Tara McKenna is a mother, author, entrepreneur, public speaker, and the founder of The Zero Waste Collective lifestyle blog and community. She shares simple strategies for low-waste living with her global community, regularly works with eco-friendly brands, and has partnered with brands such as A&W Canada, Converse, and Corona Canada. Don’t Be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy is a culmination of her journey, and she hopes it will inspire others to take the first step in adopting a sustainable lifestyle. She lives with her husband and black lab in Guelph, Canada. For more information about Tara and The Zero Waste Collective, visit www.thezerowastecollective.com

Don’t be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy

Published by Penguin Random House

Tara McKenna

One simple swap. Then another. Then another. And what you may realize along the way is that it’s quite fun and satisfying to make these changes.

What inspired you to embrace environmentalism and sustainable living, and why should someone do the same? What inspired this book? 

Three pivotal moments in my life pointed me in the direction of sustainable and nontoxic living. First, about ten years ago, I remember learning that the European Union bans more ingredients from beauty products than Canada, and significantly more than the US. I went on a journey to learn more about the ingredients I was using on my skin to find a cleaner and healthier beauty and skincare routine.

Second, about a year later, I went to the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia for a family vacation. While planning for this trip, I was thrilled to be going to a hot and tropical destination (especially during cooler Canadian weather), to soak up the sun, enjoy the sandy beaches, and relax among the palm trees. I enjoyed all these things and more, but I was devastated by the amount of trash I saw along the shorelines and while snorkelling. In that moment, I knew I wanted to let the world know that we were ruining these pristine destinations. While you don’t have to go to Bali to see litter—you can find plenty here in Canada—it hit me differently and inspired me to take action.

Third, about another year later, my husband and I moved into a century home in downtown Guelph shortly after getting married. I didn’t realize how many clothes I had collected over the years until I unpacked them and tried to stuff everything into our tiny (by today’s standards, that is) closets. My dresser and closet were full in a matter of minutes, with a massive pile still left on the bed to put away. Suffice to say, I had to choose between some odd storage arrangements or paring down. I discovered minimalism through this experience and decided that less was more, and I decluttered the items that I didn’t wear or love anymore.

Each of these experiences took me on a path to cleaner living with fewer things and less waste. It didn’t happen overnight; instead, this journey took nearly a decade. I read loads of books, watched numerous documentaries, and undertook a lot of research along the way. My book, Don’t Be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy, is a culmination of my journey that’s intended to streamline and simplify this experience for anyone else looking to live lighter on this planet too.

Zero Waste living is all about reducing the amount of trash we personally produce. And why should anyone be interested in reducing their waste? Here are some reasons that you may be familiar with:

  • Scientists predict that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight by 2050
  • Only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled
  • Food waste in landfills creates methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change
  • North Americans send over 10 million tonnes of clothing to landfill every year
  • More than 1 million single-use plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute

For people who might be on the fence or intimidated by the thought of low-waste living, what’s an easy first step for them to take?

The zero-waste lifestyle is intimidating to most people, and still is for me sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While I created a blog, The Zero Waste Collective, dedicated to inspiring people to live with less waste, I still feel like I’m not doing enough. I believe the reason for this experience is that we often feel that if we’re going to undertake this “environmentalist” journey that we must be perfect. Do not let that get in your way of starting! I’d rather see everyone take small steps toward lower waste living than a select few going completely zero waste. I remind myself of this every day. And you don’t have to be a dedicated tree hugger to reduce your waste!

Getting started can be super simple, too! I recommend starting with easy swaps that you know you’ll love. For example, one of my favourite swaps to reduce waste in my bathroom was switching out bottled shampoo and conditioner for shampoo and conditioner bars, as well as bottled body wash for bar soap. And the result? Great hair, less clutter in my bathroom, and less plastic waste.

That’s all it takes to get started. One simple swap. Then another. Then another. And what you may realize along the way is that it’s quite fun and satisfying to make these changes.

Have you received and can you share any great feedback from readers who have implemented the strategies outlined in your book? 

Yes! Is it okay to copy and paste a review that I love? If so, here’s one of my favourites:

“So I will be the first to admit, I need make a lot of changes to live a “Less Trashy” lifestyle. I didn’t pay much attention to the packaging of items or how much trash I was producing from my lifestyle. When I bought this book, I was worried I would be given a list of reasons why I was a terrible person and how everything I was doing was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the author conveyed the lessons in a way that was not condescending or “preachy”. There are a number of small changes I can make today, and I can continue to make further improvements over time. Well written, to the point, and conveyed in a way that is easy to consume. I will be recommending this book to my friends and family!”

The feedback from this review is the common feedback that I’ve been getting from friends, family, and people online—that it’s an easy-to-read book that’s accessible for anyone to implement in their daily lives.

In the book I cover so many aspects of everyday living from a sustainable perspective—like grocery shopping, consumerism, fashion, finances, family, and more—that there’s really something in it for everyone. Each time I talk to someone about their experience reading the book, they share their favourite parts of the book that they are currently implementing. That may be decluttering or doing a pantry audit or building a capsule wardrobe; people are loving my tips and strategies.

At the end of each chapter there’s a checklist for people to reference to make it easy to implement the suggestions in my book—it really is a practical guide!

What’s your favourite thing about living a low-waste lifestyle?

My favourite thing about living a low-waste lifestyle is that I’m living an intentional and authentic life. Aside from the lifestyle being better for the planet, I’ve found that it has come with numerous side benefits, including:

  • Eating a healthier diet (package-free food tends to be less processed or whole foods)
  • Consuming less has increased my financial savings and given me the opportunity to invest more and donate more to my favourite causes (like nature conservation)
  • My life is more simplified and streamlined, so I feel less stressed and overwhelmed by stuff

Want to get in on these benefits too? I think in many ways we all do. My book can help with that!

What’s next for you? What are you working on now? 

I loved writing my first book, so I’ve started working on my next book proposal! Aside from that, I continue to write blog posts on my blog, www.thezerowastecollective.com, do speaking events (mostly virtual at this time), and I regularly work with eco-friendly brands.

In addition, I had a baby in the fall of 2021, so I’m enjoying motherhood and taking my low-waste lifestyle into parenting as much as possible!

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