Zero waste can be challenging at the best of times, but imagine travelling the world whilst embracing this lifestyle? If you thought this would be impossible, then you're wrong, as this is exactly what Kat Guidotti otherwise known as @thezerowastebackpacker is doing!
When I stumbled across Kat on Instagram and was so impressed that she was able to sustain this lifestyle on the road, and when she said yes to my offer of an interview, I couldn't contain myself. For me this girl is up there with Bea Johnson (if you don't know who she is google her!) and in my eyes Kat is a true #sustainableglobetrotter.
So Kat, first of all, what inspired you to go ‘Zero Waste?’
Hmm, that’s actually a tougher question than it sounds. I became increasingly aware of the human impact on the ocean, mainly because I had discovered scuba diving and became extremely passionate about the sea. This in turn made me consider our impact on all areas of Planet Earth. I was already conscious of the agriculture industry and was practising vegetarianism, I wanted to contribute more but had no idea where to start.
Last year, I returned home from 14 months of travelling through South East Asia and I had already begun to embrace a minimalist lifestyle whilst away, both mentally and physically. I remember coming home feeling quite overwhelmed by city living and also by all the unnecessary things I was hoarding in my old room!
Whilst travelling through Asia, I had also started to actively find ways to lower my waste because I was constantly surrounded by trash and it was heart breaking. Not only for our planet, but for the local people who were living in this way. My first zero waste step was to purchase a re-useable water bottle with a filter. This meant I no longer had to purchase three single-use plastic water bottles per day.
To be honest, I can’t really remember how I ever came across the concept of zero waste but I know one of the first people who inspired me was of course Bea Johnson. When I found her information about zero waste, I instantly felt connected to the concept and felt like there was something I wanted to strive for and something that could actually make a difference. And since I love a challenge, I decided to try and sustain a zero waste lifestyle whilst travelling as a backpacker.
It looks like you’ve clocked up quite a few miles on your travels, which country or state have you found the most accommodating to a zero waste lifestyle and why?
So far, I’ve had the chance to practise zero waste in Australia (my home country), the United States, Mexico and Guatemala.
I would have to say that the easiest spots would be my home town of Perth in Australia, San Francisco in California and Eugene in Oregon.
Perth was really easy because I lived there, I had a car and a bicycle. I was able to go exploring and I already knew where I could get a lot of zero waste products (food especially). I also had my own kitchen and sewing machine so I could make my own body care products and re-useable shopping bags. Perth also has a great recycling system in place and composting is also very popular.
California in general is a very green state which makes living a zero waste lifestyle very easy in San Francisco. I was staying very close to China Town so I was able to buy my gains, oats and even chocolate in bulk. They also have a very effective recycling system in place and I love that they have a city wide composting service set up too. I would sneak my compost into the next doors bin every night as the hostel I was staying in didn’t have their own. San Francisco have actually pledged to go zero waste by 2020 and are already diverting 80% of their trash from landfill – it’s very inspiring.
Eugene was the only town I stayed in whilst in Oregon, but I’ll never forget their awesome bulk food stores. They had three amazing stores - Kiva, Sundance and Red Barn. I would literally go and hang out in the bulk food section of Kiva just for fun. I could always find everything I needed to be zero waste in Eugene, from food to body care products.
I notice from reading your blog that you make a lot of your own products. Which of these is your easiest and most effective zero waste product?
Since going zero waste I have fallen in love with DIY! Zero waste has really opened my eyes to the amount of chemicals we are consuming through over the counter body care products, makeup and cosmetics, as well as laundry detergent, food packaging and just our food in general.
I think the easiest ones would be my tooth powder and my deodorant. I was able to find the ingredients I needed in large amounts and in recyclable packaging. My deodorant lasts at least 2 days and I love my tooth powder, it makes my teeth and gums feel so clean and healthy. And with absolutely no chemicals!
The deodorant is only 3 ingredients. The tooth powder has more ingredients but the beauty of DIY is you can tailor the recipe to what you want. I don’t use fragrance in my deodorant but you can add some if you want.
I’ve seen some amazing photos on your Instagram, it’s a tough question, but what has been the most impressive natural wonder that you have witnessed during your travels?
Oh that’s not fair! It’s like choosing your favourite child! OK, I can’t just have one, I would have to say scuba diving on the Ningaloo Reef (in the northern part of my home state, Western Australia). It’s just magical and thankfully still very healthy, colourful and full of life.
Also, I was lucky enough to visit the ‘Big 5’ National Parks in Utah this year. If I had to choose one, I would say Zion was just incredible. I still don’t have words to describe the magnitude of the awesomeness of that place.
And I can’t ever forget the jungle in Northern Laos. Such beautiful and ancient primary forest that is so green and energising. The air is so clean and fresh, I felt like I left with new lungs!
What closing thoughts and advice do you have for someone about to embark on a zero waste lifestyle?
I think it’s so important to remember not to be too hard on yourself. One thing that comes with the act of environmental conservation is knowledge. Knowledge of issues such as plastic pollution, deforestation, global warming and overpopulation (just to name a few) can become overwhelming and even depressing. One thing I experienced early on was a lot of guilt. I felt guilty if I accidentally purchased something with plastic in it or if I forgot to say ‘no straw’.
It’s important to remember that everything takes time, even converting to a zero waste lifestyle. It takes some preparation and practise and we are human, so we are never going to be 100% perfect. Just the other day, I asked for no straw and the girl behind the bar acknowledged what I said and got a straw anyway!
If we try our best to be the best we can be with the resources we have, then that’s all anyone can ask for. And trust me, you are making a difference and you are inspiring to all those around you. Never let yourself get disheartened and keep fighting the good fight!
Thanks Kat for such an inspiring interview, you've taught us that if it's possible to go zero waste whilst backpacking across the world, then it's certainly possible to make some sustainable swaps from the comfort of our own home!
Read more about Kat on her blog here.