As a company that makes sustainable and vegan backpacks, we at Airpaq used January - dubbed 'Veganuary' by some - to launch a self/team experiment: everyone at Airpaq made a point to make their individual lifestyles even more sustainable and produce less waste. Marie not only ate a vegan diet for a month, but also tried to reduce her production of plastic waste to the volume of one canning jar per week. Marie, our student assistant, and Maya, our press officer, recorded their results. We will tell you about their successes and difficulties in this blog article.
A real challenge
To be honest, I am not an exemplary sustainable person. Particularly during the Corona pandemic, when my priorities were elsewhere and I was rather lacking in motivation, I hardly gave any thought to whether my lifestyle was actually sustainable or wasteful after all.
Eat vegan for a month
Since I have already lived vegetarian for eight years, the vegan month was not super difficult for me to implement. However, I had to plan ahead a bit and use up my non-vegan supplies first, as well as buy enough vegan food, before I could start vegan month on January 1, right on time. I quickly realized in the process that it was difficult for me to stop eating so much fast food. Because I have to admit that I am unfortunately very, very lazy when it comes to cooking. Therefore, the real challenge for me in the vegan month was not the renunciation of animal products per se, but to pick out nutritious and yet uncomplicated recipes with which I could quickly and easily conjure up a delicious vegan dish. Thank God, there are now also many vegan junk and fast food alternatives, but I had to realize that these are usually also abundantly packaged in plastic, which stood in the way of my other experiment. Therefore I could allow myself only once or twice during the Veganuarys a "finished" court and had otherwise ran myself to the stove.
Fortunately for me, the official site of 'Veganuary' had a wide selection of vegan recipes, which made vegan cooking much easier. I can only recommend!
Oven vegetables consisting of carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes and beetroot (©Airpaq)
Only one jar of plastic waste every week
I must honestly admit that I haven't really paid attention to which packaging is particularly harmful to the environment and which is particularly environmentally friendly. Logically, this also made itself felt in my weekly garbage production. Sometimes I had so much garbage after a week that it was frightening for me how much I was actually polluting the environment. Therefore, reducing my trash production to a single canning jar per week was a really difficult challenge for me.
My normal garbage production after one week (©Airpaq)
When I was shopping, I unfortunately found out that there are not plastic-free packaging alternatives for all products - in fact, only for quite a few. That's why, last month, I simply went without some products that I usually buy, such as hummus or my favorite juice. I also shopped for the first time in an unpackaged store, where all food is available without the annoying plastic packaging. In itself, this is a very good solution, but unfortunately also reflected in the price of my purchase. However, at that moment it was worth it to me to pay a few euros more for a more sustainable purchase. Despite my efforts, I still didn't quite manage to reduce my complete plastic waste to one jar per week. But it was still significantly less than I had previously produced. So I still consider the self-experiment a success!
Reducing your own waste production from 100 to 0 in the short term hardly works, because you need a little lead time to change and find more sustainable alternatives. But with a bit of good planning and the will to live more sustainably in the long run, it actually worked out very well and was even easier than I had imagined. In general, I can say that my 'Veganuary self experiment' has definitely contributed to a more conscious lifestyle, as I now think twice in the supermarket if this food is a sustainable choice before I put it in my basket and thus can significantly reduce my waste production.
Mountains of garbage in the house Kraatz
This is what our trash volume looks like regularly after about four days: a large bag of plastic trash (green bag), a smaller one with residual trash, and lots of paper trash. In my defense, I have to say that my little son needs a lot of diapers, which end up in the residual waste. Due to the fact that retailers have been closed for a while, ordering clothes or other stuff online has become even more popular with us, and ordering food or buying it out is also more common. I sometimes feel really uncomfortable throwing all the trash in the garbage cans on our street with such frequency. So I thought of a few things we can do to reduce our trash.
Maya's normal garbage consumption after four days with child and husband (©Airpaq)
Reducing diaper waste will be very difficult unless you use cloth diapers, but that's too much work for me. We'd have to buy some components and do a lot more laundry than we already do. Fruit and vegetable peels could be put on the compost in our 'urban gardening' project in the courtyard. The paper waste, if we reduced the online orders, would also be within limits, I think. But the plastic waste - something should be done about that.
Strategies to reduce waste
A first measure is to take more food with you and use your own cans or similar instead of producing packaging waste. If you do want to buy some food, our trusted food master also offers the option of buying the food in a box and reusing it every time. A kind of deposit solution through stainless steel boxes like Tiffinloop or reusable boxes, such as those from Vytal, are available from many providers. Just ask!
The box with Maya's lunch (©Airpaq)
A lot of plastic waste also comes from milk and yogurt packaging, because we drink and eat a lot of it. So I've tried to buy milk and yogurt only in deposit bottles and jars. Unfortunately, that also makes shopping a lot harder and that's impractical when you still have to carry a small child up the stairs and don't have a car. But it's worth a try. From now on, I didn't buy fruits and vegetables if they were wrapped in plastic. But I also find it rather difficult to put it on the checkout belt like that during the Corona pandemic. So we bought cotton bags in different sizes in which we pack the food. When weighing, the bag does not make a big difference, you just have to remember to pack the bags before shopping as well.
Fabric bag for shopping (©Airpaq)
Packaging waste from cleaning and hygiene products
You can also reduce plastic waste when it comes to cleaning and hygiene products. Instead of buying a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, I tried hair soap, which is packaged in just a bit of cardboard. It's a matter of taste and maybe I haven't found the right hair soap yet, but I found it made my hair less smooth and hard. Also, it took forever to get them really lathery. Maybe I'm too impatient, but I prefer it when it's faster. So from now on I buy normal shampoo again, but one that does not require rinsing, because the hair is still pleasantly soft afterwards. The bottle is also large and lasts a long time. Rinse rags sew many from old clothing remnants, which I used to do. But you can also buy dishcloths that you can wash in the washing machine or use a dish brush, which is very durable. Cleaning and dishwashing detergents can often be bought in large refill packs and transferred to smaller containers. This also produces less waste. Of course, you could also do it yourself with lye, but with a small child, I unfortunately always have to weigh what can be done in terms of time.
Reducing our plastic waste to one jar per week would never have been possible for the three of us with two adults and one child. But at least with the measures mentioned above, our garbage overflowed not after four days, but after eight. That may not be enough, but at least it's a start. We will definitely continue like this and think about further methods of garbage reduction. After all, what I imagined would take a lot of effort and time is actually quite manageable if you care about it.
Our team conclusion
As you have probably already noticed, our conclusions are similar. In short: with a little planning and willpower, anyone can actually manage to significantly reduce their waste consumption! We're excited to see what other tips and tricks we can come up with to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Authors: Marie Kalle & Maya Kraatz