Today we're featuring an interview with Danielle, one of our Namaslay® Yoga Teacher Trainees (see our Tennessee yoga teacher training here!), who has recently been reducing her waste which has inspired me to start paying closer attention to the little things I can do to reduce my waste as well. Hopefully it's equally inspiring to you because together I think we can all make a big difference. xoCandace.
YBC: Tell us about yourself.
Danielle: I live in Bristol in the UK with my husband, Steve. I tend to say I’m from Lichfield, which is near Birmingham, but originally, I’m actually from the States, as I was born just outside Atlanta, GA and lived in the Miami area until I was 6. That’s when we moved to the UK to be near my mom’s family.
I studied Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Bristol and met my husband in my final year, so stuck around as I had also fallen in love with the city by then. About 5 years ago we both got into health and fitness and started running together. I ran two marathons before falling out of love with running, but I had found yoga by then – YBC® to be precise! – which is my new passion.
Since then I have gotten into personal development and devote a lot of time to self-growth; I also developed an ever-growing interest in all things sustainability and went vegan in November 2016 after watching Cowspiracy and the other major life event (apart from getting married last June) is the upcoming Namaslay® YTT in Thailand this July! Aside from this, my main hobbies include reading books, eating cake and squeezing adorable dogs.
What inspired you to track your waste?
I don’t know how far to go back! In summer 2015 I was waiting to go on a ride in Epcot and there was a video playing which said the children of the future won’t ever know fish in the sea. That sparked something in me and, out of nowhere, my focus completely shifted to sustainability (Disney World can change your life!).
After watching that video, I volunteered for three local beach cleans and my colleagues and I challenged each other to reduce our single-use plastic. About 2 years ago I discovered Instagram – late to the party I know! – and started following zero-wasters, which was the first time I saw someone fit all their rubbish into a jar. I was in awe but nowhere near that stage, so I just kept implementing small changes knowing on some level that’s what I was working towards.
When we moved we discovered a local health shop which had bulk bins. I spoke to the woman who worked there about using my jars; turns out she was doing a plastic-free March challenge and told me about another, bigger bulk shop which I now frequent most Saturdays. Shortly after that I discovered there was a farmer’s market a five-minute walk from our front door. Once we made reducing waste a priority it seemed everything fell into place to help us.
It was clear we were producing less waste and one day I remarked to Steve that I reckoned we could fit all our waste for the month into a jar. I think he didn’t really realize I was serious at first but after a few times of me fishing his rubbish out of the bin to put in the jar, he got on board!
What did you learn once you started tracking your waste?
Just how much comes in plastic! I also realised how small things add up; a crisp packet here, a yoghurt pot there. I realised how much excess packaging there is for internet orders! The majority of the waste in the jar is packaging from gifts – we had three birthdays throughout April and the beginning of May – and junk food packaging from having visitors.
I also realised how little waste is properly disposed of. I spent some time after our friends or family had left fishing through the bin like a crazy lady to separate recycling, food waste and actual waste which would go in the jar. Bristol is getting better about using biodegradable cups and food packaging which is great if they get composted, but more often than not you see someone putting them in the normal bin or they get thrown on the floor and still end up either in the ocean or in landfill.
What is the hardest part about cutting back?
In the very beginning, it was trying to convince people (I’m saying people when I mean my husband because I don’t want to shame him as he’s a zero-waste comrade now!) to let go of disposable like kitchen sponges, household cleaners, toiletries etc. Then it was curbing my own habit to impulse-buy packaged, and usually, unhealthy food like crisps, chocolate bars and biscuits.
These were hard because they were ingrained habits, but in the long run our health and finances have been positively impacted by making the switch. I already made my own toiletries to avoid toxic chemicals and products tested on animals, but now Steve is using our homemade toothpaste and deodorant too. We’ve almost completely eliminated any food which comes in a package, which has cut out a lot of junk.
How can others reduce the amount of waste they create?
Don’t try to do too much too fast, and go for easy wins. It can be easy to get caught up in thinking you’ve got to do it all now, the planet can’t wait etc. But in reality, this thinking leads to overwhelm and more often than not, you give up completely. Remember: something, however small, is better than nothing. It’s better to make small, lasting changes at a slower pace than going for the all-or-nothing mentality which leads to more of the same i.e. no change whatsoever.
When I say easy wins, this will be unique to you and your lifestyle. It can be helpful to take a mental inventory of your life and the products you use most and think of ways you can reduce your waste. For me, the easiest things to start with was buying loose produce at the supermarket and carrying things like a tote bag and my own cutlery. Then it was buying my food from bulk shops and farmer’s markets. Maybe for you it will be carrying a water bottle or a keep cup for your hot drinks. Maybe it’s refusing a straw when you get a drink at the bar. If you’re the kind of person who loves shopping, it could be going to local charity shops or thrift stores for hidden gems which are often cheaper, unique and sustainable. You could have a go at making your own toiletries or household cleaners. There are an infinite number of things you can do to make a difference and you will know which will be the easiest to start with. The key is just to start.
What practical tips or tricks can you offer for busy people who want to do better but just aren't sure how?
The trick is to be prepared. If you are the kind of person who enjoys buying hot drinks, take your own keep cup – many places now offer a discount if you bring your own cup. I also carry my water bottle EVERYWHERE which is a simple thing which saves being caught out and having to buy some in plastic. I also like to always carry a tote bag in case I have to pick something up on the way home, and cutlery to avoid having to use plastic forks and knives.
Another easy thing is to opt for loose produce. Even if you don’t have access to a farmer’s market or bulk shop, you can almost always find loose fruit and veg in the supermarket. If you do have a farmer’s market or bulk shop nearby, it’s even easier.
The key to reducing disposables is to use your voice. When you order a drink at the bar, ask for it without a straw. When the server helping you in the supermarket reaches for a plastic bag to put your produce or loose rolls in, politely say “That’s okay, I can put them straight into my bag here”. Whenever I plan on treating myself to a cake or a smoothie when I’m out, I take a Tupperware or a bottle and ask them to put it straight in there for me, which they’re cool about as long as you ask nicely. Taking just a few moments to think through what you are doing that day can save you a lot of waste in the long run.
How has this journey changed from when you started? For example: after two weeks how much trash did you accumulate compared to how much waste you 'produce' today?
When I first started on this journey, the difference in waste seemed barely noticeable. I was probably recycling more but that was about it. The biggest changes probably came when we started composting and when we started buying our food unpackaged. There was a noticeable change, but we were still so far away from where we are now.
Then I started to clean up my diet and stopped impulse buying snacks; I started buying my sister’s birthday and Christmas presents from charity shops – she loves them all by the way! – and I was militant about avoiding food waste. I kept chipping away at my husband and got him on my side which made the world of difference. He started using my homemade toiletries; he would try to recreate his favourite snacks at home to avoid waste; he started avoiding anything which came in plastic as far as practicable and now does his best to buy my birthday and Christmas gifts second-hand.
These days, we are a zero-waste team. We took a tote bag to a gig recently and ordered cans as all the bottled beers were being decanted into plastic cups, then put the empty cans in the bag to take home and recycle; we’re those people! We think through all purchases carefully before money exchanges hands to determine if a) we actually need it, and b) if we can do it better. It sounds time-consuming but it has become almost like a reflex reaction and we organise our lives by a different set of priorities than we had at the beginning.
Have you been able to inspire anyone to follow suit? Close friends, family, neighbors?
My husband is now a zero-waste ambassador; I think he sees it as a fun challenge. When we were having a drink in Budapest for his birthday, he opted for peanuts at the bar rather than pretzels because the nuts were in a big jar and the pretzels came in separate bags.
My mother-in-law is also removing more and more plastic from her life which is absolutely amazing and, although I have no concrete evidence of any follow-through, there have been at least three different occasions when I’ve taken my jars bulk shopping and another shopper has asked how to go about it, saying they’re going to bring their next time now they know how easy it is. Planting seeds is good enough for me!
Have your grocery shopping habits changed? If so, how? (items you purchase, portions/size, fresh vs processed, have you saved money?)
Definitely! Whenever I’m in the throes of an impulse buy, a little voice literally stops me in my tracks. Sometimes, I still buy the thing but more often than not, I pick up something else or realise I’m not actually hungry and it needs to be put down. The only processed food we buy is crisps as a treat sometimes, but nothing as part of a regular shop.
The snacks I do buy tend to be nut butters as they come in a jar, or fruit as I can eat or compost the skin. Also, buying loose produce means we never waste food at home because 1) we only buy what we need so nothing goes off, 2) we always target the oldest food first and plan our meals that way, so nothing goes off, and 3) I am vegan, pretty much all of my diet is fruit and veg and I make my way through it pretty quickly, so nothing goes off!
Discovering the bulk shop has saved us so much money too. At the supermarket a 43g jar of cumin costs £1, but if I take a jar to the bulk shop I can get 100g for about 90p. The farmer’s market has been another god-send because I can buy organic, loose food straight from the farmer (which makes it cheaper). Good for my health, good for my bank balance, good for their business and good for the environment.
Has reducing waste affected your social life at all? (How many times you go out to eat a week, shopping with friends, etc)
I wouldn’t say I go out any less because of reducing waste, I just handle the whole situation differently. If I’m going out with my friends, I will carry a glass straw in my bag and ask for my drinks without one. When Steve and I went to Glastonbury, we bought steel cups to have all our drinks in instead of the endless stream of paper cups they give you. If I am given something which can be recycled or composted and I’m not convinced it will be, or we are out and about, I will take it home with me to dispose of it properly. Like I said, I am just prepared, and sustainability has moved to the forefront of my mind, so it’s influences everything I do.
At the end of the day, I do what I can and try not to berate myself for letting small things through. That’s not a way to live your life and I want to keep zero-waste as a positive thing, otherwise it will be a struggle and I’m less likely to make the changes. I’m doing the best I can do reduce my own waste and educate others about how they can do the same and right now, that’s good enough for me.