The Backstory

Trash talk

Tara McKenna sitting in a coffee shop, holding a beverage in a reusable mug.

Photography by Camilla Brenchley

Tara McKenna, MA’12, came to Queen’s to change the world.

Armed with an undergraduate degree in international development, she came to earn her master’s in urban planning.

“It felt very specific,” she says. “International development felt too big, but I realized right away that urban planning was a tangible way for me to improve the world.”

The degree led Ms. McKenna to a job with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, where she worked with biologists, conservationists, and other people who actually were changing the world. But it was at a family wedding in Indonesia in 2013 that she found her calling.

“I had always imagined Bali as this pristine tropical destination,” she says. “And it is, but when we went snorkeling, I found a lot of plastic and trash in the ocean. I was devastated, but also motivated to do something about it.”

Ms. McKenna’s instinct was to go back to school and study marine biology. “But I realized that wasn’t practical,” she says, “so instead I just read a lot.”

All of that reading led her to make some big changes.

“I was inspired by the idea of living with less, reducing my waste, and creating a non-toxic home environment,” she says. “I started scrutinizing the products I was using and the food I was eating. I realized that if I really wanted to change the world, the best way to start was by changing my life.”

That meant she had to learn even more. “I immersed very deeply in learning about minimalism and the zero-waste lifestyle,” she says. “I watched documentaries, got involved in my community, read everything I could get my hands on, and documented my journey on social media.”

After a decade of immersion, Ms. McKenna was ready to reflect on her journey. “It was a long road and I often felt overwhelmed,” she says. “It would have been easier if I had all that information in one place. I thought, ‘If there was one book that would help me change my life, what would it look like?’”

Don’t Be Trashy, Ms. McKenna’s first book, is the one-stop guide she wished was available when she started down the path toward a less wasteful lifestyle. She deliberately wrote the book in 12 chapters, tackling everything from food to fashion to finance to finding community among like-minded people. “Changing your life takes time,” she says. “I wrote 12 chapters so you can work through it month by month. You can’t change everything overnight, but you can do it over the course of a year and not be overwhelmed by it.”

Don’t Be Trashy: A Practical Guide to Living with Less Waste and More Joy, published by Penguin Random House Canada, is available wherever books are sold. You can also read Tara’s blog.

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