Going Green: OVO team member Penny goes zero-waste for a week

09 June 2021 | Aimee Tweedale

Going Green is a new blog series documenting OVO employees as they make an eco-friendly lifestyle change for one week. Whether it’s turning down the heating, ditching the car, or changing our eating habits, here at OVO we’re challenging ourselves to greener living. This week Penny, Junior Business Analyst at Kaluza, tries to go a whole week without throwing anything away.

The statistics about how much rubbish we throw away here in the UK are truly staggering. Each of us, on average, bins our own body weight in garbage every 7 weeks. And we could fill the entire Royal Albert Hall with the waste we create as a country – every 2 hours1!

Cutting back on how much we throw away is part of the fight against climate change. That’s partly because we need there to be less rubbish in our landfills, where it’s poisoning the environment. 

But it’s also about more than what’s filling up the bin. Everything we buy has a carbon footprint. So being zero-waste is also about consuming less, to lower our overall impact on the earth. To find out more about why this is so important, read our guide to climate change, and our 30 simple tips to live a greener life

Penny, who works at Kaluza and lives in Bristol with her partner, quickly realised that going zero-waste for a week was going to be much tougher than she’d thought. “One of the first things I did during my zero-waste week, without even thinking about it, was eat a packet of crisps we already had in the house,” she laments. “Then I realised, ‘Oh no, that’s not recyclable!’”

Why did you want to try going zero-waste for a week?

“My background at uni was Environmental Science and Oceanography. So I’m fairly eco-conscious. My partner and I already try to reduce most single-use items in our house, and have subscriptions to things that we know we’re going to have to use. 

“We’re not throwing as much stuff out as we used to. We try to find other uses for things, like using toilet roll holders to make little plant pots! But I'm still a bit surprised by how much stuff is wasted. So I wanted to see how much we could cut it down.”

Tell us about your zero-waste week. Where did you start?

“The first thing we did was a bit of an audit of what was in our bins and recycling boxes anyway. The biggest non-recyclable thing we had was thin plastics. So it was about being really conscious of how that plastic was coming into our house. It was mainly frozen vegetables, which is really annoying, as that’s the cheapest way to get your veg!

“Usually we do a big shop at the weekend. But rather than do that, we just used what we already had in our house. So it was just swapping things in recipes – like, can we find something else that would work instead of this specific ingredient? It stops you from being on autopilot. 

“We signed up for a vegetable box [to be delivered], because that saved a lot of plastic. And it seemed easier to eat plant-based food for the week, because a lot of dairy products come packaged in non-recyclable plastic. So it was just easier to avoid those. 

“There’s a veg box company that’s just come to Bristol called Oddbox, which we used. It’s been really good for us. We’ll keep using it – it just automates that part of your life, so you don’t even have to think about it.

“This challenge would definitely have been so much more difficult if I wasn’t working from home. I was in my kitchen all the time, so I didn’t have to transport anything anywhere and plan for that. There was no need to buy food or drinks on the go. I didn’t have to think 10 steps ahead all the time.”

What were the biggest challenges?

“My biggest bugbear was junk mail! I noticed over the course of the week how much of the stuff comes into our house. 

“But this challenge made me look into it, and there are unsubscription services you can sign up to. Royal Mail can also put a hold on things. I’d never thought about it before, because it’s just part of the minutiae of life. Once I started thinking about it, though, I realised it’s just so annoying – why do we put up with it?

“Another tricky thing was that the pandemic has impacted some bring-your-own schemes. Some places don’t want to let you use reusable coffee cups right now. And there’s testing, masks, stuff like that. The week of our zero-waste challenge was the week that things were just starting to open up as well, and we’d been so used to being in our little bubble. We’ve gotten into habits that we’ve been trying to build for a long time – but now we’re stepping out of our houses and back into real life, it’s harder to bring the new habits out with you.

“I went out with a few friends for some food and drinks towards the end of the week. It was hard trying to think about what I could order that wouldn’t come with a straw or a napkin or anything like that. It was 2 of my friends’ birthdays as well, so I had to think, ‘What can I do instead of buying a card?’ I baked them some focaccia!”

Penny's focaccia bread

Home-baked focaccia (Photo credit: Penny Lambert)

Were you ever tempted to buy something online?

“Not really. I’ve already been trying to cut back on my online shopping. It did run away with me a bit during the pandemic, I was buying a bit more, so then I put myself on a no buying ban for the first 100 days of this year. That’s helped me reboot. 

“But one thing did arrive in the post. I had pre-ordered a book months ago, and it happened to come during this specific week! It was frustrating to realise, you’re not just buying the item, you’re buying all the packaging that comes with it.”

Are there any shops or restaurants in Bristol that make it easier to be zero-waste?

“The Thali Cafe do takeaways in a reusable metal container. You pay a small deposit, and take it back. So when you get a takeaway from them, you’re not getting loads and loads of plastic. 

“There’s also a shop that’s just opened up called Preserve, which is a zero-waste shop that sells reusable straws and stuff like that. It’s good if you’re starting to get more aware, and you need things like reusable bags. But you can get caught up in getting all the kit, and it’s important to ask how much of it you need!”

Did you discover any handy ways to reuse rubbish?

“Well: the packet of crisps I mentioned earlier… you can’t recycle crisp packets at all, so after I ate them, I had to frantically Google ‘uses for crisp packets’. There were lots of people who had made whole bags out of them, which I thought was quite cool! 

“We’ve started a vegetable plot in our garden, and you can make bird scare tape with the shiny inside of the crisp packet. So we put it on our plot – it frightens the birds off, so they don’t come and eat all our seeds.” 

Penny's seedlings

Seedlings planted in toilet rolls (Photo credit: Penny Lambert)

What did you learn about going zero-waste? And do you think you’ll keep these new habits up?

“It’s hard going! One of the things that would make it more accessible for most people is to put more pressure on supermarkets, and the producers of these items. If it was their corporate responsibility to deal with the waste, then there would be more motivation for them to give us better options. There’s a lot of classism in this movement at the minute, because it’s more expensive to buy things [that are zero-waste] – you’re paying a premium to not have the packaging. It seems a bit backwards to me. I could afford to opt out of it all for a week, but not everyone can. 

“Where supermarkets are making moves to reduce plastic waste around essential items, and making sure things are biodegradable where possible, that’s a really good step in the right direction. 

“I went into this thinking it would be easier because we already do quite a lot [to cut back on waste], but it’s not! It’s difficult, especially if you’re trying to live a relatively normal life, going out to do things and being social. So I think I’m just going to keep moving that bar a little bit more for myself. I’ll keep trying to be more aware of what we already have and what we don’t need, and questioning if I really need to buy something. And seeing what I can encourage other people to do.”

For more in the Going Green series, read about OVO team member Laura’s journey to vegetarianism with her two young children

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