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Zero waste and eco-consumerism

9 Jul 20

by Mika Moriyama

The ‘Zero Waste’ movement has grown massively over the last five years – zero waste stores where you can buy package-free produce are becoming more and more common, reusable cups and shopping bags are now mainstream in many countries, and there are even famous zero waste social media influencers (like Lauren Singer who famously only produced a mason jar-full of trash in three years and is now a CEO of a zero waste company). As the awareness around plastic pollution and our damaging throwaway culture is growing, so too is the movement against it, and this is a great thing! 

The rise in popularity of zero waste however, is vulnerable to eco-capitalism. It’s easy to make money off things that are popular! This isn’t all bad as it means many truly useful and innovative sustainable products and services are being created, but there are other companies who simply capitalise on the movement to keep us buying and buying….but ‘green’ products this time. We are social creatures and I remember at university when stainless steel straws were becoming popular, I almost felt like I needed to have one to show how into sustainability I was, despite not needing any straw to drink at all. I confess I’ve also had many coffee keep cups in my time (some received as gifts) although I basically never drink coffee or buy takeaway drinks. 

 

After reading a statistic that you need to use a cotton tote bag over a hundred times to make an environmental ‘saving’ from alternatively using a single-use plastic bag, I became more conscious of what being environmentally friendly or sustainable actually means. Often, reusable products require more resources to manufacture than their single-use counterparts. Would I actually use this sustainable option enough times to outweigh the impact? Did I actually need this supposedly eco-friendly product, or did I just feel less guilty about buying something unnecessary because of that label? I realised how often things are marketed as an eco-option despite them being just another unnecessary product to buy. I don’t need a (on-the-go!) bamboo cutlery set in a lovely fabric wrap because I already have a whole bunch of cutlery at home. Maybe it’s a better option than using a single-use plastic fork everyday, but it’s certainly a worse option than using what I already have.

That’s not to say that all eco-options are unnecessary. It’s good to have that option if you do need to buy something, and whether a purchase is necessary or not depends on the person. There are a couple of zero-waste products that I truly find useful: 

  • Menstrual cup – they can last up to 10 years. I’ll be menstruating for at least that long and sanitary products are a necessity, not a luxury. 
  • Shampoo bar – sure, the most eco-friendly option would be to not use shampoo at all or to make my own. But to fit with my current lifestyle and priorities, I love being able to buy a shampoo bar. 
  • Stainless steel bottle – lasts over 10 years, makes me more likely to stay hydrated, and saves me a load of money in the long run. 
  • Crochet dishcloths – I had to buy a crochet hook and some yarn to make these as I didn’t have them already. But they’re machine washable, will last a long time, and are super effective for washing dishes. 

I’m sure for some people, these products are non-essential and might be seen as an example of greenwashing to sell. And other items that I deem as wasteful for myself (like stainless steel straws) are actually a great option for those who previously relied on the single-use option. The fact that the zero waste movement has made eco-friendly options for things that we need more accessible is awesome. 

As much as we can, we should try to use what we already have (even if it’s plastic!). If you already have bottles of shampoo at home, use that up before switching to a zero waste option. If you already have lots of old plastic takeaway containers, maybe reuse and repurpose them before you buy those beautiful glass containers we see online. Remember the hierarchy: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle. It’s not about trying to fit the idea of what eco-capitalism tells us a zero waste lifestyle should look like. It’s about reducing your impact by buying, using, and wasting less.

Image by @homovirido

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