An Interview with Rachelle Strauss

Plastic Expert welcomes Rachelle Strauss, founder of My Zero Waste, for a chat about her inspiration, her cause and the future of zero waste.

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On the back of her Resource Award, Plastic Expert Interviews…

Hi Rachelle, would you like to introduce yourself and ‘My Zero Waste’?
I’m Rachelle Strauss, founder of My Zero Waste which is a blog about how my family and I reduce the amount of stuff we send to landfill.
Could you tell us a little bit about the history and reasons for starting My Zero Waste?
On a rainy day in August 2004, I was browsing a shop while on holiday in Boscastle. Twenty minutes later the tide came in and two rivers rose by seven feet. Flood waters carried away 75 cars, 100 buildings, and finally, the bridge that would have led us out of the village. About 150 people were airlifted to safety.
Climate change is a contentious topic, but in that moment, when I was standing with my daughter in my arms, wondering whether I’d ever see my husband again, I decided this could be the effects of human activity and chose to be part of the solution.
What is the main objective of MZW and how will you help your audience achieve it?
Our readership is global and made up of individuals and organisations who are looking for solutions to the amount of waste they accumulate. We encourage them to view waste as a resource and give them ideas for thinking outside the box through blogging about the issues we face and the solutions we find.
My mantra is “There’s no such place as away!” So when you ‘throw something away’; it’s simply somewhere else – a landfill site, an incinerator or a ship to China. Once we’ve put something in the ubiquitous black bin bag, it’s out of sight, out of mind. We can’t wait to “get rid of it,” to absolve responsibility for it and, in some cases, forget it ever happened. My site is all about facing up to what we want to get rid of and seeing if there’s a better way to do things so we don’t accumulate so much rubbish in the first place.
What are some of your specific qualities that have allowed you to become a recognized voice in the world of Zero Waste?
People tell me that I’m ‘real’, approachable and encouraging. I don’t preach, I don’t pretend to be anything other than someone trying to make the right decisions – but often failing – and I’m not afraid to write about my mistakes. I’m all about rolling my sleeves up and getting in the trenches with you, rather than telling you what to do.
My weekly ‘Food Waste Friday’ used to be one of my most popular posts where I would pull out everything green and slimy from the back of the fridge and photograph it. It kept me accountable, made me determined to throw away less food the following week and encouraged others to join in too.
zero waste
How achievable is Zero Waste for businesses and where do they begin?
As with anything in life, you begin with the first step.
For a business I suggest gathering together a ‘green team’ and brainstorming. It’s amazing what can surface when you get a group of committed individuals in the same room and give everyone a voice.
Take a walk around your premises and take an audit. This is the time to get real. What are you throwing away? Grab your rubber gloves and go through it; get dirty! Make an inventory then ask yourself which ONE item could you divert from landfill? And make a plan to succeed; perhaps you need to change your supplier or find a waste contractor to help you recycle.
It’s important to get your staff on board too. Make it fun; a bit of friendly competition or incentivise with an award for the best ‘green citizen’. Organise a swap event, go on a litter pick, start a compost heap and community garden or remove individual desk bins to make people think more about recycling…
Sign up for Zero Waste Week too; it’s a fantastic way to join thousands of people who have the same goal as you – to reduce landfill waste, improve your CSR and increase your bottom line.
Would you tell us a bit about Zero Waste Week?
Zero Waste Week is a national awareness campaign that has been running since 2008. Predominantly a social media campaign, last year the reach was 34 million, which shows how powerful social media is. The aim of the week is to, you’ve guessed it, reduce landfill waste and rethink ‘waste’ as a resource!
Each year I pick a theme and participants sign up at the Zero Waste Week website to get on the mailing list. Once a month they get a newsletter and during Zero Waste Week itself, they get daily emails packed full of hints, tips and ideas to keep them on track.
We at Plastic Expert are in the business of recycling and landfill diversion, but in your vision, waste often won’t need to get that far. How do we eradicate the need for landfills totally, is it possible?
I’m an optimist and believe that, with personal and political will, we could see massive changes to the problems we’re facing around waste. By changing our mindset to one of co-operation rather than competition and viewing our waste as a resource we could achieve close to zero waste.
Yes it would take a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of changes and there will be lots of challenges but I’m all for turning obstacles into stepping stones and believe anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
I am a huge advocate for the Zero Waste model created by Dr Paul Connett in which jobs are created, communities are built and resources are preserved. It all starts with source separation – take out the messy stuff like food waste and you’re left with clean recyclates. Then, with a combination of top notch kerbside collections, composting, repair, recycling and reuse centres we can preserve and use things for longer. Once you can see what’s ending up in landfill you can then call for better industrial design to literally, design out waste!
I was recently voted the Number One ‘Mover and Shaker’ in the world of waste reduction by readers of Resource Media’s Resource Magazine. Some of the feedback included:
Rachelle powerfully and engagingly communicates practical ways in which individuals and businesses can live and work more sustainably. She makes the vision of creating zero waste seem achievable and that can only be a great thing.”
How close have you come to reaching zero waste in your home?
During 2009 we accumulated just one dustbin of waste for the entire year. We ended up with things like broken plastic toys, disposable biros and razors and non recyclable food packaging.
With landfills nearly full, would you agree that it is vital that investment is made now into improving waste reduction?
Of course! One of the biggest challenges we face is lack of cohesion around the country with regards to recycling. Wouldn’t it be simpler if all Local Authorities offered the same recycling facilities? And what about saying to manufacturers “You can design the packaging or product IF there is a simple, local and effective way for consumers to recycle it at the end of useful life.”
I’d like to see inbuilt obsolescence phased out, the return of repair shops and how about the return of deposits on glass bottles?

Where would you like to see My Zero Waste in five years time?
Interest in preserving resources and protecting the environment is growing all the time, so My Zero Waste isn’t going away any time soon! I’m fortunate enough to be a web designer, so have lots of plans for the site including directories, more resources and developing the Zero Waste Week campaign with events and head hunting a team of committed ‘global ambassadors’. I’m pretty flexible in my approach and will follow the latest stories and trends while making my own discoveries that I’ll continue to share with my readers.
What was your experience of taking part in ‘Trashed’ with Jeremy Irons?
I was invited to take Jeremy shopping to show him that a zero waste lifestyle starts before you reach the checkout. I am fortunate to live close to a couple of organic farm shops and I was able to show him how to shop naked, save money and make good choices.
Trashed premièred in Cannes in 2012, has been shown in over 40 countries and won 8 awards.
The film discusses the issues of waste and sustainability. In this two minute segment you’ll see me talking to Jeremy Irons about the amount of landfill waste we, as a family, threw out in 2009 and how we accumulated so little…

Thanks Rachelle!
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