Living Plastic Free - Meet Sonia Zernadji

For the first interview in our Living Plastic Free series, Breaking The Plastic Habit meets Sonia Zernadji, a weight-lifting, number crunching Wharfer who is living the plastic free life dreams are made of. 

“It’s not about going cold turkey, it’s about your attitude.”

— SONIA ZERNADJI

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“You can start small if you already have a reusable cup, bottle, cutlery and a container you’re already doing a lot for the environment.”

Sonia, tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from France and moved to the UK in 2001 for University, 18 years later and I'm still here. I live in Kilburn, North London and currently work at HSBC here at Canary Wharf as a Reporting Analyst. For the last six months I have been living, as you say, a ‘plastic free' life and if I'm honest, it's one of the best things I've ever done.

What was the defining moment for you, when did you decided enough was enough of single use plastic? 

Funny you should ask because it was actually when you launched Breaking The Plastic Habit at Canary Wharf! I had been thinking about the issue for a while but had no idea where to start. 

Wow, what a compliment! What was it about the launch that connected with you?  

It was really informative, particularly the event on the malls.  I spent quite a bit of time with the team on the stand, and they showed me all the different alternatives I could be using. After that, I just went ahead, looked into it and here we are. 

OK, so launch day was the catalyst but tell us what your first plastic free day looked like.

Well believe it, or not the day after the launch I went to do my weekly shop completely plastic free. I challenged myself to do it. It was incredibly difficult, and I had to travel quite far from where I live to find a plastic free store– it was a real eye-opener!

Right, so you first plastic free venture was quite daunting? 

 If I’m honest going cold turkey might not have been the best approach. I have a supermarket two minutes from my house, and I kept thinking I want to do this, but I don't want it to take over my life, I still want to have time to socialise, you know?! But I just said to myself, let’s try next weekend, let’s find another place, and after some basic research, I have now found a plastic free supermarket closer to home which I really love.

Oh Great, where’s that?

It’s called Harmless in Wood Green. The owner is so lovely, and she has given me lots of advice, tips and tricks over the last few months. I can get everything I need from whole foods to cosmetics - it’s been a game changer. I think this has helped me organise myself better, working out how I can incorporate this into my everyday life and it’s all starting to balance out and become just what I do now. 

What do your friends, family and colleagues think of your new plastic free life? Have you managed to bring any along the journey with you?

My family most definitely find it odd, so I try and encourage them to make small changes. My colleagues are more engaged, and recently someone at work bought her first reusable cup and is now thinking about getting some reusable cutlery. It’s the small actions like these that you build on to make new and bigger changes. 

What’s been your hardest plastic habit to break?

Candy! I have a sweet tooth, and I love Haribos, I just wish they didn't come in those plastic packets. I occasionally buy a pack when I go to the movies…a terrible habit!

And What’s your ultimate plastic-free win?

Chewing gum! Just this weekend I found a brand called Chewsy which doesn't have the plastic gum base and is entirely biodegradable! Plastic – it's even in gum!

What’s on your single use plastic hit list?

Definitely cosmetics, it’s hard to find brands that will accept the packaging back for recycling or offer refillable options. Harmless do have some options, which are great; however we get so emotionally attached to these items, that I’d really like to see some mainstream brands step up and offer some solutions here. 

Have you downloaded the new HELPFUL app that recently launched at Canary Wharf ? What do you think?

Yes, I have, I think it's really good. It’s easy to use and fun. I've seen a lot of people using it. It’s also helped me find the water dispensers across the malls which has been great for my HELPFUL coin collection! 

Are there any retailers at Canary Wharf you’d like to give a shout out to for their efforts in reducing avoidable plastic?

I’m really pleased with Wharf Kitchen, the new food hall in Jubilee Place. 1 - the food is amazing and 2 - it's guilt - free - no plastic packaging. Brilliant!

What do you think about Canary Wharf working towards the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Community status?

I think it's great. I feel proud to work in a space that is so committed to an issue I feel passionate about. It's really forward thinking and really powerful that the plastic free message will be communicated to the working population. Hopefully, people can take part of this back to their own lives and communities. The reach it could have is inspiring.

And finally what is your advice for those who are wanting to live a plastic free life?

Small Actions. You don't have to go cold turkey like I did, which was quite a brutal transition. You can start small. If you already have a reusable cup, bottle, cutlery and a container and the right attitude you're already doing a lot for the environment. These are things you use daily, and you’ll find once this becomes the norm you’ll begin to notice the other plastic items in your life you can switch out or avoid altogether, by this point living without plastic unfolds naturally.

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“I feel proud to work in a space that is so committed to an issue I feel passionate about. It’s really forward thinking and really powerful that the plastic free message will be communicated to the working population. Hopefully, people can take part of this back to their own lives and communities. The reach it could have is inspiring.”


Do you have a plastic free story to tell? Or can you help Sonia with her cosmetic quest? Get in touch with us at sustainability@CanaryWharf.com