Is a zero waste lifestyle just for the rich?

Reusable versus Recyclable, photo credit: Victoria Brush

If we want to improve our environment, we need to live a zero waste lifestyle – but is this an option for everyone, or is it only for those with time and money to spare? Whilst there are plenty of Instagram influencers who flaunt their reusable £20 coffee cups, this simply isn’t possible for a parent living on the London Living Wage. With lives becoming increasingly “on the go”, the convenience of over-packaged ready meals will always trump the desire to be eco-friendly.

Jack Monroe, journalist and activist, words the internal struggle perfectly: “Not mentally calculating the pennies difference in every item that goes into your shopping basket is a privilege and one that millions of people in the UK (and across the world) increasingly do not have.”

Jade, a stay at home mum of two and owner of the Everyday Young Mum blog, tries to live waste-free. But Jade doesn’t have a disposable income and needs to evaluate what is best for her family: “I would love to be completely zero waste but at the moment it just isn’t a possibility.”

If you don’t have the time or money needed for preparation, it is difficult to be zero waste.

Saying this, I did some research to see if it’s just for the rich. I went to Facebook and actually gained some valuable advice: “Make small changes, it’s overwhelming to do everything at once!” and “Don’t just get rid of stuff, replace or buy new just for the sake of it…use what you have”.

The main two things I learned from this expedition are:

  1. a) you need to do a lot of prep work
  2. b) you need to be dedicated

To see if it is possible for everyone, let’s get down to the maths:

Say a reusable coffee cup costs £18.50, and you take it to your local coffee shop for a daily caffeine fix. You would need to buy one cup of coffee 93 times to make the money back. If each coffee was £2, you would spend £167.50 in those 93 days, an amount of money which isn’t disposable for some.

Lucy, a 23-year-old marketing specialist who attempts to be zero waste, justifies the lifestyle: “[Reusable cups] cost money once off but not really again, the idea of zero waste is that you don’t keep buying things you throw away.”

She does, however, view herself as sort of privileged: “I guess in comparison to others my age I could be considered privileged with money, annoyingly because I work bloody hard.”

Some people try to reduce the amount of disposable waste through bulk buying, which requires time and money. Jade explains her situation: “My family have tried living a fully zero waste lifestyle before but buying nappies that are biodegradable, buying rice without the plastic etc, ended up doubling our monthly budget.”

While the big four supermarkets struggle to reduce the 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging they produce a year, online shops are making zero waste living easier. At Zero Waste Club, you can buy 500g of plastic-free store cupboard foods like popcorn, couscous, oats and pasta for under a fiver. 

Yet, Zero Waste Club prices might still be too steep. As seen in the chart below, if you were to buy a 500g of couscous, it would cost over triple the amount that it would in ASDA.

So what changes are more realistic?

Cutting down on plastic consumption rather than cutting it out might be easier, like reusing a £1 Buxton bottle. Lucy suggested: “Get cans and glass instead of plastic bottles because they can be recycled simply.”

Overall, being mindful while shopping can help. For instance, local greengrocers or butchers use less packaging than supermarkets. Jade tries to change where she can: “I use cloth bags, I put plastic packaging in bottles and taking them to our local donation point which sends the bottles abroad to make buildings and homes.”

Whilst some are able to invest in a zero waste lifestyle, not everyone can afford it. Lack of convenience plays a major role in this lifestyle, and many do not have the money or time. However, there are still steps everyone can take to reduce plastic and waste, even if they can’t cut it out entirely.

Zero Waste Online Shops:

Zero Waste Club

What it sells: Cupboard-essentials

How it reduces waste: Uses reusable packaging and postage

Worth Whyle

What it sells: Biodegradable and ethical household items from bunting to suncream to plasters

How it reduces waste: Ships plastic-free, recyclable packaging

The Kind Store

What it sells: Wide variety of vegan, eco-friendly products from skincare to clothing

How it reduces waste: Uses minimal, plastic-free packaging

No Plastic Shop

What it sells: Plastic-free household items and toiletries with a subscription option

How it reduces waste: Uses recycled packaging from local offices

If you want to know more about how to live a zero-waste lifestyle, check out our Instagram page @ellnews, our Twitter @eastlondonlines and follow the hashtag #ELLzerowasteweek.

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