My Journey to Zero Waste

During my semi-nomadic life I’ve rarely been a wasteful person… or at least that’s what I thought. I’ve never had too many possessions as I’ve been constantly flitting between new flats, cities, and countries, so packing light became a way of life.

And then I moved to Hong Kong where I immediately encountered two things that impacted on my life. One was the huge amount of waste. It was everywhere and I couldn’t unsee it: rubbish bins full of food waste in front of restaurants; shopping outlets’ waste on every corner. And a great deal of plastic! I felt as if plastic would invade my tiny apartment and I’d run out of space. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any recycling facilities nearby and it took me ages to find a handful of eco friendly products. I hesitated going to the wet markets because of the language barriers.

So I signed up for Cantonese lessons and there I had my second encounter, Paola Cortese, one of my 14 fellow students. We quickly became friends and eventually she introduced me to her zero waste lifestyle. I asked her how I could live a zero waste life too and she gave some great tips. But I was already getting into the crazy Hong Kong rhythm and wanted it fast and painless. In fact, I needed a friend who would give me a hand and encourage me on the way.

We agreed on a three-month timeline and made a week-by-week plan with a regular assessment. Having a plan was crucial: I knew exactly where to start and when to prepare myself for the next step. Paola introduced me to the zero waste Rs and weighed my trash bin. It was about 1.3kg that week. Not a great deal, as I hadn’t spent much time at home, but I still wanted to reduce it as much as possible. So I bought a bokashi composter and immediately conquered my food waste. I equipped myself with the zero waste essentials and banned plastic from entering my apartment. Easy?

Well, not really. My old habits still prevailed. It was a longer walk to the organic corner of the wet market so I had to make an effort… my broken Cantonese helped a lot! It took time to stop using paper towels to dry my hands in public toilets, and say no to excessive packaging. I discovered that prepping my own meals was much easier and healthier than eating out, or ordering takeaways. So I was forced to cook better than I had before. Eventually, I had to let go of many of my clothes and books that I no longer needed. It’s an ongoing process and I still keep a lot of stuff ‘just in case’.

There were moments when I felt like going backwards: buying an unnecessary pair of shoes on sale, forgetting the magic phrase ‘no straw please’ and so many others. I’d call Paola and say: “Uhm, I failed again today” but, luckily, she’d only encourage me and brainstorm on other options. This is how I became a consignor at a second hand shop and already earned my first 56 HKD. I discovered new products and learnt how to make my own cleaning products. Homemade toothpaste? Never crossed my mind and I just love using it now!

But the most impactful part of the journey is definitely my local community. I went to loads of local events and discovered Hong Kong eco warriors and game changers. They are a great source of inspiration and I started working on bringing them all together with Paola in LoopUnite!.

I documented my journey on the blog and Instagram and was astonished to see so many positive responses from other people. Some of them joined the journey in their countries and it was one of the best outcomes of going zero waste. I’ve had a lot of funny moments always hoping to be a motivator rather than irritating people.

The journey has pushed me to seek more from life and be open to change. I’m training hard for a few trail running marathons, waking up much earlier than before and taking my nutrition very seriously. I’m more aware of where things come from (for example, my clothes) and where they go to (all our waste). I spend more time connecting with people and the nature and don’t feel addicted to the material things very much. It’s been an eventful journey, but I’m curious as to what to expect in the next chapter!