Interview by Eloise Hanson at “Through Ella’s Eyes”
How long have you been living a zero waste life?
I have been endeavouring a plastic free life for around a year and zero waste for 6 months. I say endeavouring because although I may no longer buy plastic or contribute to landfill with new purchases I do still have a backlog of things I have collected in the past, that if cannot be reused, do go to recycling or landfill. Also by saying "endeavour", it takes the immense pressure off. One of the main reasons people don't opt for this lifestyle is the seeming impossibility of it all, to be perfectly zero waste.
What are your reasons for it?
The reason is purely for the environment, I am already vegan and have a real love and respect for animals and the Earth and I don't want to contribute to any damage to the environment. The other things like saving money and living a more minimal life is just an added bonus for me.
How have you been finding it?
It was hard to start as it felt entirely overwhelming, everywhere you look there is plastic, unnecessary packaging and waste. Generally speaking, industry is not set up to be ethical and environmentally friendly, it is set up for profit margins and convenience. As soon as I took the pressure off, committing to transitioning bit by bit, it felt easy. Each time a product was reaching its end, I would do a little research and make that change, little by little.
Where has the journey taken you? What have you learnt?
The journey has taken me to creating a course to help transition people towards a zero waste lifestyle without all the stress. I learnt that my nature of questioning everything was so useful to hone in on the detail to help support others make changes. I have done so much research that I can share this with people so they don't have to feel the overwhelm and stress like I did at the start. I want to show people how it doesn't cost more or take more time to live zero waste. The course will be launching in September.
Why is educating about zero waste important?
The education piece is a big part of it. A lot of people think that recycling is 100% effective, as in everything gets reused and the truth is far more terrifying. People don't know that recycling is still pretty damaging for the environment - I didn't either. This education is crucial to raise awareness and encourage people to reduce their consumption in general. The big push on banning plastic is great, but we are really just moving the problem. Do people know the impact of producing alternatives like glass, tetra pak and cans? Is it better or worse than plastic? Are we accounting for the impact of creation and recycling of these materials or just the time scale for decomposing? We are potentially just blindly following what we are told by the media, without accurate information about the root intention, which is to reduce our impact on the environment. For me, that means changing our attitude in general not just swapping one single use item for another.
How can one person make a difference?
In truth, I believe the only way to make a difference is to focus on you and your own impact. We have much more power as individuals than we realise. The beauty of focusing on yourself is you will accidentally influence others. Even as little as reusing a water bottle or saying no to a straw, gets people asking why. When you explain, it gets them thinking. It's the ripple effect.
How challenging is it to shop zero waste? What about with a family?
I don't think shopping zero waste is hard for you or your family. The time consuming part is locating where you can shop zero waste, once you know then it is the same as a normal shop in terms of time. The effort goes in at the start but once you get going it becomes easier and easier.
What else do you have to be mindful of? Does it require a lot of effort?
I think if you adopt the approach of being mindful with everything you do then it doesn't require a lot of effort. The effort part is not being too hard on yourself, just doing your best in every situation. Be as prepared as you can and ask questions when you are out. Know that by just making one change, you are making a difference. You have to take the wins when and where you get them!
How could zero waste living be made easier?
Zero waste living could be made simpler by companies and the industry changing. Any changes at a higher level are generally driven by profit and changes are very slow as a result. We need to approach it from all angles. If you are a politician or run a company then you can influence change, but most of us don't so all we can do is vote with our money. By spending our money with companies who do care we will eventually force other businesses to follow with these changes.
What are the advantages to living zero waste?
Fresher, local produce, as most zero waste stores are your local farm shop or source locally, which
offer higher quality dry goods. If people are aware of waste, quite often they are aware of other things like the benefits of organic products. Not always, but often in my experience the quality is better.
Saving money! I honestly thought it would be more expensive, but my food bills have reduced quite a bit.
Influencing others - there is nothing better than a text or call from a mate or family member telling you they have been inspired by your lifestyle and have made changes too.
Knowing you are doing a good thing. I love knowing that I am caring for the planet and all its inhabitants- animals and humans. I feel happy knowing that I am doing my best to make sure the children in my life have a decent future with a fertile Earth that can still produce food for them.
What are the difficulties to living zero waste?
Socially, there can be difficulties dealing with the feeling awkward. Luckily for me I have 4 years of being the "awkward" vegan. It has allowed me to build enough confidence to not be embarrassed when I ask for no take away cup or what the delivery comes packaged in. No one should feel embarrassed or like they are causing a fuss because they are acting from compassion. People should be proud that they care!
Being on the go. This can sometimes pose a challenge if you don't know the area and you don't know where to shop. The key to this is preparation. I have a zero waste ‘to go’ bag with a coffee cup, bottle, boxes for food, cutlery and snacks. It saves the day every time.
Being hard on yourself. This one has been the biggest disadvantage for me as I hate feeling as if I have "failed" or feeling as if I am causing damage to others. So, I make a conscious effort to stop and take stock frequently to appreciate and be proud of how much I have changed and how much I am already doing to help the planet. Even just one change is worth celebrating and you can be proud of it.
Honestly, I wouldn't say anything to someone who isn't mindful about the environment. You can't force change on anyone. I believe all you can do is what you can and if people ask why or are interested then you can discuss it. I would love for everyone to be making these changes but I realise that people will move at their own pace and make changes when they are ready. Any attempt to change people will just create resistance which could potentially have the opposite effect.
‘Zenful Zero Waste’ is due to launch September 2018. Subscribe to All to Love to get updates and first access to the ‘Be the Change’ online courses to support your transformation to a more joyful, caring and free lifestyle.