11/08/2017 03:59 SAST | Updated 11/08/2017 03:59 SAST

Start Where You Are With What You Have To Turn Waste into Opportunity

If the 19th century was about coal and the 20th century about oil, then the 21st century should be about renewable energy.

Albert Gonzalez Farran/ UNAMID/ Handout/ Reuters
A typical person in a developed nation in the world would use, on average, 400 litres of water a day. International Water Day is held on March 22.

I was recently reminded how travelling, for me, is more a state of mind than a destination. I used to think of travelling as visiting faraway countries where the culture was exotic and the language was foreign. In these unknown spaces, I would feel inspired by people who looked unlike me, signboards that I couldn't quite read and foods I hadn't tasted before.

These travelling experiences would inspire me to think new thoughts and shift my perceptions. But I've realised I don't need to travel far to gain new insights, shift my perceptions and uncover opportunities. It has been a long time since I've flown. I try not to fly often, carbon footprint and all.

So as I flew into OR Tambo last week I was more aware of the beautiful bird's-eye view from the window as we came in to land. Sunlight was glinting off the roofs and sparkling in the aqua blue pools. I saw highways and mine dumps from above, a common sight in the city of gold. But what I noticed most on this winter afternoon was the abundance of sunshine. It almost felt warm through the window.

I was flying in to attend my first live Living Planet Conference. This is WWF South Africa's flagship thought leadership event, now in its fifth year. The 2017 theme was "What's your junk status?" With #waste2wealth as the hashtag, the focus was on turning our wasteful ways into opportunities.

Throughout this inspiring conference, I realised that how I think about waste is a state of mind. First I must realise the waste in my ways and from there on, we need to feel inspired to do something about it. For me, it has started with using what I already have, not just buying more or wasting opportunities.

During a talk by WWF's energy speaker, James Reeler, I thought back to the Jozi sunlight out the window when he spoke about South Africa's abundant sunshine as a wasted opportunity, a free energy source. He proposed that if the 19th century was about coal and the 20th century about oil, then the 21st century should be about renewable energy.

My attitude to wasting food has firmly shifted!

Another inspirational WWF speaker, Pavs Pillay, shared how South Africa's annual food waste could power the city of Joburg for four months. From enlightening us that embedded in our food are hidden water and energy costs, she also told us that a third of all food produced in South Africa is wasted, and most of it before it even leaves the farm.

She inspired us to seek out, cook up and savour oddly shaped fruits and vegetables. She regaled us with stories of her chef extraordinaire gran who taught her to roll round rotis, and to value food and waste nothing.

Needless to say, I ate every bit of food on my plate that day, and have done every day since. It is as simple as serving what we know we can eat. And if it's in my fridge and I won't finish it in time, I give it to someone who will. Or turn it into soup. And when shopping, I plan ahead and only buy what is needed for the week.

My attitude to wasting food has firmly shifted. I won't be part of this shocking and sad problem. Water is a bit trickier, but bucket by bucket I am doing my bit. I am not sure if it's enough in the long term, but I believe that we must save water and share our water-reducing tips.

From friends and colleagues, I've learnt a few simple tricks, such as switching to a 2-in-1 or using a leave-in conditioner or dry shampoo to cut down on showering time. Switching off between lathers is easy too. Virgin Active in the Western Cape is doing their bit by closing their saunas and steam rooms, and putting up ''two-minute shower'' notices to remind us to switch off the tap in between while at the gym too.

Did you know that a two-minute shower uses about 30 litres of water compared with 80 litres for five minutes? I hope Virgin is promoting conserving water across all clubs in the country, because drought is not an issue exclusive to the Western Cape. I am not sure though if most South Africans realise we live in a water-scarce country...

You can also wear clothes a few times before washing them – especially jeans, jerseys and dark items that don't show the dirt.

It has been so easy to form a few good shower habits. Especially before it's too late. And the added bonus of my small water and energy-saving investments now is that I save money. James spent R6,000 on energy-proofing his home and now saves R500 a month on his electricity bill.

The quickest energy savers I've implemented –- whether you are a homeowner or a renter -– have been to buy a R250 geyser blanket and invest in LED lightbulbs. Likewise, with a basic bucket costing less than R30, you can buy three or four for your shower and use this water to manually flush your loo. At up to nine litres a flush, you can save litres of quality drinking water each day.

You can also wear clothes a few times before washing them –- especially jeans, jerseys and dark items that don't show the dirt. And opt for the shorter eco cycle on your washing machine. Did you know that machine washing uses up to 150 litres a load? In the spirit of one of my favourite quotes: "Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.''

Sometimes we just need a change of scenery and fresh inspiration to shift our perceptions and refresh our state of mind -– to think differently, consume wisely and act collectively.