For the month of July, Josie Adams is taking on the challenge of being low-waste. That means minimising plastics, emissions, and even recyclables. Each week we release her diary. This is week two.
I’ll be honest, week two has been a struggle. I’ve been less enthused about finding low-waste solutions because I’m very tired. I don’t like breakfast and I lack the forethought to ever prepare lunch. The cafe downstairs offers low-waste lunch foods, but for the cost I might as well buy carbon credits to offset some KFC.
This means I don’t eat until I get home from work, whereupon I cook and eat an entire cauliflower and lie down feeling nauseous to the sweet house music of Love Island. It’s OK, I Googled it and “intermittent fasting” is an approved dietary lifestyle.
Working 9-5 makes living low-waste especially difficult. I need to use the weekend to prepare every single part of my life. Thankfully, my life’s scope is narrowing dramatically. Tired of doing nothing but work and sleep, I tried to find something to be passionate about. It turns out being low waste is also compromising my love life.
There’s a package from a PR company on my desk and, to my absolute joy and wonder, everything in it is recyclable! Everything outside it is not. The postage packaging is still all plastic. Attention anyone who does a lot of posting: you can use compostable bags. If you’re buying locally online then soon you’ll be able to feel good about it: NZ Post is working toward a goal of 100% recyclable, compostable, or reusable postage by 2025.
Today, in 2019, I have a massive pimple. I also don’t have any low-waste makeup. Everyone at work has to stare me in my pustular third eye all day. Organic makeup, which is locally produced and has recyclable packaging, is available; it just costs an absolute bomb.
I come home early to wallow in my ugliness, and decide to heal from the inside out. I must fuel my body to fight off its facial blight. I need vitamin B12, and — as a patriot — my preferred B12 vehicle is Marmite. Unfortunately, this comes in plastic. So does a hearty slice of Vogel’s. Today is the beginning of an experiment: making my own yeast spread and yeast bread. A crisp and fluffy loaf — easy. A pottle of homemade Marmite — impossible. I’m halfway through the recipe (celery?! Onions?!) before I realise it takes ten days to make. I guess I like peanut butter now.
I walk into the Spinoff kitchen and see bags of leftover snacks from a filming session. One of the bags is full of those dusty banana lollies. I put one in my mouth and then remember I hate them. I put it in the bin. My co-worker Leonie Hayden sees me do this and yells loudly enough for everyone to hear: “that wasn’t very low waste!” I am wasteful. A wastrel.
I am hungry and tired because I was going to skip my period this month, but as noted in last week’s diary – medicines aren’t low waste. Aunt Irma is visiting. I’ve fallen to the Communists. It’s shark week. Thankfully, plastic-free menstrual products are getting popular. A wide range of supermarkets and even some Four Squares are stocking My Cup and Organic Initiative menstrual cups, which you only ever need to own one of.
The last time I used a menstrual cup it vacuum-sealed itself to my cervix, so I won’t be buying one. Don’t worry, the doctor told me this is highly unusual and most people have no problems. Both my sisters love them. Instead of risking further gynaecological embarrassment, I will be heading to my local New World for some OI organic tampons.
Most tampons are made from synthetic materials, and many have the cord glued in instead of sewn. They also come in plastic wrap. OI is offering an alternative: organic cotton, bioplastic wrap, and a recyclable cardboard box. The cotton excites me. Perhaps I will not itch this month.
The Spinoff office has plenty of reusable containers, so I take one to the dumpling shop around the corner. Some places will laugh at you for doing this. Who’ll be laughing when the world is on fire? No-one, because we’ll all be dead.
The container I used was your classic Tupperware, which came back to haunt me when I read an article about all the microplastics I’m consuming. Apparently, I could be consuming a credit card-sized amount of plastic every year. Does this mean I’m not compostable?
If there’s plastic in me, then it’s probably in everything. Foodstuffs North Island produce business manager Phil Whitehead reckons that if we have to use plastic, rPET is the best option. “It is one of the better plastic products available at the moment because it’s 100% recyclable in New Zealand.” RPET is recycled polyethylene terephthalate, which you may recognise from water bottles, peanut butter jars, cleaning products; most supermarket plastics.
There’s a reason it’s so ubiquitous: “our requirement is that all of our produce suppliers are using the minimum of PET or, preferably rPET, now,” says Whitehead. They’re working with suppliers to find alternatives.
I take note of all this. I’m still avoiding plastics, but it’s good to know that if I accidentally end up with PET on my hands it won’t be incinerated like so many other plastics.
I’m seeing someone, wink wink, tonight, and it’s worryingly wasteful. He wants me to bring beer. Usually, I’d be stoked for a few bevvies by the heater. Not today. Not while burdened with the Earth’s fate. I need a low waste option, and I’m worried beer is off the table. I stop at the New World Victoria Park because that’s the fanciest one, and for some reason I associate recycling with being fancy.
It turns out aluminium cans are very slightly better for the environment than glass bottles. More energy is required to make a can than a bottle, but when you factor in transport and recycling uptake the humble can wins out. Take that, wine! I find a brand that’s used recycled cardboard over the cans, and away we go. Not zero-waste, but better than it could be.
The second stumble of the night is the heater. The heater is on in his room and I’m wondering how many emissions that uses up. I’ve been spending the winter with sleeping bags belted to my body instead of using gas power to heat my home. I guess no-one’s perfect, but I’m unsure about settling for a gas-guzzling heat freak.
One more issue, one that I can’t find a solution for: condoms aren’t low waste. Please, please suggest an alternative in the comments. I’m celibate now.
I come into work glowing with redirected energy and purpose, like a boxer before a fight. Once again, I am purity itself.
I’m ready to channel my fecund potency into saving the world. Last week I received several emails about the dangers of so-called “compostables,” and I feel I must pass the message on. It turns out those in the biz already know.
“There’s quite a lot of warm fuzzies out there around things like compostables,” Whitehead agrees. “I think we’ve got to be really careful that we’re not being suckered into something that’s not what you think it is. You can say something’s compostable, but what is it breaking down into? We’re being very particular about certifications with our suppliers and we encourage shoppers to read packaging labels.”
New World isn’t just chucking out all their hard-to-deal-with plastics and replacing them with something they don’t know works. “We need to be very, very sure that what we transfer into is actually better. There are a lot of claims out there, and we’re doing our research to make sure we trial the best products that actually solve a problem, and are what our shoppers want.”
Something else in the pipeline is a new use for food waste. “One of the big companies we deal with, a tomato supplier, is using food waste in its plant to generate energy that heats the glasshouses. It’s an anaerobic digestion plant,” says Whitehead. “We’ve put our hand up and said: ‘hey, if you want some extra waste to put into your plant, we’ll give you some!’ It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s on the cards.”
We’re in the middle of a culture shift at every level of waste: shoppers, farmers, transporters, shops, and everyone else in between is going through a period of readjustment. There will be teething problems, but on the whole, it looks like everyone wants to be lower-waste.
Days 13 & 14
It’s the weekend! My sister and her husband have come for a visit and all I have to offer them is a pitiful homemade sourdough. It’s far too dense, just like me. Thankfully, they’re here to save me. My brother-in-law, who is my favourite sibling, has decided to gift me his coffee machine. “I know you’ll probably break this,” he says, “but until you do, you won’t have to buy coffee from anyone who hates Mother Gaia.”
I chug three cups before enduring the worst retail experience of my life. My friends are getting married next week, so I’m going shoe shopping with the bride. I can’t buy anything and it hurts. Truly sustainable fashion is thin on the ground, which is a shame because winter colours suit my new, pallid complexion perfectly. I crave fresh corduroy.
I sit out the last leg of the shopping trip in an art gallery, gazing into the intricate ink work of Yoshiko Nakahara instead of the Selera menu that taunts me. I want a takeaway char kuey teow but I forgot my containers at home. My friend finds me and points out the paper bag her shoes are in. “I told them I wanted to be low waste!” She grins. Maybe my suffering isn’t for naught. You may now refer to me as an influencer.
Hungry and dressed in old clothes, I spend the evening with her fiance, who has smuggled me naked cheeses and breads from the organic store he works in. I Lime home, my pockets laden with nature’s goodness, and dream about breakfast.
My resolution for next week is to do meal prep, like some kind of athlete. I guess, when you think about it, being low-waste is a lot like running a marathon. It’s gruelling, but it makes me better than everyone else.
This article was created in paid partnership with New World. Learn more about our partnerships here.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.