Recycling. Climate change. Global warming. Deforestation.
These are all words used extensively by many people in the media or who are trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. In the UK, statistics from the UK Government in 2013 show that only 44.2% of all household waste was recycled- it’s up from the previous year’s statistic of 44.1% but is it really enough? The EU’s target for the UK’s recycling programme is to hit at least 50% by 2020- just 5 year away. If the percentages keep rising by just point one percent each year, the target won’t be realistic. Though this figure may be low, compared to another EU country, Sweden, the UK’s recycling is actually quite high. Sweden’s total household recycling percentage was just 33% compared to the UK’s 44.2% in 2013.

So how can an individual help out with this waste management? Surely it’s not enough for one person to stop using carrier bags and change to using re-useable bags like bags for life or canvas bags for their shopping?
If you take a look at what you would usually buy from the supermarket and how much of it is packaged, then you can think about how to change your way of shopping. If carrots, for example, are only available in non-recyclable plastic packaging, try asking the supermarket about changing the way their stock is packaged. If they know you are a regular customer, they are more likely to consider your questions. If there is no alternative to buying things in packaging, you can always vote with your money- you choose where you spend that money, and although it may not seem much for a company to lose out on £1 for a bag of carrots, when you think about how often you buy them over the course of the year, being able to stop paying into a company which does not recognise your views and instead paying into a business that may be local who does listen to and respect your views is empowering.

The supermarket is great for people who are busy, have children they have to take shopping and many other reasons- the fact that most are open late or even 24 hours for most of the week is a bonus too. But the small local businesses rely on your custom as a local shopper- if they can sell loose carrots and apples, why can’t the local supermarket? Why is there not a packaging-free option for people who don’t want the extra products?

If there really is no other way to get around the dilemma of extra packaging, try and think of things you can do with the waste product instead of putting it into the bin. A four pack toilet roll bag could be used as a small bag for in the bathroom bin- this could be an easier way of switching from using the rolls of plastic bags found in shops. Ultimately it still goes to landfill- but if you use a sturdy bag, you can simply empty the rubbish out rather than also throwing away the bag. Many women also have their monthly cycles to worry about. For centuries, women had to make their own cloth pads for menstruating and also the days in-between. You can find many people who are selling their own home-made liners, as well as instructions for making your own if you can get hold of the material and the means to wash and dry them in your home. Students and HMOs may not have this luxury because of a shared washing machine. The thought of washing such intimate items in the same machine as ‘so and so’ washes their trainers in? Not so appealing.

As for the monthly flow, you can get a variety of plastic and packaging free options. There is the choice of something which is rising in popularity in recent years- the Mooncup. This is a menstrual cup which is sanitised and then used again the next time. There is also the option of a sponge which works in the same way, yet some people may not be as interested in this idea because of where sponges are traditionally from- the sea.

Toothbrushes don’t have to be the hideously coloured plastic ones found in supermarkets- there is the option of a compostable bamboo version. These are usually sold in packs of more than one, and though they may be more expensive, they are much friendlier to not just the environment but also the user. Rubbing plastic into the gum is not a very happy thought on introspection.

It’s not just the food’s packaging that is the problem either. Many foods, cosmetics and fuels contain palm oil in one form or another now, and that’s a really big problem as it’s contributing to the loss of rainforest and the deaths of beautiful creatures like the Orang-utan who rely on their natural habitat to survive. There have been many petitions on various sites spreading awareness of the problems involved with the palm oil industry, and some even report that the RSPO for sustainable palm oil is nothing more than a cover to make something more purchasable than something without the label.

Do remember that just because an ingredient list doesn’t contain the term ‘Palm oil’, it may still contain palm oil as an ingredient. There are over 200 alternative names for palm oil products and derivatives so it can seem like a minefield to avoid them.

You can find a handy wallet-size cut-out-and-print guide to which products do contain palm oil and what it may be called.
You can find that through this site.

There seems to be a lot of confusion related to avoiding certain ingredients and making the choices to steer clear of things we don’t want to buy or consume. With the different chemical or scientific names for products, it can make something as simple as knowing if a certain plastic is recyclable a problem. Thankfully there is now a system in place where a symbol is applied to packaging if it is recyclable.
You can see all of these symbols and what they mean on this site.

Bear in mind that not all of these symbols will be available in your country.
Small changes to your lifestyle can really help out. Even if you are not able or ready to embark on the adventure of a completely waste-free lifestyle, small changes can help both your pocket and the environment. Switching to re-usable bags will help with shopping, as will making more decisions about the type of packaging you want to buy your products in. Bags for life are great, but if they are plastic, they will still be contributing to the problems we are already facing with rubbish going into the wrong places. Canvas bags are a better option if you are able to get these, and they are also a much better material to store food like fruits and vegetables as they are able to breathe. In plastic packaging, you may have noticed how vegetables, etc can really start to ‘sweat’ and produce moisture which will then shorten the life of the products through mould and condensation.

With many stores switching to charging for carrier bags and a lot of different companies changing to alternative methods of producing their packaging, it should become easier to make more economically-friendly choices about the packaging your food and products come in and the way you carry it all home.

References:
Names for Palm oil
Recycling information and symbols
Palm oil impact
Swedish waste management statistics
UK Gov waste management statistics
Palm oil choices
WWF information about palm oil’s impact
Nutella faces palm oil backlash
Girl who lives without waste
Family who live without waste