One woman's jour­ney to a zero-waste life­style

Emirates Woman - - Contents - WORDS: GE­ORGINA LAVERS

Mariska Nell is spin­ning around her liv­ing room in a dress. How­ever this dress wouldn’t make it onto most cat­walks, given that it is see-through, groan­ing with trash and weighs, she says, “about 65kg, fully-filled – it gives me se­ri­ous back­ache”.

The dress is not, of course, re­ally meant for the Mi­lan run­ways. It is in­stead the em­bod­i­ment of the mod­ern con­sumer – re­alised in one rather ugly gar­ment. “There’s a guy called Rob Green­field who had a chal­lenge called Trash Me, where he wore a suit cre­ated by his own trash,” says Mariska, now de-frocked and curled up on a couch at her apart­ment in Dubai. “I saw it and thought, this is un­be­liev­able. We have to try this.” Nell and fel­low Dubai res­i­dent Marita Peters made up their own ver­sion of the chal­lenge, with Marita wear­ing the waste cre­ated by an eco-con­scious cit­i­zen whilst

Nell cre­ated the av­er­age daily waste of a global cit­i­zen – up to three kilo­grams. They stuck to­gether, but made dif­fer­ent choices. At cafes, Peters opted for ce­ram­ics or brought her own re­us­able cups, while Nell got lat­tes in a take-away. As a ded­i­cated zero-waste con­sumer, it proved a dif­fi­cult change.

“Take­away cups were one of the things that ir­ri­tated me the most,” she says. “The card­board has a plas­tic layer in­side of it which is su­per hard for re­cy­cling com­pa­nies to sep­a­rate – and not many of them do. It’s like me telling you to make me an omelette and once it’s in the pan, telling you to change it to egg whites only!” Nell per­sisted, and af­ter the 30 days was up, filmed the end re­sults. Peters floated and spun in a dress that weighed just four kilo­grams. Nell’s dress weighed fif­teen times that. “The only mo­ment peo­ple re­alise how much they throw away is when they see it,” she says.

Nell has been on her own zero-waste jour­ney for the last two years. Orig­i­nally an in­te­rior de­signer, she stum­bled into the move­ment when up- cy­cling a lamp with old cof­fee cap­sules. It was the start of a jour­ney that has seen her sell ‘trash to trea­sure’ cre­ations to celebri­ties in­clud­ing Trevor Noah and Adrian Gre­nier, start her own pod­cast, Mama Earth Talk, and start a con­sul­tancy firm and on­line store, Waste Me Not.Look­ing around her apart­ment is wholly sat­is­fy­ing, in a cir­cle of life kind of way. Ev­ery­thing has its place; ev­ery­thing ex­ists for a pur­pose – but it is not clin­i­cal. Trash supplied by friends awaits its cre­ation into art; cof­fee wa­ter is fed to the or­chids on the win­dowsill. “They’re now in their fourth year,” she nods ap­pre­cia­tively. Beeswax pa­per lies in a drawer, ready to wrap gra­nola bars she buys (sans pack­ag­ing) from Baker & Spice.

Her wardrobe is one of the most im­pres­sive pieces of the puz­zle, com­ing in at a re­sound­ing ten items. “It’s look­ing quite sad, isn’t it,” she laughs. One of Nell’s re­cent eco-for­ays has been into fash­ion, af­ter watch­ing “True Cost” on Net­flix, about the ef­fects of fast fash­ion.

“I thought, ‘What am I do­ing?’” she says. “I’m go­ing and buy­ing cloth­ing at these fast fash­ion brands and hav­ing to re­place them ev­ery few months be­cause the shirt is full of holes, or the shoes are worn out. I’ve re­alised that when you pay for a piece of cloth­ing, there’s al­ways an ex­pen­sive price tag. Some­times you pay it, other times, it’s the en­vi­ron­ment.”

But the road to zero-waste fash­ion is con­vo­luted, with be­liefs be­ing up­ended all the time. Save on that Asos de­liv­ery and go to a mall in­stead, we think – but then an MIT study shows the en­ergy costs of bricks and mor­tar can of­ten out­weigh those of on­line shop­ping. Okay, then I’ll thrift, we think – but that can have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the third world coun­tries do­na­tions of­ten end up in. In the US, only one per cent of do­nated cloth­ing is suitable for sale in thrift stores, leav­ing the rest to be sold for ex­port, and of­ten hurt­ing lo­cal tex­tile in­dus­tries. In the UAE, there is still a way to go. Nell is try­ing to re­stock her wardrobe with sus­tain­able fash­ion, and men­tions how hard it was to find a lo­cal stylist that was open to sourc­ing 100 per cent eth­i­cal brands. But, as she reels off lo­cal de­sign­ers and pro­grammes that are seek­ing to do good, she is con­fi­dent that the fu­ture for zero waste in the UAE is bright. Ev­ery sin­gle day, we as con­sumers have power,” she con­cludes. “Sup­port lo­cal de­sign­ers, take that re­us­able cup. We need to start mak­ing choices with our money – and if it means that we don’t sup­port a com­pany be­cause their ethics aren’t the same as ours? So be it.”

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