Zero Waste & Veganism No Longer Cut The Mustard In This Climate Crisis

So much changed in my life in 2019. It was a big year for me and I’m still very much processing it all as I ride the wave into this new decade that promises to be many things, including bizarre and chaotic from what I’ve seen at first glance. The themes that resonate above all else are vulnerability and communication. I’ll elaborate on those in a little bit.

I moved to Arizona a few months ago for an entirely new chapter in my life. I’ll be here a while; I’m in Grad School now. It’s hard. My brain is constantly being pushed to its limit. Plus, I’m in America; the land of “more is more”, “guns = life” and, supposedly, “each man for himself”.

I went through a pretty arduous but liberating process ridding my life of almost all of my possessions before I left Bristol last summer. Only the essentials made the cut and so I’ve been starting life, effectively, from scratch. And do you know what? It has been bloody marvelous.

One of the things that I’ve been struck by is the sheer kindness of total strangers since I’ve moved here. To help me get around, find my way when I’m lost, give me things “to get you started”, invite me to social gatherings, introduce me to people, buy me dinner, ask me about myself and be genuinely interested…the list goes on.

Perhaps it’s because I’m in my spiritual homeland and, if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that when we’re where we’re meant to be, magical stuff happens. Or, perhaps it’s because America has this sense of community and “love thy neighbour” that’s infectious and undercuts the bullshit capitalist/corporate nonsense thrust upon its people by the powers that be. Either way, people have become my priority.

I still call myself an environmentalist; arguably more so now than ever before, actually. And it has always been that way. Ever since I was a kid organising litter-picking groups and volunteering outdoors, I’ve made life choices to study, document and communicate environmental destruction, highlighting the need for greater awareness about a myriad conundrums. I’ve tried to have the lowest impact without infringing on my own happiness or mental health. I can hand-on-heart say that I’ve always try to do what’s right.

Only, I don’t exist in a vacuum.

Over the past few years, I’ve lived a very privileged life. I’ve had a decent job, lived in a great city, had a healthy body and no dependents etc. I’ve spent my days indulging in a trendy and pretentious, “I’m vegan, no thank you, no straw, please” bubble of pretending that that is enough. That eating exclusively vegan is somehow God-like, or lugging my “zero waste essentials” kit everywhere with me is elevating me to Sainthood.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with taking tofu over pork in your ramen or getting a pumpkin spice latte in your own to-go cup, but when these choices come at the cost of isolation and disconnection from others, I’m not so sure I still agree with them. Nor do I agree with blindly accepting anything (no matter how vegan/zero waste-ish) without considering the supply chain. There are huge issues with a lot of soy and bamboo coffee cups – remember that!

Since I’ve lived here, for the sake of maintaining my sanity and not having a total breakdown, I’ve had to adopt a go-with-the-flow mentality. Moving abroad, processing the change in culture, having to make a whole bunch of new friends, learning my way around a new place, navigating a change in career (and not being funny, but, like, a really fucking challenging one at that), it would have just been too much for me to keep the reins really tight on myself and refuse to consume any plastic or animal products, as I was trying my best to do for a while in Bristol.

I’ve attended seminars with free pizza and I’ve eaten it. I’ve been recommended the “best burritos in town” (cheese mandatory) and I’ve devoured them, often whilst sat contentedly staring at a cactus for 20 minutes or more. I’ve purchased nachos in a styrofoam container. I regularly buy groceries packaged in plastic. I’ve eaten fish and enjoyed every bite. There are a bunch of things. But, do you know what? I’ve never been happier in my entire life.

To clarify: I don’t think that you need to eat animal products or consume single-use plastic to be happy; you can do without either when you’re in the groove. Rather, it’s the barriers I’ve done my best to dissolve, allowing for fruitful, meaningful connections with others that has really given me the good feels throughout this settling-in process.

See, we’re all the same. We all want what we think is best for ourselves and our loved ones, based on the ways that we have been raised and the experiences we’ve encountered. Sometimes kindness to the environment factors into that. Sometimes it doesn’t, unfortunately. One thing I have learned is that amazing things happen when people feel a part of something greater than themselves. That old sense of community I mentioned earlier? Yeah, that. We see it most profoundly in times of crisis which – although tragic – warms my heart. Just take a look at Australia right now.

We live in a time where the societal constructs favour isolation and loneliness. Depressing as that is to consider, lengthy work weeks and life within a cell phone do not equal the magic formula for love and connection. Neither does an economy built on the absolute requirement for its participants to perpetuate the high turnover of cheaply made, disposable items once coveted, rapidly diminished to garbage.

It’s not enough that we try to do our bit in isolation. It’s easy to be able to go to the grocery store, fill the cart with plant-based foods, pack the stuff in reusable totes and be done with it. We desperately need more than that, though. We need to work towards healthier communities where no person is left behind. We must listen better, prioritise healthy minds and spirits, fight constantly for equality amongst all peoples and most importantly find common ground where it appears – on the surface – as though there is none.

A few weeks ago, I saw a group of people picketing for veganism on a street corner outside a major grocery store. While I considered myself vegan for a long time and think it’s great to forgo animal products in the name of a healthier planet, this tactic as a means of converting the masses simply doesn’t work. In the same way that it’s ineffective to ram your religion down another’s throat and expect a positive response, so too is trying to shame others into eating what you eat. Your intentions might be pure and the message important for the collective wellbeing, but if you don’t convey it in a way that’s digestible, it’ll stay solely in your sphere.

I have a friend that works for a company that specialises in helping organisations in disagreement over environmental issues find common ground and rationally work towards solutions that everyone can agree upon. They consider the concerns of all parties involved with equal respect. This is how we need to approach all of our issues when it comes to the best path forward through our current climate crisis. We all think we know best; that our facts are the right ones to be taken as gospel. Scientific evidence must be brought to the table, though, and used at the basis of any decision-making. That’s where we’re tremendously lacking and it’s a total embarassment considering the mind-blowing bounty of resources available that all point at a different way of doing things despite leaders creating policies based on opinions.

Find. Common. Ground. Do what these leaders aren’t doing, because you’re smarter. Share your struggles, embrace the hardships and know that it’s OK to lean on others for support. Be open to having your opinions swayed. Be receptive to learning new things. Be comfortable challenging the very foundations upon which your beliefs have been built.

In one of my cell biology classes this past semester, we delved into the mechanics of actin and myosin filaments in helping cells do stuff like contract and move things around. The take-home message was that cells must be dynamic in order to be healthy. Nerdy as it sounds, I very much take this as a metaphor for life. Nothing is static. What can you think of that does well when it stagnates? Nothing. No, we like fresh and flowing and I encourage you to approach your thoughts and beliefs with the same logic. Be open to moving with the times; the survival of this planet depends on it.

The Rise of the Angry Zero-Waster

I am a vegan and a proud one. But I cannot stand those vegans that embody the holier-than-thou attitude that it’s their way or the highway. I understand where it comes from, I do. When something clicks in your mind that eating animals and using animal products and supporting cosmetics tested on animals is wholly unacceptable, you want to do everything you can to prevent it happening in the world. Only, it’s a process. I toyed back and forth with the concept of veganism for years and it took me taking the pressure off myself to be perfect to truly settle into this lifestyle choice that’s growing evermore popular. But there is still a grey area. I think this is probably the case for all vegans. For example, I still don’t morally have a problem with local, bee-friendly honey and I’m not afraid to say so. But as I change and grow over the coming months and years, maybe that one will be struck off the list too.

My point to all this is that while it’s painful when you adopt certain beliefs and see people living their lives in conflict with them, you have to realise that making true, lasting change depends upon huge levels of empathy and patience. We are all living a process or journey of one kind or another and it’s no man’s (or woman’s) place to judge anyone else based on their own perspective. Try putting yourself in that other person’s shoes first.

The angry vegan does no good for anyone. They might be able to rile up a rally at PETA HQ, sure, but in terms of encouraging others to explore the possibility of reducing their carbon footprint and consuming less animal products, it is just intimidating and rude. There are no benefits to guilt-tripping someone into living differently. Plus, it’s cruel! I always find success fates are far higher by pointing them in the direction of a documentary to do that anyway. A documentary doesn’t judge you. It simply aims to inform you of the facts.

I bring up all this because I’m seeing this angry behaviour taking place in another environmentally-friendly lifestyle: that of the zero-waster. This is also another lifestyle choice that has been a process for me and one that I’m still not doing perfectly. I don’t think any of us physically can. After all, I say it all the time but there’s only so much that you can do in a broken system. You can only do what you can with the means you have available to you.

Getting angry about anything you believe in can be incredibly powerful if it’s concentrated at the decision-makers. Power to the people and all that jazz. But when it’s directed at each other, it only causes greater divide and hostility. With our environment suffering to no end from our decades of plastic consumption, many are awakening to the absolute requirement to start adopting a life free of the stuff. Things like Blue Planet II helped massively in terms of making the general public more aware. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have now – on a daily basis (!) – revolving around plastic consumption. It is my life and all, but half of these I genuinely don’t even initiate!

If you care as much as I do about eradicating plastic from our planet and saving the preciousness that we’ve got, remember that it’s far better to get angry at the decision-makers and not someone else who’s not doing as much as you. It’s OK that he or she isn’t quite there yet. When we’ve been raised to believe that a certain lifestyle is the norm, it’s incredibly hard to change that. Relearning how to do things takes time. I’ve had to change everything about where I shop, when I shop, how I give gifts, how I ‘do’ my social life and so much more. You might be in the same boat. You also might see then how you giving someone a hard time about their trash-production habits is a bit like a 12th grader giving a 3rd grader a hard time for not being able to do algebra. Comprende?

By all means keep the anger going. It’s an emotional vibration above hopelessness. It means you’ve still got the fight in you. But direct it at the companies you want to change their packaging, your government, your school, your workplace. And lead by example. Show others how easy it is to make some pretty impactful choices. You’ll likely spark their interest. Plus, have a small list of worthwhile documentaries to watch at the ready to slip over when the moment is right. Never hurts.

Photo by Taras Zaluzhny on Unsplash & Sphynx

27 Things You Can Do To Be More Environmentally-Friendly Today!

I recently turned 27 and I can’t quite believe it. What a dynamic, turbulent, eclectic 27 years it has been on this earth thus far…

I thought in celebration of my aging (and impending wisdom that I swear should be appearing on the horizon sometime soon) I’d share with you 27 things I do to try not to be a douche bag to our planet. There might be something in there that you haven’t thought of before, so without further ado:

  1. Switch to natural cleaning products. The amount of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in modern-day chemical-laden household cleaning products is not even worth looking at. Opt for environmentally-friendly store-bought blends, or DIY your own with ingredients like baking soda, and apple cider vinegar. You’d be amazed how well these two work on pretty much everything in your life.
  2. Use bamboo toothbrushes. I change my toothbrush every couple months. That’s approximately 6 x a year. That’s a lot of toothbrushes headed straight to landfill if I were to still be using traditional plastic ones! I am in love with bamboo toothbrushes because they clean just as well and can be composted when they come to the end of their life. Totally biodegradable, no microplastics in sight and my dentist says my teeth are shit hot so, I’m happy (BTW that’s 4 years of using these bad boys that I’ve got under my belt, so I’m fairly confident they do the job just fine).
  3. Support slow fashion. The fast fashion industry is one of the most polluting on our planet. By switching to buying only second hand or ethical brands, you are choosing sustainability over wasteful and mindless consumerism.
  4. Opt for organic. Wherever possible in my life, I now choose organic over pesticide-laden. Whether it’s the food I eat, the skincare I use, the clothes I wear or whatever else. While it isn’t always possible, I try to buy organic versions to look after my health and the environment.
  5. Use mesh bags or food wraps. The number of times that little plastic baggies are used for carrying snacks, purchasing loose produce from the grocery store or pastries from a coffee shop is staggering. I keep a spare mesh bag or two in all the places I might need one and use again and again.
  6. Prepare real food. There is nothing worse for an aspiring zero-waster than being hangry, realising you have to purchase something wrapped in single-use plastic and then beating yourself up about it. Be sensible and prep food beforehand (carrying around snacks in one of your mesh bags!) and avoid this happening to you again.
  7. Do less laundry. You’d be amazed at how many wears you can get out of clothes if you simply air them out between wears. Don’t worry, I’m not encouraging you to wear your undies more than once between washes, but for many items, this works a treat.
  8. Use bulk bins. For nuts, grains, pulses and seeds, find a local bulk bin store (take your mesh bags with you!) and load up to avoid plastic packaging.
  9. Purchase a safety razor. These things look terrifying, but as soon as you use one, you realise that they aren’t at all. Purchase one that’s well-made with a long handle, a heavy weight and good grip and it will last you a lifetime. All you need to do is change the inner stainless steel blades (which can be purchased wrapped in recyclable paper!) and be sure to lather up first with lots of soap.
  10. Support innovative textiles. I love a good vintage leather bag, but at the end of the day it is still leather and if someone sees it and wants something similar, they’re likely to buy a new leather version, thus keeping the demand there for these goods. Support alternatives like piñatex, cork or mushroom leather where you can, to show others that there are sustainable alternatives.
  11. Learn about the Venus Project. An incredible resource-based economy model created by the late architect, Jacque Fresco, The Venus Project is an incredible insight into how our economy could operate free of the limitations of capitalism.
  12. Cycle or walk. I know it isn’t always possible with the circumstances you find yourself in (hence why we desperately need electric, self-driving cars already!) but cycle or walk wherever possible. It’s better for your health and the planet’s.
  13. Choose vegan. The animal agriculture industry is incredibly wasteful from an energy point of view, but also a place of great cruelty. Have a watch of Cowspiracy, What The Health, Forks Over Knives or In Defense Of Food for food for thought (see what I did there?)
  14. Use reusable cloths. While there are some great brands of paper towel like EcoLeaf who use 100% recycled paper, 100% renewable energy and 100% biodegradable packaging, consider cutting up old towels, t-shirts and other textiles and using to mop up spills, clean surfaces etc. Simply toss into the washing machine after use and they’ll last you years to come.
  15. Use reusable cotton rounds. These can be bought in some larger healthy living stores or purchased online. Ideal for removing makeup, cleansing, removing nail polish. Use, wash, reuse.
  16. Paper cotton buds. Most cotton buds have a plastic stem that runs down the middle. Yuck! If you feel cotton buds are absolutely essential to your routine, opt for completely biodegradable ones.
  17. Change your gift-giving. Unless you know that special person is in desperate need of (fill in the blank), give them something edible, drinkable, or experiential instead and watch them beam!
  18. Learn about minimalism. And the joy and liberation it can give you in your life. As well as the psychological benefits, it’s environmentally-friendly because it places emphasis on less, not more.
  19. Upcycling for your home. If you’re in need of furniture or decorations, consider recycled materials and get creative! No one likes a show-home. Make your space unique and truly reflective of you as an individual. Use recycled wood to save demand on tree-felling and recycled scrap metal to add a modern, industrial aesthetic.
  20. Grow your own veggies. Even in the tiniest of apartments you can find a windowsill to grow some herbs. Plant, nurture and watch flourish. It’s good for your mental health, diet and wallet.
  21. Support vegan & cruelty-free cosmetics. Unfortunately, many cosmetic brands are tested on animals in some parts of the world. Choose a kinder option for your moisturiser or mascara by using the guidance that can be found here.
  22. Sustainable holiday decor. There’s a lot of pressure to fill your home with an array of trinkets for each and every holiday occasion. From Halloween to Christmas, the shops are filled with aisle upon aisle of cheaply-manufactured, plastic-based rubbish. Get in the spirit by focussing on seasonally-appropriate plants and flowers, foods, scents and music rather than a bunch of ‘stuff’ that you have to find place to store for the majority of the year.
  23. Support plant-based candles. Most candles are made of paraffin wax which is derived from crude oil (the same stuff that makes our petroleum fuel). Instead of burning that and contaminating your home, opt for candles made of sustainable beeswax (if non-vegan), soy, flax, or other plant oils for cleaner burning.
  24. Have a zero waste period. Ladies – forget tampons and nasty plastic sanitary pads. Have a read of my post here all about how to have a cleaner period without any throwaway items.
  25. Use bamboo water filtration. Forget plastic cartridges. Try charcoal water filtration for a completely biodegradable, waste-free way to purify your water.
  26. Say no to hormonal birth control. A recent gripe of mine, but consider the Fertility Awareness Method instead of your current hormonal birth control. Resources to look into here.
  27. Item swaps. Whether it’s amongst colleagues or friends, swap books, clothes and other unwanted items to cut down on waste and save you money.

Sustainable Fibres for Clean Seas – Our Textiles Are Polluting Our Waters

The amount of microplastics that we are releasing into our waterways each year is truly terrifying. I mean, it’s at the point now where we may as well call this planet ‘Plastic’ rather than ‘Earth’. Dreadful, I know.

Kynance Cove

A main culprit is clothing made of synthetic fabrics. Nylon, polyester, and acrylic are in so many of our clothes and they shed tiny microplastic fibres in the washing machine when on a cycle. Hundreds of thousands of them – microscopic in size – make their way into our water supply. Did you know that 72% of UK tap water now has microplastics in it? The percentage is even more alarming stateside, with 94.4% of tap water contaminated across the pond.

So while you might be making steps towards consuming less plastic packaging (which, don’t get me wrong, is fecking awesome), the very garments you’re living your ‘aspiring zero-waste’ life in might be undoing all your hard work.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you care about making the world better in more ways than one. So, as well as reducing your plastic consumption, you likely also support renewable energy, fair trade and the slow fashion movement amongst other things. You just want to be a good human, in other words.

If there’s one change I could encourage you to make, it would be to only introduce natural fibres into your life from now on. When the time comes to purchase a new garment or textile in the form of a towel, cleaning cloth or bedding, consider something made of biodegradable materials.

It can be really confusing when you see things like ‘recycled plastic’ on the label. Whether it be plastic bottles recycled into a fleece jacket or into a kitchen sponge. On the one hand, it’s commendable that a company has taken a waste product and created something out of it. However, whether it’s new plastic, or recycled, if it’s going to be washed, it’s going to pollute our seas. That’s the simple truth of it. Until someone invents a ridiculously fine mesh filter and fits all washing machines with it, our synthetic fibres are doing no good. Therefore, might I suggest that when the time comes, you look at something, well, better?

Sustainable textiles brands are already limited, so to throw this into the mix as well I realise is frustrating. However, the more it becomes common knowledge of this way that we’re polluting our water with clothing, the more brands are likely to jump on the bandwagon and support the natural fibre movement.

Support cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp, silk, wool, rayon, jute, ramie, lyocell and tencel. And a nifty little one to introduce into your kitchen and bathroom cleaning stash is a luffa – totally compostable scrubby vegetable fibres. Scrub away, and when it’s knackered, compost it and get a new one. Forget all these synthetic cleaning cloths and scourers – opt for natural instead.

 

 

 

 

Photos: Sphynx

4 Ways to Do Zero-Waste Travel When You’re With A Group

These past few weeks have been a rollercoaster. In a good way. I’ve been touring Ireland with my family and it has been utterly incredible.

Cliffs of Moher

But I’m currently on a zero-waste journey and so being out of my natural habitat was a challenge when it came to regulating my plastic consumption. At home, I believe we can all quite easily take leaps and bounds towards living with less waste. Or rather, consuming less waste, I should say. But that’s because we’ve learned how to do exactly that. We know where to go, what to do, and essentially which resources to use in our area. It’s the element of familiarity. It’s not always so easy when you’re out of town.

Travel is a sure-fire way to put you out of your comfort zone and force you to be present. The environment is new; the flavours, the smells, the dynamics and the language. You’ve got to stay focused in order to be able to navigate your way from A to B and digest those experiences you are encountering. So in that respect, being out of your comfort zone is incredibly satisfying. It’s also a potent way to grow and develop yourself.

But then, on the other hand it’s really difficult traveling if you’re trying to maintain a particular kind of lifestyle. For me, that’s vegan & low waste. I am always hesitant to say I live zero waste because in truth I don’t. I’m not sure that any of us actually do. But I am fully determined with every ounce of flesh and bone in my body to reduce my footprint on this planet. Every day is a new challenge and there are obstacles aplenty. But I want to know that when I leave this Earth, I’ll have made my very best efforts to have not left it worse off.

Plastic waste is the one. The baddie. Not so much the recyclables (although let’s be honest – they’re pretty ugly and horrid) but really the single-use stuff. The non-recyclable packaging that will go straight to landfill. That stuff is the bane of my life. And well, the whole planet really. And it’s everywhere I look: in every person’s hand and every supermarket shelf. It feels like all the odds are stacked against me, but by hook or by crook I’ll be damned if I give up the fight to live in a way that means I’m not having to consume it.

I’ve modified my lifestyle and consumption habits so that I’m using biodegradable or packaging-free alternatives to commonplace items. I’m still very much on a journey and learning of new solutions every day, but I’m trying. After doing my research and familiarising myself with where I can go for bulk bins, loose produce, raw materials for DIY cosmetics etc. I’d say that I’m bossing Bristol pretty well. But throw travel into the mix and it’s a bit of deer in headlights action. It’s also incredibly difficult when you throw family into the mix, or a group of friends who all have different priorities. You can love them to the moon and back, but still not see eye-to-eye on fundamental things.

So with this trip around Ireland (and our first family vacation in 2 years), there were definitely times when I had to refrain from getting angry about the consumption habits of my family. I didn’t want to rock the boat too much; after all, we were there to enjoy ourselves. However, there are some knacks to keeping the sea smooth while still living in alignment with your values. If you’re an aspiring zero-waster, these might just help you too.

  1. Do your research & offer to do the buying. It’s not that your family and friends don’t care about your values; it’s just that they have other priorities and unfortunately don’t understand the pressing desperation that some of us feel to not leave behind a large plastic footprint. To avoid confrontation and any defensiveness, it’s a good idea to offer to be in charge of the food shopping while you’re away. Ask them beforehand to put the money into a kitty if they’re happy to do so and let them know that you’re very happy to do the shopping. Chances are, they’ll be relieved that they don’t have to think about doing any grocery-shopping while on vacation and instead sit back and relax. You’ll have saved yourself the stress of a mountain of plastic packaging in the process.
  2. Prepare snacks for the day. If you get hangry anything like I do, then you’ll know that it’s not a pretty sight or any fun to be around in the slightest. Avoid stressful situations of feeling starved to death but having the inner turmoil of not wanting to consume plastic packaging by making sure to have a stash of loose fruit and nuts to keep you going until you can find a café or restaurant for something more substantial.
  3. Take produce bags with you. In some countries, supermarket produce must be put in plastic bags and priced before paying. Avoid this by being sure to have your trusty cloth bags in tow.
  4. Have your zero-waste essentials kit on you at all times. This is part of the daily life as a zero-waster, but when traveling be sure to have a reusable bottle, cup, tupperware, silverware and a stainless steel straw (if you can’t be without one when consuming your beverage of choice). This way, your family and friends can do their thing, but at least you know that you’re prepared. You might even spark some curiosity when they see your swanky little kit and see how easy it is to package take-away options.

For more zero waste tips, check out one of my latest on Peaceful Dumpling: Still Think Zero Waste Is Hard? 6 Easy Steps To Make It Work For Your Life

Are you passionate about low-waste living? What are your tips for making it work when you’ve got company?

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