Small steps climb mountains – Sarah Hamilton

Hi, I am Sarah Hamilton, one half of Use-d – an environmentally thoughtful design and interiors business.

I guess in a way our DO LESS project has been running for 11 years now, but our waste journey really has been a mixed bag with fingers in an assortment of waste minimisation holes! Both my partner Alex Brown-Graham and I have always had a thing for fixing up old treasures or re-inventing them to suit our aesthetic. We can often see the beauty in something that our clients will look at and think ‘you are mad’… only to happily eat their words down the track.

As much as we can, we let sustainability and secondhand finds guide our projects. Reusing is about looking at a material and trying to think outside the box of what it used to be, rather than looking at something and thinking there’s nothing more that can be done with it. It feels good to re-interpret the way something is used or incorporated into a project. It also then comes with a ‘story’, and of course everyone loves one of those!

A project we did for Auckland Council a few years ago led me down a new path. After designing and building the ‘Make Space’ – a small workshop for school age kids to come and design and then build their own unique ‘something’ – all out of materials that had been pulled off the tipping floor at the Transfer Station (cleaned of course!).

And then a short time later, completing the ‘Waste Minimisation Learning Centre’ better known as the ‘Zero Waste Zone’, I somehow fell into a 4/5 year stint of being contracted by Council as a Waste Minimisation Facilitator.

I LOVED it! Helping to educate the 6-10k visitors a year that came through the centre was so incredibly rewarding. Some would arrive not even knowing where their rubbish goes, just that their bin was emptied into the truck and driven off. The shock and horror when you explained that there is actually no ‘away’ that ‘away’ is in Papatuanuku’s tummy, where the majority will sit for ever more… making her sicker and gobbling up the limited resources we have left. Needless to say that the majority of visitors left with a long list of the small changes they could make individually or as a family that would have an impact on the planet. After all, lots of small changes add up to big change. It was even more rewarding when the same people would come back a year later with a ‘waste warrior’ attitude and armed with all the things they had changed.

Even down to the simplest of things like not buying the mega bag of teeny tiny snack packs for lunch boxes but instead buying a big bag and putting a ‘snack’ size into a reusable container… easy peasy!

Unfortunately due to other work commitments with our design business, and of course pesky Covid, I stepped away from educating to work on a sustainable 13 apartment development. Not only designing and producing all kitchens, bathrooms and unique shared spaces but more importantly planning and implementing a waste system that the residents could use with ease and which could lead to as close to ‘zero waste living’ as possible. It needed to be easy and hassle free, otherwise it would have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket. Making a circular economy with the organics on site and an easy user friendly system of separating waste so as much as possible can be diverted from landfill, and put into the correct waste stream. This has included organising and overseeing the roll out of the waste system and educating the current residents with simple, easy to understand solutions and practical knowledge. Fast forward a couple of years, the residents are definitely winning the waste battle and have managed to reduced their waste to landfill by 80% – that’s a huge win!

I also deliver waste avoidance, reuse and correct recycling education to assist businesses, organisations and individuals to avoid and reduce waste. Providing advice on how to reduce waste production, make your waste recoverable through existing recycling systems, or by facilitating connections between businesses, organisations, and households that allow one business or organisations waste to be another’s useful resource.

So yes, there’s a fair bit in my ‘Do Less’ bag, and I am proud that my bag keeps evolving and getting bigger.

My advice is to keep plodding along… At times it may seem overwhelming, but your waste journey does not need to be a tough one. Sure the hills look like mountains when you gauge the whole picture, but small steps climb mountains and a small change multiplied by many has a huge impact!