While Passion Passport seeks to bridge communities and expand experience through travel, we’re aware that adventuring to far-off places can leave quite the carbon footprint. Our Sustainable Travel Series celebrates eco-travelers, low-impact ways of living, and explorations that honor both people and places. We hope it inspires you to travel with the environment in mind.
For the last three years, 21-year-old Khaya Alexander (@wastelessafrica) has attempted to generate as little waste as possible — a feat that is often viewed as undesirable and impossible. Interested in how the waste-free lifestyle has affected Khaya’s experience as a student, an au pair, and a traveler in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as those around her, we sat down to ask her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you remember the moment when you decided to be waste-free?
I was procrastinating while studying for finals and came across a video on YouTube of Lauren Singer of @trashisfortossers. She could fit four years worth of trash inside a small jar. I couldn’t believe it. I was creating a jar of trash a day, at least. That video was a lightbulb moment for me — I started reading up on plastic pollution and could no longer ignore the unnecessary use of plastic in my life.
What were the initial challenges?
The lack of knowledge surrounding the zero waste movement was tough. People thought I was crazy for bringing my own takeaway coffee cup or refusing a plastic packet even though it was free. At first, there were no stores catering to a waste-free lifestyle, so I struggled to obtain a lot of items without their regular plastic packaging. After Bea Johnson (the founder of the zero waste movement) visited South Africa in May of 2017, the movement took off. Now, Cape Town has three zero waste stores!
Is it hard to travel and be around people who aren’t as mindful?
Traveling can be difficult. On-the-go food is always wrapped in plastic, and in some countries, the tap water is not potable. I always make sure to have a reusable bottle on me to fill at filtered water stations, and I order takeaway meals in my own container. To avoid the language barrier, I learn phrases like “No straw or plastic bag, please” and “Can you pour it in my cup?”. I do end up creating waste when traveling, though, but I ecobrick it so it can be used for another purpose.
If the people I’m surrounded by aren’t mindful when they meet me, they typically are after we spend some time together. I never force my views on others, but when I whip out my reusables, conversation starts and the seed is planted. The key is to never make someone feel guilty and only bring it up when the time is right.
What’s one thing you’d like to see implemented as a standard toward a waste-free future?
A plastic bag ban! Millions are used every day. While they’re often greenwashed as recyclable, they’re totally unnecessary. Go back a few decades when it was normal for our grandparents to have had their own bags when they went to the shop. Recently, a whale in Thailand was found dead with 17 pounds of plastic shopping bags in its stomach — it’s unnecessary!
What’s the biggest misconception of a waste-free lifestyle?
That you have to be a hairy, barefoot, off-the-grid hippy. I’m an average person who is just very conscious of her impact on the environment. Being sustainable is cool!
Can you talk about @faithfultonature?
I am an ambassador for Faithful to Nature, an online health shop that provides alternative products with peace of mind. They have a strict ingredient list and a range of filters so people who live certain lifestyles (vegan, GMO-free, palm oil free, etc.) can filter the products on the site and shop through only what they want to see. They even introduced a plastic-free filter, which was a global first, allowing people like me to shop without having to scrutinize the packaging. Their products are sent to you in alternative packaging and without the layers upon layers of bubble wrap that you can typically expect from online orders.
What’s the biggest reward of this lifestyle?
It’s gratifying to know that I’m not supporting plastic pollution or contributing to the destruction of our oceans and environment. I’ve also saved money since I started this journey. We are told by companies that we need an array of products in our lives, but we really don’t. I’ve started making my own beauty products. I buy in bulk, which saves money because you don’t pay for packaging. I avoid fast fashion and shop second-hand, which also saves money while reusing resources already in the cycle.
Do you have any tips for people considering making the change to waste-free living or simply limiting their impact on the environment?
Yes! These four steps are the easiest life changes you can make today:
1) Bring your own bags when you shop for groceries
2) Carry a reusable water bottle with you
3) Refuse plastic straws
4) Opt for no lid when buying a takeaway coffee
I also really hope schools will start introducing the impacts of plastic pollution and ways to reduce that impact in individual ways into their syllabi.
Looking for more tips on how to live waste-free? Click here. Or, if you already lead a waste-free life, share your tips with us in the comments below and share this story to help spread the cause!