When I started this blog, I wanted it to be about my sustainability journey. I wanted not only to be able to keep a record but also to share it with the wider world. I felt like I was at a significant turning-point in my life and I wanted to write to help guide my thoughts. So far, I’m really enjoying both writing and being able to connect with a whole online community that I never really knew existed before. Read more
With Plastic Free July just around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to talk about plastic recycling, and why it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Recycling gives the impression that you can consume something, and then dispose of the packaging in a responsible manner, free of all guilt. But whilst recycling is a great last resort when the only other option is landfill, it should be remembered that it is the LAST resort. Have you ever heard the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’? There’s a reason that ‘recycle’ comes last! Now there’s a new mantra that is gaining popularity. This one goes ‘REFUSE, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle’. And that is what Plastic Free July is all about. Rather than worrying about disposing of plastic packaging responsibly, ask the question: do I actually need it in the first place?
If you’ve been happily consuming all that plastic because you know that you’ll recycle it responsibly when you’re done, maybe this post will change your mind. I used to be the same. But once I started to understand what plastic recycling actually meant, I began questioning everything I bought and I drastically reduced the plastic in my life.
So here is a guide to the different types of plastics, what they are used for and what they are recycled into – if they can actually even be recycled.
Let’s dispell a couple of myths!
Firstly, if you’re under the impression that your old plastic bottles can be recycled into shiny new plastic bottles, unfortunately you’re wrong! Plastic isn’t technically recycled, it’s downcycled, meaning it’s used to create a product of inferior quality and productivity. So whilst glass can (in theory) be recycled an infinite amount of times, plastic can only go through two or three cycles.
Secondly, just because you see the ‘recycling arrow’ on your plastic packaging it doesn’t mean that it’s actually recyclable. The arrow is meaningless. The number tells us what the plastic is made from, and so you can work out if it can be recycled. Just because plastic has the potential to be recycled, it doesn’t mean that your local council actually recycles it, either.
Plastic recycling – a guide to the numbers
If you don’t want to read this list (I’ll take no offence!) allow me to summarise it here. The majority of plastic products are not commonly recycled, and when they are, the major product is plastic ‘wood’ and garden furniture. Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen any attractive plastic recycled garden furniture, and I definitely have no desire for fake plastic wood products. Considering how much plastic gets recycled each year, that’s a LOT of plastic garden furniture. So rather than helping the environment by recycling your plastic, you’re actually adding more eyesores to public spaces everywhere!
If you do want to know more about what different types of plastics there are, whether they can be recycled and what they become, read on.
1. PET or PETE: polyethylene terephthalate
This is the plastic used to make clear bottles for soft drinks and water, plastic food jars for sauces and condiments.
Recycled into: bottles for cleaning products and non-food items; egg cartons; fibres/textiles (carpet, fleece, filling for winter coats).
2. HDPE: high-density polyethylene
This is the opaque plastic used to make milk bottles, oil/vinegar bottles, ice-cream tubs, bottles for toiletries and cleaning products.
Recycled into: recycling and compost bins; pipes; crates; flower pots; outdoor furniture.
3. PVC: polyvinyl chloride
This is the clear plastic used as food wrap, some squeezy bottles. Also used in flooring, plumbing pipes and hoses, children’s toys.
This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for: pipe, floor coverings.
4. LDPE: low-density polyethylene
This is used to make cling-film, most squeezy bottles, food bags and plastic carrier (shopping) bags.
This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for outdoor furniture; fence posts; tubing.
5. PP: polypropylene
This is the plastic used to make dairy food containers such as yoghurt pots and cheese containers, margarine containers, Tupperware and other plastic food storage boxes, and medicine bottles. Most plastic bottle tops are made out of this.
This is not commonly recycled, but can be used for outdoor furniture and planters.
6. PS: polystyrene
This includes colourless, transparent polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, which is more commonly known as styrofoam. This is used for takeaway food containers, hot beverage containers, food produce boxes and deli packaging.
This is not commonly recycled and predominantly makes two products, insulation and plastic ‘timber’. To recycle it has to be mixed in with new ‘virgin’ polystyrene.
This includes polycarbonate, polylactide, bioplastics made from corn starch, acrylonitrile styrene, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Products made from these include high quality kitchen plastics, CDs, toys such as Lego, protective helmets, toothbrushes, the outer covers for electrical equipment such as printers, and medical storage containers.
These are not commonly recycled (and obviously depend on the material), but can be made into plastic ‘timber’ products.
I like the idea of achieving goals. I like the idea that if I want something to happen, then it will happen. So if I decide that I’ll be more organised/learn a new skill/make some other life changes, then, miraculously, it will happen. Except, quite often, it doesn’t. It turns out that deciding that I want something to change, but doing nothing else to achieve the change, isn’t really a recipe for success. Deciding that I want something to happen might be the first step, but there’s a lot of other steps out there on the path to achieving that goal. Read more
These are my new favourite thing to make! They’re inspired by Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, except they’re made with real ingredients, not artificial ones, and of course they’re free from preservatives, additives and other nastiness.
I’ve been delaying writing this post whilst I try to perfect them, but I’ve decided I’m gonna share the recipe as it is. They’re pretty damn good as they are, but if I do make them even better I’ll be sure to let you know!
I’ve made my own chocolate from raw ingredients but if you don’t have these ingredients or aren’t fussed about making them raw or vegan you can use melted store-bought chocolate. I reckon you’d need about 1 1/2 cups, which I’d guess would be 250g. (If this number is waaaay out maybe someone could let me know in the comments and I’ll adjust the post!)
I’ve tried making these with brazil nut butter and almond butter, and I loved both, and next on my list is hazelnut butter. You can make your own nut butters for a fraction of the shop price if you have a food processor – find my instructions for making almond butter here.)
Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups
This will make 12 (if using cucpcake-sized paper or silicone cases)
Prep time 20 minutes, chilling time 30 minutes: that means they are ready to eat in under an hour!
1/2 cup coconut oil (100g)
35g cacao butter (about 3 tbsp when melted)
55g raw cacao powder (3/4 cup)
80ml maple syrup or agave nectar (1/3 cup)
2 tbsp maca powder (if you don’t have this add 2 tbsp extra cacao instead)
For the filling:
1/2 cup nut butter
1 tsp maple syrup or agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a bowl over a pan of steaming water.
Add maple syrup/agave and stir until combined.
Add cacao and maca and mix well.
Line a muffin or cucpcake tin with 12 paper cases. Spoon 1 dessertspoon in each of the paper/silicone cases. (This should use 1/3 of the mixture – keep the rest).
Put the tray into the fridge to set (about 15 minutes).
Whilst the chocolate sets, make the filling. Mix 1/2 cup nut butter with the sweetener to form a dough.
Divide the dough into 12 balls.
Take the tray out of the fridge. One at a time, roll a ball of dough and place on top of the chocolate in the cases, pressing down so the dough almost (but not quite) covers the chocolate. Repeat for all. (If you find the nut butter is sticky, put in the fridge for a few minutes to chill before pressing down).
Take the remaining chocolate mix (if it has cooled and hardened, simply warm again as before to soften) and spoon two dessertspoons into each case. This should completely cover the dough centres.
If there is any chocolate left over, share amongst the cases.
Pop back in the fridge to set. This will take another 15 minutes.
Before serving, top with ground sea salt or cacao nibs, or leave plain if you prefer.
These need to be kept in the fridge, in an airtight container so they don’t absorb all the other fridge smells.
Almond butter is essentially the same thing as peanut butter (except a lot of peanut butters have extra salt, sugar, oil and goodness-knows-what-else mixed in too), but made from almonds. I love peanut butter, but I prefer almonds to peanuts, and almond butter is definitely more delicious!
However, if you want to buy it from the shops it’s quite a bit more expensive than peanut butter. I guess that’s what comes from not adding all that other rubbish in.
You can buy almond butter from health food shops and actually our local supermarkets stock it too, except the brand they stock has a plastic wrapper over the lid – and I don’t buy plastic. I did find a plastic free version, but it wasn’t great – too many lumps, oily and ridiculously stiff.
So I decided to have a go at making it in my food processor. And…it was a total success! So I won’t be buying it any more, I’ll be making my own. And I might experiment with some other nuts. I think hazelnut butter would be amazing too, and I haven’t seen that in the shops at all.
Recipe: How to Make Almond Butter
I choose to make roasted almond butter, because roasting brings out the flavour.
This recipe makes approx. 1 cup almond butter.
2 cups raw almonds
First roast the almonds. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Spread the almonds on a baking tray so they’re not on top of one another and cook for 20-30 minutes. (I cooked mine for 30 minutes and they were very well roasted – possibly a bit too much!)
Once the almonds are cold, place in the food processor or high powered blender, and turn on.
After a minute, the almonds will have turned into crumbs.
Keep blending, and the crumbs will form a dough.
Continue to blend, and the dough will form a smooth glossy paste, which is almond butter.
Scrape into a jar – I store mine in the cupboard, and a jar lasts 2-3 months. It will keep longer if stored in the fridge.
This year’s Plastic Free July challenge is almost upon us, with just a little over two weeks to go. Plastic Free July, in case you don’t know what it is, is a challenge that runs every year which encourages people to give up disposable plastic for the month of July. (If you think that sounds too hard, you can also commit to a week or even one shopping trip instead.)
What do I mean by disposable plastic mean anyway?
This is the stuff you use just once, or a couple of times, and then throw away. Obvious items include plastic shopping bags, plastic bottles, plastic food packaging in general (cellophane wrapping, polystyrene trays, plastic tubs, bottles and yoghurt pots, even tetra-packs) and a lot of cosmetics and toiletries packaging. But there’s loads of less obvious stuff out there too. Like, for example, when you buy a new pair of socks and they are hanging on the rack with a little plastic hook? That little hook is gonna go straight in the bin.
What’s the purpose of Plastic Free July?
Well, there’s actually a few. On an individual level, it makes participants vastly more aware of how much disposable plastic is in our lives. It also encourages people to look at what plastic they use and see if they can find alternatives to any of it, so maybe after July, some new habits are formed.
But also, by bringing your own bags to the shops, or taking your own containers to the fishmonger, or refusing a straw, people can also send messages to retailers and businesses, and also their staff and other customers. This sends the message to the wider community that there is another way, and create awareness at this level too. The more people that demand change, the more businesses will listen.
Of course, it also means vastly less plastic is consumed in the month of July, which means less plastic going to landfill and less plastic ending up in our rivers and oceans where it harms wildlife. And less fossil fuels are wasted making new disposable plastic that is destined for the same journey.
Plus it’s a great way to find out about businesses that are already doing great things to help the environment – either cafes with zero waste policies, or companies that make stainless steel water bottles or reusable cloth vegetable bags – and also charities, community groups and other organisations that are campaigning for change.
So Plastic Free July is about creating awareness, reducing waste and inspiring change.
Why am I so passionate about Plastic Free July?
I took part in Plastic Free July last year for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience. Seriously. I always thought of myself as pretty green and sustainable, but once I started looking at how much plastic I was consuming, I realised there was so much more I could do. So after July I committed to permanently avoiding buying disposable plastic packaging.
But it wasn’t just that. Once I started looking at all that plastic-wrapped food, I realised that it’s all processed, and mostly junk. The more processed the ‘food’, the more plastic packaging. Once I stopped buying that stuff, I instantly felt better and healthier, and it made me start to look at what I was eating to make the connections between food and health. We all know that you need to eat well, but often we choose to ignore it when we’re busy, for the sake of convenience. Taking part in Plastic Free July made me reconnect with the issue. I also learned to cook new things so I could make fresh, wholesome versions of the things I could no longer buy, so I didn’t have to go completely without.
The same goes for skincare. I used to buy products that were readily available in the supermarkets, and never really considered that they contained preservatives, irritants and carcinogens. Yep, carcinogens. (If you wanna see what’s in the products you’re using, check out the Skin Deep database here which contains 64,000 products. It’s an eye-opener.) Once I started looking for cosmetic products in glass I began to find natural products that didn’t contain any of that nasty stuff. Now I know the alternatives I wouldn’t dream of buying those mass-produced synthetic chemical cocktails to put on my skin. (I’ve also started learning how to make my own.)
The Plastic Free July challenge also led me to small, independent businesses and local producers, and changed the whole way I shopped. Which is great because I’d much rather be supporting these types of businesses rather than the big multinational companies with their inferior products and questionable ethics. I just needed that extra push, I suppose.
What else? Well I learned a great deal about waste and pollution, and found out about a number of charities and individuals doing amazing work, including 5 Gyres, who campaign against plastic pollution, and the fantastic Beth Terry, who gave up plastic completely in 2007, and whose blog contains a wealth of information regarding plastic-free living.
Through Plastic Free July I was also able to really connect with my local community, and meet so many people who live just down the road and have the same concerns as me. It’s great to know I’m not the only one that cares – and sometimes it can feel a bit like that!
So there’s a lot more to Plastic Free July than giving up a few plastic carrier bags!
Want to get on board?
Sign up! You’ve still got two weeks to prepare for it, and if you want to know more have a look at the Plastic Free July website which has loads of information, links and suggestions for dilemnas you may have. You can choose which challenge you want to sign up to, and if there’s something that you absolutely cannot avoid that comes in plastic (like medication!) just keep the packaging in a ‘dilemna bag’ for the end of the month.
And if you’re still not sure, have a look at the website anyway… you’ve still got a couple of weeks to change your mind!
This smoothie is my current new favourite drink. I guess it’s more of a dessert than a drink, but it’s delicious, takes about 2 minutes to prepare and it is actually full of nutritious goodness!
Here’s just some of the great stuff that it contains. Raw cacao is massively high in antioxidants, and contains calcium, magnesium and iron. Bananas are high in potassium and also contain vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin C. Cashews contain omega-6, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Flaxseeds are really high in omega-3 and also contain calcium, fibre and lignans.
You know those chocolate milkshakes that you buy in the supermarket? Well, rather than all this great stuff, they contain sugar, milk and other powders, modified starch, stabilisers and gums. How un-delicious does that sound?
Here’s a couple of examples. According to the frijj (UK) website, their chocolate milkshake, which they describe as a “chocolate lover’s dream”, consists of: Skimmed Milk (68%), Whole milk (22%), Sugar, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Buttermilk Powder, Modified Maize Starch, Stabilisers (Carrageenan, Guar Gum).
Now I love chocolate, and I definitely don’t dream about those ingredients!
In Australia, the Kick Double Choc milkshake manufactured by Brownes is made up of: Milk, Sugar, Chocolate (1.7%), Flavours, Cocoa, Colours (150c, 155), Emulsifiers (Soy Lecithin, 471, 476), Vegetable Gums (407, 412).
So rather than consume that synthetic, nutritionally-devoid rubbish, try this instead!
Cacao Banana Smoothie Recipe
This is the recipe for one smoothie. But make two and share it with someone – they will appreciate it!
1 cup raw cashew milk (see how to make your own here – it’s dead easy)
1 tbsp raw cacao
1 small banana (or half a large one)
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds
(Optional – 1 dsp maca or mesquite powder)
Put the banana, cashew milk and cacao in a blender. Blend until combined.
Add the flaxseeds (and maca/mesquite powder if using) and whizz briefly to mix.
Top with some cacao nibs for some crunch!
Last week my boyfriend and I went to a Water Smart workshop, which was about both the issues Perth is facing with water demand and supply, and how to use water sustainably. On the way home, my boyfriend commented that he wasn’t really motivated to make any changes to our lives, because water didn’t seem as important as other things, like power or transport. I was inclined to agree. I think greywater systems and rainwater tanks are fantastic, but we don’t own our own house, so this is something for the future. It is something I’d definitely do in the future, but it’s probably a long way off, and not relevant to us now. Read more
I decided to take a week off from writing the blog in order to clear some space in my life (both the tiny flat that I live in, and also my schedule) and create some order. Now I would like to return triumphantly with reports of dazzling success, a new minimalist living space and feelings of serenity and calm.
Alas, that isn’t exactly what happened.
Last week I set myself the challenge of ridding myself of 100 things I no longer wanted/needed/used by the end of the month. I was committed. I was willing. I hadn’t decided what 100 things, but that was just a minor detail. To make it even easier, the weekend was a long weekend with a public holiday, so an extra day for sorting.
But despite my best efforts to sit on the sofa whilst willing the decluttering to miraculously begin, berating the general lack of action, and chastising my boyfriend every time he settled down to read a book/magazine for not helping, we didn’t manage to clear out anywhere near as much as I’d hoped.
We managed to fill a box with stuff to take to the charity shop. We also managed to get rid of two wastepaper baskets of recycling. I wish I could say it was a commendable effort, and a good first attempt, but in three days, I think I should have managed a bit more. I think I should have managed a LOT more. I like the idea of the stuff being gone, but actually doing the tasks that make it happen is another thing altogether.
And that’s the thing. It’s me that’s stopping the process. I just can’t get rid of anything! Every time my boyfriend threw something in the bin I scurried over and fished it back out. He tested a drawer full of pens and threw the ones in the bin that didn’t work, but even then I was tempted to get them back out and test them myself just in case one of them could be saved. Why?! We have a million other biros that work and we don’t need those either.
And then on Monday evening when we went to bed, I said that I wished we’d got it all finished, and he looked at me in amazement, and said “but it’s not a job that’ll be finished and then you’re done. It’s a job that you’ll always need to keep coming back to.”
What?!?!?!? How can that be true?! Surely I can spend three days sorting out my things and then I will rejoice in my clutter-free space and will never need to declutter again? What if I declare never to buy or acquire anything ever again? What does he mean, I’m going to have to go through this all over again in a few months time?!
Of course, he’s right. Maybe some people could do it, but I am never going to be a true minimalist. I’m probably never going to be close! I hate waste too much. I have three pairs of shoes in my closet that I haven’t worn for over a year – in fact two of them I haven’t worn in two or three years. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of them.
I think when people accumulate stuff, and the stuff starts to get in the way of their lives, they have two choices. They either get a bigger house, or more storage, in order to assimilate their possessions and not have to really think about them. Or they decide to have a clear-out, in which case they have to face up to the money they’ve wasted, the dreams that never quite came true (even though you bought the book on paper maché crafts or the home candle-making kit or whatever new hobby, you just never quite got round to it), and the emotions which come with that (be it guilt, anger, resentment, or simply frustration at having too much stuff). Maybe some people really don’t care, they happily just chuck it all in the bin and head back to the shops to get a load more shiny new stuff, but for me, I find this second option really confronting.
What it means, though, is that on the public holiday weekend, whilst friends of mine are spending a few days relaxing in the beautiful Margaret River region down south and having a glorious time, I am at home fishing things out of the dustbin. That is the consequence of my having too much stuff. And it’s rubbish – literally.
So I’ve decided I need to rethink my challenge in order to actually make some progress. I think it’s going to be easier for me if I break my goal of 100 things down into bite-size chunks. I’m going to commit to getting rid of 5 things every day for the next 20 days. That will take me to the 24th June. Hopefully if I’m on a bit of a roll, I’ll be able to keep going until the end of the month.
I think spending a few minutes every day is a much better option than dedicating three days to achieving greatness, and then feeling miserable about my lack of achievement. And as that didn’t work anyway, I’m not going to spend another weekend floundering.
So, small steps. I’m off to find my five things to get rid of today. Wish me luck!
Lindsay Miles is an educator, speaker, author and passionate zero waste/plastic-free living advocate helping others live more meaningful lives with less waste and less stuff. She has been sharing ideas, tips, tricks and strategies on her website Treading My Own Path since 2013. Her first book, Less Stuff, was published in 2019. Originally from the UK, Lindsay now lives in Perth, Western Australia.