Tag Archives: Helping the environment

Lessons from zero waste heroes

Hey guys! Varvara here, one of the Sustainability Office’s Eco Volunteers!

Do you ever get the chance to meet your heroes? I did. As part of a campus event I got to meet Hannah and Liam, the couple who have lived for three years without a bin (yes, you read that right) and the couple behind The Rubbish Trip – a zero waste road show offering presentations to community groups, schools, businesses and households about how and why individuals can reduce their waste footprint.

Hannah and Liam have been on the road for eight and a half months, touring the country and writing up a guide for zero waste living for every region in New Zealand. Having made it to the talk quite early, I sat in a swivelly chair like a child in front of a magician, watching the pair remove everything from toothpaste to dishwashing liquid from their deceptively small backpacks. The array they presented at the front of the room was more than impressive, zero waste usually comes with connotations of being limited, but these guys obviously didn’t get the message. Around twenty jars of toiletries and hygiene products sat proudly on the table – all homemade, all cheap as hell to make. Covering the rest of the table was everything you could possibly think of: sandwich wraps, takeaway containers, crochet produce bags, knitted cloths and thrift store coffee cups. An impressive array, accumulated over a number of years. When talk turned to the beautiful stainless steel takeaway containers, Hannah explained, laughing.

“We used ice cream containers for the longest time. They work perfectly well and are great for a budget. But we thought a steel container would look more legit, you know?”

The talk itself was in two parts. Part one being the reasons why thinking about our waste is important. Part two was dedicated to the practical tips and recipes for actually minimizing your waste.

Undoubtedly, part one of the talk was not for the weak of spirit. No matter how much you think about the environment in your daily life, seeing the impact our species have had on ‘Spaceship Earth’ is immensely disheartening and depressing. Hannah and Liam flicked through their presentation, each slide dominated by images, statistics and quotes from academic literature displaying the sheer magnitude of the pollution problem. The stats were hard to swallow. If (like many of us) you weren’t already aware – there’s estimated to be about 150 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean already, and every year an additional 8 million tonnes flows in.  The fact that has been floating (excuse the pun) around about there being more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050? That’s true.  And speaking of swallowing, seagulls and turtles aren’t the only animals eating plastic; 83% of tap water samples from around the world contain microplastics.

Our culture of disposability has made us blind to its impacts. We emphasize convenience over the health of our planet and, ultimately, over our survival. But surely not all is lost? Well, according to Hannah and Liam, there is hope. One of the slides they put emphasis on was a magazine article from the 1950’s. On the first page a small family are pictured throwing dozens of disposable plates and forks in the air. The second page gives praise of the new era of plastic, where dishes do not need to be cleaned but instead can be thrown out. Hannah explained that the fact that disposable products were introduced into our society only fifty odd years ago shows that it will not take long to phase them out – but only if we start now.

And this is where the second part of the talk began.

The couple talked about beginning a zero waste journey, and how to make it as easy as possible. Their main piece of advice was to find a community, whether on social media or in your city. They explained that a community would provide everything from advice and support, to car pools to far away stores which carry some of the more niche goods in bulk.

They suggested phasing things out gradually. For example, they advised purchasing or making zero waste replacements for the things you need as you run out of your ordinary products. This will be less overwhelming and give you time to find the replacements that suit you.

If you are unsure of the options for replacements, a simple google search would be a good place to start. The most common and easy replacements can be found very intuitively. Reusable cups, containers and cutlery are great options for eating out. Swap your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. Make or buy some reusable wraps for your lunches, and quit using glad wrap. A handkerchief will be a long-lasting and much prettier tissue replacement. For menstrual products the options are endless, with cloth pads, moon cups and more. Disposable razors can be replaced with a safety razor. The list goes on. One only needs to start exploring options….

Hannah and Liam suggested their website, The Rubbish Trip, where they document the best places to purchase zero waste goods in most regions of New Zealand. The website is, by the way, amazing! I was so excited for the Christchurch guide to come out, because the amount of options these guys seem to scout out is incredible.

While their talk predominantly dealt with the practicalities of the lifestyle, some of the most inspirational messages about zero waste I’ve ever heard were dropped casually by the pair throughout the talk.

They talked about the fact that zero waste doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive. True, we need people like Lauren Singer (author of ‘Trash is for Tossers’ – check out her blogs!) to make zero waste appealing and an ‘aesthetic’, there’s no one right way to be zero waste. The beauty of it is that you can do what feels best for you, and what is most convenient. Minimizing the waste in your life will be a process. There’s no quick fix, even if you swear off food and drink and sleep in a cardboard box. Aiming for perfection is unproductive. You can aim to be better than you were yesterday.

And that was so important and encouraging to hear. Just like every major transition in life, there will be failures and miss steps on your zero waste journey. But ultimately, it will be worth it. Individual action carries infinitely more weight than we give it credit for. You can make a difference. What you choose matters, so choose a future free of pollution and go zero waste. Your planet will thank you.

A huge thanks to Hannah and Liam for coming to UC to share with us their journey to living a zero waste lifestyle – we all left feeling encouraged, inspired and humbled. Please check out their website, and follow their journey on Facebook – you won’t regret it!

Thanks to our superstar Eco Volunteer Varvara for the write up – we’re glad you enjoyed The Rubbish Trip visit as much as we did!

A few links from Hannah and Liam to get you started:

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Interested in becoming an Eco Volunteer? We would love to hear from you! We have an Eco Volunteering programme running for 2018, with events and campaigns focused on sustainable transport, fair trade, waste minimization and sustainable living. Email sustainability@canterbury.ac.nz to learn more.