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Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

Last weekend I took a trip to the Hills to the town of Mundaring 45km  away… to go shopping. Not just any kind of shopping, mind. I went to visit a newly opened shop named the Wasteless Pantry. No prizes for guessing what kind of shop it is! It’s a new bulk grocery store that only sells loose grocery items, actively encourages shoppers to bring their own containers and even offers a Plastic Free July support group!

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

I’m lucky enough where I live to have a number of bulk produce stores to choose from, but this is the first store I’ve come across that sells groceries and cleaning products solely in bulk and does not offer any plastic bags or plastic packaging of any kind. It is like a dream come true!

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

A set of scales and a marker pen at the door means customers can weigh their own jars and containers.

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

As well as dry goods, there was a selection of oils and vinegars to buy in bulk.

Bulk spices

Bulk (plastic-free) spices and herbs can also be found here.

The store isn’t big, but is neatly laid out with almost everything you could wish for (and a few things you might not have known you even wanted) all available in bulk. There was also a blackboard on the corner for customers to write their “wish list” of items they’d like to see available in the future. I wrote down maple syrup. I’ve never seen it in bulk in Australia and it’s something I’d really like to be able to source!

My favourite bit was the bulk pasta section. I’ve written on social media recently about Barilla’s decision to start adding plastic windows to their previously plastic-free cardboard pasta boxes. Here there was a good choice (including gluten-free pasta) so we stocked up. Bye bye Barilla!

Bulk Pasta

Bye bye Barilla! Your stupid plastic windows mean I won’t be buying your pasta any more…I’ll be buying this instead! Plus it’s made in South Australia which means lower food miles : )

Other highlights were:

  • Bulk tortilla chips! Plastic-free! We bought an enormous bag full and devoured them within an hour of arriving home. To be fair, it was lunchtime. It’s probably a good thing that these aren’t commonly found in bulk stores!
Shopping for Zero Waste Tortilla Chips

If that isn’t excitement then I don’t know what is!

  • Hundreds and thousands. Not something I’d buy (just look at all those e numbers!) but quite impressed that it was even possible.
I'm also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

I’m also loving the little wooden scoops that accompany all the spice jars!

  • A little bit of upcycling: funnels made from old plastic milk bottles.
Upcycled milk bottles as funnels...repurposing at its finest!

Upcycled milk bottles as funnels to fill your own containers…repurposing at its finest!

  • Free bottles and bags, just in case you forgot your own or didn’t quite have enough. The store also sells new glass jars but I love the fact that they make old ones available to shoppers too.
Free glass jars and shopping bags Wasteless Pantry

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

I didn’t write this post to gloat. I know that lots of you don’t live close to bulk stores. I’m lucky that I have so many close by to where I live, although this one doesn’t count – a 45km trip without a car makes this too difficult for regular shopping. Instead, I wrote this post to give you encouragement. This store only opened its doors on 1st June…that’s less than 4 weeks ago. Bulk and zero waste stores are popping up more and more…it’s a growing trend!

The Wasteless Pantry is the result of two women who were frustrated with the amount of waste they were consuming – and decided to do something about it.

Doing something about it doesn’t mean you have to open your own shop (although I know a few of you secretly – or not so secretly – harbour such dreams)! This might be at the more ambitious end of the scale, but we can all do something. Just because you don’t have a bulk bin store at the end of your street, it doesn’t mean bulk shopping is out of reach. Don’t make the mistake of doing nothing simply because you can’t do everything.

The fact that these shops exist mean that products are being sold in bulk. Most products are sold in bulk. All you have to do is find them!

  • One approach is to ask producers and farmers directly. They may sell to you or they may not – but the question must be asked if you want to know the answer.
  • Think about bulk buying groups. Food co-ops exist in many areas, but they don’t advertise so you’ll have to seek them out.
  • Bulk buying groups don’t have to be formal, either! They can be as simple as a group of friends who club together to buy a large amount of one product, and then split it.  It doesn’t even need to be food. When I needed to buy more toilet roll recently, I put it out there on Facebook and 9 other people agreed to buy a box too. I had 10 boxes of toilet roll delivered to my doorstep, and the 9 I didn’t need were collected by friends and family. It helped supported a local business, reduced our cost (bulk buying often works out cheaper) and stopped 9 other families buying plastic-wrapped toilet paper from the supermarket ; )

Start small. Choose just one item. Think of items you get through large quantities of, or items with a long shelf life. Investigate local producers or suppliers. No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Of course, if you’re inspired enough to start your own zero waste store, go for that instead!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have bulk stores near you, or do you struggle to find anything not packaged in plastic? Have you joined a food co-op, or found a Farmers market or producer that you can buy products without excessive packaging? What is your biggest frustration…and your greatest triumph in the war against waste?! Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

8 Tips for making this Plastic Free July the most successful ever!

I love June and July, because every year during these two months a tide of plastic awareness starts sweeping across the globe. Why? Because people throughout the world start signing up for Plastic Free July, and there’s a wave of optimism, hope and enthusiasm that comes too.

It doesn’t stop there though… all that energy turns into discovery, realisation, commitment to change and then action. New habits are born. People start using less plastic, and for many, they keep on using less plastic long after July has passed. With every year, the plastic-free movement gets stronger!

If you’re not signed up to this year’s Plastic Free July challenge, or you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, stop everything and sign up now. Yep, right now. It won’t take long. Just click here. We’ll wait for you to get back.

Done? See, that didn’t take long at all!

(I should add at this point that we’re not saying that all plastic is bad. We’re just saying that a lot of plastic is unnecessary, and actually avoidable. The truth is, we get stuck in the habit of doing things a certain way simply because that’s the way we’ve always done them, and we’ve never really given much thought to the notion that actually there’s a better way. By better, I mean a way that doesn’t involve drilling oil out of the ground, turning it into plastic, shipping that somewhere and using it for a few minutes before sending it to landfill, where it will languish for the next 500 years.)

Plastic Free July – the countdown begins!

Now you’re all signed up and ready to go, you’ve got two weeks to prepare and get organized. Plenty of time! Just to make it that little bit easier though, I’ve written a quick guide to help you get started.

1. Think about the Big Four – plastic water bottles, disposable coffee cups (and lids), plastic bags and straws

Top 4 Plastic Bags, Disposable Cups, Straws, Plastic Water Bottles

These four items are big contributors to plastic pollution, and all of them can be avoided.

  • Equip yourself with a reusable water bottle, or re-purpose an old bottle you already have. If you don’t like drinking water from the tap, invest in a water filter.
  • Start bringing your own reusable coffee cup if you get takeaway. You can buy stainless steel, glass and ceramic reusable coffee cups, or you can just repurpose an old glass jar or even bring your own mug! Another option is to commit to dining in, so you can make use of the cafe’s cups and mugs.
  • Bring your own bags! Almost every household has reusable shopping bags, and even if you don’t you can use a backpack or rucksack, or make use of plastic bags you already own. Re-use an old cardboard box if that works better for you. The trick is to remember to take them with you! Put them by the front door, in the front of the car, stuff one in your handbag, hang one from your bicycle handlebars – put them wherever you’ll see them so you remember to pick them up as you leave for the shops!
  • Get in the habit of refusing straws. It’s possible to drink most drinks without a straw, so remember to ask for no straw when you order. For those that you can’t drink easily without a straw (frozen drinks and fresh coconuts, for example) you can buy reusable stainless steel, glass or bamboo straws.

2. Do your research – check out your local area for plastic-free shops and markets

You probably go to your regular shops out of habit, so you may not be aware of all the other options available to you. Is there a local Farmers Market close by? A butcher, bakery, deli or fishmonger? An independent fruit and veg shop? Typically these will use less packaging than the supermarkets, but are also usually more open to discussing using less plastic. Health food stores often have bulk sections, even if they are small, and are worth investigating.

3. Start the conversation

  • Talk to local producers, sellers and stallholders. Explain what you are doing. Find out if they are happy for you to bring your own containers, or to package their items differently. Most people are happy to help! (When my mum signed up for Plastic Free July, she sheepishly went to her local butcher and explained that she wanted to start bringing her own containers, but she wouldn’t trouble him if he was busy. His response? He was spending nearly £8,000 a year on plastic single-use packaging, and was more than happy for her to bring her own containers – in fact it would be even better if he was busy, as she might encourage others to bring their own containers too!)
  • Talk to friends and family. Explain the challenge, and what you’re trying to do. They may have ideas on how to help, they may want to sign up too…at the very least they will have a better understanding of what your goals are!

4.  Find your community and join in!

Everyone needs a support network to stay motivated! Plastic free July is happening in over 30 countries, and growing all the time, so see if there are any events happening locally near you. If there’s nothing nearby, seek out your community online! There are many blogs such as this one to seek out ideas and tips, and also Facebook groups to share frustrations, ask questions and celebrate wins.

If you can’t find a local Facebook group consider starting you own! (I started the Perth Zero Waste and Plastic-Free Facebook group for exactly this reason, and it now has over 8,000 members. I’ve written about how to start a Plastic-Free/Zero Waste Facebook group here.)

5. Audit what you buy

The weeks before Plastic Free July are a great opportunity to look at the kind of things you regularly buy. Look at the items that use the most plastic, and start asking questions. Is there an alternative packaging option like paper, glass or even packaging free? Is this something you could go without, or switch to an alternative? Is this something you could buy in bigger pack sizes (so reducing the overall packaging)?

6. Get out the cookbooks!

We tend to cook the same few meals week in, week out because we get stuck in the habit. You don’t have to be a master chef to take part in Plastic Free July, but being open to new ideas does help! If you don’t have any cook books look on Pinterest, Google, borrow from a friend or the local library. Find recipes that match your skill level with ingredients you know you can find plastic-free. It will make your Plastic Free July experience much more enjoyable!

7. There’s no need to buy new stuff

Sure, there are things that make plastic-free living a lot easier, but there’s no need at the start of your journey to rush out and buy a whole heap of new equipment. It’s easy to feel like we’ve made progress because we’ve gone shopping and bought some shiny new gear, but Plastic Free July is about changing habits, and that comes from doing, not buying. If you feel that a new reusable coffee cup or new water bottle will help then that’s great, but it is also possible to get through the month making do with what you already have.

8. Remember – new habits take time to establish

Chances are, if you’re new to Plastic Free July, you currently use quite a lot of plastic. The good news is that it is possible to reduce this to virtually zero! The less good news is that it isn’t going to happen overnight. Change takes time. New habits don’t form instantly. Sometimes it can be a struggle. Sometimes it can be frustrating. Don’t feel disheartened if you have setbacks, because we have all been there! It took me 18 months to go completely plastic-free. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination!

 Looking for More Ideas?

Looking for more tips, tricks and inspiration? I’ve written a number of eBooks about living with less plastic, including the guide “That’s A Wrap: Tips, Tricks and Inspiration for Living Plastic-Free” to help you if you are just starting out on their plastic-free journey, or if you’ve already started but are hoping to reduce your plastic use even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’ve taken part in Plastic Free July before, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Are there any other resources you’d recommend? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them? If you’re new to Plastic Free July, do you have any concerns or worries? Is there anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Why Quitting Plastic is an Opportunity

There’s no doubt that plastic harms the environment. From the iconic Chris Jordan pictures of the dead Albatross chicks on Midway Atoll, who died from starvation after mistakenly being fed plastic by their parents, to the countless images of marine life caught in discarded fishing line or other plastic that should never have made it into the ocean in the first place; from the reports of whales dying after ingesting golf balls, plastic bags and DVD cases; there are articles and stories all over the internet regaling tales of how plastic is damaging our marine life.

It’s not restricted to the oceans, with plastic washed up on beaches and littering the landscape, and land animals are also ingesting this plastic. It harms people too – the people who process plastic for recycling by melting it down, the people walking through rubbish tips finding plastic to sell, and the people whose environments and waterways are littered with plastic.

When I first decided to quit plastic, it was because I cared about all these things. I care about the environment, I love being out in nature, and I also believe in social justice – and plastic affects the poorest people in the poorest countries the most.  I cared, but was I doing much about it?

Probably not. I didn’t want to be adding to the problem, but in some ways I was. I certainly wasn’t helping to solve them. Before I really understood that plastic was causing all these problems, maybe I could justify my inaction. But once I knew, how could I not do something to make a difference?

It is a great feeling, beginning to align your behaviour with your values. Rather than thinking, in the future I’ll do this, or when I retire, I’ll change that, making a stand for what you believe in every time you make a decision – and we have these choices every day – and starting RIGHT NOW.

Being done with the excuses – I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I’m just one person – and accepting what it is that I can do. What we can do. Maybe we’ll never be the CEO of the bottled water company, and we won’t be able to change their policies alone, but we can stop buying their products, and we can start now.

Quitting plastic was the start of a journey that has brought so many benefits, and helped me live a life according to the values and principles that are important to me. Reducing my impact on the environment was a key one, but there were many others:

  • Before I quit plastic, I shopped regularly at supermarkets. Now, I rarely go there at all. I support local businesses that add value to the local economy, rather than big multinational companies that have complex tax structures and often don’t even benefit the countries whose communities they sit in.
  • Before I quit plastic, I’d buy junk food, particularly when it was on ‘Special’ (and isn’t it always on ‘Special’?!). Now I avoid plastic, the only treats I buy are those made with real ingredients, freshly crafted and without preservatives, additives and fillers. Often I bake my own – many things take a matter of minutes to prepare. My diet is a lot better and I have far more energy, and so does the rest of my family.
  • Before I quit plastic, I’d use conventional shampoo, moisturizer and shower gel without realizing they contained irritants and carcinogens, and buy brands that were marketed at me the hardest – meaning big pharmaceutical giants. I’d clean my dishes and my kitchen worktops with products marked “hazardous”. Now I’ve discovered that it’s possible to find natural skin and haircare products with safe ingredients, and I use green cleaning products like bicarb and vinegar to clean my home.
  • Before I quit plastic, I’d buy things I needed from the shops, all wrapped in plastic. Now I’ve discovered the joy of second-hand stores, charity shops and asking friends to borrow items rather than buying my own. I’ve embraced the sharing economy, starting with my local library…and I’ve saved money in the process.

None of these things happened overnight, but over time they did happen. It started 3 years ago when I made that one simple decision to have less plastic in my life. That’s a decision that you can make too.

Now it’s your turn – I’d love to hear from you! Have you quit plastic, or started to reduce the plastic in your life? What benefits have you found, and how many were unexpected? What’s your favourite thing about living plastic-free? Maybe you’re just starting out – in which case, what appeals to you most about plastic-free living? We’re all in this together and I’d love it if you shared your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

The people at my workplace aren’t the best at recycling. Plastic-free living and zero waste just aren’t on their radar. We’ve slowly introduced paper recycling, and I’m working on moving everyone away from those ridiculous pod coffees to a shared pot of French press coffee under the guise of being more sociable and team-oriented and  community-minded within the office (don’t laugh, because it’s actually working!).

But there’s still a fair way to go.

Last week I fished (excuse the pun) an empty tin of tuna out of the bin, gave it a rinse and left it on the side in order to take it home and save it from landfill. Someone went to throw it away and I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms and saying “no no no no no, I’m going to take that home and recycle it.

Cue raised eyebrows. I’m used to people thinking my ideas and slightly strange, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The people in my office are slowly getting used to my strange ways, but last week we had a guy working with us who usually works at a different site, and he probably has no idea that I’m a “bit of a greenie”, as they like to say.

“I could tell you something something about recycling, but I won’t”, he said.

“Go on, tell me!”

“No no no. I don’t want to upset you.”

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

Cue me persuading him to reveal his secrets. Eventually he relented. “Well, you know, I have a friend who knows a lot about these things. Of course, I recycle what I can, I do my bit, but he’s told me that recycling isn’t as good as people think.”

No kidding! Of course, I know a fair bit about waste myself, and having been to a number of waste recovery facility sites on tours and visits, I’m well aware that recycling isn’t the green solution that people think it is.

We compare notes, and bounce facts off of one another.

“In WA, only about a third of all waste generated is recycled at all.”

“A lot of the resources that are sent to recycling facilities aren’t actually recycled at all – their sent to landfill.”

“Anything that’s sent for recycling in a plastic bag is automatically sent to landfill – it’s too risky and time-consuming to unpack.”

“Any bottles, jars or containers that still contain liquid are not recycled but sent to landfill.”

“When people throw pillows, duvets, terracotta plant pots, light bulbs and even shredded paper into recycling streams it contaminates the waste and the whole shipment may get sent to landfill.”

“Glass is not recycled in our state – it’s either trucked to the next state or landfilled.”

“Most plastic and paper products collected at recycling facilities are shipped offshore to Asia for processing.”

I know that all of these facts are true. I’ve read enough reports, been to enough talks and seen enough with my own eyes not to doubt any of them for a second. It makes taking that small empty tin home seem like such a tiny drop in the ocean; such a small thing to do against the insurmountable problem of waste.

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

I’m not trying to kid myself. I know that waste disposal is a huge problem, and my recycling a single can of tuna isn’t going to save the world or make everything better. But what’s the alternative? Give up? I care about the planet, the environment and the people who live on it, and I’m going to take some responsibility for it. I believe that it’s the right thing to do. I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something, and focusing on what I can do is the best place to start.

There’s something else. I have hope. I honestly believe that most people simply don’t realise that we’re living in a system in crisis. They are so busy with their lives, doing the things that they’ve always done, that they just don’t know that there’s a problem. After all, there was a time when I thought recycling was enough. I thought I was being a responsible citizen, buying things in single-use disposable packages and then disposing of them appropriately in the correct recycling bin.

I believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, and others join in and do their bit, then eventually the tide will turn. I’m not just talking about recycling. We’re never going to recycle our way to sustainable living. But it starts with our personal actions. It starts with the choices we make, and it grows from there. To the conversations we have, to the alternatives that we share, to the ideas that we spread.

I’m not saying it will be fast, or simple, or easy, but together we can make it happen.

Can you be Zero-Waste and a Minimalist?

They sound so contradictory, zero waste and minimalism. Zero waste seems to mean hanging on to everything, and minimalism seems to mean getting rid of everything. Surely you can’t get more opposing ideals?

Yet I feel that I belong in both camps. I aspire to zero-waste living, and I’m equally drawn to minimalism. What’s more, I don’t really feel an internal struggle between the two. Which means they can’t be so contradictory at all…can they?

Minimalism, Zero Waste – and How It Began for Me

Was I a minimalist first, or a zero-waster? I’m not entirely sure. I think both ideas were there, even before I became either. At Christmas and birthdays, I’d always feel confused about being bought presents. After all, I didn’t really need anything, so I’d suggest that the gifter found me something useful.

It didn’t occur to me back then to say I didn’t want or need anything at all, but I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Anything I did have I knew could one day come in useful, so I kept cupboards full of glass jars, and shelves full of old tins, and a wardrobe full of clothes I might need if it suddenly got hot enough to wear summer clothes / I lost half a stone / I gained half a stone / hot pink suddenly started to suit me.

The minimalism really took hold when I moved to Australia. I didn’t have anywhere to store stuff whilst overseas, and I didn’t know how long I’d be staying, so there was no point shipping my worldly possessions across the oceans (not to mention, I didn’t have the funds for that). Everything I brought with me had to fit in 1 suitcase.

I remember thinking, when I move back home, I want everything I own to still fit in that one suitcase. It was my first real experience of how liberating it is to have few possessions.

Once we found our first place to live, the things we owned started to add up… but slowly. Our first flat was so small we couldn’t fit a lot of unnecessary furniture. It wasn’t that we consciously tried to be minimalists, but circumstances led us to be that way.

Then, a few months later, I found out about the Plastic Free July campaign. Quitting plastic for a month? Sure! Up until then, I’d been an avid recycler. I’d save my plastic bottles up and traipse across the city to the only depot for recycling. I’d wrap all my tiny bits of aluminium foil into a big ball before putting it in the black box to ensure the machines could pick it up. I composted my scraps. I thought that was enough.

Quitting plastic was only meant to be a month-long challenge, but once we’d seen the devastation that plastic causes in the environment, and understood the health implication from exposing ourselves to plastic, how could we ever go back?

I gave up plastic, and switched to buying things in cardboard and glass. Both of these are noticeably heavier (especially when you don’t have a car to carry your shopping home) and I became aware for the first time of how much packaging I was consuming. Packaging that served the sole purpose of moving something from A to B, and then, with no further purpose, was thrown away.

During that month of Plastic Free July, I also found out that glass isn’t recycled in my state. Yes, it’s accepted in the recycling bins, but it’s either trucked to another state or sent to landfill.

My zero waste journey began.

Zero Waste and Minimalism are both about Simplicity

It’s easy to think that zero waste and minimalism are conflicting ideals. One seems to advocate keeping everything, whilst the other seems to advocate throwing everything away! Actually though, they are both much more similar than first appearances might have you think.

Zero Waste means sending nothing to landfill. Truly zero waste means sending nothing for recycling either. For most zero-wasters it’s an ideal we aspire to; a journey with a destination we may never quite reach but one we are always working towards. For me, the biggest realisation with zero waste is if I don’t want to send anything to landfill or recycling, I have to control what comes in through my front door.

Zero waste means simplifying. I buy in bulk using my own containers. It means I’m limited to where I can shop, so I don’t get dazzled by special offers or buy more than I need. I no longer have multiple bottles of toiletries cluttering my bathroom because I felt compelled to stock up whilst they were on 3 for 2.

If I can’t find what I want without the unnecessary packaging, I look for an alternative, consider making my own, or go without. Occasionally none of these are options, and I’ll make the purchase anyway – I am human after all, and that is why zero waste is an ideal! It’s not about deprivation, but making conscious choices.

Zero waste means I avoid shopping malls where beautiful models try to sell me clothes that I don’t need, or gadgets, or toys. I don’t go to the shops to browse, only when I need something specific. I think about the life cycle of a product before I buy it: what’s it made from, will it last, and how can I dispose of it at the end of its life?

Hang on…or is that minimalism?

Minimalism is about asking ourselves, what is enough? Keeping things that are useful or practical, and getting rid of the clutter. Getting rid of all those “just in case” items that fill our closets and spare rooms and storage space. Choosing the important things and ditching the rest.

What is ‘enough’ varies from person to person, so there are no hard and fast rules for minimalists either. Again, it is an ideal. It’s also a journey and one that requires constant work, because there is always more stuff. As with zero waste, one of the most important ways to keep clutter out of your home is to control what enters through the front door.

Minimalism is actually a huge complement to zero waste living, because it addresses the elephant in the room – or rather that huge big pile of stuff in the room that we’re keeping in case it might ever be useful. Well, that’s how us zero-wasters justify it to ourselves. Don’t want to send it to landfill, it might come in handy!

Look more closely though, and that pile of stuff is probably harbouring a whole heap of negativity. Things we bought that we didn’t need, or want, or use. Waste. Guilt. Things we received as gifts that we didn’t like. More waste. More guilt. Clothes that no longer fit. Further waste. Further guilt. As zero-wasters, we feel guilt even more, because we care about the embedded energy in these things.

The irony is, that as these things sit collecting dust and generally not becoming handy, they may as well be sitting in landfill.

Minimalism is confronting. It makes us question these choices. It makes us look long and hard at our shopping habits and spending patterns. Most importantly, it makes us buy less of what we don’t need – meaning less waste.

Can you be Zero Waste and a Minimalist? Yes!

Zero Waste isn’t about hoarding. Minimalism isn’t about sending constant streams of stuff to landfill. There’s only one key area where zero-wasters and minimalist thinking differs – convenience. Zero wasters are all about reducing what they send to landfill (and/or recycling). Minimalists are all about reducing clutter. Zero wasters are more likely to carry reusables;  minimalists are more likely to use disposables. It all comes down a personal decision as to what is “enough”, and different people have different values. There are zero-wasters who will never embrace minimalism, and minimalists who will never live a zero-waste lifestyle.

Then there are those of us who want to do both.

And yes, it is possible. Both ideals have so much in common. They are both a reaction to waste, to rampant consumerism, to buying more than you need. They are both about mindful living and making conscious choices; deciding what’s important and doing more of that, and less of the stuff that isn’t. Buying fewer things and choosing well. Making do or doing without. Simplifying.

Now I want to hear from you! Which side are you on…are you a minimalist, or a zero waster, or both? (Or are you neither?!) Which came first? Have you found one path has helped you on the other, or hindered your progress? What are your biggest challenges, and what have been your biggest realisations and triumphs? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom I talked about the basics – simple things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Now I’m going to talk about all those other issues that us women have to deal with…hair, makeup, looking good, and that time of the month.

Hair Removal

Over 6 years ago (before I understood how ridiculous it was to use fossil fuels for such tasks!) I purchased an epilator – an electronic gadget that removes hairs by the root. Aside from the fact that it’s a huge chunk of plastic with electronic components that probably had a huge carbon footprint to manufacture, there are some advantages from a waste point-of-view. It has a rechargeable battery (that is still going after 6+years), there’s no blades that need continually replacing, and there’s no need to apply shaving foam / cream, or lotion afterwards.

As long as it lasts I’ll keep using it.epilator for hair removalIn addition, I actually have a plastic razor with disposable blades. This may surprise you, but wait, don’t judge! This is another 6+ years ago purchase. I bought the last blades whilst still living in the UK, over 4 years ago. I use it very sparingly, more for emergencies than anything else – hence why I still have 2 blades from 2011!

I also re-use and re-use and re-use the blades, and I’m careful to ensure they don’t rust. Whilst a completely stainless steel blade and handle would look much more the part for someone who promotes plastic-free living, I’m a firm believer in using up what you have first – and this is still in acceptable condition. These two blades will probably last me a couple more years!

Plastic Gilette Razor with Disposable Plastic HeadsWhen all the plastic paraphernalia has gone, then what? Thankfully, there are plenty of options.

  • Sleeves, leggings and long trousers: personally I prefer the shaven look, but I’m also fairly lazy so if I can get away with it by covering up, then I will!
  • Stainless steel razors: becoming more common to buy (look in proper barber shops) but it is easier to cut yourself than with plastic disposable “safety” razors.
  • Tweezers: this is probably not for the faint-hearted, but I’m a huge fan ; )
  • Sugar waxing: this a waxing process that uses sugar (yes, sugar) rather than petroleum-based wax to remove hair. It’s possible to do this at home, or go to a salon. I’m certainly intrigued, although I’ve never tried it.

Make-Up – Stick to the Essentials

Most plastic-free / zero-wasters will agree that it’s far easier to make do with a whole lot less when it comes to make-up! Finding plastic-free, chemical free products can be a challenge, so cutting out anything unnecessary definitely helps. In my twenties I owned multiple shades of eyeshadow, most of which I only wore a couple of times (if that) – what a waste!

I very rarely wear make-up now, but when I do, I stick to the basics – mascara and blusher mostly. (I still have a bag of very old makeup which I use extremely rarely – like on my wedding day!)

It’s possible to buy makeup in tins and in glass. Local artisans often sell products at Farmers or crafts markets and you can discuss with them the possibility of using your own containers. If this isn’t an option, look online for Etsy sellers who sell their products without plastic.

There are plenty of websites out there with recipes for making your own cosmetics. I’ve seen recipes for making blusher using ingredients from the pantry like cacao powder. I can’t recommend any but if you know any good websites with this kind of info be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Lush makeup in glass bottles

This lipgloss and mascara were purchased as a gift. the bottles are glass and the wands are recycled plastic. not perfect, but better than plastic tubes.

Skincare and Makeup Removal

Skincare routines are synonymous with disposable makeup pads that come wrapped in plastic. To some extent, using bar soap as a cleanser removes the need for daily cotton pads, but there are still times when they’re useful. However, like all things, there are reusable options!

First up, consider using a flannel to clean your face. It’s also possible to buy reusable pads, or make your own using old towels or other material. I wouldn’t recommend getting bright white ones as they will decolour (especially if you’re using to remove mascara!). Make a few, then throw into the washing machine and you’re ready to go again!

reusable cloth pads for removing makeup

I use cotton buds occasionally and I buy organic cotton ones with a cardboard stem. The box has a small plastic window, but it’s the best I can find currently: the plastic-free ones I used to buy were discontinued.

Organic cotton buds in cardboard packaging

That Time of the Month – Go Reusable

I’ve used a Diva Cup since 2003. It’s a silicone reusable menstrual cup that is worn internally (find more details here as to how it works). I’ll try to spare you too much detail but in summary, they are very comfortable, last ages (you don’t need to empty for several hours) but the removal and emptying can take a bit of getting used to. If you do forget to empty it and it fills up, or you don’t insert it properly and spring a leak…well let’s just say that you do NOT want that to happen. It is messy.

I recently bought a new one: women over 30 need a slightly bigger size as their hips expand, apparently. I actually managed to buy this from a chemist, whereas the first one I had to get shipped from Canada to the UK in the days when internet shopping was almost non-existent!

Diva Cup

The Diva Cup: a zero waste solution

The other product that’s popular amongst zero-waster is homemade or reusable sanitary pads. I don’t have any, but I think they are a great idea – it’s just that I haven’t got round to it. Pinterest is full of DIY tutorials if you’re keen to make your own, otherwise I’d recommend looking on Etsy for local producers. There’s really no need to be using plastic-wrapped disposable products.

There you have it – Part 2 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. I hope it left you feeling inspired to make some changes!

Now I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to know if you have any further ideas that haven’t been covered in this post or the last? I’d also love to know if you have any recipes, guides or tutorials for DIY products?  Is there anything that you struggle with, or anything you find too extreme? What are the biggest challenges for you, and what have you found easy? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 1)

If food is the most common source of disposable single-use plastic in the house, then bathroom products must be the second. Thing is, they don’t need to be! This two-part guide has tips for how you can reduce plastic packaging in the bathroom, and ditch a lot of dubious synthetic chemicals in the process.

In Part 1 I’m covering the basics: simple swaps, things to think about and what has worked for me. In Part 2 I’ll be covering the dilemmas that we women face – including makeup, shaving and that time of the month.

Buy in Bulk

Buying from bulk stores is the easiest way to transition to plastic-free, if they are an option for you. When I began my plastic-free journey, I found bulk shampoo, bulk conditioner, bulk liquid soap and bulk oil, so I switched to these. Now I’ve simplified even more…read on!

Switch to Bar Everything

Solids are much easier to find plastic-free as they can be sold loose, wrapped in paper or sold in tins, so if you don’t have access to a bulk store switch from liquids to bars! Bar soap is a great replacement for liquid soap, and you can find great products that are gentle enough to use on your face if you look around.

Homemade soaps are having a bit of a revival, so see if you can find someone who makes soap locally as you will be able to chat to them about exactly what ingredients their soaps contain.

Natural Handmade Bar SoapIt’s also possible to find bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar deodorants and even bar sunscreen! I’ve only ever used bar soap but plenty of people I know use bar shampoo and love it!

Cut Down on the Number of Products You Use

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics estimate that on average, an American woman uses 12 personal care products every day, and a man uses 6 daily. That’s 12 separate containers, and 12 items to try to find plastic free!

Before I switched to plastic-free, I would have a separate face wash and shower gel. Now I buy one good quality block of natural, handmade soap that has a high oil content (combined olive oil and coconut oil soaps are fairly easy to find) which I use for my face and in the shower.

Rather than a separate face and body moisturizer, I now use one product for both.

I stopped buying separate hair gel and (after shampooing and conditioning as normal) started rubbing a small amount of conditioner into my hair (and leaving it in) as a replacement – I found it works just as well. That was before I began my bicarb and vinegar hair experiment – now I don’t use anything at all.

Are there any products you could double-up on, or anything that isn’t really necessary that you could do without?

Replace Your Exfoliator with a Body Brush

I used to buy exfoliating scrubs until I realised that a body brush was far better. Dry body brushing is great for improving circulation, stimulating lymph glands and removing dead skin cells…and there’s no packaging, microbeads, drain-clogging ingredients or chemical ingredients to decipher.

dry body brush Body Shop FSC CROPPEDThe brushes usually have wooden handles and cactus bristles so are completely plastic free. The idea is you use long sweeping strokes towards the heart, either before or after a shower.

Consider Using Oils

After struggling to find moisturiser and cleanser in plastic-free packaging, I decide to switch to oil. Not oil-based products, but oil. Just one ingredient. Or maybe two, if it’s a blend.

Most lotions are a blend of water and oil, with an emulsifier to make it mix properly and a whole pile of other stuff chucked in there for good measure. Because they contain water, they also need to contain preservatives. Plus, a good proportion of what you’re paying for is water.

Oils are the part that have the moisturizing properties, so why not just use oils?

If you’re thinking oh, but won’t that make my skin oily?, actually no. Oils mimic the skin’s natural sebum. Oil cleansing is far better to clean your face than water, because oil dissolves grease, whereas water does not (like dissolves like).

If you’re thinking, but won’t it clog my pores?, again, no, although it depends on what oil you use and your skin type. All oils have a comedogenic rating, which measures how likely they are to clog pores. If you have oily skin you will be better able to cope with oils that have a higher comedogenic rating. Drier skin has smaller pores and prefer oils with lower comedogenic ratings.

Sweet Almond Oil and Jojoba Oil

I’ve tried hemp oil, but it left a green tinge on my face and stained all my towels green. Many people recommend coconut oil, but I haven’t tried this – its comedogenic rating is quite high. Now I stick to almond, jojoba and rosehip oils for my dry skin. I can get refills for the bottles (so no new packaging) and you need such a small amount each time, they last for ever.

Oil can also be a great treatment for hair, but it’s not something I’ve tried.

Make Your Own – No Experience or Equipment Necessary!

Some products are really simple to make at home. I make my own toothpaste and deodorant using coconut oil, bicarb and essential oil, pretty much. You just mix the ingredients together in a pot and voila! I checked the toothpaste recipe with my dentist, and the deodorant one is a keeper because it actually works.

deo9jpg

I love that I can use bicarb for three different bathroom products (counting the shampoo, too)!

Tooth Brushing

I use a bamboo toothbrush, that comes in a cardboard box. The bristles are plastic. Once the toothbrush is life-expired (you know because the bristles come out in chunks) you can soak the brush in water to release the rest of the bristles, and then compost the wooden handle.

Bamboo toothbrush unassembled

There you have it – Part 1 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. In Part 2 I’ll be covering all the additional dilemmas that women face when giving up plastic – makeup, shaving, and what to do at that time of the month, so make sure you come back and check it out!

I’d love to hear from you! Have you already taken any of these steps, or there ideas there that you think you’d be able to adopt? Are there any other plastic-free alternatives you can suggest? What works for you? Join the conversation and leave a comment below : )

Don’t Get Organised. Get Less.

One of the things I noticed when we returned from holidays is how cluttered our home is becoming. Having spent 10 days with just a handful of possessions that could pack neatly into the boot of the car, it was somewhat of a shock to be back amongst the midst of the disorder that is our home.

It sounds strange, but walking back through the front door, I could physically feel the presence of all these things in the room. A literal weight on my shoulders.

It’s not that we have a lot of stuff, but over time we do accumulate things. We also have very little storage, which makes it hard to tidy the things we do have away, because sometimes they just don’t have places to go.

You hear about minimalists who can fit their entire belongings into a single duffel bag. That will never be me. My zero-waste / plastic-free lifestyle means I need possessions to make it work: glass jars, a reusable coffee cup, storage containers, a stainless steel water bottle, produce bags etc.

I also get a lot of joy from spending time in the kitchen and I consider my various pots and pans all to be necessities.

However, for all those things that I consider necessities, there are plenty more things that are not. Just as we accumulate things as we need them, items that we already own become redundant, taking up space and causing stress.

There are two major lessons I’ve learned about minimalism and decluttering. The first is that you are never finished. I love the idea of the decluttering muscle, and the more we work (at) it the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to let go of things we no longer need.

However, I really don’t think there’s an end point. The things that we need and the things we no longer need are always changing. We accumulate things not just by purchasing, but via gifts from friends and family, through work, events we go to and items in the mail. We can make our decluttering muscle really strong, but there will never be a point where we can say, “that’s it, the decluttering is finished forever, and now I can sit back.”

The second is that having too much clutter doesn’t mean you need to get organized. It means you need to get less. It’s very easy to pop your items into storage, and because they are out of sight, feel like you are in control of your possessions. But are you really?

I’m not just talking about external storage either, but putting things in cupboards, boxes, the attic, the shed, the spare room, drawers, files, etc. Do you really know what stuff you have in each of those places? Could you make an inventory? Can you find things when you’re in a hurry? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that people don’t need some level of organisation, or that drawers and cupboard aren’t useful! It’s more that when we start to feel overwhelmed with our clutter, we think “I need to get organized”. We then head to the nearest shopping centre to arm ourselves with new folders, bigger cupboards, or extra storage cabinets…which is more stuff and clutter!

In reality we probably have too much stuff, and need to let some of it go.

Whenever I’ve tidied and organised, the stuff has eventually resorted back to its pre-organised chaotic state. Keeping things continually tidy and organised is a lot of work! There is far less energy required to simply get rid of things.

With this in mind, when I arrived home from holidays, I resisted the urge to find a big box and stuff everything in the spare room. I gritted my teeth, and I flexed my decluttering muscle… and I let…things…go.

I listed a few things on Gumtree. I returned some borrowed items to a friend. I took a huge box to the charity shop. I recycled a pile of unnecessary papers. I donated some old towels to the local dogs’ refuge. Of course, there’s more work to be done, but our home (and my shoulders!) feel lighter already.

Fed up with battling the never-ending need to tidy up? Want to feel more in control of your space and your possessions? Don’t get organised. Get rid of them.

Now I want to hear from you! Do you wish you could be tidier, or think that you have too much clutter? Have you tried just getting rid of things rather than trying to organize them? Do you still cling to the hope that this time, you will be able to make things tidy and keep them that way?! Or maybe organization has worked for you – in which case I’d really like some tips! Please leave a comment and join the conversation below!

Have Experiences. Not Stuff.

One of the biggest highlights of our holiday last week was heading out to the Bremer Canyon to see killer whales (orcas). The Bremer Canyon, only discovered in 2013, is a place where more than a hundred orca come together to feed during February and March. It’s 65km offshore, and this is the first year that it’s been possible to go and see them as a tourist, and only for these two months.

It’s not your typical tourist adventure, heading out into international waters and rough, icy cold seas on a small boat for several hours, and even the small village where the boat departs from is in an isolated spot, a 2 hour drive from the nearest town and several hours drive from Perth.

When I heard about the tour last year something really grabbed my attention. Whether it was the idea of sailing to the edge of the earth, the rare opportunity to see killer whales in their natural environment, the fact that this spot is so newly discovered that very little is known about it…I’m not sure. I booked two tickets as a birthday present for my husband.

We’re not really into buying presents, and we no longer buy each other Christmas presents. For birthdays we often get tickets so we can experience something together – concerts, theatre, talks. We don’t have a budget or hard-and-fast rules about what we spend but we both agree: there’s no point shelling out money for the sake of it.

The tickets to the Bremer Canyon tour were expensive. Really expensive. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever spent that much money on tickets before. I ummed and ahhed about the cost. There was no guarantees we’d even see anything, and as the tour had never run before there were no reviews to check or compare.

But it was such a unique, exciting adventure, in the end I had to do it.

It made me think. I balked at the price, and yet a few years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of spending the same price on a gift for my husband. When you consider how many people receive bigger (or smaller)  iPods, thinner iPads, upgraded mobile phones, better computer games consoles, expensive clothes and fancy cameras for Christmas and birthday presents, I wouldn’t be alone.

Now I’ve had a total rethink on stuff, and the idea of spending money upgrading something that already functions perfectly well makes me cringe. As does buying something new just because it’s the latest fad, or because there’s an obligation to purchase a gift. We have everything we need. Rather than spend money on newer, better versions of things we already own, we make do with what we have, and spend the money having new experiences and creating memories.

Back to the tour. Last Saturday we joined the boat, the other tourists and two marine scientists that were studying the orcas and headed two hours from land into international waters to see what was out there in the ocean. There’s no guarantee that the whales will be there. When we arrived at the co-ordinates, though, the whales came. And they were beautiful.

It was such an amazing experience. The orcas gather in groups, and they came up to the boat, swimming alongside and underneath it. We saw them surfing the waves. There was an enormous bull whale and some small calves, whose white patches were still yellow. They came so close it was incredible. The boat just sat there, bobbing in the ocean, whilst these amazing mammals swam around us. I had a couple of out-loud “wow” moments. It was worth every penny.

We only managed to take a couple of photos. Letting go of the rail long enough to use a camera was a tricky task!

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

Bremer Canyon orcas

These photos weren’t taken with an SLR camera. They were taken with my husband’s point-and-shoot camera, with no zoom to speak of. We don’t own an SLR. We were able to go on this tour because we don’t own things like fancy cameras. Turns out, when you’re this close to whales, you don’t need a fancy camera anyway.

Orcas on camera

You don’t need a fancy camera (or any camera) to create memories.

These pictures aren’t the thing that’s going to stay with us. What will stay with us is the experience we had. The memories we created. Photos can’t capture the smell of the ocean, the sounds, the movements as these beautiful creatures rode the waves or glided in synchronised groups alongside and underneath the boat. The feelings of total amazement and wonder.

Collect memories. Not stuff.

Seas and Trees: A Week in Pictures

Last week there was no writing. No posts about rubbish bins, or plastic, or having too much stuff. Instead, I was on holidays, journeying through some of the National Parks and other beautiful places that Western Australia has to offer. There is so much natural beauty, amazing scenery and incredible wildlife here to experience.

Sometimes we just need to get out there and remind ourselves that the world truly is an amazing, beautiful, wonderful place. We’re pretty lucky, living on a planet like ours, and taking time out to appreciate just how awe-inspiring it really is really re-ignites my commitment to working to protect it.

I thought I’d share a few of the pics I took in the last week with you. I hope they inspire you as much as they inspired me…the earth is a beautiful place, and worth looking after : )

Bluff Knoll peaks WA

Bluff Knoll, Stirling Ranges National Park

Bluff Knoll landscape

Stirling Ranges National Park

Le Grand Beach Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Le Grand Beach, Cape Le Grand National Park

Cape Le Grand National Park Beach Esperance WA

Cape Le Grand Beach, near Esperance

Lucky Bay Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Hellfire Bay Cape le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Hellfire Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park

Flowers Cape Le Grand National Park Esperance WA

Shrub in Flower, Cape Le Grand National Park

Tourist Drive Esperance WA

Waves crashing on the rocks, Esperance

Tourist Drive Esperance WA Steps

Esperance coastline

Kapwari Wetlands Walk Esperance WA

Kapwari wetlands, Esperance

Boardwalk Wetlands Esperance WA

Boardwalk at Kapwari wetlands

Fluffy Clouds in Esperance WA

Fluffy Clouds

Stokes National Park Esperance WA

Stokes National Park, Esperance

Shark tooth wattle

Shark-tooth wattle

Bremer Bay Walk Bench

Moody Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay beach

Bremer Bay beach

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Pelicans at Bremer Bay

Bremer Bay Beach walk

Bremer Bay in the sunshine

Beach at Bremer Bay

Around the cape at Bremer Bay

Orange Bottle Brush Denmark

Orange bottle-brush in Denmark

Nature is amazing, and it makes my heart sing : )