Single use plastic bothers me a lot. Since I got a head injury I struggle with bright lights so home delivery supermarket is a life-changer. I shop from an affordable super market that sells loads of organic fruit and veg (weirdly they only seem to sell it online and not instore) however LOADS is wrapped in plastic and it really bothers me. I am looking at all possible ways to reduce my plastic use so I reached out the very lovely Elena at The Contented Company to get some advice.
Hi Elena, Welcome to No Mum Is An Island. I am a great believer that no mum or dad should have to do everything themselves, we can’t possibly know it all, and we need all the support we can get, there is a wealth of information out there to help us upgrade our parenting experience, to make our lives easier and this website is a hub for just that! You have upgraded your life by finding a way to reduce waste, get conscious about single use plastic and support others to do the same.
Under your inspiring Contented Company brand you have a Contented Earth can you tell us a bit more about this?
The Contented Company started life as Contented Calf. The name was inspired by my mother-in-law who gave me the advice when I was first pregnant: Contented Cow, Contented Calf – look after yourself, and you’ll be able to look after your baby. That phrase really stuck with me.
So when I didn’t have a job to go back to after maternity leave, and I had many product ideas bouncing around in my head, The Contented Calf Cookbook was born – a cookbook for breastfeeding mums of recipes containing lactogenic ingredients, and many of which that can be made in advance and frozen, to be re-heated when new parents are tired and hungry.
As my kids grew up, next came The Contented Kid Cookbook of Treats & Eats, as I wanted to give my kids treats, without all the preservatives, artificial colours and mountains of sugar.
And most recently, returning to my eco roots from my childhood, Contented Earth joined the family, focussing on Eco and Zero Waste Products and advice.
The Contented Company became the umbrella for all three aspects of what I do.
Can you tell us what Zero Waste actually means?
This is a tricky question to answer, especially in our modern, western world. But let me try…. 😉
If we think of ourselves as animals, we consume foods, process them in our bodies and then discard compostable waste that breaks down into organic matter, can then be re-used by other living organisms, namely plants.
However, as Humans, we also use ‘stuff’ as part of our daily living, whether that be that we wear, or ‘tools’ (in the very broadest sense) that we use.
In the past, both clothing and tools would have been made from natural materials – namely plants, animal parts and rocks or minerals. All of these would have been re-used again and again, and when they came to the end of their useful lives, they too would have gradually biodegraded.
This is not the case in the modern world. We buy manufactured products, not make things out of the natural resources around us. Some of those things are indeed made from natural material – wooden chopping boards, bamboo kitchenware, stone worktops etc.
However, many are not. They will not safely break down into reusable elements that other living organisms can use, and may take decades or centuries to break down at all.
In this imperfect world, the way I’m starting to think about it is:
- Single Use = Compostable
- If I’m buying something that’s disposable aka single-use, I need to aim for compostable – e.g. Bamboo Cotton Buds, instead of plastic
- Buy-Once, Forever-Use = Recyclable
- If it’s multi-use, I need to aim for it to be forever/indefinite-use. It needs to be buy-once, use-forever. And ideally, because no ‘tool’ (as defined above) lasts forever, without breaking, the materials it’s made from need to be recyclable.
I’ve written about this topic in more detail: https://thecontentedcompany.com/blogs/news/what-does-zero-waste-actually-mean and https://thecontentedcompany.com/blogs/news/zero-waste-what-is-the-circular-economy
Going Zero waste can be overwhelming can it be approached in steps and if yes how?
Absolutely. Environmental anxiety is a real thing. And it can be paralysing, which is no good to anybody. So I think you just have to make a start and choose one thing, and stick to that one thing until it becomes habit. And then and only then, move on to the next thing.
In terms of moving towards zero waste, I would start with trying to stop buying single-use plastics. A good example: we were in a service station on our way back from Yorkshire the other weekend and we had said the girls could get some sweets. If you look at a display of sweets and chocolate, 99% is wrapped in plastic, but there are one or two things that aren’t. We bought a tube of Smarties (in only cardboard) and a bar of chocolate (only in cardboard and silver foil). So it wasn’t zero waste, but all 100% recyclable and no extra plastic used.
What are some of the easiest changes we can make that reduce waste and single use plastic?
I think some of the easiest changes we can make is with the soaps we use:
- Hand Soap to a bar of soap
- Shower soap to a bar and a soap pouch
- Shampoo to solid shampoo
- Facial cleanser to a solid facial cleanser bar
And then switching a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one, cotton buds to bamboo ones, plus there are lots of plastic-free deodorant options too.
I have written three blogs detailing three levels of change from the easiest to harder changes:
- Straight Swaps on your journey to Zero Waste
- Simple Switch-Ups on your journey to Zero Waste
- Considered changes on your journey to Zero Waste
I read a lot about making cleaning sprays do you have a recipe you can share? Are they really that easy to make and are they as effective?
I do! I have a couple – a quick one and one that takes a bit longer: When I want to make a cleaning spray easily and quickly I simply do the following…
In terms of effectiveness, yes they are as effective I find. That said, I haven’t used chemical cleaners in my house for years. But when the limescale in my toilets starts to build up, I just pour some white vinegar down there and let it sit, and it all scrubs away with the loo brush! My taps sparkle and my cooker shines. So yes, they are effective enough for me 🙂
Is there anything else you want to share with families that want to start making more conscious eco decisions about their household waste?
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – just don’t become overwhelmed. Choose one thing you want to focus on and work on that first and foremost. Then once that’s become a habit, then move on to the next thing. The other thing I would say, is you will have to have some difficult conversations with your kids about ‘missing out’ – hunting for the plastic-free treat, not having the strawberries from the super-market because they come wrapped in plastic, not having the magazine wrapped in plastic to hold in the little plastic toys. They will feel different, and it’s hard for them. But just keep trying. And don’t beat yourself up when you do give in (because you will!) Just take a deep breath, move on and resolve to do better the next day.