The last straw: living zero-waste


The world is drowning in pre-packaged goods and single-use plastics, but some people are determined not to add to the rubbish pile, joining the burgeoning zero-waste movement.

#1 Straws suck. Credit_ Max La Manna
Straws are among the everyday household plastic items soon to be banned. Photo: Supplied

Gold Coaster Kimberly Hodgson, a recent devotee to the burgeoning zero-waste movement, grew up recycling as most people do, but never considered herself an environmentally conscious person.

Currently on tour as the understudy of Princess Jasmine in the national production of Aladdin, Ms Hodgson spends her days and nights doing high physical activity and has been living out of a suitcase for the past two years.

“I wear costumes worth millions of dollars. There is a lot of sanitary waste (to protect the outfits), which I thought was inevitable,” she said.

But a friend introduced her to a menstrual cup early this year as a way to reduce waste. She was sceptical, but found it effective. She did not anticipate how her life would change in the months that followed.


The 25-year-old performer said she cried after watching the ABC’s War On Waste series and was left shocked.

“It’s one of those things when you have no idea – it really opened my mind,” she said.

“I’m not a total convert (to zero waste) yet but I became so conscious about the way that I shopped and it got me thinking about how I could change the way I consume things.”

Where Kim can’t avoid waste, she looks for the next best option. Photo: Kim Hodgson

She said society had become desensitised to packaging, but once aware of the waste it was easy and convenient to avoid.

“Instead of buying the pre-packed apples, next to them are loose apples just as good that you can put straight into your basket or into your produce bag,” she said.

“Or instead of buying the box of 20 chip packets, buy a single family size or bulk size packet.

“I still buy corn chips and need snacks but I’m not near a bulk food store so I ask myself: how can I reduce my waste?”


So how close to zero is truly zero-waste?

Bea Johnson, who founded the zero-waste movement in 2008, said absolute zero is the goal.

“If you don’t have zero in your head then you won’t push things towards it,” she said.

“With no goal, when will you be satisfied? What is your objective?”

The Johnson family’s annual waste fits into a 500ml jar. Photo: Bea Johnson

Labelled the ‘priestess of waste-free living’ by the New York Times, Mrs Johnson’s family of fours’ annual waste fits into a 500ml jar – and decreases each year.

The only things it contains are items they could not Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle or Rot – the Johnson’s five rules to live by.

As an example, in 2018 the jar includes: the silicone carking from the back of the sink, stickers from fruit and veggies (something you can avoid by going to the farmers market), bristles from their bamboo toothbrushes that are not compostable, a single ear-phone from her eldest son, and her youngest son’s retainer.

“And that’s why it’s called the zero-waste lifestyle because we do aim at having that zero and we’re pretty darn close to it,” she laughs.


Don’t let being a meat-eater deter you from living zero-waste.

Mrs Johnson and her family are flexitarians, which means they are vegetarian on weekdays and eat meat or seafood on weekends or occasionally when they eat out.

The Johnson Family are determined to make the world cleaner and greener by living ‘a simple life’. Photo: Stephanie Rausser

The Los Angeles resident said people often think they must be vegan to go zero waste but she disagrees.

“I am here to say the zero waste movement is an inclusive club, not an exclusive club,” she said.

“It’s here with open arms to welcome anyone who is interested in it – whether you eat meat or don’t, whether you drive a car or ride a bike, earn lots or little…

“The lifestyle is here to welcome anyone and everyone.”

Mrs Johnson said their family tried veganism and it was not for them and so instead of refusing meat products all together, they reduce their intake and when there are bones from either fish or meat – they are compostable.


New York vegan zero-waste chef Max La Manna (@eatingwithmax) showcases the lifestyle to over 55k followers on Instagram.

“I’m prepared to take care of this planet. Everyday I am conscious of my decisions and choices and in doing so my actions can inspire and encourage others,” he said.

Vegan zero-waste chef Max La Manna. Photo: Supplied

The millennial talked about how moving from New York, where there is garbage and debris everywhere, to Bondi in 2016 shifted his mindset.

“I noticed a concern for the environment and people – they were reusing their cups and bowls, and it was the first time I heard ‘no straw please’ and it took me to this whole other way of life.

“We’re here on this planet and we’re only here for a short time – we need to protect and preserve it because if we don’t then we don’t have the opportunity to share it with others.

“… now we’re looking at other planets to live on and it baffles me to think what’s going change by living somewhere else if we don’t already care for where we are.”

Mr La Manna said by making small changes everyday a person could begin moving toward a zero-waste lifestyle, rather than expect to change overnight.

“It’s like a song, you don’t listen to the end of the song to understand the song – you listen from the beginning all the way until the end and you have this whole experience,” he said.


Starting as a vegetarian food blogger, Gold Coast local Larissa Tedesco’s Eat Yourself Green has shifted focus to zero-waste living after feedback from her subscribers.

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“It really is a lifestyle – it’s not just like being vegetarian, where you just don’t eat meat and that’s it,” she said.

“When you want to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle, you sort of have to see all the aspects of your life – where you go out, preparing to go out and your social interactions as well.

“I feel like you get so much more interesting because you’re finding new ways to do things and people start asking questions.”

Ms Tedesco said living waste-free simplified life.

“I remember my Nonna used to make her own soap and have her veggie patch and just made all her food from scratch – they lived such a wholesome life and they did it for years and years before us,” she said.

“Just in the recent decades we’ve forgotten that this way of living even existed.”

Going back to basics, becoming a thoughtful consumer, and cultivating conversation were the common threads amongst zero-wasters.

They each marvelled at the momentum the movement has gathered over the years.

“I hope it becomes something bigger and better and goes mainstream so people can see it as a feasible and accessible way of living their lives,” Ms Tedesco said.

“You see, less really is more.”

5 tips to help reduce your waste:

  1. Plastic shopping bags                    —–>     Reusable canvas/cotton shopping bags
  2. Plastic/disposable water bottle   —–>      Reusable glass/stainless steel bottle
  3. Disposable coffee cup                   —–>      KeepCup, reusable mug
  4. Plastic straws/cutlery                    —–>     Support places that use real cutlery/flatware
  5. Shopping often pre-packaged      —–>     Shop in bulk

Waste-free Friendly Shopping:

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