Cities & CommunitiesZero Waste Montenegro

Tara and the Magic Tree: a journey in the world of zero waste


03 Sep 2020

Written by

Rossella Recupero


On a windswept, rainy night in a country far from the concrete jungles of suburbia, exactly a thousand owls’ nests west and three hours butterfly flight east… we meet for the first time Tara.

Tara is a little girl with a mind as clear as the river she was named after who – with the help of an unusual bunch of mysterious creatures and her trusted friend Timothy – crochet a magical bridge connecting our hope for a cleaner planet and the wisdom needed for this to become a reality.

Indeed, Tara is the heroine of the newly published book “Tara and the magic tree” an eco-tale teaching everyone the basics of the concept of zero waste.

This week, we had the pleasure to interview Alexandra Aubertin, not only Founder of Zero Waste Montenegro and Board Member at Zero Waste Europe but also book director of this wonderful creation.

Hi Alexandra, can you briefly introduce yourself: how long have you been working in this field and what got you into (zero) waste?

I have been involved with waste for about a decade now, and I find it quite addictive! There is always a new way to motivate people and communities to reduce waste, and seeing results is always so rewarding. What got me into waste was a visit to a dumpster in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – which was a mind-blowing experience, and I followed that experience with working on recycling issues in Kenya a few years later. If you want to know more about it you can read my blog post here. 🙂

Tell us more about what inspired you to create this book and how it was made?

Well, educating kids about their relationship with waste is, of course, essential to have future environmentally-minded citizens. In Montenegro where I am currently based, there is little to no education on the topic, and no material to educate kids in their native language is available. One day, a good friend of mine told me: “Well, why don’t you make one book about Zero Waste with your social enterprise ?” That’s how everything started…

To put things back into context – I started a social enterprise four years ago to help vulnerable communities in Montenegro and also to show that it is possible to create beautiful products entirely made of waste. So we decided to bring those characters to live in the story of the book.

I wanted to make it a high-quality work of art and I got the chance to surround myself with the best artists: Zarko Vucinic who turned the concept into the story of the book and ten young artists from the National Art School who illustrated the book. The book has been translated into English as we wanted kids from all over the world to be able to enjoy this exciting and inspiring tale on how we can all be active in our communities to reduce the waste that is produced and littered.

Tara and the magic tree is a book mostly for children but – in the end – it is also a lesson for adults to raise awareness about the problem of waste, isn’t it?

Indeed, as the story is quite elaborated, we received feedback from many parents who also loved reading the book! So we realise it is not only an ideal tool to light an ecological spark in kid’s minds, but it also has the same effect on the parents who read the book to them! We didn’t want to tell kids what to do/what not to do, we wanted to write an inspiring tale to excite kids about adopting simple measures in their life to produce less waste, and possibly also make them keen to initiate actions in their schools, their sport’s clubs, or simple at home with their families. The story has lots of twists and turns, beautiful poems and riddles to solve and also some interesting facts on trees and forests (as the author is also a forest engineer)!

What do you identify as the main challenges to actually changing the way we currently deal with waste?

I think one of the main challenges is that we are in this triangle where everyone blames each other and no one wants to take responsibilities. Companies blame consumers for producing and littering waste. People blame businesses for not giving them enough sustainable and zero waste choices, and their government for not regulating sufficiently companies and citizens on the way waste is managed. Governments blame the citizens for littering or not sorting their waste correctly, and companies for not being more pro-active in limiting the waste they generate through their production. The solution lies somewhere in the middle, where every party takes responsibility for its own action, but how to make this happen? It is really difficult in our societies to create awareness and convince people/companies/governments to act with the environmental protection in mind over greed or perpetual growth.

This is a modern tale with not only an ecological twist but also a social one, could you tell us a bit more about ZNUGGLE, which is an essential part of this project and also has the magic power (SPOILER ALERT) of turning Tara’s friends back to life?

Yes, that is what makes this book so unique: all the characters of the book actually “exist” – they are made of wool by women living in wooden huts in the mountains in the North of Montenegro called ‘katuns’. Traditionally, women used to knit or crochet the wool of their own sheep to make clothes, but it is quite an intensive process to hand-wash, card and spin raw wool, so this tradition was getting lost and wool started to be thrown away in bins or rivers or often burnt in nature. Znuggle, as a social enterprise is giving work to women with limited resources: they process the rescued wool by hand and also dye it with plants, berries or onion peels that they also rescue themselves. And the result is beautiful soft toys which are entirely hand-made, ecological and also zero waste! Each of them is a unique piece of art as it takes between 10 to 18 hours to make one toy.

What reactions have you received regarding the book? What kind of impact are you expecting to see?

We got tons of positive reactions, both from adults and kids. Actually, we got numerous parents asking for the book to become a mandatory reading in schools. Our hope is to create sparks in kid’s minds and our dream is to hear in 10 years time young adults contacting us to say: “I became an environmental activist/professional thanks to Tara and the Magic Tree”. 🙂

The book “Tara and the Magic Tree’ won the Award for the best children’s book in 2019 by the “Association of Children and Youth Writers” in Montenegro and the Literary Prize “Lukijan Mušicki” by the “Sunčani breg” Literary Society in Serbia. It is currently nominated for the prestigious Little Prince Award 2020.

Do you want to get a taste of Tara’s story? Read the first 3 chapters for free here.
Hungry for more, get a copy of the book and dig into the world of Tara here.