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How To Begin a Zero Waste/Plastic Free Facebook Group

Back in April 2016, I set up a Perth Zero Waste + Plastic Free Facebook Group. I wanted to create a space where local people could get information, ask questions, receive feedback and “meet” other people in our area. My website focuses a lot on zero waste and plastic-free living: the what, the why, and to some extent, the how – but not the finer details.

I always felt that this was missing and needed talking about somewhere, but I didn’t know where, or how to manage it. This kind of information changes quickly, and it is a lot for one person to keep on top of.

Eventually it occurred to me that Facebook Groups could be the answer.

Last week, the Perth Zero Waste + Plastic Free group hit 5,000 members. 5000! I am so proud and humbled that our community has that many people who care about their waste, and that they have all been able to connect with one another thanks to this group. The ideas shared and friendships made has been so inspiring.

I’m a huge fan of connecting offline, and there’s nothing like attending a workshop or talk or group activity to really get into the spirit. But there’s definitely a space for online groups. We don’t all have the time or energy to get out into the community, and besides – if you just want to know where to buy plastic-free tofu, that isn’t really a workshop kind of question!

I think when they work together – people meeting online and then connecting offline – that’s magical.

Our group has been really successful, and has far exceeded my expectations – not jut in terms of numbers, but also the kinds of information available and also the types of people who have joined. It’s a really diverse group, too. I talked about zero waste privilege a few weeks ago, and this group definitely debunks the white, middle-class female myth about zero waste living.

I definitely think it’s the members who have made the community what it is. But I also think the success has been due to the vision and the planning, and the way it is administrated.

Love or hate Facebook, there’s a lot of people using it. More than one billion people, in fact. Whilst we can all lament the fake news, and the fact we spend far more time looking at cat videos than we ever intend to, Facebook is a useful tool. Facebook groups in particular, have been a great way to connect with like-minded people. (At the time of writing this, Facebook Groups are still free from ads – another reason I like them.)

I thought I’d put together a guide for how I set up and how I run our Facebook group, what’s worked well and what I’ve learned. Whether you’re thinking of setting up your own group, or have a group that you’d like to improve, hopefully you’ll be able to draw from my experiences.

Setting Up a Zero Waste Facebook Group – Before You Begin

Consider Who The Group Is For, and What You Want It To Achieve

Think about your audience, the types of people you’d like to attract as members, and the types of people you think that you can serve best. What is your area of expertise, and who will benefit from joining a group that covers this?

Think also about how many members would make a good group. More isn’t necessarily better. Do you want a smaller, more connected group who you can get to know and maybe transition to an offline group? Do you want to keep things very local (just to your suburb), or to your town, or region/county/state? Is it for certain language speakers? Do you want the broad depth of knowledge that comes from a worldwide group?

Is your group just for women, or men; young mums, retirees, or students; low income earners, the unemployed or professionals? Beginners or experts?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but it helps to think about this in advance. Things evolve over time, but if you have a clear idea who the group is for, it will keep the information offered specific and relevant.

Try to think deeper than just “everybody”! Whilst “everybody” sounds inclusive, the more general you are, the less helpful you will actually be to your members.

For my group, it was specifically people who live in Perth who wanted to learn more about reducing their waste. They can be experts or beginners, but the information shared in the group has to be relevant to living zero waste and plastic free in the Perth area.

Why? Because I felt that this information was in my head and needed to be shared, and my website wasn’t the place. I knew people in Perth would want to know the specifics that other blog readers would not.

I also remember when I first took part in Plastic Free July back in 2012, the Facebook page was very small. Because Plastic Free July began in Perth, it was easy to get local information there. Fast forward a few years and there are now 30,000 followers on the Plastic Free July page. There is no way you’d find out which local grocers sell milk in glass.

I felt people new to Plastic Free July were missing out on something useful that I had experienced.

Check The “Competition”

I don’t really believe in competition. When we’re all working towards a common cause, it isn’t a competition, is it? What I really mean is “duplication”. There is absolutely no point in exactly recreating something that already exists. See what exists, and ask yourself – how will your group be different?

This doesn’t mean that if someone is doing something similar, that there isn’t space for you. Competition can mean there is high demand! Think about how many cookbooks there are on Italian cookery, or even something as specific as pasta – heaps.

However, duplication is wasted energy. There will be a different take or a different spin that you can offer. Be clear what it is.

Consider Who Else Can Join When You Launch

Tempting as it can be to open up the group to everyone, if you’re clear about who your audience is and who you want to participate, be careful about letting others who do not fit those categories in. Whilst it could be fine, you might dilute the message and usefulness of the group for other members.

One thing that I should have done differently was be much stricter about who could join the Perth group. The group is for people in Perth to talk about Perth things, but when I launched the group, I opened it up to members worldwide. I think I worried about getting enough members to make the conversations interesting and provide value. Honestly, when I set it up, I hoped to reach about 500 members. The group hit 500 members and kept on growing, and I realised if I didn’t change who could join, we’d end up with a generic audience with less relevance.

Firstly I limited the audience to Australia, and then Western Australia. Now anyone wanting to join has to let us know where they live in Perth or WA to be considered as a member. There are still some inter-state and international members who joined before we changed the terms (we didn’t delete anyone!), but they know that the conversation is Perth-centric.

Prepare the “Rules”

I wrote a couple of documents outlining what the group is about, who can join and how we expect members to behave. Our group is friendly and supportive, it doesn’t matter where you are in the journey and no question is a stupid question.

When new members join, they are expected to read this post. Whilst not everyone does, it is helpful to refer back to when conversations stray from the topics. It’s also useful to assess if a post or member doesn’t meet the standards we expect, and needs removing.

Running A Zero Waste Facebook Group – The Early Days

Finding New Members

I started with the people I knew, people who were already Facebook friends. I’m lucky that I have a lot of friends passionate about this topic! I probably started the group with 80 or so personal friends.

When I give talks, I always mention the Facebook group at the end as a next step for people to join. (I actually mention this rather than my website.) After every talk I give, a new flush of members comes in. As the audience grows, friends of friends request to join, and so it has grown organically.

Finding Admins

Unless you’re on Facebook all the time, you’ll likely need admins to help you approve new members, answer questions and delete spam. I asked a good friend and my husband to help admin the group (my husband uses Facebook much more than I do).

At the start, I checked in every day, often twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening). As the group has grown, I’ve found I need to do this less often as there are plenty of knowledgeable people in the group to answer questions and share expertise.

Running A Zero Waste Facebook Group – Maintenance

Moderating a Growing Audience

As the audience grows, so does the number of admins required. I didn’t react to this quickly enough at the start, and there were a couple of times when huge fights broke out and then blew up in between the times I checked. When someone called it out as the admins “allowing this to happen” I realised it was too big for me to manage.

Once a group has been running for a while, it’s easy to spot the people who post often, are helpful, polite, and have interesting insights. I asked a few of these people (I chose people I’d also met in real life, although this isn’t necessary) to join as moderators. I really wish I’d done this sooner – it was a huge weight off my shoulders and it stopped any crazy conversations getting out of hand.

Occasionally I post to remind people about the values of the group (being nice to beginners, answering the question asked rather than telling the asker what they are doing wrong, not posting blatant advertising or Amazon affiliate links) but it doesn’t happen that often. Other members who are not moderators know how the group works, and are quick to jump in and remind people if a conversation begins to go off track.

Moderating the Conversation

Not every single post is 100% useful or 100% relevant, but we try to delete as little as possible. By sticking to the guidelines (no salesy posts or affiliate links, relevant to Perth, and relevant to zero waste and plastic free living) it’s pretty easy to decide whether something should stay or go. Posts about tiny houses in Oregon or India banning styrofoam might be really interesting, but they don’t fit the description of what our group is about, and ultimately they detract from the message.

Now we have 5000 members, we have to keep things stricter. We have a lot of posts per day, and we don’t want members feeling like the feed has become a bunch of memes. Happily, I think it’s worked.

Overall, I love what our group has become. It feels like a positive, inspiring and motivating space to spend time. (That isn’t something I thought I’d say about social media.) That’s not to say it’s perfect, and there are occasional disagreements and fiery exchanges, but overall the support offered and received is wonderful. It’s one of the best things I ever did to support zero waste living in my community.

If you’ve been wondering how you can get the zero waste or plastic free message out into your community, maybe it’s something you can do too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you use Facebook Groups for connecting to your community (doesn’t have to be zero waste related) and what benefits have you found? Have you had a good experience, or a bad experience? Had it been mixed? Any other thoughts about Facebook groups you’d like to add? Leave a comment 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!

8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot! I’ve been very lucky that my husband has supported (and been actively involved in) our plastic-free journey since the beginning. Whilst don’t always see eye-to-eye about zero waste, our values are very much aligned.

That said, we have had our fair share of waste-related disagreements in our time! Plus there are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. In fact, if my mother is reading this (hi, mum!) she will probably be staring in disbelief and telling the computer screen that I am a total nag! But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

I didn’t marry my husband because of his awesome ability to remember his reusable bags on all occasions. I am well aware that he always strives to do his best, and his best might mean forgetting his reusable bags once in a while.

I married him for different reasons, namely because I love him exactly the way he is. It isn’t as if I am perfect! I shouldn’t let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between us and cause friction. I shouldn’t… but I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!