Going zero waste

Ruby Pandolfi is an arts and law student at UNSW and has been volunteering at Alfalfa House for a year. She’s also the volunteer coordinator at AYCC – Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Here she tells us about her journey to go zero waste.
If you are interested in zero waste and want to learn how you can do it, come you our open day on May 26.

In Australia alone, one million take away cups end up in landfill every minute. Right now, there are around 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean, and each year enough plastic is thrown away by us humans to circle the earth four times.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who really really cares about the environment. I cared about the big issues: solar energy and renewables over fossil fuels, global warming, sea level rise, deforestation, overfishing, species extinction… the list goes on! And don’t get me wrong, I still 100% do. But I never consciously thought about the significance of my own individual acts, and their connection to the health of our planet. I would bring my own shopping bags to Woolies, but wouldn’t hesitate to buy my brown rice pasta in plastic packaging, my apples packaged in packs of six, or all my fruit and veg in plastic bags.

Gradually, I started to realise how crazy it is that something we use for 10 minutes to eat our lunch with, like a plastic fork and knife, will last on the earth for hundreds and hundreds of years after we die. Single use and disposable plastics like bottles, cutlery, takeaway containers, bags, coffee cups, straws, milk cartons etc, have become so normal to us in our daily lives that it seemed almost impossible to me that we could ever find a way to live plastic free.

But, as I began learning more and more about how common plastic was in my own life, I started to become aware of the choices that I had the power to make, which could have a pretty significant impact on decreasing my environmental footprint. I shifted my mindset from thinking that my own individual actions couldn’t possibly make THAT big of an impact on our earth, to knowing that everything we do has some significance – and that’s how I discovered zero waste!

Living a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle basically means trying to limit the amount of waste we produce as consumers. This includes:

  • reducing food packaging
  • saying no to disposable plastics
  • composting old food scraps
  • making your own consumables, such bathroom products to limit product packaging
  • reusing reusing reusing

After discovering this amazing but slightly intimidating concept, I quickly found that living a zero waste lifestyle wasn’t as hard as I thought if its broken up into small, achievable steps.

I started to buy all my food like grains, nuts, seeds, pastas and beans in bulk at Alfalfa House and invested in a set of reusable produce bags. I stopped buying from Woolies and Coles and bought fruit and veg loose from markets and co-ops instead. I started composting all my food scraps. Gradually, I also began to make my own bathroom products like toothpaste (it’s surprisingly easy!). I stopped using takeaway containers and bought my own reusable cutlery with me when I went out to eat.

But I still have a long way to go, and I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination! I still haven’t found a way to buy frozen blueberries for making smoothies without plastic packaging, or any store that sells tofu in bulk. I’ve found that sometimes we do slip up – we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve forgotten our water bottle or our reusable cutlery, and that’s totally okay. What counts is being conscious and aware of our choices and making the right ones wherever possible.

Since going zero waste I’ve become more mindful; more mindful of what I buy, what I don’t buy, where I buy it, how I store things, etc. I really believe that if everyone was more conscious about their consumption of things like disposable plastics, it would change the way we consume. This small paradigm shift would end up having big impacts on rubbish in landfill, biodiversity killed by plastic pollution and the overall state of our environment.

And it’s definitely not easy either. It takes some thinking ahead and preparation. And a lot of people won’t understand what you’re doing or why. Someone remarked to me a couple of months ago that we should be focusing on the bigger things like lobbying for fossil fuel divestment and renewables instead of wasting our time on something that won’t make much of a difference. But we have to consider both approaches; when people dismiss little acts, I feel they are missing a big opportunity. This cemented my view that we can’t discount the small things; they all add up in the end whether we realise it or not.

Going zero waste allows me to live my values and my truth; it’s about being conscious and compassionate by taking responsibility for the health of our environment. And it’s something that everyone can do. It may seem daunting at first, but when you break it down into little steps, you realise that it really is super achievable.

 


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