How to start the sustainability conversation: Going Zero Waste

22 Jun 2020

Events

For Zero Waste Week, we’re going to look at different ways to reduce your environmental impact.

The picturesque village of Boscastle in Cornwall was a popular tourist hotspot before a freak flood decimated it in 2004. For eight hours, the rain hammered down upon already waterlogged land and the two nearby rivers, unable to resist, swelled and burst their banks, unleashing two million tonnes of water that rushed through the town, taking with it houses, cars and historic buildings. The Environmental Agency described it as one of the most extreme floods ever experienced in Britain.

For the Strauss family, who saw the tragedy unfold in front of them, the freak flood was a wake-up call to the growing effects of climate change. Among other environmental programmes developed by the family, Rachel Strauss set up Zero Waste Week, encouraging people every year to throw absolutely nothing away for a whole week. This is because landfill waste exacerbates global warming by releasing hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

For some, the thought of throwing away nothing at all might be a bit daunting: many of us are so used to throwing away an empty crisp packet or an old tissue, that the idea of becoming zero waste – even just for a week – is a difficult thought to process.

However, we’re here to show you that living a week of zero waste is not impossible. At Hotel Chocolat, we’ve taken various steps to reduce the amount of waste we create as a company, and we’ve broken down the various steps you can take as an individual to reduce your waste. We also take a look at how waste affects the environment. 

waste disposal truck

What is Zero Waste Week?

Zero Waste Week is an initiative that aims to raise awareness of how much non-recyclable waste we throw away on a regular basis by challenging people to cut out their waste entirely for a full week.

It started as just a small grassroots movement in 2004, but Zero Waste Week has now expanded into a global initiative, with millions of people taking part each year. The team behind the initiative has grown as well, and now its workers help schools, businesses, universities, organisations and individuals save money, preserve resources and reduce global warming by dramatically cutting down the waste they produce.

It seems this initiative is much needed in our country: each person in the UK throws away around five times their body weight in waste every year and over half of this waste in England goes straight to landfill, whereas 45.7% of it was recycled. Zero Waste Week aims to drastically reduce the amount of waste we produce to create less of a strain on our already landfill-clogged country.

Does zero waste include recycling?

Although it’s extremely difficult to cut out all recyclable waste, it’s important to understand that recycling isn’t a perfect solution; recycling costs money and processing waste produces its own pollution. In fact, two-thirds of the UK’s plastic waste is shipped abroad to be recycled, mostly to Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia and Poland, before being sent back to the UK. This saves on cost, but uses a lot of fuel.

Although recycling materials is permitted during Zero Waste Week, zero waste is more about changing our mentality towards waste, and getting out of the disposable culture that permeates our society. Rather than justifying buying large amounts of cardboard or glass bottles because you know they can be recycled, instead prevent and minimise your waste; don’t buy it in the first place, or buy it in smaller quantities.

Why reducing our waste is important

Our current consumption (and consequent disposal) culture is unsustainable. To create new products, countries need to spend large amounts of capital to extract raw materials, which uses vast amounts of energy and resources, as well as causing pollution. According to the Toronto Environmental Agency, it takes 20 times less energy to make an aluminium can from recycled materials than raw materials.

truck pushing landfill waste

Due to the large amount that we throw away, landfills across the world are simply running out of space, and landfills do not simply make rubbish disappear. Online magazine Sciencing states that around two-thirds of landfill waste contains biodegradable material, which releases harmful greenhouse gases such as methane when it breaks down. In the UK, we harness much of that methane to produce electricity, but many countries across the world do not.

Landfill waste also has a high chance of polluting the groundwater, as rainfall dissolves some of the waste, which then flows away, potentially causing irreparable pollution to rivers and lakes and the aquatic life in them.

Landfill also has biodiversity impacts, as up to 300 species per hectare are lost due to landfill sites, and they can have long-term effects on soil fertility as well.

Plastic is the worst culprit for waste, especially for our oceans. Every year, eight million tonnes of plastics enter our oceans, and plastic has been found in 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtle species. Studies have shown that plastic does not biodegrade completely, instead just breaking down into tiny pieces called microplastics which can take thousands of years to decompose. These microplastics are consumed by marine species and they enter our own water supplies.

bird eating plastic waste

It’s clear that we need to significantly reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste we produce – but how?

How to go zero waste

Zero Waste Week is an important initiative, designed to raise awareness surrounding the amount of waste we produce – however, going zero waste doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process, and there are various steps you can take to reduce how much you throw away. The first step is prevention. Do you really need that take-out coffee, that plastic straw or that water bottle?

We’ve put together some tips on how to go zero waste, depending on the type of products you throw away most often.

Food

Research by WRAP shows that in the UK we throw away 6.6 billion tonnes of food waste a year; 70% of which was edible! This causes over 25 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and is worth around £19 billion. The majority of this (85%) is produced by households and food manufacturers, so we all have a part to play in reducing our food waste.

man throwing away food

If your local council allows you to compost your food waste, take advantage of this! If not, you can create your own compost bin, or find areas near you where compost bins exist. It’s also a good idea to look at your food scraps with a creative eye; those potato peelings can be tossed in oil and roasted as a cheap alternative to chips, and the stem of broccoli can be peeled and the soft core chopped and cooked the same as your florets.

At Hotel Chocolat, we know that as food manufacturers we have a responsibility to do our part. We reduce the amount of food waste we produce by using every bit of the cocoa bean. We use cocoa shells (which are usually discarded) and distill it into our Cocoa Gin and Cocoa beer, and in our St Lucia Hotel, we use the cocoa pulp as a tangy ingredient in our cocktails.

We also sell our Ugly But Good factory bags for a cheaper price so that nothing goes to waste, and we have managed to reach almost zero milk waste in our cafés, in comparison to the industry standard of 5-10% of milk which goes to waste each day.

Beauty

The beauty industry has long been one of the worst culprits for plastic packaging; just look around your bathroom and count the bottles of shampoo, shower gel, lotions and make-up, all in plastic.

However, over the last decade or so, there has been a surge in the creation of eco-beauty products that offer the same results but without the waste. Solid shampoo and conditioner bars are a great way to cut down on waste, as they can be sold in paper bags or with a metal travel tin.

rabot 1745 body scrub in recyclable cup

If you can’t find a plastic-free alternative to your body moisturiser, make sure you buy it in a pot, rather than a squeezy bottle. This means when you’ve finished you’ve got a free box to store your jewellery or paperclips!

Finding new uses for old packaging inspired us to sell our Rabot 1745 body scrubs in reusable coffee cups. Just give them a wash after you’ve finished and you’ve got a free keep cup made from bamboo, corn and wood fibre to use on the go. We also cut down on food waste by using cocoa shells in our body scrubs and exfoliants; free from microplastics, and leave your skin feeling silky soft!

Reducing your everyday waste

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably already taken some steps to cut down on waste, such as buying a refillable water bottle, always carrying reusable shopping bags and buying a keep cup for your on-the-go coffee. But what about other things that you just hadn’t thought of yet? With so many new eco products coming onto the market, it’s easy to make changes that will help you cut down on your waste.

Search for shops near you that sell their products packaging free. This means they sell their items in dispensers, and you just need to bring your own containers or cloth bags to fill up. From daily essentials like flour, oats and pasta, to dried mango and chia seeds, this is a simple way to reduce the inevitable plastic packaging that you see in supermarkets.

Food in reusable glass jars

At Hotel Chocolat, we have already made significant changes to our packaging to make it more eco-friendly, but we pledge that 100% of our packaging will be both recyclable or reusable by 2021.

The most difficult – but most impactful – change you can make is simply saying no to things you don’t need. That could be a freebie handed out on your walk to work, or that clothes shopping trip for things you don’t actually need. Stop buying items that are designed to be used once, or for a short time, before being thrown away. Instead, invest in high-quality products that will last a long time; this goes for many things, from fashion to furniture.

Our Planet Pledge to reduce waste

Here at Hotel Chocolat, we have been taking steps to reduce the amount of waste we create. For plastic waste, we make sure all our plastic trays are made using 70% recycled plastic: we’re currently trialling a sugarcane-based 100% compostable tray for our A Dozen Quail Eggs. In our cafés, we’ve made sure all our cups, spoons, napkins and straws are all compostable.

chocolate eggs in sustainable packaging

We used to use polystyrene as fillers to protect our precious chocolates when we sent them directly to your home, but as polystyrene is neither compostable or easily recyclable, we changed to corrugated cardboard instead. We save 125 tonnes of cardboard a year by reusing the cardboard boxes we use for packaging as well; our dedicated staff unpack them, flatten them and send them back to the factory for another trip.

This, and many other of our Engaged Ethics initiatives have helped us reduce our packaging and make less of an impact on the environment. But there is still a long way to go, for all of us.

Zero Waste Week takes place in September, but why not start making small changes now? Reducing your waste now will make Zero Waste Week much easier, and by taking small steps to reduce the amount you throw away, in a couple of months you won’t think twice about buying packaging-free products, or turning your food waste into compost.

Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up for every little thing you do wrong. The most important thing is that you are trying to reduce your waste, and changing your mentality over something so ingrained in our society won’t happen overnight. We’re doing our best to reduce our impact on the environment, and we hope you are too!