I am so excited about this latest South African zero waste feature; Cape Town (and I think South Africa’s) first zero waste store!
Barry lives in Cape Town with his wife, Claire, and he opened his first travelling Zero Waste Store last month. Born and bred in KwaZulu Natal, and relocated to Cape Town early this year. According to Barry, he is just your average Joe trying to do his bit to live more sustainably and provide solutions to others who are looking to do the same. I chatted to Barry a couple of times on the phone, back in May when Bea Johnson was here for her South Africa tour, and I was thrilled at his plans for opening a store and after much research and planning, he has done it! So inspiring.
Q & A with Barry Forbes of Zero Waste Store
How did you find out about zero waste living?
I am a big fan of Ted Talks and by chance came across Bea Johnson’s and Lauren Singer’s talks. My mind was blown, I had no idea that there was this whole movement happening across the world.
When did you start your zero waste journey?
I was fortunate to have been brought up in a home where recycling was a way of life. It wasn’t until a number of years ago that through some research I discovered that recycling was not as ‘green’ as I presumed it to be. This resulted in a few small changes like using reusable shopping bags, buying fresh produce unpackaged from the local farmers market, bringing our own cup’s for coffee etc. I was quite proud of the fact that we were only filling a quarter of bin bag a month. Little did I know the bench market was way less than that. Anyway, we carried on doing what we were doing without giving it much thought. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year when I had my ‘midlife crisis’ (as my wife calls it), that resulted in me quitting my job and seeking to pursue a career that resonated with my core beliefs. After watching those Ted Talks I was led to do more researching and I was astounded to see that there was a movement of change that was growing internationally. I knew at that point that I was somehow going to be part of this change I just didn’t know the details.
What drives you to continue with this lifestyle?
I think it’s the same for most of us, the realisation that the way we are living is completely unsustainable and if we continue down this path then there will be no future for any life on this earth. Coupled to this is a strong desire to influence others, it’s no longer just about how can I make changes but how can I get others to change.
Is everyone in your household on board and if not, how do you deal with this?
My wife has been incredibly supportive through the process. She is a bit of a health nut (sorry sweetie) so for health reasons she was the initial instigator for filling our own jars, instead of storing in plastic. This made it so much easier to transition to buying in bulk. I must admit to being very pedantic at times, which can annoy the heck out my wife, but we work through it and figure out a happy medium. We are by no means the model zero wasters and still on the journey to zero but working on it together.
What made you decide to start your zero waste business?
Since leaving my previous job I have been dabbling in a number of different prospective businesses in sustainability. A zero waste store was always on the list but for financial reasons it was at the bottom. It has been an amazing journey with all these little synchronicities that fortunately bumped the zero waste store to the top of the list and has steered me to where I am today.
One of the main driving forces though is a desire to create solutions and be a positive influencer for change.
What is your biggest struggle with the lifestyle?
It was finding unpackaged dry goods, but now that I have a whole lot of bulk for the business I can shop zero waste whenever I want. The other biggest struggle is looking beyond what we buy, in terms of waste and sustainability. What goes on behind the scenes that we don’t see? It is an emotional struggle for me knowing that ultimately, with our population as it is, sustainability is only a dream. It has just meant trying to make an informed decision, making a few tradeoffs to minimize our impact and hoping that all the small changes will make a difference.
What would you say has been your best discovery thus far?
Not with packaging waste but energy is the Wonder Bag. Maybe not great that they are filled with polystyrene but it certainly saves a whole lot of energy. Living in a small apartment the Bokashi composting system has been great.
The other one would be the EcoBrick, a great way to divert all non-recyclables away from landfills. My aim… to build a dog house for a Chihuahua by 2050!
What advice would you give to someone who is on the zero waste journey and is feeling like giving up?
Show them a few videos or stats on how we are all doomed if we don’t start making changes. Rather not though, I am not a fan of scare tactics, it just creates negativity, gets people focusing on the problem and not working on solutions. The best advise would be to just do what you can with what’s available to you. It’s the small changes that can make a big difference. Also to not try compete with the Joneses (or in the zero waste world, the Johnson’s). We all tend to set ourselves bench marks for success graded on what others are doing or what others might think. Rather do it for yourself and know that you might not get it right all the time and that is ok. The term zero waste can also be intimidating so explaining that this is the ultimate but not going to happen overnight, take baby steps and enjoy the process.
What packaged items are not worth sacrificing, for you?
Toothpaste for now, but still insist on an earth friendly product, my favorite at the moment is Pure Beginnings, because it’s local and organic. For my wife it’s probably the contact lenses.
Do you have a recipe or tip you would like to share?
Tip for cleaning labels off bottles (been doing a lot of this lately for the shop). To start, either scrape off with a blade or soak in hot water, soap and vinegar. Once the label has softened, peel or scrape off as much as you can. Then equal parts olive oil and bicarb onto the residual glue. Let it sit for a bit, then scrub off with steel wool.
For fresh produce bags I reuse orange sacks. The small sacks are perfect but the full size sacks can be cut in half to give two medium sized bags.
Where are the best spots to get package free goods in your town?
Well, to shamelessly promote my own business, the Zero Waste Store at Earth Fair Market in Tokai on Wednesday and Saturday. My range is limited due to space but really excited for the future of package free shopping in Cape Town. We have 4 others starting up including Low Impact Livings Package Free Food and Lifestyle co-op, Take Outs From Nature, Shop Zero and another still to be named. Super exciting times.
For fresh produce I try support local small businesses but failing that I shop at Food Lover’s Market, biggest variety of unpackaged produce plus it is weighed at the counter so no labels are printed.
I feel truly blessed to be a part of this movement. I have struggled my whole life with finding purpose and finally feel I have arrived. It has been incredibly inspiring to interact with people through the shop. To see how many understand why we need to change and are welcoming solutions. I am infinitely grateful for all those who have supported me and inspired me on my journey. Lastly, well done to all those that are part of this change, whether you are an activist or just making a commitment to use reusable shopping bags, every bit counts.
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So inspiring! Thanks for sharing Colleen & best of luck, Barry. Really proud of you for following your dreams and passion!
Wonderful isn’t it!
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Hi. I can’t find you on facebook. Are you still operating?
Hi there, that post was from 2017 so outdated now. You can find a list of stores here, but I think even that is now needing updating! So many zero waste options available now. https://lifelivedsimply.co/2019/04/23/zero-waste-shopping-in-south-africa/