Sasha from the amazing part zero waste shop Emporium of Worldly Goods in Fort William spoke to us about her family and her own journey to living more zero waste.
Inspired by reading one of our favourite books and thinking about her families needs, Sasha has not only changed her families life around and created more family time through making these changes – Sasha now owns a successful and gorgeous shop in Fort William selling reusables, refillables and gorgeous clothing and accessories all fair trade and ethical from around the world.
We would highly recommend you visit the Emporium of Worldly Goods and have a look around. Sasha not only opened the shop but also started making her own products for home use and supports other initiatives wherever possibly such as fair trade which we of course LOVE. A fellow mother and business woman, she’s amazing to know and such a friendly person – we’re sure you’ll agree too.
Sasha, thank you so much for agreeing to the interview and for speaking to us about your life and journey to zero waste. What does zero waste mean to you and implementing it in your life?
Not a problem.
Firstly for everyone to know as you do, it’s not possible for us to be completely ‘zero waste,’ as even the refillable cosmetics that we sell come in metal tubs that will eventually be unusable!
To me, it means using products that do not generate landfill waste as often as possible, e.g. using reusable or recycled bags/containers when doing your shopping, buying unpackaged products, or utilising compostable packaging when required. We’re a retail shop and it wouldn’t be feasible for us to not offer any bags, so we offer everything from Vegware compostable packaging (these are used for our subscription boxes as well), to jute bags, to recycled cotton produce bags. No plastic, and no landfill waste, but still providing a waste-free option to those who’ve forgotten one.
In terms of our family life, zero waste means using unwrapped or refilled toiletries, buying unwrapped and bulk foods – again, our bulk foods generate less waste than buying smaller portions, but the food has to be stored in something -, avoiding plastics and non-recyclable packing, using steel water bottles, bamboo coffee cups, and buying secondhand clothes and furniture.
We have a lot of jars that are re-used for storing leftovers, tea blends made from our garden herbs and flowers, kombucha, nut and fruit snack mixes for the kids that we prep from bulk, and peanut butter that we make ourselves from bulk-bought peanuts. We grow what we can and forage around our house, which negates the need to purchase certain foods in unnecessary packaging.
There are items that we just don’t have a choice with, due to a required item not being available without non-recyclable packaging, like certain medicines, but we can’t do anything about that.
We aren’t one of those families that keeps a jar to gauge how zero waste we are, we just do our best to be conscious consumers and to look for alternatives.
The waste in a jar thing seems to be an extreme side of it that most people can either aspire to or it just seems to put them off making any changes. It’s amazing with everything you’ve done and it’s so inspiring! You’ve been a great help and support of ourselves, but who or what inspired you to live more zero waste yourself?
We became interested in pursuing a reduced waste lifestyle about five years ago. I think it grew out of an interest in self sustainability, growing and making our own products, like mustard and cheese – instead of buying in packaging, we could make our own and reduce waste.
When I began to think about how much rubbish we actually created, even though we were recycling, I was pretty shocked. We began actively composting and cutting down on the pre-prepared food that we purchased, and I began meal planning more effectively – as we had four kids under 7 between us at the time, this wasn’t always easy, but in order to reduce the amount of food that was wasted, it had to be done.
I began making even more food from scratch, and we ensured that we always took picnics, snacks, and pre-filled water bottles from the tap with us whenever we went out. This helped us avoid being caught out if someone was hungry or thirsty, resulting in us having to buy water in a plastic bottle or a deli sandwich in a wrapper; it was good for saving money too!
We also ensured that we had utensils and dishes in the car at all times, for when we were at festivals or just out and about, so that we could avoid disposables for food we purchased. I think it was less about leaving no waste at the beginning, and more about wanting to live sustainably and be more environmentally friendly in general.
Preparation is always key and an occurring theme to whomever we speak to when it comes to actively reducing waste! Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to live more sustainably? A role model or a defining moment where you thought, this needs to change?
The defining point in trying to go zero waste was when I read Bea Johnson’s book. I started reading more, and it seemed ridiculous to not try to reduce as much waste as possible when there were potential alternatives available for so many things.
It just took a bit of planning/preparedness, recognising and giving up things that we could live without, and research. It sort of became a hobby.
We ensured that we had reusable bags for the shops, and began buying more unwrapped produce and soaps. This involved a bit of a trek to do the shopping around Edinburgh at the time, to source everything from different stores!
We’ve never bought ready meals and have always made our own food from scratch, but I started making items like hummus, which we previously bought in tubs, from bulk ingredients, as well as various condiments. We’ve always utilised secondhand shops, so that wasn’t a problem for clothing and homewares, although I did significantly cut down on what I bought and definitely became a more conscious consumer – just because it was secondhand, did we still need it? Would it be better going to someone else who had a distinct need for it, which would in turn mean that they wouldn’t have to buy a new one?
I began to think more deeply about the supply chain, from production to consumption to landfill, for many more things in our lives. This is also when I began to think about opening the shop, with the link between fair trade and environmentally sound practices becoming clearer.
The [airing of] Blue Planet 2 also had an influence. We still have plastics leftover from years ago that we use instead of chucking in the landfill, which I now feel guilty about, but I suppose it’s better that they’re being utilised and re-purposed than binned.
Finding a purpose for things that you would have otherwise thrown out is definitely a big change in thinking about things. It really resonates when questioning whether you really need something too. There’s so much waste from constant consumption that it just doesn’t fit in with living more sustainably. So, did you, or rather do you think that living a more zero waste lifestyle brings more difficulties?
Sometimes, when it relates to things that we have little control over, like some of our food or medicines.
For instance, we have to make choices about fruit and vegetables. I can’t in good conscience buy peppers in bags, which are significantly cheaper than loose ones, in our local shop (they don’t come loose in the other stores, so that’s not an option), so I have to buy fewer peppers, or fewer varieties of apples, etc.
We’re a family of 6, so produce is a big deal for us – ensuring that we’re getting enough fresh fruit and vegetables without going broke or buying in plastic bags! This is why I try to grow basics in the garden, like lettuce, broccoli, onions, root vegetables, berries, and herbs. We had two cherries this year!
We aren’t totally zero waste though, as I mentioned. Sometimes you need what you need, and there isn’t a package-free or environmentally sound option available.
To make hummus, we still need to buy tahini, which I can’t find in huge tubs, so there is a by-product from that that needs to be re-purposed. Another example is our tween-age daughter, who I’m trying to sell the idea of reusable pads to, when the time comes, but it’s proving a struggle. The alternative is bamboo pads that have a very tiny amount of plastic, and that’s just her choice right now.
I think that until there’s a cultural change and certain options become more mainstream, there’s only a certain level that you can take ‘zero waste’ to, particularly with children, or if someone doesn’t have a local shop or doesn’t know where to look for items, it certainly can be difficult.
You can only be as effective as your options.
Hopefully it is becoming more mainstream, especially with the opening of zero waste shops and highlighting in the media of the waste problem that so many of us have ignored for years. You mentioned about spending extra for your family and it doesn’t make a lot of sense why it’s more expensive for loose produce, so is it more expensive living this way or is it a balance in a way?
As I mentioned, some food is more expensive, but overall, I think that the amount you save on other products will make up for this; for instance, a menstrual cup lasts for years, saving me a few pounds each month on sanitary products, which I probably spend on unwrapped food.
Reusable food wraps can last for a year before going in the compost, saving on cling film or aluminium foil.
Refillable cosmetics can cost more for the initial outlay, but have significantly reduced costs for refills. Making your own cosmetics, insect sprays, herbal remedies, and food can be cheaper, depending on what you’re making.
Being prepared with picnics and homemade lunches saves money on takeaways and ready meals, and many coffee shops offer a discount for bringing your own cup.
There are so many ways you can balance it out isn’t there, spending more while saving in other areas. What keeps you going and inspired when it comes to living more sustainably and through creating less waste?
Trying to be as zero waste as possible has become pretty routine at home and at work, so it’s just part of trying to look out for the environment and the future of the planet and our children.
One of the basic tenets of fair trade is to be environmentally friendly, and about a third of our selection in the shop is specifically dedicated to ethically and fairly traded zero waste products, from our water bottles to our coconut bowls. Our suppliers are also conscious of what they pack materials in, which is really helpful.
I think it’s inspiring when more and more people start trying to reduce their impact, because it makes it easier for everyone, and you start to feel that it’s making a difference.
The zero waste movement is certainly growing, hopefully this means bigger changes for people worldwide. What were or still are the difficult changes to make for yourself and your family?
Finding medicines in recyclable or compostable packaging.
Convincing the kids to make good choices can be a challenge. Most of the time they’re on board, but when so many places in town have packaged toys, pens, etc, sometimes spending money goes towards things that I’d really prefer they’d not bought.
Finding all of the types of food you need/want in packaging that can be re-purposed or recycled, if not totally unpackaged. I think that we need to look at what we’re eating and evaluate that further.
Eating local produce would alleviate the need for preservatives, but my family would need to ensure that they’re getting all of the nutrients they need from local produce, and that’s something I need to look at and plan meals around. I’m working on it!
Let us know what you come up with! And yes the challenge of trying to convince the kids to not buy the junk can be a challenge but, hopefully it’ll minimise over time and they’ll get the message. What were the easiest changes for you to make?
Learning how to make of our own food and condiments, especially because the kids like getting involved. You can mix quality family time with making things for the family to eat or use.
Growing our own was easy in terms of planting, but a bit more difficult to be successful with everything!
Bringing your own zero waste ‘kits’ is easy because they’re items you already have in your home; you just need to take them with you.
There are so many different resources online for pretty much anything you want to make or for different ideas on how to be more zero waste that as long as you know what you’re looking for, it’s not too difficult.
So true! With a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips, there really doesn’t seem to be many excuses not to make the changes. What have been the biggest benefits so far from living more zero waste?
I have to take out fewer bins! [laughs]
Seriously though, I like having less of an impact on the environment and not putting loads of non-recyclables in landfill. The compost is great for our garden, and we really enjoy planting new things.
I know that we’re doing our part to be conscious consumers and retailers and not contributing to needless waste.
Fewer bins is a great upside! And, the love of growing your own is certainly coming back these days, it’s great to see. So, seeing as we’ve kept you so long, all for amazing answers too though, can we ask – what would you say to someone new to zero waste and your best tips for starting out?
Make yourself a zero waste kit of cutlery, napkin, thermos, and water bottle to keep in your bag, and ones for your family and/or your car.
Start making things that you buy in plastic tubs, like hummus, guacamole, tzatziki, etc. You can make it to taste, and for only the amount you need, and it’s so much better than store bought.
Start making your own cosmetics and toiletries where possible. Source refills or refillable, non-plastic containers.
Buy bulk foods and unwrapped produce whenever possible. Use a local greengrocer if you have one.
Put a stock of reusable bags of all shapes and sizes, as well as tubs for any deli purchases, in your car/bag for shopping.
Get a menstrual cup and a safety razor.
My [other] bit of advice is to think about what you’re buying, whether you need it, if you can make it yourself, and is the by-product recyclable/compostable/able to be re-purposed – be a conscious consumer.
Also, nobody’s perfect.
Until package-free options are available everywhere, it will be difficult to get some things that we actually need without creating some sort of waste. Changing needlessly wasteful habits and trying our best will still make a difference to the amount of landfill created.
We’d like to thank Sasha again for agreeing to interview with us, such a wealth of support and information as well as a fellow friendly shop-owner.
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