My Parents’ Journey Towards Zero Waste Lifestyle

By Nabila Shohimi

kv1Every person’s zero-waste journey is different from one another. No matter how different it is, it’s the effort and process that count.

“Mom, I left my shopping bag at home, did you bring one?” I asked frantically in the supermarket. My mother, a housewife who loves to garden, proudly pulled out her large foldable shopping bag while saying, “I knew that this bag would come in handy, I always have one on standby for shopping.”

This kind of situation has become part of our lives – bringing our own shopping bags whenever we go out to buy things. A few years ago, while I was still in university, my parents and I used to shop with plastic bags despite the 20-cents charge for a plastic bag. Due to my campus encouraging sustainable lifestyle, I started to use my own shopping bag provided by my alma mater. I also remember the few times I carried my groceries in my own hands to the point where my parents shook their heads and wondered why I troubled myself when I could have gotten a plastic bag to reduce the hassle. I would then tell how each plastic bag will kill my turtles (I was doing research on turtles in university back then).

Getting my parents, especially my mother, to use our own shopping bags is not much of a challenge because shopping bags are available everywhere, what more with the foldable ones that are user-friendly. Furthermore, these bags are available in many sizes. We have a few big ones which we brought to Thailand to store our newly-bought Zebra utensils – we only used 3 plastic bags throughout our 3-day Thailand trip. Nevertheless, I am happy that my parents are doing their best to travel with less plastic bags involved.

However, the usage of straws proved to be a bigger challenge for my parents. Being usual customers of mamak restaurants and Malay stalls, it is rare to see our drinks served without a straw. After all, straws have become a normal ‘necessity’ for Malaysians to drink from their glasses or cups. I first started with not using straws at fast food chains, much to my father’s dismay. “How am I going to drink without a straw?” I replied, “You can drink from the cup itself.” “But it’s an iced drink. Who drinks this without a straw?” He proceeded to getting a straw – sadly, my no-straw mission failed. My mother who was initially not comfortable drinking without a straw, somehow managed to adapt to this practice. She not only doesn’t ask for straws, but also bought her own metal straws to use when she goes out.

Perhaps, seeing my mother and her metal straws created some kind of curiosity in my father.  He once asked why people are starting to ban plastic straws. “Those plastic straws are not bio-degradable and can get stuck in an animal’s mouth, nose or stomach. Again, my turtles can be the victims and I’ll never allow something like that to happen.” As time passed by, I found my father sipping iced water from the cup itself. Then he tried the metal straw and discovered that it is more enjoyable to drink cold drink in that manner. Although my parents are now accustomed to drink without plastic straws, they are always given straws when their drinks arrive. Hence my next mission is to get them to refuse straws from the beginning.

My father may be more difficult to be educated about zero-waste compared to my mother, but he plays his role as well by saving used cooking oil instead of dumping it into the drainage and sewage system. Knowing that the organization I work in – EcoKnights, is a collection point for used cooking oil to make soaps, he passes me bottles of the oil to be brought to my office. Perhaps, he finds this more relatable to himself as he likes to cook and has his own small biryani business. In fact, he opted to use plastic boxes to pack biryani for his customers rather than polystyrene boxes although the latter is of lower cost in bulk. Although the packaging is made of plastic, I’m still glad that he doesn’t use polystyrene for his food business. I prefer to not condemn nor scold him for using plastics as I know it would probably dampen his spirit to do his best after banning the usage of polystyrene from his food business. As I would always say, baby steps – to help others to understand the zero-waste movement while encouraging them by starting simple.

DIY soaps made of used cooking oilDIY soaps made of used cooking oil

I love to share stories of my parents and their journey in adopting a zero-waste lifestyle as they are relatable to many, especially the communities I engage with throughout my work. My parents may not be the perfect zero-waste couple, but they are good examples for the general public who are either dependent on certain things that many don’t think is necessary, or need more guidance and time to adopt a lifestyle with less waste. My parents’ zero-waste effort is always a never-ending lesson for me to understand the realities of different communities as well as to speak their ‘language’ in order to help them relate to the real deal behind the zero-waste movement. Always start simple and never demotivate them when they make an error.

I can say that this is not the end for my family’s zero-waste journey, in lieu it will be a long learning journey with much positive vibes for us, which I am looking forward to.

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