The start-up for a zero-waste lifestyle: Inspiration, costs and all

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By Anna Cocks

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 6 of VARSITY News.


As a South African student, I am here to tell you that living a zero-waste lifestyle does not have to break the bank. It’s been a week of this adventure and let me lay out some cost-effective tips.


Image by Anna Cocks


This week I took the next step and went shopping for those Mason jars, those netted bags for fruit and I hit the online health shops to equip me in this start-up phase. Obviously, the start-up of any adventure is going to require a little more spending but in the end you will save on costs… and you’ll save the environment (the main reason for this).


I have been following Lauren Singer’s blog, Trash is for Tossers, to get tips on how to live this lifestyle and make the necessary changes slowly one by one. I first encountered Lauren on a Ted Talk talking about her journey of producing one jar of trash a year. She then introduced me to Bea Johnson and her blog Zero Waste Home. These two women have been my inspiration for this journey. But the thing is Lauren and Bea live in England and France respectively. So the challenge for me is to see how I can live this lifestyle as a South African – with the resources we have – and on a student budget – with even more limited financial resources.



Lauren encourages all new comers to the movement to establish their why? This is so you establish your inner motive for doing this in which you can draw inspiration from when times get tough.


For me: I am tired of seeing plastic float around in the ocean. I’m tired of seeing turtles, dolphins, fish and birds with plastic and balloons in their stomachs. It’s simple, I want to contribute to the difference and change in improving our climate situation.


With that covered, it’s time to start the change…


I met with a 3rd year Marine Biology student and friend of mine, Danel Wentzel, to hear her tips in what to change and focus on first. She has been on this adventure for nearly a year. After moving to Cape Town from Potchefstroom and learning in her course about the plastic situation in our ocean, she decided to take action.


“When I went surfing or diving, I saw trash everywhere. I wanted to give back to the ocean so future generations might enjoy what I can enjoy now.”


Thus Danel has been doing all in her power to recycle, re-use, reduce and refuse. She also participates in monthly beach clean-ups. Last weekend, she with 150 other people, collected 22kgs of plastic from the Dalebrook rock pools.  As Cape Townians say it, “HECTIC!”


Danel has made the decision to support local stores and markets. She also focuses on buying things in season which saves on money and allows her to focus on what local places are selling. 
For her, she has not said no to take-away food. She is simply more prepared and takes containers with her to restaurants. “You’ll be surprised at how obliging restaurants are,” she expresses to me. For her it’s about finding those better alternatives. When grocery shopping, if there’s no way to avoid unrecyclable packaging, rather buy the goods in a glass jar than a plastic container. 


Being prepared and taking your own snacks to varsity is highly encouraged in Danel’s book. She indulges in banana chips, fruit, and date bars which she makes on the weekend.  And you might be saying, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” Well, if a 3rd year marine bio student with a full schedule of volunteer work on the weekend can do it than I think you can find the time. It’s all about what you are prepared to do. 


I promise, Danel is normal. She still shops at normal places like Checkers, which is now packaging their meat in compostable containers. And she does own a car. She is privileged to drive a Jeep which eats petrol like we breathe oxygen. She has received backlash from people saying, “How can you be an advocate for the environment and drive that non-eco-friendly car?”  She responds by saying, “This is all a process…and I am still doing better than the guy who isn’t doing anything”.


Anna in Shop Zero having the time of her life buying some re-usable packaging/bags.
Image by Sebastian Dunnington

I sat with Danel and she helped me establish my first steps. We decided to tackle the food sphere of life. Buying groceries and wanting to live a zero-waste lifestyle is difficult because everything comes in plastic packaging. So we came up with some alternative solutions. We started with the basics:

When buying fruit or vegetables use a light weight netted bag to place your produce in for weighing. Pick ‘n Pay is running a trial run with these bags that can be purchased at Rondebosch, Constantia, Gardens, Melkbos, Vangate Mall and Wynberg stores for R7,50. Or they can be purchased from Shop Zero, 2 bags for the price of R66. These bags are washable and re-usable. 



You could use a brown paper bag to purchase your bread from any store’s bakery. At Checkers it’s about R11 to purchase the bread. And brown bags can be purchased in bulk from any stationary shop for about 60c per paper bag.


Unfortunately, we didn’t find an alternative for milk. So I’m just buying it and recycling the plastic container afterwards. If you know of a solution, then drop a comment.


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