If you've seen any of the ABC's War on Waste episodes, you'd be familiar with the incredibly concerning amounts of rubbish and materials going into landfill every day in Australia. If you haven't, we highly recommend doing so straight after you finish reading this interview. It's not an issue we can face alone, but it is one that our everyday actions have the power to change.
We spoke to Author of The Ocean and Me, Georgia, about the ups and downs and ins and outs of her zero-waste lifestyle.
Where did your zero waste journey begin?
My zero waste journey began just over 3 years ago when I watched The Story of Stuff on YouTube. It made me really think about the origin of all the stuff we have in our lives and the environmental consequences before and after we use them. From there I became a more conscious consumer and I found out about Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers. That was all the push I needed to try to live a zero waste lifestyle.
How have you found trying to live with zero or little waste?
Going zero waste is a continuous journey. Some switches I found really easy (like always carrying reusable bags with me and using a reusable water bottle) whereas others it took me a long time to work up to them (such as using a handkerchief or a safety razor). So far though, for each zero waste switch I’ve made, I’ve never looked back and they end up being much easier than I made them out to be in my head!
What are some easy fixes that you believe everyone can change right now?
Getting rid of the big four plastic disposables in our life is something everyone can start today. Say no to plastic bags; carry reusable ones. Ask for your drinks without a straw. Refuse bottled water; carry a reusable water bottle. Ditch takeaway coffee cups; choose a reusable option.
A less obvious one that people seem to overlook but I’ve found very easy to implement is avoiding produce bags. Your fruit and veg will be fine without a bag at all - especially in these days of self-service checkouts, it’s just you who has to deal with the loose produce. Alternatively, you can get reusable mesh bags too and they are so compact they can easily fit in that reusable bag you’re already carrying around.
Have you had to completely give up anything going zero or little waste?
For most things, there are zero waste alternatives if you look hard enough. Depending on where I’m living in the world though it’s not so easy. When I lived in Mexico I just had to give up chocolate completely as there were no bulk food stores where I lived - although I found I didn’t end up missing it too much. Nothing else springs to mind, I still buy a few packaged items as there are things I’m not ready to give up completely and it’s important that this lifestyle doesn’t feel like a sacrifice or it won't be sustainable.
What have you learned on your zero waste journey so far?
This journey is full of constant lessons and a bombardment of new information every day. But the overarching principle I’ve adopted is to always think critically about any item you’re going to consume - we can’t just take for granted what marketing messages we are fed by sellers, we need to analyse what has its impact already been on the environment and whether we really need it or not.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is how well we can live with much less than we’re told we “need”. The current capitalist economy is built on the notion of continuous consumption so to defy that means turning an underlying rule of current society on its head and that’s not always accepted by others. With that, has come the most unexpected challenge throughout my journey - when other people have taken offence to the lifestyle I lead as an affront to societal norms. I like to lead by example and rarely preach about zero waste, yet you still get the odd person who wants to take a stab at the lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself.
Another challenge has been to avoid comparison, which applies to everything in life, not just living a zero waste lifestyle! Everyone has their limit to what they are happy to give up or switch out in a zero waste life, and if you end up with things in your rubbish bin or more recycling than you’d ideally have, it’s really not the end of the world. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Why do you think more people should try this lifestyle?
The immediate appeal for me to the zero-waste lifestyle was that it’s something an individual can start to implement straight away to reduce their impact on the environment. To me, that is very empowering. We may not be able to single-handedly stop the Adani coal mine or oil drilling in the Arctic, but we can refuse single-use plastic, we can buy our produce unpackaged from the local farmer's markets, we can shop second-hand and we can walk up to the shops rather than hop in the car. All of these positive actions, when carried out by millions around the world, are bound to have a positive effect on our planet.
I like to think that by others seeing my zero waste lifestyle in action (and how easy it can be) is how others around me are inspired to begin their own journey. Whenever I get a quizzical look for something I simply explain with a smile that I’m doing it because I’m trying to reduce my resource or plastic consumption for the environment. If they seem interested, I elaborate.
It always brings a smile to my face when I hear a friend or, even better, a friend of a friend change their plastic consumption or other habits for the better because my lifestyle got them thinking about it. I really believe in the ripple effect and I’m sure in the next decade there will be huge changes in the design of products and re-thinking of consumption that will promote and facilitate the zero waste lifestyle.
Read more tips from Georgia at theoceanandme.com
Or follow her waste-free lifestyle @theocean.andme