When she’s not presenting on TV, Kate Arnell is blogging and vlogging at ECO BOOST, a platform for sharing her adventures in the world of Zero Waste and organic, sustainable living.
Whether it’s learning to make things from scratch or finding simple, day-to-day methods of living less wastefully, Kate documents the highs and lows for everyone else to learn from. Here she shares some of her top tips, as well as the innovations of companies who are beginning to champion a zero waste approach.
What led you to first begin ECO BOOST?
I had been working as a TV presenter for about 10 years (MTV, Disney, Lottery, CBBC etc) and I was finding that I no longer had an interest in “entertainment-focussed” shows. TV work was getting a little slow and I had some time on my hands and after playing around with putting videos up on YouTube.
Around the same time, I had started moving to a zero waste lifestyle after reading Bea Johnson’s book, Zero Waste Home. It was a bit of a wake up call and I felt it aligned so well with my values. I was so inspired and I wanted to share my take on zero waste as well as my passion for supporting organic products and sustainable fashion.
I wanted the message of eco boost to feel approachable. To show that by wearing organic and sustainable clothing, I could still look stylish. I could eat whatever I wanted as long as I could find it organic and without packaging. And most importantly, I am a regular city dweller (as much as I’d love to live in a cabin in the woods sometimes) so I wanted to show that it could be done without making compromises.
Your commitment to an eco-lifestyle covers all sorts of avenues including organics and eco-fashion, but zero-waste seems to be your primary concern – what pushed you onto this?
I simply want to share the things I’m genuinely passionate about and it’s amazing how many different areas there are to focus on when it comes to being more eco friendly. For me, it’s about the whole picture; having passions in a similar area that compliment each other.
I have always felt strongly that choosing organic is best, ever since I was a teenager. It was intuitive really. Why would I want food or materials that have been grown using synthetic and toxic chemicals? Yuk! However, most organic produce (especially from supermarkets) comes wrapped in single-use plastic packaging which has always bothered me. It felt like I was making a compromise every time I went grocery shopping. By choosing organic, I was actually generating more trash in the form of plastic wrap.
Finding out about the zero waste lifestyle was a revelation! It encouraged me to question the way things are done and seek out alternatives that I felt happier supporting whilst maintaining my preference for organic. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can totally be both!
The concept of zero waste is still a bit unknown to most people and quite a new approach to living, even though a lot of it is based on more traditional ways of doing things. In a way, the organic movement was similar many years ago. It used to be much more niche and not many people knew about it. I feel zero waste is on a similar path and in the future will be much more widespread and normal. There is even a campaign calling for all supermarkets to offer a plastic-free aisle. How amazing would that be?
I think the term Zero Waste itself can be a little intimidating and confusing. Producing no waste at all is actually impossible. But not all waste is created equal – plastic for example doesn’t biodegrade and it is destroying wildlife and even damaging our food chain (recent research has shown how the majority of fish contains plastic!). By reducing not only the amount of rubbish I throw out but also ensuring that it is mostly biodegradable or infinitely recyclable (such as glass) then I know I’m not contributing towards the growing plastic pollution problem.
Which three myths would you like to dispel around packaging and waste?
- The general attitude of “I won’t make a difference on my own, so why should I bother”. Let’s take coffee cups for example. They are everywhere yet fewer than 1 in 400 gets recycled. The majority of them actually can’t be recycled as they contain a thin layer of plastic coating on the inside which is hard to separate from the card outer. Now, if I make one simple change and switch to a reusable coffee cup, and then some of my friends and family love the idea and start doing the same, suddenly my one easy swap is already having a wider impact. Now imagine that I make 10 other small changes to reduce my waste and the same thing happens. Suddenly one person making a few changes has grown to a large group of people all making similar changes. And I’ve witnessed this happening. My friends, after seeing me use my reusable coffee cup now love telling me how they love using theirs. It takes a few of us to start doing these things for others to then feel inspired to do the same, but once you start, it’s hard to stop! It’s infectious… in a good way!
- Believing we need to recycle more when actually we need to recycle less! Recycling should be the last option for something, not the first. By reducing the amount of packaged items we buy in the first place we then have less to recycle and less to throw away.
- And finally perfectionism! Zero Waste isn’t about being perfect and you don’t have to make your own products if that’s not your vibe. Instead, it’s about making better choices and positive changes to suit our own lifestyle. For example, I still buy things like mascara (an organic one!) that comes in a plastic tube (which I recycle but as we now know, plastic only gets downcycled and eventually ends up in the ocean or landfill) because I currently cannot find one with clean enough ingredients that doesn’t come in plastic or a DIY recipe that works for me. It’s a process which takes time and it’s certainly not about being perfect or a fad.
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When it comes to reducing waste and recycling products, which companies most impress you with their commitments?
I love it when a company thinks about the end of a product's life! Where will it end up? Can we reuse this? I feel that more and more businesses are starting to take responsibility for their choices by offering things such as take-back schemes or changing the way they do things. These are just a few that spring to mind:
Nudie Jeans has a wonderful approach. They use organic cotton and sustainable practises and offer a repair service for life. If I ever get bored with a certain style I can return them and get 20% off my next pair whilst my old pair, depending on the condition will either be made into a “recycled” pair of jeans or into another product such as a rug which you can also buy from Nudie. It’s a real cradle-to-cradle approach that looks at the whole picture.
Silo is a zero waste restaurant in Brighton who are showing that reducing waste in their industry can be done with some clever thought and ingenuity. They work closely with their suppliers to ensure that the produce they buy in has minimal packaging and they use up any possible waste as best they can. Their steamed milk from the coffee bar gets made into cheese for example and they have a wonderful composting machine called Bertha who takes only what they can’t use up. Even their furnishing are recycled, using old pieces of denim as cushion covers for their seats and bread is served on plates made from recycled plastic bags that are honestly beautiful! I never thought I’d like an item made from plastic!
Selfridges, surprisingly, is making huge changes and encouraging people to think about sustainability. They have removed all plastic water bottles from their shelves and are currently promoting more sustainable and ethical clothing brands. They are also hosting wastED – a pop up food restaurant with a menu made from food waste. It’s great to see such a large high street store take a stance on sustainability and spread the word.
Many people may feel that the little bit of waste they save is ineffective, what would you say to anyone who feels they can’t make a difference?
I’m generally a very positive person and like to focus on my own actions. If I inspire others along the way then that’s great. But every now and then I question myself, wondering if what I’m doing makes a difference and seeing everyone else walking around with plastic cups, straws, bags etc can be a bit overwhelming. When this happens, I think back to how much we used to throw away on a weekly basis – 2 large bin liners full of plastic waste!
Now, we (my husband and I) throw out one medium paper bag once a week, but sometimes once a fortnight, the majority of which is biodegradable and plastic free. I think once you start living this way and adopting habits that are actually really easy to maintain, it’s hard to go back. And the benefits are huge! I now eat healthier (no packaged, processed foods filled with questionable ingredients), I have learned new skills (home made pasta anyone?), and overall I’m exposed to fewer toxins found in plastic packaging, such as BPA. l also find living this way incredibly rewarding which keeps me going.
I recently challenged a fellow YouTuber to make a few simple changes in his life for one week (switching to a reusable coffee cup and water bottle, using cloth bags, cooking more from scratch) and he surprisingly managed to reduce the contents of his bin bag by half! And he was only just scratching the surface. It’s about realising that by thinking we can’t, then no one will. By thinking we can, everyone will.
Some of the simple changes I started out with were:
- Signing up to a regular delivery of organic milk that arrives in a returnable and reusable glass bottle
- Replacing my razor with a stainless steel safety razor which only requires one metal blade that can be recycled (and only costs 10p!)
- Replacing my plastic toothbrush with a wooden toothbrush
- Switching from tampons to a mooncup (such a game changer!)
- Taking reusable containers and cloth bags with me when shopping or out and about
- Replacing all cleaning products with white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and vodka etc.
- Shopping at local, independent organic grocery shops where the produce is sold without packaging and the butcher’s counter is happy for me to bring my own tins. Supermarkets can be a bit tricky to shop without packaging at the moment.
The 5p bag charge was obviously extremely successful in reducing single use plastic bags, what other steps do you think governments, alongside large corporations, can take to have a similar impact?
It certainly has had a positive impact and who could have thought that 5p would be enough to encourage people to bring their reusable bag?! I would love the 5p charge to be applied to all businesses, as it’s currently only the larger ones who are required to charge for plastic bags, meaning small businesses can still give away plastic bags to their customers without charging.
I would love to see reusables get a tax break or an incentive of some kind to encourage more people and businesses to switch to using reusables. At the same time I think disposable items should come with an added cost or tax.
It’s great to hear about countries such as France who are paving the way and banning all single use plastic. I think this forces companies to find an alternative whether they like it or not. Hopefully other countries will follow suit!
Read Kate Arnell’s top tips for living a life less wasteful