With low-waste living becoming more important, we interviewed Ashley from Worthwhyle to find out what her advice for starting a low-waste lifestyle is, her top five staple items and how to avoid receiving unwanted gifts this Christmas.
At Worthwhyle you’ll find cotton produce bags, natural beauty products for both men and women and re-usable items like straws and travel mugs. Open for just a few months, Worthwhyle have made a huge impact on the low-waste movement, and if you follow Ashley on Instagram you’ll see her daily trips to the post office with Louis, her adorable jack russell.
How long have you lived a low-waste lifestyle?
That’s a tough one! I don’t think I’ve ever been a particularly wasteful person, which probably goes back to my childhood. If your family doesn’t have a lot of stuff, you don’t have a lot to waste, haha. But I started really caring about cutting way, way down on plastics specifically maybe a year or two ago.
Ashley tucking into a vegan burger at The Bok Shop in Brighton
What sparked wanting to change your lifestyle?
This is another kind of complicated answer! But basically when I finished university I got a position as a teacher on a tiny island in the Pacific called Gugeegue. It’s a part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the island I lived on was smaller than you could imagine – just a tiny stretch of land. You could stand in front of my house and look in front of you to see the ocean, and behind you to see the ocean. And a place that tiny is on the very forefront of climate change – you can literally see it changing the landscape day to day, and with things as they are it’s estimated that the Marshall Islands may not be around in another 50 years due to rising sea levels. The thousands of people that live on those islands will be some of the world’s first climate refugees.
Living there was eye-opening for me in a lot of ways, but two of those ways was the idea of scarcity and not taking for granted what you’ve got access to (fresh water, for example, was very scarce during the dry season as the technology for desalination treatment was not on my island. Drinking water came from catchments, and if it didn’t rain, the catchment wouldn’t fill up). Secondly, how important it is to to cut down on the waste that we all produce. This was an island and a culture where, 100 years ago, people ate only what they could grow on their land or catch in the sea. Now it’s a place rife with those things, but also imported processed foods like Kool Aid and ramen, and there’s no real system for getting rid of the plastic packaging that those things come in. There’s no pretending that the problem doesn’t exist there, because it’s incredibly visible to anyone just walking around.
“I’ve always wanted to live a lifestyle that is in alignment with the knowledge that the world needs taken care of and that we can’t just flounce through it like our decisions have no effect on anything. They do!”
But I’ve also felt a greater sense of urgency since this time last year, when China announced that they would no longer be accepting recycling from the West. I knew that was a big game changer.
How urgently do you think we all need to think about changing our lifestyles?
Like… now? Yesterday? Last week/month/year? It’s getting pretty urgent! And there are very simple things that most people can start doing right now.
What are your tips for those starting out?
Do what you can with what you have. It can be really overwhelming once you realise what’s going on, and then really disheartening when you think about how much needs fixing. But just start small and take it day by day. Get yourself a reusable water bottle and keep it with you at all times. Throw a canvas bag or bag for life in your main bag so you don’t get caught out at shopping. Meal plan to cut down on food waste. And the easiest thing of all – start saying NO more often. No to straws in drinks, no to produce wrapped in flimsy plastic, no to fast fashion and no to dairy and meat (or even just no to dairy and meat most of the time!). To be honest, going low waste isn’t really about buying more – it’s about using less. It’s about examining what you are consuming under a microscope and making changes accordingly.
Do you grow any fruit or veggies yourself? Any tips for keeping them alive?!
I don’t! I’m a bad home gardener but to be fair I live in a north-facing first floor flat… maybe that’s just my excuse. I am very good at keeping plants alive though! I’ve got a lot of them to prove it. And I’m good at regrowing things like green onions, celery and bok choi from their cut offs. Does that count?
Who are your favourite bloggers/Instagram/YouTuber accounts etc.
What are your top five low-waste starter kit items?
- Water bottle
- Reusable coffee cup
- Spork or cutlery set
- Canvas bag or large produce bag
What’s in your bag when you’re on a day trip somewhere?
I basically never leave the house without a bag within my bag. That’s my #1. If I’m leaving my house first thing in the morning, I’ve got a reusable coffee cup with me, filled with coffee. Then there’s my water bottle. And I’ve got a spork in cork that is super useful. Oh, and I carry around a little snack pot most of the time – it’s the perfect size for a takeaway donut, or leftovers at a restaurant or something.
What are your tips for a low-waste Christmas?
Gift experiences! If you don’t want to do that, or you don’t know the person well enough, go for things that can be put to good use – homemade sweets and treats like infused gins, homemade pamper treatments like DIY face masks, etc. And secondhand is always a great option, too! Books, toys, puzzles and all sorts of lovely things can be found in your local charity shop for cheap, and these make great gifts.
Skip wrapping paper – it isn’t actually recyclable. You can wrap your gifts using bento bags or scarfs from thrift stores, and if you have to use paper go with brown paper – it looks nice and simple, you can use nice twine or yarn to jazz it up if it’s too boring for you, and it can be purchased in large quantities for much cheaper than the glittery stuff anyway.
How do you handle receiving ‘tat’ presents – throwaway plastic gifts that are made cheaply, come wrapped in plastic and aren’t much use.
Straight to the charity shop, to be honest! Alternatively, I try to get ahead of it and avoid being given the tat in the first place. For example, for the past several years with my in-laws we’ve had a secret santa style gift exchange where every adult gets just one other person. This means you can spend time picking something more thoughtful for someone, and you’re less likely to get (and hopefully give!) tat because there’s a lot less pressure involved.
What new products will you be stocking in the shop soon?
I’ve got lots of plans, but soon I’ll be stocking bamboo plasters, vegan and plastic free tattoo balm (made in Brighton!), some paper based handmade children’s toys, plastic free goodies for pet owners, and even some plastic free, refillable vegan makeup! I’m excited to keep expanding and finding new eco friendly alternatives for things people use every day. (And if any of your readers make cool low waste stuff, they should get in touch with me!)
Where can we find you on social media?
I’m everywhere! The shop is at all of these places:
I’ve also got an account on Instagram where I talk a lot about my own low waste journey and trying to be better – lots of cooking, eating, and charity shop finds over there – that’s at @thelowimpactlifeuk.