Greenish – A Zero Waste Life

To those who live in Cardiff and its surrounding area this week is an important one in the city’s journey towards an environmental identity. We’ve discover the location of the new zero-waste, zero-plastic shop Ripple. There couldn’t be a more apt name for the shop. Ripple became a reality because it was funded through a Kickstarterwhere members of the public and the community showed their support in donations. Over £33,000 was raised, enough to solidify Cardiff’s place in the zero-waste movement which keeps growing and growing. Plaid Ifanc’s secretary, Sioned James, interviewed Mari Elin, who’s created a blog about being Greenish., to find out more on what it means to lead a zero-waste life.

Firstly, what exactly is Gwyrddaidd (Greenish) and what are its aims?

Greenish is a blog that records my endeavours to live a less wasteful and plastic-free life.

The emphasis is on that ‘ish’. I think it’s quite easy to sound self-righteous so I wanted to emphasise that I’m not perfect and that I have a lot of fails. But I think it’s useful to see other’s experiences as they try and cut things out.

In terms of the aims of the blog, to begin with I wanted to keep a record, something I could check back on, look back on what I’ve tried, what has worked, what hasn’t worked – that kind of thing.

Once you start keeping a public record, and it might me just one person that reads it, suddenly your accountable. You have a platform which entices you to continue. Putting something out there makes it more of a challenge. Also, the hope is to try and inspire one person, just one other person, to try and cut down the amount of plastic they use and the amount of waste we produce.

What’s the reaction been like to it? Has anyone reached out?

Yes. I didn’t expect much of anything, it was just something I wanted to do and that was that, but I’ve received a lot of messages asking for tips and suggestions. A lot more people than I though is starting to take interest and make their own changes. I also use Instagram which receives a good response, I’ve had messages saying that they’re going to try some things now, which has been really lovely and a great encouragement to carry on.

Is there a particular area which has captured people’s interest?

The stuff that most people ask about is things like shampoo bars, and health and beauty subjects, that kind of thing. Girls are the only people really I receive communication from, interestingly. People want to hear other people’s experience.

What inspired you to lead a waste-free, plastic-free life?

Well I think a lot of things built up. I’ve always had a thing for Orcas, since watching Free Willy when I was small. I remember a few years ago I watched the documentary Black Fish, and that got me more interested in whales and dolphins. I joined the Whale and Dolphin Conservationand they send a magazine every quarter, and there was a lot mentioned in these magazines about the effect of plastic on whales and sea life in general, so I started realising that our use of plastic is a serious issue. Then, of course, comes Blue Planet II, and the whole thing just exploded from there, and all of the sudden there were articles everywhere, everyone was talking about it. And that was around Christmas time so I decided to cut down on my use of plastic as a new years’ resolution. Since then, the idea of producing less waste generally has become more important too, in addition to gaining a deeper understanding of my spending habits.

How have you learned how to tackle this lifestyle, watching Youtube, reading books?

I read a lot of blogs to start with, and I found those so useful that I wanted to do something similar in Welsh. I’m also enjoy dipping into the book No. More. Plastic., it’s a little blue one, and it’s short but it’s brilliant and really easy to read. It outlines the issues and suggests one small thing you can do, then something more serious, so it’s a really good way of learning how to make those small changes to build from there.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your efforts to lead a zero-waste life? How do you conquer them?

It’s ironic because the whole idea of living waste-free or plastic-free coincides with a simpler life involving less spending. But, on the other hand the biggest problem is that it’s expensive to start with. If you go for the item that uses the most sustainable material then it’s going to be more expensive. So that makes it hard in the short term because you need to spend more in a short amount of time. But in the long term, of course, you can see the benefits. The theory is that you don’t need to buy as much stuff over time. So the money can be a challenge at the beginning, because it’s so much easier to buy something cheap, temporary. It’s a challenge to get yourself into the habit of coming away from the disposable and looking into something that’s going to last longer.

The other challenge is, round here, you can’t really buy a lot that’s plastic-free, especially food shopping – that’s can be so difficult! Everything is in plastic, and often there’s no way around it. Things like rice, pasta, nuts, cous-cous, you have to buy it in plastic, or you have to travel to somewhere like Natural Weighin Crickhowell, or Ripplewhich is opening in Cardiff. Aberystwyth desperately needs something like that, so it there’s someone out there with a lot of money to spend, open a zero-waste shop in Aber! But in a way that can be a positive thing because it shows that we’re becoming more and more aware of the effects of our spending

I feel that the only thing that goes into my black bag are the plastic films, or the thin layer of plastic around a cucumber or, as you say, round pasta.

 Yes! It’s around bananas even….someone has to stop this from the top!

Many people see living zero-waste to go hand-in-hand with minimalism. Is this true for you? Do you have a lot of ‘stuff’ or not?

I have so much stuff, it’s silly. I’m very sentimental so I tend to buy, collect and keep a lot of stuff. I also love shopping…a lot!

Despite this, the more I look into the zero-waste lifestyle the more I see how cutting down can help the cause. I see myself purchasing much less, and getting rid of a lot of stuff. When it comes to wanting to buy something, really asking where does it come from, does it come from a sustainable source and is it going to last ages and ages? You can see the link between the two is obvious. As you cut down and things and educate yourself you become a conscious consumer.

What would you say are the (personal) financial side effects from being zero-waste? What are your tips for keeping zero-waste costs as low as possible?

Like I said it can be more expensive and harder in the short term, but if you can look at it from a long term perspective the spending makes sense. I’d probably spend £5, £6 each time on something to wash clothes, a box of chemical-filled capsules where you’d get 20 washes, if you’re lucky, for £5. But those pounds add up. I looked into theEcoegg, which is £9.99, one off and lasts 200 washes…plus there are no chemicals! Although it sounds like they’re more expensive at the time, from looking at the long term it makes more sense to spend ten pounds on your washing for a year.

Then, of course, there’s DIY. If you can do it yourself, then do so. There are so many plastic-free items that are fashionable at the moment, like these beeswax food wraps, that are actually quite expensive. Go and buy a bundle of fat quarters and some wax and make them yourself – you get a lot more for your money. If you can make it yourself then I encourage that, or at least give it a go. Not everything will work, but DIY is a good way of keeping costs down.

I know you also make some beauty items yourself?

Yes, well I try, that’s a bit more hit and miss, but a lot of the ingredients that you’ll need can probably be found in your home already; coco oil, essential oils, etc. It’s worth trying doing things yourself instead of following that instinct to have to buy it.

What I’ve found generally about living zero-waste is that it’s not a new, modern way of living – it’s the opposite! What we’re doing is going back in time to a simpler way of living, like when my mamgu and dadcu were young. It’s good to think, or ask if you can, how they used to keep food fresh, wash hair etc – the answers are all there already.

You live in Pontrhydfendigaid, do you consider your geographical location as a factor that effects your efforts to be Greenish, be that positive, negative, or something else?

I think there’s something about living in the countryside that suits the zero-waste lifestyle. Maybe it’s something to do with, as I was saying, growing up with Mam-gu and Tad-cu, the emphasis was on doing things yourself, bake your own bread, or fetching your food from the field or the bush.

And living close to, and working in Aberystwyth is a positive thing too. It’s a town that’s quite active in terms of being zero-waste, and the campaign, Plastic Free Aberystwyth, which comes out of the group Surfers Against Sewage, put events on, raise awareness. You have shops like Maeth y Meysyddand Treehouse, little independent and organic shops where you can buy fresh food and milk in a glass bottle.

But it can also be very difficult. We don’t have a fruit and veg shop in Aberystwyth; that closed a few years ago unfortunately. And we don’t have any zero-waste shops. So in terms of food and drink it can be a negative in a way, because you’re limited to what you can get that’s zero-waste.

That can be true about Cardiff. Sometimes I’m stuck going to a supermarket, even though there are other options, but that’s often laziness. So it’s not necessarily much better, it depends on your level of effort.

Morrison’s Aberystwyth has gotten rid of plastic bags for loose fruit and veg and they’re willing to put meat and fish in a tuppaware box, so it’s developed loads in just these last few months, and they see that people want to reduce their plastic use. But sometimes when I’ve finished work at 6pm, am I going to go round four shops trying to find everything I need without plastic, or am I going to be lazy and go to Morrison’s? And that’s an important thing to emphasize, that we become more aware of the choices we make; good or bad.

It’s pretty recognised by now that everyone should consider carrying food bags and a water bottle with them to reduce the use of plastic, but what kind of other essentials can you suggest which aren’t so obvious that could reduce waste significantly?

I’m asked that question often, so I created a little zine which outlines the plastic problems and gives suggestions on what we can all do to reduce our use of throw-away plastic. I’ve also created a small bundle, a lino print of an Orca, a badge and the Gwyrddaidd zine, and some profits of that go to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

The best suggestions to start are things like carrying a water bottle, a coffee cup, 2-3 canvas bags, (some large enough to carry all my shopping and some smaller ones if I want to pick up something loose like bread, fruit, veg, that kind of stuff), tuppaware box for any meat or fish, a metal straw for cocktails on the weekend (although saying that I haven’t had to use that lately because so many people have gotten rid of plastic straws and have gone straight to paper straws – hooray!).

Then in terms of the home, if you can make DIY cleaning products then that’s brilliant; vinegar, lemon and bicarb can clean everything! When I started looking at how much plastic was in the house the bathroom and the cupboard under the sink were the two worst areas. So making changes in those two rooms means cutting down loads.

And not buying into the idea that you need different items for different things.

That’s right! With those three ingredients you’re pretty much sorted. And another way of keeping costs down!

If you were a politician what changes would you make to alter our use of plastic and waste?

The one thing I would do is insist that supermarkets tackle the plastic problem. Nothing that doesn’t have to be in plastic can be in plastic. Because, as you say, every week when the bins go out, that’s what the bulk of the stuff is, that unnecessary stuff around our food, and this is the stuff that we buy all the time. Not everyone buys take-away coffees, not everyone buys bottled water, but everyone has to buy food.

So I’d really try and appeal to our supermarkets to cut down, it would make so much difference.

One of the Scandinavian countries has introduced a ‘plastic-free aisle’. I’d push for something like that – take the option away from us as consumers and make it easier for people to come out of the plastic habit.

How do you think we can draw people into the conversation about being zero-waste or zero-plastic, and spark inspiration?

Talk about it! I know there have been a few good videos on Hansh, e.g. Arctic: A Sea of Plastic?by Mari Huws. And we need more conversations, and create interesting content, modern and visual. Young people live in front of their screens, and maybe that’s how we reach them.

Who hasn’t seen the video with the turtle and the straw? It’s horrific, but visual things really work. Sometimes it’s easy to sound elitist, and holier-than-thou when we discuss topics like this, we just need to talk naturally about the subject on a suitable platform.

There can be a danger that we all live in our bubbles, and only talk with like-minded people, and in our online echo-chambers. So if I’m on the street and see someone who’s bought a plastic bag I’m surprised, and I view it as such a backwards thing to so, but I have to take it for granted that not everyone sees the same messages that I do. So we have to talk naturally and openly, not approach things from a pre-determined perspective.

What I find is really good to start a conversation with someone in a supermarket is, if I have a lettuce in a plastic bag, or a cauliflower in a completely unnecessary bag I’ll take the plastic off and give it to the cashier saying something like ‘I really don’t need all this plastic’. Sometimes they ask why, or the person behind me will start talking to me because they’ve seen something new. And if you do this naturally, without making a fuss about it, it can work.

The same is true with coffee cups I’ve notices. If you take it to some coffee shop and ask them to fill it then people are surprised in the best way. Maybe people haven’t seen this before, but are pleased to see it happening. You’re never going to come across anyone who is against it, so you might as well be confident in starting the conversation.

Exactly! And what some people aren’t aware of is that in coffee shops you can either get money off your coffee or you get double the loyalty points by bringing your own cup, but they don’t advertise that enough in my opinion.

What are you hoping that those who read your blog take from your work?

When I started reading blogs I found some to be off-putting because I felt that you had to be a certain type of person, or have loads of money, or live in a cottage on your own on top of a mountain. Many of them had quite an elitist vibe. What I’m hoping it comes across that you don’t need tonnes of money and time to live in a sustainable way; anyone can try and small changes can make a difference.

You also don’t need to go through a dramatic overhaul either where you never buy a new piece of clothing; the point is being aware and making some kind of effort – just making on change maybe. If 50 people read the blog, and 50 people decide not to buy plastic bottles anymore, hopefully they will influence another friend or a member of their family, and from that we can make some difference hopefully.

Yes, it’s not a life transformation.

Yes, if you want a transformation, fair enough, go for it, but you don’t have to. If I had a bank full of money there’s loads that I would change, but I’m just a normal person, with a normal job, and I do what I can. I just hope that one or two other people think ‘I’ll do what I can too’.

Thank you so much for giving your time to chat with me Mari. I look forward to the zine!

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