You would have heard of the zero waste movement by now. The “priestess of waste-free living” Bea Johnson, a French woman in America, toured South Africa a year ago to promote the global movement, and her book, Zero Waste Home. Bea and her family (partner and two sons) produce one small jar of waste a year to send to landfill. For the rest she applies the 5Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. On home turf, we have our own army of people trying to live zero waste lives. Two years ago when Shannon Goodman noticed the zero waste movement on social media, she researched and learnt about reusable alternatives to single-use plastic and items. She started to make laundry powder and reusable produce bags. YouTube, she says, is a great resource for tips on how to implement a zero waste lifestyle. Ahead of plastic-free July, we caught up with Shannon and two other people whose journeys you can follow on Instagram:

Shannon Goodman @JourneytoZero

At first I just took reusable bags to the shops, took my own water bottle everywhere, said ‘no straw please’ at restaurants, started composting, brought my own containers for take-aways etc. I still do.

But it’s since gotten a bit weirder (think handbag compost jar and hiding the individually packaged restaurant mints under the menu from my family when we go out to eat ). And that (in)famous video of a straw being pulled from a turtle’s nose is enough to put anyone off plastic straws forever!

Farmers’ markets are the best zero waste places to shop. I love gathering up my baskets, containers and bags and heading off to the Oranjezicht City Farm market [in Cape Town] early on a Saturday morning for fresh produce and freshly-baked bread and pastries. You can buy all sorts of things completely package-free. Most vendors are more than happyy to use my receptacles. In fact, they usually think it’s really cool (and it saves them money too.)

I also shop at Food Lover’s Market. They usually have unpackaged produce, as well as a bulk section for things like nuts, dried fruits and sweets.

I’ve been impressed with the range of loose produce at Checkers and Pick ’n Pay at times. It’s a bit hit and miss, but you learn which days are best for unpackaged cauliflower, for example. Before you know it, you’re living on ‘taters for a week because that’s all you could find. Good think you can boil ‘em, mash ‘em and stick ‘em in a stew.

Every few weeks do a big bulk shop at Nude Foods in Cape Town to stock up on hard-to-find items such as nutritional yeast, grains, olive oil, baking soda, cleaning products etc. Remember to pack all your jars and bags.

The biggest challenge  to being waste free is food packaging. It’s a constant battle to find loose and plastic-free items in shops. Packaging is geared towards consumer convenience, with no thought given to what becomes of the heaps of plastic packaging once you bring it home from the shops. Not sure how having the tub from your six pieces of mango outlive you is convenient, but anyway…

As you become more informed about the over-all impact of your purchases, you need to make trade-offs, for example: plastic-free but contains palm oil or packaged in plastic but palm oil free; the vegan cheese in plastic or non-vegan cheese without packaging etc. Ignorance definitely is bliss. Once you realize what effect your choices have on the planet, there’s no going back.

Consumer pressure is very powerful. We should stop buying things in plastic (as much as possible given our individual circumstances) until the supermarkets and companies involved get the message. Individuals can make a huge difference but companies providing and promoting disposable items need to take responsibility for what they’re doing to the planet as well.

Government has a big role to play in reducing plastic waste. Many countries have banned items such as plastic shopping bags, straws and even balloons (one of my pet hates) Sometimes people need a little (legal) encouragement to do the right thing.

Alex Radlinger @ZeroWasteJourneyCape Town

I do beach clean-ups and it’s shocking to see the amount of single-use plastic that washes up. The zero waste journey is not only about avoiding single-use plastic, it’s also about making sustainable choices in everything one does, e.g buying organic, supporting local, purchasing sustainable products, buying second hand, living with less.

I order a weekly fruit and vegetable bag from Wild Organics. Packaging is minimal and I like to support organic farming.  We shop at Woolworths and Spar for convenience. My partner and I both work full time which makes it difficult to get to the zero waste stores such as Nude Foods and Shop Zero in Cape Town as often as we’d like to. If we go, we stock up on dry produce. Food Lover’s Market is also a great place to buy plasic free. Faithful To Nature is great for all kinds of health, skin, household products with their plastic free sorting function on their online order.

The biggest challenge on this journey is to not become discouraged. When you walk into a supermarket and you see aisles and aisles full of plastic packaged produce you wonder if your choices will make a difference.  We need to create awareness and ban of single use packaging (not only in this country but world wide).

@ZeroWasteCapeTown*

We started our zero waste journey over a year and a half ago. We had been recycling, but after doing research it became clear we could still do so much more. Inspired by Bea Johnson we made the choice  to actively be as ‘zero waste’ as possible. We quickly saw results – our black bin garbage shrunk from 1.5 bags weekly to a quarter of a bag every two weeks! And our recycling went down from 3 bags a week to 1 bag.   Small actions can have a big impact. We always say in our home … every little counts 

We support two large retailers which we feel have ethical suppliers and less packaging than others. But mainly we buy from smaller shops, markets and farmers in the greater Cape Town area. We use some great local suppliers online.

We have two boys aged 10 and 14.  Our family’s consciousness journey has shown us in every aspect of our lives that our choices actively reflect how we feel about ourselves, our health, each other, the global community, and the planet.

The sharing of information and supporting the proactive suppliers is so important. We can change what is considered acceptable waste. We can lead by example. There are so many smaller changes that grow in impact.  People often think it has to be an ‘all or nothing’ and while ideally we’d like to produce zero waste … it’s important to start small and grow from there…. as we say in our home – one small step at a time. – *The couple who run this account want to remain anonymous

Best zero waste shopping destinations: 

Cape Town: Nude Foods

National Wide: Food Lover’s Market 

National Wide: Faithful to Nature

Cape Town: Shop Zero

Cape Town: Wild Organics

Cape Town: Unpacked Pantry

Photo credits: Shannon Goodman and Instagram