Can we really live a zero waste lifestyle?
We caught up with Eco blogger Kate Arnell to learn about the benefits, the challenges and the rewards of living waste free.
When I first discovered the lifestyle, I found that there weren’t many people talking about it in the UK, where, up until recently most people weren’t aware of the amount of damage single-use packaging was doing to our environment and health and finding anything from bulk, in refill form or simply a plastic-free alternative was almost impossible.
So I decided to hop on YouTube and create a channel sharing my journey, showing how I managed zero waste in the UK. I’m also super passionate about choosing organic so I cover that on my channel too. I wanted to make it fun, relatable and not at all preachy. Basically I live this lifestyle because it aligns with my values and feels great and I would hate to guilt anyone into doing something.
I nearly didn’t write the book as figured there didn’t need to be another one out there about how to reduce waste but then friends and family said they often didn’t know where to start and felt overwhelmed by all the changes they wanted to make. It was actually my brother who suggested I break it down into weekly tasks to make it feel more achievable and so Six Weeks To Zero Waste was born. And despite the title, whether it takes six weeks, six months or six years, I encourage everyone to go at their own pace and pick and choose what works for their lifestyle and budget. I’m not a purist when it comes to the zero waste lifestyle and I really wanted that to come through the overall tone of the book. I have written it for anyone who wants to make positive changes in their life when it comes to reducing waste.
What are the benefits of leading a waste free lifestyle?
Turns out, there are quite a few! I go through some of them in my book, but personally I have found we have saved money, I’m happier as a person and have met some really wonderful people as a result of leading this lifestyle.
I’m overwhelmed, where do I start??
With my book! Ha ha, just kidding! You can actually start by refusing things you don’t really need! Simply saying “no thanks, I’m good” to freebies, flyers, receipts, goody bags, tasters, samples, straws - anything that you didn’t ask for or truly need. By refusing we’re reducing the demand for these items to be made. So the more people who say no (nicely!), the more a company will start to see a lack of interest in those things. If you’re feeling like you want to do more, think about the other things that come into your home that you don’t really want or need. I talk about how to remove yourself from junk mail lists in my book. It’s one simple action that you can take and means no more flyers or junk mail littering your letter box.
Another great tip is to remove all bins from rooms around the house and simply have one general waste, one recycling and one compost (if possible) in one location in the house, say the kitchen. This stops things that should be recycled like shampoo bottles going into a general bin in the bathroom, where they’ll likely be forgotten about and not go in the recycling. I also think, the extra effort to take things to a bin in another part of the home may encourage you to look for an unpackaged or refillable alternative!
The problem of climate change and waste seems so huge, how can my little family make a difference?
I have often felt “what difference can little old me make?!” and it can feel quite overwhelming to think of just how big our waste problem and climate crisis are. So instead, I just focus on my own actions. I’ve found that leading by example, others often feel inspired to make a few changes and it’s far more effective than preaching or guilting someone into changing. It’s often tempting to focus on what you’re not able to do (maybe you can’t buy from a bulk or zero waste store, or you don’t have anywhere to compost food scraps, like me!) BUT try to focus on what you CAN DO, it makes for a much more enjoyable time, trust me!
And we can all make a difference - to quote Anne-Marie Bonneau from zerowastechef.com;
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly”
What about living zero waste with a newborn, can you recommend some alternative products please.
Apart from a few moments in the early weeks where I really struggled with breastfeeding and panic ordered everything I could think of to help (in the end, an amazing lactation consultant and nipple shields saved me!), we have managed to still live “mostly” zero waste. There were definitely some baby related purchases that we needed that came wrapped in single-use plastic, but overall we’ve done ok. A few of the things we have done include:
Choosing reusable nappies and wipes. I’m conscious of microfibres coming out of our clothing in the washing machine and ending up in the ocean so I was keen to avoid nappies with any synthetic material. I actually love using them and washing them has just become a part of our weekly rhythm.
Buying second-hand where possible. It was hard sometimes to find the time to source a second-hand option but I managed to find our wooden changing table, organic cotton bouncy chair, BabyBay co-sleeping crib, some clothing and high chair second-hand either on ebay or via local charity shops. Friends have also kindly passed along some items they no longer needed too!
Choosing organic and natural options where possible, especially if buying new. For example, we have a plastic free play mat by Little Earth Baby which is made from tree foam and cork. Our baby’s mattress is made using organic and natural materials in Devon by Naturalmat. And all of the new clothing we have bought is made from organic cotton or organic wool. And we’ve opted for wooden toys. I’m considering signing up to toy library such as Whirli as he gets older.
So far we haven’t felt the need to buy any baby food in pouches, or other packaging. Instead, he mostly eats what we’re having either mushed up a little or in finger food form so he can feed it to himself. There’s definitely more food waste than normal at the moment as so much of it ends up on the floor but I know it’s just a phase.
Less is more - I’ve really tried to be conscious of what we actually NEED, instead of just buying for the sake of it. We’ve found that so far, we haven’t needed a baby monitor, special baby shampoo or wash, playpen, nursing chair...you get the idea. I think everyone’s needs are different, but it’s a great idea to think “do I really need that?” first.
Any waste saving tips for families with young children?
Get them involved if you can - they love feeling like they’re a valued contributing member of the family. And introduce reusables early so they are just the norm around the house. My niece has had a reusable water bottle since she was about a year old (she’s now 3) and never goes anywhere without it. Also, accept that there will likely be more waste than you’d like and that’s ok. It’s just a phase. Choose second-hand where possible and if buying new look for brands that use organic materials (these are much better for the environment) and package their products thoughtfully (like Frugi’s new home compostable bags - read more here!)
Encouraging a love of nature and spending time outside, in the garden, at the beach, local park, walking through a forest or even going camping means they’ll care about looking after what they love and feel connected to.
Subscription services can be useful too, for example we have set up a weekly organic milk delivery in returnable glass bottles, and tree-free and plastic-free loo roll that is delivered to our door - little things like this that you only have to set up once and then forget about can make reducing waste that little bit easier.
What about postpartum products for mums?
I found the organic cotton period pants by Thinx really useful for immediate post partum and even now I use them each period. An eye mask was also invaluable to me as I used it to help catch up on sleep whenever I could. Oh and a Haakaa was amazing for collecting surplus milk.
Any tips for reducing waste when traveling with kids
So far we’ve only driven to Cornwall and Lancashire with our little one, so I should be the one asking for tips when it comes to destinations further afield. I’ve realised we hardly use the buggy when in Cornwall, and simply wear Arthur in a sling/carrier so I would say try to pack as light as you can. In general though, I think prioritising experiences over things, choosing unpackaged or refills as much as possible and remembering your reusables are great places to start. Remember, you can take (non-liquid) snacks on to a flight to avoid the over-packaged in flight meals too. Oh and if you’re using reusable nappies, then make sure you have access to a washing machine during your stay.
How can we involve our children on our zero-waste mission?
I think it’s the same with anyone, find out what their passions are and incorporate it somehow. For example. if they like making things, you could make a reusable cloth bag together. I believe leading by example and role modelling how to behave (refusing freebies, remembering our reusables, making composting or recyling a normal part of the family routine) can be really effective. Involve them in everything you’re doing and explain why you’re doing something.
There are also lots of books now aimed at children that explain problems with plastic and how to reduce waste. I noticed an entire display in my local Waterstones recently with about 8 different children’s books all about the environment, waste and plastics.
Do you have any videos on your channel about Zero waste and parenting that we can watch?
Not yet, but they’ll be coming soon. Arthur is rather keen to spend almost all of his time with his Mummy so I think I have to accept I’ve got a new co-host! Looking forward to filming our journey and sharing it too - I’m still new to this parenting game so I have a lot to learn.
Here's a video from last year when Emma Ross and I chatted all things pregnancy.