Our Little Journey to Becoming a Zero Waste Family!

By Angela Matthews, Owner of Bee Sew Responsible, Middlesbrough, UK

Why did you start your zero waste Journey?

How can I tell you an exciting story about “plastic” without boring you so much that you get distracted from the sponsor banners down the side of this post? To be fair, if Ryan Reynolds was trying to sell me broadband from a side banner, I’d be distracted too! For those of you who want to be here: Namaste, Bonjour, Hola, Privet, Kalimera, Witaj, Hallo, Ciao, Salaam, Ola Folks. I’m glad to meet you!

I started my journey as an individual, before transitioning my family. It’s easier to do the children, but the husband needed some persuading! Now he actively approaches me with things and asks if something can be recycled or composted!! Monica, my eldest 2.5yr, picks up rubbish wherever we go and puts it in the bin; I guess she’s watched me too many times!

I first started to think about my impact when we found out we were having Monica, and a friend of mine told me the horrific statistics that occur with disposable nappies. She was pregnant at the same time and was planning on using Cloth Nappies, which I’d never heard about before. I convinced my husband, who eventually loved them just as much as I did. During my maternity with my first child I was stuck in the house and up all hours, Netflix was my saving grace at 1 and 2am! But it also opened my eyes to what we were doing. I knew, in my heart, we were deteriorating this planet; but actually seeing statistics and the footage of what we were/are doing was another matter. As a child, my mum and family members always said I was a “hippie" because I’d shout at people for littering.

When I was a teen, I guess I lost my way to follow the crowd, instead of my own path. Now I’m treading my own path again. Now that Malcolm, 10 months, is here, I couldn’t be happier. When I was a kid the hedgerows were clean, the streets didn’t have rubbish on the floor, there wasn’t plastic bags in the wind; now if you walk down any hedgerow, you will find all types of garbage, waste, and plastic! It deeply saddens me as I’m looking at the world in a different perspective. We are leaving this earth to our children. I don’t want them to see plastic in hedgerows as the norm, or see plastic when they go swimming in the sea. An ancient American Indian proverb that I think it is important to remember, "We do not inherit the earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our children”. It’s our human nature to want the best for our children, so why does it need to be so materialistic? We have forgotten that the thing we live on is a planet, we need the earth to survive and most of all we have lost our connections to the earth. When we give them the plastic bottles to drink from, we are starting our children off on a future of normalising plastic and all the chemicals that they are in them.

What are the ways your family is Zero Waste?

As a family, we compost our left-over food (and cardboard sometimes to balance out the green in a compost you need to add “brown” to stop smells and create a good compost! Who Knew!!). We recycle our bottles; cans; papers. We use Salveo Indian Soap Nuts in our washing machine at a low 30 degrees and on a low spin cycle of 1000rpm. We use 100% New Zealand Wool dryer balls on an extra spin cycle so that we can dry our clothes quicker. We use The Charcoal Company’s water filters instead of Britta filters, for example, which can be composted afterwards or placed in the fridge to absorb smells. We have a water butt in the garden that collects rain water for the plants, rather than use tap water. We also use loose leaf tea or TeaPigs Tea so that it can be composted and no plastic residue left for the plants. We also make our own nut milks in a nut bag, I have tried butter but need a churn to do this, unsure of whether I will try this again as the result didn’t last as long. We all have Bamboo toothbrushes and 100% Organic Cotton Bamboo Buds, which can be composted. We did use cloth nappies with our eldest, but haven’t in a while due to excessive washing with two little ones and no place to dry them when the weather wasn’t dry. We use steel straws when out with the kids and also have our own cutlery sets that we take out in our reusable shopping bags. I have Indian tiffin boxes for lunch and reusable cups to take to work with me, once I return, instead of wasting money on expensive convenience food. We both use a shampoo bar from Lush with their square tins and Reusable Safety Razor’s. However we still use kids soap/shampoo that come in plastic bottles (due to the abundance we have received over the years) and the best decision I ever made was starting to use a Diva Cup! I’m not going to lie, it takes a couple of cycles to get used to it, but after that hump it’s glorious!! And my periods are lighter and shorter as a result, a happy coincidence. I’m so glad I do not have to deal with the chemicals in monthly sanitary wear.

What kind of challenges do you face in your zero waste Journey?

On the business side, the challenges I face come from the lack of understanding or wanting to change from other people. In my personal life, the majority of the challenges come from my kids. My kids want everything that is either wrapped in plastic or a is a disposable piece of plastic! From the teether’s they use to get their teeth through, to the bottles they are drinking from! If you need to know why this disturbs me please I urge you to watch “A Plastic Ocean” or “A Mission Blue”.  Also, I will hold my hand up because my husband and I are Pepsi Max Addicts. We have tried to quit but it doesn’t happen. Instead, I am trying to find other ways to use the 2ltr bottles we keep accumulating each week!! It really is ridiculous now that I think about it! But it’s the only thing we splurge on. We don’t drink, smoke, or go on nights out any more, as we have two kids under 3. That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking to it! I do know the statistics are bad. 15000 single use bottles are thrown away every SECOND and here’s me contributing to this. We have both vowed to cut down and eventually wean ourselves off the black nectar. I know the health implications are really bad.

Have you always been interested in sustainability?

I’ll admit that no, I haven’t. In my child/early teen, I had environmental books and such. When I got to secondary school (middle school) -- Bam! That’s when I fell into the mind set of “this is what we need to do…think…feel in the midst of trying to confine to normality." Not only has it become important to sell environmentally friendly products, but to talk about them and share the problems we need to address. This has awakened a source of excitement in me!

How long have you had your Etsy shop?

I started my Etsy Shop in March 2017, after realizing that zero waste items were too expensive for the people in my area to afford. Most people shop at the Poundshop (99cent Store) because there is one on every high street offering cheap, but nasty goods. It all started with our Beeswax Wraps, because I wanted to use an alternative to cling film. After seeing some DIY tutorials, I thought I could do this myself.

What do you think are the most difficult parts of the zero waste lifestyle?

Buying food! You can be starving in a supermarket and it’s so easy to grab anything from that convenient fridge at the entrance of the door! The snack packs for the kids, the individually wrapped things, so the toddler doesn’t eat it all in one sitting. The next thing for me is deodorant, I’ve tried quite a few brands and let’s say that I am less than impressed as I can still smell me or feel conscious of what’s going on. I can go days without using deodorant, only using it on nice nights out.

Why do you think more people haven't transitioned?

Honestly, my age group seems to be more aware of the difference from our childhood to what the world looks like now. As a result, I feel these are the age groups who are transitioning. Many from my generation still know what hedgerows or fields look like without unnecessary plastic or litter in them. We also went to the shop with our bottles and reused them and our parents cooked everything from scratch. I think the main reason people won’t transition is cost. This is why I want to keep my shop affordable for all budgets and recommend not transitioning straight away, slowly is key. I’m still replacing certain things like plastic lunch boxes and haven’t got anywhere close to growing my own food! As I mentioned earlier, when you can get a five pack of plastic toothbrushes for £1/1$, why would you look or think about the actions and repercussions behind this purchase? If the truth was shown to everybody on the shelves or regularly displayed I’m not so sure everyone would buy the disposable plastic. However when people are in a rush, hungry, or thirsty, it won’t matter what you offer. It’s a fast lifestyle we lead, without any patience or concern for the environment.

Why has our society become reliant on disposables?

I feel that our society has become more disposable simply because the option is there. Our human nature is to take the shortest route possible to get what we need, expending the least amount of energy possible. Whether this is to cut across the field instead of walk around it, or to microwave our food rather than to source the ingredients and then cook it. Many of you will say, “I’m not lazy, I am efficient”!!! In the UK, we have banned the plastic bag; instead we charge 5 pence for the smallest one. This allows people to question if they want to pay for the small bag. People only have a certain amount these days to spend after bills and they spend it on what they feel is worthy. Ask people to spend £10 on a bag of Soap Nuts that will last them anywhere from a year to 3 years on washing, when they have £10 for the week is not feasible. However I can only speak for my experience of my area and the type of people surrounding it, I am from a small town in North East England, 40 mins south of Newcastle and 1 hour north of Leeds. In my town we have been hit hard by unemployment and we are now one of the poorest towns in the UK. This also prompted me to begin thinking about sustainability. Our town’s citizens need a reusable revolution to utilise the little money it has to invest in necessities.

How can I improve my impact?

We can all improve, right?! Nobody’s perfect. My family and I have certainly failed on many occasions this Plastic Free July, especially on our minibreak! It made me realise how daunting it can be for someone who is starting out on the Zero Waste journey! We did not plan well, even though we thought we had! I think we could start to use cloth nappies again. In the future we could convert my diesel car to a gas car or hybrid. I can stop buying food that has been heavily processed, as my kids shouldn’t really be eating it anyway. I could also lessen my pointless journeys in the car to shops I don’t need to go to, to buy things I don’t need. I could religiously buy fruit and veg without a plastic wrap and bulk buy goods. I could also only buy clothes from charity shops, online like Ebay or Facebook groups, the same with the kid’s clothes. I could also, when needed, get the kids wooden toys instead of plastic ones. I could also source our milk in glass bottles, as I am aware that this still occurs somewhere! Oh god, I could actually go on and depress myself with how little I’ve done! Hah. The main thing I take from our little zero waste journeys is the fight and passion in me to raise awareness and to set our family on the right path. As long as that path steers true it doesn’t matter how long or how far it will go! Everybody can start to be zero waste just try it you might like it!!......

If you want to follow me on facebook @beesewresponsible or Instagram @beesewresponsible5456 please do! No trolls though! haha I gave up playing with them in primary school! Love and hugs guys and gals. Angela and family! xxxx