Hirumi Nanayakkara, Brooklyn

This is the first of our TRASHTALK series of interviews where we meet people in their homes & learn about their secrets to living zero waste. Interested in being featured? Let us know here.

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MEET HIRUMI

My background is a little atypical - I studied biology as an undergrad, worked in higher education for a few years before getting my masters in Design & Technology at Parsons. From there I joined littleBits and learned a ton about user experience and marketing. Now I’m at quip, an oral healthcare startup, where I’m focused on user research and insights.

I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I’ve been in Brooklyn for six years & lived in Manhattan for three years before that.


I’ve heard it takes seven years in New York before you officially become an asshole. Seems accurate!


My favorite movie:
It’s a three way tie between Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, & Mrs. Doubtfire.

My spirit animal:
Well, it’s tied to Jurassic Park - a velociraptor. When I was in college, I used to run around like one. This one time I was helping staff a freshman orientation program. All of the new freshmen were so scared! I was trying to act dumb & spice things up.*

My last meal request:
That’s a tough question. Definitely something noodle based and super spicy with seafood. Spicy seafood ramen. Plus a side of spicy fried chicken.

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My Brooklyn Apartment

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We moved into this apartment in early February, so about six months ago. My last apartment was technically my husband’s, I moved in with him. It was a little older & more cramped. Too small for two people. Plus the closest laundromat was three avenues away. That was a dealbreaker for us.

Style was actually a point of contention in our the last apartment. Conor had a lot of vintage ‘man stuff’. Vintage luggage, a revolver hanging on the door, and stuff that felt very ‘boy’. It kind of looked like a very old anthropologist lived there. We had to figure out what we liked together.

In our new place, we went for less anthropologist, more Anthropologie. When we were buying new furniture, we focused on getting the “look and feel” we liked first and then balanced that with cost. We didn’t factor in sustainability. We would try to look at Craigslist, hoping we could upcycle furniture. To be honest, it’s pretty time consuming & mostly junk.

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My Zero Waste Ethos

Being sustainable is harder.
I think everything in New York is harder.
It’s harder to buy groceries, run errands, and everything is more expensive.


I would love a grocery store where we can just refill things. There is nothing like that around here. There is the Package Free Shop in Williamsburg, but it doesn’t carry food, just things like shampoo. Whole Foods or Fairway has areas you can buy more groceries in bulk, but you still need a plastic bag to put them in. It’s funny because Whole Foods started as a bulk natural foods store. I listen to the NPR podcast “How I Built This” and they did an episode on the founder, John Mackey. It’s feels like the store is going in the opposite direction. Now that Amazon bought them, I can’t see them carrying products with less packaging any time soon.

Growing up, my parents were more cost driven than eco driven. They were alway telling us to not waste water and to never let water run while washing dishes. They would knock on the bathroom door if they thought my shower was going on too long. They would sometimes even turn the lights off in a room that I was still in. I actually do remember there was a “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” city-wide campaign where I grew up in Albuquerque and it stuck with me.

When I think about living more sustainably, the first thing I think of is one-time use products. I wish I was someone who never used those. I intentionally try not to, but it doesn’t stop me from buying things that I think my husband & I need.

 Hirumi & Conor store compost in the freezer as an easy way to minimize smell.

Hirumi & Conor store compost in the freezer as an easy way to minimize smell.

I also think about reusability in general. I’m trying not to use as much saran wrap and use tupperware as much as possible. We do compost all of our food scraps. It was really easy to compost in our last apartment. We lived a few subway stops away from a Grow NYC compost drop off center. Since we moved here, there is no easy place to drop it off. Every week, Conor goes out of his way to the old drop off location in our old neighborhood. Sometimes on the weekends we’ll take it to the farmer’s market to empty it. We typically empty it once a week unless we are traveling. If we go more than one week without emptying it, it takes up our entire freezer.

My husband and I are both eco conscious, but we have different thresholds. I have a higher “ick” factor. I don’t want to deal with anything gross. Say for example we bought a pack of raw chicken to cook for dinner. Technically the container it comes in is recyclable, but you have to remove all of the lining, clean the chicken juice, etc before you can put it in the bin. I’d rather throw stuff like that away, but Conor will dig it out of the trash can to clean & recycle it. On the flip side, Conor can be sloppy about leaving the lights on. I’m always reminding him to turn lights off that he isn’t using.

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My Favorite Products

I love my deodorant. I use Scully’s Wonderful Stuff. I was trying to find something that didn’t use a lot of plastic and didn’t feel like I was putting chemicals into my body. It comes in a glass spritzer bottle. When you buy it you can also get a giant refill bottle. I was skeptical, but I tried it before I bought a lot to see if it really worked. I’ve tried a lot of natural deodorants that did not work at all. I did a calculation comparing Scully’s to regular deodorant and it costs a couple bucks more, but not too much.

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I also recently got a straw. I always forget the name of it. It’s off Amazon, the Aspero Stainless Steel Drinking Straw. It fits on your keychain and has two layers - an interior silicone later and an outside metal layer that collapses. I have been using it. I haven’t used it the past couple weeks because I haven’t washed it yet. Even when I don’t have it with me, I just drink out of the cup sans straw.

I haven’t bought tampons in 6 months! I use Thinx and Knixwear underwear exclusively. At first, I started off with only one pair of THINX. My husband actually bought me my first pair. Then I expanded my collection until I had enough to cover my whole period. I prefer Knixwear, they are little less bulky and more seamless under clothing.

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I bought Bee’s Wraps, but I don't really like them. You can’t see what’s inside them and cleaning them is a pain. Their marketing video shows the wraps sticking to the top of a bowl with the press of a finger, but it never works like that.

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My Future Goals

I’ve never really thought about alternative energy because we live in an apartment that we rent. In whatever house we buy in the future, it would have solar panels and not have to rely on grid power. We would recycle rainwater and do a bunch of stuff like that. I always think that “future me” will take care of all of that. “Current me” is just trying to survive.

— Hirumi Nanayakkara & Conor Hogan, 9/25/2018
Interviewed & photographed by Krystal Persaud

*FYI, Hirumi doesn’t jog like a velociraptor on her normal runs. We asked.


Message from Krystal:

Hirumi and I first met seven years ago via email. I had just graduated from Georgia Tech where I worked on project called Powerplant. She was in the Parsons Design+Technology program designing a similar microbial fuel cell project called ‘Mytropolis’. She came across my project & reached out to me to learn more about what I was doing. We hadn’t met in person at that point and I actually thought she was Japanese based on her name. A few months later in 2012, we both joined the tech start up littleBits and we’ve been buds ever since.

Hope you enjoyed our first interview! Much more to come.