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Our interview with zero waste warrior ander zabala...

How long have you been leading a plastic free lifestyle?

I challenged myself to reduce all my waste, not only plastic, in August 2018 in preparation for Zero Waste Week that year. The Councillor at the time told me how far I could go to reduce both my waste and recycling, so I accepted the challenge! I already recycled a lot, 89%, but I knew I could go further. The thing is that reducing my waste got me thinking and I suddenly had the zero waste bug thing where I couldn’t stop. On the 1 January 2019 I decided to do it for the entire year, and see if I could hold of my waste (non-recyclable waste, mainly plastic) in one bin, hence my #1bin1year. On 1 January 2020 I opened my bin and checked how I did and the things I learnt that year.

What is the most shocking thing about the plastic problem?

That plastic is so fantastic it will stay with us for generations and generations and we only used it for a few decades, out of the six millions we have existed in this world, we are all hooked to it. I can mention turtles and dolphins, but the biggest problem of plastics is how we have been made to believe that we can’t move from plastics from the big fossil fuel industries.

What would you suggest to someone about taking the first step into leading a zero waste lifestyle?

Behaviour change is complex, we all have our ways of doing things and we all have our values, but I truly believe there is a venn diagram where ‘going zero waste’ applies to both sides, whether you vote left or right or middle or you don't vote. I think put simply there are two types of people, those hardcore that say I am going zero waste tomorrow, or others that say I will take it slow and reduce things slowly. Either way, my key advice is to check what you throw away in the first place. If you don’t know what is in your bin, how do you know where and how to not produce it in future. So do a waste audit, open your bins, categorise them, make a list, or take a photo. My carrier size plastic bag with waste was going down every week, to the point I used the famous zero waste symbol: the jar. I left a glass jar on my kitchen counter to allow myself not to produce any more waste than that a month. To sum up:

1-Measure what you produce without changing your behaviour (baseline)

2-After a full week go through it, and make a note of what is in there. Make a list of how you can reduce it

3-Check your bin after another week or a month and you will see a reduction which will motivate you to keep going further.

We set up a Zero Waste Challenge for hackney residents to coincide with Zero Waste Week, check this page for more.

Do you have lots of plastic stashed in your house that you daren’t throw away?

Yes. I have two types of plastics, the containers that I take to my local zero waste shop for them to use for other shoppers and the unrecyclable plastic flexible packaging that you can now recycle in Sainsburys, Tesco and Co Op.

Is there anything you see people doing with good intentions which is in fact bad for the environment?

It is possible that some people may be too focus on zero waste but ignore energy embedded in the products they generate or produce. Some people may start using paper bags and treat them as single use, but paper has more emissions so your climate warming potential increases by avoiding plastic, when in fact we should avoid all materials, and reuse reuse and reuse as much as possible. The problem is not plastic, but mass disposability of every packaging that we use.

Have you got any funny stories about your zero waste lifestyle?

During 2019 whilst doing my zero waste year challenge, I will find unrecyclable wrappers with best before date at home, and would investigate where it came from and then find the culprit, and well I wasn’t too popular with my friends or husband, the zero waste police. I thought it was funny, but they definitely did not!

What is the hardest plastic to give up?

Personally, tofu and plant based cheese wrapping this is based on quantity in comparison to rest of plastic I generate. But like I said before, we need to move away not just from plastic, but from paper, metal and glass, these can have higher emissions than plastic but are seen as angelic materials, Circular, Refill, Reuse is my advice!

Which local businesses or services would you recommend in East and north London?

There are so many that I put them in our Hackney Zero Waste page, see them here:

But as I live in Leytonstone, my favourite shop is Stone Mini Market, it is literally 3 minutes walk, so I am pretty lucky.

Who is your plastic free hero?

Businesses that tell a story and that really work the magic with people, mmmm like a mobile old milk truck to deliver refills :P

What books or films would you recommend to anyone wanting to find motivation to lead this lifestyle?

I started with Bea Johnson, Zero Waste, but here a list:


  1. Nudge Theory

  2. Greta, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference

  3. Atomic Habits

  4. Eating Animals

  5. How to avoid a climate disaster

  6. The New Map: Energy, climate and the Clash of Nations

  7. The Good Ancestor: How to think long term in a short term world

  8. Being the change, live well and a spark a climate revolution

  9. This Changes Everything

  10. The Power of Now and A New Earth

  11. The Future We Choose

  12. What If, imagination

  13. The Uninhabitable Earth

  14. Doughnut Economics

  15. Heat by Geroge Monbiot

  16. Don't Even Think About it, why our brains are wired to ignore climate change

Audibles also as books

  1. Why I am no longer talking to white people about race

  2. The New Climate War

  3. Net Zero

  4. We are the Weather

  5. On Fire

  6. Habits for Happiness

  7. Hope in Hell

  8. What We Need to Do Now

Thanks Ander - we will get reading!

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