Today I turned 35 years young! A great opportunity to reflect and tell you a little more about my zero-waste journey. How did it all start? What motivates and inspires me to make certain lifestyle choices? Am I happy with how things are going or what more could and would I do to do my part? Am I happy living this consciously, or would I like to go through life more relaxed, without thinking about the consequences of everything I do?
How it all started
During and after my studies, I was mostly preoccupied with social corporate responsibility. In other words, what companies can do to take responsibility within the supply chain by creating value in economic (profit), environmental (planet) and social (people) areas. My focus was particularly on the issue of child labour. My interest in the environemnt only developed a little later, when powerful documentaries like A Plastic Ocean and Blue Planet II came out and clearly put the plastic problem on the agenda.
This was around the same time that I was organising a sustainable team outing with some of my former colleagues. Plastic fishing in the Amsterdam canals with Plastic Whale seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Of course, this is also when we came up with the infamous challenge of living without plastic for a month. Awareness of the plastic problem, combined with the effort it took to avoid plastic got me thinking.
I initially mainly looked at the responsibility of companies, but it was time to take a good look at myself. I actually hadn’t been thinking about the impact of my choices on the planet at all. I started looking into how I could do my part. I wanted to know how people like Bea Johnson, the founder of the zero-waste movement, could produce only one mason jar of waste in an entire year with her whole family. This while I was left with more than a jar of waste every day. One visit to the supermarket and you already have a bunch of plastic to throw away.
Especially in the beginning of my zero-waste journey, I learned an awful lot from zero-waste gurus Bea Johnson, Wasteland Rebel, Trash is for Tossers and Kathryn Kellogg. They give lots of concrete tips on how to live zero-waste. The only problem (for me) was that darned mason jar of trash, which made me feel like I was never doing well enough, even though I was already trying so hard. As far as I'm concerned, that's still an unachievable goal. This realisation made me stop comparing myself to others. It was time to walk my own path so I could make changes at my pace, without feeling like a failure.
As part of living more sustainably, I also really wanted to declutter. I’m a bit of a hoarder, so over the years I built up a nice collection of stuff. Time to sort this out, guided by Marie Kondo's book. I donated as much as possible to a thrift store, and recycled or threw away junk. I now live in a tidy house, which gives a lot of peace and makes my life a lot easier. Read our blog ‘What is minimalism and how do I do it?’ to learn more about what minimalism really is, what the benefits are and some tips to start minimizing for beginners.
What inspires and motivates me
I am always looking for people and companies that inspire me, challenges and events that I can participate in, and interesting books, documentaries and blogs that I can learn from. This allows me to meet fun and like-minded people and challenges me to work on self-development and make positive changes where possible.
The most important challenge that I participate in every year, to whom we owe Zo Zero (read more about it in our blog: The 12 Great Challenges), is Plastic Free July. I’ve already replaced most single use products in my life, but when it comes to food I still have a long way to go. Plastic Free July allows me to challenge myself to go the extra mile. It helps me discover new products and stores that easily allow me to make more sustainable choices.
Another challenge I like to participate in every January is Veganuary. Veganuary challenges people to live a vegan lifestyle for a month. They provide lots of tips, tasty recipes and information about veganism. I eat mostly vegan, but during Veganuary I am extra motivated to go all the way. This helps me to discover new and tasty products that I can use as a replacement. Read more about Veganuary in our blog ‘Veganuary & why a vegan lifestyle is so important’.
I also love participating in clean-ups! Beach clean-ups in particular are my favourite. Cleaning up the beach with a nice group of people, fresh sea breeze and sand between your toes gives a wonderful feeling. I know that litter-picking is not the solution to the bigger problem and sometimes feels like a never-ending story, but every little bit helps. Plus, it raises awareness, so I say do it!
I'm also a big fan of sustainable brands. Think Patagonia, Tony's Chocolonely, Mud Jeans or Goats. Companies that consciously think about the ingredients or materials they use, take responsibility for working conditions and their impact on the environment. There are many more things that inspire and motivate me to get the best out of myself and our company, but I'll leave it here for now.
It has been a long process, but by now, I dare say that I am happily conscious. What exactly does that mean? It means that I make conscious choices, prioritizing sustainability, but am not too hard on myself. I am proud of the things I do and don't get angry or frustrated at what I don’t do, so the focus is on the positive. I have found a fine balance between doing your best and choosing what makes you genuinely happy. Thanks to this balance, I enjoy making sustainable choices and can therefore do my part to contribute to a cleaner world for longer.
I keep learning, I keep challenging myself to live more sustainably and I do this one step at a time. Changing your behavior, adjusting your diet, letting go of certain products or brands you are used to is not always easy. That’s why I give myself the time and space to find replacements that make me genuinely happy, things that make my life better and are also good for the environment. I can't wait to see what else comes my way thanks to my zero-waste journey!