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Zero Waste - Is It Possible? By Helen Nicholas

I recently set up an exhibition at Portree Library in collaboration with the staff there. It is called 'Low Impact Living' and showcases some of the books that have inspired me on Zero Waste, consuming less and Minimalist Living, as well as books on Self Sufficiency.

One book in particular, 'Active Hope' by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, has an enormous impact on me. I had been feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the detrimental effect our way of life is having on the Earth as a whole and also on our local environment. I also felt powerless to have any positive impact on halting or, even better, reversing this damage. However, after reading the book my perspective changed drastically for the better. The authors encourage us to find what we are passionate about and focus on that, playing our small part to the best of our ability and trusting that others are doing the same. 'Being able to make a difference is powerfully enlivening, it makes our lives feel more worthwhile. So when we practise Active Hope we not only give, but we receive in so many ways as's about stepping into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying.' (Extract from Active Hope)

I discovered that I have a real passion for Zero Waste living. For many years I have been gradually reducing the amount I send to landfill, and so at the start of the exhibition I decided to set myself a Zero Waste challenge. Any waste that I generate that needs to go to landfill has to be placed in a jar that is on display in the library. If I want to buy something that has packaging destined for landfill, then I simply don't buy it. Surprisingly I don't feel deprived doing this, in fact this challenge has had a positive impact on my life.

The only thing in the jar at the moment is a small piece of plastic that was wrapped around the top of a bottle of olive oil. I thought it was metal, but alas, too late. I discovered that it was plastic and it will end up in landfill. However, this quote from zero waste chef Anne-Marie Bonneau cheered me up:

'We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.' So true. In future I will refill the bottle at The Selkie Collective eco shop in Broadford. What a brilliant shop this is! I now take my own jars and bags there to fill up with all sorts of foods, further reducing packaging waste. I prefer to reduce rather than recycle, as I believe that protects precious resources even more. We are very lucky indeed to have this shop on the island, as I believe places like these have a massive impact in reducing both packaging waste and food waste, as we can buy just the quantities we need.

I buy all my fruit and vegetables loose, mostly at Skye Wholesalers in Portree, and I take my own bags there too. Again, I don't have to buy more than I need, so the only waste tends to be small bits of the fruit and vegetables that are inedible, and all that gets composted.

I don't want to preach to anyone, or tell people how to live their lives, and I realise that not everyone can do what I do. I'd rather simply encourage people and inspire them to make changes that suit them - and to know that their actions DO make a difference.

Helen Nicholas, Portree

Helen's Exhibition is on at the Portree Library until the end of September.


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