How to start a zero waste journey

Social and environmental advocate and blogger Chanelle Clinton's zero waste journey began as a week-long university assignment, but turned into habits with a whole bunch of personal benefits as well. If you want to find out where to start cutting waste, check out her story.

We've all heard the stats, how many plastic bags are used each day, how many tonnes of textile waste are dumped each year and how many times the number of plastic straws we use wrap around the planet. In the beginning, these statistics are shocking, but with every headline it's easy to become more desensitised. Sometimes the task seems too big for you to make meaningful change, so you don't make change at all. I'm guilty of this, without a doubt.

When I first became interested in reducing my impact on the world, I thought this just meant washing the tins and correctly sorting my recycling. A quick google of zero-waste provided the dizzying evidence of how wrong I was. Like every other trend, social media tends to highlight all the very best examples of those living the most wholesome, zero-waste lifestyles, and I salute them for their commitment to the cause. However, I'm not ready to give up toilet paper and my three years of landfill rubbish certainly does not fit in a mason jar.

I think this is where there is a gap in the reporting, those of us who are trying to reduce our waste, while juggling everything else that life throws at us. Like every other aspect of my life, I'm not perfect. So I present to you, the whole-hearted, but half-successful ways I've reduced my waste. There's no points system, you don't get a medal for who's doing the most (or even participating), you just get the satisfaction that you're doing your very best with what you have.

My zero waste journey began last year when for a postgraduate class assignment, I was challenged to spend a week without sending rubbish to landfill. The very first day of the challenge, I forgot to bring my re-useable cup. But guess what, you don't actually need an expensive vessel to carry your coffee because they have mugs at almost every café! Instead of rushing off to my next destination without questioning it, I sat down with my ceramic coffee bowl and planned my week ahead.

This decision sparked a habit that I've continued for more than a year now, a moment of calm amongst the chaos. While reusable cups are relatively mainstream, taking your own containers to collect your pizza or your hot cross buns from the bakery is a little more interesting. Honestly, I can't say I've continued either of these behaviours, as zero waste takes planning and good judgement, neither of which involve late night pizza. Since the ‘reuse, reduce, recycle' slogan has begun to roll off the tongue as easily as ‘slip, slop, slap', we've forgotten that each step does not have equal value. Since the introduction of soft plastic recycling in Auckland (which is an awesome step), I've seen people become more lenient with the first step - reduce. It's easier to justify the convenience of a bag if you can recycle it. And if you can find another use for the bag, like re-using your shopping bag as a bin liner, it may only extend its life from 15 minutes to about a week. I think it's time we connected the slogan with a good, better, best mentality and prioritised reducing the demand for single use plastic.

While the focus should be first and foremost on protecting our environment, true to my millennial stereotype, I can't help but look at the personal benefits reducing my waste has had. I've found myself being a more conscious consumer in all areas of my life, I've begun mending the holes in my running tights and visiting my favourite op-shops weekly as I slowly transition my closet from student to work attire. Sure, sometimes I end up with packaging I don't want - packaging that could've been avoided with a little more attention.

Instead of caving to the guilt that can come with a bad purchase, I do my best to remind myself that I'm doing my best and every day is a new opportunity to do better. To change the status quo, we've got to each make the conscious decision to do things differently. Every person who is bold enough to say no to single use plastic makes it that much easier for the next person. So go on, start with just one habit that you could change today to make a positive impact on tomorrow's world.

Chanelle is a vegan, amateur athlete, social advocate, environmental enthusiast and blogger at Follow her on Instagram @chellychannel