Sustainability and zero waste are woke buzz words these days but I was living in a sustainable manner long before I knew what it meant.
Growing up with parents who were a lot older than me (closer in age to some of my friends’ grandparents) meant we had a “waste not, want not” lifestyle.
I remember carefully washing glass jars and peeling off the labels for recycling, using newspapers to dry up spills and light the stove and of course, wearing hand-me-downs and charity shop clothes.
When I made my Communion, my mother even had her wedding dress made into a dress for me – now that’s economical!
We lived on a farm, drank our own cows’ milk, picked blackberries and crabapples and wrapped our sandwiches in old bread wrappers instead of tinfoil. It might sound grim but it was a very thrifty and sustainable lifestyle.
Now, we were far from perfect, country living means driving pretty much everywhere and of course, we ate meat (apart from my very brief stint as a vegetarian).
There were aspects of my upbringing that I didn’t like, as a teenager I wanted all the latest trends from the chain stores but my mother did buy me new clothes and shoes when I really needed them.
When I left home and lived with other people, I was shocked by how some thought nothing of throwing out food or clothes.
I didn’t know how to recycle properly but I tried to recycle as much as I could and also dispose of my old belongings in a responsible way.
Nowadays, most people (myself included) are a lot more informed about living a sustainable life and how our wastefulness is killing the planet.
I get very anxious when I think about the harm caused to the environment by our incessant dumping, polluting and use of toxic substances.
I cringe when I see workmates casually flinging coffee cups and dirty cartons into the recycling bin without a care.
I often hear things like “oh I never thought of that”, when I mention that I’m trying to cut down on using plastic etc. I try not to preach as that just alienates people but I think we all need to be living more sustainably for the greater good.
While I don’t see myself having children any time soon (if ever), it does bother me that the next generation will be greatly affected by our actions now.
And it’s not just about people but also animals and plants which don’t willfully damage the earth but still suffer the consequences.
Here are a few simple changes I’ve been making to my life in order to live more sustainably. I don’t see myself becoming a vegan, or giving up driving or travelling completely but I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint.
Minimising plastic waste
When I go grocery shopping, I buy loose fruit and veg as much as possible or in a rigid plastic or cardboard container as that can be recycled. Soft plastics (anything you can scrunch up in your hand) are no longer being recycled in Ireland so I’m trying to cut down on them.
I also always take a shopping bag or rucksack – there’s no need to buy a plastic bag, I’ve approximately 70,000 of them at home.
Another way to cut down on plastic is to bring a lunchbox for meat or fish from a deli counter.
Buying in season/locally produced food
When I’m food shopping, I try to buy as much Irish produce as possible. This can be very hard in supermarkets, for example, Tesco tends to sell fruit and vegetables which have travelled from every corner of the earth.
If you can afford to shop at a butcher, greengrocer or farmer’s market now and again, these are good places to pick up fresh local produce. Obviously, these options aren’t available to everyone, particularly if you live in the countryside or have very little money for food shopping.
Zero waste markets and shops are popping up in several cities now, I found an excellent one in Phibsborough called Noms where you can buy food, household products and beauty products.
Using public transport or cycling
Again, this one is tough for those who live in the countryside and is more applicable to city-dwellers.
I used to always drive to work until my car died but now I only drive at the weekends when there are limited trains. As I work shifts, there’s no public transport that would get me to work early enough so I have to take a taxi in but I take the train home.
I also started cycling late last year, something I was very nervous about because cycling in Dublin is no joke but I am a lot more confident now. Dublin Bikes cost only €25 for a yearly subscription, making them much cheaper than public transport.
Separating waste correctly
Yes, it’s a pain in the hole but I’d rather that than a hole in the ozone layer! I now have three bins in my apartment, one large one for recycling paper, rigid plastic and cardboard, a smaller bin for food waste (I use compostable bin liners in this) and an “everything else” bin.
All recycling should be clean and dry so that means washing out cartons and containers and letting them dry. I tend to do this while washing the dishes so it’s just part of the routine.
It took a while to get everyone using the bins correctly and taking three bins out can be laborious but in the long run, it’s not a big deal.
You can find recycling guidelines on Repak’s website.
Switching up your toiletries – soap bars, toothbrushes, tampons
Bars of soap are definitely more awkward than hand soaps and shower gel but they do the same job, and you can use them to shave with and there’s no waste left over.
I store my bar of soap in a plastic box to stop it melting all over the shower.
I haven’t tried toothpaste tabs or shampoo bars yet but these are definitely on my list. I also now use a bamboo toothbrush and the only issue I have is that toothpaste tends to stick to the brush and you have to clean it regularly.
Recently, I bought a Mooncup, hoping that it would be a good investment but I actually haven’t been able to use it, I think I bought the wrong size.
If you can’t use or afford a menstrual cup (they are pricey), you could try using non-applicator or cardboard tampons to minimise plastic waste.
In the long run though, a menstrual cup is much cheaper. Another option is resuable period-proof underwear (yes such a thing exists and is apparently very effective), check out Colette’s review of them here.
My number one hobby is fashion so it may seem a bit hypocritical for me to be talking about being sustainable.
Fast fashion is a massive contributor to pollution but there are so many sustainable alternatives such as swap shopping, using the clothes you already have, charity shopping, vintage kilo sales and upcycling.
Markets are another place to get your sustainable style fix, you can even find designer items here.
I haven’t cut out fast fashion completely but I buy about 60% secondhand and 40% new clothing at the moment.
In this post, I’m wearing a vintage denim dress that I bought in Amsterdam, a €1 belt from a charity shop, my DKNY rucksack was €6 from a charity shop, but my runners are from Asos and my earrings are from Penneys.
Another way to shop more sustainably is to buy one high-quality item which will last longer. I got almost three years out of my last pair of Reeboks.
Reusable straws, coffee cups and water bottles
These days, I will always say “no straw” at the bar unless they have paper straws.
Paper straws are annoying when they go soggy but they’re less wasteful and I’m thinking of buying a metal one.
I almost never buy coffee in a disposable cup as I can’t bear the thought of them going in landfill. I do have a reusable cup but I don’t really use it as I usually bring my own coffee to work.
I have a Nespresso machine at home but I find the capsules quite wasteful (though I’ve seen compostable capsules in Noms). I try to use my moka pot more as the grounds can be composted.
If you are a Nespresso fiend, you can get recycling bags from your local store/concession.
I drink loads of water but almost never have to buy bottled water as I bring my water bottle everywhere with me.
Recently, our workplace got rid of plastic cups which I think is a great move. I’ve a metal bottle which keeps the water nice and cool.
These are just small changes and I’m aware that I’m very privileged to be able to make these. I live in a city with public transport and lots of shops, I have disposable income and I’m an able-bodied person. I know not everyone has the same opportunities or advantages as me.
I’m not perfect and I still need to improve my own efforts but I hope this post has provided some food for thought.
Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on sustainability.
I won a photo shoot with Sarah and I loved having a chat with her about sustainable style and blogging. she was a delight to work with!
Sarah has a degree in Earth and Ocean Science and Zoology and is passionate about protecting our environment. Check out her tips on reducing plastic waste here.
Total outfit cost: €100.20, dress €23.40, belt €1, earrings €3, runners €72.80.