When the aquarium announced that they were having a Zero Waste Evening I just knew I had to be there. On the journey that is Green Living, the more you hear the more you learn and the more you can implement. After traveling to Zambia a while back we reduced our garbage to a small bag a week, but there is so much more we can do and I am always looking for tips and tweaks that we can use in our home to improve our carbon footprint.
One of the most important steps to reducing our waste and our contribution to the landfill was to find out where our garbage goes… that was enough motivation for us to get into gear and to stop throwing out anything that needed to be tossed. The aquarium had an excellent line up of speakers… and this post is all about what they had to say…
Jade Khoury: Low Impact Living
I first heard Jade speak at the Greenpop Family Festival a couple of weeks back and I was interested to hear more. She started her journey by wanting to reconnect with nature, and she has come full circle to where green living is for everyone, it is not just a wealthy person’s lifestyle choice. As a single mom, trying to make ends meet, she walks the talk. She began her journey by reading No Impact Man, the book where Colin Beavan decides to spend a year having Zero Environmental Impact… his family live in Manhattan. I popped that on my to read list, and have to be glad for her goal of Low, rather than Zero, impact living. Jade runs workshops on green living for teenage girls, helping them to make greener choices, like making their own cosmetics; and for domestic workers teaching them to create green cleaning projects. She also runs wilderness camps for kids… always focusing on getting closer to nature.
Africa’s Greenest Hotel, the hotel with the goal to be a Zero Waste Hotel. I can understand the hotel management and staff wanting to be green, but how do you keep track of your visitors. I really wanted to hear this talk. Having a hotel in Cape Town does have its challenges, first there was load shedding and no electricity, and now there is a drastic water crisis… but the hotel must go on. They have found ways to run their hotel for all their visitors, despite the conditions… they have found ways to save enough electricity to power 215 mid income houses for a year, imagine if every hotel did this. The language of sustainability is about neutralising your impact… you can’t just do this for the money, you have to have a good reason and you have to do the right thing. Waste is not measured, so it is a lack of awareness problem… as soon as you start to measure it, people realise it is a business. Every single employee gets to sort waste four days a year, everyone… there is no escaping it. That way every one sorts it properly, no one wants to be the one who gets landed with grotty waste to sort. Visitors are rewarded financially for sorting their waste into split bins… it is a way of thinking. 96% of their garbage is diverted away from the landfill… they have valid certification to prove that they are the greenest hotel in Africa. Sustainable living is on thing, thrivability is another… I know if I was choosing a hotel, I would want to stay in the certified greener one. Even the gym has energy generating equipment… you have to take a look!!! Somehow I had never translated our personal green living in our home to the much larger scale of a hotel. and when she said, “What if all hotels did this… ” I know, one step at a time, one change at a time… but sometimes its okay to dream big.
From a low impact mom, to a green hotel, to waste management at the Waterfront... fascinating and now we are talking on a grand scale. With 19000 people working there, 1500 living on site and 180000 visitors a day, and that is not during the peak season, waste management at the Waterfront is like looking after a small city. 70% of their waste comes from tenants and primarily the Food and Beverage industry… 560 tons of garbage a month of which 45% they can divert from the landfill… I know just crazy numbers. That equates to about 260 grams of waste per visitor, per day, that is 17 soda cans. That is a lot of garbage. Obviously the goal would be zero to the landfill. They have found that which costs, gets done and reward those tenants who recycle, by offering free recycling. They can only salvage so much recycling, if the recycling is contaminated then it has to go to the landfill. All their garden waste is now composted and returned to the gardens. They have an organic waste plan with uses flies to break down the waste, and with an 11 day life cycle… the maggots are turned into protein rich animal feed. They have tried to reduce and will continue to work harder, hand dryers replaced wasteful paper towels in all the bathrooms, for instance. Their waste plans have to become part of the design… and I think this is true for all of us. Garbage needs to be separated, composting takes up space, all these factors need to become part of the design and front and central in our minds… not some back little corner. The problem of 720 tonnes of garbage a month has to be solved. I was surprised to discover the green efforts the Waterfront have made and their openness to looking for more solutions to their waste problem. This is a case of an effective management system that works on a grand scale, that could very well translate into waste management on an individual scale… meantime, those of us who frequent the V and A Waterfront definitely need to adopt a zero waste mind set.
A family of four that produces about half a mason jar of waste every year. They have been on a journey to reduce their waste since 2008. They realised when they moved to the inner city for a year that they didn’t need as much stuff as they had and then she slowly but surely began making greener choices for her family. Something worked really well… like canning their own tomatoes and somethings didn’t work, like using stinging nettles as a lip plumper. Somethings a lot of people use like the NO-Poo solution for a green shampoo, her husband really got tired of his wife smelling like a vinaigrette and she had to find another solution. After many trials and errors she has simplified her journey down to their mason jar of waste.
Five rules of a Zero Waste Home:
Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot
- Refuse what we do not need: Just say no to packaging, no to freebies, no to junk mail, no to business cards… if you don’t need it, then don’t take it home. Marketers tell us we need stuff, if we take it home then we are telling them that they are correct.
- Reduce what we do need: Loose all the duplicates, if we only use twenty percent of our closets then get rid of the other 80%, get rid of all the WHAT IFS.
- Reuse swopping anything disposable for reusable, and only buy second hand: Stop all the disposables, use glass jars to store food, use cloth bags when you shop. Shop second hand… look for unconditional lifetime guarantees.
- Recycle only what we cannot refuse, reduce or reuse: Recycling is not the solution to our massive waste problem, look for clever ways to recycle… for instance nike has a program to collect sneakers that they recycle to make basketball courts.
- Rot or compost the rest: You shouldn’t be left with much and what you are left with you can compost. The only food packaging they buy is butter wrappings, that can be composted. Floor sweepings can be composted… we should have been doing this already.
She had nothing good to say about plastic… if you can taste the plastic it has leached… ugh. And if it is recyclable, because not all plastic is recyclable. (Take a closer look at your Woolworths plastic on a lot of their salad and vegetable products… their lettuces for example… it is not recyclable and their is no excuse. Buy your lettuce elsewhere). And if the plastic you are using is recyclable then it is only recyclable once or twice before it ends up in the land fill… plastic is essentially created to fill up your landfill and we have to find alternatives.
After going into their Five Rules of Zero Waste, she took us on a virtual tour of her home, room by room. She explains her way through each room, their closets with just enough clothes to fit into a carry on bag, the cleaning products she creates, the cosmetics she makes and a detailed wander through her kitchen and what they keep in their fridge. At first her husband was alarmed at the expense of a zero waste lifestyle, but they compared budgets to before and after and realised that they were saving 40% of their budget… really we are paying 15% more for our produce, just because of packaging. They realise that their life is a lot simpler, they have a life based on experiences rather than on stuff. A lot of folk want to know how her kids cope with this alternative lifestyle, but as she says, this is their home and they know no other way. The only regret they have about their Zero Waste Lifestyle is that they didn’t start sooner.
For myself, I didn’t find anything she said extreme at all, not even her fifteen piece wardrobe. I think my takeaway from this is to stop waiting for folk to catch on to the idea and just get started. In the last two or three years we have reduced our garbage significantly and we have been turning our non-recyclables into eco-bricks. But we could still do a lot to reduce our consumption of packaging, we are going to have to get a lot cleverer and inventive at reducing our garbage as we aim to reduce ourcarbon footprint.
You can follow Bea Johnson on her Zero Waste Home Website here… and she has a page of fabulous and really useful tips.
She has a book that I have to check out…
And if you want to see her presentation, you can find a lot of it in her Ted Talk here:
Huge thank you to The Two Oceans Aquarium for their Zero Waste Home Evening, packed with inspiring talks and wonderful presentations. I attended the evening as a media guest of the Aquarium and all opinions expressed were as usual my own.