Today we’d like to highlight Kieryn Matthews, Environmental Education Program Manager and the #LocalHero this month! Growing up on Coast Salish Territory surrounded by the ocean-inspired Kieryn’s love of nature and passion for sustainability. This led her to obtain a degree in Environmental Science from Simon Fraser University. Kieryn has almost seven years of experience engaging communities in climate action as an Educator and Program Manager working for non-profits like Science World and The Starfish Canada. Outside of work Kieryn can be found trying to make her home zero waste or curling up with a good fantasy book.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and what motivated you to start getting involved with the environment.
Growing up near the ocean fueled my passion for conservation and sustainability. I actually started the environmental club at my high school and always knew I wanted to pursue a career in the environment. My goal was to become a conservation biologist but somewhere along the way, I discovered my passion for educating others on climate change and sustainability. I’ve always been conscious of my actions like taking the bus or using a reusable water bottle however, it was January 2020 when I began my zero waste and plastic-free journey in earnest.
2) How did you decide to start pursuing your zero waste and plastic-free goal?
I remember seeing pictures of people holding up a jar that contained their entire year’s worth of trash and thinking I could never get to that point, so why try? I honestly may never get to that point but my favourite quote from Anne Marie Bonneau is “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions doing it imperfectly”. So I decided to just start and see how much I could reduce my waste and plastic use with no particular goal in mind. In October 2020 I was able to hold 10 months’ worth of trash in one plastic grocery bag.
3) Do you think that zero waste is something we can all achieve?
I don’t know that being completely zero waste is something we can all achieve. It can be difficult to navigate and there are many situations where someone may not be able to find a suitable waste/plastic-free alternative for their specific needs. In the end, we need bigger system changes like banning single-use plastic but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try for a low waste lifestyle.
4) What actions do you take to maintain your goal and why are they so important?
My actions can be as simple as remembering my reusable bag or switching to loose leaf tea. Some actions take a little more work, like finding a zero-waste toothpaste that works for me, which I still haven’t found yet! While individual actions may not solve the climate crisis, they are still important. More than anything, my actions start conversations with people about the bigger picture of the climate crisis and steps that we can take to make a larger impact.
5) What challenges or obstacles do you face when you pursue your goals?
In some cases, I have found it extremely time-consuming to find products that are actually zero waste and adequately replace something not zero waste. It can take time to determine if the company’s claims to sustainability are actually true, and not just greenwashing. There are also some things I just can’t avoid like plastic prescription bottles from the pharmacy or ordering something online that is heavily packaged that I can’t find elsewhere. It also took me a few tries to find a shampoo bar and conditioner bar that worked for my hair.
6) How do you keep yourself motivated?
It can be hard to stay motivated when it is easier just to buy packaged food or cheaply made products, but the key is not feeling guilty for the moments that I am not completely zero waste. In the end, it makes me feel good to make these changes even if they may not be making a huge impact overall. It helps combat my eco-anxiety. There are also some switches that I absolutely love like my safety razor, laundry strips, reusable tissues/paper towels, and a menstrual cup. In some cases, the zero waste options are cheaper in the long run and work better.
7) Who inspires you in terms of activism and making a difference in the zero waste space?
My friend Kristina Charania initially inspired me when she started working towards zero waste. It made me think, if she can do it then so can I. In addition, I am inspired by people like Kathryn Kellogg and Gittemarie Johansen. They do a good job of sharing their zero waste journey and general information on climate action. I would also recommend following the intersectional environmental work that Leah Thomas and Kristy Drutman do. Lastly, I am so inspired by the podcast How 2 Save a Planet originally hosted by journalist Alex Blumberg and marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson where they discuss solutions to the climate crisis and actions everyone can take.
8) What has been your favourite experience so far?
Honestly, my favourite experience, other than some of my favourite switches, is talking to people about my journey and encouraging others to take action. I enjoy demystifying the low waste lifestyle. It can seem unattainable or not worth it but simple switches can make a big difference in your personal waste bin.
9) What was something that surprised you while trying to maintain your goal?
I was surprised by how simple some switches were and how hard others were. Switching to laundry strips and drier balls just makes sense. On the other hand, finding zero waste skincare products that work for me has been challenging. Not impossible but challenging.
10) Do you have any recommendations for people wanting to start reducing their own personal waste?
Yes, I do! The best way to start is doing a waste audit, including recycling and compost, at your home or place of work. By determining what is being thrown out you can identify what you need to focus on to reduce your waste. For example, when I first did this I realized a lot of my waste was soft plastics. This encouraged me to find a recycling center that accepted soft plastics. I also started shopping at a zero-waste grocery store, in addition to cooking more food at home to reduce food packaging waste. By identifying what you are throwing away you can easily start your search for low waste alternatives. I also found joining zero waste Facebook groups helpful to get advice from others trying to make similar changes.
Thank you Kieryn for sharing your progress and journey!
Make sure to check out her journey on her socials!:
Know anyone that you think could be our next #LocalHero? Let us know below!