The Zero-Waste Lifestyle—It’s Not as Hard as You Think

Marina Qutab, creator of Zero Waste Kit. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.
Marina Qutab, creator of Zero Waste Kit. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.

Marina Qutab’s life changed at the age of 10 when she traveled to her father’s homeland of Pakistan, and was shocked at the level of pollution she observed. Since then, she has spent her life striving to reduce waste and to live a sustainable life. Currently living on an organic farm in Southern California, she grows nearly all of the food she eats and tends to several animals including four goats and a rabbit. Passionate about the vegan lifestyle she adopted three years ago, she is in the process of launching the Zero Waste Kit to help others live sustainably too. We sat down with Marina to find out more about how the Zero Waste Kit can help change the way we live our everyday lives.

Build your community first. As you connect with and grow your online audience, you will discover their interests, their needs, their goals and their passions.

AWT: You’ve achieved your Kickstarter goal in only one day! Congratulations! What’s the biggest tip you can share with our readers who want to start a successful campaign as well?

Marina Qutab: Build your community first. As you connect with and grow your online audience, you will discover their interests, their needs, their goals and their passions. Respond to all of these areas with a product that is unique and solves a problem. There was nothing random about me creating {Zero} Waste Kit. I witnessed a void in the market and demand from my social media following for a product that made living sustainably easy and convenient. Knowing my audience, I went on to create a product that not only solves their problem, but also presents a badass and sexy solution that people can feel proud about carrying around.

Living sustainably. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.
Living sustainably. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.
Lifestyle tools and reusable essentials. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.
Lifestyle tools and reusable essentials. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.

AWT: Your message about a conscious lifestyle is a big idea of our times. It taps right into current issues and trends around climate change, working less and living in accordance with a balanced self inside and out. How did you first get introduced to this way of living?

Marina Qutab: I was a double major in college, studying communications and Arabic while also pursuing an interdepartmental program in film studies. One evening while I was studying for a comm exam, I received a Facebook message from my close high school classmate, suggesting I join this competition called Project Green Challenge.

Project Green Challenge engages high school and college students globally, and features 30 days of environmentally-themed challenges, providing students with mentorship and advocacy and leadership skills. I had no intentions of pursuing this time-consuming challenge, as I was already overwhelmed with my academic commitments. And yet, my 10-year-old save-the-world-voice piped up and told me to enroll, so I listened. This decision changed my life. Not only did I became a finalist from 4,000 participants around the globe, where I was flown out to San Francisco for the championships and placed second, I also adopted a new understanding of how to live completely in alignment with my passion and purpose. I learned about veganism, what living “zero waste” meant, why composting was the thing to do and so much more. We all come to the conscious lifestyle journey in different ways. For me, it came through committing those 30 days of my life to radically shifting my lifestyle from ‘conventional to conscious’ as Judi Shils, founder of Project Green Challenge likes to put it. What made the lifestyle shift stick was seeing the positive impact it had on my life and the lives of those around me.

AWT: You want to inspire other people to follow in your footsteps. What makes you want to share your lifestyle with other people?

Marina Qutab: There is something magical that happens when we share our lives with each other. Sharing not only fosters connection, but it also invites new perspectives which can open the door to change. I learned this early on when sharing my deep green lifestyle with my family and friends and seeing how they responded. My mom and dad adopted composting. My brother bought a jacket made from recycled water bottles. My friends starting wrapping all of their gifts in upcycled newspaper. I know that my personal lifestyle choices aren’t for everyone, but I also know that by sharing them with others there is the chance that those listening will feel inspired to make little changes in their lives. And the most magical part about sharing? It’s contagious. Inspired people inspire people. Overtime, a ripple effect is born, which can then snowball into a movement.

It was in that moment that I realized the power of staying in your values, however hard it may be sometimes.

AWT: During your cross-country trip in March, what was your most heartfelt experience?

Marina Qutab: In spring of 2016, I packed my things and traveled across the country through 20 states with one mission in mind: to do so fully vegan and fully zero waste. I brought my brother along as my professional videographer to document the experience. My travels consisted of the things I love to do most: spreading the message of sustainability and conscious living; building connections and sharing stories with locals along the way at plant-based restaurants, food co-ops and farm sanctuaries; and frequently stopping to do yoga and movement to maintain my inner-zen and wellbeing.

The most heartfelt experience happened on day four. My brother and I were exhausted and had been switching off driving for the past three days. We found a vegan cafe in New Orleans for breakfast to grab a bite before continuing our travels. What we didn’t know was that this cafe was anything but zero-waste lifestyle-friendly. Styrofoam plates, plastic cups, plastic utensils and other disposables were the only options for serving food to customers. Confident that I had my own reusables, I reached into my bag to find nothing but a mason jar. I was shocked. Exhausted, stubborn and on the verge of tears I folded my arms and refused to order. My brother on the other hand ordered his meal happily and said, “Well, I am going to eat Rina. Not going to go hungry just to avoid waste…” As I was busy having a moment and feeling defeated, I didn’t even realize the store owner overheard my struggle and left the cafe. She walked into the closest restaurant and asked a random employee for a reusable napkin, plate and utensil set, claiming a girl at her cafe wouldn’t eat because she’s trying to avoid waste and save the planet. Moments later, I felt a tap on my back. She held out these reusables and said, “Will you eat if we can serve you your food on this?” I started crying out of joy. She went on to say, “All I could think of was how do I feed this child?” It was in that moment that I realized the power of staying in your values, however hard it may be sometimes.

AWT: Tell us about the {Zero} Waste Kit: About the materials of all the elements and how you came up with them?

Marina Qutab: The {Zero} Waste Kit is your basic toolkit for taking on the world like a zero-waste badass. I envisioned the {Zero} Waste Kit as a streamlined take-with-you-and-go-everywhere kit to help make daily choices such as saying goodbye to plastic spoons, straws, food containers, grocery bags, and other single-use plastic products, easy and convenient.

While living the zero-waste lifestyle for the past 3+ years of my life, I came to realize this lifestyle was anything but convenient. Even my best attempts to live eco friendly were often undermined by my forgetfulness or tendency to misplace by lifestyle tools and essentials. It was always in the places that I needed my reusables the most that I didn’t have them, too: a smoothie shop where I needed my glass jar and reusable straw; a grocery store where I needed reusable bags; the list goes on. As my friends, family and social media following came to me with the same complaints, especially the “Well, this lifestyle just isn’t that convenient Marina…” complaint—I searched for solutions. Not finding the solution I envisioned, I created it.

After committing to creating the solution I envisioned, I observed my lifestyle for the next few months of my life, taking note of what lifestyle essentials I needed daily to avoid waste at all costs. This honest self-examining period revealed just six major lifestyle tools that I needed every single day, whether I was traveling to work or to a completely different city. These six major lifestyle tools are what your {Zero} Waste Kit consists of.

But I didn’t want to create just any ordinary kit. I wanted to create one that was sustainably and ethically sourced, while also being zero waste to the environment. This means that when your kit has reached the end of its lifespan, all of the kit ingredients will not add to the landfill and can instead be composted or recycled.

Your {Zero} Waste Kit essentials include an all-purpose glass jar which houses all of your kit ingredients, a sustainable cork sleeve for your jar, and a one-of-a-kind custom-designed leak-proof bamboo lid. The remaining kit ingredients include a minimalist’s bamboo spork, a disabilities-friendly reusable stainless steel straw and eco-friendly silicone tip, a straw cleaner made with compostable natural fiber bristles and a stainless steel handle, a sturdy all-purpose ceramic knife, two organic cotton produce bags and an upcycled napkin with a built-in pocket for storing all kit components for when the glass is in use. I am proud to say that many of the kit components support artisans around the U.S. and zero-waste initiatives, most notably our napkins which are sourced from scrap fabric diverted from landfills and properly recycled for commercial standard reuse. We never know what kind of scrap fabrics we will get with each order, making each {Zero} Waste Kit napkin one-of-a-kind. Hand sewn with love in Southern California, we’d like to think our napkins are just one of the things that classifies our kits as totally badass.

AWT: In five years from now, what would make you feel proud about the work you’ve accomplished?

Marina Qutab: If I’ve done what I’ve set out to do, in five years I will see a global shift in consciousness and lifestyle change around our global waste crisis.

Alarming statistics such as the average American creates 4.5 pounds of waste will have decreased; less marine life will be washing ashore with plastic inside of their bodies; and more opportunity will arise for communities around the world to get involved in the low impact lifestyle movement, such as the creation of more bulk stores, educational programs in schools, household shifts and policy change.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done, and if my {Zero} Waste Kit can play a role in empowering people with the tools, mindsets and convenience they need to reduce their ecological footprint, I am fulfilled.

Thank you for the interview, we’re wishing you so much success with your mission to minimize our trash behavior!

Go-everywhere kit. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.
Go-everywhere kit. Photo courtesy of Marina Qutab.