Natasha Marais

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The Zero Waste Guide to the Galaxy

In June it will be one year since I got rid of my rubbish bin. One year since I started my journey towards zero waste living. One year since I sent anything to landfill.

It requires a little forward planning, but it’s not impossible. And what an education. An education in how much waste we generate. In how unclear we’ve become about the difference between want versus need. How driven we are by consumerism.

An education in that no matter how educated we are we put convenience before the health of our planet, and in turn ourselves, our future and the future of our children.

When I first read this post to Noah he looked at me rather solemnly, gave me a hug and said, ‘Thank you for caring so much’. Bless. But really, how could I not? Michael Jackson and a whole bunch of his friends got together and sang ‘We are the world’ to me (and a few million others) when I was just 6 and let’s not forget that other upbeat tune from back then ‘Don’t kill the world’ by Boney M. It’s not like I haven’t had time to get my shit together.

It’s not like I haven’t been warned.

We have a limited number of years of landfill left. This simple truth should scare the bejesus out of anyone. I have no desire to live on a pile of waste. And even less desire to have that be the legacy I leave my son.

So this is what I’ve been doing.

I compost. It was a bit of a challenge initially as I live in a small apartment and have no garden but I did a little research and now I put my compost waste in a bucket (treat it with a little Bokashi from time to time) and when it’s full I take it to a local urban farm in exchange for an empty bucket. Before that I had discovered a group on Facebook asking for these kind of food bits for their worm farms, pet rabbits, etc, so it just requires a little digging around to find what the best solution is for your particular circumstances.


I say no to plastic. I take my own shopping bags when I buy groceries. I have a bread bag. I buy fruit & veg that hasn’t been packaged and will only buy packaged if absolutely necessary. ( You have no idea how long it’s been since I bought a cucumber. Why do they have to be wrapped??) I purchase glass before plastic. I take jars to Fruit & Veg to buy nuts and dried fruit. I’ll only purchase plastic that is not recyclable in extreme cases. And usually this is only the case when purchasing cheese. While I am vegan my son is not. He dapples in vegetarianism but that particular adventure is another blog post altogether.

No single use items. (Is it true that the guy that invented coffee pods killed himself?). No straws. I carry napkins everywhere. Jars for take away smoothies or drinks. My own containers or napkins if ordering take out. I make my own toothpaste and Noah and I both have bamboo toothbrushes. I use my leftover coffee grounds as body scrub and oil cleanse my face with products from the kitchen. I’ve replaced tampons with a mooncup.


I recycle.

Most of my clothes are second hand but that’s nothing new. I’ve always loved items that have already lived a story, be it clothing or furniture. Some things I buy new. Like underwear. And shoes. But then I start paying careful attention to where those items were made.


I don’t always win.

Till slips can not be recycled. The fruit and veg that I buy loose and rescue from being packed in those horrible, non-reclyable thin see-through bags never escape the savage indoctrination of those price stickers. Also not recyclable. Cling wrap. Not reclyable. The foil sachets housing the medication that I have to take for another three months – not reclyable. The baking paper from my previous ‘not zero waste’ life – not recylcable. The wax sheet that was glued to the adhesive paper that Noah had to wrap his school books in – not recyclable. My hair. Dental floss.

For these items I use empty plastic 2l bottles (the irony). I stuff as much of the above into these bottles as is humanly possible and then they get used as Eco Bricks to build educational facilities in South Africa. They said to keep the contents plastic so I’m guessing they wouldn’t be that excited about human hair and stickers in their bottles so I’ve put those things in a separate container and will be burning them at a friend’s place soon.( Along with a pizza box or two:/) I have to admit though that they may find some floss and maybe some foil in my bricks but I’m hoping they’ll let this slide.

Burning stuff is not ideal. And I recycle a lot more than I’d like. So I’ll be increasing my efforts. But I’ve sent nothing to landfill in nearly a year. And that feels good.

Can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

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The Killing Fields

Dear Noah,

Tonight was the most afraid I’ve ever been in my life.

It was scarier than when you were born and you and I spent nearly a week in hospital because our blood was incompatible and it riddled your little body with bilirubin till you were the colour of straw and the doctors were thinking about taking all your blood and replacing it with someone else’s.

Scarier than when I dropped you on your head when you were only three months old.

Scarier than the first time I saw blood escape your body.

Scarier than that time that we were miles from anywhere, up the west coast, and your fingers got slammed in the car door.

Scarier than the time when we woke up to realise that our house had been robbed and that strange men had been walking through our rooms while we slept. Helping themselves to our lives.

Scarier than telling you that I was moving out.

Right now the world is kind of a difficult place to explain. Love and beauty is all around us but we are an insatiable species. Always wanting more than we need. Always wanting more. Always wanting.

I’ve become very aware of how little I  may be leaving behind for you if I don’t start making some serious changes. And so I’ve been making these changes, and I’ve gotten kind of verbal about it too because it matters to me that there are people just going about their business  without a care in the world – blatantly destroying the world I live in. The world you live in.

Tonight I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy. About the effect that agricultural farming is having on the earth. About the effect that human demand for the consumption of animal products is having on the earth. A consumption that is fuelled by habit more than need.

A demand that is killing our planet.

Killing your home.

Every single person that continues to believe that eating fish and meat is a sustainable option in terms of earth’s survival, our survival, is someone who is robbing you of your home. Someone who is actively robbing you of your future.

Of your life.

And here’s the thing.

Some of those people are people you love.
Some of those people are people I love.
Aunts, uncles, grandparents.
Your father.
My friends.


People you love.

People I love.

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We need to talk about plastic.

A couple of months back I did a television interview about zero waste living. While my enthusiasm for talking trash never waivers it seems my nervousness about appearing live on TV coupled with the fact that drinking before the interview was strongly discouraged rendered me incapable of coherent speech and I completely fumbled. And by fumbled I mean I tanked.

(Again – my sincerest apologies to the producers).

And no. I’m not going to show you.

The reason I mention it is because I recently spent the weekend with my parents and we were talking about what my *beef with plastic was. As I rambled on they looked at me rather perplexed (being part of a handful of people that I know that witnessed my sensational on screen debut) and asked, ‘Why didn’t you just say that in the interview?!’ Ja, well. I didn’t. But I can say it here.

Earth is a closed system to matter.

Dear fact resistant humans. Stop it. We only have so much space left in our landfills. We only have so much space left for landfills.

The problem with plastic is that it does not disappear. Some of it can be recycled, some of it can be repurposed and some of it can be reused but very little of it makes it to any of these destinations.

It’s lying on the sides of our roads, playing in the wind, swimming in our seas, setting up camp in the stomachs of our ocean life.
And we keep opening the door to invite it in.

Too many plastic products are single use items. Straws? Coffee pods? Cling wrap? Not only is a single use item a seriously gross waste of matter but consider the energy and waste produced in order to make that item?

The weekend with my parents was away in Fish Hoek. We took Noah to the beach a couple of times and it was devastating to see how much trash was washed up on our beaches. It meant I spent more time cleaning up rubbish than playing ball with my son and that makes me angry. And it means that people continue to think that what they’re doing is enough and that plastic pollution is someone else’s problem and that is both frustrating and discouraging.

Plastic is a problem that needs to be cut off at the source. Trying to clean it up is like trying to mop up water from a running tap. Think about that.

We need to turn that tap off.

Stop allowing suppliers to dictate how and what you consume. Each and every one of us has the power to start making better decisions when purchasing a product. Choose a reusable item before you buy something that can be recycled. It takes more energy to recycle than to reuse. Don’t buy single use items. Don’t use single use items. Be more aware of packaging when you’re shopping.

When I see the online disdain for vegans across various social media platforms or I think about how some of you may be shaking your heads or rolling your eyes or even taking offense while reading this – people are actively trying to help this planet. Their home. YOUR home. Why would you want to be anything but supportive of that? Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

Believing that we as consumers are capable of influencing change, change so big it will save the world, does not make me some sort of tree hugging, vegan loving, forest bound, hippie. (With all due respect to tree hugging, vegan loving, forest bound, hippies everywhere). We can stop climate change. Every time we make a decision or a purchase in favour of our planet our actions work in favour of our world. Every time you choose a plant based meal over meat or every time you say no to plastic you are actively doing something that adds to a collective that is a growing movement that will be the change.

That is the change.

Believing this does not make me an idealist completely out of touch with the realities of our consumer driven modern society.

Believing this means I know that it’s the people who are crazy enough to believe that they are able to change the world, that can. And will.

A friend of mine messaged me to say that she had been to Fruit & Veg and the only plastic involved in her purchase was the milk, cheese and cucumber. Another friend recently said something similar about being more mindful with her purchasing as far as plastic is concerned.

And so it begins.


Carte Blanche – call me!


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Live like you give a fuck.

The oceans are dying. Glaciers are melting. Our animals are disappearing and our forests are growing thin.

Plastic is suffocating our planet and consumerism is suffocating our lives.

You know it. I know it.

We continue to allow ourselves to be fueled by consumerism and live our lives based on stuff rather than meaningful experiences.

We continue to allow ourselves to be fed by the idea that it matters what brand of clothing we wear, what type of phone we have, how much money we make. We favour convenience over quality. We support suffering over abstinence.

Me before you.

We allow ourselves to believe that there’s nothing we can do.

This is not true.

You know it. I know it.

Just say no.

Living ‘cleaner’ for the sake of the environment and for ourselves starts with this super simple step. Habits are not needs. We do not need to eat meat every single day of our lives. (We don’t really need to eat meat at all but let’s save that for another day). We do not need to buy clothes manufactured in China. We do not need to replace all our kitchen utensils with copper stuff because it looked so cool in Visi. (Guys, I’m not a caveman. I’m all for good living but it can not infringe on the rights of others and I do love design but design for design’s sake just leaves me empty).

Less is more.

We hold on to so much stuff that we do not need. Make a habit of going through your cupboards and storage spaces on a regular basis and take anything you haven’t used or worn in the last year to a local charity shop. Unused items in your home are of value to someone else and by offering them up you take away the need for others to buy new. And having less in your home means there’s less for you to organise and clean which means more time for you.

Again and again and again.

Items you can reuse for the win! Particularly when shopping. Nothing brings me down quite like the packers at the check out counter that will practically arm wrestle you in order to get their little see through plastic bags wrapped round your goodies. Consol jars are great for things like nuts and dried fruit, cheese and deli items. Use bread bags for your loaves and rolls from the bakery. And for the love of god – stop. buying. plastic bags at the check out counter. Take a bag with you. Keep a spare in the car. There is absolutely no reason for any of us to still be buying carrier plastic bags. (All I want for Christmas is for supermarkets to stop selling them).


If you’re not recycling, why not? If you’re one of those people that thinks you’re helping create jobs by leaving your recyclables in your trash so that others can pick through it in the landfills then you have issues I am not qualified to address. But if you don’t know where to? Don’t know how? Get in touch and I’ll hook you up. Please.

Having said that – we need to become more mindful of the items we purchase. The mindset that we can just buy and then recycle is not sustainable. While it is the lesser of two evils it still requires energy and resources in order to recycle items. Be aware of packaging when you shop. Bottled water is bad. Evil. Stop buying that shit.


Natural. Home-made. It’s the way forward. Why are we buying salads in little plastic bags? Why are we wasting our money on body scrubs and other beauty products filled with micro beads that are choking our marine life? Why are we poisoning our soil with chemicals when we have bicarbonate of soda? Do  you have any idea what bicarbonate of soda can do?!

What’s left behind. 

Wet waste. Given that about 1 in 9 people on earth do not have enough food to lead a healthy, active life, we should all be keeping a very close eye on how much gets left behind during food preparation and once we’re done eating.  I thought that living in a small apartment meant that my composting days were over but when I started my journey towards zero waste I found that there are ways to manage composting even when living in a flat.

I read a sublime quote that went something like, ‘only the impossible is worth the effort‘.


I know that taking on climate change can seem impossible.

But man is it worth it!


*Title inspired by those fabulously foul-mouthed chefs that gave us Thug Kitchen: Eat like you give a fuck.


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What it’s like to die inside.

You listen to the same song in the car, over and over and over again. You think peanut butter is food. You take long walks in the forest and up the mountains but the flowers refuse their scent. You speak to your son for hours but cannot remember a word he says. Certain dates get stuck in your head. They effervesce. It’s been two months and six days since. It’s been fifteen weeks. This time last year. Places freeze. They lose their ability to give something new. It’s always the same memory. Last time I was here…

You always cry in the bath.

You forget how to be kind.

You can’t see your face in the mirror.

You dream about snakes.

Sleeping tastes like salt.

Waking up tastes like treachery.

You give names to people that haven’t been born. You give names to people that will never be born.

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This is how to stay alive.



But breathe.

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riddle me this

Why does it matter that I can be super funny and witty in 140 characters or less when I can barely bring myself to say hello to the beggars on the street corners?

Why does it matter that I buy blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless when I’ve never so much as asked a homeless person their name?

Why does it matter that I’m so quick to ‘share’ all that I have to be grateful for on social media when I’m so reluctant to share what I do have with those with very little, in real life?

Why does it matter that I support local when buying local has become more about flaunting already privileged artisans rather than supporting local community projects in poorly developed areas?

Why does it matter that as a single mother I feel stronger and more independent than I ever have when I hear in horror how some women are forced to lock their children in their homes for their own safety while they are away at work all day?

Why does it matter that I can live without a partner when so many women in this country can’t afford to live without the men that beat and rape them on a daily basis?

Why does it matter that I feel safe where I sleep at night when there are 47 murders recorded daily in South Africa?

Why does it matter that I keep telling my son how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place when he doesn’t know how the majority of South Africans are living?


ann hamilton installation

What does it matter that we celebrate the end of apartheid when it’s clear that apartness is still really a matter in our land?

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The one where I talk about my trash. Again.

So I am diving head first, as I do, into this zero waste living. Last week I did my first zero waste shop and so impressed was I with myself that I actually Instagrammed it. Yes. I posted a picture of my shopping. And here it is again.


The only items from this particular shop that could not be reused, recycled or composted was the cash slip from the till when I paid and all the completely redundant little stickers that produce manufacturers insist on sticking on their produce.

It was a small start I know but it felt so good leaving Fruit & Veg without having used ANY plastic. High five to Nambitha at the nuts department who did not bat an eye when I asked her to weigh my glass jar and deduct that weight from the total once I’d filled it with nuts, because I didn’t want to use any of their little plastic bags.

Was also very happy to see that Fruit & Veg is starting to offer goods like lentils and beans in bulk which is great because so often those dry goods are packaged in plastic but now I can just go and fill one of my glass jars.

After one week of being more aware of my waste output I have gone from a large bag of rubbish to one large jar full of rubbish. (And if you want to hold those two pizza boxes against me then you can just come see me after this post.)

Now maybe you’re wondering ‘Why does this girl insist on continuously telling us about her trash?’ The thing is this. When I first read about zero waste on Lauren’s blog, although I immediately knew that it was something that I wanted to do that thought was immediately followed by the thinking that I would never be able to do it in South Africa. That we don’t have the right resources for this lifestyle, that with an 8 year old son it could not be done, that I didn’t have enough money or access to the various facilities that I would need in order to get it right.

That I wouldn’t be able to do it because of me.

Because after the euphoria of my first zero waste shop there followed an incident a couple of evenings later at a local Spar where I was desperately looking for castor sugar and could only find some that was packaged in plastic. And as I stood there looking down the aisles I saw how many of the items were packaged in plastic. In the fruit and veg rows were piles of loose selling produce and next to them the same produce was also being sold in polystyrene bases covered in cling wrap. And I knew that at the check out counter the packer would immediately try to put my shampoo or my bananas into one of those thin plastic bags before putting it into another plastic bag even though I would have handed her my tote bag.

Plastic. Everywhere.

And then I started to cry. Not sobbing or anything. But I may or may not have dropped to my knees because of the sheer enormity of what needs to be overcome.

It’s called action-paralysis but I very quickly showed it the door. So often we forget our power as consumers. We allow convenience and suppliers to dictate to us what we are bringing into our homes when really that power lies with us.

I didn’t buy that castor sugar. And when I got home I saw that I still had some and that it’s the Pick n Pay no name brand that packages its castor sugar in paper.

So long story short. I’m going to keep talking about my trash and zero waste living simply because I want to show you that it can be done. And that it’s pretty cool.

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Let’s get dirty.



is how much rubbish was generated in my home this past week.



is how much trash Lauren Singer has generated in the last two years.

Lauren is living a Zero Waste life and this philosophy seems to be gaining momentum in the United States. As it should. Landfills are not infinite. In the US or anywhere else.

I stumbled upon her blog Trash is for Tossers and was immediately in awe of this remarkable young woman and how she is living her life.

This is not some hippie living in the Knysna forests. This is a 23 year old woman living in New York City.

From refusing to purchase anything that can not be re-used or re-cycled, to composting, to making her own cleaning and beauty products, Lauren has managed to drastically reduce the waste she generates to basically nothing.

As soon as I started reading more of her blog and about zero waste living I knew it was something I wanted to implement in my life.

I’ve been patting myself on the back for years because I’ve always been religious about recycling but this is not enough. We are not doing enough. It BLOWS MY MIND that so many people I know still don’t re-cycle. Intelligent human beings that simply can not be bothered to make the effort.

Those islands of plastic trapped in the currents of the Pacific are not part of some conspiracy theory made up by Greenpeace agents. They are real. The danger that is plastic is real.

Why is this someone else’s problem?

Why is THIS someone else’s problem?


And this?


Why is what is happening to the world that YOU live in, that you are leaving behind for YOUR children, why is it not up to you to start doing something about it? To start making some changes?

We are all connected. Our actions and our choices affect those around us. I want my actions and my choices to have a positive effect on the world I live in and the beings that I share it with. This doesn’t make me some sort of tree-hugging idealist. It just makes me someone that cares.

Be someone that cares.

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Somebody I used to know.

Let’s catch up.

There was a split. I moved out. We opted for joint physical custody. We started trying again. He fell inlove. Not with me. I stopped eating. Stopped sleeping. Was put on medication. I lost 10 kilograms. Wrote off my car. Very nearly lost my mind. Honestly. I broke.

That was 2014.

Not my favourite.

2015 has been much kinder. In fact, I’m a little inlove. With 2015 and with me. 2015 came into my life when I least expected it and showed me that I don’t need anyone else in order to be happy. That if I am doing things that matter to me, if I spend my time with people that honestly love and care about me, if I nurture the things that are good in my life… then happiness will naturally follow.

And it has.

It took a long time for me to get here. For the sadness to leave my skin. ( I loved the way you said that Lauren, thank you x). And that’s okay. Because that is simply how it goes when you really love someone.

And while 2015 came along and swept me off my feet there has been something I’ve been struggling with this year. Trying to stay friends with my ex. Under any other circumstances I would not have battled this. It would not have been so important to try. Relationships end and people move on.

But Noah.

My own parents divorced when I was 6 and to this day they do not speak to each other. I vowed to myself that I would NEVER let this happen in our situation. It was fiercely important to me that we stay close. I pictured big (dysfunctional) family get-togethers where we reminisced over old battle scars and celebrated new additions to what got left behind. I never imagined it would be any other way.

But it’s not happening. These things can’t be forced. And again, that’s okay. You can’t be friends with someone that made a joke of 8 years of your life. You can’t be friends with the person that broke you and never looked back.

Noah’s father is just someone I happen to share an incredible human being with. Someone I’m in the business of raising a child with.

This used to make me really, really sad.

Lately I find that I no longer care.

Maybe that’s even sadder.


image found on Pinterest (link no longer works)


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I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.

Yes, I know. I know what I said. But my words have been banging at my fingertips, pulling to be freed. Seems my solitary writing confinement is not enough for me. Seems I’ve missed having this small little space of my own. Seems I’ve missed you.

Writers are forever asking advice about how to, well, write. Standard responses from those apparently in the know run along the lines of ‘write what you know’ or ‘write what you want to read’, or, the ever helpful, ‘just write’.

Writing what I know is what I did with my previous blog. It was deeply personal. I’m not sure I want to bleed like that, here. Writing what I want to read? So many blogs that I use to love seem to be about little more than advertising and promoting lately. I get that the big bloggers are ‘influencers’ and that that is partly how they put bread on the table and it seems like a pretty sweet way to do it so I wish them all the best. But that writing is boring as fuck if you ask me. I want to read writing with soul.

I’ve held back on blogging again because I wasn’t sure what shape I wanted a new blog to take, or which direction I wanted it to go in or even what to call it. But my thoughts and ideas keep having a party in my head and my words want a place to come and play.

I want to write about how much I love living in my flat. I want to write about what an incredible experience it is to be a single mother. I want to write about community. I want to write about how we are taking up too much space on this earth. I want to write about how so many things are highly over-rated. Like consumerism, the number of followers we have on social media or being friends with your ex. I want to write about trying to live more consciously.

So. Write. I’ll just write.

The name might change. Maybe even the platform. But I must write.

This is where my words will come to play.

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