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5 ways the zero waste / plastic-free conversation is changing in 2021

How we think and feel about and take action with zero waste and plastic-free living has certainly changed over the years, and 2020 was no exception. But despite all the change and uncertainty and distractions of the last 12 months, I do think that the zero waste and plastic-free movements are here to stay – they are just going to look a little different in 2021.

When I started my own ‘less waste’ journey back in 2012, there were very few people talking and writing about reducing plastic or living zero waste, Instagram was barely a platform back then, and #zerowaste was definitely not a hashtag. (In fact, were hashtags even a thing in those days?)

Since then both the plastic-free and in particular the zero waste movements have grown so much. Keeping your annual waste in a jam jar had its moment (although that ‘trend’ has long since passed – and I think that’s a good thing), journalists and magazines began to feature stories about people reducing their waste, blogs and social media channels on the topic exploded, and mainstream TV programmes even began talking about the issues and solutions.

Awareness has exploded – is there anyone who hasn’t seen the video of the turtle with the straw in its nose, or the skeleton of a bird whose stomach was filled with plastic?

But then capitalism caught up. The hashtag #zerowaste became a marketing term to sell things, and businesses lined up to sell plastic-free products and invent reusables that probably didn’t actually need inventing.

At times, it felt less like a movement to reduce waste and more like a movement to own photogenic items and share them on social media.

And then there was Covid-19. Bulk stores closed or were forced to pre-package their items, reusables were discouraged or outright banned, legislation such as bag bans were reversed, and single-use plastic (takeaway packaging, face masks) seemed to be taking off again.

And on top of that, all the chaos and uncertainty and stress made it a lot harder to keep up with sustainable habits and definitely harder to embrace new ones.

If there was a year that was difficult to be zero waste or plastic-free, it was 2020.

Not to mention, there are plenty of other issues facing our society. Waste is like an on-ramp to understanding all of the other things we could be doing. For some people who started out interested in zero waste or plastic-free living, this has meant moving to talking about climate change, challenging corporate culture, pivoting to focus on social and environmental justice, embracing activism or working in other areas.

As our understanding of zero waste and the wider issues broadens, we evolve.

Once we’ve embraced change in our own life, it’s only natural to start looking at what else we can do and where we can invest our energy (if we have any to spare). Sometimes our priorities and focus shifts away from plastic-free and zero waste, but even where they don’t, the conversations around these topics change.

They have to, if we are to continue making progress.

As I said at the start, I don’t think the zero waste or plastic-free movements are going away. But I do think they are changing. Here are my five predictions for 2021.

1. Less talk about zero waste/plastic-free swaps.

Back in 2012, barely anyone had heard of a bamboo toothbrush and plenty of reusables were yet to be invented. Fast-forward to 2021 and businesses are falling over themselves to sell us more ‘sustainable’ stuff, including plenty of things that we never even knew we needed (spoiler alert: most of the time, we don’t).

That’s not to say swaps aren’t a valuable part of living with less waste. They are most definitely useful, and the right ones (what’s ‘right’ of course, if different for everybody, but it generally means things that actually get used, and often) can really help us reduce our waste (and carbon) footprint.

It’s just that there’s so much less need to talk about them now – in part because everybody already has been talking about them for several years. They will always be a part of the conversation, but they’ll no longer be the centre of attention.

In 2021 it’s time for the focus to move away from the things we can buy, and shift to the things we can do.

2. More focus on community and acting local.

We might want to change the world, but in 2021 more than ever, there’s a focus on ‘think global, act local’.

Maybe that’s because most of us can’t travel anywhere. Maybe it’s because being forced to stay at home for the majority of 2020 has made us realise how important it is to have good neighbours, stronger local connections and a resilient community.

Maybe it’s because it’s much easier for us to have a positive impact on our local community through our actions than it is to ‘change the world’.

Whatever our reasons, good community connections are an important (if underrated part) of low waste living. From joining community gardens to neighbourhood network groups to gifting economies like Buy Nothing, and from donating to the local food bank to picking up litter to supporting on-the-ground groups doing good work where we live, there are so many ways we can get involved and make a difference.

We’ll definitely be having a lot more conversations about this in 2021.

3. More diversity in the voices talking about the issues and sharing of perspectives.

For a long time the zero waste movement was dominated by white women (in terms of media coverage and influence). And this isn’t to say anything negative about those voices in themselves – only that there was a extreme lack of diversity (and therefore a lack of differing perspectives, lived experiences and knowledge) in the movement.

And all good movements need diversity and representation in order to thrive.

This began changing significantly in 2020 after the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement when both individuals and businesses started paying attention to this lack of diversity, and doing more to amplify other voices.

(It’s not that non-white or non-female voices didn’t exist, only they weren’t being given the same platforms and opportunities to speak out.)

In 2021 there will be a lot more inclusiveness in the zero waste and plastic-free movements, with different voices being heard and non-white people participating fully in – and leading – the conversations. And they will be much better conversations because of it.

If you notice that the people you’re following and listening to only fit a single demographic, 2021 is the time to diversify and add some new perspectives.

4. More greenwashing.

The downside of more people becoming interested in sustainability, low waste living and climate action is that companies are increasingly keen to be seen to be doing the right thing. (And no, being ‘seen’ to do the right thing is not the same as actually doing the right thing.)

Expect plenty more greenwashing in 2021.

Greenwashing includes companies printing misleading claims on their products, using terms that have no clear and defined meaning (like ‘eco-friendly’ or biodegradable – here’s a guide to what biodegradable and compostable actually mean) or even printing green leaves and recycling symbols all over their packaging so we think they are environmentally responsible.

Greenwashing means companies telling us, the user, that we need to ‘recycle our products responsibly’ when they do not pay for or support infrastructure to make it possible to recycle these materials (theoretically recyclable is not the same as a actually recycled). Companies trying to shift the responsibility to us when it is their design choice to create single-use items and waste is greenwashing at its finest.

Greenwashing also means virtue signalling by companies – the practice of publicly declaring their moral and ethical commitments and concern for people and planet, but they are only surface deep. Scratch further and there is little meaningful action to support these claims.

In short, these businesses are built on unjust and exploitative systems that no amount of tokenism will fix.

An example might be a billionaire-owned clothing company producing billions of fast fashion items every year intended to be worn once or maybe twice, made by people who do not receive a fair wage, and sold in stores by people being paid a minimal wage, with the whole business model built on the idea of shoppers consuming more and more of their products – and then saying that they will help us recycle, which does nothing to stem the flow of clothing into an already saturated market.

(H&M, I’m looking at you. You might not be the only one, but you virtue signal the loudest.)

In 2021 we are going to see a lot more greenwashing, but we are also going to get a lot better at spotting it, and we will see a lot more people calling these practices out.

5. More individual activism, talking about the system failures and trying to hold companies to account.

The more we learn about plastic and waste, the more we realise that our individual swaps and habits will only take us so far. Now I’m the first person to tell you that individual actions matter , but if we want to bring about change we also need to change the systems that cause the problems.

In short, we need both.

It’s not possible for everyone to do both. But there are people that are fossicking through bins and calling out companies and drawing attention to corporations destroying stock or supermarkets binning food rather than donating it, and it is important that we learn these truths and amplify this work.

Big corporations tend to want us as individuals to think that it is solely on our shoulders to reduce our footprints and stop climate change. It’s not. With a simple change in policy these big brands could make a huge difference – but they won’t until the pressure mounts.

In 2021 there will be increasing calls for companies to be held to account for their actions.

So yes, the zero waste and plastic-free movements are changing, and the conversations are shifting.

And (greenwashing aside), this can only be a good thing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you noticed the zero waste and plastic-free movement and conversations shifting over the past twelve months? What are your predictions for 2021? What would you like to see more (and less) of? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

37 ways to use less plastic in 2021

One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, or goals, that I’m hearing for 2021 is people wanting to use less plastic. It’s such an insidious material, plastic, seeping into every aspect our lives and causing litter, pollution, health issues, harm to wildlife, environmental damage… and using up valuable fossil fuels in the process (99% of plastic is currently made of fossil fuels).

But once its in our lives, getting it back out again can be quite the challenge!

When we think about ‘going plastic-free’ or ‘giving up plastic’ it sounds quite overwhelming, but that’s because we haven’t broken it down into smaller, bite-size pieces. Manageable pieces.

‘Going plastic-free’ might sound unattainable, but ‘buying loose carrots rather than pre-packed carrots’ or ‘bringing my water bottle from home’ don’t seem quite so tricky.

So, to help you get started on this journey to using less plastic, I’ve put together a list of 37 things that you can do to reduce your plastic use. Some you might be doing already. Others might still be in the too-hard basket (for now).

But some of them will be within your grasp, and you can edge a little closer towards your goal.

Food shopping

1. Buy groceries unpackaged. This might not be an option for everything, especially if you don’t have access to a bulk store, but even making a few simple swaps, like choosing the loose fruit and vegetables over the plastic-wrapped ones, or finding a loaf of bread that doesn’t come in a plastic bag will bring you one step closer.

2. Avoid plastic produce bags. If you’re buying fruits and vegetables unpackaged, rather than use the plastic produce bags, you can bring your own reusable produce bags, you can use paper mushroom or potato bags (if possible save them to reuse as paper bags have a bigger carbon footprint than plastic bags), or you can add everything loose into your trolley. If your store doesn’t allow reusable bags to be handled by staff, consider bagging up your own groceries at the checkout.

3. Refuse plastic shopping bags. Bring your own bags, use a cardboard box, hold things in your hands – whatever you can do to avoid plastic bags. If you unintentionally end up with plastic bags, save them and make sure you reuse them – ideally for future shopping trips.

4. Choose glass, metal and cardboard packaging over plastic. If you’re trying to cut down on plastic, choose other packaging types. You’ll find oats and pasta in cardboard boxes, oil and condiments in glass bottles and jars, coffee grounds in metal canisters, and so on. Even choosing brands that have metal lids over plastic lids is one less plastic item.

5. If you can’t avoid plastic packaging, choose the least amount. Sometimes plastic is really really hard to avoid. But you can avoid the wildly overpackaged things, like snack packs inside a bigger plastic bag or ‘fun size’ snacks, or tiny little pots of yoghurt.

6. Where there’s no choice to avoid plastic, choose recyclable plastic over non-recyclable plastic. If you have to choose plastic, try to choose plastic that can be easily recycled where you live (check your local council to find out exactly what can and cannot be recycled). Usually that’s plastic numbers 1 and 2 (PET and HDPE): these two plastics have the most value and are the most recycled. At least the plastic you use won’t be destined for landfill or incineration straightaway, and can be reprocessed and kept in use.

Food storage

7. Switch out plastic glad wrap/ cling film. There are heaps of great alternatives to single-use food wrap, from flexible silicone lids to rigid silicone lids to wax wraps to decanting leftovers into lidded containers (larger jam jars work well for this) to simply putting a plate on top of a bowl. (If you want more details, here are 7 plastic-free alternatives to food wrap.)

8. Embrace reusable containers. Great for leftovers, great for decanting any opened plastic packets that you’ve bought (and will do away with the plastic clip seals), great for taking a packed lunch. Here’s a guide for different reusable container options – but start with what you have, and reuse anything you can, even the plastic ‘single-use’ ones you have accumulated.

Food preparation

9. Replace retired kitchen tools with plastic-free or low plastic alternatives. As your plastic cooking utensils, chopping boards, jugs, servingware, small appliances and other kitchen items wear out, start choosing non-plastic materials instead. There’s a great second-hand market for kitchen tools so you may not have to buy new (plus second-hand is kinder on the budget).

10. Swap pre-packaged for homemade. No-one is suggesting that you start making everything from scratch. You’re busy and there’s already enough to do. But if you can identify the worst offender(s) – the things that you buy that are completely overpacked, the things that you buy the most often, or the things whose packaging drives you the most up the wall, consider experimenting with making from scratch. Whether it’s hummus, cookies, crackers, almond milk or something completely different. Carve out an hour of your week, and give it a go.

On the go

11. Carry a set of reusables in your bag / bike basket / car. Carry the things you’re most likely to use or need. Common items include a set of cutlery (or you could use a spork), a cloth napkin, a reusable coffee cup, a water bottle, and a reusable straw. (Here’s what I carry round with me.)

12. If you carry just one thing, make it a reusable coffee cup. Even if you don’t drink coffee. They are great as a cup for other beverages, including water, for carrying snacks, for carrying the remains of snacks (like apple cores or banana peels), and for transporting leftovers. If you’re short on space, you can get collapsible ones. If you’re on a budget, a sturdy jam jar does the job.

13. Get in the habit of saying no. Turn down the plastic sachets of sauce, the plastic straws, the plastic stirrers, the little packets of sushi ginger, the pre-wrapped cutlery napkin sets, the extra plastic bags, the hand freshener wipes, or any other unnecessary paraphernalia that comes with a purchase.

14. Choose the options that have less plastic. If you need to buy lunch out and all your options come in packaging, look for the ones that have no plastic and the least amount of packaging. Avoid the plastic clamshells and look for items in paper. Or consider dining in. (If you need to go, you can always order dine-in, then pack the item into your own container.)

Around the house

15. Reuse the plastic you already have. Yes you want to go plastic-free, but tossing all of your useful plastic out to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and ‘start afresh’ just wastes plastic. If you have plastic things, use them. If you no longer want to use plastic for food preparation, repurpose things to other areas of the house where possible (plastic storage containers can hold buttons, or laundry powder, or seeds for the garden).

Dental care

16. Switch out the plastic toothbrush. You could switch to a bamboo toothbrush, a reusable brush with a replaceable head, or even Miswak sticks. Failing that, look out for brushes made of certified compostable plastic.

17. Choose plastic-free floss. There are plenty of companies selling silk (including peace silk) or waxed floss in refillable glass containers. Some are packaged in cardboard.

18. Change from toothpaste to tooth powder, or tooth tablets. Before toothpaste was invented, people used tooth powder, and it is a lot easier to package a powder without plastic than it is a paste. Tooth powder usually comes packaged in tins or glass jars. Tooth tablets go one step further, pressing the powder into convenient tablets. You’ll find fluoride- and fluoride-free versions.

(This post has more ideas for a plastic-free bathroom.)

Skin and hair care

19. Switch from liquids to solid products (bar soap, solid shampoo, moisturiser bars). Liquid products consist mostly of water, which is hard to package without plastic. By choosing solid products over liquids, you’ll be able to find them in minimal plastic-free (and sometimes zero) packaging. Because they tend to be concentrated (you’re adding your own water as you use them) they might seem expensive, but they will last much longer and are more economical than you might think.

20. If you love liquids, choose concentrates that you dilute yourself. If you’re not ready to give up liquid handwash or shower gel, you can find concentrates designed to be mixed with water to make liquid products.

21. Simplify. Do you actually need to replace all of those plastic-free products that you buy, or could you just stop using them? Rather than looking for a plastic-free alternative for everything, see which products you can go without. You’ll save money and declutter your bathroom as well as reducing plastic.

22. Wash your hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. Sounds weird, I know. But it works. It really suits my curly hair. If you’re worried about dry hair, use rye flour – it will leave your hair soft. Here’s a step by step guide for washing your hair with bicarb / rye flour and vinegar.

Personal care

23. Switch to reusable menstrual products. If you menstruate, consider using a reusable product rather than the single-use items. There are silicone cups, reusable cloth pads and menstrual underwear to consider. A silicone cup will last up to 10 years; pads will last 3 – 5 years and underwear a similar amount of time, maybe a little less.

Cleaning

24. Switch from laundry liquid to powder. As mentioned above, it’s much easier to package powder without plastic than it is to package liquid. (Bonus tip – liquid detergent used at low temps can gum up the insides of your machine. Especially when you wash at low temps. As told to me by a washing machine technician/plumber after using liquid at low temperatures gummed up the insides of my machine. Powder will make your machine last longer.)

25. Try green cleaning recipes. White vinegar, citric acid and bicarbonate of soda are all you need to clean most things, and a couple of essential oils (clove oil kills mould, tea tree oil is antibacterial). You’ll use way less plastic bottles this way, and your home will be healthier.

26. Switch plastic brushes and cloths to plastic-free alternatives. There are lots of plastic-free options to consider when your current items wear out: wooden dish brushes with replaceable heads, or those made from coconut fibres; reusable wood pulp and cotton wipes; coconut coir scourers; unpaper towel; knitted or crocheted dishcloths; dusters made with feathers; brooms made with palm branches.

Clothing

27. Look for plastic-free fibres. Most clothes are made of polyester, which is plastic. (So is nylon, rayon, organza, faux leather, spandex and polyamide.) When you need to replace items of clothing, look for plastic-free alternatives, or even blends (which is less plastic overall). Cotton, Tencel and hemp are options for vegans; silk and wool are additional options for non-vegans.

28. Buy second-hand clothing. Buying clothing second-hand is a great way to stop new plastic being made. You’ll find plenty of lightly used and even ‘brand new without tags’ items. If you have particular brands you like, seek these out on second-hand selling platforms.

29. Wash your clothes less. Yep, you can reduce your plastic by washing your clothes less. Washing your clothes wears the fabric and eventually causes pilling, fading and creates misshapen clothes. Try airing outside if it just needs a refresh, spot cleaning, or if something isn’t too dirty, a quick rinse on a cold cycle will be fine.

30. Line-dry rather than tumble-dry. Using a tumble drier decreases the lifespan of your clothing. The abrasion and hot temperatures wears the fabric out much more quickly than line drying, meaning you’ll be replacing them much faster (and new clothes tend to mean more plastic.)

31. Use a Guppyfriend laundry bag. Plastic clothing releases plastic microfibres into our waterways. Some fabrics are worse than others (fleece made out of recycled plastic releases the highest amount of fibres). If you have a lot of polyester clothing you can use a Guppyfriend laundry bag when washing your clothes to capture the fibres before they go down the drain.

Stuff

32. Second-hand first. The less stuff we buy new, the less packaging we end up with. Plus we keep useful items in circulation. There is second-hand everything out there: from furniture to homewares to electronics to kids toys to kitchen appliances to kitchen tools to gardening stuff and everything in between. Get in the habit of checking Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Craigslist or local charity shops before you decide to buy it new.

33. If you need something new, buy from a physical store rather than online. Not always possible for everything, especially in the time of Covid. But if you don’t want to receive the oversized box filled with plastic packing peanuts, bubble wrap and other plastic, buy from a store. Even ‘click and collect’ services will probably have less plastic than a mailed item.

(You’ll also be sure that what you buy is what you need, so no need to receive the wrong thing and have to return it.)

The sharing economy

34. Borrow before buying. There are so many formal and informal ways to borrow stuff. Libraries have books, DVDs, CDs, board games and magazines. And then there are toy libraries, tool libraries, and libraries of things. You can join your local Buy Nothing group and informally borrow items through there, or ask neighbours and friends.

Mindset

35. Embrace the old. The more we lose the habit of ‘updating’ and ‘upgrading’, the less stuff we buy and the less resources we use. If something still works, hang onto it. The more times you wear the same outfits and accessories, the better.

36. Fix stuff. When something breaks, investigate whether its fixable before you throw it away. Maybe the company sells spare parts, maybe iFixit has a repair manual online, maybe you can take to a local repair cafe for their opinion. If you can’t fix it, see if you can give the item away for parts.

37. Don’t let one plastic purchase derail your efforts. Couldn’t find a plastic-free alternative? Thought it was plastic-free until you got it home? Ended up with unexpected plastic? We all end up with plastic in our homes at some stage. It’s no-one’s fault, the system we live in really isn’t set up for plastic-free living. The worst thing you can do is let it get you down, or derail your efforts. There will always be exceptions, accidents, mishaps.

Rather than worry about these, focus on the hundred and one – or maybe just thirty-six – other things you can do.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips would you add to this list? Are there any plastic-free swaps you’re working towards in 2021? Are you trying to improve and start new habits this year, or refocusing on those you’ve let lapse? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share in the comments below!

5 simple (and free) things you can do to have a more sustainable 2021

2020, I think we can all agree, has been a year unlike no other. The best-laid plans (no… wait… all the plans) went out of the window, and for many of us it was tumultuous and unsettling and a bit (or a lot) of a struggle. But if you’re reading this, you survived the year that was (hurrah!), and maybe – just maybe – you’re starting to think about the new year ahead, and making plans.

I think the New Year is always a great time for a reset, even if most of us are not making big, bold plans for next year. (If you are, go you! But I’m sitting the big bold plans out for next year. I’m tiptoeing into the new year, in fact.)

Anyways, I think a lot of sustainable habits went out of the window along with those plans in 2020, and I think a lot of us want to at least try to pick a few of them back up again. Honestly, there are probably a million and one great habits that we could adopt for 2021.

But to list a million and one great ideas would be completely overwhelming.

Instead, I spent some time thinking about which habits I’ve adopted over the past few years that have had a big impact in reducing my waste and living more sustainably, have been relatively easy to start and continue to do, and have been free.

If we are going to ease into the new year gently, we don’t need an overwhelming to-do list. We just need a few simple, easy and effective ideas to get started. Here are 5 of my favourite simple (and free) things that you can do, starting today, to have a more sustainable 2021.

Carry a KeepCup with you.

A KeepCup (but you can choose another branded or non-branded reusable travel cup, or even a sturdy jam jar with a silicone band or a few elastic bands around it), is something I recommend to carry in your bag, bike rack or glove box. It is probably the most useful thing in mine.

And I rarely get a takeaway coffee.

Obviously they are great for takeaway coffee (or tea, or other hot drinks). They can be used to dine-in if the place you’re drinking at only has disposables. They also work as a water glass, and to hold food scraps such as apple cores or banana peels that you want to take home and compost. They can be used as a container when bringing a snack from home, or buying small bakery items, or ice-cream, or when you didn’t bring enough BYO containers to the bulk store. And, you can pack a surprising amount of leftovers in them if you eat out and over-order.

In short, they are practical and useful – and easy enough to carry around.

And I think that carrying around reusables (and using them, obviously) is important for shifting the way that society sees disposables. We need to normalise reducing waste if we want more people to do the same.

If we can change the culture, then we are on the way to shifting policy.

These days, there are so many reusable cups about, you probably don’t need to buy one. (Reusables are almost the new disposables, it seems…) Ask friends and family if they have spares, look on giveaway sites, see if there are any abandoned ones at work.

Or you can buy one, if you really want to. But you don’t have to.

(You’ll often find them in second-hand and charity shops, too.)

Whether you rescue or buy, it can be helpful to think about what would be the most useful for you, as there are plenty of different options. And the best reusable is the one you actually use, so choose one that meets your needs.

Glass is more breakable than plastic or stainless steel, but easy to clean and doesn’t absorb flavours.

Some cups are fully leakproof, others leak-resistant, and others not leakproof at all.

You can choose a tall cup, a small cup, a collapsible cup that fits in your pocket, a cup that fits in the drink holder in your car or on your bicycle. Or a jam jar. Whatever it is that will be most practical for you.

The first ‘swap’ I made when I went plastic-free back in 2012 was getting a (plastic) KeepCup. I switched to a glass one when they were launched in 2014, and I still have that same one now. Whilst there are plenty of reusables you can carry around with you (cutlery, a napkin, reusable shopping and produce bags, a water bottle), the KeepCup remains one of my favourite zero waste swaps, ever.

If you switch to one reusable, start here.

Stop throwing away food scraps.

Food waste makes up 40 per cent of the average household bin in the UK, USA and Australia. Stop throwing away food scraps and you’ll reduce your waste by almost half, and you’ll be able to turn those scraps, which are actually nutrients, into compost, to go back into the soil.

And you’ll reduce your carbon emissions, because food waste in landfill creates methane – a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Plus, you’ll no longer have a stinky kitchen bin. Wins all round!

Finding alternatives for your food scraps is not as hard as you think. There are plenty of options.

You might be lucky enough to have a council food scraps collection service (it’s sometimes called FO or FOGO – FO means food organics and GO means garden organics). If you have this option, make sure you’re using it to its full potential. Check what’s accepted and make sure everything that can go in this bin is going in this bin.

If you don’t have this service, there are a few ways you can process your food scraps at home.

You can set up a compost bin. There are two main options – the Dalek-style in-ground bins, that have an open base that you dig into the ground; or the rotary bins that sit on a frame and are great for patios. Sizes vary so you can pick one for a small space or a large family.

Composting is easy and low fuss – if you’re new to composting, this composting guide has more details on how to get started.

You could establish a worm farm. Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors: an indoor one is great if you live in a cold climate, as worms will die if they freeze. They are also excellent for apartments. The worms eat your food scraps and make an amazing nutrient rich product called ‘worm castings’ that is fantastic for gardens.

They take a little (but not much) more effort than a compost bin to maintain – mainly because you have to keep the worms alive. Which means feeding occasionally, and keeping them out of extreme temperatures.

Worm farms come in a variety of shapes and sizes: from plastic ‘worm cafes’ to the large capacity bin-shaped ‘Hungry Bin’ to ceramic and wooden designs (I’ve only seen these available in Europe). And there are in-ground versions too, where a tube drilled with holes is dug directly into the ground or a garden bed.

And there’s the option to DIY – in ground worm farms can be made out of old PVC tube, and worm farm ‘cafes’ can be made using two old polystyrene boxes.

You could set up a bokashi system. These are slightly different from composting and worm farming in that they ferment the food scraps rather than breaking them down. The scraps are placed in a sealed bucket with a tap, and a bokashi bran inoculated with microbes is sprinkled on top.

Fill, sprinkle, fill, sprinkle, until the bucket is full.

Eventually the bokashi waste will need to be buried or composted. Some people add to a compost bin, others add to a pot, top with soil and plant it out.

Bokashi systems are popular with apartment dwellers. They don’t smell, and once full the buckets can be stored for months until a place for burying is found. Plus they are a great way to process meat and fish scraps, cooked food and other items not recommended for compost bins.

If you’d like to know more about bokashi systems, this post explains the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

And finally, if you really like the idea of not throwing away your food scraps, but you’re not in a place to start composting or setting up a worm farm just yet, you can piggyback off of other people’s food waste systems. For free.

Simply find someone or somewhere convenient to you (maybe a school, or a community garden, or a cafe, or a neighbour), and drop your food scraps to them. Finding them isn’t that hard, either – check out the resources sharewaste.com or makesoil.org.

Download (and start using) the OLIO app

Still on the subject of food waste, but now we are not talking food scraps, we are talking edible food – food that isn’t wanted. Food we bought and didn’t like the taste of, food we bought and then plans changed, food that stores or cafes produced and couldn’t sell, that sort of thing. Well, OLIO is the app that allows people (and businesses) to connect food that isn’t wanted with people that want it. For free.

The OLIO app is free, the food is free. There is no catch, just food to be shared and people who want to help. OLIO has been around in the UK since 2015, and now has over 2 million users in more than 46 countries. Best of all, the app has helped save almost 10 million portions of food since it started.

In fact, because it has been so successful, OLIO has recently expanded into non-food items too.

You can read more about OLIO via their website www.olioex.com, and the app is available on Apple and Android.

Buy less stuff from billionaires (and their companies)

Billionaires really don’t need any more money, and they definitely don’t need their coffers lined further by us. I don’t believe anyone becomes a billionaire ethically and sustainably – but even if you did, hoarding all of that wealth is unethical.

(If you have $999 million dollars, then you are not a billionaire. So we are talking about people who have upwards of this.)

I can’t imagine what you can possibly need all that money for. The biggest houses, private jets, buying up entire islands – surely that’s small change when you’re a billionaire?

Oh, and for context: if you worked every single day, making $5,000 a day, from the year 1500 until the year 2020, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d have to work for 548 years, not spending a penny of what you earned, and earning $5000 a day, every day, to be a billionaire.

And yet billionaires own companies like Amazon and H & M, companies which became notorious during Covid-19 for not protecting their workers (who mostly earn minimum wage – or less), trying to avoid paying suppliers and rent, all in order to maximise profits for themselves and shareholders.

This type of business (and wealth hoarding) only benefits the few.

It’s often argued that poor people and those on tight budgets need to shop at these types of stores, where prices are low, in order to survive. But let’s be totally clear – people on tight budgets shopping for essentials do not create multi-million dollar businesses and billionaires. That comes from the middle and upper classes, and people buying more than they need.

Boycotting billionaire-owned businesses might not be an option for you, and that’s okay. But wherever possible, try to shop at these businesses less. Perhaps by choosing to buy nothing, make do, fix what you have, repurpose something else, borrow something rather than buy it, or shopping second-hand.

Or perhaps by choosing to support a small business or independent retailer instead.

When things are cheap, often the true costs are externalised. We (and definitely not the company) don’t pay for them. Perhaps the resources were taken from land that is being degraded or exploited for profit, perhaps the person who made the item didn’t get paid a fair wage, perhaps the employee who sold or packed the item doesn’t have fair employment conditions or access to healthcare.

We often hear the phrase “when we spend money, we vote with our dollars about the kind of world we want to live in”.

Do we really want to live in a world where a few billionaires hoard wealth at the expense of millions of others?

Join your local Buy Nothing group

Whether you’d like to buy less from billionaires, buy less generally or simply help keep resources in use for longer (and therefore reduce waste), the Buy Nothing project is going to help you – in more ways than you can imagine. It’s a network of hyper-local communities engaging in the true gift economy: giving, sharing, borrowing, lending and placing unwanted and unused items back in circulation for use by others.

The groups operate on Facebook. You can only join one group – the one where you live – and what this means is everyone is close by, so it’s easy to collect an old unwanted table, request a cup of sugar, or ask to borrow some glasses for a party, or a lawnmower, or whatever you need to use (but don’t really need to buy).

The great thing about the group is that generosity breeds generosity. People love to give, people love to receive useful things, and everyone loves to save stuff from landfill.

It also means you get to know your neighbours, and build connections.

My Buy Nothing group is the first place I go if I need something that is the kind of thing someone else might have lying around. It’s the first place I go if I’m wanting to pass on something I no longer need. It makes you realise just how much stuff is already in the world, and how willing others are to share it.

It’s hard to articulate just how great the Buy Nothing project is. If you use Facebook, I’d recommend joining your local Buy Nothing group. And if there is no local Buy Nothing group near you, you can start your own.

The year that has gone has definitely made some sustainable habits harder to keep up with, whether it’s because laws have been changed and legislation brought in, businesses have shifted policy, or life just became too hectic and some things just needed to be dropped.

Whilst we can’t just forget about 2020, and a new year doesn’t magic away all the chaos, there is the chance to reset, even just a little. Hopefully these ideas make your 2021 not only a little more sustainable, but easier and more enjoyable for you too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you feeling ready to start getting back on track in 2021? Or are you sitting things out a little longer? Are you going big, or keeping things small? What’s the first thing you want to tackle? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)

There are three main product types when it comes to having a zero waste period: menstrual cups, reusable pads, and period underwear. I’ve tried all three. I was a very early adopter of the menstrual cup, buying my first one back in 2003, but I was a definite latecomer to the period pants idea – I only got my first pair a couple of years ago.

Today I wanted to answer some questions about period underwear: do they work, how do you look after them, and what are the pros and cons compared to other products.

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more about what this means at the bottom of the post.

If you’re just after a recommendation, I’ve only ever used and am very happy with Modibodi (this is an Australian site, or try Modibodi UK).

I’ve listed some good alternative brands at the end of the post, if you like to shop around.

Period underwear: how does it work

Period pants are reusable and leak-proof underwear which replaces the need for single-use period products (as well as incontinence products).

The gusset is made of layers of materials that resist stains, wick moisture and absorb liquid. It’s built into the underwear in a way that isn’t particularly noticeable – period underwear looks like regular underwear. You might be able to feel that the fabric is slightly thicker when holding a pair, but when you’re wearing them, you truly can’t feel a thing.

Most brands have products with varying absorbency to accommodate different flows. In the Modibodi range, I have light-moderate (absorbancy is 10ml which is 1-2 tampons or 2 teaspoons), moderate-heavy (absorbancy is 15ml, the equivalent of 2-3 tampons or 3 teaspoons) and the heavy-overnight (absorbancy is 20ml, the equivalent of 3-4 tampons or 4 teaspoons) range.

Other brands make even more absorbent options.

Compared to my overnight pad, the overnight pants are much thinner and far more comfortable.

How long you can wear them will depend on your flow, but in most cases they can last 8-10 hours and up to 24 hours (should you want to wear the same underwear for that long).

What does menstrual underwear feel like to wear?

The thing that really got me over the line to being a fan is how comfortable they are. I can only talk about Modibodi as its the only brand that I’ve ever worn, but they are super comfortable. The fabric is soft, the elastic doesn’t dig in, there’s no weird plastic crackling noises or awkward pad sensation – and there’s nothing to slip out of place.

They absorb moisture really well, and don’t feel wet or sticky. Because the gussets are black (even if you choose a light fabric or pattern) they don’t look much different when used to when they were clean, and they don’t stain.

(In comparison a lot of pads are white. Black is a good design choice, in my opinion.)

How do you look after period underwear?

Easy! They are machine washable, and you just pop them in the washing machine. Most brands suggest using a cold cycle. (I’ve also on occasion put my Modibodi pairs in the 30°C cycle and they were fine, but fabrics do tend to last longer when you follow the instructions.)

Prior to washing (and ideally as soon as possible after you’ve finished wearing them) just rinse them with cold water until the water runs clear. No need to soak, hurrah!

I tend to rinse and then pop in the washing machine ready to go (which is how sometimes they end up on a 30°C cycle.) I always line dry everything, so they go on the line. Dryers shorten the lifespan of your clothing.

How long does period underwear last?

You can expect your period underwear – if looked after properly – to last two to three years. I’m always one to push these things as far as possible, and two years in my original pairs are still fine and working well.

How many pairs do I need?

That depends if you’d like to use them on their own, or in conjunction with pads or a menstrual cup. I use a menstrual cup, so I use the menstrual underwear for when I’m expecting my period to start and I’m going to be far from home, for nights and for exercise (in conjunction with my cup – I have a heavy flow and it can fill up and leak) and on the last day or two.

I started out with two pairs along with my cup, and it did mean needing to launder them mid-cycle. If you’d like to use in conjunction with a cup, you can manage with two pairs but three or four would be better.

If you’d like to use them on their own, it’s going to depend on how often you’d like to launder them. I think you could get buy with five pairs if you’re organised, but you might prefer more. You can always use a pad if you get caught out with no clean laundry.

Pros and cons to menstrual underwear

Things I love about period underwear:

  • Compared with menstrual cups and pads, period underwear is the most fuss-free and straightforward option. Super easy to use, no skills required, and there’s nothing to go wrong.
  • There’s no special maintenance either – no boiling or soaking. Anything that can go in the washing machine is a win with me.
  • Reusable menstrual products are much cheaper over their lifetime than buying disposable products every month. For extra savings, I like that period underwear is a 2-in-1 option – a period product and underwear, too. With pads and cups you still need to provide your own underwear.

Things I like less about period underwear:

  • If you’re a dedicated minimalist, you might prefer the simplicity of a single menstrual cup rather than more stuff in your underwear drawer. This was why I originally resisted buying more pairs of menstrual underwear. But they are just so comfortable, I’ve decided they can have space in my drawer.
  • They are not plastic-free: all brands have polyester and/or other plastics in the gusset lining to make them waterproof. Because it’s a reusable product that I find useful I’m happy to compromise, but if you’re strictly plastic-free these might not be for you.
  • A silicone menstrual cup can last 5 to 10 years, whereas menstrual underwear lasts 2 to 3 years. So you’ll have to replace it more frequently.

Different period pants brands (and why you might choose one over another):

Period pants are a product that are becoming increasingly more mainstream, and I’m sure there will be more companies popping up over the years. I’ve not listed every company, but those with a notable point of difference to other brands.

AWWA (New Zealand) – A small range of undies with a couple of organic cotton options, and period proof swimwear. Sizes from XXS – 6XL. Ships worldwide.

W: awwathelabel.com

Flux Undies (UK) – A few different styles made from Tencel fabric (all in black). Ships worldwide.

W: fluxundies.com

Knix (Canada) – a good range of colours (with some patterned fabric) and styles. Fabric is polyester. Ships worldwide.

W: knix.com

Modibodi (Australia) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.com

Modibodi (UK) – a large range of styles and colours, including a range of activewear, maternity wear and swimwear. Their range is made from bamboo fabric. Most of their underwear uses merino wool in the gusset layer, but they have a small vegan range.

W: modibodi.co.uk

Thinx (USA) – a very popular American brand with a great range of styles and colours. Thinx offers a large vegan range; they also have some organic cotton products. Ships worldwide.

W: shethinx.com

WUKA (UK) – have a small range made using sustainable fabrics. Their low flow and heavy flow underwear (only available in black) uses carbon neutral Lenzing modal fabric, and their medium flow underwear (in black and grey) is certified organic cotton. Ships worldwide.

W: wuka.co.uk

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any experiences – good or bad – with particular brands or products we’d love for you to share. Any great brands I’ve missed off the list? Any questions about how they work? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

This post contains some affiliate links. What this means is, if you click through a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and brands who are committed to sustainability and quality, because my priority is always you, the reader.

What to do with old plastic when you’re new to zero waste

The scenario: you’ve decided to change your relationship with plastic. Whether you’re cutting out the single-use plastic, choosing to refuse all the plastic you can, or full-on going zero waste, chances are, you already have plenty of plastic in your home.

(I call this plastic ‘legacy plastic’. The stuff you accumulated before you knew any better or gave much thought to where things end up once we are done with them.)

So… what do we do with all this plastic?

I rarely think there is one answer to these questions. As with most things, it depends – on what it is, what it does (even where you live). Here’s a guide to dealing with legacy plastic.

First of all, do nothing

Don’t follow any decision to cut out plastic or go zero waste by immediately throwing every single piece of plastic you own in the bin. Don’t give it all away yet, either.

When we decide to make a lifestyle change, we want to take action immediately – but chucking stuff out is not the action to take (at least not yet).

Instead, you’re better off just noticing what plastic you have in your home, and how you use it. Paying attention to your current habits might not feel as action-oriented as dramatically discarding stuff, but it’s more useful in the long run.

This way, you’ll notice which things you still need and use, and which things are probably ready to be passed on to new owners.

What to do with single-use disposable plastic

Look at all the single-use plastic you’re currently using in your home. (If you find it helpful, make a list to keep track.) This is anything you’re using once before it gets thrown away or recycled.

Some of this will be packaging with products inside: coffee pods, sachets of sauce, shampoo or moisturiser, potato chips/crisps wrappers.

Some of this will simply be single-use plastic: bin liners, gladwrap/clingfilm, plastic straws, zip lock bags, disposable dish cloths.

With the products, you can start to look for alternatives for future purchases that don’t come in packaging. In the meantime, decide whether you’d like to use these products up, or whether you’d prefer to donate them.

When I decided to reduce my plastic use, I used up all the food that I had in plastic packaging because it was ingredients and products I had purchased for eating. It also meant I could slowly replace items and look for alternatives as things ran out, one at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once.

In my bathroom, I had a box full of sachets and free samples I’d collected over the years that I really couldn’t see myself using. I gave these away (I’d recommend Facebook Marketplace, the Buy Nothing project, Freecycle or Freegle to find a new home for these types of things).

With the non-product single-use plastic, the same choice applies – would you prefer to use it up, or give it away?

Deciding to reduce your plastic use and using up what you already have are not contradictory. There’s absolutely no need to feel guilty about continuing to use plastic after you’ve made the decision to use less. You’ll have plenty of future shopping decisions where you can make better choices.

If you feel weird about using plastic now that you’ve decided to give up plastic, there’s no harm in giving things away.

Rather than seeing yourself as an enabler of someone else’s bad plastic habit, think of it as reducing plastic – because if they are going to buy it anyway, better to use up yours than buy a brand new one.

Also, see it as the chance to plant a seed. When you gift the item you can tell them why you’ve made this choice (no need to be judgemental, simply say something like ‘I’ve decided to reduce my plastic use, and I’m choosing to stop using gladwrap now’). It might spark a conversation, and it might not, but explaining your ‘why’ to people can help people join the dots and think about your actions.

What to do with reusable plastic

You’ve probably got various reusable plastic containers, and other household items made out of plastic: hairbrushes, laundry baskets, coat hangers, even furniture.

It is incredibly expensive (not to mention, wasteful!) to ditch all the plastic for non-plastic equivalents. The best option (from a waste standpoint) is to continue using what you have.

But what if you don’t want to continue using what you have?

Firstly, ask yourself why.

Is it because you’ve been reading about the chemical additives in plastic, and you no longer want to store food in it from a health perspective?

Or is it because you think glass storage jars will make for much better Pinterest photos?

It’s your zero waste life and you can do whatever you like to make it work for you. But the fundamental truth is that it is more eco-friendly to use existing resources than buy new ones.

I’m not telling you to keep stuff you won’t use, or telling you that replacing stuff is wrong. But if we don’t want stuff, we can pass it on to others so that they can use it.

And we can try to find our replacements second-hand, to reduce the impact of our ‘new’ stuff.

  • If you no longer want to use something for its original purpose (for example, plastic containers for food storage) ask yourself if you can repurpose within your home. Perhaps they can be used to store non-food items such as laundry powder, or sewing supplies, or stationery.
  • If you don’t have a use for something, find someone who does. Try online classifieds like Gumtree or Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace or other social media platforms.
  • If something is in good condition, you could try donating to the charity shop/second-hand store – but check that this is an item they actually take before you pop it in a collection box.
  • If you’re looking for something to replace it, try those same places you offloaded the stuff you didn’t want: online classifieds, social media platforms and charity shops or second-hand stores. You might not be successful, but it’s important to try.

What to do with broken plastic

One of the major design flaws with this ‘material that lasts forever’ is that it also tends to break. It becomes brittle over time, bits snap off other bits, and eventually it ends up being irreparable.

If you’re truly committed to reducing your waste, the first thing to do is see if the item is fixable. If only a small part is broken, better to try and fix it and keep it in use rather than toss the whole item.

If something isn’t repairable and is most definitely broken, you have a few options.

Can it be reused? You’d be amazed what people can do with broken stuff. From growing mushrooms out of broken laundry baskets, to turning old electrical appliances into lamps, to salvaging parts, your broken items might still have value to someone else.

List your items on the sites mentioned above, being clear about the fact they are broken, and see if anyone is interested. You never know.

Can it be recycled? First, check if your item can go in kerbside recycling (if you have this service).

Next, check all of your other local recycling options.

(Australia) Recycle Near You – a website run by Planet Ark (a not-for-profit environmental organisation), which allows anyone to search for what can and can’t be recycled in their household recycling services, as well as search for drop-off locations to recycle a wide range of items including electronic waste, batteries, printer cartridges, white goods, furniture and more.

(UK) Recycle Now – operated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRP) with information on where and how to recycle in England, with links to sister sites Recycle for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Recycle for Wales.

(USA) Earth911 – one of North America’s most extensive recycling databases, with over 350 materials and 100,0000 listings included.

Can I go zero waste and throw my old plastic away?

The goal of zero waste is to keep things out of landfill, so throwing everything away to go zero waste isn’t zero waste. But the reality is, *some* plastic will probably end up in the bin.

If you’ve exhausted the other options – it’s not reusable or repairable, no-one else is willing to take it off your hands and it’s definitely not recyclable, then there really isn’t much choice but to throw it away.

Waste is a product of our current system, and it’s not something we can completely avoid.

(I mean, you could store it in a jam jar for prosperity so you don’t throw it in the bin, but really, it’s still waste – and hanging on to stuff like this tends to keep us feeling guilty. Let it go.)

Don’t feel bad about having to toss stuff you acquired when you really had no idea about the problems with plastic, and before you had any knowledge about what is and isn’t recycable where you live.

The thing about deciding to go zero waste, or reduce your plastic use, is that it’s a decision made now to guide your actions and choices in the future. But of course we made less-than-ideal choices in the past. Sure we have to deal with these, but it’s not a reason to feel guilty.

As tempting as it might be to toss all our bad decisions away and start with a clean slate, the real challenge of the low waste lifestyle is making the most of resources – by keeping products in circulation and in use.

When it comes to legacy plastic, if we are trying to reduce our waste footprint, we have a responsibility not to add to the landfill problem if it can be avoided. It’s not always easy and we won’t be perfect. But all the things we can continue to use, gift to others if we know we won’t use them, repurpose, repair and eventually recycle, help keep new resources in the ground.

Try your best, and do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Struggling with legacy plastic and wondering what to do with it? Got some great tips for passing on unwanted plastic to people who need and will use it? Any plastic dilemmas or lessons learned you’d like to share? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How I changed my mind about living zero waste and plastic-free (a story in 5 stages)

A friend of mine volunteers at a local food rescue organisation, which collects mostly pre-packaged out-of-date (well, out-of-date as described by the packaging), damaged and excess food, and redistributes to charities around the city.

Not all the food that is rescued is edible, but some of what isn’t edible for humans is still good for chickens. Yesterday, she dropped around some rescued food for my girls.

Like most of what they rescue, it came wrapped in plastic. I gave the contents to my ladies (who gobbled up the beetroot slaw, tolerated the broccoli, picked at the snow peas and snubbed the watercress completely), and rinsed out the packaging ready to take to redcycle for recycling.

Wet single-use plastic packaging has a really yuck feel to it; it was literally making my skin crawl as I washed it out. It got me thinking about how my feelings for and perception of plastic has changed over the years. At one point I’d have thought nothing of a fridge full of this plastic (oh, and I wouldn’t have been washing it out, nor recycling it); now, having just four pieces on the draining board makes me feel uncomfortable.

There was also a time, in the middle, where I’d have refused point blank to even allow this plastic into my house.

So why has my view on plastic and the way I live zero waste changed over the years? For each of the stages, I can pinpoint a reason why I made the choice, and a reason why that changed. After all, trying to live sustainably in never black and white, and there’s a lot of nuance around different issues.

Over time, I’ve changed my mind a few times. Perhaps you’ve come to different conclusions and made different choices. Or perhaps you can relate to some of these stages, too.

Just starting out (the learning and ‘making mistakes’ stage)

I decided to give up plastic in June 2012, after watching the documentary Bag It. Pretty much overnight, I changed my perspective on plastic completely. I went from the person buying all the plastic whilst complaining that ‘somebody should do something about that’ – and thinking I was some kind of sustainability superhero because I had reusable shopping bags – to realising that there was so much more I could do.

Changing your perspective doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, or doing all the things. For me, it meant starting out by working on changing my habits.

My first focus was avoiding single-use plastic and packaging, particularly when food shopping and buying bathroom and cleaning products.

One of the first changes I made was buying a (plastic) KeepCup, and I didn’t see any irony in buying a plastic cup to refuse plastic (although at the time, KeepCup was the only brand on the market and they hadn’t invented a glass version yet).

I did buy a few other things, but I was lucky in those days that there weren’t a lot of products to entice me with clever marketing. Someone making the same choices today could easily spend a small fortune!

(Which is fine if you both have small fortune and will use everything you buy – and often. But it is an expensive way to learn what you do and don’t actually need.)

There were a lot of mistakes, in the early days. Packets with sneaky plastic, forgetfulness, little awareness around greenwashing and so taking claims like ‘eco-friendly’ on products at face value.

But the more I learned, the better at refusing plastic I got.

From ‘plastic-free’ to ‘zero waste’ (the understanding waste stage)

About 6 months in, I visited a recycling facility (or more technically, a materials recovery facility – which sorts materials but doesn’t actually recycle them).

It made me realise that switching out plastic for other materials (paper, cardboard, glass and metal) didn’t make much sense if these things were also used only once too.

So I committed to reduce all single-use packaging, not just plastic.

I also started thinking about all plastic, not just the single-use stuff. I began to choose non-plastic replacements for items, and non-plastic reusables.

Plastic things – even reusables – still tend to break or wear out (compared to their plastic-free alternatives), and the less I used plastic, the less I wanted to use plastic.

I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing by buying plastic reusables. I purchased plastic-free reusables, but then felt conflicted because buying new stuff (even plastic-free stuff) uses resources and creates waste.

The plastic-free zero waste purist (the ‘uncompromising’ stage)

By this time, all of my habits were embedded, and those who knew me knew that I didn’t use plastic and was serious about reducing my waste. More and more solutions were appearing – from more people writing about waste and sharing ideas, to online and social networks allowing people to share stuff, and more bulk stores and companies focusing on waste reduction with their products and services.

Living with no plastic and no waste was getting easier. I was also testing my boundaries, refusing to let plastic through my door and really pushing myself to create as little waste as possible.

This was the time when the media started talking about zero waste, and there was a lot of focus on fitting your annual waste in a jam jar. I did it myself for a year.

This was definitely the least pleasant stage to be in – both for me, and probably those close to me.

So why was it unpleasant?

Well, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and I love working out ways to solve problems and reduce my waste. But the ‘waste-in-a-jam-jar’ year meant focusing on the minutiae in a way that never really felt comfortable with me. It just didn’t feel like the best use of my time or energy.

I felt like a fraud for those things I didn’t put in the jar – like the glass bottle of washing up liquid I smashed on my concrete floor, or a label I tossed in a bin whilst out in a moment of forgetfulness.

I also had a few instances where people I knew told me that I made them feel guilty. Not by necessarily even doing or saying anything (although I’m not always known for my tact) – sometimes just my being there made people feel guilty about their choices. Which was rubbish for all of us.

And there were definitely times here when I was more…robust…with my expectations of others. It wasn’t deliberate – sometimes when you’ve come so far you can forget where you were, and that others are still there.

Honestly, it might have been sustainable for the planet, but it didn’t feel sustainable for me (or those around me).

Everything is interconnected (the ‘joining the dots’ stage)

The more I learned about waste, the more I discovered about the waste that happens before stuff comes through our front doors, and the more I understood waste as something bigger than packaging or plastic.

I let go of chasing the ideal of being perfectly zero waste, and started thinking more broadly about the issues.

Waste is about much more than glass jars or plastic bags.

For example, buying food packaged without plastic that then goes bad in the fridge (because the plastic is what helps keeps it fresh) is just creating a different kind of waste.

Or buying a brand new ethically made and ‘sustainably sourced’ thing from overseas (with brand new materials and a big carbon footprint) creates more waste than making do with the less-shiny thing available in the second-hand store.

It’s a hollow victory when you can cram your annual waste into a jam jar, but the majority of society is carrying on as normal. I became less interested in my personal waste ‘achievement’ and more interested in how to create change in my community.

It seemed – still seems – like a better use of my energy to share what I know and help others make changes than sit back and feel like my job is done.

Not sweating the small stuff (the ‘bigger picture’ stage)

I’ve realised that I care too much about too many different aspects of waste to focus single-mindedly on one issue.

I care about plastic waste, but I also care about food waste.

I care about supporting ethical and sustainable businesses producing responsible products, but I care about keeping resources in use by choosing second-hand, and reducing consumption by making do.

I care about my own personal waste footprint, and I also care about making waste reduction more accessible to others.

I’m keen to reduce the waste that I create, and I’m also interested in reducing waste further up the waste stream.

So now, I try to let the small and inconsequential stuff go in recognition of the bigger picture.

I’ll refuse a plastic bag at the store, but I’ll take a plastic sack filled with spent coffee grounds from a cafe (to put in my compost bin) that might otherwise go to landfill.

I won’t buy plastic-packaged food for myself, but I’ll accept it rescued from the bin (to feed myself or the chickens).

I’ll reuse plastic containers in existence rather than buying a brand new metal (plastic-free) version.

I‘m not saying that these choices are the best or right choices, they are simply what work for me, at this moment. The way I feel about plastic and waste has changed over the years, and I’m sure it will change again in the future.

Navigating waste is often complicated, and there tend to be trade-offs one way or another.

I wanted to share this because I really don’t think there’s one way to tackle waste. It can feel like a minefield because there are so many choices and so much conflicting advice. It’s an imperfect world and whilst it isn’t always possible to know what the best choice is, the important thing is that we try.

My advice is: don’t sweat the small stuff. Just do your best.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you changed your thoughts around plastic and waste as you’ve started making changes? Have your priorities shifted or stayed the same? Do you prefer to focus on one aspect of waste, or try to navigate the different aspects? Have you experienced these stages… or different ones? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

Keeping waste out of landfill: 5 creatives transforming ‘trash’ into useful stuff

As someone who missed out on the ‘crafty’ gene, I’m always fascinated by people with the talent to create things. In particular, I’m in awe of those people with both the vision and the skill to take ‘waste’, and make it into something actually useful and practical.

What’s most impressive to me is when people are able to create things so good that people are willing to buy them. A demand for ‘new’ things made out of old things – the world definitely needs more of that.

I also think it’s very cool that people are able to make a living transforming waste.

There are a few such individuals and small businesses that I follow on social media. Now I’m not a buyer of things, particularly, but I find it very inspiring to watch others create, and make beautiful things from trash.

Here are a few of my favourites.

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

Tideline Art

Nicole is from London, UK, and makes art from the treasures she finds mudlarking, a term used to describe people who search the muddy shores of rivers looking for things of interest or value.

Being a mudlark along the River Thames was an actual job during the 18th/19th centuries, although not a particularly desirable one. Now it’s a hobby for people, who find all kinds of old bits and pieces that were thrown into the river and preserved in the mud.

There are plenty of people who mudlark and create art with their finds, but Nicole is one of my favourites. I just love the idea that Victorian trash now has value, and that others find it beautiful.

Plus, I love that Nicole always tries to find out the origins of the pieces she finds, and shares their stories.

Link to Tideline Art’s Etsy store.

Smartie Lids on the Beach

Michelle is from Cornwall, UK, and makes art from the plastic she finds at the beach. I’ve been following along on social media for a long time, and enjoy the combination of photographs of beach cleanups in action and the random things that wash up, as well as the later transformation into art pieces.

She’s probably best known for her amazing colour wheels, but also creates other fun items out of bits of plastic (her toothbrush fishes are one of my favourites), flower seed heads using nurdles, and other quirky pieces.

Link to Smartie on the Beach’s Etsy store.

Velo Culture

Run by Bev and based in Newcastle, UK, Velo Culture make wallets, belts, toiletries bags and phone cases out of old bicycle inner tubes. Upcycling at its finest.

I particularly love this because inner tubes are one of those unavoidable waste items, but still a really useful and usable material, even once they can no longer be used with bicycles.

Velo Culture have had more than 7,200 sales since launching their Etsy store. That’s a lot of inner tubes (and the occasional bike chain and break cable) repurposed.

Link to Velo Culture’s Etsy Shop.

Wyatt & Jack

Wyatt & Jack are based on the Isle of Wight (UK) and make bags, clothes and purses out of old bouncy castles, broken inflatables and beach toys and damaged deckchairs.

But even better than that, they started Inflatable Amnesty. If you have a broken inflatable or punctured paddling pool that’s beyond repair, you can send it into Wyatt & Jack, who will make it into new bags! They will even cover postage.

And as you might expect from quirky inflatables and brightly-coloured bouncy castles, the products they make are FUN!

I’ve been in love with these guys since forever. The combination of repurposing pretty-tricky-to-reuse items into something so useful – and fun! – well, there’s nothing better.

Link to Wyatt & Jack’s Etsy store.

One Fine Phoenix

This post wouldn’t be complete without including zero waste reusables, and my favourites will always be those using old materials (rather than new) for making their products. There are plenty of stores offering new versions, but finding reusables made from reused is the ultimate in zero waste, in my view.

Siobhan from One Fine Phoenix (based in New South Wales) only stocks products made with second-hand and vintage fabrics. She creates hankies, cleaning cloths, cutlery wraps, unpaper towel, make-up remover pads and the like.

One for those of us who don’t know how to sew. (Also, loving the DIY lemon vinegar props!)

Link to One Fine Phoenix’s Etsy store.

I’m constantly amazed by the things that people create out of ‘waste’ products. This list is hardly comprehensive (and if you have favourites I’d love to hear about them in the comments) but it goes to show that with a creative mind, people really can turn trash into treasure.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have the ‘crafty’ gene? What have you upcycled? Are there any cool projects and businesses you’ve found doing great stuff? Do you have one yourself? Anything else to add? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

My Zero Waste Coffee Routine

Earlier this year, my old coffee machine finally gave up the ghost. It’s a miracle she lasted as long as she did: given to me second-hand, a bottom-of-the-range model that made surprisingly good coffee and survived almost daily use for seven years.

She had a couple of repairs and fixes in her time…

…but finally the pump went, and she was officially declared life-expired.

What remains is a mix of plastic, metal and electronic parts that are hardly a recycler’s dream. The metal will be recycled, but I don’t hold any hope for the plastic parts (which is most of it).

I didn’t want a replacement machine that was going to go the same way as this one. I wanted one with less bells and whistles (or rather, bits that can break and plastic parts), something made to last, much more repairable, and recyclable (if it comes to that).

Sure, I’m familiar with the French Press, and the stove-top espresso maker (also known as the moka pot). But the old machine made a proper espresso. And I wanted the replacement to do so too.

My answer was a lever press espresso machine: these create pressure to make espresso not through electricity and pumps but through manual levers and muscle power!

Many lever press espresso machines do not require electricity (although you need hot water to make hot coffee).

This machine is called the ROK espresso GC, made by ROK. There are a few different versions of lever press espresso machines on the market (and some of the price tags will blow your mind) but this one was the clear winner for me, not because of aesthetics (although she is stunning, for sure) but because of the ethos of the company behind the product.

Lots of companies say they are committed to sustainability but ROK really demonstrate these values with everything they do.

  • The plastic parts are minimal. Nor do they ship in plastic. The main body is made of die-cast aluminium (completely recycable, hurrah);
  • They offer a 10 year warranty on all metal parts, and sell spares of the other parts;
  • ROK was originally called Presso, and the design was slightly different. When they switched to the current design (the GC), they launched a conversion kit meaning all current owners could upgrade their existing model without having to buy a whole new machine;
  • They won ‘Most Sustainable Product’ in the kitchenware category at the 2019 Buy Me Once Excellence Awards, who judge brands on their commitment to sustainability, durability, aftercare and eco-innovation.

When I emailed ROK to talk sustainability, they kindly offered to send me a ROK espresso machine to try, which was very generous and for which I’m immensely grateful. Six months later, the machine I was gifted is still as loved as ever, and I use it every day.

I didn’t just want to talk about machines though – I wanted to talk through my entire coffee routine, from start to finish. From beans to milk and all in-between.

Before anyone even thinks about bringing up the fact that it would be much more sustainable to not drink coffee at all and just sip rainwater, I get it. Yep. You’re right. But I like coffee. And I personally don’t think drinking a cup of coffee in the morning at home is that extravagant, in the scheme of things.

There are worse ways to have a footprint. If I’m going to drink coffee, the least I can do is make it as low impact as possible.

The Coffee Beans

I buy my coffee beans from a local roastery Antz. They source their beans in bulk from ethical co-operatives (such as this one in Colombia), roast the beans themselves and sell to customers without packaging.

They also have a grinder, so I get my beans ground freshly at the cafe.

It ticks a lot of boxes for me: supporting a small local business, supporting Fair Trade and cooperatives, and avoiding unnecessary packaging.

(It’s possible to find Australian grown coffee beans, but they grow on the other side of the country, in Queensland and northern NSW. I’ve never seen these beans in store, only online. And always in plastic.)

The Milk

My old coffee machine had a steam wand to foam milk. The lever espresso machine does not. I add homemade cashew milk to my coffee, and it needs to be warmed first. (Cashew milk has a tendency to sink when added cold, which isn’t a disaster; other plant milks will curdle if not heated before adding to coffee.)

I discovered that such a thing as a stovetop milk steamer exists, and invested in a Bellman stovetop steamer. It’s like a mini pressure cooker: fill with water, screw the lid down tightly and heat. The water builds up steam which is released down the steam wand to make steamed milk.

It’s a pretty nifty gadget, suitable for gas, electric or induction stovetops (or campfires!). Being made of solid stainless steel, it should last forever (there are a couple of silicone rings that no doubt will need replacing, but that’s it).

The Coffee Machine

I’ve already introduced you to the ROK espresso machine, but I thought I’d talk you through how it works.

The ground coffee is placed in the portafilter which locks into the machine. boiling water is poured into the black water tank at the top. Lifting the arms slowly releases the water into the coffee below.

Next, pressing the arms slowly back down to their start position over about 30 seconds, the machine pours an espresso, which I then add steamed milk to.

There’s a bit of an art to it, which is actually the point – however, it can be a bit intimidating at first, especially when we’re used to pressing a button. Fortunately there’s a few YouTube videos out there, and it’s fun to practice and learn.

There’s something very mindful about making coffee this way. I really enjoy the way it makes me slow down, and I like the ‘unplugged’ process. It makes my ”coffee break’ an actual break! It’s also really easy to clean, which is always a win in my book.

Find out more about ROK coffee.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a coffee drinker? What is your morning routine and what are you doing/have you done to make it a little bit more sustainable? (It doesn’t have to be coffee – it can be tea, it can be exercise, it can be a beauty or bathroom routine – whatever it is for you!) Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below :)

5 Mindset Shifts for Zero Waste Living

When I started my journey to zero waste living back in 2012, I didn’t actually know that’s what I was doing. I’d never heard of the term ‘zero waste’ and although Bea Johnson was already writing her blog Zero Waste Home, I hadn’t heard of her, either.

I was simply interested in reducing my rubbish, which had started out as a plastic-free adventure, and expanded when I went to a recycling facility for the first time and saw all how much other single-use packaging (cardboard, cans, tins, etc) was amassed in just a single day, all waiting to be baled and shipped to Asia.

Fast forward seven years, and the zero waste lifestyle is a growing movement that has definitely captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of many. And by many I not only mean those of us who want to reduce our footprint and take responsibility for our waste, but the marketers that have embraced the zero waste movement as a way to sell us more stuff that we probably don’t need.

No wonder then, that critics claim zero waste is expensive. Marketing exists to sell us stuff, and those marketers are hard at work telling us we need to purchase all kinds of things to be zero waste.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve purchased some things which have definitely helped me reduce my waste. Most zero waste advocates have bought something. But buying something (we’ve all done it) isn’t to be confused with embracing a consumer mindset, or turning the zero waste lifestyle into yet another way to consume more than we need.

I buy something if I need it. That in no way means that it’s an essential for anyone else, that everyone else needs it, or that I’m encouraging others to make a purchase.

I think anyone who is trying to reduce their waste and live more sustainably would say the same.

Because zero waste isn’t the path to buying more things. At the start, it’s a bit of a rite-of-passage, the buying of ‘zero waste’ things – whether we truly ‘need’ them or just think we do.

But in time we start to settle into a different mindset. The true zero waste mindset.

I was thinking about how my mindset has shifted since embracing the zero waste lifestyle. Here’s five zero waste mantras that I hold up as true to the ethos of living with less waste. No buying of shiny things included.

Everything is a Resource

Everything is a resource. Whether we’re talking about ‘stuff’, the packaging the stuff came in, the resources used to make it, ship it and get it to our homes, the people who worked to make this happen, the space it now takes up in our homes – every step requires materials, time, energy and land.

It’s no longer enough for me to just look at the product, see a lack of plastic packaging and consider it to be zero waste. I need to look at the whole picture… because waste happens before the item gets to me.

I can’t know all the answers, but I can make best guesses. Where did it come from? How was it made? Who made it? How was it transported? Is it made to last? Is it recyclable? How can I dispose of it, if I no longer need it?

This tends to lead me to holding off purchasing straightaway (waiting helps me feel sure that it’s something I truly need), borrowing if that’s an option, or choosing second-hand.

Value What You Have

Value isn’t just about how much they cost or what they are worth in monetary terms. Value is about seeing how much effort and/or resources went into making those things, and also how much benefit they bring to us (perhaps joy, perhaps because they save time, perhaps because they make life easier).

Zero waste means I respect the things I do buy and the things I own much more than I might have in the past, and I look after my things properly.

For example, knowing that a single pair of jeans takes 7,600 litres (2000 gallons) of water to make doesn’t stop me buying jeans: there is nothing more comfortable, surely, than a good pair of jeans? But it makes me prioritise buying second-hand (or ethical, well-made) jeans, ensures I wear them often and means I won’t go shopping for replacement jeans until my current ones are completely worn out.

Zero waste means embracing scuffs, chips, cracks, worn parts or dents as part of an item’s story rather than seeing them some kind of defect.

Not to mention, it means ensuring that those things I no longer use are not left languishing in my home – they still have value to someone, and to keep them is a waste of resources someone else could be using.

Embrace Making Do

Resisting the temptation to buy stuff can sometimes be a struggle. There’s always something new and shiny out there, stuff that will save us time and make life easier, things that look beautiful. Zero waste is about resisting the urge to accumulate yet more stuff, and make do with what we have.

That goes for second-hand, too! Buying second-hand is great when we need something and can’t make do with what we have. Buying second-hand things that we don’t need (but are oh-such-a-bargain) and rarely use is not very zero waste.

Sure, sometimes we need to buy stuff. But the most zero waste thing is always going to be making do. The more we make do, the more we reduce our footprint.

Fix What is Broken

A big part of making do and reducing waste is fixing anything that breaks, rather than seeing it as an excuse to chuck it in the bin and head to the store to buy another.

Sometimes it is something we can fix ourselves – maybe we just need to buy some glue or a spare part. Sometimes we need to borrow a tool. Other times we might not have the skills or knowledge, but we know someone who does (probably that person we borrowed the tools from).

Occasionally we have to pay someone to fix things. What a great investment! Keeping our stuff out of landfill, reducing demand for new resources, ensuring extremely useful skills stay alive and paying someone for their time and knowledge. So many benefits to be had at once.

I’ve got a pair of boots that I purchased circa 2010. My guess is that at the time they cost around £65 (AU $110). To date, I’ve probably spent twice as much repairing them – definitely upwards of $200 – over the last 9 years. They’ve been into the shoe repair place more times than I can count, and have had soles replaced, heels fixed, bits glued back on, stitches re-sewn, a toe-cap put in, a zipper changed, laces swapped.

It’s been worth it to save resources (no new boots purchased in the last 10 years), save time (no shopping for new boots required), and also keep my favourite and most comfortable pair of boots on my feet.

Celebrate the Old

In the same way that I used to ‘upgrade’ things before they really needed to be replaced and feel excited by the thought of new things, now I’m excited by the thought of making things last as long as possible.

Instead of feeling any kind of embarrassment about how old things are, I feel a sense of pride that I’m still using them and that they’ve lasted.

This bag was purchased around 2005. I use it every time I make a trip to the bulk store. It’s my favourite shopping bag, even though it wasn’t designed (or purchased) for that purpose – I barely knew what a bulk store was when I bought it!

There’s nothing I consider more personally satisfying than responding to ‘oooh that’s nice, is it new?’ with ‘nope, it’s x years old and I got it from the charity shop!’

Old doesn’t mean antiques, either – at least, not in my house. It means stuff I’ve owned for a while. Most of it is monetarily worthless, but it still provides me with heaps of value.

Imagine if, as a society, we shifted from feeling proud of how new things were, to how long we’d made the old things last?

Zero waste is about valuing resources, whether they be new or old. It’s about reducing what we buy, and we do this by rethinking our relationship to our stuff and respecting the things we have and the people who made them. At least, that’s how it happened for me.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about these zero waste mantras? Are there any you’d add? Any you disagree with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How to Make DIY Coconut Milk from Scratch (A Recipe)

DIY coconut milk is one of the things I tried very early on in my plastic-free journey. I started making it in 2013, got tired of making it a few months after that and decided not to bother cooking coconut milk dishes.

Then my local bulk store started selling coconut milk powder, and that was my go-to.

Hence the recipe never made it onto my blog. But I decided I wanted to retry making coconut yoghurt (the recipe for coconut yoghurt did make it onto the blog, although it’s been tweaked since then) without using the tins. My zero waste journey has rather progressed since 2013, after all!

Plus whilst the coconut milk powder is pretty good, it’s not the same as coconut cream. And it is something we can DIY.

The coconut milk we buy in cans is made from the flesh and juice of young coconuts. Most of us don’t have access to young coconuts to make our own, but we can make something almost as good using dried (mature) coconut and water. I prefer to use shredded coconut (I look for the untoasted, unsweetened version). Desiccated coconut will work too.

You’ll need a blender. (Only attempt to use coconut flakes if you have a top-of-the-range blender.)

In Australia, canned coconut milk is coconut and water. Canned coconut cream is just coconut with less water. Literally. Check the back of the cans next time you’re in the store. Coconut cream is 80% coconut, 20% water; coconut milk is 60% coconut, 40% water. If you do buy cans, choose the coconut cream (it’s usually the same price) and add your own water from the tap. No need to import extra water from overseas.

In the UK, coconut milk is around 50% water. Coconut cream in the UK is often really thick – it’s not that high in coconut either (less than 70%), it’s just full of gums and stabilizers to thicken it.

Did I mention those cans are usually lined with plastic, too?

Get yourself some shredded or desiccated coconut, and try making your own.

Ingredients:

  • 300g shredded coconut
  • 1 litre boiling water (and then another litre)

The amounts don’t really matter, more coconut will give you more cream. If you don’t have access to a bulk store and the bagged coconut is 200g, use that – it will be fine.

First Press: Coconut Cream

Boil the water in a kettle, pour over the coconut, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. (If your blender has a glass or metal jug, you can do this step in your blender; if not you may prefer to use a glass bowl or saucepan instead.)

Blend the coconut and hot water until combined.

Strain the mix into a glass jug using cheesecloth or a clean tea towel to separate the pulp. Squeeze the cloth to ensure all the moisture is removed – you will want to allow the mix to cool slightly before you do this (or wear gloves!). Once you’ve strained every drop out of the pulp, pour the coconut milk into a glass jar, screw on the lid, and set aside.

Second Press: Coconut Milk

Now place the coconut pulp back into the blender, and add another litre of boiling water. Leave to sit for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. The second batch will be thinner.

(If you want to squeeze every drop of goodness out of your shredded or desiccated coconut, you can repeat with a third litre of water.)

Place the jars in the fridge.

Once in the fridge, the solids will separate from the liquid. The first jar will have a thick, solid coconut cream layer. The second jar will have a much thinner coconut cream layer. (The third jar, if you did a third press, probably won’t have any coconut cream).

If you’d like to use the coconut cream, you can scoop off using a spoon. Alternatively, if you prefer coconut milk, you can warm the jar and shake to recombine, or empty the entire jar contents into a pan and gently warm the cream with the liquid to recombine when you’re ready to use.

The second batch is great for adding to smoothies instead of water, for cooking grains (quinoa, white rice or millet will absorb the coconut flavour), or adding to soups or dahl. It’s not as rich as coconut milk, but there is definitely some coconut flavour.

Coconut cream and coconut milk keep for up to a week in the fridge, an can be frozen.

You’ll also be left with a bowlful of pulp. This tastes a little like desiccated coconut, but with less flavour (you squeezed that out)! You can freeze this, or dry it out in the oven on a low heat for an hour or so. (Don’t put it in the pantry as is, because it contains moisture and will go mouldy.) Alternatively it will keep in the fridge in a container for a few days.

Add the pulp to porridge, smoothies or even curries to add some flavour and fibre. You can also bake with it: you can sub a small amount of desiccated coconut (up to half) for leftover pulp in baking recipes, or use in veggie burgers/patties. There are plenty of options!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you DIY coconut milk? Do you DIY any other milk, and if so how do you like to use up the leftover pulp? I’ll share my leftover pulp recipes another day, but if you have any great ones you’d like to share, I’d love to hear in the comments! Anything else to add? Let me know in the space below!