How to Reduce Your Trash by Living a Zero Waste Lifestyle, Plus an Interview!
Could you fit all of your trash into a mason jar? While that’s definitely not the case for us right now, we’ve been starting to understand the zero waste lifestyle thanks to some guidance and tips that we’ve learned while reading the new book, Zero Waste: Simple Life Hacks to Drastically Reduce Your Trash.
Written by Shia Su, this guide demystifies and simplifies the zero-waste lifestyle in a fun way, providing effective strategies for waste-free living at your own pace. As the founder of Wasteland Rebel, Shia’s book provides useable insight on how to incorporate the zero waste lifestyle into your own life, featuring tips on how to build you own zero waste beginner’s kit to how to make your own DIY household cleaners to how to have a zero waste bathroom and tons more. We recently had the pleasure to interview Shia to learn more about her and her journey to the zero waste lifestyle. Read on for more:
Interview with Shia Su on the Zero Waste Lifestyle
Wellness Patterns: How did you get into the Zero Waste lifestyle? What are some of the first steps you took?
Shia Su: 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, my husband 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!
Wellness Patterns: What has been the hardest part about going Zero Waste?
Shia Su: It’s funny because I get asked this a lot. Personally, I think it’s a matter of mindset. We never took the “zero” in “zero waste” very seriously. But again, we never thought we’d be able to reduce our trash to this small amount. We simply ended up this way because each and every step was so doable! The “zero” in “zero waste” make it feel so overwhelming, and make people focus on what doesn’t work (yet) instead of the potential or what they have accomplished. With my book, I want to change the mindset from deficit-oriented to empowerment.
Wellness Patterns: What’s the best way for someone to start?
Shia Su: Start with what is easy and doable for you, and be kind to yourself. Have fun with it, and make it your own. There is no one right way to do things, whatever works for you is your right way. Keep in mind that the absolute amount of trash you’ll end up with will depend on what you have access to, your very individual situation, your responsibilities, your needs, and of course whoever you live with. And that’s totally fine!
Wellness Patterns: How can someone create their own zero waste kit?
Shia Su: Use what you’ve already got. It is not very eco-friendly to just toss everything and buy shiny new equipment. 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.
Wellness Patterns: What about families? Can this work with more people in a family unit?
Shia Su: Every family is different as human relationships are very complex. I have met zero waste families with kids for whom zero waste is normal. I also get about one email a week from teenagers that want to live zero waste but their parents don’t take them seriously and dismiss it as a phase. So can it work? Sure. Will it work with your family? Well, that will depend on your family. And sometimes that will also change over time. My mom made it very clear in the beginning that she wanted no part of it, both when we went vegan and later zero waste. Yet here we are now, four years down the line, and she prepares the most amazing vegan food for us, refuses plastic bags, and brings her own reusable chopsticks so she doesn’t have to use the disposable chopsticks many restaurants provide. Start with what you have direct control over, things like swapping your own body and tooth care products. When it comes to buying groceries, make it your share of the chores, so you can go for the package-free options as often as possible. Respect other family members’ choices, and ask them to respect yours. Living together means there will always be times when you butt heads, but also times where you are incredibly proud of each other, and that’s no different with zero waste.
Wellness Patterns: What have you learned about yourself through your own Zero Waste journey?
Shia Su: I have learned that there are many more options than what meets the eye. Like most people, I thought what I could do to align my lifestyle to my values was limited to what was offered on supermarket and drugstore shelves. I hated all the plastic-packaging and how all all this plastic waste is choking our oceans, yet I thought: “What can I do? That’s how things are sold.” However, once you start with going zero waste, you will see bulk everywhere. You will learn that your voice does count. You are not insignificant. So to me, zero waste is a lot about empowerment.
Wellness Patterns: Tell us more about the book? What do you hope a reader will get out of the book?
Shia Su: I wrote this book with the voice of one my best friends since high school in mind. She is a career woman with a busy schedule and a long commute. She always said she’d love to have a more sustainable lifestyle but simply lacks the time to do the research and to DIY everything. Besides, she prefers to spend the little free time she has with her family and her husband. And I get it—who’s got the time, really? She wanted a preferably skimable guide with simple hacks that she didn’t have to read cover to cover. So I came up with the very visual beginner-friendly cookbook-like concept. It helps you get into the right mindset and provides background information, much like the introductory section of cookbooks explaining the particularities of a cuisine. There is also a chapter on zero waste helpers so you know what equipment will be helpful for your zero waste endeavors. It’s helpful and very practical information, but if you don’t have the energy to deal with it, that’s fine too! You can just jump to whatever you feel is manageable for you at the moment, or whatever you feel drawn to when flipping through the pages, and try one or two easy swaps or a one-minute recipe!
Check out Zero Waste at Amazon or your local bookstore and be sure to read Shia’s blog for the latest in leading a zero waste life.