Last week I met another South African on their zero waste journey; Leigh-Ann of String Greens, and I just love what she is doing. Leigh-Ann lives in Umhlanga with her 8 year old golden retriever; Turtle. She is a Biodiversity Specialist and has very recently started her business, making biodegradable cloths and scourers, and she is already expanding her range!
Q & A with Leigh-Ann of String Greens:
How did you find out about zero waste living?
I stumbled across it. I have always been an environmentalist, and it seemed like the logical next step in my life.
When did you start your zero waste journey?
I started this year (gasp!). I always thought that I was making a difference in the work that I do (Biodiversity Specialist for Environmental Consulting). But I realised I had no control over what others did with my recommendations, and constantly felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough. It was then I decided to try to live a more meaningful and low impact life as much as possible.
What drives you to continue with this lifestyle?
I met Jane Goodall (my role model) when I was a university student and made a promise to her that I would do my best to save the world. I spent the remainder of my time at university trying to raise awareness of environmental issues. I then followed in my professional life by making recommendations for developments for offsets, conservation zones or areas, and avoidance of particularly sensitive areas. The result: I had no tangible proof that what I was doing was achieving anything at all. It was frustrating at best and heart breaking at worst. I have seen 60m tall trees in a rainforest in Liberia be felled in 5 minutes by a bulldozer. I finally realised that the satisfaction of achieving something that makes a difference could come from my own life. While I am not in the position to live my goals at this point (off-grid tiny house with a self-sufficient garden), I can live in a way that minimizes my personal impact on the earth. I am now vegan, and try to live as waste-free as possible.
This way of living is rewarding, and I finally feel like I am living up to that promise I made. I have found it to raise more awareness in people I know, and strangers who see what I am doing. The ripples are tangible and it makes me happy that people see what I am doing and adopt some of my habits. My way of living generates conversation, which generates awareness and achieves more than I ever could trying to force people to recycle, or recommend to mining companies that they should avoid particular trees.
Jane Goodall said: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” That quote is what I try to live by.
Is everyone in your household on board and if not, how do you deal with this?
This year has been odd for me, in that I have stayed with people: at first strangers in a house share, then friends, then my sister. None of these groups have been on board. But, by living my life gently and answering questions about it when asked, changes started to happen in each of these situations. Ripples.
What made you decide to start your zero waste business?
A number of factors! I was battling to find work as a freelance Biodiversity Specialist due to issues in the industry. I started living zero waste and found it near impossible to find things that would fit my new lifestyle that were both beautiful, high quality (zero wasters need things to last!), made from entirely natural fabrics and fibres (no polyester here!) locally sourced and helped someone, instead of enabling a throw-away economy. And I was bored! So String Greens was born and has grown from there.
What is your biggest struggle with the lifestyle?
Explaining to people who ask that you can make a difference by taking small steps. No one needs to start by having one waste jar each year! I am not at that point yet myself.
What would you say has been your best discovery thus far?
The community! As I made my transition at the same time as becoming a vegan (cold turkey!) I discovered the communities at the same time. Where the vegan community is unsupportive, damning and judgemental in the main, the zero waste community is supportive, friendly, and incredibly helpful. They have made this easy, fun and I have really felt like part of a movement.
What advice would you give to someone who is on the zero waste journey and is feeling like giving up?
I would say that even a little bit makes a difference. In this way of living, mistakes are almost impossible to avoid. Forgive yourself those mistakes, view it as a learning experience and make a better choice next time. Just do what you can.
What packaged item/s are not worth sacrificing, for you?
Well, even my bamboo toothbrush comes in packaging, even though it is a compostable cardboard box! Even though I wish this wasn’t the case, most things come in packaging. I use items that are packaged in cardboard or glass and avoid plastic.
I will say that as someone battling depression my whole life, sometimes looking after myself is too challenging and I need a meal that is healthy and already made. I do sometimes buy packaged soup for those days I can’t handle it. That being said, I used to get more ready meals (Woolies) but being vegan has pretty much negated all those options!
Most things can be found unpacked, or in cardboard. If I really can’t find something that I need (need, not want) in a package-free alternative then I do buy it.
Do you have a recipe or tip you would like to share?
Making my own wraps changed my life. They are so easy! Just flour, salt and enough water to make dough you can roll out. Divide into balls to make wraps the size you would like and roll out (mine are never a circle they tend to be blobs). You can add a bit of olive oil or melted butter to the dough and fry over a medium-high heat until it puffs up, and then turn. They are delicious and so much better than the ones that come in packaging. I have used these as wraps and pizza bases. Lots of butter gives you a roti, less oil and you get a tortilla.
Where are the best spots to get package free goods in your town?
In Cape Town, when I lived in Noordhoek, I would go to the best little roadside veggie market run by Jardim. The Foodbarn has great bread, rolls and treats.
In the Southern Suburbs there is Food Lover’s Market Tokai, the Tea Merchant in Cavendish Square for tea, Lush for cosmetics (though later I switched to Botanical Buddha products).
Now that I am in Umhlanga, I have discovered Sun Sun Fresh Market for tofu and Chinese vegetables, Food Lover’s Market for quick unpackaged basic fruit and veg, my faithful Tea Merchant, and Gorima’s Culinary for spice mixes.
More recently (I say that but I have only been here for a month) in Hillcrest opposite the Hillcrest Private Hospital: The Mushroom Farm, which has a great little fruit and veg shop which stocks water kefir (yay!), kombuchu and kimchi all in glass along with some amazing veggies that are super cheap, and unpackaged brown and button mushrooms at the mushroom farm itself.
Zero waste tends to force us to be mindful, and living life mindfully brings a value to life that you can get no other way. You are challenged to find unpackaged food but what you find are the freshest vegetables, sudden healthy eating, the super power of inspiring change and the calmness that comes from knowing what you are doing is achieving something. It is worth taking the time to find zero waste veggies, fruit, food because in doing so you will change the way you look at the world, the way you look after your body and, best of all, create ripples of change. Aim for the ripples.