Back in Nong Chok I want to Turn the Tide on Plastic
I’m in the large animal hospital of Mahanakorn University once again. With me are two groups of students, three six year students and four third year students. Each group has one they call for to translate, and the third year guys seem to have made a plan on who drives me home what day – still nobody lets me walk, although it is much shorter than taking the U-Turns on the street. But what can I say, we also drive when we go to the restaurant that is literally across the street from the dorm.
Our first patient is a three month old calf with pneumonia who gets better after a week by daily nebulization. Then there is the cow with the paralyzed hind leg who gets electrostimulation, vitamins and massages, but nobody knows what the cause is. Cara, the horse whose wounds just won’t heal who has already been her in February. The university’s calves get dehorned. And lastly, the stallion who injured himself when he panicked in the transporter. He, too, gets daily massages and laser acupuncture. The methods we use here are often not taken seriously enough in Germany and I’m glad I get to see them.
And yes, these are all our patients in two weeks.
We have a lot of time at hand. Sax, one of the students, brings his guitar. We take two-hour lunch breaks. We fold gauze (the kind that you buy in the folded form in Europe…), we stare at our phones.
It gives me a lot of time to research, read, and write.
And given that I’ve been talking to you about problems a lot lately, I’ve realized it’s time to talk about some solutions.
There are already a lot of fantastic bloggers out there talking about how to reduce your trash. There are wonderful books. I’ll link some underneath the article. But here’s a summary of the things that have helped me.
I am not zero waste. I am not low impact. But I’m trying to reduce my impact on the world and I’m producing less waste than average.
This is how I got started and what could help you, too.
1. The trash jar.
The Youtubers and Instagram influencers, Bea Johnson (who would be the first “zero waster”), they all have it: a nice mason jar that fits their entire waste of one year.
So what is it about that jar?
It’s more of a symbol.
There is no real zero waste in today’s society and economy, it’s simply not possible. But it is possible to reduce the waste by a huge amount.
But you need to know where to start, and everyone is different, everyone produces different kinds of waste in different ways. So by keeping your waste in a way that you can see it means you have to deal with it. Assess it.
One time, I just made a list for an entire week: every item I threw away, I wrote down. Train ticket. Oat milk container. Paper tissue. Tofu plastic packaging. And so on. By the end of the week I could clearly see that I used a lot of tissues. I switched to handkerchiefs that I got from a friend, my grandmother and a charity shop. Problem number one solved. The second most item was oat milk containers. Now it is extremely simple to make your own plant-milks, and oat is probably the easiest and cheapest of them all. Oat also grows in Europe, and I lived very close to a bulk store at the time, so I could get outs package free. Just mix a hand full of them with some water in the blender, filter through a cloth, et voila!
|I'm already pretty good in the bathroom, using vinegar in old bottles as conditioner and bar soap for example|
In February I physically collected all of my trash as part of the “Futuristic February” challenge. (I washed it, so it wouldn’t get moldy over time…) By spreading it all on the floor by the end of the month also give you a clear impression on how much it actually is and what the main areas are where you produce trash and where you thus have the biggest potential to reduce it. Take small steps. In the past weeks, friends have told me how my posts have made them think. One drinks coffee to go on her way to work every morning and she’s now getting it without the plastic lid. That’s a fantastic start! Another one found that she uses a lot of plastic bags and is now leaving them in her purse so she can reuse them for her next purchase.
And I saw that here in Thailand, my main problems were again my breakfast: Rice in small plastic bags and soy milk containers. Fortunately, after getting settled into the area, I found both a market stall that gives me the rice in my own box and a soy milk refill wagon. Both vendors recognize me and don’t even reach for their plastic bags anymore when they see me coming.
Another way would be to take pictures, especially if you don’t want to take everything home with you, like straws from restaurants or these small sugar packets from work.
The trash jar doesn’t mean you should fit all of your trash into one container, and a pretty one at that. It means that in order to reduce our trash, we need to know what it consists of. Then we can go and fight our individual waste sources.
2. Zero Waste essentials.
This is another one that’s so common on social media. And I have fallen victim myself, too. Many times. Zero waste on Instagram looks so pretty. The items in the bulk stores do, too. And of course, there are all these online businesses that want to earn money with “zero waste beginners”.
Stop and think.
If you don’t drink hot beverages, why would you need your own Coffee-to-go cup? Do you need a fancy Stainless steel bottle or will the one you still have somewhere in the back of your cupboard not do the trick? And yes, maybe we’ve decided to get all plastic out of our lives, but let’s not start by throwing out the Tupperware and buying metal food containers.
Zero waste is about reducing our impact, our environmental footprint. By buying more stuff, we don’t accomplish this.
So now that we know our areas of producing trash we can figure out what we could use to prevent this. A refillable bottle, for example. An old cloth bag instead of plastic bags from the supermarket. And if you eat out a lot, the bringing your own cutlery can be a good trick. I personally actually bough a bamboo cutlery set that is super lightweight and has mild antimicrobial effects so that I’m ok with washing it without soap sometimes. But really, if it’s not for months of travelling but just the way to work, you can take a fork and knife from home, wrap it in a dish towel, and there you go.
To start reducing your waste, you need nothing except attention. That is actually the hardest part, but it means you don’t have to spend any money.
There are so many swaps to possibly make that I can’t possibly list them here, but feel free to contact me! I would also love to hear about your successes!
3. The R’s
Refuse, Reuse, Recycle. These were the original “three R’s”. Lucy Siegle suggests in her book “Turning the Tide on Plastic” the following eight:
That’s not as easy to remember, but she has a point.
About the recording, see number one.
Reduce: I now always have a cotton bag with me, so I’ve been able to reduce my use of plastic bags greatly. For example. Replace: Making my own oat milk instead of busing it. Using bar soap instead of bottled shampoo. Bamboo instead of plastic toothbrush. Loose leaf tea instead of teabags (that are, by the way, not compostable, as they contain plastic!)
Refusing is probably both the hardest and the most important one. Being fast enough to say no to the plastic bag in the shop, remembering to tell the waiter that I don’t need a straw with the drink, not buying that snack. Not accepting the free samples. It requires all of my attention and quite some self-discipline.
Refill. At bulk stores, by buying that bigger bag of salt and rice, and did I mention the soy milk I can get at the local market here in Thailand? And of course, your water bottle.
Rethink. Be creative. Look through your cupboards and your parent’s basement to see what treasures are still there that you can use, what habits you could change and why you produce this waste item. Are you getting up too late to make your own coffee? Consider giving the planet five minutes. Do you keep forgetting packing something to drink? Put a full water bottle in your bag the evening before.
I personally make it a challenge at the moment to find package free food at the market. It’s like a game, and what seemed impossible two months ago has now become so easy that I’ve actually gained weight, because I buy so much food in my own containers.
Recycle. Of course, we’ve been taught to recycle. But as it turns out, this is a science in itself. Reading labels, washing containers, sorting trash, finding out how it works in your community… and then only 15% of plastic is actually recycled globally. Again, entire books could be written about this, so I won’t dwell on this. But if you buy packaged, go for the recyclable option, and then also make sure t ends up in the right place. You will have to do your own research here, as every town has different rules.
If you’re not like me, pretty much a Norwegian pony in a hay barn, then there is something super cool about reducing your waste.
Wait, you didn’t grow up around horses and have no idea what I mean? Sorry. So I said I challenge myself to find package-free, vegan food that also tastes good. A Norwegian horse is also designed to get in all the food it can find, living far north in scarce landscapes.
And if we, the pony and I, enter our modern world full of abundance – three meals a day from your owner and fresh, lush grass, or, in my case, fresh fruit, sticky rice, coconut candy in banana leaves, smoothies, deep fired seaweed, vegetable-spring rolls,… then we’re still trimmed to get in as much as possible. And get fat.
Package-free deliciouse options are everywhere, we just have to look.
But if you don’t make it this kind of game, then by reducing waste you can actually get through with these dieting plans and make your meals healthier – and that is the benefit I’m talking about.
I try not to buy plastic-wrapped stuff. So no chips for me.
And if you go to a standard European supermarket, what are the foods you can get without plastic? Bananas. Pumpkins. There might be a bulk section with dried fruits, lentils, nuts, granola. By cutting out packaging, chances are, you’re automatically cutting out processed foods, making your diet healthier as a side effect.
The second thing is: you’ll save money.
Many people think that shopping zero waste is more expensive, but that’s a false assumption. Here are some reasons why:
You’re buying only as much as you need. For example, for a cake that needs only one lemon, you’re getting only one lemon, not the net that contains four, having to think about what to do with the others. Or exotic spices you might get at a bulk store or market for this new recipe. Instead of a jar or bag that you might never use again, now you really only have the one spoonful you need. By buying only as much as we need, we automatically reduce food waste.
Drinking tap instead of bottled water s cheaper.
Making your own coffee or tea at home costs less than buying it in a coffee shop.
Many things you can make by yourself cost you two more minutes of your time and are so much cheaper than buying the things. You can use diluted apple cider vinegar instead of conditioner, for example. Cheaper and lasts longer. My home made oat milk is also much cheaper than the one from the store, and takes two minutes to make. I also buy baking soda in the bulk store and clean pretty much everything with this.
And again, that bag of chips or other snack that I’m not buying.
I save five cents per grocery shopping haul by bringing my own bag.
And most of all, you’ll become more aware of things.
There are more benefits that will come with time, like becoming more confident, and prepared. By looking for food at the farmer’s market rather than the grocery store, you support local businesses and might make some new friends. Or you become more appreciating of your surroundings, and nature, by realizing that there are free snacks out there (like apples and walnuts falling on the streets), or that you can pick herbs during your walk in the forest. And of course, it is such a great feeling not having to take out the smelly trash every week, but the rinsed out and assessed waste every other week!
So I hope that you will enjoy this as much as I do and please let me know all your questions, ideas, successes and complaints!
Yes, I have developed a few strange hobbies here in Thailand.
Hi, I’m Ina, I read and I write. I also love riding scooters with three people on them, collecting and reducing my waste, running from stall to stall until someone will fill my own container, and I like to pick up trash from road sides.
But I’m actually just a vet student.
Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, as mentioned above
And of course, Bea Johnson's book by the same name: Zero Waste Home
And Shia Su's book: Zero Waste