Welcome to a new series on the blog of zero waste inspiration: I’ll be interviewing different people from all kinds of locations, lifestyles, ages and backgrounds to share how they make zero waste work for them. My hope is for you to be inspired to start somewhere reducing your waste…no matter what your situation.
This week we are talking to Stevie Van Horn- someone I’ve followed for a while on Instagram and continue to be inspired by daily.
Stevie is an all around amazing lady living a zero waste lifestyle in New York City. She is an advocate for living sustainably, self love, positivity, and getting outside in nature (one of my major goals to work on in 2018!!). She thrifts her clothes, she recently adopted & tamed a stray cat lurking around her building, and she absolutely radiates joy + love.
You can find her inspiring people on Instagram @stevieyaaay, on her blog tradingwasteforabundance.com, and her YouTube where she fuses environmental topics and DIY recipes with dancing + general hilarity. She makes living without the trash seem effortless. Read on to find out how she does it all.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your daily life like?
My name is Stevie, I am zero waste and a sustainability activist. My daily life varies day to day! I have a couple projects coming out this year so some days its embroidering for long days, writing, and creating!
What prompted you to live zero waste + did you make the transition gradually or all at once?
What inspired me to be zero waste was actually a bit odd. I started an obsession with fungi and mycelium. Mycelium is known as the neurological network of the forest and the fruiting bodies is mushrooms. This organism regenerates, rebalances and communicates with its environment and without it, the forest would be in shambles.
I started really asking myself what the role of humans are and realized there are so many things we can do to be more harmonious with our environment. Zero waste is one of those things that I started doing and realized Ill never go back to my old way of consuming. I decided to prepare for a couple months before I started so I can be more successful but since I had all these trashy things to begin with, the transition is ongoing even today!
What was your biggest source of trash pre zero waste + how did you get rid of it?
My biggest source of trash was food waste and food packaging! I never liked leftovers, I opted for plastic packaged everything and filled up a trash bin like once a day in the kitchen. I got rid of it by composting food scraps, being more mindful of utilizing all my food, and shopping in bulk, and fresh and organic. I’ve completely remedied my biggest source of waste just by paying more attention and being more mindful!
How easy or hard is it to live zero waste in your area? Are there any specific challenges you’ve had to find a work around for?
It’s easy for me to be zero waste in NYC because of all the options I have. There are farmers markets often, there are co-ops in manhattan and I can find a bulk store in almost every borough. They have a compost pick up at our house too for easy composting. The challenges, I think, would be traveling to certain stores or finding a convenient time to do it. It was a habit switch for me though so gradually it got a lot easier to trek to these areas just by this mental switch and I really enjoy doing it!
What’s your grocery shopping look like? How often do you go, where do you go, and what kinds of foods do you typically buy?
Grocery shopping for me is heading to the farmers market for seasonal, organic fruits and veggies and then I head to a bulk grocery store or Whole Foods for the rest. I shop mostly organic and try for mostly local with produce. All my staple items come from the bulk section such as rice, lentils, nutritional yeasts, gluten free flours, nuts, dried fruit etc… Lately I’ve been on a kick of making cashew coconut milk, burcha, and sweet potato toast! (note: Stevie’s post on how to lower your FOOTPRINT is so helpful)
You live with a roommate- has this been tricky on your road to zero waste? Does she share your values in this respect?
My room mate is also my best friend and she supports what I do 100%. She backs up the lifestyle and tries her absolute best to minimize her waste too!
Composting is a huge part of reducing landfill waste and everyone does it differently depending on where they live. How do you compost in the city?
Composting in the city is easy for me! My neighborhood finally has a compost pick up every Thursday I believe. Before I would take it to the farmers market which I find it was just as easy.
What’s your view on recycling and how much do you rely on it?
Recycling is great if you can recycle it 100% ! I used to buy a lot of cans but recently looked into what I can actually make instead of using them and cut that by like 75%. Beans, soups, and coconut milks were big for me. I find that if you find the alternative and its easy to handle, then reducing the amount you recycle would be awesome. If I don’t have time to go to a specific bulk store, then I just opt for paper packaged, aluminum, or compost packaged items and I think thats totally fine!
Some people worry that zero waste is expensive- what’s been your experience here?
Zero waste I thought would be expensive and I find that there are certain things that can be more expensive but as a whole you are getting more bang for your buck and often times we are spending more on the actually packaging and labels of it. I also used to buy packaged foods because they were just tempting. I would buy like 20 granola bars, cereals, bottled drinks, and all that just because they did a good job at branding and now I find that I can make things at home for way cheaper. You realize there are so many things you can live without that was just being given into by good advertising.
It seems that you travel a fair bit- how do you avoid waste while traveling?
Traveling takes some prep and some good tupperware. If you have a mason jar, produce, and prepped snacks you can avoid all waste. Home made popcorn, bananas, veggies, and rice bowls are all things I usually take with me and the food scraps go in the mason jar until I compost it or bury it next to a tree if I can’t. This is a habit switch that just takes a bit to get used to since you do have to make room for that time you spend prepping but its worth it !
I know you’re palm oil free and it’s something I’m just starting to be aware of looking for. Could you explain a little about why this is an ingredient you avoid, and what ingredient names to look out for in products that are palm oil derivatives?
Palm oil is one of those secret ingredients not a ton of people know about. Palm oil extraction takes place in plantations where they were previous peatlands and forests. A main hub for these plantations is in Indonesia in the Sumatran rainforest. Not only are they burning down vast forests everyday to meet the demands we have for this oil, but they are treating elephants, orangutans, and tigers like they are rodents where they are electrocuted, shot, and poisoned.
These forests are the only place where these amazing, intelligent species all dwell symbiotically and we are losing it so fast just for us to buy detergent, peanut butters, lipsticks, chips etc… There are so many different alternatives to this ingredient and to brands that carry products with this ingredient inside it. Some names it goes by are: Organic Palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil, Palmate, Stearic Acid, Glyceryl Stearate, Palmitate, Sodium Laurel Sulfate.
note: “sustainable” palm oil actually isn’t sustainable at all- don’t be fooled and please just avoid this ingredient all together- everyone should do this, but especially if you are vegan, buying palm oil products DIRECTLY contributes to SUFFERING- which is why I don’t consider palm oil products “vegan” even if they are, in fact, animal product free. Dr Bronners is one well known brand that uses “sustainable palm oil” BUT this is an ecologically destructive ingredient whether or not there are animals involved. Consider this information from Big Spoon roasters: “ ‘Sustainable’ palm oil claims have arisen recently to represent an approach to oil palm agriculture that aims to produce palm oil without causing deforestation or harming people. However, “sustainable palm oil” has rightly been under fire for several years from environmentalists and organizations that have compiled evidence that such claims are nothing more than greenwashing schemes. This view did not improve within the environmental community upon the formation of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) in 2004. The RSPO is a not-for-profit organization and currently the largest sustainability-focused organization within the palm oil sector, however its standards do not ban deforestation or destruction of peatlands for the development of oil palm plantations.”
I’ve heard people comment that living zero waste is too time consuming. You DIY a lot of products like toothpaste, cleaning spray, facial moisturizer + cook healthy homemade food- what’s your experience been with fitting these into your life?
I think zero waste can be considered time consuming like eating home cooked meals can. There’s no way around prepping but much like having a Sunday prep day, you can make it a fun routine, where once a week or the same day as meal prep you can stock up, create, and prep for the weeks or months ahead depending on different products! I tend to run out of a couple things at the same time which makes it perfect for remaking it all at the same time too!
What would you say to someone who is curious about zero waste, but feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start?
My advice to someone who wants to start zero waste but seems a bit overwhelmed is to take it easy! This is supposed to be an incredibly eye opening and fun transition and that takes time. First notice what you waste within the next week or even a month. Once you identify where you waste, you can then look for alternatives which is where the fun begins!
Another big piece of advice is do not expect perfection, you will not get it! Every positive action you take is a HUGE WIN! So celebrate them all and learn from the ones that are accidents or giving in cravings!