You probably follow Aoife on Instagram, if not you should! She’s an amazing mother and inspirational zero waster in Wales, so much so she’s been featured by the BBC and is a zero waste consultant.
We’re so happy we had the opportunity to interview the amazing Aoife, or as others know her @zerowastecardiff. Aoife is a mum who faces the challenges of living zero waste like most of us do but takes it in her stride and is inspirational to hear about.
Aoife, thank you so much for interviewing with Society Zero! We ask people what zero waste means to them all the time, the reason being, to get an insight into how zero waste is interpreted by others to help understand different ways, and hopefully allow others to understand too from another perspective – so how is zero waste in the context of the life of Aoife?
Being zero waste is all about thinking outside of the box (or avoiding the box if possible!). The aim of a zero waster is to follow the 5 Rs:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot; the first three Rs are the most important to me. We as a family try to refuse single-use items whenever possible. That includes refusing single-use paper napkins and other biodegradable or compostable single-use things like coffee cups or anything you might throw away after straight after use. By refusing these things you automatically reduce your consumption of unnecessary packaging.
The best way to do the first two Rs is to have reusable things in your life. We choose to reuse rather than buy anything that can only be used once.
I never leave home without my refillable water bottle, reusable cup and cutlery pouch with reusable cutlery and napkin.
Being zero waste has become a way of life for me and my family and it means so much knowing that we’ve made simple conscious changes that help our planet, and in the long run our wallets too.
Avoiding the box is a good start! So has this always been a way of life or something you’re slowly getting used to?
We’d always thought we were fairly eco.
We recycled everything that we could and always litter picked when we were out for walks. I’m a little bit obsessed with litter picking and even managed to fundraise to bring a 2 Minute Beach Clean board to my local beach
[I actually remember watching something about this on tv a few years ago and thought it was brilliant]
I started making major changes after the birth of my son (March 2017). We were using single-use nappies at first but I started to get really upset about the amount of waste that was building up as a result. I’d heard about cloth nappies and the zero waste lifestyle around the same time and thought I’d give the cloth nappies a go and see if it made a difference.
It was incredible how much of a reduction we saw after just using cloth nappies for one day a week! We’d gone from six black bin bags in two weeks to three. I decided we would go full time with the cloth nappies but also see where else we could make changes in our consumption.
Over the last year we’ve gone from putting out black bin waste every two weeks to putting it out every eight weeks and only putting out recycling and/or food waste on a weekly basis.
Wow! Every eight weeks?! So what were or are the most difficult changes you made then to be able to lower it that much?
The hardest changes are mostly snack food related. I love crisps! And I really love chocolate! Oh my, I could eat chocolate all day every day but I’ve really tried to cut back because all of my favourites are plastic wrapped. I do still have the odd star bar (they are so goooood!) but I look for chocolate that is wrapped in foil and card whenever I can. That kind of chocolate tends to be more expensive, which means I buy less of it, which is also a good thing.
For snacks, in general if you can’t get it in bulk and you can’t deny yourself then go for the biggest bag possible.
I’m very much the same, getting round snack foods are the biggest culprit in our house too. What do you feel were the easiest changes to make for you and your family?
Swapping to a reusable water bottle and coffee cup were the easiest changes to make. That took very little effort and meant we were making a big change straight away.
Now, I never leave home without them!
The simplest of things can have such a big impact that I don’t know if people realise just how much. Did you notice any difference in your bank account when you started making these changes? Or has it stayed the same? Went up, went down?
I don’t think it’s a financial burden. I think there are savings to be made everywhere. Every time you buy a bottle of water you spend at least £1 for a single-use plastic bottle. Every time you buy a take-away coffee you spend £2.50 for a single-use cup. Every time us ladies buy sanitary products we spend at least £5 (not including all the extra bits we might want or need at that time of the month!). It all adds up and it all ends up in the bin. We put so much money in the bin without a seconds thought. It’s really very strange when you think about it.
Water is free, clean and safe to drink in the UK. Every cafe, restaurant and bar in the UK is obliged to refill your bottle, free of charge, if you ask for a refill, so why are we spending so much on bottled water!
Buying your own refillable water bottle will save you money. Same for travel mugs; lots of cafes, big and small, are offering discounts to people who bring in their own cups, saving you money and stopping thousands of cups from being thrown in the bin every minute!
Over the course of a year a woman will spend average £60 on sanitary products alone. Over the course of her life that’s at least £2000! That’s a lot of money! Buying a reusable menstrual cup costs about £20 and will last for ten years. That’s a huge saving right there.
By buying food, packaging-free, from your local green grocer, butcher, or bulk store, you’ll be reducing the amount of single-use plastic packaging you bring into your home and will also cut down on food waste. You’ll only buy what you need, which means that you won’t be throwing excess food away. In 2015 a national study by WRAP showed that £13bn worth of household food was thrown away; that meant the average UK household wasted £470 worth of edible food. This is bad for families but also bad for the environment.
As that food waste decays in landfill it releases greenhouse gases, which are a major factor affecting climate change. Having a zero waste mentality for food would drastically reduce that amount and would help families save money.
There are so many ways to save money by living a zero waste life. Making sure you reuse everything you can before you recycle or throw it away, will also help you save.
It might seem like reusable things are expensive to buy up front but the savings you make in the long run far outweigh the initial cost and really help to lower your impact on the environment.
When I first got a menstrual cup I honestly was shocked at the price initially, but it’s one of the biggest money savers I’ve found along with reusable pads, so much to save there. The buying ‘only what you need’ I’ve noticed has had a massive effect on the food waste/leftover boxes too which has been great. Some really valuable points there. So was there anything in particular you remember, that has stuck in your mind for your reason to live more zero waste?
I remember reading an article about a whale that had starved to death even though it had a full belly. It was full of plastic bags, some of them could be dated to the 60s! I was so upset about that. We’d already started using cloth nappies at that stage but reading that powered me on to really want to cut out plastic from our lives as much as we possibly could.
Then, there was the image of the seahorse and the ear bud. It was such a powerful photograph. It really hammered home how big the plastic problem is. It is everywhere, in every part of our environment, affecting every level of the natural world, including us and I knew I wanted to really do my bit to help stop it.
I would talk to people about this as I was buying my food with my own containers. They all thought I was a little bit odd, getting my meat in my own tupperware box but were happy for me to do it and it started the conversation about why we all needed to find a solution to the plastic problem. So, for a while I was the odd person with the containers and then Blue Planet II came out and suddenly people really got it. They saw that what I was trying to do was a good thing and they all got on board.
Yes, the funny looks are familiar but a great conversation starter around the problem. Do you think it’s more difficult to live zero waste?
I think at the beginning it can seem like it’s more difficult but before long it all becomes habit and second nature. We are so used to living in a convenient, throw-away culture that the idea of cleaning something to reuse it again seems almost alien to us.
The hardest thing at the start is getting into the habit of having your reusable kit with you when you go out and about. Once you’ve got that habit down you’re set.
Another hard thing is the awkward conversation when someone offers you a single-use thing. It’s always best to be polite and explain what you’re trying to do. You might get a funny look or two but you’ll also get to start a conversation and hopefully help that person think twice about their waste.
There is more washing involved and a little more effort but it really isn’t a difficult lifestyle.
The thing to remember is that nobody’s perfect and you have to find the right balance for you and your life. You can go all in and be continuously stressed about that one piece of plastic waste you take home or you can remember that every little thing you do to reduce your plastic is a really important and significant thing.
Finding the balance makes it easy and worthwhile.
Re-learning habits our grandparents had is always a good way to start from instead of adopting the pressure to consume-consume-consume. Also a lot of people seem to believe it’s all or nothing, I think it’s the overall picture people need to focus on isn’t it. Focus on your efforts and progress rather than what you’ve missed out on or not been able to avoid. If you have one of these moments, what keeps you going?
I’m inspired daily by the zero waste community to keep aiming for a zero waste lifestyle.
Every day more and more people are finding out about it and are coming up with new creative ways to solve our plastic problem. It inspires me to see the innovation and enthusiasm that’s out there. Together we can have an actual impact.
There’s a movement happening and it’s amazing to be a part of that and to be helping others figure out how they can go zero waste too.
It’s such an inclusive, welcoming and educational community I’ve found. Is there anything you’ve been inspired to do since making these changes?
It’s been a busy time since going zero waste!
I’ve been involved with litter picking campaigns, fund-raising events, I’ve been on television and radio talking about our ocean plastic problem, I’ve given talks to school groups and I recently started my own business! I’m now a zero waste consultant, helping businesses and families cut down their waste. I’m using my experience to help others lower their impact and do their bit for the environment.
I’ve also started producing my own line of reusable household and lifestyle products, including, beeswax food wraps, dish scrubbies, cutlery pouches and cotton facial rounds.
[Visit Aoife’s Etsy store here to check out her products]
All because I changed from single-use to reusable nappies. It’s amazing what you can do when you have passion and energy for a project.
That’s amazing work! Well done! I’ll need to try out your products. What have been the benefits you’ve found or felt from living more zero waste?
There are so many benefits to going zero waste. Financial, feel good but also personal.
I’ve realised I have lots of useful skills that help with this lifestyle, I’ve a new found confidence with talking to people about the lifestyle and how they can make simple changes themselves.
I’ve met so many great people through living this way. I’ve made some great friends and it’s been brilliant finding so many like minded people who want to make a difference.
There seems to be a return of real community, even when online while living more consciously. From you to the society of zero wasters and future zero wasters, what would your advice be?
If you’re new to zero waste, take it slow and don’t panic. Lots of people dive right in and think they have to remove all of the plastic waste from their lives immediately. They throw out everything in plastic, which is wasteful in its own right.
If you are like me when I started, you probably have a ton of deals from boots (3 for 2 deals got me every time). Use them up, don’t throw them away. You might have a load of plastic boxes from take-outs you ordered. Those are brilliant for storing everything from food to buttons! Hang on to them, they’ll be great for taking to the bulk shop too to buy whatever you need in your own containers.
As those things start to run out or wear out, replace them with sustainable, packaging free, alternatives.
There are loads of easy swaps to make and information to gain. Take your time and find out what works best for your lifestyle.
Try to be a conscious consumer; don’t just think about where something will end up but where it’s come from in the first place. Every little thing you do has an impact and now that you’re aware of that it’s your job to make sure your impact is as low as possible.
It’s possible to live a carefree life while still caring deeply about the environment, you just need to choose to refuse and reuse.
Some amazing tips we hope you find helpful. Thank you so much again Aoife for your zero waste hero interview with Society Zero CIC!
We hope you enjoyed reading about Aoife’s journey to living more zero waste. If you’d like to follow Aoife on Instagram, follow here – If you’re more of a tweeter, follow @ZWcardiff.
Aoife also has a blog to read up on too lots of relatable reading ahead – read here.
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