Mama, wife, zero waster, midwife, small business owner. It seems there’s nothing Katie Irwin can’t do. She’s one half of the duo behind Waste Not Collective – created together with her husband Tom – a Brisbane-based business aimed at educating the wider public about living a low waste, earth-friendly lifestyle.
However, it doesn’t stop there for Katie. She’s also a huge proponent for mindful living and parenting, nutritious movement and getting outside as well as the benefits of living a plant-based lifestyle, and often shares her experiences candidly on Waste Not Collective’s social media channels.
It’s refreshing, even if it does little for my social media addiction as I find myself checking in daily (I joke! A little).
Without further ado, meet Katie
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name’s Katie and I am married to Tom and we have a little one-year-old boy named Elijah. I’m a clinical midwife and Tom’s a primary school teacher.
What inspired you to start reducing your waste? When did you and your husband decide to transition to zero waste?
Initially we were inspired by my cousin @thezerowastedietitian and her husband. We watched their journey and were really interested and amazed at all the simple changes they were making around their home. Around the same time we were hoping to start a family, but it was taking a lot longer than expected. I started doing a lot of research and began to significantly change my diet, body and cleaning products. Once Elijah was conceived, it became even more serious for me and we began to significantly reduce our waste and toxins around our home and really made it a focus in our family from then on (end of 2016).
Can you share some of the ups and downs of your journey?
There have been so many great things about this journey! Firstly being able to take control of the impact you’re having on the environment is incredibly empowering. The changes in our family and health have been remarkable. We now have an incredible diet and toxin-free home and I am so grateful for the long term benefits that will have on our bodies. We have met so many inspiring and passionate people along the way and I have learnt so much from people I’ve ‘met’ on Instagram. I’ve also loved being able to share our knowledge with people interested in a more sustainable way of living through our business and having a stall at our local markets.
I can’t think of many downs, but probably the hardest thing about pursuing a sustainable lifestyle is trying not to become overwhelmed by the state of our planet. Staying motivated and inspired can be challenging when it feels like there is so much to do. Paralysis by analysis is a real problem. Just keep moving forward, doing what you can do.
Looking back, what advice would you give to the you just starting out on this journey?
I always encourage everyone to start with a month-long bin audit. This will really give you a good idea where your waste is and help give you some direction when starting out. Make slow and steady changes that are sustainable for you to maintain. Sometimes it helps to pick one area of waste (food packaging, food waste, recycyling etc.) or one room (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom). Use up what you have first, shop second hand, borrow or rent before purchasing an ethical, quality, sustainable alternative made to last.
How – if at all – has becoming a mum changed or challenged your lifestyle?
I can honestly say Elijah hasn’t really changed our zero waste lifestyle at all. I guess we had a year to adjust before he was born so it was just commonplace when he was born for us to keep going in that direction. Being a Mum though has changed my life for the better in so many ways. I’m far more certain of what I believe, what I believe is important, how I want to raise him and the kind of Earth I want to leave for him and his children to enjoy.
What’s the most common misconception about living this way?
If you look at Instagram, you would be forgiven for thinking that the zero waste lifestyle is for white, upper-class people who can afford expensive, pretty looking things that look good in photos. In reality, sustainable living is a lot of secondhand things, begging and borrowing, going without, digging around in compost, wearing old clothes, repairing things, being prepared at all times and not buying stuff.
For people wanting to learn more, where would you recommend they start?
When I was starting out, I really appreciated Lindsay Mile’s writing from Treading My Own Path and Erin Rhoad’s work from The Rogue Ginger. I also hope my current Instagram account @wastenotcollective and our old account, @thelittlegreycottage are helpful for people starting out!
What are your top 3 tips for someone wanting to reduce the waste in their life?
- Look at the big four single use plastics (water bottle, coffee cup, plastic bags and straws) and replace with a reusable option
- Shop at your local farmers markets if you have one. You will usually find package-free produce grown locally and in season.
- Reduce your meat and dairy intake. A heavy meat diet has a significant carbon footprint. Reducing animal product intake even for just one meal a day will make an incredible impact on your personal carbon footprint.
I personally have noticed living a reduced waste life opens up many other parts of my life, for example wanting to live more mindfully, a focus on slow living and conscious parenting, taking time to disconnect from technology etc. Has this happened for you too? What came first?
Yes absolutely! It’s incredible how reducing your waste really exercises your mindfulness muscle! This conscious lifestyle has really challenged me to re-think everything! Slow living and aware/attachment parenting are core values in our family and we have fairly strict boundaries around the use of technology (which makes it difficult for me to ever ‘succeed’ on Instagram!). I’m just not willing to risk my relationship with my son to make that happen. It’s also dramatically changed our diet, for which I am so grateful!
What does your perfect weekend look like?
A slow morning at home reading books and playing with Elijah whilst Tom makes us coffee. Heading out to our local farmers markets to buy our week’s worth of fruit and vegetables. Packing a big salad and fruit for a family picnic at Sandgate by the water. Running around with Elijah in the park or splashing in the water before going for a post lunch walk. A family afternoon nap and a quiet dinner at home or with family/friends.
Do you have a favourite zero waste product?
Probably my organic cotton mesh produce bags. They’re simple and cheap, but staples for all of our package free grocery shopping. You could make your own, but with my crazy life I just never got around to it. We’ve had them for over a year and they still look like new. I also completely love cloth nappies and wipes! They are so easy to use and dramatically reduce the waste associated with having a baby.
You transformed your passion into a business – how did Waste Not Collective come into being?
I guess it was out of a desire to try and help people navigate the zero waste ‘product’ world whilst also providing us with a platform to spread the sustainable living message. There are so many eco-stores out there so I wanted to keep it simple for people to choose, but also with a really strict criteria.
Everything we sell is Australian- or New Zealand-owned, vegan, ethically made, reusable for years to come or home compostable and items that we have used and tried ourselves. We also really wanted to take sustainable living concepts to the people and love having a market stall at our local markets.
Most eco-stores are online, however, we love chatting to people and encouraging them all day at the markets rather than just operating online behind a computer screen. We don’t make money (well we’re definitely not yet!) – it’s all about the education opportunities and community for us! Waste Not was an obvious name, but adding ‘Collective’ was important for us. ‘Collective’ means ‘done by people acting as a group’. Sense of community and togetherness is central to our thinking and we hope to build a community of likeminded waste warriors in our local (and global) community.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just give it a go! It’s not all or nothing, simply start somewhere and the rest will flow.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
That’s a great question! I wish I knew! I head back to work as a midwife in a few weeks, which will add a new level of busyness to our household. It’s becoming more difficult to run markets with a crazy toddler who just wants to run and steal blueberries from the farmer next to our stall too so we’re not certain what direction Waste Not Collective will take at this stage. We’ll just keep putting family first and see where it takes us! We have lots of grand (yet very simple) ambitions – it’s just all about timing!
You can find Katie and Waste Not Collective on:
*All beautiful imagery is Katie’s own