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Experiments with Less Stuff: 3 Outfits for 30 Days

There’s nothing quite like writing a book about decluttering and living with less stuff to make you re-assess all the things you own, and question again whether the things you have are really being used to their full potential.

Things left languishing in cupboards and drawers barely used? That isn’t the best use of those resources. And all stuff is resources – materials, time and energy went into making these things.

When I own something I barely use, and I know I would make do with something else if I didn’t own it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to keep it. It makes more sense to find a new owner who will use and love the things that I do not.

That’s not to say everything I own is used all the time. I own swimwear even though I’d hardly call myself a beachgoer; I own a selection of baking tins even though I’m not busting them out every weekend.

It’s all about balance: what’s practical, sensible and what’s good for our sanity. Even if I only go swimming occasionally, I need swimwear. In my world, brownies are square and sponge cakes are round. That’s just how it has to be.

But living with less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer need, use or love. It’s about developing a new relationship with stuff. Not just our stuff, but all stuff.

We can see stuff for what it really is: resources, time, craftsmanship and effort. We can be honest with ourselves about whether stuff is practical and useful to us, or whether the stuff’s usefulness will be short-lived; destined to become clutter, and landfill.

And when we buy things and bring them into our homes, we can make sure we maximise their use. If we realise later that things are not being used to their full potential, we can re-home them so that they get the use they were designed for.

Decluttering, for me, is not about clearing space to buy new things. It is about respecting resources, and ensuring the stuff we have and do not use does not go to waste. Decluttering is not synonymous with chucking stuff in the bin.

Instead, it is an opportunity to make good our perhaps-not-so-good-after-all choices.

But of course, no-one wants to declutter things only to realise later on that they needed them after all.

Which brings me back to where I started: reassessing the things I own.


One area where I struggled for a long time in my de-owning journey was wardrobe decluttering. I had so many clothes, nothing to wear, and couldn’t part with anything! The idea of reducing my wardrobe by half, down to 100 things seemed almost unachievable, yet when I finally got there I realised: I still had too much stuff.

Eventually I reduced my wardrobe down to about 40 things. It was no longer overwhelming, and everything I owned I liked and wore – but I knew that really, I still had too much stuff.

The thing is, I am one of those people who just likes to wear the same few outfits all of the time. I live in the same few things, and I like it like that. Most of the people I know would be surprised I even own 40 items of clothing!

The goal with decluttering and de-owning is to find our “enough”. We don’t want too much stuff but we don’t want to be left with not enough, either. But figuring out the point between “too much” and “too little” where “just enough” lies takes time.

When it came to my wardrobe, I didn’t think another round of decluttering would be that useful in helping me find this “enough”.

Instead, I decided to go all the way to the “too little” side, and live over there for a month, to really test what I need and what I don’t.

3 Outfits for 30 Days

A couple of years ago I followed a woman on Instagram who decided to wear one dress for an entire year. It actually wore out half way through, and was replaced with another dress, but she completed the challenge and decided she loved the freedom it gave so much she would wear one dress for life.

That’s definitely a little too little for me (what would I wear when I need to wash the dress?!) but it got me thinking. What would realistically be the minimum viable number of outfits I could wear?

I asked myself a few questions, such as what different types of outfits did I need, what occasions did I need to consider, and what was practical (thinking about the climate, weather and my ability/willingness to do – and dry – the laundry often).

I need clothes that are suitable for presenting in, working in and lounging round the house in.

As for climate, the month of March is late summer/early autumn here in Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate: it’s warm enough to do laundry, hang it outside and bring it in dry a few hours later. It might be cardigan weather in the evening, but it is pretty warm during the day. Rainfall is minimal and short-lived.

With all this in mind, I decided on 3 outfits for 30 days.

1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, and 1 dress. 2 tops, a cardigan and a denim shirt. Plus a pair of leggings if necessary.

(My 3 outfits doesn’t include clothes for exercising, which I’ll still wear.)

I started on 4th March, and I’ll report back once the 30 days are over.

The goal is not to convince myself that this is all I need. The goal is to figure out what works, what is missing, and what things I would prefer to have (and not have) to make my wardrobe work better for me.

The goal is to experiment with less so I can find out where my “enough” lies on the scale.

It’s not so much about deciding which of the things I own I need or don’t need; more about helping me get clear on my future choices.

Owning less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer use. It’s about understanding why we made the choices we made, learning from our mistakes, and getting clear on exactly what we need and what we’ll use.

If we know what we need and are pragmatic about what we’ll use, not only do we end up with less stuff: we use less resources, reduce our footprint, and create less waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever taken part in a “less stuff”, decluttering or minimalism challenge? What were the rules? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you learn anything? Were there any surprises? Or do challenges like this fill you with dread? Any other thoughts? Please share below!


Is Plastic-Free the Perfect Option? (Hint: Not Always)

It’s now been 6 years since I first took the Plastic Free July challenge (all the way back in 2012) and made the decision to make this plastic-free living lark a way of life. What an adventure it has been!

It completely made me re-evaluate the way I think about waste, the types of products I buy, where I source my food, the kinds of products I put on my skin, even the work that I do.

Of course, some of the decisions I made at the start of the journey aren’t the choices I’d make today.

However, I continue to share them, because they were decisions that I made at the time, and I think it is important to explain why I made these choices (along with what I might do differently now, or what the next step might be).

There are people starting out at exactly the point that I started out, and sharing the choices I made can help shine the light on possible alternatives and solutions.

I never share any solution as the perfect solution. I’ve talked about this before: how there’s often compromise, and we need to personally decide on our priorities and make the choices that work best for us in our own circumstances.

However, if the focus is plastic-free (or zero waste) living – which, hopefully it is! –  then there are better choices. Not perfect, but better.

I wanted to talk about a few of the choices I’ve made, why they are not perfect, but why I still think they are “better”.

Lining a Bin with Newspaper

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, one of my first dilemmas was how to line my bin without a plastic bag. I still took the “free” plastic bags from the supermarket and used them to line my bin.

A friend suggested newspaper, and I made the switch.

I wrote a post back in 2013 (it’s one of my most widely shared posts ever) entitled “How to Line Your Rubbish Bin without a Plastic Bag”.

I wanted to share with others how I’d switched from lining my bin with a plastic bag to lining my bin with newspaper. It is what worked for me.

Every year this post resurfaces at Plastic Free July time, and I get the same comments and questions, without fail.

“Who even gets a newspaper these days?”

Actually, quite a lot of people in Perth, which is where I live. There is a free community newspaper delivered to most suburbs. At the time, I had a free community newspaper delivered, and I read it, so it made sense to use it for something else.

A lot of cafes in Perth (there are a bazillion of them, at least) get newspapers for customers to read, as do libraries and workplaces.

There’s no need to buy a newspaper to line the bin. This is about using what I already had. It might not work for everyone, but it does work for some of us.

“Using newspaper is hardly eco-friendly, all those trees.”

I didn’t call that post “the absolutely most eco-friendly way ever to line your bin” for a reason. It is simply a plastic-free solution. (Although, when was the last time you saw a paper bag stuck in a tree, or choking sea life?)

Yes, making paper uses a lot of resources (trees, energy and also water). In fact, paper bags have three times the carbon footprint of a plastic bag.

Whether newspaper is the same I’m not sure, as it tends to have a lot of recycled content (whereas most paper bags do not), but of course, all materials have a footprint. Which leads me to…

“Why not compost and then there is no bin liner required at all?”

Exactly. Great idea and what I do now.

“Now” being the key word.

If you’d said to me at the start of Plastic Free July, “hey, newspaper bin liners have a footprint, you need to set up a compost bin and a worm farm and a bokashi system so you’re not throwing away any of your organic matter” then I would most likely have had a meltdown.

I was busy trying to find solutions to every other thing!

Yes, I did set up a worm farm, and a bokashi system, and I did do away with my newspaper bin liners. But it took 2 years to get to that point!

Buying Plastic Reusables

Something that also comes up often when talking about different types of reusables, is the fact that some are made of plastic.

“How can you say you are plastic-free when you use reusables made of / containing plastic?”

When I first went plastic-free back in 2012, I purchased a plastic KeepCup. Back then, KeepCup were the only brand of reusable barista-standard coffee cup, and they only had plastic cups (they didn’t launch their glass range until 2014).

My goal was to reduce single-use plastic. That is what Plastic Free July is all about. The reusable plastic KeepCup served its purpose – I haven’t drank out of a takeaway coffee cup since.

It’s estimated that a reusable coffee cup needs to be used about 15 times to offset the energy / footprint, versus a single-use disposable cup. Definitely achieved.

In time, I decided that plastic reusables weren’t something I personally wanted to choose in future. I also didn’t love drinking hot drinks out of plastic, so I purchased a glass one.

However reusable plastics still work for some. Whether it’s the portability, resistance to breakage, the need to be collapsible or something else, there are reasons that people still choose plastic reusables, and these reasons are perfectly valid.

There’s another really good reason to purchase reusables made out of plastic in my view, and that is when they are made out of 100% recycled plastic.

As my plastic-free living journey deepened, I decided I wanted to steer clear of ALL plastic. Over time, my view of this has mellowed because I realise that we still have an issue to deal with – legacy plastic.

If we banned plastic water bottles tomorrow, there are still millions already in existence. What do we do with them? Recycling them into something worthwhile and built to last seems like a good idea to me.

Recycled PET shopping bags and produce bags have a much lower carbon footprint than new cotton or cloth bags (cotton requires huge amounts of water to grow and is often exposed to huge amounts of pesticides also).

I think these kinds of reusables definitely have a place in a “plastic-free” world.

Personally, I like a mix. I like to keep my plastic-use to a minimum, but I do find these bags immensely useful and practical.

Shopping at Bulk Bin Stores that Use Plastic Bins (Which is Pretty Much All of Them)

I talk about bulk food shopping on my website and also on Instagram, and more than once I’ve had comments about the materials the bulk containers are made of.

“Isn’t it ironic / hypocritical saying plastic-free when the containers are made of plastic?”

Personally, I think not. My local store in Perth is part of The Source Bulk Foods, who have more than 40 bulk stores in Australia. There are lots of other bulk stores in Perth and across the country. I’ve never seen one with zero plastic storage, and when you think about the cost and practicalities of only using metal, glass or wood, it’s easy to see why it’s not common.

These bulk stores (with their plastic bins) make it possible for thousands of customers to shop packaging-free. They generate packaging themselves, sure, but far less than if we were all buying our individually packaged everything from the supermarket.

Plus, they are working with suppliers to develop ways to reduce packaging further upstream.

Zero waste isn’t perfect, and plastic-free living doesn’t have all the solutions, but we get closer all the time.

If you’re starting out with plastic-free, and are finding the apparent conflict a little tricky to navigate, know that we have all been there. It’s easy to get lost in a minefield of ethical dilemmas when it comes to plastic-free living.

There’s always someone keen to point out why something isn’t perfect. If we are just at the beginning of our journey, there is nothing more deflating than making a choice that we feel is better, only to be told that actually, it isn’t.

The only thing we can do is to make conscious decisions. To make the best choice you can with what you know today. Maybe in the future you’d choose differently, but we can’t make decisions about things we don’t know yet.

Plastic-free living is not about being perfect, it’s about making better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you feel about plastics in your plastic-free life? Do you own and use any plastic reusables, or is it something you steer clear of? Is it something that you’ve changed your mind about along the way? Where are you willing to compromise, and where are you not? I’d love to know what you think so please leave a comment below!

The Illusion of Being Perfectly Zero Waste (or Perfectly Plastic-Free)

A few years ago, I wandered into a second-hand bag outlet in a pop-up shop that sold handbags. One bag caught my eye – it was in excellent condition and very inexpensive (it was $28 AUD). The lady explained that she had purchased it thinking it was leather, but then realised it wasn’t leather at all, so she had reduced it to clear – she was a leather shop, and didn’t want to stock non-leather items.

I bought the bag. It was second-hand, in almost new condition, and I really liked it. It seemed like a good purchase. It carried my zero waste and plastic-free essentials around for a few years.

But over time, the faux leather began to flake off. Slowly at first, but as the bag aged it got worse and worse.

Aside from the fact that it looked pretty tatty, I was also acutely aware that this flaking faux leather was actually microplastic, shedding into the environment.

Eventually enough was enough, and I realised I had to get a new bag.

I always say that it’s important to think about how we’ll dispose of an item when it’s life expired before we make the purchase. (If we are concerned about waste and are trying to reduce our landfill, at least.)

Clearly when I chose this bag, I didn’t think about that at all.

I think that’s why I held onto it as long as I did, even though it was disintegrating before my eyes. I knew that there was nothing I could do to save it. It’s 100% synthetic materials, so not biodegradable, not reusable, not salvageable. It’s next destination was landfill.

Of course, I feel bad about that.

I knew that my next purchase had to be better.

I’ve been following a small independent handmade bag business based on the east coast of Australia (in Mackay, Queensland) called Small World Dreams on Instagram since forever, and I’d decided that when I needed a new bag, I’d purchased one from Claire. I first heard about her because she uses Ink and Spindle fabric to make her bags – Ink and Spindle are a Melbourne-based company who use organic fabric, natural dyes and Australian flora to inspire their hand-printed designs.

I wanted my new bag to be made responsibly and transparently, fit all my things in it, be repairable, not contain any plastic at all and therefore be completely biodegradable, and be made so well that the idea of even needing to put it in the compost is one for the next decade, not this one.

The bag I chose fits all of these criteria.

But I confess, I felt a small pang of guilt when I chose it, because even though it meets all my criteria, is completely plastic-free, and is almost entirely made from organic cotton, the strap is made of leather.

I feel bad about this because I try very hard to avoid purchasing animal products.

But my previous bag, made of faux leather (which is plastic) ended up creating microplastic pollution and damaging the environment that way. It also ended up in landfill.

I feel bad about that, too.

In the end, I kept the leather to an absolute minimum, and made peace with my purchase because plastic-free was my first and biggest priority.

I know that if I’d really tried, I could have found a completely natural and biodegradable bag. I’m sure there are other great ethical small businesses I could have chosen from. Small World Dreams even stock a vegan range made using Piñatex, a relatively new leather alternative made from pineapple fibres. These bags didn’t suit my needs, however – and gold really isn’t my colour.

Actually, I really like the bag I chose. I love the style, the design, the craftsmanship. I know the strap will last a long time (and that is important to me).

I think the guilt I feel comes a lot from the need to try to be perfect.

I know it would be much easier to share with you a completely biodegradable, ethically made, natural, vegan bag – one ideally made locally with organic fabric, and packaged in recycled sustainable materials.

Easier in my mind because if I tick all the “ethical boxes”, no-one can make judgments about my choices.

Which is a false truth, actually, because people will make judgments whatever the choice.

Choices are rarely (ever?) perfect. No matter how many boxes are ticked, there’s always something that was forgotten about.

It’s a scary thing, putting your life and your choices in public. You’re opening yourself up to criticism and judgment. The reason I do it is because I think that sharing what I do and the choices I make helps others find their own way, learn from my discoveries and make better choices themselves.

Knowing that I can influence others to have a positive impact in their own lives and towards the environment is what keeps me motivated to continue.

It’s much easier then, to share the best choices. The things that work really well. The success stories.

But none of us are perfect. I’m not perfect. I don’t pretend to be, either, but it’s a lot easier to share the perfect bits than the imperfect bits.

I’d rather tell you that I’m the perfect vegan.

I’d rather tell you that I’m perfect at zero waste.

I’d rather tell you that I’m perfect at plastic-free.

But of course, I’m not any of these things.

The reality is that absolutes are hard. Different values can be conflicting, and we have to find our own way.

I have complete respect for anyone who lives with absolutes. I know that for many vegans, their resolve is absolute, and the idea of being an “imperfect vegan” is an oxymoron. There’s no room for flexibility: you either are or you aren’t.

For me, doing what I can is better than doing nothing at all. I try, and I struggle, and I fall short, but I keep striving to do better.

I wonder if my imperfections are because I’m multi-passionate. I care about too many things to be completely focused on one at the expense of all the others. I care about plastic-free and zero waste, supporting the local economy, buying second-hand and supporting Fair Trade. I care about food miles and air miles and reducing carbon emissions. My diet is plant-based and I don’t buy animal products at home, but when I’m out I make exceptions, and especially when friends have cooked for me.

My decisions are always about reducing my impact, but what that looks like varies from one decision to another – there’s always a compromise somewhere.

Then again, maybe my imperfections are nothing to do with being multi-passionate. Maybe they are simply because that’s how I am. Imperfectly imperfect.

What I’ve realised is, I don’t want to feel bad about the decisions I make. I try so hard to weigh up all the options and make the best decisions that I can. Not perfect ones, but better ones than the time before. That’s something I should feel good about.

Making better choices is something we should all feel good about.

Chasing the crazy notion of perfection, that’s what leads to overwhelm, stress and feeling miserable. Embracing our imperfections? That’s acceptance of what actually is. None of us are perfect at everything, all the time. Being kind to ourselves (and to others) is a much better alternative than beating ourselves up over our shortcomings.

My choices won’t be everybody’s choices. But they are my choices. In all their imperfection, I make them. Being happy with them means letting go of the desire to be perfect, and the fear of being judged when I’m not.

I’m not perfect, and I can be happy with that.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with the need to be perfect? How do you tackle criticism or judgment of the choices you make? Have you found your peace with making imperfect decisions? Anything else you’d like to share? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments!

A First-Timer’s Guide to Shopping at Bulk Stores

Bulk stores make shopping plastic-free and zero waste so much easier. They allow us to avoid unnecessary packaging, and buy only what we need (no unnecessary food waste). But they operate quite differently to regular stores and supermarkets, and if you haven’t shopped at one before, the idea can be a little intimidating.

If you’re new to living plastic-free and zero waste, and find the idea of shopping at bulk stores a little nerve-wracking, I’ve put together a guide to help you out. No two bulk stores are exactly the same, but the principles are.

I believe that we should be embracing these types of shops where we can, and there’s no need to be intimidated!

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Before You Leave Home

The first thing I’d recommend you take is a shopping list. Go through your pantry and decide what you need before you get there. Browsing in a store you’ve never been in before can be a little overwhelming, and it’s easy to spend more money than you intend on ingredients that you didn’t really need.

Second, think about how you intend to buy your groceries. If you want to avoid packaging you might want to bring glass jars, containers or reusable produce bags. However not all bulk stores are set up the same.

For a first shop, I’d recommend taking reusable produce bags rather than jars or containers. (If you don’t have reusable produce bags and want to invest in some, you can find my online zero waste stores guide here.)

I shop at the Source Bulk Foods (and there are 50 of these stores across Australia and New Zealand) and these stores are set up for customers to bring their own containers. I can take a bag full of empty glass jars, the team will weigh them for me and record the weight on the jars, and then I can fill them up. When I get to the till the weight of the jar will be subtracted from the total, meaning I only pay for the weight of the actual products I buy.

Not all bulk stores offer this service. Maybe they don’t have the technology, maybe they don’t have the staff training, or maybe they just don’t want to. In these stores, using glass jars will be an expensive exercise as you’ll end up paying for the weight of the jar as well as the product. Reusable produce bags are the best alternative.

If you really want to use containers, consider ringing ahead and asking if they will be able to tare the weight, and how it works.

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Once You Arrive

Shopping at a bulk store is a very different experience to shopping at a supermarket. It’s extremely likely that the staff are as passionate about reducing waste as you are, and they will be more than happy to help. If you’re unsure in any way, I’d recommend going straight to a staff member and explaining that you’re new to this way of shopping, and asking how their store works and if there’s anything you need to know.

Ask them about different containers, and if they have preferences. Ask what other customers do. Start the conversation!

Some bulk stores might allow you to weigh your own containers. Some might ask that you write the code number of the product down (many people using their own jars do this by writing the numbers in their mobile phone as they go) to present at the till.

Some might print their own labels which just need scanning at the till. Ask to find out how your store works.

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Other Things to Consider

If we are used to supermarkets, we are much more used to unit prices (such as x price for a jar of peanut butter) rather than price per kilo. Even though supermarkets will list these prices, we don’t tend to pay much attention. This can be confusing at the start when shopping at bulk stores, because we often don’t have much idea how much things weigh. For example, chocolate coated nuts are quite heavy, so they might not sound expensive per kilo but a bag full can be more expensive than expected! On the other hand, items like tea can seem very expensive per kilo, but a full jar will not weigh much and be more affordable than the price suggests.

If you’re on a budget, for the first few shops I’d recommend getting a receipt, and tracking how much things cost, and making adjustments next time. I learned the hard way that big jars full of chocolates hurt my pocket!

Most things sold at bulk stores are sold by weight, but occasionally products are sold per unit (priced “each”) and some liquids will be sold by volume. The price label will always tell you how you will be charged. If a liquid is sold by volume, you will need to know the volume of the container rather than the weight (such as knowing the jar is 500ml or a litre).

If you do make a mistake, the store will help you sort it as best they can. They deal with a lot of containers and will have a good idea of the weight (if you forgot to weigh it) or the volume (if it doesn’t say on the container).

Whilst I’m shopping, I like to take note of the other ingredients that I see. If I see something interesting, I’ll head home and read up on how to prepare or cook it, and look up some recipes. If I decide I’d like to try it, I add to my list for next time. This works better for me than buying random ingredients that then sit in the cupboard untouched.

We’re often used to heading to the supermarket every week, but bulk stores can be approached a little differently. If you live far from a bulk store, getting super organised can mean you only need to head there every few weeks – the products they sell have a long shelf life, so there is no need to head in weekly. On the other hand, if you prefer to pop in every few days rather than stockpile, that works too.

Whichever you prefer, bulk stores offer more freedom than supermarkets to choose how you’d like to shop. They’re also friendly places, selling real food, and owned by real people rather than faceless corporations. What’s not to love?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What practices does your local bulk store use? Are there any quirks that you’d like to share? Any other tips on bulk shopping?  If you’re new to the idea, any questions we haven’t covered? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Reusable Coffee Cups

Is a reusable coffee cup a zero waste essential? Well, that depends on your perspective. Do you think that coffee is a life essential? ;)

Seriously, whether you personally think so or not, the fact is that over 500 billion disposable coffee cups are produced every year. Which clearly shows that plenty of people do think coffee is a life necessity.

Reusable coffee cups are the obvious solution if we are to do something to stem this tide of disposables heading to landfill (or worse) every year.

Use a reusable just 15 times and the environment wins. (Hocking’s 1994 lifecycle energy analysis found that ceramic cups needed to be used 39 times, plastic cups 17 times, and glass cups 15 times before they became equally energy efficient to plastic-lined paper cups.)

Bear in mind that a reusable, looked after, will last for many years.

The message that these cups send is just as (maybe more) important than the vessels themselves. It’s about showing the solution. Demonstrating to the public that there is an alternative. Showing others that there are people (us!) who care about this issue, and are doing something about it.

Making reusables a little more socially acceptable, and single-use disposables a little less so. Changing the story about convenience.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of the best reusable coffee cup brands that I could find. Companies that not only make great reusables, but that care about the impact single-use items have on the planet.

(This is not a sponsored post. None of these brands have paid to be featured.)

Choosing Reusables: Coffee Cups

All brands listed below make cups that are barista standard. This means they hold the same volume as standardised disposable takeaway cups, and fit underneath a coffee machine.

Most reusable takeaway cups do have a small element of plastic or silicone, because they need a sealable lid and a band to protect the fingers from burns. Their primary purpose is takeaway, after all.

I’ve listed brand websites below, but if you’re looking for a local store to make a purchase from, I have a worldwide list of local online zero waste stores. Please try to support a local independent business, if you can. The big department stores and Amazon really don’t need our money, and these small businesses do.

7 Reusable Zero Waste Coffee Cup Brands I Recommend

1. KeepCup

KeepCup is possibly the original reusable cup brand, and if not the first, definitely the most well known.

KeepCup began in 2009, and are now sold in 65 countries around the world. KeepCup ship from Australia, the UK and the USA.

Their cups are available in both plastic and glass. All cups have a plastic lid (plastic #4, LDPE) which is hard and rigid, with a plastic plug (a polyethylene polymer called TPU). The bands are made of silicone.

Their plastic cups (plastic #5, or polypropylene – considered to be the best food grade plastic with thermal stability) come in 5 sizes: 4oz (the ideal size for a babycino), 6oz, 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. Their glass cups come in 3 sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. Additionally, they offer a glass “LongPlay” booster for the 12oz and 16oz sizes which creates a double-walled vessel to keep hot drinks hot (and cold drinks cold) for longer.

Their KeepCup Brew edition features a glass cup (8oz, 12oz or 16oz) with a cork band, making it their least plastic option.

W: https://keepcup.com

2. JOCO Cup

JOCO cups were the first company to produce a barista standard glass coffee cup. The glass cups come in 3 sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. The lid is made of silicone, which makes it soft and rubbery. The band is also made of silicone.

JOCO cups are distributed worldwide, and ship from Australia and the USA.

W: https://jococups.com

3. La Bontazza

La Bontazza is another Australian company (influenced by Italian style) that produces reusable glass coffee cups with silicone lids and bands. La Bontazza are the only company I’ve found that make a small 4oz reusable coffee cup in glass – perfect for short macchiato drinkers, espresso drinkers and babycino drinkers (who are old enough to handle a glass cup).

Their three cup sizes are 4oz, 8oz and 12oz.

W: http://www.labontazza.com

4. Planet Cups by Pottery for the Planet

Planet Cups are handmade pottery cups fitted with a silicone lid, and with an optional silicone band. They are available in 3 sizes: 6 oz, 8oz and 12oz. Every single cup is unique, being made by Renton Bishopric ceramics in their Queensland studio.

The cups are not currently sold via their website, but stockists can be found via their social media channels.

W: http://www.rentonbishopric.com

5. Cupit by Kahla

Kahla is a German ceramics manufacturer who produces Cupit, a range of white ceramic reusable coffee cups in three sizes: 8oz, 12oz and 16oz. The lid is available to purchase separate from the cup. Both the cups and the lids are made in Germany.

The ceramic cups have a silicone foot at the base, making them non slip. The lid is plastic, and the band that wraps around the cup is fixed and cannot be removed. The cups are slightly heavier than a glass reusable coffee cup, and are very sturdy.

W: http://en.kahlaporzellan.com

6. Klean Kanteen

Klean Kanteen produce insulated stainless steel tumblers with a plastic tumbler lid in 3 sizes: 8oz, 16oz and 20oz. The tumbler lid is designed for transporting liquids (although it is not leak proof) but is not designed for drinking through.

W: https://www.kleankanteen.com

7. Ecojarz

For anyone who doesn’t drink takeaway often and doesn’t see the need for a purpose-built vessel, Ecojarz offer an alternative: a stainless steel drinking lid with silicone seal that fits your existing wide-mouth mason or canning jars.

They also offer hot drink holders and silicone bands.

W: http://ecojarz.com

Of course, I realise that reusable coffee cups aren’t for everybody. (Is anything?!) You may not be a daily takeaway coffee drinker. But I’ve no doubt that you know someone who is. The public’s perception of plastic bags has shifted, plastic pollution awareness is rising, and tackling disposable coffee cups seem the next logical step.

Reusable coffee cups are a great and practical solution.

Let’s get the conversation started. Bring on the reuse revolution. 

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you use a reusable coffee cup? Do you use one of these brands listed or an alternative I haven’t mentioned? Do you make do with a DIY approach? Do you think reusable coffee cups are a load of nonsense? Any other thoughts to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

7 Tips for Choosing Ethical Zero Waste Essentials

The zero waste and plastic-free movements have been steadily building momentum over the last few years, and along with that, so has the proliferation of associated “stuff”. When I started my plastic-free journey back in 2012, there were products to assist with zero waste living, but choice was limited. Now, it seems we are inundated with options, an there are more coming onto the marketplace every day.

That makes me a little nervous.

It makes me nervous because zero waste is about not creating waste; buying less stuff, and making do with what we have. It still means the occasional purchase, but usually “buy-once-and-will-last-forever” type products.

The more stuff on the market, the more we are tempted to buy, the more fashion and style comes into it and practicality and functionality seem less important.

When there’s so much choice, and there’s the temptation to buy more or try new things, these reusables can become “single use”. Reusables made of glass or stainless steel have a big production footprint. Great if we use them all the time, and of course they are made to last forever. But we have to use them often.

When we buy things and then don’t (or rarely) use them, they aren’t such better than single-use.

Finally, it makes me nervous because choice is paralyzing, and too much choice can lead to overwhelm and inaction. Changing habits is hard, and that is without having to exert energy deciding which products might be useful and appropriate, sifting through the greenwash and making good decisions.

Choice adds another layer of complexity.

I recognise that we often do need to buy stuff at the start of our plastic-free and zero waste journey. Not everything, but some things. Now there’s all this choice on the marketplace, I thought I’d put together an ethical zero waste purchasing guide to help navigate through some of the choices.

1. Needs versus Wants

There are many beautiful, ethically-produced things out there. Far more than we could ever need. The truth is, we can appreciate and admire the things we see without having to purchase them all. It can be tempting to buy something, thinking “I need this”! But really, is it a  need – or is it a want?

Can we make do without? Can we sit on the decision for a week, or a month, and decide whether we really need it?

The most zero waste option is always to make do with what you have, and buy nothing.

That’s not to say we should never purchase anything. Sometimes “wants” have a place. Sometimes we want to support a local ethical business because we believe in the work they do. Sometimes we know we don’t need something, but we really really want it, and we decide to buy it. No-one is perfect, and we all have desires, standards of living we want to maintain… and moments of weakness!

It’s a balance.

Let’s not kid ourselves that buying things makes us more zero waste. It might help our journey, it might support others in theirs, but is buying something the absolutely most zero waste thing to do? No. So let’s make the things that we do buy the absolute best ethical choices that we can.

2. Before You Go Shopping…

Think about what you need. Think about the properties what you need has to have. Think about how you’ll use it. Decide what you need, and then go looking for it. Going to a shop for “inspiration” likely ends up in you buying things you don’t actually need.

Do your research. Look online, and search for options. If you find a product you like the look of, go to the manufacturer’s website and read more. Read their mission statement and ethical credentials. Read customer reviews.

If you find the choice overwhelming, ask others on social media what they recommend to narrow your choices down.

3. Read the Labels. And I Mean Really Read the Labels.

Just because someone has shared a photo of a product on social media and stated it is compostable/ethical/zero waste/better, don’t just take their word for it. Go to the product’s website and look. What is the packaging made of? Where is it produced? What is the company’s reason for being? Ethical companies will be clear about their commitment to sustainability.

Does it claim to be biodegradable or compostable, and if so, is it certified? (Biodegradable can include toxic residue, and doesn’t mean that it will break down in home or even commercial composting facilities. There’s no regulations on using this term, and lots of products make the claim without providing evidence. If a product isn’t certified biodegradable or better still, compostable, I would avoid it.)

What does “better” mean? There’s a product on the market called “Boxed Water is Better”. Better how? Their containers are made of paperboard, a plastic-lined card that isn’t easily recycled in Australia. Why is it “better”? It’s because water packaged in paperboard uses less carbon emissions to transport than bottled water packaged in glass. Better in that scenario, yes, but why are they shipping water around the globe anyway? Transporting water to countries that already have drinkable water coming out of the tap doesn’t strike me as environmentally sound.

Ask questions. Dig deeper. Suspect everything ;)

If you ask questions, and can’t find the answers, stay away. Better to support those companies that are transparent and honest.

4. A Gap in the Market or a Slice of the Pie?

There are companies that have been working on the plastic-free / zero waste message for years. Stores like Biome opened in 2003, Life Without Plastic opened in 2006; brands like Klean Kanteen formed in 2002. They’ve been trailblazers in getting the zero waste message out there.

Then there new companies and brands, popping up year after year, increasing the reach, making zero waste more accessible, and offering new products and ways of doing things.

I’m all for choice, and I love new companies that offer innovative products, improve and build on existing designs, or increase accessibility by opening in new markets.

What I don’t love is companies who see that there is money to be made, and rip off another company’s product with their own label, or maybe make a cheaper version (easy to do when someone has done the design work for you and proven the business model).

If the only differentiating feature of a zero waste product is that it’s cheaper than an identical product available on the market, that’s not a great reason to buy.

Where products are similar, I prefer to support the original. They were the ones that took the risk and put their product out there.

Where there’s multiple options, I look for other criteria: who owns the business and how it is run, what organisations and non-profits they support, how they manage their supply chains, where production and offices are based, how they support their customers.

5. Be Wary of Kickstarter (and Crowdfunding Campaigns)

Crowdfunding campaigns ask the general public to support them in raising funds to begin a business venture, often in exchange for a discounted product. Don’t get me wrong – there are heaps of great projects worth supporting.

But there are many more that are not.

What makes a good project? In my mind, it is something that does not exist already; a product that there is clear demand for, and there seems to be a viable business model behind it all.

Projects I prefer not to support: anything that seems like more unnecessary “stuff”, anything made of plastic (we have enough plastic stuff in the world already!), another version of a product that already has a saturated market. (Do we really need another reusable coffee cup design, or reusable water bottle? Maybe…but probably not.)

Crowdfunding campaigns offering discounted versions of reusables which imitate products already on the market can be tempting. We all know reusables can be expensive. But these campaigns put pressure on existing businesses. Once the discounted phase is over, are the new companies likely to stay in business? Or are simply they fracturing the market?

6. Choose Your Stores Wisely

I think it is so, so important to support local, ethical businesses when making purchases. Ethical products purchased from a Big Box store in order to save a few dollars is missing a huge opportunity to support a small, independent, ethical business. The way I see it, these purchases are an investment, which will last years, and a few extra dollars upfront is worth it.

Yes, no-one wants to be ripped off, and we all have budgets we need to stick to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the absolute lowest price.

Ask yourself honestly, can you afford to spend just a little bit more? Those few extra dollars probably aren’t that much to you, but your support will mean a lot to a small business.

My first recommendation, before we even start to think about hitting the shops, is to try to find what you need second-hand. Try Gumtree, eBay, Buy Nothing groups, or charity shops.

Next, I always recommend local brick-and-mortar stores (or market stalls) in your local area. No shipping costs (both financial and emissions/carbon footprint), no unnecessary packaging, and you get to connect with a real person.

If that isn’t an option for you, then consider independent ethical online businesses. I’ve put together a worldwide list of online independent zero waste stores here.

(You’ll never ever find me linking to Amazon. The owner is worth US$81.6 billion: many would argue he made his fortunes by destroying competition and the high street, avoiding paying taxes, and other dubious practices. Maybe you’d argue that it’s fair – business is business. Personally, I don’t see why one man can possibly need all that money. I value choice, and I’d rather see thousands of small businesses owners earning enough money to send their children to college and affording holidays and buying good food than one man reap all the wealth.)

7. It’s Not About Perfection…

Ethical purchases are a minefield, and there’s rarely a perfect solution. There’s always compromise or trade-offs somewhere. The most important thing is making conscious choices. Knowing why you made the choice you did, and putting thought into the decision.

Think about what’s important to you – the carbon footprint, the production conditions, the company’s wider ethical footprint, transport miles, supporting the local economy, supporting Fair Trade, whether it’s made to last forever, whether it’s recyclable, whether it’s compostable. Chances are you won’t be able to tick all the boxes.

Ticking some is better than none.

Don’t be afraid to take action or make choices that aren’t perfect. Better to do something than do nothing. Worst case, you realise down the track that you could have chosen better. That’s a learning experience. We’ve all made mistakes, opted for choices we wouldn’t take again.

Let’s aim for progress, not perfection.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your biggest ethical struggles when it comes to making purchases? Do you have any non-negotiable criteria? How has your view on ethical purchasing changed over time? What tips do you have to add? Anything else you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers. I only recommend brands I love, and that I think you will love too.

Isn’t Zero Waste Living Meant to be Cheaper? (+ What To Do When It Isn’t)

Zero waste and plastic-free living are often spruiked as a way to save money. I avoid using that reason (I explained why I won’t talk about money-saving here). Even though, yes, living zero waste means I spend less.

It is pretty hard to stop buying stuff and spend more ;)

Whilst overall I spend less than I used to, some things I buy do cost more than their packaged equivalents. In the early days, I stood in the aisle, looking at the cheaper pre-packaged item and the more expensive bulk or zero waste one, and felt torn.

If someone embraces zero waste living solely as a way to save money, this is the point where they will stop. That’s one reason why I don’t use the ‘money-saving’ reason as a benefit. I want others to embrace this lifestyle beyond the choices that cost the least amount of money.

I want others to embrace choices that make the best sense for the bigger picture: local communities, our health, wildlife, workers rights, the environment and the planet as a whole.

For those of us who aren’t motivated solely by the money-saving aspect, knowing things are considerably more expensive can still be frustrating! No-one wants to feel like they’re being taken for a ride. I received this question recently, and it got me thinking:

“I’m having trouble justifying buying package free pasta and rice and such, when it is literally 10x as expensive as the same stuff I can get in the supermarket. I feel like I’m just wasting my money. If it were 2 or even 3x more expensive I might be able to justify it, but I feel like the price difference is kind of outrageous. Any wisdom?”

Oh, I’ve been there! These are my suggestions for what to do when zero waste isn’t the cheapest option, and you feel conflicted.

1. Remember Why You Chose the Zero Waste/Plastic-Free Lifestyle.

Most people choose this lifestyle for a number of reasons, and some of these reasons are about more than ourselves. Reasons such as: supporting local businesses and growing local communities, reducing litter, improving the environment, protecting our marine life, limiting harm to wildlife, reducing our impact on the world’s resources.

When we make choices that support ideas that are bigger than ourselves, we feel good. If you’re faced with a difficult choice, try to keep your ‘why’ at the front of your mind.

It might help you see the choice you’re making in a different light.

2. Ask Yourself What You Value.

For me, it comes down to values. I value locally grown, reduced carbon emissions, and organic. I value supporting independent businesses, and eating real food.

I value spending my money with companies I believe in. I value ethical and Fair Trade and sustainably produced.

(That’s not to say I don’t have a budget – I do! I’ll talk about that later.)

I want to see more products that fit in this niche, and more stores that support these ideas. The best thing I can do is vote with my dollar, and choose to support these brands and allow them to grow. Ultimately I don’t want this to be a niche, I want it to be mainstream. Supporting it is the only way this will happen.

Which is why, rather than shop at the bulk aisle in my local supermarket, I choose to shop at independent bulk stores. My favourite is The Source Bulk Foods. There’s one in my neighbourhood, but they have 33 stores across Australia (there’s 3 in Perth, and more planned). They aren’t the cheapest option, but they align the most with my values. Importantly, they are passionate about zero waste (some bulk stores here aren’t actually focused on the waste aspect).

The Source also have a huge variety of Australian-grown produce: almost all of their nuts are grown in Australia, and they even sell Australian quinoa. Supporting stores that champion these practices is more important to me than saving a couple of dollars.

3. Avoid Comparisons (Ignorance is Bliss).

Have you heard the saying ‘comparison is the thief of joy?’ No-one wants to feel ripped off, or like they spent too much. When we know that there’s a cheaper option, sometimes it can be hard to make the right choice.

My solution is not to look.

I rarely go in the supermarket now. I never look at catalogues or shops online. If I don’t know what I’m ‘missing out’ on, it stops the comparisons, and I’m happier,.

I know what I need, so I go to my regular shop, and decide if I want to make the purchase based on the price that day.

If you didn’t know that the supermarket was cheaper than your local bulk store, it would change your whole perspective. Where you can, avoid looking.

4. Rather Than Asking ‘Is It More Expensive?’, Ask ‘Can I Afford It?’

It’s funny how we can get hung up on the price of some things, but not others. When avocados hit $4 in the shops here, everyone goes nuts at the ‘expensive price’ – even though they are locally grown, delicious and very good for us.

Yet bumper boxes of super processed biscuits – the ones made entirely or processed sugar, processed flour and trans-fats (or palm oil)? If they are $4 people think it’s a bargain.

It’s all about perspective.

Rather than stressing that the waste-free version is more expensive than the pre-packaged version, we can re-frame the question. We can ask ourselves: can I afford it? Is there something I could go without in order to buy this? Do I want it that much or could I go without?

I buy chocolate, and I buy coffee, and both of these could be considered luxury items. (Even if I like to think of them as essentials!) If something else I really wanted seemed expensive, I could pay the extra and forgo one of these. If you regularly buy takeaway coffee, or take-out, or magazines, could you reduce your spending in this area?

These are the choices we can make.

There may be things that you just can’t afford to buy zero waste at this point in your journey. Then you have two options: go without; or compromise.

5. Rather Than Worrying About The Price of Individual Items, Set Yourself a Budget For Your Entire Shop.

It’s all very lovely to talk about values and priorities, but most of us living a zero waste or plastic-free lifestyle have a budget. Hello, real world! Much as we might want to, we can’t necessarily afford to make all the perfect choices.

I’d like to buy everything organic, but in reality, my budget doesn’t allow me to.

Rather than stressing over individual items, we can set a budget for our whole shop. Many things in bulk are much cheaper than their pre-packaged counterparts, yet we tend to focus on the stuff that costs more rather than celebrating what costs less.

Are things really too expensive, or can we accommodate them by making other changes?

Knowing exactly how much we have to spend will help us make better decisions – either now, or in the future as our circumstances change.

The answers will be different for everybody.

Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t always afford the perfect option (most of us can’t). But if the better choice is only a couple of dollars more, ask yourself what’s really stopping you making that choice?

For me, the question isn’t “does it cost more?” The question is, who will benefit if I choose the zero waste, organic, local option? And who will benefit (and who will suffer) if I don’t? When I’m on the fence about making the more ethical choice over the cheaper one, this helps direct me back to my priorities.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever get torn between cheaper options and more ethical, expensive options? How have your choices changed over time? Is there anything that you’re currently struggling with? Do you have any tips to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Is Almond Milk Bad for the Planet? (+ Some Myths Debunked)

First almond milk and other plant-based milks are lauded as a healthy alternative to regular milk; the next thing is they are being hailed as environmentally destructive. I exclusively drink nut milk at home (I make my own) and when I first starting hearing these claims, I decided to look into it a little more.

I want to live as sustainably as I can, and I also want to understand as much as I can about where my food comes from.

Articles with headlines like “Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet” and “Your Almond Habit Is Sucking California Dry“, published by reputable news sources (in this case, The Guardian and Mother Jones respectively), make it easy to see why many people think nut milk is bad for the planet.

But these articles don’t tell the whole story.

The headlines definitely don’t tell the whole story.

Sustainable choices are rarely completely black and white. There’s often compromise, or prioritizing one aspect of “green” over another.

If you stopped at the headline, you’d think that almond milk is bad for the planet. I want to go beyond the headline, to find out what reasons they give, and explore the rest of the story.

NB Statement quoted below were taken from this article by the Guardian.

The ‘Water’ Issue

The main environmental concern with almond milk seems to be the amount of water needed to grow almonds, coupled with the fact that most almond trees are grown in drought-hit California.

“It takes 1.1 gallons (4.16 litres) of water to grow one almond.” (The Guardian quoted this article, which stated where they obtained their data from: Mekonnen, M. M and Hoekstra, A. Y 2011.)

There are 92 almonds in a cup, which makes a litre of homemade almond milk. That means 1 litre of almond milk requires 384 litres of water to produce.

(Store-bought almond milk appears to have a much lower almond content, listed as around 2% of the total. Most brands do not list the number of almonds used per litre, but it is thought to be much less than homemade nut milks.)

“This isn’t to say cow’s milk, which takes about 100 litres of water to produce 100ml of milk, is more environmentally friendly”. (The Guardian quoted 250ml as requiring 255 litres; this source contains the research data.)

A litre of cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce.

Almond milk requires 384 litres of water per litre, and cow’s milk requires 1016 litres of water to produce, which is 2.5x more water. Almond milk is less water intensive than dairy milk.

 Environmental Impacts: the ‘Cows Versus Trees’ Issue

It is very frustrating when environmental impacts are measured on one factor alone. For many companies, using plastic is considered a more environmentally friendly option than using paper or glass, as it has a lower carbon footprint and is cheaper to transport. But when you take into account reuse-ability, recycle-ability and nenew-ability, it is a different picture.

Talking about the environmental impact of almonds based solely on water usage is only part of the story. What about the fact that almonds grow on trees, which stabilise soil, add oxygen to the atmosphere and decrease soil erosion?

Compare this with dairy cows, which are big contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (methane), require huge swathes of land to produce feed, and contribute to soil erosion and waterways pollution.

Animal welfare and ethical issues aside, growing trees seems the more environmental choice over raising cows.

The ‘Location’ Issue

Almonds seem to be targeted because they are grown in California, which has been hit by drought in recent years.

“More than 80% of the world’s almond crop is grown in California.”

This means 20% is not. Australia is the second-largest almond producer. I exclusively purchase Australian almonds as they are local to me. All produce has a printed country of origin, even products purchased in bulk stores. I purchase all my nuts from The Source Bulk Foods (they have 33 stores across Australia), as they stock Australian almonds as well as other nuts from Australia.

Almonds are also grown in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. World production is 2.9 million tonnes, and the USA produces 1.8 million tonnes. There are a million+ tonnes of almonds not grown in the USA to choose from.

For all of us living outside the USA, we have the option to purchase non-Californian almonds. However, Californian almonds are definitely more common.

If low food miles and sourcing locally grown or produced food is a priority, and almonds don’t grow close to where you live, almonds might not be the best choice for you.

“Its production is not concentrated in one area of the globe.” Meaning that whilst dairy milk is produced globally, almond production is concentrated in California.

Does distribution even matter? Or is it more about scale?

In 2014 California produced 2.14 billion pounds of almonds. In the same year California produced 42.3 billion pounds of milk. Regardless of worldwide production distribution, California produces more milk than almonds, and milk has a greater water footprint than almonds.

When the water used to produce Californian almonds is dwarfed by the water used to produce Californian dairy products, it seems a little misleading to claim that it is almonds that are “sucking California dry.”

They may not be blameless, but they seem to get more blame than they deserve.

The ‘Scapegoat’ Issue

California might have a lot of almond trees, but it’s an agricultural powerhouse, growing more than 200 crop varieties including almost all of America’s apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the US production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

California also produces huge numbers of animal products including milk, beef cattle, eggs, sheep, turkeys, hogs and horses.

Dairy and livestock are considered far more water intensive than vegetable crops. Almonds use similar water to other nut trees (and 99% of America’s walnuts are also grown in California). “Fresh” crops like lettuce and broccoli not only need large quantities of water to produce, they need to be refrigerated and are often air-freighted to their destination.

Why do almonds get a bad rap, whilst all the banana bread bakers adding Californian walnuts to their loaves get not a single talking-to?

I wonder if it is because almond-milk drinkers are seen as trendy hipsters. I wonder if people are trying to make it into a “class” issue (if almond milk is seen as middle-class). I wonder if it is because the dairy industry has a lot of money to push towards fighting the growing nut milk industry and the potential decline of dairy milk sales.

I can make my guesses, but I can’t know for sure. I do think that almonds (and almond-milk drinkers) are unfairly targeted. The issues go much deeper.

The ‘Packaging’ Issue

It is not the growing of almonds that is so bad for the planet. It is the mass manufacture of almond milk and the global shipping to stores worldwide that is having a negative environmental impact.

Shipping water all around the globe is crazy. Most of us wouldn’t dream of buying bottled water (assuming we have drinkable water coming from the tap), but carton nut milk is 98% water. It is virtually the same thing!

Then there’s the containers. Nut milk is usually packaged in Tetra Paks, and these aren’t as easily recycled as their manufacturers would like us to think they are. Theoretically recycable is not the same as actually recycled in our town/municipality/state.

Recycable or not, they are designed to be used once only and not refilled.

Buying carton nut milk, especially one that has been manufactured overseas, is not an environmentally sound choice. From a transport (and energy) perspective, dairy milk has a lesser impact as demand is typically for fresh milk, so it is sold locally.

The great news is, it is really easy to make your own almond and other plant-based milks. I typcially make my own cashew milk and almond milk, but you can use any type of nuts. I’ve made macadamia milk, walnut milk, and brazil nut milk. I’ve even made seed milks! Experiment, and find your favourite.

Yes, seed milk is a “thing”. And they are surprisingly delicious! This one is my favourite, pumpkin seed milk.

What is the Most Environmentally Sustainable Milk Option?

At it’s heart, I don’t think this is about almonds. Or dairy cows.

The real issue here is industrial agriculture in a fragile, sensitive environment, and pursuing profit at the expense of the planet.

If you can, support local farmers, and buy products produced in your local area – or as close to your local area as possible. If you choose to drink nut milk, consider buying nuts and making your own. Oat milk is another (nut free) option.

If you’d rather buy packaged plant milk, look for one that has been manufactured locally (even if the ingredients are from overseas). Coconuts require far less water than other nuts, and grow in climates where rain is plentiful.

Of course, we could refuse milk entirely, dairy, almond or otherwise. We could drink black coffee. We could just drink water, which we harvested from the roof in our rainwater tank. We could… but will we? There’s the perfect world, and then there’s the real world – the one we live in.

I think it’s important to ask questions, and to try to understand where our food comes from. I think it’s valuable to understand why we make the choices we do. Sometimes our choices are less than ideal. It isn’t about being perfect. It’s about trying to do the best we can.

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

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The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

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The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

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The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

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Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

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Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

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Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below!

3 Zero Waste Recipes: DIY Cashew Milk, Homemade Almond Milk + Almond Pulp Brownies

Nut milk. The name sounds kind of ridiculous. But it looks like milk, has a similar shelf life, can be used in similar ways, and in many cases the nuts do actually have to be “milked”, so it’s easy to see why the name took hold!

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When I started out on my plastic-free journey, I bought cow’s milk that came in returnable glass bottles. But it wasn’t stocked in many places, so finding it was hard – and a bit of effort. Gathering those glass bottles together to return them meant a heap of clutter and a journey across town with them all (there was no deposit return either, only goodwill). Plus what to do with all those lids?!

I began making nut milk alongside dairy milk, because it was a lot easier to find nuts in bulk, and they have a long shelf life (they will last for months in a jar in the pantry, or even better, the freezer). I found nut milk worked just as well in baking, in porridge and in coffee, and I began to use it more and more.

Eventually I thought more about the impact of the dairy industry on the planet. Cows need a lot of water and land to produce milk, they produce huge amounts of methane, cause soil erosion, and the product has to be transported fresh, meaning a higher carbon footprint. Nuts use less water, the trees are beneficial for the environment, and the products have a long shelf life.

Nut milk seemed like the greener option. I decided to stop buying dairy milk altogether (my husband stopped too, but later).

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But of course, I don’t buy nut milk. Some commercial brands of nut milk are little more than bottled water! Alpro’s nut milk contains only 2% almonds, and the second biggest ingredient is sugar. Unnecessary packaging aside, shipping all that water across the globe seems like such a waste when we can ship dry nuts (or even better, use local ones) and make our own.

And I have to tell you, making your own is super easy. It requires no specialised equipment, and takes very little time. You’ll need a blender, but it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.

How To Make Cashew Milk

Cashew milk is my go-to milk because it’s the easiest. Cashews are already quite soft, so they do not need to be soaked for a long time. They also contain very little fibre, so there is no need to strain.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw cashews in water for a few hours or overnight. Rinse, and blend with 4 cups water. Done.

I tend to blend my cashews with 1 cup of water at a time, for 30 seconds, before adding the next cup of water. I find that there are less (no) lumps in it this way.

Makes 1.2 litres. Lasts 7 – 10 days in the fridge. It may get thicker over time, in which case add a little more water to it.

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Cashew milk works absolutely amazingly in coffee, too :)

How to Make Almond Milk

Almond milk is the most common nut milk, but it isn’t the easiest or quickest to make. That doesn’t mean it’s hard, mind! It just needs soaking a little longer, and also straining.

To make:

Soak 1 cup of raw almonds in water for at least 12 hours, and even 24 hours (change the water every 8 hours or so). Rinse, and blend with 4 cups of water.Now you need to strain.

I strain my almond milk using cheesecloth as it has a fine weave and is 100% cotton. Spread the cheesecloth over a bowl or jug, pour the milk over and allow the almond milk to drip through. Squeeze to get any remaining drops out.

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I bought my cheesecloth off the roll at a fabric store – it is very inexpensive. (Cheesecloth is not the same thing as muslin. Muslin has a much looser weave and the fibre all gets stuck!)

Alternatively, you could use a clean tea towel or old pair of tights, or even a fine mesh sieve. Before I had the cheesecloth, I used one of my mesh produce bags. There is absolutely no need to buy an expensive plastic nut milk bag!

Makes about 800ml, and leaves a cup of almond pulp. Don’t throw the almond pulp away! It will last in the fridge for a week, or freeze it. And then make chocolate brownies : ) (Recipe below).

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Fresh almond pulp (almond milk on the right). I use cheesecloth the strain, and scrape the excess pulp off with a knife.

How to Make Other Nut Milks

Other nut milks can be made in the same way, and most will require some kind of straining, although they won’t produce as much pulp as almond milk does. I’ve made macadamia milk (no need to strain), brazil nut milk and walnut milk.

Cheaper Nut Milk Alternatives

Nuts can be expensive. Increasing the ratio of nuts to water will make a more cost-effective milk, but will also dilute the milk. I tend to use the ratio 1:4 nuts:water but this could be increased to 1:5 or 1:6.

As well as nuts, you can also make plant-based milk with seeds, oats and peanuts (which are techincally a legume, not a nut).

Pumpkinseedmilk

Homemade pumpkin seed milk :)

These work out much cheaper than nut milks. I’ve tried making sesame seed milk (not recommended – it has a very strong flavour!), pumpkin seed milk (which is absolutely delicious) and sunflower seed milk. Flaxseed milk is also popular, although I’ve never tried this.

As above, the principle is the same. Soak, then blend 1 cup seeds with 4 cups water, and strain.

Now, let’s talk about what to do with the leftover pulp.

What to Do with the Leftover Pulp: Make Almond Pulp Brownies

This recipe has become my go-to almond pulp recipe. I’ve made savoury crackers, and macaroons too, but nothing beats chocolate-y goodness, so I always come back to this one.

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Ingredients:

180g sugar (I use rapadura sugar)
1 cup almond pulp, approx (the pulp left over from using 1 cup of almonds to make almond milk)
80g cocoa powder (I’ve used both cocoa powder and raw cacao for this – I prefer cocoa powder but it doesn’t really matter. You might want to add a little more sugar if using cacao, though)
1/2 cup (110g) coconut oil (I use deodorised as I find the coconut oil flavour a little intense in desserts)
9 tbsp aquafaba (chickpea water – effectively a waste product being put to good use. Find out more here!)
1/2 cup (60g) spelt or other flour
1 tbsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup macadamias/walnuts/raspberries/chocolate chips/something else delicious
(or you could leave plain. But I consider all good brownies to need some kind of crunch)

Optional: a few tablespoons of cacao nibs and/or chopped nuts to top.

Method:

Line a square baking tin (if you use baking paper) and preheat the oven to 175°C.

Melt the coconut oil in a pan. Turn off the heat, add the almond pulp and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder and flour, and mix well. Add to the pan and stir in. It might seem really dry at first, but it will incorporate. Once combined, add the vanilla essence, salt and walnuts (or delicious thing of your choice).

In a tall cylinder, whisk the aquafaba to form stiff peaks. (This will take longer than you think.) I use a stick blender with a whisk attachment and it takes at least 5  minutes of  constant whisking. Add the aquafaba to the brownie mixture in the pan, slowly folding to incorporate with as little stirring as possible.

This yellow liquid is what you get when you cook chickpeas and strain (and keep) the water

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Once incorporated, pour into the baking tray. Sprinkle the toppings on (if using) and bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until the top is dry.

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Best stored in the fridge if you don’t demolish the whole lot in one sitting.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made nut milk (or seed, oat or rice milk)? Which is your favourite? Which is your least favourite? If you’ve never made it before, is there something putting you off? Do you have any other alternatives to suggest? What about aquafaba – have you ever experimented with that? Are you just a little bit tempted to make these chocolate brownies?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!