With over 87,000 followers on Instagram, Andrea Sanders is inspiring a growing community of zero waste enthusiasts around the world to live more mindfully through her practical eco-conscious tips and lifestyle. But zero waste is just one area of her passions as an educator. In this interview with My Out of 10, she shares how the environment, mindfulness and art are all interconnected.
What do you do?
I think of myself as an environmental educator, meditation mindfulness teacher and artist.
How long have you been doing this work for?
They all came in at different places in my life. It started when I was about 13 years old. I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida and was surrounded by nature, [which gave] me the space to cultivate a wonder and curiosity for conservation and the biosphere around us. I started volunteering at a local marine research centre in Sarasota, Florida, teaching environmental education as a teenager, and have been in that world since.
I was probably 22 or 23 when I started meditation and studying Buddhism. The reason I got into that was mostly because I saw there was a lot of disconnect between people and the environment. I thought there must be some way to help people connect better. I became a trained yoga teacher, and have taught yoga and meditation for over 10 years – and intermingled my work with environmentalism with that spiritual process. And art has always been something I’ve done since I was a little kid. I’ve always been intrigued by drawing and painting, and different mediums.
What inspired you to start @BeZeroWasteGirl on Instagram?
My Instagram started out as a place where I would document my yoga and meditation stuff. I’ve since removed a lot of old photos that I didn’t think were relevant anymore. I didn’t really start to engage in and bring in zero waste ideas until 2004-2005 – that’s when I started to learn more about materials and circular and linear economies. It was probably about 5 years ago that I really started to talk more about waste, and slowly shift over. I knew I wanted to tell a story because I knew a lot of people didn’t understand or know the systems that are behind everything we are making and doing. So I thought it would be a good opportunity to start to bring in a little bit of my background as a meditation yoga teacher, my environmental education and all the things I [was learning about] waste.
Did you study environment in school?
I didn’t study environment. I went to college for a little bit, but then I realized it wasn’t for me. I was already doing what I wanted to do anyway without a degree. I was working with animals and in education – I taught at two wildlife centres and a zoo, and I did all the education programs. All my work has been pretty much on my own – I’ve never had a salary job. I’ve worked with scientists and researchers and been out in the field. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. A lot of my work comes from volunteer experience, and just from completely submersing myself in everything – reading a ton of books, going to lectures, working out in the field with environmental conservationists. My experiences are definitely not a traditional path – I’ve always just wanted to do my own thing and learn as much as I can.
What do you enjoy most about being an environmental and mindfulness educator?
I love that the environment, mindfulness and art are all woven together – they are all interrelated. I think the route of all the work I do is based in helping people see the relationships and that interconnection that exists. We live in this world where we think the environment is out there and we’re over here, but that’s not actually how reality is. Everything is deeply woven together and that’s what I try to teach people. I help to uncover that – that the relationship between what you eat, the things you buy, how you look at the world – it’s all a form of relationships.
It’s really a practice of attentiveness. That’s all really what meditation is: being attentive, paying attention. And environmentalism needs our attention. So much of what we do, between us and the environment, is broken. I think through art, as well, it really gives us a place to be curious and to look deeper into things, and to see things in a way that can help us learn more about patterns, and all of the intricacies of the world that we live in.
What you find most challenging about your work?
There are two things. One is more human worldly things that we have to do to get by, and the other is the psychology of being in this world. I’ll start with the everyday things – it’s really hard whether you’re an environmentalist or conservation artist or any of those things to have people devalue the work you do. That’s always been very difficult for me in finding that space where you can create things, but then it becomes this consumable content and people forget the person who is making it.
And this kind of line of work is difficult – there’s been times I’ve had to support myself for a long time on my own. I have a beautiful relationship and family around who are very supportive of the work that I do, which is really great, but sometimes there’s a little friction that makes it difficult.
The second thing is getting people to really focus and pay attention is really difficult. People who have the privilege and the ability to do certain things and they don’t do anything. I think that is really challenging for me. It’s something I’m trying to work on – I don’t want to be reactive to certain people and their lives. But I feel like we’re in such a moment right now in human history where we have to dig a lot deeper than we’ve ever had before.
If you weren’t an environmental and mindfulness educator, what would you be doing?
I would probably just paint. I would do a lot more art. I still actually do art every week. I’m just getting into exploring natural pigments. Georgia O’Keefe is one of my inspirations. I love the saying, “Art should not be separate from life.” I totally live by that every single day.
Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work.
I can’t really say there’s anything else that I do. I have very little personal possessions – I have my few art supplies, my notebook, my camera and a few books. All those things are always intermingled. If I’m out and taking a hike, I’m doing art – I always have my watercolours with me – or if I’m teaching a class or creating a meditation, it has nature in it from a walk I did, so everything has always been blended. I do photography a lot as part of my art as well.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
When I wake up, I think about where I am in this place, in this world. I have these couple seconds of thoughts [before snuggling with] our two dogs for 5 to 10 minutes. The dogs are first line of business in the morning. We feed them, walk them. Then I’ll do a little bit of art or maybe sit in quiet for a little bit, and open the front patio and the dogs will sit outside and get some fresh air. That’s kind of what every morning looks like.
And last thing you do at night?
At night I go to bed very late. I go to bed sometimes at 10:30pm or 11pm, but most nights at 12:30am or 1am. I find I have so many things I’m thinking about or ideas and creativity things that come into my mind around that time. I’ll usually be reading or writing.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a book I’ve re-read so many times. It’s called How to Be Happy. It’s by a Buddhist monk. I’m also reading a book on Georgia O’Keefe called, Living Modern, which is really great – I just picked it up from the library the other day – and another book I’m slowly reading is Joyful Militancy, which dives into systemic and social things that we’re dealing with now and how we can move through these with a sense of joy.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy the work you do?
I have to say always a 10. I love what I do and even if there were no paycheques coming I’d figure out a way. It’s what I’m supposed to do on this planet. There’s really nothing else in the world I think I’d want to do. So a 10 all the way.
This interview has been edited and condensed.