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Zero Waste Living: What about Recycling?

The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. That does not mean buying everything in recyclable packaging and simply recycling it, however! Recycling is not a perfect solution, and still uses huge amounts of resources and energy.

Many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled either, but downcycled, meaning they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further downcycled, and eventually downcycled products will end up in landfill.

So no, the zero waste movement is not about recycling. Recycling is a last resort.

However, to create zero landfill waste and zero recycling would be a mean feat indeed, and I have not heard of a zero waster who does not recycle at least a little. We all do our best, and aim to recycle as little as possible, but it is extremely hard to produce no waste at all! (And yes, I do see recycling as waste.)

Whilst people living zero waste lifestyles often share pictures of their landfill trash (or lack of it!), sharing recycling is less common. It is, however, something that I (and I’m sure it’s the same for other zero wasters) get asked about a lot.

How much recycling do I produce in a month? Good question. I always say it’s the equivalent of a couple of waste paper baskets, but what does that actually look like – and what type of recycling waste does our household produce?

Well, let there be no doubts or misunderstandings! This is our entire recycling waste produced in one month – from 1st to the 30th April. We didn’t do anything differently; we didn’t set ourselves any challenges – although our observations did change our behaviour slightly, as you’ll see!

How Much Recycling Does a Zero Waste Home Produce in a Month?

As I said, I do not know how this compares to others, and I’m not particularly interested in comparisons. I want to do the best I can, and I’m always trying to improve. I’m definitely not perfect!

Days 1 – 10:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 1 to 10 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home: Recycling Days 1 – 10

Looking at this you’d think all we consumed was beer, chocolate and toilet paper, wouldn’t you?! I feel I must defend myself. Except there is no defence!

  • Yes, my husband and I did actually eat all 5 of those chocolate bars in 10 days (plus some bulk chocolate too, I’m pretty sure).
  • The beer (which my husband drinks; I don’t like it) is a work in progress. There is a great little shop really close by that sells beer refills, and my husband does go there, but he still has a tendency to buy beer in packaging. Whenever I question him about it, he points out that he didn’t sign up for zero waste living, only the plastic-free part! One of his favourite brands has recently been made available in aluminium cans, which is great from a recycling point-of-view (all glass in WA is crushed into road base rather than being made into new bottles). However, lots of cans are BPA-lined, so the health aspect isn’t great. Although that could be said for drinking beer…
  • No, we didn’t actually use that much loo roll in 10 days! I keep the paper for other uses, but my husband had a clearout of the cupboard. The two cardboard tubes are a more accurate! (I tend to keep these for planting seedlings, not sure why these are here.)
  • The rest is a couple of invoices, a business card (nowadays I hand these straight back so this must be an old one) and a couple of scrappy bits of paper. The gold paper is from one of the chocolate bars (the others had aluminium foil, which I’ll come back to later).

Days 11 – 20:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 11 to 20 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 11 – 20

This period is better! I’ve controlled my chocolate consumption (I was a little shocked at the previous picture).

  • Three rolls of toilet paper and their wrappers. Some zero wasters use “cloth” which means reusable fabric; my husband and I don’t – and there is no way I’d ever be able to persuade him to make the switch! (I’ve talked about this decision on more detail here.)
  • More beer – this time in glass. The glass will get crushed and turned into road base which is a little depressing.
  • One chocolate wrapper, one envelope that came in the mail and a receipt.

Days 21 – 30:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 21 to 30 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 21 – 30

This looks like a lot (and it is).

  • The big stack of papers on the top row in the middle are the result of my going through all of our folders. I do this every 6 months or so to remove all the unnecessary stuff. The pile is about an inch thick and contains old statements, letters, documents, notes, papers from some workshops that I ran, and receipts/invoices.
  • The local newspaper – no idea where this came from but my husband is a fan of the community newspaper, so I guess he picked it up to read.
  • An insurance brochure – uncovered whilst going through our folders.
  • Random bits of cardboard packaging and instructions from when we moved in to our new home, including the packet the keys were in and instructions on how a draining board works. Useful stuff!
  • A very old ibuprofen packet.
  • A “Thank You” card that I didn’t have the heart to give back.
  • A list, a post-it note and a loyalty card for somewhere we haven’t been since forever.
  • Another toilet paper wrapper.
  • The labels from my tent which were still attached to the bag – and I bought this in 2003!
  • A small handful of receipts. I generally decline receipts but sometimes we need them and sometimes they sneak in.
  • Two envelopes from mail that we received.

So that’s it – how much recycling we produced in 30 days. Except that’s not quite it. This is the stuff that was put into our bin for kerbside collection. There’s a little more that wasn’t… yet.

Aluminium Foil:

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling from February to May

You may have noticed that I do have a small chocolate bar habit, and with each bar comes an aluminum wrapper. Aluminium can be recycled but single wrappers are a bit small for the machinery.

I save mine up until it’s a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and then I place that ball in the recycling. This is all the foil we’ve collected in 3 months (Feb – May). Once the ball is big enough it will go out for recycling.

Steel bottle tops:

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops for Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops in April

Because my husband is switching to cans we have less of these. They can be recycled, but are so small that a single one will slip through the process. To recycle, collect in a tin can, and once the tin can is half full squish it in the middle to stop the bottle tops falling out. The can can then be put in the recycling and the tops should be recycled.

Soft and noisy plastic:

Zero Waste Home Soft Plastic Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Soft and noisy plastic recycling Feb – May

Soft and noisy plastics can be recycled (or rather, downcycled into garden furniture) but they are often not recycled by kerbside collection systems. In Australia there are bins inside Coles supermarkets where these can be deposited.

I dislike plastic with a passion and try to avoid buying any, but the odd piece comes my way. I save it all up and then take it to the supermarket – usually a couple of times a year.

This is what I’ve collected since February (so 3 months) – it weighs 54g. It’s more than usual because when we moved in to our new home, the draining board, draining rack and chopping board were all wrapped in plastic.

What I’ve landfilled:

Zero Waste Home Landfill Waste Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Two months of landfill waste

For completeness, I thought I’d add a picture of my landfill waste. I’ve been collecting it since March 1st this year. Previously I was reluctant to as I thought it was really gimmicky – but then I realised that it would be a useful visual prop when I give talks.

So this is two months worth of landfill. It contains: the backing from a sticker, a piece of pink tape (that was used to seal the thank-you card above), an old phone SIM card, an elastic band entwined with nylon fibre, an ibuprofen blister pack, an old credit card, two plastic bottle lids that have broken and some packing plastic binding.

There you have it – my complete recycling waste and landfill waste from my zero waste home for the last 30 days.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be.

If you can do better that’s great – and I’d love to hear your tips! On the other hand, if you think this looks impossibly inachievable, remember that I began my journey four years ago.

It’s taken me 4 years to reduce my waste to what I’ve shown you here. Personally, I’m pleased with how far I’ve come, and I hope that in the future I can reduce my waste even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what did you think? Do you have any ideas how I could reduce my waste further? Can you spot any glaringly obvious areas for improvement? (Please don’t say “eat less chocolate” – I’ve already figured that one out!) Do you have any ideas where I can recycle the things in my landfill jar – particularly credit cards and sim cards as I suspect I’ll have more in the future? What do you think about the idea of people sharing their waste? Do you find it motivating or disheartening? Do you share your own waste progress (if so, tell me the link so I can have a look and maybe learn something new)? Any other thoughts? I really love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

A Guide to Zero Waste Camping

Last weekend my husband and I went camping together for the first time (yes, despite being together almost 5 years, this was a first for us). We’d both been camping many times in our past lives, and we both enjoy it. Why it took us 5 years to get around to it together I’m not quite sure, but it did.

I suspect it has something to do with all the “stuff” required. We didn’t want to buy a whole heap of new (new for us, at least) stuff and we had nowhere to store it anyway.

Eventually it was a friend of ours who prompted us into action. She initiated the trip, and came up with a list of all the stuff we’d need (for some reason I’d put the idea of making a list in the “too hard” basket). What we didn’t own (we own a small tent, one sleeping bag and one roll mat – not the stuff that comfortable two-person camping trips are made of) we needed to borrow.

Aside from never camping with my husband before, there was one other big change to the camping of years ago. Back in those days, I wasn’t zero waste. I wasn’t even plastic-free. (I did always bring my recyclables home for recycling, at least.)

How would we manage?

Well, I like a challenge, and I don’t like to admit defeat. The suggestion from my husband that I possibly entertain the idea of bringing a tin of tomatoes on the trip almost ended in divorce (okay, I exaggerate, but there was heated discussion from both sides).

I’m pleased to say, despite the doubt, that zero waste camping is not nearly as hard as you might think. We had a great time, with only one mishap (which I’ll tell you about at the end). I suspect this will be the first of many trips!

What I Learned from our Zero Waste Camping Trip

Before I start, I want to point out that this was a regular camping trip, and we had a car for transport. We were in a National Park with no facilities, so we did have to bring all of our own food and water. We weren’t backpacking, however, and we didn’t have to carry anything very far.

What you don’t have, you can borrow.

There was a lot of equipment that we didn’t own, and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to borrow. In the end, we had far more offers than we needed. Our friends and family were more than willing to lend us their gear.

I wonder if it’s because people who go camping really love camping, and want others to experience that same enjoyment; or whether it’s because camping equipment doesn’t get used terribly often and people like to maximize the value by letting others use it too.

Either way, it saved us having to source a heap of things we might have only used once. Now we know we’ll go again, we will probably invest in a couple of things – a second sleeping bag would be good!

We’re also clear on what things weren’t useful and would be a waste to purchase.

You need to be (slightly more) organized.

Camping always tests organization skills, particularly when you have to supply all of your food and water. Zero waste definitely adds another element to that, because there is no easy solution to add packets of “convenience foods” as reserve.

That doesn’t mean to say it’s complicated. In fact, all it took was a little bit of meal planning. Thinking about the kinds of foods that were easy to cook in a pan on a stove (pasta, rice, couscous) and what could accompany them (vegetables and condiments). Thinking about what could be eaten without cooking (crackers, fruit, avocado). And of course, thinking about zero waste snacks (nuts, chocolate).

Rather than the tin of tomatoes, I made a jar of pesto to take with us and we used that to make pasta sauce. Crisis (and waste) averted!

You will eat real food (which is far more satisfying anyway, and much better for you)

I’m referring to the point above. The trouble with bringing all that pre-packaged processed food for emergencies is that “I-can’t-actually-be-bothered-to turn-on-the-stove” becomes the emergency, and all the packets of goodness-knows-what are opened in lieu of eating proper actual food. Zero waste camping eliminates this.

Because there is more planning, there is actual food to eat, and even extra actual food for emergencies. Ultimately this means better meals and infinitely better nourishment – which makes the whole trip far more enjoyable. It’s not like we’re too busy doing other stuff to cook anyway – we’re in a forest in the middle of nowhere!

You will pack (a little) more stuff

That’s always the trade-off with zero waste versus minimalism: you need (slightly more) stuff. No disposable anything meant more containers. Because everything needed to be sealed and airtight, this meant tins, glass jars and Pyrex, which is far more bulky than disposable plastic packaging.

Still, we had a car, we didn’t have to carry anything and it created no waste, so it was worth it.

You’ll be bringing everything home with you

Everything we took with us, except the food we actually ate, came home with us. When we were packing the car it was a bit of a mission to get everything to fit, and we were thinking at least there will be less on the way home – but actually, there wasn’t much difference. Containers don’t collapse or reduce in size when they are empty like packets do.

Actually, this doesn’t matter at all – how many times did I opt for the single-use convenience option in the past, I wonder? It’s ironic that  heading out to spend time in nature is often accompanied by unsustainable and environmentally damaging choices.

I’m glad that I make better choices now. The only rubbish we generated was food waste, which we collected and composted at home.

There were plenty of other highlights, of course. Spending time in nature, the fresh air, the exercise and the mindfulness of it all. Discovering that my husband and I are completely compatible at camping – hurrah (tinned tomatoes aside)! Realising that 5 years is way to long (we’ve already planned two more trips).

The mishap that I referred to earlier? The last afternoon, it began to rain… and it didn’t stop until we left. It didn’t spoil our day – there was a camp kitchen area with shelter, so we used that. The tent roof didn’t let a drop of water in (which was a relief since it’s been unused for so long).

In fact, on the final morning when we woke up, my husband and I were marvelling at our tent’s ability to stay dry, when my husband put his hand on the tent floor – to discover that there was a flood directly underneath the tent. We were sitting in 2 inches of water, separated only by a thin layer of tent, and anything in contact with the floor was wet (luckily, our roll mats protected us)!

Needless to say we were up, packed and heading back home remarkably quickly that morning (and thankful that we had remained dry and warm throughout)! Ah, the joys of camping ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you go camping, and if so, what are your essentials? What have you learned to do without? How do you try to minimize your waste when you take trips? Does the idea of zero waste camping seem like too much of a struggle? Does the thought of all the equipment and organization required put you off? Or are you a pro at packing – in which case, do you have any tips to share? What’s your best camping mishap story?! Please tell me your thoughts (and stories) in the comments below!

8 Lessons Learned from 4 Years of Zero Waste Living

If you speak to any zero waste or plastic-free living advocate, and ask them about their experiences and their journey, at some point in the conversation they will say to you: with hindsight, I would have done things differently. Oh, the benefit of hindsight! As someone who has been living plastic-free for almost four years, and working towards zero waste for most of that time, I can tell you that the mistakes I have made and the lessons I have learned have been many!

It’s very easy, four years down the track, to make it sound like the journey has been effortless and the changes have been seamless. That’s not deliberate: there’s plenty of journey behind me for me to pick out the good bits. Plus I like to focus on what has worked for me and the successes I’ve had rather than dwelling on the struggles. I want to inspire others to make changes, not put their heads in their hands and declare it all to be far too hard! (It’s not, and if you keep going you will get closer, I promise.)

Then again, I never want to give the impression that I haven’t had my moments or my challenges along the way. Of course I have! I still make mistakes now. Nobody is perfect. We’re all trying to do the best we can. That’s all we can ever do, after all.

Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in my first four years of zero waste living. No doubt there are plenty more lessons to come in the next four years!

1. The first solution is not always the final one

You won’t get it all right first time round. Some things will work perfectly for you, and others, not so much. Different solutions will present themselves, and you will find better ways of doing things that fit with your lifestyle.

When I first stopped buying shampoo and conditioner, I found a health store that sold bulk products where I could refill my jars. The products were bright green, and when I first used them, the smell was so overwhelming that I was convinced I’d accidentally bought toilet cleaner. (I even went back to the shop to double-check I hadn’t bought toilet cleaner.)

Could they have mis-labelled their bulk containers?

Unlikely, but I did not enjoy using those products one little bit. Needless to say, I used them up (probably far more liberally than usual) and never went back there again.

I found another retailer whose refills had a smell I could stomach. Eventually the effort of going back and forth to refill my jars made me revisit this, and I tried using bicarb and vinegar. This worked well for my hair, and was easier than getting the refills.

One more change from bicarb to rye flour, and I’m content with this.

Rye Flour Shampoo Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

Rye flour is now what I use instead of shampoo… but there have been a few changes along the way!

2. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing (especially if it doesn’t feel right for you).

There are two iconic items of the zero waste and plastic-free movements: the glass mason jar and the bamboo toothbrush. Glass jars, I love. They come in all sorts of sizes, they are easy to store, easy to clean and you can see what’s inside them when you use them as storage.

The bamboo toothbrush, however, I struggled with. It was one of the first switches I made when going plastic-free, but I couldn’t bear the bristles coming loose in my mouth or worse, being washed down the sink. The brushes never seemed to last more than a few weeks.

When it came to disposal, I didn’t want those bristles ending up in my compost, ether. The bristles for many bamboo toothbrushes are currently plastic (despite what the companies might lead you to believe).

I came across another brand, with a conventional plastic handle but with reusable heads that need replacing every 6 months. The heads can currently be recycled by Terracycle, along with the packaging, so I’m not adding anything to landfill. This seemed far less wasteful than the bamboo forests I felt like I was chopping down to clean my teeth (I was constantly buying replacement brushes).

Bamboo toothbrush parts

Gah! More plastic bristles in my mouth and washed down the drain! Plus these bristles are plastic and I don’t want that in my compost.

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

These toothbrushes have replaceable heads (and it is literally just the head) that need replacing every 6 months. The packaging is minimal. It may not look as trendy as a bamboo toothbrush, but it’s working much better for me. And at least I can recycle these used heads responsibly.

Of course, my bathroom would look much prettier if I used bamboo toothbrushes. Ultimately though, what matters is whether my teeth are clean, and that I can dispose of the product I’m using responsibly. My toothbrush may be plastic but my conscience is clear.

3. You will make mistakes (and that’s okay, it’s all part of change)

One of the first things I bought in 2012 (the year I went plastic-free) was a reusable KeepCup – made of plastic. I didn’t think about the fact that plastic doesn’t really last, whether it’s labelled as reusable or not; nor did it occur to me that it isn’t healthy to use plastic with hot liquids like coffee.

I also learned through using it that over time, the plastic becomes tainted with whatever you put inside in a way that glass and stainless steel never do.

I bought a glass KeepCup in 2014. I wish I’d gone straight for glass and never bought the plastic one, and now I wonder how I ever came to that decision, but that’s all part of the journey.

keepcupjpg

Plastic KeepCup, purchased 2012. Oh, the benefit of hindsight…

Glass KeepCup Treading My Own Path

This is my replacement, purchased 2014. It’s made of glass and has a cork band. It’s far more versatile and easier to clean, and 2 years on it still looks as good as new – unlike the plastic one.

4. You don’t need to buy a brand new toolkit on the first day

To go completely zero waste, there are a few things you need. A water bottle, some reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, some kind of lunchbox, maybe some sandwich wraps, a reusable coffee cup – this all depends on your situation and your lifestyle.

The most common mistake that people make when embarking on the zero waste lifestyle is buying all of this stuff brand new on the first day, without thinking first whether they already own something appropriate, whether they really need it at all, and whether these products are built to last – and if they’re not, how they will be disposed of.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

This zero waste kit was built up over a number of years as I realised what my needs were. The water bottle and reusable produce bags came first; other things came later as I realised they would be useful – and well used.

It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, we’re excited about making changes to our lives, and there’s not much we can do on day one except buy stuff. Changing habits needs time and shopping doesn’t; buying stuff feels like we are taking steps towards our goal.

If you can, hold back from buying anything new. Get a feel for what you might need, and make do with what you have. Give it time. That way, when you come to buy the things you do need, you will make better choices.

5. Do not get rid of perfectly good things for “better” things

Zero waste is all about not wasting stuff, right? So replacing stuff that you already have with stuff that’s a little bit “more” zero waste really doesn’t make any sense. I’m talking about replacing old jars that you already have in the cupboard (the ones with the store labels still attached) with brand new jars with metal lids; replacing plastic laundry pegs with wooden ones; that kind of thing.

If there’s a safety issue (and I personally do not use plastic for food preparation or storage for health reasons) or it’s broken and can’t be fixed, then it’s completely reasonable to get a replacement. Otherwise, can you really justify the waste you’re creating?

If your passionate about zero waste, then your goal should not be to have your home looking like a magazine cover, your goal should be to reuse what you have, repurpose what you can and to buy as little as you can – and second hand, if possible. Don’t get swept up in the beautiful “zero waste” things for sale on the eco websites.

IMG_0360

Possibly not Pinterest-worthy, but a far better use of resources ; )

6. You get to set your own rules

The great thing about your life is that you get to make the rules. How you live your plastic-free or zero waste life is unique to you, and the rules you decide to live by are up to you too. There’s no specific rules that are set in stone that you have to follow; there’s no membership or entry rules. Entry to this way of living is free!

The only thing you need is the desire and passion to do what you can to make a difference.

For me, zero waste is about sending nothing to landfill. I buy everything I can without packaging – food and toiletries in bulk, other items second hand. I would love to create no recycling either, but at this stage in my life, it isn’t possible.  I try to keep my recycling to a minimum: my husband and I fill a bin about the size of a wastepaper basket (well actually it is an old wastepaper basket) with recycling about once a fortnight. Mostly that’s paper and card, with the occasional beer or wine bottle.

Of course I could compost my paper and card, but it’s a better use of resources to recycle it. I don’t burn any of my waste.

That works for me, and also my husband, who always tells me that whilst he was happy to sign up for plastic-free living, he’s fully on-board with and enjoys living plastic-free, he doesn’t remember agreeing to the zero waste “thing”… Those few extra recyclables are our compromise.

7. There may be exceptions to your rules

When I say I buy everything I can in bulk, I must confess that there is a food item that I choose to buy in packaging. Chocolate. I do buy bulk chocolate sometimes, but it is simply not as good as the bars of deliciousness that come pre-packaged. I’ve tried to give it up, but I can’t.

I can recycle the foil and the paper/card (I’d never buy chocolate wrapped in plastic) but it isn’t quite zero waste living. This is my work in progress.

chocolate

Chocolate bars are my zero waste work-in-progress. I buy chocolate in bulk, of course, but I just can’t quite shake the chocolate bar habit…

8. You don’t have to keep your waste in a mason jar

There’s no rule for keeping your waste in a mason jar. I resisted this for ages, because I felt like it was gimmicky and unnecessary. I’m meant to be a minimalist! Storing a jar of rubbish is definitely not a minimalist thing to do.

In the end, I changed my mind. It was a conversation with a journalist that made me look at it from a different perspective. She was asking about how much waste I produced, as I don’t have a bin, and I realised that it is a hard thing to explain. Saying “nothing” isn’t quite the same as being able to see what “nothing” is!

She suggested that having a jar is a really good way for people to visualize what zero waste is. As I do run workshops and give talks, this is a valid point, and the jar collecting began.

If you want to collect your waste, if it works for you, if you enjoy looking at it and seeing your progress, of course collect your waste. If you just think it’s another chore, and you really can’t be bothered, then there’s no need.

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

After some initial reluctance, my waste now goes in a jar. Can you believe it, the very day after I began I had something to go in it?! Not the best start!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What lessons have you learned on your zero waste or plastic-free journey that you want to share? Do you have some new ones to add to the list? Do you disagree with any of these, and if so why? Are there any favourites that stand out for you? Do you have any exceptions to your rules, as if so, what? (Please don’t tell me I’m the only one…) I really want to hear your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

I Saw it in the Stars (A Guide to Energy Efficiency)

With new houses comes the need for new appliances. At least, in our case it has. The last thing I wanted to do was rush out and buy a whole heap of new stuff for our new home, but we did need a new fridge and a new washing machine.

…Our old fridge (purchased in 2002 by my in-laws) was wildly inefficient. It was far too big for the two of us and guzzled energy like it was going out of fashion. Despite this, we would have (reluctantly) put it in storage for two months until our new home was ready. However, our kitchen has been designed (somewhat cunningly, with energy efficiency in mind) to only fit a smaller fridge, and our old one was far too wide. We sold it to some students in a four-person house share – a better use for a fridge this size.

…Our old washing machine (purchased second-hand via Gumtree in 2012) was life-expired. It left dirty marks on our clean laundry. The seal was covered in black slime which did not come clean no matter how much vinegar or bicarb I used, nor how many 95°C washes I ran – and a replacement was the price we paid for the machine. I’d have happily paid if it was just the seal (I’d rather repair than replace), but in addition the tubing needed replacing, the electrics didn’t work properly, it had developed a small leak and it’s possible the bearings were going (hence the dirty clothes). Our ex-neighbour is looking after it until I take it to pieces and recycle the parts – I’m particularly keen on doing something fun with the stainless steel drum.

I was keen to get second-hand appliances, but my husband wanted new and energy efficient ones. He argued our old washing machine was a good example of how second-hand doesn’t always work out. There were very few fridges of the size we need available on Gumtree. We could choose the most energy efficient options and look after them properly.

In the end, my husband won. I did feel guilty that we bought new, but choosing quality and energy efficiency means they should last a long time and use less power overall. Whether this was the best choice, only time will tell. I must confess, being able to do a load of laundry that actually comes out clean has also dissipated some guilt.

Choosing an Energy-Efficient Fridge

I found it very confusing that no matter how big the fridge was, the energy star rating was around 3.5 stars. Fridge sizes began at 250 litres, and went all the way up to 850 litres, and yet the stars were practically the same. How could that be?

It turns out that under the star system, fridges are compared with other fridges of a similar size. They do not compare all fridges with one another. Crazy, right? This means the star rating is fairly meaningless on its own. What is far more important when choosing a fridge (or any electronic appliance) is to look at the actual energy rating. All appliances should state their energy use in kWh (which stands for kilowatt hours) over a year.

(If you have an old fridge and want to work out how much energy it uses, you can use an energy monitor. I’ve written about how you can use an energy monitor to work out consumption and cost in a previous post, when I found out that my previous fridge used 639 kWh a year. That is a huge amount!)

The most energy efficient fridge we could find that was big enough for the two of us but fit the space (600mm wide) has an energy rating of 284 kWh per year. That’s 225% less energy than our previous fridge. Interestingly, it wasn’t the smallest fridge on display but one of the newest models. Most models in the size range were 300 – 350 kWh, and some were as high as 450 kWh.

At 284kWh per year, our new fridge will use 0.78kWh per day.

Fridge Energy Efficency Star Rating Treading My Own Path

In 2014 I learned that most domestic fridges in wealthy nations use more energy than the total energy consumption of an average citizen in many African nations. It inspired me to find out the energy consumption of my fridge and write the post My Fridge vs the People of Africa. I made a graph showing the energy consumption of citizens of various African nations, and the energy use of my fridge and the fridge of the guy whose article prompted me to investigate. I’ve updated the graph to show where our new fridge sits in the graph:

My Fridge vs the People of Africa Updated 2016

My old fridge is the red column, and my new fridge is the green column. The six yellow columns represent the total electricity consumption of an average citizen in each of 6 African nations in 2010. (The two blue columns relate to the 2014 post which I’ve linked to above.)

Choosing a Waterwise and Energy-Efficient Washing Machine

Washing machines have two differentials to consider: electricity use and water use. They are easier to compare than fridges because they are all relatively the same size, but rather than looking at stars, it is still better to look at the numbers.

Energy consumption is listed per year, in kWh and it makes assumptions about the frequency and type of wash that will be used. To aid comparison, all machines compare regular 40º C cycles and assume they will be used once a day. We  run our machine about 3 times a week, usually on a cold or 30ºC setting, so we would expect our energy consumption to be less than the quoted amount. If you use your washing machine every day and run hotter washes, the energy consumption would be higher.

Water consumption is quoted per wash for a regular program, not per year.

Washing Machine Star Energy Ratings

The machine we chose had high energy efficiency and low water use, but it was expensive. It was double the price of the next best performing brand. It uses 180kWh per year, and 60 litres per wash (compared to 265kWh per annum and 72 litres per wash for the cheaper brand). I confess, this was not actually the best performing machine on sale, it was second-best. The same brand had a better model that only used 50 litres per wash, but cost an extra $300 and our budget simply didn’t stretch that far.

It wasn’t just the energy and water efficiency that convinced us to switch, it was the design. Having had various issues with our previous model we were keen to choose something that would last. The brand we chose has a great reputation for long-lasting machines, and a service centre close by. It uses minimal electronics (an issue with our previous model) and it has a stainless steel rim rather than a rubber seal around the door. Rubber seals always accumulate grime and dirt, they are tricky to clean and expensive to replace (and you need to know what you are doing).

Having read the manual thoroughly (because believe me, this machine is going to be maintained well and will last a lifetime!) I discovered there is a helpful table which tells the user exactly how much energy and water each wash uses. The quick wash uses the least amount of energy and water and cleans surprisingly well. I did not realise that Wool + Hand Wash settings use so much water!

Washing Program Energy and Water Use Guidelines

I don’t know if all washing machine instruction manuals contain this kind of information, but it is so useful that I hope they do! Some longer programs use less energy than shorter ones (which I wouldn’t have guessed) and hand washing uses far more water than I imagined too.

Choosing a Waterwise and Energy-Efficient Dishwasher

Fans of dishwashers often state that dishwashers are very water efficient and use less water than washing the dishes by hand. Having spent a weekend looking at appliances, I can tell you that the most water efficient models use less than 15 litres per wash. It is estimated we use around 30 litres washing up in the kitchen sink, so yes, dishwashers do appear to use less water.

However they also use energy, and they are not particularly energy efficient. A dishwasher with a current 3.5 energy star rating will use around 0.75kWh per wash. Run it every day, and that’s around 275kWh per year. Then there’s the noise, and the biggest one of all – the energy needed to mine / refine / manufacture / transport the appliance – plus it’s another appliance to dispose of at the end of its life.

Despite my husband’s wishes, we won’t be getting a dishwasher. It’s an appliance we simply don’t need. We will be practicing mindfulness and doing the dishes. Well, I say we, but I suspect it will be me. I’m okay with that ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Would you have chosen new or second-hand? What factors influence your decisions? If you’re part of a more-than-one-person household, how do you find consensus with differing opinions? Have you any great experiences of buying second-hand, terrible experiences of buying new – or vice versa? Any stories or wisdom to share? What’s your record for the longest-running appliance you’ve owned or used? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Christmas Gift-Giving Guide for Minimalists…and their loved ones

Christmas always seems like the hardest time of year to explain to people that you have enough stuff, and you really don’t need any more. Family, friends, colleagues…for most of the year they seem to accept (or put up with, at least) our plastic-refusing, stuff-avoiding, minimalist and zero waste ways, but somehow, when it gets to Christmas time, the message seems to get lost.

“But it’s Christmas! How about I buy you some eco-friendly stuff? Some reusable bags? A book about decluttering?” We don’t really want or need any of this stuff, but it can be hard to say no, or to explain how whilst you may have loved gifts as a five-year-old, times have changed and so have you.

Of course, we don’t help ourselves either. In turn, we try to push our own agendas onto our loved ones. We buy them cards from charities letting them know that rather than a present, we’ve donated money on their behalf to a village in Africa. We give them the eco-friendly gifts we like to use, like reusable bags, in the hope they will embrace our zero-waste ways. Or we give them nothing, thinking they will understand because they know that we don’t value presents ourselves.

Except often, they don’t.

We end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need and don’t want, our loved ones end up with something they don’t want or appreciate (or worse, nothing when they did expect something) – and everybody feels misunderstood and unappreciated.

The truth is, gift-giving is complex, because giving gifts mean different things to different people. It took me a while to understand this. I was constantly puzzled why I would receive gifts despite asking for no gift at all, and that my close relatives would be offended because I hadn’t bought them a gift.

I thought that acting in the way I wanted to be treated would help them understand, but really it only brought resentment. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why my requests were falling on deaf ears, and I was left feeling guilty, with all this stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, most of which ended up being donated.

It was a book I read that made me change the way I thought about gift-giving. It suggested we connect emotionally with others in different ways, and we feel appreciated in different ways… and one of those ways is through gifts.

Most people appreciate gifts, sure, but the idea that gifts could be someone’s main emotional “love language” – that it was the main way they felt appreciated and understood – was actually somewhat of a surprise to me. I assumed it was something we could all just “do without”. As someone whose major love language is “quality time”, I enjoy the festive season for the chance to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, eat good food and have long conversations.

For me, presents don’t need to be a part of that; I’d assumed it was the same for everyone else. I didn’t realise that for some people, presents are genuinely a big part of Christmas.

Once I’d understood this, I began to realise why I was receiving gifts I didn’t need or want. If receiving presents is the main way a person feels loved and appreciated, then it makes sense that they would want to give gifts in return. To them, it’s more than a bunch of stuff; it’s an emotional currency.

I thought everyone liked sitting around after Christmas dinner chatting and setting the world to rights, because quality time is my emotional currency, but I’ve learned that others (my husband’s family, for example) don’t get the same pleasure out of this at all! It’s easy to assume that what works for us works for others, but it doesn’t always.

With this in mind, I’ve relented on my hard-line “no gifts for anyone” policy. Remember, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean “stuff”. Being respectful of others’ needs doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of things.

Gifts can be experiences: meals out in restaurants, tickets to shows or concerts, a day out at a museum, time spent together as a group. They can be homemade (I prefer to stick to edible gifts with this; not everyone will appreciate a tie-died hankie), or homegrown (vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and seedlings all apply). They can be in the form of favours and sharing of skills (an evening of babysitting, an afternoon gardening, walking the dog).

I try to keep bought gifts to an absolute minimum, but if I decide that a physical gift is more appropriate, I opt for second-hand: charity shops and also vintage and antique shops, or online auction and classified ad sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve got it completely right…it’s been a process of learning and understanding over the last few years. After all, for many years I gave and received gifts willingly. This is still new territory for us and our families.

It has been somewhat of an adjustment for friends and family to learn to accept that when we say no gifts, we really mean it, and for me to understand that just because I don’t want anything, applying this rule to everyone else may result in offense being taken (learned the hard way).

Initially, I suspect that our families thought this way of living was a phase that wouldn’t last. We probably thought that we could bring them round to our way of thinking. Now we’re all learning to find a happy medium. Slowly they’ve become more sympathetic to our different values and needs. Whilst they may not agree, they have begun to accept. Likewise, so have we.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you dealt with conflicting ideals between loved ones at Christmas? Have you learned to compromise, or reached a mutual understanding? Is it a compromise you’re happy with, or do you still think there’s work to be done? Do you stubbornly refuse to back down – or do they?! Is gift-giving still a source of conflict during the festive season? Have you had good experiences, bad ones..or both? What lessons have you learned? I really want to hear your insights on this so please leave a comment below!

Wardrobe Minimalism: Progress in Pictures

It’s no secret: I struggle with wardrobe decluttering. In my minimalism journey, this has been the hardest area for me to let go. I keep at it, because I know that practise makes perfect, and that decluttering gets easier with time (flexing those decluttering muscles is the only way to make them stronger). When I’m finally finished, the taste of success will be oh so sweet!

About this time last year I undertook a mammoth wardrobe decluttering session, and I photographed everything in my wardrobe. I say mammoth not because of the amount of items I discarded, but because owning so many things made it a big job! I removed every single item of clothing I owned from my wardrobe, shelves, those items hanging behind the door, languishing in the laundry basket and generally distributed about the flat, and made a big pile in the living room. Techinally, several piles.

I lay a sheet out on the floor and category by category, grouped together everything I owned, took a photograph and then considered what I could do without. Once those items were decluttered, I took another photo for prosperity.

I really recommend this process if you want to reduce your wardrobe. Of course, you’d think it would be easier to just look at everything hanging on a rail and make choices from there, but physically moving your things is so much better for a number of reasons:

  • You can be really clear about exactly what you own.
  • You can group things together so you can see exactly how many of every different type of item you own.
  • Physically moving everything makes you realise exactly how much you have. Clothing is surprisingly heavy, and actually lifting and feeling this is much more powerful than glancing at a rail of hanging items.
  • It’s harder to ignore something when it’s in your hands. You can’t miss it, or skim over it, so you consider every single item independently.

Originally, I took photos to write a blog post, but I found it very useful as a tool for helping me see what I owned. I think being able to visually see everything is actually far more helpful than a list. 10 skirts sounds like nothing, but when I see 10 skirts in an image, I see that is far too many! It’s also helpful in working out what goes with what, far more than a list will.

One year later I’ve repeated the process. These pictures show the journey from August 2014 (pre- and post-decluttering), and my progress in October 2015. Remember that my wardrobe decluttering journey actually began 2 years prior to the first pictures in 2014, and clearly I still have quite a way to go!

Smalls decluttering

Smalls Pre-Decluttering August 2014

Smalls decluttered

Smalls post-decluttering August 2014

Underwear Cull Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls pre-decluttering in October 2015

Underwear Cull Take Two Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls post-decluttering October 2015

Wardrobe Minimalism Marie Kondo Folding October 2015

And this… folded smalls Marie Kondo style! These boxes sit in the shelf in my wardrobe where the heaped pile of mess used to be, and in 2 months it has not got remotely untidy. Folding works!

More Tops Decluttering

Tops and shorts pre-declutting August 2015. I can’t believe looking at this that I used to own so many tops!

Tops decluttered

Tops and shorts post-decluttering August 2014.

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts pre-decluttering October 2015 – a new (second-hand) one has even snuck in! This was a concious purchase – I needed a green top to go with a skirt I own. I have worn it plenty of times. Unlike some of the other tops in this picture…

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Final Cull Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts after decluttering October 2015

Tops decluttering

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering August 2014

More Tops Decluttered

Shirts, blouses and other tops post-decluttering August 2014

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism Pre Cull October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering October 2015. The thick British shorts are gone, and the green top is a cycle top which helps avoid sunburn when out on my bike.

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops after decluttering October 2015.

Skirts decluttering

Skirts August 2014. The pre- and post- images are exactly the same as I only got rid of one (the denim one at the front). How many did I wear between then and now? Honestly? Less than half.

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Skirts October 2015

Skirts decluttering October 2015. One of the yellow skirts wore out, I donated the other denim skirt when I went back to the UK, and the coral skirt ended up in the charity shop pile before I took this picture.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

Jumpers pre-decluttering August 2014. Woah, that is a lot of jumpers for someone who lives in a city which has 40 degree summers!

Jumpers decluttered

Post-decluttering August 2014. Well, I say post-decluttering, but there’s not much difference!

Jumpers Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Jumpers Decluttered October 2015. The cream cardigan on the right is old and somehow escaped the August photos – it must have been in the laundry. I decided to donate the black cardigan right after taking this picture.

Dresses decluttering

Dresses pre-decluttering August 2014. Looking at this image now shocks me – how can I have owned so many dresses that I wore so little?!

Dresses decluttered

Dresses post-decluttering August 2014. Good effort, but a long way to go! Two of those dresses weren’t worn the entire summer in between 2014 and 2015.

Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism Dresses October 2015

Dresses post-decluttering October 2015. Two gone, but two new ones have taken their place. Hopefully these will get the wear they deserve!

Trousers decluttering

Trousers August 2014

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Trousers October 2015

Trousers October 2015

Final Bits and Pieces Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism October 2015

Other bits and bobs October 2015…nothing new since 2014 though : )

Tops and Jumpers Underwear Tidying Marie Kondo KonMari Minimalism

I’ve taken Marie Kondo’s advice to fold jumpers and t-shirts. They are easier to find, don’t take up as much space and folding means I’m more aware of their condition (spills, rips etc). Love this approach!

Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015

My newly decluttered and Marie Kondo-ed (meaning folded neatly) wardrobe October 2015. I’ve also switched sides: I realized it made more sense to adopt the bigger half as I have the most stuff. For now! But the decluttering will continue…

Since taking these photos, and writing about my minimalist wardrobe struggle back in October, I’ve had a bit of a wardrobe minimalism breakthrough. Yes I have! A large part of it has to do with all the helpful comments that you left with advice and tips. They didn’t fall on deaf ears, quite the opposite, and I want to thank you all for providing well needed advice. Stay tuned, because I’m looking forward to sharing the next chapter with you shortly!

Now it’s your turn, and I want to hear from you! Now you’ve seen my wardrobe in all its, er, glory…I’d love to hear what you think! Any areas for improvement? Any glaringly obvious mistakes or inappropriate (mis-matching, for example) items? Anything I could add to make what I have much more usable? Any colours missing or over-represented? Any parallels with your own wardrobe minimalism struggle? Anything else you’d like to add?! Please keep the advice coming in the comments below!

5 Decluttering Tips for Letting Go (What A Difference a Year Makes!)

This time last year I was back at my parents’ house in the UK, being forced to confront all the stuff I’d stored there for “safe keeping”. It was an interesting lesson in why hoarders shouldn’t get second chances, and I got rid of a lot of items, but I’m sorry to say, there were still several boxes remaining.

Everything that remains in storage

Everything that remained in storage at my parents’ house as of September last year. Yes, after the decluttering took place!

Fast forward a year and I’m back at my parents’ house (we went back to the UK for my brother’s wedding). My parents’ house is absolutely full to the brim with stuff, and as I’ve learned to let go of more and more, I find the amount of things they have more and more noticeable. It should be noted that whilst I always say that it’s far better to lead by example when trying to encourage change in others, and we shouldn’t preach or tell or instruct, I always fall down on this when it comes to my mum. Somehow the rules don’t apply! Maybe it’s because I only see her once a year, I feel I haven’t got the time to spend demonstrating change and waiting for it to catch on, and need to get right in there… or maybe it’s because I internalise all my preaching and bossy-ness and have to let it out somewhere! I hadn’t been back there two minutes and I was trying to persuade her to begin decluttering. (They tell me they like the clutter. Well, my dad does. I’m not completely convinced.)

Of course it wasn’t long before my parents pointed out that rather than declutter their stuff, I had a whole load of stuff of my stuff in their house that I should be focusing on. And they were right.

Well, what a difference a year makes! Sometimes it feels like we’re plodding away and not much is changing, but being put in exactly the same position a year later really made me realise how far I’ve come. Somewhere, in this past year, there’s been a shift. I didn’t notice it happen – maybe it was gradual there was nothing to notice – but it has happened. This time, when faced with decluttering, there was no internal struggle. There was very little debate. This time, I was ruthless.

Why was it so much easier this time round? Probably because decluttering is a skill I’ve been trying to master for a while, and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.

1. Hoarders shouldn’t get second chances.

Anything that’s been in a box for a year (or really in my case, for almost 4 years) cannot be needed. Rather than opening boxes with the excitement of seeing what’s inside (it will cloud your judgement!), remember – you’ve long forgotten what’s inside. Instead, focus on the best way to pass these items to good homes. Stay detached. If you’re really brave, don’t open at all. Send straight to the charity shop!

2. If you’re passionate about zero waste, you can’t keep stuff in storage long-term (especially at someone else’s house).

Sometimes we find things in boxes that we like, that we remember fondly or we wish we had use for. That doesn’t mean we need them. If we liked them or needed them that much, they wouldn’t be sat in a box! If you really want your items to have value, give them to someone who needs them and will use them. Sell them on eBay or give them away on Freecycle or to the charity shop. Items sitting in storage gathering dust is just as much a waste of resources as sending something to landfill.

3. “Just in case” rarely happens.

Keeping items “just-in-case” is a waste of time (and space). Especially if the “just-in-case” items live in a box in storage. If you suddenly need the item, will you even remember where you put it? Let someone else get good use from your items. If you really need something you previously got rid of, you can borrow it, or buy another one second-hand when you need it. Chances are though, you won’t.

4. We live in the present, not the past.

Old photos of places we no longer remember, diaries and letters from years ago and other collected paraphernalia remind us of the people we were, but don’t necessarily represent the people we are now. If they bring up feelings of regret or sadness, are completely cringeworthy, or evoke no feelings at all, they have served their purpose. Let them go. We don’t need to be reminded of who we used to be! We live in the present, not the past. We should be creating new happy memories and living in the moment!

5. No matter how hard you find letting things go, if you keep trying you WILL succeed.

I was a natural hoarder. I’d collect, and accumulate, and hang on to things. It was how I was brought up, I’ve realised – there was always the option to store something if I wasn’t sure what to do about it. As a result, I never learned the art of decluttering or letting go. It’s been a hard lesson to learn. It takes time, and patience, and perseverance. But like all new habits, the more you practice the better you get. Keep flexing the decluttering muscle, and each time it gets a little stronger. I’m not perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve come a long way simply by not giving up.

So… what became of that pile of stuff? Most things went straight into boxes to the charity shop. A few (more specialist)  things went onto eBay…I felt there was more chance of connecting them with a better owner this way.  A couple of things came back to Perth with me (they may yet be decluttered). Those old diaries of my early teenage years?

Shredded Documents

Pages of paper filled with teenage angst are memories I’d rather forget! Those diaries served a purpose at the time, but their job is done. I felt rather excited that these pages will begin a new life as compost, and I will no longer be weighed down with awkward memories.

Shredded and added to the compost pile, and along with them a lot of teenage angst I’d rather forget!

With every item given away, sold, donated and shredded, I feel lighter. Stuff weighs you down. It’s a burden. Especially stuff spread across continents, and stored in other people’s houses.  It’s a relief to know next time I visit my parents for a holiday, I won’t be crawling through the storage space hunting down boxes to sort. I won’t be wasting time contemplating whether to keep things I’d already forgotten about. There will be no guilt at items left languishing.

It’s been a long road, this journey to a life with less stuff, and it’s been hard work, but I finally feel like I’m turning a corner, and that I’m seeing the benefits. Benefits like more time. More freedom. It makes me wonder… why did I ever think a bunch of stuff was more important than these?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Confession time… do you have boxes languishing in storage, in your attic, garage, spare room, or worse – a relative’s house?! How many of them are filled with “just-in-case” items or stuff that you can’t even remember?! what is your biggest barrier to letting go? Or are your closets free of clutter? If so, what tips do you have for letting go of items? What has worked best for you? Anything else you’d like to add to the conversation? Please leave your thought in the comments below!

Food Waste That You Can “Re-Use”

It’s Zero Waste Week this week, and the theme is “re-use”. I talked last week about household items I use to generate less waste, particularly packaging waste. That got me thinking about food, or more specifically food waste. There are so many food “waste” items that can actually be re-used that I thought I’d write a list, to encourage you to think twice before committing something straight to the bin (even if it is the compost bin).

10 Food Waste Items that you can Actually “Re-use”

1. Spring onion roots

Those end bits you chop off of a spring onion with the roots still attached don’t need to go in the bin – they can be replanted and will re-sprout! Celery will do the same thing. If you grow your own you could cut them at soil level rather than pulling up, and leave the roots in the ground to re-sprout!

Zero Waste Spring Onions in Egg Shells

Spring onion bottoms re-sprouting on the window sill : )

2. Vegetable peels

If I can avoid peeling my vegetables then I don’t do it, but occasionally peeling them is required for a particular recipe. Make sure the skins are scrubbed first, then save the peels, toss in a small amount of oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and spread out over a baking tray. Bake for around 10 minutes on one side, turn over and bake for another 5 – 10mins at a medium heat. Voila! Your very own zero waste vegetable crisps! I’ve made these using potato peels, as well as parsnip, carrot and beetroot peels – and they are all delicious : )

Zero Waste Week Making Crisps from Vegetable Peels

Potato and beetroot peels make great vegetable chips – just brush with oil and pop in the oven.

3. Veggie scraps

Rather than making vegetable stock with new vegetables, I save up scraps in my freezer in a big glass jar, and once the jar is full I use these. I use the tops and tails, stems and stalks, and the outer white layers of onion that aren’t suitable for cooking with. I tend to avoid using cabbage as it can be overpowering. Recently I’ve started separating in the freezer, so I have a big jar of onion tops, tails and skins, and a smaller jar of other bits and pieces, so I can make the stock into the flavour I want more easily.

4. Lemons (and other citrus)

Lemons are made of so many good parts, it just doesn’t make any sense to use one of them and throw the rest away! Before juicing a lemon you can zest it (remove the yellow skin) with a grater or zester, or even a potato peelers – just chop afterwards. The zest can then be frozen, or dried in the oven at a low temperature and stored in the pantry. The juice can also be frozen too (I use an ice cube tray, then transfer the frozen cubes to a glass container).

If you don’t want to zest them, the peels can be made into candied citrus peel. A final resort is to add the peels to homemade household cleaners (like vinegar) to give a citrus fragrance.

This isn’t just true for lemons – it’s perfect for all citrus fruit.

Zero Waste Week Re-Use Lemons Citrus

There’s no need to use just one part of the citrus fruit – use all the bits!

5. Egg Shells

This isn’t one you can eat – well, not one that I eat – but I think it’s worth mentioning as egg shells are one of those things that don’t break down well in compost or in worm farms. Not whole, anyways. When I’ve used eggs, I rinse the shells and leave to dry, and then pop into a jar. Once the jar is reasonably full (you can squish them to fit more in) I add them to my food processor and grind to a powder. If you don’t have a good food processor you can use a spice / coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or even a bag (reusable of course!) and a rolling pin. The powder can then be added to compost, a worm farm or even directly on the soil.

Zero Waste Week Reuse Egg Shells

Egg shells can be ground up to make a great soil additive.

6. Coffee Grounds

This is another food waste item that doesn’t need to go in the bin. Coffee grounds are great for the soil so even if you don’t have a compost bin or worm farm, emptying your coffee pot directly under a tree or shrub adds nutrients to the soil and saves waste. The caffeine in the coffee is also thought to act as a slug deterrent – hurrah!

Another use for coffee grounds is to make your own DIY body scrub. It’s a natural alternative to those plastic microbeads that are so damaging to the environment, and one that uses a waste product! Whether you just use the grounds on their own or mix with oils or other ingredients depends on your level of patience (I am all for the simplest option) but one thing is required – get a filter for your plughole or you’ll end up blocking your drain!

7. Carrot Tops

It just doesn’t make any sense to chuck the lush green tops that come with real carrots. I find that they make a great alternative to basil in pesto. You can use any pesto recipe and sub some of the basil (from half up to tho-thirds) with carrot tops. I still use basil to keep that distinctive flavour, but you can make it using carrot tops alone if you prefer. You can also use the leaves in salad.

It doesn’t have to stop at carrot tops either – beetroot leaves, celery tops, in fact, most other leaves can be eaten raw or cooked with. You just need to get creative!

8. Juice Pulp

Juicing vegetables and fruit can be delicious, but so much waste is generated. The great news is, it can be made into food of its own! I make flatbreads using the pulp from juicing carrots and the same recipe should work with beetroot. You can also incorporate pulp into baking, or search for other recipes on the internet. It takes a small amount of preparation beforehand such as ensuring cleanliness, removing pips or seeds, and peeling if necessary (eg fruit such as apples). If you’re not sure what to do with it, you can always freeze until you have enough or you’ve found a recipe to try.

Carrot pulp crackers with hummus

Cracker flatbreads made with leftover pulp from juicing carrots.

8. Nut Pulp

If you make nut milk, particularly almond milk, then straining will leave you with a large amount of almond pulp. I can’t believe anyone would throw this in the bin! Nuts are expensive, but also full of goodness. What a waste! Again, there are hundreds of recipes out there for using nut milk pulp. The simplest is to mix with s0me olive oil and a little salt, roll out, score into squares and bake – and you have crackers! There are plenty of both savoury and sweet recipes to try.

Whilst the pulp is freezable, another option is to dry out and store in a jar in the pantry. Spread on a baking tin and put into the oven on a low  heat, checking often. Once it dries, pop into the food processor to whizz into a powder, and finish in the oven to ensure no damp bits remain. The resulting powder is more of a flour as the fat has been squeezed out to make milk, leaving the fibrous part, and is great to use in baking.

9. Bread Crusts

Those dry scrappy bits of bread that have slowly turned into rocks don’t need to go in the bin. Ditto old bread rolls. Chuck them in the food processor, grind into breadcrumbs and freeze. Actually, they will keep in a jar in the pantry for a few weeks if completely dry (you can dry out in the oven first to be sure).

Zero Waste Week Breadcrumbs

Use stale bread and old crusts to make breadcrumbs.

10. The Liquid from Cooked Beans / Pulses

This can be the liquid from tins of beans, if you buy those, or the liquid from cooking your own. It has its own name – aquafaba – and it can be used as an egg replacement in baking as well as an egg alternative to make meringues and macaroons. Don’t just take my word for it though – check out the Vegan Society’s Aquafaba article to see what I’m talking about. I am completely fascinated by this – the idea of using something that you’d pour down the drain to make actual delicious food! You don’t need to be a vegan to think this is a great idea! So far I’ve eaten meringues made this way (not by me, by the accountant at work – she was as mystified and intrigued as I was!) and I was very impressed. Stay tuned for some experiments later in the year!

There you have it – 10 food items that you can re-use. Even if you’re a committed composter, it’s always better to find a way to re-use something than to rot it!

Now I want to hear from you! Things always seem obvious after the fact, but several of these were real “a-ha!” moments for me when I first came across them. I’m sure there are plenty more that I haven’t come across yet, and I need your help! I want to know what food waste items you re-use, and how. Have you had any great successes? Any fails? Any recipes you’d like to share? Please share your thoughts, experiences and tips in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

1. A reusable coffee cup.

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

Reusable Coffee Cups aren't just for coffee!

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

2. Reusable bags.

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

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

Reusable Bags for Zero Waste Week 2015

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

3. A water bottle.

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

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

4. Reusable Cutlery.

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

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Zero Waste Week 2015

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

5. A Reusable Straw.

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

6. Reusable Containers.

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

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

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

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

7. Cloth Wraps.

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

8. Old Clothes.

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

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

9. Old Towels.

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

10. Reusable Cotton Rounds.

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

11. A Body Brush.

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

dry body brush Zero Waste Week

12. Toothbrushes.

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

13. Baking Paper.

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

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

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

14. A Hankerchief.

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

15. Old Envelopes.

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

…and One I Don’t.

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

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

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

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

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

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

Everyone’s Limits are Different

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

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

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

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

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

There Will Always Be Exceptions

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

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

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

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

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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