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Zero Waste enthusiast Otso: Sustainable lifestyle has allowed time to be present with loved ones

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

We interviewed Otso Sillanaukee, one of the best known Zero Waste and sustainability influencers in Finland. Otso lives in Helsinki and works in the sustainability field in Demos Helsinki think tank. He shares ideas and insights about sustainability on Instagram under the nickname @nollahukka. Otso is also the author of Zero Waste book that came out in 2018.

How did you become interested in a

more sustainable way of life?

Photos provided by Otso Sillanaukee

In my childhood home, recycling and waste sorting was commonplace. I remember how my grandmother made rag rugs from old bedding and we picked berries and mushrooms every autumn. On the other hand, a certain kind of consumption centrality was also evident in our family. During my studies, I became more aware of marine litter and climate change. I found myself stuck in the rat race; I was working a lot to be able to consume and travel, and found myself pursuing a fairly unsustainable and consumption oriented lifestyle. I spent a lot to have a nice home and to be able to have friends and family over. I admired expensive looking lifestyle and I was working alongside my studies, leaving me with little time and energy to actually be with friends and family. My actions and values were not in line. Around this time, I saw Bea Johnson’s video on Youtube about Zero Waste, and woke up to the fact that the alternative is not only to recycle but I can also not produce waste. Experimenting with Zero Waste lifestyle also paved the way for me to think more broadly about the environmental impact of my lifestyle. I started writing the Nollahukka blog because I noticed there wasn’t very much information in Finnish or Swedish.

What were the first steps you took?

After watching the video and learning about Zero Waste concept I decided not to consume any more plastic bags, take away coffee cups or plastic water bottles. I already had reusable options, but that’s when I decided to commit to use them. I wouldn’t go to the store if I didn’t have a canvas bag with me and I forced myself to retrieve it from home. I made an inventory of everything I owned and kept what I really needed and what I didn’t need I gave out. For the first couple of years, my eco deeds focused mainly on waste reduction and food. Gradually, I began to pay attention to more sustainable housing, travel, money spending and investing.

Zero Waste experiments: fitting a whole year's trash in one jar

What do you think should be developed to make it easier for people to live sustainably?

At first, finding information was tricky. It’s difficult to assess what the most influential climate actions are if there is no information on, for example, the environmental impact of food packaging and the contents themselves. However, the situation has improved and we have great data resources and companies working to make this information easily accessible to individuals. I think companies should actively bring more and more sustainable alternatives to products and services. Also policymakers and politicians should ensure that market rules encourage sustainability. In addition, cities and states have opportunities to make decisions that reduce their carbon footprint, such as switching to renewable electricity and heat production. I think the public debate and imagery on the subject suggests that sustainable lifestyle would be about missing out and letting go, when in reality it can simplify things, bring more wellbeing and more time, money and health.

What kind of circular activities do you perform?

I sort all recyclables carefully and try to avoid waste, for example, when shopping for food. I don't own a car, I rather use bicycle and public transport. I borrow a car from relatives when I have to get to the summer cottage. I try to buy everything used: for example clothes, household goods and electronics. Instead of buying, I also try to borrow or rent things like books or tools. I have also utilised repair services sometimes. If I buy something new, I support responsible circular economy companies. I make the most of food waste and support companies that do the same. Trying a clothing rental shop would be interesting too, but right now I don’t really need it.

Maintenance of leather a bag

What role does sociality play in a sustainable lifestyle?

A sense of community, for example in a residential district, makes it easier to make sustainable choices as you can for example borrow chairs or tools from your neighbours and reduce food waste together. In addition to facilitating such sharing, I feel that sociality plays an important role in a more sustainable wellbeing. After all, we are strongly marketed that happiness and well-being will increase and the world will improve by buying and consuming more all the time. Personally, I think that I have gained more wellbeing by thinking about what really makes me happy, and the constant desire for new things has been replaced by presence with friends and family, for example.

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