Zero waste lifestyle, a perspective from Eunice Maia

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Challenge Zero - A practical guide to reduce waste, inside and outside your home.

Eunice Maia is the founder of Maria Granel (2015), the first zero waste store and organic grocery store in Portugal and was also the pioneer to bring the zero waste concept applied to consumption and lifestyle in the country. She shared her knowledge in the last two events that we, Zero Waste Youth International, organized, and now is the author of the book she just released, called "Challenge Zero - A practical guide to reduce waste, inside and outside your home."

Although she grew up in a place surrounded with nature and simplicity, just like many of us, Eunice took a while to realize that her acts were not leading the world to a prosperous future. She was consuming and producing a lot. It was when she got to know the work of two incredible women that the big turning point happened in her life, Bea Johnson and Ana Pêgo.

Bea Johnson: The founder and spokesperson of the zero waste international movement. Her journey begins in 2006 when her family moves to a smaller apartment and is forced to store a lot of their goods. She also has a book, Zero Waste Home, where she shares a lot of changes that she made it in her life towards a zero waste life, serving as a guide and inspiration to many people.  

Ana Pêgo: Marine biologist, researcher in the areas of the ocean, artvist and author of the book Plasticus Maritimus: An invasive species. Works with an educational project with the same name since 2012, and dedicates her time with environmental education and conservation of the oceans, reconciling science and art. She is also a beachcomber. 

Refuse what you don't need; reduce what you need; reuse what you consume; recycle what you can't refuse; reduce or reuse; and compost everything else. - Johnson, Bea. 

The first time that Eunice noticed the power of the zero waste community was when she participated as a speaker at the IV Zero Waste Youth International Meeting, in 2017, in Brazil. In that week, she saw that zero waste empower and unites all for a common good. "I felt it too, more than anywhere else, that residues are life, which is a valuable resource." 

The book brings in a really happy and optimistic way how we can adapt our routine and daily life towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Eunice divides in 3 parts: Reducing inside your home, outside your home and in the community. In all the chapters it brings recipes, strategies and data for you to understand more about the subject, and see what it fits into your own life. Zero waste as something joyful and not a burden. 

As a teacher, Eunice draws attention to how important is the role of the schools in creating an ecosystem where the youth can learn what is happening with our planet and ways that they can help change this reality. An environment that prepares the students to leave empowered and committed to changing the world. Not only teach, but also be an example of it, where the school works following the principles of circular economy, reducing waste, creating projects involving the theme, cultivating gardens.. Valuing being over having. 

Inside the book, Eunice brings some inspirations of projects that work around this theme:

Plasticus Maritimus; Marlisco Project; Zero Waste Schools; The circular classroom; Zero Waste Classroom; Plastic Free July.

The best of all, is that the book gives us a guide / action plan on how to apply and transform a school near you, into zero waste. See it below: 


  • Reduce used materials. 

  • Reuse, instead of buying.

  • Separate and recycle the residues used. 

  • Compost the organic residues valuing them and turning them into fertilizer to be returned to the soil. 

  • Reduce, in long-term, the residues generated as an institution. 


Before doing anything, is important for you to map everything and everyone that is involved with the process, who collects the garbage, in which days, where it goes, what containers are used and if it has any organic garden around you. 

Announce, with a campaign, the purpose of transforming the school in a zero waste institution and call volunteers from all the educational community. Is really important to have representatives from all areas along the process: employees, teachers, students, families, kitchen, cleaning, etc. 

Schedule the first meeting with the volunteers to define the audit: 

  • Ask volunteers to gather to discuss the main problems and critical areas from the school when we talk about residues. Invite to present their conclusions about it. 

  • Check and point out, thoroughly, in the school map, where the places that produce residues stays. Equally register the location of the trash containers. 

Action plan

Gather all the volunteers (ensure the presence of representatives from all areas) to define together: 

  • Chart:  

  • Elect the coordinator of sustainability (teacher); the ecogroup (students) and the ecodelegates (representatives from students, family, kitchen, employees and cleaning). 

  • Stipulate tasks (do a checklist) and the responsible from different areas. 

  • Location of the recycling stations in all schools. Remembering that those stations need to stay in strategic places, where are the focus of waste generation. 

  • Identify the containers with signs explaining what should be placed and what is prohibited. 

  • Remove all the mixed garbage containers, as it encourages misconduct by users. The entire school should only have recycling waste sorting containers.  

  • Pay attention to the waste generated on the canteens, because they are responsible for about 50% of all the residues generated by the school (organics). 

  • Create one only station, with bigger dimensions, to centralizate the separation: organic, paper, plastic and metal. 

  • Implement a composting program. It can be an interdisciplinary project, where the compost can be used in an organic garden from the surroundings or even inside the school. 

  • Always supervise the containers to see if it is being used correctly. Separation must be respected also when collecting the residues. 

  • Schedule education and training for all the sectors of the community. Everyone is responsible for the project.

  • Guarantee training sessions to the cleaning and canteen employees and also give them voice to share their knowledge. Is also a way to thank them for their incredible work and dedication inside the institution. 

  • Make an announcement and share the campaign from the project. Make everyone aware of the situation and feel part of it. 

  • Ban all the plastics from the canteens and replace them to reusable options.  

  • Create a zero waste kit with the school logo or teach everyone how to do it on their own at home. 

  • In situations where the school provides meals, make sure that it uses only reusable or compostable materials. 

  • Integrate the sustainability plan into the curriculum and contribute through interdisciplinary projects. 

  • Define strategies to engage all the community: 

  • Invite specialists to sessions with the community or with the classes. 

  • Create divulgation posters from recycled materials. 

  • Use the residues to make artvism and sensibilize people to the problem and its solutions. 

  • Create a social media account for the project, where it is possible to document everything and inspire other schools. 

  • Award a prize, chosen by the public, to the (z)hero of the cause. 

  • Predict on the calendar of the action plan one meeting to balance all the results and share it with everyone of the community (share it also in a place where it will be always available for consulting). 

For those who speak portuguese, the book is a great way to start your zero waste journey. With tips and a lot of important information is an easy and fun way to introduce the concept into your daily life. Authors and activists like Eunice inspire us to keep going towards a better world <3 

Author: Sabrina Sabatini


Social & Environmental Activist

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