Happy #PlasticFreeJuly everyone! This month commemorates the growing global movement where individuals are challenged to reduce their everyday consumption of single-use plastic. As you know, our team members help manage recyclable and organic waste as part of our Rethinking Recycling programs every day of the year, however, this month, instead of focusing on their professional work, we are choosing to highlight and celebrate their personal life choices to live a waste conscious lifestyle.
We acknowledge that plastic is useful, and it is indispensable for certain applications. Especially with Covid-19, where in some cases single-use plastic is the only viable option to maintain the levels of safety and hygiene required, however, we hope that together we can all be more mindful of our consumption habits. Each small action can make a difference for our planet.
For Larissa Sakamoto, McKinsey.org’s GIRO Argentina Program Manager, her journey to living more sustainably started when she started living in a camper van and fell in love with a more minimalist lifestyle. When she returned home, she looked around her apartment and realized she had many things she no longer needed and could let go of. Thinking about her waste footprint followed naturally. Over the course of a year, she worked toward living a zero-waste and plastic conscious lifestyle, as much as possible. Larissa believes picking more sustainable products is better not only for the environment but also her health.
“In my life I want to help the planet by leaving behind as little a footprint as possible. In my professional life, I help by running our recycling program in Olavarria. And in my personal life, I help by being more conscious of what I consume and how.” – Larissa Sakamoto
A planet-wide challenge
Every year, 11 million tons of plastic enter the world’s ocean. That works out to be more than a full dump truck of plastic, every minute of every day, which matters because plastic sticks around in the environment for so long. Plastic bags for example, take 500 (or more) years to degrade in a landfill, while plastic toothbrushes could take up to 1000 years to degrade.
Recycling is an important part of the solution, but it begins with being conscious of the products you are buying and choosing recycled and recyclable packaging. And recycling cannot solve the problem alone. Producing less waste overall is also critical. This can take the form of carrying a water bottle instead of drinking bottled water which requires up to 2,000 times the energy used to produce tap water and a bottle that must then be disposed of. It can take the form of making sure you buy what you need and minimizing your food waste which, when it ends up in a landfill produces methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
There is no single-solution to manage the waste challenge, but we are proud of our team members that make efforts in their daily lives to limit their plastic usage and waste production.
Creating a behavior change ripple effect
When we spoke with members of our team about ways in which they are reducing plastic and being more waste conscious in their lives, we heard different answers: reusable bags and water bottles, biodegradable toothbrushes, recycled packaging, natural beauty products with sustainable packaging and the list goes on.
“There is no silver-bullet, it’s all about experimentation and trying different things and figuring out what works best for your lifestyle and circumstances from moment to moment.” – Larissa Sakamoto
Not unlike other journeys, the journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle starts with motivation. For some members of our team, including Clara Dankert, a big part of their motivation came from their work on our Rethinking Recycling program.
“A friend of mine lent me a book about zero waste and that is when I started my journey. However, it is with my work with Rethinking Recycling, that I realized the full extent of the situation at hand and became much more aware of my personal footprint.” – Clara Dankert
Clara, who is also a psychologist, says it’s important that her friends see the small actions she is taking like carrying her shopping in reusable bags, so they can see it is doable. The behavior change ripple effect is important to help generate awareness. Other members of the team, including Ariane Desrosiers, our intern, and Tomi Kencana from our Indonesia team make sustainable product choices to help promote a low-waste lifestyle.
“I use my consumer power to support sustainable alternatives. I believe changing personal behavior goes a long way in tackling the challenge and also helps others feel inspired and motivated.” – Ariane DesRosiers
“In Bali, we use banana leaves to wrap our takeout food. You could say that it is an age-old practice, but also something that is very current, given the need of the hour” – Tomi Kencana
Some solutions like banana leaves are culturally unique and not available to all of us, but what matters is being conscious of the waste we produce and continuing to encourage more innovative ideas in this space.
Seven ways to start your own zero-waste journey:
- Try to avoid single-use plastics: When possible, refuse that plastic straw, carry your own coffee cup, and don’t forget to carry your reusable grocery bag.
- Recycle: Check with your local municipality and make sure you are recycling everything you can and not polluting the recycling stream with things that your community cannot recycle.
- Review your cosmetics and toiletries: Use up what you already have. Switch to products with more sustainable packaging and ingredients when possible. Check labels and buy packaging that is locally recyclable and that has recycled content.
- Just a few products from your pantry can cover a lot of needs: Larissa from our team says she uses about 5 items for various things from cleaning her house to washing her hair. Some of her must-haves include baking soda, apple cider vinegar and lemon juice.
- Use reusable containers for take-away: Our Argentina staff often takes reusable containers to local restaurants to get food to-go instead of relying on the restaurants to provide disposable plastic containers. In Bali, our team is currently in lockdown, and they suggest cooking more at home to avoid ordering food in take away containers.
- Try sustainable options for food wrapping at home: Our team uses reusable silicone covers & beeswax cloths and say they can easily be found online or at your local farmers’ market.
- Make sure to invest in reusable masks like cloth-based masks. And don’t forget to take your mask with you every time you step out to avoid having to buy throw away masks.
Lastly, be kind to yourself
As we started to talk about tips and tricks, we realized that living a more sustainable lifestyle is not easy and instantaneous, instead it is a journey – and all of us are at different milestones given the contexts and lifestyles we find ourselves in. Many members of our team including Clara reiterated to remember to be kind to yourself.
“Be patient with yourself. Sometimes you can get a little obsessed with reaching the final goal, at least it happened to me. But be kind to yourself. It’s a nice journey to start. It will help you in many different ways. Try and enjoy it.” – Clara Dankert
Larissa also admits that she does not have it all figured out and encourages those attempting a minimalist or waste conscious lifestyle to figure out what works best for them and not to stress about being perfect. Alternatives are not always realistic, inexpensive or available. She wishes you luck on your journey.