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Zero waste gardening: turning lawn into food, starting with compost

This year, I’m turning my attention to transforming my garden from lawn into (a version of a) food forest. Think fruit trees, veggies, herbs and edible natives. If you’re new here, you might not know that I moved house last October: away from my previous place with its shared community garden, to a new space… and my very own backyard.

(And front yard. And verge. So much potential.)

Any old posts you’ve read will be about that previous place. Now, I’m starting again from scratch. Almost literally, as the new garden is about a blank a canvas as you can get.

Well, if that blank canvas was covered in lawn, perhaps.

There’s a few reasons why I want to spend more time in the garden this year. Yes, gardening is fun, and yes, there is nothing tastier than food you grow yourself. But it’s more than that.

You might have heard people talking about ‘resilience’ in the face of the growing climate crisis: growing food is something that we can do to be more resilient.

Even if it’s a few pot plants on a window sill.

Knowing how to grow food is a useful skill to have, and being able to share with your community is a great way to strengthen it. That’s resilience.

Then there’s the fact that the all of the screen time and the news can be overwhelming. I felt it more and more last year, and I need to find more space to truly switch off. Gardens can be that space.

As for writing about it… Well, I think there is always opportunity to talk about gardening from a zero waste perspective: avoiding plastic packaged products and synthetic chemicals, making do, re-using and repurposing, and the best one of all: sharing.

Plus there is rarely (never?) a single right way to do something. I want to share what I do and why, and generate discussion and no doubt more good ideas!

And as I have a blank canvas, I thought it would be a good opportunity to document my progress over the year. Maybe there will be some examples of ‘setting goals and smashing them’ or more likely it will be about troubleshooting and dealing with things when they don’t go to plan. Ahem. (Which option has your vote?)

Here are the ‘before’ pictures (back yard, and front yard):

And… here’s the plan. By December, I’m hoping going to have most of the lawn removed, some fruit trees in, a native verge and vegetables planted. That’s in twelve month’s time. I think that’s doable ;)

(Don’t worry, I’m not suddenly turning this into a gardening blog! I’m going to post an update once a month throughout the year, talking through the choices I’ve made and showing you – I hope! – some progress. There’s plenty of other things on waste, reducing plastic and sustainability that I still want to talk about. It won’t be all plants!)

Creating an edible garden from scratch:

Month 1: starting with the soil

Soil might sound incredibly boring, but that is where I’m beginning. Not with plants, not even with plans, but with soil.

Of course, what I really want to do is go to a garden centre and buy ALL the plants (because that is the fun part of gardening). But without knowing where they are going to go, and without good soil to plant them in, any plants I plant aren’t going to thrive.

I live in Perth, Western Australia. It’s basically a city built on a giant sandpit. The grey gutless sands of the Swan coastal plain (as they are less-than fondly called) are officially among the worst in the world. Possibly even the worst.

They are also extremely old, meaning they are nutrient poor.

This is what lurks just beneath the lawn:

I learnt to garden in the UK. There, you could pop anything in the ground at the right time of year and it would take off. Sadly, do the same in this soil, and your plants get smaller and smaller until they disappear altogether. (Well, except the local native plants of course – but I want to grow edible Western vegetables like broccoli for the mostpart.)

If I lived somewhere else, soil might not be my priority. Here in Perth, it has to be.

(Thinking about my long term goal of creating an edible garden, it’s not that soil comes ahead of planning, but soil and compost take time to create. Starting to think about soil now means that there’s composting happening whilst the planning of where the compost – and the plants – will go begins.)

First task, set up the compost bins and fill them up.

The very first thing I did when I moved was dig in the compost bin. Before I’d unpacked much more than the kettle. There was no way any of my food scraps were going in the landfill bin!

(If you’d like tips on getting started, I’ve previously written about how to set up a successful compost bin).

The thing about creating good soil is that you need a lot of compost.

How to create better compost, quickly:

Just putting the food scraps of two people in this bin would take forever to fill. And so, I gathered other ‘waste’ from different places to fill my compost bin.

  • I collected some bags of spent coffee grounds from a local cafe (most cafes do this – either proactively by putting ‘free’ compost by the door, or if you ask);
  • I was connected (via a request that came to a local community garden) with a guy making homebrew who has a 20 litre bucket full of spent grain every few weeks;
  • I’ve been given bags of shredded paper from an office (shredded paper gums up the recycling and isn’t meant to go in our kerbside recycling bins);
  • A friend with chickens has filled up some buckets with chicken manure and straw;
  • I persuaded by next-door neighbour’s lawnmower man to leave the grass clippings on my lawn for me to compost;
  • I rescued some tree prunings awaiting the verge green waste collection and shredded them (I invested in a second-hand shredder, so much fun);
  • I spotted another neighbour raking leaves to throw in the bin and gave him a bucket to fill for my compost;
  • I’ve updated my address on sharewaste.com to receive food scraps from neighbours – no takers yet but I’m sure they will come.

One bin quickly filled up, and I’ve now set up four bins. Two at the back, and two at the front. The two at the front are accessible for the neighbours to pop in their excess waste.

(FYI – I got all my compost bins second-hand, and three of them were free. Two were gifts, one was a score from my local Buy Nothing group and one I purchased via Gumtree.)

What’s so great about compost?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

Good soil is a mix of organic matter, water, minerals, sand, clay, insects and microorganisms all supporting one another and helping plants to grow. Too much clay and the soil gets waterlogged; too much sand and the water drains away too quickly.

My soil is almost entirely sand. There’s next-to-no clay, and very little organic matter. Adding compost increases the organic matter, improves the soil structure and holds water in the soil, allowing nutrients to dissolve. It creates an environment for insects and microorganisms to thrive, and plants to grow.

If you think about nature, trees and bushes and plants are dropping leaves and small branches all the time. These leaves sit above the roots and break down (compost) in situ. They protect the soil from the sun, and trap moisture when rain falls. Animals come to eat berries and add manure to the tree roots. That’s composting, the way nature does it.

And if you think of most urban gardens, there are very few trees. If any leaves drop, they are usually raked up and not allowed to return to the soil. Lawn might look green – although it takes a lot of water and nutrients to keep it that way – but underneath, there’s not much going on.

Compost bins are replicating and speeding up what happens in nature, and providing that same resource to be added to the soil. With compost that we create ourselves, we get to choose where it goes and how we use it.

Compost does add nutrients to the soil, but it tends not to be nutrient-rich (most bags of compost will have slow-release fertilizer added for this reason). You only get out what you put in – so if your compost is made up of shredded paper, dry leaves and grass clippings, it will be teaming with life (microbes and insects) but won’t be high in nutrients.

This is fine when you’re growing flowers, or plants that don’t need a lot of nutrients, but isn’t so great for ‘hungry’ plants like vegetables – especially if you’d like a good crop.

If you’re composting food scraps, coffee grounds and adding seaweed and manure, it’s going to be better – but with the hungriest crops there may still be a need to add more nutrients (especially in nutrient-poor soils like mine).

For now, I’m not worried about the specifics of the soil. I haven’t planned exactly what I’m planting where, so my compost is for the basics: adding carbon, retaining water, and supporting life.

Up next: planning out the garden (and designing for the climate).

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have compost bins, and how do you use your compost? Do you utilize any interesting ‘waste’ when filling up your bins? Do you live in Perth and struggle with overcoming the sandpit? Anything you’d like to know more about? Please share in the comments below!

Food is free: 8 ideas for where to find it and how to share it

I’m a big believer that the most important part of zero waste isn’t the stuff you buy or the things you use – it is the connections that you make with others.

Ultimately, as a society, if we want to waste less then we need to share more. The more connected we are, the more we can participate in sharing – be it receiving or giving.

I’ve talked about the sharing of ‘stuff’ often (and it’s a big part of what my book Less Stuff is about). Today I wanted to talk about something different that we can share – food – and just some of the many ways that people are already sharing food with others in their community.

Food goes to waste in lots of ways. It might go unpicked on a tree or in a garden bed, or it might be picked but then not used before it begins to go bad. We might buy more than we need, change our plans or our minds, decide we don’t like something we purchased and so let food we have go to waste.

The following community initiatives all exist to help those with not enough have access to what they do need, and those with too much/excess to share what they have. Everyone wins.

Buy Nothing Project

It might be possible to write a waste-related post and not include the Buy Nothing project, but today is not that day. It’s one of the best neighbourhood sharing networks I’ve ever joined. The Buy Nothing project is a global network of community neighbourhood groups that use Facebook Groups to connect members.

It’s only possible to join one group – the one where you live. The vision for the network is ‘buy nothing, give freely, share creatively’, and members can give, lend or take from other members (no swapping, selling or bartering is permitted).

A lot of the items are of course not food, but it’s by go-to resource for finding excess lemons, and I’ve also found avocados, lemongrass, oranges, limes, opened jars of peanut butter, other unopened grocery items and more.

Website buynothingproject.org

Little Free Pantries

You might have heard of Little Free Libraries… well, Little Free Pantries have taken this concept and applied it to food and household items: neighbours helping neighbours.

They are designed to provide better food access to those less able to meet their everyday food needs, but everyone is welcome to provide or take food as they need. It removes the hierarchy associated with food charities, and there is no need to ‘register’.

Their website not only has a map of where the existing Little Free Pantries are located (if you’d like to donate items), but lots of information for setting up your own including detailed plans for actually building a pantry.

Website: littlefreepantry.org

Community Fridges

These refrigerators are located in public spaces, enabling food to be shared with the community – anyone can put food in or take it out – with the goal of reducing food waste, and also enabling those in hardship easy access to fresh food. The first Community Fridges were set up in Germany in 2012.

They are like Little Free Pantries with electricity – meaning that they can offer chilled products, but are more tricky to establish (needing an electricity supply, for a start).

Unlike the Little Free Pantry, there isn’t one overarching network for the fridges, and they sometimes go by different names.

Freedge is a good starting point if you’re in North America, South America or Europe. Website: freedge.org

In Spain they’re called Nevera Solidaria, or Solidarity Fridges. Website: neverasolidaria.org

In the UK, a national network of Community Fridges has been set up by the environmental charity Hubbub with a goal of 100 open Fridges by 2020. Website: hubbub.org.uk

Grow Free carts

Started in Australia and now expanding overseas, this growing network of sharing carts offers free home-grown produce including eggs, jams and chutney, seeds and seedlings. Some carts also offer empty glass jars, old plant pots and egg boxes for reuse.

Some carts are available 24/7, and others have ‘opening hours’ (my local one, pictured above, is only open on weekends). Many local groups use Facebook to detail exact open hours and also what the cart has from day to day/week to week.

Everything is free, and they have the motto “take what you need, give what you can.’

Website: growfree.org.au

(I’m planning on setting up my own Grow Free cart in the next month or so. I’ve sourced a suitable cart – a baby change table on wheels from my Buy Nothing group – and will be posting shortly on how it goes.)

Food Swap / Crop Swap groups

These are informal neighbourhoods groups of people sharing their excess food and produce through recurring events (often weekly, fortnightly or monthly). They run under a few different names, including Grow Swap Share groups and Crop Swap groups, and they all run slightly differently.

Even if you’re not currently growing anything it can be fun to go along and find out who’s growing what in your area, and get to know your community.

Website foodswapnetwork.com (or try cropswap.sydney for a great list of Australian groups)

Fallen Fruit

A map of urban fruit trees and other edibles that is open for anyone to edit. Listings include public orchards and community plantings, trees or shrubs on public or council land, and those on private land. Run by volunteers as a not-for-profit initiative.

Website fallingfruit.org

Ripe Near Me

A map of locally grown food that allows both the public to add any fruit trees growing on public land, or home gardeners and growers to list their surplus (which they can either offer for free or charge a small amount). 

Website ripenear.me

Olio Ex

There are plenty of apps helping reduce food waste, but Olio is one that is completely free, allowing shops, cafes and households to list excess food and share it with neighbours.

Website: olioex.com (app available on Android or Apple)

I’m sure I have only touched the surface of all the great ways that people are sharing surplus food, strengthening neighbourhood ties and connecting community. But I’m also sure that there is something here for all of us. Whether you want to drop some tins at your local Little Free Pantry, download the Olio app, set up a Grow Free cart, check out fruit trees in your nihbourhood or join a local Crop Swap group, the best thing about all of these ideas is that you can start today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Which one (or two!) ideas resonate most with you? What will you do to take action? Are you already involved in one of these and can you share your experience? Do you know of any other great initiatives I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tis the season of ‘stuff’: what to do with (and where to donate) gifts you don’t need

I know we haven’t actually got to Christmas Day yet, but I’m writing this now because plenty of gifts (and other things you don’t need) are given before Christmas Day. And if you can, passing it on before Christmas Day means it’s more likely to be wanted (and used) than if you wait until January, when everyone is trying to pass on stuff they don’t need.

Last weekend, I was given a Santa-themed gift bag with a couple of boxes of chocolates by my 92-year-old grandfather-in-law. Despite the fact he doesn’t like gifts himself and insists not to be given anything, he seems to like to give stuff, and every year I receive a similar bag of stuff.

First, I give the gift bag away. As soon as I get home. If I can gift to someone before Christmas, it will get reused immediately. Otherwise it’s got to face a year in storage where it might get bent, chewed or otherwise damaged, and then likely forgotten about anyways.

I almost always give the ‘treats’ away. They tend not to be things that I would eat, high in sugar, dairy and palm oil and covered in plastic. Depending on the year I’ve taken to workplaces, given away on Buy Nothing or donated to a Food Bank collection.

No, I don’t feel bad. People give gifts because they enjoy the act of giving. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep things I don’t want or don’t need. There is no obligation to keep things, and letting go of feeling like there is has been great for my stress levels and mental health.

Instead, I try to make sure these things go to places where they will be used.

If I know someone else wants and will use them, that is the best outcome – for me, for them, and for the planet. (It helps stop others buy new stuff, as they can reuse stuff that already exists.)

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

It’s definitely best to get rid of this stuff before Christmas than after. If you get something you don’t really like, you don’t need to think that you ‘should’ use it as a token gesture this year. Pass it on to someone who loves it and let it be appreciated!

Where to pass on items:

Facebook groups: including Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing groups, the Good Karma Network, Pay It Forward groups and no doubt plenty more.

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like nextdoor.com.

Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues: it’s worth mentioning to people you know that you have things they might want or need.

Gift Food Items

As well as all the places mentioned above, consider donating food items to Food Banks. you’ll often find deposit points spring up in supermarkets and shopping centres this time of year. If you can’t find one, here are some contact details:

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

If the item is something that Food Banks won’t accept, such as homemade preserves or a box of chocolates that you opened to try before deciding you didn’t like them after all, consider trying to pass on via a food waste app like olioex.com.

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

(Recent offers on my local Buy Nothing group include Red Rooster small hot chips, delivered by accident – sadly no takers but only because they went cold before anyone saw the post – and some half-eaten room temperature blue cheese, which was snapped up. Not. Even. Kidding. And good for them for not feeling weird about giving or receiving said cheese! Don’t be scared to give it a try!)

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

I often wonder how many gift sets like this are purchased and never used every year. But I probably don’t want to know. Rather than letting stuff like this languish in the bathroom for the next year, if you’re not going to use it, give it away.

As well as the options listed above, consider donating unopened toiletries to homeless organisations and women’s refuges. Bear in mind that refuges won’t list their actual addresses online, but they will let you know how to donate items.

If you’re in Perth, Ruah Community Services are currently in need of unopened toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Ruah Centre, 33 Shenton Street, Northbridge on Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 4:00pm.

If you’re not in Perth, a quick internet search will help you find a service local to you.

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but try to resist giving anything to the charity shop unless you know for sure (because you’ve spoken to someone who works at your local charity shop this week) that they want what you have. Charity shops get inundated with stuff in the three months after Christmas as everyone tries to ‘declutter’ their unwanted stuff guilt-free.

Thing is, who is actually shopping at the charity shop in January? Not most people. They just got a heap of stuff for Christmas!

The combination of more stuff than usual and less customers than usual is a recipe for landfill.

There are plenty of people who want your stuff and will be able to use it. Rather than hoping they will pass by the charity shop and spot your stuff in there, donate your items directly to those in need of them.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and giving. So give away what you won’t use, make another person happy, save some resources and take a little pressure of the planet. Wins all round :)

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!

6+ Zero Waste Plastic-Free Snack Ideas

This week, I’m talking snacks. Specifically, zero waste snacks that you can make at home. If you have access to a bulk store, then you’ll have access to heaps of delicious plastic- and packaging-free snacks. For example, we can buy vegetable crisps, flavoured nuts, rice crackers, protein balls, and chocolate-coated everything (not to mention chocolate itself).

If you don’t have access to a bulk store, then this is not the least bit helpful. I realise that!

Rather than bore you all (or make you jealous) by telling you how wonderful bulk stores are, I’m going to focus on things that you can do and snacks that you can make without access to a bulk store. Level playing fields for all!

Zero Waste Snacks: Fresh Fruit

I know, I know. Boring! But also very good for you. Extremely easy to find without packaging.

Zero Waste Snacks: Fruit with Extras

I get it. You don’t want fruit. You want chocolate. You want something satisfying. I hear you.

But fruit is very versatile, and can easily be jazzed up. One of my favourite things to make fruit a little more filling (and tasty) is to slather it with nut butter. Apple slices spread with almond butter is the best. (If you’re allergic to nuts, or want a cheaper option, consider seed butters.)

Literally, nut and seed butters are just blended nuts or seeds. The natural oils are released with the friction, so there’s no need to add anything else. Generally toasted (and cooled) nuts will blend better than raw ones, so unless you have a super fancy blender, stick to toasted.

Another favourite is chopping bananas into rounds, and filling two rounds with peanut butter to make a sandwich.

Talking of bananas, I’ve also seen them peeled, dipped into chocolate (maybe half the length) and then nuts, seeds, coconut or other sprinkles used as a topping.

Orange segments, strawberries and raspberries can also be dipped in chocolate (assuming you can find berries packaging-free).

Zero Waste Snacks: Nice Cream

“Nice cream” is often used to describe vegan ice cream, but actually it’s not really ice cream – nothing so complicated. It’s actually just blended frozen fruit, which makes a soft-serve sorbet / ice cream that is eaten straightaway..

This one is mango and banana. A spoonful of nut butter or coconut butter adds a bit of creaminess. Literally take frozen fruit out of the freezer, and blend. Then, eat. So refreshing on a hot day!

Another favourite “nice cream” combo of mine is chocolate banana peanut butter : literally 2 frozen bananas, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 2 tbsp peanut butter, blended. Yum.

Zero Waste Snacks: Vegetables

Yes, vegetables can be a snack. Carrots, capsicum, cucumber, radish, celery can all be chopped into crudites – although I tend to just chomp on carrots as they are. If you’ve got a dip (such as hummus – see my recipe here) all the better, but they can be good on their own. Pesto and even peanut butter (yes, carrots and peanut butter are a “thing”) also make good dips.

Broccoli has to be my favourite vegetable ever. I could eat bowlfuls of it… and I do. I like to fry it on a high heat so it chars a little, then add a big squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of tahini and mix together. Yum.

If you’ve never made kale chips, you are missing a trick. Yes, they look green and a little too healthy, but actually they are oily and salty and very tasty. I add to a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and bake in the oven on a low temperature (100ºC) for about 30 minutes.

(The low temp dries them out whilst keeping them green. If the oven is too high they will dry out and be ready quicker, but they will also be brown – not nearly so attractive.)

We don’t buy potato chips as they don’t come without packaging. Sometimes as a treat we’ll make a bowl of roast potatoes (chopped into small cubes and roasted to increase the crispy surface area) and snack on them. Probably not the healthiest option, but potato chips aren’t exactly either!

Vegetable peels also make great potato chips / crisps. I don’t tend to peel my veggies often (who can be bothered?!) But sometimes a recipe calls for peeling. If that’s the case I give the veggies a good scrub, peel and then put the veggies in a bowl with a small amount of olive oil. Mix, lay out of a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 mins or so, turning half way through.

This works for most veggie peels: potato, carrot and parsnip are my favourite (and the tastiest), but beetroot peels and sweet potato peels also work.

Zero Waste Snacks: Other Crunchy, Salty Things

When I crave snacks, it’s not necessarily that I’m hungry. (Usually I’m procrastinating!) Often I just want something crunchy and salty. For me, my go-to option is popcorn.

Even if you can’t buy popcorn from a bulk store and without packaging, a 500g bag of popping corn will make a LOT of popcorn. If you were to buy that many packets of pre-popped popcorn or even potato chips, the waste would be enormous. Even if it comes in plastic, popcorn is a very low-waste snack.

I always make mine in a saucepan. Heat enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat the kernels (but not so much it covers them) and heat until the kernels begin to pop. Rather than use a saucepan lid, I use a tea towel to stop the popcorn pinging out of the pan. Whilst popcorn is doing its thing, it releases a lot of steam. I find with a saucepan lid the moisture condenses and drips back onto the popcorn – cue soggy popcorn. The tea towel allows the steam to escape and gives you crispy popcorn. Hurrah!

(As soon as the popping slows down, take the pan off the heat, otherwise the popcorn will burn. You can always save unpopped kernels for next time.)

Roasted chickpeas are another snack I make. I tend to buy chickpeas in bulk and cook them up a couple of kilos at a time, so I’ll often make a batch of these. If you have access to dried chickpeas, either in bulk or in large bags, this is a great option. If you can only buy the tins, I probably wouldn’t bother (you’ll end up with way more packaging than snack). You can find my roasted chickpea recipe here.

Zero Waste Snacks: Really Simple Making & Baking

When I think of snacks, I think of something quick and easy. Baking is great, and I love it, but it often requires a little time. However, there are a few things that you can pull together and bake very quickly, so I’ve included a couple of ideas.

Bliss balls are the first option. All you need is a blender or food processor. They are typically made from nuts and dates blended together and rolled into balls. The less ingredients the better, in my view.

These are macadamias, shredded coconut, rice malt syrup and the juice and rind of a couple of lemons. Macadamias, dates and fresh ginger are also a great combo. And anything chocolate-flavoured, of course. Simply google “bliss balls” and you will find millions of options.

Cookies are another simple, low fuss baking solution, and 84th & 3rd’s 3 ingredient emergency cookies are a great zero waste option, requiring oats (these can be bought in cardboard only if not in bulk), pears and chocolate. You can substitute the pear for banana, switch the chocolate for nuts, add a couple of spoonfuls of nut butter to increase the flavour.

I’m not going to delve into full-on baking in this post, but of course, your imagination is your only limitation. Don’t be afraid to google recipes, or even inspiration for single ingredients and see what the internet has to offer. Or even better, experiment!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite zero waste and plastic-free snacks? Any recipes that you’d recommend? Any tips and tricks to share? Any particular struggles that you have? I’d love to know more so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Food Diary (Part 1): Mealtimes

I get asked about this a lot and I’ve been intending to write about this for ages: the kinds of things I eat in a typical week. I confess, I tend to get stuck in a rut of eating the same 5-7 meals week in, week out until inspiration strikes again. (Can anyone else relate to that?)

Even though there is a whole plethora of things I love to eat, my brain seems to forget them all save a few. Then I’ll glance on a long-forgotten recipe, and that will become the new staple for a couple of months, and something else will fall off the list.

So what I’ve shared below isn’t a typical week, so much as a collection of the kinds of things we eat.

I don’t tend to meal plan, at least not week by week. We get a veg box delivered once a fortnight (from The Organic Collective) and we never know exactly what we are going to get. We also have a veggie garden that does not ripen according to any meal-planning schedule. Fortunately, I do have a knack for being able to whip up a meal even when my husband assures me that there is simply nothing to eat in the house.

Organic Collective Veg Box

The veg box arrives on a Tuesday, and I’ll open it up to see what we have and make a rough meal plan in my head for the next fortnight. There will be things that I need to buy to supplement what I want to make. I also tend to buy avocados (we eat a LOT of avocados; grateful they grow here in WA), mushrooms, onions, garlic and tomatoes from the store fairly regularly to supplement the box.

In my veggie garden there is always a variety of greens, plenty of herbs, chillis and some seasonal vegetables. (I recorded a garden tour video last week for my Patreon page; you’ll get access to this and additional content if you become a member.)

Garden Pickings

Sometimes I make my own sourdough, but recently we’ve been buying bread from Escape and Rebellion, a local microbakery. My bulk goods come from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically the Vic Park store), which has everything I could ever need… and plenty of things I don’t but that I buy anyway (hello, enormous and delicious chocolatey section.)

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Breakfast

Porridge is one of our staple breakfasts. I cook the oats on a very low temperature with water, and stir through a little cashew milk as soon as I’ve taken it off the heat. I often add hemp seeds, chia seeds or flax seeds. Sometimes I add fruit: chopped banana or mulberries (when in season).

Toast comes and goes as a breakfast item. I don’t think it’s really that healthy; but it’s easy, and since we discovered the new microbakery we have been eating it a little more. We generally top our toast with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of hemp seeds.

Muesli is another breakfast basic. I make my own using this no sugar muesli recipe. Sometimes I’ll use it as a topper for porridge or a smoothie if I want some extra crunch.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls tend to be more a summer thing than a winter one. Smoothie bowls are simply smoothies that are thick enough to eat with a spoon. Adding half an avocado and a few spoonfuls of nut butter helps bulk it out.

It is worth noting that I am a huge fan of leftovers, and will quite often have leftovers for breakfast: salad, rice and vegetables, etc.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Lunchtime / Light Meals

It is actually quite hard to distinguish between lunch and dinner in our household, as lunch usually consists of last night’s dinner or other leftovers. We don’t tend to eat sandwiches or wraps or other lunchtime-y things.

One of the reasons I don’t love having bread in the house is that it is all too easy to have toast for lunch as well as breakfast. Sometimes we will have bruchetta at the weekends, but not often during the week.

Great things to put on bread / bruschetta (aside from avocado): dips (hummus especially), pesto, fresh tomatoes, fresh mashed broad beans, lots of herbs.

Dips are really easy to make from scratch. I make hummus often (you can find my hummus recipe here). To make beetroot hummus I simply add finely grated beetroot to the regular hummus recipe (both raw and cooked beetroot work). Hummus freezes really well, so make more than you need and freeze the rest.

To eat I either slather on toast, chop up veggies to make crudites or make my own sourdough crackers.

Salads tend to be a side serve rather than a meal in themselves, unless it’s a 40 degree day. Salads do not have to be boring. If they are insipid and without any flavour or substance, it just means you will spend all afternoon eating chocolate.

I’m a big fan of a colourful salad, but I also like making green salads where the only ingredients can be green. This can include: lettuce, kale, pan-fried broccoli, lots of herbs (ideas include coriander, parsley, Thai basil and mint – probably not all at once!), cucumber, green capsicum/pepper, green jalapenos, avocado. I always add some kind of fat (avocado, nuts and/or seeds) and try to include different textures. Capers add a bit of punch.

For salad dressing I add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar and a drizzle of tahini.

Colourful salads can contain everything! Don’t be afraid to add apple or pear, strawberries (which go amazingly with tomato) or mango to a salad. Roasted vegetables that have cooled are a great addition too (think butternut squash, sweet potato, beetroot). Always add some kind of crunchy topping – nuts or seeds, even croutons.

I often eat salad with a side of quinoa. Generally I mix it all up in the bowl, but here I was being all fancy-like. It’s simply green lettuce, cucumber, avocado, roasted zucchini, quinoa, roasted carrots, olives, chickpeas and sauerkraut (DIY sauerkraut recipe here).

Soup is another lunch option. I tend to like soup that only has one or two vegetables in it (rather than generic chunky veg soup), so it tends to be made if I have a glut of something. I often have a corn cob with soup for lunch, and have been known to use soup as a pasta sauce.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Dinnertime / Heavier Meals

I take a lot of my inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi. The man is a vegetable-cooking genius, and he is not even vegetarian! An Israeli-Italian living in London, he knows how to use vegetables, pulses and beans to create filling, tasty, flavourful dishes. I own a couple of his cookbooks (and as a minimalist, that’s saying something!)

Some of his recipes can be a little fiddly but most are easily adaptable. If you’re unsure how to get started with vegetarian cooking, or using chickpeas and other pulses, I’d recommend his books Plenty and Plenty More (check your library).

These falafels are not from Ottolenghi, but it’s the kind of thing you’d find in his books. (I suspect he has a recipe somewhere.) After struggling to make falafels several times, I’ve finally nailed a recipe and these have become a staple in our house.

(Back when I lived in the UK, before I went plastic-free / zero waste, I used to eat a lot of falafels. They came in a hard plastic tub, with a plastic film lid, then with a cardboard outer. You’d get 8 in a pack. I bought them often. Cringe!)

I almost always serve with roasted cauliflower (not tried roasted cauliflower? You’re missing a trick!) and a rice salad which I’ve talked about below.

This rice salad definitely draws inspiration from Ottolenghi: he has a bunch of salads that look like this. I’ve made most of them over the years: these days I follow a general formula rather than a recipe as such. As a minimum I cook white rice, lentils (usually puy lentils) and quinoa. I cook all three separately and combine when cooled). I’ll thinly slice and fry onions until caramelised. Then I add heaps of herbs (coriander, parsley and mint tend to be the ones I have; I don’t necessarily use all but at least two). Finally I add something for sweetness (pomegranate, cape gooseberries, dried cherries) and something for crunch (roasted almonds, occasionally pine nuts).

Sometimes I’ll add wild rice, or use red rice instead of white rice. The puy lentils can be switched for beluga lentils, or green lentils, or even chickpeas. I’ll use spinach or mizuna lettuce instead / as well as herbs. Sometimes I add cumin or lemon zest. I find it pretty flexible.

I also make an enormous bowl and we tend to eat it for lunch and dinner for a few days.

We also eat a lot of stir-fries and one-pot vegetable dishes. This one below was inspired by Ottolenghi – I didn’t have half of the ingredients, but had similar things so I looked at the picture and made my own version. It’s white sweet potato (pre-cooked) fried in a pan with onion, chard and chickpeas, and lots of lemon juice.

More vegetable one-pot meals: this would be the kind of filling I’d use for baked potatoes or sweet potatoes – topped with avocado and drizzled with tahini.

This is literally a use-up-whats-in-the-fridge meal. I used two pans to try and keep the flavours different and make it a bit more interesting.

We eat pasta occasionally, usually with a tomato-based sauce (we chop up fresh tomatoes), or with pesto (made with herbs from the garden) or a creamy sauce made with avocado. This is chopped greens (kale, spinach and parsley), fried in garlic, drizzled in lemon juice and mixed with some pesto.

We also eat a lot of dahl (which is basically Indian spiced cooked lentils). I tend to use yellow lentils for this. I first made dahl using Nigel Slater’s recipe way back when. I still use it as a base recipe, but mess around with the spices, or add coconut milk (probably not a very dahl thing to do) or add lots of kale.

Usually I don’t mix dahl with rice, but this was a case of reheating leftovers and only wanting to wash one saucepan.

Roast vegetables are a winter staple in our house. I roast a lot of butternut squash and other pumpkins, sweet potato, beetroot, carrots. Once roasted I use in salads, as a side, or with puy lentils to make a more filling dish. Alternatively I used leftover roast veggies to make soup, or add to hummus.

I have a guilty pleasure of roasting actual potatoes and then eating out of a bowl as a snack.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t a complete food diary of what I eat in a week – rather I’ve tried to show you as many ideas as possible. There’s plenty more I could talk about. Plant foods are so versatile, it is truly impossible to run out of inspiration!

In part 2 I’m going to be talking about zero waste snacks: in particular, snacks to eat when you don’t have access to a bulk store. Until then, I’d love to hear from you! What are your go-to zero waste meals? Any quick and easy ones you recommend? Or anything that takes a bit of effort but is totally worth it? Any flavour or ingredient combos you love? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!