What is the zero-waste movement and who is part of it?

 What is the zero-waste movement and who is part of it?

Heard of the zero-waste movement? It’s pretty much what it says on the recyclable tin – a lifestyle where people aim to completely rid of their rubbish output. No plastic, no wrappers, no waste. It might seem unrealistic in today’s modern world, but there are people out there living it. We caught up with a few pioneers of the movement.

Erin Rhoads from The Rogue Ginger

Erin Rhoads from The Rogue Ginger

Tell us about yourself and The Rogue Ginger.

I live in Melbourne with my husband and our energetic two-year-old child. We live a zero-waste life and try our best to avoid using plastic where we can. I’ve been writing about my journey to creating less waste and living plastic-free on my blog The Rogue Ginger since 2013. My journey was inspired by the movie The Clean Bin Project. I didn't envision I would become an eco-warrior after watching this movie or that environmental education would become a vocation for me.  

I was a consultant on ABC’s War On Waste; I share tips on how to rethink waste with thousands at workshops, talks and forums; I helped organise and assist environmental action groups and co-founded Zero Waste Victoria, Plastic Bag Free Victoria and Cash For Containers Victoria.

You released your first book, Waste Not: Make a big difference by throwing away less, back in 2018, followed up by Waste Not Everyday. Tell us a bit about what to expect in these books and how you ended up writing them.

Waste Not Everyday

My first book, Waste Not: Make a big difference by throwing away less, is an eco-lifestyle guide book focusing on the ways we can all make changes that will help reduce our impact on the world by reducing how much rubbish we make. The book is divided into three parts; Tools, Tips and Tricks.

Tools explains why we need to reduce how much we consume and waste, and the steps to getting started. Tips help put the tools into action in different areas like the kitchen, garden, bathroom, laundry, kids, clothing, entertaining and even pets. Tricks takes us out of the house looking at how to reduce waste on holidays, at the office and lastly how you can become an everyday eco-activist.

Waste Not Everyday is my first book's little sister. Waste Not Everyday is your step-by-step guide with 365 easy changes that will not only influence what you throw out but also have a genuine impact on the future of our planet. Split into four easy-to-follow parts, Waste Not Everyday features simple tips that will lead to a real shift in thinking and action and show you that a zero-waste lifestyle is actually achievable – for everyone, every budget and every schedule. With tips ranging from actions and inspiration to recipes and resources.

You are part of the zero-waste movement. What does this mean to you? 

To me, being part of the zero-waste movement is showing the world there is a different way we can live on this planet. One that doesn't take advantage of resources or people for the sake of more money and ego.

How did you first become part of the movement and why is trying to live a zero-waste life so important?

The zero-waste movement

I first became part of this movement during the very early stages before anyone even knew about it. As mentioned before, I was promoted to think about my waste after watching The Clean Bin Project. At the time I had a new blog that was originally for documenting my new life in Melbourne. But it quickly morphed into a diary where I captured my tips and tricks to reducing waste and plastic, how to consume less and become a better steward for the planet. 

There were not many people writing about it and slowly people found the blog and I gained a readership that led to people asking me to do talks in the community.

How would you advise others to become involved with the movement? What simple practises can they undertake in their everyday lives?

How to get involved

Get involved in the movement by going through your rubbish and noting down what you are throwing away. An easy way to do this is to put a piece of paper near your bin or on the fridge writing down everything you throw in for two weeks. You'll start to see a theme quickly. Food makes up 40% of our bins and we can take that out by making simple changes like writing a shopping list and sticking to it, meal planning, using up leftovers and composting.

You'll save money and will end up taking the bin out less. Another way to reduce waste and your environmental impact is to choose secondhand over new.

Nina Gbor from Eco Styles

Nina Gbor from Eco Styles

You’re a personal stylist who advocates for sustainability in the fashion industry. Tell us about your journey to get to this point.

At about age five, my soul was shaken by images of extreme poverty and my young mind struggled to process at the time. I saw a charity infomercial on television appealing for donations for what must have been a war or famine-ravaged country. I had never seen humans so thin, helpless and desperate. It sparked this intense desire to do something about it.

My love for style comes from classic films. I grew up watching classic films circa 1940s – 60s with my mum and brothers. The style icons of the silver screen like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Vivian Leigh, etc. ignited my love for style as a little girl. 

We moved from the US to Africa when I was a teenager, where a happy accident led to an epic life-changing moment that began my eco styling career. I spotted a vintage replica of an upcycled dress from one of the most iconic classic films in human history, Gone With the Wind. Inside the op shop, I had one of the most euphoric moments in my young life by mixing vintage pieces with contemporary ones to create new and unique outfits. 

Little did I realise at the time that it would form my future career. Subsequently and even to this day, people stop me on the street and public places to ask about my unique personal style and to ask me to help them style their wardrobes. I organically became an eco stylist.

You have commented on the oversupply of unwanted clothing being shipped to African countries for aid and for profit. Tell us more about these concerns and how your work seeks to overcome the issue.

Ethical fashion

African nations like Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi have either banned or are looking to ban secondhand clothing in order to protect nascent local textile industries. These countries are also of the belief that secondhand clothes compromise the dignity of their people. Where aid is needed clothing donations are of course useful but for the most part, largely because of oversupply, this form of aid is no longer needed as much. 

The profit part of it has been overruled by pollution. If these and other countries stop taking the oversupply or ‘trash’ of western countries, the latter will have to re-examine the oversupply systems and hopefully moderate. This will be a huge win for the environment with regards to the toll that textile manufacture takes on the planet. For example, it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one t-shirt. If we’re ethically making just what we need, the planet will be spared a great deal of damage with more ecosystems protected. 

You are part of the zero-waste movement. What does this mean to you?

Positive change

It’s such a privilege to be part of this movement. To be able to use my life experiences to contribute to positive change in an era where it’s critically needed is quite an honour. I very much appreciate the opportunity to be of service and do what I love for a living.

It also comes full circle because when I was eight years old, in my third grade class in the US, we had our first sustainability lesson where we learned about pollution, recycling and climate change. We were also taught that there was a country-continent on the other side of the world called Australia with a massive hole in the ozone layer over it. 

Some of the kids in class including myself were freaking out and we were like: “I’m probably not going there!” Who would have thought that one day I’d grow up to become an eco-warrior in Australia of all places?! Having said that, I love it here, so it’s fine.

How did you first become part of the movement and why is trying to live a zero-waste life so important?

The zero-waste movement

I guess I naturally evolved into the movement simply by being in the right place at the right time my entire life. And by doing the things I loved and had a passion for!

I have been op-shopping and sustainable styling since the age of 15 and then running clothes swaps for about a decade, both in the UK and here in Australia. I think I fully branded with ethical fashion after watching The True Cost docufilm in 2015. 

Australian op shops are spending a minimum of $13million a year to sort and discard our clothing and household junk. With a more discerning society, this money could be going to the causes that the charities are helping, and not to sorting and disposal centres.

How would you advise others to become involved with the movement? What simple practises can they undertake in their everyday lives? 

How to get started

  1. Start small. Take simple actions like opting for ethically-produced garments made from natural textiles such as organic bamboo. Use the Good On You app.
  2. Only buy items that you will wear at least 30 times. Learn how to restyle.
  3. Join the circular economy movement – attend or host clothes swaps.
  4. Repair, buy, sell and donate preloved clothing and other materials.
  5. Join revolutionary groups and take action: Fashion RevolutionOxfam and ActionAid.

Ana Fernanda Covarrubias from Second Runway

Ana Fernanda Covarrubias from Second Runway

Talk to us about your life as a fashion designer with a passion for slow fashion and upcycling.

Well, I have been designing for over 15 years. But the strong focus in upcycling started about 10 years ago back in Mexico when I launched my own label that was mainly made from deadstock fabric and was locally produced and distributed.

By that time, I was already aware of all the waste that comes from the fashion industry and all the struggles we face as independent designers trying to compete with big brands with massive media and advertisement campaigns. I have been conscious regarding looking after my clothes and all the resources we have since I was a child, nevertheless, my life did a big twist when I travelled to the US and Canada for the first time, and finally when we moved to Australia.

I was shocked at the mass consumption in these developed countries, not only regarding fashion, but food, electronics, and all the commodities we have. I have always known that fashion is my passion, as it’s my way to celebrate who I am and my creativity. Nevertheless, the idea of contributing the least amount possible to climate change became stronger.

This is when I decided I had to make some changes in my lifestyle, as well in the way I express myself if I wanted to have a positive impact. That is how the Fernanda Covarrubias clothing label was born! 

How do you combine the world of modern trends with thrifty pieces and sustainability?

Timeless pieces

For me, it’s about being creative, but also about knowing about my client's personal style. Once you know what suits you but most important what you really love, you stop looking for trends. Instead, you look for timeless pieces that will remain in your wardrobe for years because they make you look and feel fabulous.

That's why my job as a personal stylist is very important and why my label focuses on a timeless design and colours that you can easily combine with any of the current pieces in your wardrobe.

You are part of the zero-waste movement. What does this mean to you?

The zero-waste movement

It's a responsibility as it should be for anyone else who is living on this beautiful planet. It’s not about a trend as many people may think, it’s about making positive changes that will ensure future generations flourish. It's about being conscious even though we are not perfect, doing our research, asking questions, making changes in our consumption habits, sharing information and helping others to understand why we all have to be united and change what is wrong if we want to thrive.

How did you first become part of the movement and why is trying to live a zero-waste life so important?

How did you get involved?

Everything started from me designing from deadstock fabrics a few years ago. It was actually Noe, my partner, who started doing some research on how our diet is affecting our planet by massive deforestation and emissions, then together we decided we had to change our eating habits to reduce our footprint. 

Since then, the zero-waste idea has moved into different areas in our lives. We still have many things we want to change – we are not perfect at all – but, we’re learning how to make better decisions every day. And I think that’s important if we want to continue living on this planet and if we want to see future generations thrive.

How would you advise others to become involved with the movement? What simple practices can they undertake in their everyday lives?

How can others get involved?

The simplest thing I would say is to wear what you already have and swap your clothes instead of buying. If you’re going to buy something, buy preloved or from designers that produce their clothes from recycled materials and are locally made.

Ask yourself before you buy anything if you really need it. This rule applies to clothing, homeware, etc. Literally for everything! Avoid single-use plastic as much as possible, nowadays there’s no need to use plastic bags in the supermarket and when buying pretty much any of our fruits, vegetables, grains and many other things you can bulk-buy or make for yourself at home.

Always keep in mind that as a consumer, you have way more power than you think to create a positive change.

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