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5 Reasons to Choose Etsy for Ethical + Eco-Friendly Purchases

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

As a self-professed lover of less stuff, it’s not often you’ll find me talking about shopping. But I accept, we all need to buy some things sometimes.

I know that when I need to buy something, I want it to be the most ethical, sustainable, long-lasting and environmentally sound choice that’s available to me.

I’m guessing you do too.

Usually that means eschewing the big box stores, avoiding the high street chains and instead choosing second-hand or supporting the independent stores, small producers and local craftspeople.

But finding these businesses and people can be tricky. Plus if we live away from the big capital cities, our options can be limited. And that’s where Etsy comes in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what Etsy is, who it’s for and why you might want to consider it if you’re someone passionate about living with less waste and more sustainably.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to connect and buy (or sell) unique, handmade and/or vintage goods. Etsy’s core mission is to help artists and crafters make a living. It’s a platform that makes it easy for sellers to sell and buyers to buy, but it’s more than just a selling platform.

It’s about connecting people.

It’s possible for sellers to post updates and share messages, and buyers to leave feedback (and photographs) – which gives it a really human, community feel and makes buyers feel connected to the people who make the items.

Who is Etsy for?

When I’m giving talks about living with less waste I often say, there are two types of people in the world. Those that know how to make things, and those that do not know how to make things.

Etsy is the bridge that connects us.

No-one has the time, patience and will to learn how to make everything. For those things we can’t make ourselves, we generally need to buy them. Whenever people ask me where they can buy reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps (or their vegan wax wrap equivalents) and natural skincare products (including zero waste make-up) I always suggest looking on Etsy.

The people who sell on Etsy range from those who make a full-time income from it, to hobbyists who are able to sell their creations to fund their craft.

5 Reasons Why Etsy is a Good Choice for Eco-Friendly and Ethical Purchases

Let’s be clear. I’m not encouraging anyone to buy stuff they don’t need. But when we do need to buy things, Etsy is a good option. Here’s why.

1. It’s the opposite of mass-produced.

Mass production tends to go hand-in-hand with corporate capitalism, where things are made as cheap as possible through externalising the costs. What that means is, companies exploit the land, create pollution and underpay workers so customers can buy things cheaply.

And most of this mass produced stuff isn’t made to last, because these companies need customers coming back and buying more stuff.

Etsy, on the other hand, champions producers who offer handmade goods, or produce things in small batches. One person or even a small-scale workshop simply can’t pump out huge volumes of stuff. And so there is an emphasis on unique, personalised, customisable, well-made and thoughtfully produced items.

2. You’re supporting real people to make a living (and receive a fair reward for their work).

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘when you buy from a small independent business, a real person does a happy dance’? I always hold this thought with me when buying from a small business, local maker or skilled artisan.

It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to know the names of the people who make my things (like Claire from Etsy store Small World Dreams, who made my bag, and lives right here in WA).

It’s more than just money – it’s belief in someone else’s work and a coming together of shared values. For example, Etsy currently has 36,882 results for ‘zero waste‘. Buying a product from a zero waste seller isn’t just parting with your cash, it’s reaffirming to the sellers that we care about these issues too.

You’re keeping useful skills alive (and maybe even encouraging more people to embrace them).

I don’t know how to sew, embroider, weave, turn wood, paint, blow glass or build things that don’t fall apart. But other people do, and Etsy has provided a platform for them to share their skills and work with the world.

Before platforms like Etsy existed, it was difficult for sellers to reach people who wanted what they had, and time-consuming to attend markets. Now, Etsy has made it possible (and easy) for sellers to connect with buyers, which means creators can spend more time doing what they love – creating.

It also means that more people can become creators. The only barrier is actually having a skill to share. Make soap? Create art? Upcycle clothing? Restore furniture? There’s a space on Etsy for you.

4. You can ask questions and make your preferences known.

Of course it’s no guarantee that everything on Etsy is produced ethically from sustainable materials and shipped in recycled packaging. But when you’re dealing with a creator directly, you can ask the questions.

Where do they source their materials? Do they make the products by hand themselves? Who else works in the business? Will they ship without packaging? Do they avoid using plastic?

It’s a lot easier for a creator to be transparent than it is for a faceless customer service representative at a big box store – who likely has no idea about the buying and procurement procedures for the company at which they work.

Plus, when you’re dealing directly with the creator, you have the opportunity to ask for exactly what you want. Looking for a different colour, or have a slightly different design in mind? Ask!

There’s never a guarantee but many Etsy sellers offer custom orders, so you can make sure the thing you buy is exactly what you want. Which is the best way to ensure the things we buy are things we use often.

5. You can find upcycled, reclaimed, recycled and second-hand.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creators and sellers on Etsy only work with brand new materials. Not at all! If there’s something that you’re looking for, I’d always recommend looking to see if someone has made it out of already existing materials first.

There are so many great small businesses creating useful products out of what others might see as waste, be it metals, wood, fabric and even packaging. (There isn’t space to list them here, but I think it might make a good post for another time.)

Also, Etsy is a platform for vintage goods – which is really a fancy way of saying second-hand. If you’re the kind of person who loves old, but rarely finds cool old stuff in the charity shop yourself, Etsy is a great place to track down second-hand things.

I prefer to save the trawling through auction houses and antiques stores for the people who really love to do it, and have an eye for useful things. I think it’s cool that rather than languishing on a dusty shelf in a sleepy town in an old second-hand store, Etsy makes it easier to give these things new life and keep them in circulation.

You can find out more about Etsy here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Etsy before and what was your experience? Are you a creator who sells things on Etsy? Have you found any awesome vintage or upcycled finds? Any zero waste or sustainability-focussed sellers to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

What’s the Controversy with Palm Oil (and is Sustainable Palm Oil Actually Sustainable)?

I’m guessing you’ve heard of palm oil. And I’m guessing that you’ve heard that it’s bad, or at least, you heard it’s bad for the orangutans. But if it’s so bad, you’re probably also wondering why all the companies that use it think it’s so good, seeing as it’s in around half of all packaged goods in the supermarket.

There’s got to be a reason for that, right? Otherwise wouldn’t they just swap it out for something else?

And what about certified sustainable palm oil? That sounds good, yes? So why do many environmental groups call for a boycott or ban on all palm oil, including certified sustainable palm oil?

Palm oil gets talked about a lot, but sometimes it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. Here’s the lowdown: what’s so good about palm oil, what’s so bad about palm oil, and what certified sustainable palm oil really means.

What Is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil, and it is produced from the fruit of the oil palms (a type of palm tree): primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, but to a lesser extent the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa. Palm kernel oil is a different oil, but it comes from the same plant – this oil is produced from the seed, not the fruit.

Oil palms are tropical rainforest plants, requiring high rainfall, humid conditions and warm temperatures. It grows best when planted 10° north or south of the equator. Oil palms are more productive when grown in plantations, fruiting after 2-3 years until 25-30 years, when they need to be replaced.

What’s So Good About Palm Oil?

Oil palm trees produce more oil from less land than any other oil crop (5x the second-highest oil crop, rapeseed, 6x more than groundnut and sunflower oils, and more than 10x crops like soy bean or coconut oil). The trees also fruit continuously, making them a reliable crop to grow and accessible for smallholders.

The fruits and kernels also have lower production costs than other oil crops, which makes palm oil an efficient and profitable crop to grow.

Because of this, palm oil is the cheapest plant oil to produce (whilst still being profitable for the growers), which makes it popular for use in foods and toiletries. 10% of palm oil is currently grown to produce biofuel.

Palm oil is tasteless, and has a long shelf life compared to other plant oils. Another advantage of palm oil is that it is semi-solid at room temperature, and can be easily refined into liquid and solid oils. The solid fraction has a melting point of 35°C (95°F). Solid palm oil is used in baked goods and pastry as a cheaper (and dairy-free) alternative to butter, in chocolate and desserts as a much cheaper alternative to cocoa butter, and in dairy-free spreads.

In cosmetics it’s a good foaming agent and considered preferable to using animal tallow (animal fat). It’s often used in soap to create bars that are harder and last longer.

In the 1960s, with concerns around the high saturated fat content of animal products like lard and butter, manufacturers began making alternatives by hydrogenating vegetable oils low in saturated fat to make them solid. Partly this was driven by health concerns, but it was also cheaper to produce. These trans-fats was later discovered to be even less healthy than saturated fats and many countries are now legislating to remove trans-fats from food (there are bans in Europe and Canada).

This left manufacturers looking for an alternative, which they found in palm oil.

Very few plant oils are solid at room temperature: the main alternative is coconut oil which has a lower melting point of 24°C (75°F). Cocoa butter is very expensive, and shea butter is rarely used in food products. With the rise in demand for vegetarian and vegan products, palm oil is a good alternative for products that traditionally would use butter or animal fat.

‘Good’, of course, depends on your perspective.

What’s So Bad About Palm Oil?

One of the biggest concerns with oil palms is that this demand for palm oil has meant a significant amount of deforestation, because forests are what grow on the land that is prime for palm oil plantations.

Deforestation means displacement of indigenous people and wildlife habitat loss as old growth rainforest is cleared to make way for new plantations. Animals that have lost their homes enter plantations looking for food: they are seen as a threat to the oil palm crops and considered pests, and often shot.

84% of all the palm oil produced worldwide comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. This also happens to be the only place in the world where orangutans live (on the islands of Borneo – which has both Indonesian and Malaysian territory – and Sumatra, which is Indonesian).

The WWF estimates there were over 230,000 orangutans in the wild a century ago, but their population has halved over the last 100 years, and the Sumatran orangutan is now critically endangered.

Orangutans might be the most famous victims of palm oil, but they aren’t the only species at risk. The Sumatran elephant, tiger and rhino and the Bornean pygmy elephant are also threatened.

Land clearing isn’t the only threat to wildlife – poaching and logging are also issues – although in Indonesia it can be easier to get a land clearing permit than a logging permit, so land is often cleared for logging under an oil palm permit, but no oil palms are subsequently planted.

Palm oil isn’t just a threat for wildlife: it’s a threat for the climate. Another concern with palm oil is that many areas used for oil palm plantations are natural peatlands. Clearing of peatlands and planting of oil palms in these ares increase risk of fire, and the UN suggests peatland fires contribute around 5% of human-caused carbon emissions.

Palm oil is also the 6th most heavily fertilised food crop in the world per hectare. Chemical nitrogen fertilisers are made using natural gas, which can react with nitrogen gas in the air during an exchange that takes place at 400-500°C. This requires fossil fuels not only for the reaction but also to get to these temperatures.

It is estimated that the nitrogen fertiliser industry accounts for 3-5% of all natural gas used and causes more than 1% of all greenhouses gas emissions produced worldwide.

What Is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil – and Is It Sustainable?

The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in 2004 by a collective of industry representatives, environmental groups and social advocacy groups to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil products. It now has over 4,000 members worldwide, who have all committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.

To support this, the RSPO have developed a set of environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). The RSPO trademark was launched in 2011, and RSPO currently certify about 20% of global palm oil production.

The RSPO is not without criticism. When the certification began in 2005 it was found to be complicated, costly and hard to implement. Many consider the standards to be weak, enforcement is limited and there is little retribution for non-compliance.

Certification can be given to palm oil plantations planted on land cleared of tropical forest, which begin as non-certified palm oil and later apply for the sustainable palm oil accreditation: this hides the reality that this certified plantation was recently tropical forest.

Studies have repeatedly shown that certified sustainable palm oil does not stop deforestation (although it may slow it down), it does not reduce the threat of fire or halt the decline in orangutan populations, and there are questions around whether it actually lifts people out of poverty.

Is ‘Certified Sustainable Palm Oil’ Greenwashing?

Many critics of the RSPO call it little more than greenwashing; a way for corporate palm oil stakeholders to look good to the public whilst continuing business as usual.

Some call for a full ban on palm oil, and many shoppers choose to boycott palm oil altogether.

Others critics argue that despite its flaws, a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil is still better than nothing at all, and it provides a way for organisations and companies to transition to more sustainable practices.

Supporters of the scheme, which include the WWF, argue that palm oil is necessary because it is cheap, more efficient than other oil crops, and provides economic benefits to the countries that produce it.

But production has roughly doubled every year since the 1970s, from around 2.5 million tonnes in 1970 to 75 million tonnes today (it’s estimated to reach 240 million tonnes by 2050). It is hard to imagine that such rapid growth can happen in a way that is truly sustainable.

This continued demand means the threat to natural tropical rainforest areas remains as great as ever, as does the threat to wildlife.

What Can We Do About the Palm Oil Problem?

Start With an Audit of Your Pantry and Bathroom Cupboard.

If palm oil is something you’re concerned about, the first thing to do is find out whether any products you’re using actually contain palm oil.

If you live in Europe, an EU law on food information that came into force in 2014 requires that palm oil must be clearly labelled as palm oil: it cannot be called vegetable oil. The US FDA also requires that oils be declared by their common or usual name in food products.

However, in Australia there is no such requirement and palm oil can be labelled as vegetable oil. Most companies will have information about whether they use palm oil on their websites, or will answer requests for information, so you may have to contact them directly to find out.

With non-food products, palm oil may be labelled as Elaeis guineensis, which is the name given to palm oil by the International Nomenclature Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI).

So far, so simple. However there are actually over 200 ingredients in food and cosmetics that can be derived from palm oil (you can find the list here). If you come across an ingredient in a product, ask the manufacturer for clarification of its origins.

If a Company Uses Palm Oil, is it Certified Sustainable Palm Oil? Switch Out Non-Sustainable Palm Oil First.

Most companies who use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) don’t use the logo on their packaging, but they will be keen to tell you their sustainability credentials on their website or if you ask.

If your audit reveals a lot of products containing palm oil, a next step would be to find out which ones use CSPO and which ones do not.

This gives you a priority list of products to swap out first. Better to support a company at least trying to do better over one that is not.

As well as swapping products, it is worth telling both the company whose product you’re no longer buying and the company whose product you’re switching to why you’re making the swap. Send a quick email, letting them know. This makes them aware that their customers are concerned about palm oil in products.

Slowly Switch Out Products that contain Palm Oil for Those That Don’t.

One by one, as the things you buy run out, start looking for a palm-oil free version.

Some products are easy switches. Palm oil doesn’t need to be in things like peanut butter, it’s added in because it’s a cheap filler. The same goes for chocolate bars: palm oil is simply cheaper than cocoa butter.

Some products are trickier. It may mean switching to a slightly different product (muesli over processed cereal) or it may mean deciding to make our own (and learning how to make our own).

The more processed a product is, the more likely it is to contain palm oil. Switch to less processed foods and less packaging and you’ll reduce your palm oil consumption, naturally.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t oil palms, it’s the way we’re using palm oil. Supporters of palm oil love it because its cheap. But do we really need to make more cheap fast food and processed snacks with empty calories?

Everything comes with a price. Cheap palm oil that results in deforestation, habitat loss, displacement of indigenous people, wildlife extinction and greenhouse gas emissions actually seems like a very high price to pay for low-cost shampoo and snacks.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is palm oil something you’re concerned about or not? Have you ever audited the products you buy to find out how many contain palm oil? Do you have any ideas for anyone wanting to reduce their palm oil? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share in the comments below!

All links to facts and figures can be found here.

3 Things to Do (Instead of Feeling Guilty) When You “Fail” at Zero Waste

Let me tell you a story about a butternut squash that I found in the fridge. Well, I didn’t find it exactly, because I knew it was there, underneath the silverbeet in the crisper drawer.

Before you tell me that butternut – and other varieties of – squash/pumpkin shouldn’t actually be stored in the fridge, but at room temperature, I’m going to put my hand up and say, yep, I know this.

But it was in the fridge nonetheless.

I suspect what happened was, the veg box arrived, it sat on the side glowering at me for a few hours, and then I decided I’d had enough and piled everything in the crisper/fridge as quickly as possible.

Just because we know what it the best or correct thing to do, doesn’t mean we always do it!

And probably, the fact that it was in the fridge was the reason for what happened next.

Because one day I opened the fridge, and I saw this.

If you hate seeing waste, look away now.

And yes, when I say “one day” I literally mean that I somehow didn’t notice it getting to this point. Clearly it didn’t go like this overnight; but I saw nothing until I opened the fridge and was confronted with this spoiled, rotten and disheveled-looking pumpkin.

And oh, let me tell you about the guilt that followed!

Because I hate waste.

Because I do not identify myself as someone who wastes stuff – so I shouldn’t be wasting stuff, right?

Because I’m organized and I know what’s in my fridge and I don’t let stuff go bad. Except…

Because a farmer went to the effort of growing that pumpkin (and it was organic! Double demerits for me) and then a business went to the effort of sourcing and selling that pumpkin to me. It feels very disrespectful of me to be wasting all that effort.

I have expectations of myself around the way I do things, and I fell short.

Now I’m no stranger to eco-guilt. I think all of us have experienced eco-guilt at some point. When we forget to refuse the plastic straw perhaps, or when we realise the thing we’ve putting in the recycling bin for the last decade is actually not recycable at all.

Basically, if we are not doing everything perfectly all of the time when it comes to trying to live sustainably, there will probably be guilt.

Newsflash – no-one actually does all things perfectly all of the time.

We need time to get those habits ingrained. Sometimes we mess up, sometimes we forget. As beginners it’s easier to forgive ourselves as we are still learning.

But messing up isn’t always limited to beginners. I’ve been conscious of reducing my waste for years now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t mess up! Being more practiced or experienced doesn’t mean slip-ups don’t happen. When they do, I, for one, feel pretty guilty about it.

But the thing about guilt, is that we can deal with it in one of two ways.

We can allow it to crumple us until we feel defeated and like it’s all too hard and what’s the point in trying anyway…

…Or we can take that energy and use it to power our next choice, our next action, and our next commitment.

Let me tell you, the latter option feels infinitely better than the first option.

Dealing with my environmental guilt is something I’m learning how to do. I don’t want to be the person crumpled in a heap, I want to be the one getting back up and dusting myself off.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, but it means I try not to stay feeling guilty for too long.

Here’s some things I do to turn that guilt into useful action.

1. Remind myself that I’m not perfect, but also that I never said I was, that I actually will never be, and forgive myself for being human.

This should be obvious but I think sometimes we forget that we’re humans, and humans mess up sometimes. I know I do. I know that no-one is perfect but I do set high expectations for myself.

I think that’s okay, but there still needs to be room for error.

So yeah, I didn’t mean to let that pumpkin go to waste. But it happened. I guess I won’t be winning the “zero waste perfection” award this year, but I’m okay with that.

2. Ask myself, what can I learn from this?

Most of my eco-guilt comes from falling short of the standards I set for myself. I think it’s useful then, to have a good look at what happened and why I’m feeling guilty now.

I definitely think that I can get complacent around not creating waste. thinking to myself, I’ve been doing this for so long now that of course I won’t waste anything!

So it’s actually useful to get a reality check. There’s always work to do, it’s easy to slip up when we’re not paying attention.

I had a think about why it happened (I shouldn’t have stored that pumpkin in the fridge, I should have kept a closer eye on what was in the fridge) and resolved to do things differently next time.

I can’t change the past, but I have the opportunity to do things differently in future.

3. Choose something to DO to channel that frustration and guilt into useful action.

Forgiveness and reflection are important, but action is better! That energy has to go somewhere, so why not channel it into something useful?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Talk about the “fail” with others. (Just like this!) We all want to share the wins and successes, but talking about failures is equally important. Change is never a straight line, and it’s helpful to others on the journey to see that it’s a zig-zag, not a perfect arc.
  • Share solutions. For example, this got me thinking – I wonder how many people know how to store food correctly? And how many people end up throwing things away prematurely simply because they stored the thing wrong? I’m adding this to my list of future blog posts. That way I can use my mistake to help others choose better.
  • Make your voice heard. Write to companies, manufacturers and businesses to discuss the issues and share solutions. This isn’t relevant to my situation here as I accept 100% of the blame. But say you ordered something and it arrived wrapped in plastic because you forgot to ask about the packaging, or you were given a straw because you forgot to say “no straw”. You can own your part whilst still reaching out to the business to explain and ask them to do better.
  • Make a change. Forgiveness and reflection are two parts, the third part is doing things differently next time. Whether that’s tweaking our routine, or setting up a reminder, or investing in the tools to do things differently, we need to use this guilt to fuel a new way of doing things.
  • Join a group of others taking action. Maybe it’s picking up litter, or making reusable shopping bags, or writing letters; maybe it’s a group of like-minded people getting together to share ideas… But finding a group that’s bigger than you can help channel some of your energy into creating more systemic change.

I don’t know if we can get rid of guilt altogether. Maybe a little bit of guilt is a good thing. It shows we have an awareness of the impact of our actions. I find that feeling a little bit guilty reminds me that these are things that I care about; issues that I care about.

Used right, we can channel our guilt to take action rather than letting it overwhelm us, and do better next time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you suffer from eco-guilt? Is there anything that makes you feel particularly guilty? How have you learned from it, and how do you try to manage it? or do you not have a guilty bone in your body? In which case – tell us your secrets! Wherever you sit on the scale I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share in the comments below!

 

8 Zero Waste, Plastic-Free and Sustainable Lifestyle Books for 21st Century Living

Times are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that the section in the library or in the local book store about green living had a couple of books about keeping chickens, preserving your entire homegrown harvest and going off-grid, a few more about saving the planet without even leaving your armchair, and not very much in between.

Plus, even finding that section in the first place was a mission.

But over the last few years, the number of books focused on living more sustainably and reducing waste, particularly for those of us that live in cities and suburbs, has blossomed.

The best thing is that these books are practical. Live in an apartment? Still in college? Have a baby or young kids? Trying to make your budget stretch further? There’s still plenty that can be done!

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books taking zero waste living, going plastic-free and making sustainable choices into the 21st century. They are all books I’ve actually read. They are all different, which is great: different people are on different journeys, and need different inspiration at different times.

Rather than compare, I’ve tried to articulate not only what the book is about but also the style and tone, and who it is ideal for.

Just because something isn’t featured here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t great – it probably means I haven’t read it (yet)! And I do intend to update this list as more good books are released into the world.

Lastly, this post does use some affiliate links. As always, I encourage supporting your local library or your local independent bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have one) before buying online.

Zero Waste by Shia Su

Shia is from Germany, and has a popular Instagram account called Wasteland Rebel. She lives a zero waste lifestyle with her husband in urban Germany, and is also a minimalist, and vegan.

Zero Waste is a great beginner’s guide with colour photos, well structured and clearly laid out. The content is both thoughtful and practical, and her tone is helpful and non-judgmental. She explains the premise behind the zero waste movement and touches on some of the bigger issues at the core of the waste “problem”, whilst making this a book focused on solutions.

Shia talks about the choices she has made as well as offering alternatives and encouraging readers to find their own way.

Suited for those new to the zero waste movement, or interested in learning how others make zero waste living work for them

Worldwide delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK stockists

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

Erin is a zero waste blogger from Melbourne on the east coast of Australia, who writes the blog The Rogue Ginger. We started writing about plastic-free and zero waste living around the same time, although it took a while for us to connect – and when we did it was interesting to see how much similarity there was in our journeys. I’m very happy to call Erin a good friend of mine.

Erin’s book is an in-depth look into what zero waste is and a practical guide to wasting less. As well as the obvious things like food shopping and choosing reusables, Erin covers weddings, babies, mending, activism and some of the lesser talked-about aspects of living waste-free.

Waste Not is very comprehensive, and written in a gentle, encouraging tone with lots of stories of Erin’s journey along the way. There are recipes and how-to’s and plenty of step-by-steps, although Erin is very clear to emphasize that she does not advocate making everything from scratch.

Suited to anyone who wants a really comprehensive introduction and immersion into the topic, or who wants to get serious about zero waste living. This book isn’t just about why – it’s about how. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read, although the sheer amount of content means it will take a while to work through – trust me, it is most definitely worth it.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not Everyday by Erin Rhoads

Erin wrote a second book Waste Not Everyday as a sister book to Waste Not, published a year apart. With Waste Not Everyday, Erin wanted to create something more digestible for people who weren’t quite ready to immerse themselves in zero waste, or who wanted quick tips and easy-to-grasp ideas to inspire rather than a comprehensive step-by-step road map to change.

Waste Not Everyday is divided into 365 tips, with simple recipes and heaps of great ideas for reducing, reusing and reconnecting. It’s really easy to dip in and out of, it’s fun and it’s still packed with good ideas.

Suited to anyone who find big in-depth books intimidating, or wants simple inspiration and is happy to go and do their own research to find out more.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

Not yet published in UK/USA/CAN.

A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days by Anita Vandyke

Anita is from Sydney, Australia, although she spends half her time in San Fransisco, and has a popular zero waste Instagram account called Rocket Science (she’s also an aeronautical engineer, and currently studying medicine).

Anita’s book is very different to Erin’s – it’s small, light and easy to read although still full of ideas for living with less waste. Beautifully presented, with illustrations rather than photos. The tone and style is very similar to the posts Anita shares via Instagram, with hints, tip and tricks, giving the reader ideas and inspiration to take away.

Although the book is called A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days and presented as a tip for each day, the actual changes suggested are more about changing our mindsets, habits and behaviours than making simple daily swaps.

Suited to anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to read a more in-depth book, or who likes their information in bite-size portions. The book is an entree of the the ideas behind living a zero waste life, written to inspire and motivate rather than providing a step-by-step of how to get there.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble |Indiebound


The Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter

Lauren and Oberon Carter are also from Australia (they live in Tasmania) but their zero waste living experience differs from the media stereotype of the young urban-dwelling woman-only lifestyle: they live on a 850m2 block in Hobart with their three daughters, whom they homeschool, and grow a lot of their own food. They also run the Zero Waste Tasmania Facebook page and an online store called Spiral Garden.

A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living covers a lot of topics not delved into by the other zero waste books on the market: there’s much more focus on doing things from scratch, growing food and the self-sufficiency side of zero waste living. It’s very much a family-friendly guide, with some less commonly seen but definitely practical DIYs, and beautiful photos throughout.

Suited to anyone who loves the idea of embracing the DIY, self-sufficiency side of living in a modern, 21st century way. This book is for those wanting to go further than the more straightforward and most talked-about swaps; and for those interested to learn more about how a family of five can live waste free.

Worldwide Stockists:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks


Live Green by Jen Chillingsworth

Jen lives in Yorkshire in the UK with her husband and teenage son, and her Instagram account is Jen Little Birdie. She writes about slow and simple living rather than zero waste specifically, but there is so much alignment with her content that I had to include it here – plus I love her tone and voice.

Jen’s book is tiny – it almost fits in the palm of my hand – yet it packs the content in. This book is brimming with ideas. It’s beautifully illustrated in full colour, with six sections: Green Home & Garden, Eco Household, Eat Green, Slow Fashion, Natural Beauty and Simple Christmas. The concept is one idea a week for a whole year. Jen is thoughtful, thorough and there are lots of practical how to’s and recipes to support the ideas and help the reader take next steps.

Suited to anyone at the beginning of their sustainability journey or looking for some next steps, who wants ideas for living more sustainably in an easily digestible format – but still with practical how-to’s. With thoughts on energy efficiency, slow fashion and mindfulness, Live Green covers a broader range of topics than many zero waste books. And that’s a good thing – these issues are all interconnected, after all.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

Of course I’m including my own book here! If you haven’t met me before, I’m Lindsay, and I’ve been living plastic-free and zero waste since 2012, and writing this blog since 2013. My minimalism journey (or my journey to ‘enough’ as I like to call it, because labels can be so polarising) started because I was struggling with having too much stuff and hating the idea of waste.

It took a lightbulb moment for me to realise that keeping stuff I didn’t need, didn’t use and didn’t like was actually a huge waste – there had to be (and is) another way.

Less Stuff is a book about decluttering but it’s more than that, it’s about redefining our relationship with stuff. How we choose things, how we use things, and most importantly – what we can do with our things when we’re done with them. It’s a practical guide with a step-by-step approach, and in particular there’s a big focus on the ‘how’ of finding new homes for our old things.

Suited to anyone who thinks they’ve got too much stuff, those of us who feel guilty throwing things in the bin and anyone wanting to redefine their relationship with their things.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Simplicious Flow by Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a journalist and TV presenter most well-known as the founder of I Quit Sugar, but she is also passionate about reducing food waste (among other things). Her last I Quit Sugar book, Simplicious Flow is actually a zero-waste cookbook.

With Simplicious Flow Sarah wanted to do things differently. Not just with the recipes, but with the whole cookbook-making process (she wrote an interesting piece about the behind-the-scenes here). Talking of content, this book is packed full: there are 348 recipes that range from the kinds of recipes you’d expect in a cookbook to a 3-page spread on using up jar dregs, and a banana cake that uses banana peels.

Suited to those who already have a bit of confidence in the kitchen and want to make more foods from scratch, and anyone passionate about reducing their food waste at home. I suspect this book might overwhelm absolute beginners partly due to its sheer size and partly due to the ‘flow’ which means recipes move from one to another. Sarah’s recipes use a lot of meat, fish, eggs and dairy so if you’re vegan or plant-based this is something to consider. It’s family-friendly, with recipes for kids included.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Waterstones


As I said, I’m hoping to add more to these as I get round to reading them. On my to-read list, Tara Button’s A Life Less Throwaway, Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. All other suggestions welcome!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what good books on sustainability have you read? Which did you love? Which didn’t quite work for you? Have you read any of these and what were your thoughts? Any new releases you’re looking forward to reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 Tips to Stop Impulse Buying

Living with less waste is very firmly linked to the buying of less stuff. The less we buy, the less resources we use, the less packaging we invite into our homes, the less storage we need (don’t forget, storage is stuff), and the less we end up recycling or landfilling down the track.

But it can be very hard to stop buying stuff. After all, everywhere we look, there are adverts or people persuading us that the thing they have is exactly what we need. Whether it’s on the TV, billboards, printed magazines or newspapers, social media feeds, internet banner ads or somewhere else, we are exposed to a lot of adverts.

And everything can be posted everywhere.

Not to mention, there is a lot of beautiful, useful stuff out there in the world.

With all this in mind, it is really not surprising that we keep buying stuff. But most of us have more than we need, and would rather decrease the clutter than add more to it.

If we want to live a low waste lifestyle, and save resources, we really need to buy less stuff.

But how?

Here’s 6 things I did to get out of the habit of impulse buying.

1. Unsubscribe from ALL Shop Email Lists (and anything else that is way too salesy)

I used to sign up to store mailing lists as they promised me discounts and to be the first to know about all their special offers. Turns out, pretty much everything is on offer pretty much all of the time. But by keeping their stuff in my face, they were wearing me down, and encouraging me to buy things I didn’t even know existed until I saw the ad.

I wasn’t saving money by being on these mailing lists, I was spending more.

The truth is, I know when the big sales are on. I don’t need the stores to tell me. Black Friday, Boxing Day, the end of the financial year. If I want something from these stores, I can go to their websites at these times to see if they have offers. They don’t need to come to me.

And if I forget? Well, that just means I didn’t really need anything in the first place.

As well as unsubscribing from store email lists, I also unfollow any businesses or people I feel were too salesy. I don’t block everyone who ever posts an ad (but you could!), I just weigh up the balance. If I enjoy the feed, find the content useful and don’t feel under pressure to buy or constantly exposed to “stuff”, I’m happy to stay following.

But as soon as the balance tips and I realise I’m just seeing a bunch of covert (or not!) ads, then I’m done.

2. Don’t Browse Catalogues or Websites Out Of Boredom

I remember a couple of years into my minimalism journey, receiving a catalogue from David Jones through the mailbox (for those outside Australia, David Jones is a fancy high-end department store). I flicked through it and saw all the purple kitchen accessories and nautical themed clothing, with cute anchor accessories and smart blue-and-white striped everything.

I didn’t own any of those things!

Immediately I felt inadequate, and a small voice in my brain started to tell me that I needed to own a blue nautical stripy jumper, and really, wasn’t it time to upgrade the kitchen spatula?

At the same time, my experience of minimalism told me this was absurd. Luckily I’d been on the less waste, less stuff journey for long enough that the stern, don’t be so ridiculous voice in my head was louder, and won out.

I put the catalogue in the recycling, and vowed never to flick through another catalogue again. (Oh, and I got a “No Advertising Material Accepted” for my mailbox. It works wonders.)

As someone on the less waste, less stuff journey I didn’t think I’d be tempted, but I was. The pull of these things can be pretty strong.

Don’t put yourself in temptation’s way. Don’t go to store websites unless there’s something you absolutely need. Don’t browse out of boredom. Don’t browse for “inspiration” – you’ll end up spending money you didn’t mean to.

Don’t open the shopping catalogues. (If they arrive in the mail, strikethrough your address and write “Not at this address, return to sender” on front, then mail it straight back where it came from.)

Instead, find another way to alleviate your boredom. Read a few pages from a book, go for a walk, play a game, message a friend, whip up some tasty treat in the kitchen.

The less we expose ourselves to “stuff”, the less tempted we are to buy stuff, and the less we buy.

3. Don’t Go To The Shops Without A Reason

If we are trying to stop buying stuff, browsing and window shopping are not reasons to go to the store. Unless there is something we need, and we have a list that we are prepared to stick to, we must resist the temptation to head to the shopping centre.

What you don’t see you won’t buy.

When it comes to writing lists, more specific is better. Rather than “a top for work”, think about what you really need. “A short-sleeved top, preferably green or blue, that will match the skirt and trousers I already own” is a much better instruction. Rather than “stuff for dinner”, look in the fridge and pantry, figure out what is already there and what would be most useful. “Potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas” might allow you to use up what’s already in the fridge, and create less food waste.

If we are vague about what we need, we will end up with things we don’t need.

If friends want to meet at the shops, try to suggest meeting somewhere else. If that is not an option, consider opting out, especially if the purpose of the meeting is to go (window) shopping. There are plenty of fun things to do with friends that do not involve buying stuff. Try to steer future meetings away from the mall.

4. Learn the Difference between “Useful” and “Necessary”

So much stuff is beautiful, and so much stuff is useful – but that doesn’t mean we need to buy any of it (and definitely not all of it). Often we confuse “useful” with “necessary” when it comes to making purchases, and the two are very different.

The question isn’t “how will the item be used” so much as “how will I use it”? Or even, will I use it? Not once or twice, but consistently, regularly.

Stuff doesn’t just need to be useful. Stuff needs to be used.

Necessary can mean different things to different people. Good reasons include making our life easier, making us less stressed, saving a noticeable amount of time or anguish, providing entertainment, and helping keep the peace at home.

Here’s a few questions to ask to decide if something is actually necessary, or merely useful.

  • Do I need it? I mean, do I really need it?
  • How will I use it? Where will I use it? When will I use it? How often will I use it?
  • Will it still be useful in three months time? Six months time? In a year?
  • Is there anything else I already have that can do that job?
  • How will it make my life better?

If in doubt, go without.

5. When You See Something You Want, Don’t Buy It – Let it Simmer

If you see something that you want, or even something that you think you need, resist the urge to make the purchase. For now.

Put down the purse, walk away, and let it simmer.

(Unless the item has been on your “I absolutely must purchase this if I ever see it because it is so inherently useful and necessary” list for at least 6 months – but I’m betting you don’t actually even have a list like this.)

See how you feel about the item later that day. See how you feel about it the next day. See how you feel about it in a week.

This is hard when there’s stuff in the sale, or on the “when it’s gone, it’s gone” rail, because marketers use scarcity to encourage us to buy stuff. We’re not sure if we want it, but if we don’t buy it, we might make a mistake! It might not be there tomorrow! Someone else might snaffle it instead!

But that’s not our brain doing a rational assessment of whether we really need or will use something. That’s our ‘fear of missing out’ talking. Since when was that guy in charge of our purchasing decisions?

In a week, if you are still adamant that you need and want the item, buy it. Worst case, you wait a week, decide you want the item, and it is gone. I’m betting that you’ll still be able to find the item somewhere else, or wait for it to appear second-hand online in no time.

Absolute absolute worst case, that doesn’t happen, and you miss out on the thing forever. The good news is, it is only a thing. There will be plenty more things that we want to buy over the course of our lives.

Life will go on.

6. Find a Way To “Reward” Yourself That Isn’t Shopping

If buying stuff is what you do when you’re bored, miserable, dejected or struggling with life, and you want to stop buying stuff, then you need to find a new way to make yourself feel better. Because trying to stop impulse buying, only to buy stuff as a means to soothe ourselves, is counter-intuitive. (It’s like going on a diet, and rewarding ourselves with chocolate cake. Tasty and satisfying in the moment, but it undoes all the good work.)

The good news is, there are plenty of other feel-good things to do. If you need cheering up, think of something that you enjoy that doesn’t involve shopping. Watch a movie or comedy show, bake a cake, stroll around the park, or make time for a cup of tea with some friends. Join an exercise class, learn a new language, or take up a new skill.

There are much more rewarding and enjoyable things to do than shop, and much better ways to use our money than buying “stuff”. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but each time we say no and resist the urge to open our wallet, we get a little closer.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you an impulse shopper? Did you used to be an impulse shopper? How did you learn to change? Is it something you’re currently trying to change? What are your biggest tips for not spending? Do you have any impulse shopping weaknesses? (Chocolate, hello!) Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Hardest Thing about Going Zero Waste (it’s not what you think)

If you had to guess what the hardest thing about going zero waste is, what would you say? Lack of access to bulk stores? Zero waste products being more expensive than their plastic-packaged, overly wrapped counterparts? Lack of buy-in from the kids, or the spouse, or parents, or colleagues?

These things can certainly be challenging. Yes, it would definitely be easier if we all had an incredibly affordable bulk store just around the corner, right next to a veggie shop full of fresh locally grown, unpackaged produce, and our family was so enthusiastic about zero waste living that they fought over whose turn it was to do the grocery shopping.

Let’s just imagine that for a second. Ahhhhhh.

The absolute hardest thing about going zero waste, though? In my view, it is none of these things.

The hardest thing about going zero waste is stepping off the consumer treadmill. The hardest thing is not buying stuff.

Let me explain.

When I talk about “stuff”, I’m not talking about the grocery shop. I’m talking about everything except the grocery shop. Yes, the zero waste conversation often hovers around bulk store shopping and avoiding the single-use plastic packaging that so many grocery items come packaged in.

We forget that everything else we buy is also contributing to the “waste” issue.

Everything. Even the zero waste reusables that we buy. No matter how eco-friendly the product, it still uses resources and it still uses energy in its creation, and it still has an impact on our planet.

Now I’m not saying, we shouldn’t buy anything, ever. Furniture, white goods, clothing, homewares, kitchen tools – it’s all useful stuff. Those zero waste reusables are pretty useful too.

But that’s exactly the problem. There is useful stuff everywhere; we know it is useful, and we want to buy it.

Sometimes we do buy it.

The hardest thing about zero waste is about resisting the majority, if not all, of the useful stuff. The hardest thing about zero waste is not buying stuff.

Change is Hard, and Buying Stuff is Easy

Change can be hard. Starting and then ingraining new habits, consciously trying to remember new ways of doing things before it seeps into our subconscious, researching new ideas and learning new skills – it can be exhausting.

We want to make progress, and fast. We want to see the evidence of this progress.

And that is where the buying comes in.

It’s almost like a beginner zero waste right-of-passage; the buying of stuff. We’ve all done it. (Well, most of us. Including me.) We want to look like we’ve made progress, and so we buy the things to prove it.

The water bottle, the reusable coffee cup, the reusable produce bags.

It makes us feel good before the real stuff happens. The refusing of the single-use items, the remembering of said reusables, and the reshaping of habits.

That’s the real secret to being zero waste. It’s not the buying of stuff, it’s the remembering of stuff.

Of course, it’s okay to buy things. (Yes, it’s always better if we think carefully about our purchases and ensure that they are made by responsible companies and sold by responsible businesses; and they are exactly what we need and will use often. But no-one is perfect all of the time.)

We have to remember, that all of us enjoy a certain amount of comfort that we’d like to maintain. No-one reading this is living in a cave, collecting rainwater, growing all their own food and weaving their own clothes. Let’s be realistic. Maybe we like eating chocolate, or drinking coffee, or wearing ethical fashion. If takeaway coffee is our treat, then it is our treat – and a reusable coffee cup is a useful purchase.

Some things are useful, and some things are necessary. If the “thing” is standing between going zero waste and not (and will reduce waste in the long run), better to buy it.

But at some point, we have to recognize that we cannot continue to buy stuff to reduce our consumption and waste.

We have to reach our “enough”, be happy with what we have, and step off the consumer treadmill.

Stepping Off the Consumer Treadmill

The consumer treadmill refers to the constant desire or pull we feel to buy stuff and upgrade stuff. Letting go of these urges and not succumbing to temptation can be hard. It can take time. Sometimes a lot of time.

But if we are really going to embrace zero waste living, this is what we need to do.

You know how with exercise treadmills, you spend a lot of time and energy walking or running, and yet you never actually get anywhere? Well, the same applies to the consumer treadmill. Buying, storing, maintaining and ultimately disposing of stuff all takes up time and energy, for not much (any) gain.

The happiness we feel when we buy new things is fleeting, and it fades. What we’re left with is a credit card bill and more stuff to take care of – which tends to leave us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed rather than satisfied.

This is a tough lesson to learn.

Change is hard, and buying stuff is easy.

Even when we know that it is true, it can be so hard not to buy stuff. New things are so shiny, and marketers are extremely good at persuading us that we need things. That our lives will be better with them.

When I first went zero waste, the zero waste options on the market were lean. This was a good thing, as I was still in the early I-want-to-make-changes-and-want-to-see-progress stages when buying stuff is such a temptation.

Because the selection was meagre (and my budget was tiny), I didn’t buy a huge number of things, and the things I have are well used.

Then, as I went further down the zero waste path, I embraced the second-hand lifestyle, the making-do lifestyle, the borrowing-rather-than-buying lifestyle.

I learned about my “enough” and I let go of the urge to buy stuff as the solution (to whatever the problem might be).

It is more than 6 years since I first went zero waste, and now there are so many more options for zero waste items – often described as “essentials”. There are reusables for things I’d never have thought of (and would never have considered necessary until I clamped eyes on them), and there are better versions of things that I already have.

It’s easy to see things and think “ooh, I could use that” or “ooh, that is a much better version of what I already have – I should upgrade”.

The challenge is to resist this temptation. It can be a daily challenge. To understand that what is useful is not the same as what is necessary. It is easy to convince ourselves that we will use things, and therefore we need them. Instead, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t.

Things that are useful are not always necessary.

This isn’t about no stuff. We need stuff: it is useful and sometimes necessary. We can buy things because we consider them both useful and necessary, and we can recognize that everything we buy has a footprint.

The most zero waste thing to do will always be to buy nothing at all: to make do with what we have. That doesn’t mean it’s realistic, practical or achievable, but it is the truth.

If we can’t buy nothing, what can we do?

We can buy less, we can buy better, and we can make things last.

We can limit our purchases. We can choose second-hand, or we can borrow, or hire. We can share resources, we can trade, or swap. We can improvise, and make do without.

This is the closest we get to zero waste living.

We can consume resources, or we can conserve them. The planet won’t be saved by us all purchasing yet another reusable.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you find it easy or do you find it difficult to not buy stuff? How has that changed over time as you’ve begun reducing your waste? Is it something you’d like to be better at in the future? Or have you reached a happy balance of “enough”? Any other thoughts? Please tell us in the comments below!

5 Tips for Letting Go of Unwanted Christmas Gifts

Before you even say it, no. It is not too early to be talking about what to do with unwanted Christmas gifts. If we don’t talk about it, those gifts will be shoved in a cupboard, where they will languish untouched for months, forgotten and unused.

What a waste of resources!

The best outcome for these gifts is that they are needed, wanted and well used.

If you or someone you know received a gift that they don’t want, it is much better to find someone who needs it rather than stuffing it into storage.

The Reasons We Hang Onto Stuff We Don’t Need: Guilt and Fear

Is it ungrateful or rude to pass on a gift that’s unwanted? I don’t think so. No-one asks for gifts they don’t want and don’t like. The gifter may have had the best intentions, but on this occasion, they got it wrong.

We all make mistakes and misjudge things sometimes. That’s just how life works.

It was still kind and generous that they gifted something, and the meaning is in the giving, not the actual object.

But when it comes to letting go of the gift, we can feel guilty.

We feel guilty that they made a poor choice.

We feel guilty that we weren’t clearer about our dislike of hot pink, or the fact we actually went vegan 7 years ago, or the fact that we already own every single cookbook/novel by that author.

We feel guilty that they wasted their time, or money.

The thing is, all of this is about the past. The gift has already been purchased and gifted, and we can’t turn the clocks back. Whether we keep something or give it away won’t change the fact that the gift was a poor choice.

The difference is that keeping something reminds us of this, every time we see the item. Letting something go will let go of this guilt.

Finding new owners for our unwanted things is a great way to alleviate the guilt we feel about parting with stuff – it is hard to feel guilty when you’re bringing joy to someone else.

When it comes to letting go, we can also be fearful.

Fearful that the gifter will find out, and we’ll be judged.

Fearful that if we’re found out we will be seen as ungrateful and maybe not be given gifts again.

This fear is about something that hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. Is it really a genuine cause for concern, or if it comes true, will it actually be slightly uncomfortable for a very small window of time?

Fear and guilt are not reasons to keep things we don’t need.

Think about it from your own perspective. How would you feel if you knew that a gift you’d purchased for someone was unwanted, disliked and would never be used? Would you rather the person kept it out of guilt or fear, or would you rather they passed it onto someone who loved it?

To Tell or Not Tell?

There’s no need to tell the gifter you don’t like the gift and you’re passing it on, if you don’t want to. If you think it will upset someone, or you’ll feel judged, there’s no need to mention it.

Most people won’t ask what became of the gift, but if you’re worried about that, have an answer at the ready.

If the gifter told you that they kept the receipt in case you want to exchange it, consider that an invitation to tell them that you’d like to exchange it. Obvious as that seems, it can be an awkward conversation, and one we prefer to avoid. But the fact they mentioned it means they’d rather you had something you actually liked than try to protect their feelings. If this option exists, don’t shy away from it.

On the other hand, you might prefer to tell the gifter of your plans. If they were wildly wrong with size, style or taste it may be helpful to say so.

If you put clear boundaries around the gifts you wanted and didn’t want, and these boundaries were trampled over (oh, I know you said only second-hand gifts but these plastic trashy items from the big box store were such bargains!) then it can be helpful (and rather satisfying) to explain your decision. It will also help clear up future misunderstandings.

Don’t forget, if they have no way to know you didn’t like the gift, they may continue to gift in the same spirit.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Do what feels right (or easier).

Options for Letting Go of Christmas Gifts

Take it back to the Store.

Some stores will let you exchange items even without a receipt over Christmas, so it is worth asking. Call ahead before you make the trip to double-check. The item will need to be still tagged and unused. You won’t get a refund, but if you simply want to switch size or colour, or swap for another product it is probably the lowest hassle solution.

Sell It.

Online auction platforms like eBay and classifieds platforms like Craigslist and Gumtree are great for listing items for sale from the comfort of your own home. Decide a price you’re happy with, take a few pics, and wait for a buyer. There are also marketplaces on social media for finding interested buyers.

Donate It.

Rather than dump your unwanted gift at the closest charity shop along with all the other unwanted gifts, consider giving the item away by other means. Charity shops are overloaded at this time of year, so it might be better to donate to an organization that will use the item, rather than resell it. For example, a homeless charity might accept sleeping bags and blankets, a refugee centre might take small electrical appliances, women’s refuges might take cosmetics and personal care products, and a food bank will accept food items.

Ask yourself, who might want what I have?

You can also give items away on online classifieds platforms, you can give away via local neighbourhood networks such as Buy Nothing groups, and you can regift – if you think the person will want the item.

If you’re worried about being judged for passing on unwanted Christmas gifts, donating them to a worthy cause can help. It might be a lot easier to say you donated something to an animal rescue centre or hospice than it is to say you sold it on eBay.

That’s not to say one choice is better. As long as the item ends up in the hands of someone who will use it, it is a good outcome.

Letting go of something we don’t need, don’t want and don’t like; it doesn’t make us ungrateful or selfish. It doesn’t make us greedy (if we decide to sell it). Stuff shouldn’t have that kind of power, and it only will if we allow it to. The best thing to do is to pass the item on. Out of sight, out of mind.

Difficult things become easier, and guilt will pass.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with unwanted gifts? Any additional tips? Do you struggle with guilt? How has this changed over the years? Do you find it easier now than you used to? Any other thoughts? Share all in the comments below!

How To Be A Better Recycler (in 8 Simple Steps)

I don’t love recycling. I’d much rather things didn’t need to be recycled in the first place, either because I’ve avoided them or because they are being reused exactly as they are. Much better to refill a jam jar than for it to be picked up from my kerbside, driven to a resource recovery centre, separated, crushed, melted down and manufactured back into a new jam jar.

Much as I don’t love recycling, it’s a necessity. We all recycle things.

When we start out on our waste reducing journey, recycling is the perfect place to start, because recycling is much better than landfill.

Down the track, we learn to reduce our recycling. But recycling doesn’t drop to zero.

So if we are inevitably going to recycle things, let’s be the best recyclers that we can be. Recycling correctly is better than recycling incorrectly.

Whether you’re a plastic-free or zero waste newbie, or whether you’ve been on the journey for a while, there’s probably the opportunity for you to be a better recycler. Here’s 8 tips to consider.

1. Get informed on what can be recycled where you live

There’s a big difference between ‘theoretically recyclable’ and ‘actually recycled’. Lots of things can be recycled in theory, but they aren’t – because it’s too expensive to process, there’s not enough volume for it to be viable, or there’s not enough demand for the recycled product.

Companies want us to think that their products are recyclable and so they splash recycling logos all over the packaging. But if it’s not a material that is recyclable in your area, it won’t be recycled, however much both you and the company who produced the packaging want it to be.

You need to find out what’s recyclable in your area. What’s recyclable overseas or even in the next town isn’t necessarily what’s recyclable for you.

If you have kerbside recycling, it is your local council that provides the service (either themselves, or contracted out). Contact them to find out what can and cannot be recycled. They’ll probably have information on their website, but you can also call and ask to speak to the waste officer.

2. Follow the Rules!

Recycling is different everywhere, and the rules that your council or recycling provider tell you to follow are the ones that you need to follow. If you see something that seems like a much better idea on the internet but goes against what your local council says to do, don’t be tempted!

3. Clean your recyclables

Whether your council tells you to or not, it’s always better to rinse out your dirty recyclables. (Use the water at the end of your washing-up, and give them a quick rinse.) There’s a chance that someone somewhere might have to handle them, or breathe in the air where they’re processed and stored.

It might not be necessary for the machinery, but it is better for the people who work in the industry. Dried-on fermented cat food or sour milk never increased the value of recyclables, ever.

4. Check for updates regularly

What’s recyclable now isn’t necessarily the same as what was recyclable 6 months ago, and it might change again 6 months into the future. That’s because recyclables are commodities, and their value increases and falls with supply and demand. Many materials recovery facilities sell recyclables using short-term contracts, maybe as little as 3 months.

Fluctuating markets affect price, and if something isn’t valuable enough to recycle, it won’t be recycled.

Don’t assume that just because you checked the council recycling guidelines once in 1997 that the information you remember from then is still relevant today. It probably won’t be! It is much better practice to check in with your local council every three months or so, to find out what’s changed.

5. Look for alternative solutions (beyond kerbside recycling)

Recycling isn’t limited to kerbside collection systems. Plenty of things can be recycled at drop-off points provided by your council or at collection bins at businesses and more responsible retailers. Textiles, light bulbs, paint, scrap metal, printer cartridges, eWaste (old electronics) and oil can all be recycled.

As well as your council website, these national recycling databases have information for where to take recycables:

recyclingnearyou.com.au (Australia)

earth911.com (USA)

recycleforscotland.com (Scotland)

recycleforwales.org.uk (Wales)

recyclenow.com (England)

6. Don’t wishcycle

Wishcycling is when we put something in the recycling bin and hope it will be recycled, even though we know the recycling bin isn’t the proper place for it. Don’t do it! (Yes, we all want everything to be recyclable and we all feel guilty about landfill. But wishcycling isn’t the answer!)

Recycling properly can take a little more work, to find out where to go and then drop the item off. In the scheme of things, it isn’t a very big ask.

I was once told by the guide of a tour of a materials recovery facility, that the craziest thing he ever saw in a yellow-lidded kerbside recycling bin was a car door. Of course, being made of metal, a car door is completely recyclable. But it isn’t meant to go in the kerbside recycling bin! The materials recovery facility is not set up to deal with that kind of material, and incorrect materials damage machinery. The car door could have been taken to a scrap metal recycler instead.

Take the time to find out the best place for the item you want to recycle. And if you really can’t find a place to take the item to be recycled where you live, accept that it has to go in the landfill bin.

(Your next step is to figure out how to avoid that item again in the future.)

7. Less Recycling is Better

When I say ‘be a better recycler’ I do not mean ‘recycle more’. Less recycling is better. That’s less trucks on the roads, less machinery sorting materials, less energy spent processing our recyclables, less resources consumed.

An empty recycling bin is better than a full recycling bin.

Yes, at the start of our journey we all start out with a full-to-overflowing recycling bin. Plus if you’re anything like I was, you’re mightily proud of said overflowing recycling bin.

It’s a journey, and one that starts with maximum recycling works towards minimum recycling.

First we learn exactly what goes into our recycling bin, then we learn where to recycle all the other things, and then we start to think about how to reduce our recycling.

Recycling is where we start. It is not where we stop!

8. Refuse, reduce, reuse (before recycling)

Recycling is only one up from landfill; it’s a not-quite-last-but-not-far-off resort. If we’re going to create less recycling, we need to be thinking further up the waste stream. We need to be thinking about refusing, reducing and reusing.

Refusing happens when we avoid the packaging and materials that will need to be recycled in the first place. Choosing loose produce over the prepackaged stuff, not taking a plastic bag, asking for no plastic straw.

Reducing happens when we know we need some kind of packaging, but we try to limit what we take. Opting for the bigger packet rather than the multi-pack of individually wrapped packets, or choosing a single bottle of juice over several juice boxes.

Reusing happens when we either take our own reusables to the shops: produce bags for fruit and veg, containers for trips to the deli and other counters, a coffee cup to the local cafe.

By looking at the packaging in our recycling bin we can see exactly where we might do better, and start looking for solutions, one item at a time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How does recycling work where you live? Do you have kerbside recycling? Where else can you take your recycables? How have you managed to reduce your non-recycables? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lining a Bin with Newspaper

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

A friend suggested newspaper, and I made the switch.

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

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

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

“Who even gets a newspaper these days?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly. Great idea and what I do now.

“Now” being the key word.

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

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

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

Buying Plastic Reusables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.