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Is There Plastic in Your Teabag?

When I first heard that there was plastic in tea bags, I was shocked. It turns out I wasn’t the only one. The subsequent blog post I wrote about it (back in 2014) is my most popular post to date, having been shared more than 44,000 times. (Yes, 44 thousand. That’s a lot of shocked tea drinkers, right there.)

You can still read the original teabag post here, but I thought it was about time to write an update. After all, there’s still a lot of misinformation and confusion around which teabags contain plastic, and what the plastic-free options are.

There’s Plastic in Your Teabags

Can it be that every time we made a brew, we are stewing plastic in our cup alongside our tea leaves?

I do so hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes.

If you’re a teabag-using tea drinker, it is more than likely that there’s plastic in your teabags.

Wait! I hear you say. Not all teabags are equal! True. When it comes to teabags, there are different types. Those different types use different types of plastic, and use it in different ways, but the majority still contain plastic.

There’s the regular pressed paper teabags (the ones with the crimped edges) and yes, these contain plastic. The main reason is that these crimped teabags are pressed shut using heat, and the plastic melts to seal them together. Typically the paper in these teabags contain 20 – 30% plastic.

Then there’s the premium ‘silken’ type, which are always made from plastic (not silk, like the name suggests).

The only teabag type that might be plastic-free is the string-and-tag variety: these can be folded shut and secured with a knot or a staple. But many suppliers of these teabags still choose to use paper with plastic fibres for added strength.

(If the teabag was just paper, and you left it to steep too long, the paper might break down and – imagine the catastrophe – there could be a loose tea leaf floating in your cuppa.)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that organic teabags would be plastic-free, but in fact, the majority of those contain plastic too.

Confusing? This graphic should help simplify things a bit:

The Main Types of Teabag – And What They’re Made Of

Pressed (Heat-Sealed) Teabags

These are the standard square, rectangular or occasionally round teabags that have crimped/pressed edges on all sides, and they always contain plastic. The two separate layers of paper need to stick together to keep the lea leaves in, and paper does not stick to paper by itself. Glue would dissolve in your tea – yuck!

Plastic (usually polypropylene, or less commonly a mix of polyethylene and a polyethylene co-polymer) is woven in between the paper fibres, and melts upon heating to seal the teabag shut. Typically these teabags contain 20-30% polypropylene.

In addition, some companies choose to treat their paper teabags with a chemical called epichlorohydrin to help prevent tears. This chemical is deemed a probable human carcinogen. It is also known to react in water to form another chemical, 3-MCPD, another possible human carcinogen.

Silken Teabags

Despite the name, silken teabags are made from plastic, not silk. Usually found in a pyramid shape, the fibres of silken teabags are woven to make them look like fabric.

These teabags are either made from fossil-fuel based plastic (usually nylon or PET – the same plastic that drinks bottles are made from: plastic #1), or plant-based plastic (PLA or poly-lactic acid, usually derived from corn or other plant starch: plastic #7).

When a company says their tea bags are made with cornstarch, they mean plant-based plastic.

Silken teabags are often spruiked as an eco-friendly choice, but teabags made from fossil-fuel based nylon or PET will last forever – clearly not eco-friendly at all. Plant-based plastic teabags are labelled “eco-friendly” as plants are a renewable resource.

Plant-based plastic is sometimes labelled biodegradable, or compostable. However, just because a silken teabag is made of plant-based plastic, that does not automatically mean it is biodegradable. It is more complicated than that.

Biodegradable means broken down by microorganisms over time. There is no stipulation for avoiding toxic residue, nor a requirement that the plastic breaks down into constituent parts, just that it is no longer visible.

Compostable means something different: that the product undergoes biological decomposition at a compost site, and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, leaving no toxic residue.

A product making either claim should quote the standards used in testing to determine this label. Without this, the claim is meaningless. (You can find out more about certification standards here.)

String-and-Tag Teabags

The filter paper used to produce teabags with a string and tag attached does not need to contain plastic polymer fibres: these teabags close by folding, and are secured by stitching or stapling, rather than by heat sealing.

However, many teabag producers (including organic brands) still choose to use paper with plastic (polypropylene) fibres to add strength to their teabags.

The string is usually made from cotton. If you find a plastic-free variety, these teabags are completely compostable.

Teabags made entirely of paper will rip more easily, and will disintegrate if left to stew in a cuppa. If your teabag seems remarkably resilient, the likelihood is that it contains some plastic fibres.

(If you want to see how teabags are made, this short clip from a BBC2 documentary will certainly open your eyes a little!)

Plastic-Free Tea: What Are the Solutions?

There are two solutions for truly plastic-free tea.

Option One: Look For Paper Teabags That Do Not Use Plastic As Reinforcement.

These will be the string-and-tag teabags, but check with the manufacturer as many brands still contain plastic.

Brands that have confirmed that they do not use plastic in their string-and-tag teabags include Tea Tonic, Pukka teas (although their envelopes are plastic) and Clipper (string-and-tag only: their pressed teabags contain plastic).

Bioplastic is still plastic (even if it’s labelled as biodegradable or compostable) so if you really want to choose a plastic-free teabag, steer clear of anything labelled bioplastic, plant-based plastic, or cornstarch.

Option Two: Choose Loose Leaf Tea

My absolute favourite option is to choose loose leaf tea. The lowest waste option is to buy from the bulk store. If that’s not practical, loose leaf tea can be purchased in tins and cardboard boxes that are fully recyclable.

Loose leaf tea is not as expensive as it appears. Loose leaf tea is often priced per kilo, whereas teabags are priced per bag, which makes it hard to compare.

Actually, it only takes a couple of grams of loose leaf tea to make a cuppa.

The other great thing for cheapskates like me (or rather, people who prefer weak tea) is that it’s much easier to brew a second cup reusing loose leaves than it is with a teabag.

If teapot-washing isn’t your thing, tea steepers are a great way to make a single cup without the hassle of extra washing up.

If you aren’t ready to give up the teabags, there are refillable cotton bags out there, too.

Finally, if you’re a herbal tea drinker, ditch the dried stuff altogether and use fresh leaves. Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and there’s nothing like a cup of fresh mint tea.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you know that most teabags contain plastic? If you did know, have you made the switch? Have you found a brand of plastic-free tea? Have you given up the teabags and embraced the loose leaf? Have you found a different solution? Please share in the comments below!

How to Win an Argument about “Eco Friendly” Packaging

Despite the rather bold title, I’m really not out to start arguments. I’m definitely not out to pick fights. I’d much rather we all got along :) So what comes below isn’t actually about arguing.

It’s about helping others see our point of view when it comes to waste (and that includes eco-friendly packaging). “Eco friendly” packaging is something I get asked about a lot.

It seems that not a week goes by without me having a conversation with somebody about single-use packaging, and why it isn’t the wonderful convenience item that we think it is.

I do not know how many times I have been told by a helpful staff member when I refuse packaging that there is no need to refuse, because “it’s eco-friendly / we recycle / it’s biodegradable”.

I cannot count how often well-meaning friends have shared links about the latest and greatest edible or biodegradable alternative to single-use items with me, expecting me to declare the waste problem solved.

Five years ago, this was me. I thought that if it had “eco-friendly” printed on it (preferably in green and with a nice leaf logo), then it was eco-friendly. I was waiting for science to invent our way out of all of the world’s problems.

But then I looked into it. I started researching, and asking questions, and finding answers that I didn’t really want to hear.

And I changed my perspective.

I’ve put together some of the most common comments I hear and facts I’m told; here’s what I might say in response. They are talking points and things to consider. Hopefully they will help you have better conversations with others about why single use packaging isn’t as great as people think, even if it’s stamped “eco-friendly”.

And if the need arises, maybe even win some arguments ;)

A Word About Arguments

arguments-treading-my-own-path

We’re not really trying to win at arguments, we’re just trying to help others see things from a different perspective. There will always be people who disagree, and that doesn’t matter: some arguments aren’t meant to be won. Don’t try to convert the non-convertable. At either extreme of a point of view is everyone else, and these are the people to have conversations with. The people who want to do the right thing, but find the information available confusing. Maybe they put too much trust in others’ claims about their green credentials (that was definitely me).

  • Think About Where People Are Coming From.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. People who work in the packaging industry won’t love the idea of banning bags or disposable packaging. People who are busy, stressed and tired are far less receptive to new ideas and “help”!

  • Make it About Values.

Whether it’s the caring for the environment, protecting wildlife, helping others, embracing creativity or better health, think about the values that motivate people. People who are motivated solely by their own self-interests are not as common as you might imagine, but if you do come across somebody like this, walk away. You’re better off using your energy elsewhere.

  • Be nice.

Nobody likes a smart-arse, and nobody likes to be made to feel small. Simple things such as smiling, open body language (no crossed arms!) and using helpful language will all assist in getting the message across.

Winning the Argument About “Eco Friendly” Packaging

disposable-coffee-cup-treading-my-own-path

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the questions I’m asked and conversations I have most often. I’d love you to add your own (questions you’ve been asked and answers you’ve given!) in the comments at the end :)

“But the packaging is eco-friendly!”

If, by eco-friendly, you mean not made with fossil fuels, that’s great! However, how is using resources (whether paperboard made from trees, or bio-plastic made from growing corn) to make single-use items that will be used for minutes actually eco-friendly?

Especially when you consider the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and shipping of these resources?

If you mean “eco friendly” because it’s biodegradable, are you ensuring that the packaging is composted? Are you personally composting it, or arranging for it to be so?

Plus did you know that some biodegradable packaging is made with fossil fuels?

If it’s just heading to landfill, that isn’t much more eco-friendly than just using regular packaging.

“It’s biodegradable so it will break down in landfill.”

Landfills aren’t big compost heaps, they are big tombs full of waste that are sealed. They are holes in the ground that are filled up, covered, and left for eternity. Waste breaks down anaerobically and very slowly, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas).

Nothing is breaking down to create space and allow more waste to be deposited. No goodness returns to the soil.

It’s a one-way system.

“It’s compostable.”

Being compostable is great, but only if it’s being put in the compost!

If it’s heading to landfill, it isn’t going to compost. If it’s put in the recycling bin, it isn’t going to compost. And depending on whether it needs hot composting or cold composting to break down, it might not even compost in the home compost bin. I wonder, what are the composting facilities like in your local town/city?

“Wait…Isn’t this disposable coffee cup made of paper?”

Sure, it looks like paper, but actually it has a plastic polyethylene lining. If you think about it, if it was only paper, the hot coffee would seep right through!

Being a mixture of materials, disposable coffee cups are difficult to recycle, so are likely to end up in landfill.

“I can plant this biodegradable coffee cup / coffee pod / other single-use item in my garden and it will grow seeds!”

I have no idea how many coffees you drink in a week, or how big your garden is, but are you telling me that every time you drink a coffee you’ll be planting the waste in your own back garden? That seems like an awful lot of effort to go to!

You could always use a reusable cup or plunger coffee, buy some seeds from the garden centre, and save yourself all that digging!

(Unless you’re just slinging it out of the window and hoping that it seeds… but that sounds like littering to me.)

If it’s still ending up in landfill, sealed underneath a layer of rock, there will be no seeds sprouting – it is just too deep and not the right conditions.

“It’s okay… I will recycle it.”

Recycling is better than throwing away, but it is still hugely energy intensive and in no way a perfect solution. Recycling isn’t a virtuous cycle: products don’t get recycled back into the same thing. Plastic in particular is downcycled (made into something of inferior quality.)

Your disposable packaging is likely made from brand new resources, and recycling them won’t stop new resources being used to create more disposable products.

Plus… is the material is even recyclable in your local area? Theoretically recyclable isn’t the same as actually recycled.

“It’s made with recycled content.”

Recycled content – so no new resources? Or just less new resources? What recycled content are you using, and what is the source of the materials? How are you collecting these materials – are they local, or from interstate, or overseas? How are they transported?

Is it 100% recycled content, or are you mixing some virgin product in there too? What percentage is recycled product? Can the product be recycled afterwards? Will it be? (Let’s not be theoretical about this!) What about the packaging – is that 100% post-consumer recycled content too?

Of course, from a waste perspective, single-use but with recycled content is still single-use.

“Paper bags use three times the energy to produce than plastic bags.”

True, paper bags are more energy intensive than plastic ones to produce, but that isn’t the whole story. Paper bags are made from trees or wood products, which is a renewable resource, and can be sustainable managed.

They are also biodegradable, don’t create long-term litter problems and don’t harm or suffocate wildlife. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and last forever.

Of course, reusable bags are even better!

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is by no means an exhaustive list so let’s make it bigger and better! Tell me, what are the most common questions that you’re asked? What answers do you give that seem to surprise people the most? Is there anything you’re unsure about? Any claims you’ve read or seen that you don’t know whether to believe? Anything you’d like more clarity on? Are there any of these reasons that (like me) you used to believe, until you looked into it a little bit more? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

The Definitive Guide to Storing Food without Plastic

Taking reusable bags to the store is a great way to reduce unnecessary plastic. Bringing reusable produce bags and selecting products without packaging is another way to reduce waste. Choosing to shop at bulk stores is a fantastic option, if we have the choice.

But what about when we get all of our food shopping home? What then? Is it possible to store food without plastic?

What about leftovers, and freezing food? How about packing lunches?

What are the plastic-free options?

Of course, plastic-free is possible. There are plenty of options to avoid using plastic containers, gladwrap/clingwrap and zip-lock bags. From choosing plastic-free containers to freezing in glass (yes, it’s possible), here’s the lowdown on how we avoid using plastic in our home when storing food.

Food Storage without Plastic – the Pantry

I buy all of our dry goods from bulk stores, and I store in the pantry in glass jars. Sometimes I take the jars to the bulk stores and weigh them before filling them, but more often I take reusable produce bags and decant when I get home.

Glass jars are heavy, and I find taking reusable produce bags is more practical for me.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Pantry

Whilst I love the idea of a pantry full of matching glass jars, the reality is, there are plenty of glass jars in the world begging to be re-used. It makes no sense to me to buy new when I can re-use. I’ve reused old jars that I own, and friends and family have given me their spares. I sourced some big glass jars from a local cafe.

I generally find that a good soak will get the old labels off. If they are particularly stubborn, I use eucalyptus oil and give them a scrub, and that usually works. Removing the label means I can see what’s inside, and there’s no confusion as to the contents.

Removing Jar Labels with Eucalyptus Oil Zero Waste

I have needed to buy a few new jar lids – kitchen shops sell these, or you can find them online.

It’s not always clear how long dry goods have been stored at the bulk shops, and the last thing we want is weevils or pantry moths, or other pests. If I think something has been at the store a while, or if it’s been in my own pantry a little longer than planned, I pop the jar into the freezer for 24 hours. This kills any eggs. After 24 hours I remove the jar from the freezer and place back in the pantry.

Freezing pulses and grains to prevent weevils

I have a terrible habit of not labeling my jars. I have a good memory and generally remember what I’ve bought, and if I forget I can usually figure it out by the smell. My husband has no idea what I’ve bought and has a terrible sense of smell, so whilst it might work for me, it doesn’t work for him! I’m planning to get a greaseproof pencil/chinograph so I can label the jars without needing to buy sticky labels or mark them permanently. If I was more crafty, I could paint blackboard paint on them, or even mark the lids.

Food storage without plastic – on the counter

I keep a fruit bowl on the counter which in addition to fruit, contains onions. I also keep fresh tomatoes here as I find they taste better than when stored in the fridge, and avocados whilst they ripen.

I often keep cut leaves such as beetroot leaves or silverbeet in glass jars on the counter rather than in the fridge as I find they keep better. Parsley and some other herbs also keep better this way. If the water is changed regularly, parsley will last on the counter for up to two weeks.

Beetroot Leaves in a Jam Jar

I store my bread in a cloth bag inside a wooden bread bin. The cloth bag helps absorb any moisture that might cause the bread to go moldy. Over time it begins to harden, and when I notice it’s becoming hard to cut I pre-cut the rest of the loaf. If there is more than I can eat in the next day or so, I pop it in the freezer.

For things like crackers, baked goods and other dry food, I use tins. I have some that I purchased in my pre- zero waste days, and some that I’ve been given (they often seem to appear around Christmas time as “presentation” boxes for biscuits and confectionery). I’ve been able to choose ones that are a good size for my needs, and that I can store easily.

Sourdough Zero Waste Crackers FINAL

Food storage without plastic – the fridge

I store most of my fruit and vegetable items in the crisper. Some veggies, such as carrots, courgettes and cucumbers have a tendency to go floppy, so I store these in a rectangular glass Pyrex container with a lid. I also find delicate fresh herbs like coriander and basil store better in a container with a lid, as do salad leaves.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Fridge

I’ve also tried storing them in glasses or bowls of water in the fridge and this works well, but I don’t own enough glassware for this to be practical.

Storing Veggies in Water in the Fridge

Another alternative to using glass containers is to use a damp tea towel to wrap your veggies. This works particularly well for larger items like bunches of celery or leafy greens that don’t fit in containers. Beeswax wraps are also useful if you’re not vegan – they are cloth squares that have beeswax melted onto them to create a waterproof wrap. They are very easy to make yourself (you can find a DIY beeswax wrap tutorial here) and making your own means you can choose sizes that work for your needs.

For storing leftovers, there are a number of solutions. Personally I was never a fan of gladwrap/clingfilm.  Some is ridiculously sticky and will stick to everything except the bowl in question (this type of clingwrap usually contains phthalates – not what we want to be wrapping food in). The phthalate-free type never seems to want to stick to anything at all. I find it far simpler simply to put a plate on top of the bowl in question.

I also have some silicone covers for bowls that were a gift that have been very useful. Beeswax wraps can be used for this, too. Glass jars are a great option for decanting small amounts of leftovers (and I have plenty of glass jars to hand), and Pyrex storage or stainless steel work if you want to decant into something bigger. Sometimes I even keep the food in the saucepan, pop the lid on and pop that in the fridge.

For some items, such as half a lemon or half an avocado, I find that placing it face down on a plate is enough. If I’ve roasted veggies or baked a sweet potato, I find it keeps well in the fridge uncovered for a few days. So long as it’s not got a strong smell, it works fine.

Food storage without plastic – the freezer (yes, you can freeze food in glass)

I store most of my food in the freezer in glass jars. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. Jars are a great size for one or two portions, and they fill the space well. I’ve only ever had one breakage. Freezing in glass is perfectly safe, but there are some rules to follow.

Freezing in Glass Jars in the Freezer

Firstly, choose good quality jars, with thick glass. Repurposed jars are fine. I tend to choose ones that have previously had jam or tomato sauce in them, as I know they will withstand changes in temperature. Buying poor quality jars from reject shops will likely lead to breakages.

Wider jars work better, and avoid any that taper inwards at the top (tapering outwards is fine). When filling, never fill all the way to the top – make sure the food is sitting at the widest point of the jar. Don’t screw the lid on until the contents have completely frozen. The food will expand when frozen – the higher the water content the more it will expand – so leave room for this to happen. Once it’s frozen you can screw on the lid.

Never put hot jars in the freezer, and try to chill them before you freeze them. This is important if what you’re freezing has a high water content, like stock. I find for foods like chickpeas, which don’t have a high water content, freezing from room temperature works fine.

If you’re worried about freezing in jars, you can also use freezer-safe Pyrex, or stainless steel containers, which won’t break.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

I use an ice cube tray for freezing liquids and also fresh herbs. I find that the cubes make good portion sizes. I store the cubes in jars once they are frozen. To freeze herbs I add a little oil to the ice cube tray -they seem to freeze better. I have just upgraded to a stainless steel one, and you can also find aluminium ones second-hand if you’d like to avoid plastic.

Onyx Stainless Steel Ice Cube Tray

To avoid freezing a big mass of fruit, I lay out on on a tray (I line a baking tray with a tea towel) and pop in the freezer. Oonce frozen, I put in a container. This allows me to use a handful at a time, rather than needing to defrost the whole thing.

Preparing Strawberries for the Freezer

I don’t freeze everything in glass. I freeze bread wrapped in a cloth bag, and I leave bananas in their skins.

Food storage – out and about

Both my husband and I have stainless steel lunchboxes, which we use for food on the go. I always take my glass KeepCup with me as I find it great as an impromptu storage container. Being glass, it’s easy to clean. I have a set of reusable, washable wraps for sandwiches, baked goods and snacks which are handy as they fold up. If we’re taking food to friends’ houses, we either use tins or we have a stainless steel tiffin.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel Stainless Steel Tiffin and Lunchbox Zero Waste Plastic Free

Food storage – choosing containers

When I first started out with living plastic-free, I had a lot of plastic reusable containers. I didn’t want to waste them, so I continued to use them whilst I transitioned to other things. Because I was concerned with the health implications of using plastic for food storage, I used them only for dried food, before giving them away or using them for non-food items.

Zero Waste Week 2015 Reusable Containers

Whatever you decide to use, know that there’s no need to immediately rush out and buy new stuff. Glass jars are an obvious one to start with, and they are free. It’s possible to find good quality glass, tins and even Pyrex at the charity shops.

I chose to use Pyrex with the plastic lids, because I couldn’t find any without plastic, and they were affordable for me. Stainless steel containers come completely plastic-free, but they are an investment. They are expensive but should last forever, so it is important to know exactly what you want before you make the purchase. Slowly I’ve built up a small collection of stainless steel, and the pieces I have I use often and I love.

When choosing containers, think about how you’ll use them. If you’re looking for a lunchbox, think about the kinds of things you eat for lunch. What size and shape will be most useful? Planet Box make great compartmentalised lunch boxes for kids. Cloth wraps and reusable sandwich bags might be a better alternative. It’s possible to buy refillable food packs. Think about your needs and choose products that work for you.

It is possible to store food at home without using plastic, and you can make it as simple or as complicated (or as cheap or expensive) as you like. The most important thing is to make conscious choices. Look at your options, and decide what is practical and within your budget. There’s no need to buy new things straightaway. Take your time. Choose well.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, how do you store your food without using plastic? What are your favourite tips? Is there anything you tried that didn’t work? What purchases have you made that have been great investments? Any that turned out to be duds? Do you have any tips to add? Or any “not-to-do”s to share? Is there anything that you are still searching for a solution for? Any questions? 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!

Can You Live Plastic-Free without Bulk Stores?

One of the most common challenges I hear from people who would like to embrace plastic-free or zero waste living, is that they don’t live near a bulk store. Access to bulk stores definitely makes plastic-free living infinitely easier – but that doesn’t mean that without them, it’s impossible.

In fact, there are still plenty of things that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint, wherever you live, wherever you shop and however busy you are.

Here’s a list of my top 8 (as always, feel free to add your own ideas to the comments below).

Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you cannot do everything.

This is so important! Just because there isn’t a bulk store near you, that doesn’t mean that you should give up before you begin.

Remember that every single piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today, so every single piece of plastic you refuse is one less piece entering our environment.

We just need to start where we are, with what we have, and do what we can. Even if you can only refuse a few things, or make a couple of changes, it all counts. If we all did the best we could, think how much better the world would be!

Don’t stress about what you can’t change, look for what you can change.

Eat more fresh vegetables!

Apologies for sounding like your Nan here, but seriously – food packaging accounts for such a significant amount of the waste we produce, and one of the easiest ways to reduce this is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Look for unpackaged fruits and vegetables, or if you still need to buy in packaging, try to choose the bigger packs (there will be less plastic overall).

Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a great high-carb alternative to pasta and rice, and are easy to find plastic-free.

If you don’t know how to cook something, look on the internet for simple recipes. This is where I’m going to offer different advice from your Nan – you do not need to boil everything for 30+ minutes! Plenty of veggies can be roasted (try carrots, broccoli and cauliflower), stir-fried, broiled, baked, sautéed – or eaten raw.

Zero Waste Vegetables Plastic Free July Treading My Own Path

My local veg box delivery comes mid-week and direct to my door (convenience shopping with a difference) and it’s an easy way for me to get produce that’s plastic-free and locally grown.

Also, many veggies can be frozen once cooked. If you live in a small household and don’t want to eat an entire pumpkin this week, chop into cubes, roast it as usual and freeze what you don’t need. Other vegetables, such as leeks and broccoli, can be blanched for 1-3 minutes, and then frozen.

This guide lists how to freeze a number of vegetables and might be a helpful starting point.

Bring your own reusable bags – not just your main shopping bags

As well as your own shopping bags, bring reusable produce bags for all your loose produce items, and a cloth bag for any bread you need.

You can find produce bags available for sale online (made of cloth or mesh, some pre-labelled and others plain) – or you can make your own using your own fabric or even old net curtains!

Fruit and Veggie Produce Bags Treading My Own Path

Reusable produce bags are a great way to buy loose products at the store without needing to take those pesky plastic bags!

If you forget, and you’re buying too many items to simply pop them in your trolley loose, you can often find paper mushroom or potato bags so use these as an alternative to plastic.

Look for packaging in glass, cardboard and paper, and adapt where you can

When I first started out with plastic-free living, I continued to shop at the supermarket. Whilst I found most of the pre-prepared products were packaged in plastic, I found many wholefoods and single ingredients that were packaged in glass and cardboard. For example, in my local store I could buy pasta and couscous in cardboard packaging, as well as oats and rice, but I could not buy quinoa or bulgar wheat.

I began buying more oats over breakfast cereal; eating porridge for breakfast and using more oats in baking. In glass jars I found passata so I began to buy this rather than chopped tomatoes in Tetra-Paks (which are difficult to recycle) or tins (which are plastic-lined and contain BPA).

After all, passata is just chopped tomatoes that have been blended! (Later I discovered that simply using fresh tomatoes and quickly chopping saved packaging dilemmas altogether.)

How far you take this will depend on whether you have dietary restrictions or fussy eaters in your household, but even one change is a step in the right direction.

Remember, you can still buy bulk within the store

I’m not talking about buying huge quantities of food you probably won’t eat here, I‘m referring to choosing one product over individual portions and single serves. Even if the bigger one still comes in packaging, it will be far less than all those individual portions added together.

Rather than buying individual pots of yoghurt, buy a 1kg tub (or bigger) and split into smaller containers at home.

Rather than snack portions of raisins or crackers, buy a big pack and divide up yourself.

Rather than buying individual slices of cheese, or grated cheese, buy a big block and chop or grate at home (tip – you can freeze cheese so there’s no reason why you can’t buy a big block and freeze what you won’t use straightaway for later).

Aside from saving the plastic, you’ll save a huge amount on your grocery bill. Check the price per kilo of the bulk items versus the “convenience” items and you’ll find that convenience comes at a price – and you won’t just be saving the environment with these choices!

Supermarket or not – bring your own containers!

It’s possible to take your own containers to the counters at the supermarket or your local stores: the butcher, fishmonger, cheese shop or deli. Make sure they are clean, and explain why you’re doing it as you hand your containers over.

Confidence is everything – act like you’ve done it a million times before, and it is the most normal thing to do in the world!

If you’re unsure that they will be accepted, or feel really nervous, you can always phone the store in advance and ask if they’d be happy to take your own clean containers (be sure to tell them why).

You may find the odd place that isn’t willing to help, but most are happy to support this kind of shopping. If they have restrictions, find out what they are. (They may be happy to use containers for pre-cooked products, but not raw, for example. They may be happy to fill your own containers, but only if you drop them off by a certain time, or on a certain day.)

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

Reusable containers. Simply take to the shop and ask the server to put your goodies directly inside!

If a staff member is unwilling to comply, it may be that you simply need to check with the manager (they may be fearful of losing their job, and a quick conversation can sort this out).

If the store is definitely against it, you could push higher up if they are a chain or have a Head Office, or simply take your business elsewhere. If you do receive a “no”, keep it in mind and try again in a few months – something may have changed!

If places aren’t willing to comply, there may be the option of the staff wrapping your item in paper and you putting the paper-wrapped product into your sealed container yourself. It’s always worth asking if they have paper behind the counter.

Refuse single-serve and single-use items

“Refusing” is such a big part of the plastic-free living journey, and we can remove so much plastic from the environment just by making this simple choice. Refusing bottled water and carrying our own bottle and refilling from the tap; choosing to dine in rather than get takeaway or bringing our own containers; refusing straws; refusing individual sachets of sauce, butter or those tiny little portions of milk… it all makes a difference.

Carrying your own water bottle or coffee cup and a reusable straw is a great alternative if you’re often out, and a great way to start conversations. Simply asking at the cafe if you can have a splash of milk directly into your tea or a little bit of butter cut directly from the block rather than the single-serve portions is a surprisingly easy way to avoid plastic and make a point.

Go outside and pick up litter

No matter where you live, what shops are available to you or what your budget is, or how much time you have to spare, you can do this. Simply go out of your front door and onto your street with a bag, and pick up all the plastic litter you come across.

You may prefer to go to the beach or alongside a river, if you have one close by, but wherever you choose to go, I guarantee there will be some litter. Whether you opt for a 2 minute beach clean, simply commit to pick up 3 things, or decide to take a 30 minute walk and see what you come across, it all makes a difference.

Pick up any plastic items that you find, and then dispose of them responsibly. You’ll be stopping that plastic getting ingested by wildlife or making its way to the ocean, and making your local environment a more pleasant place to be. You’ll probably feel a lot more determined to avoid single-use items afterwards, too!

Treading My Own Path 30 Minute Litter Pick Up Litterati Take3 July 2016

I picked this up in 30 minutes simply by walking around my local streets.

Whatever you can do, you really must know that what you do makes a difference. The smallest actions can have the biggest impacts, and choosing just one thing to change is better than changing nothing at all.

The planet, the turtles and the plastic-free community; we will all thank you for it. Don’t let a lack of local bulk stores stand in your way. It really doesn’t matter how far you take this.

What matters is that you try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you struggling to find bulk stores near you? What items do you struggle to find without plastic packaging? What have been your biggest dilemmas and challenges? What have been your best successes and greatest a-ha moments? What are you currently working towards changing? Any other suggestions for those who live far from bulk options? If you are lucky enough to have bulk options near you, are there still items that you struggle with? Do you have any others that you’d add to this list? Any other thoughts or comments? Please tell me what you think in the comments below!

5 Tips for Getting Started with Plastic-Free Living

Could you live your life without plastic? Your answer to this will depend on your lifestyle, where you live and the kinds of things you like to do, the places available to you to shop and how much time you have. Whatever your situation is, I guarantee that you will be able to live with a little less plastic!

How much you choose to eliminate is up to you, but it all makes a difference.

shopping trolley with plastic bags

If your grocery shopping looks like this, then just a few minor changes will make a huge difference!

Many people feel overwhelmed before they even start… and so they don’t start. Or they make a mistake early on and give up, deciding that plastic-free living is something for the “too hard” basket.

The truth is, there is no need to panic, or to feel overwhelmed, or to do nothing simply because we can’t do everything. Change takes time: months, or even years. There is no rule that says everything must be successful on the first day!

There is no all-or-nothing approach to living without plastic: it is a sliding scale, and we just need to find out where we are personally comfortable to sit on the scale. We need to find our happy place: where we’ve made changes we’re comfortable with.

With Plastic Free July approaching, I like to spend time reflecting on my journey and the lessons I learned. This year is my 5th year of supporting the challenge, and I love to share what I’ve experienced with those that are just starting out, or taking it to the next level. If that’s you, read on!

1. Don’t try to make ALL the changes on the first day

It’s unlikely that you are beginning your plastic-free living challenge with a completely empty pantry, fridge and bathroom cabinets. It’s far more likely that you’ll already have food in the cupboard and toiletries in the shower.

Even if they are overpackaged in plastic, this is a good thing (for now!). It means that you can make changes slowly, one by one: as items are used up you can replace them with plastic-free alternatives.

When I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012, the first things I had to buy were milk, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables. Cheese and yoghurt came later. Pantry staples like pasta and rice came later again. Condiments and specialist ingredients were further down the track.

I had so many products stockpiled in the bathroom (that I hadn’t really been aware of) that I didn’t replace anything here for a few weeks. In fact, it took me 18 months to use up every plastic-packaged item in my bathroom. Plastic-free living is a marathon, not a sprint.

2. Don’t think about the money – for now

If you’ve signed up to Plastic Free July, then you’ve committed to 31 days of living without plastic. I’m going to challenge you for those 31 days, not to think about the money you spend on groceries or toiletries.

Or not to stress about it, at least – there’s enough to worry about for now without having extra stress!

Plastic-free living can seem expensive at first, because buying food from deli counters or Farmers markets or in glass often does cost more than their cheap, lesser quality, plastic-packaged supermarket counterparts. Wholefoods and vegetables are more expensive than processed junk food, but they are also far better for us.

For these 31 days, give yourself a free pass. Open your mind to the possibilities. If your budget is small, maybe tighten the belt somewhere else – reduce how much you spend on alcohol, movie tickets, eating out or takeaway coffee for the month.

The truth is, in time, you’ll decide which things are worth spending the extra money on, and which things you’re happier without. The things you buy will change as you start to find new places to shop with different products on offer.

You’ll adjust your shopping and eating habits, and most people who live plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles find they actually spend less. But again, it takes time: I think it took us around 6 months to notice that our food bill had reduced.

3. There’s no need to rush out and buy anything new

There’s something about starting a new challenge that makes us want to rush out and buy new “stuff”. It’s because changing habits is hard, and buying stuff is easy… and by making a new purchase, we can feel that we’ve started on the journey.

There are a few things in the plastic-free living “toolkit” that make things easier, but you do not need to go out and make a purchase on the first day. Or even the first week. Or even at all!

Before you buy anything, you need to figure out if you are going to use it, and if you have something suitable at home already that you can use or repurpose. Take your time so that you can make the best choices. (This especially applies if you are concerned about your groceries budget.)

Plastic Free Living Zero Waste

The only thing I purchased during my first Plastic Free July was a KeepCup (a reusable coffee cup), made from plastic.

A few weeks later I began to wonder whether buying a plastic cup for a plastic-free living challenge actually made sense (of course it doesn’t). I started thinking about combining plastic with hot liquids. I noticed the plastic started to absorb the coffee flavour.

Eventually I decided to replace it with a glass one (which I still have). Had I taken my time to think about it, I could have saved myself a wasted purchase.

4. Life from scratch…or not?

Homemade Sourdough Loaf Zero Waste Plastic Free Treading My Own Path

When I started down the plastic-free path, I had no intention of making my own bread or yoghurt or pickles. However, I began making all of these things, and for different reasons.

I used to buy bread at the Farmers Market, which meant I had to purchase my bread between 8am and 12noon on Saturdays. This meant that the rest of Saturday was put on hold until I’d secured the golden loaf of sourdough. Freshly baked artisan sourdough is delicious, but it’s also expensive. The Saturday morning stress and the money led me to ask myself the question – could I bake my own?

Once I tried baking sourdough for the first time, I was smitten. Freshly baked bread straight from the oven – there is no comparison. Now I have freshly baked bread whenever I need it, rather than just on Saturdays.

I started making yoghurt when I realised how simple it was. It involves heating up milk, cooling again, adding a small amount of culture (meaning old yoghurt) and placing somewhere warm for 12 hours (you can find yoghurt-making instructions here). Why was I buying it, carrying it home and taking the empty glass jars back when it took less time just to make my own?

I really enjoy cooking ,and baking, and making stuff from scratch. The more I’ve tried, the more I’ve got into it. But I don’t have time to do everything.

I don’t make my own pasta, for example. We can buy pasta from the bulk store, so why would I make my own? I tried making passata once, but it was so laborious I declared never again (or not for a long time). I don’t can my own tomatoes. I use the lazy person alternative – chopping up and using fresh tomatoes instead. It works well enough for me.

If something is impossible to find without plastic, or too expensive to buy, then I consider that I have three choices. Number 1: make my own. Number 2: find an alternative that I’m happy with. Number 3: go without.

Of course there is a fourth option – compromise – but I prefer to stick to one of the first three. That is enough choice for me.

5. The 80/20 Rule

I have a theory that 80% of everyday plastic is easy to eliminate, and the other 20% is the hard stuff. The easy things like plastic bags, plastic straws, takeaway packaging, disposable coffee cups, water and soft drinks bottles, multipacks, individual portions and serves can all be removed from our lives without too much stress.

It just takes a little bit of remembering, and maybe some practice, but not too much change.

The other 20% is the stuff that requires compromise, or bigger changes. Don’t worry about the hard 20%, at least not at first, and don’t give up on reducing the easy stuff just because you know the hard stuff will probably elude you.

Focus on the easy changes that have big wins.

Zero Waste Week Treading My Own Path Reuse 2015

There will always be people ahead of us on the journey, who have achieved things that we can only dream about. We can learn from them, and speed up our own journeys. The truth is, they all started at the same place.

They all started at the beginning.

They chose to make one change, and purchase one less plastic item, and then one more, and they just kept on going. Small steps, in the right direction. That is all it takes.

As always, now I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you someone who has been on the plastic-free living or zero waste journey for a while, and if so, what tips would you give to someone starting out? Are you embracing the Plastic Free July challenge for the first time this year, and if so, do you have any concerns or questions? Which one of these lessons stands out most for you? Do you disagree with anything? Are there any other lessons that you’d like to add? Any other thoughts about plastic-free living or zero waste living, or the Plastic Free July challenge? I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment below!

Plastic Free Zero Waste Natural Sun Cream

I’m a fan of sun hats. I’m a fan of long sleeves. I’m a fan of staying in the shade. When it comes to facing the sun, I’d much rather do any (all) of these than apply sunscreen.

I can’t bear the thought of all those chemicals in store-bought sunscreen being absorbed through my skin, and for the longest time, I’ve played Russian roulette with the sun. I didn’t apply sunscreen, and I tried to avoid getting burned. This means all of the above, and trying to dodge the sun between 10am and 4pm.

The truth is, that’s not always possible – when the weather is beautiful, I want to be outside!

Living in Australia with its fierce sun and hole in the ozone layer is very different to living in rainy England… and it means if I do get caught out and I’m not wearing sunscreen, I get burned.

Getting sunburned is not clever. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, and skin cancer accounts for 80% of newly diagnosed cancers every year. After being caught out and sunburned one too many times, I realised that I needed to embrace using sunscreen.

I still advocate the hat, the long sleeves and the shade, but in the times when that isn’t enough, sunscreen is better than sunburn. Chemicals aren’t good for us, but sunburn is definitely not either!

I wondered, is there a way to protect ourselves from the sun without all the chemicals… or the packaging?

Chemical Blockers versus Physical Blockers

There is a huge difference between the regular “conventional” sunscreens, which use physical and chemical blockers (and are a cocktail of synthetic chemicals), and the “natural” alternatives, which use only physical blockers.

The physical blockers used in sun cream are zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Zinc oxide blocks both UVA rays (these are the deep-penetrating rays that cause skin cancer) and UVB rays (these are the ones that cause redness and sunburn, and are the ones that SPFs are rated against). Titanium oxide is a good UVB sunblock but is not as effective as zinc oxide in blocking UVA rays.

Conventional sunscreens may also use zinc or titanium oxide as a physical blocker, but use chemical blockers too. Most chemical blockers only protect against UVB rays. These chemicals don’t sound natural or healthy, and in many cases, they’re not. Some chemicals in sunscreen are hormone disruptors, for example.

We’re not just exposing ourselves to these chemicals either – these sunscreens wash off and the chemicals enter our waterways and the ocean.

Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Alex Blajan

Hats are an awesome physical blocker for sun protection – but even the widest brimmed hat can’t cover everything!

Sunscreen and Nano Particles

Traditionally zinc oxide creams were very thick and created a white barrier on the skin, meaning they were hard to apply (and looked a bit silly).  By making the zinc particles smaller, newer creams have come onto the market which absorb more easily and don’t leave white residue. These creams contain smaller zinc nanoparticles (classed as particles smaller than 100nm or 0.1 micron) and microfine particles (usually ranging from 0.1 micron to 2.5microns (100nm – 2500nm).

The concern with these is that they can be absorbed through the skin, and the smaller the particles, the more easily they are absorbed.

Suncreams containing zinc oxide usually state that they are “nano” or “non-nano”. Studies show that zinc oxide particles between 4nm and 20nm have the potential to be absorbed into the skin, and will be absorbed through damaged skin.

Anything smaller than 4nm will definitely be absorbed, and anything bigger than 45nm will not be absorbed. (You can read this study here.)

Conventional sunscreens use nano particles sized between 5 – 20nm – small enough to be absorbed through the skin. Non nano zinc oxide particles are larger than this and fall outside the absorption range, although some nano particles may still be present.

Most eco and natural brands use non-nano particles in their sunscreen.

Can I Buy Zero Waste Sunscreen?

Because sunscreen is heavily regulated and each batch requires testing, most small producers shy away from making their own. This makes it hard to find locally produced sunscreens that avoid the excess packaging. There is an American brand called Avasol who make a natural, non nano sunscreen packaged only in cardboard, with an SPF of 30. This is the best zero waste alternative I’ve come across. I don’t use it myself but I have friends who do.

Avasol Plastic-Free Sunscreen

Avasol sunscreen is an American brand that comes packaged in a cardboard tube.

What About DIY Alternatives (and how do I know the SPF)?

Yes, it is possible to make your own, but there are two things you need to know.

  1. You will not be able to calculate the SPF. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor: it is a  measure of the effectiveness of sunscreen against UVB rays. The higher the SPF, the more protection against sunburn the sunscreen offers. The number (SPF 20, SPF 30 etc) means how many times longer a person can stay out in the sun without getting burned relative to how long they can stay out with no sunscreen assuming 2mg per cm² is applied. Sunscreen is tested in vivo by volunteers who apply sunscreen to their skin and see how long it takes to burn (ouch). In vitro tests use a spectrometer. It is not a case of adding up the SPFs of various ingredients. The only way to find out how long homemade sunscreen will protect you for is to test it yourself.
  2. You will need to use a physical barrier – either zinc oxide or titanium oxide – for it to work effectively. Many plant oils have low SPFs (coconut oil and olive oil have a natural SPF of up to 7, and other plant oils have SPF properties) and applying these to the skin may help you avoid burning if you have olive skin, don’t burn and only expose skin to sun outside of the 10am – 4pm (and you live outside of Australia). Combining ingredients does not increase the overall SPF, and there is no magical high SPF plant oil. Also, their effectiveness against UVA rays (the ones that cause DNA damage and cancer) are unknown.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen: My Recipe

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen in Jar
My solution to the issues of chemicals, packaging and sourcing products locally was to make my own. I’ve been able to source all of these ingredients without packaging, but I realise that this may not be possible for everyone. If you can’t find ingredients sold without packaging in stores, find out if there are any local skincare producers or soap makers close to you who may be able to sell you some ingredients without packaging (that’s what I do).

You can also try switching up some of the ingredients if you have other options available to you. Whilst some ingredients can be subbed, zinc oxide is a non-negotiable – that’s what makes it sunscreen! If you need to buy ingredients in packaging, look for one that is recyclable, and remember – one container of zinc oxide will create many containers of zero waste sunscreen.

Important: this sunscreen has worked for me, and I am sharing my personal experiences. Do a small patch test when using for the first time. Avoid going in the sun at peak times and wear a hat and long sleeves. Sunscreen is a last resort, not an excuse to lay in the sun for 8 hours!

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Ingredients Treading My Own Path Plastic Free July

Ingredients for zero waste plastic free natural DIY sunscreen.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup almond oil (or olive oil)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup beeswax
2 tbsp (27g) shea butter
2 tbsp non-nano zinc oxide powder
1 tsp vitamin E oil

OPTIONAL: 20 drops of essential oil (check this list first as some essential oils are phototoxic and can assist burning!)

More info on the ingredients:

Almond oil – I used sweet almond oil as that is what I use as my standard moisturizer. It is a great oil for the skin. However, it’s also far more expensive than olive oil (and according to in vitro tests, has a lower SPF of 4.7 versus the olive oil SPF of 7.5) so next time, I’ll be using olive oil.

Coconut oil – this oil is solid at less than 25°C and helps the lotion hold its form. It is very moisturising and has a natural SPF of around 7 – two properties that make it a great oil to include in sunscreen.

Beeswax – beeswax helps make this into a lotion at room temperature. This means no need to store in the fridge – handy if you want to take your sunscreen with you! It also helps make the sunscreen waterproof. Even if we’re not going in the water,the sun makes us sweat and we don’t want the sunscreen to wash off.

Shea Butter – is highly moisturising and good for dry and aging skin. It is a solid at room temperature but melts on contact with the skin, making it a good base for lotions. Look for shea butter that has been naturally processed rather than refined with hexane (a solvent).

Zinc Oxide Powder – this is the active ingredient. Zinc oxide is a physical blocker that works by reflecting / scattering UV light. It is non-irritating and suitable for sensitive skin. Zinc oxide sunscreens leave a white tinge on the skin – the bigger the zinc particles, the whiter this will be. The zinc oxide powder I used was 0.3 – 0.85 microns.

Vitamin E – this vitamin is often found in skincare products and is believed to have antioxidant and skin-healing properties, although evidence is limited and studies are ongoing. It helps prolong the shelf life of the other oils in the lotion. I used it because I have it, but you could do without.

Method:

Overheating oils can damage their properties, so I tend to melt mine one by one, starting with the most heat-resistant and working down to the least.

  • Place a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (a double burner) and add the beeswax. Stir until melted, and add the coconut oil. (If your coconut oil is solid, the beeswax may solidify again on contact, but continue to heat and it will melt.)
  • Turn the heat off, and add the almond oil (or olive oil), using a whisk to combine. Once this is mixed in, remove the bowl from the heat.
  • Add the shea butter to the bowl and stir to combine. Once it has melted, whisk the mixture. Continue to whisk until you notice the mix beginning to cool, lose transparency and change to a golden colour.
  • Once the bowl feels cool and the mixture looks golden and opaque, add the zinc oxide powder using a whisk to combine.
  • Add the vitamin E and essential oils, if you are using.
  • Pour into a clean and dry glass jar, and seal with a lid.
Melting beeswax in a double boiler

Melting the beeswax over a double boiler (a glass bowl on top of a saucepan with water in it – the water is heated and that is what warms the oils)

Melting oils in a double boiler

Melting the shea butter. (The beeswax, coconut oil and almond oil have already been added.) The oils look golden and transparent. Once they begin to cool, they lose the transparency and begin to look opaque.

Melted oils before adding zinc oxide powder

Once removed from the heat, the oils will cool and lose their transparency. Keep whisking to keep everything combined.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sunscreen Mixing Zinc Powder into Oils

Once it’s cloudy and does not feel hot, add the zinc oxide powder. Stir in with a spoon and then whisk to combine. The powder will mix but will not dissolve so there will be some white specks.

Melted oils before after adding zinc oxide powder

Cream after adding the zinc oxide powder and whisking.

Zero waste plastic free sunscreen Whisking ingredients together

Now add the vitamin E and any essential oils, and whisk to distribute thoroughly. Pout into a clean glass jar and leave to cool completely.

Rubbing Non Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen into the Skin

When applying to the skin, it appears white. The more it’s rubbed in, the less white it appears. I like the white sheen that remains as it helps me see where I’ve applied the cream and which bits I’ve missed!

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen in Jar

Zero waste plastic free sunscreen: the finished product.

Zero Waste Plastic Free Sun Cream Sunscreen on a teaspoon Plastic Free July

You can see from the spoon that the consistency is fairly thick. Changing the oil and wax combinations will change the consistency.

If you think this seems a bit complex (and I’d love to simplify it at some stage) then there is an even simpler solution. Simply mix some zinc oxide powder into your regular moisturiser. Job done ; )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you made sunscreen? Do you have a recipe you’d recommend, or any great ingredients you think should be included? Have you had any recipe fails, or do have any important “do-nots” to share? Are you unsure about making your own? Have you found any great zero waste or plastic free sunscreens available for purchase that you’d like to share? Have you tried Avasol and what did you think? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

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

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

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

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

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

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

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

Bulk spices

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

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

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

Bulk Pasta

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

Other highlights were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Green… But I Don’t Like Recycling

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

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

Recycling Lulls us into a False Sense of Security

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

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

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

Recycling is a Business and Operates for Profit

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

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

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

Recycling doesn’t always mean Recycled

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

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

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

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

Recycling MRF Perth WA

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

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

If not Recycling, then What?!

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

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

Recycling bin

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

plastic waste

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

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

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

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

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

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom I talked about the basics – simple things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Now I’m going to talk about all those other issues that us women have to deal with…hair, makeup, looking good, and that time of the month.

Hair Removal

Over 6 years ago (before I understood how ridiculous it was to use fossil fuels for such tasks!) I purchased an epilator – an electronic gadget that removes hairs by the root. Aside from the fact that it’s a huge chunk of plastic with electronic components that probably had a huge carbon footprint to manufacture, there are some advantages from a waste point-of-view. It has a rechargeable battery (that is still going after 6+years), there’s no blades that need continually replacing, and there’s no need to apply shaving foam / cream, or lotion afterwards.

As long as it lasts I’ll keep using it.epilator for hair removalIn addition, I actually have a plastic razor with disposable blades. This may surprise you, but wait, don’t judge! This is another 6+ years ago purchase. I bought the last blades whilst still living in the UK, over 4 years ago. I use it very sparingly, more for emergencies than anything else – hence why I still have 2 blades from 2011!

I also re-use and re-use and re-use the blades, and I’m careful to ensure they don’t rust. Whilst a completely stainless steel blade and handle would look much more the part for someone who promotes plastic-free living, I’m a firm believer in using up what you have first – and this is still in acceptable condition. These two blades will probably last me a couple more years!

Plastic Gilette Razor with Disposable Plastic HeadsWhen all the plastic paraphernalia has gone, then what? Thankfully, there are plenty of options.

  • Sleeves, leggings and long trousers: personally I prefer the shaven look, but I’m also fairly lazy so if I can get away with it by covering up, then I will!
  • Stainless steel razors: becoming more common to buy (look in proper barber shops) but it is easier to cut yourself than with plastic disposable “safety” razors.
  • Tweezers: this is probably not for the faint-hearted, but I’m a huge fan ; )
  • Sugar waxing: this a waxing process that uses sugar (yes, sugar) rather than petroleum-based wax to remove hair. It’s possible to do this at home, or go to a salon. I’m certainly intrigued, although I’ve never tried it.

Make-Up – Stick to the Essentials

Most plastic-free / zero-wasters will agree that it’s far easier to make do with a whole lot less when it comes to make-up! Finding plastic-free, chemical free products can be a challenge, so cutting out anything unnecessary definitely helps. In my twenties I owned multiple shades of eyeshadow, most of which I only wore a couple of times (if that) – what a waste!

I very rarely wear make-up now, but when I do, I stick to the basics – mascara and blusher mostly. (I still have a bag of very old makeup which I use extremely rarely – like on my wedding day!)

It’s possible to buy makeup in tins and in glass. Local artisans often sell products at Farmers or crafts markets and you can discuss with them the possibility of using your own containers. If this isn’t an option, look online for Etsy sellers who sell their products without plastic.

There are plenty of websites out there with recipes for making your own cosmetics. I’ve seen recipes for making blusher using ingredients from the pantry like cacao powder. I can’t recommend any but if you know any good websites with this kind of info be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Lush makeup in glass bottles

This lipgloss and mascara were purchased as a gift. the bottles are glass and the wands are recycled plastic. not perfect, but better than plastic tubes.

Skincare and Makeup Removal

Skincare routines are synonymous with disposable makeup pads that come wrapped in plastic. To some extent, using bar soap as a cleanser removes the need for daily cotton pads, but there are still times when they’re useful. However, like all things, there are reusable options!

First up, consider using a flannel to clean your face. It’s also possible to buy reusable pads, or make your own using old towels or other material. I wouldn’t recommend getting bright white ones as they will decolour (especially if you’re using to remove mascara!). Make a few, then throw into the washing machine and you’re ready to go again!

reusable cloth pads for removing makeup

I use cotton buds occasionally and I buy organic cotton ones with a cardboard stem. The box has a small plastic window, but it’s the best I can find currently: the plastic-free ones I used to buy were discontinued.

Organic cotton buds in cardboard packaging

That Time of the Month – Go Reusable

I’ve used a Diva Cup since 2003. It’s a silicone reusable menstrual cup that is worn internally (find more details here as to how it works). I’ll try to spare you too much detail but in summary, they are very comfortable, last ages (you don’t need to empty for several hours) but the removal and emptying can take a bit of getting used to. If you do forget to empty it and it fills up, or you don’t insert it properly and spring a leak…well let’s just say that you do NOT want that to happen. It is messy.

I recently bought a new one: women over 30 need a slightly bigger size as their hips expand, apparently. I actually managed to buy this from a chemist, whereas the first one I had to get shipped from Canada to the UK in the days when internet shopping was almost non-existent!

Diva Cup

The Diva Cup: a zero waste solution

The other product that’s popular amongst zero-waster is homemade or reusable sanitary pads. I don’t have any, but I think they are a great idea – it’s just that I haven’t got round to it. Pinterest is full of DIY tutorials if you’re keen to make your own, otherwise I’d recommend looking on Etsy for local producers. There’s really no need to be using plastic-wrapped disposable products.

There you have it – Part 2 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. I hope it left you feeling inspired to make some changes!

Now I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to know if you have any further ideas that haven’t been covered in this post or the last? I’d also love to know if you have any recipes, guides or tutorials for DIY products?  Is there anything that you struggle with, or anything you find too extreme? What are the biggest challenges for you, and what have you found easy? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!