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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!

Plastic Free and Taking the Challenge One Step Further

For most of us, living with less waste begins as a personal journey. As we start to discover more about the issues caused by waste, particularly plastic, and the options and alternatives, most of us begin wondering how we can get others involved. Whether it’s our families, our friends, our colleagues, the local school, the local cafes or shops, we want to spread the message and bring others with us on the journey.

Today’s post is about what you can do to take that step: to take the ‘living with less waste’ message out of our homes and into the community.

Host a Movie Screening

A movie screening is a great way to get people together to raise awareness of the issues, and start a discussion about solutions and alternatives.

One of the first things I did after signing up to Plastic Free July for the first time back in 2012 was attend a community screening of the plastic documentary Bag It. Even more than signing up to the challenge, that documentary changed my life. In a little over an hour I’d gone from feeling fairly relaxed about my plastic use to realizing that plastic was a huge problem but with so many solutions – and something that I could do so much about.

Movie screenings can be as big or as small as you like. Anything from:

  • borrowing a DVD from the library and showing it to a few friends and family;
  • Getting a community screening license from a distributor to show a movie in a public place such as a community hall or function room;
  • Using community screening platforms such as Tugg, which allows you screen documentaries in cinemas, through selling tickets in advance. The model works a little like crowdfunding – if not enough tickets are sold, the screening is cancelled.

If you’d like some inspiration for a good documentary to show, my top 10 list of documentaries might be a useful starting point.

Host a Plastic-Free Morning Tea or Supper

Invite others in your local community, workplace or school to attend a waste-free morning tea or supper, where all of the food has been purchased and prepared without single-use packaging.

You can invite community members to accept the challenge and bring a dish without packaging, or you can prepare or source it all yourself to ensure no sneaky plastic makes its way in.

Inviting someone to speak is a great way to engage the group with some of the solutions. Here’s some ideas:

  • Invite a local organisation to talk about the great waste reducing initiatives they’ve adopted;
  • Invite a local eco store to attend to talk about some of the products they sell and their benefits;
  • Invite someone who lives in the in the local area to share the story of how they reduced their own waste.

Set a table with some reusable alternatives to talk about, and give everyone the chance to share their ideas and ask questions. The idea is to get everyone thinking, and talking…and then acting!

Host a Litter Pick-Up or Beach Clean-Up

A litter pick-up is a powerful way to get others fired up to take action. Connecting others to places where litter ends up brings attention to the scale of the problem, and taking action by removing the litter goes a huge way towards protecting the ocean. Removing litter from the environment is also a positive reinforcement of the impact we can have when we work together.

To organise a litter pick up, set a date and time, gather necessary equipment (gloves, tongs, buckets, bags or old pillowcases to collect the litter) and start promoting it to your community. Offering a (plastic-free) morning tea is a great way to reward those who turn out to help and another way to continue to conversation.

Join (or Start) a Local Boomerang Bags Group

In an ideal world we’d all remember our reusable bags – but everyone forgets sometimes, right? Boomerang Bags was set up to reduce plastic bags by providing free bags for shoppers to borrow and bring back. But even better than providing bags, Boomerang Bags is all about communities getting together to volunteer to sew their bags, out of freely donated old fabric.

Before a group launches, they need to make 500 bags. (Nobody wants to launch and then run out of bags in the first weekend!) Boomerang Bag depositories are placed in shopping centres, and then the public are free to take and then return as required.

You can find out more about Boomerang Bags here, including where the current groups are and how to start your own group.

Get your Local Cafe (or Business) Involved

If your local cafe doesn’t give a discount for reusable coffee cups, your local store insists on giving plastic bags to everyone, or your local bar dishes out plastic straws with every drink, have a chat to them to see if they are willing to do something about it. You never know if you don’t ask!

Asking a local cafe, store or business to take part in Plastic Free July is a great way for them to be part of a global challenge and test customers’ receptiveness to charges or discounts, no longer offering single-use items and other initiatives.

Find out if there are other local initiatives that they can be a part of. Responsible Cafes is an Australian volunteer-run organisation which supports cafes who offer a discount to customers who use reusable cups. They have posters for display, and information that cafes can share with their customers. Plus all cafes that sign up are placed on a map, allowing locals to support the cafes near them who are doing the right thing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you taken zero waste or plastic-free living into your community, and if so, how? Have you been to any great community events? Are there any other ideas you’d like to add to this list? Any of these you’re planning to adopt? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Finding Solutions to Plastic Pollution (How You Can Help)

One person can make a difference. I believe this, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. Knowing that my actions matter, that is what empowers and motivates me to strive to do a little better every day.

Whilst one individual can have an impact, when individuals get together… well, that’s when change really begins to happen! Collectively, our impact can be amplified. That’s what a movement is – a group of people, working together for the same outcome.

Plastic pollution and over-consumption of resources are both massive, complex issues. The problem isn’t going to be solved just because I no longer have a rubbish bin, or can fit my waste into a glass jar. It’s not going to be solved if 10,000 of us can all fit our waste into a glass jar, either.

It’s going to be solved when we all work together to share ideas, apply pressure to decision-makers and organizations, and offer solutions!

If you’d like to do more, and be part of a movement, here are some options. Whether it’s getting out into your local community, volunteering, joining a campaign, learning more or donating to an organization doing great work, there are plenty of possibilities. If you see something you like, see if there is something similar in your local area… or start your own group!

If you have any others you’d like to add, please let me know in the comments below : )

Citizen Science + Litter Apps

litter-apps-and-citizen-science-treading-my-own-path

Litter apps are a simple way to add any litter you pick up to a national or international database. Citizen science in action! Simply take a photo of what you pick up, and record the location, litter type and brand. This data is collected to identify the most commonly found brands and products, and problem hotspots. The data can be used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions, and to influence politicians, councils and other decision-makers to make change.

– Litterati (US and Worldwide)

Litterati describe themselves as a community that’s identifying, mapping, and collecting the world’s litter. Based in America, they track plastic and other litter anywhere in the world.

Litterati App (iPhone only)

Website: www.litterati.org

– Marine Debris Tracker (US and Worldwide)

An American Debris Tracker app that collects marine debris data from all over the world, including 1200 locations in the USA.

Marine Debris Tracker App for Android / Marine Debris Tracker App for iPhone

Website: www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/

– Marine LitterWatch (Europe)

Monitors beach litter in Europe. The app was developed by the European Environment Agency to help aid data gathering in coastal areas.

Marine LitterWatch App for Android / Marine Litterwatch App for iPhone

Website: www.eea.europa.eu

– Tangaroa Blue (AU)

Whilst not an app, Tangaroa Blue’s Australian Marine Debris Database is the most comprehensive collection of marine debris data in Australia. All data can be submitted via this AMDI submission form: since 2004 over 2million pieces of debris have been recorded.

Website: www.tangaroablue.org

Litter Clean-Ups

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Sure, it’s possible to just go outside your front door any time, and pick up litter. In fact, that is what many of these organisations encourage. But there’s also something nice about getting together with a group of like-minded individuals and making a much bigger impact.

– Responsible Runners (AU)

An Australian initiative to get runners and walkers clearing up litter. They organize weekly clean-up events around the country involving 30 minute litter picking, and have picked up 21 tonnes of rubbish to date. All rubbish is recorded, and the data is submitted to Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Database (see above).

Website: www.responsiblerunners.org

– Take 3 For The Sea (AU and worldwide)

An Australian movement that encourages everyone to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, river, or anywhere else. As well as running school education programs, they also offer a Guardian program for local groups to establish, and use social media to spread the #take3forthesea message.

Website: www.take3.org.au

– Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign (AU)

In 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a new marine debris campaign which involves organizing beach and river clean-up events, community engagement and education. At present this appears to be specific to Australia.

Website: www.seashepherd.org.au

– Ocean Conservancy (US)

An American not-for-profit organisation that promotes science-based solutions to protect the ocean. Ocean Conservancy organises the annual International Coastal Cleanup event (a global event), and helps individuals organise their own beach and river cleanups for other times of the year.

Website: www.oceanconservancy.org

– Two Hands Project (AU)

Two Hands Project embodies the spirit of international Clean Up Days, but asks – why not use your two hands and 3o minutes of your time to clean up on ANY day of the year? They occasionally run organized beach clean-ups, and offer secondary school education programs.

Website: www.twohandsproject.org

– Keep Australia Beautiful (AU)

Keep Australia Beautiful works towards a litter-free environment by running grass-roots programs in every state and territory in Australia. They run “Keep Austrlia Beautiful Week” annually, and assist in organising cleanup and other community events.

Website: www.kab.org.au

Campaigning

campaiging

Organisations often work on specific campaigns. Campaigns work towards a specific goal, such as changing legislation on particular issues, often by raising awareness and gaining the support of the public to apply pressure to decision-makers.

– Plastic Soup Foundation (NL)

Plastic Soup Foundation is a campaigning and advocacy group working towards eliminating plastic pollution from our oceans. Based in the Netherlands, they work on a number of campaigns including Reach for the Zero, Beat the Microbead and Ocean Clean Wash.

Website: www.plasticsoupfoundation.org

– Marine Conservation Society (UK)

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a UK ocean protection charity. They campaign on a number of issues including banning the mass release of balloons and sky lanterns, microbeads and clearer labelling for wet wipes (to prevent them being flushed down the loo). They also run a Plastic Free June fundraising challenge.

Website: www.mcsuk.org

– Surfrider Foundation (US and Worldwide)

Surfrider Foundation is a campaigning organisation dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches. Beginning in the USA 30 years ago, Surfrider Foundation has grown to 18 countries around the world, including Australia. Among other ocean-realted campaigning, they support local, regional, state and national campaigns on plastic pollution.

Website: www.surfrider.org
Surfrider Australia Website: www.surfrider.org.au

– Surfers Against Sewage (UK)

A UK environmental charity protecting the UK’s waves, oceans and beaches. Surfers Against Sewage campaign against marine litter, and recent campagins include “No Butts on the Beach”, “Return to Offender” (which has to be my favourite) and “Think Before You Flush“.

Website: www.sas.org.uk

– Story of Stuff (US)

The Story of Stuff project began as a series of education movies about the environmental impacts of “stuff”. As well as education, they now run campaigns fighting plastic pollution, including banning bottled water and banning the microbead.

Website: www.storyofstuff.org

– The Last Plastic Straw (US)

The Last Plastic Straw campaigns to get businesses to only give out straws on demand, and to use fully biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws. They also raise awareness of plastic pollution.

Website: www.thelastplasticstraw.org

Challenges

calendar

Collective challenges are a great way to raise awareness and build momentum on an issue, as well as creating community and inspiring further action.

– Plastic Free July (AU and Worldwide)

Plastic Free July is a month-long challenge to refuse and avoid single-use plastic. It’s what got me started on my plastic-free journey and has expanded from a local campaign with just 30 participants to a global initiative that spans almost 200 countries.

Website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Marine Research and Education

Ocean Plastic Research Treading My Own Path

Expeditions and research bring in the real scientific data, and allow us to understand the wider impacts of plastic pollution. It is this knowledge that raises awareness and drives campaigns, education and action.

– 5 Gyres (US)

Founded in 2008, 5 Gyres is a non-profit organisation raising awareness about plastic pollution through science, art, education and adventure. They have been involved with campaigns including the “ban the microbead” campaign, and run programs and expeditions.

Website: www.5gyres.org

– Algalita (US)

Founded in 1994 by Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Algalita have pioneered the study of plastic pollution in the marine environment. They focus on research, education and action, and lead marine expeditions.

Website: www.algalita.org

Umbrella Groups and Coalitions

lighthouse

Umbrella organizations provide resources and offer an identity to smaller organisations, whilst building a sense of community and inclusiveness. Umbrella organisations allow members to share resources and amplify their message, meaning increased effectiveness.

– Plastic Pollution Coalition (US)

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution. Founded in 2009 and now with more than 400 member organisations (you can find a list of current members here), they provide education, scientific research and solutions for both individuals and organisations. The Education page is a wealth of useful information : )

Website: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are they any great organisations I’ve missed off the list? Any campaigns or groups I failed to mention? Any I’ve mentioned here that you are already involved with? Any that are completely new to you? Do you work with local groups in your area? Do you know about great work being done at grass roots level? I love to hear about others making a difference and creating positive impact so share away! Any other thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too, so please tell me in the space below!

The Good Day Out: Organising a Public Zero Waste Event

When I found out that my local council were planning a new community event with a focus on sustainability, and looking for community members to join the Organising Committee, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to do my bit. A big part of any event is waste, and waste minimisation happens to be my favourite topic! How exciting to showcase what can be done in my own neighbourhood? :)

My objective was to run a zero waste event. By zero waste, I meant no plastic (compostable, biodegradable or otherwise), no sytrofoam and no single use packaging. Whilst everyone was in agreement to ban plastic bags and balloons and other single use items from the day, the idea of banning single use packaging altogether was something very new to the council.

Could we provide reusables? Where would we source them? How would it work? Would we manage demand? Who would wash them up? What about health and safety? Would vendors get on board? How would the public react?

I put together a proposal for how I thought it could work, based on my experience with running other events, and the experiences of others I knew who’d run similar events.

Fortunately, the rest of the team were up for the challenge, and so I got to work planning and scheming :)

good-day-out-town-of-victoria-park-sustainability-fair-poster

Our Proposal: Running a Zero Waste Event

All of our team had different roles and responsibilities with planning and running the event, and my responsibility was sustainability and waste. There were lots of other great sustainability initiatives in other areas (it was the overarching theme, after all) but my major focus was waste minimisation.

Our event was held in a local park, outdoors, with power and water available.

The first step was to outline our sustainability criteria, thinking about what would be practical and achievable. One of the key components was running a washing up station, which meant that we could request that all vendors used reusables rather than disposable packaging. Stallholders and food vendors who applied to attend had to agree to comply with our sustainability policy.

Here are some of the criteria for stallholders at the event:

  • No use of styrofoam or plastic (including bags);
  • No selling of bottled water;
  • No single-use packaged samples of wares;
  • No single-serve sauces, sugar sachets or condiments;
  • No balloons at the event;
  • Local suppliers considered where possible;
  • No single use packaging for food/drink;
  • Provide information on the source of all food and beverages, especially if fair trade or local;
  • Provide a vegan/vegetarian option;
  • Use recycled, sustainable, upcycled goods in workshops.

Whilst we asked that stallholders comply with our rules, we also provided the following to make it easier for them:

  • We provided reusable cutlery and crockery free of charge for vendors to use, and a free washing-up service;
  • We took responsibility for ensuring dirty dishes and empties were collected, and stallholders were restocked with clean crockery, cutlery and glassware;
  • We discussed crockery and cutlery with each vendor to ensure its suitability to their needs.

In addition, we made the following provisions:

  • We hired a water tank with water fountain and tap attachments to provide drinking water to attendees;
  • We hired crockery and cutlery for use during the event;
  • We organised a team of volunteers to wash up;
  • We posted signage to ensure people understood what we were doing, and why;
  • We ordered some extra bins to collect food and compostable waste, to take off-site and compost;
  • We organised “bin fairies” to stand by the bins and help people put the right thing in the right bin!

On the Day: a Zero Waste Event in Action!

good-day-out-organising-committee-town-of-victoria-park

The Good Day Out Organising Committee (plus two performers who photobombed our pic!) Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

town-of-victoria-park-good-day-out

Our washing up station positioned in between the stage seating area and the food vendors, under a lovely big tree. Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

I’d love to tell you that it was perfect, but of course it wasn’t. There is plenty to improve on next year! For all the shortcomings, the day did work well, and the amount of single-use packaging we saved from landfill was tremendous.

One frustration was a food stall added last-minute to the event due to a cancellation. There was no opportunity to speak to them in detail about crockery before the event, and the products we hired weren’t suitable. They used cardboard-style compostable trays, and we collected these to compost.

It could have been worse (they could have used plastic!), but from a single-use perspective and also our objectives, it was not ideal, especially as it could have been avoided.

The juice vendor were at one stage handing out plastic straws, and plastic Biocups. They removed the straws when asked: they even put reusable metal straws on sale instead. They denied giving out the Biocups (I saw the Mayor put a plastic Biocup with a plastic straw that he’d been drinking from in the recycling bin – fails all round!) but did remove them from display after I mentioned it. They handed out a few disposable coffee cups too, despite having our mugs.

But overall, support from vendors, volunteers and the public was great. Looking at the bins at the end of the day and seeing them not even half full made my heart sing! And once everything was packed up, there was barely any litter in sight. Maybe not zero waste, but definitely near-o waste :)

washing-up-station-morning-volunteers

The washing up station with some of the morning volunteers. The buckets on the right were for food scraps and compostable waste, and soaking cutlery. Almost out of view on the left hand side (behind the volunteers) is the table behind is the hot water urn. The final rinse uses sanitizing solution and water above 72°C to meet Health and Safety guidelines, and everything is air dried.

washing-up-volunteers-at-the-good-day-out

The washing up station in action! Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

water-tank-for-hire

The water refill station. There are water fountain attachments and taps for patrons to refill their own water bottles – no single use plastic required!

dirty-dishes-washing-up-station-good-day-out

Dirty dishes at the washing up station. The hot water urn, which is a key part in sanitizing the dishes, is to the right of the image. The straw you can see is a reusable metal one!

returnables-good-day-out-zero-waste-event

The juice vendor sells juice in returnable glass bottles, which they refill. I personally fished 30 or so bottles out of the bin to return to them. More signage next year! (The straw on the ground is a metal one.)

reusables-at-the-good-day-out

Collecting dirty dishes from the food vendors. Soul Provider were absolutely amazing in supporting us, using only our reusable dishes and never falling back onto disposables. Plus they never stopped smiling! :)

rubbish-bin-sorting-good-day-out

Rummaging through the bins at the end of the day. This was one of our two recycling bins. They were 240 litres, and were not even half full. We managed to remove some glass bottles for reusing, and removed all the compostable cardboard trays (which had food on them) for composting.

compostable-waste-good-day-out

This is Peg, with all of the compostable waste we collected. We had a ‘Compostable Waste’ bin and also collected food scraps at the Washing Up Station, but we still retrieved a bit from the other bins. Yes, it is in plastic bags. The bins had already been lined when we came to empty them. I assure you Peg will be reusing these bags many times!

What worked well:

  • Team spirit! The whole Organising Committee was on-board with the idea of reusables from the start, so it never felt like an uphill battle. The council were also receptive to the idea, so long as it was safe. We put together risk assessments and health and safety guidelines to ensure it fully complied with council requirements, and had their approval.
  • Support from vendors. Our event had a coffee truck, a juice truck that also sold coffee and three food vendors. They all had varying degrees of receptiveness to what we were trying to do, but overall we were well supported. Being clear from the outset of our goals definitely helped. Interestingly, we had more support from the stalls I hadn’t expected to be on board, and less from the ones I had.
  • We saved so much stuff from landfill! We had two 240 litre recycling bins, and two 240 litre rubbish bins at the event, and each bin was between 1/4 and 1/3 full. There were other permanent bins located on the perimeter of the park where the event was held, but these were mostly empty.
  • The washing up station worked really well, and the team of volunteers were awesome.
  • Attendees of the event were very supportive of the washing up station, and commented on what a great idea it was.Hopefully it raised awareness as to what is possible, and got people thinking.
  • The water bottle refill station meant there was no bottled water at the event.
  • We collected all the compostable waste from the event, and took it off site for composting.
  • We sorted all of the bins by hand to ensure the correct things were in the correct bins. Yes, I personally rummaged through the rubbish after the event ;)

What could have been better:

  • Signage! We did have signage, but we needed many more signs, explaining what we were doing, and why. It isn’t enough to do it – we have to tell everyone why! Plus we could have explained the system better. It would have been great to have a sign explaining our ‘no single-use packaging’ policy at each food vendor so that the staff didn’t have to explain to every single customer that rocked up what was going on. Signs telling people where to return things, and signs telling people to come and grab our plates and glasses for their own personal use. Better signs for the bins.
  • More communication! This definitely comes from experience, but more conversations and more discussion are always welcome – with volunteers, with vendors and with the general public. A  couple of stallholders reverted back to their disposable cups when they ran out of our glasses: this was spotted quickly, but we could have kept a better eye on it. Their priority was serving customers so as the event organisers, it was our responsibility to ensure the were well stocked.
  • Bin Fairies. Because we needed so many volunteers for the washing up station, and it was a day when lots of other events were happening around the city, we didn’t man the bins for the whole day. Consequently, we found every type of waste in every type of bin. We sorted by hand after the event, but it was a missed opportunity to talk to the public about waste.
  • Getting the right reusables. We hired a lot of equipment that we ended up not needing, and could have used extras of some of the other things. (Plus we had nothing suitable for the last-minute food vendor, except metal forks.) There was a feeling of it being better to have too much than not enough as it was the first year (which is true, of course!), but now we can use what we learned to choose better next time.
  • Less waste. Of course, I am always going to say that! And actually, I was really impressed with how little waste there was. I’d love to eliminate the single-use compostable waste next year, and ensure we have enough reusable stock to prevent any emergency single-use packaging emerging.

I’m hoping to put together a “How to Plan and Organise a Zero Waste Event” resource in the near future, so if this is something that you’re interested in finding out more about, stay tuned!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever been to any zero waste, plastic-free of low waste events? What initiatives had they adopted, and how did they work? Was there anything that didn’t work quite as well as it might? Anything you’d have like to see improved? Have you run your own low waste events? What experiences (good or bad) do you have to share? What have been your biggest successes, and your most dismal failures? Any lessons learned? Are you hoping to organise a zero waste event, but not sure where to start? Did you come to the Good Day Out? What did you think? What were your favourite bits, and what could be improved on next year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Labels or No Labels? (A Zero Waste Minimalist Reflects)

I made the decision to give up plastic long before I ever heard the term “zero waste”. Back then, in 2012, my focus was on reducing my plastic consumption. It was only after I stopped purchasing items in plastic, and began to choose cardboard and glass instead, that I really noticed for the first time how much packaging I was consuming. Glass and cardboard are heavy, and now I was carrying glass bottles home on the train, rather than plastic packets, I really began to notice it!

When I found out that glass is not recycled in WA, where I live, but crushed into road base (which is not the virtuous cycle of recycling we’re told about glass), I decided that the better option was to avoid packaging altogether. Living with less plastic became living with less waste.

As I started thinking about waste more generally, I began to realise that many of the items I owned were not being used, and were therefore going to waste. If I donated these items to people who could use them, that was a far better use of resources. I’d read about minimalism, but it didn’t seem to be something that I could do. I realised that I needed less stuff, but I didn’t want to reduce my possessions down to a handful of things that fitted into a suitcase.

When I first heard of the name zero waste, much later, I didn’t think that it included me. I took the term very literally, and I figured that because I still recycled, I could not consider myself zero waste. I couldn’t consider myself to be a minimalist either, because minimalists don’t own three saucepans and consider it necessary to have both a round baking dish and a square baking dish, and definitely wouldn’t deem a set of muffin trays a must-have item.

One reason I didn’t like the labels was because I felt that they were absolute, with no room for error. It was as if, by declaring myself to be zero waste or a minimalist, I was implying that I was something that I was not. It seemed somehow fraudulent. How can you call yourself zero waste when you still recycle? How can you call yourself a minimalist when you own more than 100 items?

But what I found was that the labels zero waste and minimalism pique people’s interest. Everyone has ideas about what these labels mean, and they want to ask questions.

Questions about waste: Does zero waste mean you don’t use toilet paper? How do you buy things without plastic? What on earth is a worm farm?

Or questions about stuff: But if you don’t own things, what do you do in the evenings? Do you sit on the floor? What about photos?

It’s a great way to get people thinking, and talking…and maybe even doing!

When you have a generic statement about trying to live lighter on the planet, create less waste, and live with a bit less stuff, it’s too vague for people to really grasp what that looks like.

That, I think, is a missed opportunity.

It’s a missed opportunity because living with less waste is something that we can all do. It doesn’t mean going without, or being deprived, or weaving your own clothes and living in a cave. (Unless you want to, of course!)

People who describe themselves as zero waste or minimalists look just like other people. We live in regular houses. We have regular jobs. We do regular things. You couldn’t pick us out in a line-up! We just choose to create less waste, and own less stuff. Owning a reusable water bottle or refusing a plastic straw is not difficult, nor time-consuming. Donating a bunch of items you never use to people who truly need them is a win-win scenario.

And so, I use labels. Not because I’m perfect. Of course I’m not! Not because I want anyone to think that I’m perfect, either. But because it helps to start the conversation. And it helps others realise that these lifestyles are not about being perfect. It isn’t all-or-nothing, and every action makes a difference.

These labels are not about absolutes. They are about ideals. They are something to work towards. They are about values. We use these labels because we share the same values.

You can call yourself zero waste and still put out the recycling bin. You can call yourself a minimalist and still own furniture, and kitchen appliances. You can aspire to one of these lifestyles, or to both, and not call yourself either.

What’s important isn’t what we choose to call ourselves, or how we decide to describe our lifestyles, but the actions that we take.

We all have different lives, and different circumstances. We all make different choices, and have different versions of “enough”. Zero waste and minimalism look different for everybody. Every version is equally important, not matter what it looks like.

Labels can be useful, but they shouldn’t be a distraction. Let’s not get bogged down with definitions and comparisons. Let’s make better choices. It isn’t about perfection: it’s about doing what we can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about labels? Do you love them? Do you hate them? Are you indifferent towards them? Do you see them as a distraction, or see them as a useful tool to start conversations? Do you see them as a way to group together people with the same values, or as a way for people to compare themselves with others and perhaps be frozen into inaction? Do you like some labels, but avoid other labels? Do you feel that using labels makes you feel part of a community? Do you feel that using labels opens you up for criticism? Have you had any experiences, good or bad, from using labels to describe the choices you make? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Why Plastic Free July is Just as Important 5 Years On

Plastic Free July changed my life. A grand statement I know, but completely true. When I first signed up to the challenge of using no plastic in the month of July back in 2012, it was the start of a journey that I could never have imagined. (You can read about my experience after one year of plastic-free living here.)

From the very beginning it was about understanding that if I wanted the world to change for the better, I had to do something about it.

Not only that, but Plastic Free July showed me that this was possible: change was something that I could do. That we all can do. Starting today.

We all have the power to make a difference, and these little actions, repeated by millions of people, add up to mean real change. That’s why when July 2012 was over, I had to keep on going. There was no turning back.

Four years later, I’ve feel like I’ve got living plastic-free down to a fine art. It’s not something I really have to think about any more. Those new habits have become second nature.

I don’t have the dilemmas of the early days… I have new routines, and I’ve found solutions that I’m happy with. It’s taken time, and there have been many frustrations and learning opportunities along the way, but plastic-free is a way of life for me now.

Yet this year’s Plastic Free July challenge is just as important to be as it was back in 2012. Maybe even more so. Here’s why.

Plastic Free July 2016 Plastic Free Living Treading My Own Path

Plastic Free July is definitely about inspiring change on the individual level, but it is about far more than just us and our shopping habits. It about encouraging us to see things differently, to ask questions, to challenge ourselves (and others), and to find new ways of doing things.

It is about inspiring all of us, together, and creating a movement. That’s where the real change happens. Plastic Free July is the chance to get involved with something bigger than ourselves.

It is the chance to become part of a community with a united voice, saying that we want things to be different…and demanding change. Not only that, but demonstrating what that change looks like, and how it can be done.

I’m still very much a part of this movement, and every year, as July comes around again, I feel my excitement growing. I love the swell of energy that starts to build each June, as more people hear about Plastic Free July (and the idea of living plastic-free) for the first time, and latch onto the idea that they really can make a difference.

In 2012 I was there, feeling that it was possible but full of questions about where to start, or what to do, or how to do it. Now I feel like I’ve come through the other side, and I can share my story. So that’s what I do – I share my story. (I’ll be speaking at 6 events in Perth over the next month about plasitc-free living, so if you’re local please come and say hi! Details to follow.)

My message: yes, plastic-free living is possible, and you can do it do. I was just the same as you. There is nothing special or different about me. I simply believed in the ideals enough to work at it, and make it happen. It didn’t all happen at once; just one change at time. That’s all it takes.

You can share your story or your experiences too. Don’t feel like you don’t have a story to share, or that you’re just one person. That’s all any of us are.

There are many voices in the sphere, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. There’s plenty of room, and we want to hear you! You don’t have to be a blogger, writer or public speaker. You don’t need a website or a social media feed. You just need a voice…and you already have one.

Talk to friends. Talk to family. Talk to work colleagues. Talk to your local newspaper.

What can you do this Plastic Free July? Can you bring people together and start the conversation? Do you have useful or relevant information that you can share? Is there a local event that you can get involved in?  Can you even organize your own – a plastic-free morning tea, or a beach or river clean?

Plastic Free July starts with making personal changes, but that is only the beginning. Let’s not stop there. We all care about the world we live in – that’s what inspired us to make changes in the first place.

We start with us, but let’s not stop with us. Let’s make this about more than ourselves. This Plastic Free July, wherever you are in your journey, can you do one thing that helps spread the word, or starts the conversation, or builds momentum in your community? Can you add another voice to the movement?

Jane Goodall said it best: what you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

You can find more information about Plastic Free July at their website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you been involved with Plastic Free July from the early days, or have you come on board more recently… or is this the first time you’ve heard of it? How has your involvement changed throughout the years? Are you still finding your way with making personal changes, or are you getting out into your community and sharing your story and spreading the word? What projects have you been involved with, and what positive impacts are they having? Are you thinking about the next steps, but are yet to take action? How has Plastic Free July (or living without plastic generally) changed the way you live? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Fancy a Look Around My New (Sustainable) Home?

In case you missed the news, we’ve finally moved into our new home, and oh, it feels good! We have solar panels and solar hot water, a rainwater tank, solar passive design that means no air-con required even in our 40°C+ summers, and a veggie garden pre-planted with vegetables. We’re two minutes from the train station and there’s a newly opened bulk store within walking distance.

Plus we’re in the heart of a vibrant and engaged community and we can’t wait to join in!

I thought it might be fun to show you round, to explain some of the sustainability features and how they work and to highlight why we are so excited about our new home. Welcome to the tour!

Just to give you some background, my husband and I live in the city. Whilst we’d love to move to the country some day, buy a block of land and be completely self-sufficient, we don’t have the skills (yet) to do this. Not even close! Plus our work, friends and community are all based in this city and we’re not ready to leave.

We don’t have the money to buy a big block of our own within the city, and we don’t have the funds or know-how to renovate a doer-upper (is that even a word?). What we dreamed of was an apartment with solar panels that didn’t require additional heating or cooling, close proximity to amenities, space to grow our own food and a community feel. We’ve found it in this place and we feel really lucky.

There are 3 building on the site, with 7 homes in total. This is the back view of our building – there are 3 units in this one. There are 3 solar hot water systems and 3 solar PV systems on the roof – one for each of us.  The communal veggie garden sits at the back of our building : )

Solar Panels and Solar Hot Water Sustainable Home Green Swing

Solar hot water and solar panels, plus a communal veggie garden.

The veggie beds have to be my favourite part of the whole development and I cannot wait to start growing my own food. Luckily some seedlings were planted before we moved in meaning there is already food to harvest. The beds are second-hand and there is some leftover metal from the roof to make more if we decide we need them (I’ve already decided we do!).

The wooden boxes mark the boundary and have fruit trees in them. They are made from old pallet tanks / IBCs, which are basically huge square plastic drums for transporting bulk liquids. They’ve been cut in half and clad in scrap wood.

Communal Veggie Garden Sustainable House Green Swing

Garden beds in full swing, and plenty of space to add a few more ; )

Upcycled IBC Tank Sustainable House Permaculture Green Swing

An old pallet tank cut in half and clad in scrap wood to made a planter. The three planters all contain citrus trees. Pleased to report too that my compost bin had already been dug in!

This side of the building faces the sun, so normally rooms facing this way get ridiculously hot. In addition to double glazing and glass tinting, all the windows and doors have been fitted with solar pergolas. That’s what the big metal frames with slats above the windows and doors are.

When the sun is high in the sky in summer, the pergola blocks the sun from entering through the glass and heating the inside. In winter when the sun is lower, the sun’s rays can pass through the slats and warm the house inside. Despite seeming like a simple and obvious solution for keeping the heat out (or in), very few houses in Perth are fitted with these. They have huge air conditioning units instead.

How Does a Solar Pergola Work Sustainable House Green Swing

The sun is hitting the pergola and casting a shadow on the outside of the building, rather than heating the inside. The bottom right image is the inside of the building: were the pergola not in place, the sun would be heating the floor where the shadows are. These pergolas are fixed but if they were adjustable it would be possible to eliminate any direct sunlight from entering.

This is the central area where the three buildings meet. All the entrances come off this central space (the 3 upstairs units are all accessed by the stairway) – a deliberate design feature so people are encouraged to speak to their neighbours and create community!

The wooden box in the left of the picture is a degassed old fridge (clad in wood) which is the communal worm farm. Plus all the pavers are recycled.

I’m not a huge fan of the lawn. My first idea was to turn it into a chicken coop. Now I’m thinking I’ll just dig up the grass and grow food! However, as my husband points out, we are 1 unit out of 7, and we can’t just tear it all out before everyone moves in. Democracy and all that. They might want to keep it.

Maybe I’ll start by planting food around the edge…

Centre Courtyard Sustainable Home Green Swing

I love the central space, but it feels very new and sterile at the moment. Looking forward to bring it to life!

In rather exciting news, there is a communal bike shed! We no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom – hurrah!

Bicycle Storage Shed Sustainable Home Green Swing

Bike storage in action!

Bicycle Storage Shed Spare Racks Sustainable Home Green Swing

When not in use, the bike racks fold against the wall.

Rainwater tanks sound fantastic in a city that is so short of water it already uses two desalination plants to supply 40% of its water, and will be drinking treated sewage as of 2016. But red tape means it’s not quite as good as it should be. The units, which have a joint roof, are legally not allowed to use rainwater for anything other than the washing machine and toilet.

Ironic really, that we can’t drink rainwater for health reasons, yet drinking treated sewage is acceptable. Still, better than nothing. That’s why the tanks are smaller than you might expect – along with the fact that water is actually really cheap (it costs $1.50 for 1000 litres), meaning there is little incentive to plumb in rainwater unless you really care about sustainability.

Rainwater Tank 3000L Green Swing

A 3000l rainwater tank. Water in Perth costs $1.50 for 1000 litres, so it would cost just $4.50 to fill this from the tap. Madness!

This is the front of the house. The double garage that you see is actually a shared garage – each unit has one garage space and shares the garage with others. There are electricity points in each garage for the time when electric cars are the norm.

Front of Sustainable House Green Swing

This double garage is shared between two flats. There are more spaces for bike parking than car parking!

That’s the tour of the outside finished, so here’s a quick rundown of some of the sustainability features on the inside. Once we’ve settled in I hope to show you round the inside properly but until then, here’s some glimpses ; )

This is the floor in most of our unit – polished concrete. It’s a very sustainable flooring, great for helping to maintain the temperature and as homes are built on concrete slabs, it makes use of what is already there.

Polished Concrete Sustainable Home Green Swing

Polished concrete flooring. The cracked surface adds to the charm.

There’s no air-con in our home – insulation, double glazing, good thermal mass and correct orientation means we shouldn’t need it. There are ceiling fans to circulate the air.

Ceiling Fans Sustainable Home Green Swing

The ceiling fans have two modes – cooling in summer and heating in winter. You just need to flick a switch, apparently. I didn’t know that ceiling fan heating was a “thing”, so I’m interested to try this out!

I’ve had gas cooktops for many years, and I remember how terrible electric cooktops used to be. You’d lower the temperature of the hob, and your saucepan would continue to boil itself dry and burn your dinner because the hob didn’t realise you meant reduce the temperature NOW, not in about 15 minutes time.

Now we have solar power it doesn’t make sense to have gas too, and so we have electric hobs again – but induction ones.

Electric induction cooktops are a far cry from those dodgy electric hotplates. I’m in awe. I did not realise it was possible for a kettle to boil so quickly!

Not to mention they are easy to clean (always a bonus). I’m a convert.

Induction Hob Sustainable Home Green Swing

Convection hobs are a million light years ahead of those old electric cooktops. They’re faster and more energy efficient.

Finally I have to show you our toilet (yes, the toilet) because it has a sink built into the cistern. When you press the flush (there is a dual flush button either side of the tap) the water that ultimately fills the cistern runs into the sink so you can wash your hands.

You’d be amazed at how much water is needed to fill a cistern.

I’ll tell you. An old style toilet needs 12 litres. This one uses either 4.5 litres or 3 litres depending on which button you press. There is enough time to flush, walk over to the main (laundry) sink, remember that the toilet has a sink on top which is pouring water out of the tap and you’re meant to be washing your hands with this one, wander back, realise you left the soap over on the side, walk over to pick it up, return to the toilet-flush sink, wash your hands, dry your hands, return the soap and marvel that the water still continues to flow.

The reflex in me wants to grab a container to collect the water that’s gushing out of the tap…except it doesn’t work like that, obviously – it’s filling the tank!

Toilet Cistern with Integrated Basin Combined Pics Sustainable Home Green Swing

When you flush, the water that fills the tank first flows through the tap so you can wash your hands with the water.

That’s the tour complete – I hope you found it interesting! I’m looking forward to sharing how our new community develops and what the gardens are looking like this time next year – and all the learning and insights I have along the way. I’m sure there will be many!

Now I want to hear from you! What do you think of my new home? What are your favourite features? Do you have any ideas you’d like to share about what we should do with the space? What would you do if you moved in?! Is it the kind of development you could move into, and if not, why not? Anything else you’d like to add? I’d truly love to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Zero Waste Living: 15 Things I Reuse (And One I Don’t)

It’s Zero Waste Week on 7th – 13th September this year, and once again I’ve signed up to be an ambassador of this awesome initiative. Of course I’ll still be talking about waste on the other 51 weeks of the year (you know me!), but I do love it when a community really gets together to draw attention to the subject, the issues and the solutions, and it’s such a great opportunity to spread the zero waste message just that little bit further ; )

This year the topic is “Reuse”. As someone who strives to be zero waste, I love to reuse things! It eliminates a lot of waste, but also a lot of spending on unnecessary things, and a fair amount of clutter too. Who wouldn’t want to get the most use out of the things they own?!

15 things that I swear by to live my Zero Waste lifestyle…

1. A reusable coffee cup.

Even if you don’t drink takeaway coffee, I think owning one of these is invaluable. I carry mine with me always. It’s useful for getting water from public water fountains or if you go into a cafe and find they only serve takeaway cups. If you fly, it’s great for drinking any kind of drink in a plane. I’ve also used mine at parties where wine was served in disposable wine glasses. If I’m buying ice cream I’ll use the cup rather than one of their disposable ones. Plus, because it was a lid, it’s great as an impromptu container.

Reusable Coffee Cups aren't just for coffee!

Reusable coffee cups aren’t just for coffee! They make great reusable containers for all kinds of treats!

2. Reusable bags.

I was on the “bring my own bag to the supermarket” train back in the early 2000s, and would pack all my plastic-packaged goods into my own reusable tote – “oh no, I don’t need a bag!” Little did it occur to me that I could use reusable cloth / mesh bags for the produce I was putting inside the tote! Even if bulk stores aren’t local to you, reusable bags are great for buying loose fresh produce.

Reusable bags aren’t just for food shopping either! You can use that same reusable tote for other shops too. These days I always take my own bag to clothes shops, hardware shops, kitchenware shops…anywhere where I need to pick something up.

Reusable Bags for Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable bags come in all shapes and sizes…there’s no need to limit yourself to one big tote!

3. A water bottle.

This is a total no-brainer for me. Aside from the fact that bottled water is predominantly unregulated and plastic leaches chemicals into the water (not to mention the ethics of bottling water in drought-stricken regions like California or countries where most of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water like Fiji), sucking water out of the ground trucking water across states and even across countries is a huge and unnecessary waste of resources. Most of us have access to municipal water at a fraction of the cost (as much as 300x cheaper). If you really don’t like chlorine or fluoride, it’s possible to get a water filter fitted.

If you’re in any doubt about bottled water, watch the documentary Tapped.

4. Reusable Cutlery.

I have a nifty little bamboo set that was a gift, but you can also find metal camping sets, and charity shops always have plenty of cutlery too if you want to avoid buying new. Alternatively, use what you already have in the kitchen! My set contains a knife, a fork, a spoon and a set of chopsticks. Plastic cutlery often isn’t fit for the purpose – have you ever tried to cut anything with a disposable plastic knife?! I’ve successfully peeled and de-stoned a mango with my wooden knife!

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery (it would be just as easy to make a set with op-shop finds) and I’ve added a stainless steel straw to complete the set!

5. A Reusable Straw.

Whilst I don’t use straws often, I think that single use straws are up there as the most wasteful plastic items out there. They are also one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups. I have a stainless steel one which I keep in my cutlery pouch, and a glass one which I prefer, and came with its own cleaning brush.  Carrying a straw means I’m never caught out, but also it’s handy to lend to friends! I know from experience that there are a few drinks that need straws – icy drinks like dacquiris and fresh coconuts, for example.

6. Reusable Containers.

Just as it never occurred to me for years to bring my own reusable produce bags to the shops, it never occurred to me to bring my own containers, either. Now I take reusable containers (pyrex, stainless steel, glass jars and occasionally plastic) to the deli, bulk stores, Farmers Market and bakery to avoid any unnecessary packaging. It certainly makes unpacking much easier – everything goes straight in the fridge / on the shelf!

I also find them great for storing leftovers, keeping perishables fresher, and freezing food, as well as great containers for non-food items.

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

7. Cloth Wraps.

Containers are great, but bulky and not always practical – and if you stick to glass and stainless steel, they are fairly costly too! I have some reusable wraps (another gift) that I use carry lunch or snacks when space (or weight) it at a premium. They are also great for purchasing food to-go from cafes and avoid paper bags. If you don’t want to buy new ones you can make your own using old material (reuse…yay!) and beeswax (soy wax should work if you’re vegan). Find a tutorial for making your own beeswax wraps here. They are also great for keeping fresh herbs and salad leaves fresher in the fridge, and can be shaped and molded to cover bowls for leftovers.

8. Old Clothes.

Whilst I’d love to learn, I’m no sewer, and cannot whip an old worn shirt into a snazzy waistcoat or other wondrous design as seen on Pinterest. I can darn holes, and that’s it. Once my clothes are truly worn and past repair, they can still be reused. If you’re feeling creative, make into reusable food wraps (see above). I cut them into rags, where they begin life as dishcloths. As they wear further they are downgraded to kitchen surface cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, floor cleaning cloths and finally toilet or bike cleaning cloths.

In the past I’ve been sucked in and purchased those “eco friendly” cleaning cloths. This makes no sense when I have suitable fabric at home that costs me nothing and wastes no new resources!

9. Old Towels.

You can cut up old towels as mentioned above, but another great use for worn towels and bed sheets is to donate them to animal shelters. They are always in need of them, and it might be a better use than cutting that bath sheet up into 62,000 dish cloths that you’ll be using for the next 15 years!

10. Reusable Cotton Rounds.

When I was a kid, I used a flannel to wash my face. As I grew into a teenager I began using disposable cotton rounds (or cotton wool) to clean my face (which chemical-laden cleansers) and to remove make-up. That clever marketing got to me! These days I use good quality soap, I have reverted back to a flannel and I have reusable fabric rounds for removing make-up, which I throw in the washing machine and re-use. You can buy these or Etsy, or if you’re crafty make your own from old clothes (see # 8).

11. A Body Brush.

Body brushing is great for increasing circulation and removing dead skin cells, and saves buying another product for the bathroom – particularly as these exfoliating products often come in non- or only partically-recyclable containers… and commonly contain plastic microbeads to act as the exfoliant!

dry body brush Zero Waste Week

12. Toothbrushes.

Once my toothbrush is no longer fit for using to clean my teeth, it gets relegated to the cleaning basket. Toothbrushes are great for cleaning grouting, tiles, awkward corners, taps and other fiddly places, and also for cleaning bikes.

13. Baking Paper.

I’ve had this debate a few times in Instagram and Facebook – if I’m zero waste should I be using baking paper at all? Which led me to write about The Rules, and conclude that whilst it might not be the most zero waste thing to do, it does mean my homemade chocolate brownies are infinitely more delicious. Maybe in the future I’ll change, but for now it stays. That said, I use it very sparingly, and yes, I reuse it. I find a quick wipe when it’s just come out the oven is enough to clean it, and there’s always the other side. I bake often, so it doesn’t end up hanging around for too long. When it’s finished, I use it to make worm farm bedding so it doesn’t go in the bin.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays. But it always gets reused.

14. A Hankerchief.

We don’t buy tissues for our home. Instead, I use a handkerchief. My dad has always used a hankerchief, and as a kid I used to think it was completely gross. Isn’t it funny how you grow up and realise that a lot of what your parents did (and said, and told you to do) was actually not as daft as you thought?! (Note – don’t ever tell them I said that!) I started using one when I realised that you couldn’t buy boxes of tissues without the plastic around the dispensing hole. Then I realised that hankies make so much more sense, and they are far softer on the nose than any of those cleverly marketed and relatively expensive fancypants tissues ; )

15. Old Envelopes.

You can have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on your mailbox, and switch to paperless billing, and still people keep sending you stuff in the post. Grr! I use the envelopes as notebooks, to write shopping lists (pinned onto the fridge door) and I cut out squares of blank paper which I use to stick over the address to reuse other envelopes and mailing bags that I’ve received. Reuse is better than recycling, and I never need to buy these things!

…and One I Don’t.

  1. There’s one reusable item that some zero-wasters have adopted which I haven’t, and that is…reusable toilet paper (cloth wipes). It’s just not gonna happen in our house. I’m not opposed to the principle (although my husband draws the line here), but I think the constant need to keep up with the laundry (and bear in mind we live in a city with 40°C summers and no air con in our home) means the hygiene factor wins. I’m sure it works for some people, but it won’t be working for us!
toiletpaper

Recycled, ethical, plastic-free…but not zero waste : /

The thing about “reusing”; it doesn’t have to be about getting creative with empty bottles of dishwashing liquid and old toilet rolls. It’s as much about the everyday stuff that we use every day. Plus, because it’s stuff we use every day, being able to reuse (rather than buying new and then discarding to landfill)  has a far bigger impact – on our wallets, on the way we use our time, and on the environment. Why would you want to live any other way?!

Now I want to hear from you! What are your favourite things to reuse? What would you add to the list…or is there anything you’d add to the “No Go” list?! What have you found the most helpful in your zero waste journey? What has been the biggest struggle? Are you tempted to take part in Zero Waste Week this year, or have you already signed up and if so, what’s your personal challenge?! I love hearing your thoughts so please tell me in the comments below!

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

My plastic-free (and later, zero-waste) journey has been such an adventure, challenge and learning experience and brought so much enjoyment that I can’t help but want to share it with the world. There’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with discovering new (or more often, old) ways of doing things, being more mindful about the way we live our lives, and of course, reducing landfill waste!

The longer I pursue this lifestyle the better I become at avoiding plastic and generating waste… but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Of course not! It doesn’t mean I’m completely zero-waste. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be completely zero-waste. It’s a journey, after all… and that’s the fun!

Ah, the fun. Successfully making a recipe from scratch for the first time. The jubilation of finding a new ingredient in bulk for the first time. The smugness of remembering your reusable cup, and water bottle, and cutlery, and produce bags when you actually need them. The excitement of finding someone all the way across the other side of the world who thinks the same way we do. The excitement of finding someone just down the road who thinks the same way we do!

The satisfaction of setting a personal waste-free goal and then achieving it…

That’s the thing about plastic-free and zero-waste living. It’s a very personal journey. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. People will find their own path. There is no such thing as the plastic-free police, nor the zero waste police. How can there be, when there’s no rules except the ones we choose ourselves?!

There are, however, some people out there who think they can “catch us out”. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect it’s because they don’t know the rules we’ve chosen!

To avoid any confusion, I thought I’d take the trouble to explain my personal plastic-free / zero waste living philosophy. Just to iron out any misunderstandings ; )

Here’s my “rules” for living plastic-free (and zero-waste).

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

The best place to start is to explain what I mean by these terms.

When I say “plastic-free”, what I really mean is: I-try-to-live-my-life-as-plastic-free-as-possible-but-I-don’t-claim-to-own-nothing-made-of-plastic-nor-do-I-avoid-every-single-piece-of-plastic-entering-my-home-for-example-I-still-buy-ibuprofen-and-glass-bottles-with-lids-lined-with-plastic-and-I-still-receive-items-in-the-post-in-envelopes-with-plastic-windows-and-I-still-make-mistakes-more-on-that-in-another-blog-post-but-I-really-really-really-try-my-best-to-not-purchase-anything-with-plastic-packaging-or-and-I-try-to-buy-second-hand-but-I-still-own-a-computer-and-a-collection-of-biros-and-a-reel-of-sellotape.

Now I find that rather a mouthful, so I tend to use the term “plastic-free”.

When I say “zero-waste”, this is what I actually mean: “all-that-stuff-I-said-above-except-trying-to-reduce-my-landfill-and-also-recycling-to-the-absolute-minimum-and-when-I-say-minimum-I-mean-minimum-for-me-where-I-live-now-doing-the-things-I-do-which-isn’t-the-same-minimum-as-it-would-be-if-I-lived-in-a-cave-and-wove-my-own-clothes-but-small-steps-you-know?

Again, it’s easier to say “zero waste”. I also love the term “near-o waste”, which is far more accurate (!), but I guess zero waste is the end goal. The destination. Maybe I’ll never get there.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

The next rule, it isn’t about how much better I am compared to the next person, or how much worse. As someone who hates waste, I’d far rather everyone was better than me! The only competition I have is with myself, and it’s a friendly competition as we’re on the same side ; )

Everyone’s Limits are Different

Everyone has their own set of limitations, circumstances, restrictions and other things going on in their lives, and it’s important to remember this! I’m happy to wash my hair with bicarb or rye flour, bought in bulk, and rinse with vinegar, also bought in bulk (no-poo hairwashing instructions here). It suits my curly hair. However, it doesn’t suit everyone’s hair, or everyone’s skin. Bicarb especially can be a skin irritant.

Similarly, I’m happy to forgo make-up because I just can’t be bothered trying to make it.

[Actually, I did try making mascara. It involved burning almonds, many matches, beeswax, blackened kitchen utensils, far too much washing up and plenty of swearing. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…but it’s unlikely to be part of my beauty regime]

However, I’m not prepared to go without baking paper. I’m really not sure I could get by with just one kind of baking tin, either. I love to cook, and this gives me better results. It’s staying.

I may not be winning the zero waste trophy this year, but I’ll be eating much better chocolate brownies ; )

There Will Always Be Exceptions

(See comment about living in a cave, earlier.) There are things I have chosen to buy in plastic. Yes, I call myself plastic-free and I buy things in plastic!

Ibuprofen tablets and prescription medicine (antibiotic ear drops for an ear infection), a diary refill, a kilo of hemp seeds.

I rarely buy glass jars but when I do the metal lids have plastic linings. My husband drinks cows milk and these glass bottles have the same plastic-lined lids.

The thing is, I choose to be part of the real world (for now). In the real world, plastic is everywhere. I do my absolute best to reduce what packaging and plastic I consume.

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

It’s very tempting when starting out on a zero-waste or plastic-free journey to want to tell everyone about it…and also tell everyone what they were doing wrong or what they could be doing better! Thing is, most people won’t appreciate this. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! No-one likes to be told what to do.

Now  I try to show people how I live, help people who come to me with questions or looking for ideas, and strike up conversations where I can in the hope to inspire people to make changes to their lives. I’ve found it works far better.

Often when ideas are new to people it takes a little while before they’re ready to make changes, even when they want to. I just hope that I can plant a seed. A seed that grows into a really big tree : )

I try to keep my opinions to myself the rest of the time (it can be a challenge, and I’m not perfect!) …unless asked, of course!

Just as I’ve learned that people respond better this way, the same applies to me. Sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes there’s a better way of doing things. I’m always open to suggestions and I love hearing about new ways of doing things, but I much prefer it when the conversation is kept friendly and positive : )

There you have it – my five rules for plastic-free (and zero-waste) living. Plastic-free police vigilante wannabes, please read this first : )

Now I’d like to hear from you! What rules do you follow? Are there any you’d like to add? Any you’d like to remove? Have you had any near-misses with voluntary members of the plastic-free police giving you their two cents?! What are the best ways you find to handle disagreements and differences in opinions? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this so leave me a message in the comments!

A Podcast about Plastic and Advice from the Military

Last week I had the pleasure of being interview by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin for his weekly podcast. I say “pleasure” because Gavin is the King of living sustainably and blogging about it, so the opportunity to have a chat with him was very welcome. (Yes, that’s a capital ‘K’.)

I found Gavin’s blog when I was just beginning my own journey. Whilst he writes about all the things that I don’t (urban homesteading, cheese-making and gardening – and I’m pretty sure he’s never taken part in Plastic Free July!) we actually have a very similar story.

We both had our “lightbulb moments” after watching movies (his was “An Inconvenient Truth; mine was “Bag It”), we were both so inspired by our own personal journeys that we had to start sharing our messages with the world and started blogging, public speaking and running workshops.

Gavin’s epiphany came a long time before mine though… he began blogging way back in 2008, when I still thought being an environmentally-conscious citizen stopped at recycling : /

In case you can’t tell, I’m a little in awe of Gavin. His blog is great, his passion is all-consuming and very infectious (remember I was talking about passion last week? You only need to read Gavin’s work to feel the fire…) and this passion translates into blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, workshops, a side blog in cheese-making, and more. All whilst working (almost) full-time.

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you could be doing more? Gavin is the guy that proves it!

Here’s the podcast link – we’re talking about plastic-free living (of course!):

Once the interview was over I took the opportunity to ask my own questions. Or one in particular.

How do you get the time to do all this stuff?!

Gavin’s answer? I don’t have a TV.

Wrong answer! I don’t have a TV either, and I can’t  imagine getting a fraction of this done! I told Gavin I didn’t have a TV, and that he’d have to try again.

Maybe it’s because I was in the military? I’m very regimented.

Hmmm. I have no experience of the military, but this sounds plausible to me. Organisation. Planning. Things I know are important, but techniques that maybe I don’t always implement. I’m a dreamer and a schemer, but translating all of these into action? Not necessarily!

This isn’t the part where I tell you that I’ve decided to become more organised. (Of course I have decided that, but I make that decision weekly, and am yet to implement it fully!) This isn’t the part where I tell you to become more organised, either. But I do have some advice.

I left that call feeling really inspired, determined to learn more, share more, do more and connect more. In the way that negative people can make us feel demoralised and drain our energy, passionate people taking positive actions lift us up, inspire us to do more and make us feel more confident that we can achieve our goals.

If passion is a fire that burns within us, like-minded people doing inspiring things help to fan those flames. This is the part where I tell you to make those connections with people who inspire you. Reach out – by email, through commenting on a blog post, a phone call, via social media.

Don’t just stop there! Find out what local events are happening, what speakers are in your local area, and connect in person! Any way that works for you. Make those conversations happen. You’ll be glad that you did!

Right. Maybe I’ll begin getting organised after all… ; )
Now I want to hear from you! How have you connected with people that inspire you, and what did you learn? How did you feel? How has this impacted the way you do things in your own life? What ways do you find best to connect with like-minded and inspirational people? Do you have any tips? Or anything else to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comments below!