Growing up in a middle-class family in the 90ies and 2000 in Germany meant that recycling became something of a second nature (Germany after all is the EU country with the highest percentage of recycled litter ca. 65%*). So much so that – like most people – I stopped thinking about how much waste I produced.
When I moved to Scotland I had to realise that I couldn’t even get those items plastic-free that I had always bought plastic-free, eg sparkling water in glass bottles (for which you pay a little deposit which will be refunded on return – a concept the English language doesn’t even have a proper name for “bottle with refundable deposit” is not a very satisfactory translation for Pfandflasche or the very pictorial word Mehrwegflasche). And over the course of the last 16 months my frustration about this fact and other shortcomings like affordable organic cosmetics grew steadily.
After my last trip home and a rather escalated shopping spree at my favourite drugstore, I unpacked my purchases in my Scottish home only to question whether I actually needed all that stuff and why organic, plant-based cosmetics had to be packed in plastic. So, I started googleing on how to make cosmetics and as usual one google-search led to another and I found myself reading blogs and watching videos on alternative living, minimalism and most importantly zero-waste. I first stumbled across Lauren Singer’s TedTalk, then her blog and finally found Bea Johnson. And let me tell you that woman is inspiring. If she can live zero-waste with 2 teenage boys and a husband and look as sexy as she does, why can’t I? As unattainable as her looks are for me (only French people can look so stylish owning only a few second-hand clothes), I was convinced that zero-waste is something I can achieve for sure.
However, my next visit to the supermarket almost smashed my new found aspirations to pieces. I realised that my chances of achieving zero-waste were much higher when I lived in a town that was considered the suburbs of a city the size of Edinburgh which itself was situated within a metropolitan area that has a population density of 1401pax/km2 than they are living in the Scottish countryside. Back in Germany my horse lived on an organic poultry farm where you could buy affordable organic eggs and I had a farm co-op 2mins from my former place of work that offered freshly baked bread, locally grown fruits and veg as well as dairy and meat from the region – everything could be purchased plastic-free.
Now I live in a rural area on an estate that runs the stereotypical sheep farm and have no idea where to get my food other than from the supermarket that offers everything from everywhere and always wrapped in plastic (hell, the standard cucumber looks like it was grown in a giant condom). Although plastic-free or at least reduced to the minimum I might achieve with some creativity and organised shopping trips to Edinburgh (which will have to be done by my hubby who works there to reduce the amount of extra fuel we would burn but still means a trip to the other end of the city for him) and online bulk shopping, local seems almost impossible. Even the local fruit & veg shop that offers veg box deliveries has to get its products from a hypermarket in England. I know that there are some shops that offer local produce at least seasonally but it is very expensive and very limited.
I bought Bea Johnson’s book hoping that it will provide me with more tips & tricks on how to reduce my trash or even achieve zero-waste in spite of all the obstacles and regional limitations. And although I already knew that zero-waste rather describes a goal and not necessarily reality, I was relieved that she, too, highlights that the level or success of zero-waste is highly dependent on geography.
Still, the fact that it seems easier to live a zero-waste life in the city than in the country is, for me, just another proof how disconnected we are from a life in accord with nature. It is very sad that the average farmer buys his steak and vegetables wrapped in plastic in a supermarket (or at least that’s what shows like the Pioneer Woman make us believe). I know there are exceptions to the rule and I hope that by actively looking for these exceptions my horizon will be broadened. I actually pray to have my last statement proved wrong.
Although Germany recycles so much of the litter it has one of the highest per capita waste production in the EU and with the highest population of 83 Mio ish people German recycling efforts only mask Germany’s waste managment problems.*