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Why “Guilt” Has No Place in the Zero Waste Lifestyle

Why do I love the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle? Well, there are lots of reasons, but a big one is this: knowing that every single day I can make a difference and have a positive impact. Every single day I have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it.

We all do.

This is something we can all be excited about, and embrace.

There are so many things in the world that are out of our control. Decisions we have little or no influence over. Policies or actions we cannot change. Despite this, we do have the ability to look at our own personal choices.

We all have some influence, even if it is at the household level. We have control of our own personal actions, and we can do the best we can.

We can choose carefully, considerately, and deliberately. We can do our best.

And that is something to feel really good about.

Which means that embracing the plastic-free and/or zero waste lifestyle should be something we feel good about.

Yet all too often, those good vibes are mixed in with something else.

Guilt.

How is it that doing something good can make us feel guilty?

Because it shouldn’t. Yet it does.

For me, I think guilt comes from falling short of “perfect”.

We can strive for improvement. We can aim for better. Indeed, setting goals and working towards improving has plenty of positives.

But it can also be exhausting. We all have our limits.

Most of us will hit these limits long before we reach “perfect”. If perfect even exists.

There’s a gap between wanting to be perfect, and coming up short. This is where guilt sets in.

When it comes to living plastic-free and zero waste, guilt isn’t helpful. We want to feel good about the actions we take and choices we make. Feeling good is the best way to keep going.

Feeling guilty can be paralyzing; like it’s all too hard. Guilt can lead us to think it’s-not-good-enough-so-why-bother-anyway.

That’s not what we want at all! Something is better than nothing. Trying is better than not trying. However imperfect it may be, bothering is most definitely better than not!

Guilt is a topic I keep coming back to. I’ve talked about how being perfect is an illusion. I’ve talked about how it is important to share all the bits of zero waste living, not just the best (photogenic) bits.

There’s another aspect of guilt that I think we need to talk about. How we support one another in our imperfect choices, and the things we say. We have the power to encourage, and we have the power to deflate.

What we say, and how we say it.

It’s so easy, when we’re excited or passionate about a topic, to trip up on this. However well-meaning our intentions are. For example, someone tells us about their newly purchased reusable. And we point out that there’s a better or more ethical version. Or we tell them that it’s easy to find that same item second-hand.

We’re excited to share our knowledge. We’re excited to encourage the next steps.

But it can leave the person feeling judged and inadequate. It can make the person feel unsupported. It implies that they fell short… and that can mean guilt.

It’s not the intention, but it can be the outcome.

I had this experience recently when I threw away my old bag. I received a couple of comments, obviously well intentioned: Couldn’t I have coated the bag in wax? Couldn’t I paint it? Couldn’t I cover it with new fabric?

By this point, the bag was already in landfill. I immediately felt guilty. Guilty for not trying harder to salvage the bag.

And then I thought… no. I try really hard to reduce my waste. I rarely send anything to landfill. (This bag is the most I’ve sent to landfill in years.) I share my tips and insights, and encourage others to reduce their own waste. I do a lot already. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I never said I was perfect.

No, I should not feel guilty for not learning to sew, or researching fabric paint (that comes plastic- and packaging free).

No, I should not feel guilty for discarding one old, worn out thing; and buying one new thing in its place.

No, I should not feel guilty for not being perfect, or not putting up with something that has really served its purpose.

The point is, I did the best I could.

Don’t we all do the best we can?

In which case, shouldn’t we be cheering one another on?

Any change in the right direction is a positive, however small and imperfect it might be. When others make changes, it shouldn’t matter if it’s not the change that we would make. Let’s celebrate their achievements. There’s no need to point out the “better” choices.

There are so many people in the world oblivious to the impact of plastic on the environment, unaware of the resources wasted with single-use items, too wrapped up in the culture of convenience to realise how much it’s harming the planet. Let’s not rebuke those taking steps to do something better.

Judgement and guilt-tripping is not going to inspire anyone to keep trying. Encouragement and inclusiveness, that’s much more motivating.

Let’s be kind. We’re all in this together. We must celebrate the wins. Applaud the steps in the right direction. Cheer on any decision that’s an improvement on the previous one.

In my view, the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles are all about encouraging others to make better choices. And any step in the right direction is better than no steps at all.

Let’s not berate others for how far they’ve got to go. Let’s celebrate how far they’ve come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, I think, is a missed opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It piqued my interest.

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

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

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

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

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

I received this lovely email response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treading My Own Path Tipsy Oil Plastic Free July

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treading My Own Path Picking and Pressing Olive Oil

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

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

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

It is important to start where people are at.

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

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

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

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

Let’s start conversations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Ah, Plastic Free July is over, and we can all relax for another year! Note I said relax, and not go back to old habits! ; ) For me, Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the word, share ideas and encourage others to adopt some plastic-reducing habits, and I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at some events this July.

As well as hoping to inspire others, talking about my personal journey and digging out old photos is a great way to reflect personally on how far I’ve come, and where I hope to head next in this journey!

The talks I gave during Plastic Free July were an overview of my personal journey in living with less plastic. There was a lot to pack in, but there was a particular part my journey that stood out for me. Not because it was the most interesting, or most surprising  – in fact I’m sure my audiences didn’t see this as any more significant than anything else – but it was definitely the most significant for me.

Plastic Free Sanitary Protection

Reusable DivaCup menstrual cup, and reusable washable GladRags sanitary pad

On the left is a reusable silicone menstrual cup, and on the right is a reusable washable sanitary pad. Both things I have adopted as part of my plastic-free / zero waste journey. Why was this so significant, though? Well, for two reasons.

Keeping with the Old…and in with the New

In terms of my plastic-free journey, these two items actually represent one of the first zero-waste habits I adopted…and one of the last. I first purchased a Diva Cup back in 2003, after reading an article in a magazine. They weren’t common at all back then: I had to order it from Canada and ship it to the UK. I was heading off on a 12-month overseas trip and had read that tampons etc weren’t always easy to buy in less Westernised countries. Plus this method was less wasteful, and in the long-term saved money.

I was sold from the start, and never went back. This photo is my second one (women’s hips widen with age apparently, so women over 30 need a different size), bought far more recently and from a high street chemist – I guess times have changed for the better!

The reusable sanitary pad on the right, is something very new… probably my newest zero waste habit! Even in March, when I wrote my Plastic-Free Guide to the Bathroom, I was yet to adopt reusable sanitary pads. In fact, this pad is only one month old! Back in March, I thought they were a good idea; I just hadn’t gotten round to getting one. Now I have one (a night pad made by Gladrags) and I love it!

But rewind two years, and the very idea made me cringe. Reusable cloth pads were something for hippies, surely?!

When I think about it, this cringing doesn’t really make sense. I’ve always believed in cloth nappies for babies. My mother used cloth nappies on me – I’m not sure disposable nappies were even invented back then. Is this really that different?

Why did the idea of a reusable pad gross me out, when cloth nappies didn’t? It’s not like walking around wearing an uncomfortable plastic sheet of dubious absorb-ability that sounds like a rustling crisp packet is really that pleasant, is it?!

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Talking to my audience about reusable pads, I was reminded of the very beginning of my my own plastic-free living journey. I always talk about seeing the movie Bag it! and how it was a life-changing movie for me, but prior to that screening was a talk by a local couple who were already living plastic-free. They were real hippies, making everything from scratch and buying nothing new.

I remember the audience asking questions, and one of the responses being about reusable sanitary pads. And I remember wrinkling up my nose! Thinking, there is no way I’d ever be wearing a reusable pad! That is a step too far for me!

Oh the irony, that three years later I was standing in front of an audience extolling the virtues of those very things I had dismissed as a step too far!

The irony didn’t escape me at the time, either. How intriguing that in three years I had gone from listening to that person who seemed so different from me, whose lifestyle seemed so removed from mine, to being that very person!

I think it’s a really interesting lesson. A lesson in how we change and grow, in how much possibility there is, about how unexpected life can be. A lesson that we should be open-minded, and open to change, and just because we think we will never be a certain way, life is far more unpredictable than we expect!

The other interesting thing is that I don’t feel any different. I don’t look any different (in fact, that’s especially true as my wardrobe remains virtually unchanged in the three years that have passed!).

Yet I am very different, in the way I choose to live my life now compared to then. It’s just so ingrained now that I really can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought I wanted to leave you with is that change can be hard, yes, and change can be confronting. Change can seem so removed from where we are now that we can’t ever imagine ever actually getting there.

Yet we change all the time.

It doesn’t matter now if we think something is too hard. We can focus on the things that are easy, the things we can change and the positive steps that we can take. I didn’t write off the whole plastic-free movement because I couldn’t imagine canning my own tomatoes or using reusable sanitary pads. I just made a few changes, then a few more, and kept on going.

Somewhere along the line, I became the person I never thought I’d be…and I’m glad.

Now I want to hear from you! How have you become the person you weren’t?! Are there any habits you’ve taken up that you never would have imagined a few years ago? What habits do you still think of as a step too far?! How has plastic-free or zero-waste living changed your mindset? Are you a convert to reusable sanitary pads or do you still find the idea kinda weird?! I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Avoiding a Visit from the Plastic-Free Police

My plastic-free (and later, zero-waste) journey has been such an adventure, challenge and learning experience and brought so much enjoyment that I can’t help but want to share it with the world. There’s so much personal satisfaction that comes with discovering new (or more often, old) ways of doing things, being more mindful about the way we live our lives, and of course, reducing landfill waste!

The longer I pursue this lifestyle the better I become at avoiding plastic and generating waste… but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Of course not! It doesn’t mean I’m completely zero-waste. It doesn’t mean I’ll ever be completely zero-waste. It’s a journey, after all… and that’s the fun!

Ah, the fun. Successfully making a recipe from scratch for the first time. The jubilation of finding a new ingredient in bulk for the first time. The smugness of remembering your reusable cup, and water bottle, and cutlery, and produce bags when you actually need them. The excitement of finding someone all the way across the other side of the world who thinks the same way we do. The excitement of finding someone just down the road who thinks the same way we do!

The satisfaction of setting a personal waste-free goal and then achieving it…

That’s the thing about plastic-free and zero-waste living. It’s a very personal journey. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. People will find their own path. There is no such thing as the plastic-free police, nor the zero waste police. How can there be, when there’s no rules except the ones we choose ourselves?!

There are, however, some people out there who think they can “catch us out”. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect it’s because they don’t know the rules we’ve chosen!

To avoid any confusion, I thought I’d take the trouble to explain my personal plastic-free / zero waste living philosophy. Just to iron out any misunderstandings ; )

Here’s my “rules” for living plastic-free (and zero-waste).

Plastic-Free and Zero Waste: Some Definitions

The best place to start is to explain what I mean by these terms.

When I say “plastic-free”, what I really mean is: I-try-to-live-my-life-as-plastic-free-as-possible-but-I-don’t-claim-to-own-nothing-made-of-plastic-nor-do-I-avoid-every-single-piece-of-plastic-entering-my-home-for-example-I-still-buy-ibuprofen-and-glass-bottles-with-lids-lined-with-plastic-and-I-still-receive-items-in-the-post-in-envelopes-with-plastic-windows-and-I-still-make-mistakes-more-on-that-in-another-blog-post-but-I-really-really-really-try-my-best-to-not-purchase-anything-with-plastic-packaging-or-and-I-try-to-buy-second-hand-but-I-still-own-a-computer-and-a-collection-of-biros-and-a-reel-of-sellotape.

Now I find that rather a mouthful, so I tend to use the term “plastic-free”.

When I say “zero-waste”, this is what I actually mean: “all-that-stuff-I-said-above-except-trying-to-reduce-my-landfill-and-also-recycling-to-the-absolute-minimum-and-when-I-say-minimum-I-mean-minimum-for-me-where-I-live-now-doing-the-things-I-do-which-isn’t-the-same-minimum-as-it-would-be-if-I-lived-in-a-cave-and-wove-my-own-clothes-but-small-steps-you-know?

Again, it’s easier to say “zero waste”. I also love the term “near-o waste”, which is far more accurate (!), but I guess zero waste is the end goal. The destination. Maybe I’ll never get there.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste is Not A Competition

The next rule, it isn’t about how much better I am compared to the next person, or how much worse. As someone who hates waste, I’d far rather everyone was better than me! The only competition I have is with myself, and it’s a friendly competition as we’re on the same side ; )

Everyone’s Limits are Different

Everyone has their own set of limitations, circumstances, restrictions and other things going on in their lives, and it’s important to remember this! I’m happy to wash my hair with bicarb or rye flour, bought in bulk, and rinse with vinegar, also bought in bulk (no-poo hairwashing instructions here). It suits my curly hair. However, it doesn’t suit everyone’s hair, or everyone’s skin. Bicarb especially can be a skin irritant.

Similarly, I’m happy to forgo make-up because I just can’t be bothered trying to make it.

[Actually, I did try making mascara. It involved burning almonds, many matches, beeswax, blackened kitchen utensils, far too much washing up and plenty of swearing. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…but it’s unlikely to be part of my beauty regime]

However, I’m not prepared to go without baking paper. I’m really not sure I could get by with just one kind of baking tin, either. I love to cook, and this gives me better results. It’s staying.

I may not be winning the zero waste trophy this year, but I’ll be eating much better chocolate brownies ; )

There Will Always Be Exceptions

(See comment about living in a cave, earlier.) There are things I have chosen to buy in plastic. Yes, I call myself plastic-free and I buy things in plastic!

Ibuprofen tablets and prescription medicine (antibiotic ear drops for an ear infection), a diary refill, a kilo of hemp seeds.

I rarely buy glass jars but when I do the metal lids have plastic linings. My husband drinks cows milk and these glass bottles have the same plastic-lined lids.

The thing is, I choose to be part of the real world (for now). In the real world, plastic is everywhere. I do my absolute best to reduce what packaging and plastic I consume.

Show Don’t Preach [Or Nag, or Judge]

It’s very tempting when starting out on a zero-waste or plastic-free journey to want to tell everyone about it…and also tell everyone what they were doing wrong or what they could be doing better! Thing is, most people won’t appreciate this. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way! No-one likes to be told what to do.

Now  I try to show people how I live, help people who come to me with questions or looking for ideas, and strike up conversations where I can in the hope to inspire people to make changes to their lives. I’ve found it works far better.

Often when ideas are new to people it takes a little while before they’re ready to make changes, even when they want to. I just hope that I can plant a seed. A seed that grows into a really big tree : )

I try to keep my opinions to myself the rest of the time (it can be a challenge, and I’m not perfect!) …unless asked, of course!

Just as I’ve learned that people respond better this way, the same applies to me. Sometimes I get things wrong. Sometimes there’s a better way of doing things. I’m always open to suggestions and I love hearing about new ways of doing things, but I much prefer it when the conversation is kept friendly and positive : )

There you have it – my five rules for plastic-free (and zero-waste) living. Plastic-free police vigilante wannabes, please read this first : )

Now I’d like to hear from you! What rules do you follow? Are there any you’d like to add? Any you’d like to remove? Have you had any near-misses with voluntary members of the plastic-free police giving you their two cents?! What are the best ways you find to handle disagreements and differences in opinions? I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this so leave me a message in the comments!

What I Really Should Have Said…

Last Saturday I was the speaker at Plastic Free July‘s event here in Perth, talking about my personal journey in living with less plastic, what I’d learned and offering tips for people trying their first Plastic Free July. There was a great turnout, with plenty of newbies underway in their first Plastic Free July year, but also people who took part last year and the year before.

I love being able to talk to people about plastic-free living. I love getting out into the community, getting to know people, make real life connections and also learn and be challenged – because that’s what makes life so interesting and enjoyable!

You’d think then, that if somebody asked me why I wanted to work in waste education I’d be able to reel off the reasons. I’d be able to articulate exactly why it makes my heart sing. I’d be able to express the passion that I have for sharing not only my story, but also what I’ve learned along the way. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? As it turns out  though, when asked this question earlier today, I was only able to mumble something rather vague about being passionate about waste.

The thing is, everyone’s passionate. It’s the thing to be. People are passionate about what coffee they order in the morning. Passionate about their football team colours. Type “passionate about” in Google and the drop-down field comes up with baking, the hospitality industry, teaching, education, travel… It’s a great word, it sounds far better than “interested in” or “really like”, but it doesn’t really tell the listener anything.

I am passionate about waste. But what does that really mean? What am I failing to express with that statement?

When I talk about passion, I mean the kind of passion that gets you fired up. When I talk about waste, I become really enthusiastic, I tend to talk far too quickly and flail my arms about the place in an excited manner. The kind of passion that burns even when you’re tired or feeling lazy. I never tire of talking about waste, thinking of ways to reduce waste, wanting to discuss the topic with others, and share ideas. When it comes to waste, I’m constantly re-inspired by the things I read or see or hear.

When I talk about waste, what I really mean is reducing waste. Whilst verge collections or people buying takeaway coffee when they intend to dine in might also stir my emotions (!), my passion lies with reducing my own waste, and inspiring others to do the same. Learning ways to reduce waste, and sharing what I’ve learned, be it through talks, or writing, or on social media. Providing support and encouragement to those just starting out, and helping others onto the next part of their journey.

It doesn’t end with learning and sharing, though. What really matters to me is inspiring others to make changes. Offering alternatives and sharing solutions is part of that, but the most important thing is connecting with others. Talking to people. Getting out there into the real world, having conversations, finding out what’s important to people and helping them find ways to reduce waste that fit with their lifestyles. I’ve talked about the ripple effect before and that’s the kind of change I love being a part of. Planting a seed, or an idea, and letting it grow with someone new. It’s so satisfying to see that happen, and it makes everything worthwhile.

That’s why I’d love to work in waste education. I want to connect with others, to inspire, encourage, share and learn. I want to help people make positive changes to their lives, and reduce their waste in the process. Full lives and empty bins.

That wasn’t what I said today. I do find it much easier to get my thoughts on paper before I need to express them! Now I’ve had the chance to think about it a little more, I’ve managed to articulate what I’d have liked to say.

When I say I’m passionate about waste, this isn’t what I said, but it’s what I meant. Just for the record ; )

Now I want to hear from you! What are you passionate about? What get’s you really fired up and why? How does this passion make you feel? How would you express this – not just in words, but also your actions? I’d love to know more so and hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Minimalism: Things that I Don’t Have

One of the main lessons I’ve learned about minimalism, decluttering and simplifying is that you just have to keep chipping away at it. Change isn’t always easy. Slow, small steps are still steps in the right direction. It might not be lightning fast, but progress is being made. My unnecessarily large number of clothes tends to feature often on the blog, because it’s something that I personally find hard to declutter (although, however full my closet might look now, there’s definitely less than when I started). In other areas, however, I’m doing much better.

I spend so much time lamenting the failures and the not-quite-there-yet / work-in-progress attempts, but of course I have successes too. I thought I’d change the tone a bit today and focus on the things that I don’t have – meaning the things I’ve successfully decluttered and happily live without.

Things That I Don’t Have

  1. A car. We are a zero-car household, and use our bicycles or public transport to get from A to B. We hire a car if we’re going further afield on holidays.

  2. A garage. We have an open carport, which we don’t use because we don’t have a car, but we don’t have a lockable, sealed garage. Which means we don’t have any “stuff” stored in the garage either!

  3. A shed / storage locker. Ditto.

  4. A TV. Nope, we don’t have a TV. I’ve not had a TV for the majority of my adult life, and I love life without it. There’s no adverts selling me stuff, no wasted evenings starting mindlessly at the box. With the average Australian adult spending 13 hours a week watching TV, that’s a lot of free time to lose!

  5. A DVD player. Not much point without a television! Nor do we have an X-Box, Wii, Freeview box, VHS player, or any other electronic gaming or viewing device.

  6. A toaster. We use the grill. Not having a toaster saves on kitchen bench top clutter.

  7. A microwave. They take up valuable counter space, they have questionable safety, and I’ve never eaten any food that’s tasted delicious after coming out of a microwave. If we need to heat something up, we use a pan.

  8. A dishwasher. I wash dishes by hand. I’ve read arguments that dishwashers are more efficient in their water use than hand-washing, but if you take into account mining the metal from the ground, drilling the oil, transporting the materials, molding the plastic, manufacturing the dishwasher and shipping it to the store, I’m pretty sure had-washing is the winner. There’s a space in the new house for a dishwasher – it will be remaining empty.

  9. Storage crates. We just sold our last two storage crates (after ridding ourselves of the contents) on Gumtree this week (we’ve offloaded 8 crates in 3 years). I feel it’s quite symbolic – there’s no longer any boxed storage in our home.

  10. DIY tools. Aside from a screwdriver, we don’t have any DIY tools. On the rare occasion we need one, we borrow it. In the last year we’ve borrowed a drill, a hammer, a pedal wrench, a shovel and a rubber mallet.

  11. A printer. We have a laptop but we don’t have a printer. It’s vary rare that we need to print anything, but if we do we can use te printer at work or the local library.

  12. Any music CDs. These were one of the first things I decluttered back in the UK. I sold / gave away or donated every single one of my sizeable CD collection (I was a teenager in the 90s – we had a lot of CDs). I’ve not bought any since.

  13. Any DVDs. I was always selective about buying DVDs, even in my pre-minimalism days – who needs a huge collection of movies they will only watch once cluttering up the house? I owned a few of my favourites (Pedro Almodovar classics mainly) but I sold these before I moved to Australia. If we want to watch a movie, we borrow it from the library.

  14. Fiction books. I’ve sold, given away or donated the lot. I can use the local library – why would I want shelves of paperbacks I’ll never read again cluttering up my home?

  15. A dryer. Yes, we have a washing machine, but no, we don’t have a dryer. We have the sun. Far more environmentally-friendly!

  16. Chemical cleaning products. Switching to green cleaning is not only healthier and safer, it means less bottles rattling around under the sink! I use white vinegar, bicarb and a good scrubbing brush, plus a few essential oils. The first two also moonlight on the pantry shelves – you couldn’t say the same for bleach!

  17. Chemical beauty products. My bathroom routine is pared down to a minimum – bar soap and almond oil for my skin; bicarb and vinegar for my hair.  Do we really need to exfoliate, cleanse, tone and moisturise? Have a separate eye, skin and body moisturiser? Plus one for overnight? Or is it just marketing fluff designed to make us buy more? Hmmm. Plus it’s estimated that the average woman applies more than 500 chemicals to her body every day, so there’s more incentive than just  fewer bottles on the bathroom shelf.

  18. A hairdryer. I towel-dry my hair, then leave it to dry naturally.

  19. More than 4 dining chairs. This came to mind because we had a few people over for Glen’s birthday in January (there were 6 of us) and we only had 4 dining chairs. We used the char from the office, and a upturned milk crate with two cushions for the 6th. Job done!

  20. Credit card debt. I have credit cards, and use them regularly. There’s a number of reasons, including the security, rewards offered and the interest I can earn on the money before the bill comes. But I always pay the bill in full. Every month. I always have and always will.

Now I want to hear from you! How many can you tick off from my list as things you don’t own? Is there anything on here that you’d struggle to do without? If you were to write this list, what things would you add to it? Please tell me your thoughts and leave a comment below!

My Meeting with the Minimalists

A couple of weeks ago, the Minimalists were in town promoting their book “Everything that Remains”, and held a free talk which I went to. The Minimalists, in case you haven’t heard of them before, are two Americans (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus) who both had successful corporate careers, earning 6-figure salaries and living the American Dream (read – buying lots of stuff; gadgets, cars, huge homes, getting into debt) and who both gave it all up, becoming minimalists and embracing a slower, simpler, more meaningful way of life.

My husband has been following the Minimalists for a while. He feels he can relate to their story. He finished university and secured a good job straightaway, and progressed through the ranks. He spent his money on nice furniture and fine dining (he even bought a brand new car…and waited five months (!) for it to be available in the specific colour he desired). But despite the money and stuff, he wasn’t particularly happy. After getting rid of most of his stuff, travelling overseas and working as a volunteer (and meeting me!) he came to the same conclusion as the Minimalists – money doesn’t buy you happiness. Experiences, connections and living with meaning are what are important.

I can’t really relate to the Minimalists’ journey, because it has been very different from my own. I’ve never had the big six-figure salary. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever earned more than (or even the same as) the national average. When I got my first job after graduating, in 2005, I earned £12,000 a year. (In 2005 the UK national average was £22,411.) I never had the spare cash to spend on fancy gadgets. That said, I still saw shopping as a form of stress relief, and I still aspired to have/earn more – because more would make me happier, wouldn’t it? I had a few epiphanies in my late twenties and early thirties that have led me down this minimalist path – stories I’ll share with you another time. My conclusions have been the same as the Minimalists, however – stuff doesn’t make people happy. Neither does money. We may have followed different paths to get here, but we have the same philosophy.

Well…partly. I have my big zero waste/sustainability focus, which can be at odds with the minimalist philosophy. (Get rid of it. You can always buy another one if you need it. Something I struggle with!) A friend came with us to the talk. “Look around you!” she said. “None of these people are into sustainability!” People everywhere around us were clutching plastic water bottles and takeaway coffee cups. She was genuinely surprised. Another sent me a text: “Are you going to the talk by those Minimalist guys with the enormous ecological footprint?”

But minimalism isn’t about avoiding flights or bringing a reusable cup, it’s about living consciously. Living with meaning, rather than living on autopilot. Building relationships. Giving back. Recognising what is important – and what is important is different for each of us. Joshua and Ryan aren’t dictating a lifestyle. They aren’t telling anyone what to do. They are just sharing their story in the hope it will inspire others.

As someone very familiar with the idea of minimalism, the most inspiring thing for me was a room packed out with people who wanted to know more…but others were so moved they left in tears. It’s a reminder that each of us are a different point in our journey. I could easily have rocked up three years ago with a takeaway coffee cup in hand, without a second thought.

The Minimalists’ Perth talk was their 100th tour date – their final one. In the time they’ve been touring, their popularity has grown and there were a thousand people queuing around the block to see them. In order to avoid turning people away, they held another talk straight afterwards as the venue could only accommodate 400 people! I love that they genuinely tried to reach as many people as possible. Ecological footprints aside, these guys have a mission, and a great message to share.

The Minimalists have critics, of course. Not just my friends! People say it’s easy to eschew money when you’ve had it. If you’ve been rich, then isn’t it hypocritical? But minimalism isn’t about advocating poverty. It’s about recognizing what is enough.

Did the Minimalists come to a city near you, and did you have the chance to see them speak? What did you think? Do you like their message? Or is minimalism something that you just can’t embrace? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please leave me a comment below!

One last look at 2013…

We’re now into the third week of 2014, and so far on the blog all I’ve talked about is 2013. I need to get with the times, so this will be the final post I write that dwells on what is now behind us. Enough of living in the past, I say!

Holidays and the start of a New Year are great times to start making plans for how we want the next part of our lives to be. All the things we want to do, to see, to learn, to experience, to feel. I love to plan, and in previous years I would go charging ahead into dreaming and scheming. This year though (or last year, technically), I slowed down. I decided to spend some time reflecting on the year that just passed before I started thinking about what’s next. Specifically, I thought about all the things that I did that I was proud of in 2013. My achievements. Read more

Rested, refreshed and ready for 2014!

Ah. Four weeks away from it all. It was fantastic. I finally managed to slow down, take the time to relax properly and have a well-needed rest. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

That’s not to say I took time out from trying to live as sustainably as possible, keeping things simple and continuing to embrace minimalism. After all, why should holidaying change anything?

Having spent four weeks with a small backpack weighing less than 6kgs, and not feeling once like I was without something I needed, I am sold on the idea of taking as little as possible when travelling. It was such a great feeling not to be burdened by a huge heavy backpack, and it certainly made traveling around much more enjoyable. Read more