Earth Collective’s ‘Interviews with the Collective’ series is a collection of interviews with likeminded souls from around the globe, who are working towards a better future for the planet and people in it. This week, we hear from Erin Rhoads, author of one of Australia’s most popular eco-lifestyle websites, The Rogue Ginger, and prominent commentator on zero-waste living.
What was your catalyst to diving into the world of sustainability?
The catalyst for change happened over eight years ago and was by accident when I watched my first eco documentary The Clean Bin Project. This movie pulled back the curtains, exposing me to what really happens to everything I was buying and throwing away. From plastic water bottles, electronics, clothes, food – basically everything that goes into the bin doesn’t ever go away, because there is no “away”. It’s merely buried on the outskirts of our cities, or worse – escapes into our environment harming precious eco systems and animals.
Before this moment I was the complete opposite. I was into fast fashion, fast food, and I cringe to admit, even a climate change sceptic. Following the documentary, I wanted to do something to make a change and decided to complete a plastic-free July challenge. After the challenge it was hard to go back and I committed to reducing my plastic and waste going forward. I started by swapping my supermarket shop for Queen Vic Market and bulk food stores, plus composting, repairing, and choosing secondhand.
Tell us about your business journey so far – what got you to where you are today with The Rogue Ginger, The Party Kit Network, your books and wider work?
When I started my plastic-free challenge, I had just moved to Melbourne and decided to start a little travel blog, called The Rogue Ginger. That blog soon became a diary for my new plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle swaps. As my readership grew so did invitations to give talks around Australia, where I shared my tips and tricks for living more eco-friendly, and from there media interest grew as the topic of zero-waste became more mainstream.
Alongside this, I helped lead the Plastic Bag Free Victoria campaign and asking for bans on single-use plastics. Following the popular TV series War on Waste I was asked to turn my tips to reducing waste into a book, Waste Not: How to Make a Big Difference by Throwing Away Less and a follow up book called Waste Not Every day: 365 tips to Reduce, Reuse and Reconnect. I’m now focused on stepping up my advocacy work so that change and the conversations we need to have can reach more people, quickly.
What has been your proudest achievement to date in the world of sustainability and zero waste?
I think handing over the Plastic Bag Free Victoria petition to the State Government with over 10,000 physical signatures was a huge achievement and helping rally 8,000 Victorians to contribute to the Plastic Pollution inquiry. Victoria now has a plastic bag ban, and the State Government has recently announced their intention to phase out single-use plastics by 2023.
What do you think is the biggest threat to our planet and the people in it today?
I think greed is our biggest threat to the planet and people. Our obsession with wanting more has created a world where we have become too distracted to see how our actions effect everything we need to survive. We are overdue to slow down and think more critically before it’s too late.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Apart from my four year old, my projects to create conversations on a larger scale. I love sharing actions and tips beyond my social media and blog, like my role as Sustainability Ambassador with Queen Victoria Market or doing talks. I love engaging with people that aren’t necessarily looking for eco friendly tips and showing them the swaps, we can make.
Who/what has been the biggest influence in your life?
Becoming a parent has been one of the biggest influences. Children are some of the best teachers, especially when it comes to understanding what truly matters.
What book(s) are you reading and/or podcasts are you listening to right now?
I have been enjoying How to Save a Planet podcast by journalist Alex Blumberg and scientist and policy nerd Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. They do a great job of breaking down complex issues into changeable actions. I also just finished reading Fireworks by Oliver Smuhar with my four year old.
What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
Community to me is working for and looking after each other, making sure no one is without the basic needs to sustain a happy and healthy life.
What are your five top tips for people who are working to achieve a zero-waste lifestyle?
- Learn to pause and question everything we’ve been told we need. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us we need to buy more. Slowing down to assess what the impact an item has had on the environment and future generations will help create lasting change.
- Reduce food waste. Each year, one out of five shopping bags worth of vegetables, fruit and bread are put into the bin. Before we visit Queen Victoria Market, we write a list and plan our meals, to help prevent us from getting distracted and buying too much. While writing the list we shop the fruit bowl, fridge and bread bin first see what is already there and make sure it gets used up.
- Compost or worm farm! With organic waste making up close to 40% of our bins, look into setting up a compost for a larger yard, while worm farms and bokashi bin are ideal for a smaller home or apartment. Sharewaste.com allows those without the option for the above to log on and search their area for others in the community who would like to accept food waste.
- Borrow before buying something new. There are toy libraries, tool libraries, kitchen libraries, the party kit network, plus family and friends that can help us get what we need. Borrowing instead of buying helps reduce the impact manufacturing and shipping had on the planet, teaches us to truly look after items, and helps strengthen community.
- Fix it! If something breaks look for ways, it can be mended or repaired by you or a professional.
Where are you heading to next in your journey?
I think after 2020 I’m too scared to plan anything! But I am hoping to finish my children book and work on a project with Zero Waste Victoria. But we’ll see, hey 2021!
Erin Rhoads has been writing about her zero-waste journey since 2013. Her blog, The Rogue Ginger, quickly became one of Australia’s most popular eco-lifestyle websites, and Erin is now a prominent commentator on zero-waste living. She is on a mission to engage with individuals to redefine what is waste and how to create less of it. Erin is the author of Waste Not and Waste Not Every day. She was a consultant on the ABC TV show War on Waste and is a regular contributor for ABC Radio. She has been featured on BBC World, The Project, Sunrise, Marie Claire, Australian Women’s Weekly, The Age, The Guardian, Peppermint magazine and many more. Erin is the Sustainability Ambassador for the Queen Victoria Market.