Zero Waste with Erin Rhoads

Portrait of Erin Rhodes. A woman with red hair wearing a white shirt smiling at the camera

Erin Rhoads is the person behind one of Australia’s popular eco lifestyle websites on zero-waste living, and author of the book Waste Not. Erin is on a mission to help show individuals the big difference we can make by throwing away less.

The zero-waste lifestyle can seem a bit overwhelming to begin with. Here, Erin shares what her own journey was like and how we can all be eco warriors by making simple changes, gradually.

The Thrifty Philanthropist: What does a typical day look like for you?

Erin Rhoads: I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband and 21 month old son. My days at the moment are busy while I write my second book, organise upcoming talks and workshops for the year, and work on a plastic reduction campaign, while my son is usually climbing all over me. It’s chaos but I love it.

TTP: What was the main motivation to begin reducing your waste?

ER: As cliché as this sounds, it was a documentary (The Clean Bin Project) that inspired me to live mindfully. The film highlighted how much unnecessary waste we produce and its negative impact on every living being on this planet.

Prior to viewing the film, I was not aware of my impact and definitely not an environmentalist or greenie. But once that movie finished, I began searching for ways I can reduce my plastic and that’s when I discovered Plastic Free July… and the rest they say, is history.

TTP: Did you go ‘cold turkey’ or was it a gradual process for you?

ER: It was a gradual change! I began doing this six years ago before it became popular. So I had to muddle my way through without the help of anyone. But these days there are so many more people making changes to live zero-waste and emerging businesses making the switch to a waste-free life easier.

Erin Rhodes. A woman wih red hair wearing a white tshirt cuts vegetables in the kitchen.
Photo credit: Gavin Green and Hardie Grant

TTP: Can you please tell us about all those other ‘R’s that we should start thinking about in addition to reduce, reuse, recycle, and why recycling is at the bottom of that list?

ER: The R’s I follow to keep my waste to a minimum are: Rethink, redesign, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, rot and recycling as the last resort. While recycling is great, it does nothing to address what is the heart of the issue and that’s our consumption. For I believe that consumption is at the root of all of our environmental issues we face today. By wasting less, we buy less and end up making less!

TTP: What will people learn from reading your book?

ER: Waste Not is for those wanting to tackle waste at your own pace, because everyone’s life is different. I share the reasons why we need to makes changes and dive into topics like:

  • Setting up a plastic free challenge for yourself;
  • The simple swaps and how to make new habits stick;
  • How to conduct a bin audit and plastic audit;
  • What you can do to reduce your kitchen waste;
  • Growing food and composting;
  • How to make safe and low waste cleaning products;
  • Decluttering kindly;
  • Caring, fixing and repairing;
  • Tips for second hand shopping and extending the life of your clothes;
  • How to make your own beauty products or find low waste options plus other personal care solutions;
  • Hosting and navigating events of your own and with family/friends;
  • Preparing for children – nappies, kids parties, toys, even pets;
  • Eating out, travelling and being low waste in the office; and
  • The different ways to act your vision through activism.
A hand drawn image of a house. Inside is a love heart, coin and small plants.
Illustration by Twinewood Studio

TTP: From my personal experience, I find the biggest challenges in living a zero-waste lifestyle are time (in extra preparation) and guilt (when I opt for convenience). What advice do you have for me and others feeling the same way to overcome these?

ER: My motto is to always do the best you can, with what you’ve got, where you are. Trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle can be harder at periods for various reasons. Remember our modern lifestyle is not set up for zero-waste living yet.

I always advise to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else otherwise you’ll never feel like you’re making a difference. If perhaps you end up buying items packaged because of convenience, try writing to the company or even supermarket to ask for them to provide more zero-waste options, or to change the packaging.

Cover of the book Waste Not by Erin Rhodes

Zero-waste living can help you become happier and healthier, allowing you to jump off the treadmill and not feel you have to keep up with the Jones anymore, while being a eco warrior helping tackle climate change.

Erin Rhoads

TTP: What has been your biggest challenge?

ER: The biggest challenge was simply learning to remember my reusable bag and water bottle. Because I took my time making changes and doing it slowly, I never felt like there were too many challenges. I never rushed out to buy anything new and eco-friendly or feelt like I had to change everything quickly.

I imagine going forward raising a child zero-waste in a linear economy will present some challenges, but I can only do my best.

Reusable bags hanging on a wall near a door at home. There is a sign saying don't forget the resuable bags.

Photo credit: Gavin Green and Hardie Grant

TTP: This is a website for ‘thrifty’ philanthropists. In your experience, does the initial outlay for reusable items pay for itself in savings in the long run?

ER: One of my favourite swaps was my menstrual cup which cost me $30 and $75 for cloth pads, to replace the single-use disposable pads and tampons. Since I’ve been using these, I’ve saved over $600. It was a big outlay at the time but it has paid itself off.

I’ve saved money by making other choices like making the swap to washing my hair with water only, only buying plain bars of soap, making sure none of my food goes to waste as that is throwing away money, buying second-hand and generally shopping less. With the extra money I’m now able to give back and help others more.

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