To refuse or not to refuse – that is the question

Posted on: 8th August, 2018

Category: Trash Talk

Contributor: Allison Roberts

Allison Roberts of Exploding Tree is documenting her family’s self-imposed challenge to create zero rubbish for a whole year. If you would like to join Allison in her quest, or suggest some tips to help her achieve it, you will find her blog at

Author and Zero Waste guru Bea Johnson is a good baseline to relate my struggles and triumphs of this month. Bea has become an international waste reduction hero, having reduced her family waste to a mere one litre per year. In her book ‘Zero Waste Home’ (which I have out on loan from the library and you can feel free to request and get next!) she digs into every aspect of waste, even offering DIY mascara, shoe polish and sun tan lotion recipes. By applying every waste reduction tactic one could imagine, she has simplified her surroundings and has freed up time and resources for the baking and mending intrinsic to the ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle, as well as time to be more creative and enjoy wasteless activites with family and friends – which is what it’s all about, no?

One of my biggest struggles thus far is one Bea tackles straight away in her book – the simple idea of refusal. She introduced two more Rs, ‘refuse’ and ‘rot’ to the standard ‘reuse, reduce, recycle’ mantra and it’s the first I find the most difficult. Though I write this article publicly, I find it nearly impossible to mention my cut-the-rubbish ambitions to friends when I invite them over for dinner, or say “no thanks” when someone wants to hand me something like a flyer or business card. It seems rude.

Bea has suggested some ways around this, and I’ve already started trying them out. I asked a man in a shop down past Bantry if he could please just use paper on my baguette sandwich rather than both paper and plastic. He gave me a wry smile, asked how he was supposed to handle it, then proceeded to hand me the sandwich complete with three sheets of plastic, while asking if I wanted a plastic bag? I said “no thanks” to the bag, only then realising he was making a little dig; I smiled and asked if he was trying to wind me up? He said there was no need, as I was clearly wound up enough already! Hmmm, not all plain sailing it seems but I will try to improve my delivery.

This month was also ‘Plastic-free July’ and many friends that I bumped into had embarked on a mission to “say no” to plastic. I have interviewed a few and wanted to relay some overarching themes.

First, many came to the realisation that, though it is quite easy to cut back most plastic, plastic is very sneaky and manages to enter the home regardless. One woman was annoyed by the small seal on a bottle of gin, another by the plastic windows on envelopes coming through the letterbox. On a positive note, one comment was how happy some shops were to take plastic-free suggestions onboard – butchers happily offering paper bags, takeaways handling tupperwares and coffee shops offering discounts for BYO cups. It seems that though the system in place is inundated with plastic, we can still rid ourselves of quite a lot of it by simply presenting an alternative to our favorite shopkeeper. Bea also mentioned this a lot in her book; shops (and large corporates) are usually happy to hear and make changes if customers present solutions that offer both environmental and cost savings.

One thing that has made the whole thing much easier for me is to have gotten into the habit of keeping a travel-mug and a few small reusable bags in the bottom of my regular shoulder bag at all times. Also having a market bag ready with a couple of kilner jars for olives, tupperwares for fish and cloth bags for veg has meant we don’t forget things last minute. When something is emptied we just stick it back in the bag ready for the next trip to the shops and if I forget it, I go without – that has made certain I will remember next time! I could go on and on here, mainly about Bea Johnson and her inspiring book that has led me to a full-house clearout. More on that next month.


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