8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot! I’ve been very lucky that my husband has supported (and been actively involved in) our plastic-free journey since the beginning. Whilst don’t always see eye-to-eye about zero waste, our values are very much aligned.

That said, we have had our fair share of waste-related disagreements in our time! Plus there are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. In fact, if my mother is reading this (hi, mum!) she will probably be staring in disbelief and telling the computer screen that I am a total nag! But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

I didn’t marry my husband because of his awesome ability to remember his reusable bags on all occasions. I am well aware that he always strives to do his best, and his best might mean forgetting his reusable bags once in a while.

I married him for different reasons, namely because I love him exactly the way he is. It isn’t as if I am perfect! I shouldn’t let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between us and cause friction. I shouldn’t… but I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Make (Scrappy) Apple Cider Vinegar from Scratch

I love knowing how stuff works. Even though I can buy apple cider vinegar  from bulk stores locally, I want to know how to make my own. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment who wants to make everything from scratch ‘just because’. I think its important to understand where our food comes from and how its made. Making actual food out of “waste” food appeals to my love of avoiding waste. Plus of course, my inner chemist likes to play with her food.

Once I know how to make something, then I decide whether it’s worth the effort involved to keep on doing it, and how easy/affordable it is to buy. I don’t have time to make everything. I buy my pasta, and laundry powder. I make pesto and crackers and peanut butter.

Apple scraps/cider vinegar is such an easy and low effort thing to make that there’s just no reason not to.

Apple cider vinegar is made from the apple pulp left from making cider, which uses whole apples. Apple scraps vinegar is pretty much the same thing, but only uses the cores and skin of apples rather than the whole thing. The end product is pretty much the same.

Unless you’re making cider, I wouldn’t recommend using whole apples to make apple cider/scraps vinegar. It works just as well with the cores and peels, and you can use those apples for something else delicious. Making apple cider/scraps vinegar from the waste bits is much more satisfying!

I’ve made apple scraps vinegar a couple of ways, and I’ve included both methods below. One uses the cores and peels only, and the second uses the leftover pulp from juicing apples.

Frozen apple cores ready to go, and a previous batch of finished apple scraps vinegar.

 Apple Scrap Vinegar from Apple Scraps

Although I’ve given you quantities, they don’t really matter all that much. More apples will work more quickly, and make a darker vinegar than less, but don’t sweat it if you have different amounts. Try and see!

A couple of pointers before we start:

  • If you don’t eat a lot of apples, pop the cores (and peels, if you like to peel your apples) in a jar in the freezer, and wait until you fill the jar.
  • The sugar is to kick-start the fermenting process so don’t leave it out! 1 tbsp is adequate but I find it works faster with 2 tbsp. Honey should also work if you’d like a more natural alternative to sugar but I haven’t tried it.

Ingredients:

Apple peels and/or cores from 6-8 large apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

Method:

Part 1:

Pop the apple cores and peels in a clean glass jar with a wide neck, add the water and sugar and stir. Cover with a clean tea towel. The secret now is to keep stirring, whenever you remember. Any time you walk into the kitchen, give your jar a stir. First thing in the morning, last thing at night – stir!

You want to stir to keep it aerated, and to stop any mold growing on the surface. Fermentation works because the good bacteria/yeast/microorganisms win against the bad ones, so we need to keep conditions favourable for the good guys! With most ferments the aim is to exclude oxygen, but not this time. To make cider, the oxygen is excluded, but to make vinegar it is not.

Keep stirring your jar over a few days and start to notice how it changes. It may start to smell like cider, or like vinegar, or both. Bubbles will appear on the surface and maybe froth or scum. All of this is good! Once any trace of alcohol smell has gone, there are less bubbles,  and the apple pieces begin to settle and the vinegar will be ready for the next step.

Part 2:

Strain the contents of your jar into another clean jar (or a bottle) using a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Squeeze out the liquid from the pulp. (If you taste the pulp, you will find that it is completely flavourless.)

Now there are two options.

Option 1: Put a lid on your jar, and leave on the kitchen counter for a few days, opening the lid every day to release any pressure. If there’s any fermentation still happening, the pressure could build up and the jar might explode in your kitchen cupboard, so this is a safe option.

Option 2: If you can’t keep an eye on your vinegar, or you want a break, pop the bottle in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. I’d recommend loosening the lid so any gas can escape. It will ferment very, very slowly. When you’re ready, bring it back to room temperature to continue the fermentation.

Straining the spent apples from the vinegar. Cheesecloth is the best option but muslin or a fine sieve will also work – you’ll just end up with slightly more sediment in the vinegar.

After a week, taste your vinegar. If you find it sweet, leave on the counter to continue fermenting. Once you’re happy with the way it tastes, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

Apple Cider Vinegar from Apple Juice Pulp

This is a great way to use up pulp from juicers. Unlike the first recipe, this contains all the fibre and flesh of the apples, but with the water (juice) squeezed out. This means it looks totally different – but it produces the same result.

Ingredients:

Leftover juice pulp of 6 apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

The apple pulp from juicing 6 small apples. Don’t worry about the brown colour, it is simply the apples oxidising.

Method:

Pop the apple pulp in a large 2 litre jar, and add the water and sugar. The pulp will expand and absorb all of the water, and will look totally crazy and you’ll be sure you’ve done it wrong. In fact, I currently don’t have photos of this because when I tried it, I was sure it was going to fail! If it looks wrong, it’s right!

Stir. As above, stir, stir, stir. When not stirring, keep covered with a tea towel. Because the pulp is so fine, it is hard to see bubbles developing, but you will notice the smell changing to cider and then vinegar. Keep stirring. After 4-5 days (longer if the room is cold) you will notice the pulp start to rise and clear liquid will be visable at the bottom of the jar. Keep stirring to push the pulp down. Because the pulp floats, it may get pushed up out of the jar if you don’t stir.

Once the pulp is consistently floating, strain the contents of the jar into another clean jar using cheesecloth (or an old tea towel).

Leave the jar on the counter with the lid loosely fastened until content with the taste, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

A note about colour:

The colour will vary with each batch made, dependent on how many apples you use and how brown they are. I tend to find that using apple pulp makes a darker vinegar than using apple scraps; and that fresh apple scraps make a lighter colour vinegar than frozen apple scraps. Rather than use the colour as a guide, go by taste. You’ll be eating it, after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made apple scraps vinegar? Have you ever made cider? Do you have any tips to add? Did you struggle, and what went wrong? Are there any other pantry staples that you currently buy that you’d like to make? Are there any that you make already that you’d like to share? Have you ever tried any other fermentation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Sharing (+ the Sharing Economy)

There’s already a lot of stuff in the world. Dare I even say, too much stuff in the world. If manufacturers declared they would be making no more cutlery sets, or dining chairs, or cushions in the foreseeable future, it’s unlikely we’d be unable to eat dinner or get comfy. We’d make do with what we had, or use what already exists. We’d borrow, and we’d lend.

Sharing stuff isn’t new. Since the explosion of the internet and our increased connectivity though, this idea of sharing what we have has also exploded, because we are no longer restricted to the people we know. Technology has adapted to make it easier for us to borrow from and lend to complete strangers.

The terms ‘the sharing economy’, ‘collaborative consumption’, ‘peer-to-peer lending’ and ‘access economy’ are all used interchangeably when talking about this kind of lending, and the definitions are often confusing and contradictory. Personally, I don’t think the definitions are important. (But if you’re really interested ,this article does a great job of explaining.)

The premise is: you have something you’d like to share or give away, and you need to find someone who wants what you have; or you need something and would like to find someone who has what you need.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s peer to peer lending or if there is a company involved; if there’s money exchanged or if it’s free; whether it relies on technology to work or good old word-of-mouth; whether it’s for-profit or non-profit. It’s all sharing – making better use of time, resources and energy.

What is important to me, and anyone else interested in owning less stuff and creating less waste, is the idea of resource optimization. Getting the most use (and best) out of stuff that already exists. For people who are passionate about this, the explosion of the sharing economy has been great.

Global versus Local?

Global or local – which is better? I think it depends, and both have a place. If I travel to the other side of the planet, being able to find accommodation and travel easily is very helpful, so global networks work well. It’s unlikely that I’ll need to borrow a lawnmower whilst I’m there though, so global tool networks or general borrowing sites are less helpful. Global borrowing sites tend to be more focused around urban cities.

Global networks have bigger infrastructure and costs, so tend not to be free. Keeping things local means costs are much less. Local options are much more useful for meeting local people, reducing travel, plus building networks, relationships and community.

Many global share sites have launched to great fanfare, only to fold within a couple of years. The internet is littered with these stories. I think it’s a sign that in many cases, local is best.

Global Sharing Networks (The Ones I Use)

The few global sites I use are one where money generally changes hands. In these cases, having the security and reputation of a global network can go a long way in building trust.

Accommodation: Airbnb

Maybe the best known of the sharing websites, Airbnb is a global network allowing people to rent out their spare rooms and entire homes to travellers for a price. I like knowing that rather than homes sitting empty, they are being offered out to others.

Cost: Accommodation is charged per night. Fees apply to hosts who rent out rooms. Free to join

W: www.airbnb.com (if you sign up via this link, you’ll save $50AUD on your first booking.)

Accommodation: Couchsurfing

This is a global community of travellers offering their couches, floors and spare rooms to those wanting free accommodation, and also offering meetups and information about local events. I used it to both stay and to host back in 2008, but I have no current experience of the site.

Cost: free for basic membership (premium membership also available); accommodation is free

W: www.couchsurfing.com

Classifieds: Craigslist

This is the most popular classified list in the US, with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, items wanted, services, community, gigs and discussion forums. I’ve never used it as it isn’t popular in the UK or Australia, but I have used similar sites.

Cost: free to list most items; some goods free to buy, most have a cost

W: www.craigslist.org

Classifieds: Gumtree

The most popular classified site in the UK, this is a great way to pick up second-hand items, find a new home for your unwanted stuff. It also offers services. Although it’s an international brand, most sales are made locally via cash on delivery/collection.

Cost: free to list most items; some goods free to buy, most have a cost

W: www.gumtree.com.au (Australia), www.gumtree.com (UK)

Composting: ShareWaste

This website and app connects those with compost and food scraps to those with compost bins. It’s a fairly new app so whether it will stand the test of time, I’m not sure. I have registered my bin and as yet, no-one has used it. There was no-one registered within 400km of where we were staying whilst on holiday – and I cannot believe not a single person there had a compost bin!

Cost: free

W: www.sharewaste.com

Selling: eBay

This auction site allows users to buy and sell used goods, either by auction or for a fixed price. Most countries have their own eBay site, but if international shipping is offered, listings may appear across multiple sites, meaning there is access to a huge audience. It’s a useful way to sell rare or unusual items, but most items must be posted, so weight is a limiting factor.

Cost: free to join; listings may be free or a small cost, fees payable once an item sells

W: www.ebay.com (US), www.ebay.com.au (Australia), www.ebay.co.uk (UK)

Transport: Shiply

Shiply connects lorries and trucks already on the road with people who need things delivered (such as bulky things they’ve purchased second-hand on eBay). Shiply aims to make use of transport already on the roads to reduce carbon emissions. Users list their delivery request, and companies quote for the job based on their existing routes.

Cost: free to request a quote as a customer or join as a transport company; fees are payable if a quote is accepted.

W: www.shiply.com

Transport: Uber

Uber connects people with cars to people who want to go somewhere. It’s a peer-to-peer ride-sharing service where private cars are used in place of taxis. No cash is exchanged as all transactions are made through an app.

Cost: free to join; taxi services are charged to users.

W: www.uber.com

Local Sharing Networks (Ideas to Look Out For)

These are ideas rather than specific sites:  whilst the underlying principles are generally the same across the world for each idea, the companies, organizations and groups that run them are different.

Bike Share

Bikes share schemes differ from bike rental in being a much more casual arrangement, often for shorter periods of time, and with the option of picking up at one point and dropping off at another. Often these points are close to train stations, and are unmanned bays. The idea is to make bicycles available for people to take short trips as an alternative to car use or motorized transport.

Whilst not currently active in Perth, it is reported to be coming shortly. Currently these bike-share schemes operate in 172 cities in 50 countries.

Cost: varies, but is often free for short trips

More info here.

Car Share (Car Clubs)

Like the bike share schemes, car shares are like short-term rentals where the car is charged by the hour. They are useful to anyone needing a car on a short-term basis but who don’t need to own or even hire a car for extended periods. They work on a self-service model so there is no restriction with opening hours. Car-share schemes require users to join as a member.

There is currently no car-sharing service in Perth, but it is common in some parts of the world, with 1.7 million users reported across 27 countries.

Cost: membership fee and subsequent car hire fees

More info here.

Community Groups

These are groups of like-minded people, joined by a common interest. The common interest could be a hobby (gardening, fishing, beer brewing, sewing, art), it could be based on age or circumstance (young mums, working parents, retirees) or it could be based on a common interest (sustainability, politics). These groups are great to tap into for many reasons: to connect with others and share ideas; to gain access to specialist equipment; and to find or pass on second-hand items.

Cost: Some free, some with membership fees

Where to find: community notice boards, or Google search your local area.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are different to Facebook pages. Facebook groups are member groups where there is no news feed, but a discussion area where any member can post. (In contrast, a Facebook page is “owned” by a single person, team or organisation, and they control the news feed.) Facebook Groups are currently ad free. You request membership rather than liking a page, and may need to meet conditions to be accepted (like being located in the area). Groups can be public, closed, private or secret.

You need to be a member of Facebook to use Facebook groups, but there is a separate Facebook Groups app you can install on your phone. This means you can be a member of groups without actively using a personal Facebook page.

This is what the “Facebook Groups” app looks like on my phone, along with a collection of groups I’m currently a member of.

There are groups for everything you could imagine, and plenty you wouldn’t. Join the ones that appeal to you (you can always leave if you change your mind). If you see a great idea for a group but can’t find one in your area, start your own!

Cost: free

Library

Anybody who is not a member of their local library is seriously missing a trick! We use our local library to borrow books, DVDs and magazines, and occasionally use their printing services – which means we do not need to own a printer. All libraries are different, and not all services are free, but membership usually is.

What’s on offer: Books, eBooks, Magazines, newspapers, DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, internet and printing services, talks and workshops

Cost: Usually free to join, most services free, some incur a small charge

Where to find: check with your local council.

Specialist Libraries

These are usually community- or volunteer- run services, but may also be run by local councils. They lend specific items, such as tools and light machinery, gardening equipment, or toys.

Cost: Varies – there can be a membership cost, and often there is a small charge to borrow items

Where to find: check with your local council, or Google search your local area.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and new share sites pop up all the time. I hope it gives you some insight into the kinds of things out there, and encourages you to think about embracing this bold new world (and yet very traditional, centuries-old idea) of sharing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a sharer – and how do you share and borrow? Do you prefer to use global networks or local ones? Do you have personal experience of any of these sites or any of these ideas? Do you have any others you’d recommend? Have you had any bad experiences with sharing? Any stories to share? Are you involved with running or administrating a local sharing site, and how have you found it? How to you feel about the growth of these sharing networks – is it a good thing or a bad thing? Are you still undecided? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!