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A (Surprisingly Easy) Way to Generate Less Waste

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savoury muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savoury muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate.

How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back. (I figure if I do that, at least they can be re-used. If I leave them untouched on the plate, when everything gets cleared away they will probably end up in the bin.) The issue with this, and I’m sure most people will agree, is that anything toasted tastes far better smothered in buttery goodness.

When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking.

I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions.

Here’s the result:

plastic-free butter

Plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organise a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different.

The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!

(Of course there are times when asking gets you nowhere, and then all of the above apply! – But the first step should always be to ask the question).

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no. It’s really not that bad!

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. we can make others realise that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go! There’s no need to cause a fuss, or get angry or grumpy if the answer is no. There’s no need to feel nervous. Remember, the answer could just as easily be yes!

Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever had any great wins just because you asked the question? Have you ever had any dismal failures…and what did you do afterwards?! Do you have any tips for reducing waste when out and about? Any other ideas you’d like to add? Please leave a comment and tell me your experiences below!

Zero Waste Week is Coming Up…

You know me…any excuse to bang on about waste and I’m onto it! Which is why I’m super excited to be an ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014. Zero Waste Week is…yes, you guessed it…a week of living with less waste, and it runs from 1st – 7th September.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

As part of the challenge, you need to make a waste pledge, and the theme this year is “one more thing”. I’m already reasonably close to zero waste and I had a go at a completely zero waste week back in June with reasonable success (completely zero waste meaning no landfill and no recycling – only compostable waste), so I wasn’t sure what my pledge should be at first.

What extra thing could I manage?

Then I realised, I’m actually away from home that week, and it’s always much harder to keep standards up when on holiday. So I decided I’m going to commit to not sending anything to landfill during Zero Waste Week, although recyclables are acceptable.

No matter how zero waste I try to be, there’s always something that sneaks into the rubbish bin, so I think this will be a good challenge!

Lindsay Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Week Pledge 1

Do you like my Zero Waste Week pledge? I wrote it on the back of the cardboard packaging from an empty box of pasta! (Which then went into the worm farm.)

The challenge began in the UK, but you can take part no matter where you live. The problem of waste is global, after all, so let’s make this an international challenge! There’s still plenty of time to make a pledge. Check out the Zero Waste Week website for some more inspiration, and then join us and sign up for the challenge yourself : ) There’s no excuses: you still have almost two weeks to prepare!

Once you’ve decided what your “one more thing” will be, please leave a comment below telling me what you’ve pledged. I’d love to hear from you!

The Last Day of Plastic Free July…and a Debrief!

Phew. It’s the 31st, and that means Plastic Free July is over. Everyone breathe a sigh of relief! Whether this was your first attempt at going plastic-free, or whether you’re a seasoned veteran, it’s still a tough challenge. Even as someone who has boycotted plastic for two years, I find it tough.

Why? Because it’s confronting. It makes you question your habits, your decisions, your values – and then puts you up to the test. It’s that feeling of compromise that I mention so often…wanting to do the right thing, knowing what the right thing would be, but when faced with a decision in that moment, it doesn’t seem so black-and-white.

Maybe it’s the cost. Overall I’ve found that quitting plastic has reduced my food bill, but when you’re starting out it often isn’t that way. You probably make choices for the products you buy based on cost – so when you start basing your choices on packaging, the cost can skyrocket. If you’re still shopping in your regular shop, and for your regular items, this is likely. Slowly though, as you start finding alternative places to shop and start choosing different products, your costs go back down.

Maybe it’s the time. When you’re in a routine, and you buy the same things week in, week out then you can shop without thinking. Most of us could navigate round our regular shop with our eyes closed. But suddenly we have to start again. We have to make new choices, look for alternatives, maybe find new places to shop. The time spent shopping increases (and who wants that?!). It’s easy to write it off and go back to your old ways. Remember though, habits take time to form. If you stick with it, you’ll end up with a new routine that is just as painless as the last, and one that you can do without thinking too. Give it time.

Maybe it’s your morale. At the start of a challenge, we feel excited and ready to go. As time goes on, slip-ups happen, we struggle to find what we want, we feel drained and it all feels too hard. When we feel like this, it’s tempting to give up. Remember, though…change is never easy. However, it will get easier over time. Don’t dwell on what you can’t change, focus on what you can change. Celebrate your successes. If you need time out then take it, and come back when you’re feeling ready to give it another go.

Maybe it’s your ego, resisting. I’m not talking morale here, I’m talking about your ego, your mind, your inner voice. You know the one. The voice that persuades you to eat that extra piece of chocolate cake, even though you’ve already eaten two bits and you’re really far too full! (Or is that just me…?) Plastic Free July is going really well, you’ve had no slip-ups, you’re feeling pleased with yourself and all of a sudden you have an overwhelming desire to go and buy something completely smothered in plastic. Not because you need it, or even want it necessarily: it’s your ego trying to take back control – coaxing with “why shouldn’t you?” “who cares?” and “what does it matter?”. It’s a feeling of defiance and of rebellion. At some stage, we’ve all been there. Give in, if you have to, but don’t give up. Keep persisting, and these feelings will pass.

Whatever it is, remember we are all in this together! You’re not alone. There is a growing community of people who are going plastic-free, who have ideas, tips and suggestions, can listen and offer support when you’re struggling and can celebrate with you when you finally find something you need that’s plastic free and your regular friends think you’ve gone crazy. We understand!

If you want a bit more encouragement, check out how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better; it’s a summary of my first year of living without plastic, and all the good things that came from it!

To everyone who took part in Plastic Free July – congratulations! It doesn’t really matter how well you did or how many slip-ups you made, the most important thing is that you took part. (Hopefully you had fun, made some new friends and learnt a thing or two, too!) After all, recognising that there’s a problem, and deciding to do something about it, is the first step. The first step is always the hardest. It will get easier from here!

Now I want to hear from you! Did you take part in Plastic Free July? What was the hardest thing for you? What was the easiest? Do you have any tips for people who have yet to take part – things you learned from the experience? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Would You Wash Your Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar?

Would you switch from using regular shampoo and conditioner to washing your hair with sodium bicarbonate (also called bicarbonate of soda, bicarb soda or bicarb) and vinegar? Sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it?! Why would actually do something like that?! Well, I’m gonna tell you not only who, but also why, and…what happened when I tried it out myself!

Who Would Wash Their Hair with Bicarb?

I’m not talking about eccentric old ladies with too many cats, the ones who sit at the bus stop talking to themselves. Maybe they do too; I’ve never asked. But if you think they’re the only people who would do such a thing, you’d be mistaken.

In fact, there’s so many people on board it’s even been described as a movement. It’s called the “no poo” (as in “no shampoo”) movement, but as someone who cringes at toilet humour, I try to avoid that description! No poo is bad enough, but combined with movement…nope, I just can’t (won’t) go there. However, if you Google it, you’ll be amazed how many entries pop up!

Broadly speaking, converts fit into three groups – the environmentally conscious, the health conscious, and the thrifty. Their motives are all slightly different, but the outcome is the same – clean, shiny hair!

Kate with Bicarb Vinegar Hair

This is my friend Kate Raynes-Goldie (@OceanPark), “doing a Shirley Temple”… “Getting ready for the WA Screen awards (and to think, once upon a time I had purple hair, and pink hair, and bright orange…) But, even more exciting is that as of the time this picture was taken, I hadn’t used shampoo on my hair in over a month (sodium bicarb and apple cider vinegar, baby! ” KRG

 Why Would You Wash Your Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar?

There’s actually a whole heap of reasons.

  • Shampoos can strip natural oils from the scalp, so the scalp produces more oil to compensate. This makes more regular shampooing needed to remove the oil, and becomes a vicious cycle. Feel like your hair is constantly greasy and needs washing every day? Ironically, your shampoo may be to blame. Dermatologists found that reducing shampoo use causes oil to be produced at a lower rate.
  • Shampoos typically contain synthetic ingredients and their safety is increasingly under question. Parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity, and 1,4-dioxane has been labelled a probable human carcinogen. Sodium bicarbonate and vinegar are both completely safe – we put them in our food!
  • Silicone derivatives such as dimethicone which are added to shampoo to coat the hair and make it appear shiny and more manageable are now thought to dry the hair out because they prevent moisture entering.
  • Plastic! The majority of shampoo and other haircare products come in plastic bottles, which contribute to plastic pollution in the environment. In addition, flushing these chemicals down the drain does nothing for our waterways.
  • Bicarb and vinegar are far cheaper than the majority of shampoos and conditioners, and if you’re on a budget, can help save money.
  • It’s another way to simplify. You probably already have bicarb and vinegar in the house, so why not multi-purpose them? By replacing shampoo and conditioner you’ve got two less bottles cluttering up the house, plus that’s two less things to run out of.

What will happen to my hair?!

If you’ve been using conventional commercial shampoos for a while, chances are you’ve got a lot of residue built up on your scalp, which takes time to wash away. You’ve also got to allow your sebaceous (oil) glands to slow down once they realise you’re no longer stripping the natural oils from your head.

It can take 5-7 day for your scalp to adjust, but usually 2-6 weeks is more usual to break the cycle. During this time, your hair may seem a little greasier than usual.

My Bicarb Vinegar Experiment

So what was my experience? My experiment began on 1st June this year. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I decided that I should give it a go before making judgement!

As a bit of background, I have reasonably short (maybe shoulder-length) curly hair. I haven’t used commercial shampoos and conditioners for two years; I use natural products made locally. I only wash my hair every 2-3 days – curly hair doesn’t like too much washing!

Method:

Mix a few tablespoons of bicarb with just enough water to make a paste. Rub into your scalp and work towards the ends. Leave for a couple of minutes, and then rinse out.

Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 cup (warm!) water. Tip your head back and pour onto your scalp so it runs onto your hair, and rub in with your hands. Avoid getting it into your eyes – vinegar stings!

Rinse off.

Results:

Please excuse the bad photos. There was no-one around, so I had to take them myself. Clearly I’m no master of the “selfie”…but that’s possibly a good thing…

Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed 2 Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo

The process was very simple, and my hair actually looked normal straightaway. There was no greasy hair, and no frizz problems. I was expecting a couple of weeks of bad hair days, but that never happened (or at least, no more than usual)!

It definitely needs washing less. Whereas before I would notice my hair getting greasy after a couple of days, now it will last three or four.

As for the vinegar smell… I read that the vinegar smell will dissipate after an hour. Not true! The first time I was paranoid that I was walking around smelling like fish and chips. I’ve since tried adding essential oils to the vinegar mix. Rose oil was too subtle and didn’t work. Lemon myrtle was a little overpowering. I’m currently using clove oil, which seems to be a good compromise. Lavender is often recommended but I really don’t like the smell. There’s plenty of options though, and they do work to mask the vinegar odour effectively.

Verdict: Overall, I think its great! I’m definitely a convert : )

Give it a Go!

Everyone’s hair is different, and just because it worked for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you…but that shouldn’t stop you trying! Why not give it a go?!

Now I want to hear from you! Do you already use the bicarb/vinegar method, and how have you found it? Did you try and admit defeat? Are you tempted…or is it something you’re still not even game to try?! I’d love it if you shared your experiences so please leave a comment below!

A Movie Review: Trashed

On Tuesday night I went to a movie night hosted by Transition Town Guildford for the documentary Trashed. Released in 2012 and featuring Jeremy Irons, Trashed explores the extent of the global waste problem, and the consequences – including pollution in beautiful and uninhabited environments, the health risks to animals, humans and children, and the contamination of the oceans.

When I say ‘explores’, this movie does not just skim the surface. It gets right in there. It’s a powerful film, and it gets the point across that we need to change the way we do things. If you’re not convinced before the film, you won’t be left with any doubt afterwards that waste is a serious problem – and it affects all of us.

Featuring farmers from France and Iceland, hospital works in Vietnam, and waste disposal sites in the UK, Lebanon and Indonesia, it is clear that this is a global issue.

Here’s the trailer:

I loved the message, the depth of the science and the exploration of the facts. It was hard-hitting and some people, particularly those who aren’t already aware of the issues surrounding waste may find it pretty confronting. They tried to end on a positive note, bringing the movie back from the feeling of impending doom, with just enough positivity for the audience to leave without feeling like it was all too hard and all too much. But only just.

My only real criticism was the lack of exploration of the issues surrounding recycling. Clearly there wasn’t space to cover everything, but I felt that plastic recycling in particular could have been further addressed. At the end of the film they show huge bales of plastic waiting to go to China (from San Fransisco) for recycling, but no mention is made of the issues of transporting huge amounts of plastic across the ocean, nor the hazardous processes involved with recycling the plastic in countries with less stringent safety regulations.

Particularly after they talked in length of the dangers of burning waste, I felt this was a glaring omission.

The other interesting point is that this segment of the film was recorded in 2009. Back then, China was a huge buyer of plastic waste, but the plastic shipments were often contaminated with non-recyclable plastic and other debris, and in February 2013 China has cracked down on this with Operation Green Fence, meaning all plastics must be washed and uncontaminated. All shipments are inspected on arrival, and if they are contaminated they are sent back, with the sender incurring the cost. In the first 3 months, 7600 tons of waste were rejected.

I’d definitely recommend watching it, but if you’re new to the issues of waste, you might find it gentler starting with the Clean Bin Project or my all-time favourite, Bag it!.

If you’re interested in hosting a screening of your own, you can find the details on the Trashed website.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think? Did you find it motivating, or did you think they stepped over the line into Doomsday-ville? If you haven’t seen it, what were your thoughts after watching the trailer? Leave me a comment; I’d love to hear what you think!

Plastics and Health: Phthalates

Plastic was the wonder product of the 1960s. Strong yet lightweight; durable yet inexpensive; plastics made everyday items affordable to the less well-off and revolutionized consumerism. The popularity of plastic means today it has become the manufacturing material of choice. After all, it’s so versatile. Plastics can be transparent, translucent, opaque; they can be coloured and patterned; they can be molded into any shape.

A true wonder product? Or not?

When something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Sadly, plastics are no exception. I’ve talked about the fact they last forever and the problems that come once their useful life is over (you can read about that here). But what about during their life?

It turns out that plastic isn’t the inert, safe material that was once thought. Chemicals added into plastic to instill specific properties can leach back out… and they’re entering our food, our water and our bodies. Plastic is affecting our health.

I’ve already talked about BPA, one of the additives used that has been found to leach from plastic – an additive linked to cancer and developmental problems in children. (You can read more about BPA here). Now I want to talk about another group of additives that have gained a lot of bad press: phthalates.

What are Phthalates?

Phthalates are a group of chemicals, sometimes called plasticizers, added to plastic to make them soft and malleable. They are a particularly common additive to PVC (plastic type #3). Without plasticisers, PVC is rigid (this is sometimes called uPVC, meaning unplasticised PVC, and is used for building materials and window frames).

Where are Phthalates found?

PVC is used for all kinds of products. If a plastic PVC product is flexible, unless the packaging states that it does not contain phthalates, the chances are that it does.

Plastic wrap (cling film/Glad wrap) is typically made out of PVC.

So are many children’s toys, clothing and school supplies, including lunchboxes and eating utensils, school bags, pencil cases, ring binders and folders, raincoats and umbrellas.

PVC is also found in households as furniture, flooring, shower curtains, wallpaper and electronics.

Baby products including sippy cups and bottles, squeezy toys and changing mats also contain phthalates, although since 1999 in Europe and 2009 in the US, some phthalates have been banned from baby and children’s products because of the negative health implications.

Not Just Plastic…

Phthalates are not just found in plastic. They are also found in many beauty products, including shampoo, lotions, perfumes, hair gel, nail polish and deodorant. They help make lotions feel smooth, mix better and increase absorption into the skin.

You may not see them on the labels either: the law permits them to be labelled as ”fragrance”.

Why are Phthalates bad?

Phthalates don’t actually chemically bind to the plastic they’re mixed with, meaning that phthalates are released from plastic products over time. This occurs more rapidly as a result of heat, exposure to solvents and friction.

Have you noticed how soft plastics get increasingly hard and brittle over time? That’s because the phthalates have leached out of them.

Some phthalates are particularly attracted to fats, and food products with a high fat content such as cheese, meat and other dairy wrapped in PVC film have been found to contain notably high levels of phthalates.

Phthalates enter our bodies via ingestion, but also inhalation and absorption through the skin. As well as being detected in blood, sweat and urine, they have been found in breast milk and are known the cross the placenta. We are widely exposed to phthalates because PVC is such a widely distributed material.

Children are more exposed because they spend time playing on floors, many children’s toys are made from PVC, and children are more likely to put plastic products in their mouths. This is compounded because they are much smaller than adults so the toxic loading increases.

Women are also more susceptible because of their use of beauty products containing phthalates.

Like BPA, phthalates are now known to be endocrine disruptors, meaning they mimic hormones in the body. Phthalates have been linked to increased obesity, liver damage, reproductive disorders, asthma and development issues in children. The phthalate DEHP has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the US EPA, meaning it is likely to cause cancer. Studies have linked phthalates to breast cancer.

 How can I avoid Phthalates?

There’s plenty of things you can do to avoid exposure to phthalates. Here’s just a few ideas to get started:

1. Avoid PVC (plastic #3, also sometimes written as V within the recycling arrow). If you need to buy products made of plastic, look for plastics #1, #2 and #5 as these are considered “safer” plastics. Or skip the plastic altogether. Choose products made from wood, metal, glass or natural fibres.

2. Don’t use plastic wrap! Whilst safer alternatives that are phthalate-free do now exist, how long before these safer ingredneits are exposed to be hazardous too? Plastic wrap is really unneccessary. Store food in tins, jars, in glass or pyrex, or simply in a bowl with a plate on top.Try not to buy cheese or meat that’s been wrapped in PVC film either – take your own container, ask for it to be wrapped in paper or look for non-PVC plastic packaging.

3. Choose safe cosmetics. Look for certified organic products; a product that says “contains natural/organic ingredients” may still contain many chemicals. Choose products with fewer ingredients, preferably ones that you have heard of! Seek out products fragranced only with essential oils. Find local producers that make small batches using natural ingredients; you can speak to them about exactly what does and doesn’t go into their products. If you want to know how safe the products you are already using are, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database of over 68,000 products. Question whether there’s any products you use that you could actually do without. Simplify.

4. Look for phthalate-free children’s toys and clothes, and remember if buying second-hand that phthalates were not banned before 2009, so older products may still contain these chemicals. Be particularly wary of school supplies. Anything shiny, glossy and waterproof is probably made of PVC.

5. Eat organic. Phthalates are found in pesticides, and also in sewage sludge (remember phthalates are found in urine). Organic farms are not permitted to use either of these and so organic crops are less exposed to phthalates than conventional crops.

Plastic Shores: a Movie Review

Last Friday I saw the eco documentary Plastic Shores at the delightful Ecoburbia monthly movie night. The Producer/Director Edward Scott-Clarke describes the movie like this:

‘Plastic Shores’ is a documentary that explores how plastic affects the marine environment. Travelling from the International Marine Debris Conference in Hawai’i to the polluted Blue Flag beaches of Cornwall, the film reveals just how bad the problem of plastic debris is and how it harms aquatic life and, potentially, human health. 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced in the world every year and a third of this is for disposable packaging. There is now, according to the UN, not a single beach or sea in the world that is not affected by plastic pollution and the problem is only increasing.

Here’s the trailer:

Now you know me, I love a good eco documentary, especially one about plastic. I love Bag It!, and also The Clean Bin Project (not specifically about plastic but waste in general, and an excellent documentary), so I was looking forward to this.

I have to say, I found it somewhat disappointing. It opened with an interview, and the interviewee was extolling the virtues of plastic, and this wasn’t really countered by the film’s narrator. The interviewee actually made some good points, including that transporting plastic is lighter than glass (reducing fossil fuel use and emissions), and that if plastic was replaced with other materials, there would be far greater burden on the planet in terms of mining and cost.

I was expecting the movie to then counter these arguments, perhaps with a mention of the need to cut back on consumption in general, the fact that whilst plastic has some great uses, a lot of plastic is for single-use items, or that plastic is made from fossil fuels, maybe even that despite the benefits, the ultimate environmental cost outweighs all the advantages.

But there was no response at all. It seemed a strange way to introduce the movie, leaving viewers confused as to the message the film was trying to get across.

The content itself was informative, although a little slow moving. There were facts revealed that I didn’t know (apparently 5% of oil production is used for plastic manufacture), and the issue of plastic pollution in the oceans was very clearly explained. There was a lot of detail of how plastic has affected Hawai’i, and interviews with some knowledgeable and informed plastic activists.

What disappointed me most, though, was the solutions, presented after all the negative impacts of plastic on the oceans had been covered. I guess I was just expecting more.

‘Reduce’, was the first option; the solution? Take your own bags to the shops. I felt that most people who would take the time to watch this (any?) eco-documentary were probably past the whole ‘bring-your-own-bags’ scenario. This was discussed in great detail, including interviewing a man who ran a company making biodegradable bags… from fossil fuels. Hardly a win-win solution.

No other solutions were really discussed; the movie moved on to ‘Re-use’. There was a sweeping statement that all plastic is reusable, combined with camera shots of used syringes, empty crisp packets and condom wrappers. I would think that the issue with most single-use plastic is that, actually, it is not reusable. Surely that is the point?

Then we were back to the trusty ‘Recycle’. “We should recycle what we can”, the movie tells us. Again, most people taking the time to watch an eco documentary are probably already at this point.

I just felt that there was so much more to say. There was no discussion about the impact of convenience, of how convenience is a key generator of waste and a huge part of the plastic problem. There was no real discussion about reusable containers, cutlery, water bottles, refusing straws, avoiding single-wrapped items, yet there was so much potential.

I felt this was a missed opportunity.

The biggest let down, for me, was that this movie did not inspire. It educated, yes, but I didn’t leave feeling like I could make a difference, or armed with any new tips, or empowered to make changes. That’s exactly what I love about Bag It and the Clean Bin Project. They show what ordinary people can do (and are doing) to make a difference. For me, that is the key to a successful eco documentary. It should empower.

Oh, and there should be some light-hearted moments, some humour, some fun. It’s not all doom and gloom, and making people feel like it’s all too much does not inspire change.

If you’re a die-hard zero waste advocate, then watch it; you’ll probably still learn something new. If you’re not, I’d give it a miss. Bag It! and Clean Bin Project have a similar message but are uplifting, fun, and more enjoyable to watch.

Have you seen Plastic Shores? What did you think? Do you agree with me that a good eco documentary should be inspiring? Maybe you’re a fan of the ‘Doom and Gloom’ approach? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

How I Quit the Supermarket

For a long time I was uneasy with shopping at the supermarket. I wanted to shop sustainably from independent producers, support local businesses, and buy ethically, yet quitting the supermarket seemed so… drastic. I wanted to divorce my supermarket. Split up with my supermarket. “That’s it! I’m leaving you!” Storm out of the door, dramatically, never to return. However much I might have wanted to, something held me back. Actually taking action seemed too overwhelming.

Yet I realised at the start of this year that I don’t really shop at supermarkets any more. As a couple, for every $100 we spend on food, we probably spend $1 in the supermarket. In the space of two years, I’ve gone from shopping there multiple times a week to maybe once a month. What happened?

I didn’t divorce my supermarket. There were no fireworks, no drama, no tears and regret. Things simply changed. We drifted apart. We had nothing in common. It was a gradual shift, so subtle that I didn’t really notice it, until one day I realised that we just weren’t doing things together any more, and I was free.

Here’s how I quit the supermarket.

The first thing was starting to buy my fruit and vegetables elsewhere. Supermarkets in Western Australia have very expensive fruit and vegetables, limited choice and almost no organic produce. I tried a few things – shopping at the local fruit and veg stores (cheaper but most produce was imported from China), before switching to Farmers Markets (more expensive but locally produced) and signing up for a weekly organic vegetable box delivery.

The second thing I did was to stop buying bread from the supermarket (it’s filled with additives, preservatives and palm oil) and start buying bread from a proper bakery. Nothing beats freshly baked bread! I also learned how to make my own sourdough, both to save money and so I could enjoy fresh bread when I needed it, rather than just on Saturdays.

Thirdly, I started shopping at bulk stores for grains, pulses, spices, nuts, and seeds. The prices here are far cheaper than the supermarkets and the choice is better. I have at least three very good stores close to me, and the more I look, the more I find.

Next, I gave up plastic. This meant not buying anything in plastic packaging. This was quite a big shift, and saw my supermarket consumption drop considerably. I found a local supplier of milk and yoghurt at the Farmers Market with products packaged in glass (and they collect empties for re-use). I also learned that is really simple to make yoghurt at home.

I discovered that it is possible to buy laundry and dishwashing liquid in bulk from the bulk bin stores by bringing my own containers. Rather than buy shampoo, conditioner and shower gel from the supermarket, I found a local artisan producer who used natural ingredients so I could avoid the chemicals found in regular brands. I now make my own deodorant and toothpaste.

You don’t need to buy expensive cleaning products from the supermarket either. Green cleaning solutions such as using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar work just as well, and are far safer than a lot of products for sale in the supermarket.

The next thing to go was switching from the supermarket service counters when buying fish, cheese and deli items. I found a local fishmongers; although the price is higher, the quality is infinitely better and the selection is amazing. We buy olives and cheese from a local deli rather than the supermarket.

From this point I was only stopping in at the local supermarket for odd bits and pieces, and the challenge now is to find alternative sources for these few things. We had a win recently with finding an alternative source for toilet paper, which was one of the last remaining supermarket staples.

Important note – this was not a quick process! It has taken me two years to get from where I was to where I am now! I started slowly and just chipped away until there was almost nothing left.

So…what is left now? There are a few things that I still go to the supermarket to buy. One is tins of coconut milk. I still can’t find an organic brand that I like, so for now, I sticking with the supermarket brand. It’s not a regular purchase though; I’ve probably bought 4 tins from the supermarket so far this year. I also bought a jar of black tahini recently as I’d read about it, wanted to try it and hadn’t seen it stocked anywhere else. Eventually I’ll find alternatives for these, too. There’s no point worrying about what is still left to achieve; it is far better to celebrate successes, and I’m pretty happy that I made it this far!

Have you thought about quitting the supermarket? Have you given it a go or do you find the whole idea of taking action a little overwhelming? Maybe you are you a pro with loads of tips to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Make Your Own: Plastic-free, Sugar-free Muesli

I used to be a huge lover of breakfast cereals. I’d hoard them. I actually had a cupboard dedicated to breakfast cereal. I liked to have a minimum of 5 different choices in my cupboard, and I remember once having 11 different types on the go. I’m not the only one either, it seems. In 2011 Australians spent $1.17 billion on breakfast cereal, and consumed almost 8 kilos per person!

My tastes changed over time of course – as a kid I loved Frosties (I cringe at that thought now), as a teenager my staple cereal was Fruit ‘n’ Fibre, and as an adult I fell for those luxury muesli lines with the beautiful packaging.

But then I began to fall out of love with cereals. Firstly there was the media reports revealing how cereals are way too high in salt and sugar. Low fat cereals are particularly high in sugar, and a UK study found cornflakes that contained as much salt as ready-salted crisps. Next was the constant bombardment of adverts and marketing. Oh we’ve made this new product. Oh we’ve made that new product. Oh we’ve made a chocolate version! A cereal bar version! A chocolate cereal bar version! I started getting cereal company fatigue. And then there was the packaging. Boxes that would appear enormous until I opened them to find the contents only half-filled the bag inside. Or packets that would declare “contain 20 servings”, only for me to discover that their interpretation of a serving was 4 teaspoons, and for my portions, the box contained nearer to four servings. Which actually made cereal a rather expensive habit.

And the final straw? Plastic. When I gave up buying anything in plastic, only a couple of options remained. Some super fancy muesli sold in glass jars for exorbitant prices, or plain oats in cardboard. The love affair was over.

But recently, I’ve started craving cereal again, and so I’ve started making my own using the ingredients I get from the bulk-bin stores. It’s super easy and there are limitless possibilities. This recipe is my current base.

I wanted to keep it sugar-free so it doesn’t contain any dried fruit. If one morning I fancy something sweet I add some fresh fruit, or blend a banana with some (cashew) milk and sprinkle the muesli on top.

Or I add a teaspoon of bee pollen or a tablespoon of cacao nibs. You can always add the sugar in, but you can’t take it out!

Recipe: plastic-free, sugar-free muesli

Ingredients:

3 cups coconut flakes
2 cups oats
1/2 cup brazil nuts
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds/pepitas
80ml macadamia oil (or other high quality, flavourless oil)

Method:

[I soak my almonds and pumpkin seeds overnight to activate them and make them more digestible, and then dry them out before chopping and adding to the mix. If you can’t be bothered with this step or are short of time, just skip it.]

Roughly chop the brazil nuts, peanuts and almonds. Combine in a bowl with the coconut flakes and oats. Stir in the oil and mix well until everything is well coated.

Line a baking tin with baking paper. Spread the mixture evenly over the paper and bake at 100ºC for 30 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool.

Store in a glass jar. It will keep for a few weeks, but I think it is better to make small batches and more often to keep it fresh.

Enjoy!

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This delicious breakfast was made using half a banana blended with half a cup of cashew nut milk to form the base, and topped with half a cup of muesli. I like doing things by halves, it seems!

Another step in the right direction

The parcel I’ve been waiting for all week finally arrived on Friday. Oh the excitement! I don’t order things online much anymore, but it wasn’t the idea of receiving a parcel that caused my excitement. It was the contents of the parcel…

Toilet paper.

Yes. You did read that right. Read more