SAAHK Spotlight on Tanja Wessels – sustainable living and #ZeroWaste advocate

SAAHK Spotlight on Tanja Wessels – sustainable living and #ZeroWaste advocate

Global citizen Tanja Wessels has been making waves in sustainability circles in Hong Kong since starting her journey towards sustainable living. As the founder of All In – Asia and a founding member of Circular Community Hong Kong, her passion for the environment is truly inspiring. Apart from being an advocate for sustainable living and supporter of the #ZeroWaste lifestyle, Tanja is also involved in an array of other interesting projects. In one of her latest projects, Tanja is collaborating with fellow South African Cristina Kountiou-Perraki on an art installation, creating a piece of art from trash. This installation will be on display at the Conscious Festival Hong Kong at PMQ from 20 – 22 April 2018. 

Where were you born?

I was born in Lisbon, Portugal.

What brought you to Hong Kong and how long have you lived here?

My sister and her family relocated from London to Hong Kong, that was the beginning of my relationship with this city. I started coming to HK in 2008, and have had a boomerang relationship with it since then. I have spent time here in a more permanent capacity since 2015.

What did you do before coming to Hong Kong?

Flinky Flonky, where to begin!? I moved from London to Cambodia in 2006 – initially for a two-week trip to make a documentary on an orphanage. I loved Cambodia so much that I returned six months later – with a one-way ticket – and ended up calling Phnom Penh home for four years.

After Cambodia, I lived in Lisbon. But that only lasted two years, because I missed Asia too much. I accepted a job in Macau and dived my time between there and Hong Kong until 2015, when I started spending less time in Macau and now call Hong Kong ‘basecamp’

How does your involvement in environmental sustainability and the #ZeroWaste movement impact your everyday life?

It is exactly because it was impacting my life so much that I started getting more and more involved. Walking into a supermarket drove (and drives) me nuts seeing the most ridiculous amount of packaging on pointless things.

I remember seeing a coconut wrapped in a foam net, then wrapped in plastic and thinking “how do I let me nephews and niece see this kind of thing every single day and let them think it’s normal?” Something inside of me died. But something inside of me also came to life: All In – Asia.

There are amazing people doing really wonderful things on the areas of plastic waste, sustainable fashion, food waste, package free produce, zero waste living, plant based food, the list goes on – I wanted to learn more about them, and connect the community. And help people connect the dots between our lifestyle choices and the environmental impact we have with every decision – every single day.

I am growing the project and will start the website and platform soon, and I am partnering in an upcoming festival as part of the committee, a speaker and as an artist.

You are a founding member of Circular Community Hong Kong. Can you tell us more about that?

I belong to a wonderful entrepreneurial community called Metta  A group of us got together to discuss fashion but very quickly it turned into a conversation about sustainability – as we all come from very different backgrounds we explored a number of industries and quickly it became clear that there was a lot to be done in Hong Kong.

Today we are growing not only in numbers, but in geographies as well, with people from Shenzhen joining. Our aim is to inform and educate ourselves, and others, about practical steps that can be taken to reduce wasteful living, and offer talks and workshops covering a number of different industries such as food waste, fashion waste, bulk shopping, zero waste etc.

It’s a joy to grow and learn with such a talented group of people and we encourage others to join us.

What is your favourite thing about Hong Kong?

I love the contrast between slick and shiny and dirty and grimy. You can walk past a two-story Chanel shop and into an alley where someone is washing dishes in a bucket of brown water – in a few steps. That contrast makes it dynamic and edgy, and the energy of this city is addictive. Every day when I wake up here I feel like anything and everything is possible.

What do you miss most about South Africa?

Space. Smiley faces. Dancing in the streets. Nature.

What is your favourite place in South Africa?

My grandparents’ farm in Bloemfontein. A treasure chest of memories, a lifetime of moments along every life stage – childhood, the teenage years, early adulthood. Colours, flavours, smells, sensations.

My family moved around my entire life, my grandmother kept our toys and clothes in a room on the farm to offer us a thread of continuity. My grandparents and the farms are gone, but the magic remains.

What is your favourite South African expression or saying?

So, so many. I am Afrikaans, so I have so much fun with language and there are so many words that just crack me up. I won’t write the rude ones here because my mother will be horrified.

When I first moved to SA it took me a long time to understand why people were saying “howzit China?” to me. “Fine Japan?” I would nervously reply.

‘Tina treur lepel’ (I don’t know how to spell this!) makes me giggle every time.

Do you have a few practical tips on practicing sustainability in Hong Kong on a daily basis?

Do I ever! Invest in a reusable coffee cup and don’t add to the landfill statistics. I always carry mine in my handbag and it gets lots of compliments.

Refuse plastic straws every day of your life #stopsucking. In the US alone 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day and in only the past twenty years, people have come to expect plastic straws in every drink. I recommend watching

Carry a re-usable bag in on you at all times and always refuse plastic bags in shops and supermarkets.

If you want to shop without packaging Hong Kong now has a #zerowaste bulkbuying shop! The recently openend Live Zero in Sai Ying Pun is delightful

Last year I made a vow to not buy a single piece of new clothing for 1 year to stop supporting fast fashion and all the waste and suffering it causes. I’m 10 months into the challenge and I’m not going back to the way I used to shop. I only buy second hand now and am learning so much. When I travel one of the first things I do is check out the local thrift shop scene. In Hong Kong I rely on

“Being green is bakgat”

If you want to get serious about the zero waste lifestyle, offer coaching courses. They have so much knowledge on the local scene and are constantly coming up with new ways to help the public cut back on wasteful living.

Greenqueen is the ultimate Hong Kong resource for wellness and healthy living, I love their work and it is a constant source of information.

I could go on for days and days, but my Instagram page is where my knowledge can be found – for now! I am going to be taking my project wider and love what I am learning. Being green is bakgat!