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On the second of May 2015, I threw away a box of mushrooms I had let go off in my fridge. The day before I threw out a red pepper that grew green mould. The day before, my housemate threw out a block of cheese that had white mould.
But on the third of May, I realised I had to make a change.
My current lifestyle may be echoed by millions of people across the world, but I feel guilty for the waste I produce. It’s easier to cruise the supermarket isles and pick things off shelves when everything is looking perfect and calling for you to eat it, drink it or use it. But this isn’t Alice’s wonderland, this is the earth.
Specifically, this is Brighton, England. An area with a massive homeless population and a massive student population. And here lie my two problems:
How can I over-consume whilst others under consume?
But, how can I afford to go waste-free on my student budget?
I decided to change my habits and set myself a challenge for the next seven days. My hope was that by wasting less, I’d spend less on food. My average weekly shop is around £15 from Aldi – a budget supermarket, and this is the target I set for myself. £15 on food and drink that adheres to a zero-waste lifestyle.
My immediate problem was that I rarely eat meat, instead buying quorn which comes in unrecyclable plastic bags. Generally, quorn is cheap, easy to freeze and quick to cook with – all student essentials. Meat is also one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions, and contradicts the idea of a sustainable lifestyle. For this week, I’d have to either go to a butcher and get local meat or forgo meat entirely.
I quickly realised this is going to be more difficult than I expected. Living waste free shouldn’t be a punishment and it shouldn’t negative impact my quality of life, and living without any protein will negatively impact my life. And whilst theoretically I could compost tea-bags and fruit peels, I live in a flat without a garden. I believe the allotment waiting list is around two years long. Composting isn’t an option in this city for a student sadly. Because of that, out goes any fruit or vegetable that I couldn’t use the entirety of – bye bye bananas.
I made two exceptions – I could waste tea leaves, but only loose tea and not tea bags, and, I’d try to find alternate uses for the used leaves. Secondly, I could use the products I already owned that comes in recyclable packaging, and buy things in recyclable packaging also.
With these exceptions made, I felt ready to attack my local retailers. I was unsure what I’d do on the meat and cheese situation since both are usually packaged in un-recyclable plastic. At least egg cartons are recyclable so I wouldn’t be totally devoid of protein.
Now, my diet varies from healthy vegetable curries to a solero and a packet of frazzles for dinner. Living waste free rules out a crisp-packet diet and means I would have to be less lazy in my eating. I jotted down a rough meal plan on my EU Environment R&D post it from the Milan conference, and headed to an ATM, withdrew my £15 for the week and got to work.
First I headed down to Aldi, my usual haunt, and set to work looking for anything that wasn’t wrapped in plastic. The fruit section was a complete bust, but I found a butternut squash for 45p, milk and a bag of sugar. The total: £1.83.
Rather pleased with my haul, I headed off to HiSbe. HiSbe is unassuming in both name and appearance, but takes a radical approach to sustainability. It stands for “how it should be”, and they do live up to that aim. They have dispensers for a variety of foods. I let loose on the pasta, rice and all three varieties of chocolate in my old plastic bags, priced them up and headed over to the fresh produce.
Whilst my Aldi Butternut Squash may have more air miles than me, coming from South Africa, the same cannot be said for the produce at HiSbe. Only using Sussex producers, everything was fresh and local. I helped myself to carrots, onions and mushrooms.
I planned on eating bread for breakfast every day and lunch most days, but to my dismay only the artisan breads were loose, and I decided against spending £2 on a small loaf of bread. I’d have to make do with something else.
I paid, and saw a flyer about Bag: Reborn. It’s an innovative idea, which like many of the best lets plastic bags open out into bin-liners in three steps. HiSbe shows that if we want to support innovative sustainability initiatives, it’s important that existing successful organisations are open to linking with new ones to achieve their aims to the fullest.
With a heavy back-pack of goods, I headed home having spent £6.52 at HiSbe. Added to my £1.83 of Aldi, I still had £6.65 of my £15 left to spend. I needed cheese and bread, and some fruit wouldn’t go amiss. Going waste-free in Brighton was looking easy so far.
Part two to come on the 12th of June! Follow @arts_eu and @ThatMiriam to see how the rest of the waste free challenge went, and feel free to contribute your own experiences by tweeting @arts_eu with #wastefree