Posts

10+ Practical Ideas for Eco-Friendly Plant Pots

I started my plastic-free life back in 2012 and my gardening life long before that. When it comes to plastic-free gardening, though, I’m still a relative newbie. I lived in an upstairs apartment for my first few zero waste years, so there was no garden to practice with.

I’ve been living in our new place, complete with garden, for over a year now, and there’s been plenty of opportunity to learn. I’ve come to realise that whilst plastic-free might be the goal, there is so much “waste” plastic that can be reused in the garden, that I’m more focused on zero waste (and reusing) than plastic-free.

I’d rather use what exists than purchase new “zero waste” items.

I thought I’d share some of my plastic-free and zero waste gardening tips, beginning with eco-friendly plant pots.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Plant Pots when Growing from Seed

The best way to avoid waste is to grow from seed. Saving your own seeds, and swapping seeds with others, is the best way to source seeds. However, it isn’t always practical. If you’re establishing a new garden, like I was, you’ll probably need to buy seeds.

However, before you go shopping, I’d recommend looking for local gardening groups and seed swaps, just in case. A few of our local libraries even offer seeds to “borrow” – the idea is that once you’ve planted them and have your own seeds, you return these to the library.

Some seeds can be sown directly in the ground, but most need planting into trays or pots before planting out.

Toilet rolls

Toilet rolls are the perfect size for seedlings, and you can fold one end over to make a base. However, if you have a productive garden, getting enough can be a challenge!

If you need more, Buy Nothing groups and Gumtree are a great way to find them. Similarly, if you don’t need your own, they are a great way to offload them to someone who does. Save them up until you have enough to entice someone to make the trip, and give them away.

It sounds bizarre, but if you look you’ll see that old toilet roll tube trading is a real thing! ;)

Newspaper Pots

My favourite way to make seedling pots is folding them, origami-style, using old newspaper (you can find DIY instructions for making seedling newspaper pots here). There’s no tape and no glue, no tools required and it takes less than a minute to make one.

I love these as, unlike toilet rolls, there’s no need to store them. Grab a couple of old newspapers and make everything you need in half an hour.

You can buy tools to make newspaper pots. They are usually made of wood, and to make the pot the newspaper is wrapped around a cylinder and pressing into an indented base (here’s an example of a wooden paper potter). Personally I think they are unnecessary, and as a minimalist I like to keep my tools to essentials only.

Wooden Seedling Flats

These are wooden boxes that are not compartmentalised, used for seed-raising. They are filled with soil and seeds sown, which can be transplanted once they’ve germinated.

Seedling flats can be made from softwood (like pine) or hardwood. If looked after properly and maintained, they can last several years. The most eco-friendly option are those made from reclaimed timber and offcuts.

Soil Blockers

Soil blockers are metal presses that allow you to press soil together to make cells to plant seeds without any other material. I first heard of soil blockers via Milkwood, and whilst I love the idea, I’m yet to give them a go. A friend has recently purchased one so I’m keen to test it out and will keep you posted.

Purpose-Bought Compostable Pots

It’s worth noting that ‘compostable’ is not the same as ‘biodegradable’. Compostable means it will break down in a compost bin or soil into humus (natural material) with no toxic residue. Biodegradable means it will be broken down by bacteria under certain conditions (often tested in a lab).

A ‘biodegradable’ label does not guarantee it will be broken down into constituent parts, only that it will break down small enough that it cannot be seen. It does not guarantee there will be no toxic residue.

There are a lot of pots that fall under the “compostable” category. The most eco-friendly ones are natural and made of waste materials like coconut coir or aged cow manure. Less environmentally sound ones are made with brand new wood fibre, and/or peat moss (removal of peat moss has been linked to global warming).

Whatever they are made from, they are designed to be single-use. They require energy to manufacture, package and transport. If we can use what we already have, that is a more eco-friendly option.

They are more durable than newspaper or toilet rolls, so are a good option for growing seedlings to sell or where they need to look more professional.

Purpose-bought Biodegradable Pots

Biodegradable (but not compostable) pots are often made with PLA plastic, also called corn starch or plant-based plastic. This is a polyester made from plant material rather than fossil fuels like traditional polyester.

Some PLA pots will state that they are compostable, but this will usually refer to composting under controlled conditions. They should state the test standard used and be “certified compostable.” Without the certification, the claim is meaningless.

These pots are a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional fossil-fuel based plastic pots. It should be possible to reuse them a few times before they begin to break down.

Personally, if a pot says biodegradable but does not say compostable, or is made of PLA plastic, I would avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Things I don’t recommend:

Eggshells might look cute, but they are ridiculously impractical to fill. I found the same with egg boxes, and they are so absorbent they dry out the soil, but if you don’t live in a hot climate, they might work. On the downside, too cold and damp and they will encourage mold growth.

Terracotta pots aren’t great for seedlings as the roots can attach to the clay and get damaged in transplanting. Brand new compostable seedling punnets might sound green, but they seem a waste of resources when there are so many other options to use.

Transplanting Seedlings to Bigger Pots

Sometimes seedlings need to be transplanted into bigger pots before heading out to the veggie patch.

Reusing Seedling Trays/Plastic Pots

I’m a big fan of re-using what we have. We don’t use plastic at home, but I often find plastic plant pots thrown out on verge collection day, and I collect them to re-use. Plastic yoghurt pots, milk bottles and other plastic containers that can all be re-used to make plant pots.

Plastic that has been used with soil is difficult to clean and won’t be recycled. That’s fine if you intend to reuse the plastic as plant pots again and again. If there’s a choice, it is better to choose plastic that isn’t recyclable over plastic that is, and aim for as many re-uses as possible.

Plastic that is left in the sun will also begin to photo-degrade (break down into smaller pieces). They will last better in cooler, shadier conditions.

Potting On (Transferring Plants from Small Plant Pots to Bigger Plant Pots)

Seedlings eventually grow up, and either go into the garden or need bigger, more permanent homes. Whilst it’s easy to find small pots in various sizes, as the size goes up the opportunities become more limited. Here I’ve focussed on some of the biggest options, which are big enough to plant a small tree.

Terracotta Pots

I’ve found that terracotta pots aren’t great for small plants that I intend to repot as the roots get damaged, but they are a great plastic-free option for bigger plants, bulbs or annuals. We got these pots from the verge when our neighbours moved to Queensland.

One thing to note about terracotta – it is porous, which means in hot summers it can wick moisture out of the soil. One solution is to paint or glaze on the outside or the inside, to maintain the moisture of the soil, or choose pots that are already glazed.

Wine Barrels

I love wine barrels. They look beautiful and rustic, and are a waste product of the wine industry, but they are also very expensive to buy. These two wine barrels were purchased several years ago, but now they’d cost more than $100 each. Great for a feature, but not practical if you are on a budget or need more than one.

Wine barrels can be stained or varnished to help protect them from the weather, but ultimately the wood will break down. In Perth with its long dry summers, a wine barrel receiving haphazard (or no) care should last several years. In wetter climates I’d expect they’d need more management.

Olive Barrels

Olive barrels are big 190 litre food-grade plastic barrels that olives are imported in. They cannot be re-used by the import/export industry, so they are a waste product. Yes they are plastic, but they are second-hand. Much as I hate plastic, I love re-use,. Most terracotta pots for sale in WA are imported from Italy, whereas these barrels are already here. They are also extremely low cost – one barrel costs around $25 and can be cut in half to make two pots.

I would always choose the orange barrels, which are food grade. The blue ones are chemical barrels and most originally contained pesticides and fungicides, or other chemicals. They also tend to buckle in full sun, whereas the orange ones do not.

I’ve made all my olive barrels into wicking beds, meaning they have a hole at the side rather than the bottom, and a reservoir below the soil to hold water. This means the soil can wick water from the reservoir in summer, so the plants need less watering. Because a container needs to be fully waterproof to do this, it is difficult to do without plastic.

Upcycled Things

Honestly, it is only your imagination that will restrict you when it comes to finding eco-friendly plant pots. I’ve seen garden beds and plant pots made of old toilets, sinks, bathtubs, metal tins, plastic clam-shells and much more.

Just because it isn’t round and sold in a garden centre, it doesn’t mean that you can’t grow something in it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list? Do you have any “not-to-do”s or things to avoid? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen used as a plant pot? And more importantly – did it work or was it a fail?! Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Permaculture Principles for Modern (Zero Waste) Living

Have you heard of permaculture? Founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture was the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. The term came from “permanent agriculture.”

Let me tell you, it’s actually about a lot more than gardening.

Since the 1970s, the idea has expanded and grown, as has the movement. At its core it is a ‘systems thinking’ approach, and the design principles can be applied to anywhere where sustainability is the focus.

But many people would describe permaculture as a “philosophy” – a set of guidelines to live by. Many people would describe zero waste in the same way. Both have the idea of fair share, not taking or using more than we need, not wasting resources or people.

Because of this, I think permaculture principles (and ethics) are just as relevant for plastic-free (and zero waste) living. They are relevant to people living within cities, and without so much as a pot plant to their name.

But many people without gardens simply don’t know enough (or anything!) about it.

Let’s change that! I’d like to introduce the permaculture principles, and their relevance (as I see it) to the zero waste movement.

Permaculture Living: The Three Ethics

At the centre of the movement are three ethics: people care; earth care; and fair share. I would argue that anybody who believes in sustainability believes in these three ethics.

Permaculture Living: The 12 Principles (And How They Relate To Zero Waste Living)

The 12 principles of permaculture, developed by David Holmgren in 2002, are described as “thinking tools”. Used together, they can enable us to re-design both our environment and our behavior in a world of less energy and resources.

They are guiding principles for an ethical lifestyle.

Observe and Interact.

To me, this is about taking the time to look around us, to explore our surroundings and learn from others. We often learn good habits from others, or we find answers simply by watching and thinking.

By asking questions, seeking out information and being open to learn, we can come up with solutions that work for us.

Catch and Store Energy.

To me, this is about efficiency. Making the most of things when they are abundant, and being able to use them when they are not.

We think of energy as electricity or power, but it’s just as true for water and food, and the energy embedded in resources. From a zero waste perspective, maximising the use of anything is encouraged.

I like to think of reusables as “caught and stored energy”. An item, build to last and used forever. Rather than single use items that require energy to make, energy to ship and then are gone from usefulness forever. Wasted energy.

Obtain a Yield.

In gardening terms, this principle is pretty obvious. Actually, it should apply to everything we do. Money is another obvious yield, but it goes deeper. We don’t have to be paid for something to get pleasure from it. Yield can also mean enjoyment, satisfaction, motivation, and fulfillment.

When we love to do something, the pleasure of simply doing it can be its own reward.

There is a danger of doing things that bring us no pleasure, satisfaction nor other reward: they ultimately leave us burned-out, demotivated, resentful and frustrated.

That’s not sustainable.

Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Permaculture looks at this from a systems perspective, but I think it’s just as relevant for individuals.

None of us are perfect. We strive to do the best we can. When we receive feedback telling us there is a better way, or pointing out something we hadn’t thought of before, we can begrudge and feel judged and not take action; or we can embrace the challenge to improve ourselves a little more.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.

This is definitely a principle that underpins both the plastic-free and zero waste movements. Most plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, and recycling options for all plastics are limited (and result in downcycling).

The zero waste movement embraces a circular economy, and aims to see nothing sent to landfill.

Both movements value choosing materials that are natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable.

Produce No Waste.

My favourite principle! Clearly the zero waste movement is built around “produce no waste”, but permaculture has a different (broader) perspective.

Whilst permaculture recognizes there is a bigger system, the zero waste movement can lean towards individualism.

In permaculture, reusing and repurposing other people’s waste is a huge part of reducing our impact and use of resources. The zero waste movement celebrates individual action and achievement: it focuses on reducing personal landfill waste, but doesn’t always recognize that waste is still produced upstream.

Personally, I think they both have a place, and I think both ideals can learn from the other.

Design From Patterns to Details.

This principle recognises the value in observing before doing, and the importance at looking at the bigger picture before making choices.

From a zero waste/plastic-free perspective, I see the patterns as “habits” and details as “stuff”. Rather than deciding to embrace a low-waste lifestyle and then spending hours choosing the best mason jars to equip the pantry with, it is better to look at our habits first.

Take time to look for the patterns, and then decide what fits best.

It’s another way of saying: take time, observe first, and do second.

Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Integration is important for any community. It’s what glues community together, and it’s what creates a movement. To get the best outcomes, we need to work together.

There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is only ‘us’.

Whether we teach, motivate, encourage or provide support, communities are best when we embrace networks, share freely and collaborate.

Community is strong in both permaculture and zero waste, and for many of us, that’s the best part.

Use Small and Slow Solutions.

Bigger isn’t always better. Small and slow solutions are at the heart of the zero waste movement. Taking time, making do, thinking creatively; embracing local and seasonal.

Use and Value Diversity.

There is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There is rarely a single way to do anything. There are different voices and different perspectives, and different ways of doing things, even when the outcomes are similar.

We connect with different stories, and everyone has something to add.

Use Edges and Value the Margins.

In permaculture, we talk about the interfaces between things being where the most valuable, diverse and productive elements lie. The edge of a pond, lake or river; or the edge of the forest where the trees meet the grassland.

In zero waste, I think of these “edges” and “margins” as the parts that are often seen as waste – things like offcuts or scraps. Yet they have just as much potential and are just as valuable – it often just takes a little creative thinking.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

“Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.” Both the permaculture and zero waste movements are build around a desire to do things differently; to do things better than the “status quo” of overconsumption and exploitation.

Both embrace creativity, not at an artistic level but at a solutions-based, practical and ideas level. Looking at the system, and creating new ways to do things better. Seeing things that aren’t working, and coming up with better ways.

It isn’t about having all the answers, or creating change on a global scale. It’s about being creative with what we know and what we see, and doing things differently.

For me, both permaculture and zero waste living offer practical solutions for those of us that feel dissatisfied with the current ways of the world, and want to  create a more positive future. Neither are perfect, but they enable us to do things differently, and encourage those that follow to go one step further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is permaculture new to you or old news? How do you think the permaculture principles compare to zero waste living? Which principles do you personally see as the most important – or do you think all of them? Do you have any personal principles that you live by? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 Plastic-Free Alternatives for Shampoo and Conditioner

Last week I wrote about hair washing with bicarb and vinegar, and I promised all the non-believers that I’d follow up with a post about other alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Here it is: more ideas to wash your hair without plastic.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

I know this might be a bit of a bold one to start with, but I want to say that it’s worth considering! No, it doesn’t work on everybody’s hair, but it’s honestly worth a try. You won’t smell like fish and chips, promise.

I tend to use rye flour rather than bicarb because the pH is closer to the skin’s pH, and it makes my hair softer, but the principle is the same for both. Here’s the instructions.

Moving on…

2. Shampoo and conditioner from bulk stores.

Not all bulk stores have a non-food section, but many do. Bulk stores with a focus on waste reduction (such as my local store The Source Bulk Foods) usually stock these products, and you can buy bulk shampoo, conditioner and other products in your own containers.

Health stores often stock bulk personal care products too, so if you don’t have a bulk store locally, check out any health stores close by.

3. Bar shampoo and conditioner.

Many people who are trying to reduce their plastic use make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging. In recent years the number of options have exploded, which means you can find one that will suit your hair type and budget.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

You can order direct from their website, but if you’re looking for deals or offers you’re better off trying Biome, Flora & Fauna or Nourished Life, who all stock a good range and often have deals.

If you’re in the UK, &Keep is a great online store with an excellent range of plastic-free products and they stock a really good selection of solid shampoo and conditioners.

Lush Cosmetics is another option if you prefer to shop on the high street, with stores across the world (including Australia, USA and UK).

There’s also heaps of micro businesses at local markets (I’ve seen several here in Perth) and online via Etsy. Whilst I can’t recommend anything in particular (I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar, remember?!), I do love supporting local and independent businesses, and it’s great to find someone in your neighbourhood making products.

4. Shampoo and conditioner in refillable bottles.

I don’t recommend purchasing shampoo and conditioner in glass (or other non-plastic containers) as a zero waste option unless they are going to be refilled. Recycling is such an energy intensive process, and there are so many other alternatives, that I truly see it as a last resort.

Rather than recycling the bottles, some companies will allow you to return your bottles for cleaning and refilling. This means you buy a product from them, and can return your empty when purchasing a new one. You don’t actually refill the container yourself, the company takes it away, cleans it, and refills on the production line.

Whilst these companies are not easy to find, they do exist. Plaine Products in the US is an excellent example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I think this is something we will begin to will see more and more of.

(This isn’t to be confused with companies collecting containers back for recycling – such as Lush’s black pot recycling scheme. Recycling takes far more energy than simply washing and reusing.)

If you buy from someone who makes their own, ask if they can refill your containers. Before switching to bicarb and vinegar I purchased shampoo from a small business called Earth Products in refillable, returnable bottles that I provided. The owner didn’t sell refills as such, but was happy to refill my bottles when she made a new batch. I simply had to drop my bottles off in advance.

5. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are often touted as a a laundry detergent alternative, but recently I met a lady on a course I was running who washed her hair with soap nuts. Soap nut shampoo? I was intrigued.

Soap nuts are dried brown wooden berries, slightly sticky, that have a saponin content. I’m always keen to try new things, so I gave them a go. I followed Monique’s instructions:

Place 9-10 soap nuts in a jug and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Allow to sit overnight. Remove the soapnuts from the liquid (they can be reused several times) and store the liquid in the fridge until ready to use.

I filled 1/4 measuring cup with the liquid and used in place of shampoo. It doesn’t foam like shampoo. I finished with vinegar rinse like usual. My hair felt soft and clean. I’m at day 3 now, and my hair could do with another wash, so it doesn’t last as long as bicarb vinegar, but definitely works better than plain water (for me).

6. Shampoo and conditioner in glass.

As I mentioned above, from a zero waste perspective I recommend the other alternatives over choosing glass unless it’s going to be refilled. Of all the options, it’s the more wasteful one. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated with transporting glass, not to mention that shampoo is 70-80% water. Then the glass has to be collected and recycled.

However, we’re not talking about zero waste, we are talking about plastic-free. I definitely purchased non-refillable products in glass at the beginning of my plastic-free journey, and sometimes these choices are important stepping stones to better ones down the track. If you’re not ready for bicarb or bar shampoo and don’t have access to bulk stores, this might be a good step.

If you do decide to look for products packaged in glass, try to find products made locally first. They will have a lower footprint. Try crafts markets and farmers markets, or investigate health stores to see if they stock locally made products.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an eco friendly solution for washing your hair? Any other method you’d recommend? Any experiences with any of these that you’d like to share? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

(Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in wholeheartedly.)

Why You Can’t Fail at Plastic Free July

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

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

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

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

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

1. Plastic Free July is about creating awareness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

After creating awareness comes changing habits.

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

Plastic free July is no different!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. There’s no such thing as failing.

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

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

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

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

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

Success is never a straight line!

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

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

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

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

Believe me, you got this!

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

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

When people think of the zero waste lifestyle, they tend to think of mason jars, bulk stores and unpackaged goods. Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Many people draw the conclusion then, that without access to a bulk store, they can’t live a zero waste lifestyle.

The truth is, the zero waste lifestyle is about much more than bulk stores and mason jars.

Groceries aren’t the only thing we buy. Furniture, toys, electronics, clothes, books, decor, equipment, household items: “stuff”, in other words.

At some stage in our lives we buy these things. With all of these things, we have a choice. We can choose to buy new, or buy second-hand.

Not everybody has access to bulk stores. But everybody has access to second-hand goods.

Choosing second-hand not only uses less resources, it’s unpackaged and it helps keep existing items in use and out of landfill.

The zero waste lifestyle is very much the second-hand lifestyle.

With the internet, access to second-hand items has become a whole lot easier. Yet some people still find the online world of buying and selling a little bewildering.

I’ve talked about how to sell items online in my eGuide Hoarder Minimalist, but I didn’t talk about buying. (It is a book about decluttering after all!) To live a zero waste lifestyle, buying second-hand is just as important as finding new homes for items we no longer require.

Whilst my husband and I don’t buy absolutely everything second-hand (hello, brand new underwear), all of the furniture in our home is second-hand. There is plenty of second-hand furniture out there to choose from.

We’ve bought almost all of our second-hand furniture using Gumtree Australia. We also use the platform to sell things that we no longer require. Recently Gumtree got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in collaborating. For me, the real questions are: do I believe wholeheartedly in what they do? And do I think writing about Gumtree is of real benefit to you, my readers?

The answer to both is yes.

Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling online. It’s simple to use and free to buy and to sell: there are no hidden charges or fees. (There are some fees for premium features, but I have never used these.) It connects those with stuff they don’t need with those who want it. So yes, I want to encourage people to use it.

If I can convince more people to start buying second-hand, and sell (or gift) unwanted items rather than landfilling them, that’s wins all round.

If you’re new to the world of online buying and selling, this guide is for you.

How to Buy and Sell Online with Gumtree

Gumtree is an online listings/classifieds platform allowing users to buy and sell items online. It focuses on local trade, meaning most people will go directly to the seller’s home or workplace to buy the item.

The local approach means no shipping costs, lower carbon footprints and zero packaging. People buy and sell from other people within their local community. You get to inspect items before you actually buy them – so no receiving items that aren’t quite how they looked in the picture. No worrying about returns, either.

Using Gumtree: The Basics

To buy or sell you need to register, but the information you need to provide is basic. A name, email address, phone number and location (which can be a suburb). There’s no requirement to provide credit card or banking details.

You don’t need to be registered just to browse.

How to Search Effectively

People who list items on Gumtree want them sold – the sooner the better. I always search by “most recent items” and work backwards. Good value items and bargains rarely hang around!

I prefer well-made, quality items to the cheapest option, but searching by price is possible too. Importantly, it’s possible to search by suburb, local council area, urban area and state.

The categories are quite simplistic. If there’s a dedicated category for what I’m looking for, then I might search by category, but I tend to use the search bar. The search bar is also useful for searching by brand.

Using different search terms for the same thing will give different results. Searching by abbreviation as well as the full name of an item will give more results.

We bought this kitchen island second-hand a few months ago from Gumtree, and added these stools more recently. If you’re after something specific, find out if there’s a style or brand name to search for (these stools are Tolix stools). Not everyone will know the brand or model name, so use different descriptive titles too if you can’t find what you want (“bar stools” and “barstools” give different results, for example).

How To Create a Good Ad

Many people start out selling on Gumtree before they buy. It’s a good way to test the waters and find out how it works. Once you realise that other Gumtree users are friendly people wanting the stuff that you have, it’s easier to embrace the idea of buying.

When creating a listing, the first thing to do is choose a category. The categories are fairly simplistic and quite limited. I use “Home & Garden” the most, and then the appropriate subcategory. Avoid “Miscellaneous Goods” or “other” if you can – they are too vague.

Next you’ll be asked for the type of ad: free or paid. I’ve always used free ads. Paid ads have additional features, but I don’t find them necessary.

Free ads allow you to add 10 pictures. Use as many of them as you can! Don’t just take one out-of-focus picture. Take the front, the back, the sides, a close-up, and any nicks or damage.

When choosing a price, put what you think is fair. You can always edit it later. If you’re not interested in negotiating, write in the ad description “price is non-negotiable.”

When choosing a title, use all those characters! Put in all the words that relate to the item. It’s not meant to read well, it’s meant to attract buyers. For example, “sofa chair lounge armchair seating” will match far more search requests than “comfy chair”.

Also, think about typos. There are almost as many “draws” listed as there are “drawers”! Mention colour, material, and a brand or model name if there is one.

Be as descriptive and honest as you can. If the colour differs in real life to the photos, say so. If there’s damage, however minor, mention it. People would rather know the condition before they arrive at your place.

If it’s a current model, consider providing the link to the store for browsers to compare. Give dimensions; state where and how it was used. If you smoke or have pets, say so.

Finally, add your details. There’s no need to write your exact address, but give buyers an idea of your location. We put our road, but omit the street number on the listing. Whilst you need to give your phone number and email, if you prefer contact via a particular method, write it in the ad description.

How to Communicate:

Gumtree allows users to communicate directly with other users, by mobile phone or email. When contacting someone, be as specific as possible. As a buyer, add in when you’re free to drop by. As a seller, if someone asks “is this still available?”, don’t just respond “yes”. Ask when they want to come and look, let them know when you’ll be home, give a contact number or even the address.

Make it easy for people.

(Also, use your actual name. It’s much more personable.)

If you think something is a bargain, agree to collect as soon as possible.

We needed a bedside table and lamp for our spare room. I’d like a wooden stand, but nothing was available, and we thought this would be a good stop-gap. The great thing about second-hand items is that if you change your mind, you can often sell them on again at the price you paid.

Price (and How to Negotiate)

Ultimately people will pay what they think something is worth, so overpriced items won’t sell. If the price is keen, the item will be gone in less than a week (and sometimes in a matter of hours).

Sellers: if you want something sold quickly, advertise at a low price. If you want more money, be prepared to hold out for longer. Remember – just because you paid a certain amount for something, that doesn’t mean it was worth the price.

Personally, I think it is bad manners to arrive at someone’s house and then start negotiating price. My policy is, if buyers try to negotiate at my house, the answer will be no. I’m always completely honest and overly descriptive in my listings, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive. They can buy at the agreed price, or leave empty-handed.

Don’t feel pressured to accept less than you want. If they decide not to take them item, someone else will.

Sometimes people arrive with no change. I point them to the nearest ATM/petrol station. If that isn’t practical for you, ensure you have change on you. Some people genuinely forget; others are hoping you’ll round down.

Buyers: don’t feel obliged to negotiate. If you’re happy to pay the price advertised, then pay it. If you try to negotiate a keenly priced item when you’re happy to pay the full price, you’ll likely end up outbid by someone else and losing the item.

There’s no harm in asking if the seller is flexible on price before agreeing to buy. They’ll let you know if they are open to offers or not.

A good indicator if someone will be willing to negotiate is how long it’s been listed. If the listing has been active for 3 hours, chances are a lot more slim than if it’s been listed for a month.

If you arrive to buy and are not comfortable, the item isn’t as described, or you change your mind about the item, don’t feel like you have to go through with the deal. Apologise, say it is different to what you thought, and walk away.

Timing

In my experience, the weekend is when most things are bought and sold. If you list items on a Saturday morning you will have the most chance of success. If you’re looking for bargains, Saturday morning means the least chance of success as everybody else is online too.

Safety and Security

This is a personal consideration. I’ve been using Gumtree for many years without any issues. I’ve sold items late at night, early in the morning and during the day. I’ve had buyers prefer to do the transaction on the doorstep. Others come in (sometimes that is practical and necessary).

I’ve bought items where the seller has handed me the item on the doorstep. I’ve been invited in to collect the item. I even met one seller in a car park!

If you won’t feel comfortable with someone collecting items late at night, put preferred hours on your listing. If you’d rather not go alone to someone’s house, ask a friend to come along. If it’s possible, consider asking the buyer to collect from your place of work.

Other Practical Suggestions

If you’re buying anything big, heavy or bulky, ask if there’s easy access to the front door, if there are any stairs and if there will be anyone to help you move the item. Ask if they have a trolley, and find out the actual dimensions before you get there!

Similarly, if you’re selling, let potential buyers know what they’ll need to bring.

Don’t be scared to ask questions. Ask for more photos, model numbers, measurements, a condition report, where the item was purchased. Better to find out before than make a wasted trip.

If an item is electrical, ask to plug it in. If it’s furniture, sit on it. If it’s already been neatly packed for you, don’t feel bad about asking it to be unpacked so you can look at it properly.

We bought this bed because it was exactly the same as our existing bed (but in white), so we knew exactly what it would be like. (The old bed, also bought on Gumtree, is now in the spare room.) I told the seller I was interested but needed to arrange a trailer. He was moving overseas and had hired a ute, and offered to drop it round to ours for no extra charge! It meant he got to keep it until the day he wanted to move, and we got a hassle-free delivery!

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby

People get rid of stuff for lots of reasons: marriage, divorce, moving home, moving country, children, pets or simply because they redecorate. There’s plenty of good quality, well made stuff out there in the second-hand market. Some of it isn’t even very old.

This lamp was only a few months old, and cost a fraction of the price it would have cost new. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean bedraggled.

For quality items, search for reputable brands. You can take it to the next level and go to the actual shop, write down what you like and then find it all on Gumtree. (I have a friend who did exactly this, and furnished her home at a fraction of what it would have cost new, with everything second-hand.) This works better with chains rather than boutique stores.

If you haven’t embraced second-hand furniture shopping, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try. Compared to most furniture shops, you don’t make a choice and wait 8 weeks for delivery. You get to use things right away.

Once you start finding great, useful items that you need at a fraction of the price you’d have paid to buy new (and without all that packaging) it’s very hard to go back.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Gumtree to buy or sell furniture or other items? How have your experiences been? What has been your best find – and what was your worst? If you haven’t shopped online for second-hand, is there anything that you’re worried about or that’s holding you back? Any other questions? Anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below!

This post was a collaboration with Gumtree Australia.

Establishing an Organic Vegetable Garden (Progress in Pictures)

It’s no secret that I love food, and I love growing my own food even more. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating something freshly picked; there’s no unnecessary single-use plastic packaging when we grow our own; and we can’t get more local than our own back yards.

Not everyone has a garden, true. When I moved to Perth from the UK, I swapped my beautiful and much-loved allotment for an upstairs apartment with a dark balcony. That didn’t stop me having a few pots outside the front door with herbs, though. Then we moved to another upstairs apartment with a bigger balcony, and I got a few more things growing.

Even the darkest, smallest balcony can grow microherbs!

Now I’ve moved to a development with 7 dwellings and a community garden, I finally have the space and the opportunity to plant more. And believe me, I’m making the most of it!

We’ve lived here for just over a year, and I thought I’d share how our garden has evolved over the time. Although there are 7 dwellings, some are still empty and others have been rented to tenants with no interest in gardening. To date, my husband and I have had the garden pretty much to ourselves. Two sets of neighbours have their own garden bed spaces, but other than that, we have free reign.

Honestly, we love having the space to ourselves, but we’re looking forward to more garden enthusiasts moving in. There’s so much wasted opportunity as we don’t have the time to turn over the beds as quickly as we should, or succession plant as regularly as we could. There are plenty of other tasks that get neglected, too.

Whilst the garden produces a lot of food, it could be so much more productive with just a little extra work.

Take the tour of my organic veggie patch (and permaculture garden in the making), Perth Australia

We own and occupy the ground floor flat, and the communal garden backs straight onto our home. We have two sets of big sliding doors, so the garden is an extension of our living space.

This is what it looked like when we moved in:

When we moved in the metal garden beds were in place, and reticulation had been installed, which definitively gave us a head start. ~April 2016

For 1 household, it’s a lot of space, but for 7 households it will be quite small. There’s also a huge amount of wasted space/growing potential, so we’ve been working hard to develop this and improve the soil and increase productivity.

We’ve also added a lot of pots, which is a great way to decide which things work best where before digging them into the ground. The two wine barrels contain the citrus trees we had on our balcony in our previous place. All the other pots are new additions.

Creating New Veggie Beds

If you’re thinking that the soil looks really sandy, you’d be right. It is really sandy. The grey sands of the Perth Swan coastal plain (where I live) are considered to be the worst in the world. I don’t mean by disgruntled Perth gardeners, either. It’s a fact.

It means that we’ve dug in heaps of compost, veggie concentrate and clay into the sand to create soil. It might not look like it, but we have! The wood chip mulch breaks down over time to add carbon to the soil, too.

We bought a cubic metre of veggie concentrate from our soil yard and it was delivered via a tipping truck, so without packaging. It isn’t the cheapest option (we could have built up nitrogen using nitrogen-fixing plants or green manures, carbon using mulch and the soil web over time), but it meant we could plant veggies in the sand straightaway rather than waiting several months. It contains all the nutrients and minerals needed to grow veggies.

Creating Our Own Compost

We have four compost bins and create as much of our own compost as we can. We don’t turn it as often as we should so it isn’t breaking down as quickly as it could be.

If the whole complex got involved we’d have compost coming out of our ears! The reality is, many of the tenants live on a diet of junk food (fried chicken and other fast food is delivered almost daily – I kid you not) and they don’t even compost the paper food packaging – it goes in the landfill bin. Sigh.

To top up our compost my husband brings food scraps home from his work every week (in a big 20 litre bucket), and we collect coffee grounds from a local cafe every month or so.

It’s pretty amazing that we can add stinky food scraps and a few handfuls of dried leaves to a compost bin and be rewarded with beautiful soil-like compost!

This is what your food scraps can be turned into. Beautiful compost!

Planting in Pots (and Wicking Pots)

To maximise the use of the patio area without ripping out the paving, we’ve planted a lot of things in pots. Our garden is north-facing, and the patio is one of the best spots to grow (we’re in the southern hemisphere – its the opposite for those in the north). The space is sheltered by the house by the hot summer afternoon sun, and gets full winter sun because the sun is lower in the sky.

To ignore this is a missed opportunity!

Wicking beds are self-watering pots. Not something I needed to worry about in the UK, but in Perth it is a different story. We’ve used old olive export barrels to make wicking beds – they have a hole at the side rather than at the bottom, so a reservoir can hold water for the plants.

Greening the Garden: Progress in the First Year

I’ve taken a few images from the same spots over time, and I’ve included a few below so you can see how things have changed in the first year.

The View from the Office Window:

April 2016

November 2016

February 2017

The Patio Space:

April 2016

November 2016

March 2017

The Ground Dug-In Beds:

July 2016

November 2016

The Veggie Beds:

July 2016

December 2016

February 2017

April 2017

The Raised Garden Beds:

April 2016

Feb 2017

A Glimpse of the Harvest

We definitely aren’t growing all our own vegetables, but I do think we have the space. Unfortunately space isn’t the only constraint; the other is time! We did manage to produce a lot of our own vegetables over summer. Here’s a glimpse:

Perth has a warm enough climate to garden all year round, and in many ways summer presents more challenges than winter. We’re currently in the process of planting our winter veggies. By the start of next summer we’re expecting to have new neighbours, so it will be interesting to find out how the garden evolves. I’m looking forward to more hands!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you enjoy the garden tour? Did you have any questions? Is there anything you’d like me to write about in more detail? Do you have your own garden, and what tips do you have to share? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

How Much Does a Zero Waster Recycle?

The zero waste lifestyle is all about living in a way that creates as little waste as possible. It is often described as “sending nothing to landfill” and most people living the zero waste lifestyle will track their landfill waste. In fact, the jar full of waste has become rather iconic of the zero waste movement.

Last year I collected all my own landfill waste in a jar (I shared the contents of my annual trash jar here). I did it as I thought it would be an interesting experiment, and it was. I learned a lot.

However, I also think there are some downsides to focusing solely on personal landfill waste.

One of those downsides is that zero waste living is not just about reducing landfill. It is about reducing waste overall, and that means reducing our recycling too. The goal is to produce no landfill waste and no recycling either.

Yet that is much more challenging, and much less talked about.

How much recycling zero wasters produce isn’t discussed as often as it should be. Personally, I think we should be talking about it more. This time last year I decided to record my recycling for an entire month, and share it (view April 2016’s recycling tally).

I’ve decided I’m going to make it an annual thing. There’s no particular reason why we chose April last year (I probably thought up the idea in March!). I’m choosing April again this year to keep things consistent.

There are no special rules for the month. We don’t do anything differently. That said, I’m sure it is in the back of my mind and I’m subconsciously more careful. Any waste that we (our household consists of two adults and one greyhound) create goes into our recycling bin as normal. After 30 days have passed, I tally it up.

Here’s our monthly recycling for the 30 days of April 2017:

I did threaten my husband that I would divide the recycling up into separate piles of mine and his, because he creates more waste than me and I don’t want to be tarnished with the same brush! But really, we are one household, and I think most people can relate to one member of the household being more enthused than the others.

What’s in my (Zero Waste) Recycling Bin?

This is a summary of what’s in the bin, from right to left.

Plastic Bag of Dog Food: For the first four years of living zero waste we didn’t have a dog Now we do. He is also a dog with a sensitive stomach! We have tried a number of dog food brands. So far this is the one that works best. We get through one bag every 5-6 weeks. I would love to make my own dog food, and maybe one day I will. Right now it is still a little overwhelming. This bag can be recycled via REDcycle at our local supermarket.

Aluminium Beer Cans (and their Cardboard Packaging): My husband likes beer. A beer shop locally sells packaging-free beer on tap, but my husband prefers to visit the regular store on the way home from work. I don’t know enough about beer to go the bulk store for him! He chooses aluminium rather than glass as cans are recycled, whereas glass is crushed into road base in WA.

Pasta Boxes: My husband also loves pasta. We can get gluten-free pasta (buckwheat spirals and quinoa rice penne) from our local bulk store, and regular vermicelli nests from the small bulk section at our independent grocer. We eat these most of the time. Occasionally my husband will come across Barilla pasta in the cardboard box without the plastic window and will insist on buying it. He’s like some kind of collector! He probably buys one every 3 months or so. We just happened to have two boxes in this month’s recycling.

Tin of Coconut Cream: I made crumble recently as we had friends over for dinner. I didn’t have any cashews to make cashew cream, and there wasn’t enough time. My husband dashed to the shops for me and picked this up (at my request). Crumble just doesn’t work dry!

Ball of Tin Foil (and Corresponding Chocolate wrappers): Oh, I am so guilty of buying packaged chocolate. I have a weakness for Green & Blacks 85%. I have a serious weakness, in fact: in April I managed to eat my way through 8 bars (as demonstrated by the wrappers). We ate a fair amount of chocolate from the bulk store too.

Dolmades Tin: Sometimes I feel like my husband is a packaging fiend! (I realise the packaging he buys is minimal – it’s just a big part of our recycling.) He likes to buy tinned dolmades when we have people round for dinner. It makes me a little bit mad, because I love to cook from scratch and go to all this effort to make home-made food, and then he serves up pre-packaged food. He sees it as a treat!

Champagne Bottles and Metal Tops: Our friends brought a bottle of sparkling wine when they came for dinner. The other bottle has been in our fridge for 18 months (it was a moving gift) and needed using up. It was actually pretty flat. The corks have gone in the compost, and the foil is part of the foil ball.

Nonsense Promotional Material: We received a pamphlet from the RAC telling us most people don’t have enough insurance. What a waste of paper.

Unnecessary Letters in the Post: An enormous water pipe is being installed underneath our road to supply water to the new Perth stadium, and we are sent a weekly letter giving us updates. They’ve been camped out for almost 5 months now, but they are finishing up so we won’t be getting many more notices.

Envelopes: We still get the odd thing delivered by post. My husband recently had to renew his driving license (they need renewing every 3 years); some insurance documents that they couldn’t send via email; a new bank card as the old one had expired; and some other things.

Till Receipts: Wherever possible we refuse a receipt, but we still pick up a few every month. We recycle them. Some people don’t recycle thermal (BPA- coated) receipts, but I was advised that a few BPA receipts in a container load of paper doesn’t create a problem.

Paper from Workshops: I run sustainable living workshops, and use paper for some activities. Some people learn better by physically writing stuff down. As someone who’s partial to taking notes on the back of an envelope, I can relate. I don’t buy new paper, I use reject printing from workplaces, or mail I don’t need. Then I recycle it.

Recycling versus Composting

Some zero wasters choose to compost all their paper rather than recycling it. That makes the recycling pile much smaller, but in terms of energy, research shows that recycling paper is a better use of the resource than composting. Paper production is enormously energy intensive and recycling paper helps slow down new paper production.

Whilst I live in a city with good recycling infrastructure, I will always choose to recycle my paper over composting it.The only paper I compost is paper that cannot be recycled: anything stained by food or grease, tiny scraps, or shredded paper.

Whilst I’d love to see our recycling drop to zero, it’s heartening to know that we created less than this time less year. Some people say that “near-o waste” is a more accurate term than zero waste, and I’m inclined to agree. However, that doesn’t stop me aiming for zero.

Please tell me what you think! Do you find tracking your waste and recycling a helpful tool? Or is the extra fuss and effort too much hassle? Do you find seeing pictures of others’ waste inspiring, or do you find it demotivating? Is there something else you find more motivating? I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me a comment below!

Zero Waste Exceptions: Packaging, Plastic + Single-Use Items I Can’t Live Without

In my perfect world, I wouldn’t buy a single thing in plastic, I wouldn’t use a single thing in packaging…oh, and the sun would shine every day :) Even though I’ve lived plastic-free for almost 5 years, and describe myself as “zero waste”, there are still things that I buy in packaging. There are still single-use items I choose not to live without. Oh, and there’s still occasional plastic.

Of course I aspire to do better. But I don’t believe that zero waste is about being perfect. I believe it is about making better choices, trying to improve and doing the best we can.

If it was about being perfect, almost all of us would fall short. Then we’d decide it is all too hard, and give up. What a waste that would be! If we all make a few changes, that adds up to an enormous difference.

Imagine if every single person in the world decided that whilst they couldn’t do everything, they could manage to bring their own bags to the shop or market? Or that they could refuse a disposable coffee cup? Does it really matter that they can’t fit their entire landfill trash for the year in a jam jar?! I don’t think so ;)

Both my husband and I have our zero waste weaknesses. It’s all too easy for me to lump them together – and then blame him for most of them! So I’ve decided to focus on mine only. Just this once!

Packaging, Plastic and Single-Use: My Zero Waste Exceptions

1. Toilet Paper

I know that many people use “cloth” rather than toilet paper. I know that I could get a bidet attachment for my toilet. But the truth is, right now, I use toilet paper. It’s not that I am opposed to either idea, but my husband has assured me he is never giving the loo roll up, and I don’t want to have two systems. I’m happy to stick with his!

That’s not to say I’ll never change, but right now toilet paper is working for me, and it’s staying.

We buy Who Gives a Crap toilet paper. It is 100% recycled, the packaging is plastic-free, and the company donate 50% of profits to water projects overseas. We re-use the paper wrapping, and recycle the big cardboard box it comes in (the are 48 tolls in one box). It is an Australian company, although the rolls are made in China.

Maybe not perfect, but it works for us.

2. Chocolate Bars

Chocolate is my weakness. I’m trying very hard to buy more bulk chocolate and less packaged chocolate, but I have a particular obsession with Green & Blacks 85%. I like to buy organic and fair trade chocolate, and bulk stores have less options.

Yes, I know that Green & Blacks was purchased by Cadbury’s, and Cadbury’s was sold to Kraft. Not ideal at all. Truth is, I got addicted before that happened!

I only buy chocolate bars that come with tin foil and paper or card, and I recycle the packaging. I do buy bulk chocolate, too. My local bulk store also sells Loving Earth chocolate in bulk which is organic, Fair Trade and vegan – but it has a lot more sugar than these guys. If I ate a little less, maybe it wouldn’t matter…

3. Baking Paper

I  use baking parchment. I use it to bake bread and biscuits (to line my metal baking tray) and to line cake tins or loaf tins. I find it helps stop the edges burning.

Whilst I do have silicone muffin trays of various sizes, and silicone muffin cases, I sometimes need to bake more than I have, and other times I need a bigger size. Sometimes I use paper muffin cases.

I’ve tried greasing my tins, but I prefer baking paper. Whilst silicone works well, it isn’t recyclable, and heating in the oven does seem to degrade it over time. The muffin cases (baking cups) I use very sparingly, but the paper I use more often.

I will wipe the baking paper clean after use, and will aim to get a few uses out of it before composting.

4. Seedling Punnets

I’ve been buying seedling punnets to establish our garden. After almost all of my summer seeds failed to germinate, I resorted to buying seedling punnets (plastic punnets with seedlings in them ready for transplanting in the garden). It was that or not grow any vegetables all summer, so overall I felt I could justify the waste.

I’ve tried reusing them, but the soil tends to dry out too quickly. I’ve saved them all up in the hope of passing them on to someone who will re-use them.

I use the plastic labels in my garden. Hopefully I will be able to reuse these multiple times, but eventually they will end up as landfill.

5. Seed Packets

As we are establishing our garden, I’ve needed to buy seeds. Some seed packets contain foil/paper envelopes with the sees sealed inside; others have plastic zip-lock bags; and occasionally the seeds are loose.

My long-term plan is to save most of my own seeds, participate in seed swaps and grow seedlings from seed. But seed-saving is an art, and it will take some practice. Some things (like tomatoes and capsicums) are easy to save from seed; other things are harder and some require expert knowledge (and more land than I have).

So it’s unlikely I will ever be fully self-sufficient with my seeds.

I will be able to reuse the zip lock bags and the envelopes, but the foil/paper packets aren’t recycable.

6. Dog Food

We buy our dog food in large 14kg plastic sacks. Believe me, I do not like buying packaged industrially-produced dog food. We have tried all sorts of brands, organic and locally produced and Australian-made, but our dog prefers this one.

This is the biggest size available in this brand. Some Australian brands are slightly bigger (20kg). There is a bulk store in Perth that sells Australian dog food in bulk, but they buy 20kg bags and use those. As our dog eats through this in a month it doesn’t make sense for us.

I’ve looked into making food myself, but we don’t have space to make it in advance and freeze, and I’m not sure I want to go to the butchers every few days. Maybe in the future it will happen, but for now, we are sticking with this.

The plastic is recyclable at REDcycle.

7. Q Tips/Cotton Buds

I know that Q tips/cotton buds are meant to be bad for our ears, but seriously, I cannot bear to have water in my ears, or blocked ears generally. I use Q tips. They are 100% compostable and they come in 100% compostble packaging, but they are still a single-use item, and one that many zero wasters do without. I, however, have no plans to give them up.

I never ever use the ones with the plastic sticks. I also don’t use them often, maybe once every couple of weeks.

These are made from paper/card and organic cotton, in a cardboard box. I’ve had this box for around 2 years, and I’m due for a new one soon.

8. My Plastic (But Reusable) Toothbrush

When I went plastic-free in 2012, I started using bamboo toothbrushes. The bristles would constantly come out in my mouth and it used to drive me nuts. Not only that, but as I watched the plastic bristles wash down the drain I’d think – isn’t that exactly what I’m trying to prevent?

I saw a plastic toothbrush with a remove-able head in a health food shop in 2014 and made the switch. The heads only need replacing once every 6 months (I was replacing my bamboo toothbrush every two months).

The toothbrush is a brand is called Silver Care. I don’t love the plastic handle, but I think as a toothbrush, it does the job. The packaging and head are recyclable via Terracycle.

I suspect that it was the brand of bamboo toothbrush that was the issue, rather than bamboo toothbrushes as a whole, as many of my readers have told me that they get on well with different brands.

Nevertheless, now I have this one I intend to re-use it. Otherwise it’s a waste.

9. Re-Purposed Plastic

Mostly the zero waste and plastic-free movements align, but sometimes they do not. I’m happy to repurpose plastic if it is suitable for the job intended, will last, reduces landfill, and there isn’t an obvious better solution.

We used repurposed olive export barrels to make garden beds/pots for our veggie garden. These plastic barrels are used to ship olives from Greece to Australia just once, and then they are landfilled. We cut each one in half and turned them into garden beds. Each barrel cost around $30 (and cut in half makes two pots) compared to $150 for a single half wine barrel of the same size. They are food grade, UV stable and a waste product.

I’d rather olives were shipped in reusable containers, and maybe one day that will happen. Until then, I’m happy using these to grow my own food.

10. Plastic That Other People Give Me

Where I’ve been offered something that I know I can use and that might otherwise end up in the bin, I accept it. Reducing waste in generally is my priority, not keeping my own home pristine. My sister-in-law recently gave me a box of strange-flavoured tea that I knew I would drink and she knew she wouldn’t. It came in a box with a plastic window.

I’ve also been given some DIY skincare ingredients from a member of a community group who would have thrown them out had no-one wanted them.

This wax is a plant-based (vegan) alternative to beeswax, and I’m keen to try it out in some recipes. I’ll recycle the packaging when it’s empty.

I’m happy to take packaging from others and accept the waste if it means not wasting the product itself.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your zero waste exceptions? Are they things you can’t avoid, or things you choose not to? What is your biggest struggle? Is there anything that you thought would be impossible to give up or avoid, only to find that you were able to much more easily than you thought? Can anyone relate to me me on the chocolate issue?! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

My Zero Waste Kit (Zero Waste Handbag Essentials)

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

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

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

What’s In My Zero Waste Handbag?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Annual Waste Jar, Deconstructed (+ Lessons Learned)

For the last 12 months, I saved all* of my landfill waste in a jar. I talked last week about why I felt like it was a bit gimmicky but did it anyway; the purpose behind keeping our waste in a jar, the reasons I liked doing it, and the reasons I did not like doing it.

*I also talked about why ‘all’ didn’t actually mean all. I shared a picture of the contents of my jar.

But I didn’t actually talk about what was in the jar.

You know me, I love talking about rubbish. Give me any excuse ;) I thought I’d explore what was in my jar with you, and what I learned from the experience of collecting my rubbish. If you have any questions or would like to share any wisdom, I’d love to hear at the end!

Contents of a Zero Waster’s Annual Rubbish Jar:

The entire contents of my jar (plus my passport and that scandalous polystyrene container, which didn’t fit.) I’ve divided up the picture into 4 to talk about each segment separately.

Polystyrene container: After 5 years of plastic-free living, I end up with a polystyrene container! Shortly after we moved we went to a nearby pizza place. I took a container with me for leftovers but the pizzas were bigger than expected, and didn’t fit. The waiter asked if I wanted a box, and as they are usually cardboard, I said yes. Imagine my horror when I was handed a polystyrene box! Needless to say, we will never go back!

A local place recycles polystyrene, but I’m not sure if it is just the expanded stuff. I intend to go there with my container and find out more. (It’s called CLAW Environmental.)

Lesson learned: Never assume, because you are never too experienced to get caught out unawares!

Brown Packing Tape: This could be polypropylene (plastic #5), the same as sellotape/sticky tape, but I’m not sure so I kept it in my jar. If it is, it can be recycled through REDcycle (who collect soft plastic for recycling via supermarkets in Australia). I recycle any sticky tape I get this way.

Lesson Learned: Recycling is complicated, and it isn’t always obvious what material something is made from. Refusing is always the best option, if possible!

Plastic packet: We needed to buy a specialty light bulb for a common-shared outdoor light. We purchased the bulb, so it counts as waste in my eyes.

Lesson Learned: Some plastic just cannot be avoided.

Plastic chip from our soap dish: Our shower has a plastic soap dish attached (it came with the house), and my husband seems to constantly knock it off. Plastic can only be dropped so many times before it shatters! The rest of the dish is intact, it is just missing a corner.

Lesson Learned: Next time, choose a material that lasts and can be recycled or composted at the end of its life.

Cable from our garden hose: We bought a new hose to water our veggie patch. The hose was attached to a cardboard label via this cable. (It is possible that CLAW Environmental also recycle this type of plastic, so I will check.)

Lesson Learned: If you buy new, there is almost always packaging.

Loyalty and Membership Cards: One is a loyalty scheme we joined by mistake. We thought we wouldn’t get a card, but the sales lady meant you don’t need to show the card to get the discount (they can look our names up). Two key fob ones too, lucky us. The other card is an unnecessary membership card for a bicycle organisation.

Lesson Learned: Loyalty might be rewarded, but the environment is not.

Courgette seed packet: This pack is a combination of paper, foil, and maybe plastic. Some seeds come loose in paper packets, some in plastic zip lock bags (which can be repurposed) and some like this. In the future I plan to save my own seeds, but I needed seeds to start with!

Lesson learned: Sometimes activities create waste in the beginning, but help reduce waste long-term.

Red elastic bandage: Our greyhound went to the vet for an x-ray and we picked him up sporting this bandage. I have no idea what it is made from, but I am almost certain it isn’t recyclable.

Lesson learned: Sometimes plastic is a medical necessity.

Plastic packet: After 5 years of living plastic-free and my promising to label our pantry jars, my husband finally had enough and purchased two grease pencils to label them himself! They came in this pack.

Lesson learned: Everyone has a limit to their patience ;) Sometimes a little waste is worth it to keep the peace.

Passport: My passport expired. I sent it back to the UK Passport Authority. They sent me my new passport but also returned my old one. It arrived on day 364 of my year. Thanks guys – now I have to add it to my waste jar!

Lesson Learned: At least it is only once every 10 years…

Underpants: I prefer plain, sensible underpants. But for some reason in my late twenties I decided I should give fancy underpants a go. Fortunately the phase didn’t last. These aren’t cotton and so won’t compost.

Lesson learned: Choose fabrics that can biodegrade.

Tedx Lanyard: The lanyard strap from my Tedx Perth talk (I composted the cardboard part) which I needed to access the venue. It is a shame that they couldn’t collect them for reuse, as all 1700 people had one! I will separate the metal clip for recycling. (My husband kept his as a souvenir!)

Lesson Learned: Sometimes the system creates waste, and if we really want a zero waste society, we need to work to change the system.

Dental floss: Used for emergencies. I have used more than two pieces but they were gobbled up by the vacuum cleaner. When this (pre-2011) roll runs out I will choose biodegradable floss.

Lesson learned: Think about the end of a product when choosing something new, and stay alert for better options.

Jumper label and hanging ribbons: I used non-biodegradable old clothes to stuff a bed for our greyhound, but this jumper was wool so I composted it. These bits aren’t compostable so they ended up in the jar.

Lesson learned: 100% cotton/wool/silk/hemp doesn’t necessarily mean 100% biodegradable.

Black wristband: from the Tedx post-event wrap-up celebration. I assume it was issued by the venue.

Lesson learned: Plastic can be found in the most unexpected places, but we can write to companies/businesses/venues to share our concerns and suggest alternatives.

Plastic bottle caps: Mostly from medicine bottles; the orange one is from a whisky bottle and the black one from an oil bottle I used to refill.

Lesson learned: plastic lids are not recyclable in Western Australia, so avoiding them is always best or they will end up in landfill.

Blister pack from two coin batteries: The old ones had run out.

Lesson learned: The less batteries we use, the less waste there is.

Sticker backing: The first thing to go in my jar! Possibly recyclable via REDcycle but I wasn’t sure of the material. It was the backing for our “no junk mail sticker”.

Lesson learned: Sometimes we need to create waste now to reduce waste in the future.

Razor blade and packet: I still use a plastic razor with blades I purchased pre-2011 (I talked about why here). With careful looking after, each blade lasted me a year. I am now down to my last.

Lesson learned: With care, we can prolong the life of things deemed “single use” or “disposable”.

Sim card: My phone died in March last year and the replacement needed a nano sim rather than the micro sim that I already had. So I had to replace the whole lot.

Lesson learned: Sometimes planned obsolescence is unavoidable.

pH strips: I thought these were paper, but after putting them in the worm farm discovered they are plastic.

Lesson learned: Looks can be deceiving.

Tiny toothpaste tube: I found this, still sealed, when picking up litter in a park. I figured it was less wasteful to use it. Terracycle recycle toothpaste tubes so I will drop off at one of their collection points.

Bank cards: I have English cards and Australian cards, and they all expired last year! We changed banks when we got our mortgage, so that was an extra set of cards in the jar.

Lesson learned: If I simplify my banking there will be less plastic and waste.

Tea bag wrapper: This can be recycled via REDcycle. It is a combination of foil and plastic but I mistakenly thought it was paper. It was from a workshop I attended.

Lesson learned: sometimes we make mistakes. The fact this should actually be in the recycling bin and not the jar is a mistake. I wonder, what did I mistakenly put in the recycling?

Medicine packets: My husband and I both got the flu last year, and took almost all of these in that week. We try to avoid medicine except for emergencies. This was an emergency.

Lesson learned: In medical emergencies, our health is a priority.

Plastic tags: I’ve purchased a few second-hand items from charity shops, and they all come with little plastic tags.

Lesson learned: Second-hand keeps waste to a minimum, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether.

Googly eyes: These are from a toy my in-laws purchased for our greyhound. Mister Duck’s feet got gnawed off too but those went in the bin. I debated whether Hans’ waste (which I have no control over) should go in the jar or not, so I compromised. (Plus the feet were absolutely covered in slobber.)

Lesson learned: it isn’t always possible to avoid all the waste that all our family members create, and sometimes there needs to be a little compassion and compromise.

Green twisty tags: I have no idea where these came from. I have noticed that they have already started to degrade in the jar.

Lesson learned: plastic often isn’t fit for purpose.

Pink tape: Ironically, from a waste reduction behaviour change campaign I worked on. We used pink gaffa tape in the project. At the end we received thank-you cards sealed with this tape.

Lesson learned: Novelty gestures almost always result in waste.

Miscellaneous bits: The clip on a pen lid; an elastic band tangled in some (non-biodegradable) fabric; a plastic toggle from a pair of shorts (the other one is already lost); melted plastic from a Pyrex lid I put too near a hot saucepan; and a paperclip that  isn’t plastic.

Lesson learned: If there is any plastic anywhere in the home, it is likely that at some stage it will end up in landfill. Where there is an alternative, seek it out!

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of collecting my waste in a jar, and I learned a lot. Will I continue this year? I’m not sure. My passion is community, and I’d rather spend my time and energy helping others reduce their waste than fixate over a piece of dental floss or a plastic blister pack.

Personal change is great. But building a movement? That’s much better.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – would you find it helpful if I continued to keep an annual waste jar? Is it something that you’d like to see again next year? Was there anything in my waste jar that surprised you? Was there anything that you expected to see in there that wasn’t there? Do you have any suggestions for how to dispose of any of the items currently in the jar? Do you have any other thoughts about my waste, or waste jars in general? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!