Tag Archive for: eco living

A (Surprisingly Easy) Way to Generate Less Waste

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savoury muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savoury muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate.

How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back. (I figure if I do that, at least they can be re-used. If I leave them untouched on the plate, when everything gets cleared away they will probably end up in the bin.) The issue with this, and I’m sure most people will agree, is that anything toasted tastes far better smothered in buttery goodness.

When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking.

I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions.

Here’s the result:

plastic-free butter

Plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organise a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different.

The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!

(Of course there are times when asking gets you nowhere, and then all of the above apply! – But the first step should always be to ask the question).

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no. It’s really not that bad!

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. we can make others realise that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go! There’s no need to cause a fuss, or get angry or grumpy if the answer is no. There’s no need to feel nervous. Remember, the answer could just as easily be yes!

Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever had any great wins just because you asked the question? Have you ever had any dismal failures…and what did you do afterwards?! Do you have any tips for reducing waste when out and about? Any other ideas you’d like to add? Please leave a comment and tell me your experiences below!

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

I mentioned at the end of last year that we’d been deciding whether or not to buy a car, and this drummed up quite a bit of interest from readers. Car ownership can be controversial from a minimalist point-of-view, a sustainability point-of-view, a zero-waste point of view... I thought I’d write about why we were contemplating buying a car in the first place, what our options were and why we ultimately decided to remain car-free.

Some Background – Our Changing Circumstances

At the end of September, I started a new job. My office is a ten-minute walk (through a park!) from our flat. Glen has been working in the CBD for the last 18 months, which was a 45 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 30 minute cycle ride. There is no parking. In November, Glen’s office relocated from the CBD to another suburb. His commute is now a 1 hour 20 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 45 minute cycle ride. Parking is free.

We’ve known about this impending relocation for a while. Our new flat (which we move into at the end of the year) will be much closer to the new office – probably a 15 minute bus or cycle ride. It’s the 12 months before the move that are the issue. If I hadn’t just found a job where we currently live, we’d have moved closer sooner, but that was no longer an option.

Commuting isn’t much fun, and doubling your commuting time (with no compensation – it was the office location that changed, not the actual job) means losing a significant amount of free time. Glen doesn’t want to spend his evenings sat at bus stops.

With both of us working, there is less free time for errands, and a car might make things easier. We thought hard about the options.

Option 1: The Electric Car

The electric car appears to fit with our values. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it raised a number of issues for us.

First up, electric cars are fairly new here, so there isn’t really a second-hand market. Buying a new car is expensive. One of the reasons I started working full-time was to save for the deposit for the flat. Buying a car would wipe out all that money. A new car would cost the same as my take-home salary for the year: they’d simply cancel each other out. Which rather defeats the point!

Secondly, there’s all that embodied carbon. Buying a new car is hardly a green option, whether electric or not. If we really needed a car, maybe we’d think differently, but this choice was more about convenience than necessity.

Thirdly, having an electric car without solar panels to charge it wouldn’t be ideal. The new house has solar but the current one doesn’t, so we’d need to plug it into the mains (powering it from fossil fuels). Our car port is not next to our flat, so we’d need cables and some ingenuity to manage to charge it at home.

All that convenience of having a car suddenly got remarkably inconvenient!

Option 2: The Conventional Car

What about a conventional car? We’d never even consider buying a brand new conventional car. Old cars are affordable (assuming they don’t keep breaking down) and older cars how a lower footprint, even when their fuel usage is less efficient. The embodied emissions of a car (meaning the energy used in the mining, transporting and manufacturing of the parts and the building of the car) are thought to rival the exhaust emissions over its lifetime. T

he older a car is and the more miles it has clocked, the better.

The thing is, we like living without a car. We’ve made it work for us, and we like the lifestyle. My husband feels that not having a car is part of his identity. You can justify anything to yourself if you try hard enough, but we felt that car ownership might be the start of a slippery slope away from the path we’re trying to follow.

Option 3: The Electric Bike

My husband was really taken with the idea of an electric bike. We have several friends who own them, so he was able to talk about them with people who could provide honest and helpful feedback. The appeal? An electric bike would make the 45 minute (each way) cycle ride to work faster, and less exhausting. The downsides: it’s still a bicycle.

There would still be days when it wouldn’t be practical. Going to meetings before work, or heading out after work, and the bike becomes a burden. If it’s pouring, you still get wet. if it’s a 45 degree day, you still get hot.

It wouldn’t be practical on the weekends if we were going somewhere together, as I’d still have my road bike. Buy two and the cost runs into a few thousand dollars. We have limited storage, they are very heavy and our flat is upstairs.

Option 4: Do Nothing

There’s definitely something to be said for doing nothing. It’s not about inertia or indecision, but about making informed choices. It’s a very minimalist approach to life – allow yourself to settle into your new situation before making decisions, especially if those decisions involve spending money and accumulating more stuff.

Rather than speculate that the commute would be too long, or the cycle ride too tiring, we decided that the best approach was to see how it actually panned out.

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

This year our focus is saving for a deposit on a flat, and spending money on other things is a distraction from this goal. Car ownership may give us increased convenience…but at a price. We’ve lived without a car for 3 1/2 years in Perth, and our circumstances have changed before, so there’s no reason why we can’t manage this latest round of changes.

My husband has embraced cycling to work. His current aim is 3 times a week, and whilst he found it quite tiring initially, he is definitely finding it easier. Rather than costing us more, his office move is saving us money (less bus / train fares), and his fitness is improving greatly! He is still contemplating the electric bike idea, but for now the pushbike is good enough.

Do you live car-free? Do you love the freedom it gives you, or find the inconvenience frustrating? If you have a car, is getting rid of your car something you’d consider? Would you contemplate getting an electric bike?! Please leave a comment below telling me your thoughts!

Reflections and Lessons from 2014

As we hurtle towards the New Year and 2015, it’s easy to get swept up in plans for the year ahead – all the things we’re going to do, all the habits we’re going to change and all the goals we’re going to accomplish. But what about the year that’s just been? The year might be (almost) over, but I don’t want to brush those lessons, achievements and experiences under the carpet in the excitement of planning the future. After all, this year (and all those lessons) will no doubt shape the coming year. Not only that, but in amongst the “could do better”s and “should try harder”s there’s a whole heap of other stuff – goals that I achieved and moments that I’m really proud of. I don’t want to forget about those in the excitement of what’s around the corner!

Rather than getting ahead of myself and blindly wrapping myself up in all my big dreams for 2015, I spent some time looking back at 2014. After all, this year was no doubt just as big a year as next year will be.

What Happened this Year?

Quite a lot, actually! The Less is More Festival happened again in February after many months of planning, and was really successful. My blog had its first anniversary; I was asked to write some guest blog posts; I was a finalist in the Waste Authority Infinity Awards; I spent time back in the UK, my family came to visit, I got married, started a new job and signed up to buy an apartment.

Phew!

It was by no means plain sailing. I spent a few months unemployed in the middle of the year, which led to a lot of soul-searching. I tried desperately hard to find a job in a field I’m truly passionate about, but alas, it was not to be. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it, does it?!

When we think about the year just gone, we always seem to start with the mistakes and plans that fell through, and proceed to beat ourselves up. I’m gonna turn this on its head and start with the things that went well; the things I’m proud of achieving this year.

My Highlights of the Year:

  • The Less is More Festival was awarded Community Event of the Year, and my second year as Festival Coordinator saw the event grow and attendees almost double to almost 1000! Not bad for an event with a total spend of $72! After achieving everything that I set out to with the 2014 event, I’m happy with my decision to step aside and let someone else take on the Festival and lead it down a new path.
  • My blog had its first anniversary and readership has steadily continued to grow. It’s so encouraging to know that I’m not the only one with a slight obsession with waste and a craving for a simpler way of living! Thanks guys : )
  • My wedding! Glen and I finally figured out a way to celebrate our marriage without generating too much waste, sticking with our values and not taking out a mortgage to pay for it : ) I’ll be writing about this in the New Year, so if you’re keen to know more, keep your eyes peeled!

What Fell by the Wayside?

Of course, it wasn’t all trophies and gold stars and roaring success. Here’s the not-so-good bits – the bits I hope to learn from and build on this coming year!

  • At the start of the year, Glen and I declared 2014 the Year of Exercise. It began well, with long walks and bicycle rides, and I got back into going to yoga regularly. And it felt good. However, the job, wedding and family visits meant exercise has completely fell by the wayside over the last few months. Definitely a priority for the coming months!
  • I still haven’t gotten myself a sewing machine, despite my many assurances to you all that it would happen :/
  • My plans to woo you all with awesome recipes on the blog this year fell apart when we moved to our new flat with an impossible gas oven. My last attempt at chocolate brownies required five hours of baking time. Five hours. And yes, they were still gooey in the middle after all that time.
  • The “no new* clothes” rule. No idea quite what happened there. What happened to my wardrobe minimalism pledge?! (*new meaning new for me)

What Lessons Did I Learn?

Quite a few! The main one being that we can’t do everything at once. Social media may make it seem like we can, but life is all about balance. Balancing health + exercise + working + chores + pursuing your passions + giving back + creating + learning new skills + relaxing + spending time with family and friends… that’s a lot to fit in! It turns out you can’t do all of it, all of the time. I definitely have a tendency to take on more and more until it’s too much, and then have to let go, and then start to build and build and build again… Compromise is something I’ve talked about on the blog a lot in the last year, and whilst things often feel like compromise, maybe there would be less compromise if there was more balance to begin. I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ll be working on in 2015!

What’s Next?!

My word for 2015 is… “b a l a n c e”. That’s the theme to guide how I’ll live my life in 2015. How I’d like to take care of my mind, body and spirit. Working on balancing my commitments with my desires, my needs with my wants, passion with practicality. What this means in real terms?! Doing all of the things some of the time. Choosing what’s important and building that around what’s necessary. With a good dose of what’s fun thrown in!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What were your best bits of 2014? Let’s focus on the good stuff – tell me what you achieved, what you’re proudest of, and what your favourite moments were in 2014! Were there any lessons you learned that you’ll be holding onto in the coming year? Any guiding themes or words to focus on? Please share them by leaving a comment below!

A new beginning…

Today I re-join the employed ranks of the world. I’m starting a new job. Not only that, but it’s a full-time job. It was never my intention to be unemployed for so long (since April this year). Way back then, I was feeling pretty optimistic about my future work plans. I had some exciting work and freelance opportunities I was hoping would come to fruition, but one by one, they fell by the wayside. I dreamed about setting up my own sustainability education business (something I’d still love to do), but these things take time, money…and, seemingly, a lot more confidence than I can muster.

It was time to find a job.

The last two weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, if I’m honest. I find job applications stressful, interviews difficult and the waiting game frustrating. The job I applied for (and got) fits with my values and ethos (I’m not about to start working for the big-chain supermarkets!), but whilst I’m really pleased I found this job, at first I felt like I’d failed. I want so much to be more involved with the sustainability movement, not less. Full-time employment is going to be a bit of a culture shock, particularly with the reduced amount of free time I’ll have. I even wondered whether it was time to give up the blog, accept that I’d failed at what I wanted to do, and move on. And probably go shopping to make myself feel better. (About the shopping – just kidding! : p)

Fortunately I have friends who are able to talk sense. One pointed out that far more people want to work in the sustainability industry than there are jobs for; and that starting your own business is hard, plus it takes time. Another said “Who do you have to be in the sustainability industry to make a difference? You don’t!”

Oh yeah!

Isn’t that what I’m always talking about on the blog – how small everyday actions actually make a real difference, and lead to big changes?!

Another friend (goodness, I do keep the company of some wise people) reminded me of the saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it”. I’m going to have a lot less free time, but hopefully I will be more motivated to use that free time far more wisely. When the days merge into one another and there’s no timelines or deadlines, it’s easy to put things off. There is always tomorrow.

So whilst it’s going to be a huge shift for me, I’m realising that it doesn’t mean I’ve failed, or that I’m going backwards. I’m still going in the direction I want to go in, just maybe more slowly than I’d imagined. But isn’t that often the way? The reality doesn’t always (if ever) match up to how we think things will be. Whilst I love the idea of not needing money and being self-sufficient, let’s be real here. I am not anywhere near that, and money is pretty useful for things like food and rent! Whilst I’m not quite sure what the next year will look like yet for me, the good news in the blog is staying. I hope you’re pleased! : )

How to Read Your Gas Bill + How I Saved $300 a Year

I have a confession. I actually enjoy receiving our power bills. It’s because I’m a bit of a nerd and I like to see how much energy (and money!) we’re saving by being as energy-efficient as possible. Today we received a new gas bill in the post, but when I ripped open the envelope my heart almost stopped because I saw the graph:

Graph on gas bill

Energy usage graph on gas bill

How on earth had our gas usage skyrocketed that much?

Before panic ensued, I checked our average daily consumption in units. This information is always included on your bill. It turns out that we hadn’t used many more units than the previous bill after all. Phew!

Gas bills for new flat

For this billing period we used 4.40 units per day, compared to 4.12 units per day on the previous bill.

The new bill confirms that we’re using less than half the energy we used at the previous flat. That sounds pretty impressive. This works out to be a saving of $300, which, I think you’ll agree, is even more impressive. So what is the secret?

First up, I’m just going to explain how to read your gas bill. It’s vital if you want to know how much energy you use and how much it’s costing you! It also means you can compare your usage with similar households to find out if you’re actually paying more than you should be. (Extra bonus –  knowing how to read your bill also prevents heart-attacks when you receive misleading graphs!)

A Quick Guide to Reading Your Energy Bill

  • The first thing to check is that the bill you’ve received correlates with your meter! (This isn’t likely to be a problem unless you’ve just moved, but it’s worth mentioning.)
  • Secondly, check if the bill is based on a meter reading or an estimate. If the bill is estimated, the amount may be very different to what you’ve actually used. You can usually contact your energy company to give an accurate reading and receive a new bill.
  • Be wary of graphs! The energy companies can use data to manipulate what you see. The reason my graph had such a huge change was because I moved mid-way through a billing cycle. The first bill I received was for 44 days. The second was for 89 days. It stands to reason that my second bill will cost twice as much as the first bill – it’s for double the amount of days!
  • Look for the average daily consumption, measured in units. That tells you how many units you are using every day. Energy is priced per unit, so the cost to you is the amount your company charges per unit multiplied by the number of units you have used.
  • If you can’t find your average daily consumption, it’s easy to calculate by finding the total number of energy units used and dividing by the number of days in the billing period. For my latest bill I used 391 units over 89 days, which is 4.39 units per day.

How I Saved $300 a Year in Gas Bills

This isn’t the part where I tell you I switched providers, and offer you a nifty little affiliate link like you’ve no doubt seen a gazillion times before. Nope. Sadly the gas company in Perth has a monopoly on the supply, so I’m stuck with these guys for now. I saved that much money without switching providers. I’ll tell you how I did it.

I moved house.

Not to a smaller house. I moved to a bigger house.

I moved to a bigger house with an additional demand for gas over the previous house (this place has a gas oven; the previous place had an electric one).

I might also add that the flat I moved to is in the same complex, made from the same materials and with the same insulation (or lack of).

Despite all of things thing, my gas bills have halved. See?

The daily energy use at my old flat was between 9 and 11.49 per day compared to less than 5 in the new flat.

The daily energy use at my old flat was between 8.9 and 11.49 per day compared to less than 5 in the new flat.

Do you know what made all that difference?

This guy.

New Boiler

This 5 1/2 star energy rating boiler that doesn’t have a pilot light meant my gas bills halved…without me doing a thing!

The boiler.

Compared with this guy:

Boiler with a pilot light

Meet Mr Inefficiency: Boiler with a pilot light

I did everything in our old flat to reduce our gas use (that’s why the unit consumption dropped a little during the year), but there was one thing I couldn’t get away from. The pilot light. That boiler burns gas even when it’s just sitting there. Even when it’s 40ºC day and you really don’t want any kind of heat at all. Our new boiler, by comparison, only burns gas when it’s ignited.

That’s all it’s taken to cut our bill by $300.

We didn’t install the boiler ourselves, it came with the rental, and in that regard we’ve been lucky. However, it has also highlighted to me the importance of fuel-efficient appliances, not just for the emissions they produce but also the cost savings they provide.

You may not be able to change your gas boiler, if you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck with an inefficient one (but if you are, here’s one idea for reducing how much energy it costs you). There are, however, plenty of other appliances that use energy that you do have control over. Think about all the other energy drains in the home: the heating, lighting, washing machine, dryer, the vacuum cleaner, small kitchen appliances, fridge and freezer, and other electrical equipment. Next time you need to change something, don’t just consider the initial cost, because in the long term it may end up costing more than you think.

Are you a homeowner who has installed energy efficient appliances, or are you a renter who is stuck with rubbishy inefficient junk that your landlord installed to save himself a buck or two? Are there any other appliances you’ve switched to energy saving and know have saved you money and cut your bills? Do you have any tips or experiences to share? I always love to hear from you so don’t forget to leave a comment!

Fairphone: my fairly traded, ethical Smartphone

As signs of life slowly ebbed out of my battered old mobile phone, I decided that (when the time came) I would replace it not with another second-hand phone, but with a Fairphone. Fairphone are a social enterprise that make mobile phones with a difference: mobile phone that champion social values. are environmentally responsible and support Fair Trade principles. They have done this by opening up the supply chain, sourcing conflict-free minerals and ensuring workers receive a fair wage, as well as designing a phone that can be repaired by its owner, and recycled responsibly at the end of its life.

I ordered my Fairphone back in May and it was delivered in July, but I had to wait until I went back to the UK in August to pick it up (Fairphone only currently ship to Europe). The timing couldn’t have been better though, as my iPhone finally packed up that same week. So, now I’ve had a month to play with it…what do I think?

The Fairphone: a Review

This isn’t a technical review, as I’m no techno-gadget whizz kid. I’ve had a Smartphone for the last four years so I have some idea what I’m doing with these things, but I’m not interested in the specs. I’m interested in: will it work? Is it easy to use? Does the camera take good pictures? Regular person stuff. This is a regular-person review…with an ethical slant!

Fairphone in its packaging

The Fairphone came in this cardboard box, and with minimal packaging.

The packaging for the phone was minimal. The cardboard case was not much bigger than the phone. Fairphone don’t send out chargers or headphones as they figure most people already own hundreds of them, so this reduces the package size. A small paper manual was included. I was expecting the package to be completely plastic-free, but there was still some stupid plastic included. There was a sticker with the writing “this is your Fairphone” covering the screen on the front, and a sticker on the battery at the back. I’m about to get my fingerprints all over the screen – is there really any need to “protect” it?!

The phone is bigger than my iPhone 3GS, and noticeably heavier…although it’s not exactly heavy (it weighs 165g). The rim around the screen should help protect the glass from damage (apparently – someone who knows about these things told me). The back has a removable metal plate (it’s not made of plastic!) and slots for two SIM cards, and also a slot for a memory card (no memory size-fixing and premium-charging here). It charges with a standard micro USB cable.

So far, so good. Next step: charge it up and switch it on.

Fairphone off and on

Fairphone off…and Fairphone on.

You’re probably thinking, yep, looks pretty straightforward. Look closely. Do you see the buttons for making a call and sending a text message?

No? I didn’t either. When you turn on the phone you have to install Google Apps yourself – the phone doesn’t come pre-installed with it. Even afterwards though, where is the button for making a call?! Scrolling left and right just seemed to offer blank screens.

Eventually (and I’m talking a good half an hour later) I figured out how to make a call. Text messaging took longer. I’ve obviously been spoiled by Apple, who do make their products very easy to use, but seriously? I was not expecting this level of complication. After all, phone calls are a pretty fundamental feature of a mobile phone!

Slowly slowly, I’m figuring out how it works. In the days of instant gratification though, this is hard, and a bit of a shock! I’m probably going to have to read the manual (something most mobiles no longer even come with). I feel myself resisting, and wishing I’d just waited for the new iPhone. Then I feel guilty, because I don’t want to give Apple my money, I want to give it to companies like this!

I was going to add that I’m disappointed with the camera, because the photos have all been terrible… but then I remembered that I took these pictures with my phone:

Yorkshire Dales 1

Photos taken with the Fairphone camera

Yorkshire Dales 2

Photos taken with the Fairphone camera

It’s probably less to do with the camera, and more to do with my lack of understanding the settings of the camera properly!

The final test was coming back to Australia. The Fairphone website says the phone is optimised for European 2G and 3G networks, but functional worldwide. However, a friend from here emailed them and was told it probably wouldn’t work in Australia. So would it work? Fortunately, yes! Using the same SIM as with my iPhone, I have better reception, better connectivity and better functionality than I did with my old phone. Which, ultimately, was the point of changing. Hurrah!

 Would I Recommend the Fairphone?

Despite my teething problems and my struggle to get to grips with the features, I do honestly believe it’s a great phone, and of course, I love what it stands for. If I could go back and decide again whether or not to buy one, of course I still would. We just need to take a little longer to get to know each other better!

I also have to remember that I bought this phone because I believe in what it stands for, not because it had the best specs of any phone on the market. It does everything I want it to do…and that is enough.

One of the great things about the Fairphone is that it is completely customizable. My boyfriend loves aspect of the phone; I wish maybe they’d gone a little further with the pre-installed features! It is good not having memory space taken up with all kinds of nonsense that I know I’ll never use, though. If you already use Android, you probably won’t find the transition as hard as me. If you’ve been spoiled by the iPhone, you might be in for a shock!

Is the Fairphone for You?

If you are familiar with smartphones already and you’re comfortable with all the different functions and features, plus you have used Android, I’d definitely recommend the Fairphone. If you haven’t had so much experience, be prepared to read the manual, spend time on Google and tear your hair out several times before you get the swing of things. If you’re new to smartphones altogether, this probably isn’t the best starter phone for you. You’d be better off with a simpler second-hand option until you get the hang of it all.

Right, I think I have a bit of reading to do…

Fairphone user guide

Tonight’s reading material…the Fairphone user guide.

Green Living Inspiration from my Holidays! (A Summary in Pictures)

Now I’m well and truly back in Perth, Australia (having finally adjusted to being in the same time zone as everyone around me) I thought I’d do a bit of a recap of my holiday. No, I don’t mean a whole heap of holiday snaps featuring stunning sunsets, glorious landscapes or what I ate for dinner, but rather all the cool stuff I saw relating to living sustainably on the European and English side of the world. Far more interesting, don’t you think?!

I’ve only been away for two years, but I’d forgotten how much further along Europe and the UK are down the path of making sustainability a mainstream topic, and how much more people seem to embrace it! I found it hugely inspiring to see how individuals, community groups, small businesses and even big chains were trying to do their bit to reduce their impact on the environment. Hopefully this is a sign of what’s to come for this side of the world. Bring it on, I say!

Zero Waste and Plastic Free

My favourite topic! I’m always intrigued to see what can be done to reduce waste and there was plenty of inspiration to be found…

Refillable bulk oil and vinegar Bruges

Bulk stores pop up in surprising places, and more often than you might think, if you only keep your eyes open for them!

Bruges bulk vinegar store

Bulk buy spirits! These barrels contain cognac and other alcohols. You can find everything in bulk if you look hard enough!

Returnable bottle deposit scheme Belgium

“Leeggoed” means “empties” – Belgium has a refundable bottle deposit scheme! You are charged 10 cents when you buy a bottle, and get your money back when you return it. Such a great way to reduce waste : )

Bruges Dine In Only

Good for you, waffle shop! If you want to eat a waffle, sit down and enjoy it properly : )

Loose blooms no plastic in sight

Farmers Markets are always inspiring, but what I particularly loved about this one was all the loose blooms you could buy without all that unnecessary plastic to accompany them.

Blueberries and Raspberries in Metal Aluminium punnets

These berries at the market were packaged in aluminium foil punnets rather than plastic ones. These punnets have more potential for reuse than plastic ones, plus foil is far easier to recycle than plastic. Bonus points for signs made out of old cardboard!

Packaging Free Fruit and Veg London

I loved how much fruit and veg was available loose and unpackaged from this greengrocer in London. Even fancy mushrooms come without uneccessary plastic bags.

Bulk tea in York

Bulk buy tea at a shop in York. And my, what a lot of tea they had!

Faversham cafe Reusable Keepcups

KeepCups might have been invented in Australia, but it’s good to see that they are catching on across the other side of the world too.

Sustainable Transport

Bicycles in Bruges

Bicycles rule in Europe, regardless of the weather. Less cars and more bikes and everyone benefits!

Free air bike pump Bruges

Free air for pumping up your bike tyres! Cycle infrastructure at its best.

Building Community

Makers Workshops Bristol

There are so many community-led initiatives all over the UK, but it was particularly great to see new things popping up in my old haunt of Bristol.

Companies (and Organisations) Taking Responsibility

Recycling in Belgium Station

Bin systems like this one were almost everywhere in Europe and the UK, making it easier than ever for people to dispose of their waste responsibly. Much better than one “landfill” dumpster!

Free Hangers Reuse Upcycle Hate Waste

Even the local shopping centre was doing its bit, offering unwanted coat hangers to the public for free to stop them heading to landfill.

Eurostar Green Britain info 2

Almost every company, no matter their size or industry, has some kind of statement publicly available about how they try to be sustainable. Most people are aware than train travel has far less impact on the environment than flying, but its good to see companies addressing these issues and telling people what they are doing to make a difference.

Eurostar info board

I might not agree with the amount of waste being generated, but I was impressed that they are actually thinking about what they are doing – it’s a step in the right direction.

Eurostar Green Britain info 1

What can I say…it’s a start!

Charitable Water Project Thali Cafe Frank Plastic Free

I noticed that lots of restaurants offer filtered water in refillable glass bottles rather than plastic bottles. I loved this scheme at the Thali cafe in Bristol where customers pay a donation for filtered water, which goes to funding water projects in India.

Cafe Kino Waste and Recycling

The waste and recycling statement hanging proudly on the wall of a local Bristol cafe.

Yorkshire Dales 2

The Yorkshire Dales are beautiful, and surprisingly free of rubbish…

Yorkshire Dales National Park waste management

…but it’s something that’s actively worked towards. No litter bins encourages people to take their litter home.

…And the Not-So-Good Bits

Whilst there was so much good stuff to see, it wasn’t all perfect. Here are just a few examples of things that made me want to tear my hair out.

Apples from NZ in our hotel during British summer

We stayed in a hotel in Yorkshire that I chose because of its commitment to green principles, use of local produce and ethical credentials. It was the height of summer when British fruit is in abundance. So why on earth were they providing apples shipped all the way from New Zealand?!

My Worst Nightmare Plastic Shop Bruges

Arghh! This shop has to be my worst nightmare! Even the name sends a shiver down my spine!

Krispy Kreme Wasting Plastic Straws

Clearly not all companies have quite got the green message. Seriously, Krispy Kreme, quality is not measured by the number of disposable plastic straws you provide. I think you need a new marketing team : /

As you can see, there were so many things that made me feel really inspired. Most of them are little things, but all of these little things add up to make real change! It made me realise that increasingly, people, companies, businesses and groups “get” that they need to act more sustainably, and they are embracing it and having fun at the same time!

Of course, there are also those hair-pulling moments that make me realise whilst we are heading in the right direction, there is still plenty more work to be done!

Right, no more holiday snaps from me. Promise! : )

Zero Waste Week 2014: Reducing Landfill on Holidays

When I first agreed to participate in Zero Waste Week, I had totally forgotten that I would be on holiday. Being completely waste-free isn’t easy at the best of times, but what about whilst on holidays, with all that uncertainty and all those unknowns?! At home with your routines and habits, and you’re comfortable with where to buy the things you need, it’s far easier to plan and make preparations.

When I did realise, I decided it would be good to give it a go regardless. Your morals and philosophies shouldn’t change just because you’re not at home! I love a challenge, and anyway, I wasn’t planning on throwing my zero-waste philosophy out the window just because I was on unfamiliar ground…so why not just keep on doing what I always (try to) do?

My Pledge: To Send Nothing to Landfill during Zero Waste Week

The theme for Zero Waste Week 2014 is “one more thing”, so I wanted to pledge something that would be a challenge – not something I do already – and sending nothing to landfill is my long-term goal. Holidays or not, that’s what I want to be doing!

For the first few days I was in London visiting my sister, who was responsible for the shopping. She actually lives right next to a bulk bin store and a superb little greengrocer that sells most of its produce loose – even the majority of herbs, and things that are often plastic-wrapped like baby carrots. I often hear that bulk bin stores don’t exist in the UK, so I like seeing things that prove this wrong! I was also very pleased to learn that she buys her olive oil in bulk using a refillable bottle : )

Unpackaged refill bulk store sign

Yay! Loose, unpackaged and bulk foods for sale in London right around the corner from where my sister lives (Newington Green).

Loose produce at the greengrocers

This superb little greengrocer had so much stuff completely packaging-free, including herbs, chantaney carrots, chillies and all sorts of other exciting and exotic things!

Using reusable cloth bags at the bulk bin store

Bulk bin store and my sister’s first experience of using reusable produce bags. “But prunes are sticky!” then “Oh, you can just wash the bags after.” Yep, it’s that simple!

We also ate out quite a bit (I’m on holidays!). That said, I’m always vigilant to refuse any unneccessary packaging, particularly plastic cups and straws, and bags of any kind. I’ve been carrying my metal lunchbox around with me in case I have any leftovers that need to be taken home. Alas, I’m far too greedy for that and my plate is always spotless!

Ottolenghi London salad selection

This is the salad selection at Ottolenghi in Islington, London. The salads are offered as take away or for dining in. They are amazing. I went twice in three days (eating in of course!). Mmmm.

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This was an awesome little pizza place where they use sourdough for the bases. I loved the upcycled tins being used as cutlery/napkin holders, and also the refillable oil and water bottles.

After a couple of nights I’m back staying with my parents in Kent. They have a garden full of home-grown produce and both home- and council-collected composting, so landfill waste is not a problem from food. I trained my mum to take her own containers to the butchers during Plastic Free July 2013. She doesn’t have any bulk bins stores locally, but she does her bit. (She’s even joining in the zero waste action by keeping a list of all the things she’s sending to landfill!)

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Zero waste vegetables for dinner - no packaging in sight : )

Zero waste vegetables for dinner – no packaging in sight : )

I also composted a tissue after blowing my nose, so as not to put it in the bin. Not particularly interesting but worth a mention because my mum was absolutely horrified/disturbed at the idea! I even had to fight to be allowed to put it in the composting bucket! She was quite grossed out by the thought of having to wash it out after when my tissue had been in there. Never mind that it has rotting vegetables, coffee grinds, moldy tomatoes and other stinky stuff in there – it was my tissue that she found the most disgusting!

Zero Waste Week: What About the Waste?

I was feeling very pleased about how little waste I’ve generated until my sister pointed out that I used some dental floss and a cotton bud at her house, and both went in the bin. I don’t floss because I’m lazy and I can’t find plastic-free floss, but my sister has had a root canal and is keen not to have another one. Staying with her and observing her superior dental routine, I felt guilty about my lack of flossing, so joined in…I didn’t even think about the waste! As for the cotton bud, I just assumed she used ones with biodegradable stems, but the one she has are made with plastic. Oops. She also doesn’t have any composting facilities either, so even a biodegradable one would have ended up in landfill.

My sister also cooked me dinner on the first night, and the vegetable peelings ended up in the bin, but I didn’t buy the ingredients or make the food (and everything was bought before I arrived), so I don’t think it counts.

At my parents’ house, there is a snack cupboard full of plastic-packaged things that I try to avoid, but I confess to eating a few handfuls of peanuts from the open (plastic) bag in the cupboard. And a biscuit from a packet. (And most of a bar of chocolate, but that comes in foil and paper which can be recycled!) Tomorrow I will be better behaved!

Zero Waste Week has been quite fun so far, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how my family have picked up some of my ideas and my influence is rubbing off. In a place like London it can be quite overwhelming when you see how much rubbish is produced (everywhere, by everyone, all the time), so it’s reassuring to think that it is still possible to take action. After all, small actions taken by lots of people lots of times adds up to making a big difference, and that is what leads to real change.

How about you? Are you taking part in Zero Waste Week? If so, how has your experience been so far? What about vacations: do you try to keep your standards the same when on holiday, or do they take a holiday too? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment!

Zero Waste Living: Glass Dharma Reusable Glass Straws

Plastic straws. Is any single-use plastic more wasteful than the plastic straw? (Okay, yes; I can certainly think of a few other examples, but plastic straws have got to be up there with the best – or worst – of them.) I’ve been using a stainless steel straw for a while, but I don’t like the way it feels against my teeth, and it’s quite hard to keep clean as you can’t see inside.

So when Glass Dharma, who make reusable glass straws, asked me if I’d be interested in trying out their glass straws, of course I was more than happy to oblige! I’ve brought them on holiday with me, as that’s the time when I’m eating (and drinking) out more often, and at unfamiliar places where I don’t know the local straw policy!

One of the great things about Glass Dharma is they actually understand the plastic waste problem, and they don’t send their straws out in a heap of plastic bubble wrap. Each straw is packaged in a card box, and the parcel was plastic-free too. Although the straws are made from glass, it’s toughened (they use borosilicate – the strongest commercially available glass) and they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.

GlassDharma plastic free drinking straws plastic-free packaging

Four Glass Dharma straws, with no plastic in sight!

GlassDharma plastic-free drinking straws

They sent me four different straws to try, and a miniature brush for easy cleaning! There is a decorated straw, a bendy straw, a bubble tea straw (which is wider) and a shorter straw.

I have plastic-free living friends who question the need for straws at all. Whilst I agree that often straws are unnecessary and I always refuse disposable ones, I have found at least three situations when a straw (reusable only, of course) is preferable to no straw.

The first is when drinking smoothies or juice. Because you end up with moustache marks in the colour of your drink that can be surprisingly hard to wash off. If you ever drink out of a glass jar, all trendy like, you make end up with juice on your nose. It has happened to me. With turmeric. And with green smoothies. Those drinks stain!

The second is when ordering frozen drinks. I remember when my parents and my boyfriend’s parents met for the first time, and we all went out for dinner. Someone ordered a daiquiri. I insisted there were no straws. When the drink arrived, it was frozen (of course), and the waitress, who had remembered there was no straw requested, asked if we’d still like no straw before handing one over with a very smug expression! Now I have my own reusable straws that is something that will never happen again!

The third is when ordering a drink that requires stirring or mixing. Of course, you could request a spoon, but depending on the glass, a long-handled spoon might be needed and might not be available. My mother drinks tomato juice with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. They always give her a plastic stirrer to mix it all together. She was under the impression that they were washed and reused, which of course they aren’t. She double-checked with the bar person who told her they get put in the recycling (which doesn’t neccessarily mean they get recycled, that depends on the company that manages the recycling; it does mean they are single use).

This possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

This is possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

The next step was taking them out for testing! I thought I’d share the work with my straw-using friends and family, to make sure they all got a workout.

First up - the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

First up – the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

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Bendy straw!

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Bendy straw again : )

I thought the glass straws were great. Glass feels better in my mouth than stainless steel (and definitely plastic!), and being able to see if it was clean was definitely a bonus that the stainless steel straw doesn’t offer. I’ve been carrying mine around in the boxes they came in, and that seems to offer enough protection. The glass straws are taller than the stainless steel one I have, which fits neatly into my To-Go Wear bamboo cutlery set, but the shorter Glass Dharma straw fits. I prefer them to the stainless steel straws and I’d definitely recommend them.

I love anything that makes zero waste (and plastic-free) living easier, and I love it when companies really get behind the reasons why people want to live this way (to avoid waste, to avoid chemicals, to protect the environment and live sustainably). Glass Dharma do this perfectly, and they also make products that are designed to last (no built-in obsolescence here).

Just to clarify, Glass Dharma sent me the straws, but my opinions are my own. As always! : )

Zero Waste Week is Coming Up…

You know me…any excuse to bang on about waste and I’m onto it! Which is why I’m super excited to be an ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014. Zero Waste Week is…yes, you guessed it…a week of living with less waste, and it runs from 1st – 7th September.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

As part of the challenge, you need to make a waste pledge, and the theme this year is “one more thing”. I’m already reasonably close to zero waste and I had a go at a completely zero waste week back in June with reasonable success (completely zero waste meaning no landfill and no recycling – only compostable waste), so I wasn’t sure what my pledge should be at first.

What extra thing could I manage?

Then I realised, I’m actually away from home that week, and it’s always much harder to keep standards up when on holiday. So I decided I’m going to commit to not sending anything to landfill during Zero Waste Week, although recyclables are acceptable.

No matter how zero waste I try to be, there’s always something that sneaks into the rubbish bin, so I think this will be a good challenge!

Lindsay Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Week Pledge 1

Do you like my Zero Waste Week pledge? I wrote it on the back of the cardboard packaging from an empty box of pasta! (Which then went into the worm farm.)

The challenge began in the UK, but you can take part no matter where you live. The problem of waste is global, after all, so let’s make this an international challenge! There’s still plenty of time to make a pledge. Check out the Zero Waste Week website for some more inspiration, and then join us and sign up for the challenge yourself : ) There’s no excuses: you still have almost two weeks to prepare!

Once you’ve decided what your “one more thing” will be, please leave a comment below telling me what you’ve pledged. I’d love to hear from you!