Transcript for Episode 21: How to be Zero Waste (Mini)

This is the transcript of Episode 21: How to be Zero Waste (Mini) of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on conscious consumption.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone.

Alicia Lee: Hi everyone. So for this episode, we’ll be talking about how to reduce our waste and how to push for zero waste.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And before we jump into those topics, just a quick reminder: It would be really, really helpful for us if you could fill out our survey. It’s a really, really short survey. It takes you literally just one minute, and we want to know things like: How did you find us, for example, was it via social media, did you hear about our podcast via someone else? This really helps us to focus our time, to the right things.

Alicia Lee: So just to give a quick summary of what we discussed last episode: We talked with Catherine Weetman and Erin Andrews, about the circular economy and how all of us in society can push towards a more circular lifestyle. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And circular economy obviously is very broad, but we focus on three steps. The first one is reduce, the second one is reuse, and the third one that we’re tackling is how to buy more sustainably. And so in this episode, we’re tackling that first step, reducing our consumption. Or the way you called it: reduce and refuse.

Alicia Lee: Thanks. Yeah, I think for me it’s a very interesting topic because previously for my startup we tackled plastic waste and that got me to thinking, other kinds of ways. So in addition to refusing plastic waste, I thought about: What are the ways I can reduce other kinds of waste? And I think, especially during the lockdown, we cook a lot at home. So for me, I noticed a lot of food waste is piling up in the waste receptacles so how do I can reduce that? So I tried to get into composting. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Oh really? 

Alicia Lee: Yeah. I first initially looked into, you know, the worm composting, using bugs to eat the food instead of just letting it simply degrade, but my mother is really scared of bugs. So we decided not to do that for now. So now it’s just regular composting. But who knows, maybe I can persuade her to eventually have the insect composting. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I heard composting can be really complex. 

Alicia Lee: Yeah, it’s like, you need to have the right ratio of this kind of material, to that kind of material. So you can’t have too many of green materials, otherwise, it’ll stink too much and you need to have more carbon materials like dead leaves, or paper to help it aerate, that kind of thing. So it’s very interesting for me to have this; figure out what’s the right ratio.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool. Okay, so I already know if we ever do an episode on composting, you… you will be invited as guest moderator, again. 

Alicia Lee: Sure, thanks. Yeah. A very amateur composter. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Very cool. Sounds already way more professional than what I could come up with. Yeah, cool. 

So one thing we thought might be quite helpful is if we can explain what we mean with reduce and refuse in a little bit more practical terms. So, the most obvious one is: just don’t buy things you don’t need.

Alicia Lee: Yeah and I think, to tie into that is, when you buy something that you do need, make sure to refuse what you don’t need, like the packaging. I know in Asia, a lot of times, the plastic bags are ubiquitous everywhere. So a lot of people would just give you plastic bags for everything. So I need to consciously ask for, to not give me a plastic bag and to bring my own reusable bag.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah and related to… to what you said about, you know, refusing the plastic bag: Try to buy things that are not packaged. So one obvious example is your coffee to go is: bring your own cup. Or what my husband and I do is when we get takeaway, then we would bring our own boxes, and then ask them if they can put it in the box, rather than in the, you know, single-use cardboard.

Alicia Lee: I’m just curious, in Germany, how’s the people’s attitude towards you using your own containers? Are they very confused when you ask them to use the container, or they take it very naturally?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: To be honest, I don’t know many people who do it from the customer side, but in terms of the shops, they’re really, really open to it. Like, some would refuse it, because they say: oh it’s not hygienic, but to be honest, the big majority, like 90% of places, they take it no questions asked. Which I think is… makes it easier because it’s… it does feel a bit awkward if you’re like doing something different than everyone else, right? So it’s nice when they just accept it and they don’t make a fuss about it. So yeah.

Alicia Lee: Yeah. Yeah. I think in Singapore it was similar. I think, before the pandemic… Like in Singapore, takeaway culture is very prevalent. So people just very unconsciously take away a lot of food in plastic containers. So all that plastic waste piles up. So I think during the COVID lockdown, the government kind of encouraged people to try to bring their own reusable containers. So people started becoming more conscious of using reusable containers. So it was kind of interesting to see that transition, for me.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s actually quite cool. I mean, one other example is, it’s still related to coffee, but let’s say you don’t have your takeaway cup. I mean, sometimes it’s okay to just sit in the coffee place for five minutes. Just drink the coffee from the cup, like from an actual cup, you know, that gets washed. I mean, of course, I understand with COVID now and places being closed, that may not be possible. But I think that’s also something you forget that it literally,… drinking a coffee from a cup, doesn’t take that much of your day and it’s actually kind of nice, you know.

Alicia Lee: Yeah, it’s a nice way to slow down and kind of enjoy and savor. Yeah.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. 

Alicia Lee: Yeah. So I think,… I think you might have touched on this previously, but as you mentioned one way that we can reduce our waste is to buy less in the first place. So like Catherine mentioned last week before we buy something, take a second and think again, whether or not we actually need this object, or for being maybe tricked by marketing campaigns. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, that’s a good one. And talking about marketing… well, actually it has nothing to do with marketing. I think one… one thing that is also… that you can do is to support businesses that actually make an effort in reducing waste. There are zero waste shops that their whole purpose is to avoid waste. Of course, if you buy at those shops, not only are you avoiding waste but you’re also supporting a store with a really good mission. 

Alicia Lee: Yeah. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Maybe one thing to add: Why are we talking about reducing and refusing in the first place? Well, obviously, if you don’t buy something, or you buy less of something, that means you’re avoiding the footprint of producing that item, of using that item, and of wasting that item. So everything you don’t buy has a positive climate impact.

Alicia Lee: Right. In the upcoming interview, Evelina and Malin mention this very shocking statistic to me. Two-thirds of all materials are wasted during, I think, production, and then after that, after we use it right another further 90% is wasted again. So I think that was quite shocking for me that so much of the energy and materials is simply production. And then after that, another 90% is wasted.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. That was one really cool snippet from the interview we had with Evelina and Marlin. We invited them because they host the Love Zero Waste podcast. So when it comes to reducing who better to talk to, than zero waste experts. So yeah, without further ado, let’s jump into the interview. 

Interview with Evelina Lundqvist & Malin Leth: 7:51

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’re speaking with Malin Leth and Evelina Lundqvist today. They’re hosting the Love Zero Waste podcast, and we’re very excited to speak to you today. Welcome. 

Evelina Lundqvist: Thank you. Thank you so much for having us. – low

Malin Leth: Hi. Thank you for having us.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Maybe we can start with the two of you introducing yourselves and what you do? Malin, would you like to go first?

Malin Leth: So my name is Malin Leth. I’m one of the hosts of the podcast Love Zero Waste, so really nice being on the other end as well. I’m based in Sweden. I work mainly with facilitating both dialogue but also strategies for market transformation towards a circular society, may that be in terms of zero waste, or sustainability, mainly on this national level in Sweden but also regional level. Over to you, Evelina.

Evelina Lundqvist: That was such a brilliant introduction. My name is Evelina Lundqvist, and I’m also Swedish like Malin, but I’m based in Austria, close to Vienna. I run a company called The Good Tribe, and I’m working as a consultant within business development and communication. I’m working quite broadly with sustainable development and I really… I really like that approach, but at the moment, a lot of my awake hours are dedicated to zero waste and circular economy. So we really complement each other in a very good way, Malin and I and we’ve been hosting the Love Zero Waste podcast together now for two and a half years! It’s crazy. 

Malin Leth: Yeah. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Very cool.

Alicia Lee: Malin, could you tell us what Zero Waste means to you in perhaps one or two sentences? 

Malin Leth: Maybe the shortest explanation would be zero waste is what it stands for, so it’s no waste. That would be like the super, super short explanation.

Alicia Lee: So, in medicine, a lot of times, waste is generated for hygienic reasons. So given these circumstances, do you think it’s possible to even have zero waste?

Malin Leth: I think it is possible, we just need to shift the mindset of how we see the materials that we are using for it to become a waste for medical reasons. It could still be something that we throw away, but at least we could maybe recycle it, or recover it, or compost, instead of having it for landfill, or dumping. So I would say that zero waste is possible. We just need to rethink how we use materials for the products that we usually are wasting.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That’s actually a surprisingly positive outlook, I expected you to say: “Oh, in some cases we can’t avoid it”, but it’s really interesting that you actually say: “No. We think that it is possible if you think about it in the right way.”

Malin Leth: Yeah.

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah, I think, as of now, today, if you would try to go zero waste, it would be quite challenging because we’re so dependent on so many materials and so many ways of conducting our lives. Even though there are estimates that we could basically reduce 90% of the waste today, and it would be possible, but it really… it takes a lot of courage to change in order to do that. 

Alicia Lee: What do you think are the biggest causes of waste? 

Evelina Lundqvist: I think our way of life, the way that life on Earth among humans have transitioned over the last 50, 60 years with the invention of plastic, as we know it. Maybe it even started earlier than that. With pollution in all kinds of ways from mines, for example, or harbours, or in other ways. We have a really bad way of treating the planet as I’m sure all of your listeners are aware of. 

So definitely the biggest challenge is the way that we conduct our lives and the way that we conduct business. Because so many businesses out there are oblivious to, or ignoring the fact that they are destroying the planet with the way that they are doing business. And then they’re also pushing the responsibility onto us as consumers of solving their incapability of designing products that are zero waste. They are encouraging us as consumers to reduce our consumption reuse the stuff we have, recycle which is a huge topic and it’s not really working. I think that’s also a really big part of the zero waste movement to push responsibility back to where it belongs. It belongs with governments, it belongs with large corporations, it belongs with the big actors in society. And of course, we as consumers, we also have a lot of purchasing power, for example, there is this expression of ‘voting with your dollar’ that we can change through that, but there is a lot of work to be done.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I actually quite liked what you said that waste is not just what we think of it as plastic waste for example, but that pollution is also a type of waste. I also appreciate that you say, you know, so often, especially in the sustainability scene we kind of make other people guilty for creating waste, but as you pointed out, the biggest impact is actually made by policy decisions and companies.

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah, they have a huge responsibility also within the zero waste movement. And there is a lot of discussion on individuals, assuming responsibility and what everything that we can do in our homes and in our workspaces, or university, but we have to remember also where the trash from, why these products land in our hands with waste that we have to take care of. Why can’t companies design products that are already zero-waste when they come to us when we purchase them?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I can relate to that very much. Trying to live a sustainable life is really, really hard when you just don’t have the options to select from, as a consumer.

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah.

Malin Leth: We always try to lift the discussion in the perspective towards a systems change even though it’s from an individual stance, or if it’s from the corporate sense. We always try to make a shift in the discussion and this individual burden of responsibility, it’s not working. We really, really need to emphasize on the need for individuals to see ourselves as changemakers, whether it’s in our private homes as Evelina said, but it’s obviously not enough and it’s not the starting point. Then, what could we be able to do if we are at our work, in the office, or if you are in the university where we’re studying. Wherever we are outside of our homes, we could most definitely make a difference. We could even try to affect the local policymaking. There is so much we can do, we just need to rethink the rules we have when we are not in our private spaces.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. To look beyond just what we can do in our homes, most people work for companies, what can they do within those companies, what can we do in politics etc., that’s a nice perspective. But maybe circling back to what people can do in their private lives: Can you give our listeners a few pointers, of what they can do to help the Zero Waste effort?

Malin Leth: To support local business, I would say, would be the first one. Last fall, Evelina and I, we did this massive scan of zero waste movement in Europe, and there are so many local businesses that people even don’t think of exist. If it’s shopping, or it could be to engage in a community, or something, support, whatever there is that you have locally or close by. Because if you’re supporting that, and you are strengthening whatever movement there is that it’s close to your private space, I think, a momentum could be reached, of individuals trying to make a change. Evelina did you have anything else in mind?

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah, I’m thinking about the food waste issue. In our homes, food waste is a huge problem. I think it was such an interesting experience also for me personally during the first lockdown we had last year here in Austria. It was like the first time that we really spent so much time in the home, not going anywhere. And with that, our food waste dropped dramatically as… we are really careful with our food, to start with. But it was such an interesting experience because every day we could look at: What do we have in the fridge, in the freezer? What do we need to eat first? And then when the first long lockdown was finished, then it kind of increased in food waste again, immediately. Even though we didn’t really see friends or anything, there was kindergarten again and there were some elements coming into our lives and we started losing focus of what we needed to do with the food. And that was really a great learning experience for me to keep track of what we have in the fridge.

For me, food is so interesting because when we throw away food, it’s so much waste in that. We’re wasting calories that somebody could make good use of. We’re wasting the energy that was put into the whole production chain. We’re just throwing it out.  And for me, that’s really a no go also when… in normal times when you see friends or family or even go to restaurants. When I see that people throw away a lot of food that’s really like: oh, I need to hold myself… I need to hold myself back so that I’m, like, not being socially destructive. But that’s really something that I think we can all do. Because I mean, we all eat food, so we can be careful what we put on our plates and that we finish everything. I mean there’s so much we can do, but those things are really something to start with.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Those are two very actionable pieces of advice. One is: Support your local Zero Waste stores. So wherever you live, see what you have close to you. There might be zero waste shops that you’re not even aware of. And then the other thing is: Don’t waste this precious food that you have in your fridge.

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah, with that also comes, for example, farmers markets to really support local movements like that, or often there are food collectives. No. What is it called when people go together, form an association and buy food together in bulk? That’s the kind of a movement that is often there but it’s very much under the radar, I feel.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. 

Alicia Lee: Evelina, you touched a bit on the effects of food waste and how it wastes the energy and efforts and the resources put into growing the food. What’s the link between other types of waste and climate change?

Evelina Lundqvist: It’s almost like: What kind of waste is not related to climate change? I think that is maybe an easier question to answer. No, but I think that we know that two-thirds of all materials that are put into the global economy every year are wasted. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Wow!

Evelina Lundqvist: Two thirds! That is absolutely crazy. And that goes from the whole mining industry, that’s forestry, that’s building and construction, which is a huge part of the waste pile. And this kind of waste is a small emission beginning, it’s dumped, it’s dispersed into nature as pollutants, a small part of it is also put into landfills, and incinerated. So you can imagine the whole effort in terms of energy, for example, it takes to extract all of these raw materials and work these raw materials into whatever. We need clothes, we need buildings, we need cars, whatever that we need. And then also the waste. That we actually destroy materials, we put them into landfills, or we disperse them into nature, we burn it, and then we have this sludge, kind of ashes that future generations need to then pick apart to figure out, like, how can we extract all these raw materials. So you have impact on the climate contributing to the climate crisis, all across the board. That’s how massive this problem is and that is also why we are all needed in our private lives, in businesses, in governments. We are all needed to solve this problem.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I do think that is a mind boggling number. You said two thirds of all materials are wasted, right?

Evelina Lundqvist: Yeah. Yeah.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: That is just crazy.

Evelina Lundqvist: And only 10% of all materials are then circled back into the economy every year, for example, wastewater that is then treated and then put back into use. And we’re making it very, very difficult for ourselves in terms of also in the future then recovering these materials or plastics or whatever it might be.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah.

Malin Leth: Yeah, as Evelina mentioned, there are so many layers of this problem. We believe that if we’re not seeing the waste, then it might just not be a problem anymore but it is. We’re also looking a lot at recent science that have been investigating the role of microplastics and nano plastics speeding up the warming of our oceans and thus contributing to climate change. It’s a problem that’s so insane. Most scientists that we have been talking with have said, the vast majority of what we don’t know or understand the effects of yet from our operations is what actually scares them the most.

Evelina Lundqvist: That is also why even though it’s super important, everything that we can do in our private lives and the role models that we can be and to show others that it’s possible to live a kind of low waste life, that’s also why it is so important to bring this question to a policy level. Even though it’s in your home municipality, for example. To really bring up these topics in your working place to the local authorities, because it’s so much bigger than we imagined at first.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I have nothing to add to that. I completely agree. I mean, I think, of course, we should all do what we can, you know, there’s so many people that demonstrate that zero waste life is possible, then I think that just generates momentum to then increase the pressure on, you know, policymakers, etc. 

I also wanted to circle back to something that Malin added earlier, just because I think it’s maybe something people don’t realize that much about waste is: On the one hand, it’s a waste of course to put all this energy into producing materials, which is then wasted, but that fact that the waste itself when it is in landfills, or in the oceans that it also emits greenhouse gases that are harmful to the climate. I think that’s very interesting that you have these two sides, you know. It’s not just wasted energy in producing, but it’s also the actual waste that is harmful to the climate.

Malin Leth: Yeah and also like dealing with what we already have accumulating in our oceans, on our lands, it’s one thing if we would say that it would be possible to stop production and go zero waste tomorrow, but we still have a large load of bad practices from before that just have been accumulating and the effects of that is what we’re trying to understand. So it’s really a two-sided story. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Yeah. 

Alicia Lee: Yeah. I think both of you have given us a lot of very interesting oversight to zero waste, and how it affects us and the planet. If people are interested to learn more, where can they find you? 

Malin Leth: You can find us on any podcasting platform. We’re talking about zero waste and large scale systems change all the time. Some examples from an individual’s perspective, but more so on business development, large scale regions that are going for zero waste. Our name is Love Zero Waste. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Cool. And we will of course put some show notes, so everyone can find you. 

Malin Leth: Thank you! 

Alicia Lee: Thank you very much. We really appreciate you coming on and talking to us today.

Evelina Lundqvist: Thank you. I hope we didn’t… we didn’t talk about too many huge negative things, but I really want to press on the fact that there’s so much that we can do as individuals, in our homes and workplaces and local policymaking as well. There is so much potential and we’re all so needed in this process.

Malin Leth: Yeah. It’s so easy to think of corporates and governments as something that is so far away, but it’s so important to remember that organizations, they don’t make decisions. It’s the individuals in organisations. And those individuals could be just as you and I. So we have a large role to play, wherever we are. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Those are very beautiful words to end this interview on. Thank you very much for coming on. This was really, really insightful. And I hope our listeners will enjoy this as much as we did. 

Evelina Lundqvist: Thank you so much. 

Malin Leth: Thank you.

Discussion: 23:24

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I still find that number that they said, you know, two thirds of all materials being wasted – every time I hear it, it still boggles my mind.

Alicia Lee: That’s crazy. I think another interesting thing she mentioned was that supporting local is… is not just a socially, you know, nice thing to do, it enables the smaller players, the smaller shops better to adopt and respond to more sustainable measures.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I like that perspective as well, but also that advice of like just, you know, google your city and zero waste and see what comes up.

Alicia Lee: It’s interesting to me how they emphasize that, of course, it’s very important, all of us do what we individually can to take responsibility for our individual actions, but we also need to kind of think about beyond what can we do at home, and also think about what can we do to push the whole system, and maybe in our office, or in school. And how can we kind of push forward the whole system to move towards zero waste.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I actually… That’s also something I wrote down that… what can we do in the office? Just asking your company that you work for: Hey, what can we do to have less waste? I think it can be really impactful.

Alicia Lee: And, I think one thing you mentioned in the interview, which is very good to keep in mind, is that waste not only has environmental impact from piling up in landfills and disposal, but it also emits greenhouse gases. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword that it’s affecting us. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Yeah, so much about reducing and trying to be zero waste, but of course, there are cases sometimes where you do need to buy something. And this is what we will be talking about next week. If you have to get something, is there a way to do this without necessarily buying something new? And there’s actually lots of ways, so stay tuned for next week’s episode.

Alicia Lee: And just before we go, a quick reminder, if you could please take just one minute of your time and help to fill out our survey, it’d be very helpful for us. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you. Bye-bye. 

Alicia Lee: Bye. See you next week.