Posts

5 simple (and free) things you can do to have a more sustainable 2021

2020, I think we can all agree, has been a year unlike no other. The best-laid plans (no… wait… all the plans) went out of the window, and for many of us it was tumultuous and unsettling and a bit (or a lot) of a struggle. But if you’re reading this, you survived the year that was (hurrah!), and maybe – just maybe – you’re starting to think about the new year ahead, and making plans.

I think the New Year is always a great time for a reset, even if most of us are not making big, bold plans for next year. (If you are, go you! But I’m sitting the big bold plans out for next year. I’m tiptoeing into the new year, in fact.)

Anyways, I think a lot of sustainable habits went out of the window along with those plans in 2020, and I think a lot of us want to at least try to pick a few of them back up again. Honestly, there are probably a million and one great habits that we could adopt for 2021.

But to list a million and one great ideas would be completely overwhelming.

Instead, I spent some time thinking about which habits I’ve adopted over the past few years that have had a big impact in reducing my waste and living more sustainably, have been relatively easy to start and continue to do, and have been free.

If we are going to ease into the new year gently, we don’t need an overwhelming to-do list. We just need a few simple, easy and effective ideas to get started. Here are 5 of my favourite simple (and free) things that you can do, starting today, to have a more sustainable 2021.

Carry a KeepCup with you.

A KeepCup (but you can choose another branded or non-branded reusable travel cup, or even a sturdy jam jar with a silicone band or a few elastic bands around it), is something I recommend to carry in your bag, bike rack or glove box. It is probably the most useful thing in mine.

And I rarely get a takeaway coffee.

Obviously they are great for takeaway coffee (or tea, or other hot drinks). They can be used to dine-in if the place you’re drinking at only has disposables. They also work as a water glass, and to hold food scraps such as apple cores or banana peels that you want to take home and compost. They can be used as a container when bringing a snack from home, or buying small bakery items, or ice-cream, or when you didn’t bring enough BYO containers to the bulk store. And, you can pack a surprising amount of leftovers in them if you eat out and over-order.

In short, they are practical and useful – and easy enough to carry around.

And I think that carrying around reusables (and using them, obviously) is important for shifting the way that society sees disposables. We need to normalise reducing waste if we want more people to do the same.

If we can change the culture, then we are on the way to shifting policy.

These days, there are so many reusable cups about, you probably don’t need to buy one. (Reusables are almost the new disposables, it seems…) Ask friends and family if they have spares, look on giveaway sites, see if there are any abandoned ones at work.

Or you can buy one, if you really want to. But you don’t have to.

(You’ll often find them in second-hand and charity shops, too.)

Whether you rescue or buy, it can be helpful to think about what would be the most useful for you, as there are plenty of different options. And the best reusable is the one you actually use, so choose one that meets your needs.

Glass is more breakable than plastic or stainless steel, but easy to clean and doesn’t absorb flavours.

Some cups are fully leakproof, others leak-resistant, and others not leakproof at all.

You can choose a tall cup, a small cup, a collapsible cup that fits in your pocket, a cup that fits in the drink holder in your car or on your bicycle. Or a jam jar. Whatever it is that will be most practical for you.

The first ‘swap’ I made when I went plastic-free back in 2012 was getting a (plastic) KeepCup. I switched to a glass one when they were launched in 2014, and I still have that same one now. Whilst there are plenty of reusables you can carry around with you (cutlery, a napkin, reusable shopping and produce bags, a water bottle), the KeepCup remains one of my favourite zero waste swaps, ever.

If you switch to one reusable, start here.

Stop throwing away food scraps.

Food waste makes up 40 per cent of the average household bin in the UK, USA and Australia. Stop throwing away food scraps and you’ll reduce your waste by almost half, and you’ll be able to turn those scraps, which are actually nutrients, into compost, to go back into the soil.

And you’ll reduce your carbon emissions, because food waste in landfill creates methane – a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Plus, you’ll no longer have a stinky kitchen bin. Wins all round!

Finding alternatives for your food scraps is not as hard as you think. There are plenty of options.

You might be lucky enough to have a council food scraps collection service (it’s sometimes called FO or FOGO – FO means food organics and GO means garden organics). If you have this option, make sure you’re using it to its full potential. Check what’s accepted and make sure everything that can go in this bin is going in this bin.

If you don’t have this service, there are a few ways you can process your food scraps at home.

You can set up a compost bin. There are two main options – the Dalek-style in-ground bins, that have an open base that you dig into the ground; or the rotary bins that sit on a frame and are great for patios. Sizes vary so you can pick one for a small space or a large family.

Composting is easy and low fuss – if you’re new to composting, this composting guide has more details on how to get started.

You could establish a worm farm. Worm farms can be kept indoors or outdoors: an indoor one is great if you live in a cold climate, as worms will die if they freeze. They are also excellent for apartments. The worms eat your food scraps and make an amazing nutrient rich product called ‘worm castings’ that is fantastic for gardens.

They take a little (but not much) more effort than a compost bin to maintain – mainly because you have to keep the worms alive. Which means feeding occasionally, and keeping them out of extreme temperatures.

Worm farms come in a variety of shapes and sizes: from plastic ‘worm cafes’ to the large capacity bin-shaped ‘Hungry Bin’ to ceramic and wooden designs (I’ve only seen these available in Europe). And there are in-ground versions too, where a tube drilled with holes is dug directly into the ground or a garden bed.

And there’s the option to DIY – in ground worm farms can be made out of old PVC tube, and worm farm ‘cafes’ can be made using two old polystyrene boxes.

You could set up a bokashi system. These are slightly different from composting and worm farming in that they ferment the food scraps rather than breaking them down. The scraps are placed in a sealed bucket with a tap, and a bokashi bran inoculated with microbes is sprinkled on top.

Fill, sprinkle, fill, sprinkle, until the bucket is full.

Eventually the bokashi waste will need to be buried or composted. Some people add to a compost bin, others add to a pot, top with soil and plant it out.

Bokashi systems are popular with apartment dwellers. They don’t smell, and once full the buckets can be stored for months until a place for burying is found. Plus they are a great way to process meat and fish scraps, cooked food and other items not recommended for compost bins.

If you’d like to know more about bokashi systems, this post explains the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

And finally, if you really like the idea of not throwing away your food scraps, but you’re not in a place to start composting or setting up a worm farm just yet, you can piggyback off of other people’s food waste systems. For free.

Simply find someone or somewhere convenient to you (maybe a school, or a community garden, or a cafe, or a neighbour), and drop your food scraps to them. Finding them isn’t that hard, either – check out the resources sharewaste.com or makesoil.org.

Download (and start using) the OLIO app

Still on the subject of food waste, but now we are not talking food scraps, we are talking edible food – food that isn’t wanted. Food we bought and didn’t like the taste of, food we bought and then plans changed, food that stores or cafes produced and couldn’t sell, that sort of thing. Well, OLIO is the app that allows people (and businesses) to connect food that isn’t wanted with people that want it. For free.

The OLIO app is free, the food is free. There is no catch, just food to be shared and people who want to help. OLIO has been around in the UK since 2015, and now has over 2 million users in more than 46 countries. Best of all, the app has helped save almost 10 million portions of food since it started.

In fact, because it has been so successful, OLIO has recently expanded into non-food items too.

You can read more about OLIO via their website www.olioex.com, and the app is available on Apple and Android.

Buy less stuff from billionaires (and their companies)

Billionaires really don’t need any more money, and they definitely don’t need their coffers lined further by us. I don’t believe anyone becomes a billionaire ethically and sustainably – but even if you did, hoarding all of that wealth is unethical.

(If you have $999 million dollars, then you are not a billionaire. So we are talking about people who have upwards of this.)

I can’t imagine what you can possibly need all that money for. The biggest houses, private jets, buying up entire islands – surely that’s small change when you’re a billionaire?

Oh, and for context: if you worked every single day, making $5,000 a day, from the year 1500 until the year 2020, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d have to work for 548 years, not spending a penny of what you earned, and earning $5000 a day, every day, to be a billionaire.

And yet billionaires own companies like Amazon and H & M, companies which became notorious during Covid-19 for not protecting their workers (who mostly earn minimum wage – or less), trying to avoid paying suppliers and rent, all in order to maximise profits for themselves and shareholders.

This type of business (and wealth hoarding) only benefits the few.

It’s often argued that poor people and those on tight budgets need to shop at these types of stores, where prices are low, in order to survive. But let’s be totally clear – people on tight budgets shopping for essentials do not create multi-million dollar businesses and billionaires. That comes from the middle and upper classes, and people buying more than they need.

Boycotting billionaire-owned businesses might not be an option for you, and that’s okay. But wherever possible, try to shop at these businesses less. Perhaps by choosing to buy nothing, make do, fix what you have, repurpose something else, borrow something rather than buy it, or shopping second-hand.

Or perhaps by choosing to support a small business or independent retailer instead.

When things are cheap, often the true costs are externalised. We (and definitely not the company) don’t pay for them. Perhaps the resources were taken from land that is being degraded or exploited for profit, perhaps the person who made the item didn’t get paid a fair wage, perhaps the employee who sold or packed the item doesn’t have fair employment conditions or access to healthcare.

We often hear the phrase “when we spend money, we vote with our dollars about the kind of world we want to live in”.

Do we really want to live in a world where a few billionaires hoard wealth at the expense of millions of others?

Join your local Buy Nothing group

Whether you’d like to buy less from billionaires, buy less generally or simply help keep resources in use for longer (and therefore reduce waste), the Buy Nothing project is going to help you – in more ways than you can imagine. It’s a network of hyper-local communities engaging in the true gift economy: giving, sharing, borrowing, lending and placing unwanted and unused items back in circulation for use by others.

The groups operate on Facebook. You can only join one group – the one where you live – and what this means is everyone is close by, so it’s easy to collect an old unwanted table, request a cup of sugar, or ask to borrow some glasses for a party, or a lawnmower, or whatever you need to use (but don’t really need to buy).

The great thing about the group is that generosity breeds generosity. People love to give, people love to receive useful things, and everyone loves to save stuff from landfill.

It also means you get to know your neighbours, and build connections.

My Buy Nothing group is the first place I go if I need something that is the kind of thing someone else might have lying around. It’s the first place I go if I’m wanting to pass on something I no longer need. It makes you realise just how much stuff is already in the world, and how willing others are to share it.

It’s hard to articulate just how great the Buy Nothing project is. If you use Facebook, I’d recommend joining your local Buy Nothing group. And if there is no local Buy Nothing group near you, you can start your own.

The year that has gone has definitely made some sustainable habits harder to keep up with, whether it’s because laws have been changed and legislation brought in, businesses have shifted policy, or life just became too hectic and some things just needed to be dropped.

Whilst we can’t just forget about 2020, and a new year doesn’t magic away all the chaos, there is the chance to reset, even just a little. Hopefully these ideas make your 2021 not only a little more sustainable, but easier and more enjoyable for you too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you feeling ready to start getting back on track in 2021? Or are you sitting things out a little longer? Are you going big, or keeping things small? What’s the first thing you want to tackle? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Choose handmade: 5 zero waste items you don’t need to buy from big box stores

It is much lamented here that, whilst I’d love to be able to sew and crochet and craft, the reality is that I cannot. What I can do is support those people who do, and do it well.

If I had the choice of buying something locally made by a person whose name I know, over buying something mass produced in a factory and sold by a faceless corporation, I’d always choose the former.

It isn’t always possible or within my budget (bespoke furniture is very different from handmade hankies!), but where it is, I always try to support local and independent.

When it comes to reusables, there are plenty of people making great items, (bonus – often out of upcycled materials) and with a real focus on reducing waste at every step.

If you’re looking for some reusables to help you refuse single-use packaging and reduce your waste, I’d really encourage you to think about supporting small and independent businesses first. I’ve put together this list to give you some ideas.

As you know, I’d never encourage anyone to buy anything they didn’t need, so please don’t see this as a shopping list. You might not need anything, and I’m definitely not trying to persuade you otherwise! Instead, see it as inspiration, and be practical about what you really need. The best reusables are always the ones that are actually used.

This post is a collaboration with Etsy and contains affiliate links.

Reusable Produce Bags

There are plenty of reusable produce bag options, and I find different styles work for different needs. Mesh ones are great because they are see-though (handy at the checkout) but they aren’t going to hold sugar, flour or spices!

If you’re looking for upcycled fabric, there are plenty of people making produce bags out of old net curtains and upcycled lace. If you’ve got the choice, I’d recommend finding a local seller (that way, the carbon footprint will be lower).

Image credit: Stella Stellina

Unpaper Towel

Full disclaimer: this is not something that I actually use. I used to use paper kitchen towel wrapped in plastic back in the day, but never thought to track down a reusable version when I went plastic-free and zero waste. I just went without. Nowadays I make do with old kitchen towels, and it works for me.

But I know lots of people love paper towel, and if you’re not willing to give it up altogether, I do think unpaper towel is a great alternative.

Some use cotton, others use fleece, some have poppers/snaps to keep them together, and of course all the sizes and ‘roll’ lengths vary, so think about what would be most useful to you.

Image credit (top): Marley’s Monsters

Image credit (bottom): Earth Kind Creations

Cleaning Cloths and Reusable Wipes

Continuing on the cleaning theme, there are plenty of people creating cleaning cloths and wipes out of repurposed fabric. (Sure, many are making products out of brand new fabric too, but my zero waste preference will always be old over new.)

If you don’t have old towels or other rags at home you can repurpose to make your own cleaning cloths, better to support independent makers than big pharmaceutical companies, in my view.

Image credit: Upcycled Creations CAD

Reusable Menstrual Pads

Reusable menstrual products are winners in every way: zero or very low waste, long lasting (meaning money saving) and much more comfortable than their single-use counterparts.

Reusable menstrual pads come in all shapes, sizes and absorbencies. Many will have a plastic PUL liner, but it’s possible to find completely plastic-free versions that even have metal poppers/snaps.

Image credit (top): Earth Kind Creations

Image credit (bottom): SnugglePot Cotton Pads

Natural Zero Waste Make-Up

I once attempted to make black eyeliner using a candle flame, a sieve and some almonds. It was very messy and my sieve took month to lose the charred evidence. Needless to say, I now prefer to leave to the experts.

Fortunately, there are two ladies making excellent products with natural ingredients and zero waste packaging: Danni from Dirty Hippie Cosmetics and Laura from Clean-Faced Cosmetics.

Both can send products without labels if required, will only send things like (bamboo) brushes if actually needed, and don’t use unnecessary plastic to package their products.

Image credit (top): Dirty Hippie Cosmetics

Image credit (bottom): Clean-Faced Cosmetics

If you’re in the market for reusables or zero waste items, the first thing I’d suggest is double-checking with yourself that you definitely need it, and definitely can’t make do with something you already have.

Once you’re sure it’s something that you need, check out local and handmade options and support small makers before you even put a foot in a big box store.

5 Reasons to Choose Etsy for Ethical + Eco-Friendly Purchases

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

As a self-professed lover of less stuff, it’s not often you’ll find me talking about shopping. But I accept, we all need to buy some things sometimes.

I know that when I need to buy something, I want it to be the most ethical, sustainable, long-lasting and environmentally sound choice that’s available to me.

I’m guessing you do too.

Usually that means eschewing the big box stores, avoiding the high street chains and instead choosing second-hand or supporting the independent stores, small producers and local craftspeople.

But finding these businesses and people can be tricky. Plus if we live away from the big capital cities, our options can be limited. And that’s where Etsy comes in.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what Etsy is, who it’s for and why you might want to consider it if you’re someone passionate about living with less waste and more sustainably.

What is Etsy?

Etsy is an online marketplace that allows people to connect and buy (or sell) unique, handmade and/or vintage goods. Etsy’s core mission is to help artists and crafters make a living. It’s a platform that makes it easy for sellers to sell and buyers to buy, but it’s more than just a selling platform.

It’s about connecting people.

It’s possible for sellers to post updates and share messages, and buyers to leave feedback (and photographs) – which gives it a really human, community feel and makes buyers feel connected to the people who make the items.

Who is Etsy for?

When I’m giving talks about living with less waste I often say, there are two types of people in the world. Those that know how to make things, and those that do not know how to make things.

Etsy is the bridge that connects us.

No-one has the time, patience and will to learn how to make everything. For those things we can’t make ourselves, we generally need to buy them. Whenever people ask me where they can buy reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps (or their vegan wax wrap equivalents) and natural skincare products (including zero waste make-up) I always suggest looking on Etsy.

The people who sell on Etsy range from those who make a full-time income from it, to hobbyists who are able to sell their creations to fund their craft.

5 Reasons Why Etsy is a Good Choice for Eco-Friendly and Ethical Purchases

Let’s be clear. I’m not encouraging anyone to buy stuff they don’t need. But when we do need to buy things, Etsy is a good option. Here’s why.

1. It’s the opposite of mass-produced.

Mass production tends to go hand-in-hand with corporate capitalism, where things are made as cheap as possible through externalising the costs. What that means is, companies exploit the land, create pollution and underpay workers so customers can buy things cheaply.

And most of this mass produced stuff isn’t made to last, because these companies need customers coming back and buying more stuff.

Etsy, on the other hand, champions producers who offer handmade goods, or produce things in small batches. One person or even a small-scale workshop simply can’t pump out huge volumes of stuff. And so there is an emphasis on unique, personalised, customisable, well-made and thoughtfully produced items.

2. You’re supporting real people to make a living (and receive a fair reward for their work).

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘when you buy from a small independent business, a real person does a happy dance’? I always hold this thought with me when buying from a small business, local maker or skilled artisan.

It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to know the names of the people who make my things (like Claire from Etsy store Small World Dreams, who made my bag, and lives right here in WA).

It’s more than just money – it’s belief in someone else’s work and a coming together of shared values. For example, Etsy currently has 36,882 results for ‘zero waste‘. Buying a product from a zero waste seller isn’t just parting with your cash, it’s reaffirming to the sellers that we care about these issues too.

You’re keeping useful skills alive (and maybe even encouraging more people to embrace them).

I don’t know how to sew, embroider, weave, turn wood, paint, blow glass or build things that don’t fall apart. But other people do, and Etsy has provided a platform for them to share their skills and work with the world.

Before platforms like Etsy existed, it was difficult for sellers to reach people who wanted what they had, and time-consuming to attend markets. Now, Etsy has made it possible (and easy) for sellers to connect with buyers, which means creators can spend more time doing what they love – creating.

It also means that more people can become creators. The only barrier is actually having a skill to share. Make soap? Create art? Upcycle clothing? Restore furniture? There’s a space on Etsy for you.

4. You can ask questions and make your preferences known.

Of course it’s no guarantee that everything on Etsy is produced ethically from sustainable materials and shipped in recycled packaging. But when you’re dealing with a creator directly, you can ask the questions.

Where do they source their materials? Do they make the products by hand themselves? Who else works in the business? Will they ship without packaging? Do they avoid using plastic?

It’s a lot easier for a creator to be transparent than it is for a faceless customer service representative at a big box store – who likely has no idea about the buying and procurement procedures for the company at which they work.

Plus, when you’re dealing directly with the creator, you have the opportunity to ask for exactly what you want. Looking for a different colour, or have a slightly different design in mind? Ask!

There’s never a guarantee but many Etsy sellers offer custom orders, so you can make sure the thing you buy is exactly what you want. Which is the best way to ensure the things we buy are things we use often.

5. You can find upcycled, reclaimed, recycled and second-hand.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that creators and sellers on Etsy only work with brand new materials. Not at all! If there’s something that you’re looking for, I’d always recommend looking to see if someone has made it out of already existing materials first.

There are so many great small businesses creating useful products out of what others might see as waste, be it metals, wood, fabric and even packaging. (There isn’t space to list them here, but I think it might make a good post for another time.)

Also, Etsy is a platform for vintage goods – which is really a fancy way of saying second-hand. If you’re the kind of person who loves old, but rarely finds cool old stuff in the charity shop yourself, Etsy is a great place to track down second-hand things.

I prefer to save the trawling through auction houses and antiques stores for the people who really love to do it, and have an eye for useful things. I think it’s cool that rather than languishing on a dusty shelf in a sleepy town in an old second-hand store, Etsy makes it easier to give these things new life and keep them in circulation.

You can find out more about Etsy here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Etsy before and what was your experience? Are you a creator who sells things on Etsy? Have you found any awesome vintage or upcycled finds? Any zero waste or sustainability-focussed sellers to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!