The kind of world of which Erin dreams is one you will desire for your own children: one where kindness is at the forefront of every decision; one where every human and our natural resources are truly valued and respected. It’s a world Erin is dedicated to showing is possible if we work together. As the face behind the popular zero-waste blog, The Rogue Ginger, she encourages everyone to approach reducing their waste at their own pace, in their own way. Read on to discover the greatest rewards and challenges she has found with approaching motherhood through a lens of being part of the solution to reducing the world’s waste.
Welcome, Erin @thegingerrogue
Tell us a little about yourself, your family and where you live.
My name is Erin Rhoads and I’m a zero-waste blogger, author, speaker, and campaigner. I live on Wurundjeri Country with my husband and four-year-old child.
You’re the face behind The Rogue Ginger, one of Australia’s popular zero-waste blogs, where you’ve been writing about your plastic-free and zero-waste journey since 2013. What drove you to live plastic free?
I watched a documentary in 2013 called ‘The Clean Bin Project’ that changed my life and opened my eyes to the impact plastic and our consumption is having on everything around us. Following the documentary I couldn’t unsee the problem so I decided to try being part of the solution. It started with taking on Plastic Free July, a month-long challenge to change my habits around single-use plastics. And from there it kept going and my little travel blog turned into a plastic-free/zero waste blog.
What does zero-waste living mean to you today?
To me, zero-waste is about rethinking how we interact with resources and the people who make our stuff, treating each with kindness and respect, making sure we value what we have already, reusing, repairing, ultimately mimicking the natural movement of nature where nothing is wasted. To keep stuff away from landfill and incineration.
When you first made the decision to go plastic free, how did you set about making it happen?
I took it one day at a time, doing the best I could, with what I had, where I was. When I started there weren’t any real resources in Australia and that’s why I shared my process on my blog. First I began with single-use plastics like bags, produce bags, food containers, water bottles, then moved onto items like food packaging and menstrual products, and slowly swapped out as I went along.
Having now spent nearly 8 years living a life with less waste, what are the greatest lessons you can share?
To never compare yourself to someone else. We are all unique individuals, with different lives and on different paths. There are books, blogs, websites, forums, Facebook pages, Instagram feeds all with their own way of being plastic free and/or zero waste. Seek them out, learn from them, ask questions, but don’t compare how you do it with how someone else does it. All these outlets are great for exploring ideas but they are not measuring sticks. Go at your own pace; figure out what works for you. Comparing yourself to others will only hold you back and stop you from seeing what you can achieve.
You are the author of two zero waste and plastic free guidebooks, Waste Not: Make a big difference by throwing away less (2018) and Waste Not Everyday (2019) – what do you hope to achieve by sharing your learnings in this way?
My goal with writing my two books, Waste Not and Waste Not Everyday was to show a new way of living is possible and if we work together, a world without waste can be achieved. The books are full of tips and tricks to reduce waste, with the encouragement to find what works for your own life. I think books still continue to be an important medium to share ideas. For someone who doesn’t love being connected to the internet I like having a book I can pull from the shelf and read, and share with others.
Your books are full of tips and ideas for reducing and reusing in all aspects of life – how do you go about choosing the content you hope will resonate with readers?
I wrote my first book Waste Not when my child was six months old. Being an exhausted, time poor, busy person, I decided to write a book that would suit someone like me. I wanted to make it accessible and gentle, yet show the reality that reducing waste by way of fitting it into a jar isn’t for everyone, that it can be hard BUT doing your best in whatever part of your life is commendable.
Alongside being an author, you are an avid reader (when time permits) of green lifestyle and other environmental books – what’s your number one recommendation for parents short on time?
I still think the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard to be an eye-opening book. If you can’t read her book, watch the 20-minute videos on the YouTube page. It really puts into perspective we create too much stuff we really don’t need, and the exploitation of people and resources needs to stop.
In July 2019, you blogged about books that will inspire kids to protect our planet – any new books to add to the list?
Oh, none yet but we are enjoying receiving letters from Ash & Indigo. They send my son a letter each month sharing information about the Australian bush. Each letter is a fun and interactive way to learn. I love them.
How have you navigated motherhood being zero waste? What has been the best but also most challenging parts?
Navigating motherhood being zero waste hasn’t been too hard. So many people told me I’d have to stop my zero-waste life once I had kids. I think because I already had the mindset shift it wasn’t as difficult. The most challenging is when people tell me I won’t be able to stay zero waste with a child, especially as they get older. I try not to listen to them and go about my day. The best part is seeing my child’s growing awareness to protect and look after the environment, to look after our stuff at home so it can last us a long time.
As a cloth user when you son was young, what was the greatest challenge you had to overcome and how did you do so?
The greatest challenge was finding the right cloth nappy. There are so many styles out there, it can be overwhelming. I wish we hired a nappy library at the start or just stuck with our gut instinct which was to stay using the cotton flats we started with.
What’s the best advice you have for anyone considering cloth nappies?
Look out for educational workshops and hire a nappy library. While I love the cloth nappy Facebook groups available, it can be overwhelming. Luckily there are more councils putting on workshops, so seek them out and ask lots of questions.
What have you seen to be the most common reason people don’t choose cloth nappies?
Time! People seem to think it takes a lot of time to deal with nappies, like hours of my day were spent cleaning them. I also think people perceive there is inconvenience when out and about, but we never had an issue. We planned ahead and packed what we needed.
What is your take on the cost of reusable nappies compared to disposables?
We found using reusables a big money saver for us. I did a cost analysis and it worked out to be $1,800 for three years. This includes everything (nappies, cleaning cloths, detergent, water, electricity). Disposable nappies alone can cost up to $3,000 for three years.
You recently petitioned your local council to show that residents in your community would like access to a rebate for cloth nappies and reusable sanitary products – take us back to the moment you hoped you could make a difference in this way?
I was inspired when I read about a national rebate program in the UK as part of The Nappies Bill, launched by Scottish MP David Linden. After this I began to research if a national rebate program could happen here in Australia and I was told the best place to get more interest would be if more of our Local Governments (councils) brought in rebate programs since they are the group that sets them up. I’m hoping to inspire others to contact their councils, start petitions and get Australia talking about rebate programs. With a federal election in the not too distant future maybe someone in Canberra will be inspired to create a national scheme.
What difference do you think rebate schemes can make to communities and Australia as a whole?
Rebate programs to me work in four ways: they are a reward for those trying to reduce their waste, they help provide accessibility because not everyone can afford reusables, and lastly a starting point for education. Someone might not want to make the switch but it could lead a family or individual to think how they can reduce waste in other areas. Lastly, a rebate program would help normalise cloth nappies and reusable sanitary products too!
How would you recommend readers join the rebate campaign in their own communities?
I have a blog post, hopefully answering all of your questions, on my blog.
What else do you think needs to change for more families to choose cloth nappies?
I’m really not sure. I think we need data from groups to find out why people don’t want to make the switch. This could help with messaging and education. I’m sure this is how disposable nappy companies created their marketing strategy – by talking to families and using the most common theme to sell them. We can use advertising tactics in the same way.
What are your thoughts on how parents can approach parenthood generally in a sustainable manner?
I’m a big believer in inviting children into conversations and learning alongside them. Be gentle and understanding that childhood is an ever-changing road, consisting of peer groups and influences outside the home. My aim is to guide my child and share why I do things a certain way, but ultimately let them make decisions for themselves.
And the best way parents can continue to educate themselves?
Read. Join a local sustainability group in your area. Get involved in caring for land. Go to talks and workshops. I think community involvement is helpful in finding like-minded souls that will be part of your education. It can be easy to get stuck in a social media bubble of learning sometimes.
What kind of world do you hope to see your son grow up in?
The kind of world I hope for my son is one where kindness is at the forefront of every decision. Every human and our natural resources are truly valued and respected.