Everyone's story of how they decided to start living a zero waste life is different, and none are better than another but stories are how we inspire others so I thought I would share mine. How I ended up deciding to live a zero waste life isn't a straightforward story, so I hope you bear with me.
My journey started on my medical elective at the end of my time at medical school. I spent time at a mission hospital in rural North India, after a week in Goa with my husband. During my time in the hospital I met amazing doctors and nurses and got to see how they ran the mission hospital. It was so different to the NHS, but also so similar. One of the different things I saw there were a few cases of organophosphate overdoses, unfortunately mainly as suicide attempts. Organophosphates are used as a pesticide in many crops including cotton. This of course hugely impacted me and when I was home I started looking into cotton production as I wanted to understand the situation more. In doing so, I learnt about the benefits of organic cotton on the health of the cotton growers and found a whole new side of the Fairtrade movement namely companies producing Fair Trade clothing. The problems with the clothing industry however are not the focus of this particular post, but maybe a future one.
My reading led me to the blog of the amazing Kate Arnell (http://eco-boost.co) who talks about organic and Fairtrade fashion, but also talks about zero waste living. I had no idea what this was, and why you would want to do it because at this point I had no idea about the global impact of plastic pollution and waste. But slowly the lightbulb flickered on as I continued to learn more. I thought back to my time in India and the waste I had seen there. Our hotel had given us four 500ml plastic bottles of water every day, and after we used them we had to put them in the one bin, not even knowing if they would be recycled. There wasn't anywhere to refill the bottles either. The sides of the roads were scattered with litter, many being drink bottles and food wrappers. In a country where tap water wouldn't be safe to drink, its understandable that many bottles would be used, but all these bottles have to end up somewhere, and when recycling isn't working well in many parts of the UK so why should I expect it to in rural India? Our hotel was by a river that fed into the sea, and I can picture the rubbish that floated down past us and out to the ocean.
I'm not being critical of India and how they manage waste, because this is the story in countries all around the world. The UK may not look the same but it's the same problem. We produce waste that we cannot deal with. We produce waste that is recyclable without the facilities to recycle it, so we have to ship it half way round the world to get it dealt with. We all produce food waste but for the majority of Londoners at least, you won't see food scraps on the list of collected waste.
Plastic is actually an amazing invention and the advances it has led to in medicine alone are extraordinary. But it is a product that never biodegrades so we should only be using it for things that we want to last forever, or for where there is no other option. Not for disposable water bottles. But what are the alternatives when talking about safe drinking water for billions of people?
Once my eyes had been opened to the scale of the waste problem in India, I just couldn't stop seeing it in the UK. Coffee cups everywhere. The plastic that would cover my counters after unwrapping fruit and vegetables from my supermarket shop. Plastic bags stuck in trees despite the tax on them. Water bottles everywhere, even though we have the utter luxury of clean and safe drinking water. My eyes had well and truly been opened and I couldn't shut them again.
We have a plastic problem. More than that, we have an enormous waste problem.
However seeing the problem doesn't always mean that you decide to radically change your life. Many people watched Blue Planet II and then had a take-out coffee the next morning as normal. I believe the reason I was able to uproot and transform my life was because of my relationship with God. I believe that the world was created by a loving God who hates injustice, and so I couldn't just stand by and watch our selfish actions damage the planet and cause further injustice against poor and marginalised communities. This is why I was able to easily decide to live zero waste - because I am loved by a God who created the whole planet, and I know that even though this lifestyle can be hard, caring for what He cares about - our world - will bring me into closer relationship with Him and the planet.
People only start to change when they see or hear something that speaks to them personally and motivates them to do something differently. With such a varied world we need to speak to people in different ways to inspire the most people. My story might not resonate with you and your story might be very different. But your story will inspire someone whom mine fails to reach. We need people round the world telling their diverse and interesting stories, and sharing their varied motivations to care for our world. We won't save the planet out of obligation, it will be because we care
Share your story and inspire people.