CLAIRE Sancelot used to be like any of us – hyper consumers sucked into buying things we don’t need, using and throwing plastic without a thought, and completely unaware about how our actions are slowly destroying the planet and killing us in the process.
Things changed when she became pregnant with her twins. Space was scarce in her Hong Kong flat then, and with another two new members joining their family, it was going to get scarcer.
Things outside weren’t any better – anyone who has lived in Hong Kong will know its country parks are littered with rubbish, illegal landfills are piling up and the ocean surrounding the island is polluted from the busy port business.
Sancelot and her husband realised their old way of living was totally unsustainable and there needs to be drastic change in how they consumed.
And so the purge began – all disposable items were changed to reusable versions, 10 kitchen knives went down to two, and a massivr spring cleaning of her wardrobe.
This is the same time Sancelot started a blog Green Home Hong Kong and Zero Waste Hong Kong to document her fastidious commitment to produce no waste at all.
Zero Waste is a movement that pushes for a massive change in how materials and products are used in society so that no trash are sent to landfills – it goes beyond the usual recycling and reusing we know and goes as far as attempting to restructure production and distribution systems to reduce waste as well.
Sancelot’s early efforts in this – where her family of six produces only one bag of trash per week – even earned her the description of a “one-woman green revolution” by one publication.
“It is extremely liberating,” Sancelot told Asian Correspondent.
Having moved to Malaysia in 2015, Sancelot has expanded her blog into a legitimate social enterprise called The Hive in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital – a little heaven in the middle of the polluted city for like-minded zero waste enthusiasts to source ethically sourced food, tools and even cooking classes.
Even employees and suppliers are chosen on the basis of empowering the vulnerable segments of society – women, the disabled, migrants – and giving them a shot of a rewarding and fulfilling career.
It wasn’t easy at first, though.
“As a social entrepreneur, you want to do everything right,” Sancelot explained.
Unlike a normal business, profit margins for social enterprises aren’t as high. Having to compete with big supermarket chains aren’t exactly easy for The Hive either, given Malaysian society’s far from adequate environmental consciousness still drives them to buy from the chains whose business practices are far from unsustainable.
At one point, The Hive even got kicked out from their old office because neighbours had complained to the local authorities about the smell coming from the compost.
Sancelot acknowledges it will continue to be tough. Educating the authorities and the Malaysian public, or even the French in her home country, is “a long, long process”.
But her efforts are not going unnoticed. Last week, Sancelot received an award by the United Nations for her contributions to the promotion of sustainability and Zero Waste in Malaysia.
For the rest of us, going green doesn’t seem as easy as it sounds, what more winning an award for it. Aren’t organic produce more expensive? Do I have time to cook at home instead of just getting takeout?
“This is a myth,” Sancelot says.
Paying more for ethically sourced food won’t be as painful if you cut down on your weekly sprees at fast fashion outlets and IKEA. You can even earn more income by selling all the stuff that you don’t need, Sancelot claims.
In the long-term, eating a plant-based diet will cost less too.
“Pay your farmer now and your doctor later,” according to Sancelot.
This isn’t to say you should overhaul your entire life, which will be overwhelming to say the least. Instead, Sancelot advises to start small. Start by saying no to the plastic straws at restaurants (you’re not a child) and plastic cutleries. Bring your own reusable water bottle and shopping bag. Switch to reusable sanitary pads or menstrual cups.
“It’s never too late.”