A mother has revealed how she is encouraging her family to go zero waste by ditching hair dye, using vinegar instead of chemicals to clean – and not buying any new clothes.
Sarah Warren, 53, from Colchester, has also been reusing candles by melting them down and making new ones to try to live as sustainably as possible.
However, the primary school tutor for 11+ said the biggest reduction to how much household waste she throws away was when she switched to reusable period knickers.
Sarah said she set herself a challenge in January of not buying any new clothes for the year.
But the more she learned about how much household waste is sent to landfill, the more she wanted to do.
She now keeps track of her purchases – of which, apart from food, she has only made 30 this year, including textbooks for work and a gift for a 21st birthday.
She said: “I’m absolutely shocked at what we are doing to our planet. So I am trying to live a more sustainable life.
“I am aiming to reduce as much plastic as I can, not only single use plastic but any plastic at all.
“The more I look into this I realise we just have to stop buying crap as we are drowning the planet.”
Sharing her challenge on Facebook, Sarah wrote: “So I challenged myself to buy no new clothes this year and try to buy as little new anything as I can.
“I’ve bought 30 new things since the start of the year. 1 pair of new trousers for my son’s 21st. Pretty pleased with that. List of everything non food I’ve bought since January.”
Sarah set herself the “buying no new items” challenge this year after embarking on the zero waste journey. She thought the best way to do it would be to write every purchase down to avoid any cheating.
She said: “Only buying 30 new things actually makes me feel a little better but I feel so helpless when I see people continue to buy things they don’t need.
“I felt so happy during lockdown when pollution visibly reduced around the planet.
“Also it made me happy that no one could go to the shops. I feel everyone around the planet has reduced their buying unknowingly.”
Sarah’s household has been growing their own fruit and veg, using a compost bin as well as a self-built grass bin and using salvaged wood for DIY projects.
She said the family loves repurposing things and have been enjoying making a lot of reclaimed wood projects during lockdown.
Now Sarah has adapted her lifestyle, she said it is “easy” to reduce waste and plans to continue cutting down further.
But it wasn’t always easy and Sarah has been left shocked by how expensive her new lifestyle is.
She said: “At first it was hard finding places that sold plastic free items and changing our buying habits.
It’s still really tough and going plastic free is expensive which is shocking – the government needs to back this.
“So instead of one big shop like what most people do, we now go to refillable shops, about 4 different places, the markets and we walk to supermarkets mainly.
“It’s still really tough and going plastic free is expensive which is shocking – the government needs to back this.”
Sarah also hopes to go zero waste but realises it might be virtually impossible in current society.
She doesn’t use harmful chemicals for housework, she stopped dying her hair and started using henna, she uses rewashable sanitary items and makeup cloths and has reused the same candles for 10 years.
The eco-conscious mother cleans with vinegar, bakes her own cakes to reduce packaging, uses plastic-free soap and walks everywhere.
She also reuses and remelts soaps and candles using a mould.
The tutor, who works from home full-time, said she has had total support from her family – who also try to live as sustainably as possible.
Her husband Jeremy, 53, and two children – daughter Rebecca, 18, and son James, 21, – are keen to reduce waste and mainly buy second-hand clothes only.
She said: “My family completely supports me and I’ve completely converted my husband to a charity shop buyer.
“I feel I have had a positive effect on my family as both my children are very environmentally aware, one is a vegan and the other a vegetarian.
Sarah’s ways to reduce household waste
- Doesn’t use harmful chemicals in the house. (She uses vinegar for cleaning)
- She refills shampoo and conditioner and local Co-op and uses plastic free hand soap
- She stopped dying her hair
- She walks everywhere – even to do food shopping which is a 30 minute walk
- Sarah buys milk and orange juice from milkman
- Makes her own oat milk
- Orders fruit and veg from a local farmer or market so no plastic
- Takes tetra packs to recycling bins at supermarkets
- Doesn’t use plastic bags at all
- Whole family have reusable water bottles
- Takes own food on any day trips
- Takes things to local recycling scheme
- Puts food waste in compost so rarely puts out rubbish for bin men
- Doesn’t throw cooked food – she checks the fridge regularly and freezes meals
- She cooks 95% of her own food so less plastic packaging
- Makes own cakes and biscuits so no need for wrapping
- Puts green waste in huge home-built compost bin
- Hasn’t bought wrapping paper for 2 years
- Been reusing the same candles for 10 years
- Uses washable things – including washing up cloths and tea towels as well as washable sanitary towels and make up pads
“They buy the vast majority of their clothes from charity shops and my daughter is due to start her degree in environmental sustainability in September.”
Sarah said the rest of her family are also on board and they influence each other’s decisions about waste – but accept that clothes are such a small part of their lives.
However, the mother insists she doesn’t ban her children from buying anything because they are adults, and she instead tries to lead by example.
She said she is proud that her husband, who works as an IT programmer, and two children stick to purchasing second-hand clothes.
The mother said Rebecca, who has just finished her A-Levels and has been doing voluntary work delivering prescriptions to people shielding, never buys new clothes and would only buy new shoes if they have been recycled.
Rebecca’s boyfriend is even on board and is happy to stick to his girlfriend’s mum’s organised sorting rubbish system at home.
She separates household rubbish into a plain cardboard bag to put on compost, a bag to put terra cycle stuff, a bowl for food waste, a black bin, recycled plastic, recycled paper to put in compost, recycling clothes and a box for tins and glass.
Even Sarah’s son James continued his mother’s eco-conscious lifestyle when he was living away from home while at university.
The 21-year-old, who has just finished his art degree, bought plastic free food, had milk delivered and used a refillable water bottle.
And Jeremy is extremely passionate about wasting no food at all which is why he started growing vegetables this year.
Sarah said: “My husband is always looking in skips for reclaimed wood to build things.
“All three of them give me their clothes to fix as no one would dream of throwing it away.
“All old clothes go to charity or to the H&M recycling scheme. We actually find it painful that people throw clothes away!”
Sarah also tries to counterbalance any new purchases by fixing something else or working on a repurposed item.
She said: “I always try to fix old things and extend the life of anything I wear. So I darn socks and fix holes in clothes with my sewing equipment. I must admit I see it as a bit of a challenge!”
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