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My Top Ten Documentaries To Get You Thinking (and Questioning)

Recently a reader asked if I could write a blog post about my top environmental documentaries. How could I possibly refuse?! There are so many great documentaries out there, and watching them is a great way to understand the issues, learn more, and feel re-inspired to take action. Not to mention coerce friends and family into learning a little more (and maybe help them understand why we do what we do). Invite them over with the lure of (plastic-free) popcorn and hope that the message will give them something to think about ;)

Here it is: my top 10 eco documentaries. Actually, I’ve listed 12 (well, if you count the side recommendations, 14). I could give you a list of ten documentaries about plastic, but I wanted to cover some of the other topics I’m interested in, so there is a mix. I’ve listed them roughly in my order of preference.

So, drumroll please…

1. Bag It

Bag It! has to feature as number 1 on my list. It’s the documentary I saw in June 2012 after signing up for Plastic Free July that changed my whole perspective on the way I consume, how I view plastic, and in fact, the whole course of my life! I often describe it as “my lightbulb moment”, because, despite the cliche, it really was!

Bag It! is a documentary about the issues of plastic, but offers a raft of solutions, and steps that we as individuals can take to make change. It’s easy to follow, entertaining and funny, but with plenty to think about. It was released in 2011, but remains as relevant as ever. A must watch!

2. True Cost

True Cost is a documentary released in 2015 that looks behind the modern fashion industry. This is far more than a documentary about sweat shops. It explores the issues of materialism and overconsumption; the power of the big retailers and advertising; the health impacts suffered by workers and the environmental devastation that happens worldwide. It gives a face to some of the workers and workers, and provides stories of those trying to change the system. However much you think you know about fast fashion, I guarantee that you will learn something new.

3. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

This documentary is often touted by vegans as a “must-watch”, which tends to put non-vegans off. Please, do not be put off from watching this great documentary on the basis of what you eat for dinner! Cowspiracy is not a lecture, nor is it trying to make the world vegan. And there is no gory stuff. What it talks about is the impact that industrial agriculture has on the world – and how, when there was 1 billion people on the planet, this wasn’t an issue, now there’s 7 billion, it is becoming one. It also talks a lot about politics and power, which was what I found really interesting. Modern agriculture is big business, and has a lot of influence over governments, corporations…and even charities and environmental organisations. It is thought-provoking and well-made.

4. Tapped

Tapped is a documentary about bottled water. It’s my second-favourite plastic documentary after Bag It! It’s not just about the ridiculous waste that comes with drinking bottled water, and the environmental damage caused by producing so much single use plastic, but also the issues of power, greed and social justice (or lack of). What I found particularly alarming was the complete lack of regulation surrounding bottled water testing – yet it is cleverly marketed as “safer” than tap water. Bottled water isn’t just a plastic issue. It’s a people issue too – and there are some moving stories told by people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the industrialization of bottled water.

5. Just Eat It / Dive

There are two popular documentaries about food waste: the newest is Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, released in 2014. Made by the same people who made the Clean Bin Project in 2010 (which you will find below at number 6), Just Eat It follows their attempts to live only on food that would otherwise be thrown away. It questions why we throw so much food away, and what the environmental, social and other impacts are on the failures of our food system. Jen and Grant have a lighthearted and fun approach, but  beneath the humour there is something far less palatable.

Dive! is another documentary about food waste and dumpster diving. It’s older, and not as slick, but still just as informative. You can watch the Dive! trailer here.

6. The Clean Bin Project

Made by Jen and Grant from Just Eat It fame in 2010, the Clean Bin Project follows their attempt to live zero waste for a year, producing no landfill. They compete with each other to produce the smallest amount of waste, and the documentary is funny and entertaining whilst still exploring the bigger issues, particularly the issues with plastic and packaging. If you want to introduce others to the idea of plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles without overloading them with information or terrorizing them into inaction, then this movie (along with Bag It!) is a really great place to start.

7. Trashed

I prefer the documentaries I watch to end with at least a glimmer of home, and with Trashed, this is borderline. I left the screening feeling motivated to do more – but only just. It is hard-hitting. If you are someone who is easily overwhelmed, I don’t recommend this – and it definitely isn’t a movie to show friends who you are trying to encourage to make small changes! However, if you are somebody who really wants to understand the issues, and wants to see (very clearly!) the impact that our consumption is having on the planet, this documentary is a very graphic example of this.

8. Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things

Released this year, Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things is a project by the Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus that explores how minimalism has changed the lives of others for the better. It focuses heavily on consumption (or over-consumption), and how moving away from that has improved the lives of the people interviewed. It touches on other aspects of sustainability, including fast fashion and waste. It’s a thoughtful movie, and whilst I didn’t learn anything new, I’d still recommend it. It felt like a taster, and if you are somebody new to these ideas you will get a lot out of it. It’s positive and upbeat, with lots of inspiring stories about people living both conventional and unconventional lives with less stuff.

9. The Lightbulb Conspiracy

This documentary isn’t the most entertaining, beautifully shot or carefully crafted, but it talks about an issue that we don’t often hear about: planned obsolescence. It’s the way companies force us to replace products quicker than we’d like, and it is sure to get you thinking! Planned obsolescence is the deliberate design of a product to ensure that it breaks, falls apart and needs replacing, to encourage us to consume. The Lightbulb Conspiracy tells the story of the Light Bulb Cartel, a true story of companies coming together in the 1920s to deliberately make their products fail, in order to sell more. It also shows how other companies, including Apple and Hewlett Packard, continue to use planned obsolescence today.

10. Tiny / Small is Beautiful

Tiny and Small is Beautiful are both documentaries about tiny houses, and the people who chose to build them. Tiny follows the story of a guy who decides to build his own tiny house, whereas Small is Beautiful follows four couples, all building their own tiny homes. Of the two, Tiny is my favourite, as it not only follows the guy making the film, but also interviews others who have made tiny houses their home. Whilst the filmmaker is building the tiny house primarily to make a documentary and begin a career in film-making, his experiences are still interesting. What really makes the documentary is the other stories – the people who have chosen to live in these homes, what led them to make these choices and how they feel their lives have changed as a result.

If you are interested in tiny houses, Small is Beautiful is also worth viewing. You can watch the Small is Beautiful trailer here.

11. No Impact Man

Colin Beavan, who made No Impact Man in 2009, in which he decides to live a no impact life, reducing his waste, transport use, energy consumption (at one point he gets rid of his fridge!) and food miles. He brings his (sometimes reluctant) family on the journey with him. He recieves a fair amount of criticism with both the movie and his decision to make these lifestyle choices in the first place: some question his motivation (he chose to live the life to write a book about his experiences), and others wonder about his choice to film and share some private family moments with his audience. Whilst he does not always come across as likeable, this documentary is all the better for Colin Beavan’s complete warts-an-all approach to telling his story. Incidentally, his passion and commitment to the cause has been proven over time: in 2016, he is still talking about these issues and is interviewed in Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things.

12. Rise of the Eco Warriors

I’ve included this documentary because, despite the name (cheesy as!) and the first 20 minutes or so – where a bunch of mostly white teenagers and young people who have crowdsourced and fundraised for their trip, arrive in Borneo with a plan to “save the world” in 100 days – Rise of the Eco Warriors does has something to offer. After the first 20 minutes, the reality of the situation hits the “eco warriors” and what unfolds is a story about people trying to work together, the enormous devastation that palm oil plantations cause and the complex issues at the heart of it all. If you’d like to know more about palm oil and deforestation, this is definitely worth watching.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your favourite eco or environmental documentaries? Are there any that you’d add to this list? Any that you recommend I watch? Were there any that were life-changing (or “lightbulb moments”) for you? Have you seen any of the movies I’ve listed, and what did you think of them? Which were your favourites, and which did you not enjoy at all?  Anything else that you’d like to add? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

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Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Labels or No Labels? (A Zero Waste Minimalist Reflects)

I made the decision to give up plastic long before I ever heard the term “zero waste”. Back then, in 2012, my focus was on reducing my plastic consumption. It was only after I stopped purchasing items in plastic, and began to choose cardboard and glass instead, that I really noticed for the first time how much packaging I was consuming. Glass and cardboard are heavy, and now I was carrying glass bottles home on the train, rather than plastic packets, I really began to notice it!

When I found out that glass is not recycled in WA, where I live, but crushed into road base (which is not the virtuous cycle of recycling we’re told about glass), I decided that the better option was to avoid packaging altogether. Living with less plastic became living with less waste.

As I started thinking about waste more generally, I began to realise that many of the items I owned were not being used, and were therefore going to waste. If I donated these items to people who could use them, that was a far better use of resources. I’d read about minimalism, but it didn’t seem to be something that I could do. I realised that I needed less stuff, but I didn’t want to reduce my possessions down to a handful of things that fitted into a suitcase.

When I first heard of the name zero waste, much later, I didn’t think that it included me. I took the term very literally, and I figured that because I still recycled, I could not consider myself zero waste. I couldn’t consider myself to be a minimalist either, because minimalists don’t own three saucepans and consider it necessary to have both a round baking dish and a square baking dish, and definitely wouldn’t deem a set of muffin trays a must-have item.

One reason I didn’t like the labels was because I felt that they were absolute, with no room for error. It was as if, by declaring myself to be zero waste or a minimalist, I was implying that I was something that I was not. It seemed somehow fraudulent. How can you call yourself zero waste when you still recycle? How can you call yourself a minimalist when you own more than 100 items?

But what I found was that the labels zero waste and minimalism pique people’s interest. Everyone has ideas about what these labels mean, and they want to ask questions.

Questions about waste: Does zero waste mean you don’t use toilet paper? How do you buy things without plastic? What on earth is a worm farm?

Or questions about stuff: But if you don’t own things, what do you do in the evenings? Do you sit on the floor? What about photos?

It’s a great way to get people thinking, and talking…and maybe even doing!

When you have a generic statement about trying to live lighter on the planet, create less waste, and live with a bit less stuff, it’s too vague for people to really grasp what that looks like.

That, I think, is a missed opportunity.

It’s a missed opportunity because living with less waste is something that we can all do. It doesn’t mean going without, or being deprived, or weaving your own clothes and living in a cave. (Unless you want to, of course!)

People who describe themselves as zero waste or minimalists look just like other people. We live in regular houses. We have regular jobs. We do regular things. You couldn’t pick us out in a line-up! We just choose to create less waste, and own less stuff. Owning a reusable water bottle or refusing a plastic straw is not difficult, nor time-consuming. Donating a bunch of items you never use to people who truly need them is a win-win scenario.

And so, I use labels. Not because I’m perfect. Of course I’m not! Not because I want anyone to think that I’m perfect, either. But because it helps to start the conversation. And it helps others realise that these lifestyles are not about being perfect. It isn’t all-or-nothing, and every action makes a difference.

These labels are not about absolutes. They are about ideals. They are something to work towards. They are about values. We use these labels because we share the same values.

You can call yourself zero waste and still put out the recycling bin. You can call yourself a minimalist and still own furniture, and kitchen appliances. You can aspire to one of these lifestyles, or to both, and not call yourself either.

What’s important isn’t what we choose to call ourselves, or how we decide to describe our lifestyles, but the actions that we take.

We all have different lives, and different circumstances. We all make different choices, and have different versions of “enough”. Zero waste and minimalism look different for everybody. Every version is equally important, not matter what it looks like.

Labels can be useful, but they shouldn’t be a distraction. Let’s not get bogged down with definitions and comparisons. Let’s make better choices. It isn’t about perfection: it’s about doing what we can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think about labels? Do you love them? Do you hate them? Are you indifferent towards them? Do you see them as a distraction, or see them as a useful tool to start conversations? Do you see them as a way to group together people with the same values, or as a way for people to compare themselves with others and perhaps be frozen into inaction? Do you like some labels, but avoid other labels? Do you feel that using labels makes you feel part of a community? Do you feel that using labels opens you up for criticism? Have you had any experiences, good or bad, from using labels to describe the choices you make? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Minimalist House Tour (Yes, Hoarders Can Change)

Last week I talked about how I’d successfully decluttered my wardrobe (after many attempts and years of trying). In my journey towards living with less waste, I’ve learned that owning stuff we don’t use, don’t like and don’t need is as much a waste as throwing it away. After all, it’s taking up space, time and energy, and for what?! It isn’t being used!

Decluttering doesn’t have to mean throwing stuff away, though. There is no need to send anything to landfill – so long as you have the patience and the commitment to seek out new homes for the things you no longer require. Even the act of giving things away has really cemented in me the understanding that if I don’t want to create waste, I have to think very carefully about what I let through my front door. If I don’t need it, it isn’t coming in…because it will only be something to deal with (and stress over) later.

After years of battling with trying to let go; knowing that my stuff was taking up my time, energy and space, but feeling powerless to act, I’ve found my own way. A way that didn’t involve car boot-fulls of stuff to the tip, or black bin liners dumped in the nearest charity bin with more that a little doubt that any of those items would get re-sold. I made peace with my stuff, and my past choices. Rather than wasting my energy feeling guilty and remorseful about those choices, I used this energy to find new homes for the things I no longer used. Decluttering with a conscience.

My driving force has always been to find my “enough”. I’m not interested in pursuing as little as possible, or being able to count my possessions, or fit them into one suitcase. My “enough” doesn’t look like that. My “enough” is everything that I need, and nothing more. My “enough” means several different sized baking tins; it means a collection of glass jars for food storage and preserving; it means more than one pair of shoes. What my “enough” is not: it is not stuff languishing in the back of the cupboard. It is not stuff that makes me feel guilty, or remorseful. It is not stuff that I’m keeping “just-in-case” when I know deep down that “just-in-case” will never happen.

On that note, I’d love to show you round my home! This is what “enough” looks like for me. Your “enough” probably looks completely different. It’s not about right or wrong, or better or worse. It’s about being true to ourselves. I’m sure there are things I own that you can’t imagine why I’d need them, and similarly, I’m sure I don’t have things that you couldn’t possibly live without! (The great thing about this is, when other people have things that we don’t own, there is always the opportunity to share – to lend and borrow!)

The Kitchen:

kitchen-counter-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path cupboard-open-kitchen-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Inside some of the drawers:

junk-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path reusables-drawer-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path saucepans-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path food-storage-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Under the sink:

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The Lounge Area:

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Our Dining Table:

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My Desk / The Spare Room:

desk-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path spare-room-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path shoes-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The Bathroom:

bathroom-bedroom-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path shower-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path bathroom-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The bathroom cupboard:

bathroom-cupboard-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

Books:

books-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The Bedroom:

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

Under the bed:

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I used to try to imagine what it would feel like to live in an uncluttered home, and let me tell you, it feels so good to finally be there!  Knowing that there will be no more weekends of sorting and decluttering, and that my weekends are mine to spend how I really want to. Which isn’t rearranging my stuff…again.  I’d wonder if I’d regret letting go of things, but in truth, I haven’t missed anything. It’s amazing how little I truly need. I just needed to let go of the excess to find this out. All that extra stuff was just wasted time, money and energy… and a huge distraction. I just wish I’d realised sooner, and made a few less mistakes along the way.

Decluttering hasn’t been an easy journey for me, but it has been rewarding and so worthwhile. Now I’ve had the chance to reflect, I’ve taken all those lessons and insights, and I’m putting them together into a brand new resource. If you’re looking to declutter your life (and especially if you hate waste!) I think you’re going to love it! All is revealed here.

What’s next for me? Well, I’m keen to keep experimenting with the idea of less. To keep questioning if I really need things, and to let them go if I don’t. I’m confident that by choosing more versatile garments in future, I will minimalise my wardrobe further. I’m sure I can make space in other areas, too. Time will tell : )

Now I’d love to hear from you!? What did you think of my version of “enough”? How does it compare to your idea of “enough”? Has your version of “enough” changed over time? If you are decluttering, what are your current goals? What are your biggest problem areas, and where have your biggest successes been? If you’re already living a minimalist lifestyle, what were the biggest lessons you learned along the way? What were the hardest items for you to give away/let go of, and how do you feel about them now? If you had your time again, what would you do differently? Anything else you’d like to add? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

6 (Embarrassing) Confessions of a Zero Waste Minimalist

Ah, those embarrassing decisions of the past. We’ve all made them. (Yes, all of us!) When we change our lifestyles, there are all those choices we made pre- lifestyle change that – when we think back to them – just make us want to cringe. Did we really think / do / say that?!

My personal lifestyle-changing epiphany came in 2012, and for the last four years I’ve lived a plastic-free, zero waste and minimalist lifestyle. I’ve embraced the idea of having “enough”, and slowly reduced my annual landfill waste to fit in a jar, and decluttered all the unnecessary things that were going to waste in my home. But for every “after” there is a “before”.

Let me tell you, my pre-2012 self made some pretty cringe-worthy choices. Here are 6 of my worst.

I “collected” single-serve sachets.

As a kid, I liked to collect stuff. In addition to my collection of National Trust bookmarks and interesting pebbles and rocks, I used to collect single-serve sachets of sauce and sugar. I have no idea why. I had no use for sachets of hollandaise or tartare or French dressing, yet I was fascinated by these tiny plastic portions of sauce.

I’d clear out whole condiment trays at cafes, and store them at home in a box. Sometimes I’d take them out and admire them. I loved how small they were, and all the different colours. But I never used them. Now, the waste of single-serve items means I’d never, ever take one – and I certainly wouldn’t admire them!

I used to ask for an extra straw.

As a teenager and in my early twenties, if I ordered a drink in a bar, I used to ask for an extra straw. One straw wasn’t enough for me, I had to have two! I wish I could shed some sort of light onto why I thought this was necessary, but to be honest, it completely baffles me. Now I live with straw shame.

I purchased (and used) a coffee pod machine.

This must be my most embarrassing, shameful confession. Yes, in my mid-twenties I purchased a coffee pod machine as a birthday gift for a partner… and of course, I used it. It wasn’t a Nespresso machine with those metal pods, it was a cheaper version with the plastic, non-recyclable pods. Not that the recyclability of the pods matters, because the waste that goes into the production of new pods cannot be offset by recycling the old ones, whatever the material.

Single-use convenience at the expense of the planet. There are so many other ways to make and enjoy a decent coffee. I thought that pod coffee tasted good. Now it leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

I bought “novelty” gifts.

Novelty gifts. Those “humorous” items that get a laugh, and maybe a few minutes of pleasure, before spending the rest of eternity in landfill. The presents you give to people “who have everything” – yes, I fell for the marketing.

If someone truly has everything, they definitely don’t need novelty gifts. No-one needs pointless tat. Was it really worth spending my money on stuff like this, and creating the extra waste for a couple of laughs? No. Now, if I need to buy a gift for somebody who has everything, I buy tickets, or a restaurant voucher, or an experience. Or toilet paper. Because even people who have everything need toilet paper.

I bought things I didn’t need because they were “bargains”.

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Bargains are one thing, butI used to confuse bargains with “stuff that’s been reduced in the sale”. Actually, these are quite different. A bargain is something that you need, that is available to buy for far less than it is actually worth. Something in the sale is an item that is being sold at a cheaper price than it once was. That doesn’t mean it’s a bargain (it could be on ‘sale’ from a heavily inflated price). If we don’t need it, it definitely isn’t a bargain!

I used to shop in the sales. I’d buy things that were heavily reduced (the big red tag told me so) simply because they were reduced. I didn’t think about whether I needed it, would wear or use it, and how much I would have paid if I had seen it without the red tag. Saving money was a reason to buy it – except I wasn’t saving money at all. I was spending money. Buying stuff I didn’t need was a waste of money, time and resources… and it just added to the clutter and stress of my home. Now I’m clear: a bargain is only a bargain if I need it.

I owned stuff I never used.

Pre-2012, I never really thought about how wasteful and unnecessary this was. It wasn’t that I intended not to use things, but I’d somehow entangled my sense of identity in with the stuff I purchased. I’d pin my dreams of being slimmer on buying tighter-fitting clothes. I’d attach my hopes of mastering a new hobby by buying all the equipment. I’d envision the life that I imagined for myself, and choose things that fitted in that life, rather than the one I actually lived.

I’d buy products before the act, so to speak, and these things remained unused, singing my failures softly to me whenever I saw them in the back of the cupboard. Both minimalism and zero waste have taught me that if it’s not being used, it’s going to waste. Keeping things we don’t use isn’t an inspiration to change, it’s a reminder that we didn’t. If it’s not useful now, it’s better off being given to someone who will use it. Now I only own things that I use.

Why am I sharing this with you? Not because I enjoy embarrassing myself! I want to show you that people can change. We’ve all made poor choices in the past. I certainly have! Those poor choices don’t define me though, just as they don’t define you. We all have the opportunity to do things differently next time.

We can take those poor choices and learn from them, and make better choices in the future. We can look back and laugh (or cry!) at the memories, but we don’t need to hold onto them. Those choices represent who we were, not who we are, nor who we are capable of becoming.

It doesn’t matter if those choices were years ago, or last week, or even this morning. Mistakes made in the past, however recent, are no reason to avoid trying again in the future. Whether that’s reducing plastic consumption, refusing single use items, stepping off the consumer treadmill or something completely different, we can all make different choices. Forgive yourself for those cringe-worthy choices of the past. Know that next time, you can choose better.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Were there any of these that you could relate to? Any that you (fortunately) never made the mistake of choosing? If you’ve made lifestyle changes, did you have an “epiphany” or was it more a gradual process that led you to make changes and see things differently? Was it one thing that inspired you to live life differently or a number of different things? Do you have any confessions of your own? What embarrassing secrets do you have from your past that makes your present self cringe in despair? If you’re in the process of making changes, are there any current habits you have that you’re beginning to question and wonder why you make those choices? Is there anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Can Decluttering be the Opposite of Waste?

For the longest time, I thought that decluttering and zero waste were opposites. Didn’t decluttering mean chucking decent stuff away, and zero waste mean throwing nothing away and hoarding it all?

I couldn’t imagine that the two could work together, yet decluttering has been an important part of my zero waste journey. I’ve come to learn that decluttering and zero waste living are not opposites at all. Decluttering can be just as much about wasting less. If you want to live zero waste, don’t write off decluttering.

Here are five reasons why decluttering is a valuable part of living with less waste.

Decluttering doesn’t mean sending to landfill (or dumping at the charity shop).

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted items, the two most commonly cited options are discard or donate. Discarding really should be a last resort, saved only for those things that are damaged beyond repair, non-recyclable, and possibly dangerous. But what about donating?

Charity shops want goods that are clean, in working order and desirable.They need to be able to sell them! (Charity shops are not places to take soiled, damaged or dubious goods simply because we can’t bear the guilt of throwing them away ourselves.)

But charity shops aren’t the solution for everything, and they don’t have limitless storage. Taking our winter wardrobes in the height of summer will likely mean good quality items end up unsold simply because there isn’t the demand, and offloading things in the week after Christmas when the rest of the country is doing the same thing probably won’t be much help, either. Not all charity shops can accept electrical items.

If you really care about waste, you don’t need to ‘hope’ that the charity shop will on-sell your stuff. You can take matters into your own hands. Finding new owners for the things you want to declutter is the best way to ensure they stay out of landfill.

Before donating, call the charity shop and ask if there are things that they need (and also things that they don’t). There will always be things in high demand and things that aren’t.

Don’t limit your donating to the charity shops. Women’s refuges, charities and animal sanctuaries are other places that accept donations. Schools, clubs, community groups, crafting societies and charities all have needs and might be able to help take unwanted items. Online classified sites like Gumtree are a great way to find new owners for unwanted goods, and a way to offer broken goods for parts and spares.

Decluttering is a way to maximize the use of something.

This sounds counter-intuitive – how is giving something away going to maximize its use? This depends on whether we actually use the things in question. Owning stuff we don’t need, don’t use and don’t like is a complete waste.

There are two main reasons we keep things we don’t need: just in case (fear of the future), or guilt (regret for the past).

We might need it in the future. That is true. But if we haven’t needed it so far, what are the chances? Could we get a replacement quickly, affordably and second-hand? This will depend on individual circumstances, but in most cases, there is no need to keep something just in case.

There will be someone out there looking for that item, who will use it today.

We might feel guilty. There are many reasons that we feel guilt: we made a poor choice, spent too much money, didn’t lose the weight we’ hoped, dislike the handmade gift that we know took so much effort and time.  Keeping something out of guilt does not increase the chances that we will use it.

Keeping an unwanted item and thinking that we somehow alleviate the guilt won’t work. The best way to ease the guilt is to let the item go.

We sometimes try to justify keeping things that that we don’t use rather than giving them away by telling ourselves that we are reducing waste. Actually, the opposite is true. Owning something that you never use is the biggest waste of all. It is far better to give these things to people who truly need them and will use them every day.

Decluttering as an end, not a means.

Decluttering is about removing the unnecessary, the unused and the unwanted from our homes. It’s about removing the excess, and keeping only the things we find useful and beautiful. If our homes are filled with items we use regularly and appreciate, there is little or no waste.

Yet decluttering will only reduce waste if it’s treated as a one-way process, rather than a means. If the purpose of decluttering is simply to make room in the house for a big shopping spree where the old stuff is replaced with a bunch of new stuff, clearly that is going to generate a whole heap of waste.

Until the cycle of consumption is broken, and needless things are no longer brought into the home, decluttering can never mean less waste.

Decluttering helps conserve resources.

Have you ever tried to buy something second-hand, and not been able to find it? Sometimes we need things, and we want to purchase them second-hand, yet that isn’t an option. If we really need that item, we’ll probably have to go and buy it new.

Yet somewhere, there would have been an unwanted, second-hand option that would have been perfect.

Rather than keeping things to ourselves, we should embrace the opportunity to share what we have. There are so many resources tied up in cupboards, wardrobes, playrooms, shed, garages and attics around the world in the form of unused stuff.

Decluttering frees up these resources so others can use them. Donating items we don’t need gives somebody else the opportunity to use them, and helps prevent new purchases.

Decluttering helps form new habits.

I have always found decluttering hard. I found it hard because I was forced to confront my poor decisions (impulse purchases, wasted money, non-repairable items), and my failure to achieve what I’d hoped (hobbies that never got off the ground, clothes I never slimmed into).

I know I’m not alone in this.

We’ve all made choices that we regret, and we’ve all purchased things that in hindsight, we wouldn’t purchase again. Because I struggled so much with decluttering, I now think much more carefully about what I bring into my home. It forced me to examine my old habits, and think about the decisions I had made in the past.

As a result, I now make better choices. Can the item be mended? Can it be recycled? Is it built to last? Do I have a real, genuine need to own it? Is there a second-hand market for it?

I can appreciate well-made clothes, or admire chic decor or clever design, but that doesn’t mean that I need to make a purchase.

There will always be beautiful things. If I don’t need it, or can’t see how I will dispose of it responsibly, then I don’t buy it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you living or working towards a zero waste lifestyle, and how do you feel about decluttering? Is it something you’ve struggled with or something you’ve embraced? Have your views changed over time? What have you struggled to declutter? What are the reasons that held you back? What are your success stories? Are you a master declutterer? What are your tips for ensuring your items find good homes? What unconventional places have you found that will accept your unwanted items? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

The Definitive Guide to Storing Food without Plastic

Taking reusable bags to the store is a great way to reduce unnecessary plastic. Bringing reusable produce bags and selecting products without packaging is another way to reduce waste. Choosing to shop at bulk stores is a fantastic option, if we have the choice.

But what about when we get all of our food shopping home? What then? Is it possible to store food without plastic?

What about leftovers, and freezing food? How about packing lunches?

What are the plastic-free options?

Of course, plastic-free is possible. There are plenty of options to avoid using plastic containers, gladwrap/clingwrap and zip-lock bags. From choosing plastic-free containers to freezing in glass (yes, it’s possible), here’s the lowdown on how we avoid using plastic in our home when storing food.

Food Storage without Plastic – the Pantry

I buy all of our dry goods from bulk stores, and I store in the pantry in glass jars. Sometimes I take the jars to the bulk stores and weigh them before filling them, but more often I take reusable produce bags and decant when I get home.

Glass jars are heavy, and I find taking reusable produce bags is more practical for me.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Pantry

Whilst I love the idea of a pantry full of matching glass jars, the reality is, there are plenty of glass jars in the world begging to be re-used. It makes no sense to me to buy new when I can re-use. I’ve reused old jars that I own, and friends and family have given me their spares. I sourced some big glass jars from a local cafe.

I generally find that a good soak will get the old labels off. If they are particularly stubborn, I use eucalyptus oil and give them a scrub, and that usually works. Removing the label means I can see what’s inside, and there’s no confusion as to the contents.

Removing Jar Labels with Eucalyptus Oil Zero Waste

I have needed to buy a few new jar lids – kitchen shops sell these, or you can find them online.

It’s not always clear how long dry goods have been stored at the bulk shops, and the last thing we want is weevils or pantry moths, or other pests. If I think something has been at the store a while, or if it’s been in my own pantry a little longer than planned, I pop the jar into the freezer for 24 hours. This kills any eggs. After 24 hours I remove the jar from the freezer and place back in the pantry.

Freezing pulses and grains to prevent weevils

I have a terrible habit of not labeling my jars. I have a good memory and generally remember what I’ve bought, and if I forget I can usually figure it out by the smell. My husband has no idea what I’ve bought and has a terrible sense of smell, so whilst it might work for me, it doesn’t work for him! I’m planning to get a greaseproof pencil/chinograph so I can label the jars without needing to buy sticky labels or mark them permanently. If I was more crafty, I could paint blackboard paint on them, or even mark the lids.

Food storage without plastic – on the counter

I keep a fruit bowl on the counter which in addition to fruit, contains onions. I also keep fresh tomatoes here as I find they taste better than when stored in the fridge, and avocados whilst they ripen.

I often keep cut leaves such as beetroot leaves or silverbeet in glass jars on the counter rather than in the fridge as I find they keep better. Parsley and some other herbs also keep better this way. If the water is changed regularly, parsley will last on the counter for up to two weeks.

Beetroot Leaves in a Jam Jar

I store my bread in a cloth bag inside a wooden bread bin. The cloth bag helps absorb any moisture that might cause the bread to go moldy. Over time it begins to harden, and when I notice it’s becoming hard to cut I pre-cut the rest of the loaf. If there is more than I can eat in the next day or so, I pop it in the freezer.

For things like crackers, baked goods and other dry food, I use tins. I have some that I purchased in my pre- zero waste days, and some that I’ve been given (they often seem to appear around Christmas time as “presentation” boxes for biscuits and confectionery). I’ve been able to choose ones that are a good size for my needs, and that I can store easily.

Sourdough Zero Waste Crackers FINAL

Food storage without plastic – the fridge

I store most of my fruit and vegetable items in the crisper. Some veggies, such as carrots, courgettes and cucumbers have a tendency to go floppy, so I store these in a rectangular glass Pyrex container with a lid. I also find delicate fresh herbs like coriander and basil store better in a container with a lid, as do salad leaves.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Fridge

I’ve also tried storing them in glasses or bowls of water in the fridge and this works well, but I don’t own enough glassware for this to be practical.

Storing Veggies in Water in the Fridge

Another alternative to using glass containers is to use a damp tea towel to wrap your veggies. This works particularly well for larger items like bunches of celery or leafy greens that don’t fit in containers. Beeswax wraps are also useful if you’re not vegan – they are cloth squares that have beeswax melted onto them to create a waterproof wrap. They are very easy to make yourself (you can find a DIY beeswax wrap tutorial here) and making your own means you can choose sizes that work for your needs.

For storing leftovers, there are a number of solutions. Personally I was never a fan of gladwrap/clingfilm.  Some is ridiculously sticky and will stick to everything except the bowl in question (this type of clingwrap usually contains phthalates – not what we want to be wrapping food in). The phthalate-free type never seems to want to stick to anything at all. I find it far simpler simply to put a plate on top of the bowl in question.

I also have some silicone covers for bowls that were a gift that have been very useful. Beeswax wraps can be used for this, too. Glass jars are a great option for decanting small amounts of leftovers (and I have plenty of glass jars to hand), and Pyrex storage or stainless steel work if you want to decant into something bigger. Sometimes I even keep the food in the saucepan, pop the lid on and pop that in the fridge.

For some items, such as half a lemon or half an avocado, I find that placing it face down on a plate is enough. If I’ve roasted veggies or baked a sweet potato, I find it keeps well in the fridge uncovered for a few days. So long as it’s not got a strong smell, it works fine.

Food storage without plastic – the freezer (yes, you can freeze food in glass)

I store most of my food in the freezer in glass jars. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Jars are a great size for one or two portions, and they fill the space well. I’ve only ever had one breakage. Freezing in glass is perfectly safe, but there are some rules to follow.

Freezing in Glass Jars in the Freezer

Firstly, choose good quality jars, with thick glass. Repurposed jars are fine. I tend to choose ones that have previously had jam or tomato sauce in them, as I know they will withstand changes in temperature. Buying poor quality jars from reject shops will likely lead to breakages.

Wider jars work better, and avoid any that taper inwards at the top (tapering outwards is fine). When filling, never fill all the way to the top – make sure the food is sitting at the widest point of the jar. Don’t screw the lid on until the contents have completely frozen. The food will expand when frozen – the higher the water content the more it will expand – so leave room for this to happen. Once it’s frozen you can screw on the lid.

Never put hot jars in the freezer, and try to chill them before you freeze them. This is important if what you’re freezing has a high water content, like stock. I find for foods like chickpeas, which don’t have a high water content, freezing from room temperature works fine.

If you’re worried about freezing in jars, you can also use freezer-safe Pyrex, or stainless steel containers, which won’t break.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

I use an ice cube tray for freezing liquids and also fresh herbs. I find that the cubes make good portion sizes. I store the cubes in jars once they are frozen. To freeze herbs I add a little oil to the ice cube tray -they seem to freeze better. I have just upgraded to a stainless steel one, and you can also find aluminium ones second-hand if you’d like to avoid plastic.

Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray

To avoid freezing a big mass of fruit, I lay out on on a tray (I line a baking tray with a tea towel) and pop in the freezer. Oonce frozen, I put in a container. This allows me to use a handful at a time, rather than needing to defrost the whole thing.

Preparing Strawberries for the Freezer

I don’t freeze everything in glass. I freeze bread wrapped in a cloth bag, and I leave bananas in their skins.

Food storage – out and about

Both my husband and I have stainless steel lunchboxes, which we use for food on the go. I always take my glass KeepCup with me as I find it great as an impromptu storage container. Being glass, it’s easy to clean. I have a set of reusable, washable wraps for sandwiches, baked goods and snacks which are handy as they fold up. If we’re taking food to friends’ houses, we either use tins or we have a stainless steel tiffin.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel Stainless Steel Tiffin and Lunchbox Zero Waste Plastic Free

Food storage – choosing containers

When I first started out with living plastic-free, I had a lot of plastic reusable containers. I didn’t want to waste them, so I continued to use them whilst I transitioned to other things. Because I was concerned with the health implications of using plastic for food storage, I used them only for dried food, before giving them away or using them for non-food items.

Zero Waste Week 2015 Reusable Containers

Whatever you decide to use, know that there’s no need to immediately rush out and buy new stuff. Glass jars are an obvious one to start with, and they are free. It’s possible to find good quality glass, tins and even Pyrex at the charity shops.

I chose to use Pyrex with the plastic lids, because I couldn’t find any without plastic, and they were affordable for me. Stainless steel containers come completely plastic-free, but they are an investment. They are expensive but should last forever, so it is important to know exactly what you want before you make the purchase. Slowly I’ve built up a small collection of stainless steel, and the pieces I have I use often and I love.

When choosing containers, think about how you’ll use them. If you’re looking for a lunchbox, think about the kinds of things you eat for lunch. What size and shape will be most useful? Planet Box make great compartmentalised lunch boxes for kids. Cloth wraps and reusable sandwich bags might be a better alternative. It’s possible to buy refillable food packs. Think about your needs and choose products that work for you.

It is possible to store food at home without using plastic, and you can make it as simple or as complicated (or as cheap or expensive) as you like. The most important thing is to make conscious choices. Look at your options, and decide what is practical and within your budget. There’s no need to buy new things straightaway. Take your time. Choose well.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, how do you store your food without using plastic? What are your favourite tips? Is there anything you tried that didn’t work? What purchases have you made that have been great investments? Any that turned out to be duds? Do you have any tips to add? Or any “not-to-do”s to share? Is there anything that you are still searching for a solution for? Any questions? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

It’s Not About Perfect. It’s About Better.

I receive several requests a week from companies telling me how much they think my readers would love to hear about their fabulous (their words, not mine) products. Some even offer to pay me. I turn them all down.

As someone with a passion for zero waste, plastic-free living and minimalism, I believe in practicing what I preach. I’m not interested in plastic-packaged anything, or overseas shipping, or “stuff” in general, and I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in me spruiking it, either.

I’m proud that I keep this website advertisement-free, and I don’t intend to change that by running sponsored content.

But a few weeks ago I received this email, and it made me look twice.

I am writing from our company Tipsy Oil. We are the world’s first company to collect, wash and reuse wine bottles for bottling our Western Australian grown extra virgin olive oil. Recycling the bottles actually costs more currently than buying brand new bottle but we’re not a company that aims to become a cash cow!

Additional to this, obviously one bottle of olive oil in a recycled bottle won’t save the world, but Tipsy definitely makes consumers slightly more aware about recycling. As a very young company, we are hoping to engage writers like yourself to review or post about our vision to gain a greater awareness of our product and ultimately help with the problem of pollution.

It piqued my interest.

Firstly, I love the fact that they use glass over plastic, and not new glass either: they re-use wine bottles – because they think it is the right thing to do. (I’ve talked often about how glass in Western Australia is not recycled by crushed into road base, so this has particular local relevance.)

Secondly, I love that they are a Western Australian company (based only a few suburbs away from me), making Western Australian olive oil using Western Australian grown olives.

It makes no sense to me that shops here continue to sell Italian and Greek olive oil when we produce our own oil in Australia. Nothing against Italian and Greek olive oil of course – if I lived in Italy or Greece that is what I would use! But why ship bottles of oil across the globe when we already have it here?

I also love the fact that they say “one bottle of oil in a recycled bottle won’t save the world, but…”. I think lots of companies DO think that their product will save the world, and I found this quite refreshing. As for the “but…” – to me, this says we know we’re not perfect, but we’re doing what we can.

But of course – I was suspicious ; ) I’ve learned the hard way that just because somebody says their product is green, that doesn’t mean that it is! I emailed back. Where were they sourcing these bottles? Can customers return the bottles for refills or re-use?

I received this lovely email response:

Returning the used olive oil bottles is an excellent idea and something that I just added to our Tipsy Trello board! Thanks so much for the idea!

The recycled bottles are currently sourced from Gargarno’s restaurant in Nedlands, Perth, WA. As we grow bigger and start gathering bottles from other restaurants, we hope to have a special label for each restaurant to show where the bottles came from. But right now there is still so much to organise!

I absolutely agree with your comments around plastic, and as we mature as a business we hope to move to 100% recycled goods. However, I am sure you can imagine the difficulties with even getting a product to the market!

To give you some back story, I started Tipsy back in 2014 at the ripe age of 23 with the vision of creating a fully recycled bottle company with staff that loved the company and at the same time work with local companies instead of mega corporations. Now 25, I realise that it’s a lot harder than just writing the idea down on a piece of paper. We’ve run into things like bureaucracy, labels that absorb oil, Anthracnose, and printers that don’t know where the centre of the label is. So I hope you can give us some time to get out recycled act together!

Also, just got a really great idea about using metal caps for Tipsy Bottles just then!

In fact, we had such a great email conversation afterwards that we’re planning to meet soon to talk about all things sustainability. I like their vision, their openness, their transparency – and their willingness to hear new ideas.

That was the best thing for me – being able to start the conversation, plant a seed and try to inspire change. They did send me a bottle of their oil: I insisted there was no plastic packaging, and the parcel looked like this:

Treading My Own Path Tipsy Oil Plastic Free July

No plastic packaging (the envelope is 100% paper, including the padding) but it came with a pourer in a plastic bag! The bottle has a plastic lid, but Tipsy Oil are looking into replacing the plastic with metal in future.

The padded envelope is filled with recycled paper, so plastic-free. I hope that this is how they will choose to send other products in future.

As for the pourer, I would say it is unnecessary, but I have been meaning to get one since the bottle lid on refillable macadamia oil bottle split into two. Still, I’m not sure they should send them as standard. The small plastic bag?! Gah!

The bottle lid itself is plastic – I hope as a result of our conversation this is something that is going to change.

Let me make one thing clear. I won’t be buying this product myself, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. I can buy olive oil in bulk from my local store, but I’ve gone one step further this year and picked and pressed my own olives. (Coincidentally, I filled old wine bottles!)

That said, I get that not everyone is going to want to bottle their own oil. Maybe you don’t have olive trees in your area. Maybe you don’t have access to an olive press. Maybe you simply can’t be bothered! (And that’s okay – we don’t all have the time or inclination to do everything ourselves.)

Treading My Own Path Picking and Pressing Olive Oil

The olive picking dream team (minus my husband, who took the photo), the olives we collected and our portion of the pressed olive oil : )

I also get that not everyone has access to a bulk store, and not all bulk stores sell olive oil. There need to be alternatives. What excited me about Tipsy Oil was the reminder it gave me that there are companies out there trying to do the right thing, and create positive change.

Where we can, I think it is important to support them. In particular, the whole experience brought home to me three important points:

It is important to start where people are at.

I could wax lyrical about how great picking my own olives is, or how wonderful my local bulk store is, but for many of you, that would not be helpful. All of us are on different journeys, and have different amounts of time, energy and patience available.

We may not be able to buy in bulk or pick our own, but we can all look for local suppliers, businesses and stores who are trying to do the right thing.

We can all ask questions and make conscious choices. And we can all champion the people and companies we find who are trying to do the right thing.

Whether we need what they are selling/would use it ourselves or not, I think there is an importance in spreading the word of those trying to make the world a better place.

Let’s start conversations.

Had I not had the conversation with Tipsy Oil, they might not have thought about switching their lids from plastic to metal.

They might not have thought about looking into a bottle return scheme for customers.

These are small things, but they still have an impact. It all makes a difference. Who is to say that other companies will see what these guys are doing and feel inspired to take action themselves? Actions are like ripples, and we have more influence than we think.

Simply asking questions, providing feedback, or even having a chat with the lady at the checkout about the choices we make all have the ability to spark change. Never underestimate the influence you have, nor your power to make a difference.

It’s not about perfect. It’s about doing what we can.

I truly wish that bulk stores were an option for everybody, but the reality is, they aren’t. Instead of thinking that because we can’t do everything, there is no point in doing anything: we should all do what we can.

Imagine if every single person on the planet committed to reducing their waste by just 10%? Think of the impact that would have!

Imagine if all of the people in Perth who don’t have access to bulk stores chose to purchase locally produced olive oil in re-used bottles – think of the carbon emissions and virgin glass we could save!

In my version of a perfect world, we would all shop at bulk stores, there would be no single use packaging, and the world would be a lovelier place. I definitely believe that this is something we can work towards: we can strive for perfection, but we also need to be realistic.

Let’s not let perfection stand in the way of better. Let’s start where people are at. Let’s make better choices ourselves, start conversations and begin new dialogues, and support those that try to make a difference.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s about doing what we can.

Now it’s your turn to tell me what you think! Is there anything you have struggled with because it is not “perfect”? Do you ever feel disheartened because you can’t do everything? Have you made compromises that are still better than your old choices, and if so what are they? Have you found local suppliers to champion or begun to ask questions and start conversations? Have you ever had a company change its policy or look into changing it simply because of something you said, or wrote, or suggested? Have you ever stopped supporting a company you previously loved because they were NOT open to change? Have you ever let “perfect” stand in the way of “better”? Do you have any other thoughts, questions or snippets of wisdom to add? I love hearing from you so please leave me a comment below!

Can You Live Plastic-Free without Bulk Stores?

One of the most common challenges I hear from people who would like to embrace plastic-free or zero waste living, is that they don’t live near a bulk store. Access to bulk stores definitely makes plastic-free living infinitely easier – but that doesn’t mean that without them, it’s impossible.

In fact, there are still plenty of things that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint, wherever you live, wherever you shop and however busy you are.

Here’s a list of my top 8 (as always, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below).

Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you cannot do everything.

This is so important! Just because there isn’t a bulk store near you, that doesn’t mean that you should give up before you begin.

Remember that every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today, so every single piece of plastic you refuse is one less piece entering our environment.

We just need to start where we are, with what we have, and do what we can. Even if you can only refuse a few things, or make a couple of changes, it all counts. If we all did the best we could, think how much better the world would be!

Don’t stress about what you can’t change, look for what you can change.

Eat more fresh vegetables!

Apologies for sounding like your Nan here, but seriously – food packaging accounts for such a significant amount of the waste we produce, and one of the easiest ways to reduce this is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or if you still need to buy in packaging, try to choose the bigger packs (there will be less plastic overall).

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a great high-carb alternative to pasta and rice, and are easy to find plastic-free.

If you don’t know how to cook something, look on the internet for simple recipes. This is where I’m going to offer different advice from your Nan – you do not need to boil everything for 30+ minutes! Plenty of veggies can be roasted (try carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), stir-fried, broiled, baked, sautéed – or eaten raw.

Zero Waste Vegetables Plastic Free July Treading My Own Path

My local veg box delivery comes mid-week and direct to my door (convenience shopping with a difference) and it’s an easy way for me to get produce that’s plastic-free and locally grown.

Also, many veggies can be frozen once cooked. If you live in a small household and don’t want to eat an entire pumpkin this week, chop into cubes, roast it as usual and freeze what you don’t need. Other vegetables, such as leeks and broccoli, can be blanched for 1-3 minutes, and then frozen.

This guide lists how to freeze a number of vegetables and might be a helpful starting point.

Bring your own reusable bags – not just your main shopping bags

As well as your own shopping bags, bring reusable produce bags for all your loose produce items, and a cloth bag for any bread you need.

You can find produce bags available for sale online (made of cloth or mesh, some pre-labelled and others plain) – or you can make your own using your own fabric or even old net curtains!

Fruit and Veggie Produce Bags Treading My Own Path

Reusable produce bags are a great way to buy loose products at the store without needing to take those pesky plastic bags!

If you forget, and you’re buying too many items to simply pop them in your trolley loose, you can often find paper mushroom or potato bags so use these as an alternative to plastic.

Look for packaging in glass, cardboard and paper, and adapt where you can

When I first started out with plastic-free living, I continued to shop at the supermarket. Whilst I found most of the pre-prepared products were packaged in plastic, I found many wholefoods and single ingredients that were packaged in glass and cardboard. For example, in my local store I could buy pasta and couscous in cardboard packaging, as well as oats and rice, but I could not buy quinoa or bulgar wheat.

I began buying more oats over breakfast cereal; eating porridge for breakfast and using more oats in baking. In glass jars I found passata so I began to buy this rather than chopped tomatoes in Tetra-Paks (which are difficult to recycle) or tins (which are plastic-lined and contain BPA).

After all, passata is just chopped tomatoes that have been blended! (Later I discovered that simply using fresh tomatoes and quickly chopping saved packaging dilemmas altogether.)

How far you take this will depend on whether you have dietary restrictions or fussy eaters in your household, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

Remember, you can still buy bulk within the store

I’m not talking about buying huge quantities of food you probably won’t eat here, I‘m referring to choosing one product over individual portions and single serves. Even if the bigger one still comes in packaging, it will be far less than all those individual portions added together.

Rather than buying individual pots of yoghurt, buy a 1kg tub (or bigger) and split into smaller containers at home.

Rather than snack portions of raisins or crackers, buy a big pack and divide up yourself.

Rather than buying individual slices of cheese, or grated cheese, buy a big block and chop or grate at home (tip – you can freeze cheese so there’s no reason why you can’t buy a big block and freeze what you won’t use straightaway for later).

Aside from saving the plastic, you’ll save a huge amount on your grocery bill. Check the price per kilo of the bulk items versus the “convenience” items and you’ll find that convenience comes at a price – and you won’t just be saving the environment with these choices!

Supermarket or not – bring your own containers!

It’s possible to take your own containers to the counters at the supermarket or your local stores: the butcher, fishmonger, cheese shop or deli. Make sure they are clean, and explain why you’re doing it as you hand your containers over.

Confidence is everything – act like you’ve done it a million times before, and it is the most normal thing to do in the world!

If you’re unsure that they will be accepted, or feel really nervous, you can always phone the store in advance and ask if they’d be happy to take your own clean containers (be sure to tell them why).

You may find the odd place that isn’t willing to help, but most are happy to support this kind of shopping. If they have restrictions, find out what they are. (They may be happy to use containers for pre-cooked products, but not raw, for example. They may be happy to fill your own containers, but only if you drop them off by a certain time, or on a certain day.)

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

If a staff member is unwilling to comply, it may be that you simply need to check with the manager (they may be fearful of losing their job, and a quick conversation can sort this out).

If the store is definitely against it, you could push higher up if they are a chain or have a Head Office, or simply take your business elsewhere. If you do receive a “no”, keep it in mind and try again in a few months – something may have changed!

If places aren’t willing to comply, there may be the option of the staff wrapping your item in paper and you putting the paper-wrapped product into your sealed container yourself. It’s always worth asking if they have paper behind the counter.

Refuse single-serve and single-use items

“Refusing” is such a big part of the plastic-free living journey, and we can remove so much plastic from the environment just by making this simple choice. Refusing bottled water and carrying our own bottle and refilling from the tap; choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway or bringing our own containers; refusing straws; refusing individual sachets of sauce, butter or those tiny little portions of milk… it all makes a difference.

Carrying your own water bottle or coffee cup and a reusable straw is a great alternative if you’re often out, and a great way to start conversations. Simply asking at the cafe if you can have a splash of milk directly into your tea or a little bit of butter cut directly from the block rather than the single-serve portions is a surprisingly easy way to avoid plastic and make a point.

Go outside and pick up litter

No matter where you live, what shops are available to you or what your budget is, or how much time you have to spare, you can do this. Simply go out of your front door and onto your street with a bag, and pick up all the plastic litter you come across.

You may prefer to go to the beach or alongside a river, if you have one close by, but wherever you choose to go, I guarantee there will be some litter. Whether you opt for a 2 minute beach clean, simply commit to pick up 3 things, or decide to take a 30 minute walk and see what you come across, it all makes a difference.

Pick up any plastic items that you find, and then dispose of them responsibly. You’ll be stopping that plastic getting ingested by wildlife or making its way to the ocean, and making your local environment a more pleasant place to be. You’ll probably feel a lot more determined to avoid single-use items afterwards, too!

Treading My Own Path 30 Minute Litter Pick Up Litterati Take3 July 2016

I picked this up in 30 minutes simply by walking around my local streets.

Whatever you can do, you really must know that what you do makes a difference. The smallest actions can have the biggest impacts, and choosing just one thing to change is better than changing nothing at all.

The planet, the turtles and the plastic-free community; we will all thank you for it. Don’t let a lack of local bulk stores stand in your way. It really doesn’t matter how far you take this.

What matters is that you try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you struggling to find bulk stores near you? What items do you struggle to find without plastic packaging? What have been your biggest dilemmas and challenges? What have been your best successes and greatest a-ha moments? What are you currently working towards changing? Any other suggestions for those who live far from bulk options? If you are lucky enough to have bulk options near you, are there still items that you struggle with? Do you have any others that you’d add to this list? Any other thoughts or comments? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!

Plastic Free {Bicarb Free} DIY Deodorant – for Sensitive Skin

I love my homemade deodorant. I first tried it back in 2012 when I was still a little skeptical about DIY concoctions (if I’m honest, I thought they were just for hippies). What made me convert?

The fact it actually worked.

That’s all we want from a deodorant, really. Sure, we don’t want chemicals and excess packaging – but it has to work, right?! There are plenty of natural deodorants on the market, but most are very expensive, don’t smell great and don’t actually work against body odour very effectively, either.

Plus very few have completely plastic-free packaging.

The deodorant I’ve been using since 2012 is a super simple recipe, and all the ingredients are edible (except the essential oil). There’s no heating or melting involved, just a little mixing, which suits my laziness when it comes to these things.

The ingredients are 1 tbsp bicarb, 4 tbsp cornflour (or arrowroot / tapioca flour) and 2-3 tbsp coconut oil. The coconut oil depends on the ambient temperature – you’ll need less in summer and more in winter. You want a paste. Mix in a jar and add a few drops of your favourite essential oil. To apply, get a small amount on your fingertips and rub in. (You can find the recipe here.)

This recipe has been serving me well for 4 years, but bicarb can be a skin irritant for some. It’s fine for me, but my husband reacts to it. I tried changing the ratio from 1:4 to 1:6 and even 1:8 bicarb:flour (note – the more you dilute it, the less effective it is) but the issue was the same. His skin became red, inflamed and sore and it took a few months for it to settle back down again.

Ever since then I’ve said I’ll experiment with a DIY non-bicarb deodorant. I don’t move very fast it seems!

But the good news is I have finally kept my word and made a bicarb free deodorant. Not only that, but I (and my husband) have tested it and can confirm that a) it works (hurrah!) and b) there have been no adverse skin reactions. Phew! I can also buy all the ingredients completely packaging-free.

For anyone else out there who struggles with super sensitive skin and cannot use bicarb deodorants, this recipe is for you. Give it a go.

It’s not quite as simple as just mixing some ingredients in a jar but it’s really not that much harder, promise. There’s some melting involved. Nothing complex – I like to keep things as simple as I can!

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Bicarb free DIY deodorant.

TIP: I would also add: it’s not quite as effective as the bicarb version I use, and it works best applied to clean skin. Whilst the bicarb one can mask smells if reapplied, this one won’t!

Bicarb Free DIY Deodorant: Recipe

Ingredients:

1.5 tbsp grated beeswax
1 tbsp shea butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
4 tsp white kaolin clay
8 drops tea tree essential oil
8 drops cedarwood essential oil
10 drops lemon myrtle essential oil

A note about the ingredients:

Beeswax: beeswax is solid at room temperature (it melts at 62°C) so helps make the mix firmer. I used beeswax as it’s really local (my neighbour who lives 4 doors away produced this). The only other solid subsititue I can think of would be cacao butter so maybe next time I’ll give this a go as it would be a great alternative for vegans.

Shea butter: shea butter melts at 38°C so is more solid than coconut oil. It’s very moisturising and is thought be anti-inflammatory – which is good news for sensitive skin.

Coconut oil: this is a soft oil that melts at 25°C. It helps keep the deodorant soft so it can be rubbed into the skin. Coconut oil is also thought to have anti-bacterial properties.

Kaolin clay: kaolin clay is a white clay (bentonite clay has similar properties) that replaces bicarb and does a similar job. It absorbs liquid and neutralises bad smells. Clumping kitty litter is actually made of bentonite clay! There are other types of clay available but these are more expensive. I’ve heard that green clay is the most absorbant of them all so at some stage I’d like to try this… it’s in the queue ; )

Essential oils: I’m lucky enough to be able to buy refills (packaging free) so I have some flexibility with my choice. I chose tea tree oil as it is anti-bacterial and cedarwood as it is anti-inflammatory. Both also have strong smells and are often used in commercial natural deodorant recipes. I find both scents quite overpowering and not hugely pleasant so I used lemon myrtle (which I love!) to mask them. Lemon myrtle is an Australian bush scent with the most amazing smell! If you have limited choice, go for a single oil and choose one that you can use elsewhere. Tree tree oil is affordable, available in larger sizes (meaning less packaging overall) and great for cleaning too. (When choosing essential oils, it is important to read up on the properties, particularly if you are pregnant.)

Ingredients for making bicarb-free deodorant (for sensitive skin).

Ingredients for making bicarb-free deodorant (for sensitive skin).

Method:

Heat some water in a pan on the stove, and place a glass bowl over the pan. You don’t want to heat the oils directly as you’ll damage them. Add the beeswax to the bowl and stir until melted (I used a metal spoon as it’s easier to clean than wood).

Add the coconut oil and continue to melt, stirring occasionally. Once both are melted, add the shea butter and remove the bowl from the heat.

The shea butter should melt with the heat of the other two ingredients. You can place back on the heat if it needs some help but be careful of overheating shea butter as it can turn grainy. Stir to aid the melting process and to combine.

Add the clay 1 tsp at a time and whisk to incorporate. Once all 4 tsp have been added, leave to cool, whisking occasionally. It will begin to thicken after only a few minutes (less if your room is cold). Once you notice the thickening and there is no head radiating from the mix, add your essential oils to the mix and whisk in. If you add them when it’s still hot, you will lose all their beneficial properties!

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Final product: bicarb free DIY deodorant.

Pour into a shallow jar with a wide neck or a tin, and leave to set. It will set into a paste that feels tacky and is easy to scoop with your fingers. (If you live in a very cold climate and find it too hard, you may like to add more coconut oil or less beeswax next time to get the right consistency, but it will soften with the warmth of your skin.)

Store with the lid on in a dark place. To apply, take a small amount with your fingertips and rub into your skin. will keep for ages.

Now tell me…are you going to make it?! If yes, I want to hear what you think! If not, why not? Have you ever tried making DIY deodorant before? What ingredients did you use and what success did you have (or not have)? What about other DIY skincare products – are you a fan or do you tend to put them in the “too-hard” basket? What are your simplest solutions to bathroom essentials? I love hearing your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!