Carla Ortuño Güendell
Is half Spanish half Costa Rican. She has lived in 12 different countries and enjoys embracing cultures’ little eccentricities. This unique experience has taught her that no matter where we come from, we all share similar aspirations and responsibilities in life. We aspire to find happiness, love and to have good health. Our main duty is to respect others and take care of our planet.
She has dedicated her career to working in the development and humanitarian field – gaining experience from three continents in different areas: health, education, human rights, environment and infrastructure. She studied translation and international relations and enjoys both learning and teaching languages. She speaks fluent Spanish, English, French and Chinese and is currently studying Polish.
Carla is an intercultural communicator and linguist who is passionate about finding the things that bring us happiness, love and balance in life. She loves staying active, practicing sports and is also treading her own path towards a zero waste and minimalist lifestyle.
Have you ever taken a few seconds to think about the amount of waste you have produced throughout your whole life? I invite you to take that time now.
Imagine the number of diapers you used as a baby, the plastic wraps from all the candies and chocolate bars you have eaten, all the plastic cups and cutlery you have used, the many pairs of shoes you have thrown away, the face creams, face washes, toothbrushes and toothpastes… the list can go on forever! Now think about where most of those things are lying right now… probably in some huge pile of waste in a landfill somewhere, or worse, in our oceans.
To help you better visualise the scale of the problem I invite you to take a look at a few statistics drawn from different studies:
- By 2015, a total of 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic had been produced in the whole world.
- Of that amount, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, meaning it is lying somewhere out there littering our natural environments. (Science Advances study published in July 2017)
- 40% of plastic produced is packaging, used just once and then discarded (National Geographic, 2018)
– By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. (Ellen MacArthur Foundation report)
With this issue becoming a serious concern worldwide, a new movement is slowly challenging what our consumer-driven society and economy dictate. Zero Waste aims to change and simplify our way of living by limiting our waste production and striving to send nothing to landfill. An easy way to understand this philosophy is by looking at the 5R’s created by Bea Johnson, author of the book Zero Waste Household.
- Refuse (what we do not need): do we really need all the free pens from the events we attend, the shampoo bottles from hotels, or the flyers that get handed out to you?
- Reduce (what we do need and cannot refuse): do I really need that many clothes? Donate them or sell them. Try buying food in bulk to save time, money and produce less waste.
- Reuse (what we consume and cannot refuse or reduce): borrow from others, loan, trade, repair, buy second-hand items.
- Recycle (what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse): by now there shouldn’t be much to recycle, but if there is make sure you do it the right way.
- Rot (compost the rest): recycle your organic materials and use the compost for your plants and flowers.
If many of us were to live by the 5R’s, we would be able to achieve a leftward shift in the demand and supply curve and so limit the amount of unnecessary waste that is produced and discarded. Change starts from the individual level and is capable of revolutionising the whole system we live in.
As Roland Geyer, the Science Advances study’s leading author, pointed out, “we as a society need to consider whether it’s worth trading off some convenience for a clean, healthy environment.”
Zero Waste Fair in Warsaw
Zero Waste events and fairs are becoming increasingly popular. In Warsaw, the 5th edition of the Targi Zero Waste (Zero Waste fair) was organised last 23-24 November, 2019. This edition saw approximately 7,700 people who visited the 67 stands. The goal of this edition was to continue raising awareness on the negative impact our consuming and wasteful lifestyles have on the environment as well as present and promote eco-friendly goods and services as a replacement. The event also invited 39 speakers to the discussion panels and lectures and welcomed visitors to take part in these discussions.
Among the eco-friendly goods sold were cosmetic and sanitary products like body and shampoo bar soaps, glass-bottled deodorants, bamboo toothbrushes and tooth powder. Other products like bamboo cutlery, beeswax wraps, stainless steel bottles and food storage containers, cloth bags for grocery shopping, bamboo or metal straws, cloth sanitary pads and menstrual cups were also very popular.
Visitors were also invited to take part in some quizzes on effective recycling techniques to win eco goodies such as cloth bags. Likewise, they had the possibility to participate in workshops were they were invited to create things with their own hands – this being an important pillar of the Zero Waste principles.
The fair was held during the European Week of Waste Reduction, an initiative that aims to encourage actors to organise awareness-raising actions about waste management. The community is growing with time and new eco-friendly ideas are being brought to the table to replace old traditions. And applications such as LimitWaste, a database with all the Zero Waste stores and restaurants in Poland, are making it easier for people who want to embark on this path.
Guide on How to Go Zero Waste
Have you been thinking about changing your habits and actions to reduce your waste production? Going zero waste is a process; it cannot be achieved in a matter of weeks, months or even years! So taking baby steps and tackling one thing at a time is the right way to go about it.
There are plenty of informative channels, blogs and websites out there available for those who wish to start this journey. They share very valuable information as well as different recipes on how to make your own zero waste products.
The following list is a 12-month long change plan to help you tread your own path one step at a time. You will have a whole month to get used to each new change. The list below is simply a suggestion, you are free to move it around and adapt it to your own situation.
Month #1: Say no to plastic bags and straws given out to you when you purchase something. Bring your own reusable cloth bags with you at all times. There are cloth bags that you can fit in your purses or even pockets because they are foldable. “Five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year.” (UN environment)
Month #2: Get yourself a bottle and bring it with you all the time. This will avoid you having to buy plastic bottles every time you are thirsty. It can be any type of reusable bottle but stainless steel ones are a good option because they are not made out of plastic and are BPA-free. “Nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute around the world.” (National Geographic, 2018)
Month #3: Reduce your overall consumption of those things whose production, shipping and use emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and learn to reuse and fix what you already have at home. “Approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide now belong to the “consumer class”—the group of people characterised by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods.” (National Geographic, 2004)
Month #4: Reduce your meat consumption by half of what you eat. Ideally, consume it once a week or opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet. “Farming uses up to 92% of our freshwater; animal products account for nearly one-third.” (Water Resources and Industry study 2013)
Month #5: Avoid takeaways and eating out in places that only offer single-use plastic plates and cutlery. If you really can’t go without it, bring your own bamboo or metal cutlery and lunch boxes to eat or pack the food you ordered. “Globally, 16 billion paper cups are used for coffee every single year, which leads to 6.5 million trees cut down per year, 4 billion gallons of water going to waste per year, and enough energy to power 54,000 homes for a year also goes to waste.” (GreenMatch, 2019)
Month #6: Donate the clothes you don’t use and stop buying so many! The best way to go about this is by thinking whether you have worn a particular item in the last month, if you haven’t then it means you don’t need it! “The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions. It takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pair of jeans. That’s more than enough for one person to drink eight cups per day for 10 years.” (Business Insider, 2019)
Month #7: Learn and experiment with making your own personal care products. Opt for natural products such as coconut oil, shea butter and apple cider vinegar or look for brands who offer more eco-friendly packaging options. “L’Oreal is aiming to make 100 percent of their packaging reusable, refillable, or compostable by 2025, and to source 50 percent of that packaging from recycled material.” (National Geographic, 2019)
Month #8: Switch to reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups instead of the usual tampons and pads. “Over the course of a lifetime, a single menstruator will use somewhere between 5 and 15 thousand pads and tampons, the vast majority of which will wind up in landfills as plastic waste.” (National Geographic, 2019)
Month #9: Find out which stores offer the possibility to buy in bulk and to buy zero packaging products. You will be surprised how many already exist. Experiment with this greener way of shopping and buying less. Bea Johnson points out in her book that her family has managed to save almost 40 percent of annual household costs since she started with this lifestyle! (Zero Waste Home)
Month #10: Stop wasting food, water and energy! Organise yourself to avoid food from rotting or throwing away leftovers. Water is sacred, so remember to take shorter showers, close the tap when brushing your teeth and washing dishes, among other things. “Less than 1% of the water available on the surface of the planet is useful to us – the rest is salty or locked up in the polar ice sheets.” (The Guardian, 2015)
Month #11: Opt for public transportation, riding a bike or walking instead of driving your car everywhere and be conscious about the environmental impact linked to flying too much. “In 2017, 27 % of total EU-28 greenhouse gas emissions came from the transport sector. International aviation was responsible for the largest percentage increase in greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels (+129%), followed by international shipping (+32%) and road transport (+23%).” (European Environment Agency, 2019)
Month #12: Spread the word! Share your knowledge and experience with friends and families and tell them why it’s important for all of us to make small changes for a big cause. It doesn’t end here, continue experimenting and trying new ways to contribute to the preservation of our precious environment.