I’m delighted to be featuring Lindsay Miles of Treading My Own Path. You may know her from her blog or Instagram profile, or from her first book, Less Stuff: Simple zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter-free life. Now Lindsay has a new book: The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen, and I’m sure you’re going to love it as much as I did!
For people who are new to you and your work, can you give us a little introduction?
Sure! I’m Lindsay Miles, and I help others take action to live with less waste, less plastic and and less stuff. I’m a waste educator, public speaker and writer – I do a lot of speaking and events (when there isn’t a pandemic going on!) and you can catch my TedX talk from 2016 on YouTube. I’m interested in changing habits, and what we as individuals can do to create change in our everyday lives. I started my blog Treading My Own Path in 2013, and I’ve written two books, Less Stuff and now The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen.
Your book is such a wealth of information! How did you become interested in low-waste living, and low-waste food?
Whilst I always thought I was eco-friendly because I did things like buy washing-up liquid labelled ‘eco-friendly’ and filled my recycling bin up to the top, my real turning point was in 2012 when I decided to give up plastic for the month of July. I saw a poster in the library, thought it would be easy because I barely used any plastic, and went home to be confronted with ALL the plastic that I did actually use and just hadn’t noticed before.
I was pretty embarrassed that I’d never even considered the ‘refuse’ message before, and had always assumed that recycling was peak sustainability. When I started looking into it, I realised that plastic was everywhere, lots of things were easy for me to swap to non-plastic alternatives, recycling was not the perfect system I’d believed and that greenwashing was a problem.
And once you start delving into waste, and waste reduction, you end up down the rabbit hole and can’t get out! Or maybe you don’t want to get out 😉 The thing that’s so satisfying about reducing waste is that you see the results. You see your empty bin. (Unlike turning the light off to reduce fossil fuel emissions, where you don’t feel the planet cooling as a direct result of your action.) I love problem-solving, and every waste problem is a challenge to be solved. And it feels good to do something good.
Discussing how to eat sustainably is a tricky topic, as there are so many considerations, such as culture, religion, and health conditions. Unfortunately, sometimes we can get caught up thinking that there’s one perfect “sustainable” diet. How do you respond to those who believe there’s such a diet?
The deeper I delve into sustainability and living with less waste, the more I realise that there really isn’t one perfect solution – for anything. There are always exceptions and what is best is often a case of ‘it depends’.
I’ve never actually had a conversation with someone who believed that there was only one kind of diet suitable and necessary for the whole planet, and told me so, but it seems rather authoritarian and lacking in empathy. People follow all kinds of diets and try to live sustainably in so many different ways, and that’s great – people adapt to what they have (resources, time, skills, access) and where they live. We’re all just trying to do what we can.
What would you say to those just starting out and feeling overwhelmed?
The most important thing of all is just to start. Just choose one, two or maybe three things to change, no more, and start there. It doesn’t matter how small these things are. If you don’t know where to start, think about what’s most important to you – or maybe what annoys you the most! If you have a pet peeve, start there – your motivation will be high.
And let go of any idea of perfect. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll end up with sneaky plastic. You’ll forget your reusables. You’ll find stuff in your fridge that accidentally went bad. Future you might make different choices to current you. But that’s all part of the process, and how we learn. Lose the guilt and you’ll have much more fun, I promise!
With COVID-19, we have less ability to bring our reusables, and some recycling programs are suspended. It’s disheartening for those trying to live in a low-waste way. What are your thoughts on that?
It is frustrating, no doubt about it. But reducing waste is about so much more than reusables, and definitely about more than recycling!
One thing I’ll say about reusables and recycling, is that for many of us, we’ve got our habits regarding these nailed. We’ve spent the time figuring out what works for us – and to have it all tipped on its head, at a time when there is so much other stuff going on in our lives (jobs, families, commutes, routines), is definitely challenging. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no options. There might still be places accepting reusables, suppliers not packaging food in plastic, recycling drop-off locations still operating – but it is going to take more work to find them.
And even if there is not a single option like this where you are, there is still plenty you can do. Food waste is a huge issue, so why not spend some time focusing on that? Learning how to use scraps, stems and peels (many more are edible than we realise), and setting up a compost bin or a worm farm at home. Maybe making something new from scratch?
And one of the most overlooked things of all when it comes to low waste living – and possibly the easiest if not the least glamorous – is not buying stuff. Making do. Fixing stuff. Borrowing stuff (if that’s still an option). Rather than lamenting the groceries coming in plastic whilst buying a new set of home gym equipment, twenty-five jigsaw puzzles, some new comfy pyjamas, a brand new kitchen mixer, a few new ornaments and an oversized cushion… take a step back. The less we buy, the less waste we create. See what you can ‘not’ buy.
Do you have a favourite recipe in your book?
In the book I actually try to teach people to unfollow recipes, because it’s an easier and less wasteful way to cook. But if I had to choose one, I’d say the pesto recipe(s). Because pesto is an amazing way to use all types of greens – from radish leaves to coriander to aragula leaves to carrot tops, and more. Leaves, nuts, olive oil and you’ve got the base for a tasty meal. (Plus it’s an excellent way to use up limp leaves that won’t hold up to a salad bowl.)
What inspires you?
People doing good things inspire me. People showing kindness, empathy, support, encouragement, passion, commitment, and trying to do better and help others and the planet, in whatever way that looks like for them. Everyday people doing everyday things to make their communities better. That inspires me the most.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Oh goodness, I could talk all day! If anyone would like to sign up to my website, where I post weekly (ish) about these topics, I’ve created a free 3 Day Food Waste Challenge eGuide as a thank you. It’s a taste of what you can expect from me: https://treadingmyownpath.com/foodwastechallenge.
Lindsay, it was a pleasure to learn more about you and your work. Thank you!
Photo of Lindsay Miles courtesy of Lindsay Miles.