Be inspired by the Zero Heroes for Zero Waste Week

With sustainability being one of the most significant watchwords of our times, the opportunity to find innovative ways to live our lives by this term is abundant. While some brands use 'greenwashing' tactics and environmental and sustainability reports sometimes seem overwhelming, even leaving us with a sense of apathy, it's crucial to remember that, as one supermarket chain claims (and rightly so), 'every little helps! That's where Zero Waste Week comes into effect. This annual campaign begins on the 5th of September, encouraging people to reduce the use of synthetic materials, whether by recycling plastic, thinking of inventive solutions for its reuse and finding innovative ways to live with less waste.

Zero Waste Week uses the adage' there's no such place as away' because when we throw something in a regular bin or a recycling bin, it's really going somewhere else. And often, that 'else' is a place that is harmful to wildlife and our ecosystem. By raising awareness of our collective and individual responsibility for what we consume, Zero Waste Week seeks to demonstrate how the short-term usefulness of a package or product is only a tiny part of its overall lifecycle. By asking people to take part in the initiative, the campaign hopes to work toward long-term habitual changes. Whether it is encouraging the demand for sustainable products, or lobbying governments and producers, it aims to galvanise individuals and communities to make positive changes for the next generation.

Founded by Rachelle Strauss in 2008, Zero Waste Week began as a national campaign in the United Kingdom with the focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling, after she witnessed the Boscastle flood, which directly resulted from climate change. Fast forward to 2022, and one small idea has become one global initiative. This online campaign now supports households, businesses, organisations, schools, universities, and communities through events from international groups in multiple countries and cities, including London, Scotland, New York and Hong Kong. 

From buying reusable coffee cups to taking canvas bags to the supermarket, there are many simple ways to live sustainably whilst contributing to the welfare of all. And the benefits that come from these changes may even be surprising. For instance, while choosing to buy local rather than from a supermarket may not seem convenient or beneficial to us individually, this allows us to purchase unpackaged food, support local enterprises and build relationships across our communities. Local shopping is just one lifestyle change adopted by a Zero Waste Week advocate who was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. There are many more that are easy to implement and hugely impactful. Let's look at some of the Zero Waste Week Heroes whose lifestyle changes can inspire us to do our part.

The Recycling Manager

Ander Zabala has been working in the recycling sector for over 20 years. In 2019 he began exploring the Zero Waste Week movement with his partner Adam, starting the #1bin1year initiative, where they spent a year collecting their waste to see just how much rubbish they produced. This project was beneficial on a professional and personal level. Ander felt that by really considering how he could change and produce less litter, he could encourage others to do the same, writing a blog about his findings. Whilst they were already composting and recycling, the aim was to keep their waste (non-recyclables) to the size of one 120-litre bin for one year. Ander felt that the best way to incite his behavioural change was to make a public pledge and document it regularly; this enabled him and Adam to stick to their commitment.

Changes that team 1bin1year made included: 

  • Cutting down on Amazon deliveries
  • Donating clothes to local charities 
  • Making deodorants
  • Using package-free pulses and vegetables
  • Shopping locally rather than online
  • Growing their veg
  • Using refillable containers to shop
  • Using own containers for lunch
  • Unsubscribing from mailing lists

During this time, they became experts at bread making, shopped local, built community ties, and changed many of their consuming habits. Whilst they admit that there are expensive reusables in organic zero waste shops, with enough research, you can likely find many affordable alternatives. And buy consuming less in general, they were able to use the savings to buy some organic food. Here are some of their tips:

  • Check what's in your bin and avoid purchasing those things next time
  • Make a list of top things you could avoid/reuse the following week
  • Make small changes per week
  • Don't compare yourself to others; each household is different

If you want to read more about Ander's project and his recommendations for lifestyle changes, see his website here:

The Food Waste Advocate 

Ann Storr is a freelance brand storyteller and food waste and sustainability expert. Her passion is food waste. She began her journey when she was low on funds with two small children, wanting to ensure they ate home-cooked meals. Then she learned to be resourceful with what was left, making delicious recipes with ingredients like sour milk, fluffy apples and yellowing veg. Today Ann's website Storr Cupboard is full of innovative ways to use your less-than-fresh foods to help you save money and consume less packaged goods and, as she says, ensure that there's 'never a leftover leftover.'

While Ann writes in a frank and humorous tone, she admits that many Storr Cupboard recipes don't result in glamorous dishes; they are helpful and a great way to save on food waste and excess packaging. Recipes include 'flexible flapjacks' you can fill with leftover cereals, grains and fruits and homemade quiche, a tasty yet easy recipe for using up slightly older veg. At the same time, her fish finger fishcakes make a great economical alternative.

Ann also has a solution for 'frozen greens' so that all those well-intentioned spinach and cabbage purchases don't go to waste but are saved in small frozen portions to use as and when necessary. You name the ingredient, and we'll bet Ann has a recipe for you, so your weekly shop will be smaller, cheaper, and will also help the planet.

Ann also regularly speaks at panels and presentations where she regularly discusses food waste, food politics, food ethics, food inequality and sustainability.

You can see more of Ann's food waste advice on her webpage here:

While Andre and Ann demonstrate some of the ways that you can make a difference to your waste at home, there are many ways that businesses can also make their mark.

The Paper Savers

Ricardo-AEA is an internationally renowned consultancy with environmental and energy expertise. They help the public sector and global companies to identify and resolve sustainability challenges by harnessing opportunities in areas such as air quality, energy, resource efficiency, sustainable transport, and waste management. They previously took part in Zero Waste Week to ensure that they practised the advice they offered. They pledged to introduce the concept of a zero-waste lunch and save paper by turning off their printers once a week. 

Other things they did to reduce waste were:

  • Purchased items in bulk and chose recycled content items
  • Replaced individual bins with one central container in each open office area so that there was less incentive to produce waste
  • Set all computers to print on both sides 
  • Office clothes swap for unwanted clothes

Their advice to other businesses wishing to reduce landfill waste is to engage with staff, ask their opinions, and above all, make it fun! Finally, the best motivator is to report back on progress so that staff can see how much their changes are making an impact.

Other zero waste advice to help businesses include:

1. Appoint a waste prevention team to brainstorm ideas, raise awareness and motivate staff throughout the week.

2. Take a waste audit – supply clear bin bags for waste for a week and see what people are throwing away. 

3. Once you've done your waste audit, see if you can:

  • Swap products from a disposable option to a reusable one.
  • Pick an item where you could purchase a recycled option.
  • Look for refill opportunities for products like ink cartridges.
  • Find concentrated products for cleaning supplies.

4. Set up a space outdoors as a 'staff garden'. Compost food waste, tea bags and banana skins, and grow some of your own food.

5. Organise a community litter pick.

And there are many more suggestions on the Zero Waste Week Website:

These zero waste advocates are just a few who are considering their habits, whether at home or work, and taking the time to be part of the zero waste solution. They demonstrate that so many lifestyle changes are simple and easy to adopt and often produce unexpected individual and global benefits. From saving you money to being more considerate about what you consume, and therefore eating more healthily, which always makes us feel better. You'll also be supporting the circular economy, supporting local businesses, and building community connections. And if you tell your friends and family, then you may even inspire them to do the same. By joining the Zero Waste Week initiative for seven days, you'll have the opportunity to assess and amend how you live and work, be part of a positive change movement, and, perhaps best of all, you'll be a zero hero. And who doesn't want to inspire the next generation…. and be a hero while they’re at it!

Sign up for Zero Waste Week here:

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