Book Reviews Lifestyle

Book Review: A Zero Waste Life by Anita Vandyke

Last month, I went to Canberra to present at a conference and upon my return, discovered that I had lost my make-up bag. I enjoy swimming, running, yoga and other sweaty activities so I tend to reserve wearing make up for when I go out or attend an event (which is not very often). Therefore, most of the contents of my make-up bag were relatively unused. As I started to replace the contents, I started to realise how much money women spend on make-up, and this is coming from a low-maintenance girl like me! I can’t imagine the cost for a woman who does the whole she-bang with primer, foundation, concealer, setting powder, contour, highlight, baking, and other such techniques that I’d need to watch YouTube tutorials for (and this is just for the base before we even start adding colour to our faces).

Even for someone with a simple routine like me, it is taking hundreds of dollars to replace my minimalist make-up bag. When it comes to my skin, I don’t buy anything cheap and nasty, and I actively search for cruelty-free brands that don’t test on animals. This can sometimes be more expensive… which brings me to ask this question: what if the ethical choice can be the low cost-option? This is often the dilemma when it comes to healthy food. Why would a struggling single mother spend extra dollars on organic, fresh fruit and vegetables to make a meal, when it’s cheaper and quicker to feed her kids McDonald’s?

One area that doesn’t break the bank is dental care. I recently started using a toothbrush by Bare by Bauer. Bamboo toothbrushes are gaining popularity amongst eco-warriors, but some say that the wet bamboo can get a bit smelly. This one is made from non-GMO corn starch, which doesn’t smell. I recently got a bamboo travel case to go with it, which has a venting hole in its lid to keep it dry. I wish I could say that all aspects of my lifestyle are eco-friendly, but it isn’t. One thing I’m not eco-friendly with is toothpaste. I admit that I like my whitening toothpastes, and I haven’t found an eco-friendly alternative yet. If you do know one, please let know!

Travel dental kit: I carry my biodegradable toothbrush from Bare by Bauer in a bamboo case, which has a hole at the top to keep it dry.

As I mourned my near-full bottle of foundation and the brushes that helped me put my best face forward, resting in peace on the floor of a rental car, I thought about the book I’d been reading – A Zero Waste Life in Thirty Days. The author, Anita Vandyke, is a rocket-scientist turned medical student. I had a little chuckle to myself when I read this. Imagine if Anita were to become a neurosurgeon! Then she can once and for all tell us which statement holds more oomph; “it’s not rocket science”, or “it’s not neurosurgery” … but I digress.

I related to Anita’s honest introduction to her book. She had somewhat of a quarter-life existential crisis. She was successful, but her job was making her miserable. She made a brave decision to leave her job as a high-flying manager in an engineering firm and started a ‘zero waste life’ not out of a sudden change in philosophy, but out of necessity – to save money. She describes herself as an ‘accidental environmentalist’. This is what makes her book so accessible to the majority of us, who didn’t grow up in Mullumbimby to vegan, tree-hugging parents (I love Mullumbimby, by the way, except for the anti-vaxxers, but let’s leave that for another time…).

Anita acknowledges that drastic changes aren’t sustainable. We are all selfish to some degree. Why would we make changes that compromise our quality of living, or do something that is completely out of our way when we have so many competing interests, and so little time? This is what I love about Anita’s book: for each chapter, she has options. The three options are; Reduced Waste, Low Waste, and Zero Waste. Going completely “zero waste” may not be feasible for the reader, or at least not all at once! The reduced waste options are a lot easier to incorporate into every day life – simple things that don’t take much effort but still make a difference to the environment.

Take for example; food scraps. The zero waste option is to have your own bokashi bin or worm farm. This put me in a headspin. As much as I like to think of myself as a conscious consumer, there is just no frickin way I could do either of these. But the reduced waste option that Anita suggests? A bit more do-able: bringing your food scraps to someone else’s compost bin. As directed by her book, I looked up my local compost bin and found one in my suburb. As someone who is committed to a plant-based diet, with the occasional cheat meal for social occasions, I have plenty of fodder for someone else’s fertiliser.

The other way that ‘A Zero Waste Life’ has changed my consumption is in my kitchen and bathroom. Anita offers several recipes in her book (including make up!) I’m slowly transitioning to zero waste. Once all of my current cleaning products run out, I am ready to use Anita’s easy-to-follow recipe to make an all-purpose cleaner! I’ve also replaced my sponges with a dish brush, which is made from natural fibres rather than plastic. I first used my friend Lynne’s dish brush when I stayed with her in Melbourne and was so amazed by how soft the bristles were, and more importantly, how effectively they cleaned her dishes!

This Redecker dish brush is made from a beechwood handle and Tampico fibre bristles. I got it from Biome, which has all things eco-friendly. The adorable reusable coffee cup is from an Australian etsy seller.

***Lady Business*** The guys might want to avoid this paragraph because I’m about to talk about that time of month. Sanitary products are so bad for the environment. Reading Anita’s book has made me think about other things that weren’t covered in the book, but are important and relevant. I know the idea of a menstrual cup is divisive, but I’ve decided that once I’ve used up all of my sanitary products in my bathroom cupboard, I will give one a try. One of my favourite vegan & eco friendly websites is Flora & Fauna, which sells Lunette and OrganiCup. I’ve also recently bought some undies from modibodi, which sell both period- and pee-proof undies so that you spend less money on sanitary/continence pads. The other brand with great reviews is THINX, which may have a better shipping option depending on where you live in the world.

Lastly, I love Anita’s chapter ‘Vote with your Dollar’. We make a difference by supporting certain brands and shops – this is something I’ve always been passionate about. I try to support stores that align with my own values and sell ethically-produced items. I also try my best to support small local businesses. My mum and I have shopped at Harris Farm markets for nearly two decades now. They are a family-owned business with many values that I share. They sell organic produce, imperfect fruit, their stock follows what is abundant with the seasons, they are plastic-free, and support local farmers. However…

I have grown more astute with age, and I pay attention to Every. Single. Detail. on a webpage. As I scrolled down their website, I noticed a section called “Our Partners”. I clicked on each of them to see who Harris Farm considers a ‘partner’, and I was disappointed to see that ShowPo – a fast-fashion brand – was included on their list. I realise that this ‘partnership’ is probably to help them out commercially, rather than an ethical partnership, but when you put a brand on your website, you are essentially endorsing it by providing advertising.

I therefore urge you to be a critical thinker when it comes to your consuming habits. A lot of brands will market themselves as environmentally friendly, and whatever else makes them sound all green and planet-loving, but do take your time to research each company that you buy from. Are they really what they say they are? Who owns the company? What are their side hustles? Who do they partner with? What about their packaging? There are a lot of things that are invisible to the consumer upon first glance, but probe a little deeper and be an even more conscious consumer.

I am not going to get all preachy about how you should live your life, but if you do have an interest in transitioning to a life of less waste, I strongly recommend “A Zero Waste Life” by Anita Vandyke. It is well-organised and therefore easy to read, wonderfully written, and it has a no frills practical approach.

Take care,

Miko xx

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  1. Tim says:

    Great discussion and I’ll be hunting out this book. Took your advice, as a male and skipped the lady products section 🙂 Definitely appreciating your perspectives.

    1. Miko says:

      Thank you, I hope you will find the book beneficial

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