Living with less waste Laura Young podcast transcript

Living with less waste – Laura Young

The Think podcast: Episode 5


In our fifth episode, Elaine Walker from our marketing and corporate affairs team chats with zero-waste influencer and environmental scientist, Laura Young (also known as Less Waste Laura). In the episode, Laura shares the small changes individuals and businesses can make to live more sustainably and with less waste. As always, towards the end of the episode, Laura shares her hopes and aspirations for COP26 which comes to Glasgow this November.

00:00:01 Narrator

Hello and welcome to Think Climate from Scottish Enterprise. The podcast where we're sharing conversations with inspirational people in the run up to COP 26 in Glasgow.

In this episode, we welcome Zero Waste Influencer and Environmental scientist Laura Young, known as Less Waste Laura to her 45,000 followers on social media.

She talks to Elaine Walker from our marketing and corporate affairs team about what got her interested in climate change, and the potential for COP 26 to provide a green legacy for Glasgow.

00:00:35 Elaine Walker (EW)

Hi and welcome back to another episode of the Think Climate Podcast. With Elaine here from Scottish Enterprise. And this week is Scotland’s Climate Week, where people are being encouraged to make pledges for the planet.

So it's very fitting that, with us here today, we have Laura Young, better known as Less Waste Laura. Ethical influencer, zero waste advocate and environmental scientist.

So, what got you interested in climate change and saving the planet?

00:01:04 Laura Young (LY)

Hi, what an introduction. I'm really excited to be here.

I don't even know where to start. Just giving a bit of an introduction. But hello, I'm Laura. I've just turned 25 so I'm enjoying being able to say I'm a year older and I live in Glasgow.

I've probably had a bit of a passion for the environment, living environmentally, you know, taking care of this place that we call home, really for the past four or five years.

But it all started when I fell in love with the subject geography at school, which led me to going to Dundee Uni to do geography and environmental science, doing a masters in that.

And now, really, trying to work hard at environmental education and doing what I can as an individual and really pushing for change. But you know, I've always loved the outside, the outdoors, hiking, Munro bagging. It's very classic Scottish hobby.

But yeah, that's a little bit about me and my kind of passion for where this all started from at school and just loving the outdoors.

00:02:10 EW

That is wonderful, and it's great to hear you started at a young age. And happy birthday there as well if you celebrated your birthday recently.

You mentioned your degree there in geography and Environmental Protection and management. Have your studies deepened your understanding of climate change? What do you think are the key issues facing the world right now?

00:02:21 LY

Yeah, my studies have completely helped me understand a bit more about the world, so you know, actually, as we record this, I'm up in northwest coast of Scotland.

And you know it's just funny being able to look at the coastline, and think about my geography days at school and uni and think about how this place was formed and some of the landscapes around me.

And so I think my studies gave me a real deep understanding of the world and how it works. But of course you then learn about when humans came along and some of the impacts that we have on the planet. And it's really deep into my understanding of climate change in the way that we live and operate as a society, how that impacts the world around us.

And I think there's many issues facing the world right now. Climate change, environmental change, is one of the biggest, and that takes different forms kind of relating to where you are in the world, you know, climate change impacts all sorts of weather and climate. You know more rainfall, less rainfall flooding droughts, wildfires, ice caps, melting sea levels rising. You know, all pretty negative things in a lot of places.

You know in Scotland, some of the impacts we're seeing is longer and more intense rainfall during the kind of wet seasons in the winter? But then, just this year we've had the lowest level of water in our lochs, really impacting people's water supply, so these are some big things that are facing the planet.

But alongside climate change, one of the other things I'm passionate about – and it goes hand – is this idea of the waste that we're producing as a planet.

The amount of stuff we're creating and throwing away has a huge impact on climate change. It's not really carbon intensive, but also the amount of stuff that we're needing to then put back into the earth and almost hide it in places because we're creating so much waste, and these are, you know, some of the big issues that we're facing. And at university, you know 5, 6, 7 years ago, this was what we were talking about and we're still talking about it now.

00:04:23 EW

You're right and you've been talking about this for a for a while now and you're really passionate about it. And we heard you at TEDx in Glasgow in 2019 with your talk on kicking the plastic habit.

You gave a very powerful presentation on the small changes people can all make, like switching from plastic milk cartons to glass milk bottles.

I myself I've switched to glass bottles, so doing my little bit to help the planet. Can you tell me from then to now how much waste have you saved, Laura, because you're very passionate about this.

00:04:51 LY

Oh, I mean, that's probably a big question. I don't even know how to answer that. I guess you know it's one of these things that, throughout the last few years I've been trying to find Wasteless solutions, zero waste solutions or solutions to the products that we use every day to try and reduce the amount of waste.

And the one thing I love about trying to take up this challenge is, once you find a solution you don't ever have to make that switch again. You know the example that I used when I did the Ted talk in Glasgow. You know, pulling on hundreds of plastic bottles of milk?

My point was actually, you know this is a lot of waste from just one item that a lot of us drink in a year and I sort of represented, you know, a family of four’s worth, you know to help resonate with the audience.

But my main point was actually we know that there's a solution to this one thing in particular, getting glass bottles. But actually, once you make that switch all of that waste disappears. That's not waste that you're creating and you never have to make it again.

You know every day that you've made that switch is still a day that you're saving it, and so I think from now, maybe flipping the question around, I don't know how much waste I've saved, but I know how much waste I'm not producing.

My recycling bin will never have plastic bottles from milk again, it will never have plastic bottles from shampoo or conditioner again, it will never have plastic toothbrushes, you know?

My bin is never going to have these items in it again because the solutions are out there and I've found them and have switched to them. And I think that's one of the really great things actually about continuing this journey year on year is just finding more and more ways to reduce things, and seeing my bin filled up less and less over time.

00:06:34 EW

That's brilliant, Laura. And yeah, you speak about everyone should find the solutions and it's about the solutions to climate change and that's really important.

And you talk a lot about this online and your social media platforms and your brand Less Waste Laura, so to speak, and you use social media to share tips, advice on being kinder to our planet, and that's amazing.

What tips would you give to people listening right now? You know you speak about the solution, so things like using less plastic or reusing clothing, or that kind of circular economy aspect.

00:07:07 LY

I think there's so many ways that we can have an impact as an individual.

And you know, I think it's important to know that when we talk about the change that we need for the planet, whether it's climate change or waste or plastic, whatever it is, we talk about, well, we need a big system change. You know we need to change the way that the world operates.

But as individuals we are part of the system. We make it up, and so whenever enough of us make changes, you know that's what begins to shift this.

But I think for anyone wanting to think about living more sustainably, you can do that in such a big variety of ways.

You can look at one part of your life. So you mentioned a few things there. You know you've got the food that you eat, the fashion that you wear, the way that you travel the waste that you produce.

And you can kind of go into each of those areas and really find ways that are fun and engaging and fit with your lifestyle that are a bit more sustainable.

I'll take waste just as an example, it's very on brand for me. As you said, Less Waste Laura is where I began. Because one of my things was, in 2018, I set myself a New Year's resolution to live with less waste. I didn't really set a goal, I just said I want to try this year. That's my New Year's resolution, to just try and reduce my waste.

And we had Blue Planet on the TV and so you know, this was in my mind about, even if there's just one straw in the in the ocean, or one fishing net in the ocean, that can still have an impact somewhere. And so I started with my waste.

And, you know, one of the things that I felt quite overwhelmed by was when I started Googling sustainability, sustainable swops, you know, plastic-free living. I just felt like I was being sold to. Loads of products to buy and lots of different things, and it felt quite overwhelming.

I thought oh my goodness, do I need to buy all of these new things to become sustainable? And of course we know that's the complete opposite of what you need to do.

So for me, when I started this, particularly looking at waste, I just decided from the 1st of January whenever something runs out in my house, whether it was toothpaste shampoo, pasta, cleaning spray, I'm just going to have a Google. I'm going to have a search. I'm going to find a different alternative and see if there's something better out there.

And I just did it one at a time. So some things it was straight away. You know there were things I ran out of very quickly. You know, pasta or rice. All those kind of things.

There was other things that it was over time, you know. Slowly I got through the stockpiles of shampoo that I seem to have in my flat so you know I kind of took things on one by one and that really helped me do it at a sustainable pace for myself.

But another big thing that I do, and I always recommend this to people who are really concerned about their waste, is do a waste audit. Now I promise, it's way more fun than it sounds, and it's really effective.

Because one of the things I remember, I remember having a conversation with my grandparents and it was just at the beginning of this journey and I said, oh, it's amazing, I've got this new keep cup. It's like a coffee cup, but you can use it on the go. It's like a takeaway cup, but you just wash it and reuse it.

And I said, oh, do you want me to get you guys a couple of these, you know you can have your coffee on the go, you don't create any waste. And I just remember them saying, “but why would we need those? When do we ever get takeaway coffees? We love to sit in a cafe and just watch the world go by”, and it made me realise that actually everybody’s waste is completely individual to them.

So my grandparents in their 80s don't produce the same type of waste that I did when I was 21 and a student and living out of a library trying to get through uni.

And so it made me realise I need to really look at what I produce. And so I did this waste audit.

And you know, if you can collect up all of your waste everything, even if you're out and about for you know 2, 3, 4 weeks, and just really put it out in front of you.

One of the things that you'll see is visibly, what is the amount of stuff that you produce? What are the big areas that you need to change?

And that's another way that you can really pinpoint and hone in on some of the good and the bad and the ugly and really do it that way.

So for me when I did that, one of the biggest volumes of stuff was the amount of kind of meal deals and takeaway lunches and things that I was getting while I was a student. So I realised OK, actually, if I just tackle my lunches alone, I'm going to save half of this waste every couple of weeks.

And so that's another key thing that I want to tell people is actually everyone is different. Everyone has, you know, the areas that they can work on a bit more and that's the best way to do it.

Because if my grandparents got a couple of reusable coffee cups, their waste wouldn't change because they weren't using disposable coffee cups, but I was. So I think that's my kind of encouragement.

But, you know, I could go into a million ways that people could try and be more sustainable with fashion or food or travel or whatever. But actually just really spending some time consciously thinking about each of these elements can really open up a lot of doors for people to learn how to live a bit differently.

00:11:50 EW

That's fantastic and very inspirational, so we should all do our own little waste audit there, Laura.

00:11:53 LY

I promise it is exciting.

00:11:53 EW

Yeah, it sounds great. I think it's a good place to start. Everyone taking their own individual steps to be more sustainable. Start small and then, you know, make that pile of waste smaller.

And let's widen the question, can you make any suggestions for businesses potentially who want to start their journey to being more sustainable? Here at Scottish Enterprise, we support lots of companies to lower their carbon footprint, but what advice would you provide?

00:12:18 LY

I think my advice would first be well, I'd probably stop before even giving advice and say you know, thank you for being a business that wants to be conscious. You know, a business that wants to help people.

So much of my time is spent speaking to individuals who just want their favourite cafe or their favourite clothing brand or their favourite whatever to just help them out. You know, help them be more sustainable as an individual, because often we are completely limited as individuals to what the businesses around us offer.

And actually, as an individual, it's really important to play my part, but I can only save one coffee cup a day by using my reusable one. Whereas if a business, you know a cafe or a coffee business, if they decide to say, actually, we're going to stop producing single use cups – that makes so much more of a difference than I could ever make, and it's really important for businesses to be thinking about that.

So I think, as a business, it's probably just really important to kind of do what I've said that individuals can do. Really reflect and take a step back and look at your business. Look at the practises that you operate.

What are the goods and services that you are providing? What's the waste that you're producing and not just the waste that you're producing? You know the waste that goes into your bins as a business, but are you selling stuff that then ends up becoming waste somewhere else down the line?

How can you incorporate sustainability to the things that you're doing, thinking about even things like how your staff travel around, how you promote sustainable lifestyles from an individual perspective?

You know, I think all these things are important, and also really looking into what is the future for Scotland, and for the world. If we are to be sustainable looking into these concepts of net zero emissions, looking at the circular economy and really looking at what part you could play in that.

And I think it's really important to seek out that help. You know there's amazing help out there, whether it's from individuals like you or even just asking your customers, what do you want us to do? What would be the best for you? How can we be more sustainable to help you? Or whether that's asking the bigger questions? You know, looking at how you can get investment or infrastructure, that's more sustainable.

But I think it's really important to take that step back and do that audit and really reflect on the changes that you can make.

I think we've seen a lot of companies doing things like going paperless, which is fantastic. But what is being paperless when you're still flying all of your staff down to London? It's having these really open conversations, about saying what are the big changes that we can make and what were the commitments that we can do?

And I think, particularly with COP 26 in Glasgow this year, there's a real spotlight as well on industry and the changes we can make. So I think it's just about doing that really openly, and really making space for those changes within your business model.

00:15:17 EW

And if ever there was a year for change, it would be this year with COP 26 not far away at all, less than 50 days in fact.

And we talked about business a little bit, but are there any Scottish companies that you've been impressed with that are doing great things in the climate scene or the circular economy, Laura?

00:15:28 LY

I think there's loads of amazing businesses that are popping up all over the place. You know, I think one of the biggest things I've seen increase in Scotland is the amount of these kind of refill zero waste shops that have been popping up really proving that there is a way that we can shop differently for even the basic items like the food and the pantry items that we need.

I've just loved seeing these Scottish companies and a lot of them being birthed out of local communities. You know people saying, we want this change where we live, so we're just going to do it. We're going to step up, and we're going to do that.

I think there's also been loads of great work done by some organisations, like Zero Waste Scotland. You know they've kind of implemented this revolve accreditation, which is really helping people kind of break down stigmas and barriers to do with second-hand items, whether that's clothing or furniture.

I think, really having that conversation about the idea that the stuff that we buy doesn't have to be new. The stuff that we buy can just be new to us, and you know that's really playing into that circular economy.

But I think definitely with Cop 26 coming up, this isn't just the kind of small community-based organisations that are really helping it. We also have big Scottish companies like Scottish Power, who have committed, they’re 100% renewable now and they're really putting a lot of stuff in to help us as consumers of energy, but also as a country to generate energy.

You know this is happening across the scale and I think it's been really positive to see that. And one of the things I'm really enjoying now is companies and brands and businesses here in Scotland, realising that Cop is coming but also realising that this moment goes further than just November, it goes further into the future. And really seeing companies you know pledging that they are going to cut down their waste or cut down their carbon footprint.

And that's just been transformational, and it's something that's just so encouraging.

00:17:25 EW

So Laura, you mentioned there about, you know these companies that have reuse and refill stations. You can take your own receptacles and go in and fill up. Are there any particular companies you'd give a shout out in this space to that are doing great things?

00:17:39 LY

Oh yeah, of course. I mean there's a couple that I use in Glasgow. So, you've got Society Zero. You've got Locavore. There's even one that's a kind of delivery service called Eco Lad and Lass.

You know, these are some of the great refill shops in and around near where I live, but there's also some amazing companies really leading the way in sustainable futures like Mossgiel, which is down in Ayrshire.

And a shout out to my new favourite cafe up in Aberdeen called Food story which is fantastic and also has a refill shop. So there's these amazing places just popping up all over the place and every time I visit a new city there's new stuff to find.

And that's just so encouraging to see.

00:18:16 EW

And it's encouraging to see lots of businesses of all shapes and sizes really take the reins with sustainability and be a leader in many ways, and Scotland is a leader in many areas. So do you think we can really lead the way in this year of COP?

00:18:30 LY

I think we can. I think we … I guess one of the things, if I'm being honest, that I'm sort of tired of hearing is, you know, targets. You know, I'm very bored of hearing targets of you know emissions by this year or this is how much we're going to do.

I think now what we really need to do is put that stuff into action. You know, we really need to say, OK, we've got targets for next year or for circular economies or for reducing waste.

But actually, here's how we're going to get from A to B or A to Z, and I think that's something that is, you know, one of the things I hope Scotland can do, to be that leader. Because I think often when we talk about a country being a leader, you know Scotland was the first to declare a climate emergency, and that was fantastic. But what are we doing now? You know what are we actually putting in place?

And so I think Scotland can. I think we really need to put a focus into some key areas you know, particularly the infrastructure around Scotland, the homes and the buildings that we that we're that we're in.

I think we really need to shine a light on transport, you know, and really making that a sustainable business and a sustainable industry. And I think we really need to focus on – there was a great statistic that came out of some research done by zero Waste Scotland, which was looking at the fact that 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint came from the goods, services and products that we produce and often just use once and throw away. And so actually we really need to look at our consumption which goes hand in hand with our waste and really pushing towards that.

And so I think these are just some of the really key areas that Scotland needs to put more stuff in place for. But I think we can lead the way and we've shown Scotland historically is a very technical and engineering-based country. There's been some amazing things to come out of innovation from people who are Scottish or from our country.

And so I think we need to really channel that energy and keep putting that into the climate movement.

00:20:23 EW

That's great, Laura, thank you for that and I'd like to say, you know the leaders of the future are the ones coming up, so that's showing leadership as well.

Do you think that young people are engaged enough in climate change? What's your message to young people. Being a young person yourself?

00:20:39 LY

They are. I mean Scottish young people have been at the front of the climate movement since it really started to hit the mainstream news.

And young people are engaging on all levels, you know, through their schools, colleges, workplaces with their local MPs, MSPs, with local businesses. I think they really are at the front of it.

I think there is, you know, young people are at a disadvantage when it comes to this, because often their voices are used as inspirational voices put up on a pedestal and then you know that nobody acts on what they've said.

And so I think my message to young people though, is that to just keep pushing and just keep stepping up because also, in a couple of years they will be the ones who are moving into industry, into politics, into our government, into these spaces. And so just to be really encouraged, that in the very near future we're hopefully going to see more people who are passionate about this.

But you know, and I even think with COP coming up, we're going to have thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of young people taking action.

Whether that's on the streets online during school time, and I think that's really important that we that we recognise that young people are really pushing for this change and they're the ones who often can see clearly, their heads, haven't been turned in business or government, you know they're just seeing what is the future of the planet.

And they don't have any vested interests anywhere else. They just care about the people that are around them, the planet, they that they're inheriting. And I think that's really key, why we listen to them, because they've just got it black and white.

00:22:20 EW

That's right. And you see things very black and white as well, and that's great to hear from you today.

And it's great that you've given us a little bit of your time today, because you've been really, really busy, you've since appeared on TV, radio and various podcasts. Since your Ted talk, what's life been like and what are you working on or focusing on right now?

00:22:31 LY

Lots, which is great. You know. I think one of the things that I'm really keen to do, whether it's on my own or you know bringing people with me is speak into spaces that might not have heard about environmental change, climate, justice, you know?

I'm really passionate about environmental education as well. You know, one of the things that that I've realised in the last year anyway, we've had 18 months of news and information about COVID. That's been the thing we've been all been talking about, and I've really appreciated hearing experts giving up their time to help educate us on what to do and what it means and really get an understanding of it. And for me, that's because I had no idea about infectious diseases or pandemics. And actually, you know these people's time was amazing.

And one of the things I've recognised is I'm really privileged to have had the education that I did to study geography, environmental science, and I've got a platform to speak about these issues. And I think it's important that we do educate people about environmental education and topics. I think it's important that we share our knowledge in the business sphere as well.

So that's been a lot of what I've been doing. You mentioned a few things, you know speaking on the radio where that audience might not necessarily be engaged with climate conversations.

I've been working with an NGO called Tearfund and they are kind of looking into the international space. You know making sure that the voices of people who are really impacted by climate change are heard and that we're engaging with the conversation widely.

I've been doing some really fun projects with organisations like Bin Twinning, which is, you know, getting people to think about the waste that they produce but also supporting sustainable start-ups around the world.

And then yeah, just doing the stuff that I normally do on social media and engaging with schools and businesses.

And sometimes even politicians to really talk about some of these issues, and I think that's a really important space to just be chipping away to be keeping it in people's you know, the front of people's minds and really making this a mainstream conversation that we can have.

And also just to encourage the amazing businesses that are doing things you know.

I love to talk about Scottish businesses and businesses that are doing stuff for sustainability to be like, here's some praise. I want to encourage you that what you're doing is great, and I hope more people will support you in this endeavour and, and that's what I've been doing for the past few years, and I've absolutely loved it.

Obviously everything is getting very busy towards Cop 26. It's coming to where I live so that's just fantastic and I'm really looking forward to the light that shines on Glasgow in Scotland. But also the kind of longevity and the legacy that that's going to leave here.

00:25:15 EW

Yes, you're right, it will shine such a big spotlight on Scotland. When COP 26 comes to Glasgow.

And what would you like to see to come out of the discussions? What's your hopes for the event, Laura?

00:25:34 LW

I guess my hope is that it's successful. You know, we know that this is … it's been a tricky conference historically to get right. We've not really seen the changes that we need. You know, many of the previous conferences have come out as a fail, they've come out, but being branded unsuccessful.

So I think I just really hope that we've had enough happened in the last 18 months, the last two years for world leaders to realise that this is serious.

You know we are running out of time and we need to make the pledges and actually put that stuff into action. We need money. We need finance to finance the solutions, the mitigation, the adaptation and we need just successful conversations.

But I also hope I guess, for Glasgow, for Scotland, you know the same way that when the Commonwealth Games came to Glasgow, we really hoped for our legacy of sport to be left.

You can judge whether you think that's happened, but I think for this Cop 26, I hope that there's a legacy of being green, a legacy of caring for the environment, and you know, I hope that businesses see this as a launchpad into their own sustainable future.

And I hope that in one year, five years, 10 years, you know we look back and really say wow, that that was the pivotal moment. And we're now living in a more green future.

00:26:43 EW

That's excellent Laura. A greener future for everyone as legacy of Cop 26 there. Thank you very very much for your time today and now as we near the end of the podcast. Thanks for joining us everybody, our listeners. I hope you've enjoyed this episode and join us again for the next one.

00:27:00 Narrator

Thanks for listening today and we hope you enjoyed the episode. Get involved with the climate conversation on Twitter @Scotent and join us next time on the Think podcast.