I don’t remember the exact date of when I officially went “zero waste”, but it would have been about March- April 2015. A lot of things have happened in the time, with a lot of frustrations along the way. I’m happy to say that I’ve come to that point where I’m content with how things are, and that living with minimal waste has become much easier- mainly because things are on auto pilot nowadays!
I am happy to put behind me those days of sweaty, frantic searching for elusive bulk-stores, and the even more elusive delicatessen who would provide me with plastic free cheese. Finding new places to buy things in bulk is still a triumph and I still get a thrill from it, but it certainly no longer fills my head space as much as it used to. I obsess about it a lot less because it’s become more of a way of life for me. I don’t post on Instagram as much as I used to, mainly because the every day nitty gritty now “just happens”, and no longer requires a proclamation of victory to social media 😉
Now- here is my 12-months ago former self interviewing my current self:
1. What were the hardest things about going zero waste initially?
– For me, it was really laying down the ground work so that I could one day live that life without thinking too hard about it. Originally I used to spend a lot of time researching possible “leads” and driving to these places to set up my own network of places that I could grocery shop at. Finding a deli that would give me cheese in my own container; a butcher who tares my container with finesse; a bulk store that sells body care products; loose eggs/ vendors who would accept old egg cartons back; a fish monger who wasn’t rude about it; a “local” bulk store for everyday items and top ups; a “specialty” bulk store that was further away with harder to find items to stock up with on a 1-2 monthly basis. However once these places were established and tried and tested, things became infinitely easier as the flow had been established in our lives
2. How did your friends/ family react?
Everyone I knew took it surprisingly well. It ranged from people misinterpreting me bringing my own containers and straws to family dinners as “super organised”, to friends being inspired enough to try and implement some measures in their own lives to reduce their own waste. My partner was on board from the beginning and was very supportive, although sometimes he would just ask “can’t we just get this now in plastic as opposed to driving across town next week to get it unpackaged?” The main effect from me going zero waste was that it started that conversation, it inspired people around me to re assess the amount of daily waste they generated, and if that meant even just one less coffee cup or plastic bag- so be it! I never broadcasted it or pushed my agenda onto people. Some times if I was with people I didn’t know very well I would shy away from producing my own straw at restaurants and would stick to drinking tap water (which is much better for you and the environment anyway!)
3. You must have changed so many habits over the last year- which is your favourite?
I’ve always been a bit of a fashionista and impulse- shopper, and trying to reduce my waste has forced me to be more mindful towards everything that I consume, this includes fashion. I reduced my wardrobe (still a work in progress!), and really re-assessed my own personal style. I started buying more second hand clothes (both from thrift shops and eBay), and have really enjoyed the process. I get complimented a lot on things that I’m wearing, and people are always so surprised when I say that I found them in a second hand store! Everything I buy now is bought with longevity in mind- good quality clothes made of natural fibres in classic styles that won’t date, that have to fit perfectly otherwise I won’t buy it. A friend asked me today if I ever intended to get rid of or sell any of the handbags I have currently- I replied that I plan to keep them for the rest of my life 🙂 I dress better now than I did 5 years ago when I would try out every new season colour and trend, I know my own personal style and what works for my body. When I get the “itch” to shop nowadays I just shop my closet- meaning I’ll have a look in there first and see what new outfits I can create.
4. What did you not expect to happen by going zero waste?
The weight loss- in all honesty I’ve lost about 15-17 kg so far (don’t plan on losing any more!)- and this has arisen from eating more whole foods, less packaged junk, making things from scratch and being able to control what goes in them. Because a lot more effort goes into buying meat, fish and cheese unpackaged, I ended up eating a lot more vegetables (out of sheer laziness). Frequenting farmers markets would connect me with the growers and the food, and I would get excited about the prospect of making meals at home, and planning our meals in advance- avoiding the inevitable work week takeaway run!
5. Favourite item to buy in bulk/ unpackaged?
Tofu! From an Asian grocery store- too much fun 🙂 That, and finding a place that refills essential oils.
6. Any tips for the newbies?
Don’t be put off or discouraged. You don’t need to live in an austere white sanctuary with perfectly matching mason jars filled with grains. You don’t need to be perfect- if it’s one less plastic bag or disposable coffee cup- that’s great! It’s a start. Entry level things to try:
- Get a reuseable drink bottle (stainless steel is great) keep it filled and in the fridge, grab it when you head out. Rinse and repeat. And no- you don’t have to have a beautiful Klean Kanteen or S’well bottle- any old thing will do. My first bottle came from a camping store!
- Bring a reuseable shopping tote no matter where you go- I always try to have one rolled up in my handbag, as I never know when I may need it. And using reuseable shopping bags isn’t just confined to grocery shopping- I routinely bring my tote to stores (even when buying new stuff), and have never received a negative comment about it
- If you’re a coffee drinker- either make a ritual out of it and take the time to sit down in a cafe, otherwise bring a reusable coffee cup. I prefer Keep Cups, because they’re light and transport well, easy to drink from, and come in barista standard sizes which makes their job slightly easier. They’re also an Australian company, so I’m biased 😉 Others have had some luck with bringing a standard mason jar with them, some have even knitted a cosy to keep their hands from burning!
- Find a composting solution- I didn’t realise that my council provided fort nightly green waste pick up until I enquired about it. Others have a compost bin or pile in the back yard, a worm bin, or bokashi system (which I’m using currently). Another option is that some local farmers markets and community gardens accept organic waste scraps- I freeze my scraps and make a trip once every 2-3 weeks
- Consider the product life cycle. Every time I purchase something I think- how long will it last for? What will i do with the scraps (if it’s food). How will I dispose of the product at the end of it’s cycle? Do I really need it? Can I buy it second hand, or borrow it? Is the packaging easily recyclable?
- Research some bulk stores in your area- the Bulk App has been a life saver for everyone. I don’t think bulk stores are an essential but it does make things a lot nicer if you have access to a couple
- Buy fruit and veggies unpackaged, and divorce the big chain supermarkets. Options include farmers markets, organic veggie box deliveries, local grocers. Bring some reuseable produce bags (make or buy some), or you can reuse plastic bags that you already have, netting from onion bags, paper mushroom bags etc. Most fruit and veg don’t need to be corralled in a bag anyway. Use your hands even 😄
- Make something from scratch– there are so many fun recipes to try when you go zero waste! Try making toothpaste, hummus, bread, jam, nut milk, anything- with unpackaged ingredients. There will be failures, but that’s part of the fun. Plus you can then use the hash tag #zerowastefail
- Try something that weirds you out. For some people this can include reuseable menstrual products, washable toilet paper or bidet, using handkerchiefs. You’ll be surprised at what ends up sticking as a habit!
- Set goals for yourself- I used to keep a list on my phone of zero waste – related things I’d like to do. Things like “make produce bags”, “buy some bigger jars”, “get kombucha SCOBY”, “make beeswax wraps”- kept things interested and goal- oriented
- Look to reducing your waste in other areas. I started showering over a bucket and using that water to flush the toilet to conserve water. We looked into getting a solar power panel. My main mode of transport is my legs (walking!) and the tram on occasion. Reduce food wastage by not buying more than you need and ensuring everything gets gobbled up before buying more. Say no to freebies. Reduce how much you recycle by reducing the use of packaging in the first place.
7. What has the zero waste lifestyle taught you?
It has taught me to be more mindful, and also to be more thankful- everyday I wake up and am eternally grateful that I have access to fresh food and water, and that it is the earth we live on that provides life’s necessities. I am no longer a mindless consumer hypnotised by the big companies- I can say no and make better, more ethical choices. I am less selfish- I now view myself as a citizen of the world and that i must do my part to protect the world that we live in.
8. What is your next zero waste goal?
My next goal is taking this juggernaut past the pretty pictures on Instagram and taking it to the streets- namely, being a more active zero waste advocate. I write emails to companies and councils about ideas I have to improve their waste management strategies- for example I am currently trying to implement a pen recycling station at my hospital in conjunction with Terracycle, with the next step being to involve Officeworks (a big stationary retailer in Australia) to add pen recycling as an option, alongside taking back batteries and spent printer cartridges. Wish me luck!