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Zero waste. Is it possible?

Our waste pollutes the environment. That’s why the zero waste movement is trying to produce as little of it as possible. But how can it be done? We asked Rosanna Brady from Lucerne.


  • Sustainability

  • Lifestyle

Rosanna, you live by the zero waste principle. What exactly does that mean?

The point is that nothing should be produced that might end up as waste. This doesn’t only apply to plastic, which is used for a lot of packaging. The production and recycling of glass and other materials also consumes a lot of energy. That’s the difference between recycling and zero waste: zero waste means avoiding all types of waste as much as possible – including recyclable waste. Here, it’s the whole production chain that counts.

That surely involves a huge lifestyle change. How do you manage it?

I would recommend doing things one step at a time rather than trying to take on everything at once. Adjustments take time. start with simple things: always take along your own shopping bag, for instance – including small cloth bags for fruits and vegetables. Next, you might stop buying PET bottles and take your own reusable bottle along with you. Or use refillable containers for food and other products so you can do without disposable packaging. When more and more little things get to be a habit one after the other, things get a lot easier.

« The most sustainable method is always to use what you already have at home. »

All this involves quite a bit of research, right?

Yes, that is part of it. There are lots of websites, books, blogs and Facebook groups. You can also find out interesting things from talks. There are more options and products than you think: for example you can buy toothpaste in tablet form that you can put in a jar. Or shampoo in solid form. But you can also have empty shampoo or detergent containers refilled: this can be done at package-free stores, as well as at pharmacies, drugstores and health food shops. I’m still using my old dishwasher bottle that I bought two years ago. The most sustainable method is always to use what you already have at home.

Doesn’t zero waste take more time out of your day because it takes longer to look for things?

Yes and no. When you start, you do have to spend time getting information, but later on you automatically get better organised. Today I actually shop less frequently but more selectively: I know what I need and where to find it. So it doesn’t take any longer than it did before. And lots of things are closer to home than you might think: at the neighbourhood shop around the corner I can get yoghurt in a deposit jar, for instance, and at the nearby health food store I pay a deposit on reusable bottles, so I can take them back and get them refilled. For other things, I have to travel a bit further: In Zurich, where I work, I buy feta in a Turkish shop and tofu in an unpackaged shop.

How has your day-to-day life changed since you started living zero-waste?

I cook more myself and prepare a lot of things at home that are hard to find without packaging – such as dough. I usually have my water bottle with me and my reusable bag – often Tupperware, too, or small bags so I can buy things spontaneously. I weigh the Tupperware containers I use for shopping and write the weight on each one. This way, the sales assistant at the checkout knows straight away how much to deduct. So I’ve actually created a new routine for myself.

But surely there are things that are simply impossible to find anywhere without packaging – electronics and laptops, for example?

Yes, that is difficult. I buy a lot of electronic equipment second-hand. We produce a lot of electrical waste, even with appliances that are still in working order. I also go to second-hand shops or make use of lending and rental platforms such as Sharely and Pumpipumpe: I can put stickers on my letterbox to let people know what have at home and what I can lend. This is handy for things like drills and other devices you rarely use. Any I only ever buy second-hand clothes now.

Isn’t it virtually impossible to keep track of the entire production chain of a product?

Living one hundred per cent according to zero waste is never entirely possible. But there are still lots of ways to reduce all kinds of waste. If I cannot avoid packaging waste, I can at least make sure it’s recyclable. And I like try to make use of the power I have as a consumer, too.

What do you mean by that?

For example, I’ve called companies to ask how something will be packaged and whether I can send the packaging back. Or once I wrote to a meat substitute manufacturer that I loved their products and would very much like to buy them, but I also wanted to live according to zero waste. They then asked if I knew of a package-free store they could contact where they could sell their products. That kind of thing is great. You can definitely make a difference if you’re committed.

« At first I was embarrassed to ask sales assistants if they could put something directly into a Tupperware container for me. When they responded positively, I realised how easy it was. »

What’s the biggest benefit of the zero-waste lifestyle as you see it?

Since I changed my lifestyle, I have closer contact with the people I buy from. I automatically buy more organic and locally sourced food, because a lot of such foods are often automatically zero waste. It might well be that I now lead a healthier life as a result, too. And I’ve met a lot of inspiring people.

And what was or is the most difficult thing?

When I went shopping, I was a little ashamed at first. At first I was embarrassed to ask sales assistants if they could put something in a Tupperware container for me. When they responded positively or simply replied: “Yes, sure!”, I realised how easy it was.

Non-profit association ZeroWaste Switzerland

Rosanna Brady is an ambassador for the non-profit association ZeroWaste Switzerland. This organisation aims to inspire and support the population at large as well as businesses and local authorities with the aim of reducing waste at the source. www.zerowasteswitzerland.ch

Bild von Rosanna Brady

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