Going Zero Waste: The Report

Plastic free goods

Plastic free goods

Written by McDonald, T.  |  Date 31st of May 2021      
 
Are you someone with an environmental conscience?  Do you care about the wildlife?  If the answer is yes, then this report is for you.  You might think that saving the world and helping the wildlife is for specialist people with expensive skills.  Not so.  You can play a role in solving one of the biggest problems in the modern world by adopting a zero waste lifestyle and reducing your waste.

Abstract

In recent years i have found myself drawn towards an idea of reducing my waste to zero for environmental reasons but was not sure what to do.  The problem of household waste is that much of it might end up in land fill and create problems for the environment, which prompted me to investigate deeper and find out if it was easy and was it realistically possible?  I started off by searching the internet for clues and literature that could help because i needed a place to start and thought this the best way.  First i searched the internet, which proved to be very useful; however, i also searched the libraries for books and research papers to see if i could find something new to add to the growing internet knowledge.  In addition, i searched, joined and used different social media platforms because this provided me with a way to interact with people and have a dialogue with individuals and companies that have much more experience than me in this area. As you will see, these conversations lead me to a few new things.  Although i achieved what i set out to do, i had to make some hard choices about food.  However, finding zero waste options for cleaning the house and myself was relatively simple, but not completely zero waste.   Searching the internet was very helpful and i was able to discover many different and viable stores, which led to options i had not thought about.  In the end, the plan worked well and yielded the results i was looking for, which was to have as close zero waste lifestyle as was reasonably possible.

Table of Contents 

Introduction

Humans create lots of unnecessary household waste from not thinking about the packaging on the products that are consumed. Such waste includes, for example, Tin cans single use plastic and aerosols. This waste is causing damage to the environment and the wildlife. You might be tempted to think that if it is going to recycling, the problem is solved.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with lots of plastic still problematic to the wildlife.  Furthermore, even if it is recycled, that costs energy resulting in greenhouse gas emissions.   As a result of solving this problem, the environment benefits because of the reduction greenhouse gas emissions while the wildlife benefits because it does not have to deal with our rubbish. 

Subsequently, I need a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, the way I live and shopping habits, to eliminate as much as reasonably possible my personal waste as Wheeler, R. (2019) states '...zero waste is not meant to be an oppressively restrictive practice'.  Fortunately, such a lifestyle exists: zero waste.  Zero waste living means exactly what it suggests: reducing the rubbish to zero from your household.  The solution must be reasonable and realistic; what i am looking for is a practical solution that doesn't ignore my nutritional needs as a vegan.  For instance, it would be easy to say throw everything away and only eat loose veg.  With this in mind, single use plastic, plastic used only once and then discarded, is a priority because it is on almost everything.

In this report, i will cover my journey as i investigate the different options and zero waste swaps that proved good choices for me.  Since this report is aimed at the average householder, i will not be covering industrial recycling, or analysing any data.  Neither will i provide a comprehensive list of zero waste shops or how to make cleaning products.  In addition, i will list what i see as best practices for zero waste. 

Although one aim is to reduce my own waste, the main aim is to deliver a plan for going zero waste, which includes: 

  • How to examine and monitor household waste.
  • How to research, discover and adopt zero waste options resulting in a zero waste life that is realistically achievable for anyone living in the UK.
I want reasonable solutions rather than hardship

Method

Solving this problem required physically going through my bins, cupboards and fridge making notes and examining what products have packaging with a focus on plastic. I asked my self the question, 'Can i get a zero waste option?' I categorised the waste into:
  • Plastic 
  • Single use plastic
  • Tins
  • Cardboard
  • Things i could reuse at home

When making a decision about whether or not to keep it, i considered my nutritional needs and health.  It was necessary to periodically review everything and creating a questionary for myself.  Furthermore, i asked for advice on social media.  One such conversation led me to a zero waste option for kitchen cleaner. 

Discussion

Plastic harms wildlife

Although much waste is recycled, it still costs energy to recycle, which means more fuel emissions into the atmosphere, which contribute to global warming.  Additionally, some waste is still going to land fill, which is taking up land space and our rubbish is harming the wildlife.  Furthermore, PNAS (2015) in their report states this about plastic pollution in the oceans, 'Although evidence of population level impacts from plastic pollution is still emerging, our results suggest that this threat is geographically widespread, pervasive, and rapidly increasing.' The report also stated in relation to seabirds, 'Eighty of 135 (59%) species with studies reported in the literature between 1962 and 2012 had ingested plastic...' In addition, WWF state in their article How many birds die from plastic pollution? (2018)  that: 'Some birds die quickly as a result of sharp plastics puncturing their internal organs, but others may starve to death as they feel full from eating plastic, but receive no nutritional benefit.' The article goes on to say: 'Tragically, adults birds that leave nests to hunt often return with plastic they have mistaken for food and feed it to their chicks.' According to Greenpeace (2021) in their artificial Plastic is a climate, health and social justice issue: 'Only two percent of the plastic waste ever created is recycled in any circular sense of the word.'  With all this in mind, plastic is a huge problem because it is not really recycled the way we think of recycling and it is killing wildlife. 

What about other rubbish?

Other types of rubbish present different problems to wildlife.  For instance, The RSPCA state in there article How littering affects animals online state rubber bands can harm small animals.  Some small animals can get trapped in tin cans or other containers and that glass causes injuries.  The WWF state in their online article 'A small straw's big environmental impact' that even plastic straws can cause serious problems to animals.  In the YouTube video 'Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril - "NO" TO PLASTIC STRAWS' (2015) a turtle is seen with a plastic straw up its nose, which had to be removed. 

Food waste is a waste of your money not to mention the resource and energy needed to grow it.  All of the plastic and rubbish comes from humans.  The fact that it is being found in the oceans and that wildlife charities are reporting rubbish causing problems to the wildlife in enough evidence that such a problem exists. The world is often referred to as ours, but it is not because we share it with all these other animals. The bottom line is that humans, that is you and I, create lots of unnecessary waste that pollutes the environment and harms the animals.

What are the benefits to solving it

  • Protects wildlife. 
  • Decreases pollution.
  • Less rubbish going to land fill. 
  • Less recycling results in less energy use saving on fuel emissions.
  • Plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade. 
  • Saving on food waste has financial benefits to the consumer: the person buying the food saves money.

Existing knowledge to solving this problem.

I have heard about zero waste and plastic free lifestyles as a way to combat the problem waste presents  to wildlife and global warming.  The central idea is to reduce all waste since it costs energy to recycle and some is still sent to land fill.  Through living a vegan life i often see zero waste videos on YouTube presented to me from my searches for vegan foods.  Notably, some zero waste ideas have already crept into our lives such as using a reusable shopping bag. 

After researching, i came up with a plan to examine and change the way i was living.  First, i defined what my new life might look like. It will likely involve a change in diet and shopping habits. It may also result in a change to personal routines.  I would hope to have an empty bin and recycle bin.  In addition, i hope to have a lifestyle that inspires others resulting in a cleaner and safer world for Humans and wildlife.

How would i define a success? 

  • No new plastic coming into the house.
  • As minimal waste as possible.
  • No decremental effects to my diet.
  • A usable plan for all.

Room by room survey was the best approach

Going room by room seemed like the best approach, but i quickly realised i needed to examine my bins.  

  • Analyse the rubbish
  • Analysis existing shopping habits 
  • Analyse each room 
Analyse the rubbish. This involves emptying out the rubbish and categorising it while asking what is it and did i really need it? I will then use the same process for the shopping list. During the analysis, i will be asking the same question: do i really need this? The answer to the question is either going to be yes i do need it or no i don't. If the answer is yes i do need it, i will ask a new question: can it be swapped for a zero waste option? I can now put this in a key and repeat it for all items in the bin, on the shopping list and while examining each room.
Questions to ask for zero waste
Figure 1, Questions to ask for each item

If the answer is no, i can also ask myself can i reuse it for something else? Likewise, i ask can it be swapped for something zero waste?  This will involve searching for a zero waste swap.   Since this is the case, i will need to keep a digital log of all the items i have in the house. 

I used a questionnaire for analysing each room, bin and shopping list.  See figure 1.  I have also drawn up a priority list.  The plan is to check what i am throwing out then write shopping list for food and then check every room one by one making a list of all things that need to be replaced at some point.  I fail to see the point in throwing out stuff that can be used because it will just go in the rubbish anyway.  Anything that can be sent to a charity shop could be a good option for recycling.  Once i have checked every room, i can start looking for the zero waste or plastic free alternatives.

MUST GO

  • All plastics including single use plastics 

SHOULD GO 

  • Cartons for liquids 
  • Cardboard packaging

COULD GO

  • Glass bottles

Results from examining the bin

After examining the contents of my bin, I had to make some tough choices here since many of the fresh vegan meat alternatives are packaged in plastic. Even the frozen ones are in cardboard although cardboard is not so bad, the idea is to go zero waste.  My bins were mostly filled with food packaging and paper from the shredder or junk mail.  The other big waste product in the recycling was soya milk cartons.

  • Junk mail.  
    • I need to find out how to stop the junk mail from the post office. I now must add this task to my digital list on phone. 
  • Regular mail
    • See about getting digital mail instead. 
  • The food packaging will affect my shopping list. Do i really need it? Mostly the answer is no.
    • Frozen meat alternatives in cardboard and plastic packaging i can do without.  Obviously, plastic is in the MUST GO category while things in cardboard could be an option if i was desperate. 
    • Plastic for fresh meat alternatives i can do without. 
    • Drinks cartons  
  • Medication packaging such as inhaler for asthma.  
    • I can ask at the medical centre if it can be recycled.

Resulting weekly shopping list

This is much easier to do now i have been through the rubbish and know what the worst offenders are. 

  • Buy lose vegetables 
  • Cut out meat alternatives 
  • Buy lose fruit and drink more tap water

However, i will have to research for cleaning products. 

Examination of kitchen revealed   

There are many things in the kitchen that house soap or detergent in plastic.  The following list is all plastic or housed in plastic.
  • Cleaning products
    • These are often in plastic housing, so i will need to find a zero waste swap.
  • Detergent replacements for:
    • clothes
    • washing dishes
    • cleaning worktops 
    • polishing cupboards
  • Tools for cleaning:
    • dishes
    • worktops 
    • floor
  • Cooking utensils 
  • Storage like plastic containers 
  • Fridge parts such as shelves
  • Tins
  • Spices come in glass bottles
  • Cooking oil is in plastic

Plan for the kitchen. 

After looking at where the plastic and packaging comes from, i can plan to zero waste.  The priority must be the food packaging and cleaning products and cleaning utensils. If i look at these one at a time, food packaging can be solved by not buying food in packaging. Simple, right?  However, i still need to keep a well balanced and nutritional diet to maintain my health.  As a result, i will continue to buy tofu, which comes in a cardboard box and a plastic wrapper because it provides me with calcium and protein.  As a vegan, i will find it difficult to get calcium elsewhere, so i will have to add it to the revised weekly shopping list.  Undoubtedly, i will have over problems to deal with as i run out of things, but that is when i ask the question do i really need it? If the answer is yes, can i get a zero waste or plastic free option?  One problem i noticed is the cucumber is wrapped in plastic, so i need to find an alternative.  I could either do without it or find a shop that sells naked cucumbers.  The other thing i noticed i have a lot of is jars. Spices, pickles, jam and sources of which some are in plastic. With this in mind, i must either do without them or make my own. Some spices like cumin are good iron sources, so i might need to keep them; however, i did find a lot in the cupboard that i will not need to replace as they run out. 

Cleaning products. This required some research, which led me to several different eco shops online; however, this led to a waste problem where the waste is from delivery packaging.  I did, nonetheless, find a shop that used only eco packaging where even the tape is compostable.  Once finding a suitable shop, i found that making a big order for six months to a year cut down on packaging for delivery.  This shop also covers personal toiletries, kitchen and bathroom cleaning supplies. 
  • Washing up liquid in plastic bottle - I can replace this with dish soap.
  • Limescale remover bathroom cleaner, kitchen cleaner in plastic bottles - I can keep the plastic bottle and refill it with i zero waste option such as Ocean Saver, which is in a cardboard box and dissolves in water.
  • Washing powder or liquid - The washing powder is in cardboard, but the detergent itself might not be so good for the environment. I can easily avoid buying plastic bottles.  There are several options to choose from when it comes to washing powder and some interesting non powder options.  For instance, soap nuts a sort of paste in cased in some kind of natural shell. Strips of detergent that completely dissolve in the wash you just tear of a strip and put it in the washing machine. I even found a ball that contains pellets; however, the pellets come in a plastic bag that i didn't know about. 
  • Oven cleaner - this i have not fond a good solution for. What i tend to do is use cooking pots with lids so it doesn't dirty the oven as much. 
  • Polish - Replace with solid polish.
Tools for cleaning.   Some of these products have plastic in or are not reusable.
  • disposable dish cloths will have to be swapped for reusable ones. 
  • Sponges i can replace. 
  • Abrasive pads.  These are difficult to replace.

Cooking utensils. These can be replaced with wooden or metal ones when needed, which i have mostly done see figure 2.  The useable items i sent to a charity shop, but some had to be thrown away in the recycling.  It is important to note, not to throw out good stuff that can still be used unless you intend to give it to a charity shop; otherwise, you end up creating waste. 

Fridge parts such as shelves i can do nothing about.  All i can do is make sure that the fridge gets recycled when the time comes. 

Tins.  Lots of food i like comes in tins such as beans, tomatoes and fruit.  The tomatoes and fruit i can buy fresh, but the beans will either have to be in a can or in a plastic wrapper.  Since i have noted that tin is better than plastic, i will have to buy them in tins, but less often.  

Spices in glass bottles.  Most of these i can do without, so once they are run out, i will not replace them.

Cooking oil in plastic. If i have to buy oil, i will buy the oil in a glass bottle.

Plastic free utensils
Figure 2, Non plastic cooking utensils

Examination of Living room revealed

The biggest offender i could find in this room was from entertainment. 

  • Video games come in plastic housing.
  • Storage such as plastic containers.
  • Paper.
  • Polish 

Plan for Living room 

I can download games resulting in no new plastic coming into the house.  Alternatively, i can buy second hand games.  In the future, i will buy non plastic containers and have less stuff that i don't really need, so i do not need so many containers.  When it comes to paper, i can use digital paper for iPad.  As for the polish, i found a great solid polish in a tin container, which does the job better than spray polish and is much longer lasting. 

Polish.  Not zero waste, but not a spray either

Examination of bathroom revealed

  • Plastic toothbrushes 
  • Plastic shower gel container 
  • Plastic shampoo container
  • Plastic razors 
  • Plastic bottles for all the cleaning products
  • Deodorant in plastic and metal aerosols
  • Styling putty for hair

Plan for bathroom room

Obviously, the bathroom was loaded with plastic. I had to find a solution for every one of these products. My investigations into alternatives led me to: 

  • bamboo toothbrushes 
  • using a bar of soap that was either naked or in cardboard packaging instead of shower gel
  • using a shampoo bar that was either naked or in cardboard
  • growing a beard instead of using razors
  • using deodorant in cardboard tubes
  • use a bamboo comb instead of styling with putty
  • using either home-made cleaning products or reusing plastic bottles with refills.

The toothbrushes have plastic bristles though see appendices for bamboo toothbrush recycling. 

Shampoo bar
Shampoo bar

Soap bar
Bar of soap for showering

Examination of bedroom revealed   

This was the easiest room, but it still had plastic in.  The plastic was in the form of containers; however, i did not feel so bad about this because i was using them and reusing them. In the future, i will get non plastic containers when the need arises. 

Results

This is much easier to do now i have been through the rubbish and know what the worst offenders are. 

  • Buy lose vegetables 
  • Cut out meat alternatives 
  • Buy lose fruit 
  • Drink more tap water
  • Tofu extra firm

Basic plan for anyone to follow.

The basic plan is straight forward 

  • First, check your bin making a list of all the plastic and other waste. Ask do i really need it?
  • When making the food shopping list, cut out anything that you usually buy that has a container. This means you should end up with a lot of vegetables and not much else. 
  • Review your bin every week and make adjustments as necessary.  

I found that making my own bread helped reduce a lot of plastic waste. Furthermore, roasted vegetables and potato is a great zero waste dinner that most people enjoy.  Although modern flour is fortified with calcium the gluten free was not resulting in lower calcium intake.  Even with the flour calcium was still low, so i saw no other choice but to continue to buy and consume tofu.  Other than that, i now have very little waste from the house, which are:

  • Vegan milk containers
  • Tofu wrapping and box
  • Paper bags from flour
  • Compostable waste
  • Some cardboard from soap and food containers

The swaps i liked the most where the shampoo bar, dishwashing bar, making my own bread, shopping for loose veg, and making my own treats such as banana bread.  

Best tips i found or discovered:

  • Try to avoid buying anything new.
  • Swap the shampoo bottle for a shampoo bar. 
  • The weekly food shop was the place to make the most gains.
    • Buy loose veg.
    • Avoid anything in tins or plastic.
    • Be ruthless.
    • Made bread at home.
    • Make guacamole at home.
    • Make own tomato paste.
    • Use fresh tomatoes.
    • You do not need condiments.
  • Dissoluble washing detergent. 
  • Keep reviewing the rubbish.

Conclusion

After weeks of applying the plan to my life and making many reviews, i have achieved i lifestyle that is close to zero waste.  This was made possible by being ruthless when it came to treats and not making excuses for foods that i liked.  In short, rethinking my choices based on what the waste output would be rather than what the taste would be was the turning point that made a zero waste life possible.  

Appendices

Bamboo toothbrush recycling. Regardless of the toothbrush you choose you will need to pull out the bristles because you will likely not be able to put them in the recycling, but the bamboo part you can.

Pull the bristles out with a pair of pliers. I find it is easiest to pull out the bristles group by group rather than trying to pull them all out at the same time.

Bristles are grouped in bunches

Bamboo toothbrush with bristles removed

Literature review 

Shukman, D (2021) 'Just 20 firms behind more than half of single-use plastic waste - study'
BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-57149741 (accessed 18/5/21).

Briggs, H. (2020) "Pollution: Birds 'ingesting hundreds of bits of plastic a day'" BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52762120 (accessed 13/5/21). I chose this because it is a reputable news outlet and led me to a full report 'Food web transfer of plastics to an apex riverine predator.'

D’Souza, JM, Windsor, FM, Santillo, D, Ormerod, SJ. 'Food web transfer of plastics to an apex riverine predator.' Glob Change Biol. 2020; 26: 38463857. https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15139 (accessed 13/5/21).  I chose this because it has some cites, but not over cited. 

Greenpeace (2021) 'Plastic is a climate, health and social justice issue.' Available at https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/47146/plastic-is-a-climate-health-and-social-justice-issue/ (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this article because it is from a well know and reliable source, it is about plastic and climate change and it introduces the phrase single use plastic, which i found to be a huge problem in my home waste. It also mentions the pollutants created to make the plastic. Keywords used: Greenpeace why go zero waste.  

Greenpeace (2018) 'The Recycling Myth' Available at https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/47146/plastic-is-a-climate-health-and-social-justice-issue/ (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this because Greenpeace is well known.

National Geographic (2015) 'Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic' Available at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/15092-plastic-seabirds-albatross-australia (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this article to read for two reasons.  One, it is by the National Geographic, which is a well know reliable source of information. Two, it is about seabirds and plastic pollution.  Although i did not use this article, it did lead me to the PNAS (2015) 'Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing' report.

PNAS (2015) 'Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing' Available at https://www.pnas.org/content/112/38/11899 (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this report because it gives technical data that i can use to illustrate how plastic affects seabirds and why plastic waste is a problem. Keywords used: none.  I got this from  a reference in National Geographic (2015) 'Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic' article. 

RSPCA (n.d) 'How littering affects animals' Available at https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/litter (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this because it covers many types of litter and is from a well known and reliable source. Keywords used: plastic straws, wildlife, rspca.

'Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril - "NO" TO PLASTIC STRAWS'  (2015) YouTube video uploaded by Sea Turtle Biologist.  Available at https://youtu.be/4wH878t78bw (Accessed 9/04/21)  

Wheeler, R. 2019, "Of Trash and Treasure: Implications of Zero Waste for the Spiritual Life", Spiritus, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 81-101. available at https://www-proquest-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/docview/2268995700/fulltext/E02064E4BAE34460PQ/2?accountid=14697 (Accessed 12/05/21) I choose this because it is a report in the OU library; therefore, published. It indicates the link between the environment and Christian spiritual practice and that eco-friendly lives are spiritual.  

WWF (2018) 'A small straw's big environmental impact.' Available at https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/summer-2018/articles/a-small-straw-s-big-environmental-impact (accessed on 9/4/21).  I chose this because it covers many types of litter and is from a well known and reliable source. Keywords used: plastic straws, wildlife.

WWF (2018) 'How many birds die from plastic pollution?' Available at https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/how-many-birds-die-from-plastic-pollution (accessed on 9/4/21).   I chose this because it is more up to date, is from a well known reliable source and explains how seabirds are affected by plastic.  Keywords used: plastic, seabirds.

Zero Waste Vegans (Redit).  This is a forum where people with similar interested can exchange ideas and learn from each other.  I chose this because i wanted to have a dialogue with people rather than just reading about how to go zero waste from blogs, news papers and academic reports. 

References

PNAS (2015) 'Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing' Available at https://www.pnas.org/content/112/38/11899 (accessed on 9/4/21)

WWF (2018) 'How many birds die from plastic pollution?' Available at https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/how-many-birds-die-from-plastic-pollution (accessed on 9/4/21).

Wheeler, R. 2019, "Of Trash and Treasure: Implications of Zero Waste for the Spiritual Life", Spiritus, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 81-101. available at https://www-proquest-com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/docview/2268995700/fulltext/E02064E4BAE34460PQ/2?accountid=14697 (Accessed 12/05/21)

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