically out of date as soon as they’re published, and I used online journals for all of my papers anyway. My main tip though is that regardless of which subject your taking don’t buy your textbook right away, wait until you know whether or not you actually need to use them more than once. Until then the uni library often has copies or you can share with friends.

If it comes down to it and you have to buy a copy for yourself try abebooks.co.uk. This website is a godsend, it has a massive list of textbooks for incredibly reasonable prices. I’ve already said that I didn’t buy textbooks for my course, but I did have to buy some animal identification books for a field course module that I did, the book that I bought cost me £6 from abebooks, whereas everywhere else it was a minimum of £25.

Also if, like I said earlier, you find yourself using journals more than physical books you may run into the issue of the ‘paywall’. Most universities have access keys to the larger online journals but if there is a specific paper that you need for an assignment then email the author of that paper. The authors are often more than willing to send you the whole paper for free as they don’t get paid by the journals for access. Literally all of the money that you will spend getting past the paywall goes to the journal and not to the academics themselves.

4. Low waste supplies

If you really want to go all out and live as a low waste student then here are a few options for low waste alternatives to common products:

Lunch boxes – when you have a full day of classes you need something to keep you going. Investing in a stainless steel lunch box or linen lunch bag will both save you money and help reduce waste. By bringing food from home instead of eating out you reduce the chances of impulse buying expensive food or food that is wrapped in unnecessary plastic.

Drinks bottles – you may be lucky enough to get a free drinks bottle at the freshers fair but if not then invest in a sturdy metal bottle. I bought a Smash bottle for £12 from Sainsbury’s that can not only keep things cold for up to 24 hours but also keep hot drinks warm for up to 12 hours. I’ve actually taken to leaving the lid off for about half an hour so that I can actually drink my tea without burning my mouth.

Stationary – if you’re not sold on stocking up on free plastic pens at the freshers fair and want a more eco friendly option then try companies such as ‘Ecoverte’ for your eco friendly supplies. There are also many companies that make biodegradable highlighters but I find that underlining or colouring in with coloured pencils works just as well.

Earbuds – now this one isn’t necessarily an essential (although to some people it might be) but I thought it was quite cool. ‘Organic Sound’ are a company that make biodegradable earbuds so you can study and listen to music waste free.