Living by their ethos: the shop's neon sign says it all: Emma Henderson
Living by their ethos: the shop’s neon sign says it all: Emma Henderson

This was supposed to be the blog that I described the strange, frustrating and comic reactions of our friends and family to our zero waste life. The blog that I lightly lamented the close relatives who took two years to realise we don’t use a bin. Or the friends who removed the plastic casing before giving our children gifts.

Then a few weeks ago, we got a life-changing diagnosis out of the blue after a routine test. And the world and the plastic in the ocean, and our fierce zero waste lifestyle, its implications and social awkwardness shrank away.

Obsessed by the need to clean and clear our home – to protect my family unit from the bacteria and viruses that, in the middle of a global pandemic no less, present us with such new dangers that we are weighing up new shielding measures just as the rest of the world is emerging from them – I’ll admit that I unearthed our long forgotten wheelie-bin.

For the first time in years I used it, discarding a handful of items – mostly broken glass that I still can’t take to the recycling centre thanks to lockdown and had instead been storing in corners of our home collecting dust that suddenly seems sinister to me.

I gave up. I needed an easy solution just this one time and I binned them. And you know what, it was a relief.

But last night, in our small, unremarkable garden I found myself searching for some tiny sign of permanence, of significance, of life I guess. It was there. Of course it was. In amongst the ‘wild’ patch of weeds and the aspirational rows of already half predated veggies.

There is, buried somewhere under all the polluted air and the layers of plastic and the landfill and the weedkillers and pesticides and the other toxins we use to destroy the world we inhabit and ourselves along with it, a solid foundation. Something real worth protecting because that’s really all there is when life boils down to basics.

In my mind it smells of grass and cool, damp soil and clean salt water. And right now, if I hold on tight enough to the idea of that unwavering baseline and do everything I can to look after it, it might stop me from falling.

I have always wondered how we would deal with our zero waste life if the shit hit the fan. If you set yourself up as somehow different, there’s always the question of what you would do if truly tested.

At the first sign of challenge, would we give in and revert back to an easy, normal life that didn’t suck up the energy of active thought every decision-making moment of every day?

Well now it has. And though I failed at the first hurdle, two things have dawned on me. First, our determination to change our lives to reduce our environmental impact on the planet is giving me the focal point I need right now.

And second, it turns out that to me anyway, our tiny attempts to help save the planet are more important than I had ever realised.

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It isn’t easy to hit zero waste even in lockdown