blog post feature image saing being zero waste is not class inclusive on a background of solar panels

Being Zero Waste is Hard if you’re Poor

It’s #plasticfreejuly which means lots of people are discussing all of the ways you can be more plastic free and more sustainable and more eco friendly. However, with the growing attitude that we need to do more in this climate crisis I can’t help but feel that it is providing a bit of a toxic attitude between those that can do something and those that can’t.

Don’t get me wrong, the more eco friendly and plastic free and spend free you can be the better but I think it’s important to remember that being zero waste and eco friendly right now is not sustainable because it isn’t inclusive. It will only be truly sustainable if everyone can be as eco friendly as possible.

I read all these amazing stories about families, mostly middle class families with two incomes in well respected and well paid jobs, that save up and quit their lives to go off the grid. They are inspirational of course but I couldn’t do that. We can barely save for Christmas let alone a house deposit and let alone going completely off the grid. Being zero waste is not worth getting into debt for, racking up credit card bills for. Do you, do the best you can do with what you have.

windmills provining green energy for zero waste living

You can only do what you can afford, and that is fine.

Firstly, whilst I am thankful that I do not live on the breadline anymore I am not exactly middle class. My partner is on a zero hour contract for one and whilst his wage is okay, he works through the night. I am self employed but there are days I go without earning money and my wage is, for the most part, very part time. However, I can afford to cut down on my waste, plastic use and general consumption in this society.

I also feel that as individuals we all have a duty to care about and respect the planet we live in and it’s very hard to be completely inclusive with something that is very clearly a class issue. I wanted to write this post to help share that it isn’t down to the individual to make eco friendly the go to, it’s down to the government and the greedy corporations desperate for profit to make huge changes. You shouldn’t blame someone for making a single use plastic choice if that is all they can afford. You can bang on all you like about how you save money in the long term but if you don’t have the money upfront to make huge changes then you can’t make them.

I also feel that a lot of people, especially families, already do quite a lot which you might not see or acknowledge as being zero waste. They might always buy second hand, in charity shops, sell things they don’t need and rely on hand me downs to dress their children. However, they may also have to rely on supermarket clothing, a big part of fast fashion, because it is cheap. Especially if they have children that consistently need new school uniform. Poor people are more likely to make sure no food is wasted because they can’t afford to waste anything. Whilst refill shops might be a great alternative they are few and far between, not always easy to get to and are going to be more expensive.

Being poor isn’t exactly a choice in a capatalist society with over a million families and households relying on foodbanks

Lower income families are already at risk of so many things because they are poor and are forced to buy cheap, plastic, processed food and household products. This is because of how inaccessible eco friendly, plastic free products are to them so we really need to stop putting the blame on the person and start putting the blame on the people that actually can make a change. Do you not think you might be making them feel even more guilt and shame about their purchasing choices if you keep telling them about your middle class eco friendly zero waste refill station?

We can all only do what we can do. If you can’t swap to everything because you can’t afford to then that is fine. If you can afford it then brilliant. I am not saying to stop the conversations because they are important but I am saying to stop the shame and blame game because not everyone can afford to be eco friendly.

paper straws in glass bottles for eco friendly living

And If you want to shame and blame someone here’s what you can do

Sign every petition you can to get eco friendly plastic free products sustainable and inclusive to everyone

When you donate to food banks/refuges/period poverty boxes then make sure the products are plastic free. Even though it doesn’t contribute to a reduction in landfill it still makes these products accessible to people in need and you may find that these places do not accept reusables.

Get your nursery to use reusable wipes in place of disposables. That in itself would be a huge reduction in terms of things going to landfill and would save parents that having to send in disposables and therefore using less and saving themselves a bit of money.

Petition your local MP/Council about a cloth nappy scheme in the area to make these more affordable for all parents. These work successfully around the country but they aren’t in all areas. This can often mean subsidised cloth nappy kits and even better if you can get a group of cloth nappy friends to start a cloth nappy library – which again, aren’t in every single area.

Plastic Free swaps you can make

If you are living on the breadline or on a low income then there are some things that you might be able to change but please do not feel guilty if you can’t. I have been homeless, I have relied on food banks and I have been swimming in debt on the breadline. It is hard. It is hard when single use plastic is basically you’re only option.

Washing powder in a cardboard box – I used to get this from poundland because it was all I could afford.

Buy products in tins/jars/glass/cardboard & paper over plastic.

Anything you can buy loose wrapped is great.

If you can afford it reusable wipes can be a great swap as it’s not too expensive to change over. All you need is a mesh bag, plastic box and a set of wipes. It is one of the things that I can genuinely say has saved me money because wipes are a few pound a week.

Cloth nappies – it does not have to be all or nothing. If you can afford to buy one a month then gradually swapping out is fantastic. They also have excellent resell value. They can be anywhere from £7-£18 per nappy brand new however look for them second hand. I started with a set of second hand ones which have been really helpful.

There seems to be a big thing about plastic straws. My argument would be do you really need straws, if you do then fine, I am fully aware that some individuals with additional needs may need and rely on plastic bendy disposable straws, but if you don’t really need them then just not buying them is better than converting to a metal straw or bamboo ones.

Can you afford to change energy suppliers? We have changed to ecotricity, a green supplier, and we pay by electric key metre topping up weekly or two weekly. It is not much difference money wise. You can compare prices and if it’s about the same money wise and you can afford the swap then this might be a great alternative for you.

bamboo toothbrushes for eco friendly living

Being zero waste is a luxury and it’s not sustainable if it isn’t truly inclusive and affordable for everyone.

My point really is that not everyone can afford being zero waste or eco friendly or plastic free. The single working mum might not be able to try and buy several menstrual cups before she finds one that fits. Those that buy plastic straws could do for accessible reasons. Cloth nappies are very expensive and not everyone can afford to buy a kit outright. Plastic is in and covering everything, it’s cheap and easy to produce. Fast fashion is damaging but if you’ve got kids growing and you need to get them clothes you’re going to turn to the cheapest and most affordable way. It’s not even about kids, if you happen to be poor and fat you’re not left with a lot of choices either.

Let’s continue educating because some people who want to make the swap might not know what they can change. Let’s continue spreading awareness so those that can afford to be more eco friendly can do even more than they’re currently doing. But most importantly let’s collectively agree to stop shaming the individual whose circumstances we do not fully know or understand and instead put more pressure on corporations and the government to make zero waste, low emission, eco friendly living an inclusive lifestyle for every single person.

On a lasting note the point of being zero waste is having less. So if you can’t afford the alternatives but you do want to try and do something, look for ways you can reduce your waste, reuse as much as you can, mend things as you go and recycle as much as you can.

How being eco friendly and zero waste is not truly sustainable because it is not truly inclusive and is a classist issue. Here are some solutions for eco friendly lifestyle changes if you're on a low income or poor.

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