If you look at my Instagram posts, you’ll know that I’ve been trying to reduce my waste and go toward a Zero Waste lifestyle since some time. I’m still far from being perfect though… This month was Plastic Free July and I decided to seize this opportunity to go further on my quest to live sustainably.
Before starting to share about my experience with this, I’d like to quickly talk about ‘What is Zero Waste ?’ & ‘Why Plastic Free & what is Plastic Free July ?’.
Zero Waste International Alliance describes Zero waste as :” a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”
Plastic Free July challenges people to get informed about single-use plastic impacts and then reduce their consumption of single-use plastic. Why is single-use plastic so bad is in itself a huge subject, that I might talk about more here at another time, along with the topic of waste in our society in general, but for now, I wrote shortly about it for the Climate Leaders Initiative Mauritius blog here, if you wanna read some of my thoughts on the subject.
Can you go Plastic Free/ Zero Waste in Mauritius ???
Can you go 100% Plastic Free or Zero Waste Anywhere ? I don’t know. I believe though, that even if you can’t be perfect in an endeavor, trying and doing something is better than doing nothing.
The first step in going Plastic Free is often in switching away from everyday disposable plastic items and replacing them with re-usable alternatives : for example, switching from plastic disposable water bottles to a re-usable one [and a water filter if you do not trust the tap water where you live; even with that, it’ll most likely very soon be more economical than to everyday buy new water bottles], bringing your own coffee cup instead of using a disposable coffee cup each day, or bringing your own cutlery with you. It’s also about remembering the first ‘R’ of the philosophy of Zero Waste – ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot’ – that is ‘Refuse’. It can be interesting to re-evaluate what you bring into your life, and if you truly desire all of these – and then learn to refuse what you do not align with. This can be done pretty much everywhere I believe.
Okay, so bringing my stainless steel water bottle with me everyday was now an habit, I sat in cafes that used real [as in ‘not disposables’] cups if I wanted to drink some tea or coffee, and I did my best to either eat in restaurants that used real cutlery or to eat something that didn’t come with plastic waste when I ate out … but there was more plastic than that in my life !
So I challenged my household to try to go three days without plastic … We failed; but we learned a lot !
First, trying such a challenge helps you realize how much plastic you use in your everyday life and how much waste you generate. Once you are aware of this, you can start to look into how to start shifting your lifestyle if you feel inspired to.
What I personally got out of this challenge is that maybe everyone needs to take this journey at their own rhythm and see what works for them – just as with any lifestyle, this one needs to be tailor-fitted to the unique being that you are and the situation you’re in -there’s no an ‘one-fits-all’ answer. What are easy shifts for me, might not be for you; and what is easy to shift for you, might not be for me. See what works for YOU.
It might also be about shifting what you’re used to buying. You might not be able to find a plastic free version of exactly what you’re used to use; see what you have access to and go from there.
What did The Household in general thought of this experience ?
+ It requires planning : You need to start tracking where you can get this or that item, and then plan what you’ll need and when, to avoid having to run around the whole island to find the items you need for dinner. And yes, you also can’t get every products, everywhere.
+It might require more time : If there are a few things you can’t find package free and that you hence decide to make from scraps, be it food or toiletry items, it might take more time.
+It has the funny side effect of making you eat healthier : We’re used in the household to eat a lot of snacks, and well, most snacks are packaged. Avoiding plastic had the funny side effect of forcing us to eat healthier. Not a bad side effect !
Is it cheaper or more expensive ? As our experience was on such a short time, it would be hard to tell – but I think it really depends. It depends what items you were buying before and what you buy now, it depends where you buy it etc…
I realized the area we produced the more trash was the kitchen…
How did we go Plastic Free in the kitchen ?
+ For vegetables and fruits : You can either buy directly from farmers, go through vegetables basket delivery programs that are popping up around the island [just ask them to avoid plastic in your delivery, in my experience they might forget once or twice, but will eventually be fine with it], skip the plastic bag in supermarkets [some supermarkets weight everything at the check out – no bag needed; otherwise you can ask for the cashier to put the weight tag directly on the fruit -if it’s a bulky items you’re only buying one of-, or bring your own mesh bag and put the produce in it to weight – I used a see-through bag last time and the supermarket was totally fine with it], buy zero-waste from markets by bringing your own bag, grow some of your own produce [and exchange the surplus with friends and family! ].
+For meat, chicken, fish: I do not personally eat meats and dairies so can’t share first-hand experience, but was told some butcher shops were totally fine with you bringing your own container to buy meat or chicken. Or if you buy them from the delhi counter in a supermarket, you could try to ask for the items to be wrapped only in the paper they use and not put in a plastic bag afterward ?
+For beverages : Invest in a reusable water bottle – truly, it’s a life changer ! [And if you don’t trust the tap water, there are some awesome water filters around too ]. We’re lucky to be able to find beverages in glass bottles here, so this one isn’t too complicated [and some places still take the bottles back, so that’s pretty cool]. You can also try to make some of your owns at home, we make our own ice tea quite often in the household, and I tried homemade almond milk last time –easier than one may think. For hot drinks, if you can, stay away from the coffee machine, the capsule can’t be recycled; and try to buy tea in bulk or with the less plastic packaging possibles-it’s really just a matter of choosing which items to buy in this case.
+For all the rest : You can try to buy in bulk in local markets – I used my jars last time, and they were totally fine with it [In one case they weighted the jars first and then filled them directly; in another case they insisted on putting the product I was buying in the plastic bag they would normally use to weight it in, and then transferred it to my jar. I believe these situation are bound to happen in the beginning, until we have our new habits and know where it’s easier for us to go and shop. I was also advised that it might be easier to use fabric bags, I haven’t been able to find/make some bags for the moment, so can’t report on my experiences with those yet]. You can also buy a few items like nuts and sweets in bulk in a few supermarkets around the island, I’ve tried to bring my jars and found out that they’re usually fine with it [you might need to be willing to explain what you’re doing and why though]. You could buy from initiative specialized in bulk products like Good Old Thyme. You can look for the items you need in other package option [for example,we switched from the pastas we usually buy in plastic package to ones in cardboard package]. For bread, skip the ones in plastic bags, most places have them available in paper bags [and actually these paper bags for the bread are super useful to buy bulk items in if you forgot your jars/bags]. And finally you could try to make at home the items you can’t find plastic-free, if you can find the ingredients plastic-free.
Once again I really believe it depends on what works best for you – and for us it was a mix of all these options that worked best. Also remember that Zero Waste is still a new concept, and you might have to explain what you’re doing a few times, or have vendors that are less cooperative than others… In my experience, explaining the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing usually does the trick [and helps spread awareness at the same time].
Let’s also note that sustainability when it comes to food is so much more than just about packaging – it’s a tricky subject; so yes, let’s get informed and do our best – but let’s not be so hard on our-self if we can’t keep up to our own standards from time to time.
Of course, plastic is found in many more areas of our life and home – the bathroom, cleaning products ! – but this will be for another time [and is still a very big ‘WORK IN PROGRESS’ area for me too].
Lastly, I wonder if it’s not this act of breaking away from the norms and ‘how things are usually done’ that keeps most of us from trying this lifestyle ? This fear of maybe being thought of as ‘weird’ ? I know I’ve felt weird and feared ‘Jeez, why am I even doing this ?!?!’. It might feel weird at first, but just like every new habits, after some time it’ll feel natural! And yes, you might be considered ‘weird’ once in a while – I never actually encountered any negative comment toward me trying to live Zero Waste actually, but yeah it could happen- but then I realized that for me personally the positive impacts of trying this lifestyle easily overthrew the possible negative side glance. Something else I realized : even if you’re not sure at all of what you’re doing, try to act as if you do and are sure of yourself, usually people react better!
If you want more resources about going Zero Waste in Mauritius, there’s an amazing facebook group called Zero Waste Mauritius/ zéro déchet Ile Maurice and their newly created website.
& If you haven’t heard of Bea Johnson yet, one of the Big Name in the Zero Waste movement, you can watch her TEDx Talk – highly inspiring.
Disclaimer : As you can imagine, none of the links above are sponsored or anything – these are just people&initiatives I’ve met on my path, talked to, know; and that I know are truly passionate about this subject and could be helpful for this subject at hand, that I hence believe are worth mentioning.