How to live a zero waste life and why you'd want to do it

Image by  Tatiana Soash

Image by Tatiana Soash

I’ve been interested in zero-waste since my fashion design days, when I saw first hand the amount of waste that accompanied making a single garment. In my late teens and early 20’s, I worked in the fashion design industry across then full spectrum from design conception, to production, marketing, buying and selling. I actually felt sick one day when I saw how many items of clothes from one brand were literally being sent right to landfill simply because they didn’t sell in ‘that season’.

From that day, I vowed to make better choices in my own life so I wasn't contributing to the madness I saw. I then devoted the next few years of my life studying zero-waste design to try and find a way to create a ‘closed loop cycle’ in fashion. Did you know that 70% of the waste of any item is crested ‘upstream’ before it even reaches the hands of the consumer? This is one reason why purchasing from sustainable and responsible brands is so important. And that journey of working with sustainable fashion brands led me to New York… and funnily enough it’s what also led me to becoming a meditation teacher.

Over those years of study and practice, I saw that what was needed, more than anything, was a shift in the collective mind-set. We so easily engage in our consumerist lifestyles that we don’t even stop to question whether our choices are having an impact beyond our own lives. We have put convenience over the health of our environment (and even our own bodies). Instant-gratification over deeper-connection, meaning and understanding. And we have bought into the lies of marketers who continue to tell us we will be ‘better people’ when we just get that ‘next thing’.

I found that all this really stems from a deep lack of connection within our own selves. We have been convinced that faster and bigger is better. And slower and smaller means you haven’t quite ‘made it’. We feel like we need more to make us more and to reward us for all our ‘hard work’. And we need everything now in the easiest way possible, giving no real thought to the flow on effect of our actions, because we’re so bloody tired and stressed that to think beyond our own needs, or our families needs, is basically an impossibility.

Anyways, I think we all know on some level that the society we live in is a little mad. We just don’t necessarily know how to get out of it. Or maybe the change feels too big. Or there’s some fear around change in general, not knowing where it will lead or what we will have to let go of (externally but also internally). A new perspective always creates a disturbance in the field of life. But that disturbing effect is actually the fertile ground for creative growth. We need to shake up the status quo a little bit.

And shaking is what has been happening to us this past month, as we started to pack up our 3 bedroom house ready to move into storage for 6 months. During this time, I had the thought, ‘What if everything we ever bought stayed with us, for life. Everything we purchased or were given had to live with us, on our land or in our bags. There was no where else for it to go. Would that change the way we looked at buying things? Would that change the whole way we lived our life?’

Because to be real, everything we create, has to go somewhere. There’s a cycle of creation, maintenance and destruction of everything in life. And because we don’t necessarily see where our waste goes (besides into the bin and away in a truck) it’s created an ‘out of sight out of mind’ attitude. But this Earth, is our land. Every piece of it. And if you wouldn’t want someone throwing their rubbish in your backyard, why would you allow it to happen the other way around? This got myself and my partner Alex really feeling the impact of our daily life decisions and helped us deepen our zero-waste resolve.

For us, zero-waste living is a natural expression of our philosophy in life. It’s about consciousness, creativity, living in harmony with nature, being cyclical rather then linear, understanding cause and effect, prioritising experiences over material things, constantly letting go, and being part of the solution rather the contributing to the problem. So if you’ve been de-stressing your body and mind through meditation, and now want to help de-stress the Earth, environment and society we all live in, then we invite you to join us in action.

Each year we try and go more ‘zero waste’. Right now we’re definitely not at 100%. It’s a daily work in progress. But like anything in life, it takes time to transition to a new way of being, seeing and living. Zero-waste is the outcome, but the real benefit is the shift in consciousness that takes place by bringing greater awareness to our daily ingrained habits, thoughts and actions. This is the real beauty! The whole process of growth, change and understanding - internally and externally. And this year, we really want to commit to a more slow, creative and waste-free way of living (especially while traveling) in order to enhance our relationships, increase creativity and create greater connection to the intelligence of life itself.

Over the past year we have been super stoked with the changes we’ve made. We compost all our food waste at a local community garden that we walk to each day and get to check out how all the plants are growing. We have a worm farm and grow some of our own vegetables and herbs (I call them by babies). We take reusable bags to the green grocer and local farmers markets buying only local seasonal produce. We have reusable drink bottles, containers and food thermos’. I use reusable period-proof underwear from Thinx (a game changer from using tampons). And if we need stuff we try and buy second hand off Gumtree.

And through these seemingly small external changes, internally we have felt more connected to our land with the desire to learn more about permaculture and the local indigenous culture. We know where our food comes from and the farmers who grow it, which has made us eat healthier by consequence as we feel ‘in love’ with our produce. We’ve met amazing people in our community as we shop local and have established deeper relationships with them. We have got to share more of our lives with others as we learn ‘new ways’ of living, which has made us feel more and more ‘at home’. And we have been introduced to the concept of slow living… which becomes more and more charming each day.

And now that it’s ‘normal’ to do most these things (and fun, creative and enjoyable), this year we’re wanting to fine-tune our everyday zero waste living and slow down even further. We’ve started by taking our own food thermos’ or cups to the gelato shop instead of using their compostable paper containers. We’re making our own nut milks and fermented foods. We’re cooking more and sharing in the experience of creating in the kitchen together. We’re only buying grains, nuts, spices, cheese and olives in bulk (and anything else that usually comes in plastic) and taking our reusable silicon bags from Kappi to put it all in. I’m also now using washable handkerchiefs instead of tissues. And considering how to stop buying toilet paper… Note: you don’t have to go that far right away!

So where do you start?

We listened to this podcast with Zero Waste Home pioneer Bea Johnson (start the podcast at 8min to skip the intro and get right into the juicy stuff!) and then wrote down the 5 R’s for Zero Waste living.

THE 5 R’S OF ZERO WASTE LIVING

  1. Refuse - We need to start by refusing the things we don’t need - from junk mail to freebies to samples to an extra bag. More doesn’t mean better. And actually we’ve found that the less we have the freer we feel. Check out the whole minimalist movement to get inspired!

  2. Reduce - Next we need to reduce what we buy. Again, more doesn’t mean better. Bea talks about this in her podcast and it’s great to hear her direct experience with it all. A great question to ask yourself when considering buying something… ‘Do I really need this? Do I want it to be with me for life?’

  3. Reuse - Before you recycle, look where you can be re-using items you have. Look up ‘up-cycle’ and give it a new life. Get it repaired. Transform it into something new. And if you have cupboards full of stuff you don’t use, look at where you can gift it to others to use! What you have in your cupboards are valuable resources for people! If you’re not using them, share them. A side-effect of this is a beautiful sharing experience within your community. And an understanding of other peoples needs.

  4. Recycle - What most people think is ‘good waste management’ is actually the 4th step in the process of becoming zero waste! We are still engaging in ‘single use’ items, that although can be recycled, use significant amounts of energy to create and destroy. Also, so much of what goes into the recycling bins gets contaminated with non-recyclables meaning everything ends up at the landfill anyway. Recycling is good, no doubt, and check out your local area for recycling stations for batteries, CDs, mobile phones, light globes etc. But always look to refuse, reduce and reuse before you recycle. Take a glass jar or container to get your takeaway meals, rather then using a compostable single use container. It takes some time getting use to (and I’ve found that sometimes the restaurants/cafes are confused and want you to use their compostable containers), but if you stay true and ask kindly, the Earth will thank you for your consideration!

  5. Rot - Finally, you rot what you can’t use anymore. This is composting or worm farming. Again, this is the 5th step in the cycle. And we need to get way more creative before we throw away to rot valuable food and items.

The 5 R’s are be to done in this order. Rotting comes last. And yes it sometimes feels like we’ve been taught the opposite way around! However I find all this so inspiring. New knowledge means the chance to practice and embody a new state of being. Really living the 5 R’s is our aim this year. And if you want to join us, then you too can start slowly introducing zero waste. Each year doing more as it integrates and becomes ‘normal’. And remember, buying is voting. This is the silent power of your voice. Make sure you’re using it wisely!

I want my children to grow up in a world where the air is breathable, the oceans are free of plastic and the plants sing with vibrational energy that will nourish our bodies from the inside out. I want my children to value relationships more than individual achievements, value experiences and creating memories more than owning material things, and desire greater awareness of Self and environment more than convenience or instant gratification. And if making these small changes to my life will make that possible, then I’m all in. Together we can inspire a revolution of consciousness.

If you’re keen to get started, here are some resources I suggest you check out.

Get great tips from the pioneer of Zero Waste Home - Bea Johnson.

Listen to the Slow Your Home podcast and see a new perspective on living slow.

Follow Kathryn Kellogg on Instagram for real down-to-earth advice on going zero waste

Get inspired by the Zero Waste Chef and you can follow her on Instagram too!

Take an online I Quit Plastics course with The Plastic Free Mermaid.

Ditch the throw away and single use items in your house with Kappi. We just bought a whole lot of reusable wares for our 4 month travel journey through India (a place that really needs less waste).

Buy slow living cookware from Grown and Gathered where they sell only the most practical resources and tools that either last a lifetime or are 100% compostable. The life-long iron cooking pans they sell are amazing!

Keep your fruit and veg fresh and happy in the fridge with SWAG bags (and you can take them to the markets to avoid paper and plastic bags too!)

Interested in sustainable fashion? Check out Ethical Made Easy - a website to find sustainable and responsible brands!

Watch the War on Waste documentary on ABC.

Watch the documentary True Cost to see the impact your fashion choices are having.

Check out Zero Waste Victoria to get experts come talk at your home/work/school.

I hope that this post (and its resources) inspires you to look at making 2019 a little more waste-free, and highlights to you that it doesn’t have to be hard, inconvenient or impossible. Quite the opposite actually! Let the creativity flow… and meaningful, conscious sharing of community be enjoyed.

With love,

Laura x

Laura Poole