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5 Things You Need (No Purchase Required) To Go Zero Waste

I believe that less waste is firmly linked to less stuff. Yes, I do have a bunch of reusables, and yes I use them and find them useful. But the focus of the zero waste conversation doesn’t need to be around “stuff”.

Rather than talk about the things we can buy to reduce our waste, I wanted to talk about the things we can do, and the ways that we can change our thinking.

Because we can have all the zero waste reusables in the world, but without the right attitude and mindset we’re going to end up frustrated, defeated…  and those reusables will end up languishing on a shelf.

Instead of creating another one of those “5 Things You Can Buy” posts, I thought I’d create a “5 Things You Can Be” post for going plastic-free or zero waste.

A little encouragement, with no purchase required.

1. A Can-Do Attitude

If we want to achieve something, we have to believe it is possible. That doesn’t mean we have to think in absolutes. Let’s be realistic about what is possible, for us, and build on that.

Too many people trip up thinking oh, I could never be 100% zero waste, or I could never do all my shopping at the bulk store, it is too expensive. But there’s no rule that says you have to do that. Not being able to do everything is no reason not to do what we can.

If 100% zero waste or plastic-free isn’t for you (and let’s be honest, in today’s economy, with today’s systems, it is impossible to achieve 100%), decide what is for you.

Choose a different percentage, or even better, choose how much you want to improve by compared to where you are now. Maybe you’d like to reduce your bin by half, or maybe you’d like to make one swap every month until Christmas.

If the bulk store is too expensive, commit to doing 10% of your shopping there, or just buying your herbs and spices there.

Too often people assume it has to be all-or-nothing, and if they can’t do it all it doesn’t count and they shouldn’t bother. Wrong. It all counts. Every single action counts.

What you need is a goal that is achievable and realistic for you, one you can feel good about and know is within your grasp. Ideally one that involves no comparison with what anyone else is doing. That will keep you upbeat as you work on making change.

Let’s not forget that there will be slip-ups, mistakes and moments where it all gets a bit too hard. See them for what they are, part of the learning process, and know that despite any backwards steps, you can do this.

2. A Focus on Solutions

There are a lot of things about the world that could be a whole lot better. It can be a little overwhelming to think about it all. So don’t.

We can recognise that there are a huge amount of things that we care about and want to see changed – climate change, peak oil, farming practices, the food system, plastic pollution, over-use of plastic in manufacturing, animal welfare, deforestation – whatever the things that are closest to to your heart.

This is our sphere of concern: the stuff we care about.

From there, we can think about what we are in control of, or can influence. We might not be able to influence the political decisions made by leaders in foreign countries, but we still have influence on others and the world around us.

We can write letters, or join campaigns. We can support local events, or create our own.  We can pick up litter, or choose to boycott unethical companies. We can refuse single-use plastic, and we can buy second-hand.

This is our sphere of influence: the things that we can do.

Try to spend less time worrying about the things that you cannot change, and more time doing the things you can to make the world better.

For specific problems, tackle them one at a time, and find a solution. Ask the internet. Talk to friends or colleagues. Try different things. Someone, somewhere, will probably have a solution to the problem staring you in the face.

And if you really can’t find a solution, put it aside, for now. It is in the sphere of concern, but not our sphere of influence (yet). Move onto the next concern, and look for a solution for that.

3. Some Creativity

If you don’t think you’re creative, don’t panic. You don’t need to be – you just need to find others who are. People are always coming up with great solutions and hacks for different problems, and the internet means they are freely shared.

Saying that, creative doesn’t necessarily mean artistic. I consider myself to be creative in the kitchen – but you won’t find me making cute cupcakes or icing cakes worthy of best-in-show rosettes. No, my creativity is based around my ability to make a meal out of almost anything. I am a dab hand at using up fridge dregs! Not Pinterest-worthy, but tackling food waste gets my creative juices flowing.

Maybe you know how to sew. Maybe your mending skills are extraordinary. Maybe you know how to fix stuff. Maybe you know how to make stuff. Maybe you can find a use for anything. Maybe you’re full of upcycling ideas.

Whatever your creative outlet is, use it in your journey to zero waste. Share it, if you can. And use the creative outlets of others to help you with the things you’re less good at.

4. Healthy Scepticism

I believe it’s useful to question things, particularly claims about eco-friendly credentials that a business or product might have, or those headline-grabbing claims that companies often spout. Read the fine print. Ask questions. Become your own investigator.

There is a lot of greenwashing and misleading information out there. I was someone who used to take these claims at face value. If it said “eco-friendly” on the packaging, that was good enough for me! But of course, claims like this aren’t regulated. We need to do our homework.

Any business can decide its product is eco-friendly and stamp it on the front of the box. Any business can make a media statement promising to ban plastic/single-use items/non-recyclable packaging by several years into the future. But claims and headlines like this are meaningless without explaining how, or offering an an actionable plan to back it up.

When you see a headline or product that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Probe. Look deeper. Ask questions. Most companies with genuine ethical credentials will be able to answer your questions and address your concerns, or will tell you they don’t know and offer to find out. Anyone who ignores your request or is elusive or cagey: remain sceptical.

5. Community Spirit

We’re in this together! We really are. The reason that zero waste and plastic-free living is referred to as a movement is because there are lots of people joining in, all working together towards a common goal. We’re sharing resources and sharing ideas, and learning from one another.

Particularly if you don’t have much support from friends, family and colleagues, finding like-minded people elsewhere is crucial.

Be part of the community. This can be online, via social media (Facebook groups are good resource for creating online community spirit) and blogs. Share your thoughts and insights, and ask questions. Post ideas and success stories. Support those who are struggling, and celebrate those who are doing good things.

Help make our community positive, welcoming and supportive for others.

This can be offline, too. Join a local group or attend a community event (from beach clean-ups to movie screenings to DIY beeswax wrap making, I guarantee there will be something out there). If you’re feeling brave, offer to run an event at your local library – it will be a good way to meet like-minded people.

At the very least, join a Buy Nothing group or local neighbourhood network. Whilst the platforms are online, the members are the people who live where you live. It’s a great way to start to get to know your neighbours better and share stuff.

If you think zero waste is too hard, it will be too hard. But if you think that reducing your trash or limiting your plastic use is within your grasp, you’re already on your way.

Look at the areas in your life where you can make tiny changes and improvements, and find ways that work for you. Whenever you’re stuck, reach out – it’s likely someone will have a creative solution for your problem. And if you come up with an amazing solution yourself – tell everyone who will listen!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a lifestyle and a journey. There’s not some end point that you get to and you’re done. It’s ongoing, and every day brings new challenges. So forget about absolutes or perfection. Just do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree with this list? Any other attributes you think are helpful when trying to go zero waste and plastic-free? Anything you struggle with? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Is there plastic in your teabag?

When I first heard that there was plastic in tea bags, I was shocked. It turns out I wasn’t the only one. The subsequent blog post I wrote about it (back in 2014) is my most popular post to date, having been shared more than 44,000 times. (Yes, 44 thousand. That’s a lot of shocked tea drinkers, right there.)

You can still read the original teabag post here, but I thought it was about time to write an update.

After all, there’s still a lot of misinformation and confusion around which teabags contain plastic, and what the plastic-free options are.

There’s plastic in your teabags

Can it be that every time we made a brew, we are stewing plastic in our cup alongside our tea leaves?

I do so hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes.

If you’re a teabag-using tea drinker, it is more than likely that there’s plastic in your teabags.

Wait! I hear you say. Not all teabags are equal! True. When it comes to teabags, there are different types. Those different types use different types of plastic, and use it in different ways, but the majority still contain plastic.

There’s the regular pressed paper teabags (the ones with the crimped edges) and yes, these contain plastic. The main reason is that these crimped teabags are pressed shut using heat, and the plastic melts to seal them together. Typically the paper in these teabags contain 20 – 30% plastic.

Then there’s the premium ‘silken’ type, which are always made from plastic (not silk, like the name suggests).

The only teabag type that might be plastic-free is the string-and-tag variety: these can be folded shut and secured with a knot or a staple. But many suppliers of these teabags still choose to use paper with plastic fibres for added strength.

(If the teabag was just paper, and you left it to steep too long, the paper might break down and – imagine the catastrophe – there could be a loose tea leaf floating in your cuppa.)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that organic teabags would be plastic-free, but in fact, the majority of those contain plastic too.

Confusing? This graphic should help simplify things a bit:

The main types of teabag – and what they’re made of

Pressed (heat-sealed) teabags

These are the standard square, rectangular or occasionally round teabags that have crimped/pressed edges on all sides, and they always contain plastic. The two separate layers of paper need to stick together to keep the lea leaves in, and paper does not stick to paper by itself. Glue would dissolve in your tea – yuck!

Plastic (usually polypropylene, or less commonly a mix of polyethylene and a polyethylene co-polymer) is woven in between the paper fibres, and melts upon heating to seal the teabag shut. Typically these teabags contain 20-30% polypropylene.

In addition, some companies choose to treat their paper teabags with a chemical called epichlorohydrin to help prevent tears. This chemical is deemed a probable human carcinogen. It is also known to react in water to form another chemical, 3-MCPD, another possible human carcinogen.

Silken teabags

Despite the name, silken teabags are made from plastic, not silk. Usually found in a pyramid shape, the fibres of silken teabags are woven to make them look like fabric.

These teabags are either made from fossil-fuel based plastic (usually nylon or PET – the same plastic that drinks bottles are made from: plastic #1), or plant-based plastic (PLA or poly-lactic acid, usually derived from corn or other plant starch: plastic #7).

When a company says their tea bags are made with cornstarch, they mean plant-based plastic.

Silken teabags are often spruiked as an eco-friendly choice, but teabags made from fossil-fuel based nylon or PET will last forever – clearly not eco-friendly at all. Plant-based plastic teabags are labelled “eco-friendly” as plants are a renewable resource.

Plant-based plastic is sometimes labelled biodegradable, or compostable. However, just because a silken teabag is made of plant-based plastic, that does not automatically mean it is biodegradable. It is more complicated than that.

Biodegradable means broken down by microorganisms over time. There is no stipulation for avoiding toxic residue, nor a requirement that the plastic breaks down into constituent parts, just that it is no longer visible.

Compostable means something different: that the product undergoes biological decomposition at a compost site, and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, leaving no toxic residue.

A product making either claim should quote the standards used in testing to determine this label. Without this, the claim is meaningless. (You can find out more about certification standards here.)

String-and-tag teabags

The filter paper used to produce teabags with a string and tag attached does not need to contain plastic polymer fibres: these teabags close by folding, and are secured by stitching or stapling, rather than by heat sealing.

However, many teabag producers (including organic brands) still choose to use paper with plastic (polypropylene) fibres to add strength to their teabags.

And beware – a few companies crimp their teabags into this shape and attach the string. The crimping is the tell-tale sign that this bag contains plastic. The string is usually stuck on, rather than sewn in.

The string is usually made from cotton. If you do find a plastic-free variety, these teabags are completely compostable.

Teabags made entirely of paper will rip more easily, and will disintegrate if left to stew in a cuppa. If your teabag seems remarkably resilient, the likelihood is that it contains some plastic fibres.

(If you want to see how teabags are made, this short clip from a BBC2 documentary will certainly open your eyes a little!)

Plastic-free tea: What are the solutions?

There are two solutions for truly plastic-free tea.

Option one: look for paper teabags that do not use plastic as reinforcement.

These will be the string-and-tag teabags, but check with the manufacturer as many brands still contain plastic.

Brands that have confirmed that they do not use plastic in their string-and-tag teabags include Tea Tonic, Pukka teas (although their envelopes are plastic) and Clipper (string-and-tag only: their pressed teabags contain plastic).

Bioplastic is still plastic (even if it’s labelled as biodegradable or compostable) so if you really want to choose a plastic-free teabag, steer clear of anything labelled bioplastic, plant-based plastic, or cornstarch.

Option two: choose loose leaf tea

My absolute favourite option is to choose loose leaf tea. The lowest waste option is to buy from the bulk store. If that’s not practical, loose leaf tea can be purchased in tins and cardboard boxes that are fully recyclable.

Loose leaf tea is not as expensive as it appears. Loose leaf tea is often priced per kilo, whereas teabags are priced per bag, which makes it hard to compare.

Actually, it only takes a couple of grams of loose leaf tea to make a cuppa.

The other great thing for cheapskates like me (or rather, people who prefer weak tea) is that it’s much easier to brew a second cup reusing loose leaves than it is with a teabag.

If teapot-washing isn’t your thing, tea steepers are a great way to make a single cup without the hassle of extra washing up.

If you aren’t ready to give up the teabags, there are refillable cotton bags out there, too.

Finally, if you’re a herbal tea drinker, ditch the dried stuff altogether and use fresh leaves. Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and there’s nothing like a cup of fresh mint tea.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you know that most teabags contain plastic? If you did know, have you made the switch? Have you found a brand of plastic-free tea? Have you given up the teabags and embraced the loose leaf? Have you found a different solution? Please share in the comments below!

Why “Guilt” Has No Place in the Zero Waste Lifestyle

Why do I love the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle? Well, there are lots of reasons, but a big one is this: knowing that every single day I can make a difference and have a positive impact. Every single day I have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it.

We all do.

This is something we can all be excited about, and embrace.

There are so many things in the world that are out of our control. Decisions we have little or no influence over. Policies or actions we cannot change. Despite this, we do have the ability to look at our own personal choices.

We all have some influence, even if it is at the household level. We have control of our own personal actions, and we can do the best we can.

We can choose carefully, considerately, and deliberately. We can do our best.

And that is something to feel really good about.

Which means that embracing the plastic-free and/or zero waste lifestyle should be something we feel good about.

Yet all too often, those good vibes are mixed in with something else.

Guilt.

How is it that doing something good can make us feel guilty?

Because it shouldn’t. Yet it does.

For me, I think guilt comes from falling short of “perfect”.

We can strive for improvement. We can aim for better. Indeed, setting goals and working towards improving has plenty of positives.

But it can also be exhausting. We all have our limits.

Most of us will hit these limits long before we reach “perfect”. If perfect even exists.

There’s a gap between wanting to be perfect, and coming up short. This is where guilt sets in.

When it comes to living plastic-free and zero waste, guilt isn’t helpful. We want to feel good about the actions we take and choices we make. Feeling good is the best way to keep going.

Feeling guilty can be paralyzing; like it’s all too hard. Guilt can lead us to think it’s-not-good-enough-so-why-bother-anyway.

That’s not what we want at all! Something is better than nothing. Trying is better than not trying. However imperfect it may be, bothering is most definitely better than not!

Guilt is a topic I keep coming back to. I’ve talked about how being perfect is an illusion. I’ve talked about how it is important to share all the bits of zero waste living, not just the best (photogenic) bits.

There’s another aspect of guilt that I think we need to talk about. How we support one another in our imperfect choices, and the things we say. We have the power to encourage, and we have the power to deflate.

What we say, and how we say it.

It’s so easy, when we’re excited or passionate about a topic, to trip up on this. However well-meaning our intentions are. For example, someone tells us about their newly purchased reusable. And we point out that there’s a better or more ethical version. Or we tell them that it’s easy to find that same item second-hand.

We’re excited to share our knowledge. We’re excited to encourage the next steps.

But it can leave the person feeling judged and inadequate. It can make the person feel unsupported. It implies that they fell short… and that can mean guilt.

It’s not the intention, but it can be the outcome.

I had this experience recently when I threw away my old bag. I received a couple of comments, obviously well intentioned: Couldn’t I have coated the bag in wax? Couldn’t I paint it? Couldn’t I cover it with new fabric?

By this point, the bag was already in landfill. I immediately felt guilty. Guilty for not trying harder to salvage the bag.

And then I thought… no. I try really hard to reduce my waste. I rarely send anything to landfill. (This bag is the most I’ve sent to landfill in years.) I share my tips and insights, and encourage others to reduce their own waste. I do a lot already. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I never said I was perfect.

No, I should not feel guilty for not learning to sew, or researching fabric paint (that comes plastic- and packaging free).

No, I should not feel guilty for discarding one old, worn out thing; and buying one new thing in its place.

No, I should not feel guilty for not being perfect, or not putting up with something that has really served its purpose.

The point is, I did the best I could.

Don’t we all do the best we can?

In which case, shouldn’t we be cheering one another on?

Any change in the right direction is a positive, however small and imperfect it might be. When others make changes, it shouldn’t matter if it’s not the change that we would make. Let’s celebrate their achievements. There’s no need to point out the “better” choices.

There are so many people in the world oblivious to the impact of plastic on the environment, unaware of the resources wasted with single-use items, too wrapped up in the culture of convenience to realise how much it’s harming the planet. Let’s not rebuke those taking steps to do something better.

Judgement and guilt-tripping is not going to inspire anyone to keep trying. Encouragement and inclusiveness, that’s much more motivating.

Let’s be kind. We’re all in this together. We must celebrate the wins. Applaud the steps in the right direction. Cheer on any decision that’s an improvement on the previous one.

In my view, the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles are all about encouraging others to make better choices. And any step in the right direction is better than no steps at all.

Let’s not berate others for how far they’ve got to go. Let’s celebrate how far they’ve come.

Spilling the Truth About the “Perfect” Zero Waste Image

I’ll admit it. I do like a stylish, carefully curated zero waste image. I’m prone to double-tapping “like” when a snap of a beautiful pantry with whole foods stacked neatly in glass jars appears on my social media feed.

I think that pictures of products made of stainless steel and glass are much more visually appealing than the equivalents in plastic.

But I also know that for me, zero waste doesn’t really look like that most of the time.

Sure, I can take a cute snap of my pantry essentials once I’ve hauled them home from the Source Bulk Foods (which is my local bulk store, and lets me bring and fill my own jars – and jars can look lovely in a photograph)…

…But then they get shoved in my pantry, which is not some kind of oasis for groceries, but a ramshackle assortment of mis-matched jars with mis-matched lids.

The kind that won’t be gracing the front cover of magazines anywhere, ever.

The reality is, zero waste is a lot more jumbled and mis-matched and imperfect in real life. At least, it is for me.

That may seem obvious. But a scroll through any social media feed suggests that zero waste is all perfectly matched jars, beautiful white homes and stylish accessories.

This begins to set unrealistic expectations.

It plants the idea that we need different things – better things – in order to fit with the zero waste lifestyle.

Zero waste is a lifestyle choice. But that lifestyle, in my mind, is one of consuming less and making do with what we already have.

It’s easy to see how the curated images of social media could give a different impression – one that implies a need to purchase new things if they fit with the zero waste ideal.

But zero waste is not about consuming more.

The most important thing with living zero waste is the intention. The intention to reduce our footprint, reduce our waste, and make the best choice we can with the time, resources and options available to us.

Image is secondary to this.

Of course, we all share the best images we have. Good images help – they help attract attention, raise awareness, start a conversation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing the best, so long as we don’t only share the perfect bits. There are lots of imperfect bits to share, too.

Without sharing those, we are doing the zero waste movement a bit of a disservice.

Perfection is intimidating. No-one should feel that this lifestyle is unattainable because they don’t own the “right” things.

As someone who could never describe themselves as effortlessly stylish (or, let’s face it, even stylish when I do put in the effort), zero waste does not look perfect in my house.

Yet I’m definitely guilty of curating my images to share more of the perfect bits, and omit more of the less perfect bits.

Crazy really, when I believe that intention comes before image.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some snaps from my zero waste life that fit firmly in this category. The embarrassing, cringe-worthy, no-way-near-perfect images that are the reality of what zero waste living looks like for me.

Intention over Image: What Zero Waste Really Looks Like for Me

The Zero Waste Pantry

I’ve already shared a couple of pictures of my groceries and pantry above, but groceries in glass jars are such an iconic image of the zero waste movement, I thought I’d share a couple more of my less-than-perfect moments, just to get my point across.

Sharing pictures of my grocery shopping in glass jars on social media is one of my guilty pleasures. I like the way groceries look in glass, and I also think it’s useful to share the kinds of foods that it’s possible to buy in bulk.

Whilst my groceries tend to look pretty stylish when laid flat, viewing from the top down reveals the truth about the containers I use: upcycled jars with mis-matched lids retrieved from the recycling bin over the years.

In fact, if I empty the entire contents of my pantry, it’s the same thing on a bigger scale.

For me, the intention is to reuse what I can. I’m happy with upcycled mismatched jars. Whilst I love the look of Weck and Le Parfait jars, I can’t justify buying new (and as they are German and French brands, they don’t often turn up second-hand in Australia).

My pantry might not look the most aesthetically pleasing, but it works for me.

Zero Waste Cleaning

My washing-up set-up looks pretty much like this: a wooden dishbrush with replaceable head, a natural pot brush, and dishwashing liquid purchased from the bulk store.

Oh, but there’s also my 2012 dish brush, which doesn’t often turn up in photos due to the fact it’s plastic, bright green, and really doesn’t suit the zero waste aesthetic.

In the spirit of zero waste, I said that I’d keep it and use it until it wears out, and then obviously not replace it. Well, it’s now 2018, and that damn brush is still going strong! Which, really is a good thing, considering how quickly plastic dish brushes degrade.

It might not look good in the photos, but the intention is to use things until they wear out, and choose better next time, and that brush continues to serve its purpose.

Zero Waste Bathroom

I make my bathroom products from scratch, with ingredients that I buy packaging-free, and I use repurposed containers. Ticking all the zero waste boxes there!

However, there’s plenty of other things in my bathroom that don’t fit the zero waste aesthetic at all.

When I first went plastic-free I used a bamboo toothbrush, and I hated it. The bristles would fall out in my mouth and then get washed down the sink (hello, microplastic). After more than a year of that, I had enough and purchased a toothbrush with replaceable heads.

Since then (we’re talking back in 2012), the number of bamboo toothbrush brands has exploded, and many of my readers have suggested bamboo alternatives that don’t lose bristles. The thing is, now I have this brush, the most zero waste thing is to keep using it. Plus it works, which is what I want from a toothbrush.

Yes, it’s ugly (and definitely not the zero waste aesthetic). But that’s how it sometimes is.

The intention is to create as little waste as possible whilst still feeling comfortable with the choice I’ve made. Bamboo toothbrushes just didn’t do it for me.

Whilst we are on the subject of ugly plastic, I still have my plastic razor from circa 2009. When I went plastic-free, I had the razor and a number of blades, and I declared that I would continue to use it until the heads wore out, and then I would replace it.

This picture is from 2014, when I still had three blades left.

I’ve been down to the last one for a while, and eventually it will wear out. But a good rinse, drying properly and polishing the blades with a piece of denim cloth has seen it last a lot longer than I expected.

Of course, a stainless steel razor would look much better in my bathroom, and in any pics I share. But actually, what I need is a razor that works, which is what I have. Right now the only reason to swap the ugly plastic one for a shiny stainless steel one is the aesthetic.

Which from a zero waste perspective, isn’t the intention. Replacing functional items solely for better looking ones makes no sense.

The point I want to make is this: zero waste isn’t picture perfect.

Don’t get disheartened by “perfect” images. We all share the best moments, but that is rarely the whole story. Behind every perfect image is plenty of imperfection. That’s just how life is.

Don’t be tempted to buy new stuff to “fit in”. If you want to fit into the zero waste lifestyle, use what you have, and make do.

Zero waste is about intention. It isn’t about buying the right things. It is about caring about the right things.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think is missing from the curated zero waste images shared in social media? Are you guilty of sharing the better bits and excluding the less good bits? Do you ever feel embarrassed about the appearance of your zero waste attempts? Are you happy to share things exactly as they are, whatever they look like? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Before You Leave Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Once You Arrive

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

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

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

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

Shopping at Bulk Stores – Other Things to Consider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Habits: 8 Micro Actions to Reduce Rubbish in 2021

A brand new year is about to roll around the corner, and for many of us that means thinking about our dreams, aspirations and plans of what we’d like to see, do and accomplish over the next twelve months. Whilst I don’t set New Years Resolutions, I do like to use this time between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year that was and think about the year that’s ahead.

Before I get any further, let me reassure you: this isn’t going to be one of those posts about “achieving everything you ever wanted in 2021” or “having your best year ever”.

Really, all the big things that we want to achieve and accomplish are the result of taking lots of micro actions. So rather than focus on the big picture, the goal at the end, I’m going to focus on the small things – the journey itself – and encourage you to consider doing so too.

In my experience, it’s a better journey.

For example, if we’d like to reduce our rubbish or plastic-waste in 2018, declaring that we’ll “be zero waste” is a huge step. It sets a high (and possibly unrealistic) expectation of ourselves, adds unnecessary pressure and can feel overwhelming before it’s even begun.

That’s not a recipe for a fun ride.

Rather than make grandiose goals, try thinking about the small steps that need to be taken. Break it down into things that you can start on straightaway. You will start making progress, and that will give you the confidence to take the next step when you’re ready.

It’s not meant to happen overnight. It’s a process, and a journey, and there’s so much to learn along the way. Why would you want to rush?

Here’s some ideas to get you started.

8 Micro Actions You Can Take to Reduce Rubbish in 2021

1. Make 1 Food Item from Scratch

You do not need to be a great baker or masterchef to go zero waste. Being able to make things from scratch is a useful skill, but it has nothing to do with being good at cooking. if you can stir stuff, or use a rolling pin, or chop, chances are you can make something from scratch.

Think about the things you use, and the packaging that you end up with, and find out if you can make any of those things rather than buy them ready-made.

Some things will be far too complicated, take too much time and you won’t think it is worth it.

But other things are very simple, and you might start to wonder why you ever purchased them in the first place.

Simple things to start with (that take no skills and very little time) include pesto, hummus, apple cider vinegar and yoghurt. You could consider getting a (second-hand) breadmaker. Cookies are much easier (and quicker) to make than cakes, and ridiculously tasty.

Just try it.

2. DIY Just 1 Bathroom Product

Food packaging and bathroom products account for the majority of our weekly household rubbish and recycling. By swapping one purchased product for a DIY alternative, you will save a huge amount of packaging over a lifetime.

It isn’t about making DIY alternatives to everything. I buy (rather than make) bar soap, laundry powder and dishwashing liquid. I have good local options (I buy my laundry powder and dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods, my local bulk store) and I don’t have the time or inclination to make everything.

I do make my own toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser and sunscreen. I tried making mascara once and it was a disaster, so I decided not to bother again, but there are plenty of recipes for DIY makeup if its something you wear.

3. Support Bulk Stores

Bulk stores are a great way to shop packaging free, and many bulk stores are dedicated to reducing waste upstream too. This means that as well as reducing the waste for their customers, they are working with suppliers to reduce the waste generated before the stock arrives at the hands of the customers.

Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Not everyone can afford to shop at bulk stores. But there’s still steps that we can take. Choosing to make a trip to a bulk store out-of-town every month, or every two months, is one option. Choosing a small number of staples to buy at the bulk store, even if the rest of the groceries needs to be purchased elsewhere and in packaging due to budget or practical constraints.

Everything that we do makes a difference. If an entire bulk shop isn’t going to work for you, don’t write them off entirely. It’s not all or nothing. Even making the commitment to buy a couple of things occasionally will help: it will help you reduce your waste, and help support bulk stores so they can thrive into the future.

4. Choose (and Use) Reusables

Most of us own reusables, but it takes practice to remember them, and remember to use them. Commit to using reusable shopping bags, or a reusable coffee cup, or not forgetting your reusable water bottle.

If using reusables is something that’s new to you, don’t expect perfection all at once. Choose one thing to get into the habit of remembering, and work up from there.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, then think about investing in some reusable produce bags, or taking your Tupperware or Pyrex next time you go to the bakery or deli counter. If a reusable straw is something that will help you reduce waste, invest in one.

Beeswax wraps or sandwich wraps can help reduce clingwrap (more on alternatives for food wrap can be found here).

Glass jars are a very good alternative for all sorts of things.

Just choose one thing to start with.

5. Buy Local and Support Independent Stores

The more local we can buy things, the better: less fuel, less packaging, and keeping money in the local economy. Whether it is food items (locally grown vegetables and fruit), or supporting a local greengrocer; whether it is using an independent bricks-and-mortar store; whether it is supporting local artisans, there are plenty of ways to support local businesses.

Most of us would agree that we don’t want to support sweatshops and unethical businesses, yet when it comes to shopping, it can be tempting to search out the lowest price, and forget about the bigger picture.

That’s not to say we can all afford organic hand-stitched everything. It’s a balance.

Buying everything local and from independent stores might seem too much of a stretch. In which case, consider making a smaller commitment.

What about doing the big shop at the supermarket, but the top-up shop from the independent grocer? Using the Farmers Market for two months in summer? Buying jeans from the department store, but jumpers from the local mill? Buying books from the bricks-and-mortar bookshop rather than the online giants?

Commit to one change, and start there.

6. Tell Businesses When They Do Something Good

It’s oh-so easy to tell businesses when they are doing something wrong, but we often forget to congratulate the ones that do the right thing. Particularly when the right thing isn’t the easiest thing, or the thing that makes the most economical business sense.

When businesses put their values before profit, or the environment before convenience, we should let them know that we noticed, and that we thank them for their efforts.

This isn’t something that I do often, but it’s something that I want to do more of in the coming year. I see so many businesses doing great things, but do I tell them? Not as often as I should.

If you see something good – and it can be as simple as a cafe using jars of sugar on the tables rather than individual sachets, or as committed as refusing single-use disposable packaging – tell the business that you noticed, and you like what they do.

Let’s celebrate the good guys.

7. Think About Who (or What) You Can Influence

Power and influence isn’t just about being a politician or having a huge social media following. Most of us have the ability to influence others, whether it’s in our workplaces, social clubs, friendship circles, local groups, the council, or our favourite cafe.

I often think that the person who does the stationery order for a business is in quite a position of power, when it comes to reducing waste. Or the person that runs the community garden cake sale. Or the person who chooses the venue for book club.

These things all matter.

Making good choices around these things is about helping others to make better choices too. Starting conversations and opening eyes to new ways of doing things.

Some things can’t be changed, and some people won’t be changed. Family can be the toughest. (You can find tips for dealing with friends and family here.) Rather than trying to fight a battle with those that are reluctant to change, see if there’s somewhere else in your life where you could have a positive impact, and focus on that.

8. Join In.

Community is important. It’s a way to share ideas, support others and be supported, meet like-minded people and enrich our lives. The plastic-free and zero waste communities are two examples of people coming together to support a common cause.

It’s a great feeling to know that others care about the same things as we do.

How you choose to get involved is up to you, but there are plenty of options.

On one hand, reading blogs and commenting is a great first step, as are joining Facebook groups and other online networks. If you can’t find an online group that works for you, or would prefer to connect with local people so you have the opportunity to meet in real life, consider starting your own Facebook group.

Getting out and about and meeting people in real life is even better. If you’re not sure where to start, you could try Transition Towns, local litter clean-up groups (Sea Shepherd and Responsible Runners are good places to look), Boomerang Bags groups, or a community garden.

Here’s some more ideas for how to join in, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, and no matter how much free time you have.

There are plenty of things that we can do to make a difference. Things that are good for the planet, and make us feel good too. Rather than reaching for fantastical goals like “having the best year ever”, my approach this year is to look at the small things I can do to make things slightly better.

Not the best, but better.

It’s all a journey, so let’s be kind to ourselves and have some fun along the way.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What small goals are you planning to work on in the coming months? Is there one thing you really want to work towards, or a number of things you want to tweak? Are you taking the slow approach? What was your approach last year, did it work for you, and how is that influencing your choices this year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Zero Waste Travel: Tips for a Zero Waste Road Trip

Having a zero waste and plastic-free routine at home is one thing, but making it work whilst on holidays (and away from home) is quite another. There’s dealing with new places and situations; having limited options to buy anything in bulk or recycle; and being without many of the tools that make zero waste living possible at home – and they all create challenges for keeping waste down.

Having been on plenty of road trips and holidays since I started my zero waste journey (goodness, don’t I sound well travelled?! It’s more that I’ve been living this way for 5 years rather than that I go on holidays all the time!) I’ve learned plenty of tricks along the way to help reduce my waste.

If you’re planning a road trip or holiday/vacation and you want to keep the waste down (which of course you do!), this one is for you.

Reducing Waste on Holiday: Before You Leave

As with anything and everything zero waste, planning is important. Waste tends to happen when things are unplanned, and convenience suddenly steps in. That doesn’t mean spreadsheets or anything complex. Just thinking about where you’re going, what you’ll be doing and likely scenarios, and google the options.

Check Out What Facilities Exist Where You’re Heading.

There are three types of facilities I check out before we go somewhere:

1. Shops, cafes, restaurants.

Knowing what kinds of shops exist and the kinds of food they sell is a good place to start. (For example, is there a supermarket, a service station, a bulk store, a Farmers Market?)

Considering what cafes and restaurants exist and the kinds of foods they sell is also useful (especially if you are vegan/vegetarian, gluten-free or have other dietary requirements). Opening hours are worth looking into too.

Looking at the reviews on Tripadvisor is helpful as a starting point, and we’ve used the website Happy Cow several times to find out vegetarian and vegan options in unknown places. If your friends or family that have been to the destination before, ask them to share their experiences.

2. Recycling Facilities.

In WA, not much is recycled north of Perth. Many of the places we stayed on this trip only recycle aluminium cans. My husband and dad both enjoy a beer, so whilst we were away they opted for beer in cans which we could recycle along the way, rather than glass bottles, which aren’t recycled.

(Whilst we always take home anything that cannot be recycled, glass is not truly recycled in Perth but crushed into road base, so choosing cans is a better option. There was a small amount of glass too, and that came home with us.)

3. Composting Options.

It is my dream that one day everyone with a composting bin will register their bin on the ShareWaste website. It’s a free service which connects home composters with people with excess food scraps.

I always check this service before I travel. I also search for community gardens in the ares that might have compost bins.

Sadly, rural WA is very lacking in bins on the map yet, so I knew that whatever food waste we took with us we would have to bury, or bring home.

Go Food Shopping Before You Leave

Depending on how much you intend to eat out whilst away, and the access you will have to refrigeration and cooking facilities, you might not want to take heaps of groceries with you, but it’s worth considering the basics: tea, coffee and snacks ;)

There are no bulk stores in WA further north than Perth, so we did a big bulk shop at The Source Bulk Foods (I’ve never bought so many nuts!) and bought fruit and vegetables from the local fruit and veg store to last us the first few days.

I made a big Ottolenghi-inspired salad to take with us, and also a big batch of sugar-free muesli. As well as fresh produce, I also took big jars of rice, quinoa and lentils so I could make meals at home.

Pack Reusables and Other Tools

Packing a water bottle, reusable cutlery set and reusable coffee cup goes without saying – these things practically live in my handbag anyway.

I also take a number of cloth produce bags, and either Pyrex containers, my stainless steel tiffin, or both. I have a set of round Pyrex containers that fit one inside the other so don’t take up too much space.

We take an esky with us to keep things cool in between destinations.

As well as the more obvious reusables, there are a few things I always pack for road trips. I always take a sharp knife (it makes all the difference when you’re trying to cook from scratch), our salt and pepper grinder and our coffee press. This time I took a tea strainer also.

This one might be a bit out there, but I also take our food processor with us.

I once met a lady who took her food processor with her when she went overseas. I’m not that extreme, but it is the most useful tool in my kitchen, it doesn’t take up much space, and it does so many things that now I always pack it. It’s great for making nut milk along the way, but we often use it for many other things (it has a heating function).

Dealing With Compost

If you don’t want to throw food scraps into landfill (and I definitely don’t), there are a few options: finding a composting facility locally, burying food scraps along the way, or taking them home with you.

Burying food scraps isn’t ideal, because it means using a rental home back yard without their knowledge, other private land without the owners’ knowledge, or public land. There’s the chance it could attract pests, or be dug up by dogs. A few veggie scraps from one person is one thing, but if everyone started doing this, it could be a big problem.

As I can’t bring myself to throw food scraps away, and we were away for two weeks, I did bury some of my waste.

I store food scraps in the freezer (in a Pyrex container) until I’m ready to bury it. I also blended some of it in the food processor to break it into smaller pieces, to help it compost more quickly. I tend to dig a few holes rather than one big one, as deep as I can, and ensure the waste is well covered with soil.

I do feel a little guilty, but I figure it is the lesser of two evils.

Once we hit the half way mark of the trip, I decided that we’d take what we created back to Perth with us. There was more room in the esky for food scraps, which were kept frozen.

Avoiding Single Use and Travel Items

Because we bring our own tea and coffee making facilities, we never use the single-serve tea and coffee. If any other single-use items are provided, like biscuits or breakfast cereal or UHT carton milk, we leave it in situ.

We always bring all of our own toiletries too, to avoid using individually wrapped soap or mini bottles of shower gel. There was a time when I’d clear out the place we were staying of anything miniature, but those days are long gone. They stay where they are.

I’ve also learned to bring our own dishwashing liquid, dish brush and cleaning cloth with us. The cloths provided are always plastic, and will be thrown away as soon as we leave, even if it’s one night. Should we need to use them, we take them with us so we ensure they are used until they wear out.

Our holiday packing isn’t the most minimal, but because we never take much clothing or footwear, there is always room to include reusables. I know I’ll have a much more relaxing holiday if I’m not creating waste. Funny that these days my priority is packing Pyrex rather than extra pairs of shoes!

Remembering reusables is something that just takes practice. The hardest thing is dealing with food scraps. If you have a compost bin at home, please consider registering it on the ShareWaste site. It’s free to use, and even if you don’t think you live in a touristy area, you never know who might be passing through.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can go on a road trip and there’s more compost bins to stop at along the way than service stations ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips for zero waste road trips do you have? What challenges have you faced whilst you’ve been away from home or on the road? Which tips can you see yourself adopting – or not?! Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

7 Tips for Choosing Ethical Zero Waste Essentials

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

That makes me a little nervous.

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

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

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

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

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

Choice adds another layer of complexity.

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

1. ‘Needs’ versus ‘wants’

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

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

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

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

It’s a balance.

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

2. Before you go shopping…

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

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

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

3. Read the labels. And I mean *really* read the labels.

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

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

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

Ask questions. Dig deeper. Suspect everything ;)

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

4. A gap in the market or a slice of the pie?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Be wary of Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding campaigns)

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

But there are many more that are not.

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

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

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

6. Choose your stores wisely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. It’s not about perfection…

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

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

Ticking some is better than none.

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

Let’s aim for progress, not perfection.

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

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

6 Plastic-Free Alternatives for Shampoo and Conditioner

Last week I wrote about hair washing with bicarb and vinegar, and I promised all the non-believers that I’d follow up with a post about other alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Here it is: more ideas to wash your hair without plastic.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

I know this might be a bit of a bold one to start with, but I want to say that it’s worth considering! No, it doesn’t work on everybody’s hair, but it’s honestly worth a try. You won’t smell like fish and chips, promise.

I tend to use rye flour rather than bicarb because the pH is closer to the skin’s pH, and it makes my hair softer, but the principle is the same for both. Here’s the instructions.

Moving on…

2. Shampoo and conditioner from bulk stores.

Not all bulk stores have a non-food section, but many do. Bulk stores with a focus on waste reduction (such as my local store The Source Bulk Foods) usually stock these products, and you can buy bulk shampoo, conditioner and other products in your own containers.

Health stores often stock bulk personal care products too, so if you don’t have a bulk store locally, check out any health stores close by.

3. Bar shampoo and conditioner.

Many people who are trying to reduce their plastic use make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging. In recent years the number of options have exploded, which means you can find one that will suit your hair type and budget.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

You can order direct from their website, but if you’re looking for deals or offers you’re better off trying Biome, Flora & Fauna or Nourished Life, who all stock a good range and often have deals.

If you’re in the UK, &Keep is a great online store with an excellent range of plastic-free products and they stock a really good selection of solid shampoo and conditioners.

Lush Cosmetics is another option if you prefer to shop on the high street, with stores across the world (including Australia, USA and UK).

There’s also heaps of micro businesses at local markets (I’ve seen several here in Perth) and online via Etsy. Whilst I can’t recommend anything in particular (I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar, remember?!), I do love supporting local and independent businesses, and it’s great to find someone in your neighbourhood making products.

4. Shampoo and conditioner in refillable bottles.

I don’t recommend purchasing shampoo and conditioner in glass (or other non-plastic containers) as a zero waste option unless they are going to be refilled. Recycling is such an energy intensive process, and there are so many other alternatives, that I truly see it as a last resort.

Rather than recycling the bottles, some companies will allow you to return your bottles for cleaning and refilling. This means you buy a product from them, and can return your empty when purchasing a new one. You don’t actually refill the container yourself, the company takes it away, cleans it, and refills on the production line.

Whilst these companies are not easy to find, they do exist. Plaine Products in the US is an excellent example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I think this is something we will begin to will see more and more of.

(This isn’t to be confused with companies collecting containers back for recycling – such as Lush’s black pot recycling scheme. Recycling takes far more energy than simply washing and reusing.)

If you buy from someone who makes their own, ask if they can refill your containers. Before switching to bicarb and vinegar I purchased shampoo from a small business called Earth Products in refillable, returnable bottles that I provided. The owner didn’t sell refills as such, but was happy to refill my bottles when she made a new batch. I simply had to drop my bottles off in advance.

5. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are often touted as a a laundry detergent alternative, but recently I met a lady on a course I was running who washed her hair with soap nuts. Soap nut shampoo? I was intrigued.

Soap nuts are dried brown wooden berries, slightly sticky, that have a saponin content. I’m always keen to try new things, so I gave them a go. I followed Monique’s instructions:

Place 9-10 soap nuts in a jug and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Allow to sit overnight. Remove the soapnuts from the liquid (they can be reused several times) and store the liquid in the fridge until ready to use.

I filled 1/4 measuring cup with the liquid and used in place of shampoo. It doesn’t foam like shampoo. I finished with vinegar rinse like usual. My hair felt soft and clean. I’m at day 3 now, and my hair could do with another wash, so it doesn’t last as long as bicarb vinegar, but definitely works better than plain water (for me).

6. Shampoo and conditioner in glass.

As I mentioned above, from a zero waste perspective I recommend the other alternatives over choosing glass unless it’s going to be refilled. Of all the options, it’s the more wasteful one. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated with transporting glass, not to mention that shampoo is 70-80% water. Then the glass has to be collected and recycled.

However, we’re not talking about zero waste, we are talking about plastic-free. I definitely purchased non-refillable products in glass at the beginning of my plastic-free journey, and sometimes these choices are important stepping stones to better ones down the track. If you’re not ready for bicarb or bar shampoo and don’t have access to bulk stores, this might be a good step.

If you do decide to look for products packaged in glass, try to find products made locally first. They will have a lower footprint. Try crafts markets and farmers markets, or investigate health stores to see if they stock locally made products.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an eco friendly solution for washing your hair? Any other method you’d recommend? Any experiences with any of these that you’d like to share? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

(Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click 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 businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in wholeheartedly.)

How to Buy Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese without Plastic

When it comes to dietary staples, some things are very easy to find without plastic or single-use packaging, and others, not so much. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Easy. Fresh bread? Ditto. Milk, cheese and yoghurt? Not so much.

One of the most common questions I receive during Plastic Free July is “where do I find milk (or cheese, or yoghurt) without plastic?” I faced this struggle at the beginning of my own plastic-free journey back in 2012.

(Today I choose a plant-based diet, as do many zero wasters. That, however, is a conversation for another day. Not everybody is ready – or interested – to cut out dairy products from their diet, and I respect that. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone otherwise. The question is – can these products be sourced without plastic? And the answer is yes.)

If you’re looking to find milk, cheese or yoghurt without plastic, here are my solutions.

Buying Milk Without Plastic

You’re unlikely to find milk in bulk or milk in glass at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t available in your area.

The first places to look would be independent grocery stores, farm shops and health food shops. If you don’t see anything, ask the question – they may not stock any themselves but they may know where does stock it. Alternatively, they may know which brands are plastic-free – and if you know who makes it, it will be far easier to track it down.

In Perth, there are four different brands which sell milk in glass: Sunnydale, Grumpy Farmer, Over the Moon Organics and Bannister Downs. They can be found at IGA stores and independent grocers like the Boatshed and Farmer Jacks. No one store sells all four brands, so you have to do your homework and check out all the stores.

Secondly, try Farmers Markets and farm gates. Some farmers sell milk directly to customers and use a refill system, dispensing with single use bottles altogether. This is fairly common in New Zealand.

Thirdly, you could look for hobby farmers and people who keep their own milking animals. I live in a city, and I have friends (who live in the city also) who keep goats, and other friends who keep a milking cow. I know that might be a step too far for many, but if you really want a solution, don’t rule this option out. These things are more discoverable by word of mouth, but social media is a good place to start.

Something I did was supplement my dairy milk with nut milk. I realised that it was much easier to find cashews or almonds in bulk than it was to find dairy milk in glass, so I began to use nut milk with cereal and in baking. Making your own nut milk is really simple, and you can find instructions for making DIY cashew milk and almond milk here.

Buying Yoghurt without Plastic

If you can find milk in glass, there’s every chance that you will also be able to find yoghurt and cream in glass too. I have seen yoghurt for sale in glass and also in ceramic pots in supermarkets. However, I’d recommend looking in independent grocers, health food stores and farm shops for more options.

If you can’t find it, you might like to know that yoghurt is actually very easy to make yourself. All you need is milk and a yoghurt starter culture (which actually is just a tablespoon of live yoghurt). A thermometer is useful, but it’s possible to manage without. You definitely do NOT need any fancy gadgetry, such as a yoghurt maker. A glass jar wrapped in a tea towel will be fine. Here’s my DIY tutorial for how to make your own yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt will typically last 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

If you can’t find yoghurt in glass, consider buying the biggest tub rather than the individual pots and portioning it up yourself. That will create less waste overall. If you like flavoured yoghurt, you can make it yourself by blending a little sugar and fruit with plain yoghurt.

Buying Cheese without Plastic

Cheese is the easiest of the three dairy products to find without plastic. Most supermarkets will have a deli section, but if not, look for local independent stores, farmers markets, specialist cheese shops and other grocers.

Some  deli counters will have paper to wrap cheese, so you can ask for no plastic. Many will let you bring your own containers.

Some types of cheese are sold in brine (mozarella, feta) or by weight without packaging (ricotta, cream cheese). These are the easiest types of cheese to buy without packaging, simply by bringing your own containers. Smile, act confident and tell the person behind the counter than you’d like to use your own containers as you are avoiding single-use plastic.

Often, your success hinges on the way you do it. Acting like you do it all the time boosts the confidence of the person behind the counter to accept your request. Also, stating what you’d like to do rather than asking adds another degree of conviction. “I’d like to” is much more convincing than “is it okay to..?” If they say no, act surprised, but if they are truly insistent, don’t push. Almost everyone will say that’s fine.

It’s worth mentioning why (no single-use plastic) because staff won’t necessarily realise why, and will wrap your lovely container in gladwrap for “protection” – or pop it in a bag!

Many types of cheese are bought in large wheels or blocks, and will be pre-cut and wrapped by the store to save time. If you can only see pre-wrapped cheese behind the counter, ask whether you can have a piece cut fresh from the block, or whether you can leave your containers there for when the next batch is cut.

Some pre-packaged cheese can be found wrapped in wax rather than plastic. Most of these waxes are made from paraffin (which is sourced from petroleum). Studies have shown that paraffin wax can be broken down in the presence of Rhodococcus sp so if you do buy these cheeses, try composting the wax.

If you’re still having no luck, consider buying the biggest block of packaged cheese you can find (it will mean less packaging overall). Cheese freezes really well, so you can, freeze what you don’t need straightaway.

Bagged grated cheese is all packaging and very little product, so avoid these products and grate your own from the block when you get home. (A food processor with a grater attachment is very useful if you use a lot of cheese. If you’re less fussy, whizzing it through the food processor will also work.) The same is true for cheese slices – it will take less than 30 seconds to slice a block and save lots of packaging, as well as money.

Something else to consider is making your own. Ricotta, mozzarella and halloumi are all incredibly simple to make using milk, and your cheese will be ready in 1 – 3 hours. Labne, a soft cheese made from yoghurt, is also super easy to make. If you’re not confident to make your own, look into cheese workshops in your area.

Still Stuck?

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all these options and you still don’t have a solution, don’t stress. Look at choosing products with the least amount of packaging overall, and ensure that whatever packaging you do choose is recyclable in your local area.

Remember, there are so many ways to reduce our waste in all areas of our life. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are just three things that we consume. There are plenty of other things to work on!

Don’t let not finding these items without plastic be a reason to give up altogether. Much better to focus on the 97 other things that we can change than stress about the 3 that we can’t.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is this something you struggle with, or not? What solutions have you found? Have you had a go at DIY and how have you found it? Do you have any DIY tips to share? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!