Laura Young runs LessWasteLaura, a platform highlighting the everyday ways we can all try to connect with a lower waste lifestyle. She also gave us some insights into minimising our waste this festive season, and what her favourite ways to go about it are.
Q: Could you tell us a little about the work and activism that you do to develop lower waste lifestyles?
A: I have recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Master’s in Environmental Protection and Management, and now work for the international development charity Tearfund. For the past two years, I have also been running the environmental blog called ‘Less Waste Laura’, researching, educating, motivating and inspiring others to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
This has taken many forms over the past two years, and means that alongside my full-time job I am giving talks to schools and workplaces, writing blogs and promoting businesses, and going on trips to find out more about the waste and consumer industries. Then of course I take part in the climate strikes along with millions of others around the world to fight against the climate crisis and join forces to show how many people are demanding change.
Do you feel that shifting to a more sustainable lifestyle has positively affected your wellbeing or emotional health as well as your environmental impact?
Living more environmentally has meant I have slowed down and take more time to plan my week. Simple things like planning meals, or working out travel arrangements has given me more breathing space, and has meant I am not rushing around as much as I used to. My life is also full of less stuff.
Full of less physical clutter in my house, going more minimalist and ‘needing’ less. Significantly reducing my waste, so having less stuff in my bins and recycling. But also, less consumerism impulses which, I believe, fuel unhappiness. I no longer look to shops, buying, and spending money for happiness, but I look towards spending time with people and exploring new spaces.
As the holidays are coming up, do you think we need to make an intentional cultural shift around holiday traditions to make them less wasteful?
I think we need a complete turning upside-down of the festive period. I think once the bubble bursts and you begin to see just how controlling the holiday season is, you begin to see the insanity. Brightly lit shops with extremely loud music, discount deals which make you want to impulse buy before it’s too late and you miss the deal, and the constant reminders from intense advertisement to encourage people to overindulge and over consume.
Our planet cannot cope with the rate of consumption we currently have. Our resources will not last, and our disposal systems will fill up. There will be people right now sitting with presents from the last festive season, laying unused and proving exactly what is wrong with this consumerism holiday. There are so many other options for gift giving during the festive season; gift an experience, gift something homemade, gift something secondhand, or do a secret Santa style giving so each person gets one thoughtful thing and gives one thoughtful thing.
What are some of your top tips for reducing waste through the Christmas season?
Gift experiences and other non-physical gifts. Think about how you wrap your presents, can you use reusable bags or plastic free wrapping paper. Plan in advance what you will do with your food waste, and think of some delicious recipes to use with anything which isn’t eaten on the day. Also think about whether or not you ‘need’ new decorations, and try and be creative with anything you might want to get. Can you make some decorations yourself, and avoid continuously buying new?
The winter months might be a particularly hard time for some people who are struggling with low energy or depression to make lifestyle shifts. Are there any small eco-friendly steps you would recommend for someone who is not yet in a place to tackle major shifts?
It can be hard to get people on board, but I think that is also because it seems like a lot in the beginning. One of the best tips for people is doing a waste audit. Thinking about their own waste. Could they try and tackle one waste item per week? Coffee cups one week, plastic cutlery the next, and on and on they go! People feel empowered when they see the change they are making.
One of the biggest critiques of the less waste movement is that it might be financially costly. What is one thing that someone who’s struggling with money could easily change in their day to day routine?
I would argue that you actually save money. Some items do have a bigger upfront cost, but you save in the long run. For example, a shampoo bar which costs roughly £6 lasts for around 6 months and equates to 6 bottles of shampoo. This swap costs £1 a month, which is usually considerably less than what people normally spend. The difference is needing to pay a little more in the beginning.
There are tips like taking your own coffee cup to cafes and getting a discount, or planning more lunches to avoid expensive meal deals which would also save you money on the go. I would say that living this way has saved me loads of money, mainly because I am not buying new stuff. I am finding things second hand, and ‘going shopping’ is not a pastime of mine anymore. Gone are the days when spending £50 at the weekend was ‘fun’!