5 minutes with…Erin Rhoads

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This interview was originally conducted for, and appears on, the Loving Earth blog.

We sat down with Erin from ‘The Rogue Ginger‘ to chat about Erin’s own journey of zero waste living and her pursuit to live plastic free.

Where did you grow up and does Melbourne feel like home now?

I grew up in Moss Vale, New South Wales. A small country town sitting between Sydney and Canberra. While I love Melbourne there are times I long to swap the city for small town life again, especially as I get older. My husband is a born & bred Melburnian and I don’t think I’ll be able to convince him to make the tree change. Well, maybe if we find a small town within Victoria where there is consistent AFL coverage.

Any tips on how to stick to your values when travelling?

I like to remind myself that I’m a guest when I travel. And we all love guests who are kind and helpful, not messy and disrespectful. So I make sure the decision that none of my choices will leave a mess for those who live there permanently to clean up. I always make sure to take cloth shopping totes and reusable produce bags, along with a water bottle, container to avoid single-use plastics and a cutlery wrap full of regular cutlery. I also like to learn a couple of phrases like “no bag” and “no straw, please” when visiting foreign non english speaking country.

How have your views changed since starting the blog?

I’ve come to realise that far to much responsibility to “save the environment” has fallen on the consumers shoulders. We are the ones constantly expected to do the right thing, when really businesses can and should make changes. While voting with our dollars is important, it’s even more important to write letters demanding action be taken by businesses and government for change to happen fast.

What’s your favourite Nicholas Sparks book/movie?! (check out Erin’s blog here)

The Notebook, hands down for both book and movie.

Can you tell us the most frustrating thing you’ve found since going zero waste?

When people tell me they couldn’t make any of the changes I’ve made, while claiming their own personal actions wouldn’t matter anyway. Of course our individual actions matter and us humans are great at making changes when we are supported by one another without judgement. That’s one great thing about the zero-waste movement is the lack of judgement and support for doing the best you can to becoming a better custodian for the planet.

What was the best piece of advice your mum gave you?

See as much of the world as you can and do whatever you want that will make you happy. I’ve managed to do both. Thanks Mum!

You’re a parent to a nearly two-year-old, how has becoming a mum impacted your lifestyle?

Yes, becoming a mum has impacted my lifestyle but not to the level I was fearing. Right now he is little and I can still make a lot of decisions for him. When he is older I understand it will get harder to navigate once he’s in school surrounded by others who don’t follow our zero-waste lifestyle. I can only do my best and will strive to lead by example. Hopefully in three years time there would have been more changes and some of what we do will be embraced by more people.

What three things can people do right this minute to help move them closer toward zero waste?

Reduce how much food waste is going into your bin. Each year, one out of five shopping bags worth of vegetables, fruit and bread are put into the bin. Before doing the grocery shopping sit down and write a list, keeping in mind to choose ingredients that can be utilised over several meals. A shopping list will help you stop wandering supermarket aisles grabbing food you don’t need or buying items on sale that you might use, but probably won’t. And don’t forget to write down on the list 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.

With organic waste making up close to 40% of our bins, look into setting up a compost for a larger yard, while worm farms and bokashi bin are ideal for a smaller home or apartment. ShareWaste allows those without the option for the above 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 smell. When organics like food are in landfill they decompose slowly and producing harmful gases like methane and carbon dioxide, that adds to global warming. When food scraps are composted they are no longer waste, instead they become food for the soil. Use your new compost to help grow herbs and vegetables, preferably the ones you eat often.

Choose plastic free produce and buy fruit and vegetables loose, and not wrapped in plastic. Invest in reusable produce bags, either made from old sheets, sold in health food stores or found on Etsy. If plastic free produce are hard for you to find in your area join the #plasticfreeproduce campaign with activist Anita Horan. She offers materials on her website anitahoran.com to help you communicate to store owners you’d like food wrapped in its own natural skin and not plastic.

Is there anything that you’ve not yet been able to substitute or go without?

Not yet 🙂

What was the hardest thing to give up/reduce your use of?

Chips at the start but I got over that quicker than I thought I would. You just end up finding something else to snack on. Most bulk food stores have fun salty snacks. My favourite is murukku.

Who do you think is at the forefront of changing the way we live at the moment?

I think it’s the individuals in our communities who are standing up and asking for change at the forefront of a movement. We often want to look for celebrities making waves, and yes they can influence this in a big way. But often these movements begin in our local neighbourhoods. There is a wealth of people to connect with and learn from right here in our communities. Jump onto your local council website to see what free classes or workshops are happening around you. You might be inspired to run a workshop yourself.

Clare Press (Wardrobe Crisis and Rise & Resist), Sarah Wilson, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz (founder of Plastic Free July), Heidi Taylor (Tangaroa Blue), Bea Johnson, Beth Terry, Ronnie Kahn…and so many more!

What’s the most unexpected connection/ aha moment/ life hack you’ve experienced since starting your zero-waste journey…or in life generally?!

That i’m not just a consumer, i’m a citizen first, and I have the power to help dictate how our stuff is packaged and presented to us, where it comes from, who makes it and the conditions they are made under. Living zero-waste isn’t only about reducing waste, it’s also about reassessing everything we’ve been told is necessary to live a happy and fulfilling life.

The best and the worst thing about writing a book?

The worst thing would be when your publisher has sent it to the printer knowing you can’t make anymore changes. And the best is being told how helpful your book has been for people who thought their actions didn’t matter and now they feel more confident to be the everyday eco warrior our world needs.

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