“ARE we going back to the dark ages?” my mum asked, looking slightly aghast when I pass her a colourful little cotton washable sanitary pad, one of the many freebies I received from the recent Zero Waste Malaysia festival held at Slate @ The Row.
The festival, a whole day event, saw the gathering of 15 vendors selling more than 100 zero waste-related products, which included cloth menstrual pads, bamboo straws made by the Orang Asli, beeswax wrap to replace disposable cling wrap and more, in the Zero Waste Market.
“No! It’s supposed to be an alternative to save Mother Earth by creating zero waste,” I reply, barely able to conceal my amusement. “And it’s said to be very comfortable,” I add as my mum stares at me with an incredulous expression, shaking her head.
Well, this is not a surprising reaction and no doubt my mum is not the only one who thinks this way when the words “zero waste” is introduced in any conversation in this country.
“People are daunted by this lifestyle and I understand their concerns,” acknowledges Aurora Tin, the founder of Zero Waste Malaysia whom I meet over lunch recently to talk about the ideas behind this undertaking.
She confides that ever since she started this habit, she has constantly been asked why she bothers?
Why trouble herself with bringing her own containers and bags when she shops? Why waste time washing cotton sanitary pads when there are disposable ones readily available? Most of all, why was she foregoing all of life’s luxuries?
“And I’ll always answer, no, I’m not missing out on anything. Because once you’ve gotten used to it (the zero waste lifestyle) and are able to live it efficiently, it’s actually very simple. And you’ll find yourself living a much happier life,” she confides.
In addition, Tin adds that living a zero waste life isn’t all that scary. It’s a good way to reduce materialistic headaches while at the same time saving the world we live in. “But most importantly, it isn’t a lifestyle that’s out to deprive you of what you like. It’s a lifestyle where you find alternatives to your current living that’ll help save Mother Nature but still gives you the opportunity to enjoy what you love doing.”
Essentially, zero waste living is a refreshing change that helps to de-clutter what’s not necessary and replaces what’s harmful with choices that would benefit our world and save you money along the way. Ever since adopting this concept, the 29-year-old reveals that she has more time to concentrate on what’s more important — to live a more fulfilling life with her loved ones.
FREEING FROM TRASH
Zero waste living was first introduced by Bea Johnson back in 2006 in her blog, zerowastehome.blogspot.com.
A French native living in America, she became concerned with the amount of trash produced by her household after shifting from a large bungalow to a small apartment in the city. Her fear of Mother Nature’s demise and what it would mean for her children and the future generations drove her to reinvent her world — one that’s free of waste.
Her success in reducing two years’ worth of household waste that could fit into a small glass jar spurred her to embark on a crusade to rid our world of trash. Not by force but by education. She advocated five simple principles to effectively eliminate waste from anyone’s home. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot”.
These five Rs are documented extensively in her blog as well as her book, Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide To Simplify Your Life By Reducing Your Waste, both of which have become the Holy Grail for anyone wanting to adopt this change in lifestyle.
“Bea’s book is really useful,” shares Tin, who proudly presents me with the paperback. Enthusiastically, she explains that the book has all the necessary information to help anyone interested in living a zero waste lifestyle. “It’s a great guide book. You can follow everything in its entirety or
just make small changes.”
So what was it that propelled her to change? A former environmental journalist for a Chinese news daily, Tin had always felt like she was living a hypocritical life.
She was unhappy by the fact that while she was writing environmental articles and criticising people for destroying earth, in reality, all she was doing was just sitting at her desk and doing nothing to actually make changes in her personal life.
“One day, I just felt very bad and my lack of action started bothering me,” she confides, before adding: “So I thought, ‘well, if Bea could do it with such a large family (a husband, two kids and a dog), why can’t I?’”
Her decision to switch to a zero waste lifestyle wasn’t an easy one and the initial journey was challenging. For starters, she faced much resistance from her husband and parents. “We had many fights because I was too aggressive in wanting to change,” confides Tin. This is one reason why she advises those who want to go on this journey to make the switch a gradual one.
“We have many trash in our lives. All you have to do is perhaps pick 10 out of the 1,000 from your trash to replace or reduce, and work from there.” But most importantly, she warns with a chuckle: “Don’t do what I did, which was to throw many things out overnight! Especially if it’s your husband’s!”
Although fraught with challenges, the undertaking was not a completely impossible one. “It took me a month to get used to living a zero waste life but once I got the hang of it, life became much more meaningful,” enthuses Tin.
Even though her husband was initially opposed to the idea, he did come around eventually.
“What pleasantly surprised me was when he suddenly told me one day that he felt very satisfied with not generating waste. He no longer needed to throw out the trash every night,” reveals Tin, laughing.
The fact that they also managed to save about 40 per cent of their household expenditures was also a plus point. “Men are pretty easy to satisfy. Just tell them that they’re saving money and you’re not shopping for new things and they’ll be willing to follow what you do,” says Tin, her eyes twinkling in jest.
MANY HANDS MAKE WORK LIGHT
When she first started living a zero waste lifestyle, Tin thought that she was the only one in the country doing so.
“So, I decided to start the Zero Waste Malaysia Facebook page. That was when I realised that there were more of us than I thought. Everyone comes from different walks of life.”
From housewives, to working adults, and even college students, these group of eco warriors share ideas, knowledge, and useful tips to make living a waste
free life much simpler in this country. “Over the course of two years, our group has grown remarkably,” shares Tin. Today, it has about 6,750 members and it’s still growing.
They’ve made much progress throughout the years. One being gatherings organised in public places to raise awareness of this lifestyle.
“We once went to SS2’s pasar malam (night market) with our containers and bags. We were shocked by the reception from many vendors there. Nobody objected to us and some not only encouraged us
but even gave us incentives for our trouble,” recalls Tin.
They have also created a private but free-to-access map that lists more than 300 vendors that supply zero waste products or are sustainable businesses.
“It was created by volunteers from our group and all recommendations were given by our members. The list is still growing and we’re happy to expand it whenever necessary,” says the founder.
These small victories have prompted them to spread the awareness further and to more people by holding mini zero waste festivals too. Like the one held recently, attended by Bea Johnson.
Concludes Tin: “At the end of the day, living a zero waste life is an individual’s choice. It may not be everyone’s cup of
tea. But small habits like saying ‘no’ to straws or bringing your own bag instead of using plastic ones may just be beneficial in the long run. So, live consciously and be aware of what you really need. Most importantly, explore options and other possibilities and find accessible alternatives to replace your trash.”