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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!

A Podcast about Plastic and Advice from the Military

Last week I had the pleasure of being interview by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin for his weekly podcast. I say “pleasure” because Gavin is the King of living sustainably and blogging about it, so the opportunity to have a chat with him was very welcome. (Yes, that’s a capital ‘K’.)

I found Gavin’s blog when I was just beginning my own journey. Whilst he writes about all the things that I don’t (urban homesteading, cheese-making and gardening – and I’m pretty sure he’s never taken part in Plastic Free July!) we actually have a very similar story.

We both had our “lightbulb moments” after watching movies (his was “An Inconvenient Truth; mine was “Bag It”), we were both so inspired by our own personal journeys that we had to start sharing our messages with the world and started blogging, public speaking and running workshops.

Gavin’s epiphany came a long time before mine though… he began blogging way back in 2008, when I still thought being an environmentally-conscious citizen stopped at recycling : /

In case you can’t tell, I’m a little in awe of Gavin. His blog is great, his passion is all-consuming and very infectious (remember I was talking about passion last week? You only need to read Gavin’s work to feel the fire…) and this passion translates into blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, workshops, a side blog in cheese-making, and more. All whilst working (almost) full-time.

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you could be doing more? Gavin is the guy that proves it!

Here’s the podcast link – we’re talking about plastic-free living (of course!):

Once the interview was over I took the opportunity to ask my own questions. Or one in particular.

How do you get the time to do all this stuff?!

Gavin’s answer? I don’t have a TV.

Wrong answer! I don’t have a TV either, and I can’t  imagine getting a fraction of this done! I told Gavin I didn’t have a TV, and that he’d have to try again.

Maybe it’s because I was in the military? I’m very regimented.

Hmmm. I have no experience of the military, but this sounds plausible to me. Organisation. Planning. Things I know are important, but techniques that maybe I don’t always implement. I’m a dreamer and a schemer, but translating all of these into action? Not necessarily!

This isn’t the part where I tell you that I’ve decided to become more organised. (Of course I have decided that, but I make that decision weekly, and am yet to implement it fully!) This isn’t the part where I tell you to become more organised, either. But I do have some advice.

I left that call feeling really inspired, determined to learn more, share more, do more and connect more. In the way that negative people can make us feel demoralised and drain our energy, passionate people taking positive actions lift us up, inspire us to do more and make us feel more confident that we can achieve our goals.

If passion is a fire that burns within us, like-minded people doing inspiring things help to fan those flames. This is the part where I tell you to make those connections with people who inspire you. Reach out – by email, through commenting on a blog post, a phone call, via social media.

Don’t just stop there! Find out what local events are happening, what speakers are in your local area, and connect in person! Any way that works for you. Make those conversations happen. You’ll be glad that you did!

Right. Maybe I’ll begin getting organised after all… ; )
Now I want to hear from you! How have you connected with people that inspire you, and what did you learn? How did you feel? How has this impacted the way you do things in your own life? What ways do you find best to connect with like-minded and inspirational people? Do you have any tips? Or anything else to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comments below!

My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

As part of the event I spoke at last week organised by Plastic Free July, I was asked to talk about my own journey in reducing my plastic consumption. One of my favourite topics! It was a great chance to reflect on how my life has changed in the 3+ years since I gave up plastic.

For those of you that couldn’t come along I thought I’d share my story with you here too.

Back-track to 2012, and I thought I was doing all the right things when it came to being environmentally friendly. I diligently recycled everything I could. I was a master recycler, sorting the plastic PET and HDPE bottles from the TetraPaks and the polypropylene plastic packaging, and disposing of it all responsibly. I religiously took my own bags to the shops.

Of course, every now and then I took a plastic bag at the checkout – after all, I needed them to line my rubbish bin…

I first heard of the Plastic Free July campaign when I saw a flyer at my local library. I’d been living in Australia for just 6 months, having moved from the UK, and I was still finding my way around my local community. The challenge was to give up plastic for the month of July. Give up plastic for a month? I thought. Easy!

As part of the pre-Plastic Free July launch, there was a movie screening of the plastic documentary Bag It! I went along. It changed my life.

It was literally a lightbulb moment. A realization that plastic was a problem. A waste problem, a health problem, a lifestyle problem, a political problem and an environmental problem. And a realization that it was a problem that I could do something about.

I realised that if I wanted to see things change, I had to start with me. I also realised that giving up plastic wasn’t something that I was only going to commit to for a month. I was in it for the long-haul. Plastic-free was going to be my new way of living.

Going home that night, I was aware for the first time that plastic was everywhere. How had I not realised?! Had I been walking around with my eyes shut?! Everything was packaged in plastic! My pantry was filled with plastic-packaged products and my bathroom shelves were lined with plastic bottles. Shrink-wrap, bubble-wrap, plastic-wrap, plastic-lined, plastic-coated, plastic-sealed – arghh!

And so my plastic-free living adventure began.

That first plastic-free shop at the supermarket, I took home bananas, bread, apple juice in a glass bottle, pasta packaged in cardboard, toilet paper wrapped in paper and chocolate. The only plastic-free things that I could find. I realised that if I was going to commit to this, I had to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the first things I did to ease the transition:

  • Got hold of a reusable cup and reusable produce bags
  • Switched to bar soap and ditched the shower gel and hand wash
  • Looked up local veg box delivery schemes to avoid the supermarket packaging
  • Hunted around for bulk food stores – even places that sold a single item like olive oil
  • Headed to Farmers’ Markets to see what options were available
  • Dusted off the cookbooks and tried new recipes featuring ingredients that were easier to find in bulk
  • Learnt how to make my own yoghurt, bread, nut milk, dips, you name it!
  • Learnt how to make basic toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste
  • Talked to local producers / traders about selling items to me without packaging
  • Bought more things second hand and made use of the sharing economy – like using the library
  • Started using newspaper to line my bin rather than plastic bags!

In the beginning I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes! I bought plenty of things that I thought were packaged solely in paper or cardboard only to find sneaky plastic inside! I’d forget my reusable coffee cup, or my produce bags, or purchase random ingredients in silly quantities, like 3 kg of sesame seeds simply because I’d found them in bulk but without having the slightest idea what I was going to do with them! Like all things, you keep trying and slowly you get better. Habits form and it gets easier. Now it’s second nature, and I don’t really need to think about it.

The benefits have been enormous, and in plenty of ways that I hadn’t expected. The journey that giving up plastic has taken me on has been so much fun! I never though that giving something up would give me so much more, but it has.

Interestingly, I spend far less on food now than I did before I quit plastic. Partly because all the processed food comes packaged in plastic, all the junk food that adds up on your grocery bill but doesn’t actually fill you up. Plus I stopped buying into those deals that seem like great offers until you end up with packets of stuff you don’t really need.

My diet is a lot better. I shop locally so the fruit and veggies I buy are a lot fresher, I eat far more whole foods and a lot less sugar, and I have a lot more energy.

I learned so many new skills.

That was all in the first six months!

I began my plastic-free journey by looking at the actions I could take, the changes I could make so it was very much a personal journey. As my expertise grew, as I learned more and more about not only the problems of plastic but also the solutions, I was determined to spread the message and to inspire other people to use a little less plastic in their lives.

I started writing my blog, which has connected me to thousands of other people looking to live a similar lifestyle, has allowed me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm, and also learn so much more. I’ve also got involved in my local community, not just with Plastic Free July but also the Earth Carer network and Living Smart, and I also organized a Sustainability Festival called the Less is More Festival in 2013 and 2014.

What really gripped me right from the start about plastic-free living was that it was something that I could do. It’s something we can all do. Plastic is something that we’re faced with every single day. Multiple times a day. We can choose to use it, or we can choose to avoid it, and we make these choices every single day. We can make a difference. We just need to decide what kind of difference we want to make.

You’ve heard my story and now I really want to hear yours! How did you stumble onto the plastic-free path? What have you done to reduce your plastic consumption? What have you found easy? What’s been your biggest challenges? Whether you’ve been working on it for years or you’re new to the idea, please share your journey so far! Tell me your successes and your hopes in the comments below!

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom I talked about the basics – simple things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Now I’m going to talk about all those other issues that us women have to deal with…hair, makeup, looking good, and that time of the month.

Hair Removal

Over 6 years ago (before I understood how ridiculous it was to use fossil fuels for such tasks!) I purchased an epilator – an electronic gadget that removes hairs by the root. Aside from the fact that it’s a huge chunk of plastic with electronic components that probably had a huge carbon footprint to manufacture, there are some advantages from a waste point-of-view. It has a rechargeable battery (that is still going after 6+years), there’s no blades that need continually replacing, and there’s no need to apply shaving foam / cream, or lotion afterwards.

As long as it lasts I’ll keep using it.epilator for hair removalIn addition, I actually have a plastic razor with disposable blades. This may surprise you, but wait, don’t judge! This is another 6+ years ago purchase. I bought the last blades whilst still living in the UK, over 4 years ago. I use it very sparingly, more for emergencies than anything else – hence why I still have 2 blades from 2011!

I also re-use and re-use and re-use the blades, and I’m careful to ensure they don’t rust. Whilst a completely stainless steel blade and handle would look much more the part for someone who promotes plastic-free living, I’m a firm believer in using up what you have first – and this is still in acceptable condition. These two blades will probably last me a couple more years!

Plastic Gilette Razor with Disposable Plastic HeadsWhen all the plastic paraphernalia has gone, then what? Thankfully, there are plenty of options.

  • Sleeves, leggings and long trousers: personally I prefer the shaven look, but I’m also fairly lazy so if I can get away with it by covering up, then I will!
  • Stainless steel razors: becoming more common to buy (look in proper barber shops) but it is easier to cut yourself than with plastic disposable “safety” razors.
  • Tweezers: this is probably not for the faint-hearted, but I’m a huge fan ; )
  • Sugar waxing: this a waxing process that uses sugar (yes, sugar) rather than petroleum-based wax to remove hair. It’s possible to do this at home, or go to a salon. I’m certainly intrigued, although I’ve never tried it.

Make-Up – Stick to the Essentials

Most plastic-free / zero-wasters will agree that it’s far easier to make do with a whole lot less when it comes to make-up! Finding plastic-free, chemical free products can be a challenge, so cutting out anything unnecessary definitely helps. In my twenties I owned multiple shades of eyeshadow, most of which I only wore a couple of times (if that) – what a waste!

I very rarely wear make-up now, but when I do, I stick to the basics – mascara and blusher mostly. (I still have a bag of very old makeup which I use extremely rarely – like on my wedding day!)

It’s possible to buy makeup in tins and in glass. Local artisans often sell products at Farmers or crafts markets and you can discuss with them the possibility of using your own containers. If this isn’t an option, look online for Etsy sellers who sell their products without plastic.

There are plenty of websites out there with recipes for making your own cosmetics. I’ve seen recipes for making blusher using ingredients from the pantry like cacao powder. I can’t recommend any but if you know any good websites with this kind of info be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Lush makeup in glass bottles

This lipgloss and mascara were purchased as a gift. the bottles are glass and the wands are recycled plastic. not perfect, but better than plastic tubes.

Skincare and Makeup Removal

Skincare routines are synonymous with disposable makeup pads that come wrapped in plastic. To some extent, using bar soap as a cleanser removes the need for daily cotton pads, but there are still times when they’re useful. However, like all things, there are reusable options!

First up, consider using a flannel to clean your face. It’s also possible to buy reusable pads, or make your own using old towels or other material. I wouldn’t recommend getting bright white ones as they will decolour (especially if you’re using to remove mascara!). Make a few, then throw into the washing machine and you’re ready to go again!

reusable cloth pads for removing makeup

I use cotton buds occasionally and I buy organic cotton ones with a cardboard stem. The box has a small plastic window, but it’s the best I can find currently: the plastic-free ones I used to buy were discontinued.

Organic cotton buds in cardboard packaging

That Time of the Month – Go Reusable

I’ve used a Diva Cup since 2003. It’s a silicone reusable menstrual cup that is worn internally (find more details here as to how it works). I’ll try to spare you too much detail but in summary, they are very comfortable, last ages (you don’t need to empty for several hours) but the removal and emptying can take a bit of getting used to. If you do forget to empty it and it fills up, or you don’t insert it properly and spring a leak…well let’s just say that you do NOT want that to happen. It is messy.

I recently bought a new one: women over 30 need a slightly bigger size as their hips expand, apparently. I actually managed to buy this from a chemist, whereas the first one I had to get shipped from Canada to the UK in the days when internet shopping was almost non-existent!

Diva Cup

The Diva Cup: a zero waste solution

The other product that’s popular amongst zero-waster is homemade or reusable sanitary pads. I don’t have any, but I think they are a great idea – it’s just that I haven’t got round to it. Pinterest is full of DIY tutorials if you’re keen to make your own, otherwise I’d recommend looking on Etsy for local producers. There’s really no need to be using plastic-wrapped disposable products.

There you have it – Part 2 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. I hope it left you feeling inspired to make some changes!

Now I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to know if you have any further ideas that haven’t been covered in this post or the last? I’d also love to know if you have any recipes, guides or tutorials for DIY products?  Is there anything that you struggle with, or anything you find too extreme? What are the biggest challenges for you, and what have you found easy? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

If food is the most common source of disposable single-use plastic in the house, then bathroom products must be the second. Thing is, they don’t need to be! This two-part guide has tips for how you can reduce plastic packaging in the bathroom, and ditch a lot of dubious synthetic chemicals in the process.

In Part 1 I’m covering the basics: simple swaps, things to think about and what has worked for me. In Part 2 I’ll be covering the dilemmas that we women face – including makeup, shaving and that time of the month.

Buy in Bulk

Buying from bulk stores is the easiest way to transition to plastic-free, if they are an option for you. When I began my plastic-free journey, I found bulk shampoo, bulk conditioner, bulk liquid soap and bulk oil, so I switched to these. Now I’ve simplified even more…read on!

Switch to Bar Everything

Solids are much easier to find plastic-free as they can be sold loose, wrapped in paper or sold in tins, so if you don’t have access to a bulk store switch from liquids to bars! Bar soap is a great replacement for liquid soap, and you can find great products that are gentle enough to use on your face if you look around.

Homemade soaps are having a bit of a revival, so see if you can find someone who makes soap locally as you will be able to chat to them about exactly what ingredients their soaps contain.

Natural Handmade Bar SoapIt’s also possible to find bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar deodorants and even bar sunscreen! I’ve only ever used bar soap but plenty of people I know use bar shampoo and love it!

Cut Down on the Number of Products You Use

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimate that on average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, and a man uses 6 daily. That’s 12 separate containers, and 12 items to try to find plastic free!

Before I switched to plastic-free, I would have a separate face wash and shower gel. Now I buy one good quality block of natural, handmade soap that has a high oil content (combined olive oil and coconut oil soaps are fairly easy to find) which I use for my face and in the shower.

Rather than a separate face and body moisturizer, I now use one product for both.

I stopped buying separate hair gel and (after shampooing and conditioning as normal) started rubbing a small amount of conditioner into my hair (and leaving it in) as a replacement – I found it works just as well. That was before I began my bicarb and vinegar hair experiment – now I don’t use anything at all.

Are there any products you could double-up on, or anything that isn’t really necessary that you could do without?

Replace Your Exfoliator with a Body Brush

I used to buy exfoliating scrubs until I realised that a body brush was far better. Dry body brushing is great for improving circulation, stimulating lymph glands and removing dead skin cells…and there’s no packaging, microbeads, drain-clogging ingredients or chemical ingredients to decipher.

dry body brush Body Shop FSC CROPPEDThe brushes usually have wooden handles and cactus bristles so are completely plastic free. The idea is you use long sweeping strokes towards the heart, either before or after a shower.

Consider Using Oils

After struggling to find moisturiser and cleanser in plastic-free packaging, I decide to switch to oil. Not oil-based products, but oil. Just one ingredient. Or maybe two, if it’s a blend.

Most lotions are a blend of water and oil, with an emulsifier to make it mix properly and a whole pile of other stuff chucked in there for good measure. Because they contain water, they also need to contain preservatives. Plus, a good proportion of what you’re paying for is water.

Oils are the part that have the moisturizing properties, so why not just use oils?

If you’re thinking oh, but won’t that make my skin oily?, actually no. Oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Oil cleansing is far better to clean your face than water, because oil dissolves grease, whereas water does not (like dissolves like).

If you’re thinking, but won’t it clog my pores?, again, no, although it depends on what oil you use and your skin type. All oils have a comedogenic rating, which measures how likely they are to clog pores. If you have oily skin you will be better able to cope with oils that have a higher comedogenic rating. Drier skin has smaller pores and prefer oils with lower comedogenic ratings.

Sweet Almond Oil and Jojoba Oil

I’ve tried hemp oil, but it left a green tinge on my face and stained all my towels green. Many people recommend coconut oil, but I haven’t tried this – its comedogenic rating is quite high. Now I stick to almond, jojoba and rosehip oils for my dry skin. I can get refills for the bottles (so no new packaging) and you need such a small amount each time, they last for ever.

Oil can also be a great treatment for hair, but it’s not something I’ve tried.

Make Your Own – No Experience or Equipment Necessary!

Some products are really simple to make at home. I make my own toothpaste and deodorant using coconut oil, bicarb and essential oil, pretty much. You just mix the ingredients together in a pot and voila! I checked the toothpaste recipe with my dentist, and the deodorant one is a keeper because it actually works.

deo9jpg

I love that I can use bicarb for three different bathroom products (counting the shampoo, too)!

Tooth Brushing

I use a bamboo toothbrush, that comes in a cardboard box. The bristles are plastic. Once the toothbrush is life-expired (you know because the bristles come out in chunks) you can soak the brush in water to release the rest of the bristles, and then compost the wooden handle.

Bamboo toothbrush unassembled

There you have it – Part 1 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. In Part 2 I’ll be covering all the additional dilemmas that women face when giving up plastic – makeup, shaving, and what to do at that time of the month, so make sure you come back and check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you already taken any of these steps, or there ideas there that you think you’d be able to adopt? Are there any other plastic-free alternatives you can suggest? What works for you? Join the conversation and leave a comment below : )

12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

On Tuesday night I saw the documentary Dive! It’s a documentary about people living off America’s food waste. It’s one I’d recommend: short, to-the-point, educational and inspiring.

Here’s how the documentary is described by the makers:

“Inspired by a curiosity about our country’s careless habit of sending food straight to landfills, the multi award-winning documentary DIVE! follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets. In the process, they salvage thousands of dollars worth of good, edible food – resulting in an inspiring documentary that is equal parts entertainment, guerilla journalism and call to action.”

And the trailer:

Food waste is a problem in so many ways. It’s estimated that a third of all food produced for us to eat ends up in landfill. A third! Food that’s taken land and energy to produce, required water and nutrients, needed labour to ensure it grew, could be harvested and processed, fuel to transport…and then it ends up in the bin. If that’s not the biggest unnecessary waste of resources, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, whilst we’re throwing all this perfectly edible food in the bin, people are going hungry. I’m not just talking poor people in less developed countries in overseas nations. I’m also talking about the people right here in our communities. In America one in six people are at risk of hunger. In the UK almost 1 million people have used food banks to get access to food.

The majority of this wasted food will end up in landfill, taking up valuable land space. Because of the sealed landfill environment, food waste breaks down here anaerobically, releasing methane gas (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

You’d expect there to be some food waste at all steps along the chain, but food waste on this kind of scale is completely unnecessary!

There’s clearly a broken system that allows this kind of food waste to occur, and there’s a need for change. However, as consumers, we can still take some responsibility. It is estimated that half of all the food we actually buy goes to landfill.  There’s plenty of scope for us to make changes to the way we shop, and the way we think of food.

Here’s some ideas to help you reduce the amount of food you throw away!

Things we can do to reduce our food waste

1. Understand best before and use by dates.

If something is stamped with a “use by” date, it should be used before that date. If it’s stamped “best before” it means the retailer thinks it would be better if you used it by that date, but it will be perfectly safe to eat after this date.  Remember, retailers have a vested interest in you throwing the old one in the bin and buying a new one!

2. Use your judgement.

Learn to recognise if something is bad or not, rather than relying on the ultra-conservative supermarket “best before” dates.

3. Don’t buy more than you need!

The special offers and bargains touted at you in every aisle and every corner of the supermarket are there to make you spend more, not save you money, and they can become overbearing and wear you down. It may seem counter-intuitive to only buy one if the second one is “free”, but if it ends up in the bin, you haven’t saved anything. Leave it on the shelf for someone who needs it. If you stop shopping at the supermarkets you will have less exposure to all the advertising, and will buy less as a result.

4. Store it properly.

When you get home from shopping, it’s easy to dump the bags down on the counter and think you’ll sort them later, or just stuff everything in the fridge quickly. But taking the time to sort things out means less food goes to waste. Ensuring that chilled food remains chilled, rotating the new food with the things that are already in your fridge, and putting anything that is prone to wilting in a salad crisper or suitable storage container will extend the life of your shopping and mean there’s less going bad.

5. Use the most perishable items first.

Plan your meals and arrange your fridge so the food that is most perishable gets used up before the longer-lasting stuff.

6. Cut the bad bits off.

If a piece of fruit of veg is bad, cut the bad bit off rather than throwing the whole thing away. If only part of a product has gone bad, use your judgement as to whether or not it’s salvageable.

7. Find alternative uses.

Milk that has started to sour may not be great on your porridge but will work wonders in baking. My mother  uses sour milk to make scones, and they are delicious. Fruit that is going soft can be stewed to make compote, and limp vegetables can be made into soup.

8. Make use of everything.

Rather than peeling your veg, give them a good scrub and cook with the skins on. If you do peel them, keep the scraps and use to make vegetable stock (you can store in the freezer until you have enough). Meat and fish bones can also be used to make stock. Egg shells can be ground down and sprinkled on the garden – they are a great source of calcium. Citrus rinds can be made into candied peel, or the zest can be frozen or dried; if you don’t want to eat them you can use them to infuse vinegar to make a citrus cleaner.

9. Don’t throw food away!

There are plenty of alternatives to sending scraps to landfill. Feed them to chickens (ask your neighbours if you don’t have your own), compost, worm farm, use a bokashi bin or even dig a hole in the garden. For dry goods and things you bought but don’t like, even if the packets are open, try donating to family and friends, or even listing on Gumtree or Freecycle.

10. Buy the ugly fruit and veg!

People from western cultures have become accustomed to buying perfect fruit and veg, but that’s not what it looks like in real life. Even though we know this, we still gave a tendency to look for the “best” ones in the stores. When you go shopping, keep an eye out for ugly, misshapen fruit and veg, and buy these instead. You’re probably saving them from landfill!

11. Speak to your local supermarket and / or independent grocer.

Talk about food waste. Find out if they donate to food banks, if they compost, or if they have any other ways that they reduce waste. Start the conversation.

12. Volunteer at a Food Bank. 

Food banks don’t just need food, they need people. The numbers of people (predominantly volunteers) needed to collect, wash, process and deliver this food  is what stops Food Banks being able to distribute more food to more people in need.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What struggles do you face when trying to reduce your food waste? What successes have you had? Are there any tips you’d like to add? Anything that has worked really well for you? Have you ever tried dumpter-diving?! Please share your experience and leave a comment below!

It Began With Chocolate Brownies…

On Wednesday it was my boss’s birthday, and I decided to make chocolate brownies to take to work. These raw chocolate brownies that I originally posted the recipe for back in 2013. (They are extremely simple to make, do not require baking and are so delicious – you must make them!)

I knew the recipe was buried deep in the archives of my blog, and I managed to find it. I realise though, that if you didn’t know that the recipe existed, you wouldn’t have searched for it, and you’d never have known it was there. That’s an awful lot of people missing out on delicious chocolate brownies!

The same goes for lots of other things I’ve written about. They’re lost in the depths of the internet. It’s pretty rubbish, not being able to find something unless you already know it exists. I’d like to think that some of that information would be useful to people!

Feeling inspired (and with the extra energy given to me by eating too many offcuts of chocolate brownie) I’ve set about rejigging my site to make it easier for readers to browse through old content. It still looks pretty much the same, but now there are four tabs at the top that link to pages that showcase some of the old archived posts.

The four new categories are:

Minimalism and Simple Living

Real Food and Recipes

Zero Waste

Plastic-Free

They aren’t perfect (I’m not a website developer!) and they don’t list every single post I’ve ever written, but it’s a much more user-friendly way to browse the site. I promise I’m going to work on making the introductory text a bit more exciting!

I hope you like them. Now you have plenty of things to do to keep you occupied this weekend – reading and chocolate-brownie eating! What a perfect way to spend your time! : )

Please give me your feedback! I’d love to hear your thoughts so please let me know any idea or suggestions in the comments below. Do you find the new pages helpful? Are there any categories you feel I’ve missed? Is there any other information you think I could add? I really want to make this site more helpful and user-friendly for you, the reader – so tell me your ideas!

The Bicarb No-Poo Hair-Washing Controversy

I never even knew that there was a baking soda hair washing controversy. I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb and vinegar since last June, and I’ve had no problems. My hair looks and feels better, and I’m in love with the simplicity of it. So when I got this email from a reader, I was quite surprised!

“I was looking at the bicarb/vinegar hair cleaning idea and saw a couple of links like the one below about the pH levels etc. Just wondering if you’d come across this kind of feedback before and if so, whether you found it valid or not? I’m sure like anything there’s people for and against, just curious about the science behind this lady’s thoughts.”

The link she was referring to was an article called Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair. Punchy title, no? I hadn’t seen the article before, so I read it, and then a few more.

Here are my thoughts.

The Science Behind Bicarb and Vinegar Hair Washing

The pH scale measures whether a substance is acidic or alkaline, and runs from 0 to 14. 0 is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline and 7 is neutral (pure water has a pH of 7). The skin has a layer on the surface known as the acid mantle, which is a mixture of sebum (oil that the skin produces) and sweat. This acid mantle has a slightly acidic pH (around 5.5).

Most cleansers and shampoos are alkaline because these clean better than acidic products. Alkaline products will also open up the hair cuticle, as will hot water and hair brushing. However alkaline products can leave the skin and hair feeling dry, and if hair cuticles are left open the hair is more susceptible to damage. That is why conditioner is used after shampooing – to smooth the cuticles and protect the hair shaft.

Bicarb soda is a base with a pH of about 9. Vinegar is an acid with a pH of almost 2. Bicarb is used as a cleaner to remove dirt and grime from the hair; it is also an excellent exfoliant. The vinegar rinse (the vinegar should be diluted so it is not too acidic – I use a 1:4 ratio vinegar:water) restores the pH of the skin to an acidic level, and closes the hair cuticles.

Thoughts on Whether Bicarb and Vinegar Cause Hair Damage

I’ve never read that you should dilute the bicarb to make it less basic – to me that just doesn’t make sense! I use bicarb knowing that it is a base, and only mix with a tbsp water. If hair is wet and you’re in the shower, there’s gonna be some dilution going on, but bicarb is still alkaline.

I disagree that using bicarb and vinegar is like dyeing your hair twice a week. Hair dyes, which are also alkaline, are left on the hair and scalp for for ages, hours even. The bicarb goes straight on, wait a minute and then off. Not quite the same!

Most bar soaps are alkaline and can have pH as high as 10. Many facial cleaners also have an alkaline pH – that’s how they clean.  Alkaline products are definitely drying on the skin, which is why it’s important to moisturise or use facial oils. It’s also important that these finishing products more closely match the skin’s pH as these products will be left of the skin, whereas cleansers are washed off fairly quickly.

The principle is the same with hair. Using an alkaline product will help clean the hair but it risks drying out the scalp and hair if the alkalinity is not countered, wither with a vinegar rinse or other moisturizing treatment.

Remember too that plenty of other environmental factors play a role in the condition of our hair. Diet, medication, hair dyeing, pollution, sunshine, ocean water, chlorine from swimming pools and aging all have an impact of the condition of our hair.

It is clear that the lady who wrote the article has suffered hair damage. What works for some people doesn’t neccessarily work for everyone. In the same way that some people live using bar soap whilst others find it too drying, bicarb clearly does not work for everyone. I know several people who have used bicarb and vinegar for decades and swear by it; the internet will tell many other stories of people who didn’t get on with it.

My conclusion would be that it’s not dangerous, but its also not for everyone. If you can’t get on with it, it’s probably best to try something else.

Don’t Want Bicarb Drying Out Your Hair? Try These Alternatives

If you’re worried about bicarb drying out your hair, there are plenty of alternatives.

  • If you’re happy to stick to bicarb, you can use oils or other treatments (such as avocado, egg or honey) to moisturize your hair after washing.
  • Try using oil to restore moisture to you hair after washing. Try treating your hair with olive oil: After cleaning your hair, squeeze out excess moisture, rub a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your hands, and then rub evenly through into your hair. You can leave the oil on for as long as you like – even overnight (but you’ll need to wear a shower cap!) – the more dry or damaged your hair is, the more beneficial leaving it for longer will be. Wash the oil out after you’re done.
  • Another alternative is moisturising your hair with coconut oil before washing, to help protect the cuticles from damage.
  • After using vinegar ,you could always opt to use regular conditioner (choose one with natural ingredients and preferably some oils) to moisturise your hair.

Feeling less trusting of bicarb after reading this?

  • One popular alternative I found is using rye flour to clean your hair. You use it in the same way as bicarb, making a paste with a small amount of water and rubbing into your hair, before rinsing out and proceeding as normal. Rye flour has a pH of 5.5 so is slightly acidic. I haven’t tried this but I would expect it to be worse at cleaning, but I like that it is plant-based rather than mined. Rye flour has less gluten than other flours so should make less mess in your bathroom.
  • Another option might be to combine bicarb with rye flour so the mix is less alkaline. Again, I haven’t tried this or measured the pH – if you do this please leave a comment and let me know the results.
  • A third option is washing your hair with clay. (Yes, clay!) Meg from Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet uses Rhassoul clay and loves it!

I love the way bicarb and vinegar cleans my hair: I also love the simplicity and minimalism of it (no extra bottles cluttering up my bathroom!). I’m keen to try flour and even clay, but for now I’m sticking to what works for me.

How about you – have you tried bicarb and vinegar hairwashing? Did it work for you or did you never quite get on with it? When did you start using it and have you noticed any drying or damage? Do you have any other green alternatives to suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

My Minimalist Wardrobe Confession…and a Decluttering Trick

As part of my reflection of the year just gone, I was thinking about my wardrobe. Or more precisely, the number of items in it. I carried out a wardrobe audit back in August and declared my minimalist wardrobe goal was to reduce the number of items to 100. I realise that 100 items is not particularly minimalist, but I personally feel a lot of resistance to reducing my wardrobe, so this is the first goal. Never fear – the minimalising process will continue once I reach this!

I thought it might be interesting to show you what clothes I bought last year, so that you could see my progress. How proud of me you’ll be, I thought! You’ll see how committed I’ve been. I’ve hardly bought anything

…There were those exercise leggings and tracksuit bottoms earlier in the year. And the two sports bras (yes, that was a mistake. One is still virtually unworn!)

…There was the top I bought on impulse back in June. Bizarre, because I’m not really an impulse shopper. It wasn’t even a top I fell in love with – I’m not a falling-in-love-with-clothes kinda girl!

…Then I remembered the jeans and jumper I bought new when I was back in the UK. The jeans I needed – my old ones were shredded and extremely drafty! But did I really need that jumper?

…What about the second-hand T-shirt and top I purchased from eBay? The T-shirt was an exact swap for my current one which is almost totally out of shape. The top is a style and colour I’d been after for a while.

…Of course, there was the dress for the wedding.

…The top for cycling.

The summer hat: the Australian sun is pretty harsh and I need to stop getting sunburnt shoulders (and I hate the chemicals in suncream).

…Plus those new shoes I purchased for work (incidentally, also worn to the wedding).

Suddenly I don’t feel like you’re going to be proud of me at all.

(I could argue that it’s far less than the national average, but that’s not the point really, is it?! It’s far more than an aspiring minimalist who wants to decrease her wardrobe and has committed to purchasing nothing new should be buying!)

So here it is – my Wardrobe Wall of Shame:

My Wall of Wardrobe Shame Jan 2015

New things 2014. Whatever my justifications and excuses are, it’s still a lot of new things for an aspiring minimalist to be accumulating!

Not So Minimalist Wardrobe Jan 2015

…And the other bits and pieces. One pair of shoes, one hat, and one handbag (does the handbag count as a wardrobe item too?).

 My Minimalist Wardrobe Dilemma

I have too many clothes. I know that. Having too many clothes causes unnecessary stress – I know that too.

  • Firstly, I suffer from the age-old dilemma of opening my wardrobe every Monday morning and declaring that I have nothing to wear. I can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak. Having more is not increasing my choice, it’s making me more stressed.
  • Secondly, because they don’t fit neatly into my (generously sized) closet, it’s hard to find the things I want. Cue more stress and grumbling.
  • Thirdly, the laundry it creates. More clothes definitely creates more laundry. There’s the six gazillion things I try on every time I need an outfit, which then get dumped in a heap  – and then it’s hard to fathom what’s clean and what’s not. There’s the extra clothes that get worn because there’s the extra choice. Lastly there’s the clothes that haven’t been worn in so long they need washing to freshen them up.
Wardrobe Minimalism Jan 2015

Could you find anything in here? What about the shelves on the left? No? Me neither.

I’m a total believer in the need to declutter. However, believing in the principles, and agreeing with the reasons doesn’t equate into an action plan, does it?!

My previous excuse has been that I’ll wait for the things I currently own to wear out. Having not bought much in the last 3 years, this is starting to come true.

Old and New T Shirts

These T-shirts are exactly the same. I had the first (bought second-hand) for three years before it stretched and the picture faded. I found the second on eBay and bought as a replacement.

However, the fact I bought a replacement isn’t helping the plan to reduce. Plus, clearly if I’m able to take a picture of both of these T-shirts together, I’m still hanging on to the old one. That’s the opposite of decluttering!

If I’m going to allow the odd new thing to slip through the net, and the wearing out isn’t the easy solution I’d hoped for, I’m going to have to be far more ruthless with my decluttering!

My Minimalist Wardrobe Action Plan

What I really need to decide is what I actually wear. Not what I like, but what I actually wear. Because there are things in my wardrobe that I haven’t worn for months, if not years.

Here’s my simple solution. To track this, all I’ve done is tied a scarf to the left end of the wardrobe rail.

When I wear something, it goes back on the rail to the left of the scarf. I can wear things on the left hand side multiple times, but things can only cross from the right hand side to the left hand side once they have been worn.

Wardrobe Minimalism Scarf Trick

Tie a scarf to one end of the wardrobe. As items are worn, return them to the wardrobe on the other side of the scarf. As the months progress, the scarf will move along the rail. Set a time limit and see what is still hanging up that hasn’t been worn in that time.

Set a time limit that you think is reasonable. I’m going to give myself three months, and then see what’s still sitting on the “wrong” side of the rail. If everything has been worn, the scarf will be at the far right of the rail. More likely it will be sitting somewhere in the middle.

Of the things that remain unworn, the question is why? If it’s that it doesn’t fit or isn’t comfortable, then it needs to go. If it’s seasonal, like a winter jumper and the temperatures haven’t got that low, it gets a reprieve…temporarily. I’m sure there will be many reasons, and I don’t want to speculate now. I’ll see how the three months go first! I know one thing though – my wardrobe will be smaller!

Now I’d like to hear from you! Are you on a minimalist journey and did you suffer any setbacks last year? Do you struggle with wardrobe minimalism (and if so, would you like to join me in the challenge too)? Or do you simply shake your head in despair at my feeble efforts?! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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

Graph on gas bill

Energy usage graph on gas bill

How on earth had our gas usage skyrocketed that much?

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

Gas bills for new flat

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

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

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

A Quick Guide to Reading Your Energy Bill

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

How I Saved $300 a Year in Gas Bills

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

I moved house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you know what made all that difference?

This guy.

New Boiler

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

The boiler.

Compared with this guy:

Boiler with a pilot light

Meet Mr Inefficiency: Boiler with a pilot light

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

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

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

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

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