SA Zero Waste Feature: Janine of Free.eco

My latest feature is on Janine Schall-Emden of Free.eco. She lives with her husband, and 2 children in Pretoria. Janine is a freelance consultant on Anti-Corruption and Disaster Risk Reduction as well as an entrepreneur (natural skincare and vegan/gluten free meal planning). Yet she describers herself as simply a mom that takes sustainability and taking care of our planet to heart. Pretty inspiring if you ask me!

Janine with her family enjoying the outdoors

Here is some Q & A with Janine

How did you find out about zero waste living?
This happened sort of coincidentally. My younger son has food intolerances and very delicate skin. Once we received the diagnosis of his gluten and dairy intolerance, when he was about 9 months old, we changed our diet overnight and I started making our laundry soap, his moisturizing cream and other cleaning products. While looking into recipes for diy skin cream and cleaners, a lot of them were on zero-wasters websites or Pinterest. I started looking more through these and eventually stumbled onto Bea Johnson’s site. Looking for zero waste bloggers in South Africa, I started following Colleen as well. For me it all comes together: I don’t only see myself as someone looking to reduce waste, but tread more lightly by being vegan, learning how to keep edible gardens by using permaculture and working in the community to further our learning together.

When did you start your zero waste journey?
I started to aim towards zero waste in our household in mid 2015.

What drives you to continue with this lifestyle?
I want to show to my family, my community, that this is an aspirational lifestyle, that this has to be the “new normal”. We are drowning in plastic and it’s not enough to talk about it, but rather show that simple shifts in our lives can help. Living zero waste has also helped me to live more intentionally.

Not generating waste during special occasions like birthdays or holidays is not as hard as it might first seem.

Is everyone in your household on board and if not, how do you deal with this?
Increasingly yes. My husband was not for a while, but not for lack of interest but lack of understanding. We have since watched documentaries such as “A Plastic Ocean” together. He has a lot more appreciation for the sense of urgency than he used to. The biggest challenge is my 7 year old son, often still bringing things into our household (freebies, gifts or giveaways).

What made you decide to start your zero waste business & social media account?
I like to document in a very frank and open way, not only the zero waste but also our journey as a plant-based family. One of the issues I faced (this partially answers the next question as well) is that for the excitement to share this lifestyle there is quite a bit of misinformation out in the blogosphere. One of my big issues was with homemade detergent. This was probably the first thing I diy’d and that started me on my entrepreneurial journey as friends were asking to purchase this from me. However, some years down the line I learned the hard way that it ruined my clothes and was starting to ruin my washing machine as well. I started looking for other people running into problems with homemade washing detergent and found out it’s quite a thing, and increasingly people are becoming aware of the issues with diy detergent when used in a washing machine. Nonetheless there are still so many using and marketing this as a good solution. I also had lots of problems with the no-poo approach and ultimately dropped the whole endeavour (after 2 years of trial and error). On this, I realize people react differently to it, but I also want to post about my zero waste fails transparently.

What is your biggest struggle with the lifestyle?
I sometimes get discouraged and feel like I have to choose what is more important to me: my waste “quest” or being vegan/ gluten free. Many vegan- and gluten-free specific products can only be found in plastic packaging in Pretoria (nutritional yeast, quinoa, gluten free oats, beans and pulses). I have decided to shred these into an “eco-brick” but to me this is definitely not my preferred option.

What would you say has been your best discovery thus far?
Cooking. I always sort of liked to cook, but being able to deconstruct dishes by making most of it from scratch has been fun and almost addictive. It also makes me so happy to know that my family is healthier for it.

Learning to cook from scratch & involving the kids. They acquire skills & have fun. But: have them clean up with you afterwards!

What advice would you give to someone who is on the zero waste journey and is feeling like giving up?
Don’t go on the zero waste journey because it’s fashionable and beautiful. It may be, but often that means you’re missing the point. Use what you have (even if it’s a plastic tupperware and not all that pretty) and buy cautiously – mostly second hand if you can. Focus on the good things, as small as they sometimes are (the lady behind the till asking where you got your cloth or mesh bag) and laugh off the challenges (the guy behind the counter gives you a hard time for whatever reason – come back later again and eventually they’ll give in!). Also, have a sort of mental road map; don’t try to do it all at once. I started with the easy ones: replacing plastic bags, bottles, bringing cloth napkins. On the diy journey I had a list according to priority on what I started phasing out buying as a packaged product from the shops. I’m still not completely through this list: homemade gluten free pasta is next on it!

Food Prep
Food prep & proper use of the freezer has been a critical step for our family.

Another tip: Involve your friends or community. I persuaded my son’s school to participate in the 2016 Zero Waste Week and it was a really invigorating moment for me.

For me living zero waste is part of a larger picture, that altogether represents the person I want to be and the type of life I want to live.

Zero Waste Week
Learning to compost in a vermiculture & conventional composter at Morning Star Montessori Primary.
Zero Waste Week
Collecting plastic in the fish tank at Morning Star Montessori Primary to discuss its impact.

Do you have a recipe or tip you would like to share?
My latest big a-ha moment: baked and then frozen sweet potatoes make a mean dairy free nice-cream (if you don’t want to use bananas).

Where are the best spots to get package free goods in your town?
Mostly Food Lover’s Market in Pretoria East. But it’s still far from ideal.

Anything else you would like to share?

My husband, Lorenzo Fioramonti, is an active participant in the public discussion on how to create a more sustainable society. His latest book, Wellbeing Economy provides a great insight and road map how we can change our current system from the bottom up. You can visit his website if this topic interests you.

You can follow Janine on her instagram account where she shares her ideas about their lifestyle.

*I have not been paid for this blog post, I requested that Janine take part.

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