A Year's Worth of Your Garbage in a Mason Jar

Sunscreen, toothpaste, tea bags, scrubbing cream, fishes, bottled water, and fleece, all have one thing in common: they contain microplastics and nanoplastics that we end up eating, drinking, rubbing onto our skin, and even inhaling. And more and more people are resisting that idea. Rightly so, because even if plastic pollution may only have simple depressing effects on you, the thought of plastic in food makes me completely nauseous. With total effect.

Of course I understand that people used to think that plastic was the invention of the century. Practical and indestructible. Nobody could have imagined back then that we would use it so much that we’re now slowly drowning in it. Yet there are people who escape plastic, like the British Bea Johnson. She is one of the inspiring people boosting the Zero Waste movement. Since 2008 she has been living according to the philosophy of ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot’. In that order naturally. The annual waste of her family of four fits in a toilet bowl. We live quite consciously of wastefulness at home, but when I have that much waste in a single day, I’m already proud. So I had to figure out a way to do better. While I mused about my plan of action, we received an email from the publisher of the Dutch author and minimal waste expert, Emily-Jane Townley. Whether we could work together on her new book ‘Living without waste’. We didn’t have to think long about that. Zero waste is a fixed theme on our website, but writing or reading about it is very different from living it – every day. We decided to proclaim June Minimal Waste Month and asked our readers if they wanted to join us. Within a week we had assembled a group of 500 people. Together we were going to immerse ourselves in all aspects of a zero waste lifestyle and putting it into practice. Under the dynamic leadership of Emily-Jane, a world opened up for us.

We amassed recipes for detergents and cosmetics. Actually, you don’t need much stuff to make those. With baking soda you can literally clean half your house, and also wash your hair (unsuccessfully for me), exfoliate your skin, and rinse your mouth. By hand we whisked aloe vera and a little oil into a smooth day cream. Emily-Jane shared how you can overcome your hesitation and go to the grocery store with your own packaging materials. And which zero waste shops and supermarkets exist where. We cooked with leftovers, grew vegetables from kitchen waste and started composting. The more in-depth we went, the more I started to enjoy the processes. It became a sport to outsmart the packaging industry, but what really struck me – apart from the fact that you’re saving money – was the number of entrepreneurs responding to this trend and offering zero waste alternatives for everything you need.

You can brush your teeth with a compostable bamboo toothbrush and purchase toothpaste tablets sold in a glass jar. Just chew on the tablets, then brush as usual; refills are delivered in compostable packaging. You can carry cheese and cold cuts home with you wrapped in a beeswax cloth. Bread in a cotton bag. You can easily buy cleaning products in bulk and mix them to your liking. Washing machine detergent can be replaced by a washing ball, and hair can be washed with a shampoo bar in paper packaging. There are really too many alternatives to mention. The sustainable industry is on the up and up. And I wouldn’t be surprised if companies like Unilever, L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble jump all over this. And that in the end we will all be better off.

Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.