Minimalism is a massive trend in fashion as well as in interior design. If it comes to reducing the amount of rubbish though it is a bit harder to get people aboard. Emma Street is a pioneer of the zero waste lifestyle. A year ago she has moved from the US to Manchester. Ever since Emma has created the online business Small Shop, which offers sustainable alternatives to disposable everyday products. In this interview, the 32-year-old talks about her journey to a trash-free life, reveals her favourite product, and gives some practical advice on how to be a better consumer.
I started getting curious about zero waste a couple of years ago, when I took a look at my lifestyle and realized I could do better, and wanted to try to live a bit less wastefully. I found the zero waste community after literally googling “how to live less wastefully”. I bought a bamboo toothbrush and went from there.
How much waste do you produce in a week?
I’m still working at reducing my waste all the time, but like anything, it’s a process. At present, my husband and I keep one small bin in the kitchen (the kind you usually see at office desks), which usually takes us a couple of weeks to fill up, depending on the week. Our biggest source of waste is cat litter, but we’ve just moved into a new house where we can let our cats outside, and we’re hoping to train them off the litter box altogether. Our recycling is fairly minimal as well, usually just cat food tins, wine, and beer bottles and cans, and paper. We compost all our food waste.
What inspired you to reduce waste?
I was living in India at the time, on a yearlong assignment with the job I had then. During my time there, I was alarmed by the amount of trash I saw everywhere, which really opened my eyes to how many disposable items the average person throws away daily. (In India, there aren’t the same kinds of systems in place to deal with trash, so you see it everywhere you go.) When I realized that the Western world creates even more trash (though we’re good at hiding it), I started making small changes in my lifestyle in an effort to live less wastefully.
What are the biggest challenges in going zero waste?
The current economy is not really set up to accommodate those of us who are trying to cut down on waste. It’s set up for convenience, which means a lot of disposable stuff. So it sometimes feels like you’re swimming against the tide when you’re trying to reduce your waste. It sometimes means explaining yourself to salespeople, sometimes having uncomfortable conversations. But in time, you get a routine figured out and find others who are willing to accommodate and support your lifestyle.
How has your lifestyle influenced people around you?
I get comments all the time from friends who have read my blog or who follow me on Instagram who say I’ve inspired them to start carrying a reusable water bottle or to start composting, or even to use cloth nappies! My Mom has even started using beeswax food wraps. It has honestly taken me by surprise. You don’t realize how walking the walk and sharing it might influence other people, and it’s inspired me to keep going and keep sharing my journey.
How do you cope with gifts?
Gifts can be tricky. My family is by this point pretty aware that we’re trying to lead a low-waste lifestyle, and they give accordingly, with experience gifts, or second-hand gifts. We save any gift wrapping we receive and reuse it. If we do receive a gift that doesn’t serve us or our lifestyle, we pass it on to someone else who does need it, or we take it to a charity shop. I used to feel guilty about doing this, but the way I see it, it’s much better in the hands of someone who will truly use it.
In supermarkets everything seems to be wrapped in plastic: Where do you shop groceries?
We’re lucky to have a green grocer close by where I can buy almost all my veg plastic-free. We get milk and eggs delivered by a service that will take the bottles and cartons back and reuse them. Our fishmonger doesn’t mind using our containers when we buy fish. Our local health food store does refills on olive oil, washing up liquid and laundry liquid. I can get plastic-free greens from our local farm stand once a week. There are times, however, when I can’t get to my green grocer during business hours, and I have to resort to ASDA or Co-Op, where everything is inevitably wrapped in plastic. I try to forgive myself for being human and plan better the next week.
When and how did you come up with the idea to start your own zero waste business?
When I decided to try and live less wastefully, I started writing a blog about my journey. About six months into the blog, I serendipitously was made redundant at my job of 7 years and found myself with a decision to make. I decided to go for it with a zero waste business, and I haven’t looked back.