How to avoid plastic for two weeks
Sofie goes waste-free
As far as I’m concerned, I’m fairly environmentally conscious for a student: I don’t eat meat, I’ve been using the same water bottle for years, and I almost never use plastic bags. So I figured that not producing any waste for two weeks would be easy. But after some research I felt less confident. I’d have to make my own toothpaste? It sounded gross. And I could no longer use my trusty make-up remover, which comes in a plastic bottle. Even my favourite food, pumpkin hummus, didn’t make the cut. Oh dear!
Four basic tips
Before starting the challenge, I e-mail Jessie. Fortunately, she tells me I don’t have to do away with all waste right away – she tells me to take it a step at a time. She gives a few
1. Down with disposables! Bring your own bags, baggies, cups, and bottles.
2. Skip the straw. Bring your own bamboo or metal straw when you go out for drinks.
3. Use, use, use. Most people want to immediately get throw away all the plastic in their lives. But that’s actually a huge waste; use everything you still have as much as possible.
4. Buying in bulk is beautiful. Don’t buy things like pasta or nuts in small packages anymore.
I feel disgusted when people are too lazy to bring their own bag
Over the course of the next few days I use the things I still have left and I start to feel disgusted with people who are too lazy to bring their own bags. After all, well begun is half done.
Usually I would stop by the supermarket after class to buy whatever I want. But if I want to go waste-free, that has to change.
Armed with cloth totes, paper bags, and special vegetable baggies, I make my way through the shop. But cucumber comes in plastic, as do bell peppers. It’s ridiculous how many fruits and vegetables are packaged in plastic. Even more ridiculous are the salads, that not only come in a plastic container, but there’s three more packages containing croutons, dressing, and cheese inside. Seriously?
Where can I go?
The market isn’t on today, so I have to find somewhere else to go. At Le Souk in the Folkingestraat, they sell fruits and vegetables without plastic. I fill the jars I brought with couscous and dried pasta. At Ekoplaza in the Nieuwe Ebbingestraat I fill my own bags with risotto rice, nuts, and oatmeal. They also sell yoghurt in glass bottles.
Shopping this way has taken me half an hour, when at the supermarket I would’ve been done in less than ten minutes. It’s not an easy lifestyle.
It’s not an easy lifestyle
Financially speaking, living without waste is quite the challenge: a glass bottle of organic yoghurt costs 1.85 at the Ekoplaza. At the Albert Heijn, it’s only 1.07. It may not seem like a huge difference, but for students, it is.
Le Souk is perfectly affordable: 500 grams of couscous is 1.50, similar to Albert Heijn’s 1.48. And at the Kaaskop, half a litre of olive oil (using my own bottle) is even cheaper than at the supermarket! However, I balk when I see that 500 grams of oatmeal at the Ekoplaza cost 1.50, a whole euro more than at the Albert Heijn.
I decide that if the price difference is more than a beer, I get to buy the product at the supermarket. But of course only if it comes in cardboard, and in bulk.
Washing without waste
Food isn’t the only thing packaged in plastic: personal care products and cleaning products are, too. Consider your morning routine. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, razorblades – almost everything comes in plastic.
When I run out of a product, I have to find an alternative. Now my shampoo is a block of soap without packaging. So is my shower gel and my deodorant. I brush my teeth using tablets from a little reusable bottle that I can refill at Lush.
I’m secretly quite happy that I haven’t run out of my make-up remover yet, but I feel really responsible using my washable cotton pads.
The new lifestyle is an adjustment, for several reasons. My boyfriend thinks the tooth tablets make my breath stink. At the ACLO, I colour the showers blue because I keep dropping my shampoo block. Instead of a toiletry bag, I have to drag around a lunch box full of blocks of soap, because dropping wet blocks into a toiletry bag isn’t very practical.
Drug stores are filled with products that make my waste-free heart weep
Is it a hassle? For sure. As I said, it’s not an easy lifestyle. Drug stores are filled with products that make my waste-free heart weep: disposable facial wipes, disposable refreshing wipes (what even?), and the worst one of all: disposable plastic razorblades. I don’t know how fast your unwanted hair grows, but I would probably go through something like a hundred blades a year. A hundred!
Make your own
I’ve run out of dishwasher soap. It’s a student house – we have dishes to do. But I can’t buy a new bottle of soap. Thank goodness the internet knows what to do:
Shopping without waste
Ekoplaza – nuts, muesli, oatmeal, risotto rice ‘on tap’. Dairy comes in plastic bottles. Fairly expensive.
Le Souk – plastic-free fruit and vegetables, nuts, couscous, dry pasta, rice, lentils, peas ‘on tap’. You can fill your own containers with hummus, tzatziki, feta, mozzarella, etc. Nice and cheap!
De Kaaskop – grind your own peanut butter to put in your own jar; olive oil on tap. Condiments and olives to put in your own containers. Wrap cheese in your own cloth or paper.
Market – the best place for fruit and vegetables on the cheap and package-free.
Mix a bag of baking soda with one and a half table spoons of regular soda, and add some essential oils for a pleasant scent. Pour the mixture into your almost-empty bottle of liquid, add some warm water, and shake until dissolved. You can use the same bottle over and over again! Brilliant. It’s a little less liquid and the colour isn’t great, but the waste-free lifestyle isn’t fussed with aesthetics. This method is easy, and extremely cheap.
After two weeks have passed, I look back to evaluate my efforts. Every day I was more annoyed by the sheer amount of unnecessary packaging in the world. But I also cheated every day, although it was usually not on purpose. I bought a bar of chocolate to eat in the train, but forgot it was wrapped in foil. I googled how bad foil is for the environment and proceeded to eat my chocolate in shame. Throwing it away would have been even more wasteful.
My friends were impressed with the smell of my clean, package-free hair
I spent more time and more money doing groceries, but it did feel amazing when I managed to find a package-free way to buy olive oil. My breath smelled and I was in constant danger of dropping the soap, but my friends were impressed with the smell of my clean, guilt-free hair. I also had to stop myself from yelling at people in the supermarket at least ten times a day.
The most difficult days were the ones when I had dinner with friends: with my roommates on Tuesday, my association on Wednesday, my teammates on Thursday. I kept running after everyone, trying to get them to use paper baggies and vegetable containers, begging them to buy the frozen spinach instead of the fresh because it comes in a cardboard box rather than a plastic bag. It was exhausting, to be honest.
And now you!
My attempt to live without waste was short-lived. Nicky and Jessie have banished much more waste from their lives, and I’m sure sustainability gurus will think I haven’t tried at all. But now that I’ve started, I intend to continue. Except for one thing: I will be buying toothpaste again. Nobody wants bad breath.