Why coronavirus does not mean the end of zero waste

You may have heard stories or even seen local businesses in your area make the decision to ban reusable coffee cups, or reusable containers. I first heard about this when Starbucks made the decision at the beginning of March to not only refuse reusable coffee cups but also switch all dine-in reusables (cups, plates, cutlery) to single-use disposables.

(Although interestingly they will – at the time of writing – still accept your pre-handled money, unlike other stores which are now also banning cash and allowing only contactless payments).

Around the same time I heard that Bulk Barn, the largest bulk foods store in Canada, is no longer allowing single-use containers. Now, more and more places are announcing similar policies. And I started seeing people ask – is this the end of zero waste?

No, coronavirus is not the end of zero waste. Here’s why.

Coronavirus and the rise of single-use disposables

Before I even begin, I want to emphasise that we are in a unprecedented situation, and it is hard for any business owner to know how to react or what to do to reduce the spread of disease and keep their business running. I think many stores want to do ‘something’ and without clear guidelines as to what this might be – other than shutting doors, which isn’t an easy business decision even if it’s great to prevent the spread of disease – they are trying to take action however they can.

So we might have our opinions on what is inconsistent and what is overreacting and what is sensible and what is necessary. But they are just our opinions, and even the experts are in unchartered territory right now.

Something I read at the weekend that really stuck with me was this: “When you’re dealing with exponential growth [which is what experts are saying we have with infection rates] the time to act is when it seems too early.”

So let’s save our judgement, because we really don’t know.

But what I know to be true – whether we see more and more businesses switching to single-use disposables over reusables because of coronavirus, and even if those businesses decide to keep policies in place after the threat has passed (assuming that it does), is that it doesn’t spell the end of zero waste.

As so often happens in the media, it is being framed all wrong.

Coronavirus can’t touch what zero waste really is

We could have a conversation about what ‘waste’ really means, and whether single-use disposables are truly a ‘waste’ if they are helping reduce the spread of disease.

(After all, almost all of us would argue that hospitals are a great place to use single-use plastic, for exactly this reason.)

But we are not going to have that conversation. Because that keeps the conversation around reusables, and anyone who has been trying to live low waste or zero waste for more than about five minutes knows that the choices we make and habits we form are so much more than reusable coffee cups and takeaway containers.

Zero waste is not – at its heart – about reusables. Zero waste is a mindset. It’s an attitude, a philosophy, a goal, whatever you might prefer to call it. Reusables make zero waste living easier, but they aren’t a make-or-break.

The idea that zero waste is over because we can no longer purchase takeaway coffee from a multinational corporation in a reusable cup is missing the bigger picture. Takeaway coffee generally – there are bigger issues, when it comes to waste. Yes, as a society (well, in western parts of the world, and for the more privileged part of society) we might drink a lot of takeaway coffee, but it’s a small part of the global waste footprint.

Regardless, it is disheartening to see businesses take a step backwards (in terms of sustainability) and make these choices – even when they are justified for other reasons.

Rather than feel frustrated, I wanted to remind you of all the ways that we can try to live with less waste. Because there are plenty of things we can still do, and I like to focus on the positive (and the practical).

Zero waste things you can do in spite of coronavirus

Think creatively about the packaging you need to use. You might not have a choice about being able to use your own containers to the store. You might not currently have a choice with which store you buy your groceries from (if your preferred or regular store has run out of what you need). But maybe you can think creatively about what you buy or how you buy it to reduce your packaging (particularly single-use plastic).

Could you choose the unwrapped produce? The bigger pack sizes? The options without individual packs inside packs? The brands packaged in cardboard? Could you by in bulk (rather than from bulk) and split a larger amount with friends or family? If you can’t do it all, go for the small wins. It all helps.

Make something from scratch. Whether you simply haven’t been able to get something you usually buy pre-prepared, or your simply faced with more at-home time than you’re used to, now is a great time to learn to make something from scratch. Been wanting to try DIY nut milk since forever? Wondered about making bread, or crackers? Fancy giving DIY moisturiser a go?

Perhaps you can use this situation as an opportunity to try ‘one more thing’.

Reduce your food waste. You might not be able to choose whether or not you can BYO packaging, but you can work to ensure you’re not wasting the food that you buy. With the panic buying we’re currently seeing, it makes even more sense to ensure we are using up what we actually buy before it goes bad.

Make sure you are storing food properly so that it lasts, clear out your freezer to make room for leftovers, make a ‘use me first’ shelf in the fridge so everyone in your household knows what needs eating first.

(I’ve got a free resource coming soon all about reducing food waste, so keep your eyes peeled.)

Compost your food scraps. This is different to reducing food waste. This is ensuring that those inedible bits (cores, pips, stems, outer leaves etc) are not put into the landfill / general waste bin. Whether you can set up a system at home – I’ve written about composting, worm warms and bokashi systems if you’d like to know what your options are – or whether you make the most of community composting services, this is a great way to reduce waste.

Now is a great time to set something up – or at least start doing the research.

Buy less stuff. The best thing you can do to reduce your waste is to buy less stuff. Even ‘sustainable’ stuff has a footprint. A big part of the zero waste lifestyle is making do, and making things last. Maybe that means getting stuff fixed. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll never need to buy anything again ever – but as a general rule, the less you buy, the more sustainable you are and the less waste you create.

If you need something, see if you can borrow, or find it for free on Freecycle, Freegle or Buy Nothing. Libraries don’t just lend out physical products, they lend out ebooks, online movies and electronic versions of magazines too – so even if you can’t get to your physical library, you might have options. If you need to buy something, check out the second-hand options first.

(Whether this is possible will depend on what it is and where you’re living – and what the isolation restrictions are – but it is still a consideration).

If you do need to buy something brand new, don’t feel guilty about that. There are better ways to use your energy. Just try to make those purchases mindfully.

Learn more about the issues you care about. You might not be able to take action now in all the ways you’d like, but you can use this time to read up on topics that interest you, try out some new skills, and connect with like-minded people (even if only online, for now).

There are so many great books (or ebooks and audiobooks) and useful blog posts. And courses and videos. And social media pages and groups.

Take the time to get informed.

Write letters and apply pressure to those in power (or make a plan to). It might seem like an inopportune moment to be hassling your supermarket about their single-use plastic packaging policy, or asking your local government member to support a plan to divest in fossil fuels, but these issues aren’t going away, even if they are buried under more pressing needs.

(In fact, some governments and companies are using the fact that others are distracted to push through unpopular decisions, such as the announcement this week by the Victorian government to lift the moratorium on onshore drilling for gas.)

If you have the time and headspace, you might want to use it to start (or continue) to apply pressure on businesses, organisations or government officials to demand change, or ask for answers on policy and decision-making.

You don’t have to send any letters or emails you write straightaway. If the timing seems insensitive or you know it won’t be looked at, you can prepare for when things are settled, do your research, and be ready to go.

Keep supporting your local zero waste store, or independent local businesses, even if they temporarily have to change their policy and disallow reusables. You’ll want them to be there when things get back to normal, so keep supporting them whilst things get tough.

It’s a lot easier for big multinationals to weather disruption than small stores. They need our help.

I don’t want to sugar coat anything – we are in the strangest of times. There are lots of things to be concerned about. But multinational companies opting for disposable coffee cups isn’t one of them. We are better placed focusing our energy elsewhere.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How are you feeling about waste and sustainability issues – have they slipped from your radar, are they there in the back of your mind, or are they at the forefront? Are you coping or are you struggling right now? There’s no right or wrong answers here and definitely no judgement so tell us how you’re feeling and where you’re at, and share any ideas or thoughts in the comments below. We’re in this together.

How to grow a pineapple from scratch (from a pineapple)

This year, I’m working hard to transform my little patch of lawn into a productive food forest – or the beginnings of one, anyways. (They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’m pretty sure they say a forest doesn’t grow in a year – but the foundations can be laid, for sure!)

If I was to buy a heap of plants to fill the space, I’d be bankrupt pretty quickly. Where possible, I’m trying to fill the space with plants I’ve grown from nothing – or rather, from cuttings, seeds, roots and runners.

It’s not possible with every plant I’d like to have, but there are lots of options.

I love the idea of using ‘waste’ to create something new. And I love watching nature do its thing. One of my favourite things to grow right now is pineapples. They are magical.

I thought I’d talk you through the how.

Pineapples are a tropical plant, but they will grow successfully and fruit in Perth (where I live). They’re also quite a fun plant, so they look good regardless of whether they fruit or not – but having plants that could potentially also feed me in the future is a winner.

If you’re not in a Mediterranean or tropical climate, you can still grow pineapples, but they’ll need to be kept indoors during the cooler months. I’ve read that it’s possible to get them to fruit, but I imagine it’s a lot more work.

Nevertheless, they make a fun indoor plant if you’re in colder climes. A cool experiment. A good conversation starter. An excellent gift.

Here’s how you grow one.

Step-by-step guide to growing a pineapple

You’ll need a pineapple with its green spiky head attached. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a pineapple with a more than one head, or possibly a main head and side sprouts. For every head, you’ll be able to grow a plant, so the more the merrier.

This pineapple has a main head, and a little side shoot to the side. Two future pineapple plants for the price of one pineapple.

Next, chop off its head – or rather separate the fruity part from the green spiky part. You want to try and cut between the fleshy pineapple part and the head so that there is no fruit attached to the green head part. (The fruit will rot which won’t be good for the plant.)

Pull off some of the bottom outer leaves. You may see roots when you do this, or you may just see little stumps that will grow into roots. Pull off enough that there’s a small ‘stem’.

Sit the pineapple on top of a jar filled with water, ensuring the stumpy root part is submerged. The leaves can help prop the plant up on top of the jar.

Suspending the pineapple rather than sitting in a saucer ensures the roots have space to grow downwards.

Wait.

The pineapple may sprout roots straightaway, or nothing may happen for ages. (I’ve tried two varieties: one sprouts straightaway and the other takes forever.)

Ensure the water is topped up so the root part stays submerged. I haven’t found it necessary to change the water.

Eventually, roots appear.

I wait until the roots reach the bottom of the jar (we are talking a few weeks at least), and then I repot in some well draining soil. Eventually I plan to put mine in the ground, but they can be grown in containers.

You have a pineapple plant!

More things to know about growing pineapples

Pineapples do not grow or fruit quickly. Growing a pineapple this way will take 24 months to fruit, and another 6 months for the fruit to develop. Plus one plant grows one pineapple, so you won’t be inundated in pineapples.

Another thing to know about pineapples: they take most of their nutrients through their leaves, not the soil. Feeding with worm castings, soluble seaweed solution or another natural feed is better than synthetic fertilisers which may burn the leaves and damage the plant.

Finally, you might come across information that tells you that you don’t need to bother getting the pineapple head to root before planting, and you can simply stick the freshly cut head straight into a pot or in the ground. Personally, I love watching the magic of roots appearing right before my eyes.

That would be lost if I simply stuck the head in some soil, which is why I prefer this method.

Here’s the beginnings of my pineapple plantation (all grown from pineapple tops)…

Now, doesn’t that just make you want to head to the shops to buy a pineapple?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you had any success growing plants from scraps? Have you had any fails? Anything on the to-do list for one day soon? Any questions about growing plants from scraps in general? Anything else you’d like to add? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

How I changed my mind about living zero waste and plastic-free (a story in 5 stages)

A friend of mine volunteers at a local food rescue organisation, which collects mostly pre-packaged out-of-date (well, out-of-date as described by the packaging), damaged and excess food, and redistributes to charities around the city.

Not all the food that is rescued is edible, but some of what isn’t edible for humans is still good for chickens. Yesterday, she dropped around some rescued food for my girls.

Like most of what they rescue, it came wrapped in plastic. I gave the contents to my ladies (who gobbled up the beetroot slaw, tolerated the broccoli, picked at the snow peas and snubbed the watercress completely), and rinsed out the packaging ready to take to redcycle for recycling.

Wet single-use plastic packaging has a really yuck feel to it; it was literally making my skin crawl as I washed it out. It got me thinking about how my feelings for and perception of plastic has changed over the years. At one point I’d have thought nothing of a fridge full of this plastic (oh, and I wouldn’t have been washing it out, nor recycling it); now, having just four pieces on the draining board makes me feel uncomfortable.

There was also a time, in the middle, where I’d have refused point blank to even allow this plastic into my house.

So why has my view on plastic and the way I live zero waste changed over the years? For each of the stages, I can pinpoint a reason why I made the choice, and a reason why that changed. After all, trying to live sustainably in never black and white, and there’s a lot of nuance around different issues.

Over time, I’ve changed my mind a few times. Perhaps you’ve come to different conclusions and made different choices. Or perhaps you can relate to some of these stages, too.

Just starting out (the learning and ‘making mistakes’ stage)

I decided to give up plastic in June 2012, after watching the documentary Bag It. Pretty much overnight, I changed my perspective on plastic completely. I went from the person buying all the plastic whilst complaining that ‘somebody should do something about that’ – and thinking I was some kind of sustainability superhero because I had reusable shopping bags – to realising that there was so much more I could do.

Changing your perspective doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, or doing all the things. For me, it meant starting out by working on changing my habits.

My first focus was avoiding single-use plastic and packaging, particularly when food shopping and buying bathroom and cleaning products.

One of the first changes I made was buying a (plastic) KeepCup, and I didn’t see any irony in buying a plastic cup to refuse plastic (although at the time, KeepCup was the only brand on the market and they hadn’t invented a glass version yet).

I did buy a few other things, but I was lucky in those days that there weren’t a lot of products to entice me with clever marketing. Someone making the same choices today could easily spend a small fortune!

(Which is fine if you both have small fortune and will use everything you buy – and often. But it is an expensive way to learn what you do and don’t actually need.)

There were a lot of mistakes, in the early days. Packets with sneaky plastic, forgetfulness, little awareness around greenwashing and so taking claims like ‘eco-friendly’ on products at face value.

But the more I learned, the better at refusing plastic I got.

From ‘plastic-free’ to ‘zero waste’ (the understanding waste stage)

About 6 months in, I visited a recycling facility (or more technically, a materials recovery facility – which sorts materials but doesn’t actually recycle them).

It made me realise that switching out plastic for other materials (paper, cardboard, glass and metal) didn’t make much sense if these things were also used only once too.

So I committed to reduce all single-use packaging, not just plastic.

I also started thinking about all plastic, not just the single-use stuff. I began to choose non-plastic replacements for items, and non-plastic reusables.

Plastic things – even reusables – still tend to break or wear out (compared to their plastic-free alternatives), and the less I used plastic, the less I wanted to use plastic.

I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing by buying plastic reusables. I purchased plastic-free reusables, but then felt conflicted because buying new stuff (even plastic-free stuff) uses resources and creates waste.

The plastic-free zero waste purist (the ‘uncompromising’ stage)

By this time, all of my habits were embedded, and those who knew me knew that I didn’t use plastic and was serious about reducing my waste. More and more solutions were appearing – from more people writing about waste and sharing ideas, to online and social networks allowing people to share stuff, and more bulk stores and companies focusing on waste reduction with their products and services.

Living with no plastic and no waste was getting easier. I was also testing my boundaries, refusing to let plastic through my door and really pushing myself to create as little waste as possible.

This was the time when the media started talking about zero waste, and there was a lot of focus on fitting your annual waste in a jam jar. I did it myself for a year.

This was definitely the least pleasant stage to be in – both for me, and probably those close to me.

So why was it unpleasant?

Well, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and I love working out ways to solve problems and reduce my waste. But the ‘waste-in-a-jam-jar’ year meant focusing on the minutiae in a way that never really felt comfortable with me. It just didn’t feel like the best use of my time or energy.

I felt like a fraud for those things I didn’t put in the jar – like the glass bottle of washing up liquid I smashed on my concrete floor, or a label I tossed in a bin whilst out in a moment of forgetfulness.

I also had a few instances where people I knew told me that I made them feel guilty. Not by necessarily even doing or saying anything (although I’m not always known for my tact) – sometimes just my being there made people feel guilty about their choices. Which was rubbish for all of us.

And there were definitely times here when I was more…robust…with my expectations of others. It wasn’t deliberate – sometimes when you’ve come so far you can forget where you were, and that others are still there.

Honestly, it might have been sustainable for the planet, but it didn’t feel sustainable for me (or those around me).

Everything is interconnected (the ‘joining the dots’ stage)

The more I learned about waste, the more I discovered about the waste that happens before stuff comes through our front doors, and the more I understood waste as something bigger than packaging or plastic.

I let go of chasing the ideal of being perfectly zero waste, and started thinking more broadly about the issues.

Waste is about much more than glass jars or plastic bags.

For example, buying food packaged without plastic that then goes bad in the fridge (because the plastic is what helps keeps it fresh) is just creating a different kind of waste.

Or buying a brand new ethically made and ‘sustainably sourced’ thing from overseas (with brand new materials and a big carbon footprint) creates more waste than making do with the less-shiny thing available in the second-hand store.

It’s a hollow victory when you can cram your annual waste into a jam jar, but the majority of society is carrying on as normal. I became less interested in my personal waste ‘achievement’ and more interested in how to create change in my community.

It seemed – still seems – like a better use of my energy to share what I know and help others make changes than sit back and feel like my job is done.

Not sweating the small stuff (the ‘bigger picture’ stage)

I’ve realised that I care too much about too many different aspects of waste to focus single-mindedly on one issue.

I care about plastic waste, but I also care about food waste.

I care about supporting ethical and sustainable businesses producing responsible products, but I care about keeping resources in use by choosing second-hand, and reducing consumption by making do.

I care about my own personal waste footprint, and I also care about making waste reduction more accessible to others.

I’m keen to reduce the waste that I create, and I’m also interested in reducing waste further up the waste stream.

So now, I try to let the small and inconsequential stuff go in recognition of the bigger picture.

I’ll refuse a plastic bag at the store, but I’ll take a plastic sack filled with spent coffee grounds from a cafe (to put in my compost bin) that might otherwise go to landfill.

I won’t buy plastic-packaged food for myself, but I’ll accept it rescued from the bin (to feed myself or the chickens).

I’ll reuse plastic containers in existence rather than buying a brand new metal (plastic-free) version.

I‘m not saying that these choices are the best or right choices, they are simply what work for me, at this moment. The way I feel about plastic and waste has changed over the years, and I’m sure it will change again in the future.

Navigating waste is often complicated, and there tend to be trade-offs one way or another.

I wanted to share this because I really don’t think there’s one way to tackle waste. It can feel like a minefield because there are so many choices and so much conflicting advice. It’s an imperfect world and whilst it isn’t always possible to know what the best choice is, the important thing is that we try.

My advice is: don’t sweat the small stuff. Just do your best.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you changed your thoughts around plastic and waste as you’ve started making changes? Have your priorities shifted or stayed the same? Do you prefer to focus on one aspect of waste, or try to navigate the different aspects? Have you experienced these stages… or different ones? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

Why I’m Keeping Chickens (for Zero Waste)

I’ve loved the idea of having chickens since my days of renting an upstairs apartment. I was hopeful in my last place that it might be possible, but being a strata (7 units on a single block with 7 owners and opinions – plus tenants in the mix) there needed to be consensus, and alas – there was not.

Since I moved, chickens have been back on the plan, and three weeks ago, they moved in.

Now clearly I’m no chicken expert (!) – although side note, I did read a lot of books on the subject first, more on that in a second – but I thought it might be interesting for you if I explained why I’ve got chickens, how chickens fit with a zero waste lifestyle and what you might like to do if you’re thinking of getting chickens, too.

Why chickens?

Lots of reasons, actually! Chickens have a lot going for them.

Reducing food waste.

Chickens are great munchers of food scraps. They can’t eat everything – they won’t eat rotten or mouldy food (and it is dangerous to feed them this) – but they’ll eat cores and seeds and rinds and stems and bits that might otherwise head to the compost caddy.

Pest control.

Chickens are omnivores and will eat all kinds of insects: grasshoppers, cockroaches and caterpillars, for example. They will actually also kill and eat mice. Because I want to grow food in my back garden, chickens can help keep the bad insects under control.

They are also great for managing fruit fly, which live in the soil for part of their life cycle (the larva and pupa stages) and can wreck fruit crops. Not that I have any fruit trees producing fruit yet, but I will.

Lawn control.

Chickens eat grass. A flock of chickens can easily destroy a lawn – which in my case, is exactly what I want. Much better that it gets eaten than sent to landfill. As well as nibbling the tips they dig around and scratch it up (and poo on it) so it doesn’t stand a chance. Hurrah!

(The bit of lawn I do plan to keep is definite chicken no-go zone. For obvious reasons.)

Chicken manure.

All this eating has to end up somewhere! Chicken poop is high in nitrogen and good for the garden. It needs composting before adding to plants (it can burn young roots).

Chickens make great pets.

I love the idea of having chickens around, rustling around the garden and foraging for insects and eating my weeds. They are much more self-sufficient than dogs or cats.

Eggs.

I left this until last because although it might seem to be the most obvious, there are plenty of other reasons to keep chickens. I’m not particularly fussed about the egg part, as I don’t buy eggs as part of my grocery shop (I occasionally eat eggs from friends with chickens, and sometimes if I order breakfast out).

Most of the eggs I get I intend to give away to family and friends that might otherwise buy eggs. I’ve eaten some too. I’d rather use them than waste them, but I still don’t eat that many.

I know vegans who keep chickens and eat their eggs only (because they know how the chickens are fed and treated ). I also know vegans who keep chickens and leave the eggs for nature (chickens will actually eat their own eggs), but this works better if you’ve got more space. Broken stinky egg in the coop isn’t going to be fun for anyone.

Just to be clear, unless you have a rooster as part of the flock (which isn’t necessary and isn’t allowed in most urban areas), the eggs are infertile. A chicken’s shelled menstruation, as a vegan once told me. So eating eggs doesn’t kill unborn chicks.

Getting started: do some chicken research

Personally, I’m not into ‘winging it’ (no pun intended) when it comes to keeping live animals. I’d rather have a good grasp of the basics and have an idea at least of where to look and where to go if I run into problems. Of course we can’t learn everything beforehand, but having a basic understanding goes a long way.

Read chicken books

I literally borrowed every book in the library to do with keeping chickens (and one of keeping quail) as well as borrow another from a friend. There was lots of stuff in there that was irrelevant for me, such as raising chicks, showing chickens at competitions and – no thanks – how to eat your chicken (I don’t eat meat anyway, but eating your pets seems a little wrong).

But there was lots of useful tips too, and it was helpful (honestly!) to read conflicting opinions on things.

If you’d like to read up on keeping chickens, I found these three books to be the best:

Backyard chickens: how to keep happy hens, by Dave Ingham (Australia)

Chickens: the essential guide to choosing and keeping happy, healthy hens, by Suzie Baldwin (UK)

Keeping chickens: getting the best from your chickens, by Jeremy Hobson (UK)

(All were available at my library.)

Find people in your neighbourhood with chickens

I have lots of friends who keep chickens, so this was easy for me. One in particular (who has been keeping chickens for 5 years, and has a flock of 12) lives two streets away.

It’s handy to have people in your nieghbourhood to ask questions, and also to pop round and look at their setup (they can give you advice about predators, sourcing things like food and advising on good local vets in a way that a book never could).

If you’re not fortunate enough to already know someone with chickens (and even if you are), there are also online communities.

Join an online chicken community

There are heaps of forums dedicated to keeping chickens, and also plenty of Facebook groups so connect with people this way. (If you don’t have local friends with chickens yet, try connecting with local owners here.)

Forums and groups are a great way to ask questions and find knowledge; however it’s not always obvious which advice is right or who to trust. It also depends on the question and the consequence of wrong advice. Particularly with sick chickens, the advice of a vet will be better than trying a homemade remedy from somebody you don’t know whose chickens you’ve never seen.

Talks and workshops

It goes without saying: if you can get to a talk or workshop by a chicken owner, you’ll learn heaps. I went to one by a vet, and it was really helpful – there was a big focus on chicken welfare with lots I hadn’t considered before.

Getting ready for chickens: setting up home

There are a more things few things to consider before actually getting chickens and bringing them home. Including their home!

Rules and regulations

You’ll want to check with your local council whether chickens are allowed, how many you can keep and if there are any other restrictions (such as being a certain distance from the house, or away from fences).

The fences rule might seem arbitrary but actually, a lot of fences in Australia were sprayed with toxic chemicals such as Dieldrin right up to the 1970s. It’s worth getting eggs tested if you intend to eat them to check that your soil isn’t contaminated – whether with Dieldrin or something else. If it is, there are remedial measures (removing and replacing the soil, or building a concrete base for your coop).

Choosing a suitable home

It’s important to choose a home that’s suitable for the climate, and predator proof.

I’m in the fairly unusual situation of living in a suburb that doesn’t have foxes. Fox-proofing my chicken coop isn’t necessary, but for most people, it’s an absolute must. Some people may have to think about snake-proofing, too, and also birds of prey.

The only threat where I live is hawks, and they tend to only take chicks and maybe young ones, but not full-grown hens.

Ideally, chickens need shelter from the elements, a dark space to lay eggs, and somewhere secure and well ventilated to sleep. The need shade, access to dirt for dust bathing and also space in the sun.

I’ve read that chickens can manage on 1m2 per chicken. Manage maybe, but when you factor in all these things, plus the fact they will poop in this space too, more space is really better. Allowing them to graze somewhere else during the day makes for more sanitary conditions and happier chickens.

It’s possible to buy coops or make your own. I was very stressed about this, not having any skills to make my own but really wanting to find something second-hand over buying new. Even with plans, I think a DIY coop would take me months to build.

My prayers were answered when one of my readers (Alison) saw I was reading chicken books, and donated her second-hand but unused coop.

This is Alison’s Retirement Home for Second-Chance Chickens:

Another friend lent me some fencing so that I could create a run for during the day to extend the space. She also lent me a couple of feeders to use, and gave me some crumble (a type of chicken food) to get my flock started.

Honestly, I think she was impatient I was taking so long! I don’t like to rush these things…

Bringing chickens home

The books all write about going to reputable breeders, but I only want to rehome or rescue chickens (I don’t want to add more animals to the world). Factory farmed (battery) rescues aren’t recommended for newbies like me (both the books and an experienced friend told me this) and so I rehomed some chickens from a family who had a change in circumstance and could no longer keep them.

I took my friend with me when I got them (honestly, I’d never have caught them without her!) and she gave them the once over so that if there was anything that needed treating, we could deal with it. I wouldn’t know what to look for. One came with lice and mites, but we’re working on that and she has a clean area to dust bathe (which suffocates them).

I only planned on getting three, but there was a cute little teenager there who I couldn’t resist bringing with me…

She’s called Alison, and she is an araucana. The other three are all different breeds.

One is an ISA brown called Billina, who is the boss of the flock, mostly because she is the bravest. The others run for cover when I come, but not Billina. She trots up to see what’s on offer.

The black chicken is an Australian breed called an Australorp. She is huge with a black beady eye and she is called Dark Emu. Despite her size she is scared of everything. Half the time I think she has escaped because she blends in so well with the shadows.

The chicken with the collar is a welsummer called BossyBoots, mostly because she is bossy even though she is not the boss. She pecks at poor Alison (definite mean streak, this one). She is also extremely loud, announcing when she (or anyone) has laid an egg – and sometimes announcing even when there is no egg. People can hear her on the next street (I wish I was joking).

And that’s the flock! They’ve been here three weeks, and so far so good. It’s amazing to discover all their personalities and I’m very fond of them all already. Looking forward to more chicken adventures as the months unfold…

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have chickens? Tell me more! Are you thinking about getting them? Do you have any questions about keeping chickens, or any advice for newbie chicken keepers like me? Let’s get the conversation started: share your thoughts below!

A guide to men’s ethical + organic underwear

Underwear is something that most of us buy new. It’s something that I buy new. 90% of my wardrobe is second-hand, and I try to make sure that those things I do buy new are as sustainable and ethical as possible.

(Because I buy most things second-hand, I can afford to spend a little more on underwear.)

I try to support independent and sustainability-minded businesses (not only by choosing to buy their products, but also by purchasing from them directly rather than a third-party platform beginning with A), choose well-made, organic and fair trade products, and avoid unnecessary plastic packaging.

It’s not always possible, but with underwear there are some options.

Slowly slowly I’ve been putting together a bit of a guide for ethical, organic and fair trade underwear. I’ve previously written about ethical and organic women’s underwear brands, and ethical bras and bralette options. Today, I’ve put together a list of options for men’s underwear.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of this post.

All of these brands are ones I’d recommend (I wouldn’t list any that I didn’t). Because they all offer something different and it is impossible to have favourites, I’ve listed them below in alphabetical order instead.

Bhumi

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Bhumi is an Australian company selling organic cotton products. Their mens’ range includes briefs, trunks (pictured), mid-length trunks and boxers.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: bhumi.com.au

Etiko underwear

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Etiko is a family-owned and operated clothing company with an emphasis on protecting human rights and transparency. All their products are certified organic, fair trade and vegan. They make mens’ trunks in four colours: heather grey, black, peacock and eclipse stripe (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: www.etiko.com.au

John Lewis & Partners

Company HQ: UK / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / Made in: not declared / Ships: Worldwide

John Lewis & Partners are more corporate than any others on the list, but I included them as the business is actually owned by the people who work there (there are no external shareholders) and they are more committed to sustainability than most. Plus I was struggling to find a UK option, and John Lewis have a surprisingly good mens’ range in organic cotton: briefs, keyhole briefs, button boxers, hipster trunks, trunks (pictured) and button fly trunks.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: johnlewis.com

Laura’s Underthere

Company HQ: Canada / Fairtrade: N/A / Organic: N/A (second-hand and upcycled fabric) / Made from: upcycled jersey / stretch knit / Made in: Canada / Ships: USA and Canada

Laura’s Underthere makes unique limited edition underwear made from upcycled jersey and stretch knit material. All of the designs are gender inclusive (Laura calls it genderful) and for every pair purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need. The pouched boxers are pictured.

Sizes: XXS – XXXXL

Website: laurasunderthere.com

Living Crafts

Company HQ: Germany / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane or 100% cotton / Made in: India / Ships: Worldwide

Living Crafts is a German company specializing in organic cotton textiles, with a good range of men’s underwear. They offer boxers (which they call pants – pictured) and longer, looser boxer shorts either with or without elastane. Their factories are 100% wind powered.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: livingcrafts.de

Nisa Men

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: No / Organic: uncertified / Made from: cotton or merino, elastane / Made in: New Zealand / Ships: Worldwide

Nisa have a line of men’s organic cotton boxer briefs in three colours: black (maroon trim), grey (mustard trim – pictured) and navy (grey trim).

Sizes: S – XL

Nisa employ women from refugee backgrounds to sew their underwear in Wellington, New Zealand. They state that they aim to source organic certified cotton ‘wherever they can’.

Website: nisa.co.nz

Organic Basics

Company HQ: Denmark / Fairtrade: No / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: Turkey / Ships: Worldwide

Organic Basics have three styles of boxer: organic cotton boxers, Tencel (an eco-friendly fibre made from wood pulp) boxer shorts (pictured) and Slivertech Active boxers made of 93% recycled nylon and 7% elastane.

There are a few colour options depending on the style (all styles come in black). Bonus: they package and ship their products without plastic.

Sizes: S-XXL

Website: organicbasics.com

Pact

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: YES (Factory) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% Cotton 5% elastane / Made in: India / Ships: USA and Canada (International shipping currently on hold)

A US company with a good range of mens’ underwear styles and colours: briefs, trunks, boxer briefs (pictured), extended boxer briefs and knit boxers

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wearpact.com

Peau Ethique

Company HQ: France / Fairtrade: YES (SAB000) / Organic: YES / Made from: 95% cotton, 5% elastane / Made in: India? / Ships: Worldwide?

Peau ethique is a French mother-and-daughter company making organic cotton underwear. They have two styles for men: briefs and boxers (pictured).

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: peau-ethique.com

Thunderpants

Company HQ: New Zealand / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: 90% cotton, 10% spandex / Made in: New Zealand / USA / Ships: Worldwide

Thunderpants have two styles for men: original and fitted boxers. They have a lot of fun, printed designs which change regularly – black is also currently available.

Sizes: S – XL

Website: thunderpants.co.nz

(They also have dedicated site for the USA thunderpantsusa.com, with products made in Oregon, Portland stocking one men’s style: boxer briefs. Their newly launched UK site thunderpants.co.uk will be supplying products made in the north of England but current stock – men’s fitted boxer – is made in Australia)

Wama underwear

Company HQ: USA / Fairtrade: NO / Organic: YES uncertified / Made from: 53% hemp, 44% cotton, 3% spandex / Made in: China / Ships: Worldwide

WAMA have four styles: boxer briefs (pictured), trunks, boxers and briefs. All styles come in black; the boxer briefs come in green and hemp (a sandy colour) also. They are the only brand I’ve found that blend hemp with cotton.

WAMA are a Green America Certified Business and a PETA-Approved Vegan brand.

Sizes: S – 3XL

Website: wamaunderwear.com

Wonderpants

Company HQ: Australia / Fairtrade: YES / Organic: YES / Made from: cotton / merino, elastane / Made in: Australia / Ships: Worldwide

Wonderpants have a single boxer style of mens’ underwear, available in either cotton or merino. Cotton colours are black, charcoal, green, red ochre, grey marle (pictured) and charcoal with black; merino colours are blaze red, charcoal and midnight navy.

Sizes: S – XXL

Website: wonderpants.com.au

As always, I’d love to hear from you! If you have any great brand suggestions that I’ve missed, would like to give an impromptu product review (good or bad) or have any other comments or thoughts at all, please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links, meaning if you click a link to another website and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to yourself. My recommendations are always made with you, my readers, as my priority. I only align myself with companies whose products and ethos I genuinely love, and I only share companies and products with you that I believe you will be interested in.

Zero waste, plastic-free, low carbon living: do individual actions matter?

As someone who has written about individual action (such as making better personal choices, and eco-friendly swaps) a lot, I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this. Yes – spoiler alert – our individual actions matter. But what do we actually mean when we say that they ‘matter’? Is individual action really enough? What else can we do beyond the simple swaps and personal choices?

Last year felt like a turbulent year for the planet. The Amazon, Indonesian, Borneo and the Congo rainforests were on fire, cyclones hit India and Bangladesh, there was a heatwave in Europe, flooding in Venice and Japan, a typhoon in the Philippines; and we began 2020 with unprecedented bushfires in Australia.

In the face of such disaster, clutching your reusable coffee cup really doesn’t feel like much of a comfort.

I have to tell you, the events of last year definitely shook me. I don’t just mean the weather events, but the narrative around them by those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo, the political decisions being made (or not made), and the seeming inaction on the part of those in power (manufacturers, corporations, businesses, politicians, governments).

I’ve felt angry, I’ve felt sad, I’ve felt frustrated, I’ve felt furious, I’ve felt despondent. Have I felt hopeless? I’ve possibly come close once or twice. But through all the ups and downs, I’ve felt determined. Determined to do what I can.

And as big and sometimes daunting as these issues can seem, there is definitely a place for individual action.

Why individual actions matter

Everything we do and every choice we make has some kind of impact, so let’s have the best impact we can. Why wouldn’t we want to make the best choices that we can? If I know that there is a better option, I have access to that option and there are no barriers to me making that choice, it’s a no-brainer. For me it’s about living my values. Whether that’s consuming less, buying ethical and fair trade, avoiding plastic, boycotting fast fashion, choosing vegan, or something else, trying to do better for the planet, people and animals is always going to be a good thing.

It’s about being a good citizen. Recognizing that others are affected (for good or bad) by the choices we make. We are voting with our money about the kind of world we want to live in when we make choices about the products we buy and businesses we buy from (or choose to boycott).

Small choices add up. You’ve probably read the quote “it’s only one straw, said 8 billion people”. If we make choices often – or if many of us are making these same choices – the opportunity to have an impact is huge. When lots of people are making these same choices, businesses and governments begin to take note.

We all have the power to influence others, and leading by example is a great way to do that. Whether you inspire your local church group to ditch the single-use disposables for events, persuade your school to remove plastic straws from the dining room, encourage your boss to create a sustainability action plan at work on influence your climate-denying uncle to invest in a reusable coffee cup, our actions and choices create ripples. Slowly but surely, we can demonstrate a different way of doing things, and create a new normal.

It feels good to make sustainable and ethical choices. Simple but true.

Where individual actions fall short

Individual swaps alone do not challenge – and change – the systems. For example, you can choose to purchase every single thing you buy without packaging by shopping at bulk stores, make food from scratch and opt for second-hand. But the system still produces food in packaging, advertises ready-to-go meals and prepared food and encourages society as a whole to buy new. You can invest in solar panels and swap the car for a bicycle, but the system still relies on fossil fuels. We can feel good about our personal choices whilst recognising that to change the systems, we have to think beyond individual swaps.

Its not an equal playing field. Not all of us have access to bulk stores, organic vegan cafes, homegrown food, supportive friends, excellent public transport or a cohesive community. We don’t all have fabulous cooking skills, high energy levels, plenty of time, few responsibilities, or a healthy household budget. What’s easy and accessible for one is completely out of reach for another.

Individual actions don’t do anything to address these inequalities – and if we want society as a whole to change, these options need to be within reach of the majority, not the few. Yes, those of us with the opportunity to do more must definitely do what we can, we just need to understand that the change we can bring about with individual actions will always be limited if these choices are out of reach for many.

Individual actions focus on the individual. It’s where a lot of us start – but eventually we need to think beyond ourselves. Whether that’s our local community, our workplaces, social places, sports clubs, churches, our local councils or our politicians. How can we amplify what we know? How can we share what we learn, influence others, question decision-makers, apply pressure and demand change? If we stay at the ‘consumer choice’ level of participation, our influence (and impact) will be limited.

Think about changing your mindset

Individual action, making better personal choices and simple swaps are an excellent place to start. As long as we’re not under the illusion that switching out our washing-up liquid for a plastic-free and eco-friendly option is literally going to save the planet (credit where credit’s due of course, but let’s not overstate our impact).

But in the same way that we don’t get to take too much credit for our individual actions, we also can’t let ourselves take on too much of the burden.

It’s not your fault.

Don’t have access to a bulk store? Drove the car because you couldn’t face walking in the rain for 20 minutes to catch the bus? Forgot your reusable coffee cup and ended up with a disposable? Took a flight to visit your grandma overseas? Being human means being imperfect. It’s not our fault that we don’t have access to everything we’d like access to. It’s not our fault that we live in a system that encourages waste, or that we have to make decisions that are less than ‘perfect’.

We can be a part of the system whilst recognizing that is flawed. We can be part of a system whilst recognizing the need for it to change. Rather than blaming ourselves for choices we have little control over, it’s more productive to see the issue as a fault of a system, and to look for ways to actively change that system for the better.

Stop feeling guilty.

I think a lot of us feel some kind of guilt when it comes to trying to live more sustainably, but as we mentioned earlier, it isn’t a level playing field, and we don’t have access to all the options.

Companies in particular have jumped on this, to shift any blame from them to us.

Some examples of this: companies telling us their packaging is recyclable or compostable, but not investing in infrastructure that ensures their products will actually be recycled or composted where we live (suddenly it becomes our fault for not wanting to take the epic trip to the next town or the council’s fault for not accommodating their product). Another example: airlines giving customers the option of buying carbon offsets themselves (which means only those who both care AND can afford to do so will do so), rather than committing to offset every flight they make themselves out of their profits.

Don’t give companies the satisfaction of feeling guilty for their inaction. If you can’t make a choice that you’d like to make, ask yourself what is stopping you – what part of the system is making it difficult for you? That’s where you need to focus your energy – not on blaming yourself.

Being smug isn’t helpful.

Luckily for some of us, we have easy access to the bulk store, we live right next to the bus stop (and the live app tells us if the bus is running late or not), we never forget your reusable coffee cup and grandma lives two streets away. But it’s a hollow victory when others don’t have these options. Rather than sitting back and feeling pleased with ourselves that circumstance has worked in our favour, we can channel our efforts into leveling the playing field, and increasing accessibility for those with less.

How to take action (if you want to)

After all this talk of burden and guilt, the last thing I’m going to do is tell you to do more. If individual swaps is where you’re at, that is great. The more people making sustainable choices, the better. I applaud your efforts.

But if you’re feeling that you’re at a place where you are ready to do more, here are some ideas.

  • Use your voice. Start conversations, share ideas, acknowledge successes and call out concerns.
  • Demand action from those in power. Write letters or send emails to your local council or MPs. Tell them what you’re frustrated with and what you’d like to see them act on, and tell them how you’d like them to act. What is it that you’d like them to do? Ask them to reply to you with their response.
  • Get involved with your local community. Whether you’d like to join a political activism group or you’re more comfortable connecting with the community garden or heading to a sewing group, meeting the people who live where you live is the first step in strengthening your community.
  • Donate where you can. If you’re in a position where you can donate money, think about the organisations you most want to strengthen. Would you prefer to donate to political groups, those working to improve the environment, alleviating poverty, improving access to education?
  • Give your time. If you can’t afford to donate money, can you donate your time instead? Volunteering for tree planting or food rescue, ocean and river cleanups, working in a charity shop or manning a stall at a festival are all options.

Individual actions matter. But the biggest change will come not when we skip the plastic bag and refuse the disposable coffee cup, but when we start to think about how we can influence those around us, and connect with others to amplify our impact.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you feel about individual action? How have your thoughts on this changed over time? Do you have any suggestions for ways we can amplify our impact beyond simple swaps? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Zero waste gardening: turning lawn into food, starting with compost

This year, I’m turning my attention to transforming my garden from lawn into (a version of a) food forest. Think fruit trees, veggies, herbs and edible natives. If you’re new here, you might not know that I moved house last October: away from my previous place with its shared community garden, to a new space… and my very own backyard.

(And front yard. And verge. So much potential.)

Any old posts you’ve read will be about that previous place. Now, I’m starting again from scratch. Almost literally, as the new garden is about a blank a canvas as you can get.

Well, if that blank canvas was covered in lawn, perhaps.

There’s a few reasons why I want to spend more time in the garden this year. Yes, gardening is fun, and yes, there is nothing tastier than food you grow yourself. But it’s more than that.

You might have heard people talking about ‘resilience’ in the face of the growing climate crisis: growing food is something that we can do to be more resilient.

Even if it’s a few pot plants on a window sill.

Knowing how to grow food is a useful skill to have, and being able to share with your community is a great way to strengthen it. That’s resilience.

Then there’s the fact that the all of the screen time and the news can be overwhelming. I felt it more and more last year, and I need to find more space to truly switch off. Gardens can be that space.

As for writing about it… Well, I think there is always opportunity to talk about gardening from a zero waste perspective: avoiding plastic packaged products and synthetic chemicals, making do, re-using and repurposing, and the best one of all: sharing.

Plus there is rarely (never?) a single right way to do something. I want to share what I do and why, and generate discussion and no doubt more good ideas!

And as I have a blank canvas, I thought it would be a good opportunity to document my progress over the year. Maybe there will be some examples of ‘setting goals and smashing them’ or more likely it will be about troubleshooting and dealing with things when they don’t go to plan. Ahem. (Which option has your vote?)

Here are the ‘before’ pictures (back yard, and front yard):

And… here’s the plan. By December, I’m hoping going to have most of the lawn removed, some fruit trees in, a native verge and vegetables planted. That’s in twelve month’s time. I think that’s doable ;)

(Don’t worry, I’m not suddenly turning this into a gardening blog! I’m going to post an update once a month throughout the year, talking through the choices I’ve made and showing you – I hope! – some progress. There’s plenty of other things on waste, reducing plastic and sustainability that I still want to talk about. It won’t be all plants!)

Creating an edible garden from scratch:

Month 1: starting with the soil

Soil might sound incredibly boring, but that is where I’m beginning. Not with plants, not even with plans, but with soil.

Of course, what I really want to do is go to a garden centre and buy ALL the plants (because that is the fun part of gardening). But without knowing where they are going to go, and without good soil to plant them in, any plants I plant aren’t going to thrive.

I live in Perth, Western Australia. It’s basically a city built on a giant sandpit. The grey gutless sands of the Swan coastal plain (as they are less-than fondly called) are officially among the worst in the world. Possibly even the worst.

They are also extremely old, meaning they are nutrient poor.

This is what lurks just beneath the lawn:

I learnt to garden in the UK. There, you could pop anything in the ground at the right time of year and it would take off. Sadly, do the same in this soil, and your plants get smaller and smaller until they disappear altogether. (Well, except the local native plants of course – but I want to grow edible Western vegetables like broccoli for the mostpart.)

If I lived somewhere else, soil might not be my priority. Here in Perth, it has to be.

(Thinking about my long term goal of creating an edible garden, it’s not that soil comes ahead of planning, but soil and compost take time to create. Starting to think about soil now means that there’s composting happening whilst the planning of where the compost – and the plants – will go begins.)

First task, set up the compost bins and fill them up.

The very first thing I did when I moved was dig in the compost bin. Before I’d unpacked much more than the kettle. There was no way any of my food scraps were going in the landfill bin!

(If you’d like tips on getting started, I’ve previously written about how to set up a successful compost bin).

The thing about creating good soil is that you need a lot of compost.

How to create better compost, quickly:

Just putting the food scraps of two people in this bin would take forever to fill. And so, I gathered other ‘waste’ from different places to fill my compost bin.

  • I collected some bags of spent coffee grounds from a local cafe (most cafes do this – either proactively by putting ‘free’ compost by the door, or if you ask);
  • I was connected (via a request that came to a local community garden) with a guy making homebrew who has a 20 litre bucket full of spent grain every few weeks;
  • I’ve been given bags of shredded paper from an office (shredded paper gums up the recycling and isn’t meant to go in our kerbside recycling bins);
  • A friend with chickens has filled up some buckets with chicken manure and straw;
  • I persuaded by next-door neighbour’s lawnmower man to leave the grass clippings on my lawn for me to compost;
  • I rescued some tree prunings awaiting the verge green waste collection and shredded them (I invested in a second-hand shredder, so much fun);
  • I spotted another neighbour raking leaves to throw in the bin and gave him a bucket to fill for my compost;
  • I’ve updated my address on sharewaste.com to receive food scraps from neighbours – no takers yet but I’m sure they will come.

One bin quickly filled up, and I’ve now set up four bins. Two at the back, and two at the front. The two at the front are accessible for the neighbours to pop in their excess waste.

(FYI – I got all my compost bins second-hand, and three of them were free. Two were gifts, one was a score from my local Buy Nothing group and one I purchased via Gumtree.)

What’s so great about compost?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

Good soil is a mix of organic matter, water, minerals, sand, clay, insects and microorganisms all supporting one another and helping plants to grow. Too much clay and the soil gets waterlogged; too much sand and the water drains away too quickly.

My soil is almost entirely sand. There’s next-to-no clay, and very little organic matter. Adding compost increases the organic matter, improves the soil structure and holds water in the soil, allowing nutrients to dissolve. It creates an environment for insects and microorganisms to thrive, and plants to grow.

If you think about nature, trees and bushes and plants are dropping leaves and small branches all the time. These leaves sit above the roots and break down (compost) in situ. They protect the soil from the sun, and trap moisture when rain falls. Animals come to eat berries and add manure to the tree roots. That’s composting, the way nature does it.

And if you think of most urban gardens, there are very few trees. If any leaves drop, they are usually raked up and not allowed to return to the soil. Lawn might look green – although it takes a lot of water and nutrients to keep it that way – but underneath, there’s not much going on.

Compost bins are replicating and speeding up what happens in nature, and providing that same resource to be added to the soil. With compost that we create ourselves, we get to choose where it goes and how we use it.

Compost does add nutrients to the soil, but it tends not to be nutrient-rich (most bags of compost will have slow-release fertilizer added for this reason). You only get out what you put in – so if your compost is made up of shredded paper, dry leaves and grass clippings, it will be teaming with life (microbes and insects) but won’t be high in nutrients.

This is fine when you’re growing flowers, or plants that don’t need a lot of nutrients, but isn’t so great for ‘hungry’ plants like vegetables – especially if you’d like a good crop.

If you’re composting food scraps, coffee grounds and adding seaweed and manure, it’s going to be better – but with the hungriest crops there may still be a need to add more nutrients (especially in nutrient-poor soils like mine).

For now, I’m not worried about the specifics of the soil. I haven’t planned exactly what I’m planting where, so my compost is for the basics: adding carbon, retaining water, and supporting life.

Up next: planning out the garden (and designing for the climate).

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have compost bins, and how do you use your compost? Do you utilize any interesting ‘waste’ when filling up your bins? Do you live in Perth and struggle with overcoming the sandpit? Anything you’d like to know more about? Please share in the comments below!

Food is free: 8 ideas for where to find it and how to share it

I’m a big believer that the most important part of zero waste isn’t the stuff you buy or the things you use – it is the connections that you make with others.

Ultimately, as a society, if we want to waste less then we need to share more. The more connected we are, the more we can participate in sharing – be it receiving or giving.

I’ve talked about the sharing of ‘stuff’ often (and it’s a big part of what my book Less Stuff is about). Today I wanted to talk about something different that we can share – food – and just some of the many ways that people are already sharing food with others in their community.

Food goes to waste in lots of ways. It might go unpicked on a tree or in a garden bed, or it might be picked but then not used before it begins to go bad. We might buy more than we need, change our plans or our minds, decide we don’t like something we purchased and so let food we have go to waste.

The following community initiatives all exist to help those with not enough have access to what they do need, and those with too much/excess to share what they have. Everyone wins.

Buy Nothing Project

It might be possible to write a waste-related post and not include the Buy Nothing project, but today is not that day. It’s one of the best neighbourhood sharing networks I’ve ever joined. The Buy Nothing project is a global network of community neighbourhood groups that use Facebook Groups to connect members.

It’s only possible to join one group – the one where you live. The vision for the network is ‘buy nothing, give freely, share creatively’, and members can give, lend or take from other members (no swapping, selling or bartering is permitted).

A lot of the items are of course not food, but it’s by go-to resource for finding excess lemons, and I’ve also found avocados, lemongrass, oranges, limes, opened jars of peanut butter, other unopened grocery items and more.

Website buynothingproject.org

Little Free Pantries

You might have heard of Little Free Libraries… well, Little Free Pantries have taken this concept and applied it to food and household items: neighbours helping neighbours.

They are designed to provide better food access to those less able to meet their everyday food needs, but everyone is welcome to provide or take food as they need. It removes the hierarchy associated with food charities, and there is no need to ‘register’.

Their website not only has a map of where the existing Little Free Pantries are located (if you’d like to donate items), but lots of information for setting up your own including detailed plans for actually building a pantry.

Website: littlefreepantry.org

Community Fridges

These refrigerators are located in public spaces, enabling food to be shared with the community – anyone can put food in or take it out – with the goal of reducing food waste, and also enabling those in hardship easy access to fresh food. The first Community Fridges were set up in Germany in 2012.

They are like Little Free Pantries with electricity – meaning that they can offer chilled products, but are more tricky to establish (needing an electricity supply, for a start).

Unlike the Little Free Pantry, there isn’t one overarching network for the fridges, and they sometimes go by different names.

Freedge is a good starting point if you’re in North America, South America or Europe. Website: freedge.org

In Spain they’re called Nevera Solidaria, or Solidarity Fridges. Website: neverasolidaria.org

In the UK, a national network of Community Fridges has been set up by the environmental charity Hubbub with a goal of 100 open Fridges by 2020. Website: hubbub.org.uk

Grow Free carts

Started in Australia and now expanding overseas, this growing network of sharing carts offers free home-grown produce including eggs, jams and chutney, seeds and seedlings. Some carts also offer empty glass jars, old plant pots and egg boxes for reuse.

Some carts are available 24/7, and others have ‘opening hours’ (my local one, pictured above, is only open on weekends). Many local groups use Facebook to detail exact open hours and also what the cart has from day to day/week to week.

Everything is free, and they have the motto “take what you need, give what you can.’

Website: growfree.org.au

(I’m planning on setting up my own Grow Free cart in the next month or so. I’ve sourced a suitable cart – a baby change table on wheels from my Buy Nothing group – and will be posting shortly on how it goes.)

Food Swap / Crop Swap groups

These are informal neighbourhoods groups of people sharing their excess food and produce through recurring events (often weekly, fortnightly or monthly). They run under a few different names, including Grow Swap Share groups and Crop Swap groups, and they all run slightly differently.

Even if you’re not currently growing anything it can be fun to go along and find out who’s growing what in your area, and get to know your community.

Website foodswapnetwork.com (or try cropswap.sydney for a great list of Australian groups)

Fallen Fruit

A map of urban fruit trees and other edibles that is open for anyone to edit. Listings include public orchards and community plantings, trees or shrubs on public or council land, and those on private land. Run by volunteers as a not-for-profit initiative.

Website fallingfruit.org

Ripe Near Me

A map of locally grown food that allows both the public to add any fruit trees growing on public land, or home gardeners and growers to list their surplus (which they can either offer for free or charge a small amount). 

Website ripenear.me

Olio Ex

There are plenty of apps helping reduce food waste, but Olio is one that is completely free, allowing shops, cafes and households to list excess food and share it with neighbours.

Website: olioex.com (app available on Android or Apple)

I’m sure I have only touched the surface of all the great ways that people are sharing surplus food, strengthening neighbourhood ties and connecting community. But I’m also sure that there is something here for all of us. Whether you want to drop some tins at your local Little Free Pantry, download the Olio app, set up a Grow Free cart, check out fruit trees in your nihbourhood or join a local Crop Swap group, the best thing about all of these ideas is that you can start today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Which one (or two!) ideas resonate most with you? What will you do to take action? Are you already involved in one of these and can you share your experience? Do you know of any other great initiatives I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reusable Produce Bags

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

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

Image credit: Stella Stellina

Unpaper Towel

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

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

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

Image credit (top): Marley’s Monsters

Image credit (bottom): Earth Kind Creations

Cleaning Cloths and Reusable Wipes

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

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

Image credit: Upcycled Creations CAD

Reusable Menstrual Pads

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

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

Image credit (top): Earth Kind Creations

Image credit (bottom): SnugglePot Cotton Pads

Natural Zero Waste Make-Up

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

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

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

Image credit (top): Dirty Hippie Cosmetics

Image credit (bottom): Clean-Faced Cosmetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

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

Where to pass on items:

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

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like nextdoor.com.

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

Gift Food Items

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

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

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

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

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

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

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

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

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

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

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

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

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

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

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

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