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How having children inspired Shirley to become zero-waste

From awareness to action

Shirley grew up in an environmentally-conscious household, so she was always aware of eco-living. Her father was a farmer, and there was always a compost bin and garden in her family home growing up.

Shirley also lived in Germany for 3 years in the early 2000’s, which helped her develop sustainable habits.

“They were very eco-conscious – it was normal to take your own bags to the supermarket, so when I came back to New Zealand it was a shock to see the difference,” she said.

Bringing up her family zero-waste

Although Shirley already had an established understanding of the need for living in a sustainable way, it was really having children that made her take that next step in commitment.

“I wanted to bring up my children with Tikanga Māori [Māori cultural] practises, and a zero-waste lifestyle aligns with the philosophies of my ancestors,” Shirley said. “My boys are now the ones who remind me, ‘have you got your bags mum?’, ‘remember to say no to a plastic straw’ etc, as it’s what they have always done. It’s normalised for them.”

Shirley didn’t turn zero-waste overnight though. “It was when I had children and saw how much waste was created by disposable nappies that I really ramped up my efforts,” said Shirley. “I began by switching to reusable nappies. Then I started thinking about our household, looking at one practise at a time.”

Shirley then continued to discover new ideas and create habits, including bringing her own shopping bags to the supermarket as she did in Germany, buying a reusable coffee cup, and eventually making shampoo bars instead of buying shampoo in plastic bottles.

“I want to create a better world for my children,” she said. “We need to think about the next generation and instil values into our children to make them effective kaitiaki [guardians] of our environment.”

She encourages everyone to start somehow, even if it’s just with small changes: “Choose a couple of behaviours to focus on. Don’t beat yourself up if you get it wrong. It’s a journey but every small change does count.”

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