Inspiration from a zero-waste expert

Six years ago, Erin Rhoads ate plastic-packaged takeaway food and shopped online for fast fashion. Today, she can fit all the waste she creates in a year in a single jar.

From simple cleaning solutions to planning a zero-waste wedding, Erin shares everything she’s learnt on her journey through her blog, books, and at events like Melbourne Knowledge Week.

We asked Erin to share a little about how she lives waste-free in Melbourne.

What inspired you to embark on your zero-waste journey, and how has it changed your life?

I was inspired to try the zero-waste lifestyle after I watched The Clean Bin Project and took on the challenge to reduce my plastic use.

There were many unexpected benefits, such as eating healthy food, saving money, supporting my local community, finding joy in moments instead of things,  enjoying a slower paced life, and of course not taking the bin out.

At the beginning it was hard to give up junk food. I had no idea how much processed food I ate until I tried to reduce my packaging waste.

Over time it gets easier to live without Tim Tams and chips, then one day it’s not missed anymore. Now I prefer to visit a bakery or local maker for a treat, using my own containers or bags.

A person shops for fruits and vegetables

Erin shops for waste-free produce at Il Fruttivendolo, a stall at Queen Victoria Market

What would you say to someone who wants to create less waste? Where’s a good place to start?

Up to 40 per cent of what we put into our bins is made up of food scraps, leftovers and forgotten food.

This organic matter doesn’t break down in landfill as it’s not exposed to air or the microorganisms needed for it to decompose naturally. Instead it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Sitting down to write a shopping list is a great first step to reduce food waste, keeping in mind ingredients that can be used over several meals.

A shopping list will help you stop grabbing food you don’t need or buying items on sale that you might use, but probably won’t.

Don’t forget to write down what fruit and vegetables you already have at home to stop you from buying more.

It’s so easy to go on autopilot reaching for something like carrots when you might have two at home that need to be eaten.

You can set up a composting system if you have a larger yard, while worm farms and bokashi bins are ideal for smaller homes or apartments. When food scraps are composted they are no longer waste, instead they become food for the soil.

If you can’t compost at home, the ShareWaste website allows you to log on and search their area for others in the community who would like to accept food waste.

Keep food scraps in the freezer between drop offs to reduce the smell.

Two people fill reusable wine bottles from a barrel

ReWine, located in A Shed at Queen Victoria Market, sells wine straight from the barrel in refillable bottles

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the issue of waste. What is your mindset about this?

I am feeling optimistic about the future, knowing people can change and that businesses do want to do the right thing.

It would be great to see State and Federal governments help move this along, especially when it comes to providing education for businesses and the general public.

What is your vision for the future of waste-free living in our city and beyond?

I’m looking forward to the day when it’s not uncommon to bring your own containers, bags and bottles to be refilled anywhere and for people to sit down to enjoy a meal or coffee without running around in a hurry.

There would also be places to refill personal care items like toothpaste, deodorant and makeup.

I’d love to see public composting facilities in the city and everyone recycling less, because we are refilling, reusing and reducing more.

Everything would be repairable with business invested in helping customers look after their stuff. Second-hand shopping would be more mainstream and popular.

There would be no single-use plastics littering our streets, and the next generation won’t be left to pick up after us because we (consumers, businesses and government) took responsibility now to make a change.

A person fills a reusable container with liquid soap

Find unpackaged soap and refillable products at The Soapbox, located in Queen Victoria Market’s Victoria Street terraces

For more of Erin’s zero-waste living tips, check out her blog, The Rogue Ginger, or her books: Waste Not and Waste Not Everyday.

Try a waste-free shopping trip
These photos show Erin shopping at the iconic Queen Victoria Market. The market is a great place to access unpackaged fruit and vegetables, and refill your own containers and bags.There are even traders offering refillable detergent, kombucha and wine. Why not try it and see how you go? Every action has an impact.

For more information, visit Reduce waste.