Roxy's tips on reducing waste
Last month on Earth Day, Vice asked our co-founder Roxy what the challenges of zero-waste living were during Circuit Breaker. They made a timely publication, with some of the tips she provided and how she avoided some of the most common trash. We thought we'd give a proper run down of what she does at home.
What does a “zero-waste lifestyle” mean to you?
I like how you’ve specified “to you”. Zero waste lifestyle implies to not generate waste. It's a concept, and not a realistic practice - even composting is a form of waste, but before you even get to composting, it's really hard to imagine that we’d find the time and willingness to trade over some of the things we are used to, including essentials that are complicated to give up, from last-minute plasters to replacement toothbrushes (even if they are bamboo).
It’s being conscious of your impact with your consumer choices, and trying to make the best decision, maybe reconsider whether you need to buy something in the first place. Besides the packaging, it’s the content that matters. How much waste was generating making that product you want to buy? Is there a more sustainable choice to be made? Who are the people who made this and how does it impact their life? I have a plant based diet and that in itself, is only really helpful to the environment if I don’t replace animals products with refined foods in lots of packaging.
For this reason I prefer to refer to zero-waste mindset or a zero-waste attitude.
In your daily life, how do you try to practise a zero-waste lifestyle? What are the ways that you try to minimise waste?
When you have a zero-waste mindset, you naturally are wired to look at the options you have and make a decision based on the least wastage between the two. It doesn’t mean they’re zero waste all the time because that’s sometimes just not within your reach in our current society.
For example, between buying pasta at the supermarket, refilling a pasta jar at a zero-waste refillery and making my own (which involves getting all the ingredients), I choose the middle option, to refill at the shop down the road The Source. I am fortunate it's close by, but it doesn't mean I have not had supermarket spaghetti packs in the cupboard.
Other examples include using a menstrual cup - I have not used pads and tampons in over a decade. However, I have found myself caught needing it and not having it with me, so I had to run to the supermarket to get the smallest pack of liners before I could get home.
When I say what is available mentally, I highlight that zero-waste can be complex, especially to start with, and there are times when it's just too much work, unless you are super organised that you have meals all ready to defrost and reheat. I haven't found it hard to reduce waste for my food, for myself, because I cook very simply and eat a lot of raw food. I buy loose fruits and vegetables as much as they are available. Granted almost anything could be found at wet markets without packaging, but I don't find the time to be organised enough to go and shop for a week or more, and do smaller hops at the local shops. This allows me to not need a plastic bag - I just hold what I get, pop them in a small reusable I usually carry with me, or directly in my purse.
In the bathroom I am still in the process of finishing older products, but slowly I replace. For many women this seems like the hardest part - I find it one of he easiest. I use reusable face wipes and wash them regularly with a brush soap bar. Body washes are all in bar forms now (so many places to choose from!), and I refill my shampoo and conditioner at The Source. We have silicone toothbrushes which last longer than the bamboo ones - I find they get mouldy in Singapore with the humidity in the bathroom, and have had to avoid wooden products in general here where they don't get exposed to direct sunlight.
Cleaning has also changed a lot for me, but it's been surprisingly easy. I have a few products I buy loose like the laundry powder. I also use Eco-balls, for the general wash, and just add the powder if the laundry load is very heavy or dirty. I tried the soap nuts, but, as much as I love the concept, was not too impressed by the results or the little pieces that would get into the wash. I refill pretty much everything I can from dish washing liquid to floor cleaners. You can use almost the same recipes for everything and it’s very cheap, or if you’re like me, you can refill at stores because I like some variety.
I have a cat and many ask me how it’s possible to go zero waste with a pet. In short, there are a few simple things you can do that make a world of a difference. I order bulk of the cat litter that is vacuum packed in large bags that fit under my sofa, and made from soy. It means I can scoop and fluff down the loo safely, avoiding plastic bags and the terrible clay litter (not a sustainable source). In some countries you can get wooden shaving in loose, but without much agro-industries around us that's a bit hard, although, you could ask the stables in the North if they use any for the horses (it's the same!).
For the food, I have a large automatic feeder that can safely hold a few kg of dry pet food. This avoids small bags and lots of cat food tins. Of course every now and then I’ve bought snacks in plastic... it’s hard not to. But it’s the repeated everyday stuff in my opinion that matters the most because that has the potential for the greatest impact.
We like to upcycle boxes too... This one came with our toilet paper. Cats play with anything...
Now, what I struggle with most are actual commodities, that come in packaging, almost all the time. The only way around it is to do swaps and get second hand. It’s not always possible but it helps a lot - I use Carousell and Facebook groups. I recently got a yoga mat from Carousell, in perfect condition and for les than a 3rd of the retail price, the seller got to make some money, we saved things from going to the incinerator, I felt good and saved some cash, so it's a win-win for all!
When it's not possible - my cat feeder for instance was a new buy, and came in tons of cardboard and wrap - I just have to let it go and accept that I can’t control everything.
How has the coronavirus lockdown / circuit breaker affected your lifestyle?
Honestly it hasn’t changed my lifestyle much if at all, besides that I can’t dine-in (I don’t takeaway if I don’t have my lunchbox or if they’re not a barePack partner).
The only noticeable difference would be that if I need anything from the shops (that I can’t get second hand such as cat litter!) I’ll have to get it delivered because malls are closed which is annoying because it’s going to inevitably come with more packaging. Also I decided to give Treatsure a go to save food waste and that’s new for me but I was glad they delivered almost without any packaging besides a paper bag I will reuse. And some places don't allow me to BYO anymore so... i just don't go there!
However, at barePack we have been working on making delivery possible, and many vendors will actually deliver in barePack, so we've been able to treat ourselves a little to zero-waste takeaway too. You can find the partners on the barePack map. You can even order for self-collect directly from foodpanda, and here's how.
Do you think your zero-waste lifestyle has helped you better adapt to a life under lockdown? How so?
Definitely easier when I see everyone complaining about not being able to shop or how expensive it is to order online for everything. I don’t rely on service providers, and am a hands on person so more likely to fix things myself and find my own solutions. I’m a creative person but I think anyone trying to reduce waste naturally becomes more open minded and creative. I’ve seen for instance a huge panic around masks and lack of availability - to me the answer was simple. If I didn’t get one (which I did, thanks to the Singaporean government’s incredible efforts) then I’d simply stitch one. Who doesn’t have old T-shirts or pillow cases?
Likewise there’s been a rush for sports materials online, showing how much people just want to buy for any reason. Who needs new dumbbells? I have old ones, and if I need something heavier I whatever is available and heavy; a water bottle, rolled up mat, the cat... just joking ;).
The success to reducing waste lies a lot in planning ahead too, so I don’t feel like I’m suddenly stuck for last minute needs in this period, as I don’t have any! I know how to cook, so I don’t worry about spending on ready made delivery of foods. I also didn’t feel the need to jump onto hand sanitisers - I have a large bottle of The Nurturing Co natural sanitiser that I pour small amounts into spray bottles and that’s enough to last ages. And being at home so much, I really rely on soap, as I always have. It's cheap, efficient, safe... Singapore has lots of public bathrooms too, you can always wash your hands at every mall and MRT station for free.
Reducing the dependence on various products makes life so much easier, and mentally too! My list of “needs” is much reduced. Likewise for toilet paper - beyond my understanding. We all have bidet here in Singapore, surely toilet paper isn’t as much of an essential as we think it is? We use bamboo fibre toilet roll, mostly out of habit for the product, but I am not worried about what would happen if we ran out.
Honestly I don’t find I’ve been affected personally by life in lock down, or circuit breaker as they call it here. With an open mind you just find solutions for whatever restriction you have.