Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Sydney in this Future Shaper series. These remarkable individuals and organisations were nominated by a panel of expert judges including editor of Time Out Sydney Maxim Boon, celebrity chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong, head of talks and ideas at the Sydney Opera House Edwina Throsby, NSW 24-hour economy commissioner Michael Rodrigues, CEO of IndigiLab Luke Briscoe, and NIDA resident director David Berthold. Read more about the project here.
As businesses and events search for ideas on doing things greener, there is a diverse community that they can turn to for inspiration – that is, the vegan community. Locally, the Sydney Vegan Market is the beating heart of the movement. The event, held monthly under more usual circumstances, brings together more than 100 stallholders that are all 100 per cent plant-powered. Single-use plastic is banned, and all waste is composted.
Sydney Vegan Market is part of Vegan NSW and is managed by perhaps Sydney’s keenest vegan, known simply as Jones. Jones uses they/them pronouns and is a passionate member of the Inner West queer community. As they told us, veganism is about more than just abstaining from consuming animal products – it is a philosophy and way of life that is about shaping a kinder, greener future for all creatures, the Earth, and one’s own body.
In the decade before Jones joined Sydney Vegan Market in 2017, they started and co-founded businesses including the Vegan Teahouse (a market stall and wholesale business producing and distributing vegan and gluten-free products), the Vegan Collective (a quarterly vegan night market), and MAKER (a shared vegan kitchen, café and education space in Petersham). Outside of events, Jones and the Sydney Vegan Market board and volunteers cultivate a thriving vegan community where businesses and consumers can find each other and support a kinder and more sustainable lifestyle, even throughout lockdowns.
What are the main measures that Sydney Vegan Market takes to be environmentally conscious and sustainable?
Right from the start we banned single-use plastic and mandated that all service ware (the stuff that all of the food and drinks come in) be compostable. Through careful messaging on our social media and website, we created a big culture of BYO. I've always got such a kick out of seeing the incredible spreads that the community tag us in on market day, with their food in random containers! We also always make sure that there is a range of eco stalls that sell reusable containers and utensils at every market too. We also implemented a composting system where we collect all of the compostables and send them off to a commercial composter in Port Kembla, who turns it all into soil. We generally send up to 8,000 litres of waste each month! [Read more about how they pull it all off here.]
What are some of the main barriers or curveballs when it comes to running a green event?
It's been much easier than I had anticipated, likely due to the fact that we made this commitment from the beginning, and our wonderful stallholders have been incredible at adopting the use of compostables. There have been a couple of barriers, though. It's expensive to manage a waste composting system, as it costs significantly more for the waste to be picked up and sent to the facility. How wild is that! Diverting waste from landfill, which is a clear benefit to the environment, costs more. I can see that could be a barrier for small organisations.
The other barrier is educating the community about what goes in what bin, despite all the measures we take. I believe that it's because the level of education coming from a government level about compostable plastics and products isn't as strong as it absolutely should be, and as a result most folks look at a compostable plastic cup and don't recognise that it can go into a green bin.
What are small steps that people and businesses can take to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious?
I think conscious is the keyword here. Have a look at what you are buying and using, and try to find alternatives that are better for the environment. I’ve been using shampoo bars, bars of soap, laundry strips and bamboo toothbrushes to reduce plastic, and I always have a KeepCup or reusable water bottle on me. Properly sorting your waste at home, taking your soft plastics to the supermarket for recycling and if you have space, set up a compost bin. If you have the space, you can set up a veggie and/or a herb garden. What a great lockdown activity that is!
Is Sydney a good place to be vegan?
Sydney is epic for being vegan. We are absolutely spoiled for choice now! The Vegan Mile, aka King Street in Newtown, has so many vegan businesses. It just keeps growing, and we are so incredibly proud that many of the new ones launched at Sydney Vegan Market too. When I first became vegan ten years ago it was a totally different story, and that’s actually the reason I started the Vegan Teahouse. I am thrilled that it's changed and more people can easily access and enjoy the wonders of vegan food and products.
What do people get wrong about the vegan community?
I think there is a misconception that all vegans are either tree-loving hippies without shoes on – though I love trees and am often found without shoes on – or aggressive people that want to make you feel guilty for the choices you make. Yes of course we have passionate folks in the community who are trying to create a vegan world, but for the most part vegans are empathetic, gentle and really quite lovely. I've always found it interesting that our mere existence seems to create such turmoil in others. I don't want people to feel guilty around me – but if they do, that's a good moment for them to interrogate why. It's pretty clear that something needs to change if we are to make a lasting and positive impact on climate change and the health of the planet. Going vegan is one of the best and easiest ways to do that!
What do you hope the future of environmentally conscious business looks like in Sydney?
I would love to see single-use plastic phased out in all businesses, all food businesses adopting a compost system, and cafés developing a “no cup no coffee” system where customers have to BYO (I recognise this isn't always possible in the age of Covid), that buying in bulk becomes far more accessible and mainstream, and that one day we will be able to go to our local shops with our random containers and fill them up with all of the things we need!
Who helps to make Sydney Vegan Market happen?
It absolutely takes a village to make the market happen each and every month. I'm so grateful to Vegan NSW’s CEO Michelle Gravolin and the board for trusting me with this special and enormous beast. The markets also simply wouldn't happen without the huge team of volunteers. I want to give a giant thank you and big love to the volunteer teams who help with setting it all up, packing it all down, and managing everything in between – from curating all of the awesome entertainment on the main stage, to running free yoga and mindfulness classes, and the stall workers that help to make the market financially sustainable by making delicious lemonade and chai, and selling books and T-shirts, as well as all of the behind-the-scenes volunteers who help with endless admin, social media and marketing.
Find out more at sydneyveganmarket.com.