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!

Everything you need to know to get started with home composting

Composting can seem a little overwhelming. There seem to be so many things to worry about; things that might go wrong. It can seem a bit technical and science-y. But actually, the basics are quite simple, and it is easier to get a compost bin cranking than you think.

If you’re composting at home, especially if you’re a beginner, you don’t really need to get bogged down in the details. Understand the principles, and you’re on your way.

If you love the idea of composting, but simply don’t have the option to compost at home (or where you live), this post on composting without a compost bin might be useful.

If you’re keen to get you own compost system set up at home, read on.

Choosing your composting system

There are a few different composting systems (and I’m only talking about composting today – not other methods like worm farming/vermicomposting or bokashi systems).

For the beginner, there are two great home composting systems: the regular compost bins we are most used to seeing (I call them in-ground compost bins), that sit on the ground or are slightly dug in, and rotary compost bins, which are an enclosed system mounted on a frame.

Compost heaps or compost bays aren’t great for beginners as they are more difficult to manage. Digging food scraps into the ground or in trenches (if you have space for that!) works too, but it’s not really a ‘system’.

In-ground compost bins

These are easy to set up and low maintenance, and usually cost less than the rotary versions. There are a lot of second-hand compost bins available, so it’s probably not necessary to buy a new one. It’s also possible to make them by upcycling plastic barrels, old bins or other old containers.

You’ll find different styles of bin, some with doors at the bottom and heaps of ventilation holes, others that clip together and some with no bells and whistles at all.

I’m a fan of the no bells and whistles type, pictured below (I call them Dalek bins). These work best for the climate I live in. These types of bin don’t have a base, and I dig into the soil (about 10cm deep).

In my hot climate, any ventilation holes are just gaps for moisture to escape and pests to get in. Plus they provide points of weakness (because we all know plastic breaks down when exposed to sunlight).

Doors at the bottom might look cute, but the reality is it is easier to wait for the entire contents to become compost and dig the whole thing out at once.

That said, it’s possible to make most compost bins work. My neighbour was recently clearing out her shed, and offered me this for free. My plan is to dig it into the ground so that the vents at the bottom are covered, and only use it for garden waste (no food waste) to deter any pests that might want to crawl in the sides.

Because of the gaps along the sides, it will probably need a bit more water added than the other type.

Rotary composters

These tend to be more expensive than the in-ground versions, but they are perfect for patios and balconies and spaces where it isn’t possible to dig one into the ground. I’ve seen DIY versions but you’re going to need to be a bit handy to make one, as the cylinder has to be able to rotate on a frame.

There are lots of different styles and sizes, too. Some are long and thin, others are short and squat – and the way they are mounted on the frame (and therefore how they turn) varies too.

When choosing which one is right for you, it’s best to think not only about your space but also your physical capabilities. A huge bin might seem like a great idea, but if you can’t turn it because it’s too heavy, that isn’t going to work.

Another great advantage of these bins is they are less likely to attract pests and are pretty much rodent-proof.

Where to position your compost bin

You’ll often see it written that a compost bin should be placed in sunny spot, but that depends on where you live. If you live in a hot climate, placing a bin in full sun means it dries out. (Compost bins need moisture to work.)

I think it’s more important to think about a spot where you’ll actually use it. At the end of the garden behind the shed might seem like a great idea… until you need to put your scraps in it when it’s dark and raining.

A well managed compost bin shouldn’t smell, so being near a kitchen window shouldn’t matter, but if you don’t trust your skills (yet) perhaps make sure it’s not too near any doors or windows.

If you do have a garden, under a fruit tree is great, as the tree roots will benefit from the compost at the bottom of the bin.

I’d say, choose a warm and accessible spot (in a hot climate, dappled shade / afternoon shade is helpful if possible). Don’t forget, you can always move it later if your first spot doesn’t work out.

Setting up your compost bin

Once you’ve chosen a site for your compost bin (and dug it into the ground a little if it’s an in-ground compost bin – 10cm is ideal), you need to get it set up and ready to accept food scraps.

Compost bins need air (oxygen) to work properly, so when you’re setting up a new bin, it’s good to start with something chunky as the base, that allows air flow. Twigs and sticks and egg cartons are great.

The biggest mistake I see (and yep, this was also me when I started) is to add ALL the food scraps, nothing else, and watch in horror as your compost bin becomes a stinky, fly-infested mass of yuck.

Compost bins need balance. In particular, they need a balance of fresh stuff (called ‘greens’) and dead stuff (called ‘browns’). On a more technical level, we are talking about nitrogen and carbon.

Too much nitrogen (fresh stuff) will make for a stinky compost bin as it will break down too fast, using up the oxygen. Too much carbon (dead stuff) and your compost will take forever to break down.

For a beginner, a good rule of thumb is one handful of green stuff, and two handfuls of brown stuff. Or even three handfuls of brown stuff.

Placing a tub of shredded paper, old cardboard toilet tubes, egg cartons, dried leaves, wood chips, sawdust or straw (all carbon rich) next to your compost bin, so that every time you add some food scraps, you can add some carbon easily, works well.

As you add things to your bin, the stuff at the bottom will get compressed, and eventually run out of oxygen. This will make for stinky compost. Turn your compost with a pitchfork or turning fork (like a giant corkscrew) – or by rotation if that’s the type you have – to keep the air circulating. Turning once a week or once a fortnight is fine, or more often if you start to notice any bad smells.

What can and can’t go in my compost bin?

Anything that was once alive will eventually break down to become compost. There are a lot of myths circulating that you can’t compost things like onions or citrus – of course you can! When it comes to plant-based food scraps, everything goes.

As for other food scraps, it’s not that they can’t be composted, but they are more likely to attract vermin, other pests (like flies and maggots) or harbour dangerous bacteria.

As a beginner composter, avoid putting meat, fish, dairy products, bread and large amounts of cooked food in your compost bin if possible.

Thinking about garden scraps, the only things I don’t put in my compost bin are persistent or nasty weeds – things like couch or Kikuyu grass roots, or those weeds that have the spiky seeds that stab you if you stand on them barefoot.

Although home compost systems tend not to get hot enough to kill seeds, most seeds aren’t really a problem. It can be fun to get surprise tomatoes or pumpkin plants germinating from compost. Common weed seeds like dandelions still go in – even if I didn’t put them in my compost bin, the seeds are going to blow in from elsewhere, and they are easy enough to weed out again if they do appear.

Common composting problems

A good compost bin needs variety, oxygen (air), moisture and microbes/insects to keep it working. When one of these things is missing, you get problems or it slows right down.

Stinky compost bin? Add more carbon rich material, and turn your compost to increase air flow. Make sure food scraps are buried. A well managed compost bin doesn’t smell (or smells earthy, like soil).

Dry compost? Add water.

Soggy compost? If you can squeeze water out of your compost with your hands, it is too wet. Add dry material – shredded paper, sawdust, dry leaves.

Insects? Most insects are fine, so don’t panic. Lots of one type might indicate an issue. Ants usually mean it is too dry, so add water. If flies or maggots are a problem, cover the top with mulch or soil, and make sure food scraps are buried rather than sitting on top. The odd cockroach might make you wince but it isn’t going to harm you or your compost. An infestation probably means you haven’t turned your compost for a while. Mix it up, and keep turning it and they’ll find somewhere else to live. Insects have short lives, and will be gone soon enough.

Not doing anything? Adding a handful of compost or manure will add some microbes to your compost to give it a boost. Turning it will also (literally) help stir things up.

Can I set and forget?

If you want ready-to-go compost in 2 – 3 months (in a warm climate), you need to balance your greens and browns, and turn frequently. But if you just chuck it all in and forget about it, it will break down eventually. Much more slowly, but it will happen. Winter (and colder weather) also slows things down.

If you do want to use your compost bin in the garden, two (or more!) bins can be helpful. If you’re constantly adding fresh food scraps to your compost bin, you are always going to have non-composted bits in your compost. Ideally, you’ll fill one bin to the top, and then continue to turn it whilst starting to fill a second one. That way, you’ll have fresh compost ready to go by the time the second one is full.

Once emptied, you can start refilling again and leave the other one to work its magic.

If you want to start composting at home, the best thing to do is to just start. Then, as issues pop up or you have questions, you can troubleshoot one by one. Most problems are easily fixed. Get a compost bin set up, and you’ll learn as you go.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about composting? Any issues I didn’t cover? Any beginner tips you think others need to know? Any other thoughts at all? Please share in the comments below!

How to freeze food in glass jars (+ defrost it safely)

I freeze food in glass jars, and I have done for years (we’re talking at least 15 years). As a student I resented buying things like zip-lock bags to freeze food – they seemed expensive and unnecessary. Glass jars were something I always had to hand – and they come in all shapes and sizes, which meant there was always one suitable for what I needed to freeze.

So that’s what I used.

It’s a topic that gets a lot of questions. Some people are surprised that it’s possible at all, others have tried and failed and want to know why. And there are a few rules you need to follow if you don’t want broken glass in the freezer.

In all my time freezing in glass I’ve only ever had a couple of breakages, and both times were when I didn’t follow my own advice. Stick to the rules, and you’ll be able to freeze in glass jars without breaking anything.

Understanding the science of freezing in glass

First, a science lesson! It’s helpful to understand what’s going on. Glass breaks because of stress. It’s rigid and solid, so when pressure is applied it tends to crack. (Like, for example, when you drop glass on a hard surface. It can’t absorb the impact, so it breaks.)

Although it’s rigid, glass actually shrinks a little when it’s cooled and expands a little when heated. Nothing that you can see, but it happens. When the outside and the inside of the glass have different temperatures (such as putting a glass jar of frozen food into a bowl of hot water, or putting hot liquid into a cold glass) the glass is shrinking on one side and expanding on the other, which creates stress.

The glass cracks to relieve the stress.

Water expands when it freezes. Food contains varying amounts of water and so different foods expand to different amounts when frozen. Pure water will expand the most. (You might have noticed when you make ice cubes that the level of the cubes rises as they freeze.)

Stock, soup and sauces are all liquid, and so will expand more when frozen than foods like bread or wraps, that have a low water content.

As liquids freeze and expand, they need a place to go. The sides of a glass jar are rigid and so the only way to expand is up. If a jar is narrow, or has sides that taper inwards, the extra pressure placed on the glass sides as the contents freeze will make it crack (which relieves the stress).

This is why wide-necked glass jars, or those with sides that taper outwards, are better for freezing, especially when freezing liquids.

Filling a wide-necked jar to the brim and then screwing a lid on tightly may also cause a jar to crack, because now there is no space at the top for the food to expand. Leaving a lid ajar until the contents are frozen will prevent this.

Foods like chickpeas or frozen sweetcorn have spaces between them, so there is less pressure applied to the sides of the glass (the air gaps can be filled) meaning narrower jars can be used for these types of food.

How to freeze food in glass jars: choosing suitable jars

I prefer wide-necked jars for freezing, and ideally those that taper outwards. My absolute favourite is the Bonne Maman jam jar. Each jar fits a one-portion serve, and the tapered sides mean the frozen contents almost slip straight out when I’m ready to heat them up.

They are also free (I rescue from a local cafe, and neighbours who eat jam.)

I can also stack them in my freezer, which maximises the space.

For liquids, a wide neck is very important. For beans, lentils or chopped vegetables, it’s less important, but still preferable.

I always choose jars that would have been through some kind of heating process in a factory. Jars that previously contained jam, pickles or sauce will have been heat-treated, and are my preference. Jars from the reject shop won’t, and are often thinner glass.

Sometimes you’ll see jars that have a distinctive round circle at the bottom, which is a separate piece of glass fused to the jar. This join is another point of stress weakness, and it’s better to avoid these jars if you can. If you can’t, choose to use only with low water content foods. (Breadcrumbs yes, frozen chickpeas yes, sauces or stock, no.)

I found this out when the base of a jar I’d just used to freeze something fell out as I was washing it up. I didn’t know it was a ‘thing’ until then! Luckily the food was fine, but the process of freezing and defrosting must have weakened the seal, and the jar broke. Now I check for this before using.

If you prefer, you can stick with glass jars that are designated freezer-safe. These tend to be the brands also suitable for canning – they are designed to withstand extremes of temperature. Ball Mason, Fowlers Vacola, Weck, Le Parfait jars are all examples.

How to freeze in glass jars, step by step

Once you’ve chosen a suitable jar, fill it with whatever you want to freeze, following these rules:

  • Fill to the widest point of the jar, and leave a space at the top to allow the contents to expand;
  • Cool the food completely before putting the jar in the freezer;
  • If possible, chill the contents first. Recommended for liquids like stock;
  • Place the jar in the freezer, with the lid off or ajar;
  • Once the contents have completely frozen, screw the lid on tightly.

Don’t forget to label your jars unless it is very obvious what is inside! Your memory will not be as good as you think it is. A date is useful as well as labelling the contents.

The reasons most jars break in the freezer are putting hot contents straight into the freezer, overfilling the jar, using a narrow jar – or all of the above.

My biggest mistake was trying to freeze stock in a passata bottle. Luckily it didn’t crack until it was almost frozen solid, so there wasn’t a big mess to clean up. But it had to be discarded. Lesson learned – these things need room to move!

How to defrost frozen food in glass jars

Heating frozen glass (such as plunging into a bowl of hot water) will make it crack. Don’t do that.

If you’re super organised, you can take the jar out of the freezer and leave on the side for a few hours. Or, you can put in the fridge to defrost overnight.

(If you’re defrosting meat or fish I’d put in the fridge to thaw because they are higher risk in terms of food poisoning.)

A large and well-packed frozen Pyrex container can take a couple of days to thaw in the fridge.

Jars, less watery things, and pieces with more surface area, will defrost more quickly in the fridge.

If you’re less organised, and want to defrost something more quickly, take it out of the freezer and put in a bowl of cold water. It’s important that it’s cold, because warm water will crack your jar. Cold water is still warmer than ice.

Depending what it is, you can add cold water to the frozen item (pour cold water into the jar) – this is how I thaw my frozen chickpeas. It separates them, which means I can get them out of the jar.

It would work for frozen veg, like sweetcorn. You wouldn’t do it to a piece of cake. 

If you’re less organised and also impatient, your best bet is to freeze food in containers or jars that taper outward. Pyrex tapers out slightly, as do Weck jars, as do my all-time favourite, Bonne Maman jam jars. What this means is, as soon as the food starts to defrost, which will happen from the edges inward (the centre will be the bit that thaws last), the frozen food will slide out of the jar.

Take out of the freezer, sit in a bowl of cold water, wait 10 mins or so and then empty the frozen lump into a pan or bowl, or whatever you are going to use to heat up your food. I don’t have a microwave, so I use a saucepan.

I use a low heat and a lid on the pan, and stir to separate the thawed bits from the frozen core. Gradually it reduces down, and eventually its piping hot, and you’re good to go. 

Readers have told me that they put frozen glass jars in a microwave to defrost. I’d be extremely careful doing this, as microwaves don’t heat evenly – if part of the glass is touching hot food and another part is still frozen, the glass will be under stress and may crack. But (apparently) it can be done.

I hope this answers all of your freezing-in-glass-jar related questions! As always, any thoughts, suggestions or ideas that you have, please share with us in the comments. Ask away, I’d love to hear from you!

My garden transformation project: why I’m digging out my lawn by hand

When it comes to transforming my garden into an edible and productive food space, there’s one task that’s taking up most of my time currently: digging out the lawn. And if there’s one question I’m answering most often from the garden updates I post it is this: why are you digging out your lawn?

Which actually has two meanings: why aren’t you keeping the lawn? and why have you chosen digging out the lawn as your method of removal?

It’s not a short answer, so I thought I’d explain it here.

Why I’m digging out my lawn (why I’m not keeping the lawn)

I would like to grow edible food in my garden. I would like fruit trees and vegetables. I’d like native plants too. To grow these, I need to remove the lawn.

Lawn in Western Australia is not like lawn in Europe. If I leave it, it won’t grow into a beautiful field of wildflowers. In summer it will be dead without a lot of inputs. What does grow will be non-native grass species and weeds like castor oil (which is toxic to dogs – it’s the source of ricin).

My climate doesn’t naturally support meadows.

Growing lawn in Perth is hard work and takes a surprising amount of resources. It needs a lot of water to keep it green. I have a bore (which is a pump that draws water from the ground, as opposed to using drinking water from the tap) but even so, our groundwater levels are dropping and in my opinion, it is a waste of water to keep so much grass alive.

Anyways, I’m only allowed to use my bore reticulation three times a week. Any other watering needs to be drinking water.

The reticulation that’s in place to keep the lawn green is plastic and the parts break all the time. It breaks, and the trickle is replaced with a jet stream that gushes gallons of water down the road at the front (or floods the garden at the back). After replacing a few broken bits (luckily with second-hand freebies I was given, not new plastic) only to end up with more broken bits, I decided to just switch it off.

Then, it needs fertilising to keep it green. Lawn fertilisers cause a lot of problems in our rivers, because they are soluble fertilisers than run-off into the water and contribute to algal blooms (which kill the fish).

My non-fertilised lawn is yellow and patchy. Which is fine, because I’m digging it out.

Yes, lawn feels nice underneath the feet (well, when it’s not dead). Although our Australian grasses are not as soft as the European grasses, so it isn’t quite the same. But there are parks close by with lots of grass that are properly maintained and accessible to lots of people.

I know that a lot of non-Western Australians will look at a garden full of coarse wood chip mulch and think it looks ugly and weird. It took me a bit of getting used to when I first saw it, too. But if meadows are what happens to grasses in Europe, this layer of dead tree matter is what nature does in our natural bush areas.

It acts to protect the soil from the harsh sun, retains moisture underneath – and eventually breaks down to add carbon to the soil.

Although it looks extreme now, eventually I’ll cover most of my mulch with plants so it won’t be so obvious.

Why I’ve chosen digging out the lawn as my method of removal

There are lots of ways that people choose to get rid of their lawn. Digging mine out by hand (well, I did contemplate a turf cutter, but I’ve stuck with the spade) was the only option I really considered. I know there are plenty of ways, but I have my reasons for choosing this. Let me explain them.

Perth grass is TOUGH.

Even though I told you grass dies here in summer, it doesn’t actually die. Every autumn when the rain returns the dead patch of yellow grass resurrects itself. It dies, and yet it is almost impossible to truly kill.

There are a few species of grass used for lawns in Perth, and I have a few, definitely included these two.

Kikuyu grass: a tropical grass speces Pennisetum clandestinum, native to the highland regions of East Africa. Grows rapidly and aggressively. Categorized as a noxious weed in some regions. Has underground runners and its root system can grow to 3 metres deep.

Couch grass: a drought-tolerant grass described as ‘high maintenance and invasive’. It has an extensive root system with fine roots that is difficult to remove. Can grow through concrete. Also called Wintergreen couch – I wonder if this is because it dies back in summer and returns with vengeance in winter?

I don’t want to use chemicals (which is often recommended)

Because our grasses are so hard to kill, many gardeners and organizations recommend using glyphosate (you might know it as Roundup) to kill lawn. It’s a controversial chemical that’s been banned in many European countries due to safety concerns.

Whilst verge gardens tend to be non-edibles (well, for humans only) I’m not interested in using chemicals to kill any of my lawn that will remain in the soil and enter the food chain.

Smothering/solarising doesn’t work well in Perth

Lots of readers have suggested I just cover the grass with cardboard and mulch, or use black plastic to solarise the grass and kill it. I know that these methods work well in other places with other types of grasses, but they aren’t great in Perth.

If it has worked for you, brilliant (and I’m sure it can be done). But when it doesn’t work, all that happens is you create a cosy, warm, wet environment for the grass which means it expands its root networks, and eventually busts through the mulch/plastic.

An earlier guide to verge gardens by the Water Corporation specifically advised against these methods, recognising that they rarely work.

I’ve seen many, many examples of mulching/solarising grass failing in Perth, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen an example of it working successfully on the types of grass that I have.

Putting the work in up-front

Even if I thought that mulching/solarising was a great idea, and wanted to give it a go, I’d need to wait several months for the grass to die before I could plant anything in the ground. And I don’t want to wait.

The sooner I can plant trees the better, and the sooner I can plant vegetables the better.

Also, I think putting in the work up-front means not playing catch-up later. I don’t want to spend the next six months digging out regrowing grass – especially not grass that has grown through raised garden beds and now has 1+ metre deep roots.

I expect there will still be some regrowth, but it should be a lot less than if I’d just tried to plant on top.

The level of the land

One other reason why sheet mulching with cardboard and then heaping on the mulch wouldn’t work for me – at the front at least – is that the ground level is already a little high. It’s higher than the driveway, which means when it rains all the water (and mulch) will run off onto the concrete and down the drain.

In a place that’s short of water, this is a huge waste. I need to ensure any water that falls stays in my soil.

Adding an extra 10-15 cm of mulch on top would create a mini mountain, and just exacerbate the problem.

By removing the lawn I’m reducing the height of the land slightly, so the new surface is flush with the kerb/driveway.

Knowing my land

I did contemplate getting a turf cutter, and a few friends suggested just getting a bobcat in to blitz it in a couple of hours. But I decided to do it by hand.

Out the back, I don’t need it all done at once, so I’m chipping away as I’m ready to plant trees or put in beds.

At the front I am removing the whole lot, but I’ve found the by-hand approach useful.

There is a huge tree on my verge, and I don’t want to trash all of its roots with heavy machinery.

There are gas pipes, water pipes (and PVC reticulation pipes!) under the lawn, and I don’t want to damage anything.

It’s been useful to go slowly and see exactly where the roots from the big tree, my neighbours’ trees and my hedge extend, remove random bricks I find, and also see the condition of the soil (which varies from extremely bad to pretty bad. But I did find a worm. Just the one. Yeah, Perth soil is really not great).

Because I want to put in-ground beds at the front, its useful to know if there are networks of roots or blocks of concrete under the soil before I plant anything out.

Removing the lawn – progress to date

The one advantage of living on a sandpit rather than heavy clay soils is that it is fairly easy to dig out grass. It isn’t back-breaking work… but there is a lot of it.

My superstar neighbour has given me a hand out the front (I think she is impatient for it to look good!) and it is quite amazing how much can be removed in a day.

Currently, the front looks like this:

(The plants are a native Geraldton wax I transplanted from the back garden, a lemongrass bush and the beginnings of my broad bean patch).

I’m going to have another blitz at the weekend, and I’m hoping it will almost all be gone when I’m done.

Here’s the back, with the new beginnings of my citrus ‘grove’ and my raised garden beds beginning to fill up:

So that, my friends, is the extremely long answer to the question: why am I digging out my lawn. It’s fairly boring work up front, but the long-term rewards will be worth it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Any more questions about lawn or lawn removal? Any experiences of removing lawn yourself – both successful and unsuccessful? Any other thoughts at all? Please share in the comments below!

9 ways to get the most out of your freezer (+ reduce food waste)

My freezer has saved many a food item going into my compost bin. Overripe bananas, leftovers I’ve eaten for five days straight and really can’t bear to make it six, onion peels that I’ll use to make stock – the freezer is great for both reducing food waste, and treating future us to a ready-made meal in the form of something we prepared earlier.

Many of us are doing bigger and less frequent grocery shops than we might normally do, and cooking more than we might normally do – and this is putting extra pressure on the freezer.

Which let’s face it, for many of us is also a bit of a stick-it-in-there-and-forget-about-it zone.

My freezer is fairly small, which means that there’s always less room in there than I’d like. But it also means that I’ve got good at keeping my freezer organised, and making the most of the both space and the utility.

If you’d like to use your freezer more efficiently, here are my tips.

1. Ensure your freezer is a frost-free zone

If your freezer resembles a small iceberg, it’s not running as efficiently as it could be – and that ice is taking up valuable leftovers space. If this is the case, you need to defrost your freezer.

Defrosting it will melt the ice – then you just need to ensure the melted water is removed and it’s wiped dry, and turn it back on.

Whenever I defrost my freezer, I put my freezer contents in a neighbour’s freezer temporarily. You can also put frozen food in the fridge or use an esky/cool box to slow down defrosting. Any meat, fish or dairy products are better not refrozen, but vegetarian leftovers will probably be fine to go back in the freezer.

Make sure your freezer is set to (and running at) -18° C (0° F) before you fill it back up.

2. Audit your freezer

It’s really useful to go through your freezer every few months and see exactly what is in there – because there will be something you had forgotten about. Hopefully something tasty!

(With me, its usually extra jars of onion scraps for stock making. Sigh.)

It’s best if you can pull everything out and have a good look. That way you won’t miss anything, and you’ll spot half-empty containers and other things you might have missed.

Once you know what’s in the freezer, here’s some ideas to organise it better:

  • Make a plan to use anything old, or anything you have lots of, in the coming weeks;
  • Ensure anything you have lots of isn’t on your shopping list;
  • Put the oldest stuff at the front so you are more likely to notice (and therefore use) it;
  • Make sure everything is labelled (or at least the suspiciously ambiguous stuff);
  • Pop a reminder in the calendar for 3-6 months time, so you remember to do it again.

(I label my jars with a wax pencil – it’s easy to rub off. You can by them from art supply stores. You could also use a marker pen, or stick labels on.)

3. Prioritise what you keep in the freezer

If you’re like me, with a small freezer, you’re probably constantly juggling things to make space. When I need to make space for something else, there are a few things I think about.

What’s most valuable to be in my freezer?

Without a doubt, the most useful thing for me in my freezer is ready-cooked meals, ideally in 1-person or 2-person portions.

Generally speaking, the more prepared something is, the better. So frozen banana cake, or a frozen smoothie, is better than a frozen banana. A jar of stock is more useful than a jar of onion peels.

These are all things that save me time in the future (convenience) – which is what I value.

Value is also related to the cost of the item (what it would cost to replace), and the space it takes up.

Remove non-essentials.

I don’t keep ice in my freezer all the time (no space!) so if I have an ice cube tray in there during a sort, this is the first thing to go.

I also tend to have a bunch of ‘saved’ items in the freezer. I often have a jar of lemon zest, and maybe orange and lime zest too. That’s three jars. if I’m having a cull, these will go.

I don’t zest every citrus fruit I ever eat, so I don’t feel too bad about putting these in the compost if I’m short of space for something else. (Plus, it’s easy to make more down the track.)

Try to keep the contents balanced.

The more you rotate the food in your freezer, using up things and replacing them with new (different) things, the more you’ll get out of your freezer – literally.

I like to have a few slices of bread, a few portions of leftovers, maybe a jar of stock and a couple of jars of sauce, some frozen bananas – and then some snack items like falafels, fritters or hummus.

Rather than long-term storage, I use my freezer as a way to extend the life of leftovers, and make my meals more interesting – especially when the fridge is running low.

Prioritising doesn’t have to mean throw away.

If you do have to remove some things from the freezer, you don’t have to throw them in the bin. You can pop in the fridge where they will last a few days (they will defrost pretty slowly in there).

If it’s something that you know you won’t eat, but someone else might, you could try listing on the olioex app (it’s a free food sharing app).

4. Learn what you can freeze

In short, you can freeze almost everything (one important exception is meat and fish that has previously been frozen, and then defrosted).

When food is frozen, the water expands, which can change the texture. You’ll notice this with raw fruit and vegetables, which go mushy once frozen because the frozen water breaks the cell walls.

But this isn’t a problem if you intend to cook with them (using berries in baking, or veggies in soup) because cooking also breaks the cell walls.

Vegetables often freeze better if blanched (heated briefly in boiling water, then submerged in ice) first. But it’s not the end of the world to just freeze raw.

I always freeze my onion peels, leek ends and other bits I’ll be using to make stock raw, because they will be boiled later, so texture doesn’t matter.

You won’t notice much change in texture if you freeze cooked food. I often roast vegetables, and then freeze them this way. It also means that when I defrost, they are cooked and ready to go.

Milk and yoghurt can be frozen but freezing can change the texture of these – particularly of non-homogenised full-fat milk, which can go lumpy. It’s still edible, but may be better used in cooking rather than in coffee or tea.

5. Choose suitable containers

I prefer to freeze in a mix of glass jars, and Pyrex containers. I’ll occasionally freeze something in a stainless steel lunchbox, but they are less useful as you can’t see what’s inside (and frozen metal hurts my fingers when prising the lid open).

(Yes, you can freeze in glass. Instructions here.)

Bigger glass containers are more efficient in terms of space, but you’ll need to defrost the whole thing at once. Which is fine for traybakes or leftovers you made specifically for freezing, but less good for item you’d like to separate, like chunks or frozen berries.

Tip: if you want to freeze berries, or anything cut into chunks, you can freeze on a tray, and once frozen, add to a big container. That way they don’t all stick together, and you can scoop out just what you need.

Smaller containers are great if you just want individual portions, but the containers take up more space, particularly solid ones like glass or thick plastic.

For small containers, I love Bonne Maman jam jars. They are readily available and free, and to be delight, I discovered that there is enough space in my freezer to stack them, which makes the most of the space.

The tapered sides means it is easy to freeze in them (they are unlikely to crack, unlike narrow jars) and it is easy to slide still-frozen leftovers out to reheat in a saucepan.

I’m sure you all know that I’m not a fan of single-use plastic. If you simply don’t have room for solid containers, you could consider investing in some reusable silicone storage bags. And I do mean invest, because they are not cheap – but look after them and they will last a lifetime. Buy the best you can afford – if you have the budget, I recommend the Stasher bags (expensive, but you do get what you pay for), and can guarantee that they do not leak.

If reusable storage bags are out of your budget, and you’d prefer to use single-use plastic ziplock bags or similar, remember that you don’t have to use them once only. Wash and reuse them as many times as you can.

For freezing bread, I used a reusable cloth bag for years. After a million recommendations from readers I now have an Onya bread bag, purpose-made for freezing bread.

It’s not a necessity, but it will help keep your bread fresher for longer in the freezer.

6. Reduce freezer burn

Freezer burn happens when the fan that moves air around the freezer sucks out the moisture from the food, leaving pockets of air that discolour the food, and taste weird. Food that has freezer burn isn’t unsafe but it isn’t tasty, either.

The longer something is in the freezer, the more likely it is to develop freezer burn.

The more you can exclude air (and air circulation) from your food, the slower this will happen. Keeping food in containers helps, and packing containers tightly.

For really sensitive (or expensive) items, wrap with paper within in the container, which can help reduce the exposed surface area.

Make sure you’re rotating your food, eating the oldest things first, and don’t leave anything in the freezer too long. Whilst a few months will probably be fine, ultimately time is not on your side!

7. Label what you freeze

I am very bad at this, but it really is a good habit to get into. You might remember what the item is when you freeze it, but that doesn’t mean you’ll remember in six months time.

One label is better than no labels (it’s a start)…

And as the weeks/month pass, you’re less likely to remember the date – or even the year – you froze something.

So get into the habit of labelling what an item is (if it’s not obvious) and when you froze it.

8. Keep your freezer running smoothly

If you’ve gone to the trouble of defrosting your freezer, you don’t want it icing up again any time soon. There are a few things that speed up ice creation in freezers, so here’s a list of do’s and don’ts.

  • Don’t put hot food (such as leftovers) in the freezer. Let the food cool down, and ideally chill it first;
  • If you’re putting frozen items from the store in the freezer, wipe off any condensation or water that may have formed on the packaging;
  • Try to minimise how long you leave the freezer door open;
  • Check the freezer door seal, and if it’s not sticking properly, invest in a new one (it will also save you paying more than you need on electricity);
  • Don’t stuff your freezer so full that air can’t circulate;
  • Don’t block any fans or vents that say ‘do not cover’ on them.

9. Love your freezer and it will love you back.

Freezers are a pretty epic modern invention. By freezing, we can extend the life of our food, provide future us with tasty snacks and pre-prepared meals, and bypass the problem of ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’.

Keep your freezer frost-free, (relatively) organised and filled with things you like to eat, and you’ll be rewarded time and time again.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you good at making the most of your freezer, or could your freezer do with a bit of love and attention? Any tips you’d like to share, or questions about freezing? Any successes or fails when it comes to freezing food? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How my zero waste habits have changed since Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed a lot of things. From the things we are actually not/no longer allowed to do, to those habits we’ve been forced to rethink and then those we’ve decided to change, there seems to be very few aspects of daily life left untouched.

When it comes to zero waste, low waste and plastic-free living, it’s been interesting to me to see all of the changes. Some businesses have stepped up their game to ensure they continue to create less waste, others have had no choice but to soften their approach. The same goes for individuals and their habits.

I wanted to share how my own habits have changed (and stayed the same) since the pandemic arrived. We’ve all got different ways of dealing with things, and differing priorities, and it’s not to say that my way is the best way, nor am I encouraging you to do what I do. Depending where you live, it might not even be possible right now.

Zero waste – or low waste, at least – might not be a priority for everyone now, but it is still a priority for me. I think I’m hardwired to have heart palpitations at the thought of throwing something into landfill! Of course I’ve had to make changes and compromises (I think we all have, right?) but I’m still trying to navigate these choices whilst keeping my values in my heart.

My zero waste habits that haven’t changed

Shopping at bulk stores

Most of the bulk stores here in Perth are still open, and many are still accepting BYO containers. (I heard of one that was ordered to stop by the council Health department, and I know of a few that have closed to customers and are offering a pick-up/collection service only).

I’ve been lucky to be able to head to my usual bulk store and stock up using my own jars. When the infection rate was at its peak I did use a collection service where I pre-ordered and picked up a few things in paper bags, but for the most part I’ve been able to buy my groceries packaging-free.

Getting (or not getting) takeaway

Personally, I see dine-in and takeaway as two different things. I dine-in when I want to take my time, enjoy the food and the company of the people I’m with. I get takeaway when I’m tired, it’s late and there’s nothing in the fridge. Because I refuse to buy takeaway in anything other than cardboard, my options are limited to pizza and (veg) burgers. Which aren’t things I want to eat particularly often.

Before Covid19, I’d maybe get breakfast, or coffee and a cake a couple of times a month, and maybe dinner with friends once or twice a month also. I’d probably eat takeaway pizza once or month or so (usually at the insistence of the person I live with). With the restaurants closed, I can’t dine out – but I don’t see takeaway as an equivalent. In my mind, they are very different things. Replacing dine-in with take-out doesn’t work for me.

Plus, with the fridge more full than it’s ever been, there’s no ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ excuse. So my takeaway habit hasn’t changed. Pizza, once a month.

The sharing economy

You’ve probably heard me rave about the Buy Nothing project a million times – it’s a network of hyper-local community groups allowing people to swap and share rather than buy new. Many Buy Nothing groups have closed down temporarily due to the pandemic, however ours has remained open for requests and ‘essentials’ (I live in a lower socio-economic area, and sometimes our members need support of food and other items to make ends meet).

Fortunately, although ours is still operating on a limited basis, I’ve been able to connect with so many neighbours in the past that I have a fairly good network to be able to borrow, share and give outside of the group structure.

And so I borrowed a tarp from one neighbour for a soil delivery, got a sourdough starter from another neighbour (to make crumpets), and dropped off some excess spinach plants for a third neighbour.

If there’s one thing I miss most during this lockdown, it’s my community. Normally there is so much swapping, sharing and banter, and I sorely miss it. I’m grateful that our community is still ticking along and connection is still possible, even though this is not a patch on what is was.

My zero waste compromises for Covid19

Buying new stuff

Well, so far I’ve purchased one new thing – but it broke pretty much all-the-rules that I follow. I needed a cable to connect my monitor to my laptop. For the past two years I’ve been using a cable borrowed from a friend, who had always said it was a long-term loan and he might need it back. Well, working from home came around and he needed it back.

I tried Buy Nothing, but no-one had a spare. I couldn’t find a local computer store. I didn’t want to just head to the mall on the off-chance – and I was conscious that office supplies were selling out as so many people were starting to work from home.

So I used click-and-collect – something I never do. I like to support local stores who don’t have these services, avoid big chain stores, and ideally find stuff second hand. This wasn’t an option either, and so I went to the big-chain store to receive my cable – all ready-packaged in a plastic bag.

I did think about kicking up a fuss and returning the plastic bag, but this was when uncertainty around Covd19 was at its peak and I didn’t want to stress the store guy out any more than he probably already was. Plus I assumed they wouldn’t reuse the bag anyway.

So I sucked it up and took my first plastic bag home in about 7 years.

(I photographed the moment for prosperity, and I’ll take the bag to Redcycle for recycling.)

I haven’t needed to buy anything else, although I dearly want a mortar and pestle (I currently try to flatten my coriander seed with a knife, because my food processor is not up to the job)… but I’m holding out.

Buying items in (home) compostable packaging

My personal low-waste rule is to avoid as much packaging as possible. I’m not perfect, but I always try to bring my own jars/bags/containers, and dine-in rather than get takeaway. Or go without.

It’s easy to go without when there are other options, but when these are taken away, your choices are very limited.

I’ve loosened my rules to include completely compostable and biodegradable packaging. Which means I can now buy ice-cream from the local gelateria – they use compostable sugarcane containers, which successfully break down in my compost bin.

I’ve hardly gone nuts – I think I’ve used about 6 in the last two months. I really believe that the zero waste movement is about using less packaging and embracing reusables and returnables, not just switching the material of single use packaging.

As soon as reusables and dining-in is allowed, I’m tightening up my rules. Until then, I will enjoy ice-cream.

Some zero waste wins

Takeaway coffee

I rarely buy takeaway coffee (I prefer to dine in, or make my own at home – I have an excellent manual press and stovetop steamer that makes amazing coffee). Personally, using disposable cups for anything other than a life-threatening emergency is a no for me. I just can’t do it!

I’ve noticed a few people on various zero waste groups about the place saying that they are happy to use disposable cups to support their local cafes. Whilst I like the sentiment, this is somewhere I’m not willing to compromise – and I really don’t think that my buying a $4 coffee once in a blue moon is going to keep a cafe (that’s had to close its entire restaurant down) afloat.

But after settling on my choice, I discovered that cafe closest to me is offering a returnable refillable cup service run by Renome – reusable cups that you pay a deposit for, and return for cleaning once you’re done (if you want a refill, you simply return your cup to the box, and are served with a freshly cleaned one).

Now this is something I can get behind.

The scheme has existed for a while, but until now I had no reason to use it. The great thing is that the cup is ultimately refundable, so I don’t need to ensure I use it 17 times (which is the case with a plastic KeepCup) to offset the carbon footprint. As long as the cup is used that many times, it doesn’t matter by who. And it’s not more ‘stuff’.

(There are a handful of cafes around Perth actually still accepting KeepCups, but none close to me.)

Supporting local

I think all of us feel a real draw towards supporting local businesses in these times. I don’t have the budget to suddenly start ordering takeaway every day (plus the packaging would give me heart palpitations, and I don’t think my arteries would be too pleased either).

I only buy ‘stuff’ that I need, which isn’t much stuff, and I’m not going to suddenly start shopping for ‘things’.

What I have been able to do is to support local food producers. I’ve been ordering extra in my local veg box (which I’m thankful that I already used, as a lot of these schemes have closed to new customers after a surge in demand).

I found an amazing mushroom grower – The Mushroom Guys – that usually supplies to restaurants, but with the lockdown has turned to selling mushroom boxes to customers. And they are things of beauty.

(I have a bit of a weakness for mushrooms and it’s one of my goals to eventually have a setup where I grow my own.)

A friend sells microgreens and I started a weekly order with him.

It’s meant my grocery spend has gone up, but as there is no spend on eating anywhere else, and as it’s a short-term thing, I’m happy to support local growers and have fresh food delivered to my door.

I’m lucky to have the option, and I’m taking it.

Some zero waste misses

Sneaky plastic

Oh, the sneaky plastic! Yep, I’ve been caught out with this a few times. When you shop at the same places and buy the same things you learn how to avoid the sneaky plastic, but when you’re going to unfamiliar places or buying different stuff, it happens.

A local cafe started stocking bread from a bakery and I placed an order only to find it came in a plastic bag. I asked for bulk risotto rice with my veg box (they run a bulk store also) and got a shiny plastic packet of the stuff instead.

It makes me more aware for next time – sometimes I forget that this is how most places do things!

Can you be zero waste during Covid19?

In Australia, so far things have not gotten as bad as they have in other places, and restrictions have not been quite as tight. We’ve been lucky, and hopefully we will remain this way. I’ve been able to shop at the bulk store and use reusables, and loosen my rules a little to allow for a little fun (or ice-cream, as it’s also called).

I know not everyone has been as fortunate. It helps that my day-to-day routines have not been disrupted too much – I regularly work from home, and I don’t have to navigate homeschooling.

This isn’t a competition. I just wanted to share how I’ve been navigating the choices, and what my experience has been. I’m sure yours has been very different. The thing I’m most sure about, is that whatever your current situation is, whatever you’re having to do to get by, it doesn’t not mean the end for zero waste.

We’ll get through this, and I think our resolve will be stronger for it. Right now, staying safe is the most important thing of all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How has the pandemic changed your low waste habits? What has stayed the same for you? What things have you been forced to change, and what things have you chosen to change? Have your priorities shifted, and how? There’s no wrong answers and I’d love to hear about your experiences and get your perspective on this, so please share in the comments below!

Reducing food waste: store cupboard crumble (+ ideas to use up old fruit)

With the current lockdowns and restrictions on movements, I’ve been rethinking how I use my (rather small) freezer. Now that I really need to optimise the space, I’m removing and using up some of the less useful items that take up space (a few random sticks of rhubarb, and a jar of stock) and filling it up with more useful items – ideally meals, or parts of meals.

One of the things I find really handy to keep in the freezer is crumble topping. Whenever I make crumble I always double the topping, and freeze half. (After all, making double – or triple – the quantity creates exactly the same amount of mess and washing up, but twice the food, and I’m all for that.)

It means down the track, when I discover some sad fruit in the fruit bowl, or a glut of something that I want to use up, I can grab the topping outta the freezer, and voila – almost instant crumble.

Growing up, the crumble I ate was made of refined white flour, refined white sugar, and butter. These days I prefer to make my crumble a little bit healthier.

And as long as you follow the rule of some sweetness, some crunch and some fat, it’s a pretty great idea for using up random ingredients from the pantry.

Making crumble topping

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup ground almonds (you could replace this with plain flour – wouldn’t be as tasty but kinder on your wallet. Other options are oat flour, rice flour, buckwheat flour)
  • 1/3 cup solid sugar (I like rapadura sugar, but any white or brown sugar that you have is fine)
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 cup nuts/seeds (use what you have: chopped almonds, mixed nuts, hazelnuts or pecans, shredded coconut or coconut flakes, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, even buckwheat kernels will all work great)
  • Pinch of salt

(A note if you’d prefer to use butter instead of coconut oil: the traditional way of making crumble is using cubes of cold butter, and rubbing into the flour to make ‘crumbs’. But my guess is, if you’re using chunky ingredients like oats rather than just plain flour, you can just pour melted butter in – it’s the same consistency as melted coconut oil.)

Method:

Mix all the dry ingredients into a bowl, pour melted coconut oil on top, and mix well.

Whatever you’re not using straightaway, pop in a container (I use a glass jar) and store in the freezer. If you don’t have space the fridge is fine. I’d keep in the fridge for a month or two, and the freezer for three to six months.

Reducing food waste: using old fruit for crumble

Crumble is the perfect way to use up old fruit. Apples that have gone floury, pears that have started to go squishy, stone fruit that’s gone wrinkly, blackberries or mulberries that have been sitting in the freezer for months – they are all perfect for crumble.

If you don’t have enough fruit to make a crumble, you can simply chop and freeze what you have until you’ve got enough. Or, you could just make a one person version.

Tropical fruit like bananas and mango will work too. I’ve never seen a crumble for citrus, but I’d love to try 50/50 with orange and rhubarb, for sure.

It can be helpful to stew the fruit before you make crumble. You don’t have to, but it will ensure the fruit isn’t hard in the crumble, and also reduce the cooking time considerably. All ‘stewing’ means is roughly chopping the fruit and chucking in a saucepan with a small amount of water (or orange juice), and cooking for a few minutes until the fruit starts to break down.

I don’t add sugar, because I find the fruit sweet enough, and there is sugar already in the topping. I usually add a sprinkle of cinnamon – and sometimes ginger – to the stewed fruit. Zested orange would be great, too.

Another option is to roast the fruit. Stone fruit are great roasted. Slice, place on a tray, brush with a little oil, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and bake in a medium-hot oven for 15-20 minutes. Takes longer, but tasty.

I like my fruit still a bit chunky, but you can cook it until mushy if you prefer.

How to cook store cupboard crumble

I don’t tend to weigh out fruit, or even the crumble topping. I prefer to measure it visually. Spoon the fruit into an ovenproof dish (I use glass Pyrex) so that it’s a few centimetres (a couple of inches) deep. Then, sprinkle on the crumble topping until it’s the thickness you like. No need to press it down.

Any excess crumble topping can be placed in a glass jar or other container, and frozen until you want to make crumble next.

Bake in the oven on a medium heat (I’d go for 150 – 180°C / 300 – 360°F) for about 15 – 20 minutes. If you’ve stewed the fruit beforehand you don’t actually need to ‘cook’ the crumble so much as warm it through. If you’ve used pecan nuts, opt for the lower temperature as they are prone to burning at higher temperatures.

(Better to cook for slightly longer at a lower temperature than end up with a blackened top.)

It’s ready when the top is browned and the fruit is bubbling.

Although crumble is traditionally a dessert, I often make it for breakfast (cooking the night before and either eating cold, or warming through in the morning). It’s got less sugar in it than a lot of cereals. I think if it as inverted muesli with fruit at the bottom rather than on top.

To store, allow to cool and then refrigerate and then eat within a week, or freeze and use within 3 months.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What ingredients are sitting in your pantry right now, and how are you planning to use them up? Any pantry ingredients you’re wondering how to use right now? What staples are you keeping in your freezer? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!