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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.

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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 : /

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

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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

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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

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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!

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!

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!

Zero Waste Living: What about Recycling?

The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. That does not mean buying everything in recyclable packaging and simply recycling it, however! Recycling is not a perfect solution, and still uses huge amounts of resources and energy.

Many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled either, but downcycled, meaning they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further downcycled, and eventually downcycled products will end up in landfill.

So no, the zero waste movement is not about recycling. Recycling is a last resort.

However, to create zero landfill waste and zero recycling would be a mean feat indeed, and I have not heard of a zero waster who does not recycle at least a little. We all do our best, and aim to recycle as little as possible, but it is extremely hard to produce no waste at all! (And yes, I do see recycling as waste.)

Whilst people living zero waste lifestyles often share pictures of their landfill trash (or lack of it!), sharing recycling is less common. It is, however, something that I (and I’m sure it’s the same for other zero wasters) get asked about a lot.

How much recycling do I produce in a month? Good question. I always say it’s the equivalent of a couple of waste paper baskets, but what does that actually look like – and what type of recycling waste does our household produce?

Well, let there be no doubts or misunderstandings! This is our entire recycling waste produced in one month – from 1st to the 30th April. We didn’t do anything differently; we didn’t set ourselves any challenges – although our observations did change our behaviour slightly, as you’ll see!

How Much Recycling Does a Zero Waste Home Produce in a Month?

As I said, I do not know how this compares to others, and I’m not particularly interested in comparisons. I want to do the best I can, and I’m always trying to improve. I’m definitely not perfect!

Days 1 – 10:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 1 to 10 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home: Recycling Days 1 – 10

Looking at this you’d think all we consumed was beer, chocolate and toilet paper, wouldn’t you?! I feel I must defend myself. Except there is no defence!

  • Yes, my husband and I did actually eat all 5 of those chocolate bars in 10 days (plus some bulk chocolate too, I’m pretty sure).
  • The beer (which my husband drinks; I don’t like it) is a work in progress. There is a great little shop really close by that sells beer refills, and my husband does go there, but he still has a tendency to buy beer in packaging. Whenever I question him about it, he points out that he didn’t sign up for zero waste living, only the plastic-free part! One of his favourite brands has recently been made available in aluminium cans, which is great from a recycling point-of-view (all glass in WA is crushed into road base rather than being made into new bottles). However, lots of cans are BPA-lined, so the health aspect isn’t great. Although that could be said for drinking beer…
  • No, we didn’t actually use that much loo roll in 10 days! I keep the paper for other uses, but my husband had a clearout of the cupboard. The two cardboard tubes are a more accurate! (I tend to keep these for planting seedlings, not sure why these are here.)
  • The rest is a couple of invoices, a business card (nowadays I hand these straight back so this must be an old one) and a couple of scrappy bits of paper. The gold paper is from one of the chocolate bars (the others had aluminium foil, which I’ll come back to later).

Days 11 – 20:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 11 to 20 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 11 – 20

This period is better! I’ve controlled my chocolate consumption (I was a little shocked at the previous picture).

  • Three rolls of toilet paper and their wrappers. Some zero wasters use “cloth” which means reusable fabric; my husband and I don’t – and there is no way I’d ever be able to persuade him to make the switch! (I’ve talked about this decision on more detail here.)
  • More beer – this time in glass. The glass will get crushed and turned into road base which is a little depressing.
  • One chocolate wrapper, one envelope that came in the mail and a receipt.

Days 21 – 30:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 21 to 30 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 21 – 30

This looks like a lot (and it is).

  • The big stack of papers on the top row in the middle are the result of my going through all of our folders. I do this every 6 months or so to remove all the unnecessary stuff. The pile is about an inch thick and contains old statements, letters, documents, notes, papers from some workshops that I ran, and receipts/invoices.
  • The local newspaper – no idea where this came from but my husband is a fan of the community newspaper, so I guess he picked it up to read.
  • An insurance brochure – uncovered whilst going through our folders.
  • Random bits of cardboard packaging and instructions from when we moved in to our new home, including the packet the keys were in and instructions on how a draining board works. Useful stuff!
  • A very old ibuprofen packet.
  • A “Thank You” card that I didn’t have the heart to give back.
  • A list, a post-it note and a loyalty card for somewhere we haven’t been since forever.
  • Another toilet paper wrapper.
  • The labels from my tent which were still attached to the bag – and I bought this in 2003!
  • A small handful of receipts. I generally decline receipts but sometimes we need them and sometimes they sneak in.
  • Two envelopes from mail that we received.

So that’s it – how much recycling we produced in 30 days. Except that’s not quite it. This is the stuff that was put into our bin for kerbside collection. There’s a little more that wasn’t… yet.

Aluminium Foil:

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling from February to May

You may have noticed that I do have a small chocolate bar habit, and with each bar comes an aluminum wrapper. Aluminium can be recycled but single wrappers are a bit small for the machinery.

I save mine up until it’s a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and then I place that ball in the recycling. This is all the foil we’ve collected in 3 months (Feb – May). Once the ball is big enough it will go out for recycling.

Steel bottle tops:

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops for Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops in April

Because my husband is switching to cans we have less of these. They can be recycled, but are so small that a single one will slip through the process. To recycle, collect in a tin can, and once the tin can is half full squish it in the middle to stop the bottle tops falling out. The can can then be put in the recycling and the tops should be recycled.

Soft and noisy plastic:

Zero Waste Home Soft Plastic Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Soft and noisy plastic recycling Feb – May

Soft and noisy plastics can be recycled (or rather, downcycled into garden furniture) but they are often not recycled by kerbside collection systems. In Australia there are bins inside Coles supermarkets where these can be deposited.

I dislike plastic with a passion and try to avoid buying any, but the odd piece comes my way. I save it all up and then take it to the supermarket – usually a couple of times a year.

This is what I’ve collected since February (so 3 months) – it weighs 54g. It’s more than usual because when we moved in to our new home, the draining board, draining rack and chopping board were all wrapped in plastic.

What I’ve landfilled:

Zero Waste Home Landfill Waste Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Two months of landfill waste

For completeness, I thought I’d add a picture of my landfill waste. I’ve been collecting it since March 1st this year. Previously I was reluctant to as I thought it was really gimmicky – but then I realised that it would be a useful visual prop when I give talks.

So this is two months worth of landfill. It contains: the backing from a sticker, a piece of pink tape (that was used to seal the thank-you card above), an old phone SIM card, an elastic band entwined with nylon fibre, an ibuprofen blister pack, an old credit card, two plastic bottle lids that have broken and some packing plastic binding.

There you have it – my complete recycling waste and landfill waste from my zero waste home for the last 30 days.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be.

If you can do better that’s great – and I’d love to hear your tips! On the other hand, if you think this looks impossibly inachievable, remember that I began my journey four years ago.

It’s taken me 4 years to reduce my waste to what I’ve shown you here. Personally, I’m pleased with how far I’ve come, and I hope that in the future I can reduce my waste even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what did you think? Do you have any ideas how I could reduce my waste further? Can you spot any glaringly obvious areas for improvement? (Please don’t say “eat less chocolate” – I’ve already figured that one out!) Do you have any ideas where I can recycle the things in my landfill jar – particularly credit cards and sim cards as I suspect I’ll have more in the future? What do you think about the idea of people sharing their waste? Do you find it motivating or disheartening? Do you share your own waste progress (if so, tell me the link so I can have a look and maybe learn something new)? Any other thoughts? I really love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

Last weekend I took a trip to the Hills to the town of Mundaring 45km  away… to go shopping. Not just any kind of shopping, mind. I went to visit a newly opened shop named the Wasteless Pantry. No prizes for guessing what kind of shop it is! It’s a new bulk grocery store that only sells loose grocery items, actively encourages shoppers to bring their own containers and even offers a Plastic Free July support group!

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

I’m lucky enough where I live to have a number of bulk produce stores to choose from, but this is the first store I’ve come across that sells groceries and cleaning products solely in bulk and does not offer any plastic bags or plastic packaging of any kind. It is like a dream come true!

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

A set of scales and a marker pen at the door means customers can weigh their own jars and containers.

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

As well as dry goods, there was a selection of oils and vinegars to buy in bulk.

Bulk spices

Bulk (plastic-free) spices and herbs can also be found here.

The store isn’t big, but is neatly laid out with almost everything you could wish for (and a few things you might not have known you even wanted) all available in bulk. There was also a blackboard on the corner for customers to write their “wish list” of items they’d like to see available in the future. I wrote down maple syrup. I’ve never seen it in bulk in Australia and it’s something I’d really like to be able to source!

My favourite bit was the bulk pasta section. I’ve written on social media recently about Barilla’s decision to start adding plastic windows to their previously plastic-free cardboard pasta boxes. Here there was a good choice (including gluten-free pasta) so we stocked up. Bye bye Barilla!

Bulk Pasta

Bye bye Barilla! Your stupid plastic windows mean I won’t be buying your pasta any more…I’ll be buying this instead! Plus it’s made in South Australia which means lower food miles : )

Other highlights were:

  • Bulk tortilla chips! Plastic-free! We bought an enormous bag full and devoured them within an hour of arriving home. To be fair, it was lunchtime. It’s probably a good thing that these aren’t commonly found in bulk stores!
Shopping for Zero Waste Tortilla Chips

If that isn’t excitement then I don’t know what is!

  • Hundreds and thousands. Not something I’d buy (just look at all those e numbers!) but quite impressed that it was even possible.
I'm also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

I’m also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

  • A little bit of upcycling: funnels made from old plastic milk bottles.
Upcycled milk bottles as funnels...repurposing at its finest!

Upcycled milk bottles as funnels to fill your own containers…repurposing at its finest!

  • Free bottles and bags, just in case you forgot your own or didn’t quite have enough. The store also sells new glass jars but I love the fact that they make old ones available to shoppers too.
Free glass jars and shopping bags Wasteless Pantry

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

I didn’t write this post to gloat. I know that lots of you don’t live close to bulk stores. I’m lucky that I have so many close by to where I live, although this one doesn’t count – a 45km trip without a car makes this too difficult for regular shopping. Instead, I wrote this post to give you encouragement. This store only opened its doors on 1st June…that’s less than 4 weeks ago. Bulk and zero waste stores are popping up more and more…it’s a growing trend!

The Wasteless Pantry is the result of two women who were frustrated with the amount of waste they were consuming – and decided to do something about it.

Doing something about it doesn’t mean you have to open your own shop (although I know a few of you secretly – or not so secretly – harbour such dreams)! This might be at the more ambitious end of the scale, but we can all do something. Just because you don’t have a bulk bin store at the end of your street, it doesn’t mean bulk shopping is out of reach. Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing simply because you can’t do everything.

The fact that these shops exist mean that products are being sold in bulk. Most products are sold in bulk. All you have to do is find them!

  • One approach is to ask producers and farmers directly. They may sell to you or they may not – but the question must be asked if you want to know the answer.
  • Think about bulk buying groups. Food co-ops exist in many areas, but they don’t advertise so you’ll have to seek them out.
  • Bulk buying groups don’t have to be formal, either! They can be as simple as a group of friends who club together to buy a large amount of one product, and then split it.  It doesn’t even need to be food. When I needed to buy more toilet roll recently, I put it out there on Facebook and 9 other people agreed to buy a box too. I had 10 boxes of toilet roll delivered to my doorstep, and the 9 I didn’t need were collected by friends and family. It helped supported a local business, reduced our cost (bulk buying often works out cheaper) and stopped 9 other families buying plastic-wrapped toilet paper from the supermarket ; )

Start small. Choose just one item. Think of items you get through large quantities of, or items with a long shelf life. Investigate local producers or suppliers. No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Of course, if you’re inspired enough to start your own zero waste store, go for that instead!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have bulk stores near you, or do you struggle to find anything not packaged in plastic? Have you joined a food co-op, or found a Farmers market or producer that you can buy products without excessive packaging? What is your biggest frustration…and your greatest triumph in the war against waste?! Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

I’m Green… But I Don’t Like Recycling

Before my plastic-free “awakening” I used to religiously recycle everything I could. I’d save all my plastic bottles and traipse across my home city once a month to take them to the only recycling point. I recycled Tetra-Paks back when the only option was to post them back to the supplier. I also saved used stamps and posted those off for recycling too. If something didn’t say it was recyclable, I’d hope for the best and toss it in the recycling bin anyway.

Now I’m so much more environmentally aware…and recycling no longer fills me with joy. In fact, it’s something I actively try to avoid. Thinking that doesn’t make any sense? Read on!

Recycling Lulls us into a False Sense of Security

My main frustration with recycling is that it gives the impression that we are being a responsible consumer and that, by recycling, we’ve done our bit. Of course recycling is far more responsible than sending a whole heap of stuff to landfill, but being a responsible consumer begins long before we throw our trash out.

The main issue is that recycling doesn’t address the issue of over-consumption. It sends the message that you can consume what you want so long as you recycle afterwards. Recycling still takes huge amounts of energy. It involves collection of waste from your doorstep and delivery to a depot, sorting, cleaning, processing and re-molding, followed by shipping to the next part of the chain, and plenty of this recycling waste could be avoided completely by shopping a little differently.

An enormous bin crammed full of recyclables is nothing to feel “green” about.

Recycling is a Business and Operates for Profit

It’s nice to think of recycling as a service that exists solely for the good of the planet, but actually most recycling centres are run as businesses and rely on markets, just like other businesses do. That means if a waste line is of value, it will be recycled, and if it is not of value, it won’t be. This changes according to global prices, demand and labour fees.

For example, to get a clean line of glass to make new glass you need hand pickers who will select glass bottles and leave bits of terracotta, old lightbulbs etc. A machine would sort this as glass and would contaminate the batch. But if the value of glass is low, and the cost of hand pickers is too high, the option might to to crush to make road base or even to landfill.

[This was my big revelation. When I visited a recycling centre (technical name: Materials Recovery Facility or MRF) in Perth in 2012, I was told that the only glass processing facility was in the next State – and this is still true in 2015. To drive a truck there with a load of glass that might be rejected for contaminants was an expensive risk, and the price of glass was too low to employ hand pickers to ensure there was no contamination, so this MRF chose to send all its recyclable glass to landfill.]

Recycling doesn’t always mean Recycled

Knowing whether something is recyclable or not is actually straightforward. One reason is that just because something can theoretically be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it will be, and every council has different rules about what it will accept.

For example, the bioplastic PLA is recyclable, but it is hard to sort without specific technology and most recycling plants don’t have this, so it is not recycled. In fact, the difference in recyclability of all plastic varies wildly from council to council, and country to country. Even moving suburb can mean a whole new set of rules apply! (You can usually find the details of what your council will and won’t accept on its local website.)

Even if you check your council listings meticulously, there is still a chance that your recyclables won’t be recycled. One reason is how they’ve been sent to the MRF. If you’ve bagged your recycling neatly, chances are it won’t be unbagged at the other end but sent to landfill instead. Ditto if you’ve left any liquid in bottles, or left the lids on.

But let’s assume you’ve done everything exactly as you are supposed to. Great…but what if your neighbour hasn’t? Or the guy at the end of your road? People chuck all kinds of things into recycling, and it can contaminate the whole truck and mean the whole consignment gets landfilled. Car batteries, duvets and pillows, even loose shredded paper can contaminate whole loads.

Recycling MRF Perth WA

Recycling isn’t pretty…and when everyone’s waste gets mixed together in a huge truck, chances are there will be some contamination : /

It’s not necessarily that people are deliberately doing the wrong thing, either. Recycling can be confusing! I can confess to putting light bulbs into recycling because hey, they’re glass! I didn’t know any different! Now I know, yes they are glass, but it’s heat resistant glass that melts at a different temperature to regular glass like wine bottles, and isn’t going to do the recycling process any favours!

If not Recycling, then What?!

I want to be clear that I still recycle. Of course I recycle! However my goal is to recycle as little as possible. We have a wastepaper bin which we use as a recycling bin, and we fill it every couple of weeks. We have paper (often mail), paper receipts, the community newspaper and beer bottles.

We don’t buy plastic so we never have any to recycle, although we do accumulate small amount of soft plastic over time, and I usually take a small ball to the soft plastic recycling point about once every six months.

Recycling bin

This bin (loosely packed) get’s filled every one / two weeks with recyclables… less if my husband decides not to buy any beer!

plastic waste

This photo was taken in September 2014, and was the third stash of plastic we collected since January that year. Soft plastics can be downcycled, but I’d rather eliminate them altogether!

Instead of recycling, I try to bring as little waste as possible through the door. Bringing my own produce bags, cloth bags for bread and reusable shopping bags to the shops, buying in bulk, cancelling junk mail and buying second-hand items rather than new has seriously cut down the amount of packaging we throw away.

Everyone knows the manta “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but we tend to focus on the last one – “Recycle” – when it’s far more environmentally responsible to focus on the first one – “Reduce”. Or add another in front – Refuse!

Recycling is a great place to start in the journey to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s a terrible place to stop. After all, we can’t recycle our way to a more sustainable planet! We need to be just as responsible about what’s entering our house as we are with disposing of it afterwards!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you have a love-hate relationship with recycling? Are there any frustrations you’d like to share? Or do you embrace it with open arms?! Has your opinion changed as you’ve gone on your sustainability journey? Have you ever been to a recycling plant and what surprised you about what you saw? Do you have anything else to add? Whether you agree or disagree I’d really like to know our thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

8 Tips for making this Plastic Free July the most successful ever!

I love June and July, because every year during these two months a tide of plastic awareness starts sweeping across the globe. Why? Because people throughout the world start signing up for Plastic Free July, and there’s a wave of optimism, hope and enthusiasm that comes too.

It doesn’t stop there though… all that energy turns into discovery, realisation, commitment to change and then action. New habits are born. People start using less plastic, and for many, they keep on using less plastic long after July has passed. With every year, the plastic-free movement gets stronger!

If you’re not signed up to this year’s Plastic Free July challenge, or you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, stop everything and sign up now. Yep, right now. It won’t take long. Just click here. We’ll wait for you to get back.

Done? See, that didn’t take long at all!

(I should add at this point that we’re not saying that all plastic is bad. We’re just saying that a lot of plastic is unnecessary, and actually avoidable. The truth is, we get stuck in the habit of doing things a certain way simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them, and we’ve never really given much thought to the notion that actually there’s a better way. By better, I mean a way that doesn’t involve drilling oil out of the ground, turning it into plastic, shipping that somewhere and using it for a few minutes before sending it to landfill, where it will languish for the next 500 years.)

Plastic Free July – the countdown begins!

Now you’re all signed up and ready to go, you’ve got two weeks to prepare and get organized. Plenty of time! Just to make it that little bit easier though, I’ve written a quick guide to help you get started.

1. Think about the Big Four – plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups (and lids), plastic bags and straws

Top 4 Plastic Bags, Disposable Cups, Straws, Plastic Water Bottles

These four items are big contributors to plastic pollution, and all of them can be avoided.

  • Equip yourself with a reusable water bottle, or re-purpose an old bottle you already have. If you don’t like drinking water from the tap, invest in a water filter.
  • Start bringing your own reusable coffee cup if you get takeaway. You can buy stainless steel, glass and ceramic reusable coffee cups, or you can just repurpose an old glass jar or even bring your own mug! Another option is to commit to dining in, so you can make use of the cafe’s cups and mugs.
  • Bring your own bags! Almost every household has reusable shopping bags, and even if you don’t you can use a backpack or rucksack, or make use of plastic bags you already own. Re-use an old cardboard box if that works better for you. The trick is to remember to take them with you! Put them by the front door, in the front of the car, stuff one in your handbag, hang one from your bicycle handlebars – put them wherever you’ll see them so you remember to pick them up as you leave for the shops!
  • Get in the habit of refusing straws. It’s possible to drink most drinks without a straw, so remember to ask for no straw when you order. For those that you can’t drink easily without a straw (frozen drinks and fresh coconuts, for example) you can buy reusable stainless steel, glass or bamboo straws.

2. Do your research – check out your local area for plastic-free shops and markets

You probably go to your regular shops out of habit, so you may not be aware of all the other options available to you. Is there a local Farmers Market close by? A butcher, bakery, deli or fishmonger? An independent fruit and veg shop? Typically these will use less packaging than the supermarkets, but are also usually more open to discussing using less plastic. Health food stores often have bulk sections, even if they are small, and are worth investigating.

3. Start the conversation

  • Talk to local producers, sellers and stallholders. Explain what you are doing. Find out if they are happy for you to bring your own containers, or to package their items differently. Most people are happy to help! (When my mum signed up for Plastic Free July, she sheepishly went to her local butcher and explained that she wanted to start bringing her own containers, but she wouldn’t trouble him if he was busy. His response? He was spending nearly £8,000 a year on plastic single-use packaging, and was more than happy for her to bring her own containers – in fact it would be even better if he was busy, as she might encourage others to bring their own containers too!)
  • Talk to friends and family. Explain the challenge, and what you’re trying to do. They may have ideas on how to help, they may want to sign up too…at the very least they will have a better understanding of what your goals are!

4.  Find your community and join in!

Everyone needs a support network to stay motivated! Plastic free July is happening in over 30 countries, and growing all the time, so see if there are any events happening locally near you. If there’s nothing nearby, seek out your community online! There are many blogs such as this one to seek out ideas and tips, and also Facebook groups to share frustrations, ask questions and celebrate wins.

If you can’t find a local Facebook group consider starting you own! (I started the Perth Zero Waste and Plastic-Free Facebook group for exactly this reason, and it now has over 8,000 members. I’ve written about how to start a Plastic-Free/Zero Waste Facebook group here.)

5. Audit what you buy

The weeks before Plastic Free July are a great opportunity to look at the kind of things you regularly buy. Look at the items that use the most plastic, and start asking questions. Is there an alternative packaging option like paper, glass or even packaging free? Is this something you could go without, or switch to an alternative? Is this something you could buy in bigger pack sizes (so reducing the overall packaging)?

6. Get out the cookbooks!

We tend to cook the same few meals week in, week out because we get stuck in the habit. You don’t have to be a master chef to take part in Plastic Free July, but being open to new ideas does help! If you don’t have any cook books look on Pinterest, Google, borrow from a friend or the local library. Find recipes that match your skill level with ingredients you know you can find plastic-free. It will make your Plastic Free July experience much more enjoyable!

7. There’s no need to buy new stuff

Sure, there are things that make plastic-free living a lot easier, but there’s no need at the start of your journey to rush out and buy a whole heap of new equipment. It’s easy to feel like we’ve made progress because we’ve gone shopping and bought some shiny new gear, but Plastic Free July is about changing habits, and that comes from doing, not buying. If you feel that a new reusable coffee cup or new water bottle will help then that’s great, but it is also possible to get through the month making do with what you already have.

8. Remember – new habits take time to establish

Chances are, if you’re new to Plastic Free July, you currently use quite a lot of plastic. The good news is that it is possible to reduce this to virtually zero! The less good news is that it isn’t going to happen overnight. Change takes time. New habits don’t form instantly. Sometimes it can be a struggle. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Don’t feel disheartened if you have setbacks, because we have all been there! It took me 18 months to go completely plastic-free. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination!

 Looking for More Ideas?

Looking for more tips, tricks and inspiration? I’ve written a number of eBooks about living with less plastic, including the guide “That’s A Wrap: Tips, Tricks and Inspiration for Living Plastic-Free” to help you if you are just starting out on their plastic-free journey, or if you’ve already started but are hoping to reduce your plastic use even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve taken part in Plastic Free July before, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Are there any other resources you’d recommend? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them? If you’re new to Plastic Free July, do you have any concerns or worries? Is there anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

The people at my workplace aren’t the best at recycling. Plastic-free living and zero waste just aren’t on their radar. We’ve slowly introduced paper recycling, and I’m working on moving everyone away from those ridiculous pod coffees to a shared pot of French press coffee under the guise of being more sociable and team-oriented and  community-minded within the office (don’t laugh, because it’s actually working!).

But there’s still a fair way to go.

Last week I fished (excuse the pun) an empty tin of tuna out of the bin, gave it a rinse and left it on the side in order to take it home and save it from landfill. Someone went to throw it away and I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms and saying “no no no no no, I’m going to take that home and recycle it.

Cue raised eyebrows. I’m used to people thinking my ideas and slightly strange, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The people in my office are slowly getting used to my strange ways, but last week we had a guy working with us who usually works at a different site, and he probably has no idea that I’m a “bit of a greenie”, as they like to say.

“I could tell you something something about recycling, but I won’t”, he said.

“Go on, tell me!”

“No no no. I don’t want to upset you.”

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

Cue me persuading him to reveal his secrets. Eventually he relented. “Well, you know, I have a friend who knows a lot about these things. Of course, I recycle what I can, I do my bit, but he’s told me that recycling isn’t as good as people think.”

No kidding! Of course, I know a fair bit about waste myself, and having been to a number of waste recovery facility sites on tours and visits, I’m well aware that recycling isn’t the green solution that people think it is.

We compare notes, and bounce facts off of one another.

“In WA, only about a third of all waste generated is recycled at all.”

“A lot of the resources that are sent to recycling facilities aren’t actually recycled at all – their sent to landfill.”

“Anything that’s sent for recycling in a plastic bag is automatically sent to landfill – it’s too risky and time-consuming to unpack.”

“Any bottles, jars or containers that still contain liquid are not recycled but sent to landfill.”

“When people throw pillows, duvets, terracotta plant pots, light bulbs and even shredded paper into recycling streams it contaminates the waste and the whole shipment may get sent to landfill.”

“Glass is not recycled in our state – it’s either trucked to the next state or landfilled.”

“Most plastic and paper products collected at recycling facilities are shipped offshore to Asia for processing.”

I know that all of these facts are true. I’ve read enough reports, been to enough talks and seen enough with my own eyes not to doubt any of them for a second. It makes taking that small empty tin home seem like such a tiny drop in the ocean; such a small thing to do against the insurmountable problem of waste.

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

I’m not trying to kid myself. I know that waste disposal is a huge problem, and my recycling a single can of tuna isn’t going to save the world or make everything better. But what’s the alternative? Give up? I care about the planet, the environment and the people who live on it, and I’m going to take some responsibility for it. I believe that it’s the right thing to do. I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something, and focusing on what I can do is the best place to start.

There’s something else. I have hope. I honestly believe that most people simply don’t realise that we’re living in a system in crisis. They are so busy with their lives, doing the things that they’ve always done, that they just don’t know that there’s a problem. After all, there was a time when I thought recycling was enough. I thought I was being a responsible citizen, buying things in single-use disposable packages and then disposing of them appropriately in the correct recycling bin.

I believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, and others join in and do their bit, then eventually the tide will turn. I’m not just talking about recycling. We’re never going to recycle our way to sustainable living. But it starts with our personal actions. It starts with the choices we make, and it grows from there. To the conversations we have, to the alternatives that we share, to the ideas that we spread.

I’m not saying it will be fast, or simple, or easy, but together we can make it happen.

12 Tips For Reducing Food Waste

On Tuesday night I saw the documentary Dive! It’s a documentary about people living off America’s food waste. It’s one I’d recommend: short, to-the-point, educational and inspiring.

Here’s how the documentary is described by the makers:

“Inspired by a curiosity about our country’s careless habit of sending food straight to landfills, the multi award-winning documentary DIVE! follows filmmaker Jeremy Seifert and friends as they dumpster dive in the back alleys and gated garbage receptacles of Los Angeles’ supermarkets. In the process, they salvage thousands of dollars worth of good, edible food – resulting in an inspiring documentary that is equal parts entertainment, guerilla journalism and call to action.”

And the trailer:

Food waste is a problem in so many ways. It’s estimated that a third of all food produced for us to eat ends up in landfill. A third! Food that’s taken land and energy to produce, required water and nutrients, needed labour to ensure it grew, could be harvested and processed, fuel to transport…and then it ends up in the bin. If that’s not the biggest unnecessary waste of resources, then I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, whilst we’re throwing all this perfectly edible food in the bin, people are going hungry. I’m not just talking poor people in less developed countries in overseas nations. I’m also talking about the people right here in our communities. In America one in six people are at risk of hunger. In the UK almost 1 million people have used food banks to get access to food.

The majority of this wasted food will end up in landfill, taking up valuable land space. Because of the sealed landfill environment, food waste breaks down here anaerobically, releasing methane gas (a greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

You’d expect there to be some food waste at all steps along the chain, but food waste on this kind of scale is completely unnecessary!

There’s clearly a broken system that allows this kind of food waste to occur, and there’s a need for change. However, as consumers, we can still take some responsibility. It is estimated that half of all the food we actually buy goes to landfill.  There’s plenty of scope for us to make changes to the way we shop, and the way we think of food.

Here’s some ideas to help you reduce the amount of food you throw away!

Things We Can Do to Reduce Our Food Waste

1. Understand best before and use by dates.

If something is stamped with a “use by” date, it should be used before that date. If it’s stamped “best before” it means the retailer thinks it would be better if you used it by that date, but it will be perfectly safe to eat after this date.  Remember, retailers have a vested interest in you throwing the old one in the bin and buying a new one!

2. Use your judgement.

Learn to recognise if something is bad or not, rather than relying on the ultra-conservative supermarket “best before” dates.

3. Don’t buy more than you need!

The special offers and bargains touted at you in every aisle and every corner of the supermarket are there to make you spend more, not save you money, and they can become overbearing and wear you down. It may seem counter-intuitive to only buy one if the second one is “free”, but if it ends up in the bin, you haven’t saved anything. Leave it on the shelf for someone who needs it. If you stop shopping at the supermarkets you will have less exposure to all the advertising, and will buy less as a result.

4. Store it properly.

When you get home from shopping, it’s easy to dump the bags down on the counter and think you’ll sort them later, or just stuff everything in the fridge quickly. But taking the time to sort things out means less food goes to waste. Ensuring that chilled food remains chilled, rotating the new food with the things that are already in your fridge, and putting anything that is prone to wilting in a salad crisper or suitable storage container will extend the life of your shopping and mean there’s less going bad.

5. Use the most perishable items first.

Plan your meals and arrange your fridge so the food that is most perishable gets used up before the longer-lasting stuff.

6. Cut the bad bits off.

If a piece of fruit of veg is bad, cut the bad bit off rather than throwing the whole thing away. If only part of a product has gone bad, use your judgement as to whether or not it’s salvageable.

7. Find alternative uses.

Milk that has started to sour may not be great on your porridge but will work wonders in baking. My mother  uses sour milk to make scones, and they are delicious. Fruit that is going soft can be stewed to make compote, and limp vegetables can be made into soup.

8. Make use of everything.

Rather than peeling your veg, give them a good scrub and cook with the skins on. If you do peel them, keep the scraps and use to make vegetable stock (you can store in the freezer until you have enough). Meat and fish bones can also be used to make stock. Egg shells can be ground down and sprinkled on the garden – they are a great source of calcium. Citrus rinds can be made into candied peel, or the zest can be frozen or dried; if you don’t want to eat them you can use them to infuse vinegar to make a citrus cleaner.

9. Don’t throw food away!

There are plenty of alternatives to sending scraps to landfill. Feed them to chickens (ask your neighbours if you don’t have your own), compost, worm farm, use a bokashi bin or even dig a hole in the garden. For dry goods and things you bought but don’t like, even if the packets are open, try donating to family and friends, or even listing on Gumtree or Freecycle.

10. Buy the ugly fruit and veg!

People from western cultures have become accustomed to buying perfect fruit and veg, but that’s not what it looks like in real life. Even though we know this, we still gave a tendency to look for the “best” ones in the stores. When you go shopping, keep an eye out for ugly, misshapen fruit and veg, and buy these instead. You’re probably saving them from landfill!

11. Speak to your local supermarket and / or independent grocer.

Talk about food waste. Find out if they donate to food banks, if they compost, or if they have any other ways that they reduce waste. Start the conversation.

12. Volunteer at a Food Bank. 

Food banks don’t just need food, they need people. The numbers of people (predominantly volunteers) needed to collect, wash, process and deliver this food  is what stops Food Banks being able to distribute more food to more people in need.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What struggles do you face when trying to reduce your food waste? What successes have you had? Are there any tips you’d like to add? Anything that has worked really well for you? Have you ever tried dumpter-diving?! Please share your experience and leave a comment below!