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Is Plastic-Free the Perfect Option? (Hint: Not Always)

It’s now been 6 years since I first took the Plastic Free July challenge (all the way back in 2012) and made the decision to make this plastic-free living lark a way of life. What an adventure it has been!

It completely made me re-evaluate the way I think about waste, the types of products I buy, where I source my food, the kinds of products I put on my skin, even the work that I do.

Of course, some of the decisions I made at the start of the journey aren’t the choices I’d make today.

However, I continue to share them, because they were decisions that I made at the time, and I think it is important to explain why I made these choices (along with what I might do differently now, or what the next step might be).

There are people starting out at exactly the point that I started out, and sharing the choices I made can help shine the light on possible alternatives and solutions.

I never share any solution as the perfect solution. I’ve talked about this before: how there’s often compromise, and we need to personally decide on our priorities and make the choices that work best for us in our own circumstances.

However, if the focus is plastic-free (or zero waste) living – which, hopefully it is! –  then there are better choices. Not perfect, but better.

I wanted to talk about a few of the choices I’ve made, why they are not perfect, but why I still think they are “better”.

Lining a Bin with Newspaper

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, one of my first dilemmas was how to line my bin without a plastic bag. I still took the “free” plastic bags from the supermarket and used them to line my bin.

A friend suggested newspaper, and I made the switch.

I wrote a post back in 2013 (it’s one of my most widely shared posts ever) entitled “How to Line Your Rubbish Bin without a Plastic Bag”.

I wanted to share with others how I’d switched from lining my bin with a plastic bag to lining my bin with newspaper. It is what worked for me.

Every year this post resurfaces at Plastic Free July time, and I get the same comments and questions, without fail.

“Who even gets a newspaper these days?”

Actually, quite a lot of people in Perth, which is where I live. There is a free community newspaper delivered to most suburbs. At the time, I had a free community newspaper delivered, and I read it, so it made sense to use it for something else.

A lot of cafes in Perth (there are a bazillion of them, at least) get newspapers for customers to read, as do libraries and workplaces.

There’s no need to buy a newspaper to line the bin. This is about using what I already had. It might not work for everyone, but it does work for some of us.

“Using newspaper is hardly eco-friendly, all those trees.”

I didn’t call that post “the absolutely most eco-friendly way ever to line your bin” for a reason. It is simply a plastic-free solution. (Although, when was the last time you saw a paper bag stuck in a tree, or choking sea life?)

Yes, making paper uses a lot of resources (trees, energy and also water). In fact, paper bags have three times the carbon footprint of a plastic bag.

Whether newspaper is the same I’m not sure, as it tends to have a lot of recycled content (whereas most paper bags do not), but of course, all materials have a footprint. Which leads me to…

“Why not compost and then there is no bin liner required at all?”

Exactly. Great idea and what I do now.

“Now” being the key word.

If you’d said to me at the start of Plastic Free July, “hey, newspaper bin liners have a footprint, you need to set up a compost bin and a worm farm and a bokashi system so you’re not throwing away any of your organic matter” then I would most likely have had a meltdown.

I was busy trying to find solutions to every other thing!

Yes, I did set up a worm farm, and a bokashi system, and I did do away with my newspaper bin liners. But it took 2 years to get to that point!

Buying Plastic Reusables

Something that also comes up often when talking about different types of reusables, is the fact that some are made of plastic.

“How can you say you are plastic-free when you use reusables made of / containing plastic?”

When I first went plastic-free back in 2012, I purchased a plastic KeepCup. Back then, KeepCup were the only brand of reusable barista-standard coffee cup, and they only had plastic cups (they didn’t launch their glass range until 2014).

My goal was to reduce single-use plastic. That is what Plastic Free July is all about. The reusable plastic KeepCup served its purpose – I haven’t drank out of a takeaway coffee cup since.

It’s estimated that a reusable coffee cup needs to be used about 15 times to offset the energy / footprint, versus a single-use disposable cup. Definitely achieved.

In time, I decided that plastic reusables weren’t something I personally wanted to choose in future. I also didn’t love drinking hot drinks out of plastic, so I purchased a glass one.

However reusable plastics still work for some. Whether it’s the portability, resistance to breakage, the need to be collapsible or something else, there are reasons that people still choose plastic reusables, and these reasons are perfectly valid.

There’s another really good reason to purchase reusables made out of plastic in my view, and that is when they are made out of 100% recycled plastic.

As my plastic-free living journey deepened, I decided I wanted to steer clear of ALL plastic. Over time, my view of this has mellowed because I realise that we still have an issue to deal with – legacy plastic.

If we banned plastic water bottles tomorrow, there are still millions already in existence. What do we do with them? Recycling them into something worthwhile and built to last seems like a good idea to me.

Recycled PET shopping bags and produce bags have a much lower carbon footprint than new cotton or cloth bags (cotton requires huge amounts of water to grow and is often exposed to huge amounts of pesticides also).

I think these kinds of reusables definitely have a place in a “plastic-free” world.

Personally, I like a mix. I like to keep my plastic-use to a minimum, but I do find these bags immensely useful and practical.

Shopping at Bulk Bin Stores that Use Plastic Bins (Which is Pretty Much All of Them)

I talk about bulk food shopping on my website and also on Instagram, and more than once I’ve had comments about the materials the bulk containers are made of.

“Isn’t it ironic / hypocritical saying plastic-free when the containers are made of plastic?”

Personally, I think not. My local store in Perth is part of The Source Bulk Foods, who have more than 40 bulk stores in Australia. There are lots of other bulk stores in Perth and across the country. I’ve never seen one with zero plastic storage, and when you think about the cost and practicalities of only using metal, glass or wood, it’s easy to see why it’s not common.

These bulk stores (with their plastic bins) make it possible for thousands of customers to shop packaging-free. They generate packaging themselves, sure, but far less than if we were all buying our individually packaged everything from the supermarket.

Plus, they are working with suppliers to develop ways to reduce packaging further upstream.

Zero waste isn’t perfect, and plastic-free living doesn’t have all the solutions, but we get closer all the time.

If you’re starting out with plastic-free, and are finding the apparent conflict a little tricky to navigate, know that we have all been there. It’s easy to get lost in a minefield of ethical dilemmas when it comes to plastic-free living.

There’s always someone keen to point out why something isn’t perfect. If we are just at the beginning of our journey, there is nothing more deflating than making a choice that we feel is better, only to be told that actually, it isn’t.

The only thing we can do is to make conscious decisions. To make the best choice you can with what you know today. Maybe in the future you’d choose differently, but we can’t make decisions about things we don’t know yet.

Plastic-free living is not about being perfect, it’s about making better choices.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you feel about plastics in your plastic-free life? Do you own and use any plastic reusables, or is it something you steer clear of? Is it something that you’ve changed your mind about along the way? Where are you willing to compromise, and where are you not? I’d love to know what you think so please leave a comment 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!

When Is A Plastic-Free Aisle Not Plastic-Free?

A supermarket aisle in the Netherlands made headlines last month, because it was the “world’s first plastic-free aisle”. I saw the headline, but I didn’t bother to read much further, expecting to see the kind of thing so many times before – neatly laid out rows of bulk bins, where customers can use paper bags or fill their own containers and thus avoid plastic packaging.

It was only when a reader shared one of the articles with me and asked for my thoughts that I actually looked at what was behind the headlines.

What I saw was not what I thought I’d see.

This is what the “plastic-free aisle” looked like:

No. Not what I was expecting either.

If there’s one thing that makes me mad, it’s misleading claims and incorrect science. (Okay, that’s two things, but close enough.) Seeing this aisle set alarm bells ringing in my curious mind.

Let’s look at the details.

The PLASTIC FREE™ Aisle: What Does It Really Mean?

The “plastic-free aisle” is more correctly called the PLASTIC FREE™ aisle. Specifically, it is a collaboration between Dutch supermarket chain Ekoplaza (who own 74 organic supermarkets in the Netherlands) and an environmental campaign group called A Plastic Planet. The clever branding was designed by London graphic design studio Made Thought.

The PLASTIC FREE™ name is a figurative trademark, meaning the stylisation and graphic design of the logo are protected. There is no scientific meaning attached to the name or trademark; it’s more like a brand name.

On their website, A Plastic Planet describes the two groups of materials they call PLASTIC FREE™:

“Bio-Materials: Materials include wood pulp, plant cellulose, food waste, grass, algae, and mushrooms. These materials can be made into trays, punnets and clear, flexible films that look and behave like conventional plastic but can be composted into biomass. A Plastic Planet supports compostable plastics that comply with the necessary certification standards: EN 13432 or OK Home Compostable.”

“Other Materials: Metal, paper, carton board and glass are also plastic free.”

In short, the PLASTIC FREE™ logo does not include uncertified biodegradable plastic, but does include certified compostable plastic.

Often companies who use compostable plastics try to distance themselves from conventional plastics by referencing their plant-based origins (using terms like cornstarch or sugar-based). Or they describe themselves as plastic-like, rather than saying they are plastic. However, compostable plastic is classified as plastic #7 on the ASTM International Resin Identification Coding System (RIC), which is used to identify plastic resins.

Find out more about compostable plastics here.

The Issues That The PLASTIC FREE™ Aisle Doesn’t Address

Certified compostable plastic is different to fossil-fuel based plastic in some ways, but not all. It is not without issues, either.

1. The Language is Confusing (and Potentially Misleading)

The language of plastics, bioplastics and compostable plastics is confusing for many. A Plastic Planet do a good job of outlining what they mean and don’t mean by PLASTIC FREE™ on their website.

But most people glimpsing the headline or even heading to the store won’t be visiting the website.

Even on the website, there’s some confusing inormation. For example, they feature a video with a supplier holding a green meat tray and saying that in 12 weeks, the tray will disappear. That’s impossible science. Compost, degrade, dissolve, evaporate – call it what it is. Nothing disappears.

The stories about the first PLASTIC FREE™ aisle in the media are not always accurate, either, as different meanings and interpretations are made.

Some reporting claims that all the plastic packaging is 100% compostable. Technically, products certified to EN13432 and Ok Home Composting standards are required to break down by a minimum of 90%, not necessarily 100% (the remainder is “residue”).

This matters, because people believe we have a perfect solution, which is not the case.

2. Plant-Based Compostable Plastic Still Creates Litter

One of the big issues with certified compostable plastic is that it is certified compostable under composting conditions. That is not the same as out in the open environment.

Certified compostable packaging is just as capable of causing litter, blocking a drain, suffocating an animal or being mistaken for food as a regular plastic packaging.

3. Compostable Plastic Doesn’t Break Down in the Oceans

No compostable plastic to date has been shown to break down in the marine environment.

As plastic packaging is lightweight, floats, blows in the wind and can be carried by animals, it ends up in the ocean. Compostable plastic is no different to regular plastic in these properties.

4. Compostable Plastic Needs to Be Composted

Compostable plastic needs to be composted to break down, but consumers are often not aware of this. Landfills do not have composting conditions.

Additionally, some commercial composting facilities do not permit compostable plastics, because they do not run their cycles long enough to actually break down the plastic.

As an example, if a green meat tray takes 12 weeks to break down, but the composting cycle only runs for 10 days, the resulting compost will still have green meat tray plastic pieces throughout.

Unless there are systems in place for consumers to compost their own packaging, or companies to accept this packaging for commercial composting, there’s limited value in selling products in compostable plastic.

5. It Doesn’t Reduce Resource Consumption

Whatever it’s made from, single-use packaging is still single-use packaging. On this scale, single-use packaging is a huge waste of resources.

Growing huge amounts of food (sugar, corn, tapioca) with the sole purpose of synthesizing it into packets so that food items can be neatly displayed with predetermined portions in perfect rows in the supermarket? The land, energy and carbon footprint of that is huge.

When there’s so many people in the world who don’t have enough to eat, there’s also an ethical question around using land and food on this scale to create packaging.

What A Plastic-Free Aisle Should Really Look Like

The answer to the problems of too much packaging, plastic in the ocean, litter and carbon emissions isn’t a different type of single-use packaging.

The answer is moving away from single-use packaging.

The answer is in the return of return-and-refill schemes, container deposits, bulk stores… and just not wrapping every single thing in a package regardless of whether it is actually necessary.

Plastic-free aisles already exist. Bulk stores around the world are demonstrating that real plastic-free aisles are possible. Milk is being sold from dispensers and bottles refilled. Fruit and veg shops are stocking produce without plastic.

The Source Bulk Foods has pioneered the plastic-free aisle in Australia, with more than 40 stores, and have recently expanded into New Zealand and the UK.

Plenty of fruit and veg stores (such as my local Swansea St Markets) have shown that it’s perfectly possible to sell fruit and vegetables without needing to package them.

Even my local (Coles) supermarket has a bulk aisle. Okay, so they haven’t ditched the plastic bags just yet, but it’s progress.

The answer isn’t trying to tweak the current system. The answer is in changing the system. Recognising that single-use packaging in any form is a waste, and trying to find solutions that mean no packaging at all.

The question then, is how do we make bulk stores and return-and-refill systems more accessible (location, practicality, affordability) to the masses?

Solutions already exist. Real solutions that focus on rethinking, reducing and reusing.

That’s where the focus needs to be. The more that these kinds of stores and practices are supported, the more they will grow, the more people they will reach, and the more change will happen.

If we really want to tackle the plastic pollution problem, this is what we need to be working on.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What does a plastic-free aisle look like to you? How do you feel about compostable plastic packaging? Do you have access to commercial composting facilities in your area? Where would you like to see change? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

A Plastic-Free Future? It’s Already Happening (Here’s Proof)

When we think about the kind of world we want to live in, and then look around us in the present, the difference can feel worlds apart. It can seem impossible to imagine how we will ever make progress, from where we are to where we want to be.

Yet when we start to look closely, we discover that these new ways of thinking are being acted out, all around us. There are groups, businesses and organizations changing the old story by doing things a different way. They are visions, or “pockets” of the future” except they are happening now, in the present.

These “pockets of the future” remind us that change is possible, and that it is already taking place. These examples provide a framework for others to follow, and take the next steps.

When we talk about plastic-free or zero waste living, and the circular economy, we can see plenty of gaps in the system.

We might take our own bags – but what about all the produce arriving in the store in single use packaging? What about those of us who don’t live near bulk stores? What about convenience?

These are simply missed opportunities, and innovative people are plugging those gaps with solutions. I wanted to share a few ideas to give you hope that momentum is building. Change is coming.

How Stores are Addressing Single-Use Packaging

I’ve had this conversation more times than I care to remember when talking about zero waste or plastic-free living. Someone asks: what about the fact that most bulk stores receive goods in packaging, and that packaging the stores receive isn’t reusable?

Whilst that’s mostly true, a huge amount of waste eliminated when stores buy in bulk and allow customers to use their own containers.

Now, stores and businesses are stepping up to the challenge and trying to implement reusable and returnable options for their suppliers.

The Source Whole Foods Victoria Park (WA) – Kombucha

My local bulk store The Source Whole Foods (in Victoria Park, WA) recently started selling kombucha on tap. I’m not really a kombucha drinker, but I love the story behind this product. They have three flavours, which are delivered in stainless steel drums by a local producer in the south-west. Once empty, the drums and switched with full ones, and the empties are returned for cleaning and refilling. Zero disposable packaging.

Not all items that get delivered to bulk stores come packaging free. Many products get delivered in big 20kg sacks or drums, but these cannot be returned to suppliers for refilling. However, many bulk stores that care about zero waste are now starting to have these conversations with their suppliers, to see what options there are to reduce waste at the level upstream.

It’s beginning to happen.

Dunn & Walton Doubleview (WA) – Milk

Dunn & Walton is an organic store in Doubleview, Perth with an excellent cafe and deli. They receive their milk in bulk from Margaret River, and decant into glass bottles which their baristas use. They have saved more than 5,000 plastic bottles from landfill by doing this.

Coffee culture is a big deal in Australia, but almost every cafe uses plastic bottles and tetra paks. For plant-based milks, there’s the DIY approach which cafes are increasingly adopting. The Raw Kitchen in Fremantle is one of a growing number of cafes here in WA offering homemade non-dairy nut milk instead of the carton tetra-paks which typically end up in landfill.

Dunn & Walton Doubleview (WA) – Takeaway

Dunn & Walton also run a tiffin night on Thursday evenings, with gluten-free, vegan Indian takeaway food made by the supremely talented Arti of Arti’s Traditionals. Tiffins are stainless steel, stackable lunchboxes suitable for transporting hot food, typically Indian food.

At Dunn & Walton, customers can buy a reusable stainless steel tiffin on the night, or they can bring their own reusable containers from home, but there is no single-use disposable packaging available as an alternative.

More and more takeaway shops are willing to let customers bring their own containers, but most customers still have the option. Tiffins are not a new idea – millions of people use them every day in India. But they are not commonly seen in Australia… yet.

Coffee Cups to Go (and Come Back)

Reusable coffee cups aren’t new, although they are definitely becoming more mainstream. However, reusable coffee cups rely on us remembering to bring them – what if we forget? What about those people who like to text their coffee order ahead? Having a reusable cup doesn’t work in that instance.

Well, people are beginning to think about ways to get round that.

The Freiburg Cup (Germany) – Borrow and Return


I first read about the Freiburg (it’s in Germany) reusable coffee cup scheme earlier this year. When a customer buys a coffee from one of the 72 registered outlets, they can choose a reusable cup (made of dishwasher-proof plastic) by paying a small deposit. This reusable cup can be returned to any of the outlets for washing and reusing.

Go2Cup (Perth) – Reusable Coffee Cups to Borrow

When I read about the German scheme, I thought it sounded great. I wondered how we could introduce it here. Then I discovered that somebody (Daniel Grosso of Go2cup) is already getting out there and starting it, right here in Perth :)

Go2cup is slightly different to the Freiburg system, and in my view, slightly better. The Freiburg Cup still has a disposable lid, and the scheme is limited to cafes. Go2cup uses fully reusable cups (the lids are also reusable), and has expanded beyond the cafe market. It is also working with events, Farmers Markets, and businesses.

Cups are provided for patrons to use, and these are returned for washing.

Schemes like this allow people to forget their reusables and still refuse the single-use option. I’m sure these ideas will be adopted more widely in the future.

Reusable Bags (to Borrow and Bring Back)

People forget their reusable bags sometimes. Or they pick up more than they intended, and don’t have enough reusables to manage. Rather than resort to picking up plastic bags, there’s another solution – borrowing bags.

Boomerang Bags and Morsbags (Worldwide)

Boomerang bags are reusable shopping bags made by members of local communities, using donated and second-hand materials. Once a stash has been sewn, these are deposited outside stores for anyone to borrow, and bring back.

Forgotten your reusable bags? No problem!

Boomerang Bags started in Queensland, Australia, but have spread across the globe. Morsbags is another reusable bag initiative, founded by Claire Morsman (hence the name) with a similar ethos, in the UK. Before I moved from the UK to Perth in 2011, I worked in a building that had Morsbags hanging in the hallway for anyone to borrow at lunchtime.

Returnable and Refillable Packaging from Online Sellers

There are countless companies out there selling products in recyclable packaging. What is better than recyclable, though, is reusable. That’s where the zero waste movement wants us to head.

Obviously, taking our own containers to bulk stores means refillables. But not everyone lives close to bulk stores. And not all bulk stores sell the whole range of products.

Plaine Products (US)

Plaine products are a US company doing things a little differently. They sell shampoo, conditioner and body wash in recyclable aluminium bottles. Better than simply offering recyclable bottles, they offer a full ‘return and refill’ scheme.

Other companies allow customers to return bottles for recycling. But returning them for refilling is pretty new.

When you receive your order you also receive a return shipping label. When the product’s empty, the pumped is switched with a refill cap, the label is placed on the original box and the product is shipped back – and Plaine Products covers the shipping fee.

I’m lucky enough to have access to plenty of bulk stores, and I prefer to shop local over shopping online. But I do live in a city with plenty of options. For those people who rely on online shopping, this is a much more sustainable option than single-use packaging.

We don’t have a zero waste or circular economy – yet. But innovation is happening all the time, and good ideas are being spread. Schemes like this give me hope for a world without waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Were any of these new to you? Do have experiences with using any of these – good or bad? Do you know of any other innovative ideas tackling waste upstream? Any other initiatives you’d love to see happening? Any other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

(Disclaimer – I am an affiliate for Plaine Products, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only ever share organisations and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in.)

Zero Waste Living: Glass Dharma Reusable Glass Straws

Plastic straws. Is any single-use plastic more wasteful than the plastic straw? (Okay, yes; I can certainly think of a few other examples, but plastic straws have got to be up there with the best – or worst – of them.) I’ve been using a stainless steel straw for a while, but I don’t like the way it feels against my teeth, and it’s quite hard to keep clean as you can’t see inside.

So when Glass Dharma, who make reusable glass straws, asked me if I’d be interested in trying out their glass straws, of course I was more than happy to oblige! I’ve brought them on holiday with me, as that’s the time when I’m eating (and drinking) out more often, and at unfamiliar places where I don’t know the local straw policy!

One of the great things about Glass Dharma is they actually understand the plastic waste problem, and they don’t send their straws out in a heap of plastic bubble wrap. Each straw is packaged in a card box, and the parcel was plastic-free too. Although the straws are made from glass, it’s toughened (they use borosilicate – the strongest commercially available glass) and they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.

GlassDharma plastic free drinking straws plastic-free packaging

Four Glass Dharma straws, with no plastic in sight!

GlassDharma plastic-free drinking straws

They sent me four different straws to try, and a miniature brush for easy cleaning! There is a decorated straw, a bendy straw, a bubble tea straw (which is wider) and a shorter straw.

I have plastic-free living friends who question the need for straws at all. Whilst I agree that often straws are unnecessary and I always refuse disposable ones, I have found at least three situations when a straw (reusable only, of course) is preferable to no straw.

The first is when drinking smoothies or juice. Because you end up with moustache marks in the colour of your drink that can be surprisingly hard to wash off. If you ever drink out of a glass jar, all trendy like, you make end up with juice on your nose. It has happened to me. With turmeric. And with green smoothies. Those drinks stain!

The second is when ordering frozen drinks. I remember when my parents and my boyfriend’s parents met for the first time, and we all went out for dinner. Someone ordered a daiquiri. I insisted there were no straws. When the drink arrived, it was frozen (of course), and the waitress, who had remembered there was no straw requested, asked if we’d still like no straw before handing one over with a very smug expression! Now I have my own reusable straws that is something that will never happen again!

The third is when ordering a drink that requires stirring or mixing. Of course, you could request a spoon, but depending on the glass, a long-handled spoon might be needed and might not be available. My mother drinks tomato juice with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. They always give her a plastic stirrer to mix it all together. She was under the impression that they were washed and reused, which of course they aren’t. She double-checked with the bar person who told her they get put in the recycling (which doesn’t neccessarily mean they get recycled, that depends on the company that manages the recycling; it does mean they are single use).

This possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

This is possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

The next step was taking them out for testing! I thought I’d share the work with my straw-using friends and family, to make sure they all got a workout.

First up - the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

First up – the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

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Bendy straw!

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Bendy straw again : )

I thought the glass straws were great. Glass feels better in my mouth than stainless steel (and definitely plastic!), and being able to see if it was clean was definitely a bonus that the stainless steel straw doesn’t offer. I’ve been carrying mine around in the boxes they came in, and that seems to offer enough protection. The glass straws are taller than the stainless steel one I have, which fits neatly into my To-Go Wear bamboo cutlery set, but the shorter Glass Dharma straw fits. I prefer them to the stainless steel straws and I’d definitely recommend them.

I love anything that makes zero waste (and plastic-free) living easier, and I love it when companies really get behind the reasons why people want to live this way (to avoid waste, to avoid chemicals, to protect the environment and live sustainably). Glass Dharma do this perfectly, and they also make products that are designed to last (no built-in obsolescence here).

Just to clarify, Glass Dharma sent me the straws, but my opinions are my own. As always! : )