Sonalie Figueiras is the Founder, Publisher and Editor in Chief of successful media site Green Queen, and the epitome of a Green Queen in her passion for living a low waste, greener life. Sonalie welcomed her first baby in 2018 giving her a first hand perspective on the challenge of living minimally as a parent. We met with Sonalie and her gorgeous baby to find out what drives her passion for the environment, and get her valuable tips on how be a Green Queen Mom.
What drives you to be a Green Queen?
Green Queen started because I had chronic health issues that wouldn’t go away. Neither Hashimoto's or Endometriosis can be cured, but you can manage them with what you eat and how you live. Both of them are hormonal conditions so they make me very sensitive to toxins in my environment. That’s how I made the connection between what I eat, and the quality of what you eat. From pesticides in food, I then learnt about other toxins that were detrimental and that were lurking in my personal care products and my household laundry products.
All of the research that I needed to do to fix my health and my lifestyle led to the start of Green Queen. I came up with a list of addresses, a “little green book” of where to shop, what brands to choose, what restaurants to go to, and I realised that other people might need it too.
Originally it was meant to be a helpful guide with no branding, but we had a lot of traffic to the site which really validated there was a need for this information. I wanted to give Hong Kong a platform that was not just a guide but also content. I started interviewing interesting people and reviewing restaurants and products, so that people who were trying to live the eco healthy life could find out more. We found an untapped niche because back then, the mainstream newspapers and magazines were not covering this topic.
What changes have you noticed in Hong Kong as people become more aware of their environmental footprint?
It has taken a while for people to become aware. Health and wellness was first because it is a more personal thing (juices, meal plans, yoga) and it affects you directly - there’s an immediate consequence - how you feel. That got people interested in what they were putting into their body - the birth of self-care and natural beauty and toxin-free living. Finally came an awareness for what our individual consumption is doing to the environment because the effects became apparent: everyone can see that we have quite bad air pollution in Hong Kong and that climate change is having an effect on our city.
In 2018 plastic and meat consumption was suddenly being written about everywhere in the papers and online all over the globe. The issues hit a sort of critical mass. In Hong Kong especially, there was a huge shift in awareness.
The circular economy has only now become a real discussion point. 5-6 years ago we would write articles about the circular economy or zero waste, and very few readers would click on those. Today, they are our most popular pieces. People are looking for solutions like Retykle today, whereas back then it wasn’t on people’s radar. Now it’s the consumer or the reader saying “I need this solution, what should I do?”
What's the most pressing need?
We have got to deal with our waste. Whether it is figuring out better systems for recycling, how to divert food waste (e.g. composting) and how to handle things like unnecessary clothing waste and overconsumption. We also need to eat less meat. We are one of the worst cities in the world for meat consumption per capita (though things are getting better).
One thing everyone should change today?
Audit yourself on what you are constantly throwing away, then try to figure out how you can lessen that waste. Make it a game! Whether it’s figuring out a compost solution, eating less processed food so you don’t have as much packaging, reducing how often you get food delivered, not buying so much stuff or trying to buy second-hand. Really look at the way you live and try to switch to the low waste alternative of your consumption habits.
How is motherhood the same or different to what you thought it would be?
When I became a Mom I really tried to put myself into a mindset of surrendering to motherhood and it’s chaos. So I think that really helped me not to freak out about certain things. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. It doesn’t matter how many blogs or how many books you read, you will never be fully aware of everything. I’ve worked with children for years so it wasn’t like I had never been around children or babies, but there was (and still is) so much to learn. They change every five minutes so you are constantly learning more. You can never get ahead of it. And that’s ok!
What is the best advice you received going into motherhood? And any advice you would give to new mothers?
My one piece of advice is to surrender to motherhood. Embrace it! Don’t try and control everything. There is no perfect way to do it. It’s not static, you can’t stop here and think you’ve got everything down, because tomorrow a whole other set of challenges will come. The more you can lessen your controlling tendencies, the better. There’s no trophy at the end of the journey…but there are incredible and unimaginable moments of joy to cherish and sink into that take your breath away.
Has becoming a mother changed your personal mission statement in any way?
For me motherhood has made everything more urgent. I feel like I need to fight climate change on an even bigger scale and that much faster. I need the action to be now because otherwise my son is going to have no fish in the ocean, he is going to live in a bio-dome because the air is going to be so toxic, and he is not going to have plentiful access to clean water. It’s made me even more aware of how responsible I am for the wellbeing of future generations.
Did you have a plan before your baby arrived to be a zero waste family? What eco habits were easy to make, and what has been more challenging?
Absolutely yes. I knew even before I got pregnant that when we would have a child it would be reusable wipes and cloth diapers and second-hand clothes as much as possible. What has been really tough has been the amount of “stuff” people give you for your baby, and the reality that babies grow so fast they keep outgrowing their things and needing more. My husband and I had become quite minimal in our consumption, but it is really hard to be minimalist with a baby. It’s really something you need to keep focusing on. Whatever we can do reusable we do (like cloth diapers and reusable wipes) but there are always areas of improvement.
What is the most wasteful baby product and is it easy to avoid?
I would definitely recommend parents switch disposable diapers for reusable ones. There are cloth diapers out there that are exactly the same as disposable, the only difference is you wash them! If you have just had a baby I understand using disposable while you get your head around being a parent, but after a few weeks, the switch is not too difficult. I just think why not? When you think about how many diapers are sitting in our landfills and you realise that for most of history and across large parts of the planet people are not using disposable diapers it just seems like something not that difficult to go back to.
Quick nappy change using Charlie Banana Reusable Diapers in Pastel
Was it easy to source plastic free baby products? Where are your go-to shopping destinations in Hong Kong or online.
I love Petit Tippi, which has all your cloth diapers needs covered. I also buy lots of reusable baby products from Live Zero, including my reusable Marley’s wipes and Pura metal baby bottles. I love Malabar Baby because everything is organic and made from natural fibres without synthetics or plastics. I go there for mats, swaddles, blankets and towels. I use Retykle for good-as-new second-hand clothing. Those are all my go-tos. I am a creature of habit.
Give us your honest feedback about cloth diapers. Are they difficult to use? Any brands you would recommend?
The best thing about cloth diapers is that there is a whole world out there to support you. You can join the Cloth Diaper Chat & Swap Group on Facebook - it’s like a Hong Kong Moms for diapers! Another thing to do is to get some advice from Vicki who runs Petit Tippi. She has every brand of cloth diapers at her shop and is a wealth of knowledge (on top of having a day job and two little ones - don’t know how she does it, she is amazing!).
Different babies require different brands of reusable diapers, so find the brand that works for you and don’t give up on the first try. Start with one or two from different brands to see what works. I really like Grovia all-in-one newborn diapers (no separate insert) because it works like a regular diaper, only it’s cloth. Now that my baby is older I really like Charlie Banana diapers with a removable insert. They work with a reusable or disposable insert which can be great for travelling or when you’re on-the-go. There are so many other different brands (at least 10 in Hong Kong) so you just need to find the ones that work for you.
What are your personal goals for the year and beyond
For me personally my goal is to reduce the amount of hours I work and spend more quality time with my son. At the moment I am still working late nights and weekends, I’m always working. Having a little one makes things different and I really want to spend quality time with him. On a recent holiday I got to spend uninterrupted time with him without looking at my phone and it was gold. I realised the importance of taking regular holidays, so work hard to go on more holidays is a personal goal.
I am also still striving to become more and more zero waste. I just joined a composting solution (HK Community Composting), I’m working to get set up with HK Recycles because after doing some sleuthing I am not at all convinced that the recycling bins in my building end up at the right recycling plants. I’m really want to get as much of my waste diverted from our landfills as possible.
Why do you Retykle?
#weretykle because… I believe in voting for the future that I believe in. Every dollar that I spend is a vote for the world that I want for my child and for humanity and Retykle is the only choice I see to build a better future.