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Kate Arnell Answers Your Questions on Living Zero Waste

Last week, over on our Instagram channel, you asked Kate Arnell, our resident zero waste living expert ALL the questions about how to live a zero-waste lifestyle. You had some great asks and we've written them up into a blog post. Keep reading to get all the inside tips on going zero waste from Kate.


You asked ‘What are your thoughts on the awkward/ harmful ingredients in Lush’s cosmetics?’

Kate said, ‘Personally, I’m not a fan and avoid it BUT I like that they are a brand that is easily accessible to a lot of people and they were an early adopter of unpackaged products. Hopefully their ingredients will improve over time. My friend Holly of blog Leotie Lovely (@leotielovely) wrote a great piece about Lush earlier this year. Check it out for more detail around ingredients.’


You asked, ‘What do you do about convenience snacks like crisps, chocolate etc.?

Kate said, ‘Since going zero waste I’ve found I snack a lot less in general but a common mistake I made early on was trying to find exact replacements for packaged items. This can be really difficult. Now, I focus on what’s available to me, unpackaged.

If I’m out and about, I’ll grab some fruit, or swing by a bakery and pick up a pastry or a brownie (or something savoury like an unpackaged sandwich) in my cloth bag. I also love making popcorn which I buy from bulk as a quick and easy snack at home and I buy organic chocolate buttons from bulk. I don’t really eat crisps anymore unless I’m at a party and I don’t miss them. My local bulk shop sells salt and vinegar dried fava beans which sound weird but are kind of like crisps and surprisingly tasty.  

When it comes to chocolate, I mostly just buy bulk organic chocolate buttons. Seed & Bean make organic chocolate packaged in certified home compostable packaging but I prefer to buy loose chocolate. Not too fussy about the brand, as long as it’s dark and preferably organic I’m happy. Recently found some raw organic chocolate covered almonds from bulk and they are scrumptious!’


You asked, ‘How do you keep up zero waste on holiday?

Kate said, ‘It mostly feels like second-nature now but I’m not perfect and still have to check a bag sometimes when flying so end up with a luggage tag, for example. Some things I do are:


  • I refuse a lot of stuff (hotel bathroom products, straws, napkins, receipts, hotel slippers, inflight meals and drinks - I eat before flying and for long haul pack non-liquid foods to eat on the plane, like a sandwich.).
  • I take some reusables - a reusable water bottle (take through security at airport empty and fill up on the other side) and a few reusable cloth bags go a long way.
  • I go with the flow, think creatively and use my sense of humour to explain why I don’t want any plastic.
  • I use e-tickets instead of paper ones.
  • I always carry a few reusable cloth bags on me.’


You asked, ‘I’ve really struggled to stay low waste at uni- any suggestions?’

Kate said, ‘Focus on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t. Communicate with teachers and the student union and make suggestions to make it easier for you and other students to reduce waste at uni e.g. could they introducing campus food waste composting, fewer handouts in class, no plastic cups and straws in the student union, resell ex-students’ equipment, books and furniture to newbies etc. Also, are there others at uni who want to learn more about Zero Waste? Maybe start a meet up group on site, invite speakers, watch documentaries and host workshops etc.

On a personal level, I would shop second hand when needed, embrace reusables where possible and buy from bulk or loose at the supermarket when I could. I’d make some cheap and easy swaps in the bathroom like: bar soap, bamboo toothbrush, safety razor etc.

Quit any idea of perfection and have fun!’ 


You asked, ‘I don’t have any zero waste stores in my area- how can I still live this lifestyle when buying food?’

Kate said, ‘I didn’t have access to much bulk or a specific zero waste stores for the first few years as it just hadn’t caught on properly in the UK. Even London seemed to offer only a handful of locations. So, I started out focussing on what I could do. I signed up to a milk delivery and I found a butcher, a farmers market and an organic green grocer near me where all produce was loose and I could take cloth bags and reusable tins to fill. They loved it! I found a plastic free loo roll brand that I ordered online and I finally found a place to get cleaning product refills, but it took a lot of searching. Everything else I either bought in glass jars, paper or cardboard as much as possible. It’s only in the past two years or so that I could get more things from bulk like honey, maple syrup, nut butter… even pasta! I had to make it from scratch for several years but I’m now lucky enough to have several locations near me that sell it loose. 

In general, there are more and more locations cropping up where bulk is becoming available. I’ve even noticed some health food shops installing new bulk sections thanks to customer requests, so it doesn’t hurt to let your local shop know you want shop loose! There are also some new online shops that sell store cupboard staples plastic-free (they are delivered in paper or home compostable cellulose). Check out Zero Waste Club and Plastic Free Pantry. There is even a plastic-free veg box available from The Organic Delivery Company. Another option is to club together with some friends and family and buy like a bulk store if you have the space - almost like a co-op. 

I would always start by doing a recky of your local shops - sometimes I’ve been surprised at what is already available loose and even from bulk - sometimes lurking in the corner of a shop.

And you could always follow in the footsteps of the many entrepreneurial people setting up their own zero waste / bulk stores or delivery on wheels. Most of these have arisen up out of a frustration with the lack of bulk options available! ;) 

At the end of the day it’s about doing what you can with what is available to you.’


You asked, ‘How do you deal with people who say what you are doing isn’t helping the environment?’

Kate said, ‘Ha, I’ve had a lot of those! I tend to ignore them instead of convincing them otherwise. If someone sees me doing something in a “zero waste” way and they are naturally curious then I’m more than happy to chat but I try not to impose how I live on anyone (except my husband ;) - actually he’s been super supportive from early on).

Even if it were true, and what I’m doing isn’t helping the environment, I can honestly say I’m living a zero waste lifestyle for selfish reasons, not out of guilt. I feel more content and generally happier living in alignment with my values. A life based on “stuff” and throwing things away, especially single use plastic packaging, has always felt uncomfortable to me. I didn’t know how to operate differently though until I discovered the zero waste lifestyle which showed I didn’t have to go along with the “norm” of shopping lots and  throwing things “away”. 

I think it’s becoming clear to most people now though that as a society we have become a bit packaging and convenience obsessed. Especially when things that don’t need to be packaged are shrink wrapped within an inch of their lives. Since simplifying and reducing my waste dramatically I feel stressed less often, I eat better (processed foods are kinda tricky when you go zero waste), I feel healthier and I actually enjoy things like grocery shopping now. I have a lovely chat with the butcher and the whole process only takes me half an hour. I swear people spend longer than that doing their online grocery shop!

I don’t believe in guilting people into doing things so if they don’t believe in this lifestyle, that’s fine. All I know is that it has worked a treat for me.’

So there you have it, your questions on living zero waste answered by a zero- waste living queen! We love to hear you’re getting on with your journeys towards lower impact living so tag us in your social media stories of your wins so we can share the love.

Follow Kate on Instagram @kate_arnell

Check out Kates YouTube channel here.

Read her blog at


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