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Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it

Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:

That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?

Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.

I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.

And yet… it happens. To all of us.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.

Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.

As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.

Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.

I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.

But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.

This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.

I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.

And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.

Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)

One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).

Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?

Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.

Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.

I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.

Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.

Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.

I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.

Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.

There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!

When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.

Yes, I want to hear from you!

Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.

This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.

Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.

Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.

Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

5 Things You Need (No Purchase Required) To Go Zero Waste

I believe that less waste is firmly linked to less stuff. Yes, I do have a bunch of reusables, and yes I use them and find them useful. But the focus of the zero waste conversation doesn’t need to be around “stuff”.

Rather than talk about the things we can buy to reduce our waste, I wanted to talk about the things we can do, and the ways that we can change our thinking.

Because we can have all the zero waste reusables in the world, but without the right attitude and mindset we’re going to end up frustrated, defeated…  and those reusables will end up languishing on a shelf.

Instead of creating another one of those “5 Things You Can Buy” posts, I thought I’d create a “5 Things You Can Be” post for going plastic-free or zero waste.

A little encouragement, with no purchase required.

1. A Can-Do Attitude

If we want to achieve something, we have to believe it is possible. That doesn’t mean we have to think in absolutes. Let’s be realistic about what is possible, for us, and build on that.

Too many people trip up thinking oh, I could never be 100% zero waste, or I could never do all my shopping at the bulk store, it is too expensive. But there’s no rule that says you have to do that. Not being able to do everything is no reason not to do what we can.

If 100% zero waste or plastic-free isn’t for you (and let’s be honest, in today’s economy, with today’s systems, it is impossible to achieve 100%), decide what is for you.

Choose a different percentage, or even better, choose how much you want to improve by compared to where you are now. Maybe you’d like to reduce your bin by half, or maybe you’d like to make one swap every month until Christmas.

If the bulk store is too expensive, commit to doing 10% of your shopping there, or just buying your herbs and spices there.

Too often people assume it has to be all-or-nothing, and if they can’t do it all it doesn’t count and they shouldn’t bother. Wrong. It all counts. Every single action counts.

What you need is a goal that is achievable and realistic for you, one you can feel good about and know is within your grasp. Ideally one that involves no comparison with what anyone else is doing. That will keep you upbeat as you work on making change.

Let’s not forget that there will be slip-ups, mistakes and moments where it all gets a bit too hard. See them for what they are, part of the learning process, and know that despite any backwards steps, you can do this.

2. A Focus on Solutions

There are a lot of things about the world that could be a whole lot better. It can be a little overwhelming to think about it all. So don’t.

We can recognise that there are a huge amount of things that we care about and want to see changed – climate change, peak oil, farming practices, the food system, plastic pollution, over-use of plastic in manufacturing, animal welfare, deforestation – whatever the things that are closest to to your heart.

This is our sphere of concern: the stuff we care about.

From there, we can think about what we are in control of, or can influence. We might not be able to influence the political decisions made by leaders in foreign countries, but we still have influence on others and the world around us.

We can write letters, or join campaigns. We can support local events, or create our own.  We can pick up litter, or choose to boycott unethical companies. We can refuse single-use plastic, and we can buy second-hand.

This is our sphere of influence: the things that we can do.

Try to spend less time worrying about the things that you cannot change, and more time doing the things you can to make the world better.

For specific problems, tackle them one at a time, and find a solution. Ask the internet. Talk to friends or colleagues. Try different things. Someone, somewhere, will probably have a solution to the problem staring you in the face.

And if you really can’t find a solution, put it aside, for now. It is in the sphere of concern, but not our sphere of influence (yet). Move onto the next concern, and look for a solution for that.

3. Some Creativity

If you don’t think you’re creative, don’t panic. You don’t need to be – you just need to find others who are. People are always coming up with great solutions and hacks for different problems, and the internet means they are freely shared.

Saying that, creative doesn’t necessarily mean artistic. I consider myself to be creative in the kitchen – but you won’t find me making cute cupcakes or icing cakes worthy of best-in-show rosettes. No, my creativity is based around my ability to make a meal out of almost anything. I am a dab hand at using up fridge dregs! Not Pinterest-worthy, but tackling food waste gets my creative juices flowing.

Maybe you know how to sew. Maybe your mending skills are extraordinary. Maybe you know how to fix stuff. Maybe you know how to make stuff. Maybe you can find a use for anything. Maybe you’re full of upcycling ideas.

Whatever your creative outlet is, use it in your journey to zero waste. Share it, if you can. And use the creative outlets of others to help you with the things you’re less good at.

4. Healthy Scepticism

I believe it’s useful to question things, particularly claims about eco-friendly credentials that a business or product might have, or those headline-grabbing claims that companies often spout. Read the fine print. Ask questions. Become your own investigator.

There is a lot of greenwashing and misleading information out there. I was someone who used to take these claims at face value. If it said “eco-friendly” on the packaging, that was good enough for me! But of course, claims like this aren’t regulated. We need to do our homework.

Any business can decide its product is eco-friendly and stamp it on the front of the box. Any business can make a media statement promising to ban plastic/single-use items/non-recyclable packaging by several years into the future. But claims and headlines like this are meaningless without explaining how, or offering an an actionable plan to back it up.

When you see a headline or product that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Probe. Look deeper. Ask questions. Most companies with genuine ethical credentials will be able to answer your questions and address your concerns, or will tell you they don’t know and offer to find out. Anyone who ignores your request or is elusive or cagey: remain sceptical.

5. Community Spirit

We’re in this together! We really are. The reason that zero waste and plastic-free living is referred to as a movement is because there are lots of people joining in, all working together towards a common goal. We’re sharing resources and sharing ideas, and learning from one another.

Particularly if you don’t have much support from friends, family and colleagues, finding like-minded people elsewhere is crucial.

Be part of the community. This can be online, via social media (Facebook groups are good resource for creating online community spirit) and blogs. Share your thoughts and insights, and ask questions. Post ideas and success stories. Support those who are struggling, and celebrate those who are doing good things.

Help make our community positive, welcoming and supportive for others.

This can be offline, too. Join a local group or attend a community event (from beach clean-ups to movie screenings to DIY beeswax wrap making, I guarantee there will be something out there). If you’re feeling brave, offer to run an event at your local library – it will be a good way to meet like-minded people.

At the very least, join a Buy Nothing group or local neighbourhood network. Whilst the platforms are online, the members are the people who live where you live. It’s a great way to start to get to know your neighbours better and share stuff.

If you think zero waste is too hard, it will be too hard. But if you think that reducing your trash or limiting your plastic use is within your grasp, you’re already on your way.

Look at the areas in your life where you can make tiny changes and improvements, and find ways that work for you. Whenever you’re stuck, reach out – it’s likely someone will have a creative solution for your problem. And if you come up with an amazing solution yourself – tell everyone who will listen!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a lifestyle and a journey. There’s not some end point that you get to and you’re done. It’s ongoing, and every day brings new challenges. So forget about absolutes or perfection. Just do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with this list? Any other attributes you think are helpful when trying to go zero waste and plastic-free? Anything you struggle with? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Why You Can’t Fail at Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July started last Saturday, and enthusiasm for the challenge is everywhere! Yet a week or so into the challenge, we all start to see the cracks. We leave our reusables at home. We can’t find an alternative for that thing we really need. We forget to refuse a plastic straw. We return home triumphantly with cardboard packaged items, only to discover that the cardboard outer contains a sneaky plastic inner.

These things happen, and we think we’ve failed.

Even worse, we think we’ve failed…and we think there’s no point continuing.

Well I’m here to tell you, that isn’t true! There’s no such thing as “failing” with Plastic Free July. There’s every reason to keep going.

Here’s why you can’t fail at Plastic Free July.

1. Plastic Free July is about creating awareness.

If you’re anything like me, before you first realised that plastic is everywhere you probably didn’t notice it much at all. Plastic Free July was my wake-up call.

I’d never actually looked around me to see what plastic I was using, where it was going, or what all the litter I’d see in the streets or on the beaches was actually made of.

Plastic Free July is about changing habits. The first step in changing habits is realising that there’s a problem, and realising that there’s a better way. Plastic Free July does both of those things. It creates awareness, and that leads to changing habits.

Nobody can fail at “being more aware”. We might not be able to act on this awareness straightaway, but awareness is the first step to making change.

By being more aware, we’re starting the journey.

2. Plastic Free July is about changing habits – and changing habits takes time.

After creating awareness comes changing habits.

If you were going to learn the guitar, would you expect to master it after picking it up once? No. If you’re planning to lose weight, do you expect to have reached your target after eating one salad? No.

Plastic free July is no different!

A few weeks ago, our lack of success wouldn’t have even been on our radar. We might not have have thought twice about the plastic straw, or the plastic bag, or the plastic packaging. The fact that we are now means that we’re making progress.

Yes, change can feel uncomfortable and that is part of progress, too.

All these things will help us do better and make better choices next time!

3. Plastic Free July is not about all-or-nothing.

Plastic Free July is about attempting to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. ‘Attempting’ is the important bit! How can we fail at attempting, unless we give up?

There’s no “must”, it is simply about trying new things, exploring alternatives and changing habits.

Can’t find milk in glass? Or you can’t think of a practical way to pick up dog poo without plastic? Or the local council insists that we put our landfill waste in a plastic bag in the bin?  Each of these are just one obstacle, but there are plenty of other places where we consume plastic that are very easy to make a switch.

Don’t focus on the stuff you can’t change. Pick some of the other things that you can change, instead.

4. Plastic Free July is a journey, not a destination.

There are no awards at the end of Plastic Free July for who got there fastest. Of course, the less plastic we use, the better for the planet (especially single-use plastic). But change takes time, and honestly, if you’re completely new to plastic-free living and reducing waste, it takes longer than 31 days.

If you’re completely new to plastic-free living, you’ll likely have a lot of ingrained habits to rethink, and a lot of changes to make.

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, I honestly think it took me 18 months to reduce all my plastic. Some things I didn’t even need to tackle for the first year. For example, I had so many plastic-packaged products in my bathroom that it took me about 18 months to use them all up.

Time isn’t important. What was important for me was the journey –  all the things I learned, the missteps, the trials and errors and changes that I adopted to where I am now.

I have no doubts that some people can (and will) get there faster. Others will take much longer. Plastic Free July is about starting the journey (and hopefully continuing it) – not finishing it in 31 days.

5. There’s no such thing as failing.

What is failing, anyway? I looked it up, and I found this definition. “Failure is the neglect or omission of expected or required action.” What does that mean? It means giving up!

If you neglect to try, then you fail. Keep on trying and there is no way to fail.

Which means the only way to fail is to give up, and go back to your old ways.

That is not the same as not being able to do everything. It is not the same as deciding that some things are too hard, for now. It is not the same as slipping up, or forgetting.

Failing is not the same as having expectations of ourselves which come up slightly short against reality.

Success is never a straight line!

Plastic Free July is a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge! On the flipside, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if there wasn’t a little bit of difficulty. It wouldn’t feel like such an achievement if it wasn’t without trial.

So yes, Plastic Free July is a challenge, but oh so worth it. Success always tastes a little bit sweeter when we’ve had to work for it.

If you think you’ve failed at Plastic Free July, take it from me, you haven’t. We’re only a few days in! There’s plenty more time to look for alternatives, build on our experiences, refuse unnecessary plastic and do better.

No “get out of jail cards” or permission slips to give up from me! We’re all here to support each other, help with conundrums, and cheer along from the sidelines.

Believe me, you got this!

Okay, confession time – who here has been feeling like they’ve failed? Is there anything particular you’re struggling with? Please share and we may be able to help! On the other hand, who feels like they are “winning”?! What tips do you have to share? Any advice from seasoned veterans doing Plastic July for the second, third (or fourth or fifth) time? What would you say to newbies? Any other thought to add? Please share below!

Getting Stuff Done (A Kind Guide for the Time Poor)

Almost all of us would like to do more than we currently have time for. I’m somebody who gets a lot of stuff done, but there are still far more things I’d love to do than there are hours in the day. Plus I don’t have children, relatives I have to care for, long commutes or other things taking up my time before I get to do the things I’m passionate about.

Often, lack of time is a reason why we don’t embrace the changes we’d like to make. Changing habits and learning new skills doesn’t happen overnight.

But are we really time-poor? Or do we just think we are?

Being Time-Poor: What Does it Mean and What Can We Do About it?

Time-poor means not having time to do everything we’d like to do, or not having spare time. Clearly, we all have the same 24 hours in the day, but I’m not going to tell you that just because you have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyonce, you should be achieving your dreams. Let’s get real here. I’m pretty sure she can pay a nanny, and a cleaner, and a PA.

The way I see it, the way we spend our time can be divided into three:

Things that we have to do.

Things that we feel we should do.

Things that we do because we want to do them, and because we enjoy them.

Then there’s the long list of things we’d like to do, if only we had the time.

The question is, is it possible to change this? And more importantly, do we want to?

One technique I find very helpful for deciding if I’m prioritising my time well, is to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and on one side write down all the things that I love to do, want to do, and that make me happy.

Then, in the other side I write down how I actually spend my time.

I look at the two columns, and see how much similarity there is. If the two columns don’t match, I start to look at what I’m currently doing that I could maybe change, in order to make time for things that I do want to do.

The Things We Feel We Should Do

The easiest ones to look at are those things that come under the “feel like I should do” category. These aren’t things we actually need to do, but maybe feel obliged to do, or have continued to do even though the passion has gone.

Can we actually say no, or turn some things down, in order to create space?

Can we seek help from someone else to do these things in order to free up time?

The Things We Need To Do

These are the non-negotiables, like eating, working and sleeping. Whilst they might be necessities, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to tweak things.

Can we batch cook meals and then freeze them to save time? Can we take the train or bus to work rather than driving, so that we have time to read? Can we actually get up when the alarm goes off rather than dozing for another 45 minutes?

Even small tweaks can free up a little time here or there, and it all adds up.

Appreciating Timeframes

In most cases, we can’t just make changes tomorrow. Maybe we realise that reducing our commute will free up time, but we need to find a new job closer to home before we can make the change. Maybe we realise that when our toddler goes to school we will have plenty more time, but we’re still two year away from this change.

It doesn’t matter, but it can be helpful to recognise that time isn’t static. If we’re frustrated now, we can appreciate that things won’t always be like this. Being ready for the change and doing what we can to make it happen sooner (if possible) might be all we can do for now.

Can We Make Time?

Making time can come down to whether we really want to do something, and are willing to put in the hard work, or whether we like the idea of something.

There’s nothing wrong with the latter. I love the idea of learning plenty of things, but I know I don’t have the motivation to pursue most of them…at least, not now. But I like storing these little dreams in my imagination, just in case the time ever comes. If not, it doesn’t matter. The possibility is enough. 

Think in Terms of Projects

When we feel time poor but really want to make changes, we can look at the change we want to make as a ‘project’. A project is something with a defined outcome and a defined timeframe. We can split it down into what we want to achieve, and how much time we think we need.

We can decide for a month, we will set the alarm two hours earlier. Or we can decide we will: give up TV for a month, switch off social media after 6pm, neglect the non-urgent housework, get takeaway two times a week to free up the evenings, get a babysitter.

These might not be sustainable, long-term solutions, but when we have a clear timeframe, we can make them work.

Particularly with learning new habits, it is the learning that takes time. Once they are ingrained and we don’t need to think about them, they take up much less energy.

Try Not To Get Distracted with ‘Busy’ Tasks

Nobody is too busy to tell you how busy they are. But is busy the same as productive?

Imagine an empty bathtub, and now imagine it filled with watermelons. It’s full, right?

Now imagine emptying a big sack of walnuts over the top of the bath. All those round walnuts fill in the spaces around the watermelons. They don’t come up over the sides. Now the bath is full.

Finally, imagine emptying another sack of poppy seeds over the bath, and all those poppy seeds make their way into the crevices and cracks between the watermelons and the walnuts. Now the bath is definitely full.

We can think of those watermelons, walnuts and poppy seeds as the tasks we fill our day with, and the bathtub as the day. Those watermelons are the projects, or the big tasks we want to work on. The reality is, we need to set time aside for these bigger tasks, or the smaller tasks (the walnuts and the poppy seeds) will fill up the whole day.

We can feel ‘busy’ when we occupy ourselves with small tasks, particularly the repetitive ones that constantly need doing. We can feel good about it too. Finishing small tasks gives us a sensory reward and a morale boost. But it often doesn’t get us any closer to achieving our big goals. Instead they suck our time.

Truth is, small tasks are small, and they are easy to fit in around other things. We will never tackle our big tasks unless we make time for them.

(That’s not to say we can’t make our big projects more manageable by breaking them down into small tasks, if they are small, one-off tasks towards a defined goal.)

Try Not To Compare Yourself With Others

We are all different. We all have different energy levels, and we all draw energy from different things. Some of us love our jobs and feel reinvigorated when we work. Some of us hate our jobs and feel like sitting on the couch for three hours afterwards. Some of us love our jobs, but find then emotionally or physically draining.

Some of us can do tasks quickly, and some of us are painfully slow. Some of us are fast learners, and others are not. Some of us have great memories, and some of us have to be reminded a billion times before it sinks in.

It often surprises people when I tell them that I can’t write quickly. But you’re a writer! Yes, but I can’t just churn out blog post after blog post. I like to take my time and craft my words, and think deeply about what I’m saying. I have massive respect for those people who write multiple articles every single day. That will never be me. (Oh, another home truth. I can’t even touch type!)

Just because someone else can do things in a certain way, or a particular time frame, that doesn’t mean we all can. Besides, often we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know how much support they have behind the scenes, or how much training they have in an area.

We also don’t know how much of a priority this is to them. It might not be such a priority to us.

See other people’s successes and triumphs as what they are – good things worth celebrating. They have nothing to do with you, and what you can achieve has nothing to do with them. Don’t let their achievements rob you of your own. Go at your own pace, and if you want to, you will get there.

I’d love to hear from you – what sucks your time? What would you love to do with a few extra hours in the day? How do you manage to get the important things done? Or what keeps you from getting them done? Any other tips you’ve found useful? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

no-thank-you-im-out

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

8 Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Zero Waste Living

If you speak to any zero waste or plastic-free living advocate, and ask them about their experiences and their journey, at some point in the conversation they will say to you: with hindsight, I would have done things differently. Oh, the benefit of hindsight! As someone who has been living plastic-free for almost four years, and working towards zero waste for most of that time, I can tell you that the mistakes I have made and the lessons I have learned have been many!

It’s very easy, four years down the track, to make it sound like the journey has been effortless and the changes have been seamless. That’s not deliberate: there’s plenty of journey behind me for me to pick out the good bits. Plus I like to focus on what has worked for me and the successes I’ve had rather than dwelling on the struggles. I want to inspire others to make changes, not put their heads in their hands and declare it all to be far too hard! (It’s not, and if you keep going you will get closer, I promise.)

Then again, I never want to give the impression that I haven’t had my moments or my challenges along the way. Of course I have! I still make mistakes now. Nobody is perfect. We’re all trying to do the best we can. That’s all we can ever do, after all.

Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first four years of zero waste living. No doubt there are plenty more lessons to come in the next four years!

1. The first solution is not always the final one

You won’t get it all right first time round. Some things will work perfectly for you, and others, not so much. Different solutions will present themselves, and you will find better ways of doing things that fit with your lifestyle.

When I first stopped buying shampoo and conditioner, I found a health store that sold bulk products where I could refill my jars. The products were bright green, and when I first used them, the smell was so overwhelming that I was convinced I’d accidentally bought toilet cleaner. (I even went back to the shop to double-check I hadn’t bought toilet cleaner.)

Could they have mis-labelled their bulk containers?

Unlikely, but I did not enjoy using those products one little bit. Needless to say, I used them up (probably far more liberally than usual) and never went back there again.

I found another retailer whose refills had a smell I could stomach. Eventually the effort of going back and forth to refill my jars made me revisit this, and I tried using bicarb and vinegar. This worked well for my hair, and was easier than getting the refills.

One more change from bicarb to rye flour, and I’m content with this.

Rye Flour Shampoo Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

Rye flour is now what I use instead of shampoo… but there have been a few changes along the way!

2. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing (especially if it doesn’t feel right for you).

There are two iconic items of the zero waste and plastic-free movements: the glass mason jar and the bamboo toothbrush. Glass jars, I love. They come in all sorts of sizes, they are easy to store, easy to clean and you can see what’s inside them when you use them as storage.

The bamboo toothbrush, however, I struggled with. It was one of the first switches I made when going plastic-free, but I couldn’t bear the bristles coming loose in my mouth or worse, being washed down the sink. The brushes never seemed to last more than a few weeks.

When it came to disposal, I didn’t want those bristles ending up in my compost, ether. The bristles for many bamboo toothbrushes are currently plastic (despite what the companies might lead you to believe).

I came across another brand, with a conventional plastic handle but with reusable heads that need replacing every 6 months. The heads can currently be recycled by Terracycle, along with the packaging, so I’m not adding anything to landfill. This seemed far less wasteful than the bamboo forests I felt like I was chopping down to clean my teeth (I was constantly buying replacement brushes).

Bamboo toothbrush parts

Gah! More plastic bristles in my mouth and washed down the drain! Plus these bristles are plastic and I don’t want that in my compost.

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

These toothbrushes have replaceable heads (and it is literally just the head) that need replacing every 6 months. The packaging is minimal. It may not look as trendy as a bamboo toothbrush, but it’s working much better for me. And at least I can recycle these used heads responsibly.

Of course, my bathroom would look much prettier if I used bamboo toothbrushes. Ultimately though, what matters is whether my teeth are clean, and that I can dispose of the product I’m using responsibly. My toothbrush may be plastic but my conscience is clear.

3. You will make mistakes (and that’s okay, it’s all part of change)

One of the first things I bought in 2012 (the year I went plastic-free) was a reusable KeepCup – made of plastic. I didn’t think about the fact that plastic doesn’t really last, whether it’s labelled as reusable or not; nor did it occur to me that it isn’t healthy to use plastic with hot liquids like coffee.

I also learned through using it that over time, the plastic becomes tainted with whatever you put inside in a way that glass and stainless steel never do.

I bought a glass KeepCup in 2014. I wish I’d gone straight for glass and never bought the plastic one, and now I wonder how I ever came to that decision, but that’s all part of the journey.

keepcupjpg

Plastic KeepCup, purchased 2012. Oh, the benefit of hindsight…

Glass KeepCup Treading My Own Path

This is my replacement, purchased 2014. It’s made of glass and has a cork band. It’s far more versatile and easier to clean, and 2 years on it still looks as good as new – unlike the plastic one.

4. You don’t need to buy a brand new toolkit on the first day

To go completely zero waste, there are a few things you need. A water bottle, some reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, some kind of lunchbox, maybe some sandwich wraps, a reusable coffee cup – this all depends on your situation and your lifestyle.

The most common mistake that people make when embarking on the zero waste lifestyle is buying all of this stuff brand new on the first day, without thinking first whether they already own something appropriate, whether they really need it at all, and whether these products are built to last – and if they’re not, how they will be disposed of.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

This zero waste kit was built up over a number of years as I realised what my needs were. The water bottle and reusable produce bags came first; other things came later as I realised they would be useful – and well used.

It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, we’re excited about making changes to our lives, and there’s not much we can do on day one except buy stuff. Changing habits needs time and shopping doesn’t; buying stuff feels like we are taking steps towards our goal.

If you can, hold back from buying anything new. Get a feel for what you might need, and make do with what you have. Give it time. That way, when you come to buy the things you do need, you will make better choices.

5. Do not get rid of perfectly good things for “better” things

Zero waste is all about not wasting stuff, right? So replacing stuff that you already have with stuff that’s a little bit “more” zero waste really doesn’t make any sense. I’m talking about replacing old jars that you already have in the cupboard (the ones with the store labels still attached) with brand new jars with metal lids; replacing plastic laundry pegs with wooden ones; that kind of thing.

If there’s a safety issue (and I personally do not use plastic for food preparation or storage for health reasons) or it’s broken and can’t be fixed, then it’s completely reasonable to get a replacement. Otherwise, can you really justify the waste you’re creating?

If your passionate about zero waste, then your goal should not be to have your home looking like a magazine cover, your goal should be to reuse what you have, repurpose what you can and to buy as little as you can – and second hand, if possible. Don’t get swept up in the beautiful “zero waste” things for sale on the eco websites.

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Possibly not Pinterest-worthy, but a far better use of resources ; )

6. You get to set your own rules

The great thing about your life is that you get to make the rules. How you live your plastic-free or zero waste life is unique to you, and the rules you decide to live by are up to you too. There’s no specific rules that are set in stone that you have to follow; there’s no membership or entry rules. Entry to this way of living is free!

The only thing you need is the desire and passion to do what you can to make a difference.

For me, zero waste is about sending nothing to landfill. I buy everything I can without packaging – food and toiletries in bulk, other items second hand. I would love to create no recycling either, but at this stage in my life, it isn’t possible.  I try to keep my recycling to a minimum: my husband and I fill a bin about the size of a wastepaper basket (well actually it is an old wastepaper basket) with recycling about once a fortnight. Mostly that’s paper and card, with the occasional beer or wine bottle.

Of course I could compost my paper and card, but it’s a better use of resources to recycle it. I don’t burn any of my waste.

That works for me, and also my husband, who always tells me that whilst he was happy to sign up for plastic-free living, he’s fully on-board with and enjoys living plastic-free, he doesn’t remember agreeing to the zero waste “thing”… Those few extra recyclables are our compromise.

7. There may be exceptions to your rules

When I say I buy everything I can in bulk, I must confess that there is a food item that I choose to buy in packaging. Chocolate. I do buy bulk chocolate sometimes, but it is simply not as good as the bars of deliciousness that come pre-packaged. I’ve tried to give it up, but I can’t.

I can recycle the foil and the paper/card (I’d never buy chocolate wrapped in plastic) but it isn’t quite zero waste living. This is my work in progress.

chocolate

Chocolate bars are my zero waste work-in-progress. I buy chocolate in bulk, of course, but I just can’t quite shake the chocolate bar habit…

8. You don’t have to keep your waste in a mason jar

There’s no rule for keeping your waste in a mason jar. I resisted this for ages, because I felt like it was gimmicky and unnecessary. I’m meant to be a minimalist! Storing a jar of rubbish is definitely not a minimalist thing to do.

In the end, I changed my mind. It was a conversation with a journalist that made me look at it from a different perspective. She was asking about how much waste I produced, as I don’t have a bin, and I realised that it is a hard thing to explain. Saying “nothing” isn’t quite the same as being able to see what “nothing” is!

She suggested that having a jar is a really good way for people to visualize what zero waste is. As I do run workshops and give talks, this is a valid point, and the jar collecting began.

If you want to collect your waste, if it works for you, if you enjoy looking at it and seeing your progress, of course collect your waste. If you just think it’s another chore, and you really can’t be bothered, then there’s no need.

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What lessons have you learned on your zero waste or plastic-free journey that you want to share? Do you have some new ones to add to the list? Do you disagree with any of these, and if so why? Are there any favourites that stand out for you? Do you have any exceptions to your rules, as if so, what? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only one…) I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

The Last Day of Plastic Free July…and a Debrief!

Phew. It’s the 31st, and that means Plastic Free July is over. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief! Whether this was your first attempt at going plastic-free, or whether you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s still a tough challenge. Even as someone who has boycotted plastic for two years, I find it tough.

Why? Because it’s confronting. It makes you question your habits, your decisions, your values – and then puts you up to the test. It’s that feeling of compromise that I mention so often…wanting to do the right thing, knowing what the right thing would be, but when faced with a decision in that moment, it doesn’t seem so black-and-white.

Maybe it’s the cost. Overall I’ve found that quitting plastic has reduced my food bill, but when you’re starting out it often isn’t that way. You probably make choices for the products you buy based on cost – so when you start basing your choices on packaging, the cost can skyrocket. If you’re still shopping in your regular shop, and for your regular items, this is likely. Slowly though, as you start finding alternative places to shop and start choosing different products, your costs go back down.

Maybe it’s the time. When you’re in a routine, and you buy the same things week in, week out then you can shop without thinking. Most of us could navigate round our regular shop with our eyes closed. But suddenly we have to start again. We have to make new choices, look for alternatives, maybe find new places to shop. The time spent shopping increases (and who wants that?!). It’s easy to write it off and go back to your old ways. Remember though, habits take time to form. If you stick with it, you’ll end up with a new routine that is just as painless as the last, and one that you can do without thinking too. Give it time.

Maybe it’s your morale. At the start of a challenge, we feel excited and ready to go. As time goes on, slip-ups happen, we struggle to find what we want, we feel drained and it all feels too hard. When we feel like this, it’s tempting to give up. Remember, though…change is never easy. However, it will get easier over time. Don’t dwell on what you can’t change, focus on what you can change. Celebrate your successes. If you need time out then take it, and come back when you’re feeling ready to give it another go.

Maybe it’s your ego, resisting. I’m not talking morale here, I’m talking about your ego, your mind, your inner voice. You know the one. The voice that persuades you to eat that extra piece of chocolate cake, even though you’ve already eaten two bits and you’re really far too full! (Or is that just me…?) Plastic Free July is going really well, you’ve had no slip-ups, you’re feeling pleased with yourself and all of a sudden you have an overwhelming desire to go and buy something completely smothered in plastic. Not because you need it, or even want it necessarily: it’s your ego trying to take back control – coaxing with “why shouldn’t you?” “who cares?” and “what does it matter?”. It’s a feeling of defiance and of rebellion. At some stage, we’ve all been there. Give in, if you have to, but don’t give up. Keep persisting, and these feelings will pass.

Whatever it is, remember we are all in this together! You’re not alone. There is a growing community of people who are going plastic-free, who have ideas, tips and suggestions, can listen and offer support when you’re struggling and can celebrate with you when you finally find something you need that’s plastic free and your regular friends think you’ve gone crazy. We understand!

If you want a bit more encouragement, check out how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better; it’s a summary of my first year of living without plastic, and all the good things that came from it!

To everyone who took part in Plastic Free July – congratulations! It doesn’t really matter how well you did or how many slip-ups you made, the most important thing is that you took part. (Hopefully you had fun, made some new friends and learnt a thing or two, too!) After all, recognising that there’s a problem, and deciding to do something about it, is the first step. The first step is always the hardest. It will get easier from here!

Now I want to hear from you! Did you take part in Plastic Free July? What was the hardest thing for you? What was the easiest? Do you have any tips for people who have yet to take part – things you learned from the experience? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Another step in the right direction

The parcel I’ve been waiting for all week finally arrived on Friday. Oh the excitement! I don’t order things online much anymore, but it wasn’t the idea of receiving a parcel that caused my excitement. It was the contents of the parcel…

Toilet paper.

Yes. You did read that right. Read more

An exciting letter in the post…

I’ve been excitedly waiting for the gas bill for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday it finally arrived! Yep, you read that right. I was excited by the thought of receiving the gas bill.

Three months ago we decided to be pro-active about reducing our gas consumption because we realised our gas bill was unusually high for such a small flat, and being conscious of our environmental footprint, we decided to do something about it. Living in a rental, we couldn’t do much about the rubbishy cheap inefficient boiler with the gas-wasting pilot light that the landlord had installed. What we could do, and what we did, was reduce the pilot light to the lowest setting and lower the temperature setting so that we no longer need to add any cold water when we shower. Read more