Motherhood and Zero-Waste Living: Q&A with Sarah Robertson-Barnes – The Wise Consumer


Motherhood and Zero-Waste Living: Q&A with Sarah Robertson-Barnes

August 6, 2019

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Sustainable in the Suburbs, Founder
Toronto, Canada

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“Living a sustainable lifestyle with kids is not only possible but critically important for our future and theirs.”  – Sarah Robertson-Barnes

Meet Sarah Robertson-Barnes, a mother to two boys (aged 6 and 8) living in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada. Sarah is also the founding editor of the blog Sustainable in the Suburbs where she writes about how to live a low-waste lifestyle in a culture of convenience and the steps we can all take towards living a more simplified life (It’s great, make sure to check it out!)

Here’s what she has to share about her zero-waste journey.

Q & A with Sarah Robertson-Barnes:

1) City of residence: I live with my husband and two boys in Aurora, Ontario (a suburb of Toronto)

2) Place of birth: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

3) In under five sentences, please define your blog “Sustainable in the Suburbs“: My writing is focused on how to live low waste with kids in a culture of convenience, slowing down toward a more simplified life, and the feelings we can run up against as we do this work. I hope that by sharing what works for our family, other parents are inspired to make changes in their families too. I seem to “microblog” on Instagram on a more consistent basis, offering simple tips and highlighting systemic issues.

4) How long have you been living a low-impact/zero-waste lifestyle? What inspired the shift? I have been living a low-waste lifestyle in some form or another since leaving for university over 20 years ago when I learned about the impacts of factory farming and went vegetarian. I started bulk shopping about ten years ago when I lived on a very tight budget. Plastics and ingredients in cosmetics and cleaning products became a primary concern of mine when we were struggling with infertility and repeat pregnancy loss. When I was pregnant with my first son, disposable diapers were out of the question. As he got older, I saw all the waste around kid’s snacks and all the other junk aimed at kids. Each new life stage seemed to broaden the lens and with more questions came even more questions! I finally found the zero-waste movement about two years ago and knew I had found my people.

5) What is one thing about motherhood/pregnancy that you were least expecting? The transition into motherhood really put me through the emotional wringer. I thought I would feel happy because I was finally getting what I wanted, but I only felt crushing anxiety. I suffered from postpartum depression with both kids with a generous helping of self-imposed guilt on top. I think we are sold the idea that pregnancy is an amazing time and motherhood is sunshine and rainbows, which was definitely not the case for me. The negative emotions were such a shock to me and I felt such shame.

6) How has motherhood/pregnancy changed you? Being a mother has been an interesting exercise in self-discovery. I have learned so many things about myself during the daily grind of parenting, from the struggles to the celebrations. I think I have learned to be more patient (or at least feign it), more forgiving, and more compassionate to the struggle of others. And to be real, I have learned to function when absolutely dead tired in a body that won’t be going to where it was before and be fine with that.

7) What three things have you found to be the most challenging when it comes to living sustainably (eco-friendly, ethical fashion, etc.) & raising children? The most challenging things have been packaged snacks, what other kids have, and gifts from others. We phased packaged snacks of our school lunches and finally out of our home, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want them! They see what other kids have, whether it’s a snack, toys, tablets, etc and naturally want those things. I think that is true of any kid! We involve them in the choices we make in our home, but let them make their own decisions when they are outside of the home. It is up to them to accept the granola bar after soccer or the goodie bag at the party, and right now they gleefully accept those things. Our job as their parents is to give them the tools and knowledge to make their own decisions as they get older, and I have faith they will begin to refuse those things on their own.

8) What three tips (things that worked best for you) can you share with other parents to help them along their eco-conscious/slow fashion journey?

  • My first piece of advice is to go slow and tackle one thing at a time. What is your main concern and how can you address it in a way that works best for your family?
  • Secondly, involve your kids in the changes you are making. Let them scoop from the bulk bins, pick out a toy at the thrift store, choose the fruit for their lunches, hang the laundry to dry, etc. Children learn by doing and you can chat about your values while you work together.
  • Lastly, give yourself the grace to make mistakes. You will inevitably buy a packaged snack in a pinch and they are going to come home with plastic crap. Consistency is more important than perfection.

9) Living an eco-friendly/slow fashion lifestyle isn’t always convenient or easy, but why does it matter that we at least try our best (there’s no such thing as perfection). Teaching our children how to live according to their values is the point of parenting. Learning about environmental issues and practicing sustainability within our homes is an opportunity to teach our children so many things about the world. Inevitably, children get older and different challenges pop-up. There is no such thing as doing the right thing every time, no matter how you parent! What matters is that you are consistent, admit when you make mistakes, and model how to fix things. Parenting is ever-evolving and how you approach a low waste lifestyle will be too.

10) Bonus question: “I don’t believe we as individuals should be held responsible for our consumer and lifestyle habits — it’s nearly impossible to live a sustainable lifestyle and honestly, I have other things to worry about — I am a busy mom! Rather, I believe it’s up to our governments and businesses to lead the way, to change their policies, etc. Climate change, ethical fashion, plastic pollution, child labor, etc. these are top-down issues, not bottom-up issues, my choices won’t make a difference.” Agree or disagree? why or why not.

I fall somewhere in the middle of this statement – one cannot exist without the other. Government policy is critical to reining in corporate greed and the resulting environmental destruction, but policy will not change without citizen demand. Similarly, corporate business practices will not change without consumer demand and government regulations. In each case, individual action is required to make your voice heard by both elected officials and corporations. This is where individual action comes into play. Every small step you take toward opting out of the current system matters. Every piece of trash you don’t make, every dollar you don’t spend, every email you send, every protest you attend – these individual actions are what creates the shift. We may not be individually responsible for the climate crisis, but collectively our actions have the power to change the status quo. That’s our choice.

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