Have you reached “Peak Stuff”? 6 Tips for Letting Go

This time last year, the head of sustainability for Ikea announced that we’d reached “peak stuff”. (Interesting, then, that rather than shut up shop and consider a job well done, Ikea plan to double sales by 2020.) For many years, in the weeks post-Christmas, I’d feel a little like that myself. I’d have a heap of new stuff, but I’d still have all the old stuff sitting there too – and much of it was still perfectly usable.

I’d definitely reached peak stuff – but what to do about it? What about the waste?

Too much stuff creates clutter and stress, but it took me a long time to realise that too much stuff is also a huge waste of resources. Anything we own and don’t use is a waste. I was kidding myself thinking that I was reducing waste by keeping stuff that I might use at some point in the future (but probably wouldn’t).

And so, I learned to declutter. Decluttering does not come naturally to me, but with practice, it becomes infinitely easier. The most important lesson is to be honest with yourself. Forget about what others think, what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, and ask yourself truthfully: Right now, do I really need this?

1. The Meaning of the Gift is in the Giving

People give gifts because they want to show their love and appreciation. That is where the meaning is. Some people need to give gifts to express their feelings. Some people enjoy giving gifts to others. Those are their needs, and they have nothing to do with you, and nothing to do with the stuff.

Receiving a gift doesn’t mean that you need to keep the gift if you don’t want it, don’t like it, or don’t need it. Be grateful and thankful that you have been given it, and appreciate the sentiment. That is enough.

Of course, you don’t need to tell them that you don’t like the gift, or that you gave it away. There is no need to offend anyone. People rarely remember what gifts they gave others.

Often we hold onto things because we think someone will be offended if we give it away, but it is likely that they have already forgotten.

2. Will it Really be Useful?

Will the gift really be useful? This isn’t the same as “might be useful” or “I can think of an occasion which could happen where I might have a use for this”.

If it isn’t going to be useful right now, or in the foreseeable future, then keeping it is a waste. There is someone out there who needs what you have, and will use it, and it is far better to pass it onto them.

3. Just in Case is not a Reason

I used to keep so much stuff “just in case”. I’m not talking about lifesaving equipment here, I’m talking about random kitchen gadgets and trinkets and other stuff. You never know, we might need to de-stone cherries or translate a Russian sentence in the future, but keeping things for all possibilities just isn’t practical.

I have given away things and later I have thought, ah, if I still had that, I could use it now. A really thick jumper on a very cold day. A can opener when I needed to open a can for the first time in two years and it didn’t have a ring pull.

But I never went to the shops to buy a replacement. Sure, I could have used these things, had I still owned them, but I made do without. I guess I didn’t really need them after all.

4. You Rarely Need Two

The trouble with choosing gifts for the person who has everything is that: they already have everything. Often the presents tend to be a better version of something they already have, or a second one.

But if there is nothing wrong with the first one, there is no need for a second.

I used to struggle with this. I knew the first one would wear out/break eventually, and then the second one would come in useful. But I never knew how long this would take – it could be years. In fact, sometimes it was years, and the shiny new replacement was already old by the time it actually got used.

It would have been much better to wait until I actually needed a replacement, and choose something that I liked and was useful for me now, not the me of several years ago.

Sometimes the opposite would happen. The new one would make the old one look tatty, and the tatty one would be cast aside in favour of the new (there’s a name for this: the Diderot Effect). Only, I’d know that the old one wasn’t life expired, so I’d keep it for when the new one wore out. It would languish in a back cupboard, taking up space, making me feel guilty, and going unused.

Now, I’m much more ruthless. If I need one, and I have two, I make the choice straightaway. Do I keep what I have, or do I keep the new one? One stays, and the other goes. Because keeping both is a waste.

5. Is it You…or Is It Fantasy You?

I used to get confused between me, and fantasy me. Fantasy me wore neon pink high heels. Fantasy me was a clothes size smaller than I was. Fantasy me was going to learn Russian. Fantasy me was the crafty type.

I liked the idea of being many things, and doing many things, but some of them weren’t real me. Letting go of fantasy me was actually a relief. There are already so many things that I want to do, and I don’t have time for them all.

Allowing myself to let go of fantasy me has given me more time and space to focus on the things that I’m already doing, or the ones I really want to do. It’s reduced my expectations of myself and made me less stressed.

6. What is the WORST That Can Happen?

Getting rid of something you don’t want, don’t like, and don’t need – what is the worst that can happen?

The person who gave it to you might find out. They might be offended, but that is probably more about their realisation that they made a poor choice. They might be upset, for the same reason. They might decide not to buy you anything in future (if you’re giving their presents away anyway, that might not be a bad thing).

You might have to tell a white lie. You may be asked where the gift is, if you’ve used it yet, or whether you are willing to lend it back to the giver. Of course, you can tell the truth, but if you don’t want to hurt any feelings it may be better to avoid this. I left it at work. I lent it to a friend. It broke.

You might realise that you actually needed it after all. The likelihood of this happening is tiny, but yes, it could happen. In which case, you’ll need to get a replacement. You can probably pick one up second-hand, and you may even be able to borrow one. Worst case you’ll have to go to the store and buy one.

Worse things have happened.

For many of us, letting go isn’t easy. We ties our hopes and dreams and aspirations up with our things, or we worry about the waste (be it the waste of resources, money ,time or effort on behalf of the giver). We let our emotions and concerns and fears control how we treat our stuff. That’s a lot of baggage to let go of. But underneath all of that we know the truth. The truth as to whether we really need it and we will really use it. If you feel that you’ve got a little too much stuff, ask yourself truthfully – are you telling yourself any of these excuses? For many of your things, the answer may be no. But it’s likely that for some of these things, the answer will be yes.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other tips you’d like to add to this list? Which is your favourite? Are there any that you struggle with? Which is the hardest for you to resist, and which is the easiest? Do you disagree with any of them? Do you have any other thoughts on letting go and peak stuff? I’d love you to be part of the conversation so tell me what you think in the comments below!

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

bedroom-bed

The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

desk

The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

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Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

sofa

Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

old-sofa

Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below!

How to Compost for Zero Waste Living Without a Compost Bin

When I gave up plastic, I quickly noticed that the only thing going into my rubbish bin was food scraps. Take out the plastic, and food waste is pretty much all that’s left. Glass, paper, cardboard and metal are commonly recycled, so these would go in the recycling bin.

It’s not that I was throwing perfectly good food away. You wouldn’t catch me doing that! Food waste includes spoiled fruit and vegetables, the peels, the skins, the outer leaves, the cores, the husks, the seeds. The inedible bits.

Food waste makes up almost 40% of the average domestic rubbish bin. Without the plastic, it was nearly 100% of mine! I realised that if I could set up a system for dealing with food waste, my bin would be empty.

The thing was, when I began living zero waste, I lived in an upstairs flat without a garden. The good news is, we managed. There is always a way! There are actually plenty of ways to deal with food waste without having a garden or even a compost bin.

A Zero Waste Guide to Composting (No Garden? No Problem!)

1. Regular Composting

Zero Waste Plastic Free Gardening Homemade Compost Treading My Own Path

A standard compost bin requires a patch of soil or dirt about 1m² where it can be dug in. That isn’t a huge amount of space. Even if you don’t have your own garden, there might be a shared area where you can put one.

And if the reason you’re not composting is simply because you haven’t yet got yourself a compost bin yet… Well, get yourself on the local classifieds sites or Freecycle immediately! There is no time to lose ;)

Suitable for: anyone with a small patch of dirt.

Not suitable for: apartment dwellers, those with no outdoor green space.

2. A Rotary Composter

rotary-compost

A rotary composter is a compost bin suspended on a frame, making it useful for small spaces and paved surfaces. They are also called barrel composters and spinning composters. They are often more expensive than regular compost bins, and it is worth paying extra for one that is well designed and sturdy. They can be difficult to turn when full, particularly the larger ones, so bear that in mind before choosing the XL model. Read reviews to find a model that suits your needs.

Suitable for: anyone with a balcony, yard or space outdoors.

Not suitable for: people with back or strength issues (who may find turning it hard).

3. Neighbours with Compost Bins (or a Garden)

You might not have a garden, but what about your neighbours? Would they mind if you put a compost bin on their land? How about family and friends living locally? It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it’s a great way to build good relations with your neighbours.

Alternatively, check out this great site Sharewaste.com, which lets you either find places to take your compost, or offer your compost bin to others. I’ve registered my bins!

Suitable for: anyone with friendly neighbours or friends/family with a garden.

4. Council collections

When I lived in Bristol (UK) I was lucky enough that the council would collect food scraps from my door once a week for composting. If you live in an area with this service, make use of it! If you don’t live somewhere where this happens, contact your council and find out if there are any plans to launch it in the near future.

(If your friends or family have this service but you don’t, maybe you can make use of theirs!)

Suitable for: anyone with a council composting collection service.

5. Collected Compost

This is similar to the council composting scheme, except they are run privately. Food waste is collected from your door and taken away for composting. Unlike the council services, there may be a small charge for these services.

Sometimes Farmers Markets offer this service, so you can take your compost waste to the Farmers Market.

Suitable for: anyone living in the catchment of a private compost collecting company.

Not suitable for: anyone on a tight budget who doesn’t want to commit to weekly collection fees.

6. Community Garden Composting

If you don’t have space to compost at home, and you don’t have neighbours, friends or family who are able (or willing) to help you out, community gardens are a great place to take your compost. Many are willing to take food scraps without the need for you to be a member (although being a member is a great way to support a local organisation doing good in the community). Find out where the nearest community garden is to your home or your place of work, and get in touch to find out how you can connect your waste with their bins.

Suitable for: anyone living or working near a community garden with compost bins.

7. Worm Farm (Vermicomposting)

Build a DIY Worm Farm

A worm farm is typically a box with air holes, drainage and a lid, and worms. Worm farms (also called vermicomposting) uses composting worms, which are fast growing and fast eating, rather than earthworms that you might dig up from your garden. They eat food waste and turn it into rich worm castings that is a great soil additive.

They are available for purchase (often in the second-hand ads) or you can make your own using waste materials.

Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors dependent on climate (worms don’t like the cold). If looked after properly they do not smell.

Suitable for: everyone, but especially apartment dwellers and those without a garden.

8. Bokashi

Bokashi Bin

Bokashi bins ferment waste rather than breaking it down. They are an indoor home composting system and can deal with all types of waste, including cooked food and meat/fish products. Inoculated bran is added to the bin to kickstart the fermentation process. The bokashi bin is sealed and does not smell.

Once filled the contents need to be dug into a garden or added to a compost bin, so access to outside space is necessary.

Find out more about bokashi composting.

Suitable for: meat eaters who have waste unsuitable for composting.

Not suitable for: anyone without access to outdoor space.

When we began our zero waste lifestyle, we started out with a single worm farm. That grew to two worm farms, and we added a bokashi bin to the mix too. Now we have a garden we still have the worm farms and the bokashi bin (although this is not currently in use) and have established not one but four compost bins! This means we have space not only to compost our own food scraps, but other people’s too :)

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you deal with your food waste? Do you compost, or have a worm farm, or a bokashi? Do you have all three?! Or none of them, and you do something completely different? Have you tried any of these and not got on with them? Do you need help or troubleshooting? Which one is your favourite? Any that you’d like to get started with? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Win an Argument about “Eco Friendly” Packaging

Despite the rather bold title, I’m really not out to start arguments. I’m definitely not out to pick fights. I’d much rather we all got along :) So what comes below isn’t actually about arguing.

It’s about helping others see our point of view when it comes to waste (and that includes eco-friendly packaging). “Eco friendly” packaging is something I get asked about a lot.

It seems that not a week goes by without me having a conversation with somebody about single-use packaging, and why it isn’t the wonderful convenience item that we think it is.

I do not know how many times I have been told by a helpful staff member when I refuse packaging that there is no need to refuse, because “it’s eco-friendly / we recycle / it’s biodegradable”.

I cannot count how often well-meaning friends have shared links about the latest and greatest edible or biodegradable alternative to single-use items with me, expecting me to declare the waste problem solved.

Five years ago, this was me. I thought that if it had “eco-friendly” printed on it (preferably in green and with a nice leaf logo), then it was eco-friendly. I was waiting for science to invent our way out of all of the world’s problems.

But then I looked into it. I started researching, and asking questions, and finding answers that I didn’t really want to hear.

And I changed my perspective.

I’ve put together some of the most common comments I hear and facts I’m told; here’s what I might say in response. They are talking points and things to consider. Hopefully they will help you have better conversations with others about why single use packaging isn’t as great as people think, even if it’s stamped “eco-friendly”.

And if the need arises, maybe even win some arguments ;)

A Word About Arguments

arguments-treading-my-own-path

We’re not really trying to win at arguments, we’re just trying to help others see things from a different perspective. There will always be people who disagree, and that doesn’t matter: some arguments aren’t meant to be won. Don’t try to convert the non-convertable. At either extreme of a point of view is everyone else, and these are the people to have conversations with. The people who want to do the right thing, but find the information available confusing. Maybe they put too much trust in others’ claims about their green credentials (that was definitely me).

  • Think About Where People Are Coming From.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. People who work in the packaging industry won’t love the idea of banning bags or disposable packaging. People who are busy, stressed and tired are far less receptive to new ideas and “help”!

  • Make it About Values.

Whether it’s the caring for the environment, protecting wildlife, helping others, embracing creativity or better health, think about the values that motivate people. People who are motivated solely by their own self-interests are not as common as you might imagine, but if you do come across somebody like this, walk away. You’re better off using your energy elsewhere.

  • Be nice.

Nobody likes a smart-arse, and nobody likes to be made to feel small. Simple things such as smiling, open body language (no crossed arms!) and using helpful language will all assist in getting the message across.

Winning the Argument About “Eco Friendly” Packaging

disposable-coffee-cup-treading-my-own-path

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the questions I’m asked and conversations I have most often. I’d love you to add your own (questions you’ve been asked and answers you’ve given!) in the comments at the end :)

“But the packaging is eco-friendly!”

If, by eco-friendly, you mean not made with fossil fuels, that’s great! However, how is using resources (whether paperboard made from trees, or bio-plastic made from growing corn) to make single-use items that will be used for minutes actually eco-friendly?

Especially when you consider the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and shipping of these resources?

If you mean “eco friendly” because it’s biodegradable, are you ensuring that the packaging is composted? Are you personally composting it, or arranging for it to be so?

Plus did you know that some biodegradable packaging is made with fossil fuels?

If it’s just heading to landfill, that isn’t much more eco-friendly than just using regular packaging.

“It’s biodegradable so it will break down in landfill.”

Landfills aren’t big compost heaps, they are big tombs full of waste that are sealed. They are holes in the ground that are filled up, covered, and left for eternity. Waste breaks down anaerobically and very slowly, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas).

Nothing is breaking down to create space and allow more waste to be deposited. No goodness returns to the soil.

It’s a one-way system.

“It’s compostable.”

Being compostable is great, but only if it’s being put in the compost!

If it’s heading to landfill, it isn’t going to compost. If it’s put in the recycling bin, it isn’t going to compost. And depending on whether it needs hot composting or cold composting to break down, it might not even compost in the home compost bin. I wonder, what are the composting facilities like in your local town/city?

“Wait…Isn’t this disposable coffee cup made of paper?”

Sure, it looks like paper, but actually it has a plastic polyethylene lining. If you think about it, if it was only paper, the hot coffee would seep right through!

Being a mixture of materials, disposable coffee cups are difficult to recycle, so are likely to end up in landfill.

“I can plant this biodegradable coffee cup / coffee pod / other single-use item in my garden and it will grow seeds!”

I have no idea how many coffees you drink in a week, or how big your garden is, but are you telling me that every time you drink a coffee you’ll be planting the waste in your own back garden? That seems like an awful lot of effort to go to!

You could always use a reusable cup or plunger coffee, buy some seeds from the garden centre, and save yourself all that digging!

(Unless you’re just slinging it out of the window and hoping that it seeds… but that sounds like littering to me.)

If it’s still ending up in landfill, sealed underneath a layer of rock, there will be no seeds sprouting – it is just too deep and not the right conditions.

“It’s okay… I will recycle it.”

Recycling is better than throwing away, but it is still hugely energy intensive and in no way a perfect solution. Recycling isn’t a virtuous cycle: products don’t get recycled back into the same thing. Plastic in particular is downcycled (made into something of inferior quality.)

Your disposable packaging is likely made from brand new resources, and recycling them won’t stop new resources being used to create more disposable products.

Plus… is the material is even recyclable in your local area? Theoretically recyclable isn’t the same as actually recycled.

“It’s made with recycled content.”

Recycled content – so no new resources? Or just less new resources? What recycled content are you using, and what is the source of the materials? How are you collecting these materials – are they local, or from interstate, or overseas? How are they transported?

Is it 100% recycled content, or are you mixing some virgin product in there too? What percentage is recycled product? Can the product be recycled afterwards? Will it be? (Let’s not be theoretical about this!) What about the packaging – is that 100% post-consumer recycled content too?

Of course, from a waste perspective, single-use but with recycled content is still single-use.

“Paper bags use three times the energy to produce than plastic bags.”

True, paper bags are more energy intensive than plastic ones to produce, but that isn’t the whole story. Paper bags are made from trees or wood products, which is a renewable resource, and can be sustainable managed.

They are also biodegradable, don’t create long-term litter problems and don’t harm or suffocate wildlife. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and last forever.

Of course, reusable bags are even better!

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is by no means an exhaustive list so let’s make it bigger and better! Tell me, what are the most common questions that you’re asked? What answers do you give that seem to surprise people the most? Is there anything you’re unsure about? Any claims you’ve read or seen that you don’t know whether to believe? Anything you’d like more clarity on? Are there any of these reasons that (like me) you used to believe, until you looked into it a little bit more? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

3 Zero Waste Recipes: DIY Cashew Milk, Homemade Almond Milk + Almond Pulp Brownies

Nut milk. The name sounds kind of ridiculous. But it looks like milk, has a similar shelf life, can be used in similar ways, and in many cases the nuts do actually have to be “milked”, so it’s easy to see why the name took hold!

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When I started out on my plastic-free journey, I bought cow’s milk that came in returnable glass bottles. But it wasn’t stocked in many places, so finding it was hard – and a bit of effort. Gathering those glass bottles together to return them meant a heap of clutter and a journey across town with them all (there was no deposit return either, only goodwill). Plus what to do with all those lids?!

I began making nut milk alongside dairy milk, because it was a lot easier to find nuts in bulk, and they have a long shelf life (they will last for months in a jar in the pantry, or even better, the freezer). I found nut milk worked just as well in baking, in porridge and in coffee, and I began to use it more and more.

Eventually I thought more about the impact of the dairy industry on the planet. Cows need a lot of water and land to produce milk, they produce huge amounts of methane, cause soil erosion, and the product has to be transported fresh, meaning a higher carbon footprint. Nuts use less water, the trees are beneficial for the environment, and the products have a long shelf life.

Nut milk seemed like the greener option. I decided to stop buying dairy milk altogether (my husband stopped too, but later).

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But of course, I don’t buy nut milk. Some commercial brands of nut milk are little more than bottled water! Alpro’s nut milk contains only 2% almonds, and the second biggest ingredient is sugar. Unnecessary packaging aside, shipping all that water across the globe seems like such a waste when we can ship dry nuts (or even better, use local ones) and make our own.

And I have to tell you, making your own is super easy. It requires no specialised equipment, and takes very little time. You’ll need a blender, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.

How To Make Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is my go-to milk because it’s the easiest. Cashews are already quite soft, so they do not need to be soaked for a long time. They also contain very little fibre, so there is no need to strain.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw cashews in water for a few hours or overnight. Rinse, and blend with 4 cups water. Done.

I tend to blend my cashews with 1 cup of water at a time, for 30 seconds, before adding the next cup of water. I find that there are less (no) lumps in it this way.

Makes 1.2 litres. Lasts 7 – 10 days in the fridge. It may get thicker over time, in which case add a little more water to it.

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Cashew milk works absolutely amazingly in coffee, too :)

How to Make Almond Milk

Almond milk is the most common nut milk, but it isn’t the easiest or quickest to make. That doesn’t mean it’s hard, mind! It just needs soaking a little longer, and also straining.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in water for at least 12 hours, and even 24 hours (change the water every 8 hours or so). Rinse, and blend with 4 cups of water.Now you need to strain.

I strain my almond milk using cheesecloth as it has a fine weave and is 100% cotton. Spread the cheesecloth over a bowl or jug, pour the milk over and allow the almond milk to drip through. Squeeze to get any remaining drops out.

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I bought my cheesecloth off the roll at a fabric store – it is very inexpensive. (Cheesecloth is not the same thing as muslin. Muslin has a much looser weave and the fibre all gets stuck!)

Alternatively, you could use a clean tea towel or old pair of tights, or even a fine mesh sieve. Before I had the cheesecloth, I used one of my mesh produce bags. There is absolutely no need to buy an expensive plastic nut milk bag!

Makes about 800ml, and leaves a cup of almond pulp. Don’t throw the almond pulp away! It will last in the fridge for a week, or freeze it. And then make chocolate brownies : ) (Recipe below).

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Fresh almond pulp (almond milk on the right). I use cheesecloth the strain, and scrape the excess pulp off with a knife.

How to Make Other Nut Milks

Other nut milks can be made in the same way, and most will require some kind of straining, although they won’t produce as much pulp as almond milk does. I’ve made macadamia milk (no need to strain), brazil nut milk and walnut milk.

Cheaper Nut Milk Alternatives

Nuts can be expensive. Increasing the ratio of nuts to water will make a more cost-effective milk, but will also dilute the milk. I tend to use the ratio 1:4 nuts:water but this could be increased to 1:5 or 1:6.

As well as nuts, you can also make plant-based milk with seeds, oats and peanuts (which are techincally a legume, not a nut). These work out much cheaper than nut milks. I’ve tried making sesame seed milk (not recommended – it has a very strong flavour!), pumpkin seed milk (which is absolutely delicious) and sunflower seed milk. Flaxseed milk is also popular, although I’ve never tried this.

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Homemade pumpkin seed milk :)

As above, the principle is the same. Soak, then blend 1 cup seeds with 4 cups water, and strain.

What to Do with the Leftover Pulp: Make Almond Pulp Brownies

This recipe has become my go-to almond pulp recipe. I’ve made savoury crackers, and macaroons too, but nothing beats chocolate-y goodness, so I always come back to this one.

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Ingredients:

180g sugar (I use rapadura sugar)
1 cup almond pulp, approx (the pulp left over from using 1 cup of almonds to make almond milk)
80g cocoa powder (I’ve used both cocoa powder and raw cacao for this – I prefer cocoa powder but it doesn’t really matter. You might want to add a little more sugar if using cacao, though)
1/2 cup (110g) coconut oil (I use deodorised as I find the coconut oil flavour a little intense in desserts)
9 tbsp aquafaba (chickpea water – effectively a waste product being put to good use. Find out more here!)
1/2 cup (60g) spelt or other flour
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup macadamias/walnuts/raspberries/chocolate chips/something else delicious
(or you could leave plain. But I consider all good brownies to need some kind of crunch)

Optional: a few tablespoons of cacao nibs and/or chopped nuts to top.

Method:

Line a square baking tin (if you use baking paper) and preheat the oven to 175°C.

Melt the coconut oil in a pan. Turn off the heat, add the almond pulp and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and flour, and mix well. Add to the pan and stir in. It might seem really dry at first, but it will incorporate. Once combined, add the vanilla essence, salt and walnuts (or delicious thing of your choice).

In a tall cylinder, whisk the aquafaba to form stiff peaks. (This will take longer than you think.) I use a stick blender with a whisk attachment and it takes at least 5  minutes of  constant whisking. Add the aquafaba to the brownie mixture in the pan, slowly folding to incorporate with as little stirring as possible.

This yellow liquid is what you get when you cook chickpeas and strain (and keep) the water

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Once incorporated, pour into the baking tray. Sprinkle the toppings on (if using) and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is dry.

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Best stored in the fridge if you don’t demolish the whole lot in one sitting.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made nut milk (or seed, oat or rice milk)? Which is your favourite? Which is your least favourite? If you’ve never made it before, is there something putting you off? Do you have any other alternatives to suggest? What about aquafaba – have you ever experimented with that? Are you just a little bit tempted to make these chocolate brownies?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!