Ambassador Spotlight: Creating Less Waste In Senegal

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. In this post, Brenna Walsh, shares her story of living with less waste while in Dakar, Senegal! 


I am new to the Ambassador Program and wanted to use my first few posts to take the opportunity to discuss the experience of trying to live creating less waste in Dakar, Senegal. I have been living here for almost five months now and am actually doing an internship with a local NGO who focuses on implementation of sustainable waste management systems in Senegal. This is my first opportunity to work in development as well as in waste management, and my first experience living in a developing country so needless to say I am learning A LOT! I am trying to soak as much in as I can in and pass some of my observations along in my last month here. After this I will be moving back to Montreal, Canada and continuing to try to purposefully make less waste.  


Through my job I have gotten to learn a lot about the quality of door to door waste pick up services, persistence of wild dump sites in the country and the different initiatives, both grassroots and government led to valorize waste (including recycling, repurposing, composting etc.).

However, on a more personal level I have noticed quite a few differences in how waste in perceived which brings about some different discussion points when considering different common topics that come up in creating less waste. While I have been here I have been trying to be conscious of how much waste I have been creating, but keeping in mind some limitations. The first one is that I live in a house family- who also make me great Senegalese food every day- and the second being the fact that I am often at the edge of my comfort zone with the grand adventure that is living in Dakar, so I have been trying not to give myself too much of a hard time when some creature comforts that happen to come in more packaging than I would usually like.   
One of the really great things about living in Dakar is that the best fresh produce which is available is sold package free on street corners all over the city.

I live in a neighbourhood called Mermoz, and there are 5+ fruit vendors and 5+ vegetable vendors within a ten minute walk of where I live. However, once you get to the stage of buying the produce, one of the large (at least to me) conundrums of life in Senegal is literally presented. Even if you are just buying a single apple, the produce will be put in a small plastic bag, which is even as single use bags come, really bad quality. I was actually warned about these bags before my arrival (weird discussion point, I know, but they are omnipresent). However, I do always try to bring my own bag for produce and the vendors are usually quite happy to put the items in my bag, plastic free. Though there is a bit of a language barrier as the common language I have with most people here is French, almost always both my and their second language I am always buoyed by even the few sentence exchanges I have with people when they recognize that I’m trying to not take a bag as it's better for the environment.


There are many other items which are available both packaging free and which support the local economy, which is always a plus such as abundant bar soaps and homemade jams and chutneys. Re-use of glass jars in also prevalent, vendors selling fresh roasted nuts in a repurposed wine bottle are almost as frequent as those selling produce. Staples like rice are also often sold in large quantities, on the last trip I was on for work we were tasked with buying two 50 kilo bags of the local rice from the community we were visiting for the family I am living with. Even after they are used to store this large quantity of rice the bags are often reused, or used as a garbage bag. So, there are quite a few items which are available either packaging free or with minimal packaging. 
However, there is also a significant presence of packaged items here which are intended for single use, and quite a few of the common items are not typically sold in single use/single serving quantities. Coffee is available in one of two ways. If you buy it on the go, you can buy coffee on the street which comes in espresso sized plastic cups.

Not great for reuse and are kind of thought of as small and inconsequential and are therefore often tossed on the side of the road. The most common option if you are making coffee at home is a single serving sachet of instant coffee. I have these quite regularly and they kind of give me nightmares about coffee pods, but I will not get off on this tangent. Another example that comes to mind is one day that I was making fruit juice with the house family that I live in. We had added the juice, some sugar from a bulk size bag and a couple shakes of vanilla extract, so seemed good to me. However, the last ingredient was some sort of vanilla sugar, which came in tiny packs the size of a salt sachet you may see in a fast food restaurant.

We opened ten of these to put in the juice. Needless to say I was quite confused. Since then, I have noticed quite a few items available in very small packages (I think I saw sachets of baking soda the other day, but I am not quite sure) in the grocery and corner stores. I guess it should not be surprising that the items that come packaged for single serving or as single use differ from those that are seen as more standard at home. It does seem that both here and in Canada, the use of single use or single serving size packaged items are mainstream due to convenience and habit. 


I have been trying to be conscious of my own consumption while here and though I do think the guy who runs the frozen yogurt shop in my neighbourhood may think I am crazy as I keep showing up with their branded plastic container to put my froyo in (it is on to its fourth use now!) Formal recycling is very limited here, and it is surprising how quickly guilt builds up when throwing out plastic containers. I haven’t bought any containers for snacks however and now have a small collection of containers that I have saved from the trash for bringing trail mix, crackers and carrots on day trips etc.  I think that there is potential for momentum to reduce the amount of waste which is being produced at the level of the individual here.

A lot of the habits relating to the convenience of single use which I present in Canada are present here as well and like there a lot of single use items could be swapped out fairly simply. Another aspect that could be interesting to bring into focus could be how to highlight the value of things like buying a single 50 kilo bag of rice instead of buying a plastic sack of rice one kilo at a time, which is the way most families in Canada currently purchase this type of commodity. This habit has been lost in development and it would be really interesting to figure out how to sustain this in this society where this practice is still common. 

Toy Librarians on a Mission to Build Community and Reduce Waste

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. Our Ambassador, Bobbie, shares her recent conversation with the Minneapolis Toy Library! 

Toy Librarians on a Mission to Build Community and Reduce Waste

Tucked in a small side entrance of a Lutheran church basement in Minneapolis, Minnesota sits 1,400 toys and counting; a collection that is rotated, reused and loved by 165 members of the Minneapolis Toy Library.  I met with Rebecca Nutter, co-founder and toy expert of the organization, to hear about how three moms operate their library with a mission to reduce waste, promote child development and build their community.

The library was born from a realization that a child’s interests change quickly and acquiring enough stuff to keep up is overwhelming.  Looking for a way to embrace minimalism as a solution led them to the toy library concept, and a timely grant opportunity that focused on local community projects was their ticket. A grant application, a website, social media presence and a call out to volunteers recruited the full founding team and a first concept meeting.  After 9 months of planning, pondering and dreaming, the toy library opened.  It started out as a service brought into local libraries, and when hauling the toys got to be too much, they opened their own space in Rebecca’s garage—right next to the family vehicles. Before long, they decided to upgrade to a bigger space.

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Between grants and membership fees (for which they offer a sliding scale), the founders were able to acquire half of a church youth room for $200 a month.  Rebecca said they really struggled to find a location on their modest budget and looked to churches knowing a lot of them had unused space and could use rent money.  Their inventory was originally tracked by paper and pencil, and is now stored on an application designed by Rebecca’s husband.  The batteries used in the electronic toys are donated by a member’s workplace.  The shelving and fixtures that line the library were donated or found discarded in alleys.  “It’s been a labor of love”, Rebecca says.  They found support in their member community and their network of toy librarians, and stayed true to their minimalist philosophy.  

I asked Rebecca how that philosophy transferred to her kids when they learned that they’d be purging all of their toys at the start of the library’s operations.  She said that she was raised to believe that she didn’t need a lot of stuff, and she instilled that concept with her kids at a young age.  They’ve learned how to be resourceful with other things.  A cardboard box for instance, or a basket of unused fabric.  Her daughter, Rebecca tells me, recently made a cape out of a piece of fabric, and kept herself busy with just that.  She expects that her kids will be bored from time to time, but that is where she believes creativity comes from.  

Rebecca admits, however, that all kids are different and giving up toys can be difficult.  All of the founders purged their houses when the library started, and she suggests that the transition can be easier when you talk to your kids about how much other kids can enjoy their toys.  Rebecca and her kids do things outside the home to stay busy.  She takes them to the zoo and the library, and they play outside all summer.  She believes that it is also important for parents to model resourceful behavior.  Her kids often see her donating to Goodwill or shopping secondhand.  Be slow about the change so that your kids can adjust, and give expectations, she suggests.  For instance, tell your kids that in two weeks, the family is going to donate their set of blocks, and give them time to process that.  If it helps, start by sharing and swapping toys with your neighbors so that the kids can get used to letting go before you start donating. 

Starting a toy library can be as simple as a network of neighbors getting together and realizing that they don’t all need a Little Tykes basketball hoop.  Their toy library has grown just by word of mouth, social media and flyers.  They’ve received three grants since they started and are otherwise running on the courteous donations of library members and others in the Minneapolis community.  Their latest grant, donated by Hennepin County Green Partners, will be used to continue education around recycling and reusing.  Rebecca says they teach their members about fixing broken toys rather than tossing them.  A trip to the hardware store and a little creativity has occasionally saved broken toys returned to their shelves.  The library has also hosted a successful childrens’ shoe swap, they recently partnered with Terracycle to collect 32 pounds of broken toys, and they are currently collecting crayons to be recycled through The Crayon Initiative.  They’ve got a few other ideas in the works, Rebecca says.  Hopefully one of those is a sister branch for their growing library!

To donate, become a member, or learn more about the library, visit www.mplstoylibrary.com or find them on Facebook or Instagram @mplstoylibrary.

Grocery Shopping with Less Waste | Part One: Safeway

I've joined a few other lovely low-waste ladies from Instagram to share some simple ways to make less trash at conventional grocery stores. 

Check out their websites below to learn more on what they will be sharing:

-East: Meredith of Meredith Tested will be profiling Trader Joe's, Costco, Hannaford Supermarket, and Wal-Mart.
-South: Manuela from Girl Gone Green will be going to Aldi, Publix, Thrive, and Wal-Mart.
-Midwest: Celia from Litterless will be going to Kroger, Jewel-Osco, and Wal-Mart.
-West: Andrea of Be Zero will be featuring Lucky's Market and Safeway
-Pacific: Kathryn of Going Zero Waste will be visiting Target, Grocery Outlet, and Wal-Mart.


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When taking steps to make less trash in the home (and in life), the biggest hurdle that comes up is food packaging. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to grocery stores with bulk bins, access to farmer's markets, or locally made items. 

One of the topics that gets missed the most when talking about zero waste ideas surrounding this lifestyle is that their is simple no zero waste economy. Trash happens. Packaging exists. Our current infrastructure is linear, which means we design products (from clothing to cookie packaging) with waste as an end product. We do not have the global infrastructure, laws, recovery systems, and consumer demand in place yet to support a zero waste (circular) economy. But we can live with a mindset that helps us dramatically curb our waste and become more resourceful, thrifty, community-centered, and most importantly material mindful. I believe collectively this mindset will help to push and move us forward in the right direction. 

With a circular mindset we can live our lives with dramatically less waste and bring about change through our consumer actions and voices. At Be Zero, we teach and inspire this circular mindset as a way to rethink how our actions interact with the world around us. 

In circular (zero waste) economies, trash is designed out of the equation. And everyone is on the same page about materials from the manufacturer, consumer, recover systems, and reapplication of materials. This is a very simplified look at it (I could talk for hours on this), so in the meantime know that you can do three things:

1. Rethink materials (under what is recyclable in your specific area)

2. Use less

3. Simplify 

Curbing our waste while grabbing our weekly grub isn't as hard as one might think. Much of the decision making comes down to looking at the packaging and also rethinking what we are buying in the first place. Most items in grocery stores today are unnecessary and expensive. And with a little time and shifting habits around you'll see that you'll be buying less, eating better, and making more quick and easy meals from simple ingredients. These are skills that everyone should have in their back pocket.  

I'm going to take you on a photo tour of our local Boulder Safeway. I'm going to share some ideas with you to help you think about packaging and product and where to rethink purchases with the end goal of reducing your personal waste stream while at the grocery store. 

The photos I'm going to present are simply for guiding - not exactly what to buy. I went through each aisle basically looking for examples of low-waste packaging. These items don't reflect my personal purchases or diet - not that it should matter to anyone. 

Boulder, Colorado 

Boulder, Colorado 

Remember! Grocery stores are different from city to city. And they often cater to the vibes of that city. Here in Boulder, people are generally eco-conscious and focus on natural health and well-being. That being said, this Safeway reflects those qualities with a quarter of the store dedicated to natural and organic foods. As you can see from the photo below. 

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So let's start in the produce section. As you can see there are plenty of unpackaged items! Now produce can be expensive so learning how to extend and do more with produce is key (which is also another topic). But my advice is to stick with seasonal as much as you can and remember there is a lot you can do with onions, potatoes, garlic, and simple greens. 

Tips for produce:

  • Bring your own cloth or mesh bag!
  • Prolong veggie/produce life with natural food wraps like these, these, and these
  • Get resourceful and thrifty with produce | think about at least 2 different way to use an item in two different meals. 

The image below shows packaged and unpackaged lemons. Unless you're going actually utilize a whole bag of lemons, just grab one or two and get the most of those two. You can even turn the peels into a great multipurpose cleaner. 

Rethink Packaging | Less is More

What about the rest of the grocery store? Most foods in grocery stores are gimmick foods that appeal to our cultures fast and convenience tendencies. But remember, fast and convenient comes with a cost. Not just over packaging, but generally unhealthy, bad quality, and expensive (because you usually can only do one thing with that item rather than putting the food to work in multiple capacities). 

You can do a whole lot more with a can of beans than you can with a box of mac and cheese. Likewise, you can do more with a bottle of vinegar than you can with a bottle of Windex. The middle aisles of grocery stores are full of noise that drowns out the simplicity of food and product. Basically, we are overloaded with stuff that we don't need. And learning to navigate that for one's self is important. 

Below is an extensive aisle of cleaning products. We're told that we need a different cleaner for every part of the home. This simply isn't true. Much of these items are toxic, wasteful, and downright unnecessary. I can clean my whole home effectively with three ingredients (vinegar, baking soda, and essential oil). So this whole aisle is avoidable on most accounts. But if there is something you need or not willing to give up, just ask yourself how this product adds value to your life, health, and planet. 

Material mindfulness | Thinking about how materials are packaged

This grocery store had Borax and baking soda that both came in a paper cardboard boxes. These, when broken down and gently wiped after use, can go in your recycling bin. They did have vinegar in both plastic and glass. Now for economics sake, I'd choose the largest vinegar in plastic and you'll get multiple uses from that. These are generally way cheaper than buying multiple disposable cleaning wipes or cleaning products. 

Glass

Glass is inert. It doesn't interact with your food like plastic does. There are multiple choices in each aisle for glass over plastic. From sauces, jellies, sodas and condiments. Sometimes it may cost a little more, but remember you're buying more than just the item. You're also buying plastic made from undisclosed ingredients and additives. Not to mention the environmental havoc and death plastic generates from pollution and lingering on the planet. Think birds, whales, and sea turtles with bellies of plastic. 

Glass jars are also perfect for reuse. Since they don't interact with your food you can use them for storing drinks, leftovers, and even for household projects and gift assembly! 

Remember though, plastic packaging sometimes is unavoidable. But if you're reducing your single-use plastic waste everywhere else and concentrating on items that have a bigger value, say a big bag of dried beans compared to a Tetra Pak of ready beans, that's a step a step in the right direction. 

Aluminum Cans

While aluminum cans are not free and clear of issues (many are lined with plastic), they are a material that generally has a good recovery market. They are also good for larger meal planning and convenience. 

Paper
All paper isn't created equal. Some are coated with a thin lining of plastic making it 100% landfill. The most common products found in paper/cardboard are flour, sugar, baking soda, and often pasta. You can do the rip test to see whether your paper has a sneaky layer of plastic underneath. If it does, into the trash and if it doesn't send it to compost. 

Refill options!

Plastic water bottles are EXPENSIVE. Think about it. Your buying something to just throw it away. That goes for any disposable item. No wonder that in the mid 1950's when disposables where on the rise, most people looked down on them at first. Why would you spend your hard earned money on something you were going to toss in a few minutes? It wasn't until good old advertising started to shift our mindset on these disposables (also a story for another time). 

From bagels to donuts, I haven't seen a grocery store that hasn't had one of these grab and go bakery shelves. This method allows you to grab only what you actually need. You can use your own cloth produce bag to grab your item and if you happen to forget it, take a paper bag and compost it when your down or reuse it again. 

In the end, the absence of bulk bins does not make you less "zero waste" (whatever that means), because there is no zero waste right now. But you can have the zero waste (circular) mindset to dramatically curb your waste and reset your consumerism so someday our global infrastructure will move towards a circular economy. We simply must. 

A circular mindset teaches us to put value back into the things we use use and to take ownership of what's in our care. It's taking into account the footprint of where it comes from, how it will interact with our lives, and what will happen to it when we are done with it.

Putting value back into the resources, materials, creators, and community in which are stuff comes from is the essence of it all. 

Waste is a reflection of what we have lost value in. Collective attention will create change in putting value back into our planet, communities, and each other. 

Zero Waste Road Trip: A Teenager’s Point Of View

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. Our Ambassador, Abby, shares her recent adventure on making less trash while on the road! 

Zero Waste Road Trip: A Teenager’s Point Of View | Written by: Abby Abrahamson

A couple of weeks ago, I packed my suitcase for a family road trip from my home in Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. (and an overnight with family in Richmond, VA). For two weeks before the trip, I researched and planned how to travel while producing as little waste as possible. Having read about the consequences of waste generated by tourists, I was determined to enjoy the trip while still maintaining my minimal-waste lifestyle. 
 
Preparation: What I Packed
 
Everything I packed for the seven-day trip fit into a carry-on bag. I brought as little clothing as possible, so that there would be enough room for my suitcase to fit the car. I brought one dress, one pair of jeans, and several shirts and pairs of shorts. In addition to the usual undergarments,  I packed a sweater, a windbreaker, a swimsuit, sneakers, flip-flops, and a nightgown. Simplicity is key!
 
I packed my own shampoo, soap (and soap tin), bamboo toothbrush, and a small jar of baking soda that I used for toothpaste. As for deodorant, I packed a store-bought stick that I have had since before my transition to a zero waste lifestyle. All of these items came package-free, or in a recyclable material. I was expecting my period during the week of travel, so I packed my menstrual cup. Since I would be sharing a hotel bathroom with my family, washing and drying reusable pads wasn’t ideal. So, I packed disposable pads just in case. 
 
I knew that I would need to bring several zero waste “essentials”  in order to create as little waste as possible. The first thing that came to mind was a mason jar - it has so many uses! With it, I brought my Cuppow lid, something I use regularly. I also packed a set of stainless steel utensils, a reusable bag, and a reusable water bottle. 
 
The Road Trip
Our road trip from Massachusetts to Virginia took about ten hours. We (my parents, brother, and I) left early in the morning and arrived in Virginia by dinnertime, without making any pit stops. Naturally, we would need food! I brought with me some almonds and dried fruit in a mason jar. In anticipation of the trip, my parents bought packaged snacks such as granola bars and chips. Since we don’t live near any bulk stores, it was a logical choice. Luckily, my parents discussed this with me before the trip. Everyone did their best to make sure that our trip was as environmentally friendly as possible, so I didn’t get upset about the packaged snacks. 
 
Washington, D.C. 
We spent four days in Washington, D.C. With the help of my zero waste “essentials” I was able to maintain my minimal waste lifestyle for most of the trip. We did so much walking, I think my water bottle got the most use! I also made a point to refuse plastic shopping bags, especially for small things like postcards. 
 
I would like to point out here that my trip was not at all completely zero waste, which is why I use the term minimal waste. I soon learned that I couldn’t be zero waste when it came to eating out. My family was on a budget, and most of the restaurants in our price range were very nice, but often didn’t use many reusable items, such as plates. Sandwiches were often wrapped in wax paper or aluminum foil. In addition, I forgot my reusable napkin and silverware at the hotel one day. Instead of giving up altogether on generating as little waste as possible, I made the little actions count. When our food came in a brown paper bag, I either reused it or recycled it. When I ordered fruit and it came in a plastic container I recycled that, too! Every little action matters, and that is what I focused on during this trip.
 
What Will I Do Differently in the Future?


Once I was settled back at home, I thought, “What will I do differently next time to generate less waste?” Here is what I came up with:
 
Before the trip, I will scope out restaurants in the area that are more environmentally friendly.
I will pack an extra set of reusable utensils, one for the hotel and one for exploring the city.
Should I have the opportunity  to avoid using a paper plate, I will bring a reusable container or beeswax wrap to put a sandwich in.
 
The biggest thing that I learned during the road trip is to keep an open mind. With an open mind, I was able to find solutions, no matter how small, that would allow me to achieve my goal of creating as little waste possible.  As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”.


Learn more how you can become part of our global Ambassador Community here.
 

Ambassador Spotlight: Zero Waste Senegal Interview with Charlotte Spinazze

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles. Our Ambassador, Brenna, shares her conversation on zero waste with a women she met in Dakar, Senegal. Enjoy!


As a new member of the Be Zero Ambassador program here in Dakar, Senegal, I was really excited to get to sit down and talk to Charlotte Spinazze who also lives in Senegal. A year ago, Charlotte embarked on an endeavour to take her family as close to zero waste as possible. Though I still certainly have far to go in reducing my own waste, I have done quite a bit of reading on alternatives and was really pleasantly surprised to realize that a few of the simple alternatives that Charlotte had found here were things I had never thought of and were sitting right under my nose! 

For a bit of context, Dakar has a population of about 2.5 million and is the capital of Senegal, and is found on the Atlantic coast in West Africa.


Though there is a lot of work going on in waste management in Senegal, there is still a lot of progress to be made in terms of safe landfilling, consistent collection and there is very little formal recycling. I’m also excited to highlight a few local companies throughout this post, if you are ever visiting or working in Senegal, be sure to check them out! Through the article you’ll find the notes in italics are further information about some of the things which are referenced in the discussion, which may not be as obvious or familiar to those without experience with life in Dakar.

Charlotte has recently started the website Experience Zero Waste; the Facebook page Experience Zero Waste and a Zero Waste Senegal Facebook group


But let’s get down to business and on to the interview where Charlotte graciously invited me into her home to chat and show me a few of the zero waste alternatives she and her family have been using. 


Charlotte: These are a few things that I showcase when I do small events to raise awareness on zero waste lifestyle. For example, this is a cup that is sold here (i.e. in Dakar, Senegal).

Brenna: That is called the Ruby Cup?

Charlotte: Yes, I try to find and advertise as many local and locally sold products and alternatives as I can, which makes sense when you want to reduce your ecological footprint. These are cloth pads that are made here by ApiAfrique. They also sell cloth diapers, and reusable cotton rounds. 
Here is a local dry toothpaste, free of packaging, made here by Nyara. Another difference with a conventional and industrial toothpaste is that it is completely safe for your health. They also sell this deodorant, locally-made, in a reusable glass bottle. 

Brenna: And are they sold at the Lou Bess farmers market? This is a month market that runs the first Saturday of every month, from October to May in Dakar. It is really great!


Charlotte: Yes. Then I wanted to show you some bags that were made here out of wax. These can be used as produce bags, for shopping, or to store food at home for instance. 
Here are a few products that I brought back from France. When I don’t find an alternative that works for me here, I try to find it when I go back to France. For instance, this is solid shampoo, this is a bamboo toothbrush, and this is something for cleaning your ear, made out of bamboo as well.
This is a laundry soap that I made with Savon de Marseille, baking soda and white vinegar. You can also make it with a good quality local soap. 

Brenna: So that’s a bar soap that you grate?


Charlotte: Yes exactly. I also wanted to show a few books that really helped us reduce our waste. I have Bea Johnson’s, Zero Waste Home. She tries to eliminate every single waste from her life, which may be a bit difficult for people unfamiliar with zero waste. 


This one is my favorite, Famille presque Zéro Déchet: Ze guide, by Jeremy Pichon and Benedicte Moret. I think they present feasible alternatives for everyone. In this book they explain very well how you can reduce your whole ecological footprint by reducing your waste. This makes a lot of sense to me. For instance they also discuss how to reduce your impact when you travel, or the impact of your savings on your bank account. 


I started reading, Zero Waste Home, just before having my son in December 2015. When I had my baby, I had to adapt to so many new things, it was difficult to change our habits then. But quite rapidly, we realized we could do a lot to reduce our footprint and decided to be as zero waste as we could by the end of 2016. My partner did not find it very easy at the beginning, but step by step, we changed a lot of things. Since then, we were really able to reduce the majority of the waste we were producing. 


We really changed the way we buy our food here. We used to buy vegetables from the market but all the rest mainly came from the Casino supermarket. We found alternatives for almost every product we used to buy there, and buy everything mostly from small business owners now. 

Brenna: I am curious about what you have found here in terms of buying in bulk and things like filling your own containers here?


Charlotte: At the market you can buy a lot of products in bulk, like vegetables, fruits, rice, grains, sugar, tea, bissap, etc. And when you buy fish or meat you can also buy in bulk, if you bring your own reusable container. [Bissap is the name used in France and West Africa for Hibiscus, popular here in juice and several traditional Senegalese recipes].


Brenna: I didn’t know they sold that many things, and you can buy any amount you want?


Charlotte: Yes, many products at the local market are sold in bulk and you can buy the amount you want. What we changed mostly was really trying to buy more local food. There is a farmers market where you can buy local vegetables, ASD Market (which stands for Healthy and Sustainable Agriculture, it is a market that sells produce in three different neighborhoods in Dakar on three different days of the week). The vegetables are grown according to agro-ecological practices. We also eat more fresh vegetables than we used to. We buy organic vegetables, dairy, chicken, eggs and jams from another local farmer who tries to reduce packaging. For instance, he uses reusable glass containers for many products. 


We also tried to adapt our meals to what is available. Instead of going with a recipe and trying to find all the ingredients, now we try to see what is available locally and then go from there.

Brenna: It seems like it simplifies things in a lot of ways especially here if you are trying to find a lot of things in a recipe you might end up going to six stores. Even at box grocery stores in Dakar, there is sometimes a shortage of stock of a product like black beans or tortillas and they don’t come back in stock for weeks at a time. That can make meal planning a bit complicated as it is hard to be able to predict week-to-week what you will be able to find and where. 

Charlotte: It also makes more sense in the end. One of the things my partner says is that we are really eating better. We eat simpler meals, but they are definitely better thanks to the quality of the products. We don’t eat canned food anymore, which contains sugar for instance. This change in habits has greatly improved the taste of our meals! And we find that our health has improved a lot too! 


One of the first things that we changed at home, is using only baking soda, white vinegar, black soap and Savon de Marseille for cleaning our place. I began to do this for my baby, because babies are running around and in constant contact with the floor, so it is important that cleaning products are safe for them. It also helped reducing a lot of packaging. 


Brenna: So you’ve mentioned a lot of things that were easy to switch out and find here, but has there been anything that you have really struggled to find here or anything other than the bamboo toothbrush?  

Charlotte: So one of the first things we did was try to find reusable alternatives to all the throw-away products we were using. I looked for reusable diapers, but there was not a large choice for those here. Now it’s easier to find good reusable diapers thanks to ApiAfrique. 
Also, while finding organic vegetables and fruits here is possible, other organic products are much more difficult to find, and are mostly imported from Europe or the USA. But that is not very satisfying in terms of ecological footprint and I would rather support local businesses.  There are also a few products for which I haven’t found a safe, local and zero waste alternative, like shampoo. I am encouraging local businesses to think about it! 


Brenna: And you have recently started your website and the Facebook page. Have you had a lot of traction with these? Have you had interest from the Expat community and the Senegalese community? 

Charlotte: Ever since we started reducing waste, I wanted to show people that it is actually possible to reduce waste at home in Senegal. A lot of people think, “Hey, I can’t recycle so there is nothing I can do”, but actually, it’s far from the truth. Actually some things might even be easier here. You can easily give your food waste to animals for instance. There are many animals in Dakar, like chickens, goats, cats and dogs, who can eat food scraps.  Also, there are deposits on some containers, so you get the money back when you bring back the container. They are trying to reintroduce this in a lot of Western countries because it is more ecological than recycling, and it still exists here.


Brenna: Is this particularly for glass bottles?


Charlotte: Yes for glass bottles, if you buy soda or beer for instance. Also for water, if you buy the big 19 L bottles. As for the community, I received a lot of inquiries from people interested in learning more about zero waste. A lot of people want to meet and I was asked to do a few presentations about this lifestyle. For instance, I have done a presentation for a local network which is more of the expat community.


I was also asked to do a presentation for the Sensecampus at the IAM Dakar (Institution Africain de management/African Institute for Management). They support social entrepreneurs in Senegal. So I did a presentation for students there. The students, from Senegal, were very interested in the subject, so they decided to continue to hold events on zero waste on a regular basis. The students were interested to hear about waste in Senegal and in particular about the landfill here (Mbeubeuss is one of the largest in Africa). 

Many Senegalese and expatriates are happy to learn about alternatives to reduce their ecological footprint. It’s not the way that we learned how to consume so there is a need to change our habits. A lot of people here are already concerned about waste as it is definitely a problem – we can all see lots of trash in the streets and the country. Now we are actually trying to have an actual Zero Waste Senegal group of people that meet regularly. We have met once and plan to meet every two months. 

Brenna: So it was really reading this book (Zero Waste Home) that led you towards the zero waste path or were there some other personal influences that pushed you towards this?


Charlotte: While I was pregnant I had to stop working, and this gave me a lot of time to think about what I wanted for my baby, about our way of life and its ecological impact. When you are pregnant, a lot of people tell you that you need to buy a great number of things, and my partner and I did not want to consume that much because we were going to have a baby. Here it feels a bit like you are away from it as there aren’t as many shops to go to compared to Europe, but when you are pregnant it seems like the consumption society comes back to you. For us it was too much and we wanted to get what was really necessary. 


I think having a baby makes you really think what you want to show him and how you want to consume. So it was really an overall thinking about overconsumption and how you can do things differently. It was also a health concern with hormone disruptors found in most plastics for instance.

People here already reuse a lot more than we do in Western Countries and they produce far less waste compared to us. 

So now we are really trying to build a community here. There are more than 300 people in the group and people can propose alternatives or ask questions and people are exchanging more and more. I think that it is really important to think about reducing waste here in Senegal, because the country is developing rapidly, and as lifestyles are improving it also means people will produce more waste that will need to be dealt with. 



That’s all for our interview! It was really great to hear about potential alternatives, and I have definitely at times felt like, “Hey, I can’t recycle so there is nothing I can do.” Though a lot of the specific examples are products found here in Dakar, it is also relevant to many areas of the western world as well, particularly smaller towns that may not have easy access to bulk items or recycling.

I am from Halifax and there is a really great municipal compost program there, so when I moved to Montreal I really struggled with feeling like I was making a lot of food waste and there was little I could do about it living in an apartment. However, by keeping a perspective on your situation and focusing on the things you can control and not those you can’t, there will always be changes that can be made! Although I am leaving Dakar to head back to Canada, as I am eager to continue to learn from this community! 


For more information about the companies as well as the Lou Bess market, mentioned in this interview are easily found on their Facebook pages. 

Ambassador Spotlight: The Five Looks Challenge

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles.

We just wrapped up our month long #BeZeroOneDress challenge, where we brought attention to our wardrobes, the environmental impacts of fast fashion and the reemergence of slow fashion. You can check it all out on our blog and over on Instagram. Some of our Be Zero Ambassadors played along by bringing attention to their own wardrobes!

Our Ambassador, Abbey, recently shared her capsule wardrobe with us a few weeks ago (catch that post here), and this time Abbey shares another wardrobe challenge with us! The Five Looks Challenge! Read below!


Written by Abbey 

In my last blog post, I shared my first ever capsule wardrobe with you all: what worked, what sucked, what I’m working towards. Well, I love my wardrobe so very much that in December, I was inspired to try something even more radical. 

One of my favorite sustainable and ethical fashion brands, People Tree, challenged all of their Instagram followers to create five different looks, wearing just five pieces for five days. 

Why? Between emerging research about microfibers in our waterways, the mass consumption and subsequent landfilling of textiles, and the unethical treatment of farmers and garment industry workers, fashion has an unreal impact on our planet.  And the best way to minimize your impact is to reduce and reuse, right? 

So, reduce to five pieces and reuse those five pieces throughout the week? Challenge accepted. 

My Five Pieces

  • Black silk A-line skirt
  • Green cardigan
  • Organic cotton leggings
  • Scoop-neck ¾ sleeve purple tee
  • White button-up

All five of these items are part of my current capsule wardrobe.  The skirt is secondhand from ThredUp (love love love them) and the leggings are one of only two truly ethical pieces in my closet. The cardigan, purple tee, and white button-up are all pieces I’ve owned for several years.

I loved this challenge. It’s amazing how limiting my options really allowed me to think differently about what I wear each day. I probably could have made another few outfits with these five pieces, so I’m actually eager to try another five days with these same pieces! 

 

Ambassador Spotlight: How To Throw A Zero Waste Birthday Party

We're happy to share the stories and positive work of our Ambassadors in their own words. Our Be Zero Ambassadors bring life to the Be Zero Mission by sharing and inspiring ways to live simple and low-waste lifestyles.  

Post by: Abby Abrahamson

When my grandfather’s birthday came around this month, my family wanted to throw him a birthday party. But, parties can generate a lot of waste. From the decorations to the presents, almost everything is thrown away and sent to the landfill after the celebration. So, I rolled up my sleeves, did a little digging, and came up with six tips for a less-waste birthday party. 

 

Reusable Tableware


Single-use plates, napkins, and utensils can be convenient, but are costly to the environment. Reusable alternatives such as cloth napkins, silverware, and ceramic or wooden plates are a much better option. Dread washing dishes afterwards? Simply load them in the dishwasher and press “start”. 

Package-Free Food


It’s no secret that food is an essential element of any party. To serve food without waste, you can make a homemade fruit and veggie platter and set up an avocado or taco bar using produce from the local market (brought home in reusable produce bags, of course!). Another idea is to buy nuts, pretzels, and sweets in bulk and set them on the table in individual bowls. Personally, I love a birthday barbecue, and Kathryn from Going Zero Waste made a superb guide to less-waste barbecuing that can be found here.

What about the cake, you ask? Most bakeries package cakes in a cardboard box, which can’t be recycled if there’s food on it. Instead, try baking a cake from scratch and icing it with a family favorite recipe!

Sustainable Gifts


Secondhand gifts are the best! Unless the person receiving the gift requests otherwise, try looking on Ebay, Craigslist, or at your local thrift store for a thoughtful and sustainable gift. If you can’t find anything there, don’t worry! You can hand-make a gift or give a donation to a charitable organization such as the World Wildlife Fund, Heifer International, or the Jane Goodall Institute, to name a few. My favorite birthday gift is an “experience gift”, when a friend or family member and I experience something together. For my last birthday, my family and I went to a state park for my birthday. We kayaked and hiked all day, and made valuable memories, too. 

 

“Green” Gift Wrap


There are many options for wrapping gifts without producing waste as a byproduct. Cloth bags or fabric squares are an excellent alternative to conventional gift wrap. They can be tied with another stip of fabric, some rope, or compostable twine. In my family, we still use tissue paper and store-bought gift bags. Instead of throwing them out, we take the bags and paper back home with us. The tissue paper is ironed and neatly folded, and the bags are stored in a box until the next occasion. We haven’t purchased or thrown out gift wrap supplies in years! When something rips, we simply recycle or repurpose it. 

Party Favors: A Thing of the Past


Loot bags are often filled with plastic toys or candies that are usually played with once or eaten and then thrown away. Many people are opting out of the party favor tradition altogether. However, if you’d still like to hand out favors, why not hand out a small potted plant, homemade treats in a reusable container, or a cookie/cake mix in a jar? 

Eco-Friendly Decorations


Making decorations at home is not only fun, but also good for the environment! My mom had sewn a pennant banner for my fifth birthday party, and we have used it every year since then. It’s colorful, creative, and 100% reusable. You can learn how to make your own pennant banner by clicking here. 

Another idea is to set out flower bouquets or pomanders that can be composted later. Bring nature inside with pinecones and evergreen twigs - the possibilities are endless! 

Day 28 Then End!

Wearing this dress all month taught me how to truly value my clothing. It validated my "less is more" approach to my personal wardrobe. I learned more about the fast fashion industry (how parallel it's to our plastic disposable problem) and its detrimental effects on people, environment, and the devaluing of materials and possessions. I also learned more about designers who are truly creating thoughtful, lasting, sustainable, and adaptable clothing. This black linen dress (from @prairieunderground ) held up beautifully this month and I know it still has many years of wear to come. Drown out the noise of fast fashion trends and invest in items that you can take ownership of. Put value back into the makers, materials, and the planet!

Day 26: Brand New at a Thrift Store

Outfit Look Day 26

How many of you have been to a thrift store? 

Thrifting to some sounds icky. I have a few friends who would never wear used clothing or shoes. For me, there is no problem sifting through aisles of used clothing and shoes. In fact, five of the eight shoes I own and half of my wardrobe are from thrift or consignment stores. 

We produce so much textiles and goods globally that we don't even know what it means to wear through something. In fact, most of what I find at thrift stores are in near perfect condition with many of the items brand new with tags still on. The two photos below are just a sample of what I found recently at our local independent thrift store.

Brand new Levis jeans and a brand new pajama set from Target!

This is a great article on about what happens to the clothes we donate...

Here's What Goodwill Actually Does With Your Donated Clothes

 

Day 25 Update

Outfit Day 25

Today wasn't that great. I didn't sleep at all last night and later in the day I started feeling a bit sick.

I needed to wash my dress, but instead of running a whole cycle. I used our steam refresh setting in the dryer for about 10 minutes. That did the trick.

Only three days left of wearing the dress and I'm finally thinking I'm ready to hang it up for a little while. 

The dress has held up amazingly. It actually has much more of a softer and worn in feel to it than before. I've washed it only a handful of times through out the month - taking extra care of it by never leaving it thrown on the floor or tossed over a chair. After each wear, I often inspected the dress for any fraying, snags, or holes. 

I still feel the same about my wardrobe, I like it small and adaptable.  

Day 24: Ambassador Highlight | The Five Looks Challenge

Outfit Look Day 24

Today, I'm sharing a story from one of our Be Zero Ambassadors Abbey.

Abbey recently shared her capsule wardrobe with us a few weeks ago (catch that post here), this time Abbey shares another wardrobe challenge with us! The Five Looks Challenge! Read below! 

Five Looks Challenge | By Abbey

In my last blog post, I shared my first ever capsule wardrobe with you all: what worked, what sucked, what I’m working towards. Well, I love my wardrobe so very much that in December, I was inspired to try something even more radical. 

One of my favorite sustainable and ethical fashion brands, People Tree, challenged all of their Instagram followers to create five different looks, wearing just five pieces for five days. 

Why? Between emerging research about microfibers in our waterways, the mass consumption and subsequent landfilling of textiles, and the unethical treatment of farmers and garment industry workers, fashion has an unreal impact on our planet.  And the best way to minimize your impact is to reduce and reuse, right? 

So, reduce to five pieces and reuse those five pieces throughout the week? Challenge accepted. 

My Five Pieces
Black silk A-line skirt
Green cardigan
Organic cotton leggings
Scoop-neck ¾ sleeve purple tee
White button-up

All five of these items are part of my current capsule wardrobe.  The skirt is secondhand from ThredUp (love love love them) and the leggings are one of only two truly ethical pieces in my closet. The cardigan, purple tee, and white button-up are all pieces I’ve owned for several years. 

I loved this challenge. It’s amazing how limiting my options really allowed me to think differently about what I wear each day. I probably could have made another few outfits with these five pieces, so I’m actually eager to try another five days with these same pieces! 

Ready for more? Make sure to check out Andrea’s #BeZeroOneDress challenge, where she is wearing one dress for the month of February and sharing her experience on the blog and Instagram. 

Day 23: Hand Stitching

It's snowing! The weather has been so unusually warm here in Boulder this month - with temps in the 70's and very little snow. 

I made one last swap to my wardrobe for the month. I swapped my light wash skinny jeans for those ones in this photo. With the snow today and the impending muddiness for the next few days, I decided to make the switch. Thinking back to the beginning of this month, I probably should have picked these two jeans to start with than the ones I initially picked. 

I'm wearing my hat and jean jacket and my little grey waterproof short boots today. And I shaped the dress so it's pulled and tucked up to shorten the length. Comfy and cozy! 

 

Before we move on to thrifting and wrapping up our month long one dress challenge, I wanted to share one more find that has helped me learn to repair my own clothing. Once you learn these five simple stitches you'll be able fix basic holes, loose buttons, and busted seams. The link is below!

 

Five Basic Hand Stitches

Day 22: Mending Jeans

I've been pairing my dress everyday with my ripped CK jeans that I bought thrifted and my handmade clay bolo tie from an amazing local potter here in Boulder. 

Jeans are (generally) sturdy, adaptable, and repairable! They're a clothing item that we can all easily take ownership of. 

Learning to do simple repairs on such a versatile piece of our wardrobe is all part cultivating an ownership mentality with our clothing. 

Check out this video below on how to mend holes in your jeans!  

 

 

 

Day 21 One Dress

Seven more days left! I'm in the last stretch of this one dress month. I couldn't be more pleased with this dress, honestly. Having worn it day in and day out it still looks great and feels great. 

Sure I'm getting a little antsy to dive into the other pieces of my wardrobe, but this dress will always be my one of my go-to pieces and I look forward to caring for it for years to come. 

Let me ask you a question. What does ownership mean to you? What does it mean to "own" your clothes? 

 

 
"In 2012, Americans created more than 14.3 million tons of textile waste," Norum said. "Much of this waste is due to clothes being discarded due to minor tears or stains-easily repairable damages if the owners have the skills and knowledge to fix them. If we, as a nation, want to move toward more sustainable practices in all aspects, we need to evaluate not only how we take care of our clothes, but how we educate younger generations to do so as well."  - Science Daily

How do you think we can collectively bring more value to our clothing again? Can we go on a clothing diet? What would inspire us to mend again and to support those in our community who can? 

Big and complex questions, but it ultimately comes down to each one of us becoming more mindful of what we choose to wear and how we choose to own it. 

Day 20: Pop Up Repair

Outfit Look Day 20

Today I paired my dress with my ripped jeans and my black pointy heels. I've had these heels for over 8 years now and they have been one of my go-to dress-up shoes since I purchased them all that time ago. 

I've kept them in good shape by taking them to my local cobbler for minor repair and cleanings which has extended the life of these shoes far past what they probably would have lasted. 

Not so long ago, repairing was something we all did. There were people in our community who knew how to fix things and it was a natural process of ownership. But over the last few decades, repairing as declined because products (from toasters to shoes and clothing) have become so cheap that it is often more economical to just buy something new. This is an intentional design and manufacturing process called "planned obsolescence."  

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time.

Recently, one of our Be Zero Community followers sent a fantastic link to a website of a business called Pop Up Repair. Pop Up Repair opens short term repair shops for household items of all kinds: lamps, chairs, appliances, jewelry, clothing, toys, and more.

What would happen if we started repairing things again - our toasters, vacuum cleaners, and air conditioning units instead of casting them aside and replacing them altogether?  Watch this video and find out! 

Day 19: Mending - Sashiko Repair

The days are flying by now! I can't believe I've been wearing this dress for 19 days! 

For the next couple days I'm going to be talking about mending. I have very little knowledge or experience in sewing and mending (I can mend my own socks and tiny holes in clothes, but that's about it) which is unfortunate since many of my extended family members were amazing at textile repair and even making their own clothes.

Born a generation too late I guess.

Since this project started, I've made a promise to learn a new skill that would support more ownership of my clothing. And it just so happened that I stumbled upon on a Japanese mending technique called sashiko. This is what I want to learn! I think it's so beautiful and really jives with my style as well. I've included some more information and an awesome video showing the process as well. 

What is sashiko? 

Sashiko (literally "little stabs") is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching (or functional embroidery) from Japan. Traditionally used to reinforce points of wear or to repair worn places or tears with patches, this running stitch technique is often used for purely decorative purposes in quilting and embroidery.

BONUS! This is a video that I wanted to share mostly because of the few nuggets of information that this man shares about Japanese textiles. 

Day 18: Appreciation

Outfit Day 18

Another day down and another day I'm gaining more appreciation for beautiful adaptable clothing. 

***

For the last week of this dress experiment, I'm going to be diving into the realm of thrifting and mending. I'll share stories, videos, photos, and resources on shopping second hand and seeking out those who can mend and tailor our clothing. 

 

 

 

Day 17: *Video* Exploring the Future of Fashion

Outfit Look: 17

When you wear the same thing everyday you really begin to play around with details. I've been changing the "look" by rolling my sleeves up or pulling the lower half of the dress up and tucked under to give it a shorter blouse look onto of my jeans. I've been also playing around with my hair styles more too. These simple modifications I explore daily may seem primitive to the people of the distant future. 

I often wonder what I'll be wearing 20 or 30 years from now. Will clothes wash themselves? Will they protect us from diseases and common germs? I think we are only just beginning to explore concept, but these are certainly topics and ideas being explored right now. 

I came across another documentary on the future of fashion called The Next Black. The film explores a handful of designers and companies to see what they think the future of clothing will be.  

 

 

Day 16: Slow Fashion Brand Resource List

Another day down! The dress is heading to the washer tonight for its fourth wash of the challenge.

Weather again was in the low 70's today in Boulder, feeling more like April than the end of February. I wore my jeans and my sandals along with my dress today. 

Today, I'm going to share links to ten slow fashion brands. These are companies that design and manufacture their own pieces. A few of them I've mentioned in the last two weeks, but many will be new. 

Remember, there is no perfect sustainable infrastructure when it comes to creating textiles, but there are amazing companies and designers starting to bringing the art of slow to mainstream by creating adaptable, well-made, and beautiful clothing. 


10 Slow Fashion Brands