Sylvie Droulans, a Belgian mother of two, is a zero waste activist with an interesting story about her sustainable living journey. In this interview, she tells us how she reduced her household waste to a single mason jar per year and how the pandemic provided an opportunity to reinvent herself.
Picture above: Sylvie Droulans holding her yearly jar of household waste..
A few years ago, on the occasion of the International Day of Families, CIRC4Life partner MMM organised a successful conference on “The Role of Families in Achieving the Circular Economy”, in collaboration with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
At this event, MMM presented the CIRC4Life project and highlighted how women and particularly mothers play a key role in promoting sustainable practices among their children, family and the communities they live in.
As parents are role models, they usually transfer their environmental and sustainable consumption patterns onto their children. Families are the place where education starts, where habits are formed, where initiatives and implementing acts can be first learned and explained. According to the UN, taking families into account accelerates the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the speakers at this conference was Sylvie Droulans. It is a well-known fact that the consumer plays a pivotal role in the transition to a Circular Economy and from the start, our CIRC4Life project has made sure to include consumers in the process of designing innovative circular solutions for businesses. But Sylvie decided not to wait for companies and governments to take action, instead becoming an actor for change herself.
Nearly six years ago, she took recycling a step further and went down the zero waste path with her family. Starting out with a simple blog about her journey to reducing household waste to a single glass jar per year, she now runs her own “Zero Waste Academy”. “The pandemic was an opportunity for me to reinvent myself”, she says, “as my regular live conferences were no longer possible.” The academy is now already in its third edition and, according to Sylvie Droulans, a powerful tool for coaching people to become actors for change through their consumption habits.
Instead of giving the usual tips & tricks, she strives to inform participants on the mechanisms of waste, and aims to provide understanding of how you can use individual capacity and strength to reinvent yourself. “People often have doubts or fears about a zero waste lifestyle” she says, “and the academy gives them the time to slowly get accustomed to the idea”. She’s happy to see that for many participants the time spent at the academy has been life changing. Sylvie Droulans has witnessed that, after spending the required three months, there is often no going back for her students. She adds that once they have experienced “the necessary lightbulb moments” and making the individual effort to persevere, the ball starts to roll for the majority of them.
Right now, she is busy with rehearsals for the new theatre play she’s producing with the help of a stage director and a choreographer. The play will recount the zero waste journey of her own family and should provide answers to many of the questions about zero waste living whilst also highlighting the importance of acting now to reduce household waste. With this play she hopes to reach a different audience, as the plan is to also perform in schools and theatres in the more disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
She realises that many citizens face time constraints and are reluctant to take the first steps due to the seeming complexity of reducing one’s household waste and the often higher cost of organic food when it comes to buying bulk.
“We often have an image of organic food as being elitist because of its effectively higher price”, says Sylvie Droulans, “but it’s all a matter of setting priorities and in the end a healthy diet is essential.” Her family gets their groceries from zero waste stores which are popping up everywhere around Brussels, where they live. “I go to zero waste shops”, she adds, “where everything is organised so that you can bring your own containers, it’s more practical. I do 80% of my shopping there without any difficulty.” She says that when zero waste is associated with organic shops and products, it’s true that it’s a bit more expensive. But according to her, when you take zero waste in its entirety, you save money. She chooses to buy local, seasonal products, directly from the producer through a grouped purchase system. This allows for important savings.
As with everything, according to Sylvie Droulans, it’s a question of organisation and more importantly of accepting that things will be a bit different and not as easy as before. She argues that it’s a common misconception that avoiding waste takes more time. She’s adamant that even if it might be the case at the beginning, it’s not once you have found the process. She doesn’t take longer to run errands as now she tends to avoid window shopping. Going for zero waste has made her more organised and a better time manager. She makes her children’s biscuits and the family’s own household products. For her, baking and making things can even become a family activity. Sylvie Droulans feels the zero waste experience is rich and doesn’t prevent her from living normally. “I have a family life, a social life and a job”, she says, “at the beginning it is destabilising, but afterwards you can find a way to do it, if you give yourself time. In the end, the benefits of “simple living” will outweigh the effort it might take.”
Visit Sylvie Droulans’ website (in French):
Find out more about MMM’s “International Day of Families” Conference:
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