The Zero Waste Warbler

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Please meet Julia McLellan: Broadway performer and rad zero waster, aka zerowastewarbler.  Julia inspires many by educating and giving practical tips about how to succeed at a low-waste lifestyle. When Julia got married, she threw a low-waste wedding!⁣

Julia shares how she got started down the zero-waste path, her recommendations for how others can start being low or zero waste, tips on low-waste entertaining, and her favorite resources in this Eco Interview!⁣

Eco is Sexy: Please introduce yourself.

Julia: My name is Julia McLellan and I’m the founder of Zero Waste Warbler, an online guide to succeeding in your low waste lifestyle. I’m also a Broadway performer in Kinky Boots on Broadway.

Eco is Sexy: Tell us about your "why" - what got you started down your zero waste path?

Julia: I was sitting on Facebook about five years ago posting article after article about the climate and feeling so lost. I knew that what I was doing was almost as bad as not acting at all, because although I was posting about our crisis, I wasn’t actually putting my money where my mouth was. It’s that apathetic “Facebook activism” that doesn’t actually do any good. I decided to see if I could do just one grocery trip without using plastic. I soon found the whole process incredibly liberating (and addicting) and have since dedicated my time to reducing the waste in my life, as well as helping others to do the same.

Eco is Sexy: How do you feel about the terms "zero waste" vs. "circular economy"?

Julia: I think the term “zero waste” is both harmful and useful. I prefer to use the term “low waste” because in our linear economy, it’s impossible to be 100% zero waste. I think the term can sometimes discourage people from trying to do better because they think “well, I couldn’t possibly get rid of all my plastic, so why even bother?” The point of the movement is not to be perfect, but to do what you can in the confines of your privilege, geography, and financial means. We all come from different backgrounds, so low waste is going to mean lots of different things for different people. I do however think that “zero waste” sounds pretty cool, and has attracted a lot more people to movement than the term “low waste,” which is why my account is still called Zero Waste Warbler. I don’t think the term “zero waste” is in conflict with the term “circular economy.” I think zero waste is a means to achieve a circular economy, and vice versa.  What is imperative is that we start to demand that companies get smarter, and design out waste to create a society where the resources we use to make packaging is actually valued and reused, or phased out entirely.

Eco is Sexy: What would you do to accomplish your one-year zero waste goals in the next two weeks, if you had to?

Julia: My one-year goal is to get much more involved in my city’s politics and zero-waste pledge. I’d love to start creating a community around my home of people meeting up for workshops, swap meets, letter writing, and volunteering. If I had to try and achieve that in the next two weeks, I think I would start by hosting one big swap meet and invite all the households in my community to trade, mend, and grow as much of our own resources as possible.

Eco is Sexy: People don’t "succeed" at zero waste because they have no weakness. Tim Ferriss talks about finding your strengths and focusing on developing habits around them. What was easy for you to change, and what has been harder?

Julia: The easiest thing for me was the motivation. I’ve always been the type of person that once I’ve decided I’m going to do something, I do it. But what has been really truly challenging for me is adapting low waste into my life style as a traveling performer. I live in so many different states, cities and even countries every year and not all of those cities are set up to be very waste-free friendly. Not to mention being on the move traditionally creates a lot of waste itself. So it’s been a huge challenge to remain steadfast in my principals when it would be really easy and convenient to do otherwise while on the road. I live one of the weirdest, least-traditional life styles out there as a performer, so If I can find a way to stay focused, I’m convinced anyone can (no matter what the details of that look like for you, which will be different for everyone!).

Eco is Sexy: What do you recommend as the best first step someone can take to start their own zero-waste journey?

Julia:  I always recommend people create a trash journal. Take a month to write down everything you throw away or recycle. Document what it is, its use, and how you might be able to transition away from it. Once you have a written ledger of just how much waste you’re producing, it can shock you into action. It also gives you a super organized way to see what you should tackle first. Have a ton of plastic wrap in your journal? Maybe beeswax food wraps are a good place to start. Did you have to write down “coffee cup” 60 times? Start with a travel mug.

Eco is Sexy: You had a low-waste wedding which is very impressive.  Can you share some tips for low-waste entertaining?

Julia: Hosting a low-waste wedding was SO hard and SO rewarding. My biggest tips are: let nature do the work for you (we loved having our ceremony outside and having potted ferns on our tables - Mama Earth took care of the decor); thrift, borrow or rent any other decor you need. Buying needless single-use items is so unnecessary (and expensive!). I also let our entire wedding party wear whatever they wanted. It cut down on fast fashion that comes with forcing people to all dress the same. You can find my entire breakdown on ZWW! Ultimately though, starting our marriage off on the basis of staying strong in our beliefs has been such an incredible platform for our relationship.

Eco is Sexy: If you could put up a billboard in Times Square, what would it say?

Julia: I wouldn’t put up a billboard! Times Square drives me nuts with all that wasted paper, vinyl and electricity! But if I could some how simultaneously say one thing to every single New Yorker at once it would be “everything you’ve heard about climate change is not far away. It’s going to happen to YOU. Actually YOU. And even more importantly, your children are going to get the brunt of it. This isn’t some far away issue. It’s right now. It’s YOURS.”

Eco is Sexy: What is your most gifted or recommended book?

Julia: I have two books that I love to recommend. For practical purposes and for a good laugh, check out Ashlee Piper’s book “Give A Shit.” It’s an awesomely light hearted and funny way to learn without feeling yelled at. But my most favorite book is “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein. I especially love this book because it really talks about the actual root of the problem we have. And that’s our capitalist system. Capitalism=Climate Change. Until we dismantle this system, or at least regulate it so that the rich 1% can’t ravage it, we don’t have a hope in achieving our climate goals.

Eco is Sexy: What are your favorite instructional books or resources?

Julia: My favorite resource that I use most often is @zerowastechef. I love her page so much because she really takes the low-waste lifestyle back to the basics. Learning how to actually make, mend, grow and bake things. We used to do so much more for ourselves before plastic made everything “convenient.” Her page teaches you how to become a self sufficient, resource loving, second-hand shopping guru.

Want to learn more? You can find Julia on Instagram @zerowastewarbler

Check out her story highlights, as there are instructionals on those, as well as her IGTV!

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