What inspired me to change my habits and start a Zero Waste Shop.
Hello and welcome to the very first article about Earthian. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce myself properly before the shop opens. My name is Katie and I have been working towards a zero waste lifestyle since 2018. I started researching, and planning the Zero Waste Shop back in 2019, although I kept it a bit quiet to begin with as I wasn’t sure whether I could make that dream a reality. It has felt like a long journey already, but I’m excited that it is starting to come together and we will soon be opening on beautiful Parchment Street.
Where it all began.
As a small independent shop, Earthian is very close to me and what I believe. I feel that it is important to be upfront about this, as my motivations to open the shop directly affect what stock I choose and how the business is run. I’d like you to get to know me, and I hope that I will get to know you all in time too.
Growing up, our garden at home was pretty wild and as a fairly wild child myself I spent a lot of time out there getting muddy and scratched-up while climbing trees. I never grew out of my love for nature, and if I’m honest I never stopped climbing trees either. Our throw-away culture has always made me feel uneasy, for our planet and for all the other species who live on it with us. As I got older, I became very interested in the idea of being self-sufficient and living off-grid. The dream still is to have an eco-home, maybe even build my own from the ground up and have a small plot of land alongside it for growing food.
The trouble is, over the years I invested a lot of time in reading books and watching documentaries about it while feeling quite helpless. Without the resources to live off-grid that romantic idea remained very far away. I did what I could in the meantime, by taking my own bags when I went food shopping, carrying a reusable water bottle, keeping the heating on low and recycling. These are great actions that we should all be doing, but for me, it was a far cry from where I always wanted to be. I just felt like this was all I could do.
In early 2018 I started seeing a lot of harrowing statistics about plastic and the ravaging effects it was having on our world and wildlife. I took in as much information as I could on the topic of plastic, and started to talk about it with friends, family and colleagues to see what others did, or thought. New, plastic free options started to open up from these conversations that I didn’t know even existed and I was really excited about being able to do something myself that could directly help.
I set about changing my habits and routines. I made a plastic swap each month, which really helped to spread the cost of investing in long lasting items, but it also helped me to make sure my new habits were going to stick. I started tracking how many pieces of plastic the swaps I made were saving and I’m really proud to say that at the end of the first year, 429 pieces of plastic did not go to landfill through me.
The problems with plastic.
There are a few things that I have learned that stick with me as I continue on the path to be plastic free. If you’re reading this article and following Earthian, I hope I can safely assume you are aware of the problems with plastic already. I did want to share them with you still, just in case you’re fairly new to the zero waste world, or just trying to find out what the shop is all about.
1. Very little of the plastic we put in our recycling bins actually gets recycled. Here in the UK we send a lot of our plastic rubbish to other countries, because it’s more profitable to sell it than to process it here. The countries who used to buy it are now suffering from contaminated water and toxic waste piling up and are starting to refuse to take any more. A BBC News article from September 2019 states that two thirds of the UK's plastic went abroad between October 2017 and October 2018 – a massive 611,000 tons!
2. Plastic cannot be recycled infinitely. It is made of strings of polymers that are arranged in much longer chains than would be found in nature. When plastic is melted for recycling, the polymer chains get shorter and so the quality of the next product is reduced. A piece of plastic can only be recycled 2 or 3 times before it’s degraded too much. The other element to this problem is that plastic has different types called thermoplastic and thermoset. Thermoplastic can be melted down and reformed making it easy to recycle, but thermoset uses a process that sets the chemical bonds so it can’t be melted and reformed.
3. Plastic does not break down. It needs very specific conditions, called photodegradation to break down, which essentially means you need to expose it to UV rays or sunlight. It doesn’t get those conditions in landfill and so it will be there for hundreds of years, outliving all of us in the ground. In the ocean, those UV rays are present so it does degrade but not in the way we would like it to. Instead of going back to it’s composite parts, it becomes micro-plastics that are toxic enough to kill our wildlife and endanger the food chain.
It is a terrifying reality and the more I thought about it, the more I felt I had to do something positive. I didn’t want to be a part of this endless waste anymore but I also wanted to provide a way for others to make changes easily, affordably and locally. Plastic does have some benefits but if we continue to use this material as we do now, we will drown in it. It isn’t a suitable single use material if it doesn’t break down and it can’t be recycled. The best way to use plastic is for items which last and get reused again and again.
The shop will be as free from plastic as it possibly can be. This doesn’t just mean providing food in bulk and products in plastic free packaging, but sourcing as much of it from suppliers without plastic and with good ethics as well.
I do hope that you will join me and share your thoughts on what you would like Earthian Zero Waste Shop to be. You can always get in touch via email, social media or pop by the shop for a chat when we open. I’d like to make these blog posts weekly during the shop build, and fortnightly after we open. The next one that I’m writing will be all about how we are making the shop build sustainable and low waste, I hope to see you there!
In the meantime, take care and I’ll speak to you soon.