The low-down on low-waste living – July 2017

Hanna says her movement towards a waste-free lifestyle began when she was a child and developed organically over time.

Hanna says her movement towards a waste-free lifestyle began when she was a child and developed organically over time. Photo: Hanna Hervall Photography.

With the Waste Reduction and Recycling Amendment Bill going through Parliament this month and the state’s recent crack-down on its consumption of lightweight plastic bags, we were inspired to wonder what waste-free family life really looks like and how attainable this achievement is for the average Queenslander.

Head of the Hervall household in Brisbane, mother-of-two, and founder of The Green Light Collective, Hanna Hervall lets us take a look inside her admirable lifestyle (and pantry!)…

“For me, waste free means not creating any waste that cannot be handled by Mother Nature,” says Hanna who officially made the choice to drastically reduce and ultimately eradicate the waste generated by her family of four earlier this year.

“But subconsciously I think I have been on this journey since I was a little child.”

Hanna grew up on a tiny Island in Sweden and learnt from a very young age that birds can die from the chewing gum people spit out, and that tropical fruit takes a long time to biodegrade in the cold Nordic climate.

“Those kinds of things stuck with me,” says Hanna, “and made me aware very early on of how we always need to think about what we do.”

When the zero-waste movement gained momentum a few years back, Hanna was intrigued and finally decided to go “ALL IN”, with the ultimate motivation of teaching her children to live and eat more sustainably.

As we can all appreciate, this is no meagre feat in a society high on consumption and spoilt rotten by modern convenience, where shop attendants ask if you’d like a plastic bag to carry home your loaf of bread…which is already in a plastic bag! So, with all this in her way, how did Hanna take the first step?

“I made small changes, one at a time. I started while my husband was away for two weeks; I had to back myself,” she says.

Hanna started in the kitchen, cleaning out her fridge and freezer and organising her pantry. She used Pinterest for inspiration and made her own beeswax food wraps to use instead of cling wrap or foil, scavenged her house for bags she could re-use as produce bags, and recycled old glass jars into BYO containers. Then she wrote down what she needed for the week and went grocery shopping at her local organic markets and bulk food stores.

“You can buy pretty much everything you need for a household package-free, including cleaning, laundry and beauty products. More and more places are accepting customers own containers”, she says. A vegetarian from the age of 14, Hanna doesn’t buy meat, but tells of friends who even take their own containers with them to the butcher.

“You will also need some form of compost or worm farm for your food scraps”, Hanna advises. “That alone will reduce your household waste enormously, and what better way than turning it back into nutrient rich soil! I try to think about the big picture, and that picture is worth making an effort for. The hardest thing is to get started.”

Hanna points out that her pantry is super tiny. It is also super-organised, Hanna!

Hanna points out that her pantry is super tiny. It is also super organised, Hanna! Photo: Hanna Hervall Photography.

And get started she did. With these baby steps Hanna began her inspiring journey toward a close-to-zero-waste home where almost nothing needs to be managed after it has left her family’s hands. Though she admits, “I do have some recycling at the end of some weeks, but it’s getting less and less and it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.”

And while we’re being realistic, what of the potential pitfalls on this road (unfortunately) less travelled? Hanna warns, “It can be both time consuming and expensive! Shopping around, buying organic and package free is not something you’ll achieve in a day; it’s a complete lifestyle change. My husband is more analytical and from the beginning he didn’t always see the value in what I did, but he now understands how much it means to me to make a difference, even if I have blown the food budget a few times. I think it’s important to respect your partner’s values and get him/her excited about making a difference in their own way.”

And though Wildlife Queensland is proud to be doing its part on the war on waste through its recently successful campaign to ban the single-use plastic bag in Queensland, we are aware it has raised concerns for those who currently reuse these bags as bin liners. Hanna’s simple solution to this:

“I don’t bin much, but when I do I just line the bin with some old newspaper. This may seem like a problem at first, but it really isn’t something to worry about at all. It has never even crossed my mind.”

As an avid traveller to beautiful natural places both near and far, Hanna doesn’t let her new standards of living slip beyond the home. “If I know there are going to be food stalls, I always bring my own food containers. But if I forget, I look for the ones who provide compostable plates and cutlery,” she says.

“I never buy drinks, I refill my water bottle and these days I always carry homemade snacks, too. I never used to, but now I make big batches and keep them in my freezer for lunches, etc. If I don’t have anything, I can always stop and buy some fruit. Travelling by plane is tricker but I always carry my own drink bottle so I can fill that up rather than using a new cup each time I want a drink onboard.”

So, for those of us inspired by Hanna’s initiative and the ultimate goal of waste freedom for ourselves and our families, this warrior has this takeaway (not packaged in plastic, of course – we brought our own container!):

“Something is 100% better than nothing. We shouldn’t overlook the small efforts. The hardest thing is to actually start; once you get going you will become more and more aware of the waste you create and when you do, you become more creative about ways to reduce it. Start by bringing your own shopping bag!”

And if we do nothing else? “Answer: Buy less stuff!”

As the next step in their journey, the Hervalls hope to learn more about living in alignment with nature. “I want to learn to grow and preserve food and how to be more self-sufficient when it comes to food, water and energy,” says Hanna. “I want to inspire others by sharing stories, like my own, that will encourage more sustainable initiatives (in all areas and industries). I am in the process of launching a new venture, The Green Light Collective, which will focus on just that.”

Wildlife Queensland appreciates Hanna for her insight and commitment to low-impact living, and wishes her new initiative green lights all the way.

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