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Keeping waste out of landfill: 5 creatives transforming ‘trash’ into useful stuff

As someone who missed out on the ‘crafty’ gene, I’m always fascinated by people with the talent to create things. In particular, I’m in awe of those people with both the vision and the skill to take ‘waste’, and make it into something actually useful and practical.

What’s most impressive to me is when people are able to create things so good that people are willing to buy them. A demand for ‘new’ things made out of old things – the world definitely needs more of that.

I also think it’s very cool that people are able to make a living transforming waste.

There are a few such individuals and small businesses that I follow on social media. Now I’m not a buyer of things, particularly, but I find it very inspiring to watch others create, and make beautiful things from trash.

Here are a few of my favourites.

This post is in partnership with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

Tideline Art

Nicole is from London, UK, and makes art from the treasures she finds mudlarking, a term used to describe people who search the muddy shores of rivers looking for things of interest or value.

Being a mudlark along the River Thames was an actual job during the 18th/19th centuries, although not a particularly desirable one. Now it’s a hobby for people, who find all kinds of old bits and pieces that were thrown into the river and preserved in the mud.

There are plenty of people who mudlark and create art with their finds, but Nicole is one of my favourites. I just love the idea that Victorian trash now has value, and that others find it beautiful.

Plus, I love that Nicole always tries to find out the origins of the pieces she finds, and shares their stories.

Link to Tideline Art’s Etsy store.

Smartie Lids on the Beach

Michelle is from Cornwall, UK, and makes art from the plastic she finds at the beach. I’ve been following along on social media for a long time, and enjoy the combination of photographs of beach cleanups in action and the random things that wash up, as well as the later transformation into art pieces.

She’s probably best known for her amazing colour wheels, but also creates other fun items out of bits of plastic (her toothbrush fishes are one of my favourites), flower seed heads using nurdles, and other quirky pieces.

Link to Smartie on the Beach’s Etsy store.

Velo Culture

Run by Bev and based in Newcastle, UK, Velo Culture make wallets, belts, toiletries bags and phone cases out of old bicycle inner tubes. Upcycling at its finest.

I particularly love this because inner tubes are one of those unavoidable waste items, but still a really useful and usable material, even once they can no longer be used with bicycles.

Velo Culture have had more than 7,200 sales since launching their Etsy store. That’s a lot of inner tubes (and the occasional bike chain and break cable) repurposed.

Link to Velo Culture’s Etsy Shop.

Wyatt & Jack

Wyatt & Jack are based on the Isle of Wight (UK) and make bags, clothes and purses out of old bouncy castles, broken inflatables and beach toys and damaged deckchairs.

But even better than that, they started Inflatable Amnesty. If you have a broken inflatable or punctured paddling pool that’s beyond repair, you can send it into Wyatt & Jack, who will make it into new bags! They will even cover postage.

And as you might expect from quirky inflatables and brightly-coloured bouncy castles, the products they make are FUN!

I’ve been in love with these guys since forever. The combination of repurposing pretty-tricky-to-reuse items into something so useful – and fun! – well, there’s nothing better.

Link to Wyatt & Jack’s Etsy store.

One Fine Phoenix

This post wouldn’t be complete without including zero waste reusables, and my favourites will always be those using old materials (rather than new) for making their products. There are plenty of stores offering new versions, but finding reusables made from reused is the ultimate in zero waste, in my view.

Siobhan from One Fine Phoenix (based in New South Wales) only stocks products made with second-hand and vintage fabrics. She creates hankies, cleaning cloths, cutlery wraps, unpaper towel, make-up remover pads and the like.

One for those of us who don’t know how to sew. (Also, loving the DIY lemon vinegar props!)

Link to One Fine Phoenix’s Etsy store.

I’m constantly amazed by the things that people create out of ‘waste’ products. This list is hardly comprehensive (and if you have favourites I’d love to hear about them in the comments) but it goes to show that with a creative mind, people really can turn trash into treasure.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have the ‘crafty’ gene? What have you upcycled? Are there any cool projects and businesses you’ve found doing great stuff? Do you have one yourself? Anything else to add? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

My Zero Waste Kit (Zero Waste Handbag Essentials)

I truly believe that the zero waste lifestyle does not mean going out to buy a whole heap of stuff. Saying that, there are definitely things that I have bought, which make waste-free living a lot easier for me. I refer to these things as my zero waste “kit”.

Recently I received a lovely email from a lady called Rachel who follows my Instagram feed, and she asked me: “I’ve seen you mention “zero waste kit” a few times and was wondering what that was!” It dawned on me that I’ve never taken the time to explain what I have and why. So here it is: my list of handbag essentials for zero waste living.

What is essential for me might not be essential for you, and this is definitely no command to go shopping! As always, I recommend using what you have. Whilst I’ve provided links so you can find out more details about the things I’ve personally chosen, please consider making do, buying second-hand and shopping local where you can.

What’s In My Zero Waste Handbag?

My handbag is by no means a hold-all! None of this stuff takes up that much room and the only heavy thing is my water bottle, when it’s full.

I’ve included links below of the actual things I have, so you can see specific product details, dimensions etc.

Water bottle: I have a Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle with a bamboo lid. It holds 800ml. I chose this because it is completely plastic free and I love that Klean Kanteen are committed to producing products with the environment in mind.

Sometimes I leave the water bottle at home to save weight and use my reusable cup instead.

Reusable Coffee Cup: When I started out, I had a plastic KeepCup, but once glass ones were introduced in 2014 I made the switch. I have a 8oz glass KeepCup with a cork band but bigger sizes are also available. The lid is plastic but I like that the rest of the cup is not, and that it is a standard barista size.

I often use this as an impromptu container, or to grab a glass of water from anywhere with a tap if I don’t have my water bottle with me.

Reusable Cutlery: I have a To-Go ware set that was a birthday present: it contains a bamboo fork, spoon, knife and chopsticks and the pouch is made from recycled water bottles. The cutlery is surprisingly sturdy and I have skinned and de-stoned a mango with the knife. It is also suitable to carry onto planes in hand luggage.

Reusable Straw: I have added a reusable metal straw to my reusable cutlery pouch (it needs to be 21.5cm or smaller to fit in the To-Go Ware pouch). I also have reusable glass straws that I love, but I tend to take them out with me less often. The ones I have are made by Glass Dharma and come with a lifetime breakage guarantee. There are other brands with different colours and patterns. Reusable bamboo straws are another option.

Glass straws sound fragile but the glass is toughened and it would be impossible to bite through it. Because the edges are smoothed I think they are a good option for kids.

Produce Bags: Almost all of the produce bags I have are handmade (not by me!), and I think Etsy is a great place to find local craftspeople if you can’t sew your own. My own bags (mostly gifts) are made from old fabric, cafe curtains and an old bedsheet of mine. I love sellers who repurpose old fabric rather than buying new, like these produce bags made from old tablecloths.

I also have a few Onya produce bags too which are handy as they fit in a little stuff sack. The company started down the road from here and the owner is passionate about reducing plastic-bag use.

Reusable Bag: We have a number of calico bags that we’ve picked up over the years and would recommend choosing natural fibres where possible. As well as these, we have a couple of Onya reusable shopping bags. Whilst they are plastic, they scrunch up into a tiny stuff sack when not in use, so they are handy for my husband (who does not carry a handbag!) or when we are travelling as they are pocked-sized.

Sandwich Wraps: These are coated fabric and can be used in place of containers. I have snack pockets and sandwich wraps made by 4MyEarth, a local Perth company. They used to make 2 sizes of each but now they just make 1 size of each. The fabric is coated to make it water- and grease-resistant: it is a plant-based plastic and they are PVC-free. I like that they are machine washable, and they have lasted me a really long time (I got them in 2012).

Metal lunchbox: I bought my husband this metal lunchbox to take to work every day, although we also use it if we are going out to a restaurant or cafe (you never know where there might be leftovers!). I’ve added to our collection since then: a three-tier tiffin and a four-tier tiffin, and a round stainless steel lunchbox for myself that I bought in Thailand.

Stainless steel is expensive  – it is an investment piece that will last forever. If you have an Indian supermarket nearby it is worth checking out if they stock tiffins as the price will likely be kinder to your wallet. Sometimes, they pop up in charity shops too (although I’ve never been this lucky)!

Hanky: I keep a hanky on me at all times, which doubles as a serviette if I’m out. Department stores will likely sell them, but I prefer to keep things local and I’d look on Etsy if I needed more. Or, I’d just cut up some old clothes and make do with the ragged edges ;)

The links above are mostly for Australian stores. If you’re not in Australia, this page has a list of online zero waste and plastic-free stores which you might find useful.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your zero waste essentials? How did you choose your items? What eco-minded companies have you chosen to support? How have you been able to make do? Have you made any great second-hand purchases? Any recommendations for where others might be able to make do or find second-hand? Do you consider any of the items I’ve chosen a waste of time?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These items are all items that I genuinely use and love, and have purchased with my own money or were received as gifts from friends and family. No company has paid me to be featured on this list. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

no-thank-you-im-out

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!