This post was sponsored by SAYA Designs. All opinions and editorial direction my own.

For those on the outside, zero waste can seem like a pretty daunting idea. It’s easy to get scared by the intensity of an idea like ‘zero’, or feel overwhelmed by the amount we’d love to change. I think some of this comes from human tendency to think dualistically; reducing concepts to black and white thinking leaves us seeing zero waste as the all encompassing challenge of removing each and every piece of plastic from our lives, only able to touch things if we know they biodegrade, and feeling intense guilt if we ever make a mistake. If this is the image people get when they think of zero waste, of course it’s a hard sell.

But those on the inside know this isn’t the case. If I could have my own way I’d love to rebrand zero waste as ‘low waste’, as this is a much easier idea to get people on board with and a more realistic reflection of what the lifestyle looks like (after all, it is essentially impossible to produce no waste across our lifetime). I don’t quite wield the ability to rename an entire lifestyle movement however, so instead I love to use this platform to share the stories of organisations and ideas the truly embody the ideals of zero waste as I like to think of them.

I believe a real, achievable type of zero waste is one that embraces a more holistic way of living. Whilst on a practical level it can look like replacing items and eliminating plastic, especially at the beginning of the journey, it’s also about extending the lives of the things we use, and finding ways to utilise every aspect of the resources and materials that are offered to us.

There’s a Japanese word, mottainai, which I think sums up the fully realised idea of a low waste lifestyle. It’s a term used to express regret or distaste for wasted resources, but at the same time it encompasses a deference for nature and a gratitude for what it supplies us with. You’ll often hear the sustainable community talking about the R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot) when it comes to eliminating waste, but mottainai adds a sixth element, that of respect. The aversion to waste and tendency to recycle has a long history in Japan (the upcycling of kimonos has been around for centuries), whilst the regard for nature is rooted in shinto beliefs that all objects have a soul and should be respected. But even without this belief in animism, I think we can all benefit from taking on this spirit of reverence. By cultivating gratitude and acknowledging where our items come from we are more connected to the stories of our possessions, and we are often more willing to work to protect our resources.

It was this concept that drew me to SAYA designs, a company that exemplifies the spirit of mottainai in their embracing of a circular economy and refusal to let resource go to waste. Their wooden hair sticks, which are uniquely handcrafted by artisans in Bali, utilise waste materials and repurpose them into beautiful, useful items.

Whilst wood is a renewable and biodegradable material, ideal for low waste living, it can only be truly sustainable if it is consciously sourced. Whilst searching for a sustainable wood source, SAYA Designs discovered Made & Ways, sculptors who dig up and recycle root wood from old commercial plantations across Indonesia. These roots, which are left behind by loggers harvesting trees on large-scale production sites, take hundreds of years to decompose and have little value for the soil. Instead of adding to the demand for new wood, SAYA designs decided to use a material that would otherwise go to waste, giving it life and significant once again in a new form. At the same time, SAYA also partners with the GAIA, an organisation that works across Indonesia to tackle forestry issues, in particular supplying seeds and training farmers and communities to support their ecosystems. For every hair stick purchased, SAYA Designs buys and plants up to ten seeds of endangered trees through GAIA; these seeds are planted first into local community gardens where they are closely monitored for up to five years before being replanted into surrounding areas of the National Protected Forests, tackling problems like soil erosion, environmental degradation, and CO2 emissions.

And what is a hair stick? It’s a hair tool that has itself been around for thousands of years. They’re durable, created to last a lifetime, and a beautiful alternative to plastic. Each SAYA hair stick is inspired by the flora and fauna of Indonesia and designed to reflect and honour local plant life. They are carved by hand by Balinese artisans in ethical conditions, sanded down to the finest grain using simple tools and techniques, and finished with natural wax and oils. They are then delivered in recycled packaging made from papaya pulp, with a protective fabric sleeve to keep them safe when not being worn.

Saya Designs sent me the Frangipani hair stick (yes, I did choose it because my name is Francesca), which is made from tamarind wood with a rosewood inlay, and is designed to reflect the flower of the same name. Connected to the magnolia family, frangipanis are known for their soft, feminine beauty; In Bali they are known as the “Kamboja” and are often associated with local culture as they are used daily in Balinese Hindu ceremonies and temple offerings. It’s beautifully finished, delicate but still strong, and clearly durable, all things I love. This design works best in medium to fine hair, my exact hair type, and I love using it not just to keep my hair in control, but to remind me of the larger story I’m part of.

One of my favourite things about the design of this piece is the middle section. Whilst it does embody the image of a flower, it also reminds me of a seed beginning to grow. The whole piece has a circular nature to it, reflecting the idea of new life beginning whilst literally giving new life to the roots of trees that had been abandoned. In the true spirit of mottainai, SAYA Designs honours the environment and materials that created this hair stick, whilst its purchase provides a way to continue to preserve and care for nature. It’s a circular model at its best, and its a low waste way of thinking that I love the most.

Until next time, stay magic y’all.

Photos by Saturao Studio