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8+ Ways to Go Zero Waste Without Spending Any Money

There are so many posts out there dedicated to all the things we can buy to be zero waste. This is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the things that we buy are helpful in reducing our waste now and in the future – such as reusable produce bags or a compost bin. Buying things can be necessary. Consumables (things like dishcloths, scrubbing brushes, handwash) run out, and need to be replaced.

But zero waste is not all about buying stuff. The zero waste lifestyle is not a consumer lifestyle. As George Monbiot said, we can consume more, or we can conserve more… but we can’t do both.

If we continue to talk about zero waste living in terms of the things we can buy, and encourage more shopping and the accumulation of stuff, we’re staying on the consumer treadmill and still using resources at an alarming rate.

Not to mention, as soon as we talk about buying stuff, zero waste appears to be only for those people not trying to stick to a budget.

 

The good news is, plenty of things that lead to living zero waste can be done for free! No spend required.

Here’s how you can embrace zero waste living without buying anything.

1. Glass Jars

Glass jars are your zero waste friend! And even better, they are free!

Stop recycling your glass jars, and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s recycling bin. Rescue glass jars from cafe and restaurant recycling bins (this is where I scored all of my big 2 litre glass jars). Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Put an ad on Gumtree or Craigslist asking for free jars.

Once you have your glass jar collection, use them for everything! They can be taken to the bulk store to buy ingredients without packaging, if this is an option for you. They can be used for food storage – taking lunch to work, keeping cookies on the counter, organising your pantry, storing leftovers in the fridge, and even in the freezer. (Yes, you can store glass jars in the freezer. More info here.)

They can be used for preserving jams and chutneys. (Eventually the lids may need replacing, but most lids will last a few rounds. Use lids with the air lock pressy button thing to ensure they are sealed.)

They can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee.

They can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens.

They can be used as packaging for gifts (store-bought or homemade treats, soap).

They can be used as water glasses (I have a lovely set of Bonne Maman jars, with the wide mouths, for this purpose).

Glass jars replace so many other storage containers, and there is no need to buy a single one. If a jar breaks, there is a plentiful supply of more free glass jars almost everywhere we go.

2. Line Your Bin without Buying Bin Liners

There is absolutely no need to buy bin liners. Depending on the size of your bin, what you put in it and how often you fill it, there are plenty of zero waste solutions that don’t cost a cent/penny.

When I first went plastic-free, I used old newspaper to line my bin. I received a free community newspaper, and there was a cafe down the road that offered the daily newspaper for free to its customers to read, so of course the paper got covered in coffee. (More info on lining a bin with newspaper here.)

My bin was wastepaper-sized. It is much trickier to line big bins with newspaper, and some recycling collections require the waste to be bagged (mine gets tipped into a big co-mingled recycling bin, so this isn’t an issue).

It also depends on how much wet and stinky stuff goes in your bin. If you compost your food scraps and only dry stuff is going in the bin, you could use an old jute coffee sack, old pillow case, repurposed plastic food bucket, a cardboard box or do away with any kind of liner altogether.

If you need a waterproof/plastic liner, consider what other packaging you buy that you could repurpose. Some ideas are plastic bread bags, empty potato chip packets, or pet food/litter bags. If you don’t have enough, ask your friends, family and work colleagues… or put a request on the groups mentioned above.

(If you create a lot of waste, consider separating into “wet” and “dry” – that way you can use one of the ideas above for the dry stuff, and keep the plastic liners for the wet only, to make them go further.)

Better to reuse something already in existence than create something new.

3. Eat Your Food Scraps

So much food that we throw away, we can eat. I don’t mean stuff that was edible but is now past its use-by date, I mean food that IS still perfectly edible… we just don’t know how to use it.

Using scraps that we would usually throw in the bin makes the household budget go much further.

Wash potato peelings, toss in a little oil and then bake in the oven for 10 mins or so each side until crispy. Free potato chips!

Rather than chucking the broccoli stalk, cut the outer edges off, and dice or slice the soft green core. Add to pasta, stir-fries and curries just as you could the florets.

Outer cauliflower leaves can be roasted – drizzle with olive oil, add plenty of garlic and roast until the green outers are crispy and the stems are soft. Alternatively, chop and add to curries.

Save onion skins, the top green parts of leeks, carrot shavings, zucchini tips and other veggies scraps for making stock. Pop into a glass jar, freeze, and when the jar is full boil it up to make a veggie broth. (The same can be done with animal bones to make meat/fish stock).

Keep your apple cores and peels and make into your own apple cider vinegar – the only other thing you need is a tablespoon or so of sugar. Can be used in cooking, as a digestive tonic, for hair washing (yep, that’s a thing – and will save you buying conditioner) and even cleaning.

4. Compost your food waste (for free)

Setting up a compost bin, worm farm or bokashi system can cost money, but it doesn’t have to. The bins and buckets required for these things are often given away for free, second-hand. Keep you eye out on Gumtree or Craigslist, and especially if you have verge collections locally.

Failing that, it is possible to make these things with repurposed materials and minimal effort. Worm farms can be made from repurposed polystyrene boxes (ask your local supermarket for theirs) – here’s a step-by-step guide on making a polystyrene box worm farm.

Most community gardens or people with worm farms will give you a handful of composting worms for free to get you going.

A bokashi system can be made using two repurposed white builder/food buckets placed one inside the other, with holes cut into the inner one to create drainage.

If doing it yourself is just a step too far, find somewhere local that will take your food scraps for you. Community compost hubs and community gardens are everywhere, and so are willing backyard composters. The best place to find somewhere local to you is sharewaste.com.

5. Cleaning Cloths / Wipes

There’s no need to buy cleaning cloths, wipes, rags, paper towel or tissues. We can simply repurpose old fabric that we would previously have recycled as rags. Old towels, bedding, T-shirts, work shirts… even underpants, if you’re not faint-hearted.

Typically natural fibres work better over completely plastic polyester fabric.

Chop old clothing into squares to use as cleaning cloths, handkerchiefs (you can store them in a glass jar on the coffee table!) and reusable “unpaper” towel. Cut into strips to make rags.

Using sharp scissors will help prevent the fabric fraying, crimping shears will help even more and if you can sew the edges up, that’s the best solution to make them last.

Obviously, the better we are at sewing the better these things will look. Aesthetics matter to some. And whilst a few of of us might revel in the rebellious act of using old underpants to do the dishes, it might be a step too far for others.

Look at where you use disposable paper products, look at the fabric you have on hand, and do what works best for you.

6. Borrow before Buying

We often don’t need the thing that we buy, we need to result that it offers. We don’t need a drill, we need a hole in the wall. We don’t need a blender, we need to puree vegetables for a one-off recipe.

Informally, you can ask friends, family, colleagues or neighbours if they can lend you the thing that you need.

More formally, you may have access to libraries. Books, toys, music, movies, games and tools can all be borrowed this way.

I’ve just set up a local Community Dishes library for people to borrow crockery and cutlery, to save them buying new stuff at the blue-and-yellow furniture store or using disposables. There may be something similar in your area. Libraries of Things are popping up in more places, too.

7. Find for Free

If we need the thing, we still don’t have to buy it new, or even second-hand. We can find it for free. We can ask friends, family, neighbours or colleagues, we can look for ads on online classifieds, we can put requests in Buy Nothing groups, and we can trawl verge pickups looking for the item.

Second-hand means no packaging, it also means keeping existing items in circulation and reduces demand for new products, saving resources. Second-hand doesn’t always mean cheap. Second-hand and free – well, that’s within everyone’s budget.

People often have things languishing in the back of the cupboard, and are keen for someone to take it off their hands. I’ve scored a clothes drying rack, an electric fry pan, heaps of lemons, a computer monitor and an almost new pair of trainers from my local Buy Nothing group, all for free.

8. Reusables for On the Go

Rather than buying a water bottle, upcycle an old glass passata bottle, or a VOSS glass water bottle.

Rather than buying a reusable coffee cup, use a glass jar. Make a heat band using elastic bands, or those silicone charity fundraising bracelets. Or, if you’re crafty, sew or knit a band.

Rather than buying a reusable lunchbox, use a glass jar or tea towel to wrap food, or make a sandwich wrap from fabric if you can sew.

Rather than buying a set of to-go cutlery, take your kitchen cutlery out with you. You can make a wrap to keep it neat, or wrap it in some cloth.

There you have it – a few ideas to get you started living zero waste, no spend required. Don’t buy in to the idea (see what I did there?!) that zero waste means spending money. Sure, there are nice things to buy, and many of them are useful. But zero waste living can still be pursued whilst spending nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you do any of these things? All of these things? Are you new to zero waste/plastic-free and overwhelmed at all the stuff you think you need to buy? Are you a pro at using second-hand and free solutions? What no-spend zero waste tips would you add? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

5 Tips for Letting Go of Unwanted Christmas Gifts

Before you even say it, no. It is not too early to be talking about what to do with unwanted Christmas gifts. If we don’t talk about it, those gifts will be shoved in a cupboard, where they will languish untouched for months, forgotten and unused.

What a waste of resources!

The best outcome for these gifts is that they are needed, wanted and well used.

If you or someone you know received a gift that they don’t want, it is much better to find someone who needs it rather than stuffing it into storage.

The Reasons We Hang Onto Stuff We Don’t Need: Guilt and Fear

Is it ungrateful or rude to pass on a gift that’s unwanted? I don’t think so. No-one asks for gifts they don’t want and don’t like. The gifter may have had the best intentions, but on this occasion, they got it wrong.

We all make mistakes and misjudge things sometimes. That’s just how life works.

It was still kind and generous that they gifted something, and the meaning is in the giving, not the actual object.

But when it comes to letting go of the gift, we can feel guilty.

We feel guilty that they made a poor choice.

We feel guilty that we weren’t clearer about our dislike of hot pink, or the fact we actually went vegan 7 years ago, or the fact that we already own every single cookbook/novel by that author.

We feel guilty that they wasted their time, or money.

The thing is, all of this is about the past. The gift has already been purchased and gifted, and we can’t turn the clocks back. Whether we keep something or give it away won’t change the fact that the gift was a poor choice.

The difference is that keeping something reminds us of this, every time we see the item. Letting something go will let go of this guilt.

Finding new owners for our unwanted things is a great way to alleviate the guilt we feel about parting with stuff – it is hard to feel guilty when you’re bringing joy to someone else.

When it comes to letting go, we can also be fearful.

Fearful that the gifter will find out, and we’ll be judged.

Fearful that if we’re found out we will be seen as ungrateful and maybe not be given gifts again.

This fear is about something that hasn’t happened yet. It may never happen. Is it really a genuine cause for concern, or if it comes true, will it actually be slightly uncomfortable for a very small window of time?

Fear and guilt are not reasons to keep things we don’t need.

Think about it from your own perspective. How would you feel if you knew that a gift you’d purchased for someone was unwanted, disliked and would never be used? Would you rather the person kept it out of guilt or fear, or would you rather they passed it onto someone who loved it?

To Tell or Not Tell?

There’s no need to tell the gifter you don’t like the gift and you’re passing it on, if you don’t want to. If you think it will upset someone, or you’ll feel judged, there’s no need to mention it.

Most people won’t ask what became of the gift, but if you’re worried about that, have an answer at the ready.

If the gifter told you that they kept the receipt in case you want to exchange it, consider that an invitation to tell them that you’d like to exchange it. Obvious as that seems, it can be an awkward conversation, and one we prefer to avoid. But the fact they mentioned it means they’d rather you had something you actually liked than try to protect their feelings. If this option exists, don’t shy away from it.

On the other hand, you might prefer to tell the gifter of your plans. If they were wildly wrong with size, style or taste it may be helpful to say so.

If you put clear boundaries around the gifts you wanted and didn’t want, and these boundaries were trampled over (oh, I know you said only second-hand gifts but these plastic trashy items from the big box store were such bargains!) then it can be helpful (and rather satisfying) to explain your decision. It will also help clear up future misunderstandings.

Don’t forget, if they have no way to know you didn’t like the gift, they may continue to gift in the same spirit.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Do what feels right (or easier).

Options for Letting Go of Christmas Gifts

Take it back to the Store.

Some stores will let you exchange items even without a receipt over Christmas, so it is worth asking. Call ahead before you make the trip to double-check. The item will need to be still tagged and unused. You won’t get a refund, but if you simply want to switch size or colour, or swap for another product it is probably the lowest hassle solution.

Sell It.

Online auction platforms like eBay and classifieds platforms like Craigslist and Gumtree are great for listing items for sale from the comfort of your own home. Decide a price you’re happy with, take a few pics, and wait for a buyer. There are also marketplaces on social media for finding interested buyers.

Donate It.

Rather than dump your unwanted gift at the closest charity shop along with all the other unwanted gifts, consider giving the item away by other means. Charity shops are overloaded at this time of year, so it might be better to donate to an organization that will use the item, rather than resell it. For example, a homeless charity might accept sleeping bags and blankets, a refugee centre might take small electrical appliances, women’s refuges might take cosmetics and personal care products, and a food bank will accept food items.

Ask yourself, who might want what I have?

You can also give items away on online classifieds platforms, you can give away via local neighbourhood networks such as Buy Nothing groups, and you can regift – if you think the person will want the item.

If you’re worried about being judged for passing on unwanted Christmas gifts, donating them to a worthy cause can help. It might be a lot easier to say you donated something to an animal rescue centre or hospice than it is to say you sold it on eBay.

That’s not to say one choice is better. As long as the item ends up in the hands of someone who will use it, it is a good outcome.

Letting go of something we don’t need, don’t want and don’t like; it doesn’t make us ungrateful or selfish. It doesn’t make us greedy (if we decide to sell it). Stuff shouldn’t have that kind of power, and it only will if we allow it to. The best thing to do is to pass the item on. Out of sight, out of mind.

Difficult things become easier, and guilt will pass.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with unwanted gifts? Any additional tips? Do you struggle with guilt? How has this changed over the years? Do you find it easier now than you used to? Any other thoughts? Share all in the comments below!

5 Tips to Get Prepped For Plastic Free July (and Living with Less Plastic)

Plastic Free July comes around on the 1st July and for the entire month of July, millions of people across the globe try to avoid as much single-use, unnecessary and wasteful plastic as they can. It’s a pretty amazing movement, built on the idea that we can all do something, and if we all do something, that can bring about huge positive change.

To say I’m a fan of Plastic Free July is a bit of an understatement. I first took part in 2012 and I’ve written about it every year since. It changed my entire world view and led me down the path to zero waste and working in the waste education space. (And in a wondrous circle of events, led me back to working on the Plastic Free July campaign and being on the Plastic Free July Foundation board.)

Who knew refusing a few plastic bags could have such a considerable life impact?!

To get ready for Plastic Free July this year, I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

First Up – Sign Up!

If you’re taking part in Plastic Free July this year, sign up to the official campaign! You’ll find the form over at www.plasticfreejuly.org. (If you haven’t done so, head over there and do it now. I’ll wait. Yep, I’m still here. Done? Great!)

Signing up means that you’re counted, and that matters. Plastic Free July works with businesses and government organizations across Australia and beyond, and being able to say “people care about this issue. This is how many people signed up to Plastic Free July this year” is powerful in influencing future policy.

The recent WA plastic bag ban here in Australia came about in part because of the success and interest in Plastic Free July.

We all want positive change, and when we join together we create a movement… and movements drive change.

Don’t Stress About the “Stuff”

Over the next 31 days there will be lots of plastic-free wares on display, as people share things they find and companies share things they sell. Be careful not to get too overwhelmed in the “stuff”.

If we will use something often and can see the value in owning it, it is a good purchase. If it is shiny and plastic-free and on sale, that isn’t such a great reason to buy the thing.

Of course, reusables are the way we avoid the single-use disposables. I have reusables that I love and carry with my every day. But I didn’t buy them all in the first four weeks.

There is no such thing as a standard plastic-free “kit”. The things I carry around with me won’t be things that everyone needs. There are other things that other people consider a necessity that I don’t.

Pay attention, see what is around, check out different products but don’t feel like you need to buy anything today. (If you’d like to see what’s in my handbag, I’ve shared it – but only to give you ideas. It is not a shopping list!)

The thing about change is that it’s hard, and buying stuff is easy. Yet we buy things and feel like we made progress. It isn’t about the stuff. It’s about new habits.

If you do decide to buy something, ask yourself honestly: do I need it? (This is not the same as want!) Will I use it? Is it worth it?

Get one thing, make it a habit and then move onto the next thing. The less money you spend during Plastic Free July, the more you’ll enjoy the challenge. Promise.

Be Gentle with Yourself

In the same way that we don’t learn to play the guitar overnight or lose 10kg overnight or learn Spanish overnight, we do not go plastic-free overnight! Finding solutions take time. Creating new habits take time.

Allow yourself time… to look, to learn, and to make mistakes. When you go to the supermarket, allow extra time to walk up and down the aisles with new eyes and see what is there that you never noticed before.

Take time to look and find out if there are bulk stores, farmers markets or health food shops locally, and go see what they have to offer.

When you’re leaving home in the morning, take a few extra minutes to check you’ve planned for what you’re doing… will you need a reusable coffee cup? Water bottle? Shopping bag?

f you run out of time, or forget, don’t beat yourself up. Change is a process.

Be gentle, and give yourself time.

Set Yourself Reminders

We don’t remember everything in the beginning. We haven’t developed those habits. They will come in time – in the same way that you never leave your house without your shoes or keys, eventually you’ll add reusables to the list.

But in the short term, help yourself out! Write yourself little notes and pop them by the front door, or by your shoes, or the keys. Put them on the dashboard of the car. Put reminders in your phone.

Create visual cues whilst your subconscious is still working on memorising your new habits.

See Mistakes or Problems as Opportunities and Dilemmas

When we start, we make mistakes. (Hey, 7 years down the track I still make mistakes! Just less, hopefully!) Don’t see this as failing.

See it as an opportunity to learn and do things differently next time.

In the old days of Plastic Free July we used to encourage people to collect all their mistakes and plastic purchases and keep them in a “dilemma” bag. It’s not something we talk about today, but many people still find it useful.

The dilemma bag is a way to keep your plastic during the month, and rather than feeling bad about it, use those items as where to try to implement change.

Keep what you accumulate, and then one thing at a time, begin to look for alternatives. Whether it was because you got caught out unawares (how could you plan differently next time), or a product you couldn’t find plastic-free (are there other shops you could investigate) or it was simply because you had a bad day (and we all have those too!), use these dilemmas as clues for doing things differently next time.

Want More Tips?

There’s plenty more about living with less plastic in the blog archives, but to stop you feeling overwhelmed at where to start I’ve put together a brand new free eBook with 9 tips for living with less plastic. I’ll also send you my latest posts (published weekly) with more thoughts on living with less waste.

I’ve talked about reusables a little in there, but I’ve also talked about some other simple swaps you might not have considered.For the last couple of years, I’ve also run a free daily challenge over on social media where I share a tip a day. If you’d like to follow over on instagram or Facebook, I’d love to see you there. Plus if you’d like the tips to keep, I’ve packed them all into a mini PDF eBook.

If it’s your first Plastic Free July then I wish you a fun and enjoyable challenge, and if you’re returning for another year then I hope that this year is your best yet. As always, be sure to share your tips and tricks and wins and a-ha moments with us!

We are in this together! Happy Plastic Free July 2018!