Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

Last weekend I took a trip to the Hills to the town of Mundaring 45km  away… to go shopping. Not just any kind of shopping, mind. I went to visit a newly opened shop named the Wasteless Pantry. No prizes for guessing what kind of shop it is! It’s a new bulk grocery store that only sells loose grocery items, actively encourages shoppers to bring their own containers and even offers a Plastic Free July support group!

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

I’m lucky enough where I live to have a number of bulk produce stores to choose from, but this is the first store I’ve come across that sells groceries and cleaning products solely in bulk and does not offer any plastic bags or plastic packaging of any kind. It is like a dream come true!

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

A set of scales and a marker pen at the door means customers can weigh their own jars and containers.

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

As well as dry goods, there was a selection of oils and vinegars to buy in bulk.

Bulk spices

Bulk (plastic-free) spices and herbs can also be found here.

The store isn’t big, but is neatly laid out with almost everything you could wish for (and a few things you might not have known you even wanted) all available in bulk. There was also a blackboard on the corner for customers to write their “wish list” of items they’d like to see available in the future. I wrote down maple syrup. I’ve never seen it in bulk in Australia and it’s something I’d really like to be able to source!

My favourite bit was the bulk pasta section. I’ve written on social media recently about Barilla’s decision to start adding plastic windows to their previously plastic-free cardboard pasta boxes. Here there was a good choice (including gluten-free pasta) so we stocked up. Bye bye Barilla!

Bulk Pasta

Bye bye Barilla! Your stupid plastic windows mean I won’t be buying your pasta any more…I’ll be buying this instead! Plus it’s made in South Australia which means lower food miles : )

Other highlights were:

  • Bulk tortilla chips! Plastic-free! We bought an enormous bag full and devoured them within an hour of arriving home. To be fair, it was lunchtime. It’s probably a good thing that these aren’t commonly found in bulk stores!
Shopping for Zero Waste Tortilla Chips

If that isn’t excitement then I don’t know what is!

  • Hundreds and thousands. Not something I’d buy (just look at all those e numbers!) but quite impressed that it was even possible.
I'm also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

I’m also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

  • A little bit of upcycling: funnels made from old plastic milk bottles.
Upcycled milk bottles as funnels...repurposing at its finest!

Upcycled milk bottles as funnels to fill your own containers…repurposing at its finest!

  • Free bottles and bags, just in case you forgot your own or didn’t quite have enough. The store also sells new glass jars but I love the fact that they make old ones available to shoppers too.
Free glass jars and shopping bags Wasteless Pantry

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

I didn’t write this post to gloat. I know that lots of you don’t live close to bulk stores. I’m lucky that I have so many close by to where I live, although this one doesn’t count – a 45km trip without a car makes this too difficult for regular shopping. Instead, I wrote this post to give you encouragement. This store only opened its doors on 1st June…that’s less than 4 weeks ago. Bulk and zero waste stores are popping up more and more…it’s a growing trend!

The Wasteless Pantry is the result of two women who were frustrated with the amount of waste they were consuming – and decided to do something about it.

Doing something about it doesn’t mean you have to open your own shop (although I know a few of you secretly – or not so secretly – harbour such dreams)! This might be at the more ambitious end of the scale, but we can all do something. Just because you don’t have a bulk bin store at the end of your street, it doesn’t mean bulk shopping is out of reach. Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing simply because you can’t do everything.

The fact that these shops exist mean that products are being sold in bulk. Most products are sold in bulk. All you have to do is find them!

  • One approach is to ask producers and farmers directly. They may sell to you or they may not – but the question must be asked if you want to know the answer.
  • Think about bulk buying groups. Food co-ops exist in many areas, but they don’t advertise so you’ll have to seek them out.
  • Bulk buying groups don’t have to be formal, either! They can be as simple as a group of friends who club together to buy a large amount of one product, and then split it.  It doesn’t even need to be food. When I needed to buy more toilet roll recently, I put it out there on Facebook and 9 other people agreed to buy a box too. I had 10 boxes of toilet roll delivered to my doorstep, and the 9 I didn’t need were collected by friends and family. It helped supported a local business, reduced our cost (bulk buying often works out cheaper) and stopped 9 other families buying plastic-wrapped toilet paper from the supermarket ; )

Start small. Choose just one item. Think of items you get through large quantities of, or items with a long shelf life. Investigate local producers or suppliers. No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Of course, if you’re inspired enough to start your own zero waste store, go for that instead!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have bulk stores near you, or do you struggle to find anything not packaged in plastic? Have you joined a food co-op, or found a Farmers market or producer that you can buy products without excessive packaging? What is your biggest frustration…and your greatest triumph in the war against waste?! Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

I’m Green… But I Don’t Like Recycling

Before my plastic-free “awakening” I used to religiously recycle everything I could. I’d save all my plastic bottles and traipse across my home city once a month to take them to the only recycling point. I recycled Tetra-Paks back when the only option was to post them back to the supplier. I also saved used stamps and posted those off for recycling too. If something didn’t say it was recyclable, I’d hope for the best and toss it in the recycling bin anyway.

Now I’m so much more environmentally aware…and recycling no longer fills me with joy. In fact, it’s something I actively try to avoid. Thinking that doesn’t make any sense? Read on!

Recycling Lulls us into a False Sense of Security

My main frustration with recycling is that it gives the impression that we are being a responsible consumer and that, by recycling, we’ve done our bit. Of course recycling is far more responsible than sending a whole heap of stuff to landfill, but being a responsible consumer begins long before we throw our trash out.

The main issue is that recycling doesn’t address the issue of over-consumption. It sends the message that you can consume what you want so long as you recycle afterwards. Recycling still takes huge amounts of energy. It involves collection of waste from your doorstep and delivery to a depot, sorting, cleaning, processing and re-molding, followed by shipping to the next part of the chain, and plenty of this recycling waste could be avoided completely by shopping a little differently.

An enormous bin crammed full of recyclables is nothing to feel “green” about.

Recycling is a Business and Operates for Profit

It’s nice to think of recycling as a service that exists solely for the good of the planet, but actually most recycling centres are run as businesses and rely on markets, just like other businesses do. That means if a waste line is of value, it will be recycled, and if it is not of value, it won’t be. This changes according to global prices, demand and labour fees.

For example, to get a clean line of glass to make new glass you need hand pickers who will select glass bottles and leave bits of terracotta, old lightbulbs etc. A machine would sort this as glass and would contaminate the batch. But if the value of glass is low, and the cost of hand pickers is too high, the option might to to crush to make road base or even to landfill.

[This was my big revelation. When I visited a recycling centre (technical name: Materials Recovery Facility or MRF) in Perth in 2012, I was told that the only glass processing facility was in the next State – and this is still true in 2015. To drive a truck there with a load of glass that might be rejected for contaminants was an expensive risk, and the price of glass was too low to employ hand pickers to ensure there was no contamination, so this MRF chose to send all its recyclable glass to landfill.]

Recycling doesn’t always mean Recycled

Knowing whether something is recyclable or not is actually straightforward. One reason is that just because something can theoretically be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it will be, and every council has different rules about what it will accept.

For example, the bioplastic PLA is recyclable, but it is hard to sort without specific technology and most recycling plants don’t have this, so it is not recycled. In fact, the difference in recyclability of all plastic varies wildly from council to council, and country to country. Even moving suburb can mean a whole new set of rules apply! (You can usually find the details of what your council will and won’t accept on its local website.)

Even if you check your council listings meticulously, there is still a chance that your recyclables won’t be recycled. One reason is how they’ve been sent to the MRF. If you’ve bagged your recycling neatly, chances are it won’t be unbagged at the other end but sent to landfill instead. Ditto if you’ve left any liquid in bottles, or left the lids on.

But let’s assume you’ve done everything exactly as you are supposed to. Great…but what if your neighbour hasn’t? Or the guy at the end of your road? People chuck all kinds of things into recycling, and it can contaminate the whole truck and mean the whole consignment gets landfilled. Car batteries, duvets and pillows, even loose shredded paper can contaminate whole loads.

Recycling MRF Perth WA

Recycling isn’t pretty…and when everyone’s waste gets mixed together in a huge truck, chances are there will be some contamination : /

It’s not necessarily that people are deliberately doing the wrong thing, either. Recycling can be confusing! I can confess to putting light bulbs into recycling because hey, they’re glass! I didn’t know any different! Now I know, yes they are glass, but it’s heat resistant glass that melts at a different temperature to regular glass like wine bottles, and isn’t going to do the recycling process any favours!

If not Recycling, then What?!

I want to be clear that I still recycle. Of course I recycle! However my goal is to recycle as little as possible. We have a wastepaper bin which we use as a recycling bin, and we fill it every couple of weeks. We have paper (often mail), paper receipts, the community newspaper and beer bottles.

We don’t buy plastic so we never have any to recycle, although we do accumulate small amount of soft plastic over time, and I usually take a small ball to the soft plastic recycling point about once every six months.

Recycling bin

This bin (loosely packed) get’s filled every one / two weeks with recyclables… less if my husband decides not to buy any beer!

plastic waste

This photo was taken in September 2014, and was the third stash of plastic we collected since January that year. Soft plastics can be downcycled, but I’d rather eliminate them altogether!

Instead of recycling, I try to bring as little waste as possible through the door. Bringing my own produce bags, cloth bags for bread and reusable shopping bags to the shops, buying in bulk, cancelling junk mail and buying second-hand items rather than new has seriously cut down the amount of packaging we throw away.

Everyone knows the manta “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but we tend to focus on the last one – “Recycle” – when it’s far more environmentally responsible to focus on the first one – “Reduce”. Or add another in front – Refuse!

Recycling is a great place to start in the journey to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s a terrible place to stop. After all, we can’t recycle our way to a more sustainable planet! We need to be just as responsible about what’s entering our house as we are with disposing of it afterwards!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you have a love-hate relationship with recycling? Are there any frustrations you’d like to share? Or do you embrace it with open arms?! Has your opinion changed as you’ve gone on your sustainability journey? Have you ever been to a recycling plant and what surprised you about what you saw? Do you have anything else to add? Whether you agree or disagree I’d really like to know our thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

8 Tips for making this Plastic Free July the most successful ever!

I love June and July, because every year during these two months a tide of plastic awareness starts sweeping across the globe. Why? Because people throughout the world start signing up for Plastic Free July, and there’s a wave of optimism, hope and enthusiasm that comes too.

It doesn’t stop there though… all that energy turns into discovery, realisation, commitment to change and then action. New habits are born. People start using less plastic, and for many, they keep on using less plastic long after July has passed. With every year, the plastic-free movement gets stronger!

If you’re not signed up to this year’s Plastic Free July challenge, or you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, stop everything and sign up now. Yep, right now. It won’t take long. Just click here. We’ll wait for you to get back.

Done? See, that didn’t take long at all!

(I should add at this point that we’re not saying that all plastic is bad. We’re just saying that a lot of plastic is unnecessary, and actually avoidable. The truth is, we get stuck in the habit of doing things a certain way simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them, and we’ve never really given much thought to the notion that actually there’s a better way. By better, I mean a way that doesn’t involve drilling oil out of the ground, turning it into plastic, shipping that somewhere and using it for a few minutes before sending it to landfill, where it will languish for the next 500 years.)

Plastic Free July – the countdown begins!

Now you’re all signed up and ready to go, you’ve got two weeks to prepare and get organized. Plenty of time! Just to make it that little bit easier though, I’ve written a quick guide to help you get started.

1. Think about the Big Four – plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups (and lids), plastic bags and straws

Top 4 Plastic Bags, Disposable Cups, Straws, Plastic Water Bottles

These four items are big contributors to plastic pollution, and all of them can be avoided.

  • Equip yourself with a reusable water bottle, or re-purpose an old bottle you already have. If you don’t like drinking water from the tap, invest in a water filter.
  • Start bringing your own reusable coffee cup if you get takeaway. You can buy stainless steel, glass and ceramic reusable coffee cups, or you can just repurpose an old glass jar or even bring your own mug! Another option is to commit to dining in, so you can make use of the cafe’s cups and mugs.
  • Bring your own bags! Almost every household has reusable shopping bags, and even if you don’t you can use a backpack or rucksack, or make use of plastic bags you already own. Re-use an old cardboard box if that works better for you. The trick is to remember to take them with you! Put them by the front door, in the front of the car, stuff one in your handbag, hang one from your bicycle handlebars – put them wherever you’ll see them so you remember to pick them up as you leave for the shops!
  • Get in the habit of refusing straws. It’s possible to drink most drinks without a straw, so remember to ask for no straw when you order. For those that you can’t drink easily without a straw (frozen drinks and fresh coconuts, for example) you can buy reusable stainless steel, glass or bamboo straws.

2. Do your research – check out your local area for plastic-free shops and markets

You probably go to your regular shops out of habit, so you may not be aware of all the other options available to you. Is there a local Farmers Market close by? A butcher, bakery, deli or fishmonger? An independent fruit and veg shop? Typically these will use less packaging than the supermarkets, but are also usually more open to discussing using less plastic. Health food stores often have bulk sections, even if they are small, and are worth investigating.

3. Start the conversation

  • Talk to local producers, sellers and stallholders. Explain what you are doing. Find out if they are happy for you to bring your own containers, or to package their items differently. Most people are happy to help! (When my mum signed up for Plastic Free July, she sheepishly went to her local butcher and explained that she wanted to start bringing her own containers, but she wouldn’t trouble him if he was busy. His response? He was spending nearly £8,000 a year on plastic single-use packaging, and was more than happy for her to bring her own containers – in fact it would be even better if he was busy, as she might encourage others to bring their own containers too!)
  • Talk to friends and family. Explain the challenge, and what you’re trying to do. They may have ideas on how to help, they may want to sign up too…at the very least they will have a better understanding of what your goals are!

4.  Find your community and join in!

Everyone needs a support network to stay motivated! Plastic free July is happening in over 30 countries, and growing all the time, so see if there are any events happening locally near you. If there’s nothing nearby, seek out your community online! There are many blogs such as this one to seek out ideas and tips, and also Facebook groups to share frustrations, ask questions and celebrate wins.

If you can’t find a local Facebook group consider starting you own! (I started the Perth Zero Waste and Plastic-Free Facebook group for exactly this reason, and it now has over 8,000 members. I’ve written about how to start a Plastic-Free/Zero Waste Facebook group here.)

5. Audit what you buy

The weeks before Plastic Free July are a great opportunity to look at the kind of things you regularly buy. Look at the items that use the most plastic, and start asking questions. Is there an alternative packaging option like paper, glass or even packaging free? Is this something you could go without, or switch to an alternative? Is this something you could buy in bigger pack sizes (so reducing the overall packaging)?

6. Get out the cookbooks!

We tend to cook the same few meals week in, week out because we get stuck in the habit. You don’t have to be a master chef to take part in Plastic Free July, but being open to new ideas does help! If you don’t have any cook books look on Pinterest, Google, borrow from a friend or the local library. Find recipes that match your skill level with ingredients you know you can find plastic-free. It will make your Plastic Free July experience much more enjoyable!

7. There’s no need to buy new stuff

Sure, there are things that make plastic-free living a lot easier, but there’s no need at the start of your journey to rush out and buy a whole heap of new equipment. It’s easy to feel like we’ve made progress because we’ve gone shopping and bought some shiny new gear, but Plastic Free July is about changing habits, and that comes from doing, not buying. If you feel that a new reusable coffee cup or new water bottle will help then that’s great, but it is also possible to get through the month making do with what you already have.

8. Remember – new habits take time to establish

Chances are, if you’re new to Plastic Free July, you currently use quite a lot of plastic. The good news is that it is possible to reduce this to virtually zero! The less good news is that it isn’t going to happen overnight. Change takes time. New habits don’t form instantly. Sometimes it can be a struggle. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Don’t feel disheartened if you have setbacks, because we have all been there! It took me 18 months to go completely plastic-free. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination!

 Looking for More Ideas?

Looking for more tips, tricks and inspiration? I’ve written a number of eBooks about living with less plastic, including the guide “That’s A Wrap: Tips, Tricks and Inspiration for Living Plastic-Free” to help you if you are just starting out on their plastic-free journey, or if you’ve already started but are hoping to reduce your plastic use even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve taken part in Plastic Free July before, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Are there any other resources you’d recommend? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them? If you’re new to Plastic Free July, do you have any concerns or worries? Is there anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

The Magic of Making Ripples

Even the smallest actions can have bigger impacts than we realise. It’s true. When I first came across the challenge of giving up plastic for a month back in 2012 (I’m talking about Plastic Free July) I had no idea just how much this decision would change my life. I had no idea that a world of new discoveries, challenges and opportunities was about to open up before me.

After all, at the time it seemed that all I was signing up for was refusing a few plastic bags and avoiding single-use plastic-packaged groceries!

Plastic Free July changed everything for me. It challenged many things that I’d just accepted to be true, and behaviours I’d simply accepted as the way that things were done. It changed the way I saw the world. It changed the way I saw the problems in the world. It made me realise that change began with me.

It made me act. I slowly cut plastic out of my life, and in doing so I discovered a thriving local community, made many new connections with like-minded people, improved my health, began supporting local businesses and really started living a life that was in line with my values – and felt much happier for it, too!

Plastic Free July ignited a passion in me that has never gone out. The first six months were very much a personal journey, but as new habits formed and the challenges of living plastic-free lessened, this energy and enthusiasm has transferred to something bigger. Now I’m trying to educate and inspire others to think about their own personal environmental impact, and live more sustainable lifestyles, through writing, public speaking and running workshops.

I’ve been running one of these workshops (focusing on sustainable living) over the last six weeks, and last week was the final session. It’s been a great few weeks with a group of inspiring and enthusiastic people, and so rewarding!

At the end of the course I asked the participants to share all the changes they’ve made so far, or are planning to change soon. Here’s what they wrote:

Living Smart Goals

This is the kind of response that makes it all worthwhile! People feeling inspired to make positive changes, and taking action!

In addition, just after the course ended one of my participants sent me an email… “just a quick email to let you know we really enjoyed the course and we have made some positive changes because of it. I have also attached a photo of a letter that got published by our local rag, the Midland Echo. Its not one of my best but l think it makes the point… If someone replies to it, we can keep the theme rolling for a few weeks and perhaps broaden the debate out.”

Here’s the letter:

Dave Knight Letter to Echo Plastic

When I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012, I had no idea that as individuals, we really do have the power to make a difference. That is where my real inspiration has come. It’s so rewarding to work with people and support them in making changes to their lives, and to witness the satisfaction that comes with these achievements.

Reading these lists filled me with gratitude that I’ve been able to share a message that is important to me, and that the people I’ve shared it with have been inspired to take that message and make it their own.

I realised something else from looking at these lists. Thinking about it on a personal level, in some way, small or otherwise, I have influenced all of those behaviours. To have that kind of influence is a powerful thing.  But of course, we all have that kind of influence. We usually don’t get to see lists of all the things that we influenced, but nevertheless, everything we do has some kind of influence on someone else.  Everything we do has an impact beyond ourselves, even if we don’t always realise.

Our actions are like ripples, that extend out and reach others in ways we don’t always know or see.

Whether it’s the conversations we have with friends or at the checkout when asked if we need a plastic bag, whether it’s the blog posts or articles we write that others read, whether it’s the way we behave when we pick up litter or choose to use a reusable container in public… There are others around us who are observing, watching, listening, and thinking.

It may be the people we know, or it may be the people we simply have a chance encounter with. The things we choose to do, or say, will have an influence on others. Know that whatever you do, you have the power to make a difference.