For the month of July, Josie Adams is taking on the challenge of being low-waste. That means minimising plastics, emissions, and even recyclables. Each week we release her diary. This is week three.
This week began with a tragedy: I lost my ability to Lime after my phone camera broke. Without my e-scooter of choice, I was left to roam the world by foot and bus. As a result, you see before you my peak physical form.
My mind, too, has grown sharp. I finagled my way into friends’ houses and networking events most evenings, so I didn’t have to buy or cook anything at all. Not only was I not creating waste, I was removing waste by smashing PR platters and cleaning out fridges.
A generally positive week was made even better with an inspiring conversation with low-waste icon Miriama Kamo. That’s right, I’m now hob-nobbing with the zero-waste elite.
Let us begin in a time when I was still able to scoot my way to free food.
I am a genius. Every location I’m dining out at is Liming distance from my house. It’s just me, my miserly tum, and my clean green e-wheels.
I go straight to the first suckers’ house after work, where the wine and the food is, at least, not my waste. I am an enchanting guest. I regale my hosts with tales of low-waste hardships and fun recycling facts; I earn my supper. We’re having a grand old time, until disaster strikes.
The rear camera on my phone is smashed. It appears to have been shattered by a tiny bullet, probably shot by a rabid industrialist to sabotage my inspiring low-waste lifestyle. Without a rear QR code-reading camera, I can’t Lime anywhere.
It’s a long walk home on a chilly winter’s night, but I’m not caving now. I pull my coat tighter and stomp past the rows of Ubers thronging together on Ponsonby Road.
Some people have suggested my objection to Ubers isn’t warranted. It is warranted, because Toyota insists the plural of Prius is Prii, which is extremely dumb, and also: hybrids still use petrol. I have decided that it’s OK to use one if there is another passenger on board. This would bring the person-to-emission ratio down. No one responds to my texts for car companionship, so I keep walking.
There’s a Colin McCahon show on in town and I rock up ready for the traditional art scene nibbles and wine. There aren’t any, and I am bloody ropeable and very hungry. Disappointing spread, disappointing art, disappointing people.
I curse the paintings and storm out into the loveless night. My supper has been torn away like so many trees from the soil. I’ve been leaning into the “not my waste, not my problem” mindset, but this means relying on other people, which is always a mistake. Love and hope are both dead. It’s me against the world. I head to the pub and sit in, creating zero waste by sinking a flight of beers and a bowl of fries. I assume the potatoes are locally grown but don’t ask. I can’t handle it right now.
Home in one piece, it’s time for self-care. Let’s talk about the wonders of coconut oil. Yes, I’ve become that guy. It’s a mouthwash, it’s a moisturiser, it’s a cleanser, it’s my best friend. It’s also impossible to get without some serious air miles.
I’ve spent all month weighing this up: some air miles and plastic for a 1kg tub of coconut oil, or the tens of individually wrapped products it substitutes? If it’s possible to grow coconuts in New Zealand, someone needs to get on it.
I am doing something terrifying. I am taking my own container to the supermarket deli. I know, I know; I’ve talked a big game about BYO containers for two weeks now. I haven’t actually done it. It’s too scary. Today that changes.
As I approach the New World counter, I start panicking. What if they’re the wrong kind of container? Is there a standardised reusable container I should be using? I stare into an olive hoping that instructions are written on its oily skin. “Can I help you?” I look into the eyes of my judge. I ask her if they do BYO containers. Until 10 seconds ago I was dead sure they did. But what if… they don’t? She says yes. Yes, I knew it.
I hand her the glass jar, and she cracks a small smile. “It has to be clean,” she explains, and takes the jar out back to scrub it. To my untrained eye it was perfectly clean. Not a speck on it. She does the same with my ceramic jar, which I am also pretty sure is clean.
I am insulted, but thank her for washing my (allegedly) sub-par jars for me. Top tip: steam clean your containers before bringing them in.
If you forget to BYO container, at this New World (Victoria Park), you can instead receive your goods in a compostable Ecoware bowl. The store also provides the locations of the closest organics bins, so the bowls end up composted properly.
Today I have the honour of meeting star of New Zealand page and screen, Miriama Kamo. She’s a picture of earth goddess radiance. She’s been on a zero-waste journey since the beginning of the year, and I need a pep talk from the pro. One of the first things she asks me is if I’ve brought my own containers to the supermarket yet.
“Did you feel nervous?” she asks me. My heart is pounding at yesterday’s memory. “I remember the first time I felt so incredibly fearful and anxious, which is ridiculous,” she says. I’m gripping the table we’re sitting at, relating with every fibre of my fearful being. “I went to the mall and I had a keep cup and an ice cream container,” she explains. “I piked out! I couldn’t do it! I ended up just buying some tea in my keep cup and went home hungry.”
Kamo doesn’t have any fears about BYO containers now. She uses them whenever she shops, and supermarkets haven’t given her any trouble. It’s nice to hear from someone deeper into the lifestyle that it’s OK to struggle. “Do as much as you can, and a little bit more each day,” she advised, “but not to the point where you feel crap.” She tells me not to be a martyr. I’m one person, I’m not representing anything.
However, tonight I am representing The Spinoff as a plus-one at a TVNZ party. I will be networking with television people, not simple wordsmiths. I’m moving up in the world, and I expect the snacks to be better than Colin McCahon’s.
They are! Wine aplenty and catering for all! My bare hands are stuffed with popcorn and nougat and grapes – no serviette thanks, no, I’m against deforestation – and my gullet is choked with shiraz. Thanks, TVNZ. Your new show looks very good. I remember what Kamo said about taking a tiffin tin everywhere, and regret not having one to shove crackers into.
I haven’t bought pasta all month. I am desperate for the slither of linguini, for the soft flap of a raviolo. I have seen no pasta for sale without plastic. Nulla, none. My Sardinian ancestors are beginning to stand over my bed at night, fantasmas dripping olive oil onto my sleeping face in a pasta-based torment. (Editor’s note: Get ye to Good For, my friend.)
Kamo sent me a link to a local store that sells pasta in glass instead of plastic but, to my intense sorrow, they are sold out. Tonight, I am making my own pasta. I have no machine, and no skill; only determination and my giant hands. The ingredients for homemade pasta are easy to find at a supermarket without plastic: flour, eggs and oil. Passata ingredients, too, can all be bought packaging-free: tomatoes, garlic, a sprinkle of sugar, some herbs. Bellissimo. Put me on Kiwi Living with Miriama Kamo.
I tip most of my food scraps into the compost, but not all! No, my neighbour, Gary, has gently chided me about what can and can’t go in the community compost. No onions, garlic, or citrus. Worms don’t like ‘em. My own research shows they’re actually OK in small amounts, but Gary has laid down the law.
Days 20 & 21
I haven’t enjoyed a $20 smashed avo in weeks, and a family reunion seems like the perfect time to splash out. Unfortunately, my stomach has shrunk thanks to the feast-or-famine lifestyle I’m living. I can’t process this many hash browns before 1pm. I’m nauseous from horror at my wastage, and also from the greasy pressure on my delicate morning stomach. I force myself to consume everything in sight, in flagrant breach of my mum’s constant reminders that I am not a rubbish bin and shouldn’t treat myself as such.
While I’m worried about my own food waste, I can’t help wondering what’s happening on a larger scale. I decide to flick my old friend Marcus Te Brake a message. He’s as keen to reduce food waste as any eco-warrior. What does New World Long Bay do with their leftovers?
“Any produce that is merely ‘imperfect’ – as in blemished or bruised, but still fine for human consumption – goes to the local Torbay fruit and vegetable stand,” he says. “Ugly” produce is picked up from the store twice a week by volunteers.
“Anything not fit for human consumption – e.g. vegetable trimmings, stale bread, and so on – is picked up and transported to a pig farm just over the hill in Okura,” says Te Brake.
I can’t help but wonder if the Long Bay store is atypical, but Te Brake says that it’s relatively common. Most businesses want to minimise waste. “Our industry has never been more competitive, and wasting food costs money!” He says Long Bay isn’t the only store sending their food waste to community stands and pig farms. “A lot of stores do something similar – particularly those in semi-rural locations such as ours.”
“Semi-rural” covers a huge amount of New Zealand’s stores; our entire national image is dominated by the concepts of ‘semi-rural’ and ‘lifestyle blocks.’ To know that supermarkets are able to make the most of the communities they’re in is encouraging.
I may have started the week on foot, alone at a disappointing art gallery, but I’m ending it with Miriama Kamo and New World Long Bay on my side. With low-waste juggernauts holding me up, I have clear eyes, a green heart, and can’t lose.
This article was created in paid partnership with New World. Learn more about our partnerships here.
New World is doing their bit to make a better world and is leading the way to less plastic and waste, all thanks to New Zealanders. They love how Kiwis have made sustainable changes, but there’s more to come in their sustainability journey. Keep up with New World’s #PlasticFreeJuly efforts at https://www.facebook.com/newworld/
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.