Community Composting (+ Tips For Better Compost)

One of my favourite things about living with less waste is that there is never a single solution. There are always lots of solutions. Different options work better for different people and different situations, but there will always be a way.

In Australia, 40% of our landfill bins consist of food waste. Trimmed off bits, peels, skins, seeds, cores, outer leaves, shells, things we left in the fridge a little too long, bad bits, leftovers.

We toss this stuff in the general waste bin, and off it heads to landfill. Which, contrary to what many people believe, isn’t a giant compost heap. It’s a tomb of waste, sealed by layers of rocks (or sometimes layers of plastic) in between the layers of rubbish, and slowly releasing methane into the environment.

At the same time as we throw our food scraps in the bin, we head to the garden centre to buy plastic bags of compost to help our plants grow better.

We’ve got it all wrong!

So what can we do with our food scraps instead?

Before I moved to Australia, I lived in Bristol (in the UK), and I was fortunate enough to have my organic waste collected by the council every week and taken to an industrial composter. This isn’t an option where I live now (although some councils are currently trialing it).

Even if it was, I wouldn’t use that service now. I would rather keep my food waste (it is a valuable resource!) and turn it into something I can use – or donate it to someone else who can use it instead.

I’ve talked about some different ways of dealing with food waste before: DIY worm farms, done-for-you worm farms and bokashi bins. If you’re just starting out on the living-with-less-waste journey, setting up systems at home can take a bit of time.

As always, there’s a solution. Community composting!

For anyone wanting an easy beginner’s solution, or for anyone without the time or space to set up their own systems, community composting banks are perfect.

What Is A Community Composting Bank?

A community composting bank is simply a location where members of the community can go to deposit their food scraps.

(They are not necessarily called “banks”. I was thinking about this word, and whether it was better to use the word “hub”, “centre” or “facility”. A phrase popped into my head that I’ve heard many times before: “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. If compost is what helps us to grow food, then I think bank is the best word after all.)

The best composting banks are those with capacity to handle the scraps they receive; those with unrestricted access; and those that are managed/overseen by someone to check they are working properly, not contaminated or full of pests.

By “best”, I really mean “easiest to use”. That’s not to say others don’t work well too. Given the choice, I’d prefer to turn out to a facility that is open/accessible, has space to take my scraps, and isn’t infected with cockroaches.

I’d still come back if I turned up to find the place was locked, or the bins were full, but not everyone will. To reach the maximum number of people, things need to be as easy as possible.

The other important consideration is location. A 24 hour access composting hub on the other side of town is less practical than the restricted access compost bins just down the road.

As with most community initiatives, the more local, the more useful and likely to be used.

How We Set Up Our Community Composting Bank

I run a community composting hub together with my friend and neighbour. Originally, both of us listed our home compost bins on the awesome website sharewaste.com, a free-to-use service connecting people with food scraps with people with compost bins.

Around the same time, we started a Food Tree project on the land next to my house, planting 34 food trees for our community. We realised that these trees are going to need a fair bit of compost.

We had space for compost bins and we knew plenty of people in our community would be eager to donate their food scraps to our bins.

We started with two bins, and have now increased to five (all donated or sourced second-hand).

As people contact us via Sharewaste, we ask them to bring their food scraps here, and started making compost.

Managing A Community Composting Hub

As with everything, the more people who get involved with something, the more likely it is that things will go awry. With about 20 families currently emptying their food scraps into our bins, we started noticing more and more that things weren’t quite as they should be.

I should add that this is not the fault of the people donating their scraps. As the managers, it is our responsibility to make sure it is all working.

If people haven’t had compost bins before, there is no reason why they would know what is good and what is not.

There were a few problems that we had in particular.

Fresh food scraps going in whichever bin.

This meant all five bins would have fresh food scraps mixed into varying degrees of compost – frustrating when we wanted to dig out the ready compost and there’s a bunch of veggies in there too.

We realised that whilst it might be totally obvious to us which bin was the one for new food scraps, it certainly wasn’t clear to everyone!

Too many veggies scraps (too much nitrogen).

Compost bins need a balance of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen-rich scraps are anything green and fresh; carbon scraps are anything brown or dead. Veggie scraps are high in nitrogen. If the only thing being added is fresh green nitrogen-rich scraps, the bin will get stinky and attract flies and other pests pretty quickly.

For all of the green scraps added, some browns (carbon) need to be added too.

Food scraps not being mixed in.

A big mound of fresh veggies sitting on top of the compost pile will not break down nearly as well as those food scraps stirred in, because that is where the microbes are – inside, not on top! Not to mention that food on top will attract pests.

Too much carbon.

Less of an issue as most people are donating food scraps (nitrogen), but we did find one compost bin completely filled with shredded paper – and nothing else. Without anything else, that would have sat there probably for years, breaking down ever so slowly. In the same way as there can’t be too much green, there definitely can’t be too much brown.

Setting Up a Composting System That Works

My neighbour and I talked about all the issues, and how to reduce them in future. Community things need to be easy, and we felt a big list of rules would be overwhelming and put people off – which is the last thing we want!

We worked through the issues one by one, and have implemented a system.

Firstly, we decided that it was too difficult to expect people to figure out which bin was the one to add their scraps to simply by looking.

We decided instead to implement a linear system, where the scraps always go into one designated bin, and then we will move into other bins along the line manually.

(This means we can also check there’s nothing strange being added.)

We also decided that to make it easy for people to add carbon to their food scraps, we’d set up a bin solely with carbon so they could simply scoop some in afterwards.

Then, we added some signage and labels.

We wrote up the basics on a sign, weatherproofed it and secured it to a post.

We wrote a document with more tips and tricks (the stuff that we’d like people to know) and added a QR code to the sign, so if they have a question, they can check.

We’ve also secured the aerator/composting fork to the signpost (and explained in the sign what it is for) so that it is easy for people to mix their food scraps into the existing compost.

We painted labels on the two bins that people need to use. When in doubt, always label.

In short, we’ve tried to predict in advance what could go wrong, and then solve it before it happens. So far, it seems to be working well.

Looking for a Community Composting Hub?

If you’re feeling inspired to hook into an existing hub or maybe start your own, my first suggestion would be see who else is in your area via sharewaste.com. My second suggestion would be to contact your nearest community garden.

If both of these fail, consider whether you could set up a mini hub at your place. Even if you only have capacity to take a couple of household’s food scraps, it all helps!

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you currently deal with your food scraps? Do you like your current system or would you prefer something different? Have you any experiences with community composting hubs – both good and not-so good? Anything other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Toilet Paper That Builds Toilets? Yes, that’s a Thing…

If there’s one brand that’s consistently been with me since very early on in my plastic-free living and zero waste journey, it’s Who Gives A Crap toilet paper.

The thing about Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, is that it isn’t just about the toilet paper.

For me, it isn’t enough for a company to print a green leaf on their packaging and tell me it is eco-friendly. I want to know how; I want to know the details.

The more ethical, sustainable and environmental boxes that can be ticked, the better.

Who Gives A Crap tick a lot of these boxes for me. When they asked if I’d be keen to collaborate on a post because they are currently offering new customers a FREE TRIAL (yes, YOU get to try their toilet paper for free – Australia and the UK only) well, how could I say no?!

I use their toilet paper every day, and I recommend it to everyone who uses toilet paper.

 

Not to mention, it is a great opportunity to explain what Who Gives A Crap do, and why they do it (as well as why I think they are pretty great) – it’s about more than just selling loo roll.

(I was wondering exactly how long ago it was that I first started using Who Gives A Crap. They only actually started selling toilet paper in March 2013. Turns out, I placed my first order back in January 2014.)

Firstly, Let’s Talk Eco Friendly Toilet Paper

I started buying Who Gives A Crap toilet paper because it was plastic-free. It’s also made of 100% recycled paper. There’s plenty of recycled toilet paper out there, but finding a plastic-free toilet paper is surprisingly challenging.

Not buying anything in single-use plastic is very important to me.

Who Gives A Crap is plastic-free and 100% recycled, and they do not put inks, dyes or scents in the paper. As natural as toilet paper can be.

I order online (I order the 48 double-length rolls, which is the most toilet paper for the least packaging), and it gets delivered in a big box. Cardboard and loo roll, nothing else. (Oh, except a bit of sticky tape to seal the box shut.)

 

Even now, I still appreciate the “nice bum” comment printed on the box. Thanks, guys!

Each roll is wrapped in colourful paper (Who Gives A Crap have just updated their packaging – it was fun and colourful before, but now I like it even more.)

As someone who doesn’t do presents, opening a box of brightly wrapped toilet roll is about as Christmassy as it gets for me! Yes, I get my present-opening fix with boxes of loo roll ;)

(A quick note on the packaging – individual wrappers might seem wasteful, but actually it’s only possible to wrap a maximum of 6 wrappers in paper. It also needs to be thicker. With the individual wrappers, the net use of paper is the same, but it avoids any plastic, still protects the rolls from moisture, and looks fun.

You can read more about the decision-making around the wrappers, if you’re interested.)

In every box, there are three “emergency” rolls, wrapped in red paper. This is possibly my favouritist (yep, that’s a word) feature.

I can tell you, since switching to these rolls, I have never run out of toilet paper.

The trick is to pack the emergency rolls at the back of the cupboard though, so they are definitely the ones that are used last!

I can wedge most of my loo roll into my under-the-sink cupboard in the bathroom, but because it looks so good, I don’t mind having a few rolls stacked on the counter.

It brightens up the place!

I never put the wrappers straight in the recycling. Firstly, they are too pretty. Secondly, they are too useful!

I’ve used the wrappers to wrap gifts, but as someone who doesn’t do presents, this has limited demand. What I do with them instead, is use them to pick up dog poo. They are cut to the perfect size and strong enough for the task.

I actually tend to purchase this toilet roll 10 boxes at a time, by getting together with a group of friends and neighbours and splitting it up. Doing it this way means it’s much cheaper ($39 AUD a box rather than $48 AUD), and it also means there isn’t a truck driving round the suburb dropping off one box at a time to 10 different houses.

Even better, my neighbours then leave their finished wrappers in my letterbox, so I can use them to clean up after my greyhound too!

As for the toilet paper itself (it is easy to get distracted by the wrappers!), well, it does all the things that you’d expect toilet paper to do. It’s 3 ply, and as strong and absorbent as toilet paper should be.

Sometimes eco friendly paper can be so feeble that you end up needing to use twice as much, which rather defeats the point of choosing eco-friendly. Good news is, this is definitely not the case with Who Gives A Crap. A single square can meet all your needs ;)

Second, Let’s Talk Ethical Toilet Paper

Who Gives A Crap meet the eco-friendly toilet paper criteria for me by using 100% recycled paper (meaning not trees are harmed in the making of the loo roll); not using dyes, scents or inks on their paper; and not using any single-use plastic packaging.

However, their impact goes far beyond simply wrapping a few loo rolls in paper to skip the plastic.

Firstly, Who Gives A Crap donate 50% of their profits to their charity partners, to help build toilets and improve sanitation in less economically developed countries. The business was established to do something about the fact that 2.3 billion people do not have access to a toilet.

To date, Who Gives A Crap have donated over $1.2 million ($ AUD) to charities working in this field. As the company grows (and they now sell toilet paper in the USA and UK as well as Australia) this figure is only going to grow.

More toilet paper sales means more toilets built in places where people need them.

You can read more about how and why they donate to these organisations on their impact page.

(Alternatively, they do a pretty good job of explaining their mission and ethos on their toilet paper wrappers themselves.)

The other thing I love about Who Gives A Crap is that they are a certified B Corp. If you’ve not heard of B Corporations before, I like to explain it as similar to a Fair Trade certification scheme, except it is for businesses that manufacture goods rather than grow food, and use factories rather than farms.

B Corps explain it like this: Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.

What this means is that not only do Who Gives A Crap claim they care about the environment, people and the planet – they have actually invested in being independently audited and verified, to prove it.

Who Gives A Crap have been a certified B Corp since February 2016.

This is important to me, because many companies make great claims about their mission, but few are able to demonstrate how.

Whilst some companies are simply too small to afford the auditing and certification process, those that can – and do – are demonstrating commitment to positive change, transparency, and integrity.

Whilst Who Gives A Crap is an Australian company, they manufacture their toilet paper in China. I’m a big believer in buying local, but I also recognize that China is the manufacturing hub of the world. For me, being a registered B Corp is proof that Who Gives A Crap are manufacturing responsibly. (You can read more about their decision to manufacture in China here, as well as how they audit their factories.)

Personally, I choose to purchase from Who Gives A Crap because they are an independent, Australian grown company with a transparent commitment to environmental responsibility and ethics, who donate profits to good causes.

No company is perfect, but those that recognise their imperfections, explain their choices and always strive to do a little better next time will always get my vote.

In short, I’m a long-time fan of Who Gives A Crap toilet paper, and I’d encourage anyone looking for a plastic-free, sustainably sourced and ethical brand to give them a go.

>>CLICK HERE to get your free trial.

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Who Gives A Crap, whose toilet paper I have been using for the last 4.5 years, whose products I genuinely love and whose business ethos I wholeheartedly respect. I only recommend products that I think you, my readers, will benefit from and enjoy learning about. All words and opinions are my own.

How To Set Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

When my greyhound Hans moved into the house (in July 2016), it was important to me that I didn’t suddenly start using heaps of plastic, or begin sending stuff to landfill. There’s bedding, toys and food to consider – and also what to do with dog poo.

If a dog goes to the toilet twice a day, that’s potentially two plastic bags going to landfill every day also – not to mention the contents.

One of the first things I did was set up a dog poo worm farm. I’ve mentioned it before, but it is something that I get asked about often, so I wanted to take some time to explain the specifics.

I promise you, it isn’t hard. There’s actually very little to it!

Dog Poo Worm Farm Basics

Dog poo doesn’t go into the regular worm farm; it needs to go in a separate one. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, if worms have the choice between dog poo and banana peels and avocado, they are not going to be choosing eating dog poo.

Two, whereas regular worm farm castings (the nutrient-rich compost left by the worms once they process the food) can be used to grow seedlings and added to the veggie patch, worm farm castings stay in the ground.

This is because faeces may contain parasites and bad bacteria, so spreading it over the lettuce seedlings isn’t a good idea from a health perspective.

Of course, it’s possible to position a dog poo worm farm underneath a fruit tree so that the tree gets the benefits of all the nutrients.

I like the dog poo worm farm set-up (as opposed to digging holes in the ground every time there is something to dispose of) because there is one spot where everything goes. It’s contained and easy to manage.

As someone with a small yard, it is the perfect solution for me.

Setting Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

I’m a fan of the repurposed materials-and-no-cost approach. I’ve used a 20 litre plastic bucket that was donated to me by the bulk food store once the contents had been sold. It has a lid, which is very important.

I cut the bottom out of the bucket, and dug a hole in the garden big enough to bury the bucket so just an inch was exposed above the ground (enough to ensure the lid is secured).

I don’t bury the handle as it might be useful if I need to move the bin later.

Next, the worm farm needs a big old handful of composting worms. (These are different to earthworms in that composting worms are surface feeders.) The main types are Eisenia fetida, Eisenia Andrei and Lumbricus rubellus but what is actually available depends on where you live.

I just grabbed a handful from my regular worm farm. If you don’t have any to start with, check out community gardens, Buy Nothing groups, Gumtree or good garden centres.

The worms aren’t trapped in the worm farm as the bottom is cut out, so they are free to come and go, as are any other critters looking for some lunch.

The other thing that worm farms need is carbon. I add this by picking up dog poo using old toilet paper wrappers (conveniently ready-cut the the exact size I need) or newspaper. If you use some kind of scoop to pick up, just throwing in a few handfuls of leaves, or some paper or cardboard would be fine.

This bucket holds 20 litres, so eventually fills up. I’ve also seen these worm farms made with old flip-lid wheelie bins which are much larger (often it is possible to purchase broken or damaged ones – contact your local council to find out if they offer this service.)

When the bin reaches capacity, cover the top with soil, then pull out the bucket and replace elsewhere.

As the freshest and least composted poo will be at the top, consider setting up a second whilst leaving the first to continue decomposing. It will make for a more pleasant experience when removing and replacing the bucket.

Dog Poo Worm Farm – Do’s and Don’ts

Something really important to remember is that a worm farm contains worms, and worming tablets kill worms. If your dog has taken worming tablets, do not put dog poo in the worm farm for a couple of weeks.

I don’t regularly give my dog worming tablets (on the advice of my vet), and he gets a yearly heartworm injection (rather than tablets) which lasts for 12 months.

Personally, I’d avoid putting dog poo in the worm farm in compostable plastic bags. Even the ones that are certified home compostable take 6 months to compost, and that is in a regular compost bin, not a worm farm.

If you’d still like to give it a try, I’d suggest ripping the bags open before adding them to the worm farm, and be prepared to leave it “brewing” for several months once it is full.

Something else to bear in mind: composting worms will die in freezing temperatures (they are surface dwellers, unlike their cousins the earthworms, who will burrow for warmth). The eggs should survive. If you live in a country where it freezes in winter, bear in mind that your worm farm might need to be seasonal.

Thoughts About Cat Poo Worm Farms

I don’t have a cat, but I have several friends that do, and whom compost their cat litter. The main thing to be aware of is that cat poo commonly carries a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which cause toxoplasmosis in humans.

This means cat faeces needs to be handled even more carefully than dog poo.

Cat litter can be found made of newspaper pellets, wood shavings, which would both work great in a worm farm.

The volumes will be bigger so a 20 litre bucket might fill up fairly fast.

Can I Flush Dog and Cat Poo Down the Loo?

From what I’ve read the consensus seems to be that it is okay to flush dog poo down the toilet, but not cat poo (because of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite). However, the best thing would be to phone your local water treatment facility and ask them whether they are happy for you to do so, or not.

That way, you’ll know for sure – and if not, they should be able to tell you why not.

Whilst I know that dog poo worm farms might not be for everyone, they have been a great success for me. The smell is minimal (as opposed to the bins at dog parks, which reek), I have it placed in a convenient spot, and it is no extra hassle at all – except, perhaps, when it needs moving.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a pet – and what do you do with their waste? Have you set up a pet poo worm farm, are you game to try – or is it definitely a no-go for you?! What have your experiences been? Are there any other ways you try to reduce their waste footprint? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Personal Care and Cleaning)

I”m often asked about the various places I find different items or products without packaging or single-use plastic, and it occurred to me that I’ve never sat down and written a list of ALL the places and ALL the things.

It also occurred to me that creating a list like this would be rather useful. What kinds of zero waste and plastic-free things do I buy, and where do I buy them from?

Of course, if you live in Perth (which is where I live) then these lists will be extra useful as you will actually be able to go to the places I visit.

Even if you’re not a local, I want to give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source similar products in your own area.

Last week I talked about where I source zero waste and plastic-free groceries and food items in Perth. This week I’m talking about the other consumables: personal care products and cleaning products.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Bathroom and Personal Care Products

I have simplified my bathroom routine hugely since going plastic-free and zero waste back in 2012. I’ve cut back on all of the non-essentials (turns out, there were a lot of non-essentials).

I buy good quality bar soap (which I use in place of shower gel, face wash, body wash, hand wash) from Earth Products in The Vines, Swan Valley. I buy 1.3kg blocks which I cut myself (they cut like firm butter) as it is more economical.

Earth Products is a wholesale and retail skincare business, and the owner Marie is an absolute legend. Although technically she doesn’t sell bulk products, she is more than happy for me to refill my own containers.

She is also a huge wealth of knowledge and I’ve learned a lot about DIY skincare and how to use ingredients from her.

I buy all my essential oil refills, almond, rosehip and other oils, shea butter, coconut oil, vegetable glycerine, zinc powder, clay and all kinds of other ingredients here.

I tend to go once every 6 – 12 months and stock up.

Aside from soap, which I buy, I make all my other personal care products myself. Really, it’s little more than stirring together a few ingredients together in a jar. Sometimes there’s a little melting involved.

I make my own deodorant and toothpaste (I buy bicarb and tapioca flour from the Source Whole Foods). I either use almond oil in place of a moisturiser, or I make cold cream (which is beeswax, olive oil and water blended together).

I also make sunscreen (a moisturizer with zinc oxide powder).

I wash my hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. I use white vinegar, which I buy in bulk from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen 5% white vinegar).

I don’t actually use a bamboo toothbrush for my teeth (but I did buy one to brush my dog’s teeth!). Early on, I got fed up with the bristles constantly falling out and washing down the drain.

I found out about Silvercare toothbrushes, which have replaceable heads that can be changed every 6 months, and I switched to this.

I purchased my initial Silvercare toothbrush from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle and I also get the replacement heads from there.

The waste toothbrush heads and packaging can be recycled via Terracycle, and the closest hub to me is the Recycling Hub at Perth City Farm in East Perth.

I don’t use disposable menstrual products: I use a Diva cup, which is a silicone reusable menstrual cup. I’ve been using one since 2003 (I’ll write a blog post with more details about this in the coming weeks).

I also have a reusable pad that I use at night.

For hair removal I have an extremely old Gilette razor and I’m currently using up the last blade (purchased pre-2012, and I’m making it last). I also have an epilator whose battery is about to die (purchased circa 2010).

When these both give up the ghost I will switch to a stainless steel razor with stainless steel blades that can be recycled easily at metal recyclers.

This might be too much information (!) but I actually use tweezers to remove armpit air. I’m not ticklish and think my skin must be made of rubber, as I don’t find it painful in the slightest. I find I get a shaving rash with a razor. I appreciate that this might not be for everyone.

I purchase 100% recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, which is plastic-free and delivered to my doorstep. (I use the paper wrappers to pick up dog poo – they are the perfect size – and this all goes in the dog poo worm farm).

Zero Waste Cleaning Products

I don’t talk a whole lot about cleaning on my blog because cleaning is one of my least favourite things, and the less I can do of it, the better.

Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning

Let’s start with the dishes. I purchase dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically my local store The Source Vic Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house).

I have a wooden dishbrush with a replaceable head, a Safix coconut coir scourer and an import.ants bottle brush cleaner. I used to have a wooden pot brush, but once it wore out I chose not to replace it.

All of these cleaning products can be composted once finished with. The small amount of metal in the dishbrush handle can be recycled via metal recyclers.

There are two physical shops in Perth where I buy these things: Urban Revolution on Albany Highway in Victoria Park, and the Zero Store inside the Raw Kitchen on High Street, Fremantle.

(Another store I recommend – I’ve never actually made it to their physical shop but I have purchased things from their pop-up stalls at markets – is Environment House on King William Street in Bayswater.)

Yes, I also have a plastic dish brush, circa 2012, still going. It must be the longest living plastic dishbrush in history. I will use it until it wears out, be grateful that it has lasted, and whilst it remains in my kitchen not dwell on the fact that it’s fluro green colour (and plastic-ness) is mildly offensive to my eyes.

I also use bicarb soda (purchased from the Source Bulk Foods) for anything that needs a good scrub, such as burnt saucepans.

For cleaning cloths for wiping down the kitchen benches, I no longer buy cloths. Instead, I cut up old clothes, tee-shirts, towels: whatever is worn out. I prefer 100% cotton or natural fibres as these can be composted once they are too tatty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths tend to start in the bathroom, then migrate to the bathroom, then to the floors before being composted. Of course, they go through the washing machine several times during this process.

I tend to wash my counters down with water and sometimes dishwashing liquid. It seems to work fine. If there’s a stain, I scrub with a used piece of lemon to lift it (things like tea and coffee, typically).

Zero Waste Bathroom Cleaning

Most of the cleaning items I use in the bathroom started life in the kitchen. Cleaning cloths, my Safix scourer, old dishbrush heads: once these things aren’t suitable for dishes I move them on.

I use bicarb (from The Source) and 5% white vinegar from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle.

(Planet Ark in Fremantle sell 10% white vinegar for cleaning only, which I used when I had black mold in my damp flat several years ago. Generally I use the 5% vinegar, which is food grade and can be used for other things besides cleaning.)

I use a few essential oils for cleaning: tea tree, eucalyptus and clove oil. All are anti-microbial and clove oil in particular is anti-fungal and great for the shower. Bleach doesn’t actually kill mold, it just turns it white. Clove oil kills the spores. I put a few drops in vinegar and spray the tiles.

(My spray bottle is plastic. I’ve seen aluminium ones, but a reader told me that she stored vinegar in hers for a while, and the bottom fell out of it! I use the plastic one as that is what I have. I’ll try to fit the nozzle to a glass bottle if/when the plastic breaks.)

I also put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the toilet to disinfect.

Zero Waste Laundry

I purchase laundry powder from The Source Bulk Foods. I’ve tried soap nuts, and they seemed to work for me, but I just prefer buying laundry powder (and it is more convenient to purchase).

For stains, I simply dab some dishwashing liquid on the stain, then pop into the washing machine. Having tried several remedies over the years, I find this one the most effective and simplest.

I don’t use fabric softener (never have) although white vinegar is reported to be excellent for this – and a couple of drops of essential oil for scent.

Other Cleaning

I no longer have any kind of rubbish bin in my home, so I do not need bin liners. Any non-recyclable, non-compostable waste (of which there is very little, if any) goes directly outside to the rubbish bin. (I kept a waste jar for a year in 2016 as an experiment, but no longer do so.)

Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the kinds of purchases I make and how I use them, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your life. If you’re in Perth I’d encourage you to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, hopefully there’s something similar close to you.

(If there’s no local options, consider supporting an independent zero waste and plastic free business: I have put together a worldwide list of companies that care.)

When it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, I find that there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Groceries and Food)

This week I headed off on my six-monthly journey up to the Swan Valley, which is the other side of Perth, to stock up on some bulk products that I simply can’t get anywhere else.

It made me think: there’s plenty of places I talk about often, because I use them often (such as my local bulk store, or my local veg box delivery).

But there are other places where I source zero waste items that I talk about less often.

If I’m going to paint a complete picture, I thought it might be helpful to explain where I source ALL the things I use.

Of course, if you live in Perth, these lists will probably be extra useful! If you’re not in Perth, hopefully it will give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source products in your own area.

At the very least, it might open your mind to new alternatives.

There’s a lot to say, so rather than overwhelm you, I’ve divided it up into sections. Today I’m talking about zero waste consumables (food and grocery items).

I’ll follow up next week with a post about consumable personal and cleaning products, and then with non-consumables (the buy-me-once type items) in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: Dry Goods

This is the one that gets talked about all the time, because food runs out more quickly than anything else (well, it does in my household)!

Bulk food stores are where I source all of my dry goods (pantry staples like rice, flour, lentils, pulses) and my liquid products (tahini, soy sauce, macadamia oil).

Specifically, I purchase about 95% of my bulk goods from The Source Bulk Foods (my local store is in Victoria Park, about 5 minutes from my house). They have a great range, the store is spotless and they stock a lot of local produce (I particularly like the Australian-grown nuts and quinoa, but plenty of their products are also home grown).

There are a few groceries I don’t buy from the Source Whole Foods:

I buy vermicelli pasta nests from Swansea Street Markets in East Victoria Park (The Source Bulk Foods don’t stock regular pasta, only the gluten-free kind).

I buy wakame seaweed (a bit of an obscure ingredient) and white vinegar for pickling from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen them both).

I occasionally have a moment of weakness and buy a bar of good quality dark chocolate wrapped in foil and paper from a local grocer, or even (if I’m desperate! It happens!) from the supermarket.

I buy coffee from local coffee place Antz Inya Pantz in East Victoria Park, who roast their own beans.

I source honey from my neighbour, who keeps bees.

I collect olives from public trees with a group of friends every April, and press them locally to get a year’s supply of olive oil.

Zero Waste Grocery Shopping: Fresh Produce

The fresh produce that buy is fruit and vegetables, bread, and deli items like olives.

I no longer buy fish, meat or dairy products for my personal consumption. I do buy pet mince, chicken necks and chicken frames for my greyhound from The Butcher Shop in the Park Centre, East Victoria Park. This butcher (like many independently owned businesses) is happy to accept and fill my own containers. I use old yoghurt tubs I sourced from my local Buy Nothing group as I don’t mind if these get lost. I usually drop the containers off and they will call me once they have been able to fill them for me to collect.

I have a homegrown veggie patch, which provides some of my fruit and veg – dependent on how much time I have and how much I can put into it. I’ve always got herbs (mint, parsley, oregano, thyme, coriander in winter and basil in summer), there’s always some kind of greens, capsicums, chillis and sweet potato.

There’s also a few fruit trees. Lemons are available almost all year round, there’s a passion fruit vine and at the moment, guavas and kumquats.

I order a veg box once a fortnight from The Organic Collective, based in Hamilton Hill, which is delivered direct to my doorstep.

I top my veg box up with fruit and veg shopping at Swansea Street Markets in East Victoria Park, who have an excellent range of loose produce (including fresh herbs, peas and beans, salad leaves and other harder-to-find items).

They also stock a lot of West Australian and Australian produce, and label their Country of Origins properly.

My friends have a market garden and fruit orchard, and run the Guildford Food Hub (in Guildford) on Saturday mornings. I sometimes get fruit from them.

I occasionally pop into the supermarket to top up things like onions, avocados and mushrooms.

Swansea Street Markets also has a great deli counter. I occasionally buy olives and other antipasto type things from here, using my own jars (which they happily weigh before they fill). They also sell cheese and cold cut meats.

If I’m in Fremantle, Kakulas Sister has an excellent deli counter also, and are happy to tare and fill containers.

I don’t go to the Farmers Market regularly, but when I do I look out for what’s in season: boxes of strawberries, boxes of tomatoes, loose cherry tomatoes and other hard-to-find-without-packaging items.

My two favourite markets are the Subiaco Farmers Market (open on Saturday mornings) and the Growers Green Farmers Market in Beaconsfield/South Fremantle (open on Sunday mornings.

If I’m at the Farmers Market, I always buy bread. My favourite Wild Bakery has a stall at both Subiaco and Growers Green. Otherwise their actual bakery is located in South Fremantle. I pop in when I’m in the area, or ask my friend who lives around the corner to pick up a loaf for me if we are planning to meet.

I also buy bread from my other favourite bakery Bread in Common (in Pakenham Street, Fremantle).

As neither are local to me, I tend to buy two loaves at a time and freeze one. If I run out, I don’t eat bread until I stock up again. There are other bakeries close to me, but I really like good bread, and the others just don’t compare.

I also make my own bread, but that tends to be a little seasonal.

Something that I buy as a treat occasionally is ice-cream. There’s an amazing ice-cream shop in Victoria Park called Pietro Gelateria, with a small-but-mighty vegan ice cream selection (most of their offering is traditional dairy ice cream).

One of my favourite things is the plastic-free ice creams on sticks, mostly for the novelty. I take a Pyrex to the store, they pop two in, and I bring them home for later.

 Zero Waste Groceries: Things I Make

I tend to make things if they are easy, far more delicious when made from scratch, and/or unavailable without plastic or excessive packaging.

Some of the simplest things I make are apple cider/apple scraps vinegar (literally an apple core, some water, a bit of sugar and some stirring), refrigerator pickles (a 10-minute job), pesto and hummus.

Back when I ate dairy, I’d make my own yoghurt (another ridiculously simple thing to make).

Things that take a little longer (but are oh-so worth it) are sourdough crackers and chickpea falafels. With falafels, I make a huge batch and freeze at least three-quarters. This also stops me eating the entire lot in one day.

Zero Waste Food: Takeaway

I rarely get takeaway. I prefer to eat in, and use real plates and metal reusable cutlery. I’m more likely to take home leftovers than actually order takeaway, and I always pack a reusable container when I head out, just in case.

I hope that’s given you some insight into the kinds of things I buy, and where from, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your own life. If you’re in Perth you might like to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, maybe there’s something similar close to you.

In my experience, when it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!