Eco Warrior Q&A: Rachael Wagstaff
As I’ve written before, the decision to adopt a zero waste lifestyle is an individual one. For some, it’s purely a mission to save our embattled planet, while others enjoy reaping the financial benefits.
For Rachael Wagstaff the latter was front-of-mind when the Greater London-based charity worker and mother of four (her children are 27, 22 and 15, and Rachael has one stepdaughter, 31) recognised the cost-benefits of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Today, Rachael shares some of her top zero waste tips, her favourite eco documentaries and reveals why she refuses to eat meat.
Tell us more about what led you to the zero waste movement, Rachael.
Many things happen in life that make you question how you live, and financially (and emotionally) we had had a really tough five years.
I suddenly realised that we had spent our whole lives in a ‘work to buy’ mentality, so I started to think about what we actually needed, compared to what we bought. I realised we really needed very little!
I have always recycled, and given to charity, and tried to live more mindfully, but now I want to live better. I want to live the next part of my life leaving a much smaller carbon footprint. I want to live consciously.
Which zero waste practices have you found easy to adopt?
This last year has been a journey of learning; I started sharing my simplifying tips on Instagram and I quickly realised there is a great community of like-minded people sharing and swapping zero waste tips and ideas out there.
Some of the easier changes I made included:
Buying loose fruit and vegetables – luckily I found a nearby international supermarket with beautifully affordable plastic free fruit and veg.
All family members committed to using reusable water bottles. I didn’t have to buy any bottles, we already had them. We drink tap water so no waste there and I use a reusable bamboo coffee cup.
Cloth bags; we had loads and just got into the habit of taking one out with us wherever we go.
Composting our vegetable/fruit peelings, brown paper, toilet roll tubes, egg boxes, grass cuttings, leaves, and teabags/leaves. This has definitely reduced our landfill rubbish. I also learnt about complete eating, where you eat stalks, keep skins on fruit and vegetables; it reduces waste even more.
Cooking from scratch, which reduces the need for extra packaging. Also making packed lunches, using reusable tubs and glass jars. I have switched to vegan baking for everyone (and they all love it), and I make a weekly batch bake of loaf cakes and muffins which helps us avoid processed plastic wrapped snacks.
We got a milkman, and now use refillable glass milk and juice bottles.
We found a bulk foods store where I can buy unpackaged nuts, pasta, cous cous and washing up liquid.
Foraging – blackberries are everywhere in the UK in August.
Growing my own. I even grew my own bamboo canes.
We swapped out liquid soap/shampoo/shower gel for soap bars and started using bamboo toothbrushes.
We use soapberries and homemade softener for laundry.
And what things have been harder to change?
Plant-based milk comes in cartons; although they can be recycled I have not found a better option. I haven’t tried a homemade version yet.
I still cook meat for my family [Rachael is a vegetarian], and much of this is in plastic packaging. Beauty products that are affordable, cruelty free and in environmentally friendly packaging are nearly impossible to find (especially mascara).
Did you find it difficult to give up meat or have you always been a vegetarian?
I have eaten meat for most of my life; I did become vegetarian for three years around 17 years ago, but with a growing family, I transitioned back to eating meat again. However, last September, I decided I did not want to eat meat or fish anymore.
My sister has been eating a plant-based diet for 25 years so she gave me lots of tips and advice. It hasn’t been difficult, I just do not want animals killed for my food anymore, and it’s that simple.
I love vegetables, lentils and beans. I have found with a stocked store cupboard and a few fresh vegetables simple quick dinners can be created.
I took park in Veganary, eating vegan for the month of January. It inspired me to try vegan foods and reduce dairy too. I now love experimenting with vegan baking. My family still eats meat, so I do incorporate family vegetarian days so I do not have to cook twice. Some family favourites include red pepper and tomato pasta, macaroni cheese and vegetable quiche.
You grow a lot of your own produce. Have you always had a green thumb?
I first started experimenting with growing my own vegetables when my children were small. We were successful in growing tomatoes, courgettes, carrots and strawberries. It is so good for children to see the process of garden-to-table.
This year I have managed to grow organically all of our green beans, courgettes and lettuces. Strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes have not been quite as fruitful, but I am learning as I go.
I have recently joined a community allotment plot; we have just planted out spinach, carrots, beans, chard and spring onions so we’re hoping to get some more crops in a few weeks. With the help of the other people on the allotment, we really hope to be growing a huge range next year!
Do you have an eco-related book or documentary recommendation for our readers?
The Netflix documentary Cowspiracy has been fundamental in opening my eyes to the society we live in; how the money from big corporations influences the information we are fed.
People think this documentary is all about the cows, but it provides an insight into the negative impact of agriculture on the environment, and tells the sad story of the power of money.
No More Plastic by Martin Dorey has some great tips on how to reduce plastic in your everyday life.
While the book, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan is inspirational, and there are loads of great tips and advice along the way. It is also very relatable and sometimes funny when you read about some of the same struggles you may be facing in your own (sustainable) life.