Welcome to Twyg, Sarah Robyn Farrell! Talking Rubbish is Sarah’s new monthly column about living as lightly as she possibly can. She writes about the trials and tribulations of reducing, recycling and refusing, and of finding ways to lessen her carbon footprint. 

I woke up to the dangers of plastic pollution four years ago. I was 22, just out of university and working for a sustainably managed hotel. I thought I was killing it with the green thing. My mother had taught me to recycle, I had been active on the University of Cape Town’s Green Campus Initiative, I was a vegan and now I was employed by a fancy green establishment. What a winner! Or so I thought.

The hotel had a zero waste to landfill goal. They wanted to send no waste to landfill through better procurement and effective recycling and composting of waste. The more involved I became in this goal, the more I noticed how the stuff guests and staff brought to the hotel affected the waste streams. What about the stuff I brought to work every day? Where was it going? I realised that when you throw something “away” – it’s not really away at all. Because you don’t see where it goes next, doesn’t mean it isn’t going somewhere to cause trouble somewhere else.

In a panic, I engaged with the hotel’s recycling company, I read more about how to tackle and how to avoid waste. I organised outings to landfills and recycling facilities. I worked with the hotel team to reduce the amount of waste we produced and to ensure that less and less of that waste was reaching landfill. It worked. Within months, we achieved what we hadn’t achieved before – our lowest quantity of waste sent to landfill.

Despite working hard at reducing waste at work, my paydays came with a treat. I bought a Seattle coffee in a disposable cup. These were a symptom of my dependence on single-use plastic. Over time, I felt conflicted with who I wanted to be and what I was doing. Slowly I got better at refusing single-use plastic items like coffee cups, straws, bottled water and shopping bags. Eventually I could refuse most single-use plastic items.

But the more I refuse, the more plastic I find to give up (and the more nightmares I have about the whereabouts of my childhood polly-in-my-pocket toys and tazo collection).

I haven’t been able to give up single-use plastics entirely. I have my weaknesses. I don’t always turn down Santa Anna’s nachos and I do buy packaged salad leaves. But you can bet I keep trying. If am going to work at pressuring big institutions and government to make our world single-use plastic free, I have to be part of the solution.

  • Sarah is a conscious creative with a deep passion and drive for instilling positive change. She is the creative director and founder of transparenCI, a creative agency that specialises in sustainability communications and working with ethical brands who want to make a difference. Sarah is passionate about living a more ethical life, with a big focus on reducing her waste, and strongly believes in the power of sustainability through collective action. In her spare time, Sarah is a writer and sustainable folk musician who writes songs with the hope to catalyse action towards environmental and social change. Follow Sarah on IG @SustainableSarah
  • Photo credit: Main image: Adobe Stock and portrait supplied.