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How my zero waste habits have changed since Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed a lot of things. From the things we are actually not/no longer allowed to do, to those habits we’ve been forced to rethink and then those we’ve decided to change, there seems to be very few aspects of daily life left untouched.

When it comes to zero waste, low waste and plastic-free living, it’s been interesting to me to see all of the changes. Some businesses have stepped up their game to ensure they continue to create less waste, others have had no choice but to soften their approach. The same goes for individuals and their habits.

I wanted to share how my own habits have changed (and stayed the same) since the pandemic arrived. We’ve all got different ways of dealing with things, and differing priorities, and it’s not to say that my way is the best way, nor am I encouraging you to do what I do. Depending where you live, it might not even be possible right now.

Zero waste – or low waste, at least – might not be a priority for everyone now, but it is still a priority for me. I think I’m hardwired to have heart palpitations at the thought of throwing something into landfill! Of course I’ve had to make changes and compromises (I think we all have, right?) but I’m still trying to navigate these choices whilst keeping my values in my heart.

My zero waste habits that haven’t changed

Shopping at bulk stores

Most of the bulk stores here in Perth are still open, and many are still accepting BYO containers. (I heard of one that was ordered to stop by the council Health department, and I know of a few that have closed to customers and are offering a pick-up/collection service only).

I’ve been lucky to be able to head to my usual bulk store and stock up using my own jars. When the infection rate was at its peak I did use a collection service where I pre-ordered and picked up a few things in paper bags, but for the most part I’ve been able to buy my groceries packaging-free.

Getting (or not getting) takeaway

Personally, I see dine-in and takeaway as two different things. I dine-in when I want to take my time, enjoy the food and the company of the people I’m with. I get takeaway when I’m tired, it’s late and there’s nothing in the fridge. Because I refuse to buy takeaway in anything other than cardboard, my options are limited to pizza and (veg) burgers. Which aren’t things I want to eat particularly often.

Before Covid19, I’d maybe get breakfast, or coffee and a cake a couple of times a month, and maybe dinner with friends once or twice a month also. I’d probably eat takeaway pizza once or month or so (usually at the insistence of the person I live with). With the restaurants closed, I can’t dine out – but I don’t see takeaway as an equivalent. In my mind, they are very different things. Replacing dine-in with take-out doesn’t work for me.

Plus, with the fridge more full than it’s ever been, there’s no ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ excuse. So my takeaway habit hasn’t changed. Pizza, once a month.

The sharing economy

You’ve probably heard me rave about the Buy Nothing project a million times – it’s a network of hyper-local community groups allowing people to swap and share rather than buy new. Many Buy Nothing groups have closed down temporarily due to the pandemic, however ours has remained open for requests and ‘essentials’ (I live in a lower socio-economic area, and sometimes our members need support of food and other items to make ends meet).

Fortunately, although ours is still operating on a limited basis, I’ve been able to connect with so many neighbours in the past that I have a fairly good network to be able to borrow, share and give outside of the group structure.

And so I borrowed a tarp from one neighbour for a soil delivery, got a sourdough starter from another neighbour (to make crumpets), and dropped off some excess spinach plants for a third neighbour.

If there’s one thing I miss most during this lockdown, it’s my community. Normally there is so much swapping, sharing and banter, and I sorely miss it. I’m grateful that our community is still ticking along and connection is still possible, even though this is not a patch on what is was.

My zero waste compromises for Covid19

Buying new stuff

Well, so far I’ve purchased one new thing – but it broke pretty much all-the-rules that I follow. I needed a cable to connect my monitor to my laptop. For the past two years I’ve been using a cable borrowed from a friend, who had always said it was a long-term loan and he might need it back. Well, working from home came around and he needed it back.

I tried Buy Nothing, but no-one had a spare. I couldn’t find a local computer store. I didn’t want to just head to the mall on the off-chance – and I was conscious that office supplies were selling out as so many people were starting to work from home.

So I used click-and-collect – something I never do. I like to support local stores who don’t have these services, avoid big chain stores, and ideally find stuff second hand. This wasn’t an option either, and so I went to the big-chain store to receive my cable – all ready-packaged in a plastic bag.

I did think about kicking up a fuss and returning the plastic bag, but this was when uncertainty around Covd19 was at its peak and I didn’t want to stress the store guy out any more than he probably already was. Plus I assumed they wouldn’t reuse the bag anyway.

So I sucked it up and took my first plastic bag home in about 7 years.

(I photographed the moment for prosperity, and I’ll take the bag to Redcycle for recycling.)

I haven’t needed to buy anything else, although I dearly want a mortar and pestle (I currently try to flatten my coriander seed with a knife, because my food processor is not up to the job)… but I’m holding out.

Buying items in (home) compostable packaging

My personal low-waste rule is to avoid as much packaging as possible. I’m not perfect, but I always try to bring my own jars/bags/containers, and dine-in rather than get takeaway. Or go without.

It’s easy to go without when there are other options, but when these are taken away, your choices are very limited.

I’ve loosened my rules to include completely compostable and biodegradable packaging. Which means I can now buy ice-cream from the local gelateria – they use compostable sugarcane containers, which successfully break down in my compost bin.

I’ve hardly gone nuts – I think I’ve used about 6 in the last two months. I really believe that the zero waste movement is about using less packaging and embracing reusables and returnables, not just switching the material of single use packaging.

As soon as reusables and dining-in is allowed, I’m tightening up my rules. Until then, I will enjoy ice-cream.

Some zero waste wins

Takeaway coffee

I rarely buy takeaway coffee (I prefer to dine in, or make my own at home – I have an excellent manual press and stovetop steamer that makes amazing coffee). Personally, using disposable cups for anything other than a life-threatening emergency is a no for me. I just can’t do it!

I’ve noticed a few people on various zero waste groups about the place saying that they are happy to use disposable cups to support their local cafes. Whilst I like the sentiment, this is somewhere I’m not willing to compromise – and I really don’t think that my buying a $4 coffee once in a blue moon is going to keep a cafe (that’s had to close its entire restaurant down) afloat.

But after settling on my choice, I discovered that cafe closest to me is offering a returnable refillable cup service run by Renome – reusable cups that you pay a deposit for, and return for cleaning once you’re done (if you want a refill, you simply return your cup to the box, and are served with a freshly cleaned one).

Now this is something I can get behind.

The scheme has existed for a while, but until now I had no reason to use it. The great thing is that the cup is ultimately refundable, so I don’t need to ensure I use it 17 times (which is the case with a plastic KeepCup) to offset the carbon footprint. As long as the cup is used that many times, it doesn’t matter by who. And it’s not more ‘stuff’.

(There are a handful of cafes around Perth actually still accepting KeepCups, but none close to me.)

Supporting local

I think all of us feel a real draw towards supporting local businesses in these times. I don’t have the budget to suddenly start ordering takeaway every day (plus the packaging would give me heart palpitations, and I don’t think my arteries would be too pleased either).

I only buy ‘stuff’ that I need, which isn’t much stuff, and I’m not going to suddenly start shopping for ‘things’.

What I have been able to do is to support local food producers. I’ve been ordering extra in my local veg box (which I’m thankful that I already used, as a lot of these schemes have closed to new customers after a surge in demand).

I found an amazing mushroom grower – The Mushroom Guys – that usually supplies to restaurants, but with the lockdown has turned to selling mushroom boxes to customers. And they are things of beauty.

(I have a bit of a weakness for mushrooms and it’s one of my goals to eventually have a setup where I grow my own.)

A friend sells microgreens and I started a weekly order with him.

It’s meant my grocery spend has gone up, but as there is no spend on eating anywhere else, and as it’s a short-term thing, I’m happy to support local growers and have fresh food delivered to my door.

I’m lucky to have the option, and I’m taking it.

Some zero waste misses

Sneaky plastic

Oh, the sneaky plastic! Yep, I’ve been caught out with this a few times. When you shop at the same places and buy the same things you learn how to avoid the sneaky plastic, but when you’re going to unfamiliar places or buying different stuff, it happens.

A local cafe started stocking bread from a bakery and I placed an order only to find it came in a plastic bag. I asked for bulk risotto rice with my veg box (they run a bulk store also) and got a shiny plastic packet of the stuff instead.

It makes me more aware for next time – sometimes I forget that this is how most places do things!

Can you be zero waste during Covid19?

In Australia, so far things have not gotten as bad as they have in other places, and restrictions have not been quite as tight. We’ve been lucky, and hopefully we will remain this way. I’ve been able to shop at the bulk store and use reusables, and loosen my rules a little to allow for a little fun (or ice-cream, as it’s also called).

I know not everyone has been as fortunate. It helps that my day-to-day routines have not been disrupted too much – I regularly work from home, and I don’t have to navigate homeschooling.

This isn’t a competition. I just wanted to share how I’ve been navigating the choices, and what my experience has been. I’m sure yours has been very different. The thing I’m most sure about, is that whatever your current situation is, whatever you’re having to do to get by, it doesn’t not mean the end for zero waste.

We’ll get through this, and I think our resolve will be stronger for it. Right now, staying safe is the most important thing of all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How has the pandemic changed your low waste habits? What has stayed the same for you? What things have you been forced to change, and what things have you chosen to change? Have your priorities shifted, and how? There’s no wrong answers and I’d love to hear about your experiences and get your perspective on this, so please share in the comments below!

5 Mantras for Buying Better

Nobody intends to buy things and not use them, but of course – it happens. We buy clothes that we end up never wearing, we buy tools or gadgets we end up never using, we buy games we end up never playing… and the list goes on.

I, for one, was particularly guilty of buying clothes that I never wore. There were a myriad of reasons for this. I had a tendency to buy things ever slightly on too-small side (wishful thinking on my part), I’d buy things that suited the model on the billboard but not me, I’d buy things that looked nice (on the hanger) but just weren’t practical for wearing to do the kinds of things I actually do.

Oh, and of course I’d totally confuse the “bargain price” as a reason to buy things, without giving much thought to whether they were useful or practical – I was too focused on the “money saved”.

Oh the irony, when I could have saved 100% of my money and bought nothing at all.

This pursuit of bargains started out as sales shopping from regular stores, but when I first started buying things second-hand I noticed another huge spike in my shopping – there was a whole new category of “bargain” to be discovered!

When I began my journey to less stuff back in 2013, I started to notice these patterns in my habits when it came to buying things I then didn’t use. I decluttered slowly, and began appreciating my new-found freedom from yet-another-weekend-of-endless-sorting.

I knew I had to protect this space from a new influx of clutter.

Decluttering is hard work. There was no way I wanted to go through that again! This had to be a one-time journey for me.

I’ve put in place a framework (or call them ‘rules’, if you like!) around how to make better buying decisions. The goal is that I only buy things that I truly need and will use often.

I don’t want to spend my money on stuff I never use that I then feel guilty about and have to tidy up and maintain and look after. No thank you.

Of course I’m not perfect and stuff occasionally slips through the gaps, but having a structure in place really helps with making better choices.

1. Do I Need It?

You’d think this would be obvious. But often we say we need things, meaning – I have to have that! – rather than – I actually need this. If you’ve ever seen a pair of shoes or a handbag or a new gadget or [insert shiny new thing here] and said “ohhhhmygoodness I need this!” then you know exactly what I mean.

We don’t need the thing, but we’re enthralled by it, we love the design or the style or the ingenuity of it, and so we want to buy it.

But often things we ‘need’ (as opposed to things we need) don’t actually get used, or they don’t get used often enough to justify us buying them.

So the first question to ask is honestly, do I need it?

2. Will I Use It (Often)?

We can justify our needs by telling ourselves we will use the item. And maybe we will. But how much? And ultimately, is that worth the price?

One of my favourite rules around this is the idea of ’30 wears’. Meaning, when I buy an item of clothing, do I know that I will wear it 30 times?

This means that for me, items like underpants, jumpers, and comfy jeans get a big tick. And items like fancy dresses purchased for a wedding, formal wear and high heels get a no.

If I can’t see myself going to 30 weddings or 30 formal dinners in the near future, I can’t justify buying the item. I can make do with what I have, borrow from a friend, or maybe hire something.

So when I’m thinking about buying something, I ask myself what would be a realistic amount of use for that item, and whether I would use it that much.

If I need something once, for a specific task, then I try to borrow it instead. I don’t need to own every single thing I might use once. That can amount to an awful lot of (barely used) stuff.

If I need something short-term, then I try to buy second-hand and commit to passing it on to someone else or back to the charity shop when its useful time with me has come to an end.

3. Is It Made to Last (and is it fit for purpose)?

I am sure I’m not the only one who finds it super annoying when stuff breaks. Rather than wait for something to break only to find out that the item is non-repairable and the manufacturer would rather sell me a whole new one, I now think about this before I buy stuff.

So I think about what it’s made of, how it’s made, whether there are any breakable parts, whether it’s possible to buy spare parts should something break, and how easy it would be to fix.

With tech, I try to buy the most up-to-date version I can to make sure it lasts, whilst steering clear of anything that seems like a fad (as someone who had a minidisc player and a VHS collection, I’m well aware that technology gets superceded).

Coming back to clothes, for example, I try to steer clear of anything that is definitely dry clean only (I’m not going to get it dry cleaned – I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals), I avoid excessive embellishments such as sequins (they’ll detach quickly making the garment look old, and I know I’m not going to sew them on again) or anything that I know won’t make it through 30 cycles of a washing machine.

4. Wait 30 Days

So far, so practical – but there’s definitely a place in life for beautiful things, things that we ‘need’ because they bring us joy, or allow us to support an artist whose work we love, or because life is allowed to be fun too.

(I’m not a total stick-in-the-mud, honestly!)

The issue is that there are so many beautiful things, that if we buy them unchecked we end up with a house full of things that are no longer beautiful and fun so much as mess-inducing and overwhelming.

To help me navigate this, I have a rule that I let wants brew for 30 days. If I see something I ‘need’, I leave it for 30 days and then I come back and make a decision.

I don’t make a note, because I think that if I can’t remember after 30 days, I really couldn’t have ‘needed’ it in the first place.

The things that really have a place in my heart, I remember.

And if I come back in 30 days, and the thing has gone, I consider that it just wasn’t meant to be. No doubt there will be something just as lovely – no, probably even more lovely – just around the corner.

5.What Will Happen to It Afterwards?

I don’t like putting things in the bin. You’ve probably noticed. So a big consideration for me is what will happen to this item either at the end of its life, or when I no longer need it any more.

Certain brands, products and materials have a great second-hand market. Take Lego – you’ll rarely see that in the charity shops, and there are sets that are decades old selling for a good price on online classifieds.

Some stuff keeps its value.

So I try to choose products and brands that are made to last and that someone else might want. Whilst I buy things intending to use them forever, it doesn’t always pan out that way. At least I know someone else will want what I have.

For those things that get used until very my life expired? Some materials can be repurposed, reused or recycled. Others can’t. Natural fibres can be composted. Polyester is plastic.

Mixed materials are difficult to separate and that makes it harder to reuse those resources.

I try to give these factors consideration when I bring things into my home, and choose the most recycable or compostable materials.

We can’t predict the future, but we can make best guesses about whether we need stuff and will use it, and we can consider the intended lifespan of this stuff, and how we will let go afterwards.

Life doesn’t always go as planned, but when we choose to buy things, we can do our best to make sure the odds are in our favour. It’s not just about hoping the purchases we make are good ones, it’s about knowing our personal weaknesses, and having a framework to make better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any rules when making purchases to ensure the stuff you buy gets put to good use and doesn’t end up being a waste of money? How do you decide whether to purchase or not? What things do you get particularly stuck on? Any other helpful tips? Please share in the comments below!


3 Assumptions You’re Making About Decluttering… And Why You’re Wrong

If you care even the teeniest bit about our planet and where stuff goes when we throw it “away”, if you see ‘stuff’ as money spent and resources used, chances are you struggle with the idea of decluttering.

I get it.

This used to be me. There I was, holding onto things I didn’t really need or use, seeing landfill as a terrible waste of resources, and despairing of the clutter all the while.

It took time to change my thinking, and more importantly change my relationship with stuff. It was a process, a slow realisation that I needed to change the way I viewed ‘stuff’.

I’d made a few assumptions about decluttering and waste in my time. It turned out, I was wrong.

Here’s 3 things I thought were true about decluttering, and how I’ve reshaped how I think about them.

1. Decluttering is a waste of resources.

Let’s be clear. Stuff is resources. But the idea that decluttering is a waste of resources comes from the mistaken belief that decluttering means sending stuff to landfill (or perhaps dumping it at the closest charity shop – which can often mean the same thing).

Since when was putting something in the bin the only option for our unwanted stuff?

Yes, putting stuff in the bin is a waste of resources. But finding new homes for our old things, with owners who love what we no longer need and will use it often – now that is an excellent use of resources.

Think about it this way. No-one declutters stuff that they love, need and use all the time. The stuff we are trying to declutter is the stuff we don’t like, don’t need and don’t use.

If we don’t use it, don’t need it and don’t like it, how is keeping it anything other than a waste of resources? Sure it might not be in the bin, but turning our cupboards and storage into mini-landfills (which is what they are, when you think about it) really isn’t saving resources.

Owning stuff we never use is a waste of resources.

If we can pass these things onto people who will use them, we allow these things to realise their full potential. To do the jobs they were made to do. Not only that, we are also helping stop the purchasing of more new stuff. Someone uses our old stuff, so they don’t need to buy new stuff.

Making our things available to others slows down the production of stuff, and remember – all stuff is resources.

What we need to do is find new homes for our stuff. To think beyond the bin, and beyond the closest charity shop. Believe me, someone somewhere wants what you have, and it is far easier to find them than you might think.

As someone who is incredibly passionate about zero waste, I say with full conviction that decluttering can be a very zero waste thing to do, and is an excellent use of resources.

2. That stuff could be useful one day.

Of course on one level this is true. That stuff you don’t like and never use could be useful one day. But often we confuse the fact that stuff is inherently useful with a rather different question – is it useful, and is it necessary, to us?

Being useful isn’t the same as being necessary.

The real question to ask is this. If in this future imaginary scenario where I envisage that this item might be useful, and I didn’t have it, would I actually need to own it?

Or could I make do with something else I already have that can do a similar job? Would I be able to borrow from friends, family or neighbours? What would actually happen if I wanted to use the item and was without it?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It depends a lot on what the item is, where we live and whether we have access to friends, family and neighbours, whether we have access to a vehicle, and the function that the item serves.

Keeping a torch in case there is ever a power failure is a very different scenario to keeping a watercolour set in case we ever decide to take up painting.

So we can be practical about it. We can think about our own situation and circumstances and make sensible decisions around what is likely to be useful, and what is necessary.

And we can agree that yes, all things are useful. But being inherently useful is not a reason to keep things that aren’t particularly useful to us.

Rather than keeping things just in case they might be useful one day, we can pass things onto people who definitely need them now, and intend to use them straightaway. That is a better outcome for those resources.

3. Decluttering is not for anyone on a budget.

The idea of decluttering something, only to realise that actually it was needed after all, and having to buy it back again, does not sit well with anyone on a budget. (Nor does it sit well with anyone who thinks that shopping is not a great use of their time.)

This argument is used often when talking about decluttering – if we realise we need it we can buy it back – because almost always, we won’t regret that decision and actually want to buy it back.

But what if this thing we declutter is the exception? What then?

In the same way that decluttering doesn’t have to mean going in the bin, it doesn’t have to mean giving stuff away for free, either. It is perfectly possible to sell items that we no longer need – either using online services such as auction and classifieds sites, social media marketplaces, or in-person services such as car boot sales, swap meets and garage sales.

Online services have made it possible to connect with buyers beyond our suburb, often nationally and even internationally. They also provide an easy way to find out what our stuff might be worth, and what other people are willing to pay.

The great thing about second-hand stuff, is that it tends to lose its value fairly slowly. Meaning you could sell an item second-hand, change your mind once it is sold and buy back a similar item for a similar price.

With technology it works out even better, because models get superceded so quickly, so re-buying something later for the same price means getting a more advanced version.

Budgets are a reality for most of us. When deciding what your budget can handle, consider these questions:

  • How readily available is the item? Would you expect every charity shop in the country to have one? Is it something that has daily new listings on the online classifieds?
  • How much it might cost to buy-back second-hand? How does that fit with your expendable income?
  • How practical and easy is it to re-buy the item? Is it local, is a vehicle required?

Considering these questions first can help make an informed decision about whether we really need to hang onto something or not.

It might not even be necessary to buy it back – it may be possible to find it for free. There are plenty of “free stuff” websites and networks where items are given away free of charge. Freecycle, Freegle and the Buy Nothing network are just a few great examples. You can read more about buying less (new) stuff in this post.

Budget or not, we’ve got to remember that the stuff we declutter tends to be the stuff we don’t use, don’t need and don’t like. Why then, would we actually want to buy that stuff back?

It’s helpful to try to understand if this is a truly practical consideration for us, or a fear masquerading an an excuse that’s probably unfounded.

For most of us, decluttering does not come easy. But when it comes to the excuses we make or assumptions we believe around why we don’t want to pass on our old things, it could just be that we’re looking at it under the wrong lens.

The fact that things are inherently useful does not necessarily mean they are useful to us. And yes, budgets and expendable income are an important consideration – but we can still be pragmatic. Most importantly of all: decluttering does not have to mean waste.

‘Less Stuff: Simple Zero-Waste Steps to a Joyful and Clutter-Free Life’ by Lindsay Miles is available to order now from all good bookstores and online.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Whether you’re proficient at decluttering, or novice; someone who finds it easy to let go, or someone who wants to hold onto everything; somebody who hates the idea of waste or someone who loves to find new homes for old things, we want to hear your stories! Share your experiences, struggles, successes and any thoughts at all below!

6 Places to Declutter To that Aren’t the Charity Shop (or the Bin)

I think decluttering is both a good thing (for our sanity and our stress levels), and a zero waste thing to do. Yes, a zero waste thing. Let’s make no mistake: keeping stuff in our homes that we don’t like, don’t need and never use is a terrible waste of resources.

Of course, yes, the most zero waste thing of all is to buy things once, cherish them forever, use them often, and pass them onto our children and grandchildren. But many things are not designed for this, good intentions don’t always work out, items date, technology is superceded, and our lives (and our minds) change over time.

So sometimes we have things we don’t like, don’t need and never use in our homes. But chucking this stuff in the bin or offloading at the nearest charity shop even though we’re pretty sure the stuff we are offloading isn’t definitely saleable definitely isn’t the best thing to do with it.

Which is often why we don’t declutter the things we no longer use. We don’t want to throw things in the bin, but we don’t know what else to do with them. So we let them languish in cupboards and drawers, and we feel guilty every time we see them.

Decluttering does not come down to just two options: landfill or closest charity shop. There are so many other places to take our stuff, and ways to find new owners for things we don’t need.

Keeping our stuff in circulation and giving others the opportunity to use these things is the best thing we can do for this stuff. This is how we declutter, zero waste style.

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

The most well-known online auction site is eBay, with 39 country-specific sites, and a presence in 100 countries. But it’s not the only option, and many other smaller auction sites exist with cheaper fees.

These sites have a national and sometimes global audience, making them ideal for items that can be mailed easily (meaning things that are lightweight or easy to pack, such as small electronics, clothing and homewares).

These auction sites are great for connecting your stuff with buyers looking for that item or brand. It’s also useful for people looking for parts, or even items in need of repair (particularly electronics).

Many high quality, unusual or valuable items can be missed in charity shops because they rely on foot traffic and opportunistic sales. With auction sites, customers can browse but they can also search specifically for things they need.

The price of your item and postage is quoted upfront to potential buyers, who will factor these costs into their bids. Listings on eBay can begin at $0.01, so you can still give things away on these sites. And you can cover the postage yourself, if you prefer.

Whilst pick-up only is an option for listing bulky items, there are better platforms to use.

Online Classifieds

I’m a huge fan of Gumtree, which is currently the number 1 online classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. American readers will probably be more familar with Craigslist.

There are also some newer kids on the block such as LetGo, Preloved and Shpock.

Online classified allow you to upload an image (or multiple images) and either set a price or offer the item for free. Most sites are free to use with paid upgrades available.

Classifieds often appeal more to local users, with items like furniture, tools, larger kitchen appliances, bicycles and white goods being easy to pass on. Buyers will collect from your home and can inspect the item before they take it.

Again, people will take broken items for parts and damaged items for repair, so it is worth posting these items and seeing if there is a response. Items can be listed in less than a minute, and it never hurts to try.

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

Charity shops take items to resell, but charities and non-government organisations also collect items to repair and reuse, or pass on to underprivileged communities and groups both locally and overseas.

Animal charities accept blankets, towels and other bedding, old toys, accessories, and food donations.

Women’s refuges, homeless shelters and refugee organisations may accept bedding, furniture, clothing, toiletries, white goods, small appliances and more. The Refugee Council of Australia has a database of refugee organisations accepting donations and what types of goods they accept, which will also give you an idea of the kinds of items that are wanted.

Other organisations focus on specific items: old glasses (they can often be dropped at a local optician and will be tested before being redistributed), sports equipment (Fairgame collects and redistributes equipment across Australia), computers and old electronics, bras, bicycles and more.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with people in your area, and find new homes for your stuff. I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing project, which operates as a series of hyper-local Facebook groups. No-one is allowed to join more than one group – the one where they live.

The advantage of decluttering items using the Buy Nothing group is that all the members are your neighbours, so travel time is negligible and journeys are often combined with regular commutes, shop visits or school drop-offs. This means people will be far more willing to take items off your hands than if they had to hop in the car and drive across town.

There are other Facebook groups that work in a similar way, such as the Good Karma network on the east coast of Australia. There also many zero waste groups that allow the offering of stuff (glass jars are always particularly well received).

There are even a few groups called “Give Away Free Stuff” – exactly what we need to find new owners for old things!

Online Neighbourhood Networks

These are neighbourhood networks, a little like the Buy Nothing project or Good Karma Network except rather than being run through Facebook, they have their own platforms. Nextdoor is one of the fastest growing sites. Whilst they aren’t solely for the giving and receiving of second-hand stuff (they also deal with lost pets, neighbourhood watch type issues and other things), sharing is a large part of their service.

Alternatively, Freecycle (and Freegle in the UK) are neighbourhood sites solely dedicated to the passing on and accepting of free stuff.

People You Know

Last but not least, don’t forget that you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your stuff. Probably not everything, but it is worth asking. You could ask people directly or post on social media.

If they are not people who generally shop at second-hand stores it is a good way to gently entice them into the preloved life, and they might be more willing to take things from people they know (you!) than buy from a stranger.

Sometimes exploring these avenues still draws a blank. Even then, there’s still the option of ensuring the materials are recycled rather than putting in the bin. But there’s so much to say about that, it is another post entirely!

The truth is, someone, somewhere wants what we have. We can do our best to find a new owner for our old things. We may not always find somewhere, but it takes minimal effort to ask the question, to do a quick google search for local organisations, or to pop a photo on an online site.

Stuff is useful. Resources are valuable. Success isn’t guaranteed, but we have to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your best solutions for re-homing unwanted items? What is the most unexpected item you’ve managed to successfully re-home with someone else? Anything that you particularly struggle with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

What I *Actually* Mean By Living “Plastic Free”

What if I told you that “living plastic-free” doesn’t actually mean living plastic free at all?

Let me explain.

A reader of this blog, Stephanie, recently contacted me to share an online article that she had read, and had found rather discouraging. The article opened with the statement “I’m suspicious of people who claim to live plastic-free” and the title of the article was “I tried to give up plastic for a month and realised it’s impossible.”

Woah.

I like to look towards the positives, the solutions, the next steps. Any article that begins by declaring defeat is unlikely to inspire and motivate (how can it?!) and I tend to avoid reading them. Give me a good news story any day!

But I read this one.

I came across some arguments I hear surprisingly often. What about laptops, and mobile phones, and credit cards? True, I use all these things. I also came across some thoughts that had never crossed my mind before in the context of plastic-free living: using plastic furniture in public spaces; answering the (plastic) telephone at work, or taking public transport (yes, buses and the London Tube both use plastic as a construction material).

I feel that the idea of “plastic-free living” is perhaps sometimes taken more literally than it is often meant.

In my view, there is nothing suspicious about claiming to live a plastic-free life. No-one is out to fool anybody. In my experience, anyone who says they live plastic-free is trying to be as transparent as possible about the things they do and don’t do, the choices they make… and the mishaps they have along the way.

I can’t speak for everyone who claims to live plastic-free, but I can speak for myself. I’d like to explain what I mean when I say that I live a plastic-free life, what I don’t mean, and when plastic-free doesn’t actually mean plastic-free.

Here’s my thoughts.

What Living Plastic Free Actually Means (To Me)

I always say that plastic-free living is a journey. Like any journey, things change along the way. What I mean when I say “plastic-free” today isn’t necessarily what I thought it meant when I began.

My plastic-free journey began in 2012 when I signed up to Plastic Free July and saw the documentary Bag It. Both the challenge and the documentary opened my eyes to the issues, but also my own habits, and made me realise just how much of the plastic I bought was avoidable.

It made me feel embarrassed that I’d never realised before, and determined to do what I could to make a difference and refuse all future plastic.

My first challenge was to reduce all the single-use plastic from my life. By single-use I meant anything that was designed to be used once. Not just things like plastic bags and takeaway coffee cups, but also things like plastic bottles of shampoo. Whilst the container might last a few months, it is not designed to be refilled and is therefore single-use.

With single-use plastic the main thing on my radar, other types of plastic hadn’t yet reached my awareness.

One of the first purchases I made when I embraced this plastic-free life was a reusable plastic KeepCup. I remember my husband (who has been with me on this journey since the beginning) posting a picture of them on Facebook, and one of his old school friends came back with the comment “but it’s plastic!”

We rolled our eyes and shook our heads at this lack of understanding. In our minds, it made total sense!

Of course, now I can see why there was a lack of understanding. Clearly, buying a plastic cup for Plastic Free July is not actually plastic-free in itself. It made sense at the time because it was reducing all the single-use plastic.

(5 years on, this cup is still going. My husband uses it at work. Would I make the same purchase today? No. But that’s part of the journey.)

Six months into my plastic-free living journey, and I’d found plastic-free solutions to a lot of the products that I’d previously bought regularly in plastic. I’d also stopped buying so much stuff generally (my minimalism journey had also begun) which gave me the space to think more carefully about the things that I did buy.

My single-use plastic avoidance became all plastic… where there was a reasonable alternative.

I started out as an idealist, but I soon realised that reason had a part to play. What does “a reasonable alternative” mean? For me, reasonable means practical, affordable (and I am happy to pay more for plastic-free items) and suitable.

It is possible to find plastic-free alternatives to most items. But not all.

Sometimes, plastic items have their place. I avoid new plastic as much as possible, but I’m happy to reuse plastic items to save them from landfill. If I think something is well made, built to last and serves a purpose, and I cannot think of (or find) a better alternative, then I consider plastic.

This includes the plastic olive barrels that I’ve upcycled into veggie beds in my garden, the clothing with plastic fibres that I’ve purchased second-hand from the charity shop, and the empty plastic yoghurt tubs I’m currently collecting via the Buy Nothing Group for mushroom growing.

What do I mean when I say I live “plastic-free”? Well, I mean no single use plastic packaging. I mean that I don’t buy brand new plastic things, unless there is absolutely no alternative, I consider that item to be necessary, and it is not not available second-hand. I minimize my second-hand plastic purchases, but I don’t avoid them completely.

For me, plastic-free is not an absolute. I make exceptions. I’m also very transparent about the exceptions that I make. Plastic-free living is an ideal, a goal to work towards, and a journey. I’m doing what I can, and always striving to do better.

What Living Plastic Free Doesn’t Mean (To Me)

At the start, I was determined to eliminate plastic completely from my life. Over time, I’ve taken a more moderate approach to what’s practical and possible for me.

I still use a mobile phone and a laptop. I have plastic travel cards (a Smartrider and an Oyster card). I have plastic bank cards, and I use plastic money (Australian bank notes are made of plastic). Plastic still sneaks into my life in other ways.

Plastic-free does not mean living in a house that I built myself from tree branches. (Natural building is a thing, so it’s not out of the question that I could live in a plastic-free house. But I don’t.) Maybe one day I’ll get the skills and the space to do it. Or maybe not. For now, I live in a house with recycled plastic/stone kitchen benches, plastic guttering, a plastic bathroom bench, a plastic rainwater tank, plastic doors, windows and frames.

Plastic-free does not mean avoiding touching anything plastic. The pipes that bring water to our house the cables that bring electricity and the internet to our house, every kind of transport (public or private) – it all features plastic.

Plastic-free does not mean refusing medical treatment. I take painkillers in packaging on the rare occasion I need to, I have a plastic filling (I wasn’t choosing mercury as the alternative option).

Plastic-free has never meant (and never will mean) throwing existing plastic away. In my home, plastic that is perfectly usable will never be replaced it with something that is plastic-free for asthetic reasons.

If I need to buy something in plastic so that I can avoid plastic in the future then I do. I buy seeds that come in plastic bags, but I am saving my seeds so in future I can use my own. I bought a second-hand plastic compost bin so that I can make my own compost and not need to buy plastic-packaged soil amendments for the garden.

Plastic-free living, for me, is not about taking things to extremes. It’s about finding alternatives, solutions and better ways of doing things. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists. If I can reduce my plastic by 95%, that’s a lot of plastic refused.

Does it really matter that I use a small amount of plastic to reduce my impact in other areas? To me, no.

When Is Plastic-Free not Plastic-Free?

I am passionate about living with less waste (you might have noticed). For me there are three branches to this, and they are all slightly different. There’s zero waste, which is about sending nothing to landfill. There’s plastic-free, which is about using no plastic. Then there’s the broader aspect of sustainability, using what already exists.

The way I live is the result of these three elements (plastic-free and zero waste and reducing waste) colliding. My ultimate goal is reducing landfill and making the best use of resources. So sometimes I choose second-hand polyester over brand new organic Fairtrade cotton. Or upcycled plastic buckets rescued from landfill over French oak wine barrels.

It’s not that one option is better than the others. There’s rarely a perfect choice. I just do what feels right to me and my values.

I say I live plastic-free because it’s a label that people can understand. It’s certainly a lot less of a mouthful than “I live single-use-plastic-free-and-new-plastic-free-but-occasionally-I-buy-second-hand-things-made-of-plastic-but-mostly-I’m-plastic-free”. It starts conversations, encourages new ideas and provokes dialogue.

Plus, it’s a way of doing something good for the planet, and for ourselves and our community.

I’m not one to dwell on the negatives. I could lament all of the things that I can’t change, and the things that hold me back from perfection. I could give up before I start, because I’ll never make 100%. But plastic-free living is not about perfection. It’s about making better choices. 

There’s so much opportunity to make change to reduce our collective plastic habit. To refuse single use items, make simple switches, avoid plastic packing. Living plastic-free is 95% possible. But even 1% plastic-free is better than nothing. Let’s not get bogged down with the things we can’t change. We can all change something. Let’s do what we can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree that saying plastic-free or zero waste is misleading? Or do you find labels a useful way to strike up conservation and convey ideas simply? Do you use these labels, or do you prefer not to? If you live plastic-free, what plastic compromises do you make? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

War on Waste: How Food Rescue Charities Are Fighting Food Waste

The recent ABC television series War on Waste aired last month, and suddenly everyone is talking about waste. Which, in my view, is a good thing. A great thing! As it should be ;) The more conversations we have around waste, the better.

I watched the series myself and thought it was well made, informative and motivational. It did a great job of addressing the problems. The problems need talking about, definitely. But I felt it only touched on the solutions. Which, maybe, was a missed opportunity. In my view, there are plenty of solutions, and we need to talk about these as much as (or more than!) the problems!

No doubt there wasn’t time for everything. (It was only 3 episodes, after all!)

So I thought I’d explore some of the solutions here. Today, I’m going to talk about food waste, and more specifically, what people are doing about.

Food waste is a huge issue in Australia, with around 40% of food being discarded before it leaves farms, and shoppers throwing away 20% of everything they buy (the equivalent of 1 bag of shopping in 5). The UK reported similar statistics with their Hugh’s War on Waste series last year, saying 1/3 of food produced is never eaten. The figure is similar in the U.S.

The supermarkets are linked to a lot of this waste. With their strict cosmetic standards, unbalanced supplier contracts in favour of the retailer, pre-packaging loose items (where they control the portion sizes), and promotional 3-for-2 offers that encourage us to buy more than we need, they encourage waste at every stage in the process.

Arguably, it’s a broken system. But within this system, organizations are doing what they can to reduce this food waste by distributing some of the surplus to others who need it via charity partners.

Here in Perth there are a number of organisations working to fight food waste by “rescuing” food.

Food Bank: are the largest food relief organisation in Australia. They deal with large quantities and collect food on a massive scale. They don’t go to individual supermarkets to collect discards, but rather collect pallets of food from warehouses for redistribution.

Oz Harvest: with their quirky yellow vans, Oz Harvest collect surplus food from all types of food providers, including fruit and vegetable markets, farmers, supermarkets, wholesalers, stadiums, corporate events, catering companies, hotels, shopping centres, cafes, delis, restaurants, film and TV shoots and boardrooms. They collect both fresh food and dry goods and distribute as is to charitable partners.

Food Rescue WA: a WA initiative of UnitingCare West, Food Rescue WA collects surplus fresh produce (no dry goods) from cafes, supermarkets and farmers and repacks into “veg boxes” which are distributed to charitable partners.

Case Study: Food Rescue WA

This week I had the opportunity to visit Food Rescue WA in Belmont (a suburb of Perth). I was amazed, humbled and heartened by what I saw and learned. They haven’t stood by in despair at what can seem an overwhelming situation; they’ve got to work righting some of the wrongs.

Food Rescue WA have just two full time staff, with 4 casual drivers and 100 regular volunteers. Powered by this volunteer army, and with 4 vans that have been donated, they collect food from 49 supermarkets, sort and re-pack, and redistribute to 78 different charitable organisations.

In addition, they have two food carts which collect food from 37 cafes in the CBD, and redistribute directly to homeless people in the city who have no access to kitchens.

Between them, they supply food to organisations who feed more than 11,000 people every week.

“Waste” products that have arrived and are waiting to be sorted and repacked.

Food arrives here at the Food Rescue WA warehouse in various ways and for various reasons. The black boxes at the front are assorted rejects from the supermarkets. The oranges are an overstock. The yellow container at the back (a cubic metre) comes directly from a farmer, with carrots that don’t meet the cosmetic/size standards.

Food Rescue WA only deal with fresh fruit and vegetables. They also receive eggs for redistribution, and occasionally chilled products.

This second yellow container is filled with cosmetically imperfect but completely edible carrots donated by a farmer. The dimensions of the container are 1m x 1m x 1m (a cubic meter).

The food is then sorted by volunteers and distributed into boxes (old banana boxes). The food is distributed so that each box has variety and colour, and looks visually appealing.

Sorting food and packing into boxes..

A partially packed veg box…

Boxes of colourful, edible food saved from the bin and ready to be distributed by the Food Rescue WA vans to people in need.

Food Rescue WA currently operates from Monday to Friday, but they may expand into weekends. The volunteers arrive at 7am and sorting and packing is generally completed by 10am. The boxes are then delivered, with all charities in receipt of their food by 11.30am.

What happens next is up to the charities. Some cook meals using the ingredients; others allow people to take the boxes home to cook for their families.

This operation provides 11,000 meals a week. That’s impressive in itself, but there’s more. Food Rescue WA don’t just fight food waste, though. They fight other waste too.

Plastic

Firstly, they sort and recycle all of their packaging. They have a plastics recycling system where plastics are separated into their different types (numbers) and then this is collected by CLAW Environmental for recycling.

They even go one step further and remove all the plastic packaging from the boxes they are donating to the charities. They realise that the charities won’t have the time or capacity to recycle the soft plastic, and may not have the knowledge to sort it correctly either.

By removing the plastic before it is distributed, it saves the charity workers a job and also the disposal costs, and ensures it gets recycled properly.

Food Rescue WA currently recycles 4 cubic meters of soft plastic a week.

Cardboard

The food received by charities is packed into banana boxes which can be returned for re-use. Typically a driver will deliver new boxes, collect old empty ones and they will be re-used for packing. Each box can be used several times before it begins to wear out. The cardboard is then recycled.

Food Waste

Food Rescue WA have an innovative composting machine called the Orca that aerobically digests unusable food waste rapidly, and produces a liquid effluent that can be safely discharged into the municipal sewerage system.

The jar of apple sauce on top of the machine is in fact the liquid effluent which comes out of the machine after the contents are aerobically digested, and have passed through a grease trap and filter system.

These fresh veggies were added…

…and 15 minutes later they were well on their way to breaking down. The food waste has no smell, or if anything, it smells like a fresh green salad!

Food Rescue WA did secure backing to fund a composter in the past, but unfortunately could not get council approval to install it.

Fighting Food Waste: What Can I Do?

There’s plenty of things we can do as individuals to reduce our food waste at home. We can reduce what we buy, learn to understand the different ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By ‘codes, and also learn how to tell if something is good or bad without relying on the packaging telling us. We can learn new ways to cook things, embrace home composting and get more organized so there are no longer unidentified objects that used to be food lurking at the back of our fridges. (For more ideas, here’s 12 tips to reducing food waste.)

But we can go one step further. We can support these organisations working to reduce food waste. Here’s three ideas:

Volunteer for a few hours at a Food Rescue service such as Food Rescue WA and donate your time to help collect, sort and redistribute food that’s headed to landfill to people who need it. Or if you have a specialised skill that you think may be of use, offer these services!

Donate to the cause. These organisations run on volunteer hours and donated food, but still need to pay for utilities, fuel and maintenance to keep the operation running. Donating money directly to these organizations is better than buying food from supermarkets to donate. There’s already plenty of food out there that needs rescuing, and supermarkets really don’t need our money – the charities do!

Share their story! Tell your local cafe, restaurant, workplace, supermarket, greengrocer or farmer about these services, and encourage them to use them and support the work that they do.

If you’d like to get involved with or support Food Rescue WA, you can find more information here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What solutions do you have for reducing food waste – at home, at work or in your local community? What organisations are doing great things in your local community and how could you support their work? Any thoughts on the story I’ve shared? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment below!

 

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

When people think of the zero waste lifestyle, they tend to think of mason jars, bulk stores and unpackaged goods. Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Many people draw the conclusion then, that without access to a bulk store, they can’t live a zero waste lifestyle.

The truth is, the zero waste lifestyle is about much more than bulk stores and mason jars.

Groceries aren’t the only thing we buy. Furniture, toys, electronics, clothes, books, decor, equipment, household items: “stuff”, in other words.

At some stage in our lives we buy these things. With all of these things, we have a choice. We can choose to buy new, or buy second-hand.

Not everybody has access to bulk stores. But everybody has access to second-hand goods.

Choosing second-hand not only uses less resources, it’s unpackaged and it helps keep existing items in use and out of landfill.

The zero waste lifestyle is very much the second-hand lifestyle.

With the internet, access to second-hand items has become a whole lot easier. Yet some people still find the online world of buying and selling a little bewildering.

I’ve talked about how to sell items online in my eGuide Hoarder Minimalist, but I didn’t talk about buying. (It is a book about decluttering after all!) To live a zero waste lifestyle, buying second-hand is just as important as finding new homes for items we no longer require.

Whilst my husband and I don’t buy absolutely everything second-hand (hello, brand new underwear), all of the furniture in our home is second-hand. There is plenty of second-hand furniture out there to choose from.

We’ve bought almost all of our second-hand furniture using Gumtree Australia. We also use the platform to sell things that we no longer require. Recently Gumtree got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in collaborating. For me, the real questions are: do I believe wholeheartedly in what they do? And do I think writing about Gumtree is of real benefit to you, my readers?

The answer to both is yes.

Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling online. It’s simple to use and free to buy and to sell: there are no hidden charges or fees. (There are some fees for premium features, but I have never used these.) It connects those with stuff they don’t need with those who want it. So yes, I want to encourage people to use it.

If I can convince more people to start buying second-hand, and sell (or gift) unwanted items rather than landfilling them, that’s wins all round.

If you’re new to the world of online buying and selling, this guide is for you.

How to Buy and Sell Online with Gumtree

Gumtree is an online listings/classifieds platform allowing users to buy and sell items online. It focuses on local trade, meaning most people will go directly to the seller’s home or workplace to buy the item.

The local approach means no shipping costs, lower carbon footprints and zero packaging. People buy and sell from other people within their local community. You get to inspect items before you actually buy them – so no receiving items that aren’t quite how they looked in the picture. No worrying about returns, either.

Using Gumtree: The Basics

To buy or sell you need to register, but the information you need to provide is basic. A name, email address, phone number and location (which can be a suburb). There’s no requirement to provide credit card or banking details.

You don’t need to be registered just to browse.

How to Search Effectively

People who list items on Gumtree want them sold – the sooner the better. I always search by “most recent items” and work backwards. Good value items and bargains rarely hang around!

I prefer well-made, quality items to the cheapest option, but searching by price is possible too. Importantly, it’s possible to search by suburb, local council area, urban area and state.

The categories are quite simplistic. If there’s a dedicated category for what I’m looking for, then I might search by category, but I tend to use the search bar. The search bar is also useful for searching by brand.

Using different search terms for the same thing will give different results. Searching by abbreviation as well as the full name of an item will give more results.

We bought this kitchen island second-hand a few months ago from Gumtree, and added these stools more recently. If you’re after something specific, find out if there’s a style or brand name to search for (these stools are Tolix stools). Not everyone will know the brand or model name, so use different descriptive titles too if you can’t find what you want (“bar stools” and “barstools” give different results, for example).

How To Create a Good Ad

Many people start out selling on Gumtree before they buy. It’s a good way to test the waters and find out how it works. Once you realise that other Gumtree users are friendly people wanting the stuff that you have, it’s easier to embrace the idea of buying.

When creating a listing, the first thing to do is choose a category. The categories are fairly simplistic and quite limited. I use “Home & Garden” the most, and then the appropriate subcategory. Avoid “Miscellaneous Goods” or “other” if you can – they are too vague.

Next you’ll be asked for the type of ad: free or paid. I’ve always used free ads. Paid ads have additional features, but I don’t find them necessary.

Free ads allow you to add 10 pictures. Use as many of them as you can! Don’t just take one out-of-focus picture. Take the front, the back, the sides, a close-up, and any nicks or damage.

When choosing a price, put what you think is fair. You can always edit it later. If you’re not interested in negotiating, write in the ad description “price is non-negotiable.”

When choosing a title, use all those characters! Put in all the words that relate to the item. It’s not meant to read well, it’s meant to attract buyers. For example, “sofa chair lounge armchair seating” will match far more search requests than “comfy chair”.

Also, think about typos. There are almost as many “draws” listed as there are “drawers”! Mention colour, material, and a brand or model name if there is one.

Be as descriptive and honest as you can. If the colour differs in real life to the photos, say so. If there’s damage, however minor, mention it. People would rather know the condition before they arrive at your place.

If it’s a current model, consider providing the link to the store for browsers to compare. Give dimensions; state where and how it was used. If you smoke or have pets, say so.

Finally, add your details. There’s no need to write your exact address, but give buyers an idea of your location. We put our road, but omit the street number on the listing. Whilst you need to give your phone number and email, if you prefer contact via a particular method, write it in the ad description.

How to Communicate:

Gumtree allows users to communicate directly with other users, by mobile phone or email. When contacting someone, be as specific as possible. As a buyer, add in when you’re free to drop by. As a seller, if someone asks “is this still available?”, don’t just respond “yes”. Ask when they want to come and look, let them know when you’ll be home, give a contact number or even the address.

Make it easy for people.

(Also, use your actual name. It’s much more personable.)

If you think something is a bargain, agree to collect as soon as possible.

We needed a bedside table and lamp for our spare room. I’d like a wooden stand, but nothing was available, and we thought this would be a good stop-gap. The great thing about second-hand items is that if you change your mind, you can often sell them on again at the price you paid.

Price (and How to Negotiate)

Ultimately people will pay what they think something is worth, so overpriced items won’t sell. If the price is keen, the item will be gone in less than a week (and sometimes in a matter of hours).

Sellers: if you want something sold quickly, advertise at a low price. If you want more money, be prepared to hold out for longer. Remember – just because you paid a certain amount for something, that doesn’t mean it was worth the price.

Personally, I think it is bad manners to arrive at someone’s house and then start negotiating price. My policy is, if buyers try to negotiate at my house, the answer will be no. I’m always completely honest and overly descriptive in my listings, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive. They can buy at the agreed price, or leave empty-handed.

Don’t feel pressured to accept less than you want. If they decide not to take them item, someone else will.

Sometimes people arrive with no change. I point them to the nearest ATM/petrol station. If that isn’t practical for you, ensure you have change on you. Some people genuinely forget; others are hoping you’ll round down.

Buyers: don’t feel obliged to negotiate. If you’re happy to pay the price advertised, then pay it. If you try to negotiate a keenly priced item when you’re happy to pay the full price, you’ll likely end up outbid by someone else and losing the item.

There’s no harm in asking if the seller is flexible on price before agreeing to buy. They’ll let you know if they are open to offers or not.

A good indicator if someone will be willing to negotiate is how long it’s been listed. If the listing has been active for 3 hours, chances are a lot more slim than if it’s been listed for a month.

If you arrive to buy and are not comfortable, the item isn’t as described, or you change your mind about the item, don’t feel like you have to go through with the deal. Apologise, say it is different to what you thought, and walk away.

Timing

In my experience, the weekend is when most things are bought and sold. If you list items on a Saturday morning you will have the most chance of success. If you’re looking for bargains, Saturday morning means the least chance of success as everybody else is online too.

Safety and Security

This is a personal consideration. I’ve been using Gumtree for many years without any issues. I’ve sold items late at night, early in the morning and during the day. I’ve had buyers prefer to do the transaction on the doorstep. Others come in (sometimes that is practical and necessary).

I’ve bought items where the seller has handed me the item on the doorstep. I’ve been invited in to collect the item. I even met one seller in a car park!

If you won’t feel comfortable with someone collecting items late at night, put preferred hours on your listing. If you’d rather not go alone to someone’s house, ask a friend to come along. If it’s possible, consider asking the buyer to collect from your place of work.

Other Practical Suggestions

If you’re buying anything big, heavy or bulky, ask if there’s easy access to the front door, if there are any stairs and if there will be anyone to help you move the item. Ask if they have a trolley, and find out the actual dimensions before you get there!

Similarly, if you’re selling, let potential buyers know what they’ll need to bring.

Don’t be scared to ask questions. Ask for more photos, model numbers, measurements, a condition report, where the item was purchased. Better to find out before than make a wasted trip.

If an item is electrical, ask to plug it in. If it’s furniture, sit on it. If it’s already been neatly packed for you, don’t feel bad about asking it to be unpacked so you can look at it properly.

We bought this bed because it was exactly the same as our existing bed (but in white), so we knew exactly what it would be like. (The old bed, also bought on Gumtree, is now in the spare room.) I told the seller I was interested but needed to arrange a trailer. He was moving overseas and had hired a ute, and offered to drop it round to ours for no extra charge! It meant he got to keep it until the day he wanted to move, and we got a hassle-free delivery!

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby

People get rid of stuff for lots of reasons: marriage, divorce, moving home, moving country, children, pets or simply because they redecorate. There’s plenty of good quality, well made stuff out there in the second-hand market. Some of it isn’t even very old.

This lamp was only a few months old, and cost a fraction of the price it would have cost new. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean bedraggled.

For quality items, search for reputable brands. You can take it to the next level and go to the actual shop, write down what you like and then find it all on Gumtree. (I have a friend who did exactly this, and furnished her home at a fraction of what it would have cost new, with everything second-hand.) This works better with chains rather than boutique stores.

If you haven’t embraced second-hand furniture shopping, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try. Compared to most furniture shops, you don’t make a choice and wait 8 weeks for delivery. You get to use things right away.

Once you start finding great, useful items that you need at a fraction of the price you’d have paid to buy new (and without all that packaging) it’s very hard to go back.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Gumtree to buy or sell furniture or other items? How have your experiences been? What has been your best find – and what was your worst? If you haven’t shopped online for second-hand, is there anything that you’re worried about or that’s holding you back? Any other questions? Anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below!

This post was a collaboration with Gumtree Australia.

How Much Does a Zero Waster Recycle?

The zero waste lifestyle is all about living in a way that creates as little waste as possible. It is often described as “sending nothing to landfill” and most people living the zero waste lifestyle will track their landfill waste. In fact, the jar full of waste has become rather iconic of the zero waste movement.

Last year I collected all my own landfill waste in a jar (I shared the contents of my annual trash jar here). I did it as I thought it would be an interesting experiment, and it was. I learned a lot.

However, I also think there are some downsides to focusing solely on personal landfill waste.

One of those downsides is that zero waste living is not just about reducing landfill. It is about reducing waste overall, and that means reducing our recycling too. The goal is to produce no landfill waste and no recycling either.

Yet that is much more challenging, and much less talked about.

How much recycling zero wasters produce isn’t discussed as often as it should be. Personally, I think we should be talking about it more. This time last year I decided to record my recycling for an entire month, and share it (view April 2016’s recycling tally).

I’ve decided I’m going to make it an annual thing. There’s no particular reason why we chose April last year (I probably thought up the idea in March!). I’m choosing April again this year to keep things consistent.

There are no special rules for the month. We don’t do anything differently. That said, I’m sure it is in the back of my mind and I’m subconsciously more careful. Any waste that we (our household consists of two adults and one greyhound) create goes into our recycling bin as normal. After 30 days have passed, I tally it up.

Here’s our monthly recycling for the 30 days of April 2017:

I did threaten my husband that I would divide the recycling up into separate piles of mine and his, because he creates more waste than me and I don’t want to be tarnished with the same brush! But really, we are one household, and I think most people can relate to one member of the household being more enthused than the others.

What’s in my (Zero Waste) Recycling Bin?

This is a summary of what’s in the bin, from right to left.

Plastic Bag of Dog Food: For the first four years of living zero waste we didn’t have a dog Now we do. He is also a dog with a sensitive stomach! We have tried a number of dog food brands. So far this is the one that works best. We get through one bag every 5-6 weeks. I would love to make my own dog food, and maybe one day I will. Right now it is still a little overwhelming. This bag can be recycled via REDcycle at our local supermarket.

Aluminium Beer Cans (and their Cardboard Packaging): My husband likes beer. A beer shop locally sells packaging-free beer on tap, but my husband prefers to visit the regular store on the way home from work. I don’t know enough about beer to go the bulk store for him! He chooses aluminium rather than glass as cans are recycled, whereas glass is crushed into road base in WA.

Pasta Boxes: My husband also loves pasta. We can get gluten-free pasta (buckwheat spirals and quinoa rice penne) from our local bulk store, and regular vermicelli nests from the small bulk section at our independent grocer. We eat these most of the time. Occasionally my husband will come across Barilla pasta in the cardboard box without the plastic window and will insist on buying it. He’s like some kind of collector! He probably buys one every 3 months or so. We just happened to have two boxes in this month’s recycling.

Tin of Coconut Cream: I made crumble recently as we had friends over for dinner. I didn’t have any cashews to make cashew cream, and there wasn’t enough time. My husband dashed to the shops for me and picked this up (at my request). Crumble just doesn’t work dry!

Ball of Tin Foil (and Corresponding Chocolate wrappers): Oh, I am so guilty of buying packaged chocolate. I have a weakness for Green & Blacks 85%. I have a serious weakness, in fact: in April I managed to eat my way through 8 bars (as demonstrated by the wrappers). We ate a fair amount of chocolate from the bulk store too.

Dolmades Tin: Sometimes I feel like my husband is a packaging fiend! (I realise the packaging he buys is minimal – it’s just a big part of our recycling.) He likes to buy tinned dolmades when we have people round for dinner. It makes me a little bit mad, because I love to cook from scratch and go to all this effort to make home-made food, and then he serves up pre-packaged food. He sees it as a treat!

Champagne Bottles and Metal Tops: Our friends brought a bottle of sparkling wine when they came for dinner. The other bottle has been in our fridge for 18 months (it was a moving gift) and needed using up. It was actually pretty flat. The corks have gone in the compost, and the foil is part of the foil ball.

Nonsense Promotional Material: We received a pamphlet from the RAC telling us most people don’t have enough insurance. What a waste of paper.

Unnecessary Letters in the Post: An enormous water pipe is being installed underneath our road to supply water to the new Perth stadium, and we are sent a weekly letter giving us updates. They’ve been camped out for almost 5 months now, but they are finishing up so we won’t be getting many more notices.

Envelopes: We still get the odd thing delivered by post. My husband recently had to renew his driving license (they need renewing every 3 years); some insurance documents that they couldn’t send via email; a new bank card as the old one had expired; and some other things.

Till Receipts: Wherever possible we refuse a receipt, but we still pick up a few every month. We recycle them. Some people don’t recycle thermal (BPA- coated) receipts, but I was advised that a few BPA receipts in a container load of paper doesn’t create a problem.

Paper from Workshops: I run sustainable living workshops, and use paper for some activities. Some people learn better by physically writing stuff down. As someone who’s partial to taking notes on the back of an envelope, I can relate. I don’t buy new paper, I use reject printing from workplaces, or mail I don’t need. Then I recycle it.

Recycling versus Composting

Some zero wasters choose to compost all their paper rather than recycling it. That makes the recycling pile much smaller, but in terms of energy, research shows that recycling paper is a better use of the resource than composting. Paper production is enormously energy intensive and recycling paper helps slow down new paper production.

Whilst I live in a city with good recycling infrastructure, I will always choose to recycle my paper over composting it.The only paper I compost is paper that cannot be recycled: anything stained by food or grease, tiny scraps, or shredded paper.

Whilst I’d love to see our recycling drop to zero, it’s heartening to know that we created less than this time less year. Some people say that “near-o waste” is a more accurate term than zero waste, and I’m inclined to agree. However, that doesn’t stop me aiming for zero.

Please tell me what you think! Do you find tracking your waste and recycling a helpful tool? Or is the extra fuss and effort too much hassle? Do you find seeing pictures of others’ waste inspiring, or do you find it demotivating? Is there something else you find more motivating? I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me a comment below!

One Year’s Worth of Trash (Except, It Isn’t)

The idea of keeping landfill trash in a jar has become a symbol of the zero waste movement. Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home started keeping the waste produced by her family of four in a glass jar back in 2010. Now more and more people use this idea to track their progress and show others what is possible with a little bit of determination and effort.

I have to confess, I don’t love the idea. I find it a little gimmicky (I’ll talk about that later). At the beginning of last year, I was interviewed by a journalist and she asked me if I had a jar of waste. I said no, and she suggested I start one. That it might be a good idea because it was a valuable tool to show others.

I hadn’t really thought of it like that.

I also thought, there I was pooh-poohing the idea when I hadn’t actually given it a fair shot. Wouldn’t it be be better to try it out and see, rather than making judgements? I decided to give it a go.

As fate would have it, at the end of January this year, Channel 9 contacted me to film a segment about zero waste for their 6pm news show. When they found out I had a waste jar, they insisted it be part of the story. So my little jar of waste was on the news…

I began our annual jar of waste on 2nd March 2016 – so today it has been exactly a year since I began. So how much landfill waste did our household produce in a year, and what have I learned.

Annual Waste in a Jar – My Rules

The idea is that anything that would end up in the landfill bin is kept in the jar. This means anything that is not recycled, composted, repurposed or repaired.

I didn’t really make any other rules when I started; they formed along the way. The intention was that the jar was for our household waste (my husband’s and mine) but in July we adopted a greyhound, which changed things slightly.

These are the rules we ended up following:

  • Anything purchased or acquired pre- going plastic-free or zero waste in 2012 still counts as waste.
  • Any waste generated by us inside our home goes in the jar.
  • Any waste I produce outside the home goes in the jar (and my husband’s, if he is with me.) My husband’s waste at work and some dog waste (!) does not go in the jar for practical reasons.
  • Any waste that others bring into our home that we do not use does not go in the jar. However, if we use it in some way, then it does.
  • I often find fruit stickers, old clothes elastic and random plastic labels in the compost bin, but 6 households share our composting system and I do not know for sure it is ours – and it is too much effort once it is covered in compost.
  • Anything that is downright gross or dangerous does not go in the jar.

Different people have different rules. These are ours. Our waste shows us where we personally can improve, and let us share what we have learned. It is not a competition.

How Much Landfill Waste Did We Produce?

This is our waste from 1st March 2016 until 1st March 2017.

What Didn’t End Up in the Jar?

Not all of the waste we produced over the last year has ended up in the jar. Here’s what was missed:

  • We broke two glass jars and a glass light bulb in the past few weeks, and I am sure that over the year there were more.
  • We put all weeds in the compost bin except couch grass which is super invasive. We put this in our landfill bin. (It goes through a commercial hot composting machine at the tip, but I’d rather deal with it at home.)
  • I still have an old tub of dental floss I keep for emergencies. Mostly after eating corn-on-the-cob. That tends to get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner.
  • Condoms. For obvious reasons.
  • When I mentioned earlier that our greyhound complicated things, there were a few “issues”.
    • I refuse things, and I refuse things on behalf of my husband ;) but my husband has decided, I cannot refuse things on behalf of our greyhound. If somebody buys him a gift, it is not for me to decide to donate it straightaway simply because it will end up in landfill.
    • Our greyhound has received a few toys as gifts. People tell me they were careful to avoid plastic, as we receive yet another toy made of polyester. (Which is plastic.) They are also cheaply made and do not last. One was torn to shreds and covered in slobber and ended up in the bin. Fortunately Hans is settling down and less prone to destruction these days.
    • Hans is also very particular about his bathroom habits, and categorically refuses to go to the toilet in our yard. Not even for number 1s. His preferred toilet stop is the dog park 10 minutes away. We have a dog poo worm farm at home, but carrying his mess home twice a day with newspaper is a trial. I do it as often as I can, but sometimes it isn’t practical. When it’s raining, the newspaper gets wet before we make it home. When the dog park is full of other dogs we don’t hold onto it – the other dogs are too interested :/ So sometimes dog poo goes in the bin.

Is the ‘Waste-in-a-Jar’ Thing Gimmicky?

That’s a personal choice. For me, I still feel like it is. I have never taken my waste jar to a talk or workshop I’ve presented. In fact, it has never left the house.

I’m not a limelight-lover, and I feel that the jar invites a “look-at-me!” approach that I am just not comfortable with.

I also feel that extremes can put people off making changes, and waste jars might be seen as extreme. I’d prefer to encourage lots of people to change one thing than encourage one person to change everything. My priority in inspiring others, not seeking perfection myself.

That’s not to say it can’t (and doesn’t) work for others. For every cynic in the room, there is someone else who is inspired. For those who love and relish the limelight, it is an awesome opportunity to share and motivate others.

It just does not work for me.

Gimmicks aside, there are things I love as well as things I don’t.

Things I love about keeping my waste in a jar:

  • I like being able to track my progress and visually see where I could make improvements.
  • I like being able to see which companies are responsible for the non-recyclable waste, so I can contact them and suggest that they make changes.
  • I like that it pushes me to look for solutions with the items I end up with.

Things I don’t love about keeping my waste in a jar:

  • I don’t like that it doesn’t account for human error. I put many things in my recycling bin, believing that they will be recycled. But I don’t know for sure that they are. The decision is based on my knowledge, which may be flawed. I could be wrong, and it could end up in landfill.
  • I’m a person who likes details. My goal is always to be transparent and honest. The jar is a simplified view, and I have this constant nagging feeling I need to justify and explain everything. It makes me a little stressed.
  • I don’t like the way it invites comparisons, even though every person takes a different approach.
  • I think it focuses too much on the personal. At the beginning I think a journey of change is always personal. For me, there comes a point when it is time to move onto the local, national and beyond. Worrying about a piece of dental floss or an accidental foil-wrapped teabag isn’t important. I want to encourage change on a bigger level. For me, my jar distracts from that.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you think the waste jar idea is a great idea, or a gimmick? Do you love it or loathe it? Do you keep a waste jar, and what lessons have you learned? Have you tried in the past but given up? Have you thought about it but not committed yet? Have you just started your own, and what are your thoughts so far? What is your favourite thing about them? What is your least favourite thing? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Guide to Zero Waste Camping

Last weekend my husband and I went camping together for the first time (yes, despite being together almost 5 years, this was a first for us). We’d both been camping many times in our past lives, and we both enjoy it. Why it took us 5 years to get around to it together I’m not quite sure, but it did.

I suspect it has something to do with all the “stuff” required. We didn’t want to buy a whole heap of new (new for us, at least) stuff and we had nowhere to store it anyway.

Eventually it was a friend of ours who prompted us into action. She initiated the trip, and came up with a list of all the stuff we’d need (for some reason I’d put the idea of making a list in the “too hard” basket). What we didn’t own (we own a small tent, one sleeping bag and one roll mat – not the stuff that comfortable two-person camping trips are made of) we needed to borrow.

Aside from never camping with my husband before, there was one other big change to the camping of years ago. Back in those days, I wasn’t zero waste. I wasn’t even plastic-free. (I did always bring my recyclables home for recycling, at least.)

How would we manage?

Well, I like a challenge, and I don’t like to admit defeat. The suggestion from my husband that I possibly entertain the idea of bringing a tin of tomatoes on the trip almost ended in divorce (okay, I exaggerate, but there was heated discussion from both sides).

I’m pleased to say, despite the doubt, that zero waste camping is not nearly as hard as you might think. We had a great time, with only one mishap (which I’ll tell you about at the end). I suspect this will be the first of many trips!

What I Learned from our Zero Waste Camping Trip

Before I start, I want to point out that this was a regular camping trip, and we had a car for transport. We were in a National Park with no facilities, so we did have to bring all of our own food and water. We weren’t backpacking, however, and we didn’t have to carry anything very far.

What you don’t have, you can borrow.

There was a lot of equipment that we didn’t own, and I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to borrow. In the end, we had far more offers than we needed. Our friends and family were more than willing to lend us their gear.

I wonder if it’s because people who go camping really love camping, and want others to experience that same enjoyment; or whether it’s because camping equipment doesn’t get used terribly often and people like to maximize the value by letting others use it too.

Either way, it saved us having to source a heap of things we might have only used once. Now we know we’ll go again, we will probably invest in a couple of things – a second sleeping bag would be good!

We’re also clear on what things weren’t useful and would be a waste to purchase.

You need to be (slightly more) organized.

Camping always tests organization skills, particularly when you have to supply all of your food and water. Zero waste definitely adds another element to that, because there is no easy solution to add packets of “convenience foods” as reserve.

That doesn’t mean to say it’s complicated. In fact, all it took was a little bit of meal planning. Thinking about the kinds of foods that were easy to cook in a pan on a stove (pasta, rice, couscous) and what could accompany them (vegetables and condiments). Thinking about what could be eaten without cooking (crackers, fruit, avocado). And of course, thinking about zero waste snacks (nuts, chocolate).

Rather than the tin of tomatoes, I made a jar of pesto to take with us and we used that to make pasta sauce. Crisis (and waste) averted!

You will eat real food (which is far more satisfying anyway, and much better for you)

I’m referring to the point above. The trouble with bringing all that pre-packaged processed food for emergencies is that “I-can’t-actually-be-bothered-to turn-on-the-stove” becomes the emergency, and all the packets of goodness-knows-what are opened in lieu of eating proper actual food. Zero waste camping eliminates this.

Because there is more planning, there is actual food to eat, and even extra actual food for emergencies. Ultimately this means better meals and infinitely better nourishment – which makes the whole trip far more enjoyable. It’s not like we’re too busy doing other stuff to cook anyway – we’re in a forest in the middle of nowhere!

You will pack (a little) more stuff

That’s always the trade-off with zero waste versus minimalism: you need (slightly more) stuff. No disposable anything meant more containers. Because everything needed to be sealed and airtight, this meant tins, glass jars and Pyrex, which is far more bulky than disposable plastic packaging.

Still, we had a car, we didn’t have to carry anything and it created no waste, so it was worth it.

You’ll be bringing everything home with you

Everything we took with us, except the food we actually ate, came home with us. When we were packing the car it was a bit of a mission to get everything to fit, and we were thinking at least there will be less on the way home – but actually, there wasn’t much difference. Containers don’t collapse or reduce in size when they are empty like packets do.

Actually, this doesn’t matter at all – how many times did I opt for the single-use convenience option in the past, I wonder? It’s ironic that  heading out to spend time in nature is often accompanied by unsustainable and environmentally damaging choices.

I’m glad that I make better choices now. The only rubbish we generated was food waste, which we collected and composted at home.

There were plenty of other highlights, of course. Spending time in nature, the fresh air, the exercise and the mindfulness of it all. Discovering that my husband and I are completely compatible at camping – hurrah (tinned tomatoes aside)! Realising that 5 years is way to long (we’ve already planned two more trips).

The mishap that I referred to earlier? The last afternoon, it began to rain… and it didn’t stop until we left. It didn’t spoil our day – there was a camp kitchen area with shelter, so we used that. The tent roof didn’t let a drop of water in (which was a relief since it’s been unused for so long).

In fact, on the final morning when we woke up, my husband and I were marvelling at our tent’s ability to stay dry, when my husband put his hand on the tent floor – to discover that there was a flood directly underneath the tent. We were sitting in 2 inches of water, separated only by a thin layer of tent, and anything in contact with the floor was wet (luckily, our roll mats protected us)!

Needless to say we were up, packed and heading back home remarkably quickly that morning (and thankful that we had remained dry and warm throughout)! Ah, the joys of camping ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you go camping, and if so, what are your essentials? What have you learned to do without? How do you try to minimize your waste when you take trips? Does the idea of zero waste camping seem like too much of a struggle? Does the thought of all the equipment and organization required put you off? Or are you a pro at packing – in which case, do you have any tips to share? What’s your best camping mishap story?! Please tell me your thoughts (and stories) in the comments below!