This week we met Gilles and Bianca, a super inspiring Parisian couple, to tell us about their Zero Waste adventure. They represent perfectly what UrbanMeisters stands for: A typical UrbanMeister ‘meisters’ life in an efficient way.
Juggling job, family, friends, … and himself is not easy and Gilles is far from being perfect. But he believes the golden spot is being in the middle (the greenest spot, if we may say). Fully enjoying life with family and friends, being a ‘rockstar’ at work and indulging yourself with things you like. But doing it the right way, in a healthy balance, making smart consumption choices and respecting the resources that make life so special: whether the are human, animal or natural… in short Earth.
Unfortunately like with all junk, we develop a harmful addiction that keeps us away from this healthy balance. We thrive on a plastic overdose turning our planet in a plastic planet. Let’s hand over to Jeff Bridgets who wants to “Open your Eyes” in the homonymous video that has gone viral this week. Green multi-talented and an Oscar winner, Jeff Bridges raises awareness on the plastic Armageddon we are running into. The video was done by Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC), a global alliance working toward a world free of plastic pollution. So, roll-it:
Why is plastic so bad?
- Plastic never goes away and piles up in the environment: Plastic is really not clever, I just heard the other day on German news that the average length we use a plastic product is 25 minutes, yet Earth cannot digest it i.e. it’s not biodegradable. As Jeff Bridgets says in a video, once on Earth, forever on Earth. So for 25 minutes of use it stays on Earth forever?! The 25 minutes are due to the fact that 1/3 is used once and then thrown away. Then it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never really disappears (Source).
- Plastic spoils groundwater and food chain: Toxic chemicals from plastic waste seeps into our groundwater and flowing downstream into lakes, rivers and the ocean. From the very beginning the food chain gets poisoned with even plankton absorbing microplastic.
- Plastic affects human and animal health: Chemicals leached by plastics are in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to breast, brain and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, infertility, diabetes, obesity and many many more. Another sick statistics is that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish?! (Source).
- Financial damage of all of the above is inestimable.
The Zero Waste rebellion
The Zero Waste philosophy was born as rebellion against this plastic overdose. But please do not mix up Zero Waste with Recycling. Recycling is part of the Zero Waste plan, but there’s much more to it. It’s a holistic approach looking at resources from the point when they are raw ingredients to products to waste.
Let’s look at the overall accepted definition adopted by the Zero Waste International Alliance:
« Zero Waste is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.
Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.
Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health. »
For us, Zero Waste heroes are everyday ordinary urbans like us who go each day take the extra steps. They challenge the current consumption and one-way industries; they find super clever ways to install their own circular systems, however eliminating rather than managing waste. And all of this, without profiting less from life in any way than the others. Or maybe profiting more, as they appreciate what they have way more.
Zero Waste? But got Zero Time?
So UrbanMeisters, if you want something easy, concrete you can do immediately right after finishing reading this article, go out there and start reducing plastic! And to show you that it is possible, even as an urban, even with a family, even with a super important big-fish career in one of the big companies, … we introduce you to Gilles and Bianca. They are still far from being Zero Waste, they are more Going Zero Waste, but they are cool, fun and edgy and super stimulating that YOU, too can do it. So get inspired by our interview with them:
Hello Gilles & Bianca, so tell us who was the key motivator behind the idea, Gilles or Bianca?
Bianca: Definitely my husband, Gilles, he started talking about it a year ago. I have to admit we are still far away from the Zero Waste. But we engaged ourselves in this journey and are now moving step by step.
What are the changes that you implemented in your daily urban life that helps you moving towards your Zero Waste objectives?
Gilles: There are several changes we have implemented so far, like
- Composting our organic waste
- Rethinking our food consumption : Going with bulk when we can (rice, pasta, cereals….), using new retail channels with more direct contact to producers such as “La Ruche qui dit Oui” (Editor’s note: Translation means “The hive that says yes”, a marketplace that connects local and sustainable farmers to urbans, they are present not only in France, but also in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and UK. Access website here.)
- Cooking instead of buying ready meal
- Producing ourselves our toothpaste, detergent, handsoap…
- Saying no to non-reusable: no more plastic or carton cups for coffee and water for example
- Reusing what can be reused (a towel transformed into cotton pads for example….)
- Recycling as much as possible (even if we are not really sure what is happening with that waste)
What was and maybe still is the most difficult change for you?
Gilles (laughs): While Bianca is pushing us to use reusable baby diapers; I’m still pushing back for unknown reasons. But I’m ready to make this change in the next 3 months!
What is more difficult than you thought?
Gilles: The main roadblock I see is about our food & groceries. We have limited option for bulk with dry food in the close-by retail. We actually need to buy our organic vegetables via a specific retail chain or “La Ruche qui dit Oui”. Other places they come packed in plastic sleeve! Same goes with dairy which we need to have packed (pasteurized or UHT is safer than raw for sure). So you need to have a clear strategy what to buy, where to buy it and when. There is no more a one-stop shop. From time to time, we are still allowing ourselves to buy “On the go” to save time and enjoy good food, we just don’t know how to make! There is still a long way to go as far as bulk shopping retail in Paris is concerned.
So, where do you shop in Paris?
Bianca: We still go to our main retail a few minutes away from home where we can find some bulks products and dairy. In parallel, we have accelerated the usage of organic retailers, market and “La Ruche qui dit Oui”.
Was there ever a moment where you wanted to abandon?
Bianca: No plan to go back. The steps we are taking are actually for the better and we enjoy them. Much less waste, means less plastic bags and bins. This means more space in our small kitchen and less visit to the main building bins for example. And it’s actually great to prepare products yourself from meals to toothpaste, deodorant. There is a magical part in it as well and makes us proud.
Do you feel living Zero Waste is less / as expensive or more expensive?
Gilles: I would say it is honestly too soon to say. One element we have to take into consideration is that engaging into this journey we have also increased our consumption of local and organic products which in some case might make this lifestyle more expensive.
In parallel, we have cut a lot of our consumption of cosmetics, homecare …. . Depending on where you live and what retail option you have, it might be a good way to cut cost I think.
You are happy parents of a beautiful little girl, what advice do you give to other parents that want to go Zero Waste or simply reduce waste.
Gilles & Bianca:
- Don’t wait to try reusable diapers (Editor’s note: Bianca gives Gilles a challenging look 😉 )
- Take a step by step approach. Everyone stumbles a bit at the starting. What is important is the long shot.
- Do your own liniment. It’s easy, safe and your baby will have the softest skin on the planet.
Can you give us some simple tips that Urbans can do to manage/reduce waste in our homes? Maybe a few initial steps that we can start with?
Gilles & Bianca:
- Identify the quick win in your kitchen, in your bathroom.
- Say no to useless things: Flyers, plastic cups, disposable kitchenware.
- Cook easy recipes in large quantity and freeze them.
- Start DIY: liniment, toothpaste…
Did you consult a specific source for guidance to start? Can you share these with our readers?
Bianca: We both read “Zero Waste Home” from Bea Johnson which gives some good advice, ideas, recipes. As well as “No impact man” from Colin Beavan which is more about the experience.
Then of course, Internet in general is a great source of information. Especially when you want to produce your own stuff.
What has been the biggest impact of this project on your lives? Or to put it differently, how have things changed in the long run? Has it impacted health, quality of life, …?
Gilles: Overall it feels good to take action to improve our own quality of life. While it is easy to consume and live as our parents used to do, we now know that it is not necessarily sustainable. And each person can make a change. I’m glad to see that the government is also taking action (e.g. No plastic bag in retail from July on), but the power is in our hands actually. For sure, we also think that it’s a good thing to set an example for our daughter.
And in parallel, this has driven us to engage ourselves more in our neighbourhood, to discuss with more people around us and also engage in other charity. I feel the virtuous circle.
Thank you so much, Gilles and Bianca for the interview and your time. For us you are true UrbanMeisters. We wish you all the best in your adventure and would love to come back in a couple of months to see how you are doing.
Any other questions you would like to ask to Gilles and Bianca? They are happy to answer your questions, send us an email here.
Are you going Zero Waste and would like to share your experiences, frustrations and tips? Click here.
Stay green, stay healthy, be Zero-Waste!