5 simple (and free) things you can do to have a more sustainable 2021

2020, I think we can all agree, has been a year unlike no other. The best-laid plans (no… wait… all the plans) went out of the window, and for many of us it was tumultuous and unsettling and a bit (or a lot) of a struggle. But if you’re reading this, you survived the year that was (hurrah!), and maybe – just maybe – you’re starting to think about the new year ahead, and making plans.

I think the New Year is always a great time for a reset, even if most of us are not making big, bold plans for next year. (If you are, go you! But I’m sitting the big bold plans out for next year. I’m tiptoeing into the new year, in fact.)

Anyways, I think a lot of sustainable habits went out of the window along with those plans in 2020, and I think a lot of us want to at least try to pick a few of them back up again. Honestly, there are probably a million and one great habits that we could adopt for 2021.

But to list a million and one great ideas would be completely overwhelming.

Instead, I spent some time thinking about which habits I’ve adopted over the past few years that have had a big impact in reducing my waste and living more sustainably, have been relatively easy to start and continue to do, and have been free.

If we are going to ease into the new year gently, we don’t need an overwhelming to-do list. We just need a few simple, easy and effective ideas to get started. Here are 5 of my favourite simple (and free) things that you can do, starting today, to have a more sustainable 2021.

Carry a KeepCup with you.

A KeepCup (but you can choose another branded or non-branded reusable travel cup, or even a sturdy jam jar with a silicone band or a few elastic bands around it), is something I recommend to carry in your bag, bike rack or glove box. It is probably the most useful thing in mine.

And I rarely get a takeaway coffee.

Obviously they are great for takeaway coffee (or tea, or other hot drinks). They can be used to dine-in if the place you’re drinking at only has disposables. They also work as a water glass, and to hold food scraps such as apple cores or banana peels that you want to take home and compost. They can be used as a container when bringing a snack from home, or buying small bakery items, or ice-cream, or when you didn’t bring enough BYO containers to the bulk store. And, you can pack a surprising amount of leftovers in them if you eat out and over-order.

In short, they are practical and useful – and easy enough to carry around.

And I think that carrying around reusables (and using them, obviously) is important for shifting the way that society sees disposables. We need to normalise reducing waste if we want more people to do the same.

If we can change the culture, then we are on the way to shifting policy.

These days, there are so many reusable cups about, you probably don’t need to buy one. (Reusables are almost the new disposables, it seems…) Ask friends and family if they have spares, look on giveaway sites, see if there are any abandoned ones at work.

Or you can buy one, if you really want to. But you don’t have to.

(You’ll often find them in second-hand and charity shops, too.)

Whether you rescue or buy, it can be helpful to think about what would be the most useful for you, as there are plenty of different options. And the best reusable is the one you actually use, so choose one that meets your needs.

Glass is more breakable than plastic or stainless steel, but easy to clean and doesn’t absorb flavours.

Some cups are fully leakproof, others leak-resistant, and others not leakproof at all.

You can choose a tall cup, a small cup, a collapsible cup that fits in your pocket, a cup that fits in the drink holder in your car or on your bicycle. Or a jam jar. Whatever it is that will be most practical for you.

The first ‘swap’ I made when I went plastic-free back in 2012 was getting a (plastic) KeepCup. I switched to a glass one when they were launched in 2014, and I still have that same one now. Whilst there are plenty of reusables you can carry around with you (cutlery, a napkin, reusable shopping and produce bags, a water bottle), the KeepCup remains one of my favourite zero waste swaps, ever.

If you switch to one reusable, start here.

Stop throwing away food scraps.

Food waste makes up 40 per cent of the average household bin in the UK, USA and Australia. Stop throwing away food scraps and you’ll reduce your waste by almost half, and you’ll be able to turn those scraps, which are actually nutrients, into compost, to go back into the soil.

And you’ll reduce your carbon emissions, because food waste in landfill creates methane – a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Plus, you’ll no longer have a stinky kitchen bin. Wins all round!

Finding alternatives for your food scraps is not as hard as you think. There are plenty of options.

You might be lucky enough to have a council food scraps collection service (it’s sometimes called FO or FOGO – FO means food organics and GO means garden organics). If you have this option, make sure you’re using it to its full potential. Check what’s accepted and make sure everything that can go in this bin is going in this bin.

If you don’t have this service, there are a few ways you can process your food scraps at home.

You can set up a compost bin. There are two main options – the Dalek-style in-ground bins, that have an open base that you dig into the ground; or the rotary bins that sit on a frame and are great for patios. Sizes vary so you can pick one for a small space or a large family.

Composting is easy and low fuss – if you’re new to composting, this composting guide has more details on how to get started.

You could establish a worm farm. Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors: an indoor one is great if you live in a cold climate, as worms will die if they freeze. They are also excellent for apartments. The worms eat your food scraps and make an amazing nutrient rich product called ‘worm castings’ that is fantastic for gardens.

They take a little (but not much) more effort than a compost bin to maintain – mainly because you have to keep the worms alive. Which means feeding occasionally, and keeping them out of extreme temperatures.

Worm farms come in a variety of shapes and sizes: from plastic ‘worm cafes’ to the large capacity bin-shaped ‘Hungry Bin’ to ceramic and wooden designs (I’ve only seen these available in Europe). And there are in-ground versions too, where a tube drilled with holes is dug directly into the ground or a garden bed.

And there’s the option to DIY – in ground worm farms can be made out of old PVC tube, and worm farm ‘cafes’ can be made using two old polystyrene boxes.

You could set up a bokashi system. These are slightly different from composting and worm farming in that they ferment the food scraps rather than breaking them down. The scraps are placed in a sealed bucket with a tap, and a bokashi bran inoculated with microbes is sprinkled on top.

Fill, sprinkle, fill, sprinkle, until the bucket is full.

Eventually the bokashi waste will need to be buried or composted. Some people add to a compost bin, others add to a pot, top with soil and plant it out.

Bokashi systems are popular with apartment dwellers. They don’t smell, and once full the buckets can be stored for months until a place for burying is found. Plus they are a great way to process meat and fish scraps, cooked food and other items not recommended for compost bins.

If you’d like to know more about bokashi systems, this post explains the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

And finally, if you really like the idea of not throwing away your food scraps, but you’re not in a place to start composting or setting up a worm farm just yet, you can piggyback off of other people’s food waste systems. For free.

Simply find someone or somewhere convenient to you (maybe a school, or a community garden, or a cafe, or a neighbour), and drop your food scraps to them. Finding them isn’t that hard, either – check out the resources sharewaste.com or makesoil.org.

Download (and start using) the OLIO app

Still on the subject of food waste, but now we are not talking food scraps, we are talking edible food – food that isn’t wanted. Food we bought and didn’t like the taste of, food we bought and then plans changed, food that stores or cafes produced and couldn’t sell, that sort of thing. Well, OLIO is the app that allows people (and businesses) to connect food that isn’t wanted with people that want it. For free.

The OLIO app is free, the food is free. There is no catch, just food to be shared and people who want to help. OLIO has been around in the UK since 2015, and now has over 2 million users in more than 46 countries. Best of all, the app has helped save almost 10 million portions of food since it started.

In fact, because it has been so successful, OLIO has recently expanded into non-food items too.

You can read more about OLIO via their website www.olioex.com, and the app is available on Apple and Android.

Buy less stuff from billionaires (and their companies)

Billionaires really don’t need any more money, and they definitely don’t need their coffers lined further by us. I don’t believe anyone becomes a billionaire ethically and sustainably – but even if you did, hoarding all of that wealth is unethical.

(If you have $999 million dollars, then you are not a billionaire. So we are talking about people who have upwards of this.)

I can’t imagine what you can possibly need all that money for. The biggest houses, private jets, buying up entire islands – surely that’s small change when you’re a billionaire?

Oh, and for context: if you worked every single day, making $5,000 a day, from the year 1500 until the year 2020, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d have to work for 548 years, not spending a penny of what you earned, and earning $5000 a day, every day, to be a billionaire.

And yet billionaires own companies like Amazon and H & M, companies which became notorious during Covid-19 for not protecting their workers (who mostly earn minimum wage – or less), trying to avoid paying suppliers and rent, all in order to maximise profits for themselves and shareholders.

This type of business (and wealth hoarding) only benefits the few.

It’s often argued that poor people and those on tight budgets need to shop at these types of stores, where prices are low, in order to survive. But let’s be totally clear – people on tight budgets shopping for essentials do not create multi-million dollar businesses and billionaires. That comes from the middle and upper classes, and people buying more than they need.

Boycotting billionaire-owned businesses might not be an option for you, and that’s okay. But wherever possible, try to shop at these businesses less. Perhaps by choosing to buy nothing, make do, fix what you have, repurpose something else, borrow something rather than buy it, or shopping second-hand.

Or perhaps by choosing to support a small business or independent retailer instead.

When things are cheap, often the true costs are externalised. We (and definitely not the company) don’t pay for them. Perhaps the resources were taken from land that is being degraded or exploited for profit, perhaps the person who made the item didn’t get paid a fair wage, perhaps the employee who sold or packed the item doesn’t have fair employment conditions or access to healthcare.

We often hear the phrase “when we spend money, we vote with our dollars about the kind of world we want to live in”.

Do we really want to live in a world where a few billionaires hoard wealth at the expense of millions of others?

Join your local Buy Nothing group

Whether you’d like to buy less from billionaires, buy less generally or simply help keep resources in use for longer (and therefore reduce waste), the Buy Nothing project is going to help you – in more ways than you can imagine. It’s a network of hyper-local communities engaging in the true gift economy: giving, sharing, borrowing, lending and placing unwanted and unused items back in circulation for use by others.

The groups operate on Facebook. You can only join one group – the one where you live – and what this means is everyone is close by, so it’s easy to collect an old unwanted table, request a cup of sugar, or ask to borrow some glasses for a party, or a lawnmower, or whatever you need to use (but don’t really need to buy).

The great thing about the group is that generosity breeds generosity. People love to give, people love to receive useful things, and everyone loves to save stuff from landfill.

It also means you get to know your neighbours, and build connections.

My Buy Nothing group is the first place I go if I need something that is the kind of thing someone else might have lying around. It’s the first place I go if I’m wanting to pass on something I no longer need. It makes you realise just how much stuff is already in the world, and how willing others are to share it.

It’s hard to articulate just how great the Buy Nothing project is. If you use Facebook, I’d recommend joining your local Buy Nothing group. And if there is no local Buy Nothing group near you, you can start your own.

The year that has gone has definitely made some sustainable habits harder to keep up with, whether it’s because laws have been changed and legislation brought in, businesses have shifted policy, or life just became too hectic and some things just needed to be dropped.

Whilst we can’t just forget about 2020, and a new year doesn’t magic away all the chaos, there is the chance to reset, even just a little. Hopefully these ideas make your 2021 not only a little more sustainable, but easier and more enjoyable for you too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you feeling ready to start getting back on track in 2021? Or are you sitting things out a little longer? Are you going big, or keeping things small? What’s the first thing you want to tackle? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Where to shop online for sustainable Christmas gifts that isn’t Amazon

Someone on my local zero waste Facebook group recently asked the question, “what are some good zero waste stocking fillers?” and my favourite response was this one: “air”.

When it comes to living zero waste, the less stuff we buy the better.

I’m all for cancelling Christmas altogether, in fact.

But we all like to celebrate Christmas in different ways, and if gifts is your thing, I have some ideas – not on what to buy, but on where to buy it.

If I can’t persuade you to cancel Christmas altogether, then perhaps I can persuade you to spend more of your money with independent small businesses, and less of your money with global mega-corporations, and especially with Amazon.

What’s wrong with Amazon?

Yes it’s cheap, and yes it’s convenient – but we all know that most things that are cheap and convenient are causing issues elsewhere. And that’s definitely the case with Amazon, and its founder, Jeff Bezos.

Bezos is a billionaire, worth around $150 billion US dollars. That’s a lot of money. It’s almost too much money to fathom.

To paraphrase a popular tweet: If you worked every single day, making $5,000 a day, from the year 1500 until the year 2020, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d have to work for 548 years (and not spend a penny of what you earned).

To have as much money as Jeff Bezos has, you’d need to earn $5,000 a day, every single day, for about 77,000 years. (Jeff earns about $150,000 a minute.)

No-one becomes a billionaire ethically and sustainably. And Amazon is notorious for its exploitative practices: from not paying tax, to underpaying workers, to exploiting workers, to destroying small businesses.

(If you’d like to know more, and I hope that you do! – there are two great articles that I recommend you read.

Bezos the billionaire hero? Nope. A really good explanation of what being a billionaire actually means (in the context of greenwashing).

The Ethical Issues with Amazon. A well researched piece with links detailing many of Amazon’s wrongdoings.

Hopefully you’ll give them both a read, but if not, my message is this: this Christmas, if you’re buying gifts, try to give more of your money to business owners that aren’t already billionaires, and are working hard to operate ethically and sustainably.

This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Where to buy ethical Christmas gifts online that isn’t Amazon

Books

So many people tell me that they don’t buy books from Amazon (because boycott), they buy from Book Depository – which is actually (sigh) owned by Amazon. As is Abe Books.

Here are some Amazon-free alternatives.

Bookshop.org. An online US bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. You can choose for the profit from your order to go to a bookstore of your choice, or added to an earnings pool to be distributed among independent bookstores. B-Corp certified. UK Bookshop just launched in 2020.

Booktopia. Australia’s biggest locally owned online bookstore, and one of Amazon’s biggest (Australian) competitors.

Chapters Indigo. Canada’s biggest online bookstore.

Dymocks. Australian bookstore chain. Many Dymocks stores are franchises. One of the better-than-Amazon-but-not-the best-choice options.

Hive. Online UK store connected (and giving a cut to) to hundreds of independent bookshops across the UK, by giving them a chance to sell online through Hive.

Indiebound. Launched by the American Booksellers Association, this is a US site for independent bookstores.

Rabble Books & Games. My local independent bookstore (Perth, Australia) that has an amazing range of books. Champions Indigenous writers and illustrators, LGBTQIA+ fiction, small publishers, and diversity. Made the international news when they announced they were going to remove JK Rowling’s books from the shelves to create a safer space (you can still order them in – profits donated to Trans Folk WA) after outrage from the trans community over the content of her latest novel and other transphobic comments.

Readings. Independent bookstore in Melbourne, Australia which also sells books online. Won Australian Book Retailer of the Year 2020.

Waterstones. Big UK bookstore chain. Owned by a hedge fund so not the most independent and ethical option, but a better choice than Amazon.

Wordery. Has a similar model to Book Depository, with free delivery worldwide, only it isn’t owned by Amazon. A great alternative if you need (free) worldwide shipping.

Zero waste and plastic-free reusables

There are so many online stores selling zero waste alternatives and plastic-free swaps, that it’s possible to find everything you need (and plenty of stuff that you probably don’t!) without using Amazon. These are stores I’ve used, or that come recommended by my readers.

To make it easier, I’ve divided into UK, USA and Australian sites.

Australia:

Biome. One of the best Australian online eco stores (and six physical stores, most in Brisbane), founded in 2003. B-Corp certified business.

Flora & Fauna. 100% vegan, ethical and cruelty-free online store. B-Corp certified.

Nourished Life. Online store selling mainly organic, natural skincare and beauty products. There is a lot of plastic packaging to sift through, but they do have a good range of zero waste products.

Seed & Sprout. An online eco store selling beautiful own-branded zero waste and plastic-free products including reusables, cleaning and skincare products.

Spiral Garden. Natural, ethical and sustainable products (and gardening supplies) from this Tasmanian-based store. Lots of unique items.

Urban Revolution (my local Perth-based store). Garden and zero-waste store with a constantly updated range of items.

Zero Store. Large range of zero waste products, with no plastic in sight. Based in Fremantle, Western Australia.

UK:

&Keep. One of the best UK online eco stores, with a fabulous range of products. (The name, &Keep, comes from the premise that if you buy quality, well made things, you only need to buy them once and you will keep them forever.) Most products are plastic-free.

A Slice of Green. One of the longest-standing online eco stores, operating since 2007. Mostly selling reusables, with a small (but excellent) range of books.

Anything but plastic. Wide range of plastic-free products including skincare.

Boobalou. An eco home store with plenty of zero waste and low waste products.

Ethical Superstore. Not just plastic-free and zero waste products (there is plenty on this site you probably don’t need) but a good one-stop shop of ethical products that isn’t Amazon, including food. Their sister store thenaturalcollection.com has more of a focus on ethical homewares.

Eqo Living. An online eco store selling mostly reusables, with some beauty products.

USA:

Life without plastic. The original plastic-free shop (beginning life in 2006). Many products are completely plastic- and silicone-free, and made entirely of metals and natural materials.

Package free shop. Founded by Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers, with products divided into five categories based on values: ‘circular’, ‘compostable’, ‘organic’, ‘100 % plastic-free’ and ‘vegan’.

Tiny Yellow Bungalow. An adorable zero waste shop of hand-picked products (by the owner, Jessie) with an excellent accompanying blog.

Wild Minimalist. Online store with a great range of products.

Underwear and socks

I had to include a section on underwear because it’s the classic Christmas gift, after all – and probably one of the most useful and usable things you can gift someone (assuming you know their size).

Organic Basics. This is my favourite place to get underwear. And I love their socks. Great quality, and very comfortable. They sell a range of basics, made of organic cotton… which you might have gotten from the name.

Pact. This US brand comes highly recommended by many of my readers. A large range of basics made from organic cotton.

Very Good Bra. The only completely zero waste bra on the market. Stephanie, the founder, is so passionate about zero waste fashion, and it shows. They have just released a range of zero waste sleepwear, and also sell underwear (which I haven’t tried but I’m sure I will love just as much as I do their bra.)

These are my top three, but if you’d like more options for ethical underwear, you might find these posts useful:

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Underwear Brands

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Bras (and Bralettes)

A guide to men’s ethical + organic underwear

And slightly more niche, but still an excellent Christmas gift in my view:

Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)

Other sites to consider

Etsy. A great online marketplace for finding independent artists and creators making ethical, low waste and upcycled products.

Gumtree. An online classifieds site, where you can find unwanted gifts and lightly-used products, as well as vintage items.

Who Gives A Crap. If there is one thing people need even more than underwear and socks, it’s toilet paper. I’ve given this as a 40th birthday present, and as a wedding gift (more than once). They even make limited edition Christmas toilet paper.

Christmas gifts might not be my thing, but persuading people to look for options away from Amazon and the big box stores most definitely is my thing. Spending a little more (or perhaps, spending the same, or buying a little less) means not lining the coffers of the richest man in the world, sharing the wealth by supporting independent businesses and having a more positive impact on the planet.

If you have any other ethical sites you’d like to recommend, I’d love to hear them. Happy festivities!

How to buy nothing on Black Friday

Every Black Friday, I set myself a challenge. To buy nothing. (I also like to do this challenge in the Boxing Day/January sales. I just discovered this year that Amazon has started a thing called ‘Prime’ day, and whilst I never shop at Amazon, if I did buy stuff from Amazon, I’d do this challenge on that day, too.)

When I Googled ‘Prime Day’ for the purposes of writing this, I found the following explanation: ‘an annual deal event exclusively for Prime members, delivering two days of special savings on tons of items.

‘Special savings on tons of items.’

‘Tons of items.’

Shudder.

If you’ve been reading what I write for more than about five minutes you’ll know that I’m not a fan of stuff. Mostly because I’m not a fan of waste, and 99% of everything we buy becomes waste within 6 months of purchase (according to the Story of Stuff, by Annie Leonard).

Stuff uses resources to make, energy to manufacture, fuel to transport and creates carbon emissions at every step of the journey – including the rubbish truck that eventually takes it from the kerb to ‘away’.

That’s not to say that I never buy anything. Of course I do! Some stuff is necessary. Some stuff is not necessary, but we (I?!) buy it anyway.

In my mind, one of the most effective skills to have when it comes to sustainable living, is being able to distinguish between ‘need’ and ‘want’ and resist the constant call of advertising.

And Black Friday is the day (well, one of them!) when I particularly like to test my skills, and resist the siren call of ‘stuff’. Which is the same day that marketers are doing everything in their power to seduce us to buy.

Black Friday, the day after US Thanksgiving, actually has another name – and one that I much prefer. Buy Nothing Day. It’s an international day of protest against consumerism, and it began in Canada in 1992.

And so on this day that is a recognised day of protest against consumerism, and on a day when we are being sold to harder than ever, I pledge to buy nothing.

And if you’d like to join me in buying nothing this Buy Nothing day, I thought I’d help you prepare. Because unless you have a will of steel (and if you do, hats off to you!), you’ll likely find it a little more challenging than you expected.

What Buy Nothing day is and what it isn’t

Buy Nothing day is protesting consumerism, a social and economic order that ‘encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.’

That’s not to say you’re subscribing to the idea of never buying anything ever again. It’s about standing up to the marketers, not filling your house with more stuff that in reality you don’t actually need and it’s strengthening your resolve to resist the urge to buy stuff on a particular day only.

And if you do genuinely need something, all you need to do is wait until Buy Nothing day is over (which is the following day – but I’d encourage you to wait a full 30 days if you can) before searching and making a purchase.

I know you think you’ll get a better deal on Black Friday, but so many retailers extend their sales to the weekend, and then have Cyber Monday offers, and then do pre-Christmas sales, Boxing Day sales, New Year sales, discontinued sales, fire sales…

You get the picture.

If you need something, you will undoubtedly be able to get a great offer another time.

And if you’ve been waiting all year with your eye on a particular product that you need and hoping for it to reach a price that you can finally afford, and Black Friday is that day, then there’s no need to feel bad about making that purchase. This post (and Buy Nothing day) is not about that.

This is about protesting consumerism, and avoiding going to the shops or browsing online to look for stuff you might like and will probably find useful and buying it all in the name of a ‘bargain’. It’s about not buying stuff that it hadn’t even crossed your mind to buy the previous day.

Buying an essential item that you’ve been looking out for and genuinely need and couldn’t afford any other time is not the same thing at all.

Am I committing to buying absolutely nothing on Buy Nothing day?

That of course, is up to you, but I like to buy nothing at all – even groceries – on Buy Nothing day. Going to the store or a shopping centre or even going online is bound to tempt me to buy stuff I didn’t need.

And so I’d suggest making sure the pantry is stocked, the car is filled with petrol, you have postage stamps, you have laundry powder, and there are emergency snacks in the cupboard (or whatever it is that you might need) in the few days before, so there is no need to head to the shops.

If that’s not going to work for you, have a think about what you might need to buy (you might only get the opportunity to grocery shop on Fridays, for example, or you might be waiting for Thursday payday before you top up the tank with petrol) – and stick to that list.

And of course, if there’s a genuine emergency – you need medicine, or your hot water boiler explodes – of course you can buy these things.

Remember, it’s about protesting consumerism.

How to prepare for Buy Nothing day

Every* single brand you’ve ever shown even the slightest bit of interest in is going to have some kind of offer, and they are going to do their best to make sure you see it – TV adverts, billboards, shop windows, radio, social media feeds, email newsletters, sponsored posts, etc.

(*Actually this isn’t entirely true. Forward-thinking brands are recognising the negative impacts that Black Friday has, and are choosing to opt out themselves, by closing their stores on this day, or pledging to plant trees or donate proceeds they do make – such as via their websites – to charities on this day. It’s sometimes called Black(out) Friday, or Green Friday. But for the most part, brands are still on the let’s-sell-people-more-stuff bandwagon.)

The less adverts you see, the less you’ll want to buy stuff. It is amazing how often a ‘great deal’ makes you consider buying something that just wasn’t on your radar before.

How to reduce your exposure to advertisements, starting now (because most brands are advertising already – getting us warmed up and ready to buy):

  • Avoid the shopping centres as much as possible;
  • Unsubscribe from retail mailing lists (I’d recommend doing this forever, but even if you unsubscribe until after Christmas, you’ll save yourself a lot of temptation);
  • Unfollow those companies on social media that just sell, sell, sell… or at the very least, mute them;
  • Install an ad blocker on your computer or phone to stop advertisements following you around as you browse the web – I use AdBlock Plus which is free to download;
  • Make a plan to do something away from screens on Buy Nothing day.

With sponsored ads appearing everywhere (even in email inboxes) the best way to avoid temptation is to be offline.

Make a plan to do something else on Black Friday – a hike, an outdoor picnic with friends or family, or a swim in the ocean. Or you could read a (borrowed) book, spend the day doing crafts, or start (or finish!) a DIY project.

Fill the time you could be spending browsing the internet with something else.

Resisting temptation on Black Friday

But what if I see an amazing deal on something I’ve been wanting forever?

You might do. You probably will do. It’s very hard to buy nothing on Buy Nothing day. I’ve been doing this for years, and whilst I’m pretty good – I’ve practiced – at not buying stuff, last year I was bombarded with emails and advertisements from software companies and website plugins and other tools I use for my business.

I wasn’t expecting it, the deals were great – and of course I was tempted. I spent the day agonising over whether I should make a purchase, before deciding not to. But it was close.

(Because of course, these were the ‘best deals ever offered’ and ‘for one day only’. Scarcity is a tool marketing companies use very effectively to encourage us to buy.)

For me the goal is to avoid purchasing anything no matter how amazing the deal might be. It’s standing up to consumerism, flexing my ‘no-more-stuff’ muscle, and putting my values where my wallet is. There will be other days to buy stuff, if I really need to.

I find it helpful to ask myself: is it a ‘want’ or a ‘need’? What would happen if I didn’t make the purchase at this price on this day?

What would be the worst that would happen if I didn’t buy it? (We have to answer this based on our unique circumstances.)

I hope you’ll join me in taking part in Buy Nothing day this year. In a society where we are encouraged to shop, shop, shop and that more is good and upgrading is even better, where marketers have even hijacked sustainability and zero waste to persuade us we need to buy (their) things to be eco-friendly, it feels really good to opt-out.

To say ‘no thank you, I have enough stuff and your marketing isn’t going to work on me.’

Embrace the best deal of Black Friday and make the biggest saving you can: save 100% of your money when you buy nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a regular participant of Buy Nothing day, or is this your first time? Have you taken part in previous years? Did you succeed or did you end up buying something? Any tips for resisting the siren call of the stores? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to cancel Christmas (your guide to a truly sustainable festive season)

Yes, I’m talking about Christmas already. But not because I’m planning to spam you with lists of stuff you honestly don’t need. Instead, I wanted to raise the idea of cancelling Christmas – be it the whole thing, or simply the parts that make you stressed, poor and miserable.

The thing about cancelling (or toning down) Christmas – which is why I’m bringing it up now – is that you need to do it early. There will probably be some difficult conversations to have and choices to make, and if you have a plan in your mind and have set your boundaries, you’ll find it a lot easier, I promise.

Now I’m not here to tell you that you should cancel Christmas. I’m here to offer you an alternative to the status quo, and talk you though the steps that I took.

Christmas is a non-event for me. I stopped the gifts, the decorations, the excess food, the waste and the stress of it all at least six years ago. For me, Christmas is a quiet, peaceful (and inexpensive) time of year and I love it.

Every year around this time I like to counter all the ‘sustainable things to buy for him / her / them’ gift guides and ‘zero waste gifts for your boss’s wife / dog / second cousin’s goldfish’ posts by talking about how we can go about December WITHOUT BUYING ALL THE STUFF and working ourselves into a frenzy.

Cancelling Christmas might sound a little extreme, but like most things, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even if you’re not up for cancelling Christmas entirely, there are probably aspects of the holiday that you’d like to let go of (or at the very least, tone down).

This is your permission slip to let the stressful, consumer-driven, wasteful, expensive, unfulfilling and unsustainable parts of Christmas go.

Getting started with ‘cancelling Christmas’

The first thing to do is decide which aspects of Christmas you’d like to cancel. It might be the entire thing, or there might just be certain aspects that you dislike. You might like to just do away with the expensive, stressful and wasteful aspects of the festivities.

(For me, cancelling Christmas is not the same as boycotting Christmas. Cancelling is more like opting out, whereas boycotting is actively avoiding Christmas. Boycotting is a lot more work. I might go to Christmas drinks with friends, or eat a mince pie, but more in the spirit of spending time with people whose company I enjoy and indulging in good food than ‘being Christmassy’. I cancel the parts I don’t want to engage in, and I make exceptions.)

To decide which aspects of Christmas you’d like to cancel, take some time to think about what Christmas means to you, which bits bring you joy, and which bits bring anguish.

(You may love Christmas baking or decorating the tree with your family. You may hate going to your cousin’s Christmas party with all the single-use plastic, processed food and your racist uncle, or find the office tradition of buying ‘novelty’ gifts for everyone in your team a little wasteful.)

Action step: write a list of all the Christmas activities and traditions you’re expecting to have this year, and divide them up into ‘things you love’, ‘things you’re ready to cancel’ and ‘undecided’. You can do this alone, or with your family – whichever you think will work best.

Those things on your ‘ready to cancel’ list are your starting point.

Start making alternative festive plans now

Hoping Christmas will go away by ignoring it until Christmas eve (when you realise it hasn’t gone away, and panic purchase a bunch of things) is not a good strategy. Instead, you need to be thinking about this stuff early. The sooner the better.

The first part of making alternative plans is thinking about what it is you don’t like about the existing plans. From there you can decide if there are alternatives that might work better or be a compromise. (I’m not saying you have to compromise, but you might prefer to ease in gradually, especially if your family is less than convinced.)

I also found it helpful to distinguish between what I actually liked and wanted to do, and what I felt obligated to do. If I’m going to celebrate Christmas, I want to come from a place of joy and not a place of obligation or guilt.

Action step: have a think about the following categories, and decide what aspects of each you like and what you don’t like, and how you could make them better (or whether you can do without).

  • Decorations;
  • Food;
  • Gift wrapping;
  • Gifts.

If you’d like some ideas for low waste options for Christmas, you’ll find this post helpful.

Make your rules and set your boundaries

The next step is to make some rules around your Christmas celebrations this year. They might be rules just for you, but more likely there will be rules (let’s call them requests, it sounds less forceful) that you need others to hear.

You might decide that you’re only giving gifts to children this year, and not adults; you might decide that you’re cooking a vegetarian Christmas dinner rather than trying to cater for everyone else; you might decide to only buy second-hand gifts and nothing new; you might decide something else entirely.

Action step: when you’re thinking about your rules, it’s really helpful to think about your ‘why’. What is it about the current situation that you find stressful and why do you want to change? You might have spiritual reasons, environmental reasons, mental health reasons, financial reasons, a mix of a few different things or something else entirely. But knowing why you want to create change will enable you to have better conversations, and also keep you motivated to stick to your rules.

Have some awkward conversations

When it comes to gifts especially, you’ll need to speak to those people you are expecting to give to you (or members of your family). But there might be other things you need to speak about, too. The sooner, the better.

It will probably be an uncomfortable conversation, and can go two ways. On one hand, they might be relieved and pleased to know there’s less expectation, pressure and expense. On the other hand, they might be outraged.

There will probably be a bit of confusion too – why not? What changed? It can be helpful to explain your ‘why’ – that stuff/waste/running around/ spending all your money/trying to do it all makes you anxious, you already have what you need, you’d rather they save their money, Christmas isn’t about the stuff…

If there is a lot of resistance, you might want to discuss compromises. (Then again, you might not!) Compromise a a good way to ease into the shifting of ‘tradition’ and expectation. If ‘no gifts’ is too brutal, maybe a secret Santa arrangement (where a pool of people only buy one gift for one person, rather than for everyone) or some rules around certain types of gifts (no plastic! only second-hand! etc) or choosing experiences instead.

Action step: have any difficult conversations that you need to, but try to make them two-way conversations and not one-way lists of demands. Express your wants and needs but listen to concerns too and try to find a joint place of understanding.

Expect resistance (change never comes in a straight line)

Just because you’ve set some rules, it doesn’t mean that others will follow or respect them. It can be helpful to have a back-up plan – what you’ll say and what you’ll do if people disregard your choices.

Shaking up Christmas can be a big deal for some people, and they may resist. It is my experience that it takes a few years to bring everyone to the party. What helps is sticking to your principles.

For example, you ask for no gifts, and you receive a bunch of stuff you don’t need and know you won’t use. I’m not sure you need to be overly gracious (although you don’t need to be rude). If you have clearly stated your rules and set your boundaries (no gifts, thanks) and someone has just stomped all over them, that’s on them, not you.

You can be polite, and say that you appreciate the gesture but you did clearly ask for no gifts. If that’s too hard (it’s very hard!) you can be polite, say nothing, and make a plan to gift them or donate them as soon as possible.

(I am wary of keeping things when I’ve specifically asked for nothing, as I don’t want to undermine my own rules and reinforce to the other person that they were in fact right. It might be easier in that moment, but it’s not helping in the long-term – and there are a lot more Christmases to come. Here’s a guide to donating unwanted Christmas gifts.)

You might only mention that you donated those unwanted gifts a few months later, when there’s less pressure. It might be that you don’t bring it up until the following Christmas, but these conversations need to happen, and to keep on happening, if you want to create change.

Action step: without overthinking things too much, give some thought to some of the stumbling blocks and how you might be able to deal with them. Having a back-up plan can be helpful.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

Don’t be afraid to try things. It’s okay to give things a go and change your mind. If you cancel Christmas and decide it’s no fun at all, you can ensure next year is the funnest yet. You can go strong this year and soften things up a little next year, if need be.

Sometimes breaking the traditions you’ve held for years can be helpful in deciding which bits you actually do enjoy (and miss).

Now I’d love to hear from you! Which bits of Christmas do you love, and which bits are you ready to cancel? Have you already started cancelling Christmas – what did you do and how did it go? How have you adapted over time? Any advice to add? We’d love to hear your thoughts so please share in the comments below!

Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)

There are three main product types when it comes to having a zero waste period: menstrual cups, reusable pads, and period underwear. I’ve tried all three. I was a very early adopter of the menstrual cup, buying my first one back in 2003, but I was a definite latecomer to the period pants idea – I only got my first pair a couple of years ago.

Today I wanted to answer some questions about period underwear: do they work, how do you look after them, and what are the pros and cons compared to other products.

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what this means at the bottom of the post.

If you’re just after a recommendation, I’ve only ever used and am very happy with Modibodi (this is an Australian site, or try Modibodi UK).

I’ve listed some good alternative brands at the end of the post, if you like to shop around.

Period underwear: how does it work

Period pants are reusable and leak-proof underwear which replaces the need for single-use period products (as well as incontinence products).

The gusset is made of layers of materials that resist stains, wick moisture and absorb liquid. It’s built into the underwear in a way that isn’t particularly noticeable – period underwear looks like regular underwear. You might be able to feel that the fabric is slightly thicker when holding a pair, but when you’re wearing them, you truly can’t feel a thing.

Most brands have products with varying absorbency to accommodate different flows. In the Modibodi range, I have light-moderate (absorbancy is 10ml which is 1-2 tampons or 2 teaspoons), moderate-heavy (absorbancy is 15ml, the equivalent of 2-3 tampons or 3 teaspoons) and the heavy-overnight (absorbancy is 20ml, the equivalent of 3-4 tampons or 4 teaspoons) range.

Other brands make even more absorbent options.

Compared to my overnight pad, the overnight pants are much thinner and far more comfortable.

How long you can wear them will depend on your flow, but in most cases they can last 8-10 hours and up to 24 hours (should you want to wear the same underwear for that long).

What does menstrual underwear feel like to wear?

The thing that really got me over the line to being a fan is how comfortable they are. I can only talk about Modibodi as its the only brand that I’ve ever worn, but they are super comfortable. The fabric is soft, the elastic doesn’t dig in, there’s no weird plastic crackling noises or awkward pad sensation – and there’s nothing to slip out of place.

They absorb moisture really well, and don’t feel wet or sticky. Because the gussets are black (even if you choose a light fabric or pattern) they don’t look much different when used to when they were clean, and they don’t stain.

(In comparison a lot of pads are white. Black is a good design choice, in my opinion.)

How do you look after period underwear?

Easy! They are machine washable, and you just pop them in the washing machine. Most brands suggest using a cold cycle. (I’ve also on occasion put my Modibodi pairs in the 30°C cycle and they were fine, but fabrics do tend to last longer when you follow the instructions.)

Prior to washing (and ideally as soon as possible after you’ve finished wearing them) just rinse them with cold water until the water runs clear. No need to soak, hurrah!

I tend to rinse and then pop in the washing machine ready to go (which is how sometimes they end up on a 30°C cycle.) I always line dry everything, so they go on the line. Dryers shorten the lifespan of your clothing.

How long does period underwear last?

You can expect your period underwear – if looked after properly – to last two to three years. I’m always one to push these things as far as possible, and two years in my original pairs are still fine and working well.

How many pairs do I need?

That depends if you’d like to use them on their own, or in conjunction with pads or a menstrual cup. I use a menstrual cup, so I use the menstrual underwear for when I’m expecting my period to start and I’m going to be far from home, for nights and for exercise (in conjunction with my cup – I have a heavy flow and it can fill up and leak) and on the last day or two.

I started out with two pairs along with my cup, and it did mean needing to launder them mid-cycle. If you’d like to use in conjunction with a cup, you can manage with two pairs but three or four would be better.

If you’d like to use them on their own, it’s going to depend on how often you’d like to launder them. I think you could get buy with five pairs if you’re organised, but you might prefer more. You can always use a pad if you get caught out with no clean laundry.

Pros and cons to menstrual underwear

Things I love about period underwear:

  • Compared with menstrual cups and pads, period underwear is the most fuss-free and straightforward option. Super easy to use, no skills required, and there’s nothing to go wrong.
  • There’s no special maintenance either – no boiling or soaking. Anything that can go in the washing machine is a win with me.
  • Reusable menstrual products are much cheaper over their lifetime than buying disposable products every month. For extra savings, I like that period underwear is a 2-in-1 option – a period product and underwear, too. With pads and cups you still need to provide your own underwear.

Things I like less about period underwear:

  • If you’re a dedicated minimalist, you might prefer the simplicity of a single menstrual cup rather than more stuff in your underwear drawer. This was why I originally resisted buying more pairs of menstrual underwear. But they are just so comfortable, I’ve decided they can have space in my drawer.
  • They are not plastic-free: all brands have polyester and/or other plastics in the gusset lining to make them waterproof. Because it’s a reusable product that I find useful I’m happy to compromise, but if you’re strictly plastic-free these might not be for you.
  • A silicone menstrual cup can last 5 to 10 years, whereas menstrual underwear lasts 2 to 3 years. So you’ll have to replace it more frequently.

Different period pants brands (and why you might choose one over another):

Period pants are a product that are becoming increasingly more mainstream, and I’m sure there will be more companies popping up over the years. I’ve not listed every company, but those with a notable point of difference to other brands.

AWWA (New Zealand) – A small range of undies with a couple of organic cotton options, and period proof swimwear. Sizes from XXS – 6XL. Ships worldwide.

W: awwathelabel.com

Flux Undies (UK) – A few different styles made from Tencel fabric (all in black). Ships worldwide.

W: fluxundies.com

Knix (Canada) – a good range of colours (with some patterned fabric) and styles. Fabric is polyester. Ships worldwide.

W: knix.com

Modibodi (Australia) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.com

Modibodi (UK) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.co.uk

Thinx (USA) – a very popular American brand with a great range of styles and colours. Thinx offers a large vegan range; they also have some organic cotton products. Ships worldwide.

W: shethinx.com

WUKA (UK) – have a small range made using sustainable fabrics. Their low flow and heavy flow underwear (only available in black) uses carbon neutral Lenzing modal fabric, and their medium flow underwear (in black and grey) is certified organic cotton. Ships worldwide.

W: wuka.co.uk

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any experiences – good or bad – with particular brands or products we’d love for you to share. Any great brands I’ve missed off the list? Any questions about how they work? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

This post contains some affiliate links. What this means is, if you click through a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and brands who are committed to sustainability and quality, because my priority is always you, the reader.

What to do with old plastic when you’re new to zero waste

The scenario: you’ve decided to change your relationship with plastic. Whether you’re cutting out the single-use plastic, choosing to refuse all the plastic you can, or full-on going zero waste, chances are, you already have plenty of plastic in your home.

(I call this plastic ‘legacy plastic’. The stuff you accumulated before you knew any better or gave much thought to where things end up once we are done with them.)

So… what do we do with all this plastic?

I rarely think there is one answer to these questions. As with most things, it depends – on what it is, what it does (even where you live). Here’s a guide to dealing with legacy plastic.

First of all, do nothing

Don’t follow any decision to cut out plastic or go zero waste by immediately throwing every single piece of plastic you own in the bin. Don’t give it all away yet, either.

When we decide to make a lifestyle change, we want to take action immediately – but chucking stuff out is not the action to take (at least not yet).

Instead, you’re better off just noticing what plastic you have in your home, and how you use it. Paying attention to your current habits might not feel as action-oriented as dramatically discarding stuff, but it’s more useful in the long run.

This way, you’ll notice which things you still need and use, and which things are probably ready to be passed on to new owners.

What to do with single-use disposable plastic

Look at all the single-use plastic you’re currently using in your home. (If you find it helpful, make a list to keep track.) This is anything you’re using once before it gets thrown away or recycled.

Some of this will be packaging with products inside: coffee pods, sachets of sauce, shampoo or moisturiser, potato chips/crisps wrappers.

Some of this will simply be single-use plastic: bin liners, gladwrap/clingfilm, plastic straws, zip lock bags, disposable dish cloths.

With the products, you can start to look for alternatives for future purchases that don’t come in packaging. In the meantime, decide whether you’d like to use these products up, or whether you’d prefer to donate them.

When I decided to reduce my plastic use, I used up all the food that I had in plastic packaging because it was ingredients and products I had purchased for eating. It also meant I could slowly replace items and look for alternatives as things ran out, one at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once.

In my bathroom, I had a box full of sachets and free samples I’d collected over the years that I really couldn’t see myself using. I gave these away (I’d recommend Facebook Marketplace, the Buy Nothing project, Freecycle or Freegle to find a new home for these types of things).

With the non-product single-use plastic, the same choice applies – would you prefer to use it up, or give it away?

Deciding to reduce your plastic use and using up what you already have are not contradictory. There’s absolutely no need to feel guilty about continuing to use plastic after you’ve made the decision to use less. You’ll have plenty of future shopping decisions where you can make better choices.

If you feel weird about using plastic now that you’ve decided to give up plastic, there’s no harm in giving things away.

Rather than seeing yourself as an enabler of someone else’s bad plastic habit, think of it as reducing plastic – because if they are going to buy it anyway, better to use up yours than buy a brand new one.

Also, see it as the chance to plant a seed. When you gift the item you can tell them why you’ve made this choice (no need to be judgemental, simply say something like ‘I’ve decided to reduce my plastic use, and I’m choosing to stop using gladwrap now’). It might spark a conversation, and it might not, but explaining your ‘why’ to people can help people join the dots and think about your actions.

What to do with reusable plastic

You’ve probably got various reusable plastic containers, and other household items made out of plastic: hairbrushes, laundry baskets, coat hangers, even furniture.

It is incredibly expensive (not to mention, wasteful!) to ditch all the plastic for non-plastic equivalents. The best option (from a waste standpoint) is to continue using what you have.

But what if you don’t want to continue using what you have?

Firstly, ask yourself why.

Is it because you’ve been reading about the chemical additives in plastic, and you no longer want to store food in it from a health perspective?

Or is it because you think glass storage jars will make for much better Pinterest photos?

It’s your zero waste life and you can do whatever you like to make it work for you. But the fundamental truth is that it is more eco-friendly to use existing resources than buy new ones.

I’m not telling you to keep stuff you won’t use, or telling you that replacing stuff is wrong. But if we don’t want stuff, we can pass it on to others so that they can use it.

And we can try to find our replacements second-hand, to reduce the impact of our ‘new’ stuff.

  • If you no longer want to use something for its original purpose (for example, plastic containers for food storage) ask yourself if you can repurpose within your home. Perhaps they can be used to store non-food items such as laundry powder, or sewing supplies, or stationery.
  • If you don’t have a use for something, find someone who does. Try online classifieds like Gumtree or Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace or other social media platforms.
  • If something is in good condition, you could try donating to the charity shop/second-hand store – but check that this is an item they actually take before you pop it in a collection box.
  • If you’re looking for something to replace it, try those same places you offloaded the stuff you didn’t want: online classifieds, social media platforms and charity shops or second-hand stores. You might not be successful, but it’s important to try.

What to do with broken plastic

One of the major design flaws with this ‘material that lasts forever’ is that it also tends to break. It becomes brittle over time, bits snap off other bits, and eventually it ends up being irreparable.

If you’re truly committed to reducing your waste, the first thing to do is see if the item is fixable. If only a small part is broken, better to try and fix it and keep it in use rather than toss the whole item.

If something isn’t repairable and is most definitely broken, you have a few options.

Can it be reused? You’d be amazed what people can do with broken stuff. From growing mushrooms out of broken laundry baskets, to turning old electrical appliances into lamps, to salvaging parts, your broken items might still have value to someone else.

List your items on the sites mentioned above, being clear about the fact they are broken, and see if anyone is interested. You never know.

Can it be recycled? First, check if your item can go in kerbside recycling (if you have this service).

Next, check all of your other local recycling options.

(Australia) Recycle Near You – a website run by Planet Ark (a not-for-profit environmental organisation), which allows anyone to search for what can and can’t be recycled in their household recycling services, as well as search for drop-off locations to recycle a wide range of items including electronic waste, batteries, printer cartridges, white goods, furniture and more.

(UK) Recycle Now – operated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRP) with information on where and how to recycle in England, with links to sister sites Recycle for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Recycle for Wales.

(USA) Earth911 – one of North America’s most extensive recycling databases, with over 350 materials and 100,0000 listings included.

Can I go zero waste and throw my old plastic away?

The goal of zero waste is to keep things out of landfill, so throwing everything away to go zero waste isn’t zero waste. But the reality is, *some* plastic will probably end up in the bin.

If you’ve exhausted the other options – it’s not reusable or repairable, no-one else is willing to take it off your hands and it’s definitely not recyclable, then there really isn’t much choice but to throw it away.

Waste is a product of our current system, and it’s not something we can completely avoid.

(I mean, you could store it in a jam jar for prosperity so you don’t throw it in the bin, but really, it’s still waste – and hanging on to stuff like this tends to keep us feeling guilty. Let it go.)

Don’t feel bad about having to toss stuff you acquired when you really had no idea about the problems with plastic, and before you had any knowledge about what is and isn’t recycable where you live.

The thing about deciding to go zero waste, or reduce your plastic use, is that it’s a decision made now to guide your actions and choices in the future. But of course we made less-than-ideal choices in the past. Sure we have to deal with these, but it’s not a reason to feel guilty.

As tempting as it might be to toss all our bad decisions away and start with a clean slate, the real challenge of the low waste lifestyle is making the most of resources – by keeping products in circulation and in use.

When it comes to legacy plastic, if we are trying to reduce our waste footprint, we have a responsibility not to add to the landfill problem if it can be avoided. It’s not always easy and we won’t be perfect. But all the things we can continue to use, gift to others if we know we won’t use them, repurpose, repair and eventually recycle, help keep new resources in the ground.

Try your best, and do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Struggling with legacy plastic and wondering what to do with it? Got some great tips for passing on unwanted plastic to people who need and will use it? Any plastic dilemmas or lessons learned you’d like to share? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Zero waste and the circular economy (and what it has to do with us)

Expressions like ‘zero waste’ and ‘circular economy’ get bandied about a lot. You might call them buzzwords. But the thing about buzzwords is that, as they become more popular, they often lose some of their meaning or get used outside of the correct context.

Which is why people distrust the expression ‘zero waste’ (because on a literal level, it is impossible to waste nothing, ever) and why people often think that ‘the circular economy’ simply means ‘better recycling’.

Wrong!

I thought I’d put together a post explaining what the circular economy is, what the concept really means, how it relates to zero waste, and why it’s about so much more than recycling. In short: the circular economy, and what it has to do with you.

What is ‘zero waste’?

I’ve talked about the meaning of ‘zero waste’ before, but to summarise quickly: it was first coined as a manufacturing term in the 1970s by the chemist Paul Palmer who was interested in reducing the amount of useful chemicals going to waste in industrial processes.

‘Zero waste’ was later adopted as a lifestyle movement in the 2000s: people who live a zero waste lifestyle aim to throw nothing away (nothing to landfill or incinerators) and recycle as little as possible.

By following a set of principles – refuse, reduce, re-use, repurpose and repair – and buying less, the goal is to reduce the amount of waste produced.

Of course, the world isn’t really set up for zero waste living (yet) and almost every person working towards living a zero waste lifestyle will still create waste (if not in their own homes, then it is guaranteed there was waste created upstream).

The way the world works right now, zero waste is more like a philosophy or a set of values than a literal translation. (And because the ‘zero’ part can be misleading or seem unattainable, more people are now choosing to say ‘less’ waste or ‘low’ waste rather than zero.)

What is the circular economy?

A circular economy is a systemic approach to economic development which is designed to benefit businesses, society and the environment.

This is in contrast to our current model, which is linear, and operates as ‘take-make-‘waste’.

A circular economy is regenerative by design – resources aren’t ‘used up’ but are kept in circulation, and are eventually remade, repurposed, refitted or recycled.

This illustration is an excellent simple summary of the linear, recycling and circular economies. (Source: Plan C – Empowering circular futures.)

The circular economy is based on three principles:

  • Designing out waste and pollution;
  • Keeping products and materials in use;
  • Regenerating natural systems.

You may have heard about Earth Overshoot Day – the date when humanity uses up all of the resources that can be renewed in a year.

In a sustainable world, we’d be reaching this day on 31st December, and in a regenerative world we’d still have resources left on 31st December.

In our current world, we’re reaching this date on 22nd August. In nine months, we are using up all the resources we have, and taking from future years (and future generations) for the rest of the year.

You can read all about Earth Overshoot Day here.

But of course, different countries use resources differently, and so the people behind Earth Overshoot Day have gone further, and calculated on what day Earth Overshoot Day would be if everyone in the world lived as the people of a particular country.

For the US it’s 14th March and for Australia it’s 30th March. That’s when all the resources for the year are used up.

When you hear the phrase “if everyone lived like Americans/Australians, we’d need four planets – and we’ve only got one” it’s another way of saying this.

But waste and pollution are not accidents. They are design choices. By embracing the circular economy, viewing waste as a design flaw and keeping materials in use (rather than sticking to our current take-make-waste model, we can make better use of resources, and create an economy that is regenerative.

The role of individuals (us!) in embracing the circular economy

Let me guess – you’re not a product designer, and you don’t advise government on economic policy? It’s easy to think that the circular economy is an abstract concept that has little to do with everyday people like us. And it’s easy to think that we, as individuals, have little influence to create change on something so big and all-encompassing.

But both of these ideas are wrong.

The circular economy recognises the importance of the economy needing to work effectively at all scales – for big and small businesses, for organisations and individuals, globally and locally.

We might not design products or write policy, but our individual choices are an important part in creating change.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation do a lot of important work on the circular economy (I’d recommend looking at their website if you’d like to know more) and have created this diagram to illustrate the circular economy system- it’s sometimes called the butterfly diagram.

That’s us (individuals), in the middle, split into two behaviours – ‘consumer’ and ‘user’.

We consume things (like energy). But we also use things – and the less things we use up, the better (and more circular).

If you’re thinking this diagram looks complicated, focus only on the blue section, and forget about the rest. This blue part is where individuals have an influence. The loops show all the actions we can take to keep resources in use, and contribute to the circular economy.

Share, maintain and prolong:

Keeping products and materials in use by prolonging their lifespan for as long as possible.

For product designers and manufacturers, this means designing for durability, and making sure it is simple an straightforward to repair an item.

For us as individuals, this means passing on things we no longer use or need to those who will use them, servicing the things we own that need servicing so that they continue to work properly, and fixing stuff when it breaks.

Sharing stuff:

I’m a big fan of the sharing economy (the real sharing economy, where people genuinely share stuff). The idea of everyone owning everything they might ever want to use, and most of things languishing on shelves and in cupboards for most of the time, is a complete waste of resources.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the library. (And hopefully, you are all members of your local library!) Mine lends out books (obviously), DVDs, CDs, board games and magazines, as well as ebooks, e-magazines and even online movies and documentaries.

Then there are toy libraries, tool libraries (the Auckland Library of Tools is particularly inspiring, and there’s a new Tools and Things library coming to Perth very soon), libraries of things…

They vary in scale from registered charities to informal community initiatives. The Community Dishes library I set up a couple of years ago is an example of an informal arrangement.

(And of course, then there’s hiring, which is still a form of sharing. Hiring furniture, tools, flatware and glasses, vehicles – it all maximises the use of those resources.)

Fixing stuff:

Whether we fix stuff ourselves or take it to a place to be fixed, mending our possessions keeps them in circulation longer and stops us using resources to make new stuff.

I learned how to sew buttons back on and darn holes many years ago, but that’s pretty much where my mending skills end. However, I am the proud owner of this book, Modern Mending, written by my friend and talented mender Erin Lewis-fitzgerald, which will make me a master mender, I have no doubt.

If you’d like to learn to mend clothes, I’d recommend reading this book.

Longer term, we can start thinking about the longevity of a product when we buy it, rather than realising too late that it can’t be repaired. We can pay attention to quality, and buy things from companies who supply spare parts and provide assistance to fix things (rather than those companies who deliberately make it difficult, so we have to go buy a whole new one).

This (second-hand) coffee machine was easily fixed simply by ordering a replacement seal, and borrowing a short screwdriver to swap it with the worn one.

There is a great free resource called ifixit which provides free repair guides for, in their words, ‘everything’. They believe in the right to repair, and help people fix their stuff.

Reuse and redistribute:

Products and materials can be reused multiple times and redistributed to new users in their original form, or with little enhancement or change.

Reuse:

‘Reuse’ is the part that all zero wasters (and everyone who cares about reducing their rubbish) love. Whether we are talking about the reusables we buy (KeepCups, water bottles, lunchboxes), or the hoarding of glass jars for *all the things*, choosing to reuse is a big part of zero waste living.

But the problem with this individual reuse model is that it’s up to us, the individuals. We have to remember our stuff and we have to seek out the places that will accept it for use.

It relies on us not forgetting, being prepared and planning ahead. It helps if we know our neighbourhoods well. It requires us to have the disposable income to invest in owning these things (and then the organization skills not to lose them).

Imagine if, rather than the onus being on individuals, the system was actually designed this way.

Thinking about reusables like coffee cup and lunchboxes, companies are starting to offer an alternative reuse model – one where the customer doesn’t need to buy or own the reusable, or even hire it – they can simply borrow it.

These schemes are popping up all over the world. Renome is a coffee cup scheme based in Perth – you pay a $3 deposit for the cup and $2 for the lid. The cups can be returned to any participating outlet and either the deposit is refunded, or the cup is swapped for a fresh one.

Returnr is a Melbourne-base business that has lunchboxes as well as coffee cups, and can even be used with the food delivery app Deliveroo. They have a similar deposit scheme – pay $6 to borrow the container, and receive a refund when it is returned.

You might have heard of Loop, the reusable scheme currently being trialled around the world with some of the big-name brands in the big supermarkets in partnership with Terracycle. They supply products in reusable containers, which customers pay a small deposit for, and these containers can be returned and refilled.

The Loop UK trialed launched with Tesco in July 2020, and the Loop Australia trial will start with Woolworths in mid-2021.

If you’re interested in finding out more, Ander Zabala (a UK zero waster) recently wrote about his experience with Loop UK.

(There’s lots I could say about the merits and drawbacks of the Loop scheme, but I’ll spare you – for now. Whether you think this is a great idea or a marketing scam, it is interesting that big companies are looking into this and potentially making the idea of reusable packaging and circular systems a more mainstream and more accessible one.)

Redistribute:

If you own something you don’t use, there’s really no reason to keep it. Give it to someone who needs it and will use it. You can sell stuff or you can donate it – online platforms such as eBay, Gumtree and Craigslist have made it so much easier to find people who want our old things.

My absolute favourite platform is the Buy Nothing project, which is a network of neighbourhood groups dedicated to sharing things (you can only join one group – the one where you live), and runs on Facebook.

I’ve talked about it a million times before, but if you haven’t heard of it, head to the Buy Nothing Project website.

If you’re looking for more options, I’ve written about alternative places to give away stuff you no longer need here, and all the different ways to share excess food here.

Refurbish and remanufacture:

Refurbishment: a largely cosmetic process, where a product is repaired as much as possible, usually without disassembly and. replacement of components.

Remanufacturing: a product is disassembled into components and rebuilt (replacing components as required) to as-new condition with the same warranty as a new product.

The best example I can think of for this is the electronics companies that sell refurbished phones, tablets, mp3 players, laptops and desktop computers that are approved for resale and come with a manufacturer warranty.

Rather than buying new, we can seek out refurbished items. Outside the electronics sector it might not be something we see often, but it’s something to keep an eye out for.

Recycle:

Reducing a product all the way back to its basic material level, which allows these materials (or a portion of them) to be remade into new products.

Recycling is part of the circular economy, but it’s the lowest value of all the processes because of the energy used and material losses that happen when something is recycled.

Recycling something into a lower quality product that then cannot be recycled and has to be landfilled is not the aim of the circular economy.

Plastic recycling in particular barely reduces consumption. Take soft plastics (often used in packaging: crisp/potato chip wrappers, crackers, bread bags, etc). They can be dropped off for recycling at local supermarkets…

They are recycled into traffic bollards and plastic benches.

Whether this is a useful way to use plastic is arguable (it seems there is less of a need for benches to be made out of recycled plastic and more a need to do something with all this plastic), but the issue is, this recycling is doing nothing to reduce the need to use new plastic to create more crisp/potato chip wrappers, bread bags, and so on.

It’s an almost linear system, not a circular system.

Recycling is better than not recycling, of course. And recycling still needs to be encouraged. But as a society, we need to move towards recoginsing that recycling is the last option, not the first.

It’s true, in many places, recycling is our best and perhaps only option. Which is why we need the engineers and material scientists and policy makers embracing the circular economy – they need to design out this kind of waste.

The circular economy needs the involvement of everyone, on all levels. As policies change, systems are redesigned and schemes are introduced, we can support these changes and help them thrive. We all have a part to play.

Manufacturers and big companies sometimes like to make us feel like it’s up to us. All the responsibility lies on our shoulders, and we should feel guilty if we do anything less than.

Have you ever seen the label ‘please recycle responsibly’ on some packaging – and discovered it’s not recyclable where you live? It’s as if, by writing this on the packaging, the company is passing the onus onto us.

But the real question is, why aren’t companies ensuring there is infrastructure to recycle the packaging they produce? Why are they even allowed to contribute to waste and pollution through poor design choices?

As individuals, we mustn’t bear all of the guilt for trying to live a sustainable life when the system often makes it difficult and even encourages waste. But we also have to be careful not to give our power away. To think that we have to wait for companies and governments to act before we can do anything.

We have power in our actions and choices. We can write to companies. We can petition governments. We can support the businesses trying to do the right thing. Where we have the option, can spend our hard-earned money wisely. We can tell our friends and family about good ideas and innovative solutions.

We might not be product designers or policy writers, but work on the circular economy is well underway, and as individuals/shoppers/users/responsible citizens, we have plenty of opportunity to support it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Anything about the circular economy you find confusing? Any good examples of circular systems you’d like to share? Have you used the Loop system, and what was your experience? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How to make sourdough crumpets (a recipe)

Whilst everyone was embracing sourdough baking at the start of lockdown, I was doing my own experiments – with sourdough crumpets.

(I’m pretty happy with my sourdough bread game, although the oven at my current house isn’t really up to the task – you need a hot oven for a good crust, and mine isn’t so great at getting hot. Shame, considering that’s its only real goal in life.)

And so I thought I’d give sourdough crumpets a crack.

Crumpets, if you don’t know what they are, are a bread product that’s a little like a pancake except it’s full of holes. Which means whatever you smother on your crumpet drips through the holes. Crumpets are common in the UK as a breakfast item, traditionally smothered in butter.

I thought about making regular crumpets, using instant yeast, but that involved a trip to the store to buy instant yeast (which was sold out in most places). Not to mention, I find it’s one of those things that is purchased, two teaspoons are used, and then it expires and goes to waste.

(Oh, quick food waste tip. If you do buy instant yeast, store it in the freezer and not the pantry. This will extend the shelf life. Freezing doesn’t kill the yeast, just slows it down.)

I actually find sourdough easier. Plus sourdough always tastes better.

And so my Covid-19 baking was to perfect sourdough crumpets, and here is the recipe.

Sourdough starter

To make sourdough anything, you will need a sourdough starter. The good news is, you can make your own using flour, water and a bit of time. (I’d recommend using unbleached flour, and ideally organic, as you use the yeasts and bacteria naturally present on the flour to make the starter.) It’s very easy.

I’ve written about how to make your own sourdough starter before. You’ll need about a week to get it going (the time will depend on how warm your kitchen is).

If you’d like to cheat, track down a sourdough starter from someone local. I didn’t want to wait, and so I got a ready-made starter from a neighbour via the Buy Nothing group. (Other Facebook groups or online classifieds such as Gumtree would be ideal places to look.) You don’t need much.

Sourdough crumpets recipe

With sourdough recipes, there are three parts – the first is making the leaven or sponge (as it’s often called), which requires several hours of waiting time, and the next is making the batter or dough, and the final stage is cooking the crumpets.

It’s not a quick process, but the actually ‘doing’ part doesn’t take long. You just have to do a fair bit of waiting.

It will take about 24 hours from the start until the batter is ready to cook. If you want crumpets for breakfast, you’ll need to start the morning before.

This recipe makes 6 crumpets.

Ingredients you will need:

  • 20g sourdough starter
  • 200g spelt or plain flour
  • 200g water
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp honey / maple syrup / rice malt syrup (optional)
  • Coconut oil or butter, for greasing

You’ll also need some metal circles. (I wouldn’t recommend silicone, as the metal heats up and cooks the sides.) You can buy purpose-made crumpet rings, or you can use cookie cutters (this is what I did), or you can DIY them buy cutting the top and bottom off of a tuna can (be careful and don’t cut yourself).

Stage one: making the sourdough leaven

For 6 crumpets, you will need to make 200g sourdough leaven. (If you already have 200g of sourdough starter, you can skip this step.)

I always use the ratio 1:5:5 of sourdough starter:water:flour. Add 20g of sourdough starter to a bowl and mix with 100g water (filtered or boiled and cooled down is ideal) and 100g flour. Cover with a tea towel, and leave for at least 8 hours. During this time the mixture will bubble, expand in size and then drop again. It will be runnier than at the start.

If, after 8 hours, it’s still puffed up and bubbling, leave it a little longer. It will be fine to be left for up to 24 hours on a kitchen bench. Or, if it’s ready but you are not, you can pop in the fridge (covered) for later.

Stage two: making the crumpet batter

Take your 200g sourdough leaven/sponge, and add 100g water and 100g flour to this, and stir to combine. I found spelt flour gave me the best results – it tastes better, and is less sticky than white flour which makes it easier to use, and easier to wash up afterwards. But white flour is cheaper and more readily available.

Avoid using bread flour if you can – the batter will be like glue.

Cover with a tea towel, and wait another eight hours. (It’s good to do this bit right before bed, so the sourdough is doing its thing whilst you sleep, and it’s ready to go in the morning.

Stage three: making crumpets

Heat a pan (I use cast iron) on a low heat, and add oil/butter to the bottom of the pan. Add 1 tsp bicarb and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the mix (and 1 tsp of sweetener, if using) and stir to combine. You’ll notice the bicarb makes the batter puff up and appear lighter and fluffier. You can add a little water if the batter seems thick and sticky.

Grease the inside of the crumpet rings well (I use coconut oil for this). Pop the crumpet rings in the pan and ensure they are flat so that the batter doesn’t ooze out the bottom. Once the rings are heated, spoon the mix into the rings so that they are about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.

Continue to cook on a low heat. Crumpets cook very slowly. (It’s a bit like watching paint dry, watching crumpet batter cook.) You’ll start to see bubbles appear as they cook. After 15 minutes or so, they edges and base will be cooked and the top will look dry, and they are ready to remove from the ring and flip over.

(Cheat tip – your crumpets will be full of holes, but they don’t always make it to the surface. If you want your crumpets to look more holey, you can ‘pop’ the holes visible just under the surface with a cocktail stick. It won’t affect taste but they’ll look better.)

Once removed from the ring, pop them back in the pan upside down and cook for a few more minutes.

Eat straightaway. (You can keep them to warm the next day, but they really do taste best fresh.) I like to smother mine in macadamia nut butter and a little honey.

Which might not sound super healthy, but with the amount of work they take they are definitely a sometimes food, so why not?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you get into baking during March lockdown? Did you try out some new recipes or revisit old ones – and which were your favourites? Any crumpet related questions or tips? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas below!

The ultimate list of plastic free swaps

If your looking for ways to ditch the single-use plastic, and look for ideas to lower your plastic footprint, this list is for you.

Good news – there are swaps and substitutions to be made everywhere!

Before we begin – something important to know. We can’t shop our way to a more sustainable lifestyle. None of us need all of the reusables and plastic-free alternatives that exist in the world.

Please don’t feel like this is a list of things you ‘should’ have, that you need to go out and buy. Not everything on this list is going to suit your needs, and buying stuff you never use is the biggest waste of all. Wherever you can make do with what you have, or repurpose something, it’s the best outcome.

An item purchased thoughtfully and used often can replace a lifetime of single-use plastic, and might be worth the investment.

An item that sits in the back of the cupboard before heading off to landfill is not.

Be honest with yourself about you truly need. Rather than a shopping list, see it as a list of ideas. And don’t forget to check for second-hand options first!

This post contains some affiliate links. I do not post links to Amazon when making recommendations, ever.

Food shopping

Glass jars: my favourite are the ones I fish out of the recycling bin, or rescue from my local Buy Nothing group. They are great for both buying and storing groceries, transporting snacks and keeping leftovers.

Storage containers: there are so many options for these, and you need to consider what you’ll use them for. Many ‘bamboo’ containers use melamine as a binder, and are not recyclable, so I don’t recommend these. I find transparent (glass) containers are useful for storing leftovers, and prefer glass that is oven-safe – like Pyrex – so my containers are multi-purpose.

I find stainless steel more useful for transporting food. Some don’t have silicone seals meaning they aren’t leakproof, so consider if this is important to you before making a purchase.

A few options:

Seed & Sprout – make glass containers with bamboo lids that look beautiful (too bad I already have all the containers I need). Australian brand.

Cheeki – stainless steel lunchboxes with no plastic parts. Australian brand.

Lunchbots – make a range of stainless steel lunchboxes (some with plastic lids) including bento boxes and a kid-friendly range. US brand (website is for US orders only); they are stocked at Biome (AU) and Eqo Living (UK)

U-Konserve – large range of stainless steel lunchboxes with plastic lids (they also sell replaceable lids). US brand. Stocked at Biome (AU)

A Slice of Green – UK brand with a good range of own-brand reusable stainless steel containers. They supply other online zero waste stores: &Keep has a bigger range than you’ll find on the Slice of Green website.

Reusable produce bags: from cloth to netting to mesh, there are lots of different options. There are plenty made from upcycled fabric – check Etsy for an upcycler making them near you.

If you’d like the mesh versions, I have and recommend Onya produce bags – they will last a lifetime (mine are 8 years old and still going strong).

I’ve also seen people use laundry bags, so if you already have a few of these, they could be an option!

Bread bags: a cloth bag works fine, as does an old (clean) pillowcase. If you want a purpose-made one, the reusable bread bags by Onya get great reviews.

Food storage

All of the items listed above are good for food storage as well as food shopping. Here are some other ideas for making sure the things that you buy keep fresh for as long as possible once you get them home.

Silicone storage bags: take up much less space than rigid containers, and the best ones are dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and leakproof. There are lots of options with lots of price points, but this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. If you can afford it, I’d recommend the Stasher bags.

If you’re looking at a budget option, read the reviews before purchasing.

Fabric (cotton) storage: Fruits and vegetables stored loose (without plastic and not in containers) lose moisture quickly and wild/shrivel. The Swag are bags made of layers of unbleached cotton that are for storing fruit and vegetables. The bags are dampened down and keep produce fresh for up to two weeks.

A low budget option is to wrap our produce in a damp tea towel.

Silicone lids: two options are rigid silicone lids (the Charles Viancin range are available in many kitchen stores, often with flower or fruit shapes).

There are also flexible stretchy silicone lids (like these EcoFlexiLids).

Alternatively, put your leftovers in containers (or glass jars). Or (my favourite) you could just pop a plate on top of a bowl.

Wax wraps: If you’re trying to ditch the plastic wrap (gladwrap/clingwrap/clingfilm), there are a few alternatives. Beeswax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) or vegan wax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) are popular – don’t forget to look at Etsy to support local (to you) makers too. Or you can make your own.

Food preparation

There’s no need to replace things that you already have, but if you didn’t already know that there are plastic-free versions of products, you might find this interesting.

Ice lolly molds: Onyx containers make a great range of plastic-free stainless steel products, including lolly / icy pole molds in various shapes including rockets, paddle pops and popsicles.

You can’t buy directly from the Onyx website, but the following stores have a good range: Biome (AU) , Little Acorns Mighty Oaks (UK) , The Tickle Trunk (USA)

(If stainless steel is out of your budget, there are silicone versions available (such as these ice block push-up moulds by Avanti.)

Bathroom

Toilet paper: I switched to a plastic-free brand of toilet paper called Who Gives A Crap (it’s a social enterprise that donates 50% of profits to charity). They are an Australian company that now also sell their products in the USA and UK.

(They also make kitchen towel and tissues – not things I buy, but things you might.)

Bidet: Others switch to using a bidet to reduce toilet paper use. Haven’t tried it and can’t really comment, except to say I know there are kits you can install without a plumber.

Toilet unpaper: Some people switch to reusable cloth toilet paper (often referred to as ‘family cloth’) – not something I’ve tried either, but it’s an option.

If I did this, I’d probably use old cut up towels or sheets, but there are businesses out there selling purpose-made products like this, with cute designs (a well known brand is Marley’s Monsters, who are based in Oregon, USA, but you’ll find heaps of makers on Etsy – search for ‘toilet unpaper‘. If that’s your thing!)

Toilet brush: I’ve wanted (wanted, not needed) a wooden toilet brush since forever, but I have a plastic one that does the job. Should it ever break, I’m getting this. Probably.

Dental

Bamboo toothbrush: One of the first swaps anyone who starts a less-plastic life goes to is the bamboo toothbrush. I’d suggest Brush with Bamboo, because they were one of the first companies and I find them very transparent about their ethics and choices. Their bristles are predominantly plant-based, being 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon.

Replaceable head toothbrush: Personally, I didn’t get on with bamboo toothbrushes, and I use a toothbrush which has a replaceable head. I’ve had the same handle since 2014, and I just replace the head every few months.

The brand I use is Silvercare, which was what was available in my local store (the brand is actually Italian).

If you’re in Europe look up Lamazuna, who make similar brushes with a bioplastic handle, and also use cardboard (plastic-free) packaging.

Floss: it’s possible to buy floss in a refillable glass jar. Quite a lot of brands offer this product. If you’d like a truly compostable version, the floss is made of silk; if you’d like a vegan version the floss is usually bioplastic (not recycable or compostable). There’s also the option of peace silk (Ahimsa silk) which is considered a cruelty-free option: Geoorganics spearmint floss (UK brand) is made with this.

Interdental brushes: Piksters now sell interdental brushes in sizes 00 – 6 in bamboo (packaged in cardboard). They seem to be readily available, including at high street chemists.

Toothpaste: I’ve made my own for years (here’s my toothpaste recipe) but if DIY is not your thing, it’s possible to buy toothpaste in powder or tablet form, which means it doesn’t need the plastic tube. Again, there are now heaps of brands making these products: my suggestions would be Geoorganics (UK brand, sold in Australia by Nourished Life), or Denttabs (German brand, sold in Australia by toothtablets.com).

Denttabs also sell a fluoride version as well as a fluoride-free version. If you’re in the UK, &Keep has an excellent range.

Mouthwash: not something I use. There are plenty of zero waste mouthwash recipes on the internet (perhaps try this DIY mouthwash recipe by the Zero Waste Chef), but it’s also possible to buy tablet mouthwash.

Personal care

Shampoo: Solid shampoo bars do away with plastic bottles and there are now lots of options on the market. Whilst they can seem expensive, most are long lasting, so overall don’t end up costing more. It’s worth trying a few, as different hair responds differently to different products.

Having tried a few with less-than-ideal results, I settled with (and love) the Source Bulk Foods shampoo bar for my curly hair. Beauty Kubes (A UK brand, but stocked worldwide) are often recommended.

(Or, you could try the ‘no poo’ method and use bicarb or rye flour instead: here’s how it works.)

Conditioner: Solid conditioner bars are the solution to plastic bottles. Ethique bars are a popular choice and come highly recommended (they are a New Zealand company that ship worldwide).

Personally, I use a white vinegar rinse instead of conditioner, and it works as well as any conditioner that I’ve ever used.

Moisturiser: I make my own cold cream moisturiser, and lots of bulk stores sell the ingredients to make DIY products.

(Biome has an online range of ingredients that they pack without plastic.)

If DIY is not your thing, there are lots of products packaged in glass. Or you can buy solid moisturisers too (Ethique make a Saving Face serum bar that I often hear recommended).

I particularly like the Lush moisturiser bars (they are listed on the Lush website as facial oils), which can be purchased in-store with absolutely no packaging at all.

(When it comes to skincare and haircare products, a few stores sell a selection of these brands, and are also have occasional sales which make the products more affordable. Nourished Life have some Ethique bars at half price, Biome and Flora & Fauna also stock a good range.)

Safety razor: a metal razor with replaceable metal blades. There are lots of brands now selling these – I hear reports that cheap ones rust. One of the original and most-trusted brands is Parker; their products are sold in lots of stores.

Period products

Menstrual cups: the first zero waste swap I ever made (way before zero waste became a movement) back in 2003. Back then, there were two medical grade silicone options: the Mooncup (UK brand) and the Diva Cup (Canadian brand – and the one I bought). There was also the Keeper (US brand) ,which is made of natural rubber. These days there are plenty of options, but I prefer to support the brands that led the way.

In the USA and Australia, menstrual cups are regulated by government. These have approval in Australia (country of manufacture listed in brackets):

The USA has a slightly bigger range of registered products, including all mentioned except Juju.

Menstrual pads: reusable pads are a great option, and will last 3-5 years if looked after. Almost all brands use cotton with a PUL (plastic) liner.

A few better known brands:

  • Ecopads Australia – cotton, fleece and/or corduroy pads with PUL liner;
  • Hannahpad Au & NZ – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner;
  • Juju (Australia) – cotton and certified organic cotton pads with PUL outer;
  • Imse Vimse (Swedish brand sold in the UK) – organic cotton with PUL liner;
  • Gladrags (USA) – cotton and fleece, PUL-free*;
  • Hannahpad USA – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner.

*The only brand I’ve come across that are completely plastic-free are Gladrags (US brand). I have their night pad, and it’s never leaked.

Menstrual underwear: this is underwear that has a built-in liner. I have the Modibodi brand, and I use in combination with my cup on heavier days. They are incredibly comfortable. Some more established brands:

Cleaning

Cleaning products: I’m a fan of green cleaning, which uses mostly edible products like bicarb/baking soda, white vinegar, soap and a bit of elbow grease to get things clean. I’d recommend Clean Green by Jen Chillingsworth as a handy guide to recipes that work (there are lots of the internet that don’t).

Cleaning brushes: there are heaps of wood, metal and/or coconut fibre options. I use a Safix scourer (it lasts for ages and doesn’t smell, ever) and the Import.Ants range of brushes which are sold at my local zero waste store.

Unpaper towel: I don’t bother with kitchen towel or the reusable version made of cloth, but it’s a popular option. Look on Etsy to find local sellers to support (some also use upcycled fabric, which is a bonus).

Laundry

Laundry powder: I buy this from the bulk store. Another alternative is to use soap nuts/soap berries – slightly sticky berries that have a natural saponin content. (You pop a few in a small bag in your washing machine with your clothes, and they will last a few washes.)

Pegs: If you’ve been using plastic pegs, at some stage they’ll likely need replacing (plastic pegs break down in sunlight – bit of a design flaw). Wooden pegs are pretty widely available, but if you’re looking for an unbreakable, buy-it-once-and-it-lasts-forever option, metal pegs are now an option.

There’s different grades of stainless steel include marine grade if you live near the ocean. Pincinox are a French brand and the original stainless steel option, but lots of brands sell wire pegs that are more affordable.

Sock hangers: If you’re restricted to a balcony and don’t have a clothes line, it’s possible to buy stainless steel sock hangers (like this one from Biome).

Microfibres: Something else you light like to consider is a Guppyfriend laundry bag. It’s less of a ‘swap’ and more of an investment – it’s purpose is to stop microfibre plastic pollution in waterways.

You pop your synthetic fibre clothing (things like polyester and nylon) inside, then put the whole thing in the washing machine, and wash as normal. It traps the fibres and stops them getting into the ocean.

(If you’re in Australia, the cheapest place to buy one of these is – randomly – Kathmandu.)

One-stop shops

I’m a big fan of independent stores that sell zero waste and plastic-free products because they believe in the cause, rather than because they see it as a marketing tactic. I can only list the stores I’ve heard of – no doubt there are many more fantastic options:

Australia:

UK:

USA:

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the products that exist, but hopefully it gives you some options not only for useful swaps, but also for independent businesses to support. Just remember, when it comes to reducing waste, less is always more!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any obvious swaps that I’ve missed, or any products that you’d say you couldn’t live without? Any swaps you’ve made that you regret, and want to warn us about?! Any questions? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen: simple steps to shop, cook and eat sustainably

My new book ‘The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen’ will be hitting the shelves in just a few days, and I’m excited to tell you all about it! Especially if you live somewhere where the bookstores are currently closed, so you can’t pop in for a good old snoop.

Never fear – I am bringing the snoop to you!

I’ve also included some answers to some of the questions I’ve been asked. I’ve had a few questions about the book, so just in case you’ve been wondering too, I thought I’d pop them all together for you.

A bit more about the book: introducing The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen

The book covers three aspects of waste and sustainability: plastic and packaging, carbon footprints and food waste. I wanted to write something that talked about their interconnected nature. There has been lots written on each of the subjects but in isolation. But some of us who care about all of these issues – and we often don’t want to compromise anywhere.

And that makes making choices hard.

Is it better to buy plastic-free but air-freighted from overseas, or is it better to buy plastic-packaged but locally grown?

If groceries packaged in glass have a higher carbon footprint, is plastic packaging better if we want to keep our carbon footprint low?

Is it better to buy everything packaging free, but then increase my food waste as a result? Or choose the packaging to reduce my food waste?

And so it goes on.

What I realised as I was researching the book, is that there is never perfect answer. There are always exceptions to rules. ALWAYS.

Unless we’re going to grow every single thing we eat outside our back door, using rainwater we’ve harvested and seeds we’ve saved, and we’re recycling all our nutrients (I’m not just talking about composting food scraps…), then we are going to have some kind of impact.

Perfect isn’t possible, but better is. And that, my friends, is where this book is here to help. All the ways that it’s possible to take action, to do a little bit better than before. And how to figure out which actions will work (and be sustainable) for you.

Let’s take a look inside the book…

First, the technical stuff. The book is 224 pages, printed on FSC-certified sustainably sourced paper using vegetable inks. It’s full colour and there’s lots of beautiful illustrations throughout – and I even managed to get the illustrator to draw a compost bin, a bokashi bucket… and a mouldy strawberry!

These things are just as important as the pretty stuff, amirite?

A reader asked me if it was gloss paper – no, it most definitely is not! The cover is flexibound, which is half ways between a hardback and a paperback.

Now, the content!

There are five sections:

Part one, the story so far – a look at our modern day food system, how it evolved to be the way it is and some of the problems it has created. I’m not one to dwell on problems, but it’s helpful to have a bit of an understanding of the issues we are trying to fix.

Then, we talk about habits, and making an action plan that’s sustainable for you, starting where you are.

Part two, plastic and pre-packaged: unwrapping the solutions – all about plastic and other types of single-use packaging, and how we can make better decisions around our choices and where possible, use less.

Part three, counting carbon: climate-friendly food choices – covering how our modern food system contributes to greenhouse gas production and all the ways we can lower our footprint, from the way we shop to the things we buy, and what we do with those things once we bring them home.

Part four, food not waste: keeping groceries out of landfill – a look at all the ways we can reduce what we throw away, from better storage to using things up to processing our food waste at home.

Part five, getting started in your (less waste no fuss) kitchen – practical ideas for reducing waste when in the kitchen. From setting up your kitchen to choosing substitute ingredients to use what you have, from tips for cooking food from scratch and simple recipes to get you started.

Here are a couple more sneak peeks of the pages…

Where you can buy The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen

The best place to buy the book, if you can, is your local independent bookstore. If you can’t physically go into the shop to browse, you might be able to call and arrange collection, or they may deliver.

Alternatively, you might like to support MY favourite independent bookstore, Rabble Books & Games (Maylands, WA). They can post, if you’re not local. All books purchased from Rabble will be signed by me :)

Alternatively, here are some online stockists that are selling my book:

Australia / New Zealand stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Book Depository | Dymocks | Mighty Ape (AU) | Mighty Ape (NZ)

UK Stockists:

(Official publication date is 11 June 2020)

Blackwells | Book Depository | Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US and Canada Stockists:

(Official publication date is 16 June 2020)

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indigo (Canada) | Indiebound

eBook:

(Release date 15 June 2020)

Apple Books (iTunes) | Kindle (UK) | Kindle (USA)

Don’t forget your library!

If you’re a book borrower and not a book buyer, please don’t forget to ask your library to stock the book. It’s hard right now with so many libraries currently closed, but if staff are still working behind the scenes they might be able to order it in ready for when they re-open the doors. It’s worth checking!

The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen – your questions answered!

Is The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen a recipe book?

It’s more of a handbook than a recipe book. There are some recipes in part five, but it’s a much more holistic look at the way we shop, cook and eat. From the places we shop at to the things we buy; from navigating confusing choices to making the most of what we have once we bring it home – the book explores the options and ideas to limit plastic and packaging, lower our carbon footprint, get more creative in the kitchen and reduce food waste – without overhauling our entire lives or chaining ourselves to the stove.

Less waste, no fuss.

Is this a book that vegans will get value from? / Is this a book that non-vegans will get value from?

Without wanting to say ‘it’s a book for everybody!’ (because when is that ever helpful?), if you’re a vegan or a non-vegan who gets value from reading my blog, then you will get value from reading my book. Remember, it’s not a cookbook (although the recipes that are included are plant-based/vegan friendly). There’s no beating anyone over the head with a baguette and telling them what they *should* be doing (or eating) – that’s just not my style.

My approach (here and in the book!) is to avoid being prescriptive, and anyways, I really don’t believe there is a single approach that works for everyone in all circumstances. The purpose of the book – as I see it – is to help you find which approaches will work for you (rather than tell you what I think you should do).

Can I get a signed copy?

Yes! If you order from my favourite local independent bookshop Rabble Books and Games (located in Maylands, Perth WA) you’ll be able to request a signed copy!

Pick-up is available in store, or they offer local delivery, or ship by Australia Post for orders further afield.

Are you doing any events or a launch for the book?

Sadly no, all the events that were planned have had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

Why are there different covers of the book?

Actually, there aren’t. There is just one cover – this one.

However, the US office of my publisher released a super early concept version of the front cover several months ago (one that I’d never seen before it was plastered all over the internet!) and it’s been a long process trying to get all the stores to update the image. That cover never went to print, and you won’t actually receive a book with any cover other than the one above. Sorry for the confusion!

Is there an ebook or audiobook version?

The ebook is being published on 15 June 2020. There is no audiobook planned at this stage.

I hope that answers all your questions, and gives you a bit of insight into the book. If I missed anything, be sure to ask me.

I can’t wait for you to have a read, and I really hope you find it useful and actionable!