Episode VI: English & The Environment - Combating Plastic Waste

In this episode, we are joined by Erika Reyes, the founder of Inwit, a movement to eliminate single-use plastic from our daily lives. Erika talks about a sustainable takeout option, how English is essential to selling the vision, and why this issue is something we should all be taking action on.


Intro: The Natural English Podcast: Success stories from beyond the English language barrier. Follow along with the transcript linked in the description.

Nahum - Natural: Hello and welcome to the Natural English podcast. My name is Nahum and if this is your first time listening in, this is our chance to speak to different people from different countries who have used English and are pursuing different projects or careers. And if you want to access study materials relating to this, just head on to our website. The link is in the description and I'm really happy to have a good friend of mine with us today. Erika, welcome to the National English Podcast. Thank you for coming.

Erika: Hi, Nahum. Thank you very much for having me.

Nahum - Natural: So, Erika, as I said to you before, I was pretty excited to record this. It's been a few weeks in the making, trying to track you down because you've been super busy with your project, which we'll talk about in a bit more detail afterwards. But, yes, just to start, can you tell us a bit bit about yourself, where you're from and where you're currently living?

Erika: I'm Erika Reyes, I'm originally from Mexico City, and right now, I'm based in Toronto, Canada. We we call it "Torono", actually "Torono".

Nahum - Natural: "Torono". That's the locals pronunciation.

Erika: Exactly that I feel I need to keep in my mind, it's not normally it's not natural, but it's cute.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, well, Erika, we met a few years ago, time flies. And since we've been friends, there's been one issue which you have reminded me of several times. Maybe you told me off a few times and it's all about plastic waste and solving this issue, which seems to be increasingly talked about year by year. And it's a problem which affects everyone. So, where did it all begin? When did you become so passionate about solving this problem?

Erika: I think it was back when I was living in Abu Dhabi, I watched a documentary called "Bag It" and it made me realize the impact of something that we use for five minutes or less. It was the natural impact, the impact to our natural resources, to our ecosystems, but also to my health. So, single-use, plastics are linked with obesity, infertility and are things that we never think about because we're just busy living, enjoying the moment and hanging out with our family and friends. You never realize all these single use plastics that are around us when we are having lunch with our friends, when we are having dinner, when we are giving a gift to our family members and loved ones. So I think for me, that was the moment that made me realize my personal impact, but also my impact as a professional, because all that I wanted to do in life, I think it's very linked with my personal dream of becoming a very good marketer at Coca-Cola back in that time. And I suddenly saw the professional impact and personal impact, of single-use plastics in the world.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. Yeah, I know I'm guilty. I think most people are guilty of having this habit of using single-use plastics. People may or may not know that in the U.K., it's very common to have something called a meal deal, a meal deal is great because it's three pounds or it was three pounds at the time. And you get a drink, a sandwich and a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar for three pounds and it's an extremely popular habit at lunch times. And I remember, when we worked together, in the same office that became a bit of a talking point, let's say, about the amount of single use plastics that I personally was using, but yeah, that was at a micro level. So you're quite keen to explain to people at a micro level, about the impacts and how they can improve.

Erika: And I think it's linked, very very linked, to to having a lot of empathy with people, because I was so sorry that the state before. And I think it's not about who the culprit is, but ike if you want to do something about it or not, or it's about finding out who will stop it. And I believe that we all have the power to stop it. But it's a habit and it's so difficult to change! So..

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, how do you break a habit of a lifetime? I think education, whether that's through friends like yourself or increasingly we see documentaries about the ocean. Blue Planet is an excellent one. More recently, I watched Seaspiracy, again it's a controversial documentary, but talking about plastics and all the different forms. Yeah, and you, moving ahead a few years, you have this vision to create a movement in... starting with Toronto and then hopefully, I guess, moving into other parts of the world. So, yeah, tell us about this movement that you have very recently launched in Toronto.

Erika: Seems like a huge, huge vision for me, because for me, something put me in movement. In motion. Yeah. It put the roll...balling? I was still having issues with that phrase. The ball rolling.

Nahum - Natural: Ah yeah, get the ball rolling

Erika: get the ball rolling

Nahum - Natural: very good yeah, just to.... meaning just to start something.

Erika: Yeah, I think we all need this little accident to become environmentalist normal environmentalist. And for us, we believe that food unites us, brings us together and take out is something that everyone does, everyone loves. And what we are doing, is to make the take out zero waste in the normal way, in the same way to order takeout today through a food ordering platform. You are able to go to our platform, place your order there and there is a change and you will you will realize that change the difference when you arrive to the restaurant to pick up your food. And it's in a reusable and beautiful container. So in that moment, you will feel good because there is no single-use plastics. But also, when you are eating your food, you realize that you are not eating out of garbage. Your food looks beautiful, just as the chef intended for you to have this experience.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah. So away with plastic and polystyrene and in with metallic?

Erika: Stainless steel,

Nahum - Natural: Stainless steel, yeah. But also it's kind of intuitive in the way it's tracked. Right. Technology comes together with the containers.

Erika: Yeah we have an NFC technology embedded that helps us to know who has each container, for how long, how long has it been in your account, and you have seven days to bring it back and to earn "impact points". So we will reward your positive impact and you can accumulate impact points and then exchange it for more local bites. We are only working with independent and local restaurants.

Nahum - Natural: How have the restaurants responded to this new way of of ordering and delivering?

Erika: I had so many responses. We have been knocking on so many doors, educating so many restaurants. So... some of the restaurants were very afraid of it because it's the fear of the unknown, but our restaurant partners are very passionate about the change that we are bringing in society and they believe in our mission. So the restaurant that said yes to InWit... they are very excited for the whole vision that we have for making the takeout industry more human, more central... bringing value back to our food, because today we proceed to take out something fast and cheap and I don't know, like brands as McDonald's. Burger King comes to my mind when you hear a takeout. But what we want to do is to allow people to identify if the restaurant is using ingredients that are good for the community, such as farm to table, organic ingredients. And they love it because they are paying extra money for their ingredients to be different.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah

Erika: And they're happy to showcase it

Nahum - Natural: So Inwit member/partners have that kind of seal of quality on them. But you still as a consumer, you still have convenience because it's still a take out. You still... you don't have to wash the container till the next day if you don't want to. You can still... in that sense you keep the keep the convenience but improve the quality of things. Yes, that's great. A bit more generally, do you feel that there is a shift, globally, in terms of plastic waste? Have you noticed that mentalities are changing towards that? I think in the U.K., I certainly see people are more educated and a lot of people are making slightly different decisions in their consumption. What have you seen?

Erika: A lot has changed, I mean, I remember when we met Nahum, it was 2016, 2017...

Nahum - Natural: Something like that, yeah, I'll agree...

Erika: And I, I don't know, like I am having different conversations today with people. For instance, I think back in that time the conversations were about the problem or not. Today, the conversation is how do we solve the problem? We have already acknowledged that it's a problem. So... and I started my work in sustainability and fighting single-use plastics two years ago. And back in that time, people were asking me. Why reusing, why is that? Isn't it better to just use combustibles? I think today we understand that the problem is not the material, but the way we use things our habits.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, day to day habits

Erika: And it doesn't stop there, like after you see single-use, single-use waste, then you will start realizing that "oh shoot" we need to change our lifestyle? We need to change the way we are living. We need to change our house, our car, our way of transportation. But it's fine. It's overwhelming. It's a lot of changes in our life. And with those changes, we lose identity also because it's not just the house, but the dream that you had. Um, you know, there's a lot of identity in that. But what we want to do with Inwit is take you step by step, little by little. We are not focused on perfection, but in progression.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, it's important that the idea of going one day to the next zero waste lifestyle is certainly...

Erika: It's not possible.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah...baby steps.

Erika: It's not sustainable!

Nahum - Natural: Not sustainable, ironically! Erika, so you're the founder of Inwit. You've got lots...a big team, a growing team. And yeah, recently you took some English classes with one of our teachers. Why did you decide to take English classes? Why is it essential to what you do and how does it help?

Erika: So...I... to give a little bit of context. I never really took English lessons, I was always learning by myself or by listening to others by having informal classes. But I wanted to express better my ideas. I wanted to because my work is inspiring others to be more sustainable... is to inspire others to join the movement. And sometimes it's very challenging for me to express my ideas. And there are so many, like it's... everything is about habits, right? I learned, I learned some words or some ways to express myself and it's just sticking, I need a little bit of help to be able to identify my mistakes in order to improve. I would say that everything was first. I think as a person that English is my second language. I can talk about it in a very generic way. I had a lot of insecurities of the way I expressed my ideas and what I wanted, it was to feel a little bit less insecure.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, I mean, you're speaking to so many people and visiting restaurants and you have a kind of a vision that you want to give to people. You want people to buy in and kind of understand that vision. And having that extra confidence, knowing how to express it clearly is, of course, essential to spreading that message and getting more people on board, for sure.

Erika: Yes, but also because I think when you are when you are learning a language and it's your second or third language, it's always very challenging. It's very vulnerable like you are all the time thinking about am I making a mistake, is it right? And I think that that brought me to look for help, so I'm very happy with what I have learned so far and all the improvement that I have done. I think a lot of it a lot of it was awareness,

Nahum - Natural: Yeah I think that's a common, common trap. You know, I certainly fall into it at times with Portuguese when I'm speaking Portuguese with friends. And I think, oh, nobody corrects me. I must be perfect, impeccable. But when you actually sit down and have a class and someone stops you, that's when you kind of begin to make new connections and see your real level, it humbles you, but it's an important part of it. Erika, how can people connect with inwards or what one thing do you think people can do to get on board with eliminating single-use plastic?

Erika: Well, first, follow us on Instagram.

Nahum - Natural: Yeah, got to plug the Instagram, what's the handle?

Erika: It's inwit.app

Nahum - Natural: Inwit.app, I'll put it in the description.

Erika: Thank you very much. Yes. And I think what you can do is first be open to it to be able to to to absorb new ideas or just to question the things that you believe, follow us on Instagram, visit our website. And remember, the refusing is actually the first step and it's very powerful. So refuse single use and you will feel very powerful.

Nahum - Natural: Well, yeah, Erika, very happy that this is... the ball is rolling... as you said, this is something that's in motion and may one day soon be a normal part of people's lives in Toronto and other cities across the world as a more sustainable solution. So thank you for spending some time to tell us a bit about the journey you've been on. And, yeah, we wish you all the best for the official launch, which is upcoming.

Erika: Yes. Thank you very much. And hello, everyone, have a beautiful day.

Nahum - Natural: Remember, guys, that you can access a full lesson based on this conversation where you can see pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar points and get access to the homework for our next guest. So be sure to access that and we'll see you next time.

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