Group Transport Excellence Manager
Illovo Sugar Africa
Matt and his family are passionately pursuing a zero waste lifestyle at their home in South Africa, producing only four bags of landfill rubbish every year. We caught up with Matt to find out what instigated the start of this journey, as well as how he’s gone about this transition and how he’s sharing his story to inspire others to do the same. Matt comments:
Four years ago when my son was born, my wife and I started to think about what kind of planet we’d be leaving behind for him and what we’d teach him that is important to our family. It was this conversation that instigated us to start making small but important changes to our daily routine as a family.
We wanted to minimise our impact on the planet and part of this meant setting out what we wanted to achieve on an annual basis and each year reviewing where we could next make a change.
“Once you get into the zero waste thinking then you’ll always feel like you’re not doing enough”
A zero waste mindset
I’m a huge believer that small incremental changes all add up to be something much greater. So with this in mind, we started out by taking our own recyclable carrier bags and containers to the supermarket. Reusing them each time we went shopping, avoiding the need to buy fresh produce in plastic packaging (see photo at end). I must admit, many places aren’t set up to cater for this yet but we stuck with it and were surprised by how much less plastic we collated each week as a result.
We started out by doing this only with food, then moved onto other household products before considering household utilities. For example, in our home all non-drinking water taps use collected rainwater that’s treated three times before use. We’ve also had solar panels installed to become less reliant on central power services.
One area in particular that I wanted to consider was the fact that I have to travel for work. So for getting to and from the office I use a lighter emission car. But for the flights I take, I’ve started to plant two fruit trees every time I go on an aeroplane (see photo). I started by planting in our own garden, then our parents’ gardens. Now, I plant them along the grass verges in our community or take the fresh produce to a community road-side stand so that others can benefit from the fruit grown. Over subsequent months, we’ve started to notice our neighbours planting herbs alongside the verges too. It’s definitely inspiring to see the ripple effect of action throughout our community.
Now, my focus has turned to how I can spread the message about what we’ve been doing in our local community, within my own network and wider. As the more people you have thinking twice before they buy single use plastic for example, or throw recyclables in the landfill, the better it is for the planet as a whole.
When I look back on our journey as a family, we have come a long way but initially it started out as small changes that we gradually built on over time. There are so many ways to start making a change and we can all do something to further the cause.
To help, here’s my top tips on some small steps to take to reduce your impact on the planet today:
- Recycle - buy reusable bags/packaging/cups, split your waste prior to recycling to understand what you’re buying the most of, reuse glass jars for storing dry foods instead of buying in plastic packaging
- Reduce – cut all unneeded packaging and try where possible to buy produce in its most natural form when shopping
- Reuse – find a new purpose for items, encourage community swaps as your unwanted items may be what someone else needs, make the practice of “multi-use” a key purchase decision
It’s not about a few people doing zero waste perfectly, you need lots of people using less, producing less and consuming less.
Every small action counts and I hope you’ll be inspired by our family story to consider your own impact on the planet.