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Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it

Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:

That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?

Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.

I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.

And yet… it happens. To all of us.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.

Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.

As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.

Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.

I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.

But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.

This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.

I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.

And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.

Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)

One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).

Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?

Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.

Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.

I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.

Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.

Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.

I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.

Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.

There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!

When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.

Yes, I want to hear from you!

Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.

This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.

Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.

Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.

Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

Second-Hand First: 8 Ideas for Buying Less (New) Stuff

I think we are all agreed, there is a lot of stuff in the world. Too much stuff, some might say. And if we want to reduce our footprint, it is much better to own less stuff, share more stuff, and avoid buying the shiny new stuff where we can.

But how do we go about that, exactly?

Answer: there are loads of places to look. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and move onto the less-than-obvious ones. Let me know of anything I’ve missed in the comments!

1. The Charity Shop

I’m pretty sure all of us have given stuff to the charity shop in our time. Homewares, clothing, toys, books… we love to donate our old unwanted things to the charity shop.

But you know what is even better than donating stuff to the charity shop? Buying stuff from the charity shop.

It isn’t enough to donate our old stuff to the charity shop, and then go buy our replacement items from the big box or department store. Charity shops only sell about 15% of everything that is donated.

The donations that don’t even fit inside the charity shop far outnumber the things on sale…

To close the loop, they need us to buy more things from them.

They don’t need us to donate stuff. They need us to buy stuff.

2. Online Classifieds and Auction Sites

Online classifieds such as Gumtree and Craigslist are a great way to find second-hand items locally, (great for fragile, oversized or heavy stuff) and online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to find items further afield (better for lightweight and easy-to-post items).

I’m a big fan of platforms like these (and I talk about the ins and outs a lot more in my book) because of the way they allow sharing of stuff – most often for a price, but sometimes for free.

3. Online Neighbourhood Networks

Online platforms allow us to connect with our neighbours – some with the sole purpose of buying selling, donating and borrowing stuff, and others with more broad community engagement over things like activities, security and pets.

Some platforms have dedicated membership sites (such as Nextdoor and Streetbank), whilst others use Facebook or Google groups (a quick search will reveal your local options).

Even where these platforms are national and international, it doesn’t mean they will be active in your area so have a look and decide if they are something to pursue or not.

4. Buy Nothing Groups

I could wax lyrical about the Buy Nothing Project all day. In fact, I do. The project is a network of Buy Nothing groups, which exist to help us share with our neighbours, and they operate via Facebook. What makes them unique is that members can gift, accept and borrow things, no money (or even trade) allowed.

And it’s only possible to join one: the one where we live.

The things that are given away would surprise you – both for how great the items are, and for how crazy obscure they can be, too. I’ve been gifted a Dell computer monitor, an almost-new pair of shoes and a desk and chair via my local group.

But it’s not all glamour – I’ve also taken a half-eaten jar of chocolate peanut spread and given away a semi-chewed dog toy. Trust me, almost anything goes.

5. Freecycle and Freegle

Similar to the Buy Nothing groups in that items are offered for free, Freecycle (worldwide) and Freegle (UK) are networks of people sharing items. The platforms are less user-friendly than social media or other newer networks, but they do the job.

6. Verge Collections

Verge collections are the stuff of (my) nightmares. Most councils in Perth allow 2 or 3 verge pickups per household per year, and offer this service for free (well, included in council rates). It works like this: residents put all of their unwanted stuff out on the front lawn, a truck comes along and squashes it into little pieces, and off it goes to landfill.

Cue, sobbing from me.

Every time, the streets are laden with stuff. People throw out 5 mattresses at a time, they throw out perfectly good kids toys. They throw out kitchen appliances, furniture, equipment and even cardboard, metal and other recyclables.

Sometimes every house on the street can have a pile like this of mostly usable stuff, ready for landfill.

Some people love to rummage through the piles and score great stuff. Keeping an eye on verge collection dates in the more affluent suburbs can mean excellent finds, but every suburb has something to offer. I rarely go on the hunt (it upsets me too much), but I’ve rescued wooden garden chairs, an outside table, a worm farm, storage boxes and heaps of garden pots (including some terracotta ones).

The downside of verge collections is that for all the great stuff rescued, there is plenty of great and still-usable stuff going to landfill.

7. Borrowing Stuff

Borrowing stuff can be formal, such as joining the library. They have so much more than books – they have magazines, CDs and DVDs and board games. If you don’t want these, tool, toy and “things” libraries also exist.

Or borrowing can be informal: from friends, family, colleagues or neighbours. If we don’t know our neighbours, the Buy Nothing groups are a great way to make a borrow request.

This is how I was able to borrow a screwdriver to fix my coffee machine (the seal needed replacing).

We often confuse the need to use something with the need to own it. Maybe we need a gadget for a particular recipe, or a hook in the wall to hang a picture. But we don’t necessarily need the blender or the drill. We just need to use them. So we can borrow them instead.

8. Hiring Stuff

Almost everything is available for hire, but these services aren’t as popular as they should be. We can hire dresses and suits, tools, furniture, glasses and flatware – and yet time and again, we buy it instead. My suspicion is that many people think hiring is a false economy – shelling out money for something with nothing to show at the end of it.

For me, this exactly the reason why hiring stuff is so great. We get to use things, then give them back for someone else to use – and we never have to worry about them again.

Not only do hired items arrive clean and ready to go; the hire company is responsible for maintenance. With glass hire, did you know many hire companies will also do the washing up for you?

We forget that it isn’t just the cost of buying stuff. It’s also the cleaning and the storage and maintenance. Because it’s only twice or three times as expensive to buy the champagne glasses rather than hire them, we buy them. We reason we will use them again. Maybe we will – but maybe not.

Once we own them, we have to clean them, and store them. We might need to buy more storage. This is how we end up with big houses with bigger rooms – to accommodate all this stuff.

There’s plenty of stuff already in the world. There’s plenty of stuff in great or usable condition, just waiting for a new owner to maximise its potential. There is absolutely no requirement to buy everything new.

It may not even be necessary to buy it at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for finding second-hand items, or avoiding buying stuff? What are your favourite groups or networks? Is this something you struggle with, and what would make it easier or more accessible for you? Anything else to add? Please share in the comments below!

10 Easy Zero Waste Hacks from Instagram

There are plenty of zero waste solutions and plastic-free living hacks, and many are so small and simple (when you know what they are, of course!) that they never make it to a blog post. They’re the kinds of snippets that I share on Instagram – but that’s not very fair for those of you who don’t use the platform! Even if you do, it isn’t always very easy to find them again.

So I thought I’d put together some of my most popular tips over the year for you. None are big enough to be a blog post in themselves, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out!

1. Don’t let fresh water run down the drain – collect it to use.

Most of us are comfortable with the idea of turning off the tap whilst we brush our teeth, but when we’re waiting for the cold water to run hot, it’s easy to let it go straight down the drain.

Instead, use a bottle or container, collect the water and use it later.

I used to use old wine bottles to do this, but because my hot water tank is on the roof three stories up, it takes forever to run hot – it can be 7 litres of cold water first. And that is a lot of wine bottles. Now I have two big Klean Kanteen growlers, and I use my other water bottles for the extra.

I’ll use the water for cooking, and also in the garden. My hot water tank isn’t old, so I’m not too worried about using the water to boil pasta. However some people have old water tanks and don’t trust their pipes, and if that’s you, use the water for cleaning, to water house plants and on the garden.

2. Use your cooking water on the compost.

Sticking on the subject of water, collect the water from cooking rice, pasta and veggies, and pour it on the compost (or on the garden). There’s nutrients in that water, and they are going down the drain if you don’t save them!

If it’s water from cooking veggies you can probably use it to water plants, but pasta water will be too starchy.

I tend to use a saucepan to collect the water – ideally a dirty one so the hot water dislodges some of the food – and tip that outside.

3. Label your bulk jars using a grease pencil.

I rarely label my pantry jars, I mostly know what things are without the labels. Pasta – yep I can tell that by looking at it, no label required. The one thing I’ve found hard to identify is white powders. There’s a big difference between laundry powder and bicarb soda and rice flour, so it’s quite an important one.

I use a grease pencil. It’s a wax pencil, it comes off fairly easily so I’m not committing a jar to one type of ingredients forever, and the lead is wrapped in paper.

 Wax pencils (they are sometimes called chinagraphs) can be found in art supply stores, usually without packaging. I have a black one and a white one, although the white one is rarely used.

4. Reusables do not need to be single purpose.

I’m a fan of anything with multiple purposes – it means less stuff, and more use for the things I own. My KeepCup has been used far more often as a water glass, for buying things at the bulk store and taking home leftovers than it has been for buying takeaway coffee – which is something I rarely purchase.

Glass jars can be used for takeaway smoothies and lunch on-the-go, produce bags can be used for straining nut milk. The best one I heard recently was somebody using their hat to buy loose mushrooms from a grocery store!

5. Remove the labels from your glass jars without getting jar rage.

Glass jars are so useful in so many ways, and upcycling old glass jars is the most zero waste solution. But first, you need to get that old sticky label off. And sometimes, that can be a battle and a half.

Soak the jar in water, and hopefully the label will come loose. Try to scrape it off. If that doesn’t happen, wipe coconut oil on the label and wait a few hours, and then the label will come off.

You’ll probably be left with a sticky, gluey smear on the glass jars. For this, eucalyptus oil (and I’m told lemon oil works but I have never tried this myself) will get it off. Dab a small amount on an old rag, and wipe.

The result: gleaming glass jars that don’t have Dolmio labels with an expiry date of 1994 or “keep refrigerated” sitting in the pantry.

6. Save your onion peels (and other veggie scraps) to make stock.

Whenever I peel an onion, I save the tops and tails and outer skins and pop into a jar in the freezer. (Yes, glass jars can be frozen.) I collect until I have a good amount, and then I make stock.

To make stock you boil the skins with water. You can add other veggie scraps (or bits of veg) – zucchini, carrot, potato, garlic, herbs. I’ve found too many brassicas (broccoli, kale stems, cabbage etc) doesn’t make for good-tasting stock, so I leave these out.

I don’t tend to peel carrots or potatoes so I rarely have these scraps, and I often make stock just with onion. I then use the stock to make risotto. It can be cooled and frozen too.

7. Make DIY vanilla essence.

Anything in little bottles tends to be more packaging than product. To avoid the tiny little bottles, I’ve been making vanilla essence for years – using brandy. (I purchased a bottle to make a Christmas cake years ago, used a teaspoon – as you do – and then discovered I could make vanilla essence with the rest.)

Use 1-2 vanilla pods, slit down the middle with a knife, pop into a glass jar, cover in brandy and leave. The flavour infuses over time. I probably wait a month until I first use it.

Once it’s run out, I top up again with brandy. I do this a few times until I notice the vanilla flavour has diminished. Then I dry out the pods, grind to a powder and use in baking.

8. Cook more than you need, and freeze for later.

I rarely cook a meal for one. I’m a huge fan of cooking extra, eating leftovers few a few days, and freezing meals for later. Pasta sauce, lentil stews and dahl all freeze extremely well. I make quadruple batches of falafel and freeze half. Roasted veggies, extra lentils or beans – yep, I freeze it.

Crumble topping – make one, freeze one for later.

It doesn’t take much extra time to make more, and it makes exactly the same amount of mess in the kitchen, so for me it’s win-win. It means that when I don’t have much spare time to cook, I can fossick through the freezer and find something healthy, homemade and delicious without having to do too much.

9. Hack your recycling.

If the two choices are landfill or recycling, I want to opt for recycling. Because of the way our recycling is sorted in WA, size matters. Anything too small (smaller than the palm of your hand) will be missed, and probably jam up the machines.

There are a few hacks to get around the size issue.

With bottle caps, which are steel, pop into a steel can, and once it is half full, squeeze shut. The caps can’t fall out and will be picked up by the magnet when the metal are sorted.

With aluminium foil, save it up until it is a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and pop that in the recycling. When it’s this size the eddy current will be able to sort it. Wine bottle caps that are made of aluminium can be added to the ball, as can aluminium blister packs (if there’s no plastic).

10. Make tea from fresh herbs.

This is one of the easiest, cheapest and tastiest hacks ever. Rather than buy dried herbal tea, find the fresh stuff and make your own. Mint grows almost everywhere, it is hard to kill and people who grow herbs often are willing to share, so you don’t even need to grow it yourself.

I tend to drink mint tea, or lemongrass and ginger tea (I grow lemongrass, and can buy Australian ginger). My neighbours drink sage tea and lemon verbena. There are plenty of options.

Zero waste and plastic-free living is about thinking creatively and finding solutions. These solutions don’t need to be complicated or expensive. Often it is the simplest ideas that work best!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have yo any great tips to share – either that you learned from someone else or made up yourself? Are there any hacks above you’d never thought of before? Anything you’re going to embrace? I’d love to know what simple hacks, tips and tricks you’ve learned so please share in the comments below!