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The drive to go zero waste and how you can do your bit

With World Environment Day on 5 June, we take a look at the drive to go zero waste, what our local community is doing to reduce the sheer amount of plastic we consume and touch on the best tips to go plastic-free

We’ve all been alerted to the increasingly desperate plastic problem in recent years, with the likes of David Attenborough flying the flag for reducing plastic consumption and the zero waste movement gaining real momentum and taking off in our local communities. More recently, we are seeing climate change activism playing out on our city streets in the form of Extinction Rebellion protests.

The average piece of plastic is used for 12 minutes but lasts 450 years, causing severe harm to wildlife. Every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever used is still sitting in landfill somewhere. Plastic takes 450-500 years to break down. These are the facts that are shocking us into trying harder with recycling. But with plastic films, pots and lids on just about the entire contents of our shopping baskets, it’s hard to know exactly what should be recycled. What’s more, vague rules like ‘check locally’ send confusing messages to hopeful recyclers, and when we think we’re recycling responsibly, we could in fact be contaminating entire boxes – placing a plastic pot in the wrong kerb-side bin, or putting our greasy cardboard takeaway box in with the recycling when in fact food traces can make the entire bin contents unrecyclable. What’s more, recycling is ultimately a business and recent newspaper splashes have highlighted that many companies are often happy to overlook ethics for cheaper options instead of prioritising responsible recycling.

With what we’re recycling, how we’re recycling and who is recycling it providing heightened cause for concern, the zero waste movement has gained momentum as a way of avoiding plastic products and recycling altogether. With community initiatives, helpful shops and local people doing their bit for their towns, there is reason to be hopeful and ways you can get involved.

So what are our local groups doing? Sustainable Merton is a local environmental charity which has been running for 12 years. Their role is to highlight climate change and advise both residents and businesses of Merton what they can do to reduce their impact. They do this by running projects which give the public the chance to learn all about the issue of climate change in a hands on and interactive way – through initiatives like tree planting and community gardening, to the Community Champion corps with dedicated locals proactively protecting by running projects and events, to those taking on projects such as rowing halfway across the Pacific Ocean to highlight the problem of waste in our oceans. Tom Walsh, who leads Sustainable Merton’s Community Champions, notes that his pet plastic peeve is take away drinks. “Buy a refillable water bottle and a personal coffee mug and we can cut down our need for throw away water bottles and coffee cups.”

Merton Abbey Mills’ very own zero waste shop is another recent development that makes the switch to zero waste all the easier. Shoppers can purchase all their basic food stuffs, from lentils to cereals, and pay per measure, ultimately shunning plastics altogether from your weekly shop. You can also refill your liquids – from oils to vinegar to shampoo and laundry soap. Buying a new bottle each time is wasteful and unnecessary – you’re paying for the marketing and packaging of every singly bottle you buy – so refills can also save you money.

zero waste

Wimbledon’s Green Coffee is a community meet-up where you can get to grips with zero waste if you’re keen to learn more about making the switch. Topics also encompass all things local environment, spanning everything from the Merton Cycling Campaign to the Wimbledon Food Bank. Meet-ups take place the first Tuesday every month from 9.30am-11am.

Love Wimbledon is also harnessing the power of community by campaigning on a number of initiatives in Wimbledon. It is encouraging all pubs and clubs to eliminate single use plastics like straws wherever possible. They are promoting alternatives to single use plastics to new businesses in particular to consider when they are sourcing new suppliers. Love Wimbledon has also been doing its bit to encourage and promote the Refill app, which individuals can easily download and see where they can access free refills for their water bottle. The Love Wimbledon monthly market is also encouraging of a zero waste lifestyle, and is now single use plastic free. Traders have to provide alternatives as a proviso and Love Wimbledon offer a free market bag for expenditure over £20.

Paul Benton from the Putney Tidy Towpath Group (PTTG) is passionate about helping clear up the local community and hosts bi-monthly litter picking sessions covering the stretch from Putney Bridge to Queen Elizabeth’s Walk where everyone is welcome. The group is a community action group of local people who volunteer to solve the problem of litter and non-biodegradable items on the Putney Embankment towpath. Paul has noticed a change in litter patterns over the course of the project, proving that wider government action can have real effect. “Given plastic bags are an item that one would expect to be blown into the Thames, it is a testament to good environmental policy that people’s personal responsibilities to plastic bags have fundamentally altered. We now need to alter people’s use of single use drinking glasses and drinks bottles.” As well as highlighting the issue of plastic presence on the river with the group’s physical presence, PTTG also recently successfully lobbied for a new bin to be installed along a stretch of the river where there was previously no bin. “I believe the current thinking in regards to environmental policy is not about a few making dramatic changes, it is about all of us making minor changes to the way we live.”

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One regular participant on the PTTG river litter picking sessions is Diana Szpotowicz, who promotes a zero waste lifestyle in her online zero waste shop, Weeklyshop.co.uk. Her top tip for action is to take a survey of all bathroom products. “Choose plastic-free replacements such as shampoo bars, high quality soaps, deodorant in glass bottles and toothpaste tablets. Some are a bit more expensive up front, but they last triple the time a regular product would.” In the kitchen, Diana advises buying loose fruit and veg or opting for the local farmer’s market. “Other ideas include visiting a pick-your-own farm. Ask your bakery to put your bread in your own cloth bag, or make your own bread at home.”