The Renewal Workshop Co-Founder and Co-CEO interviews Wasteland Rebel, Shia Su, who describes herself as a fun-oriented lazy-ass hot mess that happened to slide into a vegan minimalist zero waste and almost plastic and palm oil free lifestyle. Shia has been advocating for a zero waste lifestyle around the world by sharing her experience and story.
Q: What does waste represent and why are you personally interested in educating others to live without waste?
A: For me, minimizing the amount of waste I create is one of many ways to reduce my environmental footprint. Sticking to a plant-based diet, avoiding plastics and palm oil, only buying secondhand, living big in a tiny 360 square foot studio with my husband, and minimizing my energy footprint are other things I do to gradually reduce my impact on this planet. However, to me, waste in its broader sense is a strong symbol of what is wrong with our societal and economic system. Our wasteful ways are literally draining this planet. Trash is just a very visual representation, and the results of this lifestyle change very immediate.
Q: How do you balance ease of a change with the impact of that change to reduce waste?
A: I keep it as simple as possible and I take baby steps, only one at a time. In fact, I never intended to go zero waste! All I wanted to do was to be a tad more conscious when it came to both trash and wasteful ways. It was just a fun daily challenge for me. Like: I am really craving a donut—let’s see if I can get the staff at the donut shop to put the donut in my own container!
I never thought beyond the next step I was taking. This saved me from overthinking things and feeling overwhelmed. If one of my approaches didn’t work, I would just try another one. No biggie.
Q: How long do you think it takes to build a habit? If I want to make a change to reduce waste, what can I do to be more successful to make the behavior a habit?
A: Every person is different and some things will come more naturally than others. I am a creature of habit and changing my habits is very, very hard for me. This is why I never rush head-first into lifestyle changes. I like to just look at the small, doable things that I know I can do in this very moment.
Every bit of progress is huge for me, and I am not shy when it comes to patting my own shoulder and telling myself that I did a great job! It took my husband and me almost four years to transition to a vegan diet. Reducing our energy consumption to only a third of the average German two-person household took us more than a decade! We have been phasing out plastic items in our household for three years. And just like zero waste, these are all still ongoing projects to us, because there is still so much room for improvement. These projects are more like a direction we want to slowly inch towards. Will we ever get there? Who knows? We might, we might not. The only thing we know is that we will try to make better choices as often as we can.
Q: Time and convenience seem to be big barriers to changing behavior, how do you address these?
A: First of all, I think that convenience is highly overrated. What we often think is convenient isn’t at all! We think it is convenient to be able to buy groceries at any corner at any time of the day. But really, it only leads to us spending more time on errands! Thinking we can buy anything we want any time we want makes us half-ass things.
We don’t check what we have in our pantry or fridge, and we don’t make a shopping list because we shop on a whim. We think we can just go out and buy what we forgot any time we
want, so we don’t need to pay any attention now. We end up running errands all the time.
I strongly believe it is about having a smart system and making it a habit.
Zero waste helps to simplify household needs. Instead of “needing” an army of highly specialized products, you will only need a handful of easily obtainable ingredients. So there is less to keep track of, and fewer things that need to be replaced when running low. We only buy fresh groceries once a week at the farmers market, we restock the foods with a longer shelf life like dry goods and liquids once every 4-8 weeks, and buy everything else like soap, and other DIY ingredients once a year. Everything else, like clothes or household items, we only buy when it needs replacing. This means we might replace some single pieces of clothing maybe 2-3 times a year. This system is a life-saver for us! And in the end, it is all a matter of habit. We just have different habits.
Q: What is your favorite story of reducing waste in either your life or something you heard?
A: When we just started reducing our trash, we had no idea where to buy dry bulk goods since bulk sections were pretty much unheard of in Germany. We went to this small health food store that had been there for almost 30 years. I asked the owner if they also sold rice in big bulk bags, preferably plastic-free. I explained that we were trying to find ways to reduce our trash. She showed me this huge 55 pound paper bag of organic rice. There was no way I would be able to even get that massive bag on the bus! The owner asked me if I brought my own shopping bag, which I did. And suddenly she started to unthread this huge paper bag, telling me to hand her my shopping bag. She tared my shopping bag and started to fill it with rice, telling me that she just decided, on the spot, that from now on she will encourage their customers to bring their own bags to buy rice in bulk instead! I love this story, because it was the moment I realized that things could change for the better if I just let my voice be heard.
You can follow Shia’s continuing journey at wastelandrebel.com