Start Conversations with Brands about Zero Waste

One of the best ways to start engaging other people in your lifestyle choices is by having conversations with them. It’s probably best to not make it the first thing you say, but over time these things can and do come up. I talk about my lifestyle here on my blog, but recently I started to think about how I could make a bigger impact. More than just sharing posts on Facebook. I’ve started to write letters and emails to target specific brands. Brands that I’m already using and I like, but that could do with making better choices about the packaging they use.

It doesn’t always go well, I get a lot of excuses and well we’ve tried this and we think plastic is the best option. But I hope that if I keep engaging with them, over time and possibly suggest alternatives that they might start to listen. I don’t expect them to change for just one person, but imagine our consumer power if we all started doing this. They would have to listen, for fear of losing business! So this post is to encourage you to get out there and start engaging in conversation with brands. Don’t just sit back and feel frustrated about the lack of Zero Waste opportunities where you live. Let’s start campaigning for change!

Here are my top tips for composing a good letter:

  • Keep it friendly
  • Say how much you like their product (I only write to brands I enjoy using/ eating)
  • Say what makes you unhappy and tell them why. I’ve used my Council changing to fortnightly bin collections as a starter. I tell them I’m concerned about how much packaging goes straight in the bin, especially now my bin collections have halved in frequency
  • Ask if they’ve considered alternatives or suggest some, if you know of any.
  • Use statistics to back up what you’re saying – we live in an evidence based society, so they’ll love to hear about some relevant research. It makes you sound more credible and authoritative
  • End by saying you’d appreciate knowing their thoughts
  • It’s also a great idea to write and congratulate brands that are doing things well, even a short post to their Facebook page will boost them. I recently wrote to a supermarket who switched from using glass bottles with plastic lids for their spices, to glass bottles with metal lids. I told them how much I appreciated the change and why. I encouraged them to make more of those kinds of changes.

What are your top tips for initiating change? Have you tried writing letters to brands? Get in touch.

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Make the Most of Supermarket Vouchers

I don’t know about you, but at this time of year I find that the supermarkets are desperate to compete for my business. I have been deluged in vouchers and coupons by email, post and in-store all trying to get me to do my Christmas shopping with a particular retailer. I will use these coupons to my advantage and here’s how you can too.

  • Make sure you take a calculator to the shop with you, so that you just meet the threshold spend. This means you get the full value of the coupon.
  • Look on MySupermarket before you go and compare prices on the items on your shopping list. Make sure you’re buying them at the shop with the best offer.
  • Combine this with money-saving shopping apps, like Shopitize, Clicksnap, Shopinium and CheckoutSmart. This way you can either get an item for free with the app, or at a further discount PLUS you are getting the shop’s discount on top! Even better if it’s a store that gives loyalty points too. You could even spend some of your points and possibly get your shopping for free, or even by getting them to pay you to take goods away. (Yes, it does happen – I’ve done it myself on occasion). Stacking offers like this is the way to go!
  • Take the opportunity to stock up on essentials, if they are on offer. The shops want you to buy over-priced Christmas goodies, but hopefully being a minimalist, zero waste, money-saving type you are going to make these from scratch yourself and save a small fortune! So, take this opportunity to stock up on loo roll, mouthwash or whatever else you can get a good deal on and stash in the cupboard for next year.

For example, the last time I bought 4 pints of milk at Waitrose – they gave me a £6 off a £30 spend voucher printed from the till. Alongside some everyday items that we needed, I picked up 36 loo rolls. I basically got 16 of these for free and they were on a 2 for £7 offer which is the best price I know they are ever on sale for anyway. So I got a sweet deal here. At the till, they printed £8 off a £40 spend. Yes, they’ve upped the threshold but it’s still a pretty decent discount. If you’re shopping at Waitrose – tweak your ‘pick your own offers‘ and on top of the voucher, you can save 20% on those items. Check the internet for manufacturer coupons too, so you can save on certain products. Again, make sure you check MySupermarket and use them wisely, in the right store. If a product is already discounted, you can often take it away for FREE!

I absolutely hate going round the shops the nearer it gets to Christmas, so I am using this part of the month to stock on essentials like shampoo, tea bags, coffee, loo roll and so on. This way, I needn’t go near the shops for a couple of months at least! Fill your freezer, if you have space but make sure you leave room for any Christmas bits.

Look out for on-line only shopping vouchers too – I’ve been emailed a stack of these too. However they have MUCH higher threshold spends which are probably going to be too much for me (like £10 off £100 and that isn’t such a good deal, but better than none). They would be great for families though, or if you have a lot of visitors over the festive period.

Lastly, don’t over-stretch yourself! Make sure you have enough cash left to pay for Christmas. Maybe use your credit card to your advantage, but ONLY if you can afford to pay it off IN FULL when it becomes due.

Shopped- The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

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I’ve just finished reading this book- SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

– it’s been on my reading list for years and I spotted it in a charity shop! I wish I’d read it sooner, it was eye-opening. It has a lot of points that are relevant to becoming Zero Waste or Minimalist. I’d encourage you to read it, but I will try to give a flavour of it here.

One of the things which I knew a small amount about, was the buying practices of the supermarkets. But here, you can read about it- in all its horrifying detail. Waste is built into the supermarket system. They specify produce by size and weight and all that doesn’t meet specification is destined to be wasted. Even though it is perfectly good food. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was amongst one of the high profile people who highlighted this last year. Most of the reason they specify this, it because they want produce- for example, apples, to fit neatly into their plastic packaging.

All of the so-called offers you get at supermarkets, are usually funded by the suppliers themselves. Even though they know that it won’t gain them loyal customers, as British shoppers are so accustomed to moving onto the next ‘deal’. They are powerless to do anything about it, or they will be de-listed by the supermarkets. Since the majority of people do all their shopping at the supermarket, this could be catastrophic for the supplier. However, supermarkets are aiming to deal with less and less suppliers, as they streamline their systems to make the most profit. This means suppliers are going out of business anyway.

In their drive to reduce their costs, they do not care about quality- they just care about appearance. They want the fruit and veg they buy to sit on the shelf for days on end, looking just as pristine as day 1 when it was harvested. They have even developed particular varieties of fruit and vegetable, that have nothing to do with their superior taste and everything to do with their appearance. For example, Elsanta strawberries have no flavour, but are very firm and hence won’t get bashed around in transit. Furthermore, they encourage the use of way more chemical pesticides than farmers think healthy just to keep up this specification. Supermarkets don’t really support local produce, hence so many areas of the UK are facing the extinction of local varieties and dishes. They just don’t fit into the mass production model.

I have been shifting a lot of my spending to independents in trying to go Zero Waste. I aim to buy all my fruit and veg from my local green grocers now. Although occasionally I run out of carrots or something like that, but I can still buy these loose in the supermarkets if need be. But after reading this book, I want to try and shift all my spending. We’ve virtually cut out 75% of meat from our diet lately, partly for health reasons and partly for cost. But when we do buy meat, we try to use our local butcher. He also sells local, free range eggs. I am trying to find a local fishmonger, but it seems that they are all but extinct. We have a great local health food store where I can buy all kinds of loose dried fruits and nuts. They also sell locally milled flour and lots of other groceries. I will aim to spend more with them, although it will undoubtedly cost us more and we don’t have an infinite budget. However I feel so much happier knowing I am supporting the livelihood of local people and they are not part of the wasteful supermarket system.

Over to you, where do you do the majority of your shopping? Do you still have the option of independents?

Costa Coffee incentive to use your own cup!

I was really pleased to learn today that Costa Coffee are getting on the Zero Waste bandwagon and encouraging customers to bring their own re-usable cups into store, rather than disposable takeaway ones.

They will give 10p to Keep Britain Tidy every time a customer purchases a drink in a re-usable cup (sadly only between 21st April and 21st June 2016). I hope other coffee chains soon follow suit!

You can read the full story here: http://www.costa.co.uk/responsibility/environment/

Swallow This!

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I grabbed this off the shelf in my local library, as Joanna Blythman is an author/ journalist I really respect. She also wrote a book called SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

some years ago- revealing the ugly truth about the supermarkets. I was lucky enough to find a copy in a charity shop recently and it’s on my list to read.

Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets

has to be one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. At the end of 14 chapters, I actually wanted to cry. So yes, this is not uplifting reading- I read only one or two chapters a day for this reason. However- it is a subject we should all be educated on- it highlights the massive cover-up operation by the global food industry.

This is a topic I’ve always been passionate about, ever since my days of studying food and nutrition back in the late 1990s. But even I was out-of-date about so many of the innocuous sounding additives they sneak in, under the guise of ‘clean labels’. If I’m using terms you’re unfamiliar with, then I’m not going to ruin it all for you, I’m going to suggest you borrow a copy of the book from your local library. Joanna does a much better job at explaining everything than I do! It is so detailed and everything is referenced in a comprehensive index at the back.

I think that a lot of Minimalist and Zero Waste bloggers have covered some of the topics she talks about, such as BPA in plastics, plastic lined tinned foods and other food packaging, products being pumped with water (particularly raw and cooked meats) and the additives in commercially made bread, to give a few examples. However this book uncovers many more new food technologies that are only just being tried out on the human race.

It makes me more certain than ever that pursuing Zero Waste is the only viable option to maintain our health. It is the only way we can avoid being exposed to these chemicals and manufacturing techniques. The only hazard for me has been spending hours in shops scouring the labels (but as this book will teach you, many of the dangerous processing aids manufacturers use don’t even need to be declared on labels!) At times it leads to a new dilemma between choosing the more Zero Waste friendly option or choosing the safer food option that isn’t laced with so many chemicals.

Since reading this book I have made a concerted effort to steer away from Supermarkets as much as possible- opting for my local butchers, green grocers and health food stores. They are not perfect in terms of Zero Waste packaging, but maybe I can educate them. They are better quality foods and I am supporting local families and businesses. I am also going to buy a bread machine, so that we never eat nasty additive laced bread and bakery products again. I am even more consciously trying not to rely on canned goods and make my own food from scratch. Even if this means that I end up spending more time at home, engaged in traditional ‘homemaking’ type chores- I have decided that I would rather know exactly what I am putting into my body than pay for expensive, potentially dangerous manufactured foods.

I hope that I may be able to cover some of the chapter topics in more detail in future posts, but I just wanted to get this post out there so that you can share in this information. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this book, so please come back and comment when you have!