Plastic free july may have stopped, but we’re not done yet! Its time for episode 6. We love that so many have taken the time to write something for us to help inspire anyone thinking about starting with their zero waste adventure.
This time it’s a little different. Instead of a story written by our guest, we’ve asked Shia Su – maybe better known by many as Wasteland Rebel – to answer a set of 5 questions for us. Don’t worry though, as it’s still focused around the same topic as all of our previous stories.
We hope you’ll like this interview as much as all of the previous stories we’ve already shared. All pictures are again courtesy of our guest, Shia Su, copyright Wasteland Rebel. Read on to find out what Shia has answered to our questions:
Who are you?
I am Shia. The single-most important thing in my life is my relationship with Hanno, my partner in crime. We are actually both lone wolves by nature, but somehow have been together for 14 years, spending only very few nights apart. We just don’t function well when separated too long. Maybe we are cursed ;)? My mom sometimes wonder, how on earth he manages to tolerate her quirky daughter — only to remember he’s just as much of a freak a minute later. Hanno and I love to live tiny. Our apartment now has 30 m2 (~320 sq ft). The smallest space we have shared was Hanno’s 19.5 m2 (~210 sq ft) studio in uni. That’s when we started to love living tiny and to slowly transition into a more minimalist mindset. I’m sure you guys can relate, seeing how you are traveling Europe together in your van. We believe sharing a small space is actually good for any relationship! It sure helps you learn to communicate better, to be more considerate, and to embrace the imperfections. It’s also a lot more intimate in general, so you really get to know the other person, which creates an incredibly strong bond.
What was the reason behind the start of your zero waste journey?
I never intended to go zero waste. Like most people, I heard about zero waste and dismissed the idea as “too unrealistic” for me. However, Hanno and I did want to reduce our trash and live “a tad” more sustainably. We simply tried one thing after another at our very own pace. We never thought about what would be difficult or even impossible, because we assumed we’d only do what was within what’s manageable for us anyway. We actually made it a fun little challenge: “Let’s ask the sushi place around the corner if they are okay with putting our take out order into our own containers!” Or: “Let’s just ask the store owners, maybe they can order organic oats in a big paper bag for us!” Spoiler alert: We had the nicest conversations and ended up with a 25 pound bag of organic oats, a standing weekly sushi order in our own containers, and big smiles on our faces!
How have you experienced your zero waste lifestyle so far?
To us, zero waste is only one part of a bigger picture. Hanno and I have always wanted to minimize our negative impact on the environment, animals, and fellow humans. In short, we just didn’t want to be dicks. For us, living more in alignment with our values makes us feel more aligned and grounded in general. Of course there is still a lot of room for improvement! There always is! We still have so many things we have on our minds that we want to tackle in the future. I took a “How big is your carbon footprint?” quiz a while ago, and they even had the option of selecting “I don’t create any trash at all” and “I am vegan”. Yet, if every single person lived the way we do, we’d still need 1.7 Earths!
This is just the harsh truth of living in an industrialized country. We are the problem, not the developing countries we like to point our fingers at when it comes to pollution or carbon emissions. A more mindful lifestyle has taught me so many things. I learned to take responsibility. I know I am still part of the problem and while I grew up poor and facing a lot of racism, I am still privileged in many ways. And it’s time to change tack, to exploit the hell out of the privilege I do have to change things for the better, one conversation at a time.
The whole process so far has also been very empowering. I used to think there isn’t much I, a small consumer or just one citizen, can do. I used to think I didn’t have access to many things, hence, there was nothing I could do. But it is not true! I realized I had a voice. I realized there is a lot we can do, if we just talk to people and act as a community.
Have you encountered any difficult things along the way?
We were our biggest obstacles to be honest. I was hesitant to try many things at first because I thought they were gross. Like washing my hair with rye flour! I thought my hair would come out dirtier than before! In the end I am glad I did though. It’s the best “shampoo” I have ever used! And to be honest, we probably wouldn’t have even started to go zero waste if “zero waste” had been our goal. To this day, I find the “zero” in “zero waste” quite paralyzing. It makes you feel overwhelmed and focus on what doesn’t work (yet), so it’s actually very deficit-oriented! It also feels like you need to turn your whole life inside-out, and who’s got the time for that? Once you get into the mindset of not having to be perfect and to be kinder to yourself and others, I feel most things will fall into place.
Would you share your #1 tip for people wanting to start a zero-waste lifestyle?
Just start with what seems easy and manageable to you and use what you’ve already got! I firmly believe a more eco-friendly lifestyle should not be about buying the right equipment — it should be about buying less in general!
If you have cabinets full of plastic food containers—just use them. No reason to feel bad about it! If you don’t have a fancy schmancy tumbler for coffee—I don’t either! I simply ask the barista to fill up my mason jar that came with a store-bought tomato sauce, or I just have my coffee “for here”. We still use our laundry nets for produce, yes, the ones for socks and bras! My mom simply reuses the old plastic produce bags she already has at home. She rinses them out and hangs them up to dry. We hit the bulk section with cloth bags now, some of which we made out of fabric scraps. But we used to just grab whatever jars and (plastic) food containers we had at home. Whatever works is fine, really.