Shannon’s tips on starting your zero waste journey

Shannon is 19. She lives in Paternoster, South Africa and has been passionately committed to living a zero waste lifestyle since July 2016. She’s alread raked up over 1300 followers on her Instagram account @Journeytozero_ . We decided to touch base with her, to find out what inspires her and what her tips are to get others motivated on going zero waste.

1. What inspired your Zero waste journey?

I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a greenie.  When I started seeing social media posts about people who only produce a mason jar’s worths of trash in a year, I was seriously intrigued. Once I started researching the issue, it seemed ridiculous to not make some changes myself.  And watching lots of documentaries, of course.

2. What has been the most challenging part of this journey?

Getting the rest of my family fully on board.  I sometimes have to sneak homemade sparkling water into restaurants or make tortillas from scratch to avoid the plastic and the palm oil.

3. What has been the most rewarding part of this journey?

Seeing how much waste we avoid every day just by making simple swaps or refusing certain items. We avoid dozens of plastic bags and containers everytime we go shopping, And that really adds up after a few months.

4. When you are not saving the world, what is your favourite way to spend your time?

Cooking, baking, sewing, embroidery, tapestry weaving, just the standard hobbies of an old lady.  And doing beach cleanups. lots and lots of beach cleanups

Why refuse plastic

Some food for thought to start you on your plastic-free journey…

“Every piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere.” Isn’t that a scary thought?  How crazy is it that we’ve chosen an ‘immortal’ material to make single-use items from?  Your plastic toothbrush from when you were little is still out there, stubbornly existing. Your throw-away plastic straw will outlive you. Think of this next time you reach for that plastic fork.

  • Plastic doesn’t biodegrade’, it photodegrades, which means it just breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, which release toxic chemicals into the environment.
  • Vast amounts of plastic end up in the ocean where it is killing sea life. There are parts of the ocean (eg. the Great Pacific garbage patch) that consist of a soup of micro-plastics which cannot be cleaned up.
  • Plastics are also harmful to our health. Many of them have not ever been tested for safety, and others have been proven harmful.
  • Plastic is made from non-renewable resources such as crude oil. It makes no sense to use finite oil reserves to make throw-away things.

So now that you know some of the facts and are ready to start on your ‘Zero Waste’ or ‘Plastic-free’ journey, (Yes, I said journey because this ain’t gon’ happen overnight, my friend) here’s my advice:

See if you can get one/some of your homies to join you.  My best friend actually started with ‘Zero Waste’ before me and it was really helpful to be able to tell her about my small wins and also complain to her about my fails. 

Be prepared to make mistakes

  • Be prepared to feel like your reusable bags aren’t making a difference in the sea of plastic bags at the till
  • Be prepared to inspire others to reduce their waste by seeing your changes.

Educate yo’ self!

  • Watch documentaries, such as ‘A Plastic Ocean, Bag it, True Cost, Mission Blue. Make other people watch these too.
  • Follow inspirational Zero Waste people on Instagram, YouTube, blogs.
  • Beware of greenwashing and mis-information, such as some compostable packaging items which need to be taken to an industrial composting facility in order to break down. Read labels!

Trash Audit

  • Pay attention to everything you throw away and see if there’s a reusable/plastic free option or if you could do without.
  • Do the same with your recycling. Generally, recycling should be your last option. This is particularly true for plastics which can only be ‘downcycled’, not ‘recycled’ like glass.


  • Compost your food scraps and paper/compostables. This keeps them out of the landfill where they won’t biodegrade due to the lack of oxygen and sunlight.
  • There are lots of compost bin options to suit your needs, or you can also look for a compost drop-off site near you.

Out and about

’B.Y.O’ : Bring Your Own:

I always keep some reusable things with me to make it easy to avoid waste when I’m out. These are:

  • Reusable (fabric) shopping and produce bags.  

Why would you want flimsy single-use bags for your shopping when you can have sturdy reusable bags? The turtles also thank you.

*Tip* Always make sure you fold them back up and put them where you’ll remember them for next time.

And don’t forget those evil little barrier bags that lurk around every corner of the produce section, Bring your own lightweight drawstring bags for weighing your produce or just #skipthebag altogether.

I also use reusable bags for buying nuts, seeds etc. from the bulk section (think Food Lovers’ Market).

  • Reusable coffee cup

I use a glass “Keepcup” and I can highly recommend it.  I use it for coffee, smoothies and,  occasionally, leftovers. Some places even give you a discount for bringing your own cup. Remember that most “compostable” cups do not get properly composted.

  • Reusable bottle for water

Because you need to ‘hydrate yo’ self’!

Use a reusable water bottle instead of buying water in single-use plastic bottles. If you’re not keen on drinking tap water, then filter your own water. I like using a Stefani terracotta filter or a charcoal stick such as Kuro-Bō.

  • Container(s) of sorts for take-aways or leftovers

I make sure to pack enough reusable containers for all our take-aways and for our food when we go to markets.

As the Zero Waste nut of the family, I carry a big sturdy bag with me to markets, filled with glass and bamboo containers (with lids), stainless steel cups, reusable coffee cups, cutlery, napkins, salt, sugar, you name it.)

Make sure to confidently ask for your meal in your own container. It helps if its completely spotless. Explain your reasoning if they seem confused.

  • Fabric napkin

It can be used instead of paper serviettes, or again for leftovers, or for take-away things such as croissants. Also good as an alternative to bubble-wrap when buying something breakable.

  • Utensils

I typically have a fork and a teaspoon with me. You can use it for stirring takeaway coffee if the coffee shop only supplies disposable stirrers. At a market, it’s also quite nice to eat with real utensils and fabric napkins instead of flimsy plastic cutlery and a tiny paper napkins.

  • Reusable straws

Glass, stainless steel and bamboo. I have a little pouch full of reusable straws at the ready so I can #skipthestraw 

You could obviously just drink your drink without a straw but I like to use a reusable version for things such as smoothies and milkshakes. I carry spares for the rest of my family too.

  • Mason Jar(s).

I like to keep a jar with me, just in case.  I occasionally take everyone’s food scraps home to compost, but that’s just weird, so we won’t talk about that.

Zero Waste Swops in the Bathroom                                   

Choose natural & homemade products over conventional brands.

  • Plastic toothbrush— swap for a bamboo toothbrush
  • Body wash— swap for solid soap
  • Plastic bottles of shampoo/conditioner — swap for solid shampoo/conditioner bars
  • Deodorant — swap for homemade, glass bottles, solid deodorant bars, limes
  • Disposable razors/blades — swap for a safety razor
  • Disposable cotton rounds/face wipes— swap for fabric cotton rounds/washcloth
  • Plastic loofahs — swap for natural fibre washcloths/wooden brush with compostable bristles
  • Earbuds with plastic sticks — swap for compostable ones with wooden/cardboard sticks (Remember to actually compost your compostables!)
  • Exfoliants with microbeads — swap for natural exfoliants such as salt, sugar, etc. My go-to is baking soda/bicarb.

Zero Waste options in the Kitchen/ Home

  • Synthetic sponges — swap for cotton washcloths and wooden brushes with compostable heads/bristles.
  • Cling wrap — swap for beeswax wraps, tea towels, lids, or do without.
  • Baking paper is generally compostable (make sure to check), but if not — swap for a silicone baking sheet.
  • Ziplockies — swap for jars, food containers (reuse!) etc.
  • Paper serviettes — swap for fabric napkins. Apart from being reusable, they look hella fancy compared to their ugly paper cousins.
  • Tea bags — swap for loose-leaf tea. Many teabags actually contain plastic to make them stronger. Bonus points if you can buy the tea in your own container.
  • Toxic/artificial cleaning products packaged in plastic — swap for homemade, natural cleaners such as plain vinegar, citrus vinegar (place your citrus peels in white vinegar for a few weeks) and bicarb. Look for natural products (but beware of greenwashing. Do your research!)  Opt for ones packaged in cardboard if possible, or buy bulk cleaning products in your own containers.

Buy things to last

    • Choose secondhand when possible. So many resources go into making new products.
    • Buy the best products you can afford.
    • Go for sturdy, natural materials rather than breakable plastic ones.
    • The clothing/textile industry is incredibly wasteful. Look for secondhand /vintage clothing if  you can.
    • If second hand is not an option/your jam, try and buy locally made good-quality pieces that will last. Try to avoid synthetic fabrics as they shed microfibers into the water which end up in the ocean, as well as being made from petrochemicals.
    • Avoid products with “planned obsolescence”. Think smartphones etc. This is a hard one, I admit. Lobby tech companies to make products that last.

Zero Waste Inspiration

These are some of the ‘zero waste’ accounts I follow and enjoy.


Good luck on your own zero waste journey!

  • Stacey-Lee Swart
    Posted at 09:41h, 20 September Reply

    I discovered this company (below) recently and i’m very excited about it! 🙂 The word is spreading.

  • Sandi Bryant
    Posted at 07:49h, 21 September Reply

    What a wonderfully informative article, Shannon! Every new bit of info helps to reduce that waste pile and rejuvenate our environment. Where do you buy bamboo straws?

  • Sue Weightman
    Posted at 13:20h, 21 September Reply

    I’m in my sixties and fancied myself a greenie but it has taken me years to stop complaining about the plastic and just do it! It’s quite difficult and the family is sometimes embarrassed(!) but now I get a kick out of it. Now it’s time to up the ante and get POLICY made to enforce less waste. If Rwanda can ban the bag why can’t RSA?

    • Chevaun Roux
      Posted at 13:12h, 23 April Reply

      Great comment Sue. There are so many countries making this essential change – RSA and it’s people should be right there with them. But for now we can take the decision into our own hands and as individuals start with this conscious action.

  • kate snell
    Posted at 19:12h, 21 September Reply

    Hi am in durban, family of 4 two kids 3 dogs. Desperate to convert our home but really struggling to find suppliers of the alternative green producs like toothbrushes re usable straws safty razors etc. Also which home made detergents recipies/blogs are good? Is castille soap as good as it sounds?

  • Anel Dannhauser
    Posted at 23:51h, 22 April Reply

    Fantastic tips! I’ve been trying to convert completely but still struggle due to my (and hubby’s) work schedule, which leaves very little time and energy for making things from scratch. But at least the waste has been drastically reduced.

    Just on your last point about obsolescence in tech – look out for modular tech where you only have to replace broken parts, and be sure to recycle all unusable electronics as e-waste, where the different parts gets separated and recycled. There’s also some companies that will take your old, but functional tech and fix it up for use in poor schools or given to underprivileged people.

  • Bren Murphy
    Posted at 23:41h, 01 May Reply

    I agree one of the most challenging parts of the #zerowaste journey is advocating for change and raising awareness. But I’ve learned that simply by using #plasticfree alternatives prompts people to ask why and then you have an opportunity to offer them the option. It’s definitely a mindset and once converted you don’t tend to go backwards.
    Thank you

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