In the bathroom of: Shayna Stalker of The Waste Free Home
The Waste Free Home is a local, independently operated home goods store, sourcing high-quality, plastic-free functional goods and objects. Its founder, Shayna Stalker, is on a mission to make it easier to shop sustainably and to remove waste from your home. She does this by avoiding plastic and toxic materials altogether. Here we discuss the concept of value, making the most of what you have and why she feels the bathroom is an easy place to start in becoming low waste.
There's such an appetite today for sustainability, re-use, less waste — less plastic. Mainstream culture is still very much geared towards a take, make and dispose model. Are you hopeful people are becoming incredibly aware of the connections between cheap things and how that exploits cheap labour, and our environment?
I am hopeful but possibly not yet convinced. It’s tough when we only see a product sitting on a shelf at a ‘great’ low price. We don’t see the exploitation of the people and the environment; we don’t see its end of life in a landfill for thousands of years. In the backs of our minds, we all know this to be true, but the desire for fast easy living immediately throws what we know out the window. We’ve been trained to think that way, little by little. It’s a cycle we have to very deliberately and consciously break.
Why do you care about Mother Earth and sustainability? And what does it mean to you?
To me, the Earth is such a source of inspiration and pleasure. Something that truly calms me in our fast-paced lives. I want to see my children and my grandchildren be able to enjoy that same simple right. To grow up healthy and happy. So, in the way we live, we always look for ways to tread a little lighter and live a little slower. As a Mother, it’s truly overwhelming to think that it might only get worse from here.
When we look at plastic, for example, we have a material that is cheap and therefore disposable. Yet what we are discovering is that plastic goes nowhere, and it is ending up in our ecosystems and our bodies. What plastic products should people definitely be looking at removing from their homes and why?
Firstly, anything single-use. Of course, it’s a little bit more work to remember your bags, cook from scratch where possible or buy bulk, but it is worth it, and it soon becomes a habit. If you have plastic products already use them! Reuse them. Use them until they can no longer function. I don’t believe there is any point in buying the latest glass Tupperware equivalent when you can use what you already have. When you do NEED to buy new, then look for second-hand or plastic-free alternatives. Trying to keep cheap plastic toys out of our home is always a challenge with the kids, but we try our best. They always end up in the rubbish in no time, and it feels like such a waste.
What else interests you outside of your work?
My family and my art. Family life is precious and fleeting. The years have flown by so fast already, so we spend a lot of time together. I am also an art student one day a week, which I love. It gives me a creative outlet and calms my mind whilst simultaneously invigorating me. It’s my self-care.
And at home. What makes a home comfortable for you?
A comfortable home to me is cosy and lived-in. Somewhere you can walk in and get an immediate sense of the people living there. Lots of comfy places to sit and talk. Plenty of books. Warm wooden tones. Artwork and trinkets that tell a story of the people that live there. A rambling garden full of fruit trees is a bonus and a dream.
How would you describe your home? And how do you feel the bathroom sits in relation to the other rooms? Is there intimacy or not?
Definitely relaxed and homely, we have a lot of wood and reclaimed furniture. Natural fabrics and stacks of books. We have lots of kids stuff lying around. And a lovely green and messy garden. Our bathroom is a relaxed workhorse, tending to our daily needs. I think a bathroom is always intimate. Ours calms us, scrubs us, cleanses us and spits us out feeling shiny and better. It’s where many of my personal choices are made – what do I put on my skin, what do I breathe in, what packaging do my preferred products come in, and what do we really need?
In terms of detoxing, our bathrooms are arguably the easiest place to start. For products used so intimately, what are some easy swaps we can make that will have positive health impacts for ourselves and our families?
For us, some of the first swaps were to solid bars; soap, shampoo and conditioner. Getting rid of anything with artificial fragrance. Using oils instead of moisturisers - I am a fan of Aotea Made, and deodorant in tubes - It took us a while to find one that worked for us – strong but not oily on our clothes. Replacing plastic razors. For me, I feel like the bathroom is an easy place to start becoming low waste without too much hassle.
Your bathroom. What do you like about it, or not? Can you change it, and if not, describe your ideal bathroom?
We love our new bathroom, which we renovated a couple of years ago and we got rid of the laundry that was also in it. It’s extremely functional for our wee family, and it has enough space without being lavish. I fell in love with the little boat detail on the old bathroom window, so we redesigned the layout just to keep it! The bath is original from when the house was built, and we re-enamelled it rather than replace it. It costs about the same as a new plastic bath, but it has about ten times the character (not to mention zero plastic).
My ideal bathroom is not a flash one – just functional and calming. Ideally with a bath with a bit of a view of some trees or a garden. One of my most favourite bathrooms belongs to a friend of ours. It’s mostly wood, it has a very old bath, and many little drawers and cubby’s for all your things, there are shells on the windowsills and little tiles with boats on them – it’s beautiful.
What decisions do you make at home, in your life, that you feel are sustainable?
In all aspects of our home and life, we try to be as sustainable as we can be as a busy young family. We have a decent vegetable garden and lots of ways to compost on our property. We reuse wherever possible, and repair clothes and items that break. We restore furniture that we find on the side of the road, eat in season, and both love to cook, so we have very little food waste. We just try and live a little slower and really think about the purchases we make. Quality over quantity.
You describe your concept of conscious retailerism that informs your brand, your products and the brands you retail. Waste is a mainstream topic, however, the responsibility of burden falls on the consumer, while in reality, brands need to do better. What changes would you like to see in the regulation space that would force necessary change?
I find this question overwhelming. I could go on for hours. So many of our issues today are around the way we buy as much as what we buy. We’re always fighting against large corporate greed and we’ve been trained into capitalism so that billions of dollars can end up in the hands of very few.
For us we try to buy locally wherever possible, low carbon footprint, and little or no plastic. We support artisans and the use of reclaimed materials. If there is one thing I think should be a regulation, it is that Businesses should be made to work in the Circular Model. They need to be responsible for the end of the life of their product.
And finally, what are five of your favourite products from The Waste Free Home?
PETE & CO FRENCH ROLLING PIN It’s so simple yet so effective.
THE SOLO BLACKSMITH SKILLET Is handmade just down the road from us. Solomon makes products we want to treasure.
BURGON & BALL SECATEURS Truly a workhorse in the garden.
THE CUBAN MOP A truly plastic free mop that is so easy to use.
WOODEN DRYING RACKS Beautifully nostalgic wooden drying racks.
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