We have lost our connection to nature says Zaynab Sadan. The masters science graduate from the University of Cape Town says it was researching and discovering how many different systems co-exist that drove Zaynab’s determination to resolve some of the planet’s biggest challenges. She is now the project officer of the circular economy programme at WWF South Africa. Twyg asked Zaynab to share details of her eco-friendly life journey.
Tell us about your journey towards living an eco-friendly life.
My journey really starts every day. I try to adopt small, consistent changes in all aspects of my lifestyle to move towards more sustainable living. Sometimes it’s not so easy, sometimes I slip up, but that’s why it’s a journey. So I continue to learn and start every day with the intention to do my best.
Can you give us examples of the changes you’ve made?
Diet: For the last six years I’ve been vegetarian. This was probably the best decision I’ve made for my health, the environment and my pocket. It’s really not expensive to be vegetarian. It is simply a mind-shift. It also helped that my family chose to go on this journey with me. I found myself being more creative with food, trying out different vegetable combos and cooking more at home instead of eating out.
Transport: I’ve only had a car for the last three months. Before that, I walked or used public transport. Public transport is a bit tricky in Cape Town – you can often run late or feel overwhelmed during transit with hundreds of other people all rushing about. I found myself travelling for three hours every day and often came home feeling exhausted. So, I chose to move within walking distance of my office, gym, and grocery store (although this meant paying more in rent, it was worth it). Starting and ending every day with a 15-minute walk in the leafy suburbs is truly a blessing.
I only use my car when I’m tight on time for activities that take me further away than a 20-minute walk would like visit my family, or the beautiful mountain, beaches and forests in Cape Town – which are still largely inaccessible with public transport.
Grooming: I find it difficult to find [affordable] natural products because cosmetics often have so many different chemical ingredients and use non-recyclable packaging. While I don’t have (make) the time to investigate all the different ingredients, I rely on brands who claim to use natural and eco-friendly ingredients and are cruelty-free. For facial products and toothpaste, I currently use the Himalaya Herbals brand which is gentle on my skin, affordable and you can find it in most stores.
The packaging is tricky because they use a small glass container for the face creams which I try re-purpose. But the toothpaste and face wash tubes are not recyclable. I’m also aware that this is an imported brand (contributing to carbon emissions) and I am hoping to find a local brand substitute.
I am using bamboo toothbrushes (any brand, I go for the most affordable). However, I first have to break off the top section with the nylon bristles before chucking it into the compost heap.
Household Utilities (water and energy): My family and I have continued saving water beyond the Cape Town drought. Water is so precious – whether we’re in a drought or not, we should respect and conserve our water resources. So if you started slacking after the water crisis, this is a nudge for you to get back on it.
In terms of energy, this is another tricky part of my lifestyle as I feel as though I don’t have much control over it, especially being a tenant (renting as opposed to owning property).
My dream is for South Africa to go fossil-free when it comes to our energy mix. It’s been proven that renewable energy is economically viable and sometimes cheaper than coal.
Waste Management: This is something I feel as though I’ve been practising since birth. Growing up in a big, middle-class, religious family it was part of our DNA to share, be frugal and conserve God’s (Mother Nature’s) precious gifts to us.
A few of my many tips are to separate and sort waste into three categories: food/organics; dry recyclables (plastic, metal, glass, paper) and general waste.
(i) My food or organic waste is composted using a Bokashi system and garden compost heap. If you don’t have space in your garden try taking it to a neighbour or farm nearby.
(ii) I place my dry recyclables on top of my wheelie bin on collection day for informal waste pickers to collect without having to scratch through my waste. But if informal pickers don’t come to your area or complex, take your recyclables to your nearest drop off centre; or you might be lucky and your recyclables are collected in your area weekly.
I also use grey water to do my wash recyclables if dirty, and read the on-pack-recycling-label to see whether it is recycled in South Africa or not (especially when it comes to all the different plastics). The only dry recyclable that I don’t place with the rest is electronic waste (e-waste such as batteries and other tech). I take mine to the nearest tech store such as Makro. Some retailers also collect battery waste in front of their stores.
(iii) By now, I’m only left with a small bag of non-recyclable waste including mixed and contaminated materials. I still place this in my wheelie bin to be collected each week.
Clothing: This is by far the part of my lifestyle that I’m only recently starting to have fun with. Buying clothes has always been an emotional part of my life. With the anxiety of not being able to afford most of my favourite brands; the societal pressure of hopping on the latest trends; the insecurities of not feeling amazing in certain clothes; and lastly feeling like I would be judged for indulging in what felt like a shallow part of my personality (especially having had experience in the modelling industry); and the horror of learning about the lack of ethics in the global clothing industry. But I’ve worked through most of these emotions and started playing around with fashion again.
I love thrifting, going to clothing swaps, repairing clothes and getting creative by cutting up and playing around with new styles. Recently, I’ve also joined the circular and slow fashion conversation through #fashionrevolutionweek and started a new Instagram page @yourturntolove. I really encourage everyone to go to the nearest charity store and find a few pre-loved items to play around with. It’s affordable, supporting a good cause (most of the time), avoids buying fast fashion.
I usually try to choose classic items that I can style in multiple ways, good quality materials that will last long and fun, crazy items that would normally be too expensive to experiment with from a normal store.
One last tip is to air clothing out after wear to avoid having to wash too often. This helps maintain the quality of the item but also avoids the release of microfibres into our water systems. This is especially important for synthetic materials such as polyesters and other mixes which contribute to the billions of microplastics in the ocean. Also, check that your washing machine has a lint filter in it and clean it out regularly.
Are you involved in any eco-friendly movements or projects?
I work for an international conservation organisation, WWF South Africa, that allows me to research and encourage retailers and brands to opt for more sustainable and responsible production of plastics. Some of the projects I work on include supporting the South African Plastics Pact, standardised on-pack-recycling-labels, and product innovation.
I also used to be part of the Green Campus Initiative student development agency at UCT, as well as Fossil Free UCT. I still engage with these networks in my personal and professional capacity.
Being part of all of these initiatives and organisations has educated me and helped me progress in my journey. I would like my work and voice to encourage more people to make small changes in their lifestyle. Although it may feel that our individual choices don’t add up, we can influence our family, our community, the brands we interact with, and eventually the government. We all have a role to play towards living in a sustainable, eco-friendly society. Let’s start playing ours…TODAY.