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Does Living Plastic Free Cost More? - Interview with a Zero-Waste Practitioner

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Name : Valerie Ng 

Age : 31 yrs old 

Location : Nomadic! I generally spend several months surf traveling,  then winters in a ski town, and the rest of the time at home, which are Honolulu and Boston. My work allows me to (and sometimes  requires me to) move around. 

What do you mean exactly when you say you've been “zero-waste since 2017”: Since 2017, I haven’t been contributing to landfill waste! And only a handful of items have ended up in recycling (I’d say about 20 items have ended up in recycling).   

I also have a huge gallon-ish jar that I use as my  “trash jar”.  Almost 2 years and it’s still not full! It’s got some clothing tags, airline baggage tags, and packaging for medicine. 

As far as landfill contributions — its’ been less than 15 items since I started calling myself “zero”. I’m human, sometimes life happens. ;)

What was your breaking point for making this lifestyle change?  Did it happen slowly, or did you just wake up one day and say, “I’m done!” : I had been low(ish) waste for many years before I decided to go “zero”. For years I never used disposable coffee cups or to-go boxes, or used plastic water bottles, etc., but I would order stuff online which always came in a ton of packaging. So while I had some good habits, there were a lot of areas  that needed improvement. In 2017 I moved to British Columbia for the winter. I was in a town where you’d pay to have your trash and recycling picked up. I think because I’m very money-conscious, I was like, “that’s ridiculous. I’m not paying a trash fee. I’m just not going to make any waste”. And thus it began. That winter going zero waste was actually really easy. Once I committed, I was in it 100%.

There are so many negative stereotypical thoughts about living plastic free. Like, it costs more...or it takes too much time. Are these thoughts true? Overall, it definitely does NOT cost more. But it does take more planning and maybe a bit of research. Like, remembering to bring extra utensils or Tupperware or straws if you’re going out to eat.  But those are so easy. 

I keep all organic waste in my freezer and then bring it to Whole Foods or a local co-op to compost once a week or every other week. Little things like that require your attention but are so easy to do. 

What are some other misconceptions about living a zero-waste lifestyle? That it costs more! I think that’s the biggest one. You don’t need to buy super fancy Tupperware or jars or new items. Use what you already have. For example: if I I’ve used up all of my reusable vegetable bags for bulk items and need to get something, I’ll bring a pillowcase. You don’t NEED to buy a fancy thermos, just use a pasta sauce jar. 

Another misconception is that it’s this really “out there” hippy dippy movement. And that your average person can’t do it. So not true! Once you incorporate low waste habits into your life, you’ll see you save money and that it doesn’t actually turn your life upside down. 

One last big misconception — that you have to do it perfectly.  Just try your best.

What are the biggest challenges? I think in the very beginning, remembering to be prepared was tough. Like, I would go to the juice bar and would want a juice, but wouldn’t  be prepared with a jar and straw. So I just wouldn’t get a juice. I always have a few essential items in my purse now, so it’s not really an issue. 

Convincing others that zero waste is possible can be hard! And convincing people that’s it’s important is the hardest. Especially in the city, a lot of people are so removed from nature and the ocean that they just throw stuff away and think it goes “away”. 

Being zero-waste when staying with friends or family can be hard. You know, I have my philosophy and if my friends and fam are into it, that’s cool, and if not, I’m not going to force my beliefs on people I’m staying with. 

What are the biggest rewards (globally and personally)? Knowing that I’m not contributing to ocean waste is the biggest reward. I spend a lot of my time surfing and hate seeing my home turn into one big trash can. 

What items have you not been able to find yet plastic free? Contact lenses! I change my contact lenses once every 6-8 weeks. They use to go into my “trash jar”. I now use Bausch + Lomb contacts and they have a contact lens packaging recycling program through Terracycle. Contact solution too — I recycle the container, but wish I didn’t have that plastic in my life. 

Do you shop online for things? If so, how do you filter out brands who use shipping materials? Occasionally. Rarely these days. If I do I always call and ask for items to be sent without plastic packaging. Most companies are willing and able!

And what about buying clothes? Most of them have those pointless little plastic pieces that holds the tag on? What do you do with the “disposable” plastic when you get things like this? I still buy clothes sometimes with the plastic things and those go into my trash jar. I had a friend in Boulder CO who would melt little plastic pieces and turn them into jewelry. 

What advice would you have for someone trying to go waste-free or plastic-free? Choose a few things each week to make low or zero waste. Like, once you finish your regular floss, try out silk floss in a reusable tube. Once your current toothbrush is done, get a bamboo one. Once you’ve run out of shampoo, bring a jar to a bulk store or try a shampoo bar. If you eat meat, bring some Tupperware to the butcher. 

Do you think the world will eventually be completely plastic free? I think if the right systems are in place, we can have a much lower waste world.

Any favorite DIY recipes you’d like to share? As far as recipes - making your own household cleaner is easy . In a spray bottle (don’t buy a new one just reuse own you already have), mix water, vinegar, and a few drops of  tee tree oil. Shake before each use because water and oil don’t mix. 

...And just for fun:

What are you currently listening to – Podcasts or musicFoundMyFitness podcast - Dr Rhonda Patrick, a Cali based biochemist and fitness enthusiast delves into all sorts of health related topics and backs up her findings with real data. 

Any other random thing you’re currently into?  I’m actually loving wedding planning! Just got engaged on a recent surf trip ;)

Follow Val and her zero-waste lifestyle on instagram at @valsmissng and share your own plastic-free tips below!

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