Difficulties you face reducing your waste

Changing attitudes to waste

All through university and my twenties, I didn’t give much consideration to the amount I threw away. Life was mainly about convenience, and when you think about it that’s where a lot of waste comes from: ‘convenient’ products.

As I’ve got older I’ve become a little more aware of my surroundings and about my impact on the world. Living in a few different countries with my work, it became clearer to me that it didn’t matter where you were, the problems we now face as individuals and as governments are of a global nature. I’m a firm believer that the way to make a difference is through individual action, and that recent changes in attitudes are demonstrated by the positive response to the proposed raising of the plastic bag levy in the UK to 10p. It also seems unlikely that the government would be suggesting this at this time if they did not feel there was widespread popular support for the measure.

With that having been said, the country is still largely set up for convenience, and products that are designed to reduce your waste can be hard to find. Charging for plastic bags might have reduced their usage by 86%, but that’s partly a sign of how many we were using before, and their use is still sky high in other countries. More and more goods are becoming recyclable, but estimates still say that there will be more plastic than sea life in the oceans by 2050.

Plastic bags in the ocean - You see the difference. A turtle does not.
Image by OPS: Oceanic Preservation Society

Living a more sustainable life

Changing your way of life is tough and there are lots of challenges. Like a New Year’s resolution, there are probably going to be times when you slip up without even noticing and go back into your old habits, or even think “I’ll just make an exception here and start again tomorrow”.

For me, the key thing to reducing waste is your state of mind. Like with diets, focusing on what you can’t have can make you want it more, but focusing on the positives means you are more likely to stick to it. In this case, for me, the positives of living a more environmentally friendly life, reducing our reliance on the fossil fuels used to make plastic, and helping to support a more sustainable way of living outweigh the occasional inconvenience or, in my case, occasional embarrassment!

Challenges of reducing waste

We’ve already discussed some tips for reducing plastic usage in our previous blogs here and here, as well as checking out some of the best zero waste and eco stores around the UK here, so I’ll assume you’ve had a look at them and have some ideas for what to do…

Having ideas about how to reduce waste was never the biggest problem I faced as I tried to reduce my impact. Not paying attention when out shopping, checking a message or getting lost in my own thoughts at the checkout and then… BANG! All my produce is wrapped in plastic, with a plastic straw poking out of the top of it and some plastic wrapped plastic cutlery ready to go… Sometimes I’d be so lost in my thoughts I’d be home before I even realised, and then what do you do?

The important thing that I learned first of all was not to beat myself up over it. We all mess up now and again, and I used it as motivation to get it right the next time. The other thing that I made sure of was that I reused and then recycled. In the case of the plastic cutlery (and any wrapped straws) I kept them wrapped and returned them to the shop the next time I went. My view was that it’s better that they use it again than it is simply binned and the shop orders more stock. As my focus in shops improved, the embarrassment started to creep in…

Half paying attention to what was going on felt worse at first. Long-time habits such as letting them bag my goods or pop a straw in my drink were hard to get out of, and when I realised what was happening I’d often shout “No!” startling the cashier as my brain clicked back into the present and I pulled out my tote or my reusable metal straw. Now it’s second nature and being more mindful whilst shopping also has the added benefit of making the experience more enjoyable!

Changing the habit

There is no question that it’s a challenge to change your way of life. Remembering to carry my tote bags, metal straws, reusable cup and refillable water bottle also took a while. By this point, my embarrassment tolerance was rising, as was my willpower to say no if it wasn’t possible to pass on plastic. Drinking water from the tap in public bathrooms wasn’t the worst (although in cleanliness terms I wouldn’t recommend it), and this experience led to remembering my water bottle more often. Not having my refillable cup when I wanted a coffee reminded me how much more enjoyable it is to drink slowly sitting down rather than rushing on the tube. Sensitive teeth mean I’m not having another smoothie or juice without one of my metal straws, but shopping without a tote bag was tough.

By this point I was adamant that I wouldn’t take a plastic bag, but still occasionally forgot a tote… Fortunately jeans pockets can be quite versatile if grabbing one or two things, or carrying in my hands or under my arms. When there were essentials that we needed for that evening or the next morning, I would occasionally fashion a bag from a jumper or jacket (tying knots in the arms), or pull up my t-shirt to my chin: this got me some funny looks and was a reminder to remember my bag that stays with me when I leave the house now!

Overall, switching my lifestyle has taught me a couple of things. Convenience isn’t everything. Time is precious but enjoying time is more important. Stopping the rush has made me enjoy things more; preparing food rather than buying ready meals; paying attention to my surroundings when I’m out shopping, and stopping to enjoy a drink rather than grabbing it on the go (although I sometimes still do)! Life sometimes catches up and the rush returns but now it’s no longer inconvenient. If I don’t have my reusable cup, I go caffeine-free (those days are the toughest), but changing your habits mean that more often than not you have the things you need with you. Once it’s part of your life it seems far more inconvenient to have to dispose of the plastic packaging properly (and this isn’t always easy)!

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