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What I Really Should Have Said…

Last Saturday I was the speaker at Plastic Free July‘s event here in Perth, talking about my personal journey in living with less plastic, what I’d learned and offering tips for people trying their first Plastic Free July. There was a great turnout, with plenty of newbies underway in their first Plastic Free July year, but also people who took part last year and the year before.

I love being able to talk to people about plastic-free living. I love getting out into the community, getting to know people, make real life connections and also learn and be challenged – because that’s what makes life so interesting and enjoyable!

You’d think then, that if somebody asked me why I wanted to work in waste education I’d be able to reel off the reasons. I’d be able to articulate exactly why it makes my heart sing. I’d be able to express the passion that I have for sharing not only my story, but also what I’ve learned along the way. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? As it turns out  though, when asked this question earlier today, I was only able to mumble something rather vague about being passionate about waste.

The thing is, everyone’s passionate. It’s the thing to be. People are passionate about what coffee they order in the morning. Passionate about their football team colours. Type “passionate about” in Google and the drop-down field comes up with baking, the hospitality industry, teaching, education, travel… It’s a great word, it sounds far better than “interested in” or “really like”, but it doesn’t really tell the listener anything.

I am passionate about waste. But what does that really mean? What am I failing to express with that statement?

When I talk about passion, I mean the kind of passion that gets you fired up. When I talk about waste, I become really enthusiastic, I tend to talk far too quickly and flail my arms about the place in an excited manner. The kind of passion that burns even when you’re tired or feeling lazy. I never tire of talking about waste, thinking of ways to reduce waste, wanting to discuss the topic with others, and share ideas. When it comes to waste, I’m constantly re-inspired by the things I read or see or hear.

When I talk about waste, what I really mean is reducing waste. Whilst verge collections or people buying takeaway coffee when they intend to dine in might also stir my emotions (!), my passion lies with reducing my own waste, and inspiring others to do the same. Learning ways to reduce waste, and sharing what I’ve learned, be it through talks, or writing, or on social media. Providing support and encouragement to those just starting out, and helping others onto the next part of their journey.

It doesn’t end with learning and sharing, though. What really matters to me is inspiring others to make changes. Offering alternatives and sharing solutions is part of that, but the most important thing is connecting with others. Talking to people. Getting out there into the real world, having conversations, finding out what’s important to people and helping them find ways to reduce waste that fit with their lifestyles. I’ve talked about the ripple effect before and that’s the kind of change I love being a part of. Planting a seed, or an idea, and letting it grow with someone new. It’s so satisfying to see that happen, and it makes everything worthwhile.

That’s why I’d love to work in waste education. I want to connect with others, to inspire, encourage, share and learn. I want to help people make positive changes to their lives, and reduce their waste in the process. Full lives and empty bins.

That wasn’t what I said today. I do find it much easier to get my thoughts on paper before I need to express them! Now I’ve had the chance to think about it a little more, I’ve managed to articulate what I’d have liked to say.

When I say I’m passionate about waste, this isn’t what I said, but it’s what I meant. Just for the record ; )

Now I want to hear from you! What are you passionate about? What get’s you really fired up and why? How does this passion make you feel? How would you express this – not just in words, but also your actions? I’d love to know more so and hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

Last weekend I took a trip to the Hills to the town of Mundaring 45km  away… to go shopping. Not just any kind of shopping, mind. I went to visit a newly opened shop named the Wasteless Pantry. No prizes for guessing what kind of shop it is! It’s a new bulk grocery store that only sells loose grocery items, actively encourages shoppers to bring their own containers and even offers a Plastic Free July support group!

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

I’m lucky enough where I live to have a number of bulk produce stores to choose from, but this is the first store I’ve come across that sells groceries and cleaning products solely in bulk and does not offer any plastic bags or plastic packaging of any kind. It is like a dream come true!

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

A set of scales and a marker pen at the door means customers can weigh their own jars and containers.

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

As well as dry goods, there was a selection of oils and vinegars to buy in bulk.

Bulk spices

Bulk (plastic-free) spices and herbs can also be found here.

The store isn’t big, but is neatly laid out with almost everything you could wish for (and a few things you might not have known you even wanted) all available in bulk. There was also a blackboard on the corner for customers to write their “wish list” of items they’d like to see available in the future. I wrote down maple syrup. I’ve never seen it in bulk in Australia and it’s something I’d really like to be able to source!

My favourite bit was the bulk pasta section. I’ve written on social media recently about Barilla’s decision to start adding plastic windows to their previously plastic-free cardboard pasta boxes. Here there was a good choice (including gluten-free pasta) so we stocked up. Bye bye Barilla!

Bulk Pasta

Bye bye Barilla! Your stupid plastic windows mean I won’t be buying your pasta any more…I’ll be buying this instead! Plus it’s made in South Australia which means lower food miles : )

Other highlights were:

  • Bulk tortilla chips! Plastic-free! We bought an enormous bag full and devoured them within an hour of arriving home. To be fair, it was lunchtime. It’s probably a good thing that these aren’t commonly found in bulk stores!
Shopping for Zero Waste Tortilla Chips

If that isn’t excitement then I don’t know what is!

  • Hundreds and thousands. Not something I’d buy (just look at all those e numbers!) but quite impressed that it was even possible.
I'm also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

I’m also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

  • A little bit of upcycling: funnels made from old plastic milk bottles.
Upcycled milk bottles as funnels...repurposing at its finest!

Upcycled milk bottles as funnels to fill your own containers…repurposing at its finest!

  • Free bottles and bags, just in case you forgot your own or didn’t quite have enough. The store also sells new glass jars but I love the fact that they make old ones available to shoppers too.
Free glass jars and shopping bags Wasteless Pantry

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

I didn’t write this post to gloat. I know that lots of you don’t live close to bulk stores. I’m lucky that I have so many close by to where I live, although this one doesn’t count – a 45km trip without a car makes this too difficult for regular shopping. Instead, I wrote this post to give you encouragement. This store only opened its doors on 1st June…that’s less than 4 weeks ago. Bulk and zero waste stores are popping up more and more…it’s a growing trend!

The Wasteless Pantry is the result of two women who were frustrated with the amount of waste they were consuming – and decided to do something about it.

Doing something about it doesn’t mean you have to open your own shop (although I know a few of you secretly – or not so secretly – harbour such dreams)! This might be at the more ambitious end of the scale, but we can all do something. Just because you don’t have a bulk bin store at the end of your street, it doesn’t mean bulk shopping is out of reach. Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing simply because you can’t do everything.

The fact that these shops exist mean that products are being sold in bulk. Most products are sold in bulk. All you have to do is find them!

  • One approach is to ask producers and farmers directly. They may sell to you or they may not – but the question must be asked if you want to know the answer.
  • Think about bulk buying groups. Food co-ops exist in many areas, but they don’t advertise so you’ll have to seek them out.
  • Bulk buying groups don’t have to be formal, either! They can be as simple as a group of friends who club together to buy a large amount of one product, and then split it.  It doesn’t even need to be food. When I needed to buy more toilet roll recently, I put it out there on Facebook and 9 other people agreed to buy a box too. I had 10 boxes of toilet roll delivered to my doorstep, and the 9 I didn’t need were collected by friends and family. It helped supported a local business, reduced our cost (bulk buying often works out cheaper) and stopped 9 other families buying plastic-wrapped toilet paper from the supermarket ; )

Start small. Choose just one item. Think of items you get through large quantities of, or items with a long shelf life. Investigate local producers or suppliers. No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Of course, if you’re inspired enough to start your own zero waste store, go for that instead!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have bulk stores near you, or do you struggle to find anything not packaged in plastic? Have you joined a food co-op, or found a Farmers market or producer that you can buy products without excessive packaging? What is your biggest frustration…and your greatest triumph in the war against waste?! Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

8 Tips for making this Plastic Free July the most successful ever!

I love June and July, because every year during these two months a tide of plastic awareness starts sweeping across the globe. Why? Because people throughout the world start signing up for Plastic Free July, and there’s a wave of optimism, hope and enthusiasm that comes too.

It doesn’t stop there though… all that energy turns into discovery, realisation, commitment to change and then action. New habits are born. People start using less plastic, and for many, they keep on using less plastic long after July has passed. With every year, the plastic-free movement gets stronger!

If you’re not signed up to this year’s Plastic Free July challenge, or you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, stop everything and sign up now. Yep, right now. It won’t take long. Just click here. We’ll wait for you to get back.

Done? See, that didn’t take long at all!

(I should add at this point that we’re not saying that all plastic is bad. We’re just saying that a lot of plastic is unnecessary, and actually avoidable. The truth is, we get stuck in the habit of doing things a certain way simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them, and we’ve never really given much thought to the notion that actually there’s a better way. By better, I mean a way that doesn’t involve drilling oil out of the ground, turning it into plastic, shipping that somewhere and using it for a few minutes before sending it to landfill, where it will languish for the next 500 years.)

Plastic Free July – the countdown begins!

Now you’re all signed up and ready to go, you’ve got two weeks to prepare and get organized. Plenty of time! Just to make it that little bit easier though, I’ve written a quick guide to help you get started.

1. Think about the Big Four – plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups (and lids), plastic bags and straws

Top 4 Plastic Bags, Disposable Cups, Straws, Plastic Water Bottles

These four items are big contributors to plastic pollution, and all of them can be avoided.

  • Equip yourself with a reusable water bottle, or re-purpose an old bottle you already have. If you don’t like drinking water from the tap, invest in a water filter.
  • Start bringing your own reusable coffee cup if you get takeaway. You can buy stainless steel, glass and ceramic reusable coffee cups, or you can just repurpose an old glass jar or even bring your own mug! Another option is to commit to dining in, so you can make use of the cafe’s cups and mugs.
  • Bring your own bags! Almost every household has reusable shopping bags, and even if you don’t you can use a backpack or rucksack, or make use of plastic bags you already own. Re-use an old cardboard box if that works better for you. The trick is to remember to take them with you! Put them by the front door, in the front of the car, stuff one in your handbag, hang one from your bicycle handlebars – put them wherever you’ll see them so you remember to pick them up as you leave for the shops!
  • Get in the habit of refusing straws. It’s possible to drink most drinks without a straw, so remember to ask for no straw when you order. For those that you can’t drink easily without a straw (frozen drinks and fresh coconuts, for example) you can buy reusable stainless steel, glass or bamboo straws.

2. Do your research – check out your local area for plastic-free shops and markets

You probably go to your regular shops out of habit, so you may not be aware of all the other options available to you. Is there a local Farmers Market close by? A butcher, bakery, deli or fishmonger? An independent fruit and veg shop? Typically these will use less packaging than the supermarkets, but are also usually more open to discussing using less plastic. Health food stores often have bulk sections, even if they are small, and are worth investigating.

3. Start the conversation

  • Talk to local producers, sellers and stallholders. Explain what you are doing. Find out if they are happy for you to bring your own containers, or to package their items differently. Most people are happy to help! (When my mum signed up for Plastic Free July, she sheepishly went to her local butcher and explained that she wanted to start bringing her own containers, but she wouldn’t trouble him if he was busy. His response? He was spending nearly £8,000 a year on plastic single-use packaging, and was more than happy for her to bring her own containers – in fact it would be even better if he was busy, as she might encourage others to bring their own containers too!)
  • Talk to friends and family. Explain the challenge, and what you’re trying to do. They may have ideas on how to help, they may want to sign up too…at the very least they will have a better understanding of what your goals are!

4.  Find your community and join in!

Everyone needs a support network to stay motivated! Plastic free July is happening in over 30 countries, and growing all the time, so see if there are any events happening locally near you. If there’s nothing nearby, seek out your community online! There are many blogs such as this one to seek out ideas and tips, and also Facebook groups to share frustrations, ask questions and celebrate wins.

If you can’t find a local Facebook group consider starting you own! (I started the Perth Zero Waste and Plastic-Free Facebook group for exactly this reason, and it now has over 8,000 members. I’ve written about how to start a Plastic-Free/Zero Waste Facebook group here.)

5. Audit what you buy

The weeks before Plastic Free July are a great opportunity to look at the kind of things you regularly buy. Look at the items that use the most plastic, and start asking questions. Is there an alternative packaging option like paper, glass or even packaging free? Is this something you could go without, or switch to an alternative? Is this something you could buy in bigger pack sizes (so reducing the overall packaging)?

6. Get out the cookbooks!

We tend to cook the same few meals week in, week out because we get stuck in the habit. You don’t have to be a master chef to take part in Plastic Free July, but being open to new ideas does help! If you don’t have any cook books look on Pinterest, Google, borrow from a friend or the local library. Find recipes that match your skill level with ingredients you know you can find plastic-free. It will make your Plastic Free July experience much more enjoyable!

7. There’s no need to buy new stuff

Sure, there are things that make plastic-free living a lot easier, but there’s no need at the start of your journey to rush out and buy a whole heap of new equipment. It’s easy to feel like we’ve made progress because we’ve gone shopping and bought some shiny new gear, but Plastic Free July is about changing habits, and that comes from doing, not buying. If you feel that a new reusable coffee cup or new water bottle will help then that’s great, but it is also possible to get through the month making do with what you already have.

8. Remember – new habits take time to establish

Chances are, if you’re new to Plastic Free July, you currently use quite a lot of plastic. The good news is that it is possible to reduce this to virtually zero! The less good news is that it isn’t going to happen overnight. Change takes time. New habits don’t form instantly. Sometimes it can be a struggle. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Don’t feel disheartened if you have setbacks, because we have all been there! It took me 18 months to go completely plastic-free. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination!

 Looking for More Ideas?

Looking for more tips, tricks and inspiration? I’ve written a number of eBooks about living with less plastic, including the guide “That’s A Wrap: Tips, Tricks and Inspiration for Living Plastic-Free” to help you if you are just starting out on their plastic-free journey, or if you’ve already started but are hoping to reduce your plastic use even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve taken part in Plastic Free July before, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Are there any other resources you’d recommend? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them? If you’re new to Plastic Free July, do you have any concerns or worries? Is there anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exciting News! My Plastic-Free eBook Launching Soon…

I’m so excited: I’ve been working on a project behind the scenes for what seems like forever (we’re talking almost 12 months) and finally finally finally I can tell you all about it!

So here’s the news: I’ve been working on my first eGuide “That’s a Wrap: Practical Tips, Tricks and Inspiration for Living Plastic-Free” and last weekend I got the final finished version back, which means it will be available to buy this week! How exciting is that?!

“That’s a Wrap” is an eGuide divided into 8 chapters, and is packed full of practical tips, tricks and inspiration for living with a lot less (or even a little less!) plastic. I wanted to create a guide that was fun to read, easy to understand and beautiful to look at. I didn’t want to create a shopping list of products or stores or brands, so this isn’t a guide of what to buy, or where to shop. It’s all about HOW.

Plastic-free living is a journey, and I want to help give you the tools to help steer you on the right path. It’s the biggest project I’ve ever worked on, and I’m hugely proud of the result.

Want a sneak peek? Here you are!

ThatsAWrap_Banner_940x300_pages

Writing this book felt like a logical step because plastic-free living was where my journey began. It led to all kinds of unexpected benefits: I ditched the junk food, removed the chemicals from my home, I eat better, support local businesses, met (and continue to meet) super inspiring people as well as wasting a whole lot less! Most importantly, it helped me transition to a life where I was living out the values I believe in: protecting the environment, supporting social justice and connecting to the wider community. How could I not want to share that with you?

Hands up if you relate to any of these?

  • You want to make a commitment to the plastic-free lifestyle, but you feel overwhelmed with what to do and where to start?
  • You’re taken some steps towards reducing your plastic consumption, and feel ready for the next stage?
  • You feel frustrated when faced with the sheer amount of information on the internet?
  • You struggle to change old habits, and find it hard to think of alternative solutions?
  • You’re passionate about the planet and want to make a difference through the choices you make?
  • You want to be part of a community that’s working to make the world a better place?

Let’s get started then!

“That’s a Wrap” is available to buy from Thursday 7th May. Find out more here.

I can’t wait to hear all your comments and feedback! It’s the questions that you ask and emails you send that have helped shape this eGuide into what it has become – so thanks for all your help so far. I want more than anything to provide value and create useful content for you on this site, and all your ideas and emails and messages directly help me to serve you better, so please keep them coming!

Only two more sleeps…!

Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Last year I touched on one of the major reasons behind my decision to take on full-time employment. I’m a huge advocate for working part-time hours and one of the best decisions I ever made was going part-time back in 2010 when I first started consciously journeying towards simple living.

However, situations change and last year Glen and I made the decision to buy an apartment. It was not a quick decision – in fact it took us several months to finally commit and sign the paperwork. It wasn’t any apartment we were after, but a specific one… more on that in a sec. The decision to buy somewhere meant that I needed to find employment in order for us to save the deposit.

Taking on a mortgage seemed at odds with our commitment to live simply. One of the biggest attractions is the freedom that comes with having few possessions and having few financial obligations. Neither of us want to feel like we have to go to work just to pay for the stuff we’ve bought or to pay off debt. We’ve pared down our expenses so that we can survive on the salary of one person. It means that if one of us was made redundant (as happened with me a couple of years ago) it doesn’t have a life-changing impact on our spending or standard of living; or if one of us hates our job so much we want to quit, we have that choice. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that if you wanted to, you could walk away from it all.

However, a mortgage will potentially change all that.

What about the alternatives to house-buying? One of the big lifestyle ideas that’s come out of the simple living movement is the idea of tiny houses – houses that can be less than 10m². Often built on trailers, they don’t require a mortgage and provide debt-free living for converts. We love the idea, but neither of us have any DIY experience – I’ve never even put up shelves! We don’t have any land to park a tiny home. With temperatures in Perth exceeding 40°C in summer, I’m not convinced it would be a comfortable solution. Plus despite our minimalist intentions, we are not ready to fit into a space that small.

Tumbleweed Tiny House

A Tumbleweed Tiny House from the USA. And people do actually live in them!

Another option would be to carry on renting. And actually, I’m a big fan of renting. I find it frustrating when people say “oh, renting is just throwing money away!” How so?! You get somewhere to live in exchange for your rent money – sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Plus when things go wrong, it is someone else’s problem (and expense) to fix them.

So why did we choose to go down the house-buying path? Well, a lot of it was to do with the place we decided to buy. It’s an apartment…but with some differences. It’s part of a project called the Green Swing which has been set up by two couples in Perth. Fed up with the current urban design in Perth, which features huge houses and tiny courtyards, double garages with large driveways, and buildings not adequately designed for the Perth summer heat, they set out to do things differently.

Their focus is on creating small-scale inner city living environments that are high quality and made with recycled materials where possible, promote building community, make proper use of solar passive design to dispense with the need for air conditioning, and have other green features. They started with their own homes, building four dwellings on a block that are centered around a community garden (you can see two of these houses in the featured picture at the top of this page).

They are now working on their second project The Siding, and it is this one that Glen and I are buying a unit from. We first heard about the Green Swing just as the first project was being completed back in 2012 and were really excited that someone was out there doing things differently. When the second project launched on a block four doors down from the original, we wondered if it was something we should buy into…literally!

We thought about it for ages. I’d met Eugenie (one of the Green Swing owners) at a Community Garden open day in 2013 and invited her to speak at the Less is More Festival, which she did. We went to look at Eugenie and her husbands’ place a couple of times and had many discussions about what they are doing, and why, and how. The more we got talking the more we felt that their vision is similar to ours, and the project is one we want to be part of.

So what were our doubts? I’ve already talked about the mortgage. We also held back because it wasn’t… ideal? There are solar panels on the roof, but I wanted a bigger solar PV system. There is a rainwater tank, but it’s small and shared amongst the three units in our building so will only provide token rainwater. There’s no grey water system. The community garden area is smaller than I’d like (I’d have less houses and more garden!). But then I caught myself. Why did I want everything bigger and better? That’s not a very minimalist approach! Plus, whilst I might have done things differently, it isn’t my project. This project isn’t about being the most sustainable community-oriented project ever. Sustainable and community-oriented, yes, but within what’s practical and what’s possible.

Eventually we cast our doubts aside and decided yes. Whilst we like living in our current flat, we are ready for a change. We want to be able to grow our own food. We love the community aspect of the new place – and the whole suburb has a real community feel. Glen is excited that we will no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom. We love that it will have solar panels and rainwater and we won’t need to retrofit (something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought an older property). It has a 10-star energy rating. There’s lots of other great features like communal veggie beds and shared bike storage. And we’re really looking forward to having like-minded neighbours!

The Green Swing – The Siding

The project is still under construction, so we won’t move in until the end of the year. (Hence the new job – we’re saving hard for the deposit.) I’ll share some more info about the building and its green features once it’s completed and I can take photos. You can always have a look at the Green Swing website is you’re really interested (or nosy!)

What I will share is the site plan. Needless to say, I’m really excited about being to grow more of my own food! There will be lots of fruit trees. I’m even wondering if we can get some chickens on that patch of lawn!

Green Swing Site Plan

This is the site plan. Our unit is number 3, in block 2. It’s the ground floor flat. The orange blobs are the community veggie garden beds. It’s no coincidence that our unit opens directly onto it!

 What do you think? Do you like the new place? What about the balance between the desire to living simply and the need for money? What choices would you have made? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

A Movie Review: Trashed

On Tuesday night I went to a movie night hosted by Transition Town Guildford for the documentary Trashed. Released in 2012 and featuring Jeremy Irons, Trashed explores the extent of the global waste problem, and the consequences – including pollution in beautiful and uninhabited environments, the health risks to animals, humans and children, and the contamination of the oceans.

When I say ‘explores’, this movie does not just skim the surface. It gets right in there. It’s a powerful film, and it gets the point across that we need to change the way we do things. If you’re not convinced before the film, you won’t be left with any doubt afterwards that waste is a serious problem – and it affects all of us.

Featuring farmers from France and Iceland, hospital works in Vietnam, and waste disposal sites in the UK, Lebanon and Indonesia, it is clear that this is a global issue.

Here’s the trailer:

I loved the message, the depth of the science and the exploration of the facts. It was hard-hitting and some people, particularly those who aren’t already aware of the issues surrounding waste may find it pretty confronting. They tried to end on a positive note, bringing the movie back from the feeling of impending doom, with just enough positivity for the audience to leave without feeling like it was all too hard and all too much. But only just.

My only real criticism was the lack of exploration of the issues surrounding recycling. Clearly there wasn’t space to cover everything, but I felt that plastic recycling in particular could have been further addressed. At the end of the film they show huge bales of plastic waiting to go to China (from San Fransisco) for recycling, but no mention is made of the issues of transporting huge amounts of plastic across the ocean, nor the hazardous processes involved with recycling the plastic in countries with less stringent safety regulations.

Particularly after they talked in length of the dangers of burning waste, I felt this was a glaring omission.

The other interesting point is that this segment of the film was recorded in 2009. Back then, China was a huge buyer of plastic waste, but the plastic shipments were often contaminated with non-recyclable plastic and other debris, and in February 2013 China has cracked down on this with Operation Green Fence, meaning all plastics must be washed and uncontaminated. All shipments are inspected on arrival, and if they are contaminated they are sent back, with the sender incurring the cost. In the first 3 months, 7600 tons of waste were rejected.

I’d definitely recommend watching it, but if you’re new to the issues of waste, you might find it gentler starting with the Clean Bin Project or my all-time favourite, Bag it!.

If you’re interested in hosting a screening of your own, you can find the details on the Trashed website.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Did you find it motivating, or did you think they stepped over the line into Doomsday-ville? If you haven’t seen it, what were your thoughts after watching the trailer? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear what you think!

As seen on Ethical Superstore and Plastic Free July…

If you don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have missed some exciting news… I’m spreading my message and expanding my writing beyond this site! I’m currently writing a series of blog posts for the Ethical Superstore. So far three have been published, and there’s a few more in the pipeline.

If you want to read them, here are the links:

Treading My Own Path, Rethinking Waste and the Two New Kids

Not Just About the Chocolate…Can Electronics Be Fair Trade too?

Plastic Free July: Will You Accept the Challenge?

Whilst the messages are something you’ll probably recognise if you visit the site regularly, the content is completely new – no rehashing of old material from me!

In addition, I’m also writing a couple of posts for Plastic Free July’s 2014 campaign. They’re not ready for publishing yet, so keep your eye out!

Whilst I’m on the topic of Plastic Free July, I thought I’d mention the other exciting thing about this year’s 2014 campaign: the Bring One Get One Tree initiative which features my other half as poster boy extraordinaire! It is a local campaign to try to encourage more cafes to participate in reducing their packaging consumption.

You may remember I wrote a few weeks ago about him taking part in a photoshoot. Whilst I write away furiously about whatever hair-brained scheme I’ve concocted for the week ahead (zero-waste week anyone?), Glen is behind-the-scenes putting up with it all – and quietly taking his own bags, his own reusable coffee cup, his reusable cutlery set, and refusing straws and other plastic.

Plastic Free July asked him to feature as their “suited businessman” for the campaign, so now is his chance to shine! Bring1Get1tree posters-shopsI’m not sure he’ll thank me for sharing, but I am in a sharing mood this afternoon it seems!

If you get a chance to read any of my Ethical Superstore blog posts I’d love to hear what you think! You can comment on their site or comment here. Also, if you have any thoughts for future blog posts I could write for them I’d love to hear your ideas!

Fair Trade: what it means, what it does, and how you play a part

Last Friday I attended the Fairly Fashionable? event, where local fashion designers created garments using Fair Trade fabric to raise awareness of ethical fashion. I was telling some new friends about it, and one of them asked me:

“What is Fair Trade?”

Good point! Whilst you probably know (or could guess!) it means that workers getting paid a fair price for the goods that they produce, there’s actually a bit more to it than that.

What does “Fair Trade” Mean?

Fair Trade is all about better prices, yes, but it’s also about decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world.

The movement came about after people recognized that conventional trade wasn’t providing fair wages and sustainable livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. Poverty and hardship make these workers more vulnerable to exploitation by limiting their choices, access to markets and negotiating power.

The idea with Fair Trade is that farmers or workers are paid a higher price for their goods or services, and this cost is passed onto the consumer, who will pay more for a product that has been fairly traded.

There’s no one definition of Fair Trade; there are many different organisations who promote Fair Trade, and they have different standards and criteria. The 10 principles listed by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO), which Fair Trade organisations are expected to follow, are excellent for explaining what Fair Trade companies across the globe strive to achieve.

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade

Principle 1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Principle 2: Transparency and Accountability

Principle 3: Fair Trading Practices

Principle 4: Payment of a Fair Price

Principle 5: Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

Principle 6: Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association

Principle 7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions

Principle 8: Providing Capacity Building

Principle 9: Promoting Fair Trade

Principle 10: Respect for the Environment

(You can read a full description of these principles here)

How does Fair Trade Work?

Fair Trade has existed since WWII, but was more focused on handicrafts in the beginning, with products sold solely from Fair Trade shops (also called worldshops) and churches. From the 1980s there was a shift towards the fair trade of agricultural products, and the idea of certification came about.

Certification was introduced in 1988; the first certified Fair Trade product was coffee.The idea behind certification was that it allowed consumers to recognize which products gave farmers a premium price for their crops and followed Fair Trade principles. This meant products could be sold in mainstream shops such as supermarkets rather than specific Fair Trade shops. Certification has allowed the reach of Fair Trade to grow massively, and more customers means more farmers can benefit.

How does certification work? An independent organisation certifies that the commodities used in a product meet Fair Trade standards, and manufacturers pay for the right to use a logo. This tells consumers that the product meets certification standards for Fair Trade.

The FAIRTRADE Mark

The FAIRTRADE Mark is probably the most famous Fair Trade logo: it’s currently used in over 50 countries and is attached to over 27,000 products. It’s an independent certification mark that guarantees a product has been produced according to international Fair Trade standards. It shows that the product has been certified to offer a better deal to the farmers and workers involved.

Fairtrade logos

Certification schemes with logos that people recognize mean that products can be stocked in supermarkets where high volumes of products can be sold. It is estimated 90% of consumers trust the FAIRTRADE Mark – and this confidence means higher sales.

Whilst the FAIRTRADE Mark is the world’s biggest Fair Trade certification scheme, it’s not the only one. Different certifiers will have different standards and procedures, but all promote Fair Trade.

Different Fairtrade logos

Logos from Fair Trade USA (left and second left), the Fairtrade Federation and the World Fair Trade Organization

Not all Fairly Traded products are certified, either. Remember that participating in a Fair Trade certification scheme costs money. Some organisations that work with small cooperatives to produce Fair Trade products may not have the resources to certify their products; but that does not mean they don’t adhere to Fair Trade principles. Most businesses selling Fair Trade products want to be as transparent as possible, so if in doubt, just ask questions.

What Can We Do to Support Fair Trade?

Buy Fair Trade products! Simple as that! The most common products are coffee, chocolate, sugar and bananas, and you’ll be able to find these in supermarkets. Health food stores and independent grocers will probably have a wider range.

Start with just one product that you buy that has a Fair Trade alternative, and make the switch. Last year I switched to only buying Fair Trade chocolate. The market for Fair Trade products continues to grow every year, and the more we support it, the more this growth will continue.

Fairtrade InfographicFor more information on Fair Trade, and to see how you can support Fair Trade in your area, check out these great websites:

World Fair Trade Organization
Fairtrade International
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand
Fairtrade Foundation (UK)
Fair Trade USA

Do you already buy Fair Trade products? Are you new to Fair Trade but willing to make the switch? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

24th April 2014 was the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where 1133 people lost their lives, and over 2,500 were injured when the overcrowded and unsafe building they were working in collapsed. They were sewing garments to be sold in the West. Companies who have admitted they had recent or trial orders at Rana Plaza at the time of the accident include Bon Marche, Matalan and Primark (UK/Ireland); Cato Fashions, Walmart and The Children’s Place (USA); and Mango and Benetton (Europe) (for the complete list see here).

At the time of the accident, and again at the anniversary (and many times in between) I was sad, I was angry, and I wanted to help make things change – but how? I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do. I’m not really a consumer. I don’t buy many new clothes. It’s already pretty obvious to me that if I can go into a store and buy a brand new pair of jeans for less than £15 – a store that is paying rent for a premium high street position, that has staff it will be paying the minimum UK wage of £6.31/hour, that has fixtures and fitting rooms and lighting and heating to pay, that has sturdy paper bags to pack my goods into, that has transported its goods across the globe to line its shelves – then somewhere along the way, someone is being screwed… and it’s likely to be the worker who made them.

I’m not the only one to be outraged by the Rana Plaza tragedy, or course. But whilst I’m lamenting what I could or should be doing, or where I’d even start, there are people with their heads already down, getting on with changing the world and making it a better place.

FairlyFashionable banner

One such inspiring project is the Fairly Fashionable? challenge, organised by Fair Trade Freo and the WA Fair Trade Collective, two local Fair Trade groups. It was an event organised by a group of volunteers who wanted to bring focus to the fashion and garment industry and promote Fair Trade. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, designers received a piece of donated Fair Trade fabric, and had 14 days to create a garment or fashion accessory that incorporated the fabric. They could use their own fabrics to complete the work provided they were recycled, upcycled or ethically sourced.

Last Friday, the eve of World Fair Trade Day, was the Fairly Fashionable? finale: a public fashion show showcasing the designs, as well as talks on ethical fashion. It challenged both the designers and the audience to ask the questions: where are our clothes made? How are they made? Under what conditions? How does their design and manufacture impact the environmental, social and environmental sustainability of people and the the planet?

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FairlyFashionable4
Fairtrade
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The turnout was incredible, far more than the organizers were expecting and there were as many people standing as sitting. The designs were hugely creative. The event certainly got me thinking. Not just about Fair Trade, but also about the power we all have to make a difference, not just as individuals but also as groups and communities. It was hugely inspiring to see what the organizers had achieved in just two months (I can’t believe they pulled the whole thing off in just two months!), and how many people they had brought together to share their vision.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead.

Cardboard Castles, Celebrity Coffee and Social Contracts

I had a busy, productive and inspiring weekend. Don’t you just love those weekends? It nearly didn’t happen – I’d been brewing a cold/virus for the previous few days – but in the end the sun was shining and it all worked out perfectly.

Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights.

The Celebrity Photo Shoot

Well, not exactly “celebrity”, but my boyfriend has been asked to be one of the faces for the new Plastic Free July campaign, which meant a photoshoot at 9.30am on Saturday morning along the main shopping strip where we live. So Glen spent 30 minutes pacing up and down past the shops, whilst a guy with the longest camera lens I’ve ever seen snapped pictures, and Rebecca (from the Plastic Free July campaign) and I looked on. As did a few other Saturday morning shoppers; it’s interesting how people are drawn to the camera.

No-one asked for his autograph though, which I found disappointing.

Annoyingly, I forgot to take my camera, so I’m going to have to wait for the official ones to be ready before I can share them. Hopefully not too long to wait!

The Mosman Park Eco Fair

The Mosman Park Eco Fair is a glorious day out; set in the beautiful community gardens at St Luke’s Church in Mosman Park, featuring all things green, including sustainability workshops, ethical and environmental stalls and with a real focus on reducing waste.

There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer, but after organising the Less is More Festival not too long before, it’s nice to go to an event as a punter and be able to enjoy everything that’s on offer.

The Earth Carers have a big presence as always. In addition to running their Washing Up Station to reduce disposable cups at the event, they also ran a children’s activity – make cardboard castles!

CardboardBoxes

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I wrote about the Washing Up Station at last year’s event (and why I think it’s so important here), but the castle-building was a new activity and a very popular one!

It was really great to catch up with so many people I know, as well as learn about all of the interesting projects that people are involved in, and hear about their latest achievements. Personally, I find it really inspiring and motivating reconnect with people from my community, and I always feel like my passion is re-ignited afterwards.

Permaculture Day

Sunday was International Permaculture Day, and there were some workshops at one of the local Farmer’s markets. I’ve been wanting to learn about beekeeping for ages, and made the effort to trek across town on a rather chilly morning for the 8.30am workshop. It was so interesting! Something to save for another blog post, but I felt a real sense of achievement in having taken a step closer.

My Glass Jar Trade

A few weeks ago I nearly put some of my glass jars into the recycling. In fact I did put them in, but then I took them out again. Most glass in Perth isn’t actually recycled (it’s trucked to Adelaide, turned into road base or landfilled) and I was sure that someone could use those jars. Just after I retrieved them, a friend requested jars for bottling her honey. I exchanged several of my finest jars in exchange for one jar of her finest honey. An awesome trade! I wouldn’t have got that from the recycling peeps!

Honey

Even better, once home I turned the honey into a delicious cake. Yum!

CakeThe cake is a chocolate pear rosemary cake that’s gluten- and dairy-free. You can find the recipe here; I used honey rather than sugar and it was perfect!

The Social Contract

In my last blog post I mentioned that I didn’t have a “no junk mail” sticker on my mail box. I know I needed one, I’ve been talking about it for months, but I could never quite get round to getting one. In fact, I didn’t just mention it once, I mentioned it 3 times. I didn’t want anyone to miss it.

Why? Because if you have an intention, there is nothing better than to tell EVERYONE your intention. Comments were made to me both on the blog and on Facebook about how should get a “junk mail” sticker. People taking an interest not only reinforces what I already know (that I need to get a sticker), but also makes me feel guilt and shame for not getting on with it. I don’t want to be asked by these same people over the next few months whether I’ve got one and have to say no – so this is a great way to force yourself into action!

I’m pleased to say I’ve been and got a new sticker. No more junk mail for me! Except, it still needs to be stuck on. A minor detail!

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So that was my weekend. How was yours?!