Kate Williams - Hero to Zero (Waste)

Kate Williams - Hero to Zero (Waste)

Kate Williams is the Discipline Director of Advisory, a Senior Engineering Geologist, a natural hazards expert, a wife and a mother.  Kate and her family of three only generate enough waste to fill a bin bag every 10 months and are constantly looking for ways to create less waste.  We were so impressed that we wanted to find out more, so Kate kindly sat down with us to tell us more about her journey.

"I guess I was already a bit of a minimalist when it came to owning things due to my parents being of a similar mindset.  We only really owned the things we needed and could afford.  This was only strengthened with the experience of being your typical university student at Waikato University, where I studied Earth Sciences.  My husband and I are also keen cycle tourists, which taught us how to live with little – we once spent 21 days cycling across Canada with just a few panniers!

Seeing the volume of waste produced when my son was born was disheartening and we started taking waste minimisation a little more seriously, trying to use things like reusable nappies. However I think a real turning point for me was two years ago when I was gifted a Bokashi bin. 

This is a type of composting which pickles your waste and it's brilliant as you can put any kitchen waste in it, including dairy and meat.  This massively reduced our food waste, and made it easier to recognise where our other waste was coming from and to separate it out. It's actually easier to remember to dig a hole in the garden every few months than it is to take the refuse bins out once a week.

We separate our recycling – we're lucky in Wellington that we have commingled recycling provided by the Council which take certain plastic grades, paper, tin and glass.  We are currently stockpiling our soft plastics in the hope they'll resume the soft plastic recycling again soon. But we try and avoid buying it where we can – for example buying hard cheese in wax rather than plastic. We have a donations pile – there is a really awesome scheme at my sons school that collects good condition unused and unwanted clothing and sends them to other local schools in need.  Any worn out clothing is turned into rags which are used until they can be used no more. We collect up any metal we have and take it to the scrap metal dealer for recycling. 

We now have a 4 waste-stream system, consisting of organic, recycling, donations and landfill, with landfill being the smallest of our waste streams.  When we first began we took six months to fill a bin bag and now we are averaging 10 months!  We wanted to make our low waste journey easy and achievable, and for our parents and friends to be able to practice it when they come to stay. Our rubbish bag consists mainly of things that have no life left in them and are of zero value – for example our last bin bag had broken crockery in it which we had used for 20 years, and a headlight from fixing our car which couldn't be dismantled no matter how hard we tried.

A lot of waste minimisation is about making choices and informed decisions when buying items, and getting creative with solutions! 

I would say the hardest thing about this lifestyle has been avoiding waste when being on holiday and at events.  We recently went camping in Blenheim and we sorted the waste before taking it to the recycling centre, but sometimes this isn't possible or practical.  It has also been a juggling act at Christmas and Birthdays – we don't want our son to miss out on toys, but they nearly always come in a lot of plastic packaging.  We don't say 'no' to anything (being polite people), but luckily our families are understanding and respect our views and as a result are a 'bit' more conscious of what they buy us.  For example, my mum is a great sewer and knitter, and will make us quilts and clothes and reusable dishcloths.  For presents for my son, my parents will buy him books (including second hand), and my dad recently made him a Harry Potter wand! 

I don't expect everyone to do what we do however it has definitely been a good conversation starter, where people start to think about what they can do to reduce their own waste.  When friends come to visit they'll ask me about the Bokashi bin and our waste system.  There is always more we can do and learn and that is what makes it a journey for everyone.

It's just about thinking differently about things – thinking about the lifecycle of something I will be buying and wondering where it will end up when I don't need to use it any more.​  

Some key things we do that others can easily take up:

  • Any broken objects can be repaired especially toys (I am lucky that my husband is very handy in this regard) which is also teaching our son some handy lessons.
  • We use the cobblers to repair shoes – getting shoes resoled for $20 instead of spending a fortune on a new pair.
  • We use hard soaps for washing, and refill containers where we can. 
  • We recycle our metal aerosol cans (just make sure you puncture them first).
  • We stockpile our used toothbrushes and empty toothpaste packaging and when we have enough we send it off to Terracycle to be recycled. Our T+T Wellington and Hamilton offices also has a recycling box we can use.
  • We buy milk powder and mix it in glass bottles – the key is to let it sit for 20 minutes before drinking it and you won't be able to tell the difference.  We eat a lot of yoghurt which created a lot of plastic waste, but we decided to buy our own yoghurt starter and now we make our own in glass bottles which is very satisfying, delicious and practically no waste.
  • Save your cheese wax and any greaseproof paper and use it as fire-lighters for an old style BBQ.