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8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot!

I have had my fair share of waste-related disagreements in my time! There are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

We don’t choose our partners or friends based on their awesome ability to remember their reusable bags on all occasions. If we are lucky they will strive to do their best, and their best might still mean forgetting reusable bags once in a while.

It isn’t as if we are perfect! It’s better to try not to let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between our relationships and cause friction. In the moment, I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me when it comes to relationships is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same.

Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Make (Scrappy) Apple Cider Vinegar from Scratch

I love knowing how stuff works. Even though I can buy apple cider vinegar  from bulk stores locally, I want to know how to make my own. Not because I’m a glutton for punishment who wants to make everything from scratch ‘just because’. I think its important to understand where our food comes from and how its made. Making actual food out of “waste” food appeals to my love of avoiding waste. Plus of course, my inner chemist likes to play with her food.

Once I know how to make something, then I decide whether it’s worth the effort involved to keep on doing it, and how easy/affordable it is to buy. I don’t have time to make everything. I buy my pasta, and laundry powder. I make pesto and crackers and peanut butter.

Apple scraps/cider vinegar is such an easy and low effort thing to make that there’s just no reason not to.

Apple cider vinegar is made from the apple pulp left from making cider, which uses whole apples. Apple scraps vinegar is pretty much the same thing, but only uses the cores and skin of apples rather than the whole thing. The end product is pretty much the same.

Unless you’re making cider, I wouldn’t recommend using whole apples to make apple cider/scraps vinegar. It works just as well with the cores and peels, and you can use those apples for something else delicious. Making apple cider/scraps vinegar from the waste bits is much more satisfying!

I’ve made apple scraps vinegar a couple of ways, and I’ve included both methods below. One uses the cores and peels only, and the second uses the leftover pulp from juicing apples.

Frozen apple cores ready to go, and a previous batch of finished apple scraps vinegar.

 Apple Scrap Vinegar from Apple Scraps

Although I’ve given you quantities, they don’t really matter all that much. More apples will work more quickly, and make a darker vinegar than less, but don’t sweat it if you have different amounts. Try and see!

A couple of pointers before we start:

  • If you don’t eat a lot of apples, pop the cores (and peels, if you like to peel your apples) in a jar in the freezer, and wait until you fill the jar.
  • The sugar is to kick-start the fermenting process so don’t leave it out! 1 tbsp is adequate but I find it works faster with 2 tbsp. Honey should also work if you’d like a more natural alternative to sugar but I haven’t tried it.

Ingredients:

Apple peels and/or cores from 6-8 large apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

Method:

Part 1:

Pop the apple cores and peels in a clean glass jar with a wide neck, add the water and sugar and stir. Cover with a clean tea towel. The secret now is to keep stirring, whenever you remember. Any time you walk into the kitchen, give your jar a stir. First thing in the morning, last thing at night – stir!

You want to stir to keep it aerated, and to stop any mold growing on the surface. Fermentation works because the good bacteria/yeast/microorganisms win against the bad ones, so we need to keep conditions favourable for the good guys! With most ferments the aim is to exclude oxygen, but not this time. To make cider, the oxygen is excluded, but to make vinegar it is not.

Keep stirring your jar over a few days and start to notice how it changes. It may start to smell like cider, or like vinegar, or both. Bubbles will appear on the surface and maybe froth or scum. All of this is good! Once any trace of alcohol smell has gone, there are less bubbles,  and the apple pieces begin to settle and the vinegar will be ready for the next step.

Part 2:

Strain the contents of your jar into another clean jar (or a bottle) using a fine sieve or cheesecloth. Squeeze out the liquid from the pulp. (If you taste the pulp, you will find that it is completely flavourless.)

Now there are two options.

Option 1: Put a lid on your jar, and leave on the kitchen counter for a few days, opening the lid every day to release any pressure. If there’s any fermentation still happening, the pressure could build up and the jar might explode in your kitchen cupboard, so this is a safe option.

Option 2: If you can’t keep an eye on your vinegar, or you want a break, pop the bottle in the fridge to slow down the fermentation. I’d recommend loosening the lid so any gas can escape. It will ferment very, very slowly. When you’re ready, bring it back to room temperature to continue the fermentation.

Straining the spent apples from the vinegar. Cheesecloth is the best option but muslin or a fine sieve will also work – you’ll just end up with slightly more sediment in the vinegar.

After a week, taste your vinegar. If you find it sweet, leave on the counter to continue fermenting. Once you’re happy with the way it tastes, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

Apple Cider Vinegar from Apple Juice Pulp

This is a great way to use up pulp from juicers. Unlike the first recipe, this contains all the fibre and flesh of the apples, but with the water (juice) squeezed out. This means it looks totally different – but it produces the same result.

Ingredients:

Leftover juice pulp of 6 apples (around 300g)
1.5 litres water (rainwater or filtered water if possible)
2 tbsp sugar

The apple pulp from juicing 6 small apples. Don’t worry about the brown colour, it is simply the apples oxidising.

Method:

Pop the apple pulp in a large 2 litre jar, and add the water and sugar. The pulp will expand and absorb all of the water, and will look totally crazy and you’ll be sure you’ve done it wrong. In fact, I currently don’t have photos of this because when I tried it, I was sure it was going to fail! If it looks wrong, it’s right!

Stir. As above, stir, stir, stir. When not stirring, keep covered with a tea towel. Because the pulp is so fine, it is hard to see bubbles developing, but you will notice the smell changing to cider and then vinegar. Keep stirring. After 4-5 days (longer if the room is cold) you will notice the pulp start to rise and clear liquid will be visable at the bottom of the jar. Keep stirring to push the pulp down. Because the pulp floats, it may get pushed up out of the jar if you don’t stir.

Once the pulp is consistently floating, strain the contents of the jar into another clean jar using cheesecloth (or an old tea towel).

Leave the jar on the counter with the lid loosely fastened until content with the taste, secure the lid and store in a dark cupboard.

A note about colour:

The colour will vary with each batch made, dependent on how many apples you use and how brown they are. I tend to find that using apple pulp makes a darker vinegar than using apple scraps; and that fresh apple scraps make a lighter colour vinegar than frozen apple scraps. Rather than use the colour as a guide, go by taste. You’ll be eating it, after all!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever made apple scraps vinegar? Have you ever made cider? Do you have any tips to add? Did you struggle, and what went wrong? Are there any other pantry staples that you currently buy that you’d like to make? Are there any that you make already that you’d like to share? Have you ever tried any other fermentation? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

What does zero waste living actually look like on a daily basis? We all have a different version, and this is mine. I quit plastic in 2012 and began working towards zero waste not long after that, so I’ve been living this way a long time (over 4 years!). I’ve made so many changes to the way I do things and the choices I make, which all seem normal now. But of course, they are completely normal! ;)

These habits are ingrained and I don’t really have to think about them. However, for people starting out, it isn’t always obvious how to get from where we are to where we want to be.

It certainly wasn’t a straight line for me! It is so much easier looking back than looking ahead.

I thought I’d share a typical “day in the life” to explain some of the zero waste choices we make everyday. This is what zero waste living looks like for us.

Zero Waste Living: A Day in the Life

Our breakfast is usually coffee (made with a coffee machine – not a pod one! – that has a milk steamer) and porridge, a smoothie or sometimes good old toast and avocado.

The coffee machine was a second-hand freebie and we use it every day. We buy our coffee directly from a local cafe who grind their own beans and we take a reusable bag. We buy oats from our local bulk store, bread from a local bakery. When we started out we purchased milk in returnable bottles, but now we make our own cashew milk and use that in both the coffee and the porridge.

When it comes to the dishes we buy dishwashing liquid from our local bulk store. We take a glass jar or bottle and fill it up. I’ve never tried to make my own – sometimes it’s easier to buy things.We also buy laundry detergent from the bulk store.

I have a wooden dish brush with compostable bristles, a wooden pot brush, a scourer made from coconut coir and a bottle brush made from wire and coconut coir. I also have a plastic brush that came with my food processor before my plastic-free days (pre-2012). I will use it until it breaks, and then no more plastic for me!

img_20160711_090707

Our adopted greyhound called Hans lives with us, and we take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He prefers to do his business in the park a 10 minute walk from our house rather than in our yard.  I pick it up using old newspaper (usually the community newspaper that my husband likes to read first), carry it home (!) and we put it in our homemade dog poo worm farm.

Our bathroom routine is pretty simple. We decluttered a lot of products once we realised that they were unnecessary for us. We use bar soap for washing: I buy a big 2kg block packaging-free from a local lady and chop it into bars. My husband also uses this for his hair; I use rye flour (or occasionally bicarb) and white vinegar to rinse. I buy both of these from the bulk store.

Bulk Soap Chopped Into Bars Zero Waste Natural Beauty Treading My Own Path

Skincare Regime Zero Waste Bathroom Products Treading My Own Path

We use almond oil as a moisturiser. We use different deodorants as my husband reacts to bicarb and I don’t – I make both of them using ingredients purchased in bulk. I also make my own toothpaste and sunscreen. It sounds like a lot of effort, but most of these recipes are simply mixing a few things together in a jar.

I have a body brush which I use to exfoliate, and I make coffee scrub using the waste coffee grounds collected from a nearby cafe. (We put the rest of the coffee grounds in our compost as it is a great compost activator.)

DIY Coffee Scrub Treading My Own Path

I use a Diva cup (a reusable menstrual cup) and a reusable cloth pad.

The bamboo toothbrush is almost seen as a zero waste essential, but we no longer use them. We found the bristles falling out and washing down the drain too frustrating. Instead we have toothbrushes with reusable heads that need replacing once every six months. The toothbrush head and the packaging is currently recycled by Terracycle in Australia. (We got these in 2014. There are now many more bamboo toothbrushes on the market: it may be possible to find a better brand than the one we used to use. As we have these we will continue to use them until they no longer make the replacement heads.)

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

We buy toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, an Australian company that donate 50% of their profits to water charities and don’t package their paper in plastic. I also use the wrappers to pick up Hans’ business. I’ve used the toilet rolls to make seedling pots.

We don’t have tissues in our home. I have 3 hankies, and if I’m desperate I’ll use toilet paper and compost it. Yes, used tissues are compostable!

I work from home, but my husband heads out and he always takes his lunch with him in a stainless steel lunchbox (or occasionally, a Pyrex dish). Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel

Both of us keep a bamboo cutlery set (with a metal reusable straw added in), a water bottle, reusable coffee cup, a reusable shopping bag and reusable produce bags in our bags. They don’t weigh much or take up much space, and you never know when they might come in handy!

If we are heading the the bulk store we will sometimes take glass jars, and always extra produce bags and reusable shopping bags. My husband works close to our local bulk store so he tends to make a few trips a week rather than doing one big shop – it’s easier for him to carry home, and he gets less flustered!

We get a vegetable box delivered from a local company once a fortnight. It is plastic-free and organic, and we top up from our local independent store or the local farmers markets. We eat a plant-based diet, meaning we eat a lot of vegetables, pulses and grains. Oh, and chocolate!

Organic Collective Veg Box Treading My Own Path Organic Veg Box Delivery Treading My Own Path

Our veggie garden is beginning to be more productive and we’ve had lots of additional produce from there.

It’s easy to find everything we want to eat without packaging. We have so much choice that if we can’t find a food item without packaging, we don’t buy it. There are two exceptions that I can think of: we buy capers in a jar (at my husband’s insistence – we found a big size that lasts for 6 months) and alcohol.

We live very close to an amazing off-license/liquor store that sells a number of beers without packaging, and is always rotating their stock. My husband has two refillable growlers and fills them there, but he does also buy beer in glass bottles and cans occasionally (by which I mean, more than I’d like ;)

Graincru zero waste beer Treading My Own Path

The store also sells white wine in bulk, and we have purchased that, but we tend to buy wine in regular wine bottles. We don’t buy it often – it is generally limited to when we have guests.

We have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on our letterbox which eliminates a lot of the unnecessary advertising we receive. We have turned all of our bills to paperless, but we do still receive post. There are some works happening nearby and we have received at least 10 notices in the last 6 months telling us about them!

I would love to tell you that I have a paperless office, but I sit here surrounded on both sides by paper. I don’t buy any paper, nor have a printer – and still it comes! Often I use old letters, invoices and the back of used envelopes to make notes, and then I later put the info on my computer and recycle the paper. (I have been told that it is a better use of resources to recycle paper rather than compost it, and so that is what I do.)

All of the furniture in our home is second-hand, although not everything we own. However, we do always check the second-hand listings before buying anything new. We are usually happy to wait before buying, just in case.

Our clothes are a mix of pre-zero waste purchases, second hand charity shop finds, second hand eBay finds and new ethical/organic products. I’m working on making my wardrobe 100% biodegradable and natural fibres (or as close as I can) and whilst I love second hand, I also want to support small producers who are trying to do the right thing. It’s a balance.

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

We tend to only drink water (from the tap), tea or coffee, and my husband – beer. We buy loose leaf tea (from the bulk store) and use a teapot (well technically the thermos flask).

Our dinners are usually rice, quinoa or potatoes, and occasionally pasta, with vegetables and lentils/pulses. We eat a lot of nuts, too. I could dedicate a whole other post to what we eat (and maybe I will!). We always make enough for leftovers the following day, and maybe even a couple of days. Any leftovers that won’t be eaten soon go in the freezer – usually in a glass jar.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

If we go out for dinner we always take a container with us, and our reusables. You never know when you might be caught out! We rarely get takeaway as we prefer to dine in, although we do get takeaway pizza a couple of times a year. The empty boxes go in our compost bin.

Our home cleaning routine is pretty simple. We use water, vinegar, bicarb and a scrubber for almost everything. Clove oil is great in the bathroom as it kills mould. We have a mop (a metal frame with removable washable cloths) and a dustpan for the floors. We still have a vacuum cleaner, too.

We are both members of our local library, and my husband must be their best client! We can borrow magazines, DVDs and CDs in addition to books, and he has almost always maxed out his loan allowance (of 15 items!). We do not have a television, and we use the laptop to watch DVDs.

We empty our compost scraps daily into our compost bin. We have a small wastepaper basket which we use for our recycling, and we currently empty this about once a month.

What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Was there anything I missed off the list? Anything you’d like to know more about? How does this compare with your own lifestyle? Are there any changes there that you think will be easy for you to implement? Are there any changes there that you’d like to suggest to me? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Where to Find Zero Waste + Plastic Free Essentials Online

As someone who does her best to discourage shopping, I’ve put off writing this guide. For years. Yet I’m regularly asked where to find certain eco-friendly products. And yes: there are certain items that make living plastic-free and zero waste easier. The purpose of this website is to make it easier for people to live more sustainable, ethical, plastic-free and zero waste lives. Very occasionally, that means stuff.

I’ve put this resource together to help anyone looking for zero waste or plastic-free alternatives. I would always encourage everyone to use what they have first, and to look for second-hand options before buying anything new. Borrowing things from friends to establish whether you will actually use them before buying is also recommended.

I would also plead: shop as local as possible, and support independent stores. We all bemoan the lack of choice, the rise of big box stores and the demise of the independent store. Yet when we buy something, the temptation is often to choose the cheapest option, rather than the most ethical.

Remember, when we buy things, we vote with our money for the companies we want to support and the kind of future we want to see.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping

I’ve tried to feature stores that have a range of products, rather than just one or two offerings. This list is only as good as my personal experience and the feedback and recommendations I receive. If you know of a store I should add to this list – please tell me!

The most zero waste option is always to buy from a physical store rather than to purchase online, where the option exists. The next best option is to choose the most local online store to you. Etsy is a handmade marketplace and is a great place to find handmade produce bags, reusable bags and other crafted items, and to support local producers.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Australia

Biome Eco Store

An online store (with stores in Brisbane) that isn’t exclusively plastic-free or zero waste but with a very high proportion of zero waste products. They do have a dedicated “No Waste and Plastic Free” section, and also ship their products without using plastic.

Great for: stainless steel and glass lunchboxes and containers, water bottles, reusable straws, icy pole moulds, cutlery, glass jars, bamboo dental care, and lots more.

W: biome.com.au

Delivery: Australia (Free Delivery over $130); international delivery at cost

Shop Naturally

An online store (with pickup from their warehouse available in NSW) is an online health and wellbeing store with a fair range of plastic-free products in bamboo and stainless steel, and BPA-free silicone.

Great for: water bottles, bamboo kitchenware, glass food storage, popsicle moulds and ice cube trays.

W: shopnaturally.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free shipping starts at $100 spend and minimum spend increases with weight and postcode).

Flora & Fauna

Flora & Fauna is a vegan, cruelty-free and eco-friendly online store selling everything from fashion to homewares, dental care to reusables. Not everything in their store is zero waste or even plastic-free, but they do have a range of options spread across their categories. They also sell some unusual products including copper water bottles.

W: floraandfauna.com.au

Delivery: Worlwide. Austalia: $6.95 for orders up to $50.00, free delivery over $50. Some smaller items have free shipping with no minimum spend. New Zealand: shipping from $10 via DHL. Worldwide shipping from $15 via DHL.

Dandelion Eco Store

An online health and wellbeing store based in Perth, WA (with pickup available from the Growers Green Farmers Market, South Fremantle on Sundays). Rachel has a growing collection of stainless steel and plastic-free food storage and food preparation containers.

Great for: plastic-free food storage solutions including lunchboxes, water bottles, other reusables.

W: dandelionecostore.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (Free shipping to Perth metro over $50; $15 flat rate shipping for Australia-wide metro with spends up to $299; free shipping Australia-wide metro for spends over $300; rural Australia shipping calculated by weight and postcode).

Urban Revolution

An online eco-store based in Perth with a range of plastic free items and reusables and a big focus on natural and compostable options, that ship all parcels with reused materials and avoids plastic where possible.

W: urbanrevolution.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (delivery calculated by weight; local pickup available)

Ecolosophy

An online eco-store with a range of plastic free items and reusables, that ship all parcels without plastic tape or packaging.

W: ecolosophy.com.au

Delivery: Australia only ($9.95 under $150, free delivery over $150)

Going Green Solutions

An online store based in Melbourne (with local pickup available from Hurstbridge, Melbourne) with two main categories: green catering & packaging; and eco home & lifestyle. Has a broad range of products with some less-commonly found items including make-up refills.

W: goinggreensolutions.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free delivery over $100 if less than 3kg; heavier orders calculated by weight; local pickup available)

The Source Bulk Foods

As the name suggests, The Source Bulk Foods are predominantly a food retailer. They are passionate about zero waste living and reducing plastic though, and have a number of reusables for sale on their website or at their 33 stores across Australia including beeswax wraps, produce bags, Planet Box lunchboxes and water bottles.

W. thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (from $9.95; price dependent on postcode and weight of order)

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, USA and Canada

Life Without Plastic

An online store dedicated to offering products that are plastic-free, this store has everything you might need (and no doubt, plenty you don’t!) for living a plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle. All of the products are made with stainless steel, glass and wood.

W: lifewithoutplastic.com

Delivery: Flat Rate Shipping to North America & Canada (excluding Hawaii & Alaska); International Delivery at cost.

Mighty Nest

An online store with a focus on natural, organic and non-toxic products, with lots of glass, stainless steel and non-plastic options.

W: mightynest.com

Delivery: USA (free delivery over $50 except Alaska, Hawaii and US Territories), Australia and Canada (delivery at cost)

The Ultimate Green Store

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there are no dedicated categories. There are lots of natural products and recycled materials, and the range is huge. The store offers bamboo homewares, recycled glass products and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: theultimategreenstore.com

Delivery: USA only (except by special request)

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

A small eco-store based in Athens, Georgia (local pickup is also available) dedicated to zero waste living, which also sells a small number of vintage items.

Great for: vintage and arty zero waste items, and reusables.

W: tinyyellowbungalow.com

Delivery: USA (price per order value; orders over $100 cost a flat rate $15), International ($26 for orders under $150, $36 for orders over $150)

Wild Minimalist

A small zero waste online store based in San Rafael, California which also sells a small number of vintage items. They are committed to packaging items plastic-free, and use recyclable materials where possible.

W: wildminimalist.com

Delivery: USA and Canada (shipping calculated at checkout; free standard delivery for orders over $75 to the Continental U.S. & Canada)

NU Grocery (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a growing collection of zero waste products under five categories. They also ship their products completely plastic-free and all packaging is fully recyclable.

W: nu-grocery.myshopify.com

Delivery: Canada only ($10, free delivery on orders over $85)

PAREdown Home (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a small range of products, most of which are plastic-free.

W: paredownhome.com

Delivery: Worldwide, no prices listed.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, UK and Ireland

A Slice of Green

The sister site of Green Tulip (listed below), A Slice of Green products are focused on waste minimization and the mantra “reduce-reuse-recycle”. Not all products are plastic-free, but the emphasis is on reusables and sustainability. Focussed on food preparation, storage and transport.

W : asliceofgreen.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Green Tulip

An ethical gifts website with 6 core values: organic, natural, British, recycled, sustainable and fair trade. Their sister site A Slice of Green focuses on food-based reusables, but Green Tulip has plenty of sustainable alternatives to conventional products including garden, wellbeing and recycled glass.

W: greentulip.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Boobalou

Boobalou is a small UK company working to reduce household waste, with a huge focus on family-friendly reusables. There are four main categories: eco lady, eco baby, eco home and eco living. Whilst not everything is plastic-free, the majority is, and all of the products are more eco-friendly than conventional alternatives.

Great for: anyone with babies, young kids and families.

W: boobalou.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £50, costs £2.85 under £50), International (£6.85 flat rate; large orders at cost)

Less Plastic

This small online store is committed to promoting the plastic-free way of life, and all products are designed to live without (or with less plastic). Most products are for food prep, storage and transport, with a real emphasis on stainless steel reusables.

W: lessplastic.co.uk

Delivery: UK (£3.50 under £50, free delivery over £50), international delivery on request

Eqo Living

A small online store and family business committed to offering eco-friendly, reusable products for living with less waste. Most products are for food preparation, storage and transport.

W: eqoliving.com

Delivery: UK only (£4.90 standard delivery under £100, free delivery over £100)

&Keep

Based in Dorset, this online homewares store stocks products chosen with the idea that they are bought “once” and will last forever. Lots of natural materials and fibres, and a selection of reusables.

W: andkeep.com

Delivery: UK only (Standard delivery £1.99, free delivery over £50

Ethical Superstore

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there is plenty of plastic! But there is such a vast array of products (it is definitely a superstore!) that there are some zero waste options. They have a home composting section, bamboo homewares, and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: ethicalsuperstore.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Natural Collection

Owned by the same company as Ethical Superstore, this online shop has many of the same products but they seem to run different offers, so it may be worth checking both.

W: naturalcollection.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Anything But Plastic

A small online eco store selling a limited range of plastic-free products including personal care items (dental floss, soap and make-up).

W: anythingbutplastic.co.uk

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Europe

European stores are divided into two sections: those with English versions and those without. (The latter are presented as a list simply because I am unable to read them to give a more detailed account of their offering!)

Sinplastico (Spain)

A Spanish website (with English and French translations) that focuses on alternative products to plastic. There are five categories: kitchen, bath & body, home, kids & babies, and takeaway.

W : sinplastico.com

Delivery: Europe (Spain and Portugal €3-10 under €120, free over €120; France €10 under €120, free over €200; rest of Europe €15 under €120, €10 over €200)

Non-English Online Zero Waste Stores:

France:

Sans BPA
W: sans-bpa.com

Hakuna Tata – Boutique Zero Dechet
W: boutiquezerodechet.com

Czech Republik:

Econea
W: econea.cz

Germany:

Laguna
W: laguna-onlineshop.de

Monomeer
W: monomeer.de

Original Unverpackt
W: original-unverpackt.de

Plasno
W: plasno.de

Plasticarian
W: einfach-ohne-plastik.at

Zero Waste Laden
W: zerowasteladen.de

Zero Waste Shop
W: zerowasteshop.de

Greece

Sapontina
W: sapontina.gr

Netherlands:

Babongo
W: babongoshop.nl

Ecomondo
W: ecomondo.nl

Bag-Again NL
W: bag-again.nl

Younetics
W: younetics.nl

Now I’d love to hear from you! Please help make this list as useful as possible to as many people as possible! If you know of a store that’s missing, please let me know in the comments so I can add it to the list. If you have any experiences of these (or other) stores, please share away and let everyone know your thoughts – good and bad! Any other tips or alternatives to find products also welcome. Tell me what you think in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These companies have been included by me or recommended by my readers as great online stores to purchase zero waste or plastic-free products, based solely on their product offering, ethics and customer service. No store has paid me to be featured on this list. Whilst I have not personally shopped at all of these stores, I can recognise products that I own or recommend in their pages, and I trust the opinion of my readers. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.

Have you reached “Peak Stuff”? 6 Tips for Letting Go

This time last year, the head of sustainability for Ikea announced that we’d reached “peak stuff”. (Interesting, then, that rather than shut up shop and consider a job well done, Ikea plan to double sales by 2020.) For many years, in the weeks post-Christmas, I’d feel a little like that myself. I’d have a heap of new stuff, but I’d still have all the old stuff sitting there too – and much of it was still perfectly usable.

I’d definitely reached peak stuff – but what to do about it? What about the waste?

Too much stuff creates clutter and stress, but it took me a long time to realise that too much stuff is also a huge waste of resources. Anything we own and don’t use is a waste. I was kidding myself thinking that I was reducing waste by keeping stuff that I might use at some point in the future (but probably wouldn’t).

And so, I learned to declutter. Decluttering does not come naturally to me, but with practice, it becomes infinitely easier. The most important lesson is to be honest with yourself. Forget about what others think, what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future, and ask yourself truthfully: Right now, do I really need this?

1. The Meaning of the Gift is in the Giving

People give gifts because they want to show their love and appreciation. That is where the meaning is. Some people need to give gifts to express their feelings. Some people enjoy giving gifts to others. Those are their needs, and they have nothing to do with you, and nothing to do with the stuff.

Receiving a gift doesn’t mean that you need to keep the gift if you don’t want it, don’t like it, or don’t need it. Be grateful and thankful that you have been given it, and appreciate the sentiment. That is enough.

Of course, you don’t need to tell them that you don’t like the gift, or that you gave it away. There is no need to offend anyone. People rarely remember what gifts they gave others.

Often we hold onto things because we think someone will be offended if we give it away, but it is likely that they have already forgotten.

2. Will it Really be Useful?

Will the gift really be useful? This isn’t the same as “might be useful” or “I can think of an occasion which could happen where I might have a use for this”.

If it isn’t going to be useful right now, or in the foreseeable future, then keeping it is a waste. There is someone out there who needs what you have, and will use it, and it is far better to pass it onto them.

3. Just in Case is not a Reason

I used to keep so much stuff “just in case”. I’m not talking about lifesaving equipment here, I’m talking about random kitchen gadgets and trinkets and other stuff. You never know, we might need to de-stone cherries or translate a Russian sentence in the future, but keeping things for all possibilities just isn’t practical.

I have given away things and later I have thought, ah, if I still had that, I could use it now. A really thick jumper on a very cold day. A can opener when I needed to open a can for the first time in two years and it didn’t have a ring pull.

But I never went to the shops to buy a replacement. Sure, I could have used these things, had I still owned them, but I made do without. I guess I didn’t really need them after all.

4. You Rarely Need Two

The trouble with choosing gifts for the person who has everything is that: they already have everything. Often the presents tend to be a better version of something they already have, or a second one.

But if there is nothing wrong with the first one, there is no need for a second.

I used to struggle with this. I knew the first one would wear out/break eventually, and then the second one would come in useful. But I never knew how long this would take – it could be years. In fact, sometimes it was years, and the shiny new replacement was already old by the time it actually got used.

It would have been much better to wait until I actually needed a replacement, and choose something that I liked and was useful for me now, not the me of several years ago.

Sometimes the opposite would happen. The new one would make the old one look tatty, and the tatty one would be cast aside in favour of the new (there’s a name for this: the Diderot Effect). Only, I’d know that the old one wasn’t life expired, so I’d keep it for when the new one wore out. It would languish in a back cupboard, taking up space, making me feel guilty, and going unused.

Now, I’m much more ruthless. If I need one, and I have two, I make the choice straightaway. Do I keep what I have, or do I keep the new one? One stays, and the other goes. Because keeping both is a waste.

5. Is it You…or Is It Fantasy You?

I used to get confused between me, and fantasy me. Fantasy me wore neon pink high heels. Fantasy me was a clothes size smaller than I was. Fantasy me was going to learn Russian. Fantasy me was the crafty type.

I liked the idea of being many things, and doing many things, but some of them weren’t real me. Letting go of fantasy me was actually a relief. There are already so many things that I want to do, and I don’t have time for them all.

Allowing myself to let go of fantasy me has given me more time and space to focus on the things that I’m already doing, or the ones I really want to do. It’s reduced my expectations of myself and made me less stressed.

6. What is the WORST That Can Happen?

Getting rid of something you don’t want, don’t like, and don’t need – what is the worst that can happen?

The person who gave it to you might find out. They might be offended, but that is probably more about their realisation that they made a poor choice. They might be upset, for the same reason. They might decide not to buy you anything in future (if you’re giving their presents away anyway, that might not be a bad thing).

You might have to tell a white lie. You may be asked where the gift is, if you’ve used it yet, or whether you are willing to lend it back to the giver. Of course, you can tell the truth, but if you don’t want to hurt any feelings it may be better to avoid this. I left it at work. I lent it to a friend. It broke.

You might realise that you actually needed it after all. The likelihood of this happening is tiny, but yes, it could happen. In which case, you’ll need to get a replacement. You can probably pick one up second-hand, and you may even be able to borrow one. Worst case you’ll have to go to the store and buy one.

Worse things have happened.

For many of us, letting go isn’t easy. We ties our hopes and dreams and aspirations up with our things, or we worry about the waste (be it the waste of resources, money ,time or effort on behalf of the giver). We let our emotions and concerns and fears control how we treat our stuff. That’s a lot of baggage to let go of. But underneath all of that we know the truth. The truth as to whether we really need it and we will really use it. If you feel that you’ve got a little too much stuff, ask yourself truthfully – are you telling yourself any of these excuses? For many of your things, the answer may be no. But it’s likely that for some of these things, the answer will be yes.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any other tips you’d like to add to this list? Which is your favourite? Are there any that you struggle with? Which is the hardest for you to resist, and which is the easiest? Do you disagree with any of them? Do you have any other thoughts on letting go and peak stuff? I’d love you to be part of the conversation so tell me what you think in the comments below!

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

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

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

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

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

But was I tempted?

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

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

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

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

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

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

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

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

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

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

4. It’s more community-friendly.

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

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

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

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

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

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

The bed and side table:

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

bedroom-bed

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

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

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

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

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

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

The Desk and Chair

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

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

desk

The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

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

table-treading-my-own-path

Our dining table.

The Seating Area

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

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

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

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

sofa

Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

old-sofa

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

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

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

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

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

How to Win an Argument about “Eco Friendly” Packaging

Despite the rather bold title, I’m really not out to start arguments. I’m definitely not out to pick fights. I’d much rather we all got along :) So what comes below isn’t actually about arguing.

It’s about helping others see our point of view when it comes to waste (and that includes eco-friendly packaging). “Eco friendly” packaging is something I get asked about a lot.

It seems that not a week goes by without me having a conversation with somebody about single-use packaging, and why it isn’t the wonderful convenience item that we think it is.

I do not know how many times I have been told by a helpful staff member when I refuse packaging that there is no need to refuse, because “it’s eco-friendly / we recycle / it’s biodegradable”.

I cannot count how often well-meaning friends have shared links about the latest and greatest edible or biodegradable alternative to single-use items with me, expecting me to declare the waste problem solved.

Five years ago, this was me. I thought that if it had “eco-friendly” printed on it (preferably in green and with a nice leaf logo), then it was eco-friendly. I was waiting for science to invent our way out of all of the world’s problems.

But then I looked into it. I started researching, and asking questions, and finding answers that I didn’t really want to hear.

And I changed my perspective.

I’ve put together some of the most common comments I hear and facts I’m told; here’s what I might say in response. They are talking points and things to consider. Hopefully they will help you have better conversations with others about why single use packaging isn’t as great as people think, even if it’s stamped “eco-friendly”.

And if the need arises, maybe even win some arguments ;)

A Word About Arguments

arguments-treading-my-own-path

We’re not really trying to win at arguments, we’re just trying to help others see things from a different perspective. There will always be people who disagree, and that doesn’t matter: some arguments aren’t meant to be won. Don’t try to convert the non-convertable. At either extreme of a point of view is everyone else, and these are the people to have conversations with. The people who want to do the right thing, but find the information available confusing. Maybe they put too much trust in others’ claims about their green credentials (that was definitely me).

  • Think About Where People Are Coming From.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. People who work in the packaging industry won’t love the idea of banning bags or disposable packaging. People who are busy, stressed and tired are far less receptive to new ideas and “help”!

  • Make it About Values.

Whether it’s the caring for the environment, protecting wildlife, helping others, embracing creativity or better health, think about the values that motivate people. People who are motivated solely by their own self-interests are not as common as you might imagine, but if you do come across somebody like this, walk away. You’re better off using your energy elsewhere.

  • Be nice.

Nobody likes a smart-arse, and nobody likes to be made to feel small. Simple things such as smiling, open body language (no crossed arms!) and using helpful language will all assist in getting the message across.

Winning the Argument About “Eco Friendly” Packaging

disposable-coffee-cup-treading-my-own-path

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the questions I’m asked and conversations I have most often. I’d love you to add your own (questions you’ve been asked and answers you’ve given!) in the comments at the end :)

“But the packaging is eco-friendly!”

If, by eco-friendly, you mean not made with fossil fuels, that’s great! However, how is using resources (whether paperboard made from trees, or bio-plastic made from growing corn) to make single-use items that will be used for minutes actually eco-friendly?

Especially when you consider the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and shipping of these resources?

If you mean “eco friendly” because it’s biodegradable, are you ensuring that the packaging is composted? Are you personally composting it, or arranging for it to be so?

Plus did you know that some biodegradable packaging is made with fossil fuels?

If it’s just heading to landfill, that isn’t much more eco-friendly than just using regular packaging.

“It’s biodegradable so it will break down in landfill.”

Landfills aren’t big compost heaps, they are big tombs full of waste that are sealed. They are holes in the ground that are filled up, covered, and left for eternity. Waste breaks down anaerobically and very slowly, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas).

Nothing is breaking down to create space and allow more waste to be deposited. No goodness returns to the soil.

It’s a one-way system.

“It’s compostable.”

Being compostable is great, but only if it’s being put in the compost!

If it’s heading to landfill, it isn’t going to compost. If it’s put in the recycling bin, it isn’t going to compost. And depending on whether it needs hot composting or cold composting to break down, it might not even compost in the home compost bin. I wonder, what are the composting facilities like in your local town/city?

“Wait…Isn’t this disposable coffee cup made of paper?”

Sure, it looks like paper, but actually it has a plastic polyethylene lining. If you think about it, if it was only paper, the hot coffee would seep right through!

Being a mixture of materials, disposable coffee cups are difficult to recycle, so are likely to end up in landfill.

“I can plant this biodegradable coffee cup / coffee pod / other single-use item in my garden and it will grow seeds!”

I have no idea how many coffees you drink in a week, or how big your garden is, but are you telling me that every time you drink a coffee you’ll be planting the waste in your own back garden? That seems like an awful lot of effort to go to!

You could always use a reusable cup or plunger coffee, buy some seeds from the garden centre, and save yourself all that digging!

(Unless you’re just slinging it out of the window and hoping that it seeds… but that sounds like littering to me.)

If it’s still ending up in landfill, sealed underneath a layer of rock, there will be no seeds sprouting – it is just too deep and not the right conditions.

“It’s okay… I will recycle it.”

Recycling is better than throwing away, but it is still hugely energy intensive and in no way a perfect solution. Recycling isn’t a virtuous cycle: products don’t get recycled back into the same thing. Plastic in particular is downcycled (made into something of inferior quality.)

Your disposable packaging is likely made from brand new resources, and recycling them won’t stop new resources being used to create more disposable products.

Plus… is the material is even recyclable in your local area? Theoretically recyclable isn’t the same as actually recycled.

“It’s made with recycled content.”

Recycled content – so no new resources? Or just less new resources? What recycled content are you using, and what is the source of the materials? How are you collecting these materials – are they local, or from interstate, or overseas? How are they transported?

Is it 100% recycled content, or are you mixing some virgin product in there too? What percentage is recycled product? Can the product be recycled afterwards? Will it be? (Let’s not be theoretical about this!) What about the packaging – is that 100% post-consumer recycled content too?

Of course, from a waste perspective, single-use but with recycled content is still single-use.

“Paper bags use three times the energy to produce than plastic bags.”

True, paper bags are more energy intensive than plastic ones to produce, but that isn’t the whole story. Paper bags are made from trees or wood products, which is a renewable resource, and can be sustainable managed.

They are also biodegradable, don’t create long-term litter problems and don’t harm or suffocate wildlife. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and last forever.

Of course, reusable bags are even better!

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is by no means an exhaustive list so let’s make it bigger and better! Tell me, what are the most common questions that you’re asked? What answers do you give that seem to surprise people the most? Is there anything you’re unsure about? Any claims you’ve read or seen that you don’t know whether to believe? Anything you’d like more clarity on? Are there any of these reasons that (like me) you used to believe, until you looked into it a little bit more? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Christmas Gifts

I am not a Christmas grinch. I love the idea of families and friends coming together at Christmas, taking time out to share experiences, eating good food and hopefully playing some board games ;)

But presents? Oh, I’m not a fan of Christmas presents at all.

I’m passionate about living a zero waste lifestyle. I aspire to own less, not more. And Christmas presents are, quite frankly, the opposite of that.

It’s not that I dislike presents. A well thought-out gift, that I truly need and love and will actually use, is great. The truth is though, that I already have everything that I need, in terms of stuff. If I did need something, why wait for it to be given to me as a gift, if I can go out and choose it myself? That way, I get to choose the exact one that I want, from the store I want to support. There is less room for error.

If I don’t know that I need it… well then, maybe I don’t need it at all.

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I particularly find Christmas present-buying so… transactional. Everyone buys everything for everyone else: it’s a big consumer-fest of stuff, most of which isn’t really wanted or needed. To tell someone exactly what you want, and then spend the exact same amount of money on a gift that they asked you to buy in return, seems pointless to me.

The idea that people tell one another what to buy isn’t meaningful, or a way of expressing love, in my mind. Now someone agreeing to spend two hours playing board games with me, even though I know they’d rather not… now that’s love ;)

Of course, I’ve been there. I’ve written lists of things I wanted, and looked at other people’s lists to choose things to buy. I’ve tried to think of things that might be useful to give to others, and I’ve received things myself that were intended to be useful. As we get older, and have more and more stuff, it gets harder, and it all just seems more and more unnecessary.

On the other hand, I understand traditions and customs. I also understand that some people like to show their love through giving gifts. People don’t want to upset their families. And trying to explain to a 6 year-old that they aren’t getting a Christmas gift from you as you’re making a stand against rampant consumption might not go down too well!

So, I’m not proposing that we cancel Christmas.

Instead, I want to help anyone aspiring to a zero waste or minimalist lifestyle to navigate the Christmas present minefield without accumulating a bunch of stuff they don’t want or don’t need, upsetting all the relatives and feeling that they’ve abandoned their values.

If you’re someone who loves Christmas, and gift-giving (or gift-receiving!), then it is not my place to try to persuade you otherwise. Enjoy the festivities! This is for anyone who feels a looming sense of dread as the holiday season approaches, and wants some hints and ideas to do things a little differently.

A Zero Waste (and Minimalist) Guide to Gift Giving (and Receiving)

Christmas Tree in Hands Collection 78 Jean Lakosnyk

Part 1: Gift Receiving

1. Try NOT to ask for “Stuff”

If you’re passionate about living life with less stuff or less waste, then think really carefully before you ask for “stuff” for Christmas. It can be tempting, especially if you’re just starting out on the journey and actually need things.

But ultimately, to live this lifestyle you need to step out of the “stuff” game, and the sooner you start, the better. It will take time for friends, relatives and family members to understand that you actually don’t want stuff any more, and asking for “zero waste” stuff confuses the message.

2. Asking for “nothing at all” can be confronting for others.

I would never have believed this if we hadn’t requested that our families not get us anything at all for Christmas one year. Nothing at all, no money, no gifts, no vouchers, nothing. We even left the country for a month over the holiday period.

It worked. We didn’t receive anything. But afterwards, we found out that my mother-in-law had really struggled with it. Not acknowledging her son in some way at Christmas felt really wrong for her, and she was troubled by it. She did it, but found it very hard. I’m not sure she’d have managed it a second year.

It did help break the cycle of “stuff” though, and helped us find a compromise the following year that everyone was happier with.

It might work for you, and it is definitely worth trying if you’re happy with that option. But remember that some people show their love by giving gifts, and you don’t want to be happy at someone else’s expense.

3. Set some rules that keep everyone happy.

If you know that your family and friends like to give gifts, and suspect they will find a no-gift policy confronting, try to choose some rules that will satisfy their need to give gifts whilst keeping the unnecessary stuff to a minimum.

Ideas include:

  • Make a rule that all gifts should be second-hand.
  • Specify that all gifts should be homemade.
  • Put limits on the types of new goods (eg books, tools, plants, or whatever you think would work).
  • Suggest DIY hampers (food, beauty products or something else) – but be clear about limiting excess packaging!
  • Ask for only edible goods or drinks (although remember at Christmas the shops are full of novelty, overpackaged, palm oil-filled gifts).
  • Suggest a Secret Santa where rather than all adults buying gifts for everyone, all names are put into a hat and everyone buys one gift only for the person they picked out of the hat.
  • Ask for experiences, tickets for shows, workshops or events; even vouchers for restaurants or cafes. Avoid vouchers for shops as these will lead to “stuff”.

4. You need to communicate!

Stepping out of the consumer-fest of Christmas can be difficult, and if you want to make it easier for yourself and everyone around you, it’s better to tell everyone how you’d like things to be, and as soon as you can! There is no point having rules if you haven’t communicated them!

Be clear on your expectations. Don’t leave any room for ambiguity. If you find it hard to tell people in person, send a letter or email.

Just don’t assume that people will realise that your new way of living means you don’t want “stuff” – they likely won’t.

5. Don’t expect the first year to be easy.

It doesn’t matter how clear you think you’ve been, or how many times you’ve explained it, there will likely be mis-steps along the way. You’re on a journey, but everyone else is doing the same thing they’ve always done, and they might not see a reason to change. Or they might think it’s just a phase you’re going through. Or that the rules don’t apply at Christmas.

Rest assured, every year it will get easier, as others understand that it isn’t a phase, and also adjust to the new way of thinking.

The first year that we went plastic-free, we received a number of Christmas presents packaged in plastic. We even received a novelty plastic item packaged in plastic. Everyone knew that we lived plastic-free, and yet somehow it didn’t occur to them that this also applied at Christmas. It took time for the new way of life to sink in.

Now, they wouldn’t dream of it!

6. Don’t hold onto anything out of guilt.

If you get stuff that you don’t need and didn’t ask for, there is no need to keep it out of guilt. Someone choosing to give a gift (out of social pressure, convention, or their own personal need to express their love and appreciation this way) does not mean that you need to choose to keep it.

The meaning is in the gift-giving, not the gift itself. They made that choice, not you.

Donate it, sell it, give it away. Don’t dwell on it. There will be someone out there who will really want what you have, and will use it. If you can connect your unwanted stuff with them, then that’s a far better use of the item than languishing in your cupboard, making you feel guilty every time you see it.

There’s no need to tell the gift-giver, if you don’t want to (although if you do, it will help with not receiving anything next time!). Chances are they won’t remember anyway.

Part 2: Gift Giving

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7. Don’t push your values on others.

Deciding to purchase a zero waste kit for your family because you really think they should go zero waste, or buying them a collection of books about decluttering because you think they have too much stuff isn’t actually that different from them buying you a bunch of junk that you didn’t ask for.

You might think it’s useful, but if they won’t use it (and will possibly be insulted in the process!) then it’s just as much a waste.

Similarly, donating money on their behalf to a charity might seem like a great way to avoid present-buying, but if they are expecting a well-wrapped gift from the high street, they won’t thank you for it.

In the same way that you don’t want them to push their expectations on you, don’t push yours onto them.

8. Listen to what they say.

You’d hope friends and family would listen to your requests, and you need to listen to theirs. If they’ve been specific about what they would like (no handmade gifts, no second hand stuff) then you need to honour that.

That doesn’t mean that you need to buy them a bunch of overpackaged stuff. You just need figure the best way to work around what they want without betraying your own values! ;)

9. If in doubt, ask.

If someone has been very specific with their list, but you’re not keen to buy anything on it, come up with your own ideas and ask them what they think.

How do they feel about tickets to the cinema or a show? A voucher for a restaurant? A one-night stay at a local B n B?

What about a day together at a National Park? A picnic or a seaside outing?

Could you offer some kind of services – mowing the lawn, babysitting, cooking dinners for a week?

Is hosting Christmas dinner an option instead of gifts?

10. Can you cancel gifts altogether?

It’s possible that you’re overthinking this, and that actually it’s possible to come to the mutual agreement of not buying anything. As much as people love to receive gifts, many people hate to go Christmas shopping. They might be relieved to know that they don’t have to brave the busy, crowded shops in a desperate attempt to find something you probably won’t like anyway.

Christmas is an expensive time of year, and they might actually appreciate having one less gift to buy.

Don’t rule it out.

How we personally deal with Christmas has evolved over time. It’s still not perfect, but we’ve slowly come to a mutual understanding amongst our family and friends. From the first year, when we asked for stuff; to the second year, when we boycotted the whole thing; to the third year, when we even bought some “stuff” for others, we seem to have reached a balance. We no longer buy presents for most of the adults (with mutual agreement), and for those that we do, it’s limited to experiences. For our niece and nephew, we focus on experiences too – things that we can do together. It works for us.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your experiences of Christmas? Is this your first year of living a plastic-free, zero waste or minimalist lifestyle? What are your concerns? Have you had any conversations with family yet and how did they go? Have you been living this way for several years? If so, have you found balance that works for you? How have your choices changed over time? Do you have any tips to add? Any stories or experiences to share? Questions to ask? Anything else you’d like to comment on? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Essentials for a Zero Waste Kitchen

When it comes to the kitchen, I would not call myself a minimalist. At least, not by “minimalist” standards (whatever they are anyway). That said, I do not consider anything I own to be unnecessary – I do not own special Christmas crockery, or fancy obscure gadgets (cherry stoner, avocado slicer, chocolate fountain), for example.

I own a lot of kitchen things because I like to cook, and I especially like to eat. Whilst I think it’s possible to live zero waste without needing to cook everything from scratch, I personally enjoy making food from scratch. Cooking is my creative outlet.

Making food from scratch requires a bit more stuff.

What is more important to me than minimalism is zero waste, and my kitchen has found a balance that I am happy with. We rarely buy anything new. Our last purchase (in February) was when we moved into our new home. We had to buy a frying pan as our old one didn’t work on the  induction hotplate. Borrowing the neighbours’ pan several times a week didn’t really work out for us! (Or them!)

I thought I’d show you round our kitchen, and talk about our zero waste kitchen essentials. Essentials, of course, are a personal thing, depending on what you like to eat, living arrangements, how you cook and where you live.

I don’t think everyone living a zero waste lifestyle would need to own everything that I do. This isn’t an instruction manual, it’s a snapshot of the choices that we’ve made in living zero waste (with a hint of minimalism thrown in).

A Tour of our Zero Waste Kitchen

When I shared this photo on a previous tour of my house, someone asked me if I’d tidied up. OF COURSE I TIDIED UP! My house is not ever as tidy as this unless I make a concerted effort. For example, the draining board is almost always full of drying dishes (one of the downsides of zero waste living is the extra washing up). And there’s often ferments, or sourdough, or harvested veggies sitting on the side.

Yes, I tidied up for you guys ;)

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My zero waste, minimalist (ish) kitchen.

Let me introduce the kitchen. It’s an L-shape with an impractical amount of cutlery drawers (there are 7!) and very little cupboard space. I am determined not to add cupboards to the wall, as I like the white space. I’d rather put up pictures!
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Kitchen Counters: On our kitchen counters we have 2 large Klean Kanteen growlers. When we run the hot water, it actually takes 7 litres of water to run hot, and we can’t just throw this down the drain. I used to use old wine bottles but we’d end up with 11 or so on the counter, and I couldn’t bear the clutter! These growlers can be used for beer, and we can take them camping.

The white machine in the corner is our food processor (it’s called a Thermomix). It’s got a stainless steel bowl, and also has the function to heat. I use it every day – to blend, chop and mix, mostly. Before this, I had a Magimix, but the bowl was plastic.

Next to the hotplate is a glass jug that doubles as a utensil holder. We have 3 silicon spatulas, a couple of wooden spoons (one for sweet things and one for savoury) and a rolling pin.

The kettle is a stovetop one that we bought second-hand. I like that it lives on the hotplate, rather than cluttering up the counters.cupboard-open-kitchen-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Tall Cupboard: The cupboard on the right was intended to be a pantry, but unless you’re 6 ft tall it’s not very practical and there would be a huge amount of wasted space.

Top shelf: we have a stick blender with various attachments (I sold the ones I didn’t need on eBay!) and a spiraliser. Possibly the only gadget I have that’s a bit gimmicky, but we use it a lot in summer. In fact, my husbands uses it, so it’s staying!

Middle Shelf: we have wine and champagne glasses (currently 5 wine and 2 champagne), water glasses (5 assorted), two short coffee cups (that were originally yoghurt pots), salt and pepper grinders and my onyx ice cube tray. At the back are some glass jars I was storing for a workshop, and my husband’s cycling water bottle.

Bottom shelf: this is the coffee/tea shelf – you just can’t be minimal about that! We own 8 mugs (which seems excessive but my husband originally had 16!), our coffee press, two KeepCups, bits and pieces for the coffee machine (handle thingy, jug, funnel) and of course, tea and coffee.

junk-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-pathDrawer 1: I guess the top drawer in our kitchen would be classed as our junk drawer. We keep Hans’ (our adopted greyhound) lead and muzzle in here, sunglasses, garage clicker, pens and seeds. As we had so many drawers that weren’t that useful for much else it made sense to keep this stuff here.

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Drawer 2: The second drawer down contains our kitchen scales (so necessary!), our reusable shopping bags, produce bags and reusable wraps. There’s also a black book where I keep my most-used recipes. And yes, I use baking paper (which I reuse, and then compost). You can read why here. food-storage-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 3: The third drawer contains most of my reusables. I have 3 baking sheets (one is in the fridge) and 2 cooling racks. I find it useful to have 3 trays when I’m baking as otherwise it takes twice as long and uses more electricity.

The pink and red circles are silicone bowl covers (there’s a white one too that might have been in the fridge).

Then there’s the rest of my silicone bakeware, stainless steel food storage containers and glass Pyrex. I own a lot more Pyrex but it’s often in the fridge or freezer holding leftovers.kitchen-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Drawer 4: This drawer contains our oven gloves, an apron (I am a messy cook!) and far too many tea towels. I think three is enough, but we will use these out and not replace them. The contraption at the back is a macadamia nut cracker. Those things are tough! (We often buy 5 kg sacks of the nuts, and shell by hand.)

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Drawer 5: The rest of my bakeware. Yes, it is necessary to have all of these different sizes! I have 2 square tins, a muffin tin, individual silicone cupcake cases, two sandwich tins and a tiny cake tin for experiments!

I tried to choose something to get rid of when we moved, and I just couldn’t. You know what? I’ve used every single thing since we moved. I guess they are just all essentials!

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Drawer 6: Okay, so maybe there’s slightly MORE bakeware in here. And I haven’t used that flan tin in the last 6 months, Still useful, I say!

You’ll notice that despite the front of the drawers being enormous, the sides and back are the same depth as a regular drawer, making them very hard to fill. Hence why the bakeware is spread across three drawers – it is in no way because I have too much!

I have a big maslin pan which I use for preserving and also for cooking up big batches of chickpeas. My frying pan sits on top, and in between is my glass loaf tin – sourdough rusts the metal ones.

Underneath the round cake tin is a banneton basket (for proving sourdough) and three large bowls (one ceramic, two glass).

The pestle and mortar is a charity shop find.cutlery-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-pathDrawer 7: Much as I hate plastic, I dislike a jumbled cutlery drawer more. And there seemed no point discarding what we already had to buy something new and plastic-free.

We have two sharp knifes, and a cutlery set for four (it was originally for 8 but we decluttered the other half). There’s two sets of camping cutlery also. We also have a set of salad servers and a big serving spoon, two tea strainers, a spirit measure, champagne stopper, metal chopsticks, a vegetable peeler, thermometer and corkscrew. Plus there’s some reusable straws (in the boxes).

Of everything, a good sharp knife (ours is the Global brand) is definitely an essential. We also have a set of measuring spoons (not pictured).

crockery-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path Drawer 8: our crockery. We have 6 dinner and side plates, and 5 bowls as one broke (which is fortunate as the drawers are too shallow to hold six bowls). There’s my set of measuring cups, a Pyrex measuring jug and assorted bowls and dishes that get used for various things. The two brown ones were the containers for some fancy dips purchased at the supermarket!

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Drawer 9: We have 3 saucepans, and I wouldn’t like any less. I tend to use them for storing leftovers in the fridge also. I have two sieves and two colanders. I use them all, but I am sure once they break I will manage with less.

The glass bottle is a beer growler for our local zero waste beer store.

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Drawer 10: The drawer under the oven is even shallower than the other 6, and barely anything fits. We keep our two stainless steel roasting dishes in here and our rectangular Pyrex containers (we have 2, but one is currently in the freezer).

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Cupboard under the sink: We keep our extensive jar collection here. Glass jars are useful for everything, and are definitely a zero waste essential!

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Corner Cupboard: We keep our coffee machine here, and the dish drying rack. There is also a plastic colander that came with the house (randomly) and more storage tins.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Pantry

Other cupboard: As well as storing our food, we keep our chopping boards here.

That’s the tour!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, what are your zero waste kitchen essentials? Do you love cooking, or hate it? How does your kitchen compare with mine? What could you not do without? What can you do perfectly well without? Have you ever thought you’d not be able to manage without something, only to find that you could? Is there anything that I have that jumps out at you as surprising? Are you a gadget fan, and if so, what are your favourite gadgets? Are you much more minimalist than this? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

The Good Day Out: Organising a Public Zero Waste Event

When I found out that my local council were planning a new community event with a focus on sustainability, and looking for community members to join the Organising Committee, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to do my bit. A big part of any event is waste, and waste minimisation happens to be my favourite topic! How exciting to showcase what can be done in my own neighbourhood? :)

My objective was to run a zero waste event. By zero waste, I meant no plastic (compostable, biodegradable or otherwise), no sytrofoam and no single use packaging. Whilst everyone was in agreement to ban plastic bags and balloons and other single use items from the day, the idea of banning single use packaging altogether was something very new to the council.

Could we provide reusables? Where would we source them? How would it work? Would we manage demand? Who would wash them up? What about health and safety? Would vendors get on board? How would the public react?

I put together a proposal for how I thought it could work, based on my experience with running other events, and the experiences of others I knew who’d run similar events.

Fortunately, the rest of the team were up for the challenge, and so I got to work planning and scheming :)

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Our Proposal: Running a Zero Waste Event

All of our team had different roles and responsibilities with planning and running the event, and my responsibility was sustainability and waste. There were lots of other great sustainability initiatives in other areas (it was the overarching theme, after all) but my major focus was waste minimisation.

Our event was held in a local park, outdoors, with power and water available.

The first step was to outline our sustainability criteria, thinking about what would be practical and achievable. One of the key components was running a washing up station, which meant that we could request that all vendors used reusables rather than disposable packaging. Stallholders and food vendors who applied to attend had to agree to comply with our sustainability policy.

Here are some of the criteria for stallholders at the event:

  • No use of styrofoam or plastic (including bags);
  • No selling of bottled water;
  • No single-use packaged samples of wares;
  • No single-serve sauces, sugar sachets or condiments;
  • No balloons at the event;
  • Local suppliers considered where possible;
  • No single use packaging for food/drink;
  • Provide information on the source of all food and beverages, especially if fair trade or local;
  • Provide a vegan/vegetarian option;
  • Use recycled, sustainable, upcycled goods in workshops.

Whilst we asked that stallholders comply with our rules, we also provided the following to make it easier for them:

  • We provided reusable cutlery and crockery free of charge for vendors to use, and a free washing-up service;
  • We took responsibility for ensuring dirty dishes and empties were collected, and stallholders were restocked with clean crockery, cutlery and glassware;
  • We discussed crockery and cutlery with each vendor to ensure its suitability to their needs.

In addition, we made the following provisions:

  • We hired a water tank with water fountain and tap attachments to provide drinking water to attendees;
  • We hired crockery and cutlery for use during the event;
  • We organised a team of volunteers to wash up;
  • We posted signage to ensure people understood what we were doing, and why;
  • We ordered some extra bins to collect food and compostable waste, to take off-site and compost;
  • We organised “bin fairies” to stand by the bins and help people put the right thing in the right bin!

On the Day: a Zero Waste Event in Action!

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The Good Day Out Organising Committee (plus two performers who photobombed our pic!) Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

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Our washing up station positioned in between the stage seating area and the food vendors, under a lovely big tree. Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

I’d love to tell you that it was perfect, but of course it wasn’t. There is plenty to improve on next year! For all the shortcomings, the day did work well, and the amount of single-use packaging we saved from landfill was tremendous.

One frustration was a food stall added last-minute to the event due to a cancellation. There was no opportunity to speak to them in detail about crockery before the event, and the products we hired weren’t suitable. They used cardboard-style compostable trays, and we collected these to compost.

It could have been worse (they could have used plastic!), but from a single-use perspective and also our objectives, it was not ideal, especially as it could have been avoided.

The juice vendor were at one stage handing out plastic straws, and plastic Biocups. They removed the straws when asked: they even put reusable metal straws on sale instead. They denied giving out the Biocups (I saw the Mayor put a plastic Biocup with a plastic straw that he’d been drinking from in the recycling bin – fails all round!) but did remove them from display after I mentioned it. They handed out a few disposable coffee cups too, despite having our mugs.

But overall, support from vendors, volunteers and the public was great. Looking at the bins at the end of the day and seeing them not even half full made my heart sing! And once everything was packed up, there was barely any litter in sight. Maybe not zero waste, but definitely near-o waste :)

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The washing up station with some of the morning volunteers. The buckets on the right were for food scraps and compostable waste, and soaking cutlery. Almost out of view on the left hand side (behind the volunteers) is the table behind is the hot water urn. The final rinse uses sanitizing solution and water above 72°C to meet Health and Safety guidelines, and everything is air dried.

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The washing up station in action! Photo credit: K.A DeKlerk Photography

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The water refill station. There are water fountain attachments and taps for patrons to refill their own water bottles – no single use plastic required!

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Dirty dishes at the washing up station. The hot water urn, which is a key part in sanitizing the dishes, is to the right of the image. The straw you can see is a reusable metal one!

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The juice vendor sells juice in returnable glass bottles, which they refill. I personally fished 30 or so bottles out of the bin to return to them. More signage next year! (The straw on the ground is a metal one.)

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Collecting dirty dishes from the food vendors. Soul Provider were absolutely amazing in supporting us, using only our reusable dishes and never falling back onto disposables. Plus they never stopped smiling! :)

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Rummaging through the bins at the end of the day. This was one of our two recycling bins. They were 240 litres, and were not even half full. We managed to remove some glass bottles for reusing, and removed all the compostable cardboard trays (which had food on them) for composting.

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This is Peg, with all of the compostable waste we collected. We had a ‘Compostable Waste’ bin and also collected food scraps at the Washing Up Station, but we still retrieved a bit from the other bins. Yes, it is in plastic bags. The bins had already been lined when we came to empty them. I assure you Peg will be reusing these bags many times!

What worked well:

  • Team spirit! The whole Organising Committee was on-board with the idea of reusables from the start, so it never felt like an uphill battle. The council were also receptive to the idea, so long as it was safe. We put together risk assessments and health and safety guidelines to ensure it fully complied with council requirements, and had their approval.
  • Support from vendors. Our event had a coffee truck, a juice truck that also sold coffee and three food vendors. They all had varying degrees of receptiveness to what we were trying to do, but overall we were well supported. Being clear from the outset of our goals definitely helped. Interestingly, we had more support from the stalls I hadn’t expected to be on board, and less from the ones I had.
  • We saved so much stuff from landfill! We had two 240 litre recycling bins, and two 240 litre rubbish bins at the event, and each bin was between 1/4 and 1/3 full. There were other permanent bins located on the perimeter of the park where the event was held, but these were mostly empty.
  • The washing up station worked really well, and the team of volunteers were awesome.
  • Attendees of the event were very supportive of the washing up station, and commented on what a great idea it was.Hopefully it raised awareness as to what is possible, and got people thinking.
  • The water bottle refill station meant there was no bottled water at the event.
  • We collected all the compostable waste from the event, and took it off site for composting.
  • We sorted all of the bins by hand to ensure the correct things were in the correct bins. Yes, I personally rummaged through the rubbish after the event ;)

What could have been better:

  • Signage! We did have signage, but we needed many more signs, explaining what we were doing, and why. It isn’t enough to do it – we have to tell everyone why! Plus we could have explained the system better. It would have been great to have a sign explaining our ‘no single-use packaging’ policy at each food vendor so that the staff didn’t have to explain to every single customer that rocked up what was going on. Signs telling people where to return things, and signs telling people to come and grab our plates and glasses for their own personal use. Better signs for the bins.
  • More communication! This definitely comes from experience, but more conversations and more discussion are always welcome – with volunteers, with vendors and with the general public. A  couple of stallholders reverted back to their disposable cups when they ran out of our glasses: this was spotted quickly, but we could have kept a better eye on it. Their priority was serving customers so as the event organisers, it was our responsibility to ensure the were well stocked.
  • Bin Fairies. Because we needed so many volunteers for the washing up station, and it was a day when lots of other events were happening around the city, we didn’t man the bins for the whole day. Consequently, we found every type of waste in every type of bin. We sorted by hand after the event, but it was a missed opportunity to talk to the public about waste.
  • Getting the right reusables. We hired a lot of equipment that we ended up not needing, and could have used extras of some of the other things. (Plus we had nothing suitable for the last-minute food vendor, except metal forks.) There was a feeling of it being better to have too much than not enough as it was the first year (which is true, of course!), but now we can use what we learned to choose better next time.
  • Less waste. Of course, I am always going to say that! And actually, I was really impressed with how little waste there was. I’d love to eliminate the single-use compostable waste next year, and ensure we have enough reusable stock to prevent any emergency single-use packaging emerging.

I’m hoping to put together a “How to Plan and Organise a Zero Waste Event” resource in the near future, so if this is something that you’re interested in finding out more about, stay tuned!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever been to any zero waste, plastic-free of low waste events? What initiatives had they adopted, and how did they work? Was there anything that didn’t work quite as well as it might? Anything you’d have like to see improved? Have you run your own low waste events? What experiences (good or bad) do you have to share? What have been your biggest successes, and your most dismal failures? Any lessons learned? Are you hoping to organise a zero waste event, but not sure where to start? Did you come to the Good Day Out? What did you think? What were your favourite bits, and what could be improved on next year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!