"Zero-waste life isn't wishful thinking"

Hannah Sartin rarely dumps a plastic wrapper or paper ball as trash. At 32, she owns Munich's first zero-waste shop and has published a book that offers tips on a sustainable lifestyle. Markus Wanzeck meets her on a cool, hazy morning over coffee where she surprises him by pulling out a steel cup from her bag to take away her cappuccino

By Markus Wanzeck
Published: Wednesday 31 January 2018

What makes your shop different from others?

Unlike other grocery shops in Germany, where you find cereals, corn, nuts or pasta in packets, we keep them in glass dispensers. Besides bringing their own cotton bags, customers carry their own cases or boxes for weighing the goods. The same goes for fruits and vegetables. Since shampoos come in plastic bottles, we choose to sell hair soaps. Milk and milk products like yoghurt as well as cooking and baking oil products are sold in glass bottles that can be returned for a refund.

What gave you this idea?

It is hard to lead a life without garbage. I remember when I first took my own cotton bag and box to our favourite organic shop, the vendor at the bread counter praised me enthusiastically, but people at the cheese counter said that I am not allowed to use my own box, for hygiene reasons. So, I just bought the bread and a few vegetables. Overcoming these daily hardships was my main motivation to open the shop. A lot of our friends told us how much they wanted to pursue a lifestyle like ours but could not imagine coping with all the hassles involved. So, we started a crowdfunding initiative to raise funds for our shop, and people lent us more than ?50,000! We opened the shop in February 2016.

In Germany, there is a system of waste separation. Plastic packaging, for example, is collected and recycled. It becomes a raw material for new products. So, why despise waste?

I think many people in Germany are lulled by the idea that all their waste would be somehow recycled, and their ecological conscience is silenced. But, the fact is a big proportion of the plastic packaging isn’t recyclable. Take for instance, the coffee cups. You can’t recycle them because of the plastic coating. Besides, many German cities, including Munich, burn the plastic waste along with the residual waste to use it for long distance heating (in which water is heated and then supplied to homes). Why should I waste raw materials like this? Germany’s per capita garbage volume is the fourth highest in Europe. Moreover, when it comes to packaging waste, we are at number one in the continent in terms of per capita waste production.

So, is the steel cup your waste-free alternative for the coffee on the go? What else do you have in your survival bag?

Yes. I bought this cup some three years ago. Paper cups are a no go for me. I’m always well equipped when I leave home. I carry a cotton net when I go to buy vegetables; a cloth napkin, in case there are only paper napkins along the way; and straws made of steel for my kids which I can just put in the dishwasher later at home. Yes, zero-waste living initially requires the person to plan the day ahead, but that becomes an automatism pretty soon. After cleaning everything, you just need to put those back into the handbag.

How close to "zero" in the "zero-waste" life have you got?

Pretty close. I was raised in a family that has always led an eco-minded life—no meat, no wastage of food or paper and consuming goods as per need. My parents had an allotment garden. They did not buy me many toys; instead, we did handicrafts. When I became a mother, I wanted to pass on this insight to my children: how little is needed in life to be happy, and how liberating it is. However, for me and my husband Carlo Krauss, the inspiration to go waste-free came rather accidentally. We were browsing the internet for some tips to avoid plastic and came across the blog of Bea Johnson, whose bestseller Zero Waste Home has given a huge boost to the movement globally. It inspired us to start our zero-waste life in 2014. Except for medical products and a bit of scrap paper like envelopes, we don’t have any plastic or residual waste at all. Compost is our only garbage. Based on our experience, in 2017, we have also published our book Wie wir es schaffen, ohne Müll zu leben. Zero Waste als Lifestyle (How we manage to live without garbage. Zero waste as a lifestyle).

Could you share examples of how one can procure, say, pasta, hygiene products like toilet paper or toothpaste, and nappies or other children-related stuff without wasting anything in the process?

That’s actually a bit tough. In regular supermarkets, also in organic shops, all you get is packaged pasta. There are only a few delicatessen shops which offer fresh pasta loose. But, there is always the option to avoid at least plastic packaging by buying products that are wrapped in paper or cardboard. Generally speaking, this is a good first step towards a more eco-friendly life.

This is also possible for toilet paper, that invariably comes in plastic packaging in supermarkets. But, one can buy it online without the wrapping, or get rid of the toilet paper itself by installing a bidet in the bathroom. Instead of toothpaste, we initially used natron (sodium bicarbonate), but after our dentist said that using just that could be corrosive, my husband and I prepared homemade toothpaste by mixing coconut oil and mint oil with natron. For children, I recommend cloth nappies and second-hand shops. We find almost everything for our children in second-hand shops. In the rare cases we don’t, we make sure to buy at least fair trade and organic products. The transition period in going “zero waste” could be a challenge for some and in different degrees. For me, in the beginning, it was quite hard to refrain from chocolate and chocolate bars, but in the end, I guess, it turned out to be a healthy detox. Right now, I don’t miss anything about my old life.

(This article was first published in the 16-31 January issue of Down To Earth).

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.