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The ultimate list of swaps for Plastic Free July

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. As Plastic Free July rolls around for another year, you might be wondering where in your life you can make changes (especially if you’re limited by Covid-19 restrictions still in place).

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!

Why coronavirus does not mean the end of zero waste

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus and the rise of single-use disposables

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus can’t touch what zero waste really is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero waste things you can do in spite of coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take the time to get informed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Zero Waste Tips for Moving House

Last weekend, I moved house. And when it comes to moving, unless you can literally fit all your possessions in a single backpack, it is a bit of an ordeal. There are boxes, packing materials, stuff you forgot you owned, stuff you no longer need, things that are (or get) damaged or broken… and so it goes on.

Moving can create a lot of waste. But with a tiny little bit of planning, it’s possible to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary waste. Here’s some tips.

1. Don’t Move What You Don’t Have To

Moving things that you later decide you don’t need is a waste of time, effort and fuel in a moving truck. At the other end, when there are new homes to find for everything you do want and other bits and pieces to sort out, offloading stuff you no longer need is an added hassle.

If you know you don’t need something, sell it or give it away before the move.

I didn’t have time to go through all of my books, games, boxes of jars and other bits and pieces to assess every single thing I own on merit before the move. But moving a book is a little different to moving a kitchen island (especially one that literally wouldn’t fit in the new place).

So I prioritised the big, heavy and fragile things (like the kitchen island), listed some things I knew I no longer needed and did what I could.

Sites I use to pass on unwanted goods:

  • eBay is great for anything high-value, easy to post and listings that would benefit from a bigger (less local) audience;
  • Gumtree is great for bigger items like furniture, anything that the buyer want might want to inspect and test before buying (like electronics) and is good for giving away free stuff;
  • Buy Nothing groups are great for giving away items locally.

2. Source Second-Hand Packing Materials

There is really no need to spend a fortune (or spend anything, actually) on fancy packing materials. You’ll be able to get almost everything you need second-hand, and be able to donate it again afterwards for someone else to reuse.

Boxes: I’ve never purchased a packing box in my life and I’m amazed that people actually do! There are so many boxes already in existence that can be used.

I ask friends, family, colleagues and neighbours for useful boxes, either to borrow or to keep and then pass on. My neighbours had some amazing reusable Dutch moving boxes (they are from the Netherlands and brought these boxes over when they moved 12 years ago) that fold together and do not require packing tape.

I checked the local grocery store and got a couple of sturdy tray-type boxes with handles at the side. These are great for moving my pantry and things that don’t stack well.

Packing Materials: Keep packing materials that you receive (or find) to pack fragile items. If you don’t buy much (like me!) ask around to see what others have or put a call-out online. Shops often have a lot of bubble wrap they are throwing out, and tissue paper. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper wrappers are good too, as are old newspapers.

(Once you’ve moved, list all your packing materials online for someone else to use, or give to a store that can use it for packing their sales.)

Tape: I have a very old roll of (plastic) packing tape that I purchased in 2011 and lives on. I don’t tape my boxes shut, I fold them by overlapping the flaps, but a couple of boxes needed taping at the bottom. The fridge door also needed taping shut whilst moving.

If I hadn’t owned any tape, I’d have purchased paper packing tape, but I prefer to use what I already have.

There is a surprising level of guilt around using plastic tape when moving within the zero waste community. If you can’t find an alternative and need to use it, then use it, no guilt required. It is better to tape boxes securely with plastic tape than smash the entire contents of an un-taped box because you were trying to save waste.

Old sheets/tarp: These can be useful for draping over and protecting items transported in a truck, van or trailer – to protect from dust, grease or the elements. If you don’t have any, ask around. Buy Nothing groups are ideal for this.

3. Use What You Have

It’s likely you already have plenty of great packing containers and also packing materials at home.

Suitcases and bags are the obvious choice for containers, but your laundry basket, large pans, plastic crates and decorative baskets might also be useful for transporting your stuff.

Plus, if you happen to buy anything that comes in a box in the weeks before the move, keep the box!

Plenty of things can be used as packing materials. Reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, tea towels, regular towels, socks, scarves, pillowcases – all can be used to cushion more fragile items.

4. Make a Plan for Your Perishables

If you’re going to be moving the fridge an/or freezer, you’ll need to turn it off before moving, and wait a few hours once it’s in its new home before turning it back on. Which means, there needs to be a plan for the things currently in there.

Planning to use up your perishables might be helpful if you’re moving far. Personally, I didn’t want to run down my fridge too much, because I had enough to do with the unpacking after the move, and didn’t want to have to go grocery shopping also.

I asked a few friends and neighbours if any had space in their fridge and freezer, and found one place for my frozen goods and another for my fridge stuff. (I also asked some friends if I could borrow their camping fridge, but alas, they were going camping that weekend!)

Worst case, if you can’t find somewhere to store your food, you can give it away so at least it isn’t being wasted. Offer to friends, family and neighbours or use a dedicated food waste app like OLIO to find new homes for edible food.

With the fridge stuff, I just concentrated on moving the real perishables. It made finding a temporary space a lot easier. Things like sauerkraut, pickles and jars of jam can cope without refrigeration for a day, so they were boxed and moved with everything else.

5. Choose Your Vehicle Wisely

Damaging your stuff in the move is a waste, and damaging yourself by lifting too much heavy stuff isn’t great either. Multiple vehicle trips are going to use more fuel than a single trip, and then there’s your time: no-one has too much of that and there are better things to do than moving inefficiently.

Think about what you’re trying to move, where you’re moving to and what would be the most appropriate (and efficient) way to transport it all.

When moving in the past I’ve booked a man-with-a-van, used a friend’s car, rented a trailer and borrowed a van from work, depending on the situation and what was available.

This time round, I hired a truck with a hydraulic lift. That’s because I had 12 x 100 litre plant pots full of soil to lift, not to mention a wheelbarrow, a 180 litre worm farm, 3 compost bins, wine barrel planters and a 240 litre bin full of soil.

One or two things could have been wrestled into a van, but this was too much.

The furniture, white goods and boxes fitted in the truck for the first trip. The pots and garden stuff completely filled up the truck for the second trip.

There were also a few back and forth car trips, which was easy as this was a 3 minute drive between homes (I’m literally just a few minutes up the road).

6. The Bigger (or Further) the Move, The More You Plan

Because I wasn’t moving far, I could be (and was) a lot more flexible – by which I mean disorganised – in my approach.

In reality, it was very easy to load up a car and drop a load of things off in between doing other errands, as both homes are in the same neighbourhood. I got the keys on Tuesday and booked the truck for Friday, so the in-between (work) days were useful for moving things that might have got damaged in the move (like houseplants) and things I wanted to sort straightaway (like my pantry).

If I’d have been moving a few hours away (or anything more than 30 minutes, realistically) I’d have made sure everything was packed, boxed and labelled before the day.

Well, I’d have tried!

Moving is definitely stressful, but it doesn’t have to be wasteful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for moving? Do you have a move planned and are wondering what to do about certain things? Any other comments or thoughts to share? Please let us know in the space below!

How to Go Zero Waste and Do Less Dishes

If I had to say there was a drawback to living plastic-free or zero waste, then I would say it is this: the dishes.

There’s not really any way round it. Choose reusables and you’ve got to wash them up. The more reusables, the more washing up.

Sigh.

It’s not that I hate washing up. I love washing up… well, once it’s done and put away. (I’m less of a fan of the dirty dishes.) It’s not that I mind the process itself either. It’s just that there are always dishes.

Always. Dishes.

Still, once we’ve accepted that there will be dishes, we can do things to ensure there are less dishes. The less the merrier, I think! (That’s not a saying, but it should be.) Because we’re not going back to single-use plastic and disposables, right?

So let’s do what we can to make less dishes.

To Dishwasher or Not to Dishwasher?

As soon as I mention dishes, someone brings up dishwashers. Yes, I’ve read the studies, and it is true that some dishwashers use less water than filling a sink and doing the dishes by hand.

A modern water-efficient dishwasher might use 15 litres per cycle. Depending on the size of your sink, how careful you are with water and how long it takes for the water to run hot, plus any rinsing, hand washing can use a fair bit more.

There are other factors. Dishwashers use electricity. They are also big chunks of metal and plastic (those resources had to be extracted from the ground), and take up a fair amount of space in a small kitchen.

I have solar hot water, meaning it comes from a tank heated by solar panels whereas a dishwasher would run from the mains. I have a fairly minimalist kitchen, and I’d run out of things before the dishwasher is even full. (This is by design – for creating less dishes. I’ll come back to this.)

Plus, I have unresolved childhood trauma around dishwashers. Don’t ask ;) All things considered, a dishwasher won’t work for me, and I’m happy with my sink.

If you have a big family, you already have a dishwasher or you know that a dishwasher will be the thing that makes less waste possible for you, go for it! Look after it, service it, get it fixed and make it last.

For those who have taken the path of more dishes and no dishwasher, here’s my tips for keeping them to a minimum.

Not Dirty? Don’t Wash It.

Now I’m not advocating for risking food poisoning here, but we can be sensible about these things. And if something isn’t dirty, we can get away with not washing it.

Level 1. The wipe.

Does it need to be washed, or could it just be wiped? Plates that have had toast or dry crackers tend to accumulate nothing more than a few breadcrumbs. These can be brushed off.

The same goes for lunchboxes that have had sandwiches in them, and bowls used to weigh out dry ingredients. Sometimes I’ll wipe out a jar from the pantry rather than wash it if I know it is something I use often (pasta, oats).

I find a wipe with a clean dishcloth or a dry tea towel is enough.

Level 2. The rinse.

Some things can pass with a quick rinse, particularly bowls, plates and cutlery (not forks) if rinsed straight after using. It depends what is was used for and by whom of course. I’d be happy to rinse a spoon that I’d used to measure out coffee, less so if someone had just eaten a dessert with it.

I’m also happy to quickly rinse out pans that have steamed vegetables or boiled pasta, too.

Oh, and I save the rinse water and add to the compost or worm farm.

Level 3. Wash it up.

Actual washing up is best for anything baked on and greasy, most cooking pans, dinner cutlery, day-old lunchboxes, pantry jars that have been stored to a while, anything sticky.

Coming back to food poisoning, the highest risk foods include ice-cream, rice and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy). I’d recommend washing up anything that contained these foods.

Own Less Stuff

There are two reasons why owning less stuff helps with the dishes. The first is that with less stuff, you use up all the stuff more quickly and need to wash it before your kitchen gets swallowed by unwashed dishes.

This doesn’t create less washing up, but it does create less overwhelm, and keeps things more manageable.

The second is that when your stuff is all used and dirty and you need something but can’t be bothered to do the dishes, you’ll spot clean that one item – or just use it again as is – which means the number of dishes don’t get any bigger. And some things get used again before being washed up.

If I’m out of side plates for lunch I’ll figure out which one had toast for breakfast, dust the crumbs off and use that again. Same for mugs and making tea. No net gain in dishes.

Eat Like No-One is Watching

Well, when no-one is watching, does it matter if you use a proper plate? Or could you just eat out of the saucepan? Classy no, but if it saves on dishes then I am willing to make these sacrifices.

Quite often if I reheat my lunch I’ll eat it out of the pan, or if it was stored in a container I’ll then eat it in that rather than dirty a plate. If there’s the last of something coming out of the fridge I’ll eat that straight out of the container, too.

Me 1, dishes 0.

Make Your Dishes Multi-Purpose

If try to avoid washing something up after it has been used once. If I can get a few uses out of something before it heads to the dirty dishes pile, that’s a win. If I’ve used a bowl to weigh something out, I’ll try to use that same bowl for the meal. I might even store leftovers in it, in the fridge.

I’m a big fan of using the saucepan I used for cooking as the leftover container – meaning, I stick the saucepan straight in the fridge. Especially if the food can be reheated in the saucepan. Otherwise I’m washing the pan, putting the leftovers in a container, emptying the contents back into the pan the next day and washing it all again.

Saucepans are excellent stainless steel storage containers that we already own.

I do the same thing with glass jars. Just finished off the pasta? That jar is good for leftovers in the fridge.

Plan Your Meals with the Dishes in Mind

Just thinking about all the prep you need to do in advance can save on dishes, particularly with trickier-to-clean items like blenders. I like to time my prep to maximise the making of stuff and minimising the washing up.

For example, I might make nut butter, scrape that out of the blender and then make nut milk (usually with a different type of nut). Once emptied, I might make pesto, and then whizz up some tomatoes. Four things and one wash.

I don’t need to eat all these things that day, as they will keep in the fridge for a few days. Rinsing out a jar later is less onerous than cleaning the blender. Again.

Make Extra

I never make a one portion meal. Not only because of dishes but also because it is never twice as much work to make twice as much. I always make extra, and pop the leftovers in the fridge or freezer for later.

Reheating something uses far less dishes than having to chop, steam, boil or stir-fry a bunch of different things every single meal.

Plus, I am a messy cook. Stuff gets everywhere. I might as well trash the kitchen once, and then enjoy the relative tidyness for a few days.

Sometimes I’ll just double or quadruple the recipe. Other times I’ll just cook more of an ingredient. I always make a big pan of rice or quinoa, and keep the leftovers to make stir-fry or to go with something else the next day.

In an ideal world Sunday is my day to do this, when there is more time to make things and clean up. It feels good to start the week without an onerous pile of dishes every night. If that doesn’t work, it tends to be mid-week when I’m sick of the chaos!

Eat Leftovers Cold

I like leftovers cold. I don’t have a microwave, and to save on using a pan to heat things up I just started eating my leftovers cold. Pasta salad is a thing, rice salad is a thing, so it isn’t that strange not to heat things up.

It does depend on the weather – in the depths of winter I’m prepared to wash than pan for the heat it gives!

There’s no miraculous way to end the dishes, but there are little tweaks we can do to create less of them. On the plus side, there’s no hauling bags of trash to the kerb every week, and there’s no trashing of the planet, by contributing to the litter/landfill/plastic problem.

Plus there’s something quite satisfying about a gleaming stack of glass and stainless steel. And if the options are creating dishes or creating plastic pollution, I know where my choice lies.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any tips for doing less dishes, we want to hear them! Do you have a dishwasher, or do you manage without? How do you keep the dishes under control? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


A Zero Waste, Plastic-Free Living Guide to All Things Jars

Glass jars are almost the symbol of the zero waste movement, and for good reason. Glass jars are super useful, readily available and extremely versatile. If you’ve been slinging your empty jam jars in the recycling, think again!

There are plenty of ways that you can use glass jars, and plenty of places you can pass them on to others who will use them.

No glass jar deserves to be single-use. This is the zero waste life, after all!

Some Uses for Glass Jars

If you have access to a bulk store (where you can put food directly in your own containers to avoid packaging), glass jars are perfect. Ensure the weight of the jar is recorded (you may be able to do it yourself, or you may need to ask a staff member to do it for you) so you don’t end up paying for it!

Shopping this way makes it very easy to unpack straight into the pantry.

Jars can be used for storing food – taking lunch to work, keeping your pantry organized, holding snacks, storing leftovers in the fridge, and storing food in the freezer. Wide-neck jars are more suitable for freezing – ensure the contents are chilled before freezing, don’t overfill the jar (frozen food will expand) and loosen the lid until fully frozen, to allow for expansion.

Jars can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee. If you want to protect fingers from scalding, make a heat band using elastic bands or charity silicone wristbands, or use fabric.

Jars can be used when making jam and chutney, for preserving and canning. They can be used to make fermented foods like sauerkraut. (In time, the lids will need replacing, but most lids should last a few rounds. For canning you’ll need jars that are suitable for this purpose.)

Jars can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens, keep small recyclables like batteries or bread tags, or for freshly cut flowers/foliage.

Jars can be used for keeping cleaning products such as laundry powder and personal care products like moisturiser. Some can be purchased in bulk, or you can make your own. They can be used for candle making.

Jars can be adapted with grater insert lids, pump and dispenser arm lids and sprinkler attachment lids to make them multi-purpose and increase functionality.

Jars can be used as gift packaging (store-bought or homemade treats, soap). A bit of fabric over the jar lid and they look fantastic!

If you’re so inclined, you can even use a glass jar instead of a rubbish bin.

Glass jars replace so many things we have around the house. They are versatile, multi-functional and available everywhere.

Where to Find Glass Jars

The zero waste lifestyle is the second-hand lifestyle, so the ideal would be not to buy any brand new jars.

First, stop recycling your glass jars and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s (and family’s) recycling bin. Rescue jars from the office kitchen (the enormous coffee jars that are often found in workplaces are great for food storage). Rescue glass jars from restaurant and cafe recycling bins (you’ll probably need to ask first – this is where I sourced my 2 litre glass jars).

Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Look at online classifieds such as Gumtree or Craigslist to see if anyone is donating or selling boxes of old glass jars.

Charity shops are a great place to find vintage glass jars, and some of the more fancy/specialist jars such as those required for canning.

If you really need to buy new, consider visiting a local specialist cookware or homewares shop rather than ordering online. Glass is breakable and needs to be heavily packaged to protect it – this will probably mean using plastic.  Then there’s the carbon footprint associated with shipping (glass is heavy).

It is lower waste to buy the jars that have already been shipped to within a few kilometres/miles from your home.

If you can’t bear the thought of second-hand mismatched jars and really need a set that is more pleasing on the eye, plus don’t have time to trawl through online classifieds slowly slowly building up a matching collection, no judgement. Everyone has a mess threshold and if this is what tips you over the edge, do what you need to do. You’ll be using whichever jars you end up with forever – that’s how zero waste works, right?!

Different Types of Jar Lids

The most common jar lids are those from repurposed jars: made of steel with a plastic lining inside to slow down the metal rusting/corroding.  The threads wear over time, so older lids will not give airtight storage. Whilst not plastic-free, the plastic typically isn’t touching the food, and I’m happy to use these as they are readily available at fit the jars I have.

Occasionally you might see aluminium lids, and these have a plastic wax disc inserted to separate metal and contents. The wax disc can be easily removed to create a plastic-free jar and lid.

Some jars have plastic lids. If the jar is a shape I know I’ll use, I’ll keep it, otherwise I’ll pass it on (more details on where at the end of the post).

If you really want to avoid plastic, its possible to find jars with glass lids, that seal with a silicone band. The lid stays attached to the jar with a metal hinge system or with metal clips. These jars are also suitable for canning as the silicone band creates an airtight seal.

Le Parfait is the classic French brand for the hinge lid jars, although many similar versions exist without the visible branding. Weck jars are German, and use the clip system. It is possible to buy wooden lids for Weck jars which seal without the clips – not suitable for canning but more suitable for pantry storage.

Metal jar lids can be recycled via a metal recycler at the end of their life, and new lids can be purchased from specialist kitchenware shops or online without needing to buy a whole new glass jar to go with it. Alternatively, you can find second-hand jar lids.

How to Remove Labels from Glass Jars

If you’re lucky, the label on the jar will peel straight off. If not, try soaking in water for a few minutes. For some labels this loosens the glue and then label comes straight off.

If you attempt to pull off the label and it comes off, leaving a sticky, gloopy mess on the glass in its wake, my tip is to use eucalyptus essential oil. (I’ve been told lemon essential oil also works well.) Dab some onto a rag, and wipe – the glue comes off instantly.

If that’s not an option because even after soaking all you’ve managed to do is fray the outer edges of the label, coconut oil will get that label off. Smother the label in coconut oil, and wait. I usually do this overnight – but this time I have label rage and need a break before resuming the activity! After a few hours, the label will just slide off. Magical!

Of course, you don’t have to remove the labels. But it is a lot easier to see what is in the jars, looks neater, and saves the confusion of eating “mustard” only to find out it is jam, or constantly moving the dried oats to the fridge because the label says “keep refrigerated”.

Finally, on the topic of labels: if your lids are slathered with brand logos or are a rather unappealing shade of green or lurid yellow, you can paint them with blackboard or other paint. You could by replacement lids. Alternatively, you can put up with the marketing in your cupboard.

Labelling your Glass Jars

Now you’ve got the old labels off, time to label with what’s actually in the jar. The contents of the jars I keep in my pantry swap and change all the time so I don’t want permanent lettering and labels. If you do, you could use a label maker, if you have one (it is plastic).

Alternatively you could paint blackboard paint rectangles on the jars, and write on what’s inside as it changes.

If you have sharpies and marker pens at home (I don’t) you can use these.

I use a china pencil – a wax pencil wrapped in paper. I have a black one and a white one. Art supply stores will sell these. I label my jars infrequently – only when I know I can’t tell what it is without the label! I wouldn’t label pasta, for example – but bicarb? That’s a yes.

Alternatively an option is to label on scrap paper or card, and tie the label to the jar with elastic bands or string.

What to Do with Glass Jars When Your Jar Habit Gets Out of Hand

Eventually – dare I say it – we can end up with too many jars. When the pantry is full of glass jars, the bathroom cupboard is also full of glass jars, the cupboard under the sink is overflowing with glass jars, and there are two surplus boxes of glass jars in the garage/shed, it is probably time to let some glass jars go.

There’s really no need to hoard jars. If you suddenly realise that you need more glass jars in the future, you’ll be able to find some, for free, in a matter of hours. Probably less.

Rather than let your excess gather dust, pass them on to someone who can use them straightaway.

Glass jars can be gifted (and even sold) via social neighbourhood network sites, Buy Nothing groups, zero waste or sustainable living Facebook groups and online classifieds – the same places I suggested for looking for jars at the start.

Some bulk stores will accept old glass jars for reuse. They pass onto customers who forget their own containers when they come to shop at the store. Charity shops might accept glass jars, but they will only want the good ones (branded is better), not the ones you fished out of recycling.

Glass jars are like the currency of zero waste. Use them where we can, pass them on when we cannot. Do not throw them away! They are a great reusable vessel, and single-use jars are surely a crime. Why would we go to the trouble of putting a glass jar in the recycling bin, only for it to be transported, ground down, melted and remolded right back into… a glass jar?

The zero waste lifestyle is the second-hand lifestyle, after all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you use glass jars for? What’s the most unusual use of a glass jar you’ve come across? Any tips for finding quality glass jars, or any tips for where to pass unneeded jars onto? Are you a fan of second-hand, or do you buy new? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

A guide to reusable produce bags

When it comes to tackling single-use plastic bags, it isn’t just plastic shopping bags that we want to be replacing with better, reusable alternatives. Plastic produce bags (the extremely thin, colourless, clear bags we see in the fruit and veg aisles at supermarkets) are just as problematic – difficult to recycle, very difficult to reuse and a huge contributor to litter.

Yet the conversation always seems to be around shopping bags, and the produce bags are left out.

Which is a tragedy! There are just as many solutions for replacing single-use produce bags with reusables as there are for shopping bags. Yet it’s something that isn’t on many people’s radar when they are starting out.

It certainly wasn’t on mine.

Fortunately, it is now. I want to share some of the alternatives to single-use plastic produce bags, the pros and cons of different options, as well as a few things you may like to consider.

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

Reusable produce bags – some initial things to consider

There are plenty of options with reusable produce bags. Here’s a few things to consider:

Homemade versus purchased

Homemade is always cheaper, and there’s the option to choose the exact size that you need. If you want bags that last and don’t need to be mended continually, an overlocker generally produces better (longer-lasting) results than a regular sewing machine.

The flipside of homemade is needing access to a sewing machine, and knowing how to sew.

If you do know how to sew, produce bags make great gifts.

Second-hand fabrics

Second-hand fabric is an option for making reusable produce bags, and ready-made produce bags that used second-hand fabric are also available. Fabric includes old net curtains, tablecloths, sheets and old bedding. Choose a fabric that is machine washable and can go through a hot wash (rather than the handwash cycle).

Although mosquito netting seems ideal for produce bags, most mosquito nets are impregnated with pesticides, so not desirable for use with food.

Choosing the fabric type

Different fabrics have different properties. Mesh or net bags are lightweight and see-through, but are rarely made of natural fibres. They’re also not suitable for flour and fine powders.

Cotton cloth is natural but not see-through, and is slightly heavier. (Not all stores have the ability to take off the weight of the bag on the scales, so heavy bags will cost more.) Not being transparent will slow down the checkout operators, so be mindful of using too many of these bags on a busy day.

In practice, it can be useful to have different types for different things.

Reusable produce bags – different options

Personally, I have a combination of homemade and purchased reusable produce bags, and made of different materials.

As much as I recommend making do and using what we have where possible, I also know that sometimes we need shortcuts.

If sewing if definitely not your thing (and you don’t have a relative or friend to persuade to do it for you!) then here are some ready-made solutions.

Mesh fabric produce bags

If you haven’t heard of it or used it before, Etsy is an online marketplace where people who know how to make things sell these things to those of us who do not (or do not have the time). There are plenty of sellers on the platform who make reusable produce bags out of old curtains and tablecloths (as well as sellers who use new fabric, if that’s your preference).

If the second-hand approach appeals to you but you just don’t have the time or inclination, I’d recommend looking on Etsy for reusable produce bags made of upcycled fabric.

There’s no one Etsy seller I recommend, instead I’d suggest browsing and finding the seller that is closest to your home to minimise the packaging and transport footprint.

Recycled PET Plastic Mesh Bags

Some people don’t love the idea of going plastic-free and then buying reusables made of plastic. When I first went plastic-free back in 2012 I was the same. But then I looked into it a little more and adjusted my view.

If we stopped using plastic today, and didn’t make anything else made of plastic, there is still a huge amount of plastic already in existence. Legacy plastic, I call it. From a resource perspective, it makes sense to be using this to make resources rather than leaving it somewhere to sit for all eternity.

PET is the plastic that water bottles is made from. It’s hard wearing and durable. The PET plastic bottles can be recycled into a mesh that is used to make reusable produce bags. These bags have a much lower carbon footprint than other “new” bags because they are made from 100% recycled material.

I have a set of Onya bags that I purchased for my first Plastic Free July back in 2012. They may not be as white as they were when I purchased them, but they function as good as new. (Which cannot be said for my biodegradable ones, which have, well, biodegraded and needed some stitching up).

Mesh bags are great for fruit and vegetables, loose salad leaves (the produce can be washed in the bag) and loose bread rolls.

Cotton Produce Bags

Cotton bags are great for all the things that mesh bags aren’t: powders and flours. I have a set made out of an old bed sheet. The advantage of these is that they can be repaired easily, and composted at the end of their life.

It’s possible to buy new cotton reusable produce bags: I’d recommend looking at your local bulk store as they will often stock them.

I’d always recommend supporting a local brick-and-mortar store where you can, but if this isn’t an option, they can easily be found online.

If you’re further afield here’s a list of independent online plastic-free and zero waste stores.

Bulk reusable food bags

These reusable produce bags are a fairly new idea, and are designed for bulk store shopping (as opposed to fruit and veg shopping). Whilst reusable produce bags are very easy to transport, they aren’t ideal for storing food.

Onya Life launched these bulk bags in 2019 (made of recycled PET, which I talked about above) as a lightweight alternative to glass jars. They can be labelled and are suitable for food storage.

They are not something I’ve used, but I think they are a great alternative for those of us who don’t want to carry huge amounts of glass jars on our shopping trips, or have to decant everything into said glass jars when we get home.

Other options: making do

Before rushing out and buying anything new, have a think about what you might already have at home. Many bulk stores accept glass jars for refilling, so consider taking jars rather than bags, if that is practical. A pillowcase makes an excellent cotton bread bag. Laundry bags are a mesh alternative to mesh produce bags – and they are definitely machine washable.

If you do decide to buy something, just be sure that it is something that you will use. Reusables that sit in the back of the cupboard are not a good use of resources!

The best reusables are the ones you use often.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What reusable options do you use? Do you have one preference, or do you use a combination? If you sew, do you have fabric types you recommend and any to avoid? Are there any other alternatives or DIY hacks that you can suggest? Please share you thought in the comments below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only ever recommend products I have used, companies I trust or those that are regularly recommended to me by you, my readers. Making do and buying second-hand are always my first recommendations.

Is There a “Best” Kind of Reusable Bag?

With more and more councils, states and countries around the world introducing plastic bag bans, the conversation is finally moving towards reusable bag options. Not a moment too soon, either!

Yet as with all things, there’s plenty of different options out there, and the choice can be overwhelming.

Different people have different opinions about what’s best. Whether that’s upcycled or Fair Trade, recycled, organic or vegan, or what the energy footprint is, we all have different priorities in our quest to live a little lighter.

So no, I don”t think there’s one “best” option. But I do think there are lots of “good” and “better” options when it comes to ditching the single-use disposables with something a little more environmentally friendly.

Reusable Shopping Bags: Zero Waste and Plastic-Free Alternatives to the Plastic Shopping Bag

I’ve highlighted some of my favourite options below, along with a couple more I think are best avoided.

Reusable Shopping Bags – Using What We Have

It goes without saying that the most environmentally friendly option is using the thing that we already have. Most of us have reusable shopping bags.

If we don’t, we’ve probably got old plastic bags from previous shopping trips. Don’t forget about backpacks, holdalls or other bags we might own.

Reusable shopping bags do not need to have been purpose-designed for that specific task. If it has handles and a compartment for shopping, it’s likely good enough.

Reusable Shopping Bags – Borrowing (Boomerang Bags and Mors Bags)

You know those times when we find ourselves at the shops unexpectedly? Or we arrive with a list and then remember we need a few more things? Those times when we either don’t have a reusable bag, or don’t have enough?

Schemes like Boomerang Bags and Mors bags tackle exactly that problem. They recognise that most of us have reusable bags, but we also forget them sometimes. So they provide bags for us to borrow.

These schemes run on the power of community: to source second-hand fabric, sew into bags and leave in strategic locations where shoppers might need to borrow bags. The idea is that shoppers borrow bags, use them, and then return them ready for the next person.

No money is exchanged for the borrowing, although bags can sometimes be purchased to help cover expenses (such as screen-printing labels and providing cups of tea to volunteers).

(If sewing is your thing and you’ve been wondering how you can increase your impact, these groups are always on the look out for enthusiastic new volunteers!)

Reusable Shopping Bags – Upcycled Options

Shopping bags made out of repurposed fabric (think tablecloths, sheets, coffee sacks) is a great low-waste option that makes something good out of something that already exists.

Local markets are a great place to find creative craftspeople in your local area who make and sell reusable bags. If this isn’t an option for you, online marketplace Etsy is a great way to connect with sellers a little further afield. There’s plenty of options in terms of material, shape and size.

Reusable Shopping Bags – Recycled PET

Buying shopping bags made out of plastic can seem a little contradictory for anyone pursuing the plastic-free lifestyle. However, there’s a big difference between making bags with brand new virgin plastic and making bags with recycled PET plastic.

PET is the plastic that drinks bottles are made of. Even if we stopped making plastic drinks bottles tomorrow, there’s a heck of a lot of those plastic bottles already in existence in the world.

Recycling this plastic into a usable (and reusable) product seems a better solution that letting it languish in stockpiles all over the world. PET is also the most recyclable plastic there is.

From a lifecycle analysis point of view, these plastic bags have the lowest footprint of all reusable bags. They don’t demand new resources. Being plastic, they are also lightweight, hard-wearing and incredibly strong.

This (extremely well used and hence rather crumpled) recycled PET Onya bag is over 5 years old. It fits into a tiny stuff sack (you can see what it looks like packed down on the left – that’s a second bag).

From a waste perspective, yes they are still plastic. They can’t be composted at the end of their lives.

As much as I’m a fan of natural materials, I also know that our plastic legacy is something we need to deal with. Recycling PET plastic into reusable bags seems to be a good way to make good of a material already in existence.

In a perfect world we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But alas, the world isn’t perfect. The road to zero waste is full of compromise.

Reusable Shopping Bags – Cotton/Calico, Hemp and Jute

Natural fibres are a popular choice for reusable bags. They are typically hard-wearing and can be composted at the end of their useful lives. You’ll never see a reusable cotton shopping bag stuck up a tree as you might a plastic bag.

Of the three commonly used natural fibres, cotton is the most water- and chemical-intensive crop to grow. Organic cotton has a smaller eco footprint than regular cotton. For a lightweight, fold-up bag that fits in a handbag, cotton bags tend to be the most practical.

Jute and hemp are both considered more environmentally friendly than cotton, but the bags tend to be bulkier.

There’s a billion places to buy these kinds of bags. The supermarket would be my last choice. I’d much rather support a charity doing great work with my purchase. Or a small business. Or an independent chain. We vote with our dollars, so choose well.

(If you’d like to support independent eco-conscious businesses, here’s my list of worldwide online stores.)

Reusable Shopping Bags – The Ones to Avoid

With so many great options out there, there are a number of less-than-great options that are better avoided. Sometimes we end up with these things before we realise there are better options. Emergencies happen. If that’s you, don’t despair.

Use what you have, and next time, you can choose better.

Reusable Bags to Avoid – Thicker Plastic Bags

Some stores are replacing single-use plastic bags with reusable thicker plastic bags (usually polyethylene), often for a small charge.

These bags are made either partly or wholly of brand new, virgin plastic. They may contain some recycled material – if so, the bag should specify the amount.

These are heavier duty, but despite often being called “Bags for Life” they are estimated to be used an average of 5 times. Not single-use, but not much of an improvement. They are prone to splitting, and the handles also stretch when the contents are heavy.

These bags still present a litter problem when they inevitably end up in the environment.

Reusable Bags to Avoid – Non-Woven Plastic “Green” Bags

These bags are commonly sold in supermarkets and are called “green” bags more because they tend to be the colour green rather than because there is anything environmentally friendly about them. Although they appear to be made of fabric, they are actually made of plastic. Polypropylene (plastic number 5), to be specific.

They are much thicker than single-use plastic bags, and consequently need to be used many more times to be beneficial to the environment. In fact, a study suggested they need to be used 104 times to be environmentally positive. Truthfully, they tend to fall apart long before they are used that much. They are also bulky and cumbersome.

If you already have these bags, use them as long as you can. When they reach the end of their life, consider replacing with something better.

There’s plenty of reusable options when it comes to shopping bags, but the main consideration is whether it will work for you. There’s never one right choice. Sometimes, it’s different choices for different situations.

Regardless of material, the best reusable is always the one that actually gets reused.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What is your favourite type of reusable bag? Do you have a preference for different materials? Is there an product or brand not mentioned that you’d recommend? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

(Disclaimer – I’m an affiliate for Onya, which means if you click the link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I have been using their products since 2012: I’d only ever recommend something I have tried myself or that has been recommended to me by you, my readers. As always, my first suggestion is to use what you have or choose second-hand before buying anything new.)

Zero Waste Travel: Tips for a Zero Waste Road Trip

Having a zero waste and plastic-free routine at home is one thing, but making it work whilst on holidays (and away from home) is quite another. There’s dealing with new places and situations; having limited options to buy anything in bulk or recycle; and being without many of the tools that make zero waste living possible at home – and they all create challenges for keeping waste down.

Having been on plenty of road trips and holidays since I started my zero waste journey (goodness, don’t I sound well travelled?! It’s more that I’ve been living this way for 5 years rather than that I go on holidays all the time!) I’ve learned plenty of tricks along the way to help reduce my waste.

If you’re planning a road trip or holiday/vacation and you want to keep the waste down (which of course you do!), this one is for you.

Reducing Waste on Holiday: Before You Leave

As with anything and everything zero waste, planning is important. Waste tends to happen when things are unplanned, and convenience suddenly steps in. That doesn’t mean spreadsheets or anything complex. Just thinking about where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and likely scenarios, and google the options.

Check Out What Facilities Exist Where You’re Heading.

There are three types of facilities I check out before we go somewhere:

1. Shops, cafes, restaurants.

Knowing what kinds of shops exist and the kinds of food they sell is a good place to start. (For example, is there a supermarket, a service station, a bulk store, a Farmers Market?)

Considering what cafes and restaurants exist and the kinds of foods they sell is also useful (especially if you are vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free or have other dietary requirements). Opening hours are worth looking into too.

Looking at the reviews on Tripadvisor is helpful as a starting point, and we’ve used the website Happy Cow several times to find out vegetarian and vegan options in unknown places. If your friends or family that have been to the destination before, ask them to share their experiences.

2. Recycling Facilities.

In WA, not much is recycled north of Perth. Many of the places we stayed on this trip only recycle aluminium cans. My husband and dad both enjoy a beer, so whilst we were away they opted for beer in cans which we could recycle along the way, rather than glass bottles, which aren’t recycled.

(Whilst we always take home anything that cannot be recycled, glass is not truly recycled in Perth but crushed into road base, so choosing cans is a better option. There was a small amount of glass too, and that came home with us.)

3. Composting Options.

It is my dream that one day everyone with a composting bin will register their bin on the ShareWaste website. It’s a free service which connects home composters with people with excess food scraps.

I always check this service before I travel. I also search for community gardens in the ares that might have compost bins.

Sadly, rural WA is very lacking in bins on the map yet, so I knew that whatever food waste we took with us we would have to bury, or bring home.

Go Food Shopping Before You Leave

Depending on how much you intend to eat out whilst away, and the access you will have to refrigeration and cooking facilities, you might not want to take heaps of groceries with you, but it’s worth considering the basics: tea, coffee and snacks ;)

There are no bulk stores in WA further north than Perth, so we did a big bulk shop at The Source Bulk Foods (I’ve never bought so many nuts!) and bought fruit and vegetables from the local fruit and veg store to last us the first few days.

I made a big Ottolenghi-inspired salad to take with us, and also a big batch of sugar-free muesli. As well as fresh produce, I also took big jars of rice, quinoa and lentils so I could make meals at home.

Pack Reusables and Other Tools

Packing a water bottle, reusable cutlery set and reusable coffee cup goes without saying – these things practically live in my handbag anyway.

I also take a number of cloth produce bags, and either Pyrex containers, my stainless steel tiffin, or both. I have a set of round Pyrex containers that fit one inside the other so don’t take up too much space.

We take an esky with us to keep things cool in between destinations.

As well as the more obvious reusables, there are a few things I always pack for road trips. I always take a sharp knife (it makes all the difference when you’re trying to cook from scratch), our salt and pepper grinder and our coffee press. This time I took a tea strainer also.

This one might be a bit out there, but I also take our food processor with us.

I once met a lady who took her food processor with her when she went overseas. I’m not that extreme, but it is the most useful tool in my kitchen, it doesn’t take up much space, and it does so many things that now I always pack it. It’s great for making nut milk along the way, but we often use it for many other things (it has a heating function).

Dealing With Compost

If you don’t want to throw food scraps into landfill (and I definitely don’t), there are a few options: finding a composting facility locally, burying food scraps along the way, or taking them home with you.

Burying food scraps isn’t ideal, because it means using a rental home back yard without their knowledge, other private land without the owners’ knowledge, or public land. There’s the chance it could attract pests, or be dug up by dogs. A few veggie scraps from one person is one thing, but if everyone started doing this, it could be a big problem.

As I can’t bring myself to throw food scraps away, and we were away for two weeks, I did bury some of my waste.

I store food scraps in the freezer (in a Pyrex container) until I’m ready to bury it. I also blended some of it in the food processor to break it into smaller pieces, to help it compost more quickly. I tend to dig a few holes rather than one big one, as deep as I can, and ensure the waste is well covered with soil.

I do feel a little guilty, but I figure it is the lesser of two evils.

Once we hit the half way mark of the trip, I decided that we’d take what we created back to Perth with us. There was more room in the esky for food scraps, which were kept frozen.

Avoiding Single Use and Travel Items

Because we bring our own tea and coffee making facilities, we never use the single-serve tea and coffee. If any other single-use items are provided, like biscuits or breakfast cereal or UHT carton milk, we leave it in situ.

We always bring all of our own toiletries too, to avoid using individually wrapped soap or mini bottles of shower gel. There was a time when I’d clear out the place we were staying of anything miniature, but those days are long gone. They stay where they are.

I’ve also learned to bring our own dishwashing liquid, dish brush and cleaning cloth with us. The cloths provided are always plastic, and will be thrown away as soon as we leave, even if it’s one night. Should we need to use them, we take them with us so we ensure they are used until they wear out.

Our holiday packing isn’t the most minimal, but because we never take much clothing or footwear, there is always room to include reusables. I know I’ll have a much more relaxing holiday if I’m not creating waste. Funny that these days my priority is packing Pyrex rather than extra pairs of shoes!

Remembering reusables is something that just takes practice. The hardest thing is dealing with food scraps. If you have a compost bin at home, please consider registering it on the ShareWaste site. It’s free to use, and even if you don’t think you live in a touristy area, you never know who might be passing through.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can go on a road trip and there’s more compost bins to stop at along the way than service stations ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips for zero waste road trips do you have? What challenges have you faced whilst you’ve been away from home or on the road? Which tips can you see yourself adopting – or not?! Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

My Zero Waste Kit (Zero Waste Handbag Essentials)

I truly believe that the zero waste lifestyle does not mean going out to buy a whole heap of stuff. Saying that, there are definitely things that I have bought, which make waste-free living a lot easier for me. I refer to these things as my zero waste “kit”.

Recently I received a lovely email from a lady called Rachel who follows my Instagram feed, and she asked me: “I’ve seen you mention “zero waste kit” a few times and was wondering what that was!” It dawned on me that I’ve never taken the time to explain what I have and why. So here it is: my list of handbag essentials for zero waste living.

What is essential for me might not be essential for you, and this is definitely no command to go shopping! As always, I recommend using what you have. Whilst I’ve provided links so you can find out more details about the things I’ve personally chosen, please consider making do, buying second-hand and shopping local where you can.

What’s In My Zero Waste Handbag?

My handbag is by no means a hold-all! None of this stuff takes up that much room and the only heavy thing is my water bottle, when it’s full.

I’ve included links below of the actual things I have, so you can see specific product details, dimensions etc.

Water bottle: I have a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle with a bamboo lid. It holds 800ml. I chose this because it is completely plastic free and I love that Klean Kanteen are committed to producing products with the environment in mind.

Sometimes I leave the water bottle at home to save weight and use my reusable cup instead.

Reusable Coffee Cup: When I started out, I had a plastic KeepCup, but once glass ones were introduced in 2014 I made the switch. I have a 8oz glass KeepCup with a cork band but bigger sizes are also available. The lid is plastic but I like that the rest of the cup is not, and that it is a standard barista size.

I often use this as an impromptu container, or to grab a glass of water from anywhere with a tap if I don’t have my water bottle with me.

Reusable Cutlery: I have a To-Go ware set that was a birthday present: it contains a bamboo fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks and the pouch is made from recycled water bottles. The cutlery is surprisingly sturdy and I have skinned and de-stoned a mango with the knife. It is also suitable to carry onto planes in hand luggage.

Reusable Straw: I have added a reusable metal straw to my reusable cutlery pouch (it needs to be 21.5cm or smaller to fit in the To-Go Ware pouch). I also have reusable glass straws that I love, but I tend to take them out with me less often. The ones I have are made by Glass Dharma and come with a lifetime breakage guarantee. There are other brands with different colours and patterns. Reusable bamboo straws are another option.

Glass straws sound fragile but the glass is toughened and it would be impossible to bite through it. Because the edges are smoothed I think they are a good option for kids.

Produce Bags: Almost all of the produce bags I have are handmade (not by me!), and I think Etsy is a great place to find local craftspeople if you can’t sew your own. My own bags (mostly gifts) are made from old fabric, cafe curtains and an old bedsheet of mine. I love sellers who repurpose old fabric rather than buying new, like these produce bags made from old tablecloths.

I also have a few Onya produce bags too which are handy as they fit in a little stuff sack. The company started down the road from here and the owner is passionate about reducing plastic-bag use.

Reusable Bag: We have a number of calico bags that we’ve picked up over the years and would recommend choosing natural fibres where possible. As well as these, we have a couple of Onya reusable shopping bags. Whilst they are plastic, they scrunch up into a tiny stuff sack when not in use, so they are handy for my husband (who does not carry a handbag!) or when we are travelling as they are pocked-sized.

Sandwich Wraps: These are coated fabric and can be used in place of containers. I have snack pockets and sandwich wraps made by 4MyEarth, a local Perth company. They used to make 2 sizes of each but now they just make 1 size of each. The fabric is coated to make it water- and grease-resistant: it is a plant-based plastic and they are PVC-free. I like that they are machine washable, and they have lasted me a really long time (I got them in 2012).

Metal lunchbox: I bought my husband this metal lunchbox to take to work every day, although we also use it if we are going out to a restaurant or cafe (you never know where there might be leftovers!). I’ve added to our collection since then: a three-tier tiffin and a four-tier tiffin, and a round stainless steel lunchbox for myself that I bought in Thailand.

Stainless steel is expensive  – it is an investment piece that will last forever. If you have an Indian supermarket nearby it is worth checking out if they stock tiffins as the price will likely be kinder to your wallet. Sometimes, they pop up in charity shops too (although I’ve never been this lucky)!

Hanky: I keep a hanky on me at all times, which doubles as a serviette if I’m out. Department stores will likely sell them, but I prefer to keep things local and I’d look on Etsy if I needed more. Or, I’d just cut up some old clothes and make do with the ragged edges ;)

The links above are mostly for Australian stores. If you’re not in Australia, this page has a list of online zero waste and plastic-free stores which you might find useful.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your zero waste essentials? How did you choose your items? What eco-minded companies have you chosen to support? How have you been able to make do? Have you made any great second-hand purchases? Any recommendations for where others might be able to make do or find second-hand? Do you consider any of the items I’ve chosen a waste of time?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These items are all items that I genuinely use and love, and have purchased with my own money or were received as gifts from friends and family. No company has paid me to be featured on this list. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.