Kia Ora Koutou. Ko Jamie ahau. Nō Waiheke Island ahau. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou. My little family consists of me and my husband, our 5 year old daughter, and soon to be born bubba. My goal as a mum is to raise children who fight for social justice and have a strong connection to Papatūānuku and who’ll therefore forever be champion kaitiaki of the whenua and her people. No pressure. What I have come to realise is that I have to get some good role modelling up in this here whare to achieve that lofty aspiration. I saw The Rubbish Trip presentation on Waiheke Island at the Waiheke Sustainability Centre in January 2019.
Moving towards a more zero waste lifestyle is one way our family has chosen to live with intention and purpose. Aaah Zero Waste, the tricky beast. A life goal we strive so hard to achieve yet it often feels so unattainable. Like owning a home in Auckland.
We haven’t done too badly though on our waste minimisation journey. We own a composting toilet and I’ve used a moon cup and reusable bamboo menstrual pads for years. I cloth nappied my child and made all my own baby products (and will do so again). We live minimally in a tiny house on wheels and compost our food scraps. Our shower items come packaging free – only bars of locally made soap and shampoo, along with a face cloth and some homemade coffee scrub are in there. Bamboo toothbrushes? Tick. Do I make my own deodorant? Oh yes I do. We have a stash of paper and material party decorations that get used at every celebration time and my daughter’s lunchbox is Pinterest worthy, if I may say so myself. We’ve even guilted family members into making some positive changes. Never underestimate the power of a 5 year old saying “Nana, that isn’t good for Papatūānuku’s puku you know.”
As a family we do tick a few boxes in the ‘War on Waste’ checklist. But to keep it real, it’s not all compostable packaging and homemade awesomeness at our place. Admittedly I own quite a bit of make-up, and it’s all in plastic. My inability to consistently bake bread that my family actually liked has meant I threw in the towel and we buy a loaf of bagged bread each week. Compromise is that we are only allowed one per week – same story on the cracker front too. My carnivore hubby NEEDS MEAT (raarrr!) and our butcher is way out of our price range so we get the pre-packaged meat from Countdown. I have a slight stationery addiction. Sometimes I admit I look into my rubbish bin and think, “where did all this come from? I tried so hard this week!” So many wins, so many fails, and so much in between.
Never underestimate the power of a 5 year old saying “Nana, that isn’t good for Papatūānuku’s puku you know.”
Enter Hannah and Liam. My local community hub of awesomeness, the Waiheke Sustainability Centre, held The Rubbish Trip’s Reducing Our Household Rubbish: The Zero Waste Approach event. I turned up not really knowing what to expect. Was it information overload? Absolutely, and I loved it! I felt challenged to up my game. Bit of advice… take notes, my notes have served me well. The specific local knowledge about how our little island disposes of waste, where to buy what in our area, and other Waiheke-specific tips were fantastic. How they worked through the Waste Hierarchy was great and I was able to really gain concrete ideas about how to proceed with this new information I was downloading into my brain. And it was all presented in parts, so at home you can tackle it all bit by bit without feeling overwhelmed.
Three things really stood out for me in particular from their talk:
- The Waste Minimisation Act and how we can campaign to really push for it to be utilised properly.
- The effects that washing our clothes has on our environment in terms of the synthetic fibres entering the ecosystem (especially here, as we have septic tanks).
- That Hannah and Liam spoke my zero waste language. Now what do I mean by that? I mean that their solutions were unpretentious and easily accessible to everyone. I’m not overly creative, I look at what others are doing and go “huh, great idea, I’ll copy that.” The trouble is, whenever I google “Alternatives for…” or “How to DIY…”, I get inundated with suggestions that seem a little more complicated (or expensive) than I really want. “DIY unpaper towels using fleece backed terry cotton towelling with snaps?” No Google! Too hard! These two zero waste nomads keep it really basic and user friendly. It inspired me to give new things a try because it didn’t seem too overwhelming.
Cut to a few weeks after the talk. What has this already ‘converted’ person been inspired to do? Well let me tell you:
- We switched out our dish rags made of synthetic fibres to natural fibre, hand knitted ones (thanks to my friend who can knit!)
- We now have an arsenal of dishwashing tools all made from wood and compostable materials. And you were right guys, they actually weren’t that expensive (I’m cheap, so this is important).
- I put together a ‘take-out kit’ for those times we pop into the bakery or cafe unexpectedly. A set of cutlery with a steel straw wrapped in a cloth napkin (tied with a pretty ribbon), a beeswax wrap, an old glass jar with a lid that has a cloth napkin tied around it (my daughter likes to get a hot chocolate as a treat sometimes, so this is her takeaway cup), a little container and a zip lock bag (both those things are re-purposed as their previous lives were a salad container from the countdown deli and a bag of mixed nuts). Admittedly it takes practice to actually remember the bag when you leave the house.
- Now that I am more aware about using more natural fibres I was able to recognise the possibilities of what the numerous baby blanket/swaddle/burp cloths I now own could become. They are 100% cotton and they have piles of them at the second hand store too for like 20c each. So I got to cutting. Squares for reusable nappy wipes, rectangles for ‘unpaper towels’, little rectangles for pantyliners (I fold them so they are double layered and pin them to my knickers with a safety pin. Just in case you wanted to know), and yes wide strips to use as toilet paper (for wees only). We have a composting toilet, you see, and don’t want to fill it up too much with paper and since I will be cloth nappying anyway I’ll already be doing that kind of washing and it’s really not as gross as it sounds. In fact, it has way less of an icky factor than reusable menstrual pads…Still with me, menfolk?
My mum told me I would need to hem all these sewing projects because they would fray. That was a bit stink to hear; I really didn’t want to have to do more than the bare minimum and the pile of cut material was enormous. But Liam’s mum taught Hannah and Liam how to sew on a machine so maybe I could give it a try too! I learned how to sew a straight line like a boss and have now hemmed everything up (except the nappy wipes, I’m not too fussy about those) and boy do they look fancy. And since I mastered a new skill I moved onto another project.
- Reusable nursing pads. I got about 6 cloth nappy boosters (2nd hand for free) and decided to cut them into thirds and hem them up. They are designed to be super absorbent so surely they can handle some milk. Sure, I can only sew straight lines so they are rectangular in shape (most nursing pads are circles) and all slightly different sizes, but I think they will do the job – and it cost me almost nothing. I feel so accomplished!
My advice – when you feel a bit zero wasted (is that a term?) and overwhelmed, just be kind to yourself. It’s a journey. We can’t all be that family of 6 with 2 dogs, living on one income who only send a mason jar full of rubbish to the tip each year (Ugh!). But we can at least try to be. What works for one family might not work for yours, so stay curious and look for alternatives and give things a try. And go hear Hannah and Liam give a presentation if they are in your town! Remember to celebrate the wins, you are doing amazing, Karawhiua!
This post is part of our blog series “A Waste of Time?: Preaching to ‘the converted’”. You can read about the origin and kaupapa of this series here.