Author Archives: Sally-Anne Rogers

Zero Waste family Mum and daughter walking along the seashore

Top Tips On Becoming A Zero Waste Family – Toddlers to Teens

Living sustainably as a zero waste family – especially for those with young children – can be problematic. The move from babies, where you in full control, to the toddler to teens stage is more of a challenge as children encounter the marketing madness designed to encourage peer pressure and ‘pester power’.

I well remember the peer pressure on my children to have the very latest trend in toys for Christmas and birthdays – invariable plastic nonsense, but none-the-less it was deemed important for participative play.

From conversations with Hong Kong mums, it would seem that the most successful zero waste families educate their child/ren as to why they may not have access the commercialised goodies their friends enjoy.  The following are some of the solutions they passed on.

Start Your Children Young

Lisa Odell, founder of Plastic Free Hong Kong, says the key is to “Start your children young!”

“Teach them sustainable habits from the very beginning, even if they don’t realise that’s what you’re doing. This will encourage sustainable practices as the norm as they mature, so it comes naturally.

“I have a three-year-old son with a baby girl on the way, and found the biggest waste makers are food packaging, nappies, clothing, toys and kitchenware.“

One of Lisa’s tips include only giving your child water as a drink, with occasional pure juice out of a glass bottle with metal cap as a treat. 

My top tip would be to introduce your healthy everyday foods as soon as possible. Mix textures and flavours when they are young enough to accept without question. One, it was cheaper; with four mini mouths to feed on a tight budget this was important. Buying pre-prepared packets is not only expensive, but when you consider how many they would need over their toddler lifespan, it would create a mountain of waste. And two, it made introducing one meal for all so easy – and I knew exactly what they were eating. Bubble and squeak – just a mash-up of leftovers – was always a popular dish!

Plate of bubble and squeak

Lisa agreed and also adds: “The issue of going on play dates can be hard as children are offered processed foods, which invariably come in plastic packaging.”

She feels this is just a great opportunity to talk to your child and other parents about why sustainability is so important and has alternatives as healthier snacks.

We pop our own popcorn, eat fruit sold loose, make banana bread, buy nuts sold in glass jars and bake our own bread.  We also buy croissants and bread sticks from a local bakery, which sells them to us in paper bags. These are just a few ideas.

Hong Kong mum of two, Jo Wilson, agrees that teaching your child from a young age about waste is crucial.

Initially, I audited my waste, keeping it for a week or two and got my children involved. I looked at the amount of packaging and worked out how to bring food home without adding rubbish to the pile. We now take our Tupperware to the village to buy cheese, ham and eggs, and use a cloth bag for loose veggies and fruit.”

There is no bin in Jo’s kitchen, just a box for cardboard, recyclable plastic, cans, glass bottles – all of which is clean and dry – and composts any organic waste. She serves small portions at dinner so less is thrown away if the children don’t like it. Wherever possible Jo advocates you should try to eat the same food as the children so you eat the leftovers, or can give them extra.

Making Zero Waste Learning Fun

Jo’s family makes regular trips to the beach and she takes great pleasure in turning what is essentially an environmental education, into fun.

I want them to take an interest I nature – they’re part of it – and help them understand that any form of waste is harmful to the environment”, she explains.

On one occasion she turned a beach visit into a mathematical challenge.

Two children sitting in front of a table full of cigarette ends along with their mathematical calculation


As part of a mathematical exercise they collected cigarette stubs from the beach and calculated how many packets it equated to, the cost and the total of unpaid littering fines that should have been paid. It shocked them both as well as me!”

Two children and their mathematical calculation after their beach clean up in Hong Kong

Another example was with sweets.

A couple of years ago, my children returned home with a huge amount of sweets generously handed out at our village Halloween night. The next morning we went to clean the beach and picked up so many sweet wrappers. When we got home, I asked the children to sort their sweets into piles: plastic wrapped and not wrapped in plastic, and those that they actually really wanted to eat.

They found for themselves that there was very little that they wanted and they were horrified at the plastic. This year, my son preferred to just hand out paper wrapped sweets and only accepted two sweets, because he said he didn’t want so much plastic rubbish!”

Dressing Your Child

Unlike today, there was no ‘online’ facility in the 80s and so I bought some super quality second-hand clothing from charity shops. To be honest it was more about saving money with four children to clothe, than recycling, but we also passed these on to friends when they had grown out of them, or gave them to Oxfam to send on to less fortunate children.

Lisa also bought or borrowed used clothing from friends and family.

My circle of girlfriends is great, as we just keep passing around our children’s clothes to each other.  Also, here in Hong Kong, there is such a plethora of Facebook Groups dedicated to selling children’s items, that finding good quality, cute clothes is pretty easy.

Plastic Free in the Kitchen

Lisa told us that she quickly realised after becoming a mother the insane amount of waste created by plastic kitchenware for children.  “It eventually either breaks or they grow out of it, and to the landfill it goes,”she says.

Buy plastic-free kitchenware: stainless steel is a great alternative as it’s equally durable, light and won’t break if dropped.  Cups, plates, water bottles, lunch boxes … all can be purchased in stainless steel form. “

The Toy Dilemma

Having a set of twin boys was a challenge when it came to finding toys with any longevity. I clearly remember Fisher Price and Tonka’s claims that their toys were indestructible – well they hadn’t been tested on my two, who between them must of eaten into company profits at a rapid rate with their guarantee return policies. Back in the 80s, we were not aware of the environmental impact plastic would have on our environment and so you can imagine how much plastic has simply been discarded over the years.

My solution was to buy the indestructible: metal cars, Lego, Meccano, and Transformers. These were all handed down to friends and family. My daughters on the other hand, kept everything pristine. Mostly plastic in the form of My Little Pony, Silvanian Families, etc, all passed on to friends, but today some of these toys fetch a fortune. The Fisher Price Garage – three were casualties in our house – went for 149.99 US dollars back in 2014! Some however, are still with us – Angus the Scottie Dog (age 33) and Care Bear (age 34), still loved and cherished. 

Toys from the 1980s

Fiona, another Hong Kong Mum of a three-and-a-half year old toddler, packs huge punches with her feelings around children’s toys.

Plastic crap seems to accumulate like magic. Our son has fewer toys than most of his friends, but there still seems to be a lot!

Second hand stuff is great. Our main sources are our friends with older kids; these have proved to be extremely useful, but we wouldn’t have bought them. Those I dislike most are the cheap ones, which contain electrics that break too quickly; so the more we avoid the better. Anything that can stay in one piece and be handed down later I have come to terms with!

My advice would be to buy toys made with sustainable materials, or used plastic ones.  We try really hard not to add more plastic waste into the system by following these two rules.  Of course birthday parties, holidays and grandparents often make this a bit more difficult, but every single bit of effort helps. And along the same line, buy other people’s children gifts that are waste free.  It often feels like my son has a birthday party every weekend, so taking the sustainable gift route puts my conscious at ease.”

Look out for our final tips for families with teenagers when we talk to renowned zero waste pioneer, Bea Johnson, about family life with her husband and boys.

Image of Christmas package using string

Happy Zero Waste Christmas!

So one of the most wasteful seasons is upon us – that time of year when we all feel obliged to buy one another gifts, just because it’s Christmas. So how do we turn our season of goodwill into a zero waste Christmas?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have once again done their evil deed and encouraged most of us to buy things for ourselves, friends and family we probably didn’t really need. Up-graded that smartphone to the latest model when our current one works perfectly well for example. This point was well proven this year as Cyber Monday’s revenue was driven by smartphones with sales hitting an all time high at $1.59 Billion.

Sadly analytics illustrate that in the US alone, Cyber Monday broke all records with over $1 Billion more spent online this year, totaling a staggering $6.59 Billion, while Black Friday online sales were not too far behind at $5.03 billion.

So how do we stop ourselves from being tempted to enter Christmas retail madness? How do we ignore those comical and ‘must have’ gift trends that come and go? Those plastic Fidget Spinners are a classic example, currently the height of fashion, but we all know they will end up discarded and replaced by the next craze on the block.

Enough Is Enough

Long fed up with buying presents just for the sake of it, I thought I’d share some of my top tips with you on how I make my Christmas as zero waste as possible.

1. Peruse the Local Antique Shops

My youngest daughter loves retro china and there are always hidden treasures to be found.

2. Organic Candles

Always a popular with friends and family and at the end of their life can be used as a drinking glass or a small vase.

3. Gift an Experience

These have always gone down so well with my family – from track and spa days, to adventure weekends in the mountains. There are many companies offering experiences in Hong Kong. Gift Something is one with its selection of high-end gifts, while the latest VR experiences offer packages from as low as $33 per hour.

Promise coupon

4. Girls’ Night In/Night on the Town

My eldest daughter lives locally, but we both lead such busy lives we rarely have time to catch up. So we regularly gift a night together; a homemade ‘take out’ with a bottle of sparkle or a night out in the city – cocktails and dinner always go down well. We’ve been using this card for several years now, but we never know when we’ll receive it back.

5. Adopt a Pet

Perfect for someone who loves animals but does not have the time or space at home for them. The SPCA saves 1,000s of animals every year and only 1% of their funding comes from the Government. The charity depends upon the generous Hong Kong people to enable them to continue their work of helping animals in need everyday. All donations over the amount of $HK100 are eligible for tax deduction in Hong Kong. Or support an international organisation such as WWF and gift a subscription.

Millionaire shortcake

6. Start Baking and Creating

My Millionaire Shortcake (pictured above) and homemade cookies go down a storm with my sons. I also reuse any glass screw top bottles and make liquid goodies – my Limoncello, and botanical gins have proved most welcome as gifts. And the bonus is if they return the bottle they get the same again next year!

7. Recycled Toys

eBay is great for discovering quality for secondhand toys, or do what I did and buy up complete Lego sets from a neighbour’s son who had no interest in them and so were in pristine condition. Lego is great as it recycles indefinitely, but it is so expensive. In the UK you can buy a membership to Lego, which is an excellent idea. Check out your area to see if there is something similar, or you could organise your child a special party by hiring the toys – the Hong Kong Toy Club’s mission is to ‘deliver joy’.

8. Enjoy A Good Read

My husband always appreciates an Amazon voucher for his Kindle ebooks. Two years ago he bought me a 12-month Audible membership, perfect for car journeys and a great listen for drifting off to sleep when your eyes are too tired to read.

Christmas trees from upcycled corks and bottles

9. Christmas Tree and Decorations

Importing trees into Hong Kong from the US has caused much controversy on Facebook recently, owing to the contribution this makes to the carbon footprint, and so avoiding buying one altogether is always recommended. I’m lucky enough to have a garden and last year bought a small, sustainably and ethically grown tree with roots for replanting in a pot each year. It’s enjoyed summer and is currently waiting patiently outside to shine again during the festive season with its outdoor solar lights.

But why not decorate your locally grown house plant, or create your own tree by upcycling? There are some fabulous ideas on Pinterest; above are a couple that feature in pubs.

The traditional alternative to a real tree is an artificial one, again not ideal as it’s usually made of non-recyclable PVC. It’s been estimated that you’d need to use a PVC tree for at least 20 years to make up for the amount of energy used in its production. Some artificial trees are made of more environmentally friendly materials today, so it’s worth shopping around. With this option it’s best to choose with care and keep your tree for as long as possible.

My artificial tree is now 17 years old and so still has some way to go. We store it carefully and each year it comes out as good as new. I bought traditional baubles and tinsel with my first ever tree many moons ago and they’re still going strong. We added one or two each year – each holds a special memory and everyone takes great delight in hunting out their favourites when they visit. Brian sits proudly at the top – he’s a hand knitted snowman I made as a gift for my daughter when she was three and at 29 she still squeals with delight when she sees him. We’ll share him with you on Instagram nearer to Christmas.

Be creative and use nature’s naturals to decorate your home. We make our own organic decorations – so easy and great fun to make. Please don’t use glitter; icing sugar to dust rather than artificial snow is also a perfect substitute.

E-card illustrating a tiger and WWF logo

10. Sending Cards and Gifts

Around 9,000 trees are cut down to produce approximately 180 million red packets (lai see) used in Hong Kong. By adopting some of the suggestions above, the need for packaging is removed.

I always used to support my favourite charities by buying and sending their cards; now the majority of friends receive an e-card and I donate to charity instead. Any cards I receive are made into gift tags the following year.

Finally, why not use old magazines or newspaper to gift wrap – I have a friend who loves to travel so she always gets the travel pages. I use string rather than Sellotape and if they unwrap at mine I pinch it back and reuse it in the garden! Also gift bags can be recycled again and again.

Happy zero waste compliments of the festive season everyone!


E-card image reproduced courtesy of Edwin Giesbers and WWF

Zero Waste Family - Three babies having a shower bath

Top Tips On Becoming A Zero Waste Family – Babies

As the mother of four children – all born in the 80s – the myriad of convenience consumer choices for parents were beginning to rear their wasteful heads and leading us into temptation. Nowadays we are more conscious of the impact our waste has on the environment and as a consequence, trying to ensure we don’t add to the damage any more than necessary. This series of three zero waste family articles investigates the pitfalls and asks parents for their suggestions on how they personally try to minimise their impact.

The Nappy

By far the most controversial item of bringing up a baby is nappies. Back in the 80s we used terry nappies in the main, along with disposable liners to catch the solids and flush down the loo. When my twins were born, I suddenly had three babies under the age of 17 months and a total of 72 terry nappies on the go! And believe me there was a real art to folding a terry nappy: for tiny babies, for boys and for girls, as essentially they were just square towels, unlike today’s ready-to-wear models.

To be honest it was more the cost of disposable nappies that made me stick to reusable (it’s estimated that a baby uses 3,920 nappies in their first year alone), but once the twins were born I did succumb to convenience whenever we went on trips away from home.  

Hong Kong resident and Project Manager, Fiona, who lives with her husband, three-and-a-half year old toddler and helper, agrees.

Nappies are by far the most visible sign of waste in babyhood. Our waste would be halved without nappies!” she admits. “I initially planned to be the perfect parent with the intention of being entirely disposable nappy free. However, what worked for us was to use washables at home and on easy outings, and disposables at night and longer outings.

Another tip is as your baby gets older learning to tell when they need to go, and popping them on the potty. It’s good for eliminating the need for nappies fairly early on. Hong Kong’s Susan Norton runs ‘one-two-pee’ service, and is happy to come along and do private consultations. This worked well for us at home, but it was a while before we lost them outside. It’s worth a try and the two-part green and white Ikea potty was pretty useful for this.” Fiona says.

A word of caution here though, some of my contemporaries who tried early potty training had little ones suffer with incontinence, one well into school age, so it doesn’t work for all.

Lisa Odell, founder of Plastic Free Hong Kong, is currently expecting her second baby and a firm advocate of zero waste.

At one point reusable nappies were the norm, but then along came the convenience of disposable nappies and although I took this route with my son, I will definitely be using reusable with our little one on the way. I feel it’s my responsibility and duty to save the World from the thousands of nappies I would contribute to the landfill if I didn’t. Today, there are so many great options so finding the one that works for you is much more attainable.”

The Facts: The US Environment Protection Agency estimates that using reusable cloth diapers [nappies] prevent around half a tonne of disposable diapers per child from going into US landfills each year, cutting down on the pathogens which experts agree could potentially pollute drinking water.

The manufacture of disposable nappies also uses volatile chemicals, which contaminate the eco-system. In addition, up to 200,000 trees are lost each year to make disposable nappies for babies in the US alone. Even more alarming is that experts estimate that depositing nappies in landfills could take from 200 to 500 years to degrade, creating methane and other toxic gases in the process.

But there’s good news from founder of Baby Tooshy , Gioula Chelten who says: “Reusable cloth diapers are becoming more popular among health and environmentally conscious parents, and reports show that reusable diapers also save families as much as 900 USD per year (7,022 HKD) compared with disposables when the costs of diapers, laundry detergent and energy are taken into account.”

Hemp cloth diapers are more absorbent than cotton, and hemp is among the most sustainable crops currently in use for fabric production.

The Gifts

There was no such thing as a baby shower in the UK in the 80s. It was all about the baby rather than the mum and it was thought unlucky to buy gifts before your little one was born (and you knew its gender!). The gifts were practical necessities as mums tended to give up work and money was tight. It’s different today with many mums continuing to work and with rampant commercialism and clever marketing machines it means we are all encouraged and able to buy far more than we need.

So if a baby shower is on the cards, and friends and family buy you gifts once the baby is born, it’s worth ensuring they are aware that you choose to follow the zero waste route and give them the enjoyable challenge of discovering pampering goodies, treats and baby items that do not land you with a pile of packaging to recycle, or worse still, that ends up in Hong Kong’s limited landfill.

Zero Waste Family - Fruit Basket with baby towels and cloths

Fiona’s company sent her a fruit basket when her son was born. “This was a lovely gesture”, she says, “and we use the basket to keep our mulling cloth collection in.”

The Equipment & The Clothes

I fully agreed with Fiona when she gave us her thoughts on this topic:

Most British, Australian and American baby books have long lists of what you’ll need for your baby. Most of this is nonsense, and you can tell the houses are far bigger than necessary! You need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to bathe, change nappies, some clothes, stuff to mop up bodily fluids, and that’s about it!”

And so beware of the shops loaded with beautiful tempting treasures, most of these last two minutes and then you have to store them until baby number two comes along, or sell for a fraction of their original value. Yes, I was guilty of having a house that some might think was bigger than necessary – certainly by Hong Kong standards anyway – and when my eldest daughter was born it was filled with the paraphernalia I had been convinced I needed ‘by the experts’.

Zero Waste Family - Sink bath

However, by the time my twin sons arrived I had decluttered and gone minimal; essentially I had two baby bouncers, a pram and two cots. Until they were big enough for the bath, I bathed the babies in the sink, used our crockery, towels and other everyday items to care for them. Trust me, forget any peer pressure and beware those selling treasures, babies neither know or care about these things as long as they are loved, dry and well fed.


With 400 square foot of accommodation – about average for Hong Kong – some of Fiona’s waste reduction is also about not having enough space for too much ‘stuff’. For a baby bath she used a storage box and still uses this in the shower – “good for splashing, playing and washing”. Her cot, changing mat and clothes were handed down from friends.

Lisa adopted the same principle: “Buy or borrow used clothing from friends and family. My circle of girlfriends is great, as we just keep passing around our children’s clothes to each other. Also, here in Hong Kong, there are such a plethora of Facebook Groups dedicated to selling baby items, that finding good quality, cute clothes is pretty easy.


Watch out for more tips in part two next month when we cover ‘From Toddler to Teen’.




  • My three toddlers in the shower base
  • Fiona’s gift fruit basket proving useful for storing baby towels
  • My twin sons bathing in the sink
  • Monkey modelling the baby in Fiona’s IKEA drawer makeshift bath

Reducing My Waste Footprint

I was lucky enough to visit Hong Kong twice this year, the first as a tourist, the second time on business. I was captivated by the skyscraper skyline of Victoria Harbour, enjoyed the panoramic views from Ozone and The Peak, and the beautiful beaches of Stanley.


This was all as a leisurely visitor, however, returning later for business meetings gave me a somewhat different insight to the city. Attending meetings meant travelling beyond the cosmopolitan bright lights to reveal piles of rubbish in huge bins, spilling onto the streets. There were so many discarded plastic bottles and containers. Frail ladies were gathering cardboard and pushing it around on trollies. The stench emanating from drains in parts must surely have an impact on health. But primarily it was the vast amount of mixed waste created by shops and the fact that, other than the airport, I saw no recycling bins so prevalent in the UK to enable waste separation.

During one of my meetings I met with Paola Cortese – a zero waster, a nomenclature new to me. Her passion for change and helping others to reduce the amount of waste they create was contagious. She opened my eyes to the serious issue of waste management in Hong Kong, something we take for granted in the UK; we have been separating our waste voluntarily for years attempting to avoid landfill, although it was only made compulsory in 2007. Unlike Germany it is not subsidised by our Government, residents pay for the service through their Council Tax.

Having now returned home, all I see is plastic – it’s everywhere – and so difficult to avoid. I decided to get in touch with Paola and ask for some private coaching so I could speed up the process of reducing my waste from one bin full per week, to one per month as a starting point. She was delighted to help and we devised a plan with regular Skype calls to report on progress and share and resolve any issues.

But my goodness it’s been frustrating along the way. When did it become a trend to put black straws in so many drinks? And why when you say no straw, does one still arrive? And we live in such a world of convenience that practically everything comes wrapped and ready. But happily, and just five weeks later, I have already reduced my rubbish to two bags per month and all set to reduce this to one – bang on target!

I now buy my fruit and veg from the owners of our local farm shop who encourage every customer to go green and bring their own bags, and my local butcher is also quite happy to place my meat directly in fridge and freezer ready containers.

My Skype coaching sessions with Paola are invaluable; she has so many tips and solutions, but for me the most effective so far has been the ability to refuse.