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From landfill to refill: cleaning products that clean the ocean

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Zero Co.

When I started my waste journey back in 2012, I primarily wanted to reduce my plastic. A few month in I realised that reducing waste isn’t just about the plastic, and so I worked on reducing all my single-use packaging – metals, paper, cardboard, steel and aluminium as well as plastic – and of course, reducing my food waste.

I even went as far as the ‘fitting a year’s waste in a jam jar’ challenge.

And what I realised from that challenge is this: whether or not I can fit my waste into a jam jar or not is not the point. (And frankly, who cares?) If a handful of people can fit their waste into a jam jar, it’s not really game-changing stuff.

It’s definitely not where I want to be focusing my attention.

I’m much more interested in how we can get everybody reducing their waste, whether it’s 90 per cent or 50 per cent or even 10 per cent.

Much better to have everybody doing something rather than a few people doing everything.

And for everybody to be doing something, we need options. There’s no one way to reduce waste. What works for some of us will never work for all of us. The more alternatives, the better.

Zero Co and their mission to untrash the planet

I’m going to confess, the first time I came across Zero Co, it was hard to see past the plastic. Even though my views have changed on plastic since my first plastic-free month challenge back in 2012, I’d still rather see as little plastic as possible.

Zero Co make (palm oil free, greywater safe, plant-based, vegan) cleaning and personal care products. And although it’s plastic, the the packaging that they use to distribute their products is not single-use – the containers are made out of recycled ocean plastic and the pouches are returnable and refillable, to be used and reused over and over.

When I heard about their model, I was intrigued.

As much as I dislike plastic, I dislike single-use even more. Anything that can be used again and again and again is a better use of resources than single-use. For me, it’s about the waste, and how we reduce it.

So yes, I was intrigued, but I had a lot of questions.

(Like, how much ocean plastic? From which ocean? Who collects it? How are the pouches refilled? How many times?)

And so I emailed them, and we had a great back and forth, and then I poured over their website and sent a bunch more questions.

And I’m happy to say that I learned a lot, and I changed my mind.

Zero Co offered to send me a box of their products to try so I could test their products, the packaging and the return system. (And we had an agreement that if I didn’t like the products, there was no expectation to share with you. And if I did share, that I’d be honest and tell it like it is.)

But I think their re-use model is interesting and their transparency is refreshing. That’s how they won me over. It’s one thing to pledge to do things, but quite another to showcase how.

How it works: the Zero Co circular economy (reuse) model

Zero Co have a mission to “untrash the planet” through stopping the production of new single-use plastic, and by cleaning up the plastic already in the oceans.

They do this by distributing cleaning products in reusable, refillable pouches. The dispensers (which you can choose to use with your refills) are made of ocean plastic.

You order the products you want (all packaged in the pouches) and if you need them, you also order the dispensers. They are shipped to your home with no additional plastic packaging.

The box contains a reply-paid (cardboard) envelope for the empty refill pouches. Once you have 15 empty pouches, you send it back for the pouches to be reused.

They describe the model as “like the milkman, reimagined.”

Sounds good so far, but I’m a details person. Luckily, they provided the details.

Ocean plastic

The ocean plastic used in the dispensers is collected from the waters outside Jakarta, Indonesia, via an initiative called Ocean Waste Plastics. Local fishermen collect the plastic, which they sell to Pack Tech, who reprocess the plastic into (amongst other things) the Zero Co dispensers.

These dispensers contain 70% recycled ocean plastic, and 30% non-ocean recycled plastic.

So far, Zero Co have pulled 6,000kg of plastic from the ocean to make their dispensers.

OCEANS 21

One of Zero Co’s newest initiatives is OCEANS21, which has the goal of collecting 21 tons of Australian ocean-bound plastic waste, to turn into Zero Co bottles.

From March until May 2021, Zero Co will invest $5 from every starter box sold to fund their ocean clean-up projects. Their launch event will be in Sydney where they will be making a record-breaking attempt to clean up Sydney Harbour.

From there they will head to Cape York – but they are also working on some more local and grassroots initiatives.

Refillable pouches

The refillable pouches are made of 40% recycled plastic, and are designed to be refilled 100 times. (Yes, it would be great to use 100% recycled plastic, but they found that this compromised how many times the pouches could be refilled – 40% seemed to be the sweet spot.)

Carbon emissions

There’s always going to be a higher footprint with delivery models versus getting refills at a bricks-and-mortar store. It’s worth remembering that not everyone has access to a bulk store that sells cleaning products. To combat this, Zero Co use couriers that carbon-offset their emissions, and ask that empty pouches are not returned until there are 15 of them, to reduce transport emissions and packaging.

They are also looking at how they might get their products into brick-and-mortar stores in the future, whilst maintaining the circular reuse model.

Zero Co Products – a review

The core range of Zero Co products includes air freshener, bathroom and shower cleaner, bodywash, dishwasher tablets, dishwashing liquid, handwash, laundry liquid, stain remover and toilet cleaner.

(They have just finished reformulating the multi-purpose cleaner, which is part of their core range but whose shipping was delayed.)

They also have plans to launch shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and deodorant later in the year, but no firm dates on these yet.

I didn’t try the air freshener, as this is a product I’d never use, and I didn’t try the dishwasher tabs because I don’t have a dishwasher.

And yep, all the products I received worked as they are meant to do – they clean!

(To me, cleaning products are cleaning products are cleaning products – except when they don’t work at all. These worked just as well as any cleaning product I’ve ever bought at the bulk store. But don’t just take my word for it, because since when was cleaning one of my strengths? Zero Co went to the trouble of getting their products tested by an independent lab.)

The one notable feature of all these products is that they are very strongly fragranced. I tend to use unfragranced or lightly fragranced products, and this was quite a shock to my senses. Most of their fragrances are based on essential oils, so it’s not artificial fragrance, it’s just… strong.

(You can read their ingredient lists here.)

This is probably a polarising feature, so it’s worth pointing out.

Someone on my local zero waste Facebook group recently was asking about zero waste laundry detergent with a long-lasting fragrance as she said she was sick of her laundry smelling of “wet clothes”, and a lot of people recommended Zero Co. I actually really like the Zero Co laundry liquid for washing my for towels and linen, particularly when it’s going in the cupboard.

I also found that the strong fragrance of the bodywash and handwash means I use a lot less, which makes the products go further.

But if strong-scented cleaning and personal care products are not your thing, this will be a dealbreaker.

(I wonder in the future if they will launch an unscented range, but for now there isn’t one.)

Could Zero Co products be for you?

As I said at the start, there’s no one zero waste product or idea that works for everybody.

Zero Co probably won’t work for you if:

  • You already buy all your personal and cleaning products at the bulk store, and you’re happy with them;
  • You DIY all of your own personal and cleaning products;
  • You dislike strong fragrances;
  • You live outside Australia (so far they only ship within Australia, but they are looking at overseas options).

Zero Co might be something to consider if:

  • You currently buy products in single-use packaging;
  • You don’t have access to a bulk store (for example, living in regional areas);
  • You don’t have time to get to the bulk store regularly, or you’re not happy with the products on offer at the bulk store;
  • You like the idea of a one-stop shop for all your products;
  • You want to support an Australian start-up on a mission;
  • You like strongly fragranced products.

(If you have any questions, their FAQ page is probably one of the most thorough I’ve ever come across. So be sure to have a read.)

If you’d like to try their products, Zero Co have very kindly offered a discount to my readers. Use the code TREADING10 which will give you $10 off all products (new customers only, one use per customer, minimum purchase $80. Don’t forget you can always go halves with friends or family if you don’t need quite this much, and don’t want to stockpile!).

Visit the Zero Co website here.

Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Personal Care and Cleaning)

I”m often asked about the various places I find different items or products without packaging or single-use plastic, and it occurred to me that I’ve never sat down and written a list of ALL the places and ALL the things.

It also occurred to me that creating a list like this would be rather useful. What kinds of zero waste and plastic-free things do I buy, and where do I buy them from?

Of course, if you live in Perth (which is where I live) then these lists will be extra useful as you will actually be able to go to the places I visit.

Even if you’re not a local, I want to give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source similar products in your own area.

Last week I talked about where I source zero waste and plastic-free groceries and food items in Perth. This week I’m talking about the other consumables: personal care products and cleaning products.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Bathroom and Personal Care Products

I have simplified my bathroom routine hugely since going plastic-free and zero waste back in 2012. I’ve cut back on all of the non-essentials (turns out, there were a lot of non-essentials).

I buy good quality bar soap (which I use in place of shower gel, face wash, body wash, hand wash) from Earth Products in The Vines, Swan Valley. I buy 1.3kg blocks which I cut myself (they cut like firm butter) as it is more economical.

Earth Products is a wholesale and retail skincare business, and the owner Marie is an absolute legend. Although technically she doesn’t sell bulk products, she is more than happy for me to refill my own containers.

She is also a huge wealth of knowledge and I’ve learned a lot about DIY skincare and how to use ingredients from her.

I buy all my essential oil refills, almond, rosehip and other oils, shea butter, coconut oil, vegetable glycerine, zinc powder, clay and all kinds of other ingredients here.

I tend to go once every 6 – 12 months and stock up.

Aside from soap, which I buy, I make all my other personal care products myself. Really, it’s little more than stirring together a few ingredients together in a jar. Sometimes there’s a little melting involved.

I make my own deodorant and toothpaste (I buy bicarb and tapioca flour from the Source Whole Foods). I either use almond oil in place of a moisturiser, or I make cold cream (which is beeswax, olive oil and water blended together).

I also make sunscreen (a moisturizer with zinc oxide powder).

I wash my hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. I use white vinegar, which I buy in bulk from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen 5% white vinegar).

I don’t actually use a bamboo toothbrush for my teeth (but I did buy one to brush my dog’s teeth!). Early on, I got fed up with the bristles constantly falling out and washing down the drain.

I found out about Silvercare toothbrushes, which have replaceable heads that can be changed every 6 months, and I switched to this.

I purchased my initial Silvercare toothbrush from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle and I also get the replacement heads from there.

The waste toothbrush heads and packaging can be recycled via Terracycle, and the closest hub to me is the Recycling Hub at Perth City Farm in East Perth.

I don’t use disposable menstrual products: I use a Diva cup, which is a silicone reusable menstrual cup. I’ve been using one since 2003 (I’ll write a blog post with more details about this in the coming weeks).

I also have a reusable pad that I use at night.

For hair removal I have an extremely old Gilette razor and I’m currently using up the last blade (purchased pre-2012, and I’m making it last). I also have an epilator whose battery is about to die (purchased circa 2010).

When these both give up the ghost I will switch to a stainless steel razor with stainless steel blades that can be recycled easily at metal recyclers.

This might be too much information (!) but I actually use tweezers to remove armpit air. I’m not ticklish and think my skin must be made of rubber, as I don’t find it painful in the slightest. I find I get a shaving rash with a razor. I appreciate that this might not be for everyone.

I purchase 100% recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, which is plastic-free and delivered to my doorstep. (I use the paper wrappers to pick up dog poo – they are the perfect size – and this all goes in the dog poo worm farm).

Zero Waste Cleaning Products

I don’t talk a whole lot about cleaning on my blog because cleaning is one of my least favourite things, and the less I can do of it, the better.

Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning

Let’s start with the dishes. I purchase dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically my local store The Source Vic Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house).

I have a wooden dishbrush with a replaceable head, a Safix coconut coir scourer and an import.ants bottle brush cleaner. I used to have a wooden pot brush, but once it wore out I chose not to replace it.

All of these cleaning products can be composted once finished with. The small amount of metal in the dishbrush handle can be recycled via metal recyclers.

There are two physical shops in Perth where I buy these things: Urban Revolution on Albany Highway in Victoria Park, and the Zero Store inside the Raw Kitchen on High Street, Fremantle.

(Another store I recommend – I’ve never actually made it to their physical shop but I have purchased things from their pop-up stalls at markets – is Environment House on King William Street in Bayswater.)

Yes, I also have a plastic dish brush, circa 2012, still going. It must be the longest living plastic dishbrush in history. I will use it until it wears out, be grateful that it has lasted, and whilst it remains in my kitchen not dwell on the fact that it’s fluro green colour (and plastic-ness) is mildly offensive to my eyes.

I also use bicarb soda (purchased from the Source Bulk Foods) for anything that needs a good scrub, such as burnt saucepans.

For cleaning cloths for wiping down the kitchen benches, I no longer buy cloths. Instead, I cut up old clothes, tee-shirts, towels: whatever is worn out. I prefer 100% cotton or natural fibres as these can be composted once they are too tatty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths tend to start in the bathroom, then migrate to the bathroom, then to the floors before being composted. Of course, they go through the washing machine several times during this process.

I tend to wash my counters down with water and sometimes dishwashing liquid. It seems to work fine. If there’s a stain, I scrub with a used piece of lemon to lift it (things like tea and coffee, typically).

Zero Waste Bathroom Cleaning

Most of the cleaning items I use in the bathroom started life in the kitchen. Cleaning cloths, my Safix scourer, old dishbrush heads: once these things aren’t suitable for dishes I move them on.

I use bicarb (from The Source) and 5% white vinegar from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle.

(Planet Ark in Fremantle sell 10% white vinegar for cleaning only, which I used when I had black mold in my damp flat several years ago. Generally I use the 5% vinegar, which is food grade and can be used for other things besides cleaning.)

I use a few essential oils for cleaning: tea tree, eucalyptus and clove oil. All are anti-microbial and clove oil in particular is anti-fungal and great for the shower. Bleach doesn’t actually kill mold, it just turns it white. Clove oil kills the spores. I put a few drops in vinegar and spray the tiles.

(My spray bottle is plastic. I’ve seen aluminium ones, but a reader told me that she stored vinegar in hers for a while, and the bottom fell out of it! I use the plastic one as that is what I have. I’ll try to fit the nozzle to a glass bottle if/when the plastic breaks.)

I also put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the toilet to disinfect.

Zero Waste Laundry

I purchase laundry powder from The Source Bulk Foods. I’ve tried soap nuts, and they seemed to work for me, but I just prefer buying laundry powder (and it is more convenient to purchase).

For stains, I simply dab some dishwashing liquid on the stain, then pop into the washing machine. Having tried several remedies over the years, I find this one the most effective and simplest.

I don’t use fabric softener (never have) although white vinegar is reported to be excellent for this – and a couple of drops of essential oil for scent.

Other Cleaning

I no longer have any kind of rubbish bin in my home, so I do not need bin liners. Any non-recyclable, non-compostable waste (of which there is very little, if any) goes directly outside to the rubbish bin. (I kept a waste jar for a year in 2016 as an experiment, but no longer do so.)

Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the kinds of purchases I make and how I use them, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your life. If you’re in Perth I’d encourage you to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, hopefully there’s something similar close to you.

(If there’s no local options, consider supporting an independent zero waste and plastic free business: I have put together a worldwide list of companies that care.)

When it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, I find that there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Guide to Green Cleaning: What You’ll Need

After having spent the week furiously and continuously cleaning after our bedroom and wardrobe went mouldy last weekend (oh, and having to deal with the fact that someone stole our credit card details to play online poker too), I am starting to feel like my stress levels are back to normal, life can continue on and the flat is now gleaming.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the green cleaning tips I’ve picked up in the last week. It’s really easy when we are faced with emergencies like that to chuck all our green intentions out the window and head to the shops to buy the biggest plastic bottle of toxic bleach that we can find. But it doesn’t need to be this way – natural products work better, are safer, don’t give off noxious fumes and don’t harm the environment.

This is a guide to all the basic green cleaning products you need to keep your home clean and chemical free.

Green Cleaning – the Basics

The two key ingredients for green cleaning are white vinegar and sodium bicarbonate (bicarb soda).

vinegar

Vinegar doesn’t go off, is non-toxic, biodegradeble and cheap. It is acidic (the stuff you can buy from the supermarkets is around 5% acetic acid) and this helps kill nasties. We bought our original bottle from the supermarket, but we refill it at a bulk buy store we found in Fremantle who sell 10% vinegar to save on packaging and waste.

Sodium bicarbonate is an abrasive that wears away stains. According to How Stuff Works, it also reacts with grease to form glycerol, which is the cleaning ingredient found in soap. When bicarb soda is mixed with vinegar it forms carbonic acid, which makes the vinegar more corrosive and enhances its cleaning ability. As an alkali, it’s also good at neutralising odours.

Essential Oils

Vinegar and bicarb soda are great at keeping things clean, but sometimes we need a little extra help. There are two essential oils that are cheap, commonly available and great for dealing with mould and other microbes: clove oil and tea tree oil.

oils

Both have antimicrobial properties. Clove oil is an excellent anti-fungal and great for using to clean bathrooms. The WA Public Health factsheet on mould recommends using tea tree oil as a way to kill the mould spores.

How to use: add 1 tsp oil to one cup of water, and wear gloves. You can either use in a spray bottle, shaking well before use, and then wipe with a cloth, or use a bowl, immersing and wringing a cloth out multiple times in the solution to ensure it mixes.

Elbow Grease

If you’re not using harsh chemicals, you will need to put in a bit of muscle yourself! The extra effort is definitely worth it for not inhaling toxic chemicals and carcinogens, and not releasing dangerous chemicals into our water supplies.

Re-use What You Can

Where possible, it’s always best to re-use or re-purpose where you can rather than buying new. We have two old spray bottles that originally had toiletries in them which we now use for cleaning purposes. We also saved some old toothbrushes (from back in the days when we used plastic ones) to use for cleaning grouting and other tricky spots.

toothbrush

Keep Packaging to a Minimum

We needed to buy a few things, so we made sure we chose products that were as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible.  We needed some cloths and bought some biodegradable cleaning cloths. They are plastic free and made with natural fibres. However, they are still single-use and if it hadn’t been an emergency we would have found a different solution.  Having been through our wardrobe, we identified a few things that were definitely beyond repair and will cut these up to use as rags so we don’t need to buy any more.

Support Ethical Companies

One thing we needed was a scrubbing brush. I wanted to buy a wooden one with natural fibres but the only wooden ones available were unidentifiable wood coated in varnish. Instead I opted to buy a plastic brush by Full Circle. They are a great company that design products that are sustainable and made from renewable resources.

brushThe brush I bought is made with post-industrial and post-consumer recycled plastic and bamboo, and has a hollow design to keep plastic to a minimum. Despite it being plastic, I feel it is better to support a company with such great intentions.

The star purchase has to be the gloves I bought, made from fairly-traded natural rubber sourced from FSC-certified forests, manufactured by a company called If You Care. They are plastic free, and even the box is made from FSC-certified recycled paper with biodegradable inks. I love it when I find companies like this.

glovesMicrofibre Cloths

Rags and general purpose cloths are great for general dirt and grime, but microfibre cloths are useful for specific tasks. They are made up of very small fibres (microfibres – hence the name) and have far far more than a standard cloth. This means they are far better at picking up dirt. They are also super-absorbent and quick-drying, which helps prevent microbes growing on the cloth and makes them more hygienic. Want to know more? Check out this site for more information. They’re not cheap, but they last for a very long time, and for jobs like removing mould spores, they are far superior to general rags.

And that’s it! There’s no need for separate cleaners for the kitchen, the bathroom, this type of surface, that type of surface. There’s no need to waste money on expensive harmful products, either. None of this stuff is new, either. It’s what our grandmothers used to use before chemical companies and advertisers realised there was money to be made in producing 3000 different products and scaring people into using them. Another great example of nanna-technology : )