Zero-waste champion Bea Johnson hosted a roundtable on Monday at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong to a packed room of mostly women (women aged 25-34, she noted, are the most likely to take action with regards to decreasing waste impact, particularly after childbirth, which generally prompts thoughts about giving offspring the best-quality products and a healthy world to inherit). The wife and mother of two became a viral sensation after her family managed to fit their entire year’s trash into a single jar, and she’s been travelling the world sharing tips on her lifestyle ever since. She tells us that her palate has become so clean and refined, that when she’s snacking on a cheese platter at a friend’s house, she can taste which slice has been closest to the plastic – an indication of the negative impact plastic is having not only on the planet, but also on our food health.
But is it even possible to adopt zero-waste strategies while maintaining a luxury lifestyle? Here are five takeaways from the panel that could help you decrease your trash footprint without compromising your individual fabulosity.
- Zero waste does not make you a hippie, and you don’t have to make stuff
While Johnson admitted to going a little overboard in the beginning, making her own bread and cheese, she soon gave that up – by not trying to do too much at once, and decreasing your footprint gradually, you’re more likely to make changes that are sustainable and long-term. Just bring a tote to the bakery, and a reusable container to the cheese store, and you’ll be doing yourself and the world a favour.
- Shop bulk
While American chains like Whole Foods contain bulk-food aisles, Citysuper and Wellcome aren’t quite there yet, so grab your jars and totes and stock up at Hong Kong’s first bulk-food store, Live Zero, which opens its doors in a couple of weeks time in Sai Ying Pun. Sustainable living blog Green Queen also recommends plenty of organic-vegetable home-delivery services which send you boxes of healthy greens with minimal packaging.
- Recycle properly
Don’t trust our government when it comes to recycling. Most of the bins you see on the street are decoys – if you wait and watch long enough you’ll see local waste-management services pick up the recyclables and dump them in the truck alongside the trash. Recycling responsibly does incur a cost, but it’s minimal, all things considered. For $350 a month, HK Recycles, which is also used by luxury brands like Clarins and the Hong Kong Yacht Club, will pick up up to 30kg of paper, plastic and metal waste from your office address. (Tip: A Plastic Ocean documentary filmmaker Craig Leeson brings waste from his home to the office, as HK Recycles is only able to do commercial-address pick-ups, due to capacity and funding issues.)
- Composting can be chic – proselytising is not
You can compost on your balcony, on the roof, or even in your own home. Plenty of brands make composters that employ super-stylish designs, or hide away under the sink, without creating any odd sights or smells – the internet is your best friend when it comes to finding the option that suits you. And just because you compost doesn’t mean you can’t hang out with people who don’t. Johnson’s kids had to give up Oreos in favour of cookies that could be bought at the bulk-food bins, but she doesn’t stop them from indulging in them at friend’s houses – in fact, they probably eat a few more, because they’re not getting them at home! Encourage your friends, don’t judge them.
- When in doubt, the easiest of Johnson’s three principles – refuse, reduce, reuse – is the first
You don’t have to recycle, you don’t have to buy secondhand. All you have to do is say no to free stuff. Taking a free pen created as part of a marketing campaign implies that you want the company to keep making these pens. Don’t take name cards or matchbooks at restaurants or sign up for useless mailing lists. If email spam annoys you on a daily basis, imagine how snail-mail spam annoys the environment.