Six Weeks to Zero Waste: An Interview with Kate Arnell
There’s no doubt that zero waste has become inextricably linked to the welfare of this planet. But with so much conflicting advice, it’s hard to know where to start.
Luckily, TV presenter, eco blogger, sustainability advocate and good friend of Daylesford, Kate Arnell has launched a new book entitled Six Weeks to Zero Waste: A Simple Plan for Life.
With a focus on easy, achievable steps to living a more sustainable lifestyle, Kate’s book is a welcome breath of fresh air at a time when many of us are feeling overwhelmed and confused about which steps to take.
Here, we ask Kate for the scoop on her new book, why zero waste is so important and her response to adversity regarding the state of the planet.
We’re excited to pick up a copy of your new book, Six Weeks to Zero Waste: A Simple Plan For Life. What was the inspiration behind it?
I have friends and family who were keen to start reducing their waste but felt overwhelmed by the idea of going zero waste and they weren’t quite sure where or how to start. So, my brother actually suggested I break it down into manageable weekly tasks that people can try at home. I was really keen to make it fun, easy to read and relatable without people feeling like they had to make everything from scratch or be perfectionist about the lifestyle.
What has been your journey with zero waste so far?
It started about six years ago after reading about a family of four in California who produced one jar of trash between them per year and I just felt so inspired to make changes in my own life. I was already super passionate about supporting organic as much as possible, but felt frustrated that it often came with even more packaging (often single use plastic) than the non-organic option.
Daylesford farmshop in Pimlico was actually one of the first shops I started to bring my own containers to for groceries such as meat and cheese or buying loose fruits and vegetables. In the early years it was a lot harder finding things like pasta in loose form – this was almost impossible and the zero waste or plastic free alternatives simply weren’t as easy to find.
However, since Blue Planet II aired a couple of years ago it’s been fantastic to see such a huge shift in awareness around our waste problem and the willingness for change from everyone. I used to be the odd one at dinner parties who mentioned waste – and those conversations didn’t last long – but now everyone wants to talk about it!
Why is zero waste so important?
I think it’s a very empowering thing because you’re taking control of your own waste instead of waiting for companies, governments and ‘others’ to change. And you can see the results pretty quickly once you make some simple habit swaps.
Waste affects all living beings on this planet, often in some of the most remote and poorest parts of the world, and we currently don’t have very good systems in place to deal with the type of waste, especially plastics and the sheer quantity of them. So by doing my bit, I feel I am helping to drive change and vote with my choices. Too often we rely on recycling as the answer but we should really be encouraging people to recycle less, not more, and encourage refusing, reducing, reusing and repairing before we even think about recycling.
What can readers get from your new book?
The first section of the book is a set of weekly tasks – simple swaps that you can adopt (and you really don’t have to do everything) and how best to go about it. The second section gives ideas for zero waste in practise, so what you can do to minimise waste at work or when hosting an event. Finally, the third section features some simple recipes for food, beauty and cleaning products that I have found useful.
“Too often we rely on recycling as the answer but we should really be encouraging people to recycle less, not more, and encourage refusing, reducing, reusing and repairing before we even think about recycling.”
Do you think there’s a greater challenge for people living in cities to avoid waste rather than in the countryside, or do you think it’s entirely up to each individual?
I think depends on each person’s lifestyle as well as what they have available to them. In some ways, cities often have a good selection of unpackaged options or it might be easier to source a plastic-free alternative. However, zero waste online stores are also growing, so I think it’s getting easier for everyone. Also, zero waste isn’t about doing every possible change – it’s about adopting new habits to suit your lifestyle and budget.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what is best for our planet, from abstaining from eating meat to avoiding buying things new. Do you think it’s important to clear these up?
I do! I’m probably not your typical ‘eco’ person which I hope is a good thing. I don’t believe Veganism is the answer – I was vegetarian for thirteen years and I was so ill by the end of it as my body was craving red meat and oily fish. The more I have learnt about organic practises, how animals play a vital role in building soil health naturally, sequestering carbon as well as just how nutritious good quality meat really is, the more I want to change the dialogue around it. It’s not the cow, it’s the how!
In the UK, the majority of our land is suited best to livestock, not growing crops, so I think it’s important to eat what grows where you live and embrace the whole animal. It’s time to start putting offal or invasive species on the menus (I recently tried squirrel and it was delicious!). We also need to stop over-simplifying very nuanced issues and start looking at the systems around things like farming, recycling, food waste etc. This is where the really trouble lies, not the animal, plant or material itself. I would highly recommend checking out @sustainabledish on instagram who does a great job at debunking a lot of untruths being spread about meat.
What do you have to say to sceptics about zero waste – eg those who think it is pointless or too hard to integrate?
Honestly, if a study came out tomorrow saying that all of my zero waste efforts made no difference whatsoever, I would still continue to live this way as it has made life so much more enjoyable. It’s less about owning stuff and more about enjoying experiences. I love using my reusable alternatives and dare I say, I actually enjoy grocery shopping now! It used to be such a chore but adopting zero waste habits has made it fun. I have grown in confidence too as going zero waste has meant I have to find a way to ask people to do things a little differently. As I have been living this way for quite a while now, it no longer feels like any effort.
Do you have any predictions for zero waste over the next ten years?
I think we’re already starting to see major supermarkets trial refills and zero waste sections and from what I’ve read, or heard from staff is that they’ve had really positive feedback and customers want them to do more and roll them out nationwide. I think most people would agree that they never really asked for so much single-use packaging in the first place so it’s great that businesses are starting to realise that customers are really keen to embrace loose produce, bringing their own containers to the deli and butchers counters and enjoy refilling products.
I also think zero waste is going to become far more ‘normal’ for everyone – it has been fantastic to see just how quickly changes are happening in the last couple of years since Blue Planet II aired, so I think those changes will become more and more mainstream. I hope we find sustainable packaging alternatives where it’s still necessary but I would love to see a huge reduction in packaging in general and to see it used sparingly. I would also love to see better systems in place to deal with waste effectively – it should be mandatory for all food waste to be composted, for example, and companies should take responsibility for closing the loop.
save the date – book signing at our kingham farmshop
Kate Arnell is holding a book launch at our Kingham farmshop on Saturday 25th January 2020. The event is free to attend and Kate will be signing copies of books purchased. Click here for more information.
Don’t worry if you couldn’t make it – Kate’s book will be on sale in all of our farmshops from Saturday 25th January.