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From Decluttering to Done: can this one step make all the difference?

About a year ago, I was in a local town hall, with friends, watching a live band perform on a Saturday night. I was enjoying the music, and the company, but in the back of my mind I was distracted, thinking about other stuff. Or more specifically, I was thinking about stuff. My stuff.

I’d spent the day trying to declutter. I was planning to continue the following day. I was wondering whether I should get rid of something (I don’t remember what – maybe an item of clothing), or if I needed it, and what the best way to dispose of it would be… and then I caught myself. I noticed what I was doing, and realised how absurd it was.

I was letting my stuff spoil the moment. I was letting my stuff take up valuable space in my mind, as well as in my home. I was letting the process of decluttering take over my free time and my thoughts.

I’d been slowly decluttering over the past three years. I’d got rid of a heap of things I didn’t need and didn’t use, but the process had been slow. Here and now, at the gig, I realised that the longer I took, the more I was taking time and energy away from doing what I really wanted to be doing. (Which was not rearranging my wardrobe – again.)

The longer I took, the more I’d miss out on living my best life. “My best life” didn’t mean anything profound – it was as simple as this one evening.

Being able to spend time with my friends, or relax on a Saturday night. I could carry on decluttering the way I’d been going, and I’d still get there, but it would be long and drawn-out. How many moments like this would I miss in the process? I didn’t want to waste any more time. And so I didn’t. I made a plan.

I was clear what I wanted: a life with less stuff. I knew why in general terms: more time, more freedom, more connections and experiences. Yet I’d never really thought about what this actually looked like or felt like for me. The concert seemed to connect those dots. It really drilled down to my “why”.

What did more time look like? What did it feel like? What did I personally mean by freedom? What kind of experiences was I searching for? Was it about the big, soul-searching experiences, or was it being able to enjoy the simple things on a Sunday afternoon, undistracted by chores and clutter?

Why did I want a life with less stuff? There were many reasons.

I wanted more time.

I didn’t want to spend hours cleaning my home, or sorting, or dusting and vacuuming and putting stuff away.

I didn’t want to spend time rearranging ornaments or shopping for accessories.

I didn’t want to waste time looking for stuff amidst the clutter, or rummaging through overflowing drawers or cupboards.

I didn’t want to open my wardrobe to find a stuffed closet yet nothing to wear, trying on endless outfits before just wearing the same thing I always wore.

I didn’t want to be preoccupied thinking about my stuff.

What did I want to do instead? I wanted to spend my free time exploring, learning, and spending time with the people I care about. Visiting National Parks, reading, and leisurely breakfasts with family.

I wanted to spend my free time experiencing new things, being outdoors, and getting involved with my local community. I wanted to spend time with my friends, in a local town hall on a Saturday night, watching a band – not distracted by old jumpers and other stuff.

I wanted the stuff I owned to be useful and make my life easier – not distract me and take time away from the truly important things.

I wanted more freedom.

For me, freedom simply means having options. It’s not about being able to pack everything I own into a suitcase and heading off into the sunset. For me it’s about being able to make choices about how I spend my time. Not having to work extra long hours to pay for stuff I don’t need, or feeling burdened by a house full of possessions that need maintaining.

For me, freedom comes from having less stuff. Not owning more than I think is necessary (what I call my “enough”). The less I own, the more freedom I create for myself because the more choices I have. My husband and I can live comfortably in a small space with little storage. In Perth, this means we can live in a central location in a neighbourhood we like, close to amenities and transport. If we needed to move, or to pack up, we have the choice to do so – and owning less makes it easier.

My family live on the other side of the world, and part of this freedom means having enough savings in our bank account that if I needed to make a trip home, I could. It is far more important to me to have the money saved for that than to own a brand new dining suite, or the latest mobile phone.

Owning less also means less debt. The only debt we have is our mortgage. We saved up a sizable deposit to reduce the amount of debt we took on, and we made sure we could comfortably afford the repayments. Taking on a mortgage was a big decision, and we would love to be debt-free, but we don’t feel like our mortgage is stopping us doing the things we want to do – and for us, that is important. Previously we rented, and we loved the freedom that gave us. We don’t really see one as being better than the other: both offer different freedoms to us.

I wanted more connections and experiences.

I want to spend time with friends and family, I want to learn and to travel and to experience new things, and I want to have time to get involved in and contribute to my local community. I used to feel embarrassed about inviting friends over because I always felt that my home was a mess. As I began decluttering, a lot of the mess seemed to go away – and what was left was easier to deal with. I can’t believe I let my stuff get in the way of those relationships!

I also found that by breaking the cycle of working and shopping, I could use the money saved to go out for dinner with family, or take a short break down south to get amongst the trees and reconnect with nature. I created space in my evenings and weekends to take part in community events and contribute in a way that added value to my life and allows me to give something back to my local community.

I wanted less guilt, and less waste.

Every time I was faced with something in my home that I didn’t need, didn’t use or didn’t like, I would feel a wave of guilt. I’d feel guilty that I’d bought something that I hadn’t used, feel guilty that I’d got sucked in by some clever marketing campaign, maybe feel guilty that I wasn’t quite how I wanted to be. (If you have anything hanging in your wardrobe that doesn’t fit, you will know this feeling!) I don’t enjoy feeling guilty, so why didn’t I do something about it?

Somehow I’d justify keeping all these things because I hated the waste. Except, I’d failed to see that by keeping things that I didn’t want, didn’t use and didn’t like, I was creating waste. I was wasting good resources by not using them. If I wasn’t going to use them (and I mean by this, if I wasn’t going to use them properly, or regularly – if I wasn’t going to love them and get the best use out of them) then they were already being wasted.

Rather than feeling guilty about getting rid of perfectly good stuff, I began to realise that it was far worse and less ethical to keep perfectly good things for myself when I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to use them. It would be far better to pass them on for someone else to love them and get maximum use from them. Not only that, but all this worrying and contemplating was wasting my time…time I could spend doing other, better things.

There’s nothing wrong with taking time to declutter and make space in our lives. These things do take time. Decluttering is not something that is finished in a single weekend. But time is valuable, and the longer we take, the more we miss out on doing the important things.

I have no doubt that in the three years that it took me to get to this point, I missed out on great opportunities and experiences. After the concert, I was determined not to allow another three years to slip by. I wasn’t putting my dreams on hold for three more years. I didn’t want to ever be at another concert worrying about how many things were in my wardrobe.

More time and more freedom – we all want that. (“I really wish there were less hours in the day”, said no-one, ever.) What was a game-changer for me, what really made me see results, was actually drilling down into the specifics of what more time and more freedom actually looked like in my life, and what benefits they would bring to me, personally. What was it that I really wanted? How would I use this extra time? What did “freedom” actually mean to me? Then the biggest question – how was the stuff I owned preventing me from achieving this? How could decluttering, and letting stuff go, help me get closer to these goals?

Once I was really, truly clear on my goals, everything began to change. Joining the dots shifted my perspective: I was no longer somebody who simply liked the idea of a life with less stuff, and who slowly chipped away at decluttering the excess. The task at hand now had meaning and purpose, and a sense of urgency that hadn’t existed before. Even my decluttering nemesis, the wardrobe, finally came within my grasp. (In next week’s blog I’m going to share some “before” and “after” pictures so stay tuned.)

It’s not enough to simply want to make changes in our lives. We have to know why. We have to be clear on the benefits, and what they mean to us. Change can be hard, and there will be setbacks and wrong turns along the way. Being really clear as to why we’re doing it, and what we truly want, is what enables us to get up after these missteps, dust ourselves off, and try again.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried to make changes in your life? Have you considered your “why”? Have you thought about what success will look like, and feel like, for you? What are your main reasons for wanting to change? Have you struggled with change in the past, and did you manage to overcome those struggles? o you have any insights or tips to share? Have you embraced the idea of decluttering – and has that embrace transformed into action? Are you stuck at the planning stage? Have you had success – and what were your secrets? Do you have anything else you’d like to share! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

6 (Embarrassing) Confessions of a Zero Waste Minimalist

Ah, those embarrassing decisions of the past. We’ve all made them. (Yes, all of us!) When we change our lifestyles, there are all those choices we made pre- lifestyle change that – when we think back to them – just make us want to cringe. Did we really think / do / say that?!

My personal lifestyle-changing epiphany came in 2012, and for the last four years I’ve lived a plastic-free, zero waste and minimalist lifestyle. I’ve embraced the idea of having “enough”, and slowly reduced my annual landfill waste to fit in a jar, and decluttered all the unnecessary things that were going to waste in my home. But for every “after” there is a “before”.

Let me tell you, my pre-2012 self made some pretty cringe-worthy choices. Here are 6 of my worst.

I “collected” single-serve sachets.

As a kid, I liked to collect stuff. In addition to my collection of National Trust bookmarks and interesting pebbles and rocks, I used to collect single-serve sachets of sauce and sugar. I have no idea why. I had no use for sachets of hollandaise or tartare or French dressing, yet I was fascinated by these tiny plastic portions of sauce.

I’d clear out whole condiment trays at cafes, and store them at home in a box. Sometimes I’d take them out and admire them. I loved how small they were, and all the different colours. But I never used them. Now, the waste of single-serve items means I’d never, ever take one – and I certainly wouldn’t admire them!

I used to ask for an extra straw.

As a teenager and in my early twenties, if I ordered a drink in a bar, I used to ask for an extra straw. One straw wasn’t enough for me, I had to have two! I wish I could shed some sort of light onto why I thought this was necessary, but to be honest, it completely baffles me. Now I live with straw shame.

I purchased (and used) a coffee pod machine.

This must be my most embarrassing, shameful confession. Yes, in my mid-twenties I purchased a coffee pod machine as a birthday gift for a partner… and of course, I used it. It wasn’t a Nespresso machine with those metal pods, it was a cheaper version with the plastic, non-recyclable pods. Not that the recyclability of the pods matters, because the waste that goes into the production of new pods cannot be offset by recycling the old ones, whatever the material.

Single-use convenience at the expense of the planet. There are so many other ways to make and enjoy a decent coffee. I thought that pod coffee tasted good. Now it leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

I bought “novelty” gifts.

Novelty gifts. Those “humorous” items that get a laugh, and maybe a few minutes of pleasure, before spending the rest of eternity in landfill. The presents you give to people “who have everything” – yes, I fell for the marketing.

If someone truly has everything, they definitely don’t need novelty gifts. No-one needs pointless tat. Was it really worth spending my money on stuff like this, and creating the extra waste for a couple of laughs? No. Now, if I need to buy a gift for somebody who has everything, I buy tickets, or a restaurant voucher, or an experience. Or toilet paper. Because even people who have everything need toilet paper.

I bought things I didn’t need because they were “bargains”.

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Bargains are one thing, butI used to confuse bargains with “stuff that’s been reduced in the sale”. Actually, these are quite different. A bargain is something that you need, that is available to buy for far less than it is actually worth. Something in the sale is an item that is being sold at a cheaper price than it once was. That doesn’t mean it’s a bargain (it could be on ‘sale’ from a heavily inflated price). If we don’t need it, it definitely isn’t a bargain!

I used to shop in the sales. I’d buy things that were heavily reduced (the big red tag told me so) simply because they were reduced. I didn’t think about whether I needed it, would wear or use it, and how much I would have paid if I had seen it without the red tag. Saving money was a reason to buy it – except I wasn’t saving money at all. I was spending money. Buying stuff I didn’t need was a waste of money, time and resources… and it just added to the clutter and stress of my home. Now I’m clear: a bargain is only a bargain if I need it.

I owned stuff I never used.

Pre-2012, I never really thought about how wasteful and unnecessary this was. It wasn’t that I intended not to use things, but I’d somehow entangled my sense of identity in with the stuff I purchased. I’d pin my dreams of being slimmer on buying tighter-fitting clothes. I’d attach my hopes of mastering a new hobby by buying all the equipment. I’d envision the life that I imagined for myself, and choose things that fitted in that life, rather than the one I actually lived.

I’d buy products before the act, so to speak, and these things remained unused, singing my failures softly to me whenever I saw them in the back of the cupboard. Both minimalism and zero waste have taught me that if it’s not being used, it’s going to waste. Keeping things we don’t use isn’t an inspiration to change, it’s a reminder that we didn’t. If it’s not useful now, it’s better off being given to someone who will use it. Now I only own things that I use.

Why am I sharing this with you? Not because I enjoy embarrassing myself! I want to show you that people can change. We’ve all made poor choices in the past. I certainly have! Those poor choices don’t define me though, just as they don’t define you. We all have the opportunity to do things differently next time.

We can take those poor choices and learn from them, and make better choices in the future. We can look back and laugh (or cry!) at the memories, but we don’t need to hold onto them. Those choices represent who we were, not who we are, nor who we are capable of becoming.

It doesn’t matter if those choices were years ago, or last week, or even this morning. Mistakes made in the past, however recent, are no reason to avoid trying again in the future. Whether that’s reducing plastic consumption, refusing single use items, stepping off the consumer treadmill or something completely different, we can all make different choices. Forgive yourself for those cringe-worthy choices of the past. Know that next time, you can choose better.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Were there any of these that you could relate to? Any that you (fortunately) never made the mistake of choosing? If you’ve made lifestyle changes, did you have an “epiphany” or was it more a gradual process that led you to make changes and see things differently? Was it one thing that inspired you to live life differently or a number of different things? Do you have any confessions of your own? What embarrassing secrets do you have from your past that makes your present self cringe in despair? If you’re in the process of making changes, are there any current habits you have that you’re beginning to question and wonder why you make those choices? Is there anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Can Decluttering be the Opposite of Waste?

For the longest time, I thought that decluttering and zero waste were opposites. Didn’t decluttering mean chucking decent stuff away, and zero waste mean throwing nothing away and hoarding it all?

I couldn’t imagine that the two could work together, yet decluttering has been an important part of my zero waste journey. I’ve come to learn that decluttering and zero waste living are not opposites at all. Decluttering can be just as much about wasting less. If you want to live zero waste, don’t write off decluttering.

Here are five reasons why decluttering is a valuable part of living with less waste.

Decluttering doesn’t mean sending to landfill (or dumping at the charity shop).

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted items, the two most commonly cited options are discard or donate. Discarding really should be a last resort, saved only for those things that are damaged beyond repair, non-recyclable, and possibly dangerous. But what about donating?

Charity shops want goods that are clean, in working order and desirable.They need to be able to sell them! (Charity shops are not places to take soiled, damaged or dubious goods simply because we can’t bear the guilt of throwing them away ourselves.)

But charity shops aren’t the solution for everything, and they don’t have limitless storage. Taking our winter wardrobes in the height of summer will likely mean good quality items end up unsold simply because there isn’t the demand, and offloading things in the week after Christmas when the rest of the country is doing the same thing probably won’t be much help, either. Not all charity shops can accept electrical items.

If you really care about waste, you don’t need to ‘hope’ that the charity shop will on-sell your stuff. You can take matters into your own hands. Finding new owners for the things you want to declutter is the best way to ensure they stay out of landfill.

Before donating, call the charity shop and ask if there are things that they need (and also things that they don’t). There will always be things in high demand and things that aren’t.

Don’t limit your donating to the charity shops. Women’s refuges, charities and animal sanctuaries are other places that accept donations. Schools, clubs, community groups, crafting societies and charities all have needs and might be able to help take unwanted items. Online classified sites like Gumtree are a great way to find new owners for unwanted goods, and a way to offer broken goods for parts and spares.

Decluttering is a way to maximize the use of something.

This sounds counter-intuitive – how is giving something away going to maximize its use? This depends on whether we actually use the things in question. Owning stuff we don’t need, don’t use and don’t like is a complete waste.

There are two main reasons we keep things we don’t need: just in case (fear of the future), or guilt (regret for the past).

We might need it in the future. That is true. But if we haven’t needed it so far, what are the chances? Could we get a replacement quickly, affordably and second-hand? This will depend on individual circumstances, but in most cases, there is no need to keep something just in case.

There will be someone out there looking for that item, who will use it today.

We might feel guilty. There are many reasons that we feel guilt: we made a poor choice, spent too much money, didn’t lose the weight we’ hoped, dislike the handmade gift that we know took so much effort and time.  Keeping something out of guilt does not increase the chances that we will use it.

Keeping an unwanted item and thinking that we somehow alleviate the guilt won’t work. The best way to ease the guilt is to let the item go.

We sometimes try to justify keeping things that that we don’t use rather than giving them away by telling ourselves that we are reducing waste. Actually, the opposite is true. Owning something that you never use is the biggest waste of all. It is far better to give these things to people who truly need them and will use them every day.

Decluttering as an end, not a means.

Decluttering is about removing the unnecessary, the unused and the unwanted from our homes. It’s about removing the excess, and keeping only the things we find useful and beautiful. If our homes are filled with items we use regularly and appreciate, there is little or no waste.

Yet decluttering will only reduce waste if it’s treated as a one-way process, rather than a means. If the purpose of decluttering is simply to make room in the house for a big shopping spree where the old stuff is replaced with a bunch of new stuff, clearly that is going to generate a whole heap of waste.

Until the cycle of consumption is broken, and needless things are no longer brought into the home, decluttering can never mean less waste.

Decluttering helps conserve resources.

Have you ever tried to buy something second-hand, and not been able to find it? Sometimes we need things, and we want to purchase them second-hand, yet that isn’t an option. If we really need that item, we’ll probably have to go and buy it new.

Yet somewhere, there would have been an unwanted, second-hand option that would have been perfect.

Rather than keeping things to ourselves, we should embrace the opportunity to share what we have. There are so many resources tied up in cupboards, wardrobes, playrooms, shed, garages and attics around the world in the form of unused stuff.

Decluttering frees up these resources so others can use them. Donating items we don’t need gives somebody else the opportunity to use them, and helps prevent new purchases.

Decluttering helps form new habits.

I have always found decluttering hard. I found it hard because I was forced to confront my poor decisions (impulse purchases, wasted money, non-repairable items), and my failure to achieve what I’d hoped (hobbies that never got off the ground, clothes I never slimmed into).

I know I’m not alone in this.

We’ve all made choices that we regret, and we’ve all purchased things that in hindsight, we wouldn’t purchase again. Because I struggled so much with decluttering, I now think much more carefully about what I bring into my home. It forced me to examine my old habits, and think about the decisions I had made in the past.

As a result, I now make better choices. Can the item be mended? Can it be recycled? Is it built to last? Do I have a real, genuine need to own it? Is there a second-hand market for it?

I can appreciate well-made clothes, or admire chic decor or clever design, but that doesn’t mean that I need to make a purchase.

There will always be beautiful things. If I don’t need it, or can’t see how I will dispose of it responsibly, then I don’t buy it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you living or working towards a zero waste lifestyle, and how do you feel about decluttering? Is it something you’ve struggled with or something you’ve embraced? Have your views changed over time? What have you struggled to declutter? What are the reasons that held you back? What are your success stories? Are you a master declutterer? What are your tips for ensuring your items find good homes? What unconventional places have you found that will accept your unwanted items? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

The Definitive Guide to Storing Food without Plastic

Taking reusable bags to the store is a great way to reduce unnecessary plastic. Bringing reusable produce bags and selecting products without packaging is another way to reduce waste. Choosing to shop at bulk stores is a fantastic option, if we have the choice.

But what about when we get all of our food shopping home? What then? Is it possible to store food without plastic?

What about leftovers, and freezing food? How about packing lunches?

What are the plastic-free options?

Of course, plastic-free is possible. There are plenty of options to avoid using plastic containers, gladwrap/clingwrap and zip-lock bags. From choosing plastic-free containers to freezing in glass (yes, it’s possible), here’s the lowdown on how we avoid using plastic in our home when storing food.

Food Storage without Plastic – the Pantry

I buy all of our dry goods from bulk stores, and I store in the pantry in glass jars. Sometimes I take the jars to the bulk stores and weigh them before filling them, but more often I take reusable produce bags and decant when I get home.

Glass jars are heavy, and I find taking reusable produce bags is more practical for me.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Pantry

Whilst I love the idea of a pantry full of matching glass jars, the reality is, there are plenty of glass jars in the world begging to be re-used. It makes no sense to me to buy new when I can re-use. I’ve reused old jars that I own, and friends and family have given me their spares. I sourced some big glass jars from a local cafe.

I generally find that a good soak will get the old labels off. If they are particularly stubborn, I use eucalyptus oil and give them a scrub, and that usually works. Removing the label means I can see what’s inside, and there’s no confusion as to the contents.

Removing Jar Labels with Eucalyptus Oil Zero Waste

I have needed to buy a few new jar lids – kitchen shops sell these, or you can find them online.

It’s not always clear how long dry goods have been stored at the bulk shops, and the last thing we want is weevils or pantry moths, or other pests. If I think something has been at the store a while, or if it’s been in my own pantry a little longer than planned, I pop the jar into the freezer for 24 hours. This kills any eggs. After 24 hours I remove the jar from the freezer and place back in the pantry.

Freezing pulses and grains to prevent weevils

I have a terrible habit of not labeling my jars. I have a good memory and generally remember what I’ve bought, and if I forget I can usually figure it out by the smell. My husband has no idea what I’ve bought and has a terrible sense of smell, so whilst it might work for me, it doesn’t work for him! I’m planning to get a greaseproof pencil/chinograph so I can label the jars without needing to buy sticky labels or mark them permanently. If I was more crafty, I could paint blackboard paint on them, or even mark the lids.

Food storage without plastic – on the counter

I keep a fruit bowl on the counter which in addition to fruit, contains onions. I also keep fresh tomatoes here as I find they taste better than when stored in the fridge, and avocados whilst they ripen.

I often keep cut leaves such as beetroot leaves or silverbeet in glass jars on the counter rather than in the fridge as I find they keep better. Parsley and some other herbs also keep better this way. If the water is changed regularly, parsley will last on the counter for up to two weeks.

Beetroot Leaves in a Jam Jar

I store my bread in a cloth bag inside a wooden bread bin. The cloth bag helps absorb any moisture that might cause the bread to go moldy. Over time it begins to harden, and when I notice it’s becoming hard to cut I pre-cut the rest of the loaf. If there is more than I can eat in the next day or so, I pop it in the freezer.

For things like crackers, baked goods and other dry food, I use tins. I have some that I purchased in my pre- zero waste days, and some that I’ve been given (they often seem to appear around Christmas time as “presentation” boxes for biscuits and confectionery). I’ve been able to choose ones that are a good size for my needs, and that I can store easily.

Sourdough Zero Waste Crackers FINAL

Food storage without plastic – the fridge

I store most of my fruit and vegetable items in the crisper. Some veggies, such as carrots, courgettes and cucumbers have a tendency to go floppy, so I store these in a rectangular glass Pyrex container with a lid. I also find delicate fresh herbs like coriander and basil store better in a container with a lid, as do salad leaves.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Fridge

I’ve also tried storing them in glasses or bowls of water in the fridge and this works well, but I don’t own enough glassware for this to be practical.

Storing Veggies in Water in the Fridge

Another alternative to using glass containers is to use a damp tea towel to wrap your veggies. This works particularly well for larger items like bunches of celery or leafy greens that don’t fit in containers. Beeswax wraps are also useful if you’re not vegan – they are cloth squares that have beeswax melted onto them to create a waterproof wrap. They are very easy to make yourself (you can find a DIY beeswax wrap tutorial here) and making your own means you can choose sizes that work for your needs.

For storing leftovers, there are a number of solutions. Personally I was never a fan of gladwrap/clingfilm.  Some is ridiculously sticky and will stick to everything except the bowl in question (this type of clingwrap usually contains phthalates – not what we want to be wrapping food in). The phthalate-free type never seems to want to stick to anything at all. I find it far simpler simply to put a plate on top of the bowl in question.

I also have some silicone covers for bowls that were a gift that have been very useful. Beeswax wraps can be used for this, too. Glass jars are a great option for decanting small amounts of leftovers (and I have plenty of glass jars to hand), and Pyrex storage or stainless steel work if you want to decant into something bigger. Sometimes I even keep the food in the saucepan, pop the lid on and pop that in the fridge.

For some items, such as half a lemon or half an avocado, I find that placing it face down on a plate is enough. If I’ve roasted veggies or baked a sweet potato, I find it keeps well in the fridge uncovered for a few days. So long as it’s not got a strong smell, it works fine.

Food storage without plastic – the freezer (yes, you can freeze food in glass)

I store most of my food in the freezer in glass jars. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Jars are a great size for one or two portions, and they fill the space well. I’ve only ever had one breakage. Freezing in glass is perfectly safe, but there are some rules to follow.

Freezing in Glass Jars in the Freezer

Firstly, choose good quality jars, with thick glass. Repurposed jars are fine. I tend to choose ones that have previously had jam or tomato sauce in them, as I know they will withstand changes in temperature. Buying poor quality jars from reject shops will likely lead to breakages.

Wider jars work better, and avoid any that taper inwards at the top (tapering outwards is fine). When filling, never fill all the way to the top – make sure the food is sitting at the widest point of the jar. Don’t screw the lid on until the contents have completely frozen. The food will expand when frozen – the higher the water content the more it will expand – so leave room for this to happen. Once it’s frozen you can screw on the lid.

Never put hot jars in the freezer, and try to chill them before you freeze them. This is important if what you’re freezing has a high water content, like stock. I find for foods like chickpeas, which don’t have a high water content, freezing from room temperature works fine.

If you’re worried about freezing in jars, you can also use freezer-safe Pyrex, or stainless steel containers, which won’t break.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

I use an ice cube tray for freezing liquids and also fresh herbs. I find that the cubes make good portion sizes. I store the cubes in jars once they are frozen. To freeze herbs I add a little oil to the ice cube tray -they seem to freeze better. I have just upgraded to a stainless steel one, and you can also find aluminium ones second-hand if you’d like to avoid plastic.

Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray

To avoid freezing a big mass of fruit, I lay out on on a tray (I line a baking tray with a tea towel) and pop in the freezer. Oonce frozen, I put in a container. This allows me to use a handful at a time, rather than needing to defrost the whole thing.

Preparing Strawberries for the Freezer

I don’t freeze everything in glass. I freeze bread wrapped in a cloth bag, and I leave bananas in their skins.

Food storage – out and about

Both my husband and I have stainless steel lunchboxes, which we use for food on the go. I always take my glass KeepCup with me as I find it great as an impromptu storage container. Being glass, it’s easy to clean. I have a set of reusable, washable wraps for sandwiches, baked goods and snacks which are handy as they fold up. If we’re taking food to friends’ houses, we either use tins or we have a stainless steel tiffin.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel Stainless Steel Tiffin and Lunchbox Zero Waste Plastic Free

Food storage – choosing containers

When I first started out with living plastic-free, I had a lot of plastic reusable containers. I didn’t want to waste them, so I continued to use them whilst I transitioned to other things. Because I was concerned with the health implications of using plastic for food storage, I used them only for dried food, before giving them away or using them for non-food items.

Zero Waste Week 2015 Reusable Containers

Whatever you decide to use, know that there’s no need to immediately rush out and buy new stuff. Glass jars are an obvious one to start with, and they are free. It’s possible to find good quality glass, tins and even Pyrex at the charity shops.

I chose to use Pyrex with the plastic lids, because I couldn’t find any without plastic, and they were affordable for me. Stainless steel containers come completely plastic-free, but they are an investment. They are expensive but should last forever, so it is important to know exactly what you want before you make the purchase. Slowly I’ve built up a small collection of stainless steel, and the pieces I have I use often and I love.

When choosing containers, think about how you’ll use them. If you’re looking for a lunchbox, think about the kinds of things you eat for lunch. What size and shape will be most useful? Planet Box make great compartmentalised lunch boxes for kids. Cloth wraps and reusable sandwich bags might be a better alternative. It’s possible to buy refillable food packs. Think about your needs and choose products that work for you.

It is possible to store food at home without using plastic, and you can make it as simple or as complicated (or as cheap or expensive) as you like. The most important thing is to make conscious choices. Look at your options, and decide what is practical and within your budget. There’s no need to buy new things straightaway. Take your time. Choose well.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, how do you store your food without using plastic? What are your favourite tips? Is there anything you tried that didn’t work? What purchases have you made that have been great investments? Any that turned out to be duds? Do you have any tips to add? Or any “not-to-do”s to share? Is there anything that you are still searching for a solution for? Any questions? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

It’s Not About Perfect. It’s About Better.

I receive several requests a week from companies telling me how much they think my readers would love to hear about their fabulous (their words, not mine) products. Some even offer to pay me. I turn them all down.

As someone with a passion for zero waste, plastic-free living and minimalism, I believe in practicing what I preach. I’m not interested in plastic-packaged anything, or overseas shipping, or “stuff” in general, and I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in me spruiking it, either.

I’m proud that I keep this website advertisement-free, and I don’t intend to change that by running sponsored content.

But a few weeks ago I received this email, and it made me look twice.

I am writing from our company Tipsy Oil. We are the world’s first company to collect, wash and reuse wine bottles for bottling our Western Australian grown extra virgin olive oil. Recycling the bottles actually costs more currently than buying brand new bottle but we’re not a company that aims to become a cash cow!

Additional to this, obviously one bottle of olive oil in a recycled bottle won’t save the world, but Tipsy definitely makes consumers slightly more aware about recycling. As a very young company, we are hoping to engage writers like yourself to review or post about our vision to gain a greater awareness of our product and ultimately help with the problem of pollution.

It piqued my interest.

Firstly, I love the fact that they use glass over plastic, and not new glass either: they re-use wine bottles – because they think it is the right thing to do. (I’ve talked often about how glass in Western Australia is not recycled by crushed into road base, so this has particular local relevance.)

Secondly, I love that they are a Western Australian company (based only a few suburbs away from me), making Western Australian olive oil using Western Australian grown olives.

It makes no sense to me that shops here continue to sell Italian and Greek olive oil when we produce our own oil in Australia. Nothing against Italian and Greek olive oil of course – if I lived in Italy or Greece that is what I would use! But why ship bottles of oil across the globe when we already have it here?

I also love the fact that they say “one bottle of oil in a recycled bottle won’t save the world, but…”. I think lots of companies DO think that their product will save the world, and I found this quite refreshing. As for the “but…” – to me, this says we know we’re not perfect, but we’re doing what we can.

But of course – I was suspicious ; ) I’ve learned the hard way that just because somebody says their product is green, that doesn’t mean that it is! I emailed back. Where were they sourcing these bottles? Can customers return the bottles for refills or re-use?

I received this lovely email response:

Returning the used olive oil bottles is an excellent idea and something that I just added to our Tipsy Trello board! Thanks so much for the idea!

The recycled bottles are currently sourced from Gargarno’s restaurant in Nedlands, Perth, WA. As we grow bigger and start gathering bottles from other restaurants, we hope to have a special label for each restaurant to show where the bottles came from. But right now there is still so much to organise!

I absolutely agree with your comments around plastic, and as we mature as a business we hope to move to 100% recycled goods. However, I am sure you can imagine the difficulties with even getting a product to the market!

To give you some back story, I started Tipsy back in 2014 at the ripe age of 23 with the vision of creating a fully recycled bottle company with staff that loved the company and at the same time work with local companies instead of mega corporations. Now 25, I realise that it’s a lot harder than just writing the idea down on a piece of paper. We’ve run into things like bureaucracy, labels that absorb oil, Anthracnose, and printers that don’t know where the centre of the label is. So I hope you can give us some time to get out recycled act together!

Also, just got a really great idea about using metal caps for Tipsy Bottles just then!

In fact, we had such a great email conversation afterwards that we’re planning to meet soon to talk about all things sustainability. I like their vision, their openness, their transparency – and their willingness to hear new ideas.

That was the best thing for me – being able to start the conversation, plant a seed and try to inspire change. They did send me a bottle of their oil: I insisted there was no plastic packaging, and the parcel looked like this:

Treading My Own Path Tipsy Oil Plastic Free July

No plastic packaging (the envelope is 100% paper, including the padding) but it came with a pourer in a plastic bag! The bottle has a plastic lid, but Tipsy Oil are looking into replacing the plastic with metal in future.

The padded envelope is filled with recycled paper, so plastic-free. I hope that this is how they will choose to send other products in future.

As for the pourer, I would say it is unnecessary, but I have been meaning to get one since the bottle lid on refillable macadamia oil bottle split into two. Still, I’m not sure they should send them as standard. The small plastic bag?! Gah!

The bottle lid itself is plastic – I hope as a result of our conversation this is something that is going to change.

Let me make one thing clear. I won’t be buying this product myself, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I can buy olive oil in bulk from my local store, but I’ve gone one step further this year and picked and pressed my own olives. (Coincidentally, I filled old wine bottles!)

That said, I get that not everyone is going to want to bottle their own oil. Maybe you don’t have olive trees in your area. Maybe you don’t have access to an olive press. Maybe you simply can’t be bothered! (And that’s okay – we don’t all have the time or inclination to do everything ourselves.)

Treading My Own Path Picking and Pressing Olive Oil

The olive picking dream team (minus my husband, who took the photo), the olives we collected and our portion of the pressed olive oil : )

I also get that not everyone has access to a bulk store, and not all bulk stores sell olive oil. There need to be alternatives. What excited me about Tipsy Oil was the reminder it gave me that there are companies out there trying to do the right thing, and create positive change.

Where we can, I think it is important to support them. In particular, the whole experience brought home to me three important points:

It is important to start where people are at.

I could wax lyrical about how great picking my own olives is, or how wonderful my local bulk store is, but for many of you, that would not be helpful. All of us are on different journeys, and have different amounts of time, energy and patience available.

We may not be able to buy in bulk or pick our own, but we can all look for local suppliers, businesses and stores who are trying to do the right thing.

We can all ask questions and make conscious choices. And we can all champion the people and companies we find who are trying to do the right thing.

Whether we need what they are selling/would use it ourselves or not, I think there is an importance in spreading the word of those trying to make the world a better place.

Let’s start conversations.

Had I not had the conversation with Tipsy Oil, they might not have thought about switching their lids from plastic to metal.

They might not have thought about looking into a bottle return scheme for customers.

These are small things, but they still have an impact. It all makes a difference. Who is to say that other companies will see what these guys are doing and feel inspired to take action themselves? Actions are like ripples, and we have more influence than we think.

Simply asking questions, providing feedback, or even having a chat with the lady at the checkout about the choices we make all have the ability to spark change. Never underestimate the influence you have, nor your power to make a difference.

It’s not about perfect. It’s about doing what we can.

I truly wish that bulk stores were an option for everybody, but the reality is, they aren’t. Instead of thinking that because we can’t do everything, there is no point in doing anything: we should all do what we can.

Imagine if every single person on the planet committed to reducing their waste by just 10%? Think of the impact that would have!

Imagine if all of the people in Perth who don’t have access to bulk stores chose to purchase locally produced olive oil in re-used bottles – think of the carbon emissions and virgin glass we could save!

In my version of a perfect world, we would all shop at bulk stores, there would be no single use packaging, and the world would be a lovelier place. I definitely believe that this is something we can work towards: we can strive for perfection, but we also need to be realistic.

Let’s not let perfection stand in the way of better. Let’s start where people are at. Let’s make better choices ourselves, start conversations and begin new dialogues, and support those that try to make a difference.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing what we can.

Now it’s your turn to tell me what you think! Is there anything you have struggled with because it is not “perfect”? Do you ever feel disheartened because you can’t do everything? Have you made compromises that are still better than your old choices, and if so what are they? Have you found local suppliers to champion or begun to ask questions and start conversations? Have you ever had a company change its policy or look into changing it simply because of something you said, or wrote, or suggested? Have you ever stopped supporting a company you previously loved because they were NOT open to change? Have you ever let “perfect” stand in the way of “better”? Do you have any other thoughts, questions or snippets of wisdom to add? I love hearing from you so please leave me a comment below!

Can You Live Plastic-Free without Bulk Stores?

One of the most common challenges I hear from people who would like to embrace plastic-free or zero waste living, is that they don’t live near a bulk store. Access to bulk stores definitely makes plastic-free living infinitely easier – but that doesn’t mean that without them, it’s impossible.

In fact, there are still plenty of things that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint, wherever you live, wherever you shop and however busy you are.

Here’s a list of my top 8 (as always, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below).

Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you cannot do everything.

This is so important! Just because there isn’t a bulk store near you, that doesn’t mean that you should give up before you begin.

Remember that every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today, so every single piece of plastic you refuse is one less piece entering our environment.

We just need to start where we are, with what we have, and do what we can. Even if you can only refuse a few things, or make a couple of changes, it all counts. If we all did the best we could, think how much better the world would be!

Don’t stress about what you can’t change, look for what you can change.

Eat more fresh vegetables!

Apologies for sounding like your Nan here, but seriously – food packaging accounts for such a significant amount of the waste we produce, and one of the easiest ways to reduce this is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or if you still need to buy in packaging, try to choose the bigger packs (there will be less plastic overall).

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a great high-carb alternative to pasta and rice, and are easy to find plastic-free.

If you don’t know how to cook something, look on the internet for simple recipes. This is where I’m going to offer different advice from your Nan – you do not need to boil everything for 30+ minutes! Plenty of veggies can be roasted (try carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), stir-fried, broiled, baked, sautéed – or eaten raw.

Zero Waste Vegetables Plastic Free July Treading My Own Path

My local veg box delivery comes mid-week and direct to my door (convenience shopping with a difference) and it’s an easy way for me to get produce that’s plastic-free and locally grown.

Also, many veggies can be frozen once cooked. If you live in a small household and don’t want to eat an entire pumpkin this week, chop into cubes, roast it as usual and freeze what you don’t need. Other vegetables, such as leeks and broccoli, can be blanched for 1-3 minutes, and then frozen.

This guide lists how to freeze a number of vegetables and might be a helpful starting point.

Bring your own reusable bags – not just your main shopping bags

As well as your own shopping bags, bring reusable produce bags for all your loose produce items, and a cloth bag for any bread you need.

You can find produce bags available for sale online (made of cloth or mesh, some pre-labelled and others plain) – or you can make your own using your own fabric or even old net curtains!

Fruit and Veggie Produce Bags Treading My Own Path

Reusable produce bags are a great way to buy loose products at the store without needing to take those pesky plastic bags!

If you forget, and you’re buying too many items to simply pop them in your trolley loose, you can often find paper mushroom or potato bags so use these as an alternative to plastic.

Look for packaging in glass, cardboard and paper, and adapt where you can

When I first started out with plastic-free living, I continued to shop at the supermarket. Whilst I found most of the pre-prepared products were packaged in plastic, I found many wholefoods and single ingredients that were packaged in glass and cardboard. For example, in my local store I could buy pasta and couscous in cardboard packaging, as well as oats and rice, but I could not buy quinoa or bulgar wheat.

I began buying more oats over breakfast cereal; eating porridge for breakfast and using more oats in baking. In glass jars I found passata so I began to buy this rather than chopped tomatoes in Tetra-Paks (which are difficult to recycle) or tins (which are plastic-lined and contain BPA).

After all, passata is just chopped tomatoes that have been blended! (Later I discovered that simply using fresh tomatoes and quickly chopping saved packaging dilemmas altogether.)

How far you take this will depend on whether you have dietary restrictions or fussy eaters in your household, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

Remember, you can still buy bulk within the store

I’m not talking about buying huge quantities of food you probably won’t eat here, I‘m referring to choosing one product over individual portions and single serves. Even if the bigger one still comes in packaging, it will be far less than all those individual portions added together.

Rather than buying individual pots of yoghurt, buy a 1kg tub (or bigger) and split into smaller containers at home.

Rather than snack portions of raisins or crackers, buy a big pack and divide up yourself.

Rather than buying individual slices of cheese, or grated cheese, buy a big block and chop or grate at home (tip – you can freeze cheese so there’s no reason why you can’t buy a big block and freeze what you won’t use straightaway for later).

Aside from saving the plastic, you’ll save a huge amount on your grocery bill. Check the price per kilo of the bulk items versus the “convenience” items and you’ll find that convenience comes at a price – and you won’t just be saving the environment with these choices!

Supermarket or not – bring your own containers!

It’s possible to take your own containers to the counters at the supermarket or your local stores: the butcher, fishmonger, cheese shop or deli. Make sure they are clean, and explain why you’re doing it as you hand your containers over.

Confidence is everything – act like you’ve done it a million times before, and it is the most normal thing to do in the world!

If you’re unsure that they will be accepted, or feel really nervous, you can always phone the store in advance and ask if they’d be happy to take your own clean containers (be sure to tell them why).

You may find the odd place that isn’t willing to help, but most are happy to support this kind of shopping. If they have restrictions, find out what they are. (They may be happy to use containers for pre-cooked products, but not raw, for example. They may be happy to fill your own containers, but only if you drop them off by a certain time, or on a certain day.)

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

If a staff member is unwilling to comply, it may be that you simply need to check with the manager (they may be fearful of losing their job, and a quick conversation can sort this out).

If the store is definitely against it, you could push higher up if they are a chain or have a Head Office, or simply take your business elsewhere. If you do receive a “no”, keep it in mind and try again in a few months – something may have changed!

If places aren’t willing to comply, there may be the option of the staff wrapping your item in paper and you putting the paper-wrapped product into your sealed container yourself. It’s always worth asking if they have paper behind the counter.

Refuse single-serve and single-use items

“Refusing” is such a big part of the plastic-free living journey, and we can remove so much plastic from the environment just by making this simple choice. Refusing bottled water and carrying our own bottle and refilling from the tap; choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway or bringing our own containers; refusing straws; refusing individual sachets of sauce, butter or those tiny little portions of milk… it all makes a difference.

Carrying your own water bottle or coffee cup and a reusable straw is a great alternative if you’re often out, and a great way to start conversations. Simply asking at the cafe if you can have a splash of milk directly into your tea or a little bit of butter cut directly from the block rather than the single-serve portions is a surprisingly easy way to avoid plastic and make a point.

Go outside and pick up litter

No matter where you live, what shops are available to you or what your budget is, or how much time you have to spare, you can do this. Simply go out of your front door and onto your street with a bag, and pick up all the plastic litter you come across.

You may prefer to go to the beach or alongside a river, if you have one close by, but wherever you choose to go, I guarantee there will be some litter. Whether you opt for a 2 minute beach clean, simply commit to pick up 3 things, or decide to take a 30 minute walk and see what you come across, it all makes a difference.

Pick up any plastic items that you find, and then dispose of them responsibly. You’ll be stopping that plastic getting ingested by wildlife or making its way to the ocean, and making your local environment a more pleasant place to be. You’ll probably feel a lot more determined to avoid single-use items afterwards, too!

Treading My Own Path 30 Minute Litter Pick Up Litterati Take3 July 2016

I picked this up in 30 minutes simply by walking around my local streets.

Whatever you can do, you really must know that what you do makes a difference. The smallest actions can have the biggest impacts, and choosing just one thing to change is better than changing nothing at all.

The planet, the turtles and the plastic-free community; we will all thank you for it. Don’t let a lack of local bulk stores stand in your way. It really doesn’t matter how far you take this.

What matters is that you try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you struggling to find bulk stores near you? What items do you struggle to find without plastic packaging? What have been your biggest dilemmas and challenges? What have been your best successes and greatest a-ha moments? What are you currently working towards changing? Any other suggestions for those who live far from bulk options? If you are lucky enough to have bulk options near you, are there still items that you struggle with? Do you have any others that you’d add to this list? Any other thoughts or comments? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!

Plastic Free {Bicarb Free} DIY Deodorant – for Sensitive Skin

I love my homemade deodorant. I first tried it back in 2012 when I was still a little skeptical about DIY concoctions (if I’m honest, I thought they were just for hippies). What made me convert?

The fact it actually worked.

That’s all we want from a deodorant, really. Sure, we don’t want chemicals and excess packaging – but it has to work, right?! There are plenty of natural deodorants on the market, but most are very expensive, don’t smell great and don’t actually work against body odour very effectively, either.

Plus very few have completely plastic-free packaging.

The deodorant I’ve been using since 2012 is a super simple recipe, and all the ingredients are edible (except the essential oil). There’s no heating or melting involved, just a little mixing, which suits my laziness when it comes to these things.

The ingredients are 1 tbsp bicarb, 4 tbsp cornflour (or arrowroot / tapioca flour) and 2-3 tbsp coconut oil. The coconut oil depends on the ambient temperature – you’ll need less in summer and more in winter. You want a paste. Mix in a jar and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil. To apply, get a small amount on your fingertips and rub in. (You can find the recipe here.)

This recipe has been serving me well for 4 years, but bicarb can be a skin irritant for some. It’s fine for me, but my husband reacts to it. I tried changing the ratio from 1:4 to 1:6 and even 1:8 bicarb:flour (note – the more you dilute it, the less effective it is) but the issue was the same. His skin became red, inflamed and sore and it took a few months for it to settle back down again.

Ever since then I’ve said I’ll experiment with a DIY non-bicarb deodorant. I don’t move very fast it seems!

But the good news is I have finally kept my word and made a bicarb free deodorant. Not only that, but I (and my husband) have tested it and can confirm that a) it works (hurrah!) and b) there have been no adverse skin reactions. Phew! I can also buy all the ingredients completely packaging-free.

For anyone else out there who struggles with super sensitive skin and cannot use bicarb deodorants, this recipe is for you. Give it a go.

It’s not quite as simple as just mixing some ingredients in a jar but it’s really not that much harder, promise. There’s some melting involved. Nothing complex – I like to keep things as simple as I can!

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Bicarb free DIY deodorant.

TIP: I would also add: it’s not quite as effective as the bicarb version I use, and it works best applied to clean skin. Whilst the bicarb one can mask smells if reapplied, this one won’t!

Bicarb Free DIY Deodorant: Recipe

Ingredients:

1.5 tbsp grated beeswax
1 tbsp shea butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp white kaolin clay
8 drops tea tree essential oil
8 drops cedarwood essential oil
10 drops lemon myrtle essential oil

A note about the ingredients:

Beeswax: beeswax is solid at room temperature (it melts at 62°C) so helps make the mix firmer. I used beeswax as it’s really local (my neighbour who lives 4 doors away produced this). The only other solid subsititue I can think of would be cacao butter so maybe next time I’ll give this a go as it would be a great alternative for vegans.

Shea butter: shea butter melts at 38°C so is more solid than coconut oil. It’s very moisturising and is thought be anti-inflammatory – which is good news for sensitive skin.

Coconut oil: this is a soft oil that melts at 25°C. It helps keep the deodorant soft so it can be rubbed into the skin. Coconut oil is also thought to have anti-bacterial properties.

Kaolin clay: kaolin clay is a white clay (bentonite clay has similar properties) that replaces bicarb and does a similar job. It absorbs liquid and neutralises bad smells. Clumping kitty litter is actually made of bentonite clay! There are other types of clay available but these are more expensive. I’ve heard that green clay is the most absorbant of them all so at some stage I’d like to try this… it’s in the queue ; )

Essential oils: I’m lucky enough to be able to buy refills (packaging free) so I have some flexibility with my choice. I chose tea tree oil as it is anti-bacterial and cedarwood as it is anti-inflammatory. Both also have strong smells and are often used in commercial natural deodorant recipes. I find both scents quite overpowering and not hugely pleasant so I used lemon myrtle (which I love!) to mask them. Lemon myrtle is an Australian bush scent with the most amazing smell! If you have limited choice, go for a single oil and choose one that you can use elsewhere. Tree tree oil is affordable, available in larger sizes (meaning less packaging overall) and great for cleaning too. (When choosing essential oils, it is important to read up on the properties, particularly if you are pregnant.)

Ingredients for making bicarb-free deodorant (for sensitive skin).

Ingredients for making bicarb-free deodorant (for sensitive skin).

Method:

Heat some water in a pan on the stove, and place a glass bowl over the pan. You don’t want to heat the oils directly as you’ll damage them. Add the beeswax to the bowl and stir until melted (I used a metal spoon as it’s easier to clean than wood).

Add the coconut oil and continue to melt, stirring occasionally. Once both are melted, add the shea butter and remove the bowl from the heat.

The shea butter should melt with the heat of the other two ingredients. You can place back on the heat if it needs some help but be careful of overheating shea butter as it can turn grainy. Stir to aid the melting process and to combine.

Add the clay 1 tsp at a time and whisk to incorporate. Once all 4 tsp have been added, leave to cool, whisking occasionally. It will begin to thicken after only a few minutes (less if your room is cold). Once you notice the thickening and there is no head radiating from the mix, add your essential oils to the mix and whisk in. If you add them when it’s still hot, you will lose all their beneficial properties!

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Pour into a shallow jar with a wide neck or a tin, and leave to set. It will set into a paste that feels tacky and is easy to scoop with your fingers. (If you live in a very cold climate and find it too hard, you may like to add more coconut oil or less beeswax next time to get the right consistency, but it will soften with the warmth of your skin.)

Store with the lid on in a dark place. To apply, take a small amount with your fingertips and rub into your skin. will keep for ages.

Now tell me…are you going to make it?! If yes, I want to hear what you think! If not, why not? Have you ever tried making DIY deodorant before? What ingredients did you use and what success did you have (or not have)? What about other DIY skincare products – are you a fan or do you tend to put them in the “too-hard” basket? What are your simplest solutions to bathroom essentials? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

5 Tips for Getting Started with Plastic-Free Living

Could you live your life without plastic? Your answer to this will depend on your lifestyle, where you live and the kinds of things you like to do, the places available to you to shop and how much time you have. Whatever your situation is, I guarantee that you will be able to live with a little less plastic!

How much you choose to eliminate is up to you, but it all makes a difference.

shopping trolley with plastic bags

If your grocery shopping looks like this, then just a few minor changes will make a huge difference!

Many people feel overwhelmed before they even start… and so they don’t start. Or they make a mistake early on and give up, deciding that plastic-free living is something for the “too hard” basket.

The truth is, there is no need to panic, or to feel overwhelmed, or to do nothing simply because we can’t do everything. Change takes time: months, or even years. There is no rule that says everything must be successful on the first day!

There is no all-or-nothing approach to living without plastic: it is a sliding scale, and we just need to find out where we are personally comfortable to sit on the scale. We need to find our happy place: where we’ve made changes we’re comfortable with.

With Plastic Free July approaching, I like to spend time reflecting on my journey and the lessons I learned. This year is my 5th year of supporting the challenge, and I love to share what I’ve experienced with those that are just starting out, or taking it to the next level. If that’s you, read on!

1. Don’t try to make ALL the changes on the first day

It’s unlikely that you are beginning your plastic-free living challenge with a completely empty pantry, fridge and bathroom cabinets. It’s far more likely that you’ll already have food in the cupboard and toiletries in the shower.

Even if they are overpackaged in plastic, this is a good thing (for now!). It means that you can make changes slowly, one by one: as items are used up you can replace them with plastic-free alternatives.

When I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012, the first things I had to buy were milk, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables. Cheese and yoghurt came later. Pantry staples like pasta and rice came later again. Condiments and specialist ingredients were further down the track.

I had so many products stockpiled in the bathroom (that I hadn’t really been aware of) that I didn’t replace anything here for a few weeks. In fact, it took me 18 months to use up every plastic-packaged item in my bathroom. Plastic-free living is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Don’t think about the money – for now

If you’ve signed up to Plastic Free July, then you’ve committed to 31 days of living without plastic. I’m going to challenge you for those 31 days, not to think about the money you spend on groceries or toiletries.

Or not to stress about it, at least – there’s enough to worry about for now without having extra stress!

Plastic-free living can seem expensive at first, because buying food from deli counters or Farmers markets or in glass often does cost more than their cheap, lesser quality, plastic-packaged supermarket counterparts. Wholefoods and vegetables are more expensive than processed junk food, but they are also far better for us.

For these 31 days, give yourself a free pass. Open your mind to the possibilities. If your budget is small, maybe tighten the belt somewhere else – reduce how much you spend on alcohol, movie tickets, eating out or takeaway coffee for the month.

The truth is, in time, you’ll decide which things are worth spending the extra money on, and which things you’re happier without. The things you buy will change as you start to find new places to shop with different products on offer.

You’ll adjust your shopping and eating habits, and most people who live plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles find they actually spend less. But again, it takes time: I think it took us around 6 months to notice that our food bill had reduced.

3. There’s no need to rush out and buy anything new

There’s something about starting a new challenge that makes us want to rush out and buy new “stuff”. It’s because changing habits is hard, and buying stuff is easy… and by making a new purchase, we can feel that we’ve started on the journey.

There are a few things in the plastic-free living “toolkit” that make things easier, but you do not need to go out and make a purchase on the first day. Or even the first week. Or even at all!

Before you buy anything, you need to figure out if you are going to use it, and if you have something suitable at home already that you can use or repurpose. Take your time so that you can make the best choices. (This especially applies if you are concerned about your groceries budget.)

Plastic Free Living Zero Waste

The only thing I purchased during my first Plastic Free July was a KeepCup (a reusable coffee cup), made from plastic.

A few weeks later I began to wonder whether buying a plastic cup for a plastic-free living challenge actually made sense (of course it doesn’t). I started thinking about combining plastic with hot liquids. I noticed the plastic started to absorb the coffee flavour.

Eventually I decided to replace it with a glass one (which I still have). Had I taken my time to think about it, I could have saved myself a wasted purchase.

4. Life from scratch…or not?

Homemade Sourdough Loaf Zero Waste Plastic Free Treading My Own Path

When I started down the plastic-free path, I had no intention of making my own bread or yoghurt or pickles. However, I began making all of these things, and for different reasons.

I used to buy bread at the Farmers Market, which meant I had to purchase my bread between 8am and 12noon on Saturdays. This meant that the rest of Saturday was put on hold until I’d secured the golden loaf of sourdough. Freshly baked artisan sourdough is delicious, but it’s also expensive. The Saturday morning stress and the money led me to ask myself the question – could I bake my own?

Once I tried baking sourdough for the first time, I was smitten. Freshly baked bread straight from the oven – there is no comparison. Now I have freshly baked bread whenever I need it, rather than just on Saturdays.

I started making yoghurt when I realised how simple it was. It involves heating up milk, cooling again, adding a small amount of culture (meaning old yoghurt) and placing somewhere warm for 12 hours (you can find yoghurt-making instructions here). Why was I buying it, carrying it home and taking the empty glass jars back when it took less time just to make my own?

I really enjoy cooking ,and baking, and making stuff from scratch. The more I’ve tried, the more I’ve got into it. But I don’t have time to do everything.

I don’t make my own pasta, for example. We can buy pasta from the bulk store, so why would I make my own? I tried making passata once, but it was so laborious I declared never again (or not for a long time). I don’t can my own tomatoes. I use the lazy person alternative – chopping up and using fresh tomatoes instead. It works well enough for me.

If something is impossible to find without plastic, or too expensive to buy, then I consider that I have three choices. Number 1: make my own. Number 2: find an alternative that I’m happy with. Number 3: go without.

Of course there is a fourth option – compromise – but I prefer to stick to one of the first three. That is enough choice for me.

5. The 80/20 Rule

I have a theory that 80% of everyday plastic is easy to eliminate, and the other 20% is the hard stuff. The easy things like plastic bags, plastic straws, takeaway packaging, disposable coffee cups, water and soft drinks bottles, multipacks, individual portions and serves can all be removed from our lives without too much stress.

It just takes a little bit of remembering, and maybe some practice, but not too much change.

The other 20% is the stuff that requires compromise, or bigger changes. Don’t worry about the hard 20%, at least not at first, and don’t give up on reducing the easy stuff just because you know the hard stuff will probably elude you.

Focus on the easy changes that have big wins.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

There will always be people ahead of us on the journey, who have achieved things that we can only dream about. We can learn from them, and speed up our own journeys. The truth is, they all started at the same place.

They all started at the beginning.

They chose to make one change, and purchase one less plastic item, and then one more, and they just kept on going. Small steps, in the right direction. That is all it takes.

As always, now I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you someone who has been on the plastic-free living or zero waste journey for a while, and if so, what tips would you give to someone starting out? Are you embracing the Plastic Free July challenge for the first time this year, and if so, do you have any concerns or questions? Which one of these lessons stands out most for you? Do you disagree with anything? Are there any other lessons that you’d like to add? Any other thoughts about plastic-free living or zero waste living, or the Plastic Free July challenge? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

Zero Waste (+ Plastic-Free) Gardening

I may have got to grips with plastic-free living and the zero waste lifestyle when it comes to inside the home, but when it comes to the garden, I’m a plastic-free newbie. Having lived in an upstairs apartment with little more than a balcony for the last four years, I haven’t really needed to think about it.

Now we’ve moved and I finally have the garden space I’ve been dreaming about all that time, I’m really keen to keep up with the plastic-free lifestyle and avoid using plastic in the garden where I can. (Spoiler alert – there have been compromises!)

Of course, paving or wood chip mulch would solve the waste problem straightaway, but I’m keen to grow as much food as I can, so no easy options for me!

Starting from scratch with anything can be daunting, and the hardware stores seem to have more plastic packaging in them than the supermarkets! I do not have all the answers – we have only been living here for three months, after all – but I’m beginning to find zero waste solutions and plastic-free alternatives that work for me.

No doubt in another three months I’ll have far more answers (and if you have any tips of your own, please share them!) but I thought I’d share my plastic-free and zero waste gardening solutions so far.

Starting with the Soil

We were lucky enough that when we moved, the four garden beds were pre-filled with soil (and pre-planted with seedings). However, there is still plenty of space for planting additional things, and empty pots need soil to fill them. Perth doesn’t have soil: it is a city build on grey sand, with no nutrient content or water-holding capacity whatsoever. I

t’s not possible to scoop up some soil from the ground and put it in a pot. You have to source it from somewhere.

We’d been given some potting mix in 25 litre plastic bags (the only size available where I live) but the bags seemed so wasteful that I didn’t want to buy any myself. Instead I found a compromise: coconut coir.

It’s a waste product from coconut growing areas. It comes as a dry, lightweight block wrapped in a very thin plastic layer. Once added to water it expands: this block will make enough to fill a wheelbarrow (90 litres).

To buy this much potting mix would require four bags, and heaps more plastic.

Peat-free potting mix made from a waste product: coconut coir.

Peat-free potting mix made from a waste product: coconut coir.

Coconut coir itself does not have any nutritional value, but can be mixed with worm castings, compost or other fertilisers to add nutrients.

Repurposed Polystyrene Box Plastic Free Gardening Zero Waste Gardening

Coconut coir once water has been added. This old polystyrene box is our old worm farm. Despite hating plastic and especially polystyrene, I couldn’t throw it out knowing it still had (some) use. It’s good for mixing up potting mix and saves me from buying a new container.

Coconut coir is great for raising seedlings, but to top up the garden beds (and create new garden beds) we needed soil. After a couple of phone calls, I found a local soil company that could deliver a trailer load of soil to us. This tiny looking pile is half a cubic litre (500l), which is the equivalent of 40 bags.

Whilst we didn’t need it all, we have been able to store what we didn’t use in our wheelie bin (we don’t use it for rubbish, after all) until we can use it.

Plastic Free Zero Waste Bulk Soil Delivery Treading My Own Path

Plastic-free zero waste soil delivery.

Compost, Worm Castings and Manure

In the beginning, we decided to buy a few bags (in plastic – shudder) of mushroom compost and animal manure, to get things started. We have two compost bins, but they are yet to crank out any compost. In future I hope to make all of our compost at home. (We also plan to get more bins.)

Zero Waste Plastic Free Gardening Homemade Compost Treading My Own Path

Our two compost bins. We hope to get more so that we can produce all of our own compost at home.

Clearly, if we plan to produce all of our own compost at home we will need more plant matter and food waste to compost! We’ve probably got enough weeds on the verge to provide all the nitrogen we could ever want, but compost needs both carbon and nitrogen. Our solution is to collect excess coffee grounds from the local cafe. We’ll also go leaf collecting to gather some extra carbon for the pot.

Repurposing Cafe Coffee Grounds Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

Coffee grounds from a local cafe (they were pre-packaged in plastic). We may have been a little over-eager… I could not lift these bags, they were so heavy! Coffee grounds are a great compost additive though, and we could never drink this much coffee!

Our solution for animal manure was simple. Our friends own a cow, and offered us their “spare” manure! We can provide our own containers and fill them up. Sounds stinky, but it’s plastic-free at least!

On top of this, we still have our worm farm, and can use the castings to enrich the soil.

Adding Nutrients to the Soil

We’d rather not buy plastic bottles of plant food because aside from the waste, we prefer to feed our plants natural ingredients and these pre-packaged feeds are high in salts and urea. The most natural options recommended seem to be kelp, soy bean meal (an alternative to blood and bone), blood and bone, rock dust, fish hydrolysate and pelletized chicken manure.

The soil company who delivered our soil also sell these in bulk, so we can refill our own containers when we need to.

Another, more cost-effective place to source these products is a stock feed place. We didn’t need the huge quantities, but a local lady purchased some and split the bags into smaller amounts for us. If that hadn’t been an option, these ingredients all have a long shelf life.

Zero Waste Gardening Kelp Soybean Meal Molasses Treading My Own Path

A local lady purchased these in bulk, and split into containers for a group of us. (She added the plastic jar labels – it’s not something I would have done!)

Seedlings and Seeds

To start with, we purchased a few seedling punnets. I’ve begun to plant seeds in the repurposed punnets and hope that I will be able to grow everything from seed in the future. Even seed packets sometimes contain tiny little ziplock bags.

Much further down the track I hope to be able to save my own seeds. Right now we are at the beginning of our journey. I need to learn what grows well and what we like to eat before I even think about saving seeds! I’m not worrying about the tiny little ziplock bags – for now ; )

We have swapped seeds with our neighbours which has worked well, as most seed packs seem to expire before all the seeds have been planted. This way we double our selection (and they do too) and the seeds are fresher – hopefully meaning that more germinate!

Seed Saving and Seed Sharing Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

Seeds on the left are our neighbours’; seeds on the right are ours. Seeds in the middle are saved from the beans that were growing in the garden. No idea what the different types are, though!

Repurposing

We’ve been able to find heaps of plant pots for free on the verge, which has been great for growing seedlings. Alongside the few seedling punnets we’ve bought, we now have enough to pot on our seedlings to beef them up before they go in the beds.

Reusing old plastic plant pots zero waste gardening Treading My Own Path

Gardening in containers Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

Plastic Plant Pots Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

Repurposing Plastic Plant Pots Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

What about the plastic so far?

There is no way I’m throwing any of the plastic we’ve used so far in the bin. Not a chance! But clearly, plastic bags that contained sheep manure and compost are not suitable for recycling as they are. They need to be clean. Such is my dedication that I cleaned them!

I would have just put them all in the washing machine out of laziness but my husband would have killed me (and I didn’t really want to wreck the washing machine). So I washed them all off as best I could outside (in a tub of water which I used in the garden), and then brought them in and scrubbed them in the shower with an old brush.

Cleaning old plastic bags Zero Waste Gardening Treading My Own Path

True story. I washed out my soil bags so I could recycle them properly.

Cleaning plastic potting mix bags Treading My Own Path

Hanging on the washing line to dry.

The only real waste item we’ve generated so far is the plastic labels that come attached to the seedling punnets. Most of them are currently in the garden reminding us what is planted where, but when the season is finished we may not have another use for them. Still, if we can reduce our garden waste to just a few seedling labels then I will be very happy!

Lindsay Miles Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Gardening

Plastic-free zero waste gardening in action : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a garden? Do you have any tips for reducing waste and cutting down on plastic? Do you have any suggestions for how I might improve things further, or notice anything I’ll need to think about in the future? Is there anything you’ve struggled with? Do these struggles remain or have you managed to overcome them? Are there any compromises you make that you think are worthwhile? Are you put off gardening because of all the plastic packaging and chemicals? I’d really like to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!