by Lynn Rees Lambert
There’s a movement afoot that calls for a lot more of less. Less waste. Less packaging. Less consumption. And when we say consumption, we mean a serious reduction in garbage. Not to mention shampoo.
It’s just one of the many challenges a young Ottawa woman has met head on, she of the long, dark lustrous locks that fall to her waist, a tumble of silky softness that gleams thanks to homemade soap. No conditioner necessary. No tangles.
For Mailyne Briggs, the switch to zero waste living—a lifestyle change she took on a year ago February— has been a step toward living a simpler life. We’re talking shopping with reusable bags, carrying a reusable mug or water bottle, recycling, composting and buying only what’s necessary. It’s a determined effort to follow the minimalist path.
It appears to be working. At the nine-month mark the sum total of garbage filled a small jar consisting mostly of stickers from produce. She’s been documenting the journey in a blog, A Dream Lived Greener, the better to track her progress and see how life has changed. The single mom of three-year-old Nathen has realized her dream of being self-employed and of being a mother. A little over a year ago, the multidisciplinary artist added something else to her To Do List: to live greener.
She admits she had been inching toward a simpler way of living for some time but the catalyst came about by way of a purchase. “I needed a bigger garbage can,” she explains, “so I bought one.”
But it bothered her. “I started seeing it, all this waste, and I wasn’t feeling good about it. I was unhappy.” The giant garbage can was banished and around then she started reading about a woman who took on the zero waste lifestyle with her four children in California in 2008 and chronicled the process in the blog Zero Waste Home. It was just what Mailyne needed to make the change.
Change would be an understatement for the former hairstylist.
“I was the one behind the chair” in the salon, says Mailyne, who is adept with scissors, chemicals and treatments. Now, the painter, wedding photographer and videographer opts for homemade soap created by a friend. Not that this switch came about without much gnashing of teeth.
Once all the conventional shampoo was rinsed out, “my hair had a meltdown,” she confesses. Over the course of about six months, and several attempts to find a suitable replacement, she felt terrible. “I almost gave up.” And then a friend, who is also embracing the zero waste effort, came up with a homemade product that works. “I wash my hair with the soap, rinse and step out of the shower and let it dry.”
The results look like a million bucks, compliments of the town’s best salon.
Still, homemade soap and toothpaste are only small parts of a big lifestyle change. A shopping trip requires resusable bags and glass jars of various sizes. It’s a highly organized outing, one she admits was time-consuming at first; now it’s simply a matter of routine. Shopping isn’t a chore, she states. Staples, such as flour, rice and snacks, are bought in bulk, and Mailyne frequents retailers, often natural food stores, that allow her to cut down on packaging. There are a few surprises, such as milk in returnable glass bottles at Farm Boy, butcher shops that will plunk down local meet right into her waiting container (although she is slowly becoming a vegetarian), and baked goods that are nestled into her tin. You won’t find her tearing off plastic bags in the produce aisle, either. She’s doesn’t mind letting the apples touch the oranges.
The changeover extends to other areas of life. Take beeswax, for example. Mailyne uses it to make healing salves and lip balm and is exploring its qualities for cosmetic use, such as eyeliner. Beeswax wrap, which she purchases from Life Without Plastic, is a good alternative to plastic wrap.
She makes her own juice—like a lot of things—and when she can’t make or find what she needs she looks for it in glass bottles. As for feminine hygiene products, Mailyne made a big switch and a big discovery: the menstrual cup. “It’s not for everyone,” she admits, but she’s a true convert now. “I wish I’d known about this sooner.” This, coupled with reusable cloth pads, has made a serious dent in one of her five Rs: Reducing.
The other Rs—Refusing (cutting down on material possessions), Repurposing (getting more life out of items), Recycling and Rot (composting)—are essential parts of the plan. Mailyne is big on buying second-hand items and passes along clothing and toys to other young moms. She’s never been much on acquiring things.
A Filipina girl who left home at 14, Mailyne is adept at travelling light; she’s lived in six cities and on two continents. At one point her world was easily contained in one suitcase and a couple of boxes. “My friends tell me I have a gypsy heart.”
Since she’s an artist, painting supplies soon began to fill a few corners of her home and with the arrival of her son, goods also started to accumulate. But she’s given away loads and has made a conscious effort to “consume less and live more.” This carries over to her creative endeavours, including a non-profit called A.R.T. In Action (www.artinactionottawa.com) that provides free art workshops and mentorships to youth facing multiple barriers. “We are currently preparing our crowd-funding campaign to help us raise funds for this year’s workshops, one being in Arviat, Nunavut; as well, we are looking for a permanent studio space for youth.” The group generally tries to source out materials that are local, eco-friendly or that are repurposed for mixed media art.
On the homefront at least, some of Mailyne’s choices require a concerted effort. Since her apartment doesn’t offer composting, her response has been to regularly hauling a pail of fruit and vegetable peelings to a friend’s apartment where there is a composting bin. Then her friend moved. “I just kept taking my pail of compost over and dumping it, no problem.” Other times, she takes it to her family’s home for deposit.
Her blog outlines some of the steps she’s taken over the past year, including downsizing everything from clothes to kitchen items; giving away her son’s plastic toys, and keeping only a small box of toys and books; spending less on material items and on clothes; creating most of her artwork with items and paints already on hand; and moving to a smaller apartment.
Lest you think Mailyne is a superhero of the zero waster set, she sets everyone straight. “I have not been perfect. Sometimes I eat out and there’s waste, like a plastic straw because I’ve forgotten to say no. I order things online that come packaged in plastic despite me asking for alternative packaging, but I know I can and will keep getting better.”
She does drive a car, albeit a used one, mainly for use in her job. “If I wasn’t self-employed with equipment to carry around from job to job, as well as needing transportation to drop my son to and from daycare, I probably would use Virtucar. However, when I shop, I try to do things all on one day and in the warmer months, I walk to the stores.”
Sacrifices must be made, she admits. But, hey, everyone cheats now and then. For her, it’s cheese. “When I eat out, I want something—anything—with cheese!”
However, family, friends, acquaintances and even commenters on her blog and Facebook have been supportive of her efforts. In truth, at the beginning of this zero waste journey Mailyne says she was overwhelmed. Asking for less plastic and offering up her own containers was a bit nerve-wracking. “If it wasn’t for certain people who gave me encouragement it would have been easy to give up. But I was determined.”
It also helped that some people were picking up on her habits by not using plastic bags for shopping and by going with a reusable coffee mug when stopping for a hit of caffeine-to-go.
Closing in on the one-year mark, Mailyne says she “feels great. I have learned so much.” Instead of feeling the time crunch for getting down to basics, “I have more time, more money.” If she was uncertain as to whether she could truly live this type of life, there’s no doubt about it now. “It was like hitting a brick wall at one point but I made it over. Now, it’s just part of life. Like breathing.”
Photos of Mailyne and son Nathen supplied.
Mailyne’s Five Tips to Reduce Waste
1 – Take reusable bags when you go grocery shopping.
2 – Avoid plastic bags in the produce section.
3 – Say no to straws when dining out.
4 – Concentrate shopping and errands on one day.
5 – Take a reuseable coffee mug when ordering coffee to go.
April 22, Earth Day is the largest environmental event in the world!
Earth Day, the world’s largest environmental event, today, April 22. For details about how you can get your family involved in eco-friendly activities, see www.earthday.ca.