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The Voices of 5 Inspiring Female Eco-Warriors

As part of Women’s Month we interviewed five eco-warriors and asked them questions about their zero-waste journey. These ladies are a wealth of knowledge and their stories are truly inspiring.

 

Upcycle shop

Winnie McHenry - Upcycle

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and your business? 

‘Going green’ is often described as a journey. First, we must become aware of our impacts. Then, we must equip ourselves to take action. We do this by educating and upskilling ourselves to make a positive impact.  

When we think about ‘saving the planet’ it is easy to feel overwhelmed and disempowered by the urgent need for large scale change. But the journey begins with a single step. Fortunately, we are not alone; there are people whose journey’s we can learn from and be inspired by.

My journey started as a young girl making things I didn’t necessarily have access to from junk. When I look at junk, I see treasure. I see value in everything. It’s the stuff that people don’t see any value in that I like to play with.

Upcycle was born from the realisation that we can meet our needs and save the planet using what we have at our disposal. Growing up in South Africa, the realities of poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation and limited waste management inspired the creation of Upcycle.

Q2: How and why is your business eco-conscious? 

We are all about empowering individuals, communities and corporations to reduce their ecological footprints and create economic opportunities by transforming waste materials destined for landfill into valuable products through upcycling. Upcycle provides alternative waste management strategies for corporates and trains communities and individuals on how to see value in waste and create value in their own lives through crafting. Everybody and every single thing has value; you just have to see it.  You harness value by giving it an opportunity to flourish and time to grow.

Q3: Any other aspects of your business that are important to you?

One of the main aspects that is important to me but is not visible in the day to day running of the businesses, is watching the people we teach grow as individuals as they gain competence in what they do. They as people grow and expand and for me this is the unspoken importance of Upcycle that makes me want to get up every day and see what new levels we can reach.

Q4: What is your advice to other women to be/become more eco-conscious?

Always ask yourself do I really need this? What will happen to this item when I am done with it and is there something more important to me then this? Not only can you save the planet faster but you will be surprised at how much money you will save by being a conscious consumer.

 

Eco Warrior Harrassed Mom

Laura Kim - Harrassed Mom Blog

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and your own journey to becoming eco-conscious? 

I am Laura, mom to 4 kids, ranging in age from 19 to 7. We homeschool and in between I run my own Social Media marketing business.

While I would love to say that our journey to living a waste-free/minimal lifestyle started mainly out of concern for the environment, it didn’t. Having a large family means having a tight budget so we learnt to make do with less. When you survive with less, you realise you need less.

Then the straws are bad campaign caught my attention a few years back and I started doing a little more research about straws which lead me to plastic waste and that is where our journey really began.

While we have always recycled, I started really focusing on reducing the plastic we were bringing into our home, rather just recycling it. It was a slow start – we switched to cloth shopping bags and veggie bags. We bought travel mugs for takeout coffee and the kids each got metal and/or glass bottles for water.

As I learnt more, we started making more changes – we started making our own cleaning products, switched to shampoo bars. Then we found waste-free stores and started buying clothes from thrift stores.

It really has been a long, slow journey but when I look back and see the changes we have made –they are pretty big, and it is now a way of life for us all.

Q2: What are your biggest eco achievements/changes you have made? 

I think it has to be switching our groceries and cleaning materials to plastic free alternatives. We get or weekly fruit and veg delivery that includes milk in glass bottles and basic herbs and spices, our basic kitchen staples and some cleaning materials come from Unwrapped and when we do have to buy from larger supermarkets, we try to look for glass or recyclable options.

Q3: Any advice to other women wanting to be more eco-conscious?

Start small! Use up what you have and then replace with more eco-friendly options – even if it is just one small change a month, in the end it all adds up.

I think it is also important to talk to your kids and involve them in the process. Explain to them why you recycle. Tell them where the food comes from that you are eating. My hope is that my kids continue to be aware about what they are buying, where it comes from and the impact it has on the world.

 

Eco Warrior Ilka Stein

Ilka Stein - Skhaftin Bus

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and your business?

I am almost 40 years old and on most days love the hassle of Joburg and I like to "play and think outside the box". In 2018 I decided to combine my passion of facilitating meaningful conversations and supporting individuals, team and organisations to deeply connect and foster cooperation (I am a facilitator and coach by profession) with my deep passion to work for and with young people by creating ForReal career and learning opportunities for them. A wonderful open exploration process with 12 young people led to a new social enterprise in 2020. Under the ForReal umbrella we now also run a mobile, plastic-free grocery store in the inner city of Johannesburg, called Skhaftin.

Q2: How and why is your business eco-conscious?

Our social enterprise started in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and was born out of questions around access to healthy food, especially in communities in the Inner City of Johannesburg.  We want to show that eco-friendly, zero-waste concepts are possible and work in low income communities. We are providing community members with access to healthy food at very reasonable prices and at the same time promoting plastic-free shopping. At the end of 2020 we converted an old school bus into our plastic-free mobile grocery store. The bus allows us to be visible in our community (and beyond of course) and we can actually bring an entire shop to your doorstep. It is like the olden day "milk or bread van".

We believe it is a smart way of shopping - you only buy the quantities you need, you reduce plastic usage by bringing your own container, you don't have to go to a shop as the shop comes to you and you may even meet your neighbour for a chat outside while shopping at the bus.

​Apart from our home community in the inner city of Johannesburg we are now also working on different routes each week and allow people to place bookings. So watch out for the Skhaftin Bus!

Q3: Any other aspects of your business that are important to you?

I am so excited that the Skhaftin provides, for real, working experience and opportunities for young people. We are a team of 6 and, besides me, we are 5 young people all from the Makers Valley community. Sanele looks after the operations and is in the bus for our customers, Sidney drives our beautiful 36 year old bus, Bevelina takes care of our finances and books and Mercayler and Nathan help us on the marketing side. The big vision is that Skhaftin will be fully managed by them. Creating real opportunities for young people is my actual driver. That it comes in the form of a stunning bus and is good for the environment makes it extra special.

Q4: What is your advice to other women to be/become more eco-conscious?

It doesn't have to be perfect - everything, every small step counts.  And it actually doesn't always have to be expensive at all. I love that my old yoghurt container is now my "Skhaftin" for brown lentils.

For me the big game changer was starting to re-use glass jars and containers and with that I started to develop a routine. 

I believe it is all about awareness. Nowadays I don't leave my home without my reusable coffee cup even if it is empty because maybe I want a coffee later. And I like the smile I get in a coffee shop when I ask them to rather fill my coffee cup. This occasionally leads to a conversation about why I am bringing my own cup and this I really love! Let's talk more about it with others and especially with children and young people.

Every small thing makes a difference and that is what counts.

 

Eco Warrior Lucy Ferreira

Lucy Ferreira - greeninjozi on IG

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and your own journey to becoming eco-conscious? 

A person of many lives, a mum, a spouse, a feminist, a loud opinionista. People talk about being slapped in the face with a cold wet fish - that is what it felt like for me. One day in 2018 I was living my life as usual, wasteful and careless and concerned with stuff and consuming, and then the next day I had suddenly seen my waste for what it really was to the planet and it completely blew my mind that we were living so carelessly. So it started with plastic waste and then went into clothes, personal hygiene, household, power, transport, everything about the way we live and consume these days. Consumption and careless waste were my catalysts, there was no one book, or documentary or anything - more like an actual awakening and once that's happened it becomes impossible to go back to sleep. Now if I have to go to a mall I wander around thinking it's crazy how much stuff retail capitalist economics wants us to consume constantly.

Q2: What are your biggest eco achievements or changes that you have made? 

The way that I consume is now completely conscious and as sustainable and circular as possible at every step, which means second-hand whenever possible and reusable. Becoming vegetarian was really hard and even now I'll eat small bits of chicken when I need to. I think about every decision to buy or support anything. I have loved reading and meeting and following groups who are making a real and substantial difference.  My entire household now makes 1 black bag of landfill waster per month, made up mostly of tissues. We fill 3 transparent bags of recyclables per month, mostly paper, glass and tin and we make 1 ecobrick every 2 months or so from bottles we source from other people. Then we also sold our second car to install solar at our home and we try riding our bikes for errands as much as possible.

Q3: Any advice to other women wanting to be more eco-conscious? 

Just start, each step is small but then suddenly you've done a whole heap of small ones and you are a large jump ahead on your journey. Then just keep going. Read, read, read and learn and support and talk about and talk to your kids and your parents and your extended families and vote for those you believe will try and make the policy changes you would like to see.

 

Anne van Huyssteen - The Apothecary

Q1: Tell us a bit about yourself and your business? 

About ten to fifteen years ago, when I went through my own process of learning and discovering ways to run a home without using products that degrade our environment and harm our bodies, I created an informational website (Spotless) as a resource for others making these changes. I wanted to help make change easy, and to share the incredible liberation and empowerment that comes with it.

The more I learned and experimented, the more interested I became in improving on and inventing new recipes for an enormous range of tasks. I found I loved working with herbs and oils, infusing and mixing whole, natural ingredients to come up with just the texture, fragrance or effect I was after. It thrilled me how well these simple, wholesome concoctions did so many jobs and were so versatile and beneficial in a huge range of ways.

The Apothecary launched in November 2014. I vowed that The Apothecary would not become part of the problem that Spotless aimed to confront, and that I would continue to encourage people to create and not consume whenever that was appropriate and possible.

In late 2016, my long-time friend, Nikki, joined me from the corporate world. We have different strengths but share an ethos that guides us in our work. We work together to create a lively, ethical and environmentally sound business that always aims to MAKE IT BETTER in everything we do. Nowadays, we have our own online shop, and supply a range of ethical outlets nationwide and in Southern Africa. We especially love getting our goods to customers package free, though distributors like The Unwrapped Co.!

Q2: How and why is your business eco-conscious? 

Our motto, MAKE IT BETTER, guides us in this. Most obviously, we make products that do only good. They are beneficial to you and useful in cleaning and caring for you and your home, but beyond that they are also harmless or beneficial in the environment. To ensure this, we look far beyond the final products themselves, in both directions.

We make sure that every ingredient we use:

  • is in as whole a form as possible
  • has multiple benefits to all living systems
  • occurs in nature, or is a simple combination of naturally occurring ingredients,
  • minimally processed. Because of this, we can be sure that our products:
  • can be easily recognised and used by our bodies
  • serve useful functions in our bodies and our environment
  • can be safely and simply dealt with in nature when we release them into air or water.

The sourcing of our ingredients is very important to us. We work tirelessly to source the most local, ethically and sustainably farmed, or harvested and processed, ingredients we can. 

Likewise, we think carefully about packaging. We use returnable glass, aluminium closures, paper labels, and paper and cardboard bags and boxes. When we need bioplastic liners, we choose truly compostable bioplastic, suitable for home composting. We offer refills and refunds on returned containers, and forage as much packaging material as we can. We consider the packaging that comes into our business too, and engage with our suppliers to reduce plastic and waste. We compost, recycle and ecobrick.

We are also an active part of the zero waste / package free movement and love to supply our goods package free wherever possible.

To us, this approach is the only one that makes sense. Our products are made to help maintain clean homes and healthy, radiant bodies. Fouling the air we breathe, the soil we grow our food in, and the water we drink, should play no part in that process.

Q3: Any other aspects of your business that are important to you? 

We work hard to keep our products accessible and fairly priced so that ordinary people can afford to use them. We believe this is important because our products carry a message about a different way of living, that we wish to spread as widely as possible.

We value creativity and handwork over automation, and take pride in making and packaging our products by hand here in our workshop in Obs. We love providing meaningful work to ourselves and our tiny team of women. 

To quote Kahlil Gibran: “You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth...Work is love made visible.”

Q4: What is your advice to other women to be/become more eco-conscious?

Spend time in nature.

READ and question, especially labels, and do research into what you use and buy.

Consider the broad impact of each action and purchase. Simple is often best.

If you have time, DIY.

I’ve written quite a lot about change on the Spotless website. You may find these pages useful!

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