Cohort F are spending their Challenge Day litter picking in Finsbury Park. When litter damages our environment, humans also suffer the consequences. It breeds bacteria that is carried by pets into our homes, pollutes the water we drink, causes injuries and clogs our sewers.
One way to fight against this very human problem is by reducing our waste, and Laura Coupe, the ‘Low Waste Warrior’, is tackling the issue head-on. She started her Instagram earlier this year to promote a low waste lifestyle, joining a growing community online, and is soon heading off to study an MSc in Sustainability. Laura gives detailed advice on how to reduce your litter and shares information about the state of the environment right now. We had the opportunity to sit down with the Low Waste Warrior herself and ask her how she fights for a more sustainable future.
What made you start your low waste Instagram account earlier this year?
Hi Rose, thanks for having me. A big part of it for me was being inspired by zero waste accounts on Instagram. I started following them on my personal account and was quickly inundated by zero waste tips and could no longer see my friends’ posts! I have always been wary of my plastic waste and thought I could bring together the tips and tricks I had learned over the years and help others start their journey towards a low waste lifestyle too.
That’s a great goal. Are there any tips you can give us right now?
So many tips! The one thing I have to mention is that when I started on my journey, I went out and bought everything new: a new reusable water bottle, a new reusable coffee cup (I don’t even drink hot drinks!), bamboo cutlery… I can say now that you do not need these things to make an impact. My main advice would be to use what you already have. Repurpose an old jam jar by using it for leftovers. Use your plastic Tupperware instead of replacing it with metal tiffin boxes. Wrap a (blunt!) knife and fork in a cloth napkin and have it in your bag in case you need it for a spontaneous lunch. What I would suggest is making these changes slowly, replacing the plastic item with a more sustainable version as you go. Have you run out of your packet of plastic razors? Check out a safety razor, completely made of metal with blades that will decompose. Due your period? Consider getting a menstrual cup. Need a new toothbrush? Get a bamboo one!
Lots of useful tips there, thank you. A big component of personal plastic waste is food waste, especially because of supermarkets. Is there anything we can do about this?
This is a tricky issue because supermarkets produce so much packaged food that it seems an impossible task to fight on your own. However, we underestimate our power when it comes to purchasing – the supermarkets do not exist without customers! If we decide to buy the plastic-free version of items, or boycott the overpackaged items altogether, the impact will be noticed. I’ve also realised that usually the unhealthiest foods have the most plastic packaging, so adopting a healthier lifestyle should help.
There is, nevertheless, the problem of price. I could say “just buy loose fruits and vegetables”, or “go to your local farmers’ market for your produce”, or even “find a bulk shop”. Whilst these are reasonable suggestions, the fact of the matter is, those are the more expensive options and may not be accessible to hundreds of thousands of Brits. What we need to do as consumers is put pressure on our supermarkets by writing to them (Twitter is great for this) and demanding that they reduce the amount of packaging on items where it is deemed unnecessary. There does seem to be movement here though: Iceland has recently announced that it will be eradicating any plastic packaging from its products and no longer stocking products with palm oil.
You’ve touched on an interesting point. Would you say that a low waste lifestyle is more expensive on the whole, and is it difficult to keep up?
If I’m honest, there are aspects of the lifestyle that are more expensive. Recently I replaced my washing up gloves with ones made with sustainable rubber and they cost £5, whilst at Tesco you can get normal marigolds for £1. I’m also experimenting with natural deodorant, a block of solid deodorant at Lush costs £6 and it’ll last a couple of months, whilst a spray can from Boots will cost £2 max. The sustainability market is still very new, the products are more ethically sourced, and the availability is more limited, so this explains the higher price tag on these items. The more we as consumers buy these items, the lower the price will get. However, the fact they are ethically made means that the price should not get so low that the people making it get poorly paid. This is a massive point when it comes to fast fashion and ethical clothing – the reason that plain white shirt from an ethical clothing company is £20 in comparison to the £3 H&M one is because H&M uses sweat shops. What I can say is that the sustainable lifestyle requires more upfront investment in things that will last you for ages – menstrual cups and shampoo bars are perfect examples of this. In the end, you know that the purchases are worth it for the reduction in waste going to landfill and people being paid fairly.
I have to agree with you! Lastly, what do you think the future holds for plastic waste?
I think we are all gradually becoming more aware of the plastic issue. David Attenborough has shone a huge light on what plastic pollution is doing to our oceans and marine life, which has been wonderful for the movement. Plastic waste is a thing of the past and the more we talk about it, the closer we’ll be to a waste-free future. Of course, it all starts within your own community, so doing litter picks and making eco-friendly swaps here and there are great first steps. Then comes the bigger issue of tackling climate change! But I’ll leave that for another time.
Start your low waste journey now and follow the Low Waste Warrior on Instagram at www.instagram.com/lowwastewarrior