books waste

Book review: How to go waste free, by Caroline Jones

I don’t normally review book of tips, because there are lots of them and you can get more eco-tips than you can ever use on the internet for free. But this one arrived in the post, and perhaps annoyed by my own failings at reducing our household waste, I read it.

How to go Waste Free is part of a series of little books of lifestyle tips, including one on plastic and one on giving up meat. This one aims for zero waste, and it assumes that if you’ve picked up the book, you don’t need persuading about why you should be concerned about waste. A brief introduction outlines the problems of unrecyclable waste, incineration, and the failures of international legislation. Then it’s on to what you can do to tackle your small part of the overall problem. There’s a waste audit, advice on how to start small and get more ambitious, and then chapters on specific areas such as food waste.

If you’ve never considered food waste before, there is good advice here – make lists, only buy what you need, and understand how to tell when food is out of date. If you’ve given it any thought at all, there will be fewer things to put into practice, though I daresay there are some things you might not have considered before.

There are some tips here that you could write an entire book about, such as ‘become a master composter’, or one about fixing things instead of throwing them away. Others are very simple ideas that you could try any time. Some almost everyone could and should do – eat less meat for example. And some are somewhat niche and seem to have skipped in from a stray blog post, like how to have a waste-free wedding.

One thing I liked about the book is that Caroline Jones emphasizes the need to embed new habits in a broader way of thinking. We do not change a throwaway culture by adopting a handful of little eco tips and ‘doing our bit’. It’s much more about learning to see things differently, asking more questions, and living more deliberately. This is where I find books like this useful from time to time – not to give me a to-do list, but to find blind spots and things that I perhaps gave up on too quickly.

What’s missing from the book is any sense of the wider context. Because no matter how hard you try, zero waste is not practically possible for most people, and we need wider systemic change. Our influence does not stop with our kitchens, bathrooms and bins, and there is room in the book for more on how we could change things nationally and locally, through politics or lobbying the businesses we depend on.

I’m still not convinced that tips like this need to be in book form, when there is a whole movement of waste free bloggers and instagramers. But I’m the last person who should talk about acquiring books you don’t strictly need…



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