Brunch

Living a zero-waste life amidst a pandemic

By Venessa Anthony 

 

Achini Wijesinghe and Thushara Dassanayake

 The Morning Brunch had a conversation with Achini Wijesinghe and Thushara Dassanayake, a couple trying their best to live a zero-waste life. 

They spoke about why they chose to enter a zero-waste life: “We saw a lot of videos of animals dying. There were these traumatising videos of turtles with straws stuck in them, elephants eating garbage and we just couldn’t handle it.” 

They added that these videos, as disturbing as they were, were very persuasive in helping them commit to a zero-waste lifestyle: “People are saying that we should use these videos to educate children, but even as adults we found it very tough to stomach.” They also added that they were worried all the bags and straws they threw away could end up harming these innocent creatures. 

 

Coping with the pandemic

 

Achini and Thushara have been living this lifestyle quite successfully since 2018, but they also spoke about how the pandemic affected their commitment to the cause: “When the lockdown happened, we found it very hard as we had to buy things like soya meat and milk packets, which come in plastic. Everything is delivered in plastic, but even then we tried our best to buy eco-friendly items.” 

They mentioned that they would opt to buy groceries from the lorries that would come around delivering goods, so they could bring their own packaging along, without resorting to an excess of plastic. 

“Now, since there are no more lorries delivering, and we’re being cautious about going to supermarkets, we’re finding it a bit difficult.” 

Achini told us that during the lockdowns, they were working on their house, but all the construction is complete now, and she’s focusing on her balcony garden, where she grows organic produce. 

The pandemic showed many people that having a small garden at home isn’t as hard as one would think, and organically grown produce is also wonderful for your health and much more cost efficient. 

They also mentioned that they had to actively fight the supermarkets to reduce the packaging. They tried to go to little shops instead. “We used to go to the farmers’ market during the weekend. We had separate shops for our eggs, milk, desserts, and everything we could need. It’s a bit tough to go to these places now so we have to resort to supermarkets, and most are not very sustainable.” 

She further stated that one good thing the pandemic brought about is the fact that people are buying in bulk, which severely reduces the amount of plastic consumed. 

“We are also making a difference by not buying unnecessary products. Less people are travelling these days, so less is spent and impulse buys are avoided.” The pandemic has indeed reduced the carbon footprint, even by a little. But a little goes a long way. 

 

Christmas with the zero-waste couple

 

It’s Christmas season, and that is usually synonymous with a lot of waste. Not many people reuse their decorations, and presents are wrapped in heaps of paper and packaged in plastic. 

Achini spoke about how they do christmas in a sustainable way: “My friend had a Christmas tree that was slightly broken, a few years ago, that she was going to throw away. I insisted on her giving it to me, and I fixed it up a bit and we used this tree this year. It was just missing two legs, so I planted it in a pot of cement and it’s as good as new!” She added that they decorated the tree with whatever knick knacks they could find at home, instead of purchasing plastic ornaments. 

She also mentioned that for Christmas, they usually give experiences as gifts, which was a bit hard to do this year in light of the pandemic. “I would usually take my husband out somewhere, maybe to see a waterfall, or go up a hill. This year, I gifted him a pull-up bar which he can use to exercise at home. I was given a yoga subscription!” 

It goes to show that not all gifts need to be large and commercialised, it’s always the thought that counts. 

She added: “We did go to a mall this year, and my husband kept asking if there was anything I wanted. I used to be someone who really enjoyed sales, but now I’ve learnt to only buy what I need.” This makes committing to a sustainable life a lot easier.

It is incredibly difficult to say “no” to something you think you would really like, but once you get the hang of it, you’re bound to find it easier and feel better about yourself. You’ll be saving the planet and making it easier on your wallet! 

She shared with us that her father passed away four months ago, so she spent most of her time grieving: “I don’t think this a time to celebrate 2021, because for most of us, just getting through the year was hard enough.”  

 

The journey to sustainability 

 

“First, you need to remember that zero waste is not equal to creating zero waste. It’s not about being perfect. You are going to end up creating some waste, and you should not let that discourage you.” 

They advise everyone aspiring to live a more sustainable life to do what they can. “Start by saying no to plastic bags. Some supermarkets do wrap their goods in sustainable packaging, so try to opt for those supermarkets. When getting groceries delivered, try to call them and request for the least amount of plastic possible.”

She stated that it is not supposed to be just an individual effort, we as a community need to come together to make a change. She also hightled the importance of the government regulation that is being passed, where they plan to ban single-use plastic. “We need to hold the community responsible. At the same time, it’s essential that there is no increase in prices because of how pressing the issues in the world are. We need to step up and take responsibility on behalf of our homes.” 

She hopes that next year, organisations will realise the hand they have in this process, and things will steer in the right direction and appropriate changes will be made. 

You can follow their journey to a zero-waste lifestyle on their Instagram: @zerowastepeople.