Choose handmade: 5 zero waste items you don’t need to buy from big box stores

It is much lamented here that, whilst I’d love to be able to sew and crochet and craft, the reality is that I cannot. What I can do is support those people who do, and do it well.

If I had the choice of buying something locally made by a person whose name I know, over buying something mass produced in a factory and sold by a faceless corporation, I’d always choose the former.

It isn’t always possible or within my budget (bespoke furniture is very different from handmade hankies!), but where it is, I always try to support local and independent.

When it comes to reusables, there are plenty of people making great items, (bonus – often out of upcycled materials) and with a real focus on reducing waste at every step.

If you’re looking for some reusables to help you refuse single-use packaging and reduce your waste, I’d really encourage you to think about supporting small and independent businesses first. I’ve put together this list to give you some ideas.

As you know, I’d never encourage anyone to buy anything they didn’t need, so please don’t see this as a shopping list. You might not need anything, and I’m definitely not trying to persuade you otherwise! Instead, see it as inspiration, and be practical about what you really need. The best reusables are always the ones that are actually used.

This post is a collaboration with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

Reusable Produce Bags

There are plenty of reusable produce bag options, and I find different styles work for different needs. Mesh ones are great because they are see-though (handy at the checkout) but they aren’t going to hold sugar, flour or spices!

If you’re looking for upcycled fabric, there are plenty of people making produce bags out of old net curtains and upcycled lace. If you’ve got the choice, I’d recommend finding a local seller (that way, the carbon footprint will be lower).

Image credit: Stella Stellina

Unpaper Towel

Full disclaimer: this is not something that I actually use. I used to use paper kitchen towel wrapped in plastic back in the day, but never thought to track down a reusable version when I went plastic-free and zero waste. I just went without. Nowadays I make do with old kitchen towels, and it works for me.

But I know lots of people love paper towel, and if you’re not willing to give it up altogether, I do think unpaper towel is a great alternative.

Some use cotton, others use fleece, some have poppers/snaps to keep them together, and of course all the sizes and ‘roll’ lengths vary, so think about what would be most useful to you.

Image credit (top): Marley’s Monsters

Image credit (bottom): Earth Kind Creations

Cleaning Cloths and Reusable Wipes

Continuing on the cleaning theme, there are plenty of people creating cleaning cloths and wipes out of repurposed fabric. (Sure, many are making products out of brand new fabric too, but my zero waste preference will always be old over new.)

If you don’t have old towels or other rags at home you can repurpose to make your own cleaning cloths, better to support independent makers than big pharmaceutical companies, in my view.

Image credit: Upcycled Creations CAD

Reusable Menstrual Pads

Reusable menstrual products are winners in every way: zero or very low waste, long lasting (meaning money saving) and much more comfortable than their single-use counterparts.

Reusable menstrual pads come in all shapes, sizes and absorbencies. Many will have a plastic PUL liner, but it’s possible to find completely plastic-free versions that even have metal poppers/snaps.

Image credit (top): Earth Kind Creations

Image credit (bottom): SnugglePot Cotton Pads

Natural Zero Waste Make-Up

I once attempted to make black eyeliner using a candle flame, a sieve and some almonds. It was very messy and my sieve took month to lose the charred evidence. Needless to say, I now prefer to leave to the experts.

Fortunately, there are two ladies making excellent products with natural ingredients and zero waste packaging: Danni from Dirty Hippie Cosmetics and Laura from Clean-Faced Cosmetics.

Both can send products without labels if required, will only send things like (bamboo) brushes if actually needed, and don’t use unnecessary plastic to package their products.

Image credit (top): Dirty Hippie Cosmetics

Image credit (bottom): Clean-Faced Cosmetics

If you’re in the market for reusables or zero waste items, the first thing I’d suggest is double-checking with yourself that you definitely need it, and definitely can’t make do with something you already have.

Once you’re sure it’s something that you need, check out local and handmade options and support small makers before you even put a foot in a big box store.

Tis the season of ‘stuff’: what to do with (and where to donate) gifts you don’t need

I know we haven’t actually got to Christmas Day yet, but I’m writing this now because plenty of gifts (and other things you don’t need) are given before Christmas Day. And if you can, passing it on before Christmas Day means it’s more likely to be wanted (and used) than if you wait until January, when everyone is trying to pass on stuff they don’t need.

Last weekend, I was given a Santa-themed gift bag with a couple of boxes of chocolates by my 92-year-old grandfather-in-law. Despite the fact he doesn’t like gifts himself and insists not to be given anything, he seems to like to give stuff, and every year I receive a similar bag of stuff.

First, I give the gift bag away. As soon as I get home. If I can gift to someone before Christmas, it will get reused immediately. Otherwise it’s got to face a year in storage where it might get bent, chewed or otherwise damaged, and then likely forgotten about anyways.

I almost always give the ‘treats’ away. They tend not to be things that I would eat, high in sugar, dairy and palm oil and covered in plastic. Depending on the year I’ve taken to workplaces, given away on Buy Nothing or donated to a Food Bank collection.

No, I don’t feel bad. People give gifts because they enjoy the act of giving. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep things I don’t want or don’t need. There is no obligation to keep things, and letting go of feeling like there is has been great for my stress levels and mental health.

Instead, I try to make sure these things go to places where they will be used.

If I know someone else wants and will use them, that is the best outcome – for me, for them, and for the planet. (It helps stop others buy new stuff, as they can reuse stuff that already exists.)

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

It’s definitely best to get rid of this stuff before Christmas than after. If you get something you don’t really like, you don’t need to think that you ‘should’ use it as a token gesture this year. Pass it on to someone who loves it and let it be appreciated!

Where to pass on items:

Facebook groups: including Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing groups, the Good Karma Network, Pay It Forward groups and no doubt plenty more.

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like

Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues: it’s worth mentioning to people you know that you have things they might want or need.

Gift Food Items

As well as all the places mentioned above, consider donating food items to Food Banks. you’ll often find deposit points spring up in supermarkets and shopping centres this time of year. If you can’t find one, here are some contact details:

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

If the item is something that Food Banks won’t accept, such as homemade preserves or a box of chocolates that you opened to try before deciding you didn’t like them after all, consider trying to pass on via a food waste app like

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

(Recent offers on my local Buy Nothing group include Red Rooster small hot chips, delivered by accident – sadly no takers but only because they went cold before anyone saw the post – and some half-eaten room temperature blue cheese, which was snapped up. Not. Even. Kidding. And good for them for not feeling weird about giving or receiving said cheese! Don’t be scared to give it a try!)

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

I often wonder how many gift sets like this are purchased and never used every year. But I probably don’t want to know. Rather than letting stuff like this languish in the bathroom for the next year, if you’re not going to use it, give it away.

As well as the options listed above, consider donating unopened toiletries to homeless organisations and women’s refuges. Bear in mind that refuges won’t list their actual addresses online, but they will let you know how to donate items.

If you’re in Perth, Ruah Community Services are currently in need of unopened toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Ruah Centre, 33 Shenton Street, Northbridge on Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 4:00pm.

If you’re not in Perth, a quick internet search will help you find a service local to you.

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but try to resist giving anything to the charity shop unless you know for sure (because you’ve spoken to someone who works at your local charity shop this week) that they want what you have. Charity shops get inundated with stuff in the three months after Christmas as everyone tries to ‘declutter’ their unwanted stuff guilt-free.

Thing is, who is actually shopping at the charity shop in January? Not most people. They just got a heap of stuff for Christmas!

The combination of more stuff than usual and less customers than usual is a recipe for landfill.

There are plenty of people who want your stuff and will be able to use it. Rather than hoping they will pass by the charity shop and spot your stuff in there, donate your items directly to those in need of them.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and giving. So give away what you won’t use, make another person happy, save some resources and take a little pressure of the planet. Wins all round :)

7 Tips for Ditching Junk Mail

A couple of week ago, a brand new Yellow Pages landed at my doorstep. {Shakes fist at all the unnecessary waste generated in creating and delivering a product I will not use, do not want and will put straight in the recycling bin.}

I’ve removed myself from the Yellow Pages register at every place I’ve lived in since I’ve been in Australia (that’s four addresses) and from places in the UK before that, but having just moved, I hadn’t quite got round to removing my self yet again.

However, I thought it would be a good opportunity to rally the masses (that’s you!) to remove yourselves from not only this list (but only if it’s a product you don’t want, obviously!) but also talk about some other ways that you can stem the tide of unnecessary mail.

1. Cancel the Yellow Pages.

If you’re in Australia, it is possible to opt out of the Yellow Pages delivery by signing up here:

Apparently it takes 3 months to be removed from the list, so don’t waste any time registering! The good news is, once registered you’re done – your cancellation does not expire.

If you’re in the UK, you will be relieved to know that the Yellow Pages stopped printing and distributing physical copies in January 2019.

If you’re in the USA, you can opt out of receiving the Yellow Pages online at .

And if you’re in Canada, you’ll be able to cancel via the online form at .

2. Get Yourself a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign.

If you’re in Australia, there’s no way to opt out of unaddressed promotional material, but Australia Post suggests getting a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker for your letter box. Material deemed to be political, educational, religious and charitable is exempt from “No Junk Mail” signed letterboxes according to standards developed by the Australian Catalogue Association.

Australia Post only deliver 10% of all unaddressed mail, and they don’t control what other operators will do, but I have had good success with a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker (I’ve also used a ‘No Advertising Material Accepted’ sticker, which I think sends a clearer message).

Whether you’re in Australia or not, I’d recommend that anyone who hates letterbox spam gets a ‘no junk mail’ or equivalent sign. You can buy them at hardware stores, scrawl a message on your letterbox in pen, or request Keep Australia Beautiful send you a sticker (or 10!) if you’re in WA.

The few things I do still get in my mail box are from local businesses who say the only way they can generate business is by disobeying ‘No Junk Mail’ signs.

(I know they say this from ensuing arguments that happen between angry people whose signs have been disrespected and the business owners on the various community chat groups…)

3. Cancelling unaddressed promotional material.

Not an option in Australia, so get that ‘No Junk Mail’ sign sorted!

In the UK, the Royal Mail website details a number of options for removing yourself from mailing lists. Opting out of the Royal Mail Door-to-Door service stops all unaddressed items being delivered by Royal Mail (potentially including council notices).

You’ll need to print and fill out a form (scroll to the bottom of the page to find the form) and then post it, and you’ll need to repeat the process every two years.

To opt out from deliveries from other unaddressed mail distributors register with the ‘Your Choice’ preference scheme run by the Direct Marketing Association. They can be contacted via phone (0207 291 3300) or email .

4. Avoiding unsolicited marketing.

In Australia, you can add yourself to the Association for Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising’s ‘Do Not Mail’ register to stop receiving mail from businesses on their membership that you don’t currently deal with. You can sign up to the ‘So Not Mail register here:

Basically, it stops these companies on the ‘cold calling’ you with promotional stuff and sales catalogues. It doesn’t stop unaddressed mail (such as addressed ‘the the homeowner’), or businesses you have used in the past, or businesses not on the register.

In the UK, a service to stop unsolicited mail addressed to you (or a previous resident) visit The Mailing Preference Service, which provides details on all other preference services, or call them (0845 703 4599).

You can also register with the Fundraising Preference Service to control marketing received from fundraising organisations registered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As well as post, you can choose to stop receiving emails, telephone calls, addressed post and/or text messages. You can cancel contact from 3 charities at once by filling in their online form, or 20 if you contact them by phone ( 0300 3033 517).

5. Contact businesses directly.

If you receive a catalogue or mail from a business or organisation you purchased something from once, but definitely don’t want their ongoing spam, see if there is a website, email address or phone number. Then, contact them and ask to be removed from the mailing list.

In WA, a hot topic on the Zero Waste Plastic Free Perth facebook group is the RAC Horizons catalogue that gets mailed all the time (it feels like). RAC do roadside cover and insurance, so many people across the state use the service – and get the “free” magazine. Simply by calling RAC and asking to be removed from the list, many of us have avoided receiving a magazine we don’t want. (They’ve been pretty helpful.)

Important bit – when you call, don’t forget to say that you’re removing yourself as you don’t like the waste. Go on record for the cause!

6. Send stuff back.

If I receive anything I’m not expecting, didn’t ask for and don’t want, and there isn’t a clear way to remove myself from the mailing list, I send it back. It’s free to do so.

I simply strike through the address, and write in big letters: ‘NOT AT THIS ADDRESS / RETURN TO SENDER.’ If there’s a ‘if not delivered, please return to…’ address printed on the envelope, I circle it. Then, I pop in the mailbox.

It doesn’t always work on the first go, but I’ve found it to be a pretty successful technique. (I also do this with previous resident’s mail if I don’t have a forwarding address.)

With local businesses, I have dropped things back at their office. All of the real estate businesses here went through a phase of leaving notepads (branded, of course) in every letterbox. So I took mine back and told them, ‘you left this in my letterbox’. Generally what happened was: they reassured me it was free, I explained I didn’t want it, they thought I was peculiar (because ‘free’) and I didn’t care because I had returned stuff I didn’t need to where it came from.

Works for me.

7. Let’s not forget online junk ‘mail’. Unsubscribe from any newsletters that you’re not reading.

Email clutter is just as annoying as physical letterbox clutter, in my view. So whilst you’re on a roll, have a look in your inbox and see if there are any newsletters that you never read, or any that take more than they give (such as sending constant salesy content and never offering anything of meaning or value) and hit ‘unsubscribe’.

Doesn’t that feel better?

Now I’d love to hear from you! Any other tips to reduce mail or deal with unwanted things when they arrive? Any other online forms to add where others can remove themselves from lists and services? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!