One of the things that really helps me with my plastic-free adventures is when I see others who are also braving the journey. It is great to see the network of waste-free livers growing across the world, using books, websites, talks and social media to connect and share their tips and experiences. That's why I plan to feature some of these inspiring people on NWB, as part of the blog series "Plastic-free people" (you can see the first post here).
And today I have for you zero-waste minimalist Lindsay Miles: blogger of the infamous "Treading My Own Path" and author of "That's a Wrap- the eGuide for plastic-free living". I discovered Lindsay through a friend at The Wilderness Society in Perth, WA in 2014, and her blog was one of the major encouragements for me to start a waste-free life. It really got me thinking about not only cutting down on the rubbish I am producing, but to stop being so attached to stuff that I didn't really need. What's more, when I sent her an email to ask to interview her, she was very happy to oblige! It is great that zero-wasters can communicate and collaborate even on opposite sides of the world.
Check out my interview with Lindsay below:
1) Tell me a bit about yourself.
I'm a curly-haired English lass who lives in Perth, Australia and who has a passion for living a little bit lighter on the planet! I've always been a little bit green, but over the last five years I've really immersed myself in the subject of waste, and reducing my impact - through reducing my rubbish, and reducing my consumption, and making better, more ethical choices. I began my blog treadingmyownpath.com in 2013, focussing on plastic-free and zero waste living and other aspects of sustainability. Now I'm a writer (as well as freelance writing, I've published two books on plastic-free living and minimalism), public speaker, workshop facilitator and zero waste/sustainability consultant. I quit my desk job in 2016 to work full-time on my business, and I haven't looked back! I love being able to meet people and share ideas, and get out into the community. I'm passionate about helping others make better choices in their own lives.
2) When and how did you become conscious about environmental issues, the plastic problem, and producing less waste?
Before 2012, I thought of myself as pretty sustainable. I recycled everything, I purchased eco-friendly washing up liquid, I rode my bike. I'd take my own bags to the shops, think how ridiculous all the over-packaged stuff was - but by it anyway, and then feel smug that I'd brought my own bags to put all this packaged stuff in. I thought that the companies should do something about it. It never occurred to me that I could do something about it. And then I heard about Plastic Free July. I was pretty naive and had no idea how much plastic I was using, and I accepted the challenge - to use no single-use plastic for the month of July - without really thinking about it. It was only when I began to look around my home, that I realised how much plastic I was really using.
Once I saw how much plastic I was using, and realised all the issues - that it's made from fossil fuels, that it lasts forever, that it harms wildlife, has health implications for humans, and in many cases is actually unnecessary - I knew that I couldn't go back. Plastic-free living became my way of life.
I started out refusing plastic. Once I began buying glass and cardboard, I began to realise that all single-use packaging was waste, and if it could be avoided, that was better. I'd never heard of zero waste, and had no idea that there was a zero waste movement, but it made sense. Refuse plastic, compost food scraps and reduce other packaging. It was a natural progression.
3) Tell me more about your key values of minimalism and waste-free living.
At first, I thought that minimalism was the opposite of waste-free living. Decluttering seemed like waste! Plus I am a natural hoarder. But the more I thought about it, keeping stuff that I didn't need, didn't want and didn't like was a waste. Minimalism doesn't mean sending stuff to landfill. It's possible to find new homes for almost anything if you look hard enough and have patience.
For me, minimalism is about "enough". Having only what I need, what I will use, and what is useful to me. We tend to accumulate, to upgrade, to improve what we have, when we don't really need to. We never stop to ask ourselves: do I really need this? The first time I decluttered, I found it really hard. I barely got rid of a box of things. Yet every time it got easier, despite having less stuff to get rid of. Once I made the connection between stuff and waste, it became easier. Owning stuff we don't need is a waste in many ways: a waste of resources, of time, of space, of money. Letting go is very freeing.
For me, minimalism and waste-free living both mean: buying less. Choosing better. Thinking about where something has come from, and where it will end up, before I buy it, or bring it home. It's not about owning nothing, or going without. It's about reconnecting with what's important. Real food, spending time in nature, long conversations with friends, experiencing new things, learning, being with family.
4) What made you want to start “Treading My Own Path?"
I took part in Plastic Free July for the first time in July 2012, and it was the beginning of a crazy journey. I learned a lot about the issues with plastics, the downside of recycling, and that making your own wasn't as hard as it might seem. I learned to make deodorant, toothpaste, bread, yoghurt... After 9 months of this new way of life, I felt that I had something to share. I'd always thought I was green, but there were so many things I'd just accepted without really looking into. Things like: that recycling is the greenest option, that there aren't alternatives, that thing like yoghurt must be difficult to make because everyone buys it. I figured that if I made these assumptions, others must too, and I wanted to share what I'd learned, and inspire others that there were alternatives and better ways of doing things.
I've always loved writing. I didn't have the confidence when I started out to do talks, or run workshops, and a blog was the right fit for me. It was a way to ease myself into the world of sustainability on my own terms. Over time it gave me the confidence to step out from behind the screen and into my community. It taught me the importance of connecting with others, both online and in person. I'm very grateful :)
5) What are your best tips for waste-free living?
Oooh, how much space and time do you have?! Just kidding. To anyone who's starting out, I would say - don't worry about what others are doing. Don't get bogged down in details. Just start - choose one thing you want to change, and work towards that. Look at your recycling bin, or your rubbish bin, or even your supermarket till receipt, and see what's creating the most waste. Are there alternatives you could buy with less packaging? Could you make your own? Don't assume that it's hard - Google is your friend! Look up recipes or other blogs, and give it a go. If there is something that is too hard to change, don't dwell on it. Focus on the stuff that's easy. Habits take time to form, and as you make new habits it will get easier, and you'll be ready to move onto the next thing.
Just do one thing, and then when you've mastered that, do one more thing. And keep on going.
6) Can you tell me more about your book, “That’s a Wrap” – it must have taken a lot of time to get together!
I love writing ,and I always struggle to keep my blog posts to within a reasonable word limit - I just have too much to say! I decided to write the book That's a Wrap (which is an eGuide for Living Plastic-Free) for a number of reasons. I find that blogs are great resources, but they can be hard to search or navigate through. Books are different: a whole platter of information in a much handier format. I was also conscious that eco books can be very uninspiring - green and brown and not very attractive. I wanted to create a resource that was full of useful information, that also looked amazing. A resource that people would want to read and would feel inspired by! I'm very proud of what I created, and knowing that it's helping to grow the plastic-free movement is an amazing feeling.
7) Do you have any success stories where you feel like you have impacted other people's lives, or made them more aware of the plastic problem and encouraged others to move away from the throwaway lifestyle? (Well, besides me of course! ;-) )
There are plenty of stories! The great thing about living plastic-free is that so many of the solutions are actually really simple - it's just that others haven't thought of them. I hadn't thought of them either in my past life! Simple things like bringing your own reusable produce bags to the store: people in the checkout queue or maybe the cashier will say, "oh that's a great idea! I hadn't thought of that!" Or taking a reusable picnic set to a Hawkers Market rather than using all the single-use stuff. I see how my choices have rubbed off on friends and family - some tell me, and others don't, but I notice! Sometimes people I don't know will come to me and say "ever since I heard you talk/read your blog, I've been thinking about how much plastic I use." I love that! It's all about raising awareness. I truly believe that most people want to do the right thing. We've just been sold the story that recycling is good enough. Yet there's so much more that we can do!
8) What do you think is the best way to spread the message of waste-free living and to encourage others to do the same? We seem to be living in a world where people are conscious about the problems but don’t actually want to do anything about it.
The best way, in my eyes, is to do what you can and lead by example. It's tempting to tell others what to do, or shout from the rooftops, but actually, it's more effective to show, not tell. No-one likes a nag, and people need time to digest ideas.
It's actually really empowering to look at what we can change in our own lives, and work towards making those changes happen. I disagree that people are conscious about the problems but don't actually want to do anything about it. I think many people are aware, but paralyzed by the scale of the issues, and have no idea where to start. Things like climate change or peak oil are massive issues. Where do we begin? When you hear about how much waste is generated every second, our own personal efforts seem tiny. But actually, everything and everyone is interconnected. The choices we make do matter. Rather than worrying about what we can't change, we can look at the things we can change. We can all do our bit, and together we are part of a movement. That's how change happens on a bigger scale. Everything we do makes a difference.
We can choose to be part of the problem, or we can choose to be part of the solution. For me, there's no contest. Let's do what we can!