It sounds so easy – to go zero waste you just have to stop buying things that can’t be recycled or reused. Of course the devil is in the detail. But let’s deal with the easy stuff first.

Our food waste mostly goes into our wormery, hosted by Blanche’s mum in her cellar in Neuilly. Anything the worms don’t like (onion, garlic, ginger, citrus fruits, bread) gets dug into the Bois de Boulogne.

We buy almost all our food (even wine and olive oil) loose and take it home in reusable bags, bottles or Tupperware. A paper baguette bag can easily last six months in our household! We try to buy nothing which comes in packaging that can’t be recycled.

After nine months of shopping carefully, and measuring our progress every Sunday morning, we reached a plateau of 90g of waste per person per week. More waste goes in the toilet than in the municipal rubbish trucks! And that’s without using toilet paper since Blanche placed a water jug by the loo!

So, in the presence of the Editor of Makery, we decided to open and analyse our (tiny) rubbish bag, and to try to devise some solutions for improving our “score”.

Enemy no 1: a spaghetti packet

We can buy penne and other pasta loose, but not spaghetti. However, a tour of Italian delis led us to one who was prepared to sell tagliatelli without packaging. (Spaghetti, tagliatelle –we’re not Italians!)

Enemy no 2: a bag of grated emmental

We persuaded our local Biocoop and Bio C’ Bon to put their cheese into our Tupperware. No more non-recyclable greaseproof cheese paper!

Enemy no 3: kitchen towel

Alexis uses throwaway kitchen towel to clean his fermentation jars –another long story, dear readers! And also to oil the frying pan after it’s been cleaned. So Blanche bought a little brush for oiling the pan and instructed Alexis to use the tea towel to clean his fermentation jars.

Enemy no 4: butter packaging

During COP21, there was a temporary Biocoop near the Place de la République which sold beurre loose. However, like the heads of state whose fine words disguised a total lack of action on climate change, it’s gone. So now we’re in search of a cheese shop in Paris, or maybe a market trader, who will agree to put his/her butter in our glass container.

Recycling is really just waste by another name

Zero waste is a great concept but it usually means creating much more recycling. That sounds good until you realise how much energy goes into handling our recycling. So we also try to reduce our recycling.

Our strategy for putting less into the yellow bins:

– We contacted our health insurance company and told them to stop sending us their magazine.

– This summer we met two women who are hard core natural product junkies: they each had a recipe for moisturising cream and toothpaste. We decide to organise a workshop for our friends. For now, to avoid plastic toothpaste tubes, we use toothpaste on a compostable stick (like a lollipop). The only waste is a small cardboard box. The stick will be buried in the Bois de Boulogne with our onions!

– We started making our own detergent for clothes washing out of bicarbonate of soda, savon de Marseille and water. Unfortunately, we lost a third of the mix because the recipe didn’t say you need to remove the pan from the heat before adding the bicarbonate of soda. Still, Blanche did a great job of cleaning the floor, the surfaces and the walls in the kitchen! And we still had enough left over for months of clothes washing.

– We’ve found a Nouveaux Robinson near us where we can fill up our 5 litre container with washing up liquid. It takes a while though so, to avoid back ache, you can speed the process up by sticking your arm into the back of the dispenser and squeezing.
Contortions and patience to fulfill the container with washing up liquid. © Alexis & Blanche

– At a Vegan Festival at La Villette, Alexis found a company making toothbrushes out of recycled yoghurt pots so he was pretty pleased with that. Blanche is already the proud owner of a moon cup (a container you insert in your vagina to collect the blood when you have a period) but at the Vegan Festival she found some reusable panty pads for the beginning and end of her period so she was pretty happy too. It’s amazing what makes a zero waster happy!

Top tips for zero wasters

That reminds me, in our last article we forgot to talk about Blanche’s mooncup, a small silicone receptacle one inserts inside one’s vagina to collect blood during menstruation. It may seem a little barbaric but a little practice makes perfect. No more tampons!

We also “forgot” to mention our little guilty secret—fizzy mineral water! But, but, but, we are extremely lucky—our local shop sells glass bottles of carbonated water and, if you leave a deposit, will return the bottles to the supplier. Hurrah!

One other piece of good news: we bought a second-hand telephone for our flat from a website which only sells reconditioned equipment. We’re now waiting to sell our broken telephone on the same site.

But best of all, with all these changes, we have now reduced our weekly waste production to 50g per person. Less than a kiwi (86g), less than a medium-sized egg (68g), equivalent to, well, not very much! We’re making progress!

Alexis Rowell

First published on on 12 October 2016