Carien's Zero-Waste Journey

Have you always been concerned with sustainability?

This is one of the questions I get asked most often when I'm having a conversation about sustainability. And the honest answer is 'no'. Sustainability is something that has only really come my way in recent years, but there was a certain amount of Dutch frugality in my upbringing. My parents taught me at an early age to be sensible with money and above all to waste as little as possible.

We used a 'flessenlikker' (is there even an English word for this!?) at home to 'lick' all the applesauce out of the jar, the toothpaste tube was cut open to use the last bit as well, and we were taught not to run the tap unnecessarily. I took my sandwiches to school in a lunchbox, never bought bottled water, didn't have ten pairs of shoes, and biked 8 kilometres back and forth to high school every day.

I used to think that some of these things were annoying (because who wants to bike for half an hour through the rain), but now I am extremely happy that I have inherited this attitude. Because in my eyes, being a bit frugal with your belongings and with resources is the perfect basis for a sustainable life with as little waste as possible.

The ‘Blue-Planet-effect’

Before we started Zo Zero, Jasmijn and I worked at a big corporate. We were always walking around the department with our 'own cup'. We found it bizarre that every employee in the company used several cardboard cups a day. A few cups of coffee, then some tea, and a few cups of water in between. We tried to convince our colleagues to start using a real mug as well, or at least to reuse their cups as much as possible.

I think for me this was one of the first moments I realised I was willing to go the extra mile to make a sustainable choice, unlike many others.

Around this time there were also more and more news items about the problem of plastic in nature. I am a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough and all of his documentaries and in Blue Planet II a lot of attention was paid to plastic pollution. This has caused an increased awareness of the plastic problem for me and for many others. This influence is also called the 'Blue-Planet-effect'.

About six months later, Jasmijn and I did the 'one month without plastic' challenge that eventually led to the creation of Zo Zero.

Plastic is everywhere

During and after our challenge, it became clear to me how big the problem really is. It was almost impossible for me not to see plastic everywhere. Groceries: plastic, personal care products: plastic, clothing: plastic, toys: plastic, household appliances: plastic. Plastic is everywhere.

I try to avoid plastic as much as possible, but in the meantime I also realised that living 100% plastic-free is impossible. Even if I managed to completely stop using plastic myself (which would mean that I would no longer be able to write this blog, because laptops also contain plastic), it would mean that I would not be able to eat with family, friends or in restaurants. After all, they do buy food in plastic, which would indirectly mean that I use plastic too. So, I have long since abandoned the dream of becoming completely plastic-free.

I firmly believe in Anne-Marie Bonneau's (the Zero Waste Chef) famous statement: "We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly." There is no point in me alone living completely plastic-free; I can make a bigger impact by trying to inspire as many people as possible to live plastic-free, or at least use less plastic.

I often hear phrases like 'no that's not allowed in plastic, because Carien is here'. On the one hand, I find it a bit annoying, because I don't want to impose my views on others and be that one annoying friend. But on the other hand, it also makes me proud. Proud that I can inspire other people. I don't tell anyone that they shouldn't use plastic (or stop buying stuff, or eat vegan), but I notice that because I live consciously myself, others start thinking more consciously as well. And that's all I hope to achieve.

Plastic-free living

During my search for plastic-free products, I quickly discovered that plastic pollution is not the only problem the world is currently facing. Zero waste now means so much more to me than just reducing my plastic consumption. For me, zero waste also means having less possessions, flying less, using less energy and eating healthier and more sustainable food and so I am trying to live consciously in many more areas. Consciously, but not perfectly.

I try to buy as little stuff and clothing as possible and when I do buy something I go for good quality things from sustainable brands. It's true that these products are often a bit more expensive, but because I buy less and the things I do buy last longer, I end up spending less money. I also tidied up my house with the Marie Kondo method, which has created a lot of space (both in my house and in my head). And you'll be surprised how much stuff and clothing you can sell through platforms like Marktplaats and Vinted, so you're not only tidying but you also get something in return.

Flying less: easier said than done. I can proudly say that I have flown a lot less in the past three years than before, but I would be lying if I said that this is only for sustainability reasons. Of course, the covid-19 pandemic and founding our own company contributed greatly to this. I would love nothing more than to fly to a tropical island again and explore other cultures. So, I'm very sure I'll get on a plane again, but I want to make sure the travel is commensurate with the destination. Flying to another city for two days is no longer necessary for me, nor is flying intercontinental for a week. When I fly, I want to make sure I enjoy the destination as much as possible and get the most out of the trip. Of course, I am aware that I won't always be able to travel for a month, but if I can't, there may be other destinations closer by that are just as enjoyable.

I have been eating almost no meat and fish for a while now (I say almost, because I still make the occasional exception and I also don't like to label myself) and for about two years now I have been eating more and more plant-based food. Because I believe vegan food is healthier, my dream is to eat completely plant-based, but right now I still find that too difficult when I'm out and about. So in this area too, I'm doing my best, but I'm not there yet. I'm still very much on my zero-waste journey.

And finally, a little tip from me: it looks like a new Planet Earth series is coming out in 2022, so keep a close eye on this if you're as much of a fan as I am!

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