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How my zero waste habits have changed since Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed a lot of things. From the things we are actually not/no longer allowed to do, to those habits we’ve been forced to rethink and then those we’ve decided to change, there seems to be very few aspects of daily life left untouched.

When it comes to zero waste, low waste and plastic-free living, it’s been interesting to me to see all of the changes. Some businesses have stepped up their game to ensure they continue to create less waste, others have had no choice but to soften their approach. The same goes for individuals and their habits.

I wanted to share how my own habits have changed (and stayed the same) since the pandemic arrived. We’ve all got different ways of dealing with things, and differing priorities, and it’s not to say that my way is the best way, nor am I encouraging you to do what I do. Depending where you live, it might not even be possible right now.

Zero waste – or low waste, at least – might not be a priority for everyone now, but it is still a priority for me. I think I’m hardwired to have heart palpitations at the thought of throwing something into landfill! Of course I’ve had to make changes and compromises (I think we all have, right?) but I’m still trying to navigate these choices whilst keeping my values in my heart.

My zero waste habits that haven’t changed

Shopping at bulk stores

Most of the bulk stores here in Perth are still open, and many are still accepting BYO containers. (I heard of one that was ordered to stop by the council Health department, and I know of a few that have closed to customers and are offering a pick-up/collection service only).

I’ve been lucky to be able to head to my usual bulk store and stock up using my own jars. When the infection rate was at its peak I did use a collection service where I pre-ordered and picked up a few things in paper bags, but for the most part I’ve been able to buy my groceries packaging-free.

Getting (or not getting) takeaway

Personally, I see dine-in and takeaway as two different things. I dine-in when I want to take my time, enjoy the food and the company of the people I’m with. I get takeaway when I’m tired, it’s late and there’s nothing in the fridge. Because I refuse to buy takeaway in anything other than cardboard, my options are limited to pizza and (veg) burgers. Which aren’t things I want to eat particularly often.

Before Covid19, I’d maybe get breakfast, or coffee and a cake a couple of times a month, and maybe dinner with friends once or twice a month also. I’d probably eat takeaway pizza once or month or so (usually at the insistence of the person I live with). With the restaurants closed, I can’t dine out – but I don’t see takeaway as an equivalent. In my mind, they are very different things. Replacing dine-in with take-out doesn’t work for me.

Plus, with the fridge more full than it’s ever been, there’s no ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ excuse. So my takeaway habit hasn’t changed. Pizza, once a month.

The sharing economy

You’ve probably heard me rave about the Buy Nothing project a million times – it’s a network of hyper-local community groups allowing people to swap and share rather than buy new. Many Buy Nothing groups have closed down temporarily due to the pandemic, however ours has remained open for requests and ‘essentials’ (I live in a lower socio-economic area, and sometimes our members need support of food and other items to make ends meet).

Fortunately, although ours is still operating on a limited basis, I’ve been able to connect with so many neighbours in the past that I have a fairly good network to be able to borrow, share and give outside of the group structure.

And so I borrowed a tarp from one neighbour for a soil delivery, got a sourdough starter from another neighbour (to make crumpets), and dropped off some excess spinach plants for a third neighbour.

If there’s one thing I miss most during this lockdown, it’s my community. Normally there is so much swapping, sharing and banter, and I sorely miss it. I’m grateful that our community is still ticking along and connection is still possible, even though this is not a patch on what is was.

My zero waste compromises for Covid19

Buying new stuff

Well, so far I’ve purchased one new thing – but it broke pretty much all-the-rules that I follow. I needed a cable to connect my monitor to my laptop. For the past two years I’ve been using a cable borrowed from a friend, who had always said it was a long-term loan and he might need it back. Well, working from home came around and he needed it back.

I tried Buy Nothing, but no-one had a spare. I couldn’t find a local computer store. I didn’t want to just head to the mall on the off-chance – and I was conscious that office supplies were selling out as so many people were starting to work from home.

So I used click-and-collect – something I never do. I like to support local stores who don’t have these services, avoid big chain stores, and ideally find stuff second hand. This wasn’t an option either, and so I went to the big-chain store to receive my cable – all ready-packaged in a plastic bag.

I did think about kicking up a fuss and returning the plastic bag, but this was when uncertainty around Covd19 was at its peak and I didn’t want to stress the store guy out any more than he probably already was. Plus I assumed they wouldn’t reuse the bag anyway.

So I sucked it up and took my first plastic bag home in about 7 years.

(I photographed the moment for prosperity, and I’ll take the bag to Redcycle for recycling.)

I haven’t needed to buy anything else, although I dearly want a mortar and pestle (I currently try to flatten my coriander seed with a knife, because my food processor is not up to the job)… but I’m holding out.

Buying items in (home) compostable packaging

My personal low-waste rule is to avoid as much packaging as possible. I’m not perfect, but I always try to bring my own jars/bags/containers, and dine-in rather than get takeaway. Or go without.

It’s easy to go without when there are other options, but when these are taken away, your choices are very limited.

I’ve loosened my rules to include completely compostable and biodegradable packaging. Which means I can now buy ice-cream from the local gelateria – they use compostable sugarcane containers, which successfully break down in my compost bin.

I’ve hardly gone nuts – I think I’ve used about 6 in the last two months. I really believe that the zero waste movement is about using less packaging and embracing reusables and returnables, not just switching the material of single use packaging.

As soon as reusables and dining-in is allowed, I’m tightening up my rules. Until then, I will enjoy ice-cream.

Some zero waste wins

Takeaway coffee

I rarely buy takeaway coffee (I prefer to dine in, or make my own at home – I have an excellent manual press and stovetop steamer that makes amazing coffee). Personally, using disposable cups for anything other than a life-threatening emergency is a no for me. I just can’t do it!

I’ve noticed a few people on various zero waste groups about the place saying that they are happy to use disposable cups to support their local cafes. Whilst I like the sentiment, this is somewhere I’m not willing to compromise – and I really don’t think that my buying a $4 coffee once in a blue moon is going to keep a cafe (that’s had to close its entire restaurant down) afloat.

But after settling on my choice, I discovered that cafe closest to me is offering a returnable refillable cup service run by Renome – reusable cups that you pay a deposit for, and return for cleaning once you’re done (if you want a refill, you simply return your cup to the box, and are served with a freshly cleaned one).

Now this is something I can get behind.

The scheme has existed for a while, but until now I had no reason to use it. The great thing is that the cup is ultimately refundable, so I don’t need to ensure I use it 17 times (which is the case with a plastic KeepCup) to offset the carbon footprint. As long as the cup is used that many times, it doesn’t matter by who. And it’s not more ‘stuff’.

(There are a handful of cafes around Perth actually still accepting KeepCups, but none close to me.)

Supporting local

I think all of us feel a real draw towards supporting local businesses in these times. I don’t have the budget to suddenly start ordering takeaway every day (plus the packaging would give me heart palpitations, and I don’t think my arteries would be too pleased either).

I only buy ‘stuff’ that I need, which isn’t much stuff, and I’m not going to suddenly start shopping for ‘things’.

What I have been able to do is to support local food producers. I’ve been ordering extra in my local veg box (which I’m thankful that I already used, as a lot of these schemes have closed to new customers after a surge in demand).

I found an amazing mushroom grower – The Mushroom Guys – that usually supplies to restaurants, but with the lockdown has turned to selling mushroom boxes to customers. And they are things of beauty.

(I have a bit of a weakness for mushrooms and it’s one of my goals to eventually have a setup where I grow my own.)

A friend sells microgreens and I started a weekly order with him.

It’s meant my grocery spend has gone up, but as there is no spend on eating anywhere else, and as it’s a short-term thing, I’m happy to support local growers and have fresh food delivered to my door.

I’m lucky to have the option, and I’m taking it.

Some zero waste misses

Sneaky plastic

Oh, the sneaky plastic! Yep, I’ve been caught out with this a few times. When you shop at the same places and buy the same things you learn how to avoid the sneaky plastic, but when you’re going to unfamiliar places or buying different stuff, it happens.

A local cafe started stocking bread from a bakery and I placed an order only to find it came in a plastic bag. I asked for bulk risotto rice with my veg box (they run a bulk store also) and got a shiny plastic packet of the stuff instead.

It makes me more aware for next time – sometimes I forget that this is how most places do things!

Can you be zero waste during Covid19?

In Australia, so far things have not gotten as bad as they have in other places, and restrictions have not been quite as tight. We’ve been lucky, and hopefully we will remain this way. I’ve been able to shop at the bulk store and use reusables, and loosen my rules a little to allow for a little fun (or ice-cream, as it’s also called).

I know not everyone has been as fortunate. It helps that my day-to-day routines have not been disrupted too much – I regularly work from home, and I don’t have to navigate homeschooling.

This isn’t a competition. I just wanted to share how I’ve been navigating the choices, and what my experience has been. I’m sure yours has been very different. The thing I’m most sure about, is that whatever your current situation is, whatever you’re having to do to get by, it doesn’t not mean the end for zero waste.

We’ll get through this, and I think our resolve will be stronger for it. Right now, staying safe is the most important thing of all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How has the pandemic changed your low waste habits? What has stayed the same for you? What things have you been forced to change, and what things have you chosen to change? Have your priorities shifted, and how? There’s no wrong answers and I’d love to hear about your experiences and get your perspective on this, so please share in the comments below!

6 Zero Waste Tips for Moving House

Last weekend, I moved house. And when it comes to moving, unless you can literally fit all your possessions in a single backpack, it is a bit of an ordeal. There are boxes, packing materials, stuff you forgot you owned, stuff you no longer need, things that are (or get) damaged or broken… and so it goes on.

Moving can create a lot of waste. But with a tiny little bit of planning, it’s possible to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary waste. Here’s some tips.

1. Don’t Move What You Don’t Have To

Moving things that you later decide you don’t need is a waste of time, effort and fuel in a moving truck. At the other end, when there are new homes to find for everything you do want and other bits and pieces to sort out, offloading stuff you no longer need is an added hassle.

If you know you don’t need something, sell it or give it away before the move.

I didn’t have time to go through all of my books, games, boxes of jars and other bits and pieces to assess every single thing I own on merit before the move. But moving a book is a little different to moving a kitchen island (especially one that literally wouldn’t fit in the new place).

So I prioritised the big, heavy and fragile things (like the kitchen island), listed some things I knew I no longer needed and did what I could.

Sites I use to pass on unwanted goods:

  • eBay is great for anything high-value, easy to post and listings that would benefit from a bigger (less local) audience;
  • Gumtree is great for bigger items like furniture, anything that the buyer want might want to inspect and test before buying (like electronics) and is good for giving away free stuff;
  • Buy Nothing groups are great for giving away items locally.

2. Source Second-Hand Packing Materials

There is really no need to spend a fortune (or spend anything, actually) on fancy packing materials. You’ll be able to get almost everything you need second-hand, and be able to donate it again afterwards for someone else to reuse.

Boxes: I’ve never purchased a packing box in my life and I’m amazed that people actually do! There are so many boxes already in existence that can be used.

I ask friends, family, colleagues and neighbours for useful boxes, either to borrow or to keep and then pass on. My neighbours had some amazing reusable Dutch moving boxes (they are from the Netherlands and brought these boxes over when they moved 12 years ago) that fold together and do not require packing tape.

I checked the local grocery store and got a couple of sturdy tray-type boxes with handles at the side. These are great for moving my pantry and things that don’t stack well.

Packing Materials: Keep packing materials that you receive (or find) to pack fragile items. If you don’t buy much (like me!) ask around to see what others have or put a call-out online. Shops often have a lot of bubble wrap they are throwing out, and tissue paper. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper wrappers are good too, as are old newspapers.

(Once you’ve moved, list all your packing materials online for someone else to use, or give to a store that can use it for packing their sales.)

Tape: I have a very old roll of (plastic) packing tape that I purchased in 2011 and lives on. I don’t tape my boxes shut, I fold them by overlapping the flaps, but a couple of boxes needed taping at the bottom. The fridge door also needed taping shut whilst moving.

If I hadn’t owned any tape, I’d have purchased paper packing tape, but I prefer to use what I already have.

There is a surprising level of guilt around using plastic tape when moving within the zero waste community. If you can’t find an alternative and need to use it, then use it, no guilt required. It is better to tape boxes securely with plastic tape than smash the entire contents of an un-taped box because you were trying to save waste.

Old sheets/tarp: These can be useful for draping over and protecting items transported in a truck, van or trailer – to protect from dust, grease or the elements. If you don’t have any, ask around. Buy Nothing groups are ideal for this.

3. Use What You Have

It’s likely you already have plenty of great packing containers and also packing materials at home.

Suitcases and bags are the obvious choice for containers, but your laundry basket, large pans, plastic crates and decorative baskets might also be useful for transporting your stuff.

Plus, if you happen to buy anything that comes in a box in the weeks before the move, keep the box!

Plenty of things can be used as packing materials. Reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, tea towels, regular towels, socks, scarves, pillowcases – all can be used to cushion more fragile items.

4. Make a Plan for Your Perishables

If you’re going to be moving the fridge an/or freezer, you’ll need to turn it off before moving, and wait a few hours once it’s in its new home before turning it back on. Which means, there needs to be a plan for the things currently in there.

Planning to use up your perishables might be helpful if you’re moving far. Personally, I didn’t want to run down my fridge too much, because I had enough to do with the unpacking after the move, and didn’t want to have to go grocery shopping also.

I asked a few friends and neighbours if any had space in their fridge and freezer, and found one place for my frozen goods and another for my fridge stuff. (I also asked some friends if I could borrow their camping fridge, but alas, they were going camping that weekend!)

Worst case, if you can’t find somewhere to store your food, you can give it away so at least it isn’t being wasted. Offer to friends, family and neighbours or use a dedicated food waste app like OLIO to find new homes for edible food.

With the fridge stuff, I just concentrated on moving the real perishables. It made finding a temporary space a lot easier. Things like sauerkraut, pickles and jars of jam can cope without refrigeration for a day, so they were boxed and moved with everything else.

5. Choose Your Vehicle Wisely

Damaging your stuff in the move is a waste, and damaging yourself by lifting too much heavy stuff isn’t great either. Multiple vehicle trips are going to use more fuel than a single trip, and then there’s your time: no-one has too much of that and there are better things to do than moving inefficiently.

Think about what you’re trying to move, where you’re moving to and what would be the most appropriate (and efficient) way to transport it all.

When moving in the past I’ve booked a man-with-a-van, used a friend’s car, rented a trailer and borrowed a van from work, depending on the situation and what was available.

This time round, I hired a truck with a hydraulic lift. That’s because I had 12 x 100 litre plant pots full of soil to lift, not to mention a wheelbarrow, a 180 litre worm farm, 3 compost bins, wine barrel planters and a 240 litre bin full of soil.

One or two things could have been wrestled into a van, but this was too much.

The furniture, white goods and boxes fitted in the truck for the first trip. The pots and garden stuff completely filled up the truck for the second trip.

There were also a few back and forth car trips, which was easy as this was a 3 minute drive between homes (I’m literally just a few minutes up the road).

6. The Bigger (or Further) the Move, The More You Plan

Because I wasn’t moving far, I could be (and was) a lot more flexible – by which I mean disorganised – in my approach.

In reality, it was very easy to load up a car and drop a load of things off in between doing other errands, as both homes are in the same neighbourhood. I got the keys on Tuesday and booked the truck for Friday, so the in-between (work) days were useful for moving things that might have got damaged in the move (like houseplants) and things I wanted to sort straightaway (like my pantry).

If I’d have been moving a few hours away (or anything more than 30 minutes, realistically) I’d have made sure everything was packed, boxed and labelled before the day.

Well, I’d have tried!

Moving is definitely stressful, but it doesn’t have to be wasteful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for moving? Do you have a move planned and are wondering what to do about certain things? Any other comments or thoughts to share? Please let us know in the space below!