Are you thinking about cutting back on plastic or reducing your wasteline in 2020? I’m a big fan of starting before you plan to start: instead of jumping straight into things on the 1st of January, identify what problems you might encounter now so that things go as smoothly as possible when you actually begin. When it comes to waste, one of the simplest ways to do this is to carry out an audit.
You have to know where you are so you can figure out how to get where you want to go. When it comes to finances, this means tracking what you spend so you can create a budget. With weight loss, it comes down to tracking what you eat so you can see where you can make healthier substitutions or cut out the junk food. With waste it’s the same way.
Spend a week or two looking at what you buy, what you dispose of, and how you dispose of it. Consider these questions once you have an idea of what your household uses.
- What products do you buy that are packaged in single-use plastic or are single-use themselves?
- Are there reusable alternatives?
- Are there refillable alternatives?
- Are there secondhand alternatives?
- Are there alternatives at a local independent shop vs. a big corporation?
- How will the packaging be disposed of?
- How will the item itself eventually be disposed of?
- What can be recycled in your area? In the UK, check the Recycling Locator for details.
- What can be composted or collected as part of food waste if your county has these facilities?
- How much convenience are you willing to sacrifice for sustainability?
- How much extra are you willing to spend for sustainability? [While some eco-friendly products cost more, I have found that some are actually less; for example, the £1.00 fruit and veg bowls at SK Fruits in Chippenham provide incredible value.]
- And the big question: why do you buy what you buy? Is it a want or a need?
Digging into the last question a bit further, if it’s a want, why is it that you want it? Is it because you can see exactly where it will go in your home, how you will use it, or how it will somehow make your life better/easier/more efficient? Or do you already have something that is perfectly usable but advertisements make you feel that you have to have a new widget or whatsit? Is version 2.0 really so much better than 1.0 that a new one is needed? Or can the upgrade wait until 3.0 or beyond?
I’m not just referring to technology: this point is particularly pertinent when it comes to clothing. Fast fashion and its environmental impact have dominated headlines recently as the full scale of its problems are beginning to be understood. From poisonous, polluting dyes that are used to produce cheap textiles to exploitive labour practices that prey on the poorest across the globe, the modern perception of clothing as a disposable resource needs to be changed.
Ever-changing fashion trends and not wanting to be seen as out of date help drive this: each season there are new styles, new must-have accessories, new “hot” colours. None of these actually bring about any improvements to the clothing itself! Indeed, it’s estimated that there is £40 BILLION of unworn clothes hanging in closets across the country. Find the colours, cuts, and styles that work for your body so you can build your wardrobe around you, not trends.
It’s also worth being aware of something that researchers call hedonistic adaptation or the hedonistic treadmill. You buy something: maybe it’s a new pair of shoes, a technological widget you’ve had your eye on, or even a big-ticket item like a new car or piece of furniture. You feel really happy with your purchase: this new [fill in the blank] is exactly what you’ve been looking for, exactly what you needed. After all, it is responsible for affecting your emotions in a positive way!
Except you don’t feel so happy with it after a day or a week or a month. Whatever it is, it has now become part of the background, just another item you happen to own. You’ve returned to your happiness set point, a base level of happiness that exists regardless of external factors. All of this is to say be careful of using shopping as an emotional crutch: more “stuff” isn’t the solution.
Once you better understand your shopping habits, tackle one thing at a time: trying to change everything at once is a recipe for disaster and discouragement. Instead, aim for one or two things a week, or even every other week. Go at your own pace: you may be surprised at what you become aware of along the way, whether it’s a quirky local shop that has just what you need or unexpected savings by choosing to buy secondhand.
Stopping mindless consumerism and replacing it with a more thoughtful approach to purchasing is likely to not only reduce packaging waste and unnecessary products in general, but also wasted money and time. Isn’t that worth focusing on in the new year?