Ask Wendy

When Can I Call Myself “Zero-Waste”?

when can I call myself zero-waste

I’m starting off a new blog post format today – answering the questions I get asked via email and social media on the topic of sustainability. Let’s kick it off with this one. Got a question – email it to and I’ll try my best to answer it here.

Dear Wendy,

I’ve been working hard over the last six months to eliminate single-use plastic from my life, and I’m wondering at what stage can I call myself zero-waste? Is it when I’m not producing any waste? I’m feeling disheartened by it, because I haven’t been able to cut out all single-use plastic, and some days I despair over the amount of plastic that has entered my life just while I’m going about my daily business; whilst zero-waste YouTubers make it look so effortless.

Anon, Darlington

Dear Anon,

Aah, the age-old when can I call myself zero-waste question.

I have many thoughts about zero-waste.

What despairs me the most about the zero-waste movement, as it stands at the moment, is that by in large it shifts responsibility from producers, manufacturers, and retailers to reduce their plastic packaging, or to shift away from single-use plastic.

Instead, the onus is on us consumers to become plastic-free super-consumers. Super consumers that have the time, money and ability to research and seek out plastic-free options; to travel further to buy food essentials; to often pay considerably more for a product than it’s plastic packaged counterpart; and then be able to make everything from scratch.

Fail at any of these points and there’s judgment abound. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram or in some (not all) of the plastic-free Facebook groups then that judgment can at times be pretty free-flowing.

The thing is 100% zero-waste living is not possible. Our society is currently set up in such a way that zero-waste could not become mainstream any time soon. There isn’t taxation in place to punish retailers who use plastic packaging; there aren’t widespread recycling facilities to efficiently recycle every bit of waste. Questions on how we make zero-waste affordable, inclusive and accessible for all haven’t been answered.

This is not to discourage – this is to say that because of this everyone’s version of zero-waste looks different. As an able-bodied white woman in her late 30’s, with two young kids, living semi-rurally with my partner, and an income that gives us enough to pay our bills but with not an awful lot leftover means our version of zero-waste looks different to, say, a childless single professional in their 20’s living in a city served by many zero-waste shops; or to a person in their 60’s living with a compromised immune system, who can’t shop in bulk shops because of contamination risk but still wants to minimise their waste.

Comparing oranges to apples isn’t helpful, nor are fleeting statements proclaiming “anyone can go zero-waste”, when zero-waste doesn’t have a universal meaning applicable to all, or an agreed goal – visual or otherwise.

Some might say, isn’t zero-waste being able to fit a year’s worth of rubbish into a glass jar? That visual, after all, is social media catnip. I would disagree – zero-waste absolutely goes beyond being able to fit a year’s worth of rubbish in a glass jar; or any other visible benchmark.

There’s all the stuff that doesn’t look good on visual dependent sites, such as YouTube or Instagram – the visually uninspiring stuff. The reusing a carrier bag until it falls to bits? That’s zero-waste. The using a clothes horse in a spare corner rather than using the tumble drier: that’s zero-waste.

My own visually uninspiring version of zero-waste is that as I write this post, I’m sitting at my desk with a hot water bottle on my lap because I’m the only one in the house and I don’t want to put the heating on just yet. I don’t see that making it to YouTube any time soon, but I’m saving gas and potentially making a larger carbon saving than driving for me what would be a 30-mile round trip to be able to buy some packaging free pasta. The message here: you do what you can.

My advice, Anon? This has all been quite a long-winded preamble to say that I would ditch the zero-waste label. I use these kinds of labels on the blog because they’re useful for people finding my blog and articles through search engines, but in daily life, I would say they’re unnecessary at best, and a hindrance at worst.

Instead, keep doing what you’re doing – it sounds amazing. That’s not to breed complacency though – do more where and if you can. If you’re looking for suggestions that go beyond a jar of waste, then some that are easier than others include voting for those with green policies; switching your financial products from those in invest in fossil fuels to those who invest in renewables; signing petitions; taking part in gentle activism (I liked this one from Girl Industries a few weeks ago); to sharing environmental articles with friends on Facebook.

Labels schmabels!


Bulk Shopping Online – 10 Things You Can Buy In Bulk for Around £20 or Under

bulk shopping online guide
This post contains affiliate links

Do you have a zero-waste shop near you? Whilst the number of zero-waste shops are growing, a large proportion of us – including yours truly – don’t live near enough to a zero-waste shop to be able to shop there on a regular basis. Enter bulk shopping online.

When my budget and where space allows, I occasionally buy one product at a time online to make a mini zero-waste pantry. When I say mini, I mean mini. We live in a small house so we have space for about three or four cartons at a time, and I haven’t figured out how bulk food storage could work in our small space yet.

If you have more space then your bulk shopping online possibilities are relatively endless. Some products are prohibitively expensive to buy in bulk, but here are 10 products you might like to buy in bulk over time for around £20 or under. If this is above your budget, you could split the cost with likeminded friends or neighbours – starting your own little zero-waste co-operative!

All options are vegan and cruelty-free, with all products carrying Leaping Bunny and Vegan Society labeling.

Bulk Personal Care Products

Suma White Lavender Shampoo (5 litres) – £21.95

Although Suma’s shampoo is the most expensive product in this roundup, as well as a shampoo, it also makes an effective shower gel, bubble bath, and liquid hand soap, making it a real multi-tasker. I decant a little into a recycled bottle with a pump top and this bottle does everything.

I’ve linked to Amazon here because this is the most expensive product in the round-up and all the other sites that carried this product had a delivery fee, pushing the price up higher and potentially out of reach for some. If you’d rather avoid Amazon, and can pay extra for delivery then you can also purchase it at Super Food Market or Real Foods.

Suma White Lavender Conditioner (5 litres) – £21.95

I haven’t tried this one yet because funds haven’t allowed it, but if you’re looking for a conditioner then this one might be worth a try. If you’re on the fence, because I know conditioner can be a tricky one to get right depending on your hair type, then trying out a small bottle before committing to a 5-litre carton could be a wise move.

Conditioner can also be doubled up as a great shaving gel.

Again, Amazon, but it can also be purchased at Super Food Market or Real Foods.

Bulk Cleaning and Laundry Products

Bio-D Pink Grapefruit Washing Up Liquid (5 litres) – £10.68

I DIY a lot of my cleaning products but effective washing up liquid has always eluded me. Instead, we’ve been using this Bio-D one for items that can’t go in the dishwasher for a good six months or so now and I reckon I still have enough washing up liquid left in the carton for at least another 2 years. We use it on pots and pans, baking trays and the roasting tin – all the tough mucky stuff basically – and haven’t found a job it can’t handle yet.

Ecoleaf Non-Bio Laundry Liquid (5 litres) – £14.39

I couldn’t find any powdered eco-friendly laundry detergent in bulk for under £20, but this Ecoleaf laundry liquid has enough for 125 washes. This one ticks a lot of boxes – it’s vegan, not tested on animals and palm-oil free too.

Bio-D Multi Surface Sanitiser (5 litres) – £11.19

If you can’t or don’t want to DIY a cleaning spray then this multi-surface liquid, when diluted and decanted into a spray bottle, will clean your house from top to bottom – kitchen and bathroom included.

Bio-D Concentrated Toilet Cleaner (5 litres) – £9.27

A bulk toilet cleaning option at a price that’s kind to pockets. I would decant this into an old squeezy washing up bottle for ease of application.

Bio-D Sanitising Hand Wash (5 litres) – £15.99

It’s been a revelation to me to learn that not everyone is into solid bars of soap, but now I know there are myriad reasons why not everyone loves bar soap. If bar soap isn’t for you then this bulk carton of hand wash could be a good alternative.

Bio-D Floor Cleaner (5 litres) – £18.04

To save needing to buy a separate product, the Bio-D multi-surface sanitiser is probably effective at cleaning your floors with. However, if you are particular about your floors and require a specific floor cleaning product then this floor cleaner with linseed soap is the one for you.

Bulk Pantry Staples

Organic Basmati Brown Rice (5 kg) – £18.27

Organic Wholewheat Fusili Pasta (6 kg) – £13.88

Buying food staples in bulk online in such large quantities might not suit everyone, but if you’re a family that eats a lot of rice and/or pasta and have the money to buy in bulk upfront, and the requisite storage space, then it could work out economical in the long run (and hey, you never know what Brexit is going to bring).

Over to you. Are you a fan of bulk shopping online? If so, let me know if you split the cost with friends or if you have worked out a clever storage system for bulk food bought online!