What is the real overlap with sustainability and low waste living—and is there a difference between the two? What are the different levels of living low-waste? How often do you need to use a tote bag for it to be better than a plastic bag? What does conscious consumerism even mean? And how can we cut down on the food we throw away every single day?
These are all questions that were tackled at the low-waste living workshop with Marijana Kandić. During this workshop, Marijana went into her journey as a low-waste activist, the tips and tricks she has been using for the past few years to cut down on creating waste, and the underlying mentality that comes with living a sustainable life.
“I have been a mountaineer and rock climber for some time now,” Marijana said in her introduction. “On one of my trips to the mountains (in Bosnia and Herzegovina), I noticed the amount of trash. Even if you go to a mountain peak, you’ll see trash—a lot of plastic bags, a lot of plastic bottles… so I started exploring what makes people litter. And three years ago, I got into a zero-waste lifestyle and started making these small steps to see how far I could actually go. I wanted to see these obstacles I would meet and how I would overcome them.”
Even today, Marijana has not reached a completely zero-waste lifestyle. However, she makes it an important point that a complete lifestyle of this kind is nearly impossible to achieve, and that the focus should be on incorporating changes in your everyday life that are just as sustainable to you as they are for the environment.
Her online platform, BeeEcho, functions under the exact same mentality—in fact, it is the only low waste platform in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Instead of impossible expectations and a militant schedule, BeeEcho works to create and promote an inclusive environment, where people can share tips and tricks on making changes and affecting their world in ways they might not even recognise. One of the ways Marijana does this is by classifying what it means to be low-waste, going back to the basics of the four R’s of recycling: “Rethink, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle”.
“The first R is sometimes known as R0, for Rethink,” she explains. “And that’s because it all starts with thinking. Before we buy something, do we really need it? Can we find an alternative? Do we already have something that can replace it? Rethinking focuses on our habits, our intentions when we buy something.”
Marijana’s second R takes the place of Reduce: not just the amount of plastic waste, but the amount of items we actually use. Whether you reduce your waste by swapping clothes with friends instead of buying new ones every season, buying necessities in loose bulk instead of pre-packaged, or even buying glass water bottles instead of plastic, all of these are ways for a person to both reduce the amount they spend on new things and to reduce the amount of overall trash they make.
The third R stands for Reuse. “I feel like it’s a ten-step programme,” one participant joked later. “Rethink, reduce, reuse, reuse, reuse … and then recycle.” And they’re not far off. What Marijana teaches is that it is always better to see whether you can reuse something you already have to suit some new purpose instead of buying something new. This can mean anything from reusing plastic grocery bags instead of buying tote bags, or using silverware instead of replacing it with something decomposable. In essence, buying something sustainable is still buying something, which still ends up creating waste. Upcycling is a useful term for people trying to reuse objects.
The final R stands for Recycle. However, Marijana’s unusual commentary had her audience double-guessing whether recycling was a valid option. Not only is recycling nearly impossible for an individual to do in Bosnia and Hercegovina, but recycling companies responsible for sorting through general trash only end up recycling about 0.2% of it. In order for recycling to become invaluable, each country and government must take interest in supporting and enforcing it.
However, waste isn’t just plastic: another topic Marijana focused upon is the issue of food waste. In a global society where one-third of the population is starving, and one-third of our food production is being thrown away, it is essential to discuss how we can apply the four R’s to buying food. While individuals can make compost bins to use food scraps for their personal gardens or plants, it draws the same parallel to buying a plastic cup to try and recycle it. People can also learn how to rethink the way they see food, reduce the amount of food they buy, and even reuse food in creative ways.
Marijana then turned the workshop into an interactive support group. One participant confessed having issues with buying enough or too much for proper portion sizes. Another participant talked about constantly buying vegetables and then never using them. Some of the suggestions from the audience went from the traditional meal prepping, to making meals out of leftovers, to re-arranging your fridge so that perishable products are the first things you see and the easiest to reach. In each of these suggestions, Marijana would go back to repeat how these steps weren’t just about using all the food you buy, but also being mindful of how much you can use.
Another point Marijana made was to brainstorm ideas on small changes people could incorporate to start their zero-waste journey. Some ideas were reusing plastic or cotton bags for groceries, buying food in bulk or using your own containers to store food in stores, having a water bottle instead of buying water, swapping plastic or aluminium foil with beeswax wraps, and using old clothes as cleaning rags instead of paper towels.
Throughout the workshop, Marijana focused on being open-minded, inclusive, and interactive with her audience. A vast majority of the audience said they were excited about incorporating some of these zero-waste changes in ways that worked for them and the people around them. More than that, these participants were willing to see these lifestyle changes as an adventure and not a loss, and saw it as the next step towards a sustainable future.