My waste free journey & FAQ’s
I grew up mostly in Auckland and am (currently) based in Central Auckland. Although I grew up mostly in Auckland I moved around a lot as a child, living in a mixture of suburban or rural. Some of my favourite places I lived were Waiheke Island, Whangapoua Beach and Riverhead. As I write this I realise that all of these communities have now become incredibly developed, with Riverhead and Whangapoua now sporting subdivisions featuring matching McMansions. Waiheke is also losing its beloved ‘hippy charm’ and becoming more of a getaway island popular with celebrities. I also have family in rural Victoria, Australia, so spent a lot of my childhood on huge vegetable farms.
As a child I had a lot of pets; horses, cats, dogs, birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, fish, a lamb, a calf, chickens… Now days I have just one very large and fluffy cat called Riley. I love reading (and am an Alice in Wonderland fan, hence the blog name), baking, tramping and exploring.
It was my love of the environment that lead me to studying Geography and Environmental Science at Auckland Uni. Since finishing uni I have worked for the Department of Conservation, Auckland Council and The Green Part of Aotearoa. I also do a lot of freelance work, giving lectures, presentations and workshops about sustainability, waste and the Community Fridge I helped set up.
When did you have your epiphany moment to quit rubbish?
I have always been passionate about the environment. I would tell people off for littering when I just a small child, I’d call them a ‘litterbug’. In high school I was involved in the Enviro Group and co-lead the group in my senior year. I remember doing a waste audit of the school bins, our school ended up setting up a really decent recycling and composting system as a result, with worm farms scattered around and 4 bins at each station. At this time I was working at the supermarket on the checkouts, where I would try to push people in to not taking plastic bags, or would pack their bags super full (and get told off for this). I remember the first time I saw the supermarket rubbish bin, which was full of plastic bags people brought back to recycle (we didn’t have a plastic bag recycling scheme at the time, yet still collected bags for ‘recycling’) and packaged baked goods. I was horrified.
I discovered freeganism and dumpster diving, started composting and gardening, went to Environmental awareness events, protests, and began learning about going rubbish free, thanks to Matthew and Waveney. It was around this time I decided I wanted to study Environmental Science at university. Despite my long history of environmental awareness and living fairly sustainable, I didn’t go completely rubbish free 2015. At the beginning of the year I discovered the zero waste hashtag on Instagram and stumbled upon Bea Johnson. I read her whole blog and then her book Zero Waste Home which I got out at the library. I remember thinking how amazing she is, but that I couldn’t possibly live zero waste. From here I discovered Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers, and all the other wonderful Zero Waste Bloggers.
After discovering zero waste I went on cruise ship to Vanuatu with my mum (last minute tickets are cheap as!). At this point I was trying to reduce my waste, but I really struggled to do it on the ship and was confronted with so much waste. All the paper was burnt late at night and I can see it fluttering off in to the vast ocean, and the buffet saw a lot of food waste from people with eyes bigger then their stomachs. We visited pristine beaches in Vanuatu and I was horrified when all the cruise ship goers left Champagne Bay littered with trash and cigarette butts! I decided I was going to actively try and live as waste free as possible. My big push was Plastic Free July in 2015, I went all out and was really enjoying it, so decided to keep going. I found I was talking a lot about rubbish so decided to start a blog, and here I am.
Do you still shop at the supermarket?
Yes, but it’s limited. I buy items that come in glass jars (such as sundried tomatoes) or cardboard or paper packaging. I also use the bulk bins either using cloth bags or reusing plastic zip bags I already had. I purchase bread in my bread bags and onions in a produce bag. I get my produce using Ooooby (blog post here), my own garden, farmers markets or friends/neighbours gardens. Check out the ‘Shopping’ category to see how and where I shop.
Do you eat meat ?
When I was 15 I went pescatarian (I ate sustainably caught seafood), and maintained this diet for 7 years before quitting fish. I occasionally eat organic, free-range eggs, and have significantly reduced my dairy intake over the years. I wanted to go vegetarian when I was younger but I didn’t have a choice in the matter as I didn’t cook my own food. I stopped eating meat as I hated the idea of eating animals, as a child I had a lot of pets including (but not limited to) a lamb, a calf and chickens (which I will point out none of which I/we ate!). I went vegetarian initially due to ethical reasons but environmental reasons are now equally important.
If you are interested to learn more I recommend these documentaries:
- Fast Food Nation
- Food Inc
Has your diet changed since going waste free?
Absolutely! I eat less processed food (as it this generally comes in packaging), I eat significantly less dairy and I eat healthier in general as I make most meals from scratch. I also now consume way more fermented food, so I have better digestion and no longer have late night belly aches. I actually lost weight after starting Plastic Free July in 2015 and now find it easy to maintain a healthy weight based on diet alone.
Would you ever go vegan?
This one may cause a bit of controversy, but this is my own personal journey and opinion. While some people may argue that you can’t be an environmentalist/animal lover without being vegan, I personally do not wish to go 100% vegan. It’s all about making conscious decisions and choices, and being aware where your purchases come from. I am trying to cut my dairy consumption down and I now eat vegan more than once a week, however I wouldn’t go fully vegan. Not because “I like cheese/chocolate/yogurt too much” I enjoy the dairy free versions of these and have them often.
- Honey- I buy local honey to support local bee keepers. Bee populations are declining, so by supporting local beekeepers I am supporting a population of bees. Also honey is healthier and more eco-friendly than white sugar.
- Wool and silk products- I try to buy clothes made from natural fibers. Wool is great for wearing tramping, I can’t stand wearing polyester clothes tramping, they always smell plus they release micro-plastics in the wash. I buy my wool and silk clothes secondhand. After all I do live in New Zealand, land of the long white sheep cloud.
- Leather- I own a few leather clothing items that I purchased second hand. While tanning leather is a super damaging process, I take a time to look after these items (boots and a belt).
I have significantly reduced my dairy intake since my plastic free switch. Rob Greenfield, the ultimate sustainable, vegan hippy summed the choice to go vegan here, and Lindsay from Treading My Own Path also has a great post on why she chooses to not be vegan.
Do you eat takeaway?
Yes… Takeaway is definitely a cheat for me, but I only ever get it in paper/cardboard and never plastic or ‘bio-plastic.’ My takeaway go-to’s are Hell Pizza, Burger Wisconsin and the local chinese/fish and chip shop which are walking distance from my house. The packaging for these is fully recycled paper and cardboard, which we compost or recycle if possible. I have successfully purchased takeaway from Burger Wisconsin and local fish and chip shops in my own containers.
How do you store leftovers?
I store my food in the fridge in glass jars, glass bowls with lids, a bowl with a plate on top or using beeswax wraps. I take my leftovers to work using a glass container with a clip-on plastic lid. I freeze my food in containers or glass jars. I have a few blog posts here about food and my kitchen.
Are you saving money or spending more?
Living zero waste has decreased our overall expenses. I try to avoid buying anything new, and stick to only secondhand. I am trying to downsize my possessions currently so I don’t buy much stuff and am often selling or giving things away. Generally I take a while to decide if I actually need that item, and will try source it second hand. I was never a big shopper/consumer in the first place, but now I have no reason at all to go to malls or online shopping (except Trade Me). I also buy products that seem more expensive initially but they last longer, so in the long term I am saving money. As for food, buying in bulk is much cheaper. I eat a lot healthier now, so I don’t mind spending more on food.
What can’t you get plastic free that you still buy?
- Coconut Oil- as we consume a lot of this it’s more cost effective to buy it in large plastic tubs instead of small glass jars. We reuse the plastic buckets around the house.
- Floss- I mentioned earlier that I am currently working on finding an alternative and am using up what we currently have.
- Medicine- Pill packets are such a pain.
- Building supplies- this is a recent thing I’ve been dealing with while building my tiny house.
- DIY ingredients- often ingredients I buy to make my own products (especially cosmetics) come packaged in plastic. Unfortunately this is a trade off I have to make, overall it produces less waste in the long run.
What things you love are the hardest to find waste free?
All the items I thought I couldn’t live without I have actually managed to do without, or eventually find an alternative for. For instance, I love nachos but quickly found (hard) cheese was difficult to find plastic free (I wrote a blog post about cheese here) and as were corn chips. I now hardly eat cheese, or buy unpackaged feta from a local store. I buy fresh corn chips from Mexican restaurants, you can read about my nachos here. Another food I love is chocolate. I buy this in packaging ensuring I buy only cardboard and foil packaging that I recycle, or the TradeAid chocolate which is compostable.
Tramping hut tickets are non-recyclable plastic coated paper, and the annual hut passes are plastic passes. Going to concerts and festivals create a similar waste problem; wristbands.
Is living waste free time consuming?
Yes and no, yes it is if you don’t like cooking or prepping for meals, and if you decide to write a blog about it! I have time to do cool hobbies by not wasting my time buying in to consumerism (online shopping) and going to malls. My friends are also really in to what I do so they often come over to learn or help out with any projects.
Do you still buy toothpaste, deodorant, and toilet paper?
I make my own toothpaste and deodorant which I wrote about here and here. I do buy toilet paper though, either buying a box of Smartass or a pack of Greencane. Both brands have fully compostable packaging.
What about make up?
Another one I am still working on! I am slowly using up what make-up I do have, I only wear make-up for special occasions or when I feel like it. I use coconut oil for a lot of my body products. I no longer own nail polish, I gave them away after realising I never bothered with it anyway, and wondered what the hell is in nail polish. I want to start making my own make-up once I have used up my store bought items. In the meantime, here are some links to other Zero Waste Bloggers:
I have made my own face powder using this recipe and blending based on my own skin tone. I store my powder in an old compact I already had.
I made my own face powder make up! I don't wear make up often, when I do its usually only a bit of powder, mascara and lipstick. I've been using up what I already had and have finally run out of powder (why I had 3 different powder compacts is beyond me). I made this powder out of items in my pantry; arrowroot powder, nutmeg, cocoa powder, cinnamon, bentonite clay and some almond oil and essential oils. I pressed it together in this compact using the back of a spoon. The colour looks a bit dark for but it comes on really light.
You can also buy make up that is minimal waste/zero waste; such as Zao Organic Makeup and more locally Stella For Cruelty Free stocks cruelty free, vegan products many of which come in recyclable packing and postage, they also stock bamboo toothbrushes.
Is it hard to not be frustrated by people/business who aren’t ‘enviro-friendly’?
Sometimes I do feel a bit frustrated that here I am doing everything I can and big companies are just trashing the environment. But there are so many people that care for the environment, and small companies who are trying their hardest to be green. I love when a business owner or vendor comments positively on my containers and when someone I haven’t spoken to in years reaches out and tells me that my blog has inspired them to think about their environmental footprint. Collectively, all the little things do add up and there is so much growing awareness around the state of the environment. The Zero Waste Bloggers Network has 200 members and growing, and there are many other people out there who are all trying to reduce their waste and live sustainably, see also Zero Waste Heroes and Zero Waste in NZ! (which now has over 10,000 people!). So there is still hope for us yet! Ultimately we need to get big business and Government on board.
I want to reduce my waste, where do I start?
Start small by refusing disposable items like plastic water bottles, coffee cups and plastic cutlery by bringing your own reusable alternatives. The internet is a great place and there is a plethora of information out there. Other great blogs and websites to visit are:
- Zero Waste Home (USA, also a book!)
- Zero Waste Chef (USA)
- The Rogue Ginger (Australia)
- Treading My Own Path (Australia)
- Rubbish Free (New Zealand)
- Madeline NZ Eco Chick (New Zealand)
- Waste-Less Living (also in Auckland, NZ)
- Zero Waste Bloggers Network (International)
- 1 Million Women (Australia)
- Unpackit (New Zealand)
A great documentary to watch is The Clean Bin Project, which is about a Canadian couple who try and produce no waste and buy nothing new for a whole year. It’s honest and entertaining, and I could definitely relate!
Search my blog using the ‘Beginners Waste Free’ category.
Please let me know in the comments below if there are any questions I haven’t covered!