A Zero Waste Guide to Reusable Coffee Cups

Is a reusable coffee cup a zero waste essential? Well, that depends on your perspective. Do you think that coffee is a life essential? ;)

Seriously, whether you personally think so or not, the fact is that over 500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced every year. Which clearly shows that plenty of people do think coffee is a life necessity.

Reusable coffee cups are the obvious solution if we are to do something to stem this tide of disposables heading to landfill (or worse) every year.

Use a reusable just 15 times and the environment wins. (Hocking’s 1994 lifecycle energy analysis found that ceramic cups needed to be used 39 times, plastic cups 17 times, and glass cups 15 times before they became equally energy efficient to plastic-lined paper cups.)

Bear in mind that a reusable, looked after, will last for many years.

The message that these cups send is just as (maybe more) important than the vessels themselves. It’s about showing the solution. Demonstrating to the public that there is an alternative. Showing others that there are people (us!) who care about this issue, and are doing something about it.

Making reusables a little more socially acceptable, and single-use disposables a little less so. Changing the story about convenience.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of the best reusable coffee cup brands that I could find. Companies that not only make great reusables, but that care about the impact single-use items have on the planet.

(This is not a sponsored post. None of these brands have paid to be featured.)

Choosing Reusables: Coffee Cups

All brands listed below make cups that are barista standard. This means they hold the same volume as standardised disposable takeaway cups, and fit underneath a coffee machine.

Most reusable takeaway cups do have a small element of plastic or silicone, because they need a sealable lid and a band to protect the fingers from burns. Their primary purpose is takeaway, after all.

I’ve listed brand websites below, but if you’re looking for a local store to make a purchase from, I have a worldwide list of local online zero waste stores. Please try to support a local independent business, if you can. The big department stores and Amazon really don’t need our money, and these small businesses do.

7 Reusable Zero Waste Coffee Cup Brands I Recommend

1. KeepCup

KeepCup is possibly the original reusable cup brand, and if not the first, definitely the most well known.

KeepCup began in 2009, and are now sold in 65 countries around the world. KeepCup ship from Australia, the UK and the USA.

Their cups are available in both plastic and glass. All cups have a plastic lid (plastic #4, LDPE) which is hard and rigid, with a plastic plug (a polyethylene polymer called TPU). The bands are made of silicone.

Their plastic cups (plastic #5, or polypropylene – considered to be the best food grade plastic with thermal stability) come in 5 sizes: 4oz (the ideal size for a babycino), 6oz, 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. Their glass cups come in 3 sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. Additionally, they offer a glass “LongPlay” booster for the 12oz and 16oz sizes which creates a double-walled vessel to keep hot drinks hot (and cold drinks cold) for longer.

Their KeepCup Brew edition features a glass cup (8oz, 12oz or 16oz) with a cork band, making it their least plastic option.

W: https://keepcup.com

2. JOCO Cup

JOCO cups were the first company to produce a barista standard glass coffee cup. The glass cups come in 3 sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. The lid is made of silicone, which makes it soft and rubbery. The band is also made of silicone.

JOCO cups are distributed worldwide, and ship from Australia and the USA.

W: https://jococups.com

3. La Bontazza

La Bontazza is another Australian company (influenced by Italian style) that produces reusable glass coffee cups with silicone lids and bands. La Bontazza are the only company I’ve found that make a small 4oz reusable coffee cup in glass – perfect for short macchiato drinkers, espresso drinkers and babycino drinkers (who are old enough to handle a glass cup).

Their three cup sizes are 4oz, 8oz and 12oz.

W: http://www.labontazza.com

4. Planet Cups by Pottery for the Planet

Planet Cups are handmade pottery cups fitted with a silicone lid, and with an optional silicone band. They are available in 3 sizes: 6 oz, 8oz and 12oz. Every single cup is unique, being made by Renton Bishopric ceramics in their Queensland studio.

The cups are not currently sold via their website, but stockists can be found via their social media channels.

W: http://www.rentonbishopric.com

5. Cupit by Kahla

Kahla is a German ceramics manufacturer who produces Cupit, a range of white ceramic reusable coffee cups in three sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. The lid is available to purchase separate from the cup. Both the cups and the lids are made in Germany.

The ceramic cups have a silicone foot at the base, making them non slip. The lid is plastic, and the band that wraps around the cup is fixed and cannot be removed. The cups are slightly heavier than a glass reusable coffee cup, and are very sturdy.

W: http://en.kahlaporzellan.com

6. Klean Kanteen

Klean Kanteen produce insulated stainless steel tumblers with a plastic tumbler lid in 3 sizes: 8oz, 16oz and 20oz. The tumbler lid is designed for transporting liquids (although it is not leak proof) but is not designed for drinking through.

W: https://www.kleankanteen.com

7. Ecojarz

For anyone who doesn’t drink takeaway often and doesn’t see the need for a purpose-built vessel, Ecojarz offer an alternative: a stainless steel drinking lid with silicone seal that fits your existing wide-mouth mason or canning jars.

They also offer hot drink holders and silicone bands.

W: http://ecojarz.com

Of course, I realise that reusable coffee cups aren’t for everybody. (Is anything?!) You may not be a daily takeaway coffee drinker. But I’ve no doubt that you know someone who is. The public’s perception of plastic bags has shifted, plastic pollution awareness is rising, and tackling disposable coffee cups seem the next logical step.

Reusable coffee cups are a great and practical solution.

Let’s get the conversation started. Bring on the reuse revolution. 

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you use a reusable coffee cup? Do you use one of these brands listed or an alternative I haven’t mentioned? Do you make do with a DIY approach? Do you think reusable coffee cups are a load of nonsense? Any other thoughts to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

War on Waste: How Food Rescue Charities Are Fighting Food Waste

The recent ABC television series War on Waste aired last month, and suddenly everyone is talking about waste. Which, in my view, is a good thing. A great thing! As it should be ;) The more conversations we have around waste, the better.

I watched the series myself and thought it was well made, informative and motivational. It did a great job of addressing the problems. The problems need talking about, definitely. But I felt it only touched on the solutions. Which, maybe, was a missed opportunity. In my view, there are plenty of solutions, and we need to talk about these as much as (or more than!) the problems!

No doubt there wasn’t time for everything. (It was only 3 episodes, after all!)

So I thought I’d explore some of the solutions here. Today, I’m going to talk about food waste, and more specifically, what people are doing about.

Food waste is a huge issue in Australia, with around 40% of food being discarded before it leaves farms, and shoppers throwing away 20% of everything they buy (the equivalent of 1 bag of shopping in 5). The UK reported similar statistics with their Hugh’s War on Waste series last year, saying 1/3 of food produced is never eaten. The figure is similar in the U.S.

The supermarkets are linked to a lot of this waste. With their strict cosmetic standards, unbalanced supplier contracts in favour of the retailer, pre-packaging loose items (where they control the portion sizes), and promotional 3-for-2 offers that encourage us to buy more than we need, they encourage waste at every stage in the process.

Arguably, it’s a broken system. But within this system, organizations are doing what they can to reduce this food waste by distributing some of the surplus to others who need it via charity partners.

Here in Perth there are a number of organisations working to fight food waste by “rescuing” food.

Food Bank: are the largest food relief organisation in Australia. They deal with large quantities and collect food on a massive scale. They don’t go to individual supermarkets to collect discards, but rather collect pallets of food from warehouses for redistribution.

Oz Harvest: with their quirky yellow vans, Oz Harvest collect surplus food from all types of food providers, including fruit and vegetable markets, farmers, supermarkets, wholesalers, stadiums, corporate events, catering companies, hotels, shopping centres, cafes, delis, restaurants, film and TV shoots and boardrooms. They collect both fresh food and dry goods and distribute as is to charitable partners.

Food Rescue WA: a WA initiative of UnitingCare West, Food Rescue WA collects surplus fresh produce (no dry goods) from cafes, supermarkets and farmers and repacks into “veg boxes” which are distributed to charitable partners.

Case Study: Food Rescue WA

This week I had the opportunity to visit Food Rescue WA in Belmont (a suburb of Perth). I was amazed, humbled and heartened by what I saw and learned. They haven’t stood by in despair at what can seem an overwhelming situation; they’ve got to work righting some of the wrongs.

Food Rescue WA have just two full time staff, with 4 casual drivers and 100 regular volunteers. Powered by this volunteer army, and with 4 vans that have been donated, they collect food from 49 supermarkets, sort and re-pack, and redistribute to 78 different charitable organisations.

In addition, they have two food carts which collect food from 37 cafes in the CBD, and redistribute directly to homeless people in the city who have no access to kitchens.

Between them, they supply food to organisations who feed more than 11,000 people every week.

“Waste” products that have arrived and are waiting to be sorted and repacked.

Food arrives here at the Food Rescue WA warehouse in various ways and for various reasons. The black boxes at the front are assorted rejects from the supermarkets. The oranges are an overstock. The yellow container at the back (a cubic metre) comes directly from a farmer, with carrots that don’t meet the cosmetic/size standards.

Food Rescue WA only deal with fresh fruit and vegetables. They also receive eggs for redistribution, and occasionally chilled products.

This second yellow container is filled with cosmetically imperfect but completely edible carrots donated by a farmer. The dimensions of the container are 1m x 1m x 1m (a cubic meter).

The food is then sorted by volunteers and distributed into boxes (old banana boxes). The food is distributed so that each box has variety and colour, and looks visually appealing.

Sorting food and packing into boxes..

A partially packed veg box…

Boxes of colourful, edible food saved from the bin and ready to be distributed by the Food Rescue WA vans to people in need.

Food Rescue WA currently operates from Monday to Friday, but they may expand into weekends. The volunteers arrive at 7am and sorting and packing is generally completed by 10am. The boxes are then delivered, with all charities in receipt of their food by 11.30am.

What happens next is up to the charities. Some cook meals using the ingredients; others allow people to take the boxes home to cook for their families.

This operation provides 11,000 meals a week. That’s impressive in itself, but there’s more. Food Rescue WA don’t just fight food waste, though. They fight other waste too.

Plastic

Firstly, they sort and recycle all of their packaging. They have a plastics recycling system where plastics are separated into their different types (numbers) and then this is collected by CLAW Environmental for recycling.

They even go one step further and remove all the plastic packaging from the boxes they are donating to the charities. They realise that the charities won’t have the time or capacity to recycle the soft plastic, and may not have the knowledge to sort it correctly either.

By removing the plastic before it is distributed, it saves the charity workers a job and also the disposal costs, and ensures it gets recycled properly.

Food Rescue WA currently recycles 4 cubic meters of soft plastic a week.

Cardboard

The food received by charities is packed into banana boxes which can be returned for re-use. Typically a driver will deliver new boxes, collect old empty ones and they will be re-used for packing. Each box can be used several times before it begins to wear out. The cardboard is then recycled.

Food Waste

Food Rescue WA have an innovative composting machine called the Orca that aerobically digests unusable food waste rapidly, and produces a liquid effluent that can be safely discharged into the municipal sewerage system.

The jar of apple sauce on top of the machine is in fact the liquid effluent which comes out of the machine after the contents are aerobically digested, and have passed through a grease trap and filter system.

These fresh veggies were added…

…and 15 minutes later they were well on their way to breaking down. The food waste has no smell, or if anything, it smells like a fresh green salad!

Food Rescue WA did secure backing to fund a composter in the past, but unfortunately could not get council approval to install it.

Fighting Food Waste: What Can I Do?

There’s plenty of things we can do as individuals to reduce our food waste at home. We can reduce what we buy, learn to understand the different ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By ‘codes, and also learn how to tell if something is good or bad without relying on the packaging telling us. We can learn new ways to cook things, embrace home composting and get more organized so there are no longer unidentified objects that used to be food lurking at the back of our fridges. (For more ideas, here’s 12 tips to reducing food waste.)

But we can go one step further. We can support these organisations working to reduce food waste. Here’s three ideas:

Volunteer for a few hours at a Food Rescue service such as Food Rescue WA and donate your time to help collect, sort and redistribute food that’s headed to landfill to people who need it. Or if you have a specialised skill that you think may be of use, offer these services!

Donate to the cause. These organisations run on volunteer hours and donated food, but still need to pay for utilities, fuel and maintenance to keep the operation running. Donating money directly to these organizations is better than buying food from supermarkets to donate. There’s already plenty of food out there that needs rescuing, and supermarkets really don’t need our money – the charities do!

Share their story! Tell your local cafe, restaurant, workplace, supermarket, greengrocer or farmer about these services, and encourage them to use them and support the work that they do.

If you’d like to get involved with or support Food Rescue WA, you can find more information here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What solutions do you have for reducing food waste – at home, at work or in your local community? What organisations are doing great things in your local community and how could you support their work? Any thoughts on the story I’ve shared? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment below!

 

My Zero Waste Kit (Zero Waste Handbag Essentials)

I truly believe that the zero waste lifestyle does not mean going out to buy a whole heap of stuff. Saying that, there are definitely things that I have bought, which make waste-free living a lot easier for me. I refer to these things as my zero waste “kit”.

Recently I received a lovely email from a lady called Rachel who follows my Instagram feed, and she asked me: “I’ve seen you mention “zero waste kit” a few times and was wondering what that was!” It dawned on me that I’ve never taken the time to explain what I have and why. So here it is: my list of handbag essentials for zero waste living.

What is essential for me might not be essential for you, and this is definitely no command to go shopping! As always, I recommend using what you have. Whilst I’ve provided links so you can find out more details about the things I’ve personally chosen, please consider making do, buying second-hand and shopping local where you can.

What’s In My Zero Waste Handbag?

My handbag is by no means a hold-all! None of this stuff takes up that much room and the only heavy thing is my water bottle, when it’s full.

I’ve included links below of the actual things I have, so you can see specific product details, dimensions etc.

Water bottle: I have a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle with a bamboo lid. It holds 800ml. I chose this because it is completely plastic free and I love that Klean Kanteen are committed to producing products with the environment in mind.

Sometimes I leave the water bottle at home to save weight and use my reusable cup instead.

Reusable Coffee Cup: When I started out, I had a plastic KeepCup, but once glass ones were introduced in 2014 I made the switch. I have a 8oz glass KeepCup with a cork band but bigger sizes are also available. The lid is plastic but I like that the rest of the cup is not, and that it is a standard barista size.

I often use this as an impromptu container, or to grab a glass of water from anywhere with a tap if I don’t have my water bottle with me.

Reusable Cutlery: I have a To-Go ware set that was a birthday present: it contains a bamboo fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks and the pouch is made from recycled water bottles. The cutlery is surprisingly sturdy and I have skinned and de-stoned a mango with the knife. It is also suitable to carry onto planes in hand luggage.

Reusable Straw: I have added a reusable metal straw to my reusable cutlery pouch (it needs to be 21.5cm or smaller to fit in the To-Go Ware pouch). I also have reusable glass straws that I love, but I tend to take them out with me less often. The ones I have are made by Glass Dharma and come with a lifetime breakage guarantee. There are other brands with different colours and patterns. Reusable bamboo straws are another option.

Glass straws sound fragile but the glass is toughened and it would be impossible to bite through it. Because the edges are smoothed I think they are a good option for kids.

Produce Bags: Almost all of the produce bags I have are handmade (not by me!), and I think Etsy is a great place to find local craftspeople if you can’t sew your own. My own bags (mostly gifts) are made from old fabric, cafe curtains and an old bedsheet of mine. I love sellers who repurpose old fabric rather than buying new, like these produce bags made from old tablecloths.

I also have a few Onya produce bags too which are handy as they fit in a little stuff sack. The company started down the road from here and the owner is passionate about reducing plastic-bag use.

Reusable Bag: We have a number of calico bags that we’ve picked up over the years and would recommend choosing natural fibres where possible. As well as these, we have a couple of Onya reusable shopping bags. Whilst they are plastic, they scrunch up into a tiny stuff sack when not in use, so they are handy for my husband (who does not carry a handbag!) or when we are travelling as they are pocked-sized.

Sandwich Wraps: These are coated fabric and can be used in place of containers. I have snack pockets and sandwich wraps made by 4MyEarth, a local Perth company. They used to make 2 sizes of each but now they just make 1 size of each. The fabric is coated to make it water- and grease-resistant: it is a plant-based plastic and they are PVC-free. I like that they are machine washable, and they have lasted me a really long time (I got them in 2012).

Metal lunchbox: I bought my husband this metal lunchbox to take to work every day, although we also use it if we are going out to a restaurant or cafe (you never know where there might be leftovers!). I’ve added to our collection since then: a three-tier tiffin and a four-tier tiffin, and a round stainless steel lunchbox for myself that I bought in Thailand.

Stainless steel is expensive  – it is an investment piece that will last forever. If you have an Indian supermarket nearby it is worth checking out if they stock tiffins as the price will likely be kinder to your wallet. Sometimes, they pop up in charity shops too (although I’ve never been this lucky)!

Hanky: I keep a hanky on me at all times, which doubles as a serviette if I’m out. Department stores will likely sell them, but I prefer to keep things local and I’d look on Etsy if I needed more. Or, I’d just cut up some old clothes and make do with the ragged edges ;)

The links above are mostly for Australian stores. If you’re not in Australia, this page has a list of online zero waste and plastic-free stores which you might find useful.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your zero waste essentials? How did you choose your items? What eco-minded companies have you chosen to support? How have you been able to make do? Have you made any great second-hand purchases? Any recommendations for where others might be able to make do or find second-hand? Do you consider any of the items I’ve chosen a waste of time?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These items are all items that I genuinely use and love, and have purchased with my own money or were received as gifts from friends and family. No company has paid me to be featured on this list. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

It seems hard to believe, but the less you have, the less you realise you need. Back when I had over 200 items in my wardrobe, the idea of reducing it to 100 seemed crazy. Then I got to 100, and realised I still had way too much stuff.

Something else I noticed: the less I had, the easier I found it to declutter.

Maybe this was because I was flexing my decluttering muscle, and it was getting stronger. Maybe it was because I could finally see the wood for the trees, and was being more honest with myself. Maybe it was because I began to realise what I actually wear, and it made less sense to keep the things I didn’t.

Even with 40 items, I know I have more than I need. Now I’m starting to build a capsule wardrobe: a collection of pieces I can wear year-round, along with a few extras for the weather extremes of summer and winter.

In Part 1, I talked about why you might want a capsule wardrobe to start with (even if you’re not a minimalist), and why it has absolutely everything to do with zero waste.

Here, I’m going to talk about how I’m beginning my capsule wardrobe.

I’m a show-and-tell kinda girl, and I thought I’d share some pics of what is in my wardrobe right now, what’s working, and what I’ll do differently next time.

Beginning My Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe (+ Lessons Learned)

I’m not a believer in numbers when it comes to minimalism, I’m a believer in “enough”. Building a capsule wardrobe means working out what is enough for me.

I also hate waste (you might have noticed)! I tend to wear my clothes into the ground. Many things I own are too tatty to donate. There comes a point when I no longer like to wear them (everyone has their own tolerance levels) and when that happens I will compost or repurpose.

I take the “slow” approach to wardrobe minimalism. If I still wear it, it can stay  – so long as I know I will wear it again in the near future. If I know I won’t, there is no point in keeping it. Going slow has given me time to adjust and learn lessons along the way. As things wear out, I will choose better next time.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: The Clothes I Started With

This is what remains of my wardrobe from my pre-minimalist and pre-capsule wardrobe days. I’m building on this and filling in the gaps to make my wardrobe more practical and wearable in future.

Summer Tops:

I really like the style of racing back tops, and find them very comfortable in the hot Perth summers.

The first three appear identical, although two are silk and the green one is polyester. They all have a slightly different cut, so of course, I have a preference (the orange one on the left).

The two blue tops are not that dissimilar, and again, I have a preference.

The bright coral top to the right is cotton and I purchased it new because it was cheap (before I thought much about these things). It feel cheap too, and the cut isn’t great.

I’ve realised that when I own two or more things that look the same, I will always gravitate towards one of them.

Unless this is the only type of top I wear (and it isn’t) it makes no sense to own five tops that are so similar. Especially when I wear one of them weekly, and the others sparingly.

As they wear out, I intend to keep one or two in my closet. No more than that.

Other Tops:

These are my other tops. The purple one is very old and beginning to wear out.

Shorts and Skirts

Whilst I love the purple stripy skirt (it is silk), it is impossible to pair with anything. It goes with my green racing back top, and that is it. That means I can only wear it in the height of summer. In a capsule wardrobe, it isn’t very practical.

I’ve never faced the dilemma of getting rid of something that I like and I wear. I used to struggle with getting rid of stuff I didn’t like and didn’t wear (!) so this is quite a step forward. But to own something I will only wear a handful of times doesn’t really make any sense. At the end of the summer, I’m going to let it go.

Jumpers and Cardigans

I like the assortment of thicknesses and different styles. My husband hates my oversized jumper on the right, so that might not get replaced. I probably wouldn’t choose a short-sleeved wool jumper again, either!

Dresses

Of the four dresses I own, one is for the depths of winter and one is for the height of summer.

The left one was an online purchase and is organic cotton, fairly traded. Thing is, the fit isn’t great, and the stitching around the collar is ripped where it wasn’t sewn well. I hate how I feel in this dress. My brother recently saw a photo of me in this dress with my sister, and asked her if I was pregnant. That was the final straw. I decided it had to go.

Trousers (Pants)

I have a pair of heavy denim jeans, a pair of thick cotton-denim trousers, and a pair of leggings. I had a thinner pair of summer jeans but they wore out, so I am looking to replace these.

Building a Capsule Wardrobe: What Was Missing and What I’ve Added

At the start of this year, a fair few things I owned completely wore out. This was my chance to fill the gaps with items I deem more suitable, practical and useful. My capsule wardrobe has begun.

What was Missing: Tops

Despite owning 8 tops, the styles of 6 of them are very similar. Most sit at the scruffy end of the scale. I’m giving more talks and running more workshops this year, and I need clothes suitable for presenting in.

Also, many of my tops are quite snug and short, and I’m not as keen on the tight-fitting, midriff-exposing clothes as I was in my twenties.

I decided the gaps were: something loose-fitting, a t-shirt, a top smart enough to present in. I also wanted a navy blue shirt.

A trip to the charity shop led me to these:

The t-shirt has not been a good buy. It was an expensive brand and looked unworn, but it has bobbled in the washing machine and lost its shape already. The dirty cream shirt is probably a better choice than the bright white shirt I already own, and is less fitted (which I prefer). The blue button-down shirt is exactly what I was looking for. The last top is 100% silk, and I really like silk in the summer.

I didn’t need to buy 4 tops, and I only intended to buy 3. I’m still experimenting with “enough”. I can take things back to the charity shop if in a few months I realise I don’t wear them.

What was Missing: Bottoms

Perth gets hot. I wanted another pair of shorts. Also, none of the new tops I purchased were suitable with any of my current bottoms. I thought a denim, navy or grey pencil skirt might work well. I also wanted a replacement pair of lightweight summer jeans.

I ended up with these:

Honestly, I would have preferred shorts without the embroidery and fake holes. But they fit the best out of all the shorts, so I took them. The skirt was exactly what I was looking for. It is more cotton than denim, and very lightweight.

These three items increased the wear-ability of all of my tops no end!

What was Missing: Jumpers and Dresses

I wanted a lightweight jumper, a casual summer dress (maxi dresses are too impractical for me to wear everyday) and a smarter presenting dress.

I found these at the charity shop:

I love the denim shirt. The sleeves are super long, and it can work as a cardigan, but with more practical uses. The first dress has been great in the really hot weather. I wasn’t sure if the stripy dress was more ‘fantasy me’ than real me, but it is so comfortable, and I’ve worn it. I love the dress on the end, but time will tell how easy it is to wash! I love colour, and it was satisfying to find something so bright.

It was never my plan to choose so much blue, but I already have a lot of colour in my wardrobe. I needed some neutrals to balance it out. My plan is to choose bright tops and dresses to mix in with these as I need to replace things.

In total, this is 34 items (with some to go at the end of summer/when they wear out). I also have two jackets, three scarves (one summer, one winter, on in-between), cycling shorts and top, a summer hat and a winter hat, swimming wear and underwear. Plus a few pairs of shoes.

I’m amazed when I look at this, that I can see there is still room to reduce what I have. Far from the days when I panicked about whether I would have enough to wear if I decluttered, I realise that I have plenty.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your wardrobe essentials? What staples do you seem to live in? What have been your worst “investments”? How have your wardrobe basics changed over time? What is your biggest wardrobe regret from your younger days? Do you have a capsule wardrobe, and if so, what tips would you add? Anything else to share? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

One Year’s Worth of Trash (Except, It Isn’t)

The idea of keeping landfill trash in a jar has become a symbol of the zero waste movement. Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home started keeping the waste produced by her family of four in a glass jar back in 2010. Now more and more people use this idea to track their progress and show others what is possible with a little bit of determination and effort.

I have to confess, I don’t love the idea. I find it a little gimmicky (I’ll talk about that later). At the beginning of last year, I was interviewed by a journalist and she asked me if I had a jar of waste. I said no, and she suggested I start one. That it might be a good idea because it was a valuable tool to show others.

I hadn’t really thought of it like that.

I also thought, there I was pooh-poohing the idea when I hadn’t actually given it a fair shot. Wouldn’t it be be better to try it out and see, rather than making judgements? I decided to give it a go.

As fate would have it, at the end of January this year, Channel 9 contacted me to film a segment about zero waste for their 6pm news show. When they found out I had a waste jar, they insisted it be part of the story. So my little jar of waste was on the news…

I began our annual jar of waste on 2nd March 2016 – so today it has been exactly a year since I began. So how much landfill waste did our household produce in a year, and what have I learned.

Annual Waste in a Jar – My Rules

The idea is that anything that would end up in the landfill bin is kept in the jar. This means anything that is not recycled, composted, repurposed or repaired.

I didn’t really make any other rules when I started; they formed along the way. The intention was that the jar was for our household waste (my husband’s and mine) but in July we adopted a greyhound, which changed things slightly.

These are the rules we ended up following:

  • Anything purchased or acquired pre- going plastic-free or zero waste in 2012 still counts as waste.
  • Any waste generated by us inside our home goes in the jar.
  • Any waste I produce outside the home goes in the jar (and my husband’s, if he is with me.) My husband’s waste at work and some dog waste (!) does not go in the jar for practical reasons.
  • Any waste that others bring into our home that we do not use does not go in the jar. However, if we use it in some way, then it does.
  • I often find fruit stickers, old clothes elastic and random plastic labels in the compost bin, but 6 households share our composting system and I do not know for sure it is ours – and it is too much effort once it is covered in compost.
  • Anything that is downright gross or dangerous does not go in the jar.

Different people have different rules. These are ours. Our waste shows us where we personally can improve, and let us share what we have learned. It is not a competition.

How Much Landfill Waste Did We Produce?

This is our waste from 1st March 2016 until 1st March 2017.

What Didn’t End Up in the Jar?

Not all of the waste we produced over the last year has ended up in the jar. Here’s what was missed:

  • We broke two glass jars and a glass light bulb in the past few weeks, and I am sure that over the year there were more.
  • We put all weeds in the compost bin except couch grass which is super invasive. We put this in our landfill bin. (It goes through a commercial hot composting machine at the tip, but I’d rather deal with it at home.)
  • I still have an old tub of dental floss I keep for emergencies. Mostly after eating corn-on-the-cob. That tends to get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.
  • Condoms. For obvious reasons.
  • When I mentioned earlier that our greyhound complicated things, there were a few “issues”.
    • I refuse things, and I refuse things on behalf of my husband ;) but my husband has decided, I cannot refuse things on behalf of our greyhound. If somebody buys him a gift, it is not for me to decide to donate it straightaway simply because it will end up in landfill.
    • Our greyhound has received a few toys as gifts. People tell me they were careful to avoid plastic, as we receive yet another toy made of polyester. (Which is plastic.) They are also cheaply made and do not last. One was torn to shreds and covered in slobber and ended up in the bin. Fortunately Hans is settling down and less prone to destruction these days.
    • Hans is also very particular about his bathroom habits, and categorically refuses to go to the toilet in our yard. Not even for number 1s. His preferred toilet stop is the dog park 10 minutes away. We have a dog poo worm farm at home, but carrying his mess home twice a day with newspaper is a trial. I do it as often as I can, but sometimes it isn’t practical. When it’s raining, the newspaper gets wet before we make it home. When the dog park is full of other dogs we don’t hold onto it – the other dogs are too interested :/ So sometimes dog poo goes in the bin.

Is the ‘Waste-in-a-Jar’ Thing Gimmicky?

That’s a personal choice. For me, I still feel like it is. I have never taken my waste jar to a talk or workshop I’ve presented. In fact, it has never left the house.

I’m not a limelight-lover, and I feel that the jar invites a “look-at-me!” approach that I am just not comfortable with.

I also feel that extremes can put people off making changes, and waste jars might be seen as extreme. I’d prefer to encourage lots of people to change one thing than encourage one person to change everything. My priority in inspiring others, not seeking perfection myself.

That’s not to say it can’t (and doesn’t) work for others. For every cynic in the room, there is someone else who is inspired. For those who love and relish the limelight, it is an awesome opportunity to share and motivate others.

It just does not work for me.

Gimmicks aside, there are things I love as well as things I don’t.

Things I love about keeping my waste in a jar:

  • I like being able to track my progress and visually see where I could make improvements.
  • I like being able to see which companies are responsible for the non-recyclable waste, so I can contact them and suggest that they make changes.
  • I like that it pushes me to look for solutions with the items I end up with.

Things I don’t love about keeping my waste in a jar:

  • I don’t like that it doesn’t account for human error. I put many things in my recycling bin, believing that they will be recycled. But I don’t know for sure that they are. The decision is based on my knowledge, which may be flawed. I could be wrong, and it could end up in landfill.
  • I’m a person who likes details. My goal is always to be transparent and honest. The jar is a simplified view, and I have this constant nagging feeling I need to justify and explain everything. It makes me a little stressed.
  • I don’t like the way it invites comparisons, even though every person takes a different approach.
  • I think it focuses too much on the personal. At the beginning I think a journey of change is always personal. For me, there comes a point when it is time to move onto the local, national and beyond. Worrying about a piece of dental floss or an accidental foil-wrapped teabag isn’t important. I want to encourage change on a bigger level. For me, my jar distracts from that.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you think the waste jar idea is a great idea, or a gimmick? Do you love it or loathe it? Do you keep a waste jar, and what lessons have you learned? Have you tried in the past but given up? Have you thought about it but not committed yet? Have you just started your own, and what are your thoughts so far? What is your favourite thing about them? What is your least favourite thing? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me 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!

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…

table-treading-my-own-path

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!