Illustration by Emer Sukonik
Every household in Oxfordshire receives a food waste collection bin from their district council but some colleges have chosen to opt out of this system. At Magdalen, hall food is composted but students aren’t given compost bins to reduce the workload on scouts. Unfortunately, this means I don’t have anywhere specific to leave my food waste apart from where I compost it all the way in Botley. I’m personally not a fan of the smell of rotting food so until I can muster up the energy to cycle across to the allotment, I store my food waste in a box in my freezer to stop it from stinking up my room. This works well until you invite people over and they drunkenly unplug your freezer resulting in you having to speed walk across Oxford desperately needing to compost. There is some satisfaction in knowing that you are returning nutrients to the Earth, but I miss being able to simply throw food scraps in the bin and forget about it. It’s much easier when you can just ignore the problem and go on with your day-to-day life rather than having to regularly cycle across town to Botley.
Freezing doesn’t kill germs or bacteria. Instead, it puts them into a sort of hibernation. My freezer is protecting me from the germs and fungi on my food waste by inhibiting growth. The Arctic ice is protecting us all from diseases which have not circulated the environment in millions of years. This means that our immune systems aren’t primed to fight back when faced with these prehistoric plagues which will soon emerge from the ice. The remnants of the 1918 flu which killed as many as 100 million from the estimated 500 million infected have already been discovered in Alaska and over 20 people have been killed by anthrax released from the retreating permafrost exposing a reindeer carcass infected by the bacteria over 75 years ago. Scientists suspect that the bubonic plague and smallpox are amongst the bugs currently stored in the Arctic ice, like exhibits in a history museum of human disease which will soon return as their cases melt away.
These however are the least of our worries as most of them won’t survive the thaw. The greatest concern to epidemiologists is the rewiring and migration of existing pathogens. In the U.K., we don’t have to worry about dengue or malaria…for now. Mosquitoes are migrating north as the tropics creep towards us, and with them come the diseases they carry. This is worrying not only because the range in which mosquitoes can live increases, but for every degree of warming the malaria parasite reproduces ten times faster. The World Bank estimates that by 2050 there will be 5.2 billion people reckoning with it. Covid was hell but this is only the beginning. The age of stability is over and our globalised economy makes us much more vulnerable than we would like to be.
I usually take the opportunity of being in Botley to stop by Pickle and Lime – a greengrocer which aims to source its products from within Oxfordshire when possible. I might not be eating meat anymore, but I couldn’t help but get excited when I heard about their newly sourced, locally produced, small-scale organic bacon packaged in completely compostable packaging. I know it’s a bit of a mouthful but it’s very cool. As someone who usually has their coffee with milk, I’d been searching for a way of sourcing milk or plant-based milk in a glass bottle. At Pickle and Lime, you can get sustainably farmed cow’s milk in a glass bottle for £2.10. This is considerably more expensive than a bottle from Tesco but cheaper than getting a coffee at a local café. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t had dairy milk in a while or because of how the milk was processed but I have never enjoyed milk so much. If you’re looking for a zero-waste plant-based milk, go to OxUnboxed on little Clarendon Street where they’ve recently introduced a refillable m*lk station from Minor Figures at £1.85/L.
So far it felt like I had been quite successful in finding Zero-Waste food options but it was a bit of a different story for toiletries. As much as I want to reduce waste, there comes a time when your toothbrush needs replacing. Usually this happens every 3-4 months and you’ll just throw away your old plastic toothbrush and buy a new one. This time however, I had to find a Zero-Waste replacement for my old one. I conveniently found some newly introduced bamboo toothbrushes in compostable packaging as I passed through Boots. I was feeling quite smug as I got home without having to make a big detour to chase down a toothbrush. This feeling did not last long. As soon as I opened the packet, I found myself confronted by one of those little packets of silica gel beads and my heart sank. Silica beads are used to absorb moisture and are usually packaged in high density polyethene which isn’t biodegradable. The bamboo toothbrush was a nice thought, but it didn’t save me from contributing to the landfill. Boots has a few cool products like reusable razors made from bamboo or metal, shampoo/soap bars, and reusable makeup remover pads, but they aren’t necessarily zero waste. But, if you’re just trying to reduce waste, these easy switches can make a difference without you having to severely change your lifestyle. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about small changes every day.
Source: The Uninhabitable Earth