Three moms and their six lads retreated to the
mountains outside Cape Town for some fresh air and rock pooling. They missed
the Dads terribly. But no matter, it was an illuminating two days as a thing or
two was learnt about the Dads, and about fires, and about men and fires.
The Moms fared really well on night one. Nats, the Mom with a plan, had the good sense to bring along firelighters and before long, the flames had settled into beautiful simmering coals, cooking the burgers to perfection (not underdone, not overdone).
Night two was pizza night. Buoyed by the success of the burgers, they pooh-poohed the regular oven and decided to give the outdoor pizza oven a bash. Nothing like the smoky taste of wood-fired pizza. Having earned her stripes on burger night, Nats was put in charge of the fire.
The team got to work. The lads collected kindling, Nats created a wood pile in the oven. The other Moms, Rosie and Zan, got to grating the cheese, slicing the avo, chopping the ham, getting the plates ready, sorting the drinks, checking on the kids.
Nats stayed put in front of the fire. She poked and prodded, adjusted the pile, cranked up the heat, distributed the heat. It was just about time to slide the pizzas in when it dawned on Nats, who’s a doer and loves to get stuck in, that she hadn’t done much to help the other Moms. It was, she said, as if wielding the tongs and lauding over the fire gave her permission to do jack shit.
And they got to wondering. Why is it that men never leave the fire, ever? Staring into the flames is mesmeric for sure. Our relationship with fire is deeply primal; we relied on it for cooking, warmth, protection, survival. It draws us in.
The fire was also where the tribe gathered to tell tales and catch up on the day’s gossip. We closed in and the circle grew tight and somewhat impenetrable as we went deep into hanna hanna mode.
Manning the fire is important work, we totally get that. We can do without the salad and the frills and the beautifully laid table but without the fire there would be no main event.
But it is okay to leave the fire, just for a few minutes, now and then, to toss a salad or pull your warring kids apart. We’ll totally have your back. We’ll swan in and spend a few hypnotic minutes wrapped in the warm glow of the coals, keeping an eye on the flames. We’ll even hold your beer.
It’s a gender bending world yet somehow when we cook our food on an open flame we revert to archaic roles where Man Make Fire and Woman Do Everything Else.
But, guys, the jig is up. You weren’t around so we snuck into your hallowed domain. We sussed it out and we’re calling bullshit on the free pass that is braai duty.
Let’s switch it up. What’s it gonna take to hand over the tongs?
A single mason jar — that’s how much trash Bea Johnson, her husband Scott and their teenage sons Max and Leo produce in a year. Dubbed ‘the priestess of waste-free living’, Bea, a French native who transplanted to California, has inspired millions around the world to adopt her zero waste lifestyle, in which she sends virtually nothing to landfill.
Recycling — a sticking plaster?
It’s no secret that our addiction to single-use plastic is wreaking havoc with our environment. Recycling is often touted as the solution to our trash woes. But given that it’s not always clear where or how an item should be recycled, it’s far from a long-term solution. As Bea points out, “Once that piece of plastic leaves your home, you’ve lost control of it.” Plus, she adds, “Recycling uses a lot of energy!”
(South Africans are not great recyclers anyway. Of the approximately 108 million tons of waste we generate annually, only about 10% is recycled. The remaining 90% ends up in our landfills — toxic garbage dumps which are fast running out of airspace).
Recycling helps, but more important is to generate less waste in the first place.
So, while the rest of us put bags of trash out on the curb every week, how does Bea whittle her annual waste down to a single jar?
By following, in strict order, the 5R’s, which have become something of a mantra for aspiring zero wasters — Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (compost). For tons of tips on how to follow the 5R’s, check out Bea’s Zero Waste Home site where she spells it all out clearly and comprehensively.
Sounds daunting, right? But Bea is on a mission to blast through misconceptions that zero waste living is expensive and unattainable. “By buying bulk and eliminating packaging, you can save at least 15% of your monthly grocery bill,” she advises.
Once you start refusing what you don’t need and reducing what you do, you naturally accumulate less, she explains.
Bea is living proof that by declaring war on waste you needn’t compromise on style. With her endlessly versatile 15-piece capsule wardrobe — check out One Dress, 22 ways and 50 ways to wear a men’s shirt — Bea exudes an enviable Parisian chic. Her clutter-free home is a gorgeous, calm, light filled space that looks like it belongs in the pages of a décor magazine.
Bea Johnson in South Africa
Bea toured South Africa last May, giving the country’s burgeoning zero waste movement a major boost. Inspired by the 5R’s, Colleen Black of Life Lived Simply has been living waste free since early 2015. If you’re curious about how to dispose of your contact lens containers, what to do with your EcoBricks or where to get beeswax wraps, the Zero Waste Journey in South Africa Facebook group, founded and managed by Colleen, is a trove of ideas and solutions. It’s becoming the go-to online hub for South Africans wanting to live greener and tread lighter.
Opting out of the consumer madness that characterises modern life can be liberating. But those paving the way counsel that you can’t overhaul your life in a day. It’s a journey, one that requires patience.
Jade Khoury of Low Impact Living, an organisation that run eco-awareness workshops, has been living waste-free for many years. Her advice? Take it slow, and have fun doing it. “It didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years,” she says.
And, something echoed by eco-warriors everywhere — don’t beat yourself up when you fail, which is inevitable. “Be compassionate with yourself. Find solutions that are fun and creative, rather than feeling guilty, or deprived,” Jade advises. “If you slip up, see it as an opportunity to side-step that issue next time.”
It sounds like it’s worth persevering. That paring down your life in this way is not just gentler on the planet, it’s transformative, spilling over into every corner of your life.
“There are so many perks to this life,” says Jade. “It’s healthier. You remove a lot of the toxins and (heavily-packaged) junk food from your life. By choosing to cut out packaging, your start shopping differently, more directly. And that brings up a lot of opportunity for conversation and human connection, a sense of community.”
“The best thing about this lifestyle is the simplicity,” enthuses Bea. “The less you have, the less you need to clean, dust, maintain and eventually repair or discard. It’s made me grateful for everything we do have, and it feeds my creativity daily, as I’m always searching for solutions. We’ve discovered a lifestyle based on experiences rather than things. A life of being rather than having. And that’s what makes life richer.”
Need local inspo?
Check out these South African Instagrammers showing us how it’s done. Left to right:
Shannon Goodman — @journeytozero_
Alex Radlinger — @zerowastejourneycapetown
Khaya Alexander — @wastelessafrica
Cape Town has basked in a string of ‘Best City’ accolades in recent years, but we’re about to become known for something else — the first major city in the world to run out of water. Day Zero, the day the taps are turned off, has been brought forward to 12 April.
Predictably in times of heightened stress and anxiety, there’s been much finger pointing as we scramble to apportion blame. Rumours are swirling that the City was forewarned about this likelihood years ago and failed to act. There’s anger over the City’s unwillingness (inability?) to tap into other water sources (desalination and aquifers) and squabbling over what the different statistics mean (is it the worst drought in 100 years?).
At first it felt like we might be plunged into something resembling a dystopian novel, but with Day Zero looming, we’re getting proactive. Stinky loos, parched lawns and empty pools aside, Capetonians are devising novel ways to stick to the allocated 50 litres a day. Those with the resources are rigging up boreholes and going off grid (though there’s much uncertainty about the legality of this), enhancing their grey water systems, buying machines that make water out of air, and stockpiling boxes of 5l water bottles. There’s been this been-there-done-that post giving us some much needed perspective (it’s okay, we’ll survive, we’ll come out stronger).
Because of course we’re not the first city to be severely water stressed. California has been in a ‘mega-drought’ for years and Australia had its own ‘Millenial Drought’ in the early 2000’s. Droughts are becoming so frequent it’s predicted the next World War will be fought over water.
What sets us apart, as always, are the disparities. It’s a bleak prospect, queuing for water, wearing dirty clothes, being unwashed. But there’s this thing that happens in South Africa, which is that most of the time we’re ostriches, but in times of crisis we’re reminded how the majority of the population live. When the rug is pulled out from under us, and our creature comforts are threatened, we remember just how fortunate we are. An estate dweller in my nice car, plotting how we’ll leave the city if things go belly up, I’m as guilty of sealing myself off from the realities of life in South Africa as the next person.
Let’s hope this becomes reminiscent of load shedding, where we retrofitted our homes, but then just as quickly Eskom turned the lights back on. Perhaps the soothsayers are right, and we will see flooding in March. We may just scrape through and avoid Day Zero, but our attitudes to water will have been irrevocably changed. And absolute worst case for most of us reading this — rather than it being some vague notion out there, we will actually have to live the knowledge of what it’s like to be without water, and perhaps there are blessings in that.
I read it after a splurge at the bookstore, where I treated myself to three new memoirs, despite having loads of unfinished books on my shelf. It motivated me to set a goal for 2018 — to not buy any books till I’ve ploughed through my existing stack. It’s going to be an interesting one.
‘Just where you are — that’s the place to start.’
— Pema Chodron
The single biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year in trying to live more sustainably? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With this in mind, my ploy for 2018 — don’t get down about the state of our planet (it’s so easy to sink into that). Instead, relish the journey and celebrate the changes we make, however miniscule.
I’ve absorbed a huge amount this year, sometimes the mind boggles. Here are some of the standout words, images and voices that have uplifted, inspired, provoked serious thought, or left me haunted…
Carl Sagan’s timeless and beautiful Pale Blue Dot.
George Monbiot’s incisive writing. A political and environmental activist, he gets to the crux of where we might be going wrong, with his thoughts on our materialism particularly powerful. Have a read here and here (it’ll make you not want to buy anything ever again!).
Steve Cutt’s animations. These are bleak and will most definitely haunt your day, but so cleverly done:
The high priestesses of the Zero Waste movement Whittling down our annual household waste to a single glass jar is most likely unattainable for most of us, but for inspiration, tips and some good old eye candy, check out the sites of Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home and Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers.
Locally, there are some serious movers and shakers spearheading the zero waste movement: