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Zero Waste Exceptions: Packaging, Plastic + Single-Use Items I Can’t Live Without

In my perfect world, I wouldn’t buy a single thing in plastic, I wouldn’t use a single thing in packaging…oh, and the sun would shine every day :) Even though I’ve lived plastic-free for almost 5 years, and describe myself as “zero waste”, there are still things that I buy in packaging. There are still single-use items I choose not to live without. Oh, and there’s still occasional plastic.

Of course I aspire to do better. But I don’t believe that zero waste is about being perfect. I believe it is about making better choices, trying to improve and doing the best we can.

If it was about being perfect, almost all of us would fall short. Then we’d decide it is all too hard, and give up. What a waste that would be! If we all make a few changes, that adds up to an enormous difference.

Imagine if every single person in the world decided that whilst they couldn’t do everything, they could manage to bring their own bags to the shop or market? Or that they could refuse a disposable coffee cup? Does it really matter that they can’t fit their entire landfill trash for the year in a jam jar?! I don’t think so ;)

Both my husband and I have our zero waste weaknesses. It’s all too easy for me to lump them together – and then blame him for most of them! So I’ve decided to focus on mine only. Just this once!

Packaging, Plastic and Single-Use: My Zero Waste Exceptions

1. Toilet Paper

I know that many people use “cloth” rather than toilet paper. I know that I could get a bidet attachment for my toilet. But the truth is, right now, I use toilet paper. It’s not that I am opposed to either idea, but my husband has assured me he is never giving the loo roll up, and I don’t want to have two systems. I’m happy to stick with his!

That’s not to say I’ll never change, but right now toilet paper is working for me, and it’s staying.

We buy Who Gives a Crap toilet paper. It is 100% recycled, the packaging is plastic-free, and the company donate 50% of profits to water projects overseas. We re-use the paper wrapping, and recycle the big cardboard box it comes in (the are 48 tolls in one box). It is an Australian company, although the rolls are made in China.

Maybe not perfect, but it works for us.

2. Chocolate Bars

Chocolate is my weakness. I’m trying very hard to buy more bulk chocolate and less packaged chocolate, but I have a particular obsession with Green & Blacks 85%. I like to buy organic and fair trade chocolate, and bulk stores have less options.

Yes, I know that Green & Blacks was purchased by Cadbury’s, and Cadbury’s was sold to Kraft. Not ideal at all. Truth is, I got addicted before that happened!

I only buy chocolate bars that come with tin foil and paper or card, and I recycle the packaging. I do buy bulk chocolate, too. My local bulk store also sells Loving Earth chocolate in bulk which is organic, Fair Trade and vegan – but it has a lot more sugar than these guys. If I ate a little less, maybe it wouldn’t matter…

3. Baking Paper

I  use baking parchment. I use it to bake bread and biscuits (to line my metal baking tray) and to line cake tins or loaf tins. I find it helps stop the edges burning.

Whilst I do have silicone muffin trays of various sizes, and silicone muffin cases, I sometimes need to bake more than I have, and other times I need a bigger size. Sometimes I use paper muffin cases.

I’ve tried greasing my tins, but I prefer baking paper. Whilst silicone works well, it isn’t recyclable, and heating in the oven does seem to degrade it over time. The muffin cases (baking cups) I use very sparingly, but the paper I use more often.

I will wipe the baking paper clean after use, and will aim to get a few uses out of it before composting.

4. Seedling Punnets

I’ve been buying seedling punnets to establish our garden. After almost all of my summer seeds failed to germinate, I resorted to buying seedling punnets (plastic punnets with seedlings in them ready for transplanting in the garden). It was that or not grow any vegetables all summer, so overall I felt I could justify the waste.

I’ve tried reusing them, but the soil tends to dry out too quickly. I’ve saved them all up in the hope of passing them on to someone who will re-use them.

I use the plastic labels in my garden. Hopefully I will be able to reuse these multiple times, but eventually they will end up as landfill.

5. Seed Packets

As we are establishing our garden, I’ve needed to buy seeds. Some seed packets contain foil/paper envelopes with the sees sealed inside; others have plastic zip-lock bags; and occasionally the seeds are loose.

My long-term plan is to save most of my own seeds, participate in seed swaps and grow seedlings from seed. But seed-saving is an art, and it will take some practice. Some things (like tomatoes and capsicums) are easy to save from seed; other things are harder and some require expert knowledge (and more land than I have).

So it’s unlikely I will ever be fully self-sufficient with my seeds.

I will be able to reuse the zip lock bags and the envelopes, but the foil/paper packets aren’t recycable.

6. Dog Food

We buy our dog food in large 14kg plastic sacks. Believe me, I do not like buying packaged industrially-produced dog food. We have tried all sorts of brands, organic and locally produced and Australian-made, but our dog prefers this one.

This is the biggest size available in this brand. Some Australian brands are slightly bigger (20kg). There is a bulk store in Perth that sells Australian dog food in bulk, but they buy 20kg bags and use those. As our dog eats through this in a month it doesn’t make sense for us.

I’ve looked into making food myself, but we don’t have space to make it in advance and freeze, and I’m not sure I want to go to the butchers every few days. Maybe in the future it will happen, but for now, we are sticking with this.

The plastic is recyclable at REDcycle.

7. Q Tips/Cotton Buds

I know that Q tips/cotton buds are meant to be bad for our ears, but seriously, I cannot bear to have water in my ears, or blocked ears generally. I use Q tips. They are 100% compostable and they come in 100% compostble packaging, but they are still a single-use item, and one that many zero wasters do without. I, however, have no plans to give them up.

I never ever use the ones with the plastic sticks. I also don’t use them often, maybe once every couple of weeks.

These are made from paper/card and organic cotton, in a cardboard box. I’ve had this box for around 2 years, and I’m due for a new one soon.

8. My Plastic (But Reusable) Toothbrush

When I went plastic-free in 2012, I started using bamboo toothbrushes. The bristles would constantly come out in my mouth and it used to drive me nuts. Not only that, but as I watched the plastic bristles wash down the drain I’d think – isn’t that exactly what I’m trying to prevent?

I saw a plastic toothbrush with a remove-able head in a health food shop in 2014 and made the switch. The heads only need replacing once every 6 months (I was replacing my bamboo toothbrush every two months).

The toothbrush is a brand is called Silver Care. I don’t love the plastic handle, but I think as a toothbrush, it does the job. The packaging and head are recyclable via Terracycle.

I suspect that it was the brand of bamboo toothbrush that was the issue, rather than bamboo toothbrushes as a whole, as many of my readers have told me that they get on well with different brands.

Nevertheless, now I have this one I intend to re-use it. Otherwise it’s a waste.

9. Re-Purposed Plastic

Mostly the zero waste and plastic-free movements align, but sometimes they do not. I’m happy to repurpose plastic if it is suitable for the job intended, will last, reduces landfill, and there isn’t an obvious better solution.

We used repurposed olive export barrels to make garden beds/pots for our veggie garden. These plastic barrels are used to ship olives from Greece to Australia just once, and then they are landfilled. We cut each one in half and turned them into garden beds. Each barrel cost around $30 (and cut in half makes two pots) compared to $150 for a single half wine barrel of the same size. They are food grade, UV stable and a waste product.

I’d rather olives were shipped in reusable containers, and maybe one day that will happen. Until then, I’m happy using these to grow my own food.

10. Plastic That Other People Give Me

Where I’ve been offered something that I know I can use and that might otherwise end up in the bin, I accept it. Reducing waste in generally is my priority, not keeping my own home pristine. My sister-in-law recently gave me a box of strange-flavoured tea that I knew I would drink and she knew she wouldn’t. It came in a box with a plastic window.

I’ve also been given some DIY skincare ingredients from a member of a community group who would have thrown them out had no-one wanted them.

This wax is a plant-based (vegan) alternative to beeswax, and I’m keen to try it out in some recipes. I’ll recycle the packaging when it’s empty.

I’m happy to take packaging from others and accept the waste if it means not wasting the product itself.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your zero waste exceptions? Are they things you can’t avoid, or things you choose not to? What is your biggest struggle? Is there anything that you thought would be impossible to give up or avoid, only to find that you were able to much more easily than you thought? Can anyone relate to me me on the chocolate issue?! Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

If food is the most common source of disposable single-use plastic in the house, then bathroom products must be the second. Thing is, they don’t need to be! This two-part guide has tips for how you can reduce plastic packaging in the bathroom, and ditch a lot of dubious synthetic chemicals in the process.

In Part 1 I’m covering the basics: simple swaps, things to think about and what has worked for me. In Part 2 I’ll be covering the dilemmas that we women face – including makeup, shaving and that time of the month.

Buy in Bulk

Buying from bulk stores is the easiest way to transition to plastic-free, if they are an option for you. When I began my plastic-free journey, I found bulk shampoo, bulk conditioner, bulk liquid soap and bulk oil, so I switched to these. Now I’ve simplified even more…read on!

Switch to Bar Everything

Solids are much easier to find plastic-free as they can be sold loose, wrapped in paper or sold in tins, so if you don’t have access to a bulk store switch from liquids to bars! Bar soap is a great replacement for liquid soap, and you can find great products that are gentle enough to use on your face if you look around.

Homemade soaps are having a bit of a revival, so see if you can find someone who makes soap locally as you will be able to chat to them about exactly what ingredients their soaps contain.

Natural Handmade Bar SoapIt’s also possible to find bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar deodorants and even bar sunscreen! I’ve only ever used bar soap but plenty of people I know use bar shampoo and love it!

Cut Down on the Number of Products You Use

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimate that on average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, and a man uses 6 daily. That’s 12 separate containers, and 12 items to try to find plastic free!

Before I switched to plastic-free, I would have a separate face wash and shower gel. Now I buy one good quality block of natural, handmade soap that has a high oil content (combined olive oil and coconut oil soaps are fairly easy to find) which I use for my face and in the shower.

Rather than a separate face and body moisturizer, I now use one product for both.

I stopped buying separate hair gel and (after shampooing and conditioning as normal) started rubbing a small amount of conditioner into my hair (and leaving it in) as a replacement – I found it works just as well. That was before I began my bicarb and vinegar hair experiment – now I don’t use anything at all.

Are there any products you could double-up on, or anything that isn’t really necessary that you could do without?

Replace Your Exfoliator with a Body Brush

I used to buy exfoliating scrubs until I realised that a body brush was far better. Dry body brushing is great for improving circulation, stimulating lymph glands and removing dead skin cells…and there’s no packaging, microbeads, drain-clogging ingredients or chemical ingredients to decipher.

dry body brush Body Shop FSC CROPPEDThe brushes usually have wooden handles and cactus bristles so are completely plastic free. The idea is you use long sweeping strokes towards the heart, either before or after a shower.

Consider Using Oils

After struggling to find moisturiser and cleanser in plastic-free packaging, I decide to switch to oil. Not oil-based products, but oil. Just one ingredient. Or maybe two, if it’s a blend.

Most lotions are a blend of water and oil, with an emulsifier to make it mix properly and a whole pile of other stuff chucked in there for good measure. Because they contain water, they also need to contain preservatives. Plus, a good proportion of what you’re paying for is water.

Oils are the part that have the moisturizing properties, so why not just use oils?

If you’re thinking oh, but won’t that make my skin oily?, actually no. Oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Oil cleansing is far better to clean your face than water, because oil dissolves grease, whereas water does not (like dissolves like).

If you’re thinking, but won’t it clog my pores?, again, no, although it depends on what oil you use and your skin type. All oils have a comedogenic rating, which measures how likely they are to clog pores. If you have oily skin you will be better able to cope with oils that have a higher comedogenic rating. Drier skin has smaller pores and prefer oils with lower comedogenic ratings.

Sweet Almond Oil and Jojoba Oil

I’ve tried hemp oil, but it left a green tinge on my face and stained all my towels green. Many people recommend coconut oil, but I haven’t tried this – its comedogenic rating is quite high. Now I stick to almond, jojoba and rosehip oils for my dry skin. I can get refills for the bottles (so no new packaging) and you need such a small amount each time, they last for ever.

Oil can also be a great treatment for hair, but it’s not something I’ve tried.

Make Your Own – No Experience or Equipment Necessary!

Some products are really simple to make at home. I make my own toothpaste and deodorant using coconut oil, bicarb and essential oil, pretty much. You just mix the ingredients together in a pot and voila! I checked the toothpaste recipe with my dentist, and the deodorant one is a keeper because it actually works.

deo9jpg

I love that I can use bicarb for three different bathroom products (counting the shampoo, too)!

Tooth Brushing

I use a bamboo toothbrush, that comes in a cardboard box. The bristles are plastic. Once the toothbrush is life-expired (you know because the bristles come out in chunks) you can soak the brush in water to release the rest of the bristles, and then compost the wooden handle.

Bamboo toothbrush unassembled

There you have it – Part 1 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. In Part 2 I’ll be covering all the additional dilemmas that women face when giving up plastic – makeup, shaving, and what to do at that time of the month, so make sure you come back and check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you already taken any of these steps, or there ideas there that you think you’d be able to adopt? Are there any other plastic-free alternatives you can suggest? What works for you? Join the conversation and leave a comment below : )