Zero Waste Living Spotlight: Amelia Raley
This feature’s the first of a series of spotlights on Austin residents who’ve decided to “go zero waste,” and have agreed to share their story so our community can learn and gain perspective on how reducing waste translates to daily life.
Vegan since 2007, Cherrywood resident, soon-to-be co-owner of new Eastside vegan ice cream parlor.
I was thrilled to meet Amelia, our first zero waste interviewee, on an obviously hot August morning. Her Cherrywood home was remarkably peaceful – windows open, curtains waving in the breeze, clothes drying on a rack. As I’ve talked to zero waste households (via in.gredients) I’ve been excited by how different zero waste looks for different people. The lifestyle and the family mold to fit one another in a new, unique way. Amelia takes on zero waste from an angle I hadn’t encountered before our interview – the old-fashioned way. Enjoy!
Brian: “So, how’d you decide to pursue zero waste?”
Amelia: “I lived in intentional communities for the past five years. It was during that timeframe when I began pursuing zero waste. Bulk foods helped spark the idea – some of the first things you’d notice in the kitchens I lived in were giant containers of pasta and rice. When I was there I learned a lot of what I was buying could be bought in bulk, without all the packaging – and that it’s actually cheaper that way.”
Brian: “Were there any other ‘sparks’?”
Amelia: “Well, perhaps not a spark exactly, but I grew up in rural Arkansas, where I’d go camping a lot with my family. It was interesting to go out to the wilderness with only a few things. When you needed something, we used what we had to get the job done. Going zero waste sometimes incorporates that resourcefulness and inspires you to use or re-use what you have.”
Brian: “What was the mental transition to zero waste like for you? Was is easy, hard…?”
Amelia: “It was quite a transformation. It’s really hard at first because it’s such a big adjustment. Being zero waste forces you to be creative and resourceful, and to re-arrange your time. You’ll spend more time cooking, to be sure – but the way I see it, what would you have done with that time otherwise?”
Brian: “Tell us about your zero waste life now – what does it look like?”
Amelia: “I take a lot of my cues from the Great Depression. When you think of all the things you have in your house, just remember that most of the stuff didn’t always exist. What did we use before dishwashers? Or before dryers? I think of the 1950s as the rise of obsolescence. Before then, getting things done required a great amount of ingenuity. I wash my clothes in my bathtub, and hang them to dry on an old-fashioned drying rack. I also try to live without electricity one day a week.”
Brian: “I love your furniture. Where’d you get it?”
Amelia: “All of the stuff in my home is either from the trash, antique shops, or left behind by previous inhabitants. It’s a rotating cast of characters.”
Brian: “What advice would you give someone thinking about taking the plunge?”
Amelia: “If you’re going to do it, don’t do it all at once. That may cause you to be paranoid about all the waste you’re still taking in to your home. I’ve been at this for three years, and again, it’s really hard at first – but keeping at it allows you to align your living behaviors with your ethics.”