Posts

The Hardest Thing about Going Zero Waste (it’s not what you think)

If you had to guess what the hardest thing about going zero waste is, what would you say? Lack of access to bulk stores? Zero waste products being more expensive than their plastic-packaged, overly wrapped counterparts? Lack of buy-in from the kids, or the spouse, or parents, or colleagues?

These things can certainly be challenging. Yes, it would definitely be easier if we all had an incredibly affordable bulk store just around the corner, right next to a veggie shop full of fresh locally grown, unpackaged produce, and our family was so enthusiastic about zero waste living that they fought over whose turn it was to do the grocery shopping.

Let’s just imagine that for a second. Ahhhhhh.

The absolute hardest thing about going zero waste, though? In my view, it is none of these things.

The hardest thing about going zero waste is stepping off the consumer treadmill. The hardest thing is not buying stuff.

Let me explain.

When I talk about “stuff”, I’m not talking about the grocery shop. I’m talking about everything except the grocery shop. Yes, the zero waste conversation often hovers around bulk store shopping and avoiding the single-use plastic packaging that so many grocery items come packaged in.

We forget that everything else we buy is also contributing to the “waste” issue.

Everything. Even the zero waste reusables that we buy. No matter how eco-friendly the product, it still uses resources and it still uses energy in its creation, and it still has an impact on our planet.

Now I’m not saying, we shouldn’t buy anything, ever. Furniture, white goods, clothing, homewares, kitchen tools – it’s all useful stuff. Those zero waste reusables are pretty useful too.

But that’s exactly the problem. There is useful stuff everywhere; we know it is useful, and we want to buy it.

Sometimes we do buy it.

The hardest thing about zero waste is about resisting the majority, if not all, of the useful stuff. The hardest thing about zero waste is not buying stuff.

Change is Hard, and Buying Stuff is Easy

Change can be hard. Starting and then ingraining new habits, consciously trying to remember new ways of doing things before it seeps into our subconscious, researching new ideas and learning new skills – it can be exhausting.

We want to make progress, and fast. We want to see the evidence of this progress.

And that is where the buying comes in.

It’s almost like a beginner zero waste right-of-passage; the buying of stuff. We’ve all done it. (Well, most of us. Including me.) We want to look like we’ve made progress, and so we buy the things to prove it.

The water bottle, the reusable coffee cup, the reusable produce bags.

It makes us feel good before the real stuff happens. The refusing of the single-use items, the remembering of said reusables, and the reshaping of habits.

That’s the real secret to being zero waste. It’s not the buying of stuff, it’s the remembering of stuff.

Of course, it’s okay to buy things. (Yes, it’s always better if we think carefully about our purchases and ensure that they are made by responsible companies and sold by responsible businesses; and they are exactly what we need and will use often. But no-one is perfect all of the time.)

We have to remember, that all of us enjoy a certain amount of comfort that we’d like to maintain. No-one reading this is living in a cave, collecting rainwater, growing all their own food and weaving their own clothes. Let’s be realistic. Maybe we like eating chocolate, or drinking coffee, or wearing ethical fashion. If takeaway coffee is our treat, then it is our treat – and a reusable coffee cup is a useful purchase.

Some things are useful, and some things are necessary. If the “thing” is standing between going zero waste and not (and will reduce waste in the long run), better to buy it.

But at some point, we have to recognize that we cannot continue to buy stuff to reduce our consumption and waste.

We have to reach our “enough”, be happy with what we have, and step off the consumer treadmill.

Stepping Off the Consumer Treadmill

The consumer treadmill refers to the constant desire or pull we feel to buy stuff and upgrade stuff. Letting go of these urges and not succumbing to temptation can be hard. It can take time. Sometimes a lot of time.

But if we are really going to embrace zero waste living, this is what we need to do.

You know how with exercise treadmills, you spend a lot of time and energy walking or running, and yet you never actually get anywhere? Well, the same applies to the consumer treadmill. Buying, storing, maintaining and ultimately disposing of stuff all takes up time and energy, for not much (any) gain.

The happiness we feel when we buy new things is fleeting, and it fades. What we’re left with is a credit card bill and more stuff to take care of – which tends to leave us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed rather than satisfied.

This is a tough lesson to learn.

Change is hard, and buying stuff is easy.

Even when we know that it is true, it can be so hard not to buy stuff. New things are so shiny, and marketers are extremely good at persuading us that we need things. That our lives will be better with them.

When I first went zero waste, the zero waste options on the market were lean. This was a good thing, as I was still in the early I-want-to-make-changes-and-want-to-see-progress stages when buying stuff is such a temptation.

Because the selection was meagre (and my budget was tiny), I didn’t buy a huge number of things, and the things I have are well used.

Then, as I went further down the zero waste path, I embraced the second-hand lifestyle, the making-do lifestyle, the borrowing-rather-than-buying lifestyle.

I learned about my “enough” and I let go of the urge to buy stuff as the solution (to whatever the problem might be).

It is more than 6 years since I first went zero waste, and now there are so many more options for zero waste items – often described as “essentials”. There are reusables for things I’d never have thought of (and would never have considered necessary until I clamped eyes on them), and there are better versions of things that I already have.

It’s easy to see things and think “ooh, I could use that” or “ooh, that is a much better version of what I already have – I should upgrade”.

The challenge is to resist this temptation. It can be a daily challenge. To understand that what is useful is not the same as what is necessary. It is easy to convince ourselves that we will use things, and therefore we need them. Instead, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t.

Things that are useful are not always necessary.

This isn’t about no stuff. We need stuff: it is useful and sometimes necessary. We can buy things because we consider them both useful and necessary, and we can recognize that everything we buy has a footprint.

The most zero waste thing to do will always be to buy nothing at all: to make do with what we have. That doesn’t mean it’s realistic, practical or achievable, but it is the truth.

If we can’t buy nothing, what can we do?

We can buy less, we can buy better, and we can make things last.

We can limit our purchases. We can choose second-hand, or we can borrow, or hire. We can share resources, we can trade, or swap. We can improvise, and make do without.

This is the closest we get to zero waste living.

We can consume resources, or we can conserve them. The planet won’t be saved by us all purchasing yet another reusable.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you find it easy or do you find it difficult to not buy stuff? How has that changed over time as you’ve begun reducing your waste? Is it something you’d like to be better at in the future? Or have you reached a happy balance of “enough”? Any other thoughts? Please tell us in the comments below!

Spilling the Truth About the “Perfect” Zero Waste Image

I’ll admit it. I do like a stylish, carefully curated zero waste image. I’m prone to double-tapping “like” when a snap of a beautiful pantry with whole foods stacked neatly in glass jars appears on my social media feed.

I think that pictures of products made of stainless steel and glass are much more visually appealing than the equivalents in plastic.

But I also know that for me, zero waste doesn’t really look like that most of the time.

Sure, I can take a cute snap of my pantry essentials once I’ve hauled them home from the Source Bulk Foods (which is my local bulk store, and lets me bring and fill my own jars – and jars can look lovely in a photograph)…

…But then they get shoved in my pantry, which is not some kind of oasis for groceries, but a ramshackle assortment of mis-matched jars with mis-matched lids.

The kind that won’t be gracing the front cover of magazines anywhere, ever.

The reality is, zero waste is a lot more jumbled and mis-matched and imperfect in real life. At least, it is for me.

That may seem obvious. But a scroll through any social media feed suggests that zero waste is all perfectly matched jars, beautiful white homes and stylish accessories.

This begins to set unrealistic expectations.

It plants the idea that we need different things – better things – in order to fit with the zero waste lifestyle.

Zero waste is a lifestyle choice. But that lifestyle, in my mind, is one of consuming less and making do with what we already have.

It’s easy to see how the curated images of social media could give a different impression – one that implies a need to purchase new things if they fit with the zero waste ideal.

But zero waste is not about consuming more.

The most important thing with living zero waste is the intention. The intention to reduce our footprint, reduce our waste, and make the best choice we can with the time, resources and options available to us.

Image is secondary to this.

Of course, we all share the best images we have. Good images help – they help attract attention, raise awareness, start a conversation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing the best, so long as we don’t only share the perfect bits. There are lots of imperfect bits to share, too.

Without sharing those, we are doing the zero waste movement a bit of a disservice.

Perfection is intimidating. No-one should feel that this lifestyle is unattainable because they don’t own the “right” things.

As someone who could never describe themselves as effortlessly stylish (or, let’s face it, even stylish when I do put in the effort), zero waste does not look perfect in my house.

Yet I’m definitely guilty of curating my images to share more of the perfect bits, and omit more of the less perfect bits.

Crazy really, when I believe that intention comes before image.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some snaps from my zero waste life that fit firmly in this category. The embarrassing, cringe-worthy, no-way-near-perfect images that are the reality of what zero waste living looks like for me.

Intention over Image: What Zero Waste Really Looks Like for Me

The Zero Waste Pantry

I’ve already shared a couple of pictures of my groceries and pantry above, but groceries in glass jars are such an iconic image of the zero waste movement, I thought I’d share a couple more of my less-than-perfect moments, just to get my point across.

Sharing pictures of my grocery shopping in glass jars on social media is one of my guilty pleasures. I like the way groceries look in glass, and I also think it’s useful to share the kinds of foods that it’s possible to buy in bulk.

Whilst my groceries tend to look pretty stylish when laid flat, viewing from the top down reveals the truth about the containers I use: upcycled jars with mis-matched lids retrieved from the recycling bin over the years.

In fact, if I empty the entire contents of my pantry, it’s the same thing on a bigger scale.

For me, the intention is to reuse what I can. I’m happy with upcycled mismatched jars. Whilst I love the look of Weck and Le Parfait jars, I can’t justify buying new (and as they are German and French brands, they don’t often turn up second-hand in Australia).

My pantry might not look the most aesthetically pleasing, but it works for me.

Zero Waste Cleaning

My washing-up set-up looks pretty much like this: a wooden dishbrush with replaceable head, a natural pot brush, and dishwashing liquid purchased from the bulk store.

Oh, but there’s also my 2012 dish brush, which doesn’t often turn up in photos due to the fact it’s plastic, bright green, and really doesn’t suit the zero waste aesthetic.

In the spirit of zero waste, I said that I’d keep it and use it until it wears out, and then obviously not replace it. Well, it’s now 2018, and that damn brush is still going strong! Which, really is a good thing, considering how quickly plastic dish brushes degrade.

It might not look good in the photos, but the intention is to use things until they wear out, and choose better next time, and that brush continues to serve its purpose.

Zero Waste Bathroom

I make my bathroom products from scratch, with ingredients that I buy packaging-free, and I use repurposed containers. Ticking all the zero waste boxes there!

However, there’s plenty of other things in my bathroom that don’t fit the zero waste aesthetic at all.

When I first went plastic-free I used a bamboo toothbrush, and I hated it. The bristles would fall out in my mouth and then get washed down the sink (hello, microplastic). After more than a year of that, I had enough and purchased a toothbrush with replaceable heads.

Since then (we’re talking back in 2012), the number of bamboo toothbrush brands has exploded, and many of my readers have suggested bamboo alternatives that don’t lose bristles. The thing is, now I have this brush, the most zero waste thing is to keep using it. Plus it works, which is what I want from a toothbrush.

Yes, it’s ugly (and definitely not the zero waste aesthetic). But that’s how it sometimes is.

The intention is to create as little waste as possible whilst still feeling comfortable with the choice I’ve made. Bamboo toothbrushes just didn’t do it for me.

Whilst we are on the subject of ugly plastic, I still have my plastic razor from circa 2009. When I went plastic-free, I had the razor and a number of blades, and I declared that I would continue to use it until the heads wore out, and then I would replace it.

This picture is from 2014, when I still had three blades left.

I’ve been down to the last one for a while, and eventually it will wear out. But a good rinse, drying properly and polishing the blades with a piece of denim cloth has seen it last a lot longer than I expected.

Of course, a stainless steel razor would look much better in my bathroom, and in any pics I share. But actually, what I need is a razor that works, which is what I have. Right now the only reason to swap the ugly plastic one for a shiny stainless steel one is the aesthetic.

Which from a zero waste perspective, isn’t the intention. Replacing functional items solely for better looking ones makes no sense.

The point I want to make is this: zero waste isn’t picture perfect.

Don’t get disheartened by “perfect” images. We all share the best moments, but that is rarely the whole story. Behind every perfect image is plenty of imperfection. That’s just how life is.

Don’t be tempted to buy new stuff to “fit in”. If you want to fit into the zero waste lifestyle, use what you have, and make do.

Zero waste is about intention. It isn’t about buying the right things. It is about caring about the right things.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think is missing from the curated zero waste images shared in social media? Are you guilty of sharing the better bits and excluding the less good bits? Do you ever feel embarrassed about the appearance of your zero waste attempts? Are you happy to share things exactly as they are, whatever they look like? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Is Zero Waste Only for the Privileged? (And Does It Matter?)

I’ve received a few emails recently asking whether I think zero waste is a lifestyle for the privileged. After all, it is predominantly represented in the media by white, seemingly middle-class females. Is zero waste really a lifestyle for everybody? Or just the more affluent few, or those with more time on their hands to spend traipsing to the various trendy organic stores and making DIY skincare products from scratch?

I wanted to explore this further by answering four questions: what is privilege; what is zero waste; is zero waste a lifestyle for the privileged; and ultimately, does it matter?

What is Privilege?

A good definition of privilege is this: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. These “privileges” are often unearned, for example, being born into a particular country or family. Actually, privilege is a lot more complex than simply calling it an “advantage”. Often it’s multiple advantages, based on all kinds of factors.

This short video (less than 2 minutes) does a great job of explaining privilege, and this video below (which is 4 minutes) demonstrates how different people are affected by privilege in society.

In many ways, privilege is an advantage that manifests itself as choice. The more privilege, the more choice.

Having privilege doesn’t make anyone a bad person. It doesn’t mean not having to work hard, or struggle to achieve a goal. It just means having advantages that make these things easier than for someone else without that privilege.

What is Zero Waste?

I think it is important here to explain both “zero waste”, and also “zero waste as represented by the media”, because they are not the same.

“Zero waste” is about sending nothing to landfill, and recycling as little as possible. It’s about rethinking the way we do things: refusing what we don’t need, reducing what we use, reusing what we have, repairing what we can, and recycling as a last resort.

Zero waste is about consuming less, making conscious choices when we do need to make purchases, supporting companies who are trying to do the right thing and reducing our environmental impact. It’s about choosing second-hand, borrowing or making do, choosing things that will last and taking responsibility for our personal choices.

Of course, the media represent zero waste in a slightly different way. Zero waste in the media is the newsworthy bits, the glamorous bits, the bits that invite intrigue and discussion. The media love to talk about and show photographs of glass jars of annual trash, trendy bulk stores and Farmers Markets.

Some of the most popular zero wasters are glamorous Americans who are also extremely photogenic and live in beautiful houses and apartments, and their lifestyles lend themselves to media coverage.

But this is just a snapshot. Even glamorous zero wasters shop at second-hand stores, and compost their food scraps, yet this isn’t talked about nearly as much. Or they choose to buy nothing at all – but where is the photo opportunity there?

Is Zero Waste a Lifestyle for the Privileged?

I would say no. But also yes.

Whilst any “lifestyle” is a choice, and therefore infers some level of privilege, the zero waste lifestyle is the lifestyle of consuming less, of refusing the unnecessary. Of borrowing, and choosing second-hand. These choices are accessible to most.

So no, the zero waste lifestyle is not reserved only for the young, affluent, or those with plenty of time on their hands.

The media might represent the zero waste movement as white, female and middle-class, but scratch beneath this veneer and you will find that zero waste is embraced by men and women, young and old, from all of the continents.

The glass jar full of trash might be the emblem of the movement, but to me, the zero waste lifestyle is a philosophy and a set of principles rather than a destination.

Anyone can subscribe to the ideals.

How far and how quickly we can progress towards these ideals, in practical terms; I do think that is a matter of privilege.

Having a choice – about where we live, where we shop, what we buy and how we spend our money – that is a privilege.

I don’t have children. I don’t have elderly or sick relatives that I need to look after. I don’t have any disabilities, serious health complaints or allergies. I live in a city with plenty of options. I can do a big bulk grocery shop once a month because my budget allows me to, rather than having to go every week. Because the bulk store is very close to my house, I can also pop over there if I’ve forgotten a couple of things.

These factors make it easier for me to reduce my waste, and that is privilege.

Access to bulk stores and Farmers Markets, the choice of grocery store, being able to afford things like stainless steel lunchboxes or organic oats, these choices are not available to everyone.

For those of us who do have access to these things, we are privileged.

Of course, zero waste is not about stainless steel lunchboxes or organic oats. It’s about working towards reducing waste, consuming less and choosing better. Privilege makes it easier, for sure. The less privilege and the less choice, the harder we have to work for our desired results and vice versa.

Zero waste is no different from any other scenario.

Does it Matter?

I don’t want to talk about whether privilege matters. Rather, I’m interested in why, when it comes to living zero waste, privilege is talked about at all, and more so, why it is seen as a bad thing.

Privilege exists everywhere, that’s just a fact. Yes, privilege tends to mean more resources and more choice. Like many things, zero waste is easier for some than others.

But that shouldn’t stop us doing what we can. Every step is a step in the right direction, and small changes still add up to create a big impact.

Whenever I see negative press or comments about zero waste in the media, the discontent tends to be around privilege; perceived and actual. It is perceived that zero wasters are well off, and therefore the lifestyle is not attainable to most.

Firstly, I disagree that zero waste is only for the affluent. I disagree that we need expensive zero waste “trinkets” (like stainless steel lunchboxes or reusable coffee cups) to live zero waste. They are luxury items.

As someone who owns both a stainless steel lunchbox and a reusable coffee cup, I realise this. The most sustainable and zero waste choice would be for me to not drink coffee at all, and drink only water. But I enjoy an occasional coffee, and so I have a reusable coffee cup.

That doesn’t mean these things are necessities of the zero waste lifestyle.

The “stuff” gets talked about so much because it is a talking point! But talking about the “stuff” can detract from the real message.

 Zero waste is the lifestyle of refusing, rethinking, reducing, reusing and repairing. Of using what we have, and making do.

Buy nothing new and choose second-hand – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Join the library – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Ride a bike and get rid of the car – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Refuse a plastic bag and a plastic drinking straw – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Own less pairs of shoes, choose the best you can afford and wear them often – that’s the zero waste lifestyle.

Let’s not get distracted by the things that others buy. Zero waste is not about what we can afford to buy. It is about what we choose not to buy. Ultimately, zero waste is not a lifestyle of “buying” or “stuff”. The less we buy and the more we make do, the better job we do of living zero waste.

Secondly, I’m at a loss as to why anyone would think it is a bad thing that those with privilege are choosing to live zero waste, use less resources and tread more lightly on the planet. There are plenty of people with privilege exploiting the planet, using more than their fair share of resources, and encouraging consumption.

Why attack or dismiss those using their privilege trying to make the world a better place?

Anyone working towards reducing their impact and sharing what they’ve learned should be applauded, in my view.

I am very aware that I am white, female, middle-class, and living in Australia. The stories that I share are written from this perspective: my lived experience. Most zero waste advocates share their own experiences and lifestyle choices. It’s fact-sharing rather than prescribing a lifestyle for others. We do what we can, and we share what we know.

I do not think that people with privilege talking about and advocating for zero waste is a bad thing. However, if they are the only people talking about zero waste, then that is a bad thing.

I don’t think the issue is one of privilege. I think the real issue is one of representation. That is what matters.

Waste is something we all make decisions about, every single day. We all have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it. Reducing waste is accessible to most.

But if zero waste is only talked about (or represented in the media) by one group of people, with one set of experiences, how can we expect everyone to embrace this way of living?

How can we expect those not in this group to relate, or to connect, or to feel inspired?

Whilst the zero waste movement is represented as white, female and middle-class, there will always be people who feel excluded.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that if we want the zero waste movement to spread, we need to be supportive, inclusive, and encourage all voices, even those that are different to our own.

We need to recognize that people have different experiences and different journeys.

We need to recognize that we cannot and do not speak for everyone.

Where we have privilege, we need to be aware of it. Not deny that it exists, but recognise that it is there.

Privilege isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s how we use it that counts.

Zero Waste Living (A Day in the Life)

What does zero waste living actually look like on a daily basis? We all have a different version, and this is mine. I quit plastic in 2012 and began working towards zero waste not long after that, so I’ve been living this way a long time (over 4 years!). I’ve made so many changes to the way I do things and the choices I make, which all seem normal now. But of course, they are completely normal! ;)

These habits are ingrained and I don’t really have to think about them. However, for people starting out, it isn’t always obvious how to get from where we are to where we want to be.

It certainly wasn’t a straight line for me! It is so much easier looking back than looking ahead.

I thought I’d share a typical “day in the life” to explain some of the zero waste choices we make everyday. This is what zero waste living looks like for us.

Zero Waste Living: A Day in the Life

Our breakfast is usually coffee (made with a coffee machine – not a pod one! – that has a milk steamer) and porridge, a smoothie or sometimes good old toast and avocado.

The coffee machine was a second-hand freebie and we use it every day. We buy our coffee directly from a local cafe who grind their own beans and we take a reusable bag. We buy oats from our local bulk store, bread from a local bakery. When we started out we purchased milk in returnable bottles, but now we make our own cashew milk and use that in both the coffee and the porridge.

When it comes to the dishes we buy dishwashing liquid from our local bulk store. We take a glass jar or bottle and fill it up. I’ve never tried to make my own – sometimes it’s easier to buy things.We also buy laundry detergent from the bulk store.

I have a wooden dish brush with compostable bristles, a wooden pot brush, a scourer made from coconut coir and a bottle brush made from wire and coconut coir. I also have a plastic brush that came with my food processor before my plastic-free days (pre-2012). I will use it until it breaks, and then no more plastic for me!

img_20160711_090707

Our adopted greyhound called Hans lives with us, and we take him for a walk first thing in the morning. He prefers to do his business in the park a 10 minute walk from our house rather than in our yard.  I pick it up using old newspaper (usually the community newspaper that my husband likes to read first), carry it home (!) and we put it in our homemade dog poo worm farm.

Our bathroom routine is pretty simple. We decluttered a lot of products once we realised that they were unnecessary for us. We use bar soap for washing: I buy a big 2kg block packaging-free from a local lady and chop it into bars. My husband also uses this for his hair; I use rye flour (or occasionally bicarb) and white vinegar to rinse. I buy both of these from the bulk store.

Bulk Soap Chopped Into Bars Zero Waste Natural Beauty Treading My Own Path

Skincare Regime Zero Waste Bathroom Products Treading My Own Path

We use almond oil as a moisturiser. We use different deodorants as my husband reacts to bicarb and I don’t – I make both of them using ingredients purchased in bulk. I also make my own toothpaste and sunscreen. It sounds like a lot of effort, but most of these recipes are simply mixing a few things together in a jar.

I have a body brush which I use to exfoliate, and I make coffee scrub using the waste coffee grounds collected from a nearby cafe. (We put the rest of the coffee grounds in our compost as it is a great compost activator.)

DIY Coffee Scrub Treading My Own Path

I use a Diva cup (a reusable menstrual cup) and a reusable cloth pad.

The bamboo toothbrush is almost seen as a zero waste essential, but we no longer use them. We found the bristles falling out and washing down the drain too frustrating. Instead we have toothbrushes with reusable heads that need replacing once every six months. The toothbrush head and the packaging is currently recycled by Terracycle in Australia. (We got these in 2014. There are now many more bamboo toothbrushes on the market: it may be possible to find a better brand than the one we used to use. As we have these we will continue to use them until they no longer make the replacement heads.)

SilverCare Toothbrushes with Replaceable Heads Treading My Own Path

We buy toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, an Australian company that donate 50% of their profits to water charities and don’t package their paper in plastic. I also use the wrappers to pick up Hans’ business. I’ve used the toilet rolls to make seedling pots.

We don’t have tissues in our home. I have 3 hankies, and if I’m desperate I’ll use toilet paper and compost it. Yes, used tissues are compostable!

I work from home, but my husband heads out and he always takes his lunch with him in a stainless steel lunchbox (or occasionally, a Pyrex dish). Lunch is usually leftovers from the previous evening’s dinner.

Zero Waste Lunchbox Stainless Steel

Both of us keep a bamboo cutlery set (with a metal reusable straw added in), a water bottle, reusable coffee cup, a reusable shopping bag and reusable produce bags in our bags. They don’t weigh much or take up much space, and you never know when they might come in handy!

If we are heading the the bulk store we will sometimes take glass jars, and always extra produce bags and reusable shopping bags. My husband works close to our local bulk store so he tends to make a few trips a week rather than doing one big shop – it’s easier for him to carry home, and he gets less flustered!

We get a vegetable box delivered from a local company once a fortnight. It is plastic-free and organic, and we top up from our local independent store or the local farmers markets. We eat a plant-based diet, meaning we eat a lot of vegetables, pulses and grains. Oh, and chocolate!

Organic Collective Veg Box Treading My Own Path Organic Veg Box Delivery Treading My Own Path

Our veggie garden is beginning to be more productive and we’ve had lots of additional produce from there.

It’s easy to find everything we want to eat without packaging. We have so much choice that if we can’t find a food item without packaging, we don’t buy it. There are two exceptions that I can think of: we buy capers in a jar (at my husband’s insistence – we found a big size that lasts for 6 months) and alcohol.

We live very close to an amazing off-license/liquor store that sells a number of beers without packaging, and is always rotating their stock. My husband has two refillable growlers and fills them there, but he does also buy beer in glass bottles and cans occasionally (by which I mean, more than I’d like ;)

Graincru zero waste beer Treading My Own Path

The store also sells white wine in bulk, and we have purchased that, but we tend to buy wine in regular wine bottles. We don’t buy it often – it is generally limited to when we have guests.

We have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on our letterbox which eliminates a lot of the unnecessary advertising we receive. We have turned all of our bills to paperless, but we do still receive post. There are some works happening nearby and we have received at least 10 notices in the last 6 months telling us about them!

I would love to tell you that I have a paperless office, but I sit here surrounded on both sides by paper. I don’t buy any paper, nor have a printer – and still it comes! Often I use old letters, invoices and the back of used envelopes to make notes, and then I later put the info on my computer and recycle the paper. (I have been told that it is a better use of resources to recycle paper rather than compost it, and so that is what I do.)

All of the furniture in our home is second-hand, although not everything we own. However, we do always check the second-hand listings before buying anything new. We are usually happy to wait before buying, just in case.

Our clothes are a mix of pre-zero waste purchases, second hand charity shop finds, second hand eBay finds and new ethical/organic products. I’m working on making my wardrobe 100% biodegradable and natural fibres (or as close as I can) and whilst I love second hand, I also want to support small producers who are trying to do the right thing. It’s a balance.

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

We tend to only drink water (from the tap), tea or coffee, and my husband – beer. We buy loose leaf tea (from the bulk store) and use a teapot (well technically the thermos flask).

Our dinners are usually rice, quinoa or potatoes, and occasionally pasta, with vegetables and lentils/pulses. We eat a lot of nuts, too. I could dedicate a whole other post to what we eat (and maybe I will!). We always make enough for leftovers the following day, and maybe even a couple of days. Any leftovers that won’t be eaten soon go in the freezer – usually in a glass jar.

Zero Waste Freezer Glass Jar Storage

If we go out for dinner we always take a container with us, and our reusables. You never know when you might be caught out! We rarely get takeaway as we prefer to dine in, although we do get takeaway pizza a couple of times a year. The empty boxes go in our compost bin.

Our home cleaning routine is pretty simple. We use water, vinegar, bicarb and a scrubber for almost everything. Clove oil is great in the bathroom as it kills mould. We have a mop (a metal frame with removable washable cloths) and a dustpan for the floors. We still have a vacuum cleaner, too.

We are both members of our local library, and my husband must be their best client! We can borrow magazines, DVDs and CDs in addition to books, and he has almost always maxed out his loan allowance (of 15 items!). We do not have a television, and we use the laptop to watch DVDs.

We empty our compost scraps daily into our compost bin. We have a small wastepaper basket which we use for our recycling, and we currently empty this about once a month.

What did you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions? Was there anything I missed off the list? Anything you’d like to know more about? How does this compare with your own lifestyle? Are there any changes there that you think will be easy for you to implement? Are there any changes there that you’d like to suggest to me? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Where to Find Zero Waste + Plastic Free Essentials Online

As someone who does her best to discourage shopping, I’ve put off writing this guide. For years. Yet I’m regularly asked where to find certain eco-friendly products. And yes: there are certain items that make living plastic-free and zero waste easier. The purpose of this website is to make it easier for people to live more sustainable, ethical, plastic-free and zero waste lives. Very occasionally, that means stuff.

I’ve put this resource together to help anyone looking for zero waste or plastic-free alternatives. I would always encourage everyone to use what they have first, and to look for second-hand options before buying anything new. Borrowing things from friends to establish whether you will actually use them before buying is also recommended.

I would also plead: shop as local as possible, and support independent stores. We all bemoan the lack of choice, the rise of big box stores and the demise of the independent store. Yet when we buy something, the temptation is often to choose the cheapest option, rather than the most ethical.

Remember, when we buy things, we vote with our money for the companies we want to support and the kind of future we want to see.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping

I’ve tried to feature stores that have a range of products, rather than just one or two offerings. This list is only as good as my personal experience and the feedback and recommendations I receive. If you know of a store I should add to this list – please tell me!

The most zero waste option is always to buy from a physical store rather than to purchase online, where the option exists. The next best option is to choose the most local online store to you. Etsy is a handmade marketplace and is a great place to find handmade produce bags, reusable bags and other crafted items, and to support local producers.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Australia

Biome Eco Store

An online store (with stores in Brisbane) that isn’t exclusively plastic-free or zero waste but with a very high proportion of zero waste products. They do have a dedicated “No Waste and Plastic Free” section, and also ship their products without using plastic.

Great for: stainless steel and glass lunchboxes and containers, water bottles, reusable straws, icy pole moulds, cutlery, glass jars, bamboo dental care, and lots more.

W: biome.com.au

Delivery: Australia (Free Delivery over $130); international delivery at cost

Shop Naturally

An online store (with pickup from their warehouse available in NSW) is an online health and wellbeing store with a fair range of plastic-free products in bamboo and stainless steel, and BPA-free silicone.

Great for: water bottles, bamboo kitchenware, glass food storage, popsicle moulds and ice cube trays.

W: shopnaturally.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free shipping starts at $100 spend and minimum spend increases with weight and postcode).

Flora & Fauna

Flora & Fauna is a vegan, cruelty-free and eco-friendly online store selling everything from fashion to homewares, dental care to reusables. Not everything in their store is zero waste or even plastic-free, but they do have a range of options spread across their categories. They also sell some unusual products including copper water bottles.

W: floraandfauna.com.au

Delivery: Worlwide. Austalia: $6.95 for orders up to $50.00, free delivery over $50. Some smaller items have free shipping with no minimum spend. New Zealand: shipping from $10 via DHL. Worldwide shipping from $15 via DHL.

Dandelion Eco Store

An online health and wellbeing store based in Perth, WA (with pickup available from the Growers Green Farmers Market, South Fremantle on Sundays). Rachel has a growing collection of stainless steel and plastic-free food storage and food preparation containers.

Great for: plastic-free food storage solutions including lunchboxes, water bottles, other reusables.

W: dandelionecostore.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (Free shipping to Perth metro over $50; $15 flat rate shipping for Australia-wide metro with spends up to $299; free shipping Australia-wide metro for spends over $300; rural Australia shipping calculated by weight and postcode).

Urban Revolution

An online eco-store based in Perth with a range of plastic free items and reusables and a big focus on natural and compostable options, that ship all parcels with reused materials and avoids plastic where possible.

W: urbanrevolution.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (delivery calculated by weight; local pickup available)

Ecolosophy

An online eco-store with a range of plastic free items and reusables, that ship all parcels without plastic tape or packaging.

W: ecolosophy.com.au

Delivery: Australia only ($9.95 under $150, free delivery over $150)

Going Green Solutions

An online store based in Melbourne (with local pickup available from Hurstbridge, Melbourne) with two main categories: green catering & packaging; and eco home & lifestyle. Has a broad range of products with some less-commonly found items including make-up refills.

W: goinggreensolutions.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free delivery over $100 if less than 3kg; heavier orders calculated by weight; local pickup available)

The Source Bulk Foods

As the name suggests, The Source Bulk Foods are predominantly a food retailer. They are passionate about zero waste living and reducing plastic though, and have a number of reusables for sale on their website or at their 33 stores across Australia including beeswax wraps, produce bags, Planet Box lunchboxes and water bottles.

W. thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (from $9.95; price dependent on postcode and weight of order)

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, USA and Canada

Life Without Plastic

An online store dedicated to offering products that are plastic-free, this store has everything you might need (and no doubt, plenty you don’t!) for living a plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle. All of the products are made with stainless steel, glass and wood.

W: lifewithoutplastic.com

Delivery: Flat Rate Shipping to North America & Canada (excluding Hawaii & Alaska); International Delivery at cost.

Mighty Nest

An online store with a focus on natural, organic and non-toxic products, with lots of glass, stainless steel and non-plastic options.

W: mightynest.com

Delivery: USA (free delivery over $50 except Alaska, Hawaii and US Territories), Australia and Canada (delivery at cost)

The Ultimate Green Store

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there are no dedicated categories. There are lots of natural products and recycled materials, and the range is huge. The store offers bamboo homewares, recycled glass products and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: theultimategreenstore.com

Delivery: USA only (except by special request)

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

A small eco-store based in Athens, Georgia (local pickup is also available) dedicated to zero waste living, which also sells a small number of vintage items.

Great for: vintage and arty zero waste items, and reusables.

W: tinyyellowbungalow.com

Delivery: USA (price per order value; orders over $100 cost a flat rate $15), International ($26 for orders under $150, $36 for orders over $150)

Wild Minimalist

A small zero waste online store based in San Rafael, California which also sells a small number of vintage items. They are committed to packaging items plastic-free, and use recyclable materials where possible.

W: wildminimalist.com

Delivery: USA and Canada (shipping calculated at checkout; free standard delivery for orders over $75 to the Continental U.S. & Canada)

NU Grocery (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a growing collection of zero waste products under five categories. They also ship their products completely plastic-free and all packaging is fully recyclable.

W: nu-grocery.myshopify.com

Delivery: Canada only ($10, free delivery on orders over $85)

PAREdown Home (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a small range of products, most of which are plastic-free.

W: paredownhome.com

Delivery: Worldwide, no prices listed.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, UK and Ireland

A Slice of Green

The sister site of Green Tulip (listed below), A Slice of Green products are focused on waste minimization and the mantra “reduce-reuse-recycle”. Not all products are plastic-free, but the emphasis is on reusables and sustainability. Focussed on food preparation, storage and transport.

W : asliceofgreen.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Green Tulip

An ethical gifts website with 6 core values: organic, natural, British, recycled, sustainable and fair trade. Their sister site A Slice of Green focuses on food-based reusables, but Green Tulip has plenty of sustainable alternatives to conventional products including garden, wellbeing and recycled glass.

W: greentulip.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Boobalou

Boobalou is a small UK company working to reduce household waste, with a huge focus on family-friendly reusables. There are four main categories: eco lady, eco baby, eco home and eco living. Whilst not everything is plastic-free, the majority is, and all of the products are more eco-friendly than conventional alternatives.

Great for: anyone with babies, young kids and families.

W: boobalou.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £50, costs £2.85 under £50), International (£6.85 flat rate; large orders at cost)

Less Plastic

This small online store is committed to promoting the plastic-free way of life, and all products are designed to live without (or with less plastic). Most products are for food prep, storage and transport, with a real emphasis on stainless steel reusables.

W: lessplastic.co.uk

Delivery: UK (£3.50 under £50, free delivery over £50), international delivery on request

Eqo Living

A small online store and family business committed to offering eco-friendly, reusable products for living with less waste. Most products are for food preparation, storage and transport.

W: eqoliving.com

Delivery: UK only (£4.90 standard delivery under £100, free delivery over £100)

&Keep

Based in Dorset, this online homewares store stocks products chosen with the idea that they are bought “once” and will last forever. Lots of natural materials and fibres, and a selection of reusables.

W: andkeep.com

Delivery: UK only (Standard delivery £1.99, free delivery over £50

Ethical Superstore

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there is plenty of plastic! But there is such a vast array of products (it is definitely a superstore!) that there are some zero waste options. They have a home composting section, bamboo homewares, and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: ethicalsuperstore.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Natural Collection

Owned by the same company as Ethical Superstore, this online shop has many of the same products but they seem to run different offers, so it may be worth checking both.

W: naturalcollection.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Anything But Plastic

A small online eco store selling a limited range of plastic-free products including personal care items (dental floss, soap and make-up).

W: anythingbutplastic.co.uk

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Europe

European stores are divided into two sections: those with English versions and those without. (The latter are presented as a list simply because I am unable to read them to give a more detailed account of their offering!)

Sinplastico (Spain)

A Spanish website (with English and French translations) that focuses on alternative products to plastic. There are five categories: kitchen, bath & body, home, kids & babies, and takeaway.

W : sinplastico.com

Delivery: Europe (Spain and Portugal €3-10 under €120, free over €120; France €10 under €120, free over €200; rest of Europe €15 under €120, €10 over €200)

Non-English Online Zero Waste Stores:

France:

Sans BPA
W: sans-bpa.com

Hakuna Tata – Boutique Zero Dechet
W: boutiquezerodechet.com

Czech Republik:

Econea
W: econea.cz

Germany:

Laguna
W: laguna-onlineshop.de

Monomeer
W: monomeer.de

Original Unverpackt
W: original-unverpackt.de

Plasno
W: plasno.de

Plasticarian
W: einfach-ohne-plastik.at

Zero Waste Laden
W: zerowasteladen.de

Zero Waste Shop
W: zerowasteshop.de

Greece

Sapontina
W: sapontina.gr

Netherlands:

Babongo
W: babongoshop.nl

Ecomondo
W: ecomondo.nl

Bag-Again NL
W: bag-again.nl

Younetics
W: younetics.nl

Now I’d love to hear from you! Please help make this list as useful as possible to as many people as possible! If you know of a store that’s missing, please let me know in the comments so I can add it to the list. If you have any experiences of these (or other) stores, please share away and let everyone know your thoughts – good and bad! Any other tips or alternatives to find products also welcome. Tell me what you think in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These companies have been included by me or recommended by my readers as great online stores to purchase zero waste or plastic-free products, based solely on their product offering, ethics and customer service. No store has paid me to be featured on this list. Whilst I have not personally shopped at all of these stores, I can recognise products that I own or recommend in their pages, and I trust the opinion of my readers. 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.

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

bedroom-bed

The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

desk

The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

table-treading-my-own-path

Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

sofa

Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

old-sofa

Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below!

How to Win an Argument about “Eco Friendly” Packaging

Despite the rather bold title, I’m really not out to start arguments. I’m definitely not out to pick fights. I’d much rather we all got along :) So what comes below isn’t actually about arguing.

It’s about helping others see our point of view when it comes to waste (and that includes eco-friendly packaging). “Eco friendly” packaging is something I get asked about a lot.

It seems that not a week goes by without me having a conversation with somebody about single-use packaging, and why it isn’t the wonderful convenience item that we think it is.

I do not know how many times I have been told by a helpful staff member when I refuse packaging that there is no need to refuse, because “it’s eco-friendly / we recycle / it’s biodegradable”.

I cannot count how often well-meaning friends have shared links about the latest and greatest edible or biodegradable alternative to single-use items with me, expecting me to declare the waste problem solved.

Five years ago, this was me. I thought that if it had “eco-friendly” printed on it (preferably in green and with a nice leaf logo), then it was eco-friendly. I was waiting for science to invent our way out of all of the world’s problems.

But then I looked into it. I started researching, and asking questions, and finding answers that I didn’t really want to hear.

And I changed my perspective.

I’ve put together some of the most common comments I hear and facts I’m told; here’s what I might say in response. They are talking points and things to consider. Hopefully they will help you have better conversations with others about why single use packaging isn’t as great as people think, even if it’s stamped “eco-friendly”.

And if the need arises, maybe even win some arguments ;)

A Word About Arguments

arguments-treading-my-own-path

We’re not really trying to win at arguments, we’re just trying to help others see things from a different perspective. There will always be people who disagree, and that doesn’t matter: some arguments aren’t meant to be won. Don’t try to convert the non-convertable. At either extreme of a point of view is everyone else, and these are the people to have conversations with. The people who want to do the right thing, but find the information available confusing. Maybe they put too much trust in others’ claims about their green credentials (that was definitely me).

  • Think About Where People Are Coming From.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. People who work in the packaging industry won’t love the idea of banning bags or disposable packaging. People who are busy, stressed and tired are far less receptive to new ideas and “help”!

  • Make it About Values.

Whether it’s the caring for the environment, protecting wildlife, helping others, embracing creativity or better health, think about the values that motivate people. People who are motivated solely by their own self-interests are not as common as you might imagine, but if you do come across somebody like this, walk away. You’re better off using your energy elsewhere.

  • Be nice.

Nobody likes a smart-arse, and nobody likes to be made to feel small. Simple things such as smiling, open body language (no crossed arms!) and using helpful language will all assist in getting the message across.

Winning the Argument About “Eco Friendly” Packaging

disposable-coffee-cup-treading-my-own-path

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the questions I’m asked and conversations I have most often. I’d love you to add your own (questions you’ve been asked and answers you’ve given!) in the comments at the end :)

“But the packaging is eco-friendly!”

If, by eco-friendly, you mean not made with fossil fuels, that’s great! However, how is using resources (whether paperboard made from trees, or bio-plastic made from growing corn) to make single-use items that will be used for minutes actually eco-friendly?

Especially when you consider the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and shipping of these resources?

If you mean “eco friendly” because it’s biodegradable, are you ensuring that the packaging is composted? Are you personally composting it, or arranging for it to be so?

Plus did you know that some biodegradable packaging is made with fossil fuels?

If it’s just heading to landfill, that isn’t much more eco-friendly than just using regular packaging.

“It’s biodegradable so it will break down in landfill.”

Landfills aren’t big compost heaps, they are big tombs full of waste that are sealed. They are holes in the ground that are filled up, covered, and left for eternity. Waste breaks down anaerobically and very slowly, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas).

Nothing is breaking down to create space and allow more waste to be deposited. No goodness returns to the soil.

It’s a one-way system.

“It’s compostable.”

Being compostable is great, but only if it’s being put in the compost!

If it’s heading to landfill, it isn’t going to compost. If it’s put in the recycling bin, it isn’t going to compost. And depending on whether it needs hot composting or cold composting to break down, it might not even compost in the home compost bin. I wonder, what are the composting facilities like in your local town/city?

“Wait…Isn’t this disposable coffee cup made of paper?”

Sure, it looks like paper, but actually it has a plastic polyethylene lining. If you think about it, if it was only paper, the hot coffee would seep right through!

Being a mixture of materials, disposable coffee cups are difficult to recycle, so are likely to end up in landfill.

“I can plant this biodegradable coffee cup / coffee pod / other single-use item in my garden and it will grow seeds!”

I have no idea how many coffees you drink in a week, or how big your garden is, but are you telling me that every time you drink a coffee you’ll be planting the waste in your own back garden? That seems like an awful lot of effort to go to!

You could always use a reusable cup or plunger coffee, buy some seeds from the garden centre, and save yourself all that digging!

(Unless you’re just slinging it out of the window and hoping that it seeds… but that sounds like littering to me.)

If it’s still ending up in landfill, sealed underneath a layer of rock, there will be no seeds sprouting – it is just too deep and not the right conditions.

“It’s okay… I will recycle it.”

Recycling is better than throwing away, but it is still hugely energy intensive and in no way a perfect solution. Recycling isn’t a virtuous cycle: products don’t get recycled back into the same thing. Plastic in particular is downcycled (made into something of inferior quality.)

Your disposable packaging is likely made from brand new resources, and recycling them won’t stop new resources being used to create more disposable products.

Plus… is the material is even recyclable in your local area? Theoretically recyclable isn’t the same as actually recycled.

“It’s made with recycled content.”

Recycled content – so no new resources? Or just less new resources? What recycled content are you using, and what is the source of the materials? How are you collecting these materials – are they local, or from interstate, or overseas? How are they transported?

Is it 100% recycled content, or are you mixing some virgin product in there too? What percentage is recycled product? Can the product be recycled afterwards? Will it be? (Let’s not be theoretical about this!) What about the packaging – is that 100% post-consumer recycled content too?

Of course, from a waste perspective, single-use but with recycled content is still single-use.

“Paper bags use three times the energy to produce than plastic bags.”

True, paper bags are more energy intensive than plastic ones to produce, but that isn’t the whole story. Paper bags are made from trees or wood products, which is a renewable resource, and can be sustainable managed.

They are also biodegradable, don’t create long-term litter problems and don’t harm or suffocate wildlife. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and last forever.

Of course, reusable bags are even better!

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is by no means an exhaustive list so let’s make it bigger and better! Tell me, what are the most common questions that you’re asked? What answers do you give that seem to surprise people the most? Is there anything you’re unsure about? Any claims you’ve read or seen that you don’t know whether to believe? Anything you’d like more clarity on? Are there any of these reasons that (like me) you used to believe, until you looked into it a little bit more? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Guide to Christmas Gifts

I am not a Christmas grinch. I love the idea of families and friends coming together at Christmas, taking time out to share experiences, eating good food and hopefully playing some board games ;)

But presents? Oh, I’m not a fan of Christmas presents at all.

I’m passionate about living a zero waste lifestyle. I aspire to own less, not more. And Christmas presents are, quite frankly, the opposite of that.

It’s not that I dislike presents. A well thought-out gift, that I truly need and love and will actually use, is great. The truth is though, that I already have everything that I need, in terms of stuff. If I did need something, why wait for it to be given to me as a gift, if I can go out and choose it myself? That way, I get to choose the exact one that I want, from the store I want to support. There is less room for error.

If I don’t know that I need it… well then, maybe I don’t need it at all.

christmas-gifts-treading-my-own-path

I particularly find Christmas present-buying so… transactional. Everyone buys everything for everyone else: it’s a big consumer-fest of stuff, most of which isn’t really wanted or needed. To tell someone exactly what you want, and then spend the exact same amount of money on a gift that they asked you to buy in return, seems pointless to me.

The idea that people tell one another what to buy isn’t meaningful, or a way of expressing love, in my mind. Now someone agreeing to spend two hours playing board games with me, even though I know they’d rather not… now that’s love ;)

Of course, I’ve been there. I’ve written lists of things I wanted, and looked at other people’s lists to choose things to buy. I’ve tried to think of things that might be useful to give to others, and I’ve received things myself that were intended to be useful. As we get older, and have more and more stuff, it gets harder, and it all just seems more and more unnecessary.

On the other hand, I understand traditions and customs. I also understand that some people like to show their love through giving gifts. People don’t want to upset their families. And trying to explain to a 6 year-old that they aren’t getting a Christmas gift from you as you’re making a stand against rampant consumption might not go down too well!

So, I’m not proposing that we cancel Christmas.

Instead, I want to help anyone aspiring to a zero waste or minimalist lifestyle to navigate the Christmas present minefield without accumulating a bunch of stuff they don’t want or don’t need, upsetting all the relatives and feeling that they’ve abandoned their values.

If you’re someone who loves Christmas, and gift-giving (or gift-receiving!), then it is not my place to try to persuade you otherwise. Enjoy the festivities! This is for anyone who feels a looming sense of dread as the holiday season approaches, and wants some hints and ideas to do things a little differently.

A Zero Waste (and Minimalist) Guide to Gift Giving (and Receiving)

Christmas Tree in Hands Collection 78 Jean Lakosnyk

Part 1: Gift Receiving

1. Try NOT to ask for “Stuff”

If you’re passionate about living life with less stuff or less waste, then think really carefully before you ask for “stuff” for Christmas. It can be tempting, especially if you’re just starting out on the journey and actually need things.

But ultimately, to live this lifestyle you need to step out of the “stuff” game, and the sooner you start, the better. It will take time for friends, relatives and family members to understand that you actually don’t want stuff any more, and asking for “zero waste” stuff confuses the message.

2. Asking for “nothing at all” can be confronting for others.

I would never have believed this if we hadn’t requested that our families not get us anything at all for Christmas one year. Nothing at all, no money, no gifts, no vouchers, nothing. We even left the country for a month over the holiday period.

It worked. We didn’t receive anything. But afterwards, we found out that my mother-in-law had really struggled with it. Not acknowledging her son in some way at Christmas felt really wrong for her, and she was troubled by it. She did it, but found it very hard. I’m not sure she’d have managed it a second year.

It did help break the cycle of “stuff” though, and helped us find a compromise the following year that everyone was happier with.

It might work for you, and it is definitely worth trying if you’re happy with that option. But remember that some people show their love by giving gifts, and you don’t want to be happy at someone else’s expense.

3. Set some rules that keep everyone happy.

If you know that your family and friends like to give gifts, and suspect they will find a no-gift policy confronting, try to choose some rules that will satisfy their need to give gifts whilst keeping the unnecessary stuff to a minimum.

Ideas include:

  • Make a rule that all gifts should be second-hand.
  • Specify that all gifts should be homemade.
  • Put limits on the types of new goods (eg books, tools, plants, or whatever you think would work).
  • Suggest DIY hampers (food, beauty products or something else) – but be clear about limiting excess packaging!
  • Ask for only edible goods or drinks (although remember at Christmas the shops are full of novelty, overpackaged, palm oil-filled gifts).
  • Suggest a Secret Santa where rather than all adults buying gifts for everyone, all names are put into a hat and everyone buys one gift only for the person they picked out of the hat.
  • Ask for experiences, tickets for shows, workshops or events; even vouchers for restaurants or cafes. Avoid vouchers for shops as these will lead to “stuff”.

4. You need to communicate!

Stepping out of the consumer-fest of Christmas can be difficult, and if you want to make it easier for yourself and everyone around you, it’s better to tell everyone how you’d like things to be, and as soon as you can! There is no point having rules if you haven’t communicated them!

Be clear on your expectations. Don’t leave any room for ambiguity. If you find it hard to tell people in person, send a letter or email.

Just don’t assume that people will realise that your new way of living means you don’t want “stuff” – they likely won’t.

5. Don’t expect the first year to be easy.

It doesn’t matter how clear you think you’ve been, or how many times you’ve explained it, there will likely be mis-steps along the way. You’re on a journey, but everyone else is doing the same thing they’ve always done, and they might not see a reason to change. Or they might think it’s just a phase you’re going through. Or that the rules don’t apply at Christmas.

Rest assured, every year it will get easier, as others understand that it isn’t a phase, and also adjust to the new way of thinking.

The first year that we went plastic-free, we received a number of Christmas presents packaged in plastic. We even received a novelty plastic item packaged in plastic. Everyone knew that we lived plastic-free, and yet somehow it didn’t occur to them that this also applied at Christmas. It took time for the new way of life to sink in.

Now, they wouldn’t dream of it!

6. Don’t hold onto anything out of guilt.

If you get stuff that you don’t need and didn’t ask for, there is no need to keep it out of guilt. Someone choosing to give a gift (out of social pressure, convention, or their own personal need to express their love and appreciation this way) does not mean that you need to choose to keep it.

The meaning is in the gift-giving, not the gift itself. They made that choice, not you.

Donate it, sell it, give it away. Don’t dwell on it. There will be someone out there who will really want what you have, and will use it. If you can connect your unwanted stuff with them, then that’s a far better use of the item than languishing in your cupboard, making you feel guilty every time you see it.

There’s no need to tell the gift-giver, if you don’t want to (although if you do, it will help with not receiving anything next time!). Chances are they won’t remember anyway.

Part 2: Gift Giving

christmas-zero-waste-gift-giving-treading-my-own-path

7. Don’t push your values on others.

Deciding to purchase a zero waste kit for your family because you really think they should go zero waste, or buying them a collection of books about decluttering because you think they have too much stuff isn’t actually that different from them buying you a bunch of junk that you didn’t ask for.

You might think it’s useful, but if they won’t use it (and will possibly be insulted in the process!) then it’s just as much a waste.

Similarly, donating money on their behalf to a charity might seem like a great way to avoid present-buying, but if they are expecting a well-wrapped gift from the high street, they won’t thank you for it.

In the same way that you don’t want them to push their expectations on you, don’t push yours onto them.

8. Listen to what they say.

You’d hope friends and family would listen to your requests, and you need to listen to theirs. If they’ve been specific about what they would like (no handmade gifts, no second hand stuff) then you need to honour that.

That doesn’t mean that you need to buy them a bunch of overpackaged stuff. You just need figure the best way to work around what they want without betraying your own values! ;)

9. If in doubt, ask.

If someone has been very specific with their list, but you’re not keen to buy anything on it, come up with your own ideas and ask them what they think.

How do they feel about tickets to the cinema or a show? A voucher for a restaurant? A one-night stay at a local B n B?

What about a day together at a National Park? A picnic or a seaside outing?

Could you offer some kind of services – mowing the lawn, babysitting, cooking dinners for a week?

Is hosting Christmas dinner an option instead of gifts?

10. Can you cancel gifts altogether?

It’s possible that you’re overthinking this, and that actually it’s possible to come to the mutual agreement of not buying anything. As much as people love to receive gifts, many people hate to go Christmas shopping. They might be relieved to know that they don’t have to brave the busy, crowded shops in a desperate attempt to find something you probably won’t like anyway.

Christmas is an expensive time of year, and they might actually appreciate having one less gift to buy.

Don’t rule it out.

How we personally deal with Christmas has evolved over time. It’s still not perfect, but we’ve slowly come to a mutual understanding amongst our family and friends. From the first year, when we asked for stuff; to the second year, when we boycotted the whole thing; to the third year, when we even bought some “stuff” for others, we seem to have reached a balance. We no longer buy presents for most of the adults (with mutual agreement), and for those that we do, it’s limited to experiences. For our niece and nephew, we focus on experiences too – things that we can do together. It works for us.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your experiences of Christmas? Is this your first year of living a plastic-free, zero waste or minimalist lifestyle? What are your concerns? Have you had any conversations with family yet and how did they go? Have you been living this way for several years? If so, have you found balance that works for you? How have your choices changed over time? Do you have any tips to add? Any stories or experiences to share? Questions to ask? Anything else you’d like to comment on? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Finding Solutions to Plastic Pollution (How You Can Help)

One person can make a difference. I believe this, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. Knowing that my actions matter, that is what empowers and motivates me to strive to do a little better every day.

Whilst one individual can have an impact, when individuals get together… well, that’s when change really begins to happen! Collectively, our impact can be amplified. That’s what a movement is – a group of people, working together for the same outcome.

Plastic pollution and over-consumption of resources are both massive, complex issues. The problem isn’t going to be solved just because I no longer have a rubbish bin, or can fit my waste into a glass jar. It’s not going to be solved if 10,000 of us can all fit our waste into a glass jar, either.

It’s going to be solved when we all work together to share ideas, apply pressure to decision-makers and organizations, and offer solutions!

If you’d like to do more, and be part of a movement, here are some options. Whether it’s getting out into your local community, volunteering, joining a campaign, learning more or donating to an organization doing great work, there are plenty of possibilities. If you see something you like, see if there is something similar in your local area… or start your own group!

If you have any others you’d like to add, please let me know in the comments below : )

Citizen Science + Litter Apps

litter-apps-and-citizen-science-treading-my-own-path

Litter apps are a simple way to add any litter you pick up to a national or international database. Citizen science in action! Simply take a photo of what you pick up, and record the location, litter type and brand. This data is collected to identify the most commonly found brands and products, and problem hotspots. The data can be used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions, and to influence politicians, councils and other decision-makers to make change.

– Litterati (US and Worldwide)

Litterati describe themselves as a community that’s identifying, mapping, and collecting the world’s litter. Based in America, they track plastic and other litter anywhere in the world.

Litterati App (iPhone only)

Website: www.litterati.org

– Marine Debris Tracker (US and Worldwide)

An American Debris Tracker app that collects marine debris data from all over the world, including 1200 locations in the USA.

Marine Debris Tracker App for Android / Marine Debris Tracker App for iPhone

Website: www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/

– Marine LitterWatch (Europe)

Monitors beach litter in Europe. The app was developed by the European Environment Agency to help aid data gathering in coastal areas.

Marine LitterWatch App for Android / Marine Litterwatch App for iPhone

Website: www.eea.europa.eu

– Tangaroa Blue (AU)

Whilst not an app, Tangaroa Blue’s Australian Marine Debris Database is the most comprehensive collection of marine debris data in Australia. All data can be submitted via this AMDI submission form: since 2004 over 2million pieces of debris have been recorded.

Website: www.tangaroablue.org

Litter Clean-Ups

beach-treading-my-own-path

Sure, it’s possible to just go outside your front door any time, and pick up litter. In fact, that is what many of these organisations encourage. But there’s also something nice about getting together with a group of like-minded individuals and making a much bigger impact.

– Responsible Runners (AU)

An Australian initiative to get runners and walkers clearing up litter. They organize weekly clean-up events around the country involving 30 minute litter picking, and have picked up 21 tonnes of rubbish to date. All rubbish is recorded, and the data is submitted to Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Database (see above).

Website: www.responsiblerunners.org

– Take 3 For The Sea (AU and worldwide)

An Australian movement that encourages everyone to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, river, or anywhere else. As well as running school education programs, they also offer a Guardian program for local groups to establish, and use social media to spread the #take3forthesea message.

Website: www.take3.org.au

– Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign (AU)

In 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a new marine debris campaign which involves organizing beach and river clean-up events, community engagement and education. At present this appears to be specific to Australia.

Website: www.seashepherd.org.au

– Ocean Conservancy (US)

An American not-for-profit organisation that promotes science-based solutions to protect the ocean. Ocean Conservancy organises the annual International Coastal Cleanup event (a global event), and helps individuals organise their own beach and river cleanups for other times of the year.

Website: www.oceanconservancy.org

– Two Hands Project (AU)

Two Hands Project embodies the spirit of international Clean Up Days, but asks – why not use your two hands and 3o minutes of your time to clean up on ANY day of the year? They occasionally run organized beach clean-ups, and offer secondary school education programs.

Website: www.twohandsproject.org

– Keep Australia Beautiful (AU)

Keep Australia Beautiful works towards a litter-free environment by running grass-roots programs in every state and territory in Australia. They run “Keep Austrlia Beautiful Week” annually, and assist in organising cleanup and other community events.

Website: www.kab.org.au

Campaigning

campaiging

Organisations often work on specific campaigns. Campaigns work towards a specific goal, such as changing legislation on particular issues, often by raising awareness and gaining the support of the public to apply pressure to decision-makers.

– Plastic Soup Foundation (NL)

Plastic Soup Foundation is a campaigning and advocacy group working towards eliminating plastic pollution from our oceans. Based in the Netherlands, they work on a number of campaigns including Reach for the Zero, Beat the Microbead and Ocean Clean Wash.

Website: www.plasticsoupfoundation.org

– Marine Conservation Society (UK)

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a UK ocean protection charity. They campaign on a number of issues including banning the mass release of balloons and sky lanterns, microbeads and clearer labelling for wet wipes (to prevent them being flushed down the loo). They also run a Plastic Free June fundraising challenge.

Website: www.mcsuk.org

– Surfrider Foundation (US and Worldwide)

Surfrider Foundation is a campaigning organisation dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches. Beginning in the USA 30 years ago, Surfrider Foundation has grown to 18 countries around the world, including Australia. Among other ocean-realted campaigning, they support local, regional, state and national campaigns on plastic pollution.

Website: www.surfrider.org
Surfrider Australia Website: www.surfrider.org.au

– Surfers Against Sewage (UK)

A UK environmental charity protecting the UK’s waves, oceans and beaches. Surfers Against Sewage campaign against marine litter, and recent campagins include “No Butts on the Beach”, “Return to Offender” (which has to be my favourite) and “Think Before You Flush“.

Website: www.sas.org.uk

– Story of Stuff (US)

The Story of Stuff project began as a series of education movies about the environmental impacts of “stuff”. As well as education, they now run campaigns fighting plastic pollution, including banning bottled water and banning the microbead.

Website: www.storyofstuff.org

– The Last Plastic Straw (US)

The Last Plastic Straw campaigns to get businesses to only give out straws on demand, and to use fully biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws. They also raise awareness of plastic pollution.

Website: www.thelastplasticstraw.org

Challenges

calendar

Collective challenges are a great way to raise awareness and build momentum on an issue, as well as creating community and inspiring further action.

– Plastic Free July (AU and Worldwide)

Plastic Free July is a month-long challenge to refuse and avoid single-use plastic. It’s what got me started on my plastic-free journey and has expanded from a local campaign with just 30 participants to a global initiative that spans almost 200 countries.

Website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Marine Research and Education

Ocean Plastic Research Treading My Own Path

Expeditions and research bring in the real scientific data, and allow us to understand the wider impacts of plastic pollution. It is this knowledge that raises awareness and drives campaigns, education and action.

– 5 Gyres (US)

Founded in 2008, 5 Gyres is a non-profit organisation raising awareness about plastic pollution through science, art, education and adventure. They have been involved with campaigns including the “ban the microbead” campaign, and run programs and expeditions.

Website: www.5gyres.org

– Algalita (US)

Founded in 1994 by Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Algalita have pioneered the study of plastic pollution in the marine environment. They focus on research, education and action, and lead marine expeditions.

Website: www.algalita.org

Umbrella Groups and Coalitions

lighthouse

Umbrella organizations provide resources and offer an identity to smaller organisations, whilst building a sense of community and inclusiveness. Umbrella organisations allow members to share resources and amplify their message, meaning increased effectiveness.

– Plastic Pollution Coalition (US)

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution. Founded in 2009 and now with more than 400 member organisations (you can find a list of current members here), they provide education, scientific research and solutions for both individuals and organisations. The Education page is a wealth of useful information : )

Website: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are they any great organisations I’ve missed off the list? Any campaigns or groups I failed to mention? Any I’ve mentioned here that you are already involved with? Any that are completely new to you? Do you work with local groups in your area? Do you know about great work being done at grass roots level? I love to hear about others making a difference and creating positive impact so share away! Any other thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too, so please tell me in the space below!

My Top Ten Documentaries To Get You Thinking (and Questioning)

Recently a reader asked if I could write a blog post about my top environmental documentaries. How could I possibly refuse?! There are so many great documentaries out there, and watching them is a great way to understand the issues, learn more, and feel re-inspired to take action. Not to mention coerce friends and family into learning a little more (and maybe help them understand why we do what we do). Invite them over with the lure of (plastic-free) popcorn and hope that the message will give them something to think about ;)

Here it is: my top 10 eco documentaries. Actually, I’ve listed 12 (well, if you count the side recommendations, 14). I could give you a list of ten documentaries about plastic, but I wanted to cover some of the other topics I’m interested in, so there is a mix. I’ve listed them roughly in my order of preference.

So, drumroll please…

1. Bag It

Bag It! has to feature as number 1 on my list. It’s the documentary I saw in June 2012 after signing up for Plastic Free July that changed my whole perspective on the way I consume, how I view plastic, and in fact, the whole course of my life! I often describe it as “my lightbulb moment”, because, despite the cliche, it really was!

Bag It! is a documentary about the issues of plastic, but offers a raft of solutions, and steps that we as individuals can take to make change. It’s easy to follow, entertaining and funny, but with plenty to think about. It was released in 2011, but remains as relevant as ever. A must watch!

2. True Cost

True Cost is a documentary released in 2015 that looks behind the modern fashion industry. This is far more than a documentary about sweat shops. It explores the issues of materialism and overconsumption; the power of the big retailers and advertising; the health impacts suffered by workers and the environmental devastation that happens worldwide. It gives a face to some of the workers and workers, and provides stories of those trying to change the system. However much you think you know about fast fashion, I guarantee that you will learn something new.

3. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

This documentary is often touted by vegans as a “must-watch”, which tends to put non-vegans off. Please, do not be put off from watching this great documentary on the basis of what you eat for dinner! Cowspiracy is not a lecture, nor is it trying to make the world vegan. And there is no gory stuff. What it talks about is the impact that industrial agriculture has on the world – and how, when there was 1 billion people on the planet, this wasn’t an issue, now there’s 7 billion, it is becoming one. It also talks a lot about politics and power, which was what I found really interesting. Modern agriculture is big business, and has a lot of influence over governments, corporations…and even charities and environmental organisations. It is thought-provoking and well-made.

4. Tapped

Tapped is a documentary about bottled water. It’s my second-favourite plastic documentary after Bag It! It’s not just about the ridiculous waste that comes with drinking bottled water, and the environmental damage caused by producing so much single use plastic, but also the issues of power, greed and social justice (or lack of). What I found particularly alarming was the complete lack of regulation surrounding bottled water testing – yet it is cleverly marketed as “safer” than tap water. Bottled water isn’t just a plastic issue. It’s a people issue too – and there are some moving stories told by people whose lives have been negatively impacted by the industrialization of bottled water.

5. Just Eat It / Dive

There are two popular documentaries about food waste: the newest is Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, released in 2014. Made by the same people who made the Clean Bin Project in 2010 (which you will find below at number 6), Just Eat It follows their attempts to live only on food that would otherwise be thrown away. It questions why we throw so much food away, and what the environmental, social and other impacts are on the failures of our food system. Jen and Grant have a lighthearted and fun approach, but  beneath the humour there is something far less palatable.

Dive! is another documentary about food waste and dumpster diving. It’s older, and not as slick, but still just as informative. You can watch the Dive! trailer here.

6. The Clean Bin Project

Made by Jen and Grant from Just Eat It fame in 2010, the Clean Bin Project follows their attempt to live zero waste for a year, producing no landfill. They compete with each other to produce the smallest amount of waste, and the documentary is funny and entertaining whilst still exploring the bigger issues, particularly the issues with plastic and packaging. If you want to introduce others to the idea of plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles without overloading them with information or terrorizing them into inaction, then this movie (along with Bag It!) is a really great place to start.

7. Trashed

I prefer the documentaries I watch to end with at least a glimmer of home, and with Trashed, this is borderline. I left the screening feeling motivated to do more – but only just. It is hard-hitting. If you are someone who is easily overwhelmed, I don’t recommend this – and it definitely isn’t a movie to show friends who you are trying to encourage to make small changes! However, if you are somebody who really wants to understand the issues, and wants to see (very clearly!) the impact that our consumption is having on the planet, this documentary is a very graphic example of this.

8. Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things

Released this year, Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things is a project by the Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus that explores how minimalism has changed the lives of others for the better. It focuses heavily on consumption (or over-consumption), and how moving away from that has improved the lives of the people interviewed. It touches on other aspects of sustainability, including fast fashion and waste. It’s a thoughtful movie, and whilst I didn’t learn anything new, I’d still recommend it. It felt like a taster, and if you are somebody new to these ideas you will get a lot out of it. It’s positive and upbeat, with lots of inspiring stories about people living both conventional and unconventional lives with less stuff.

9. The Lightbulb Conspiracy

This documentary isn’t the most entertaining, beautifully shot or carefully crafted, but it talks about an issue that we don’t often hear about: planned obsolescence. It’s the way companies force us to replace products quicker than we’d like, and it is sure to get you thinking! Planned obsolescence is the deliberate design of a product to ensure that it breaks, falls apart and needs replacing, to encourage us to consume. The Lightbulb Conspiracy tells the story of the Light Bulb Cartel, a true story of companies coming together in the 1920s to deliberately make their products fail, in order to sell more. It also shows how other companies, including Apple and Hewlett Packard, continue to use planned obsolescence today.

10. Tiny / Small is Beautiful

Tiny and Small is Beautiful are both documentaries about tiny houses, and the people who chose to build them. Tiny follows the story of a guy who decides to build his own tiny house, whereas Small is Beautiful follows four couples, all building their own tiny homes. Of the two, Tiny is my favourite, as it not only follows the guy making the film, but also interviews others who have made tiny houses their home. Whilst the filmmaker is building the tiny house primarily to make a documentary and begin a career in film-making, his experiences are still interesting. What really makes the documentary is the other stories – the people who have chosen to live in these homes, what led them to make these choices and how they feel their lives have changed as a result.

If you are interested in tiny houses, Small is Beautiful is also worth viewing. You can watch the Small is Beautiful trailer here.

11. No Impact Man

Colin Beavan, who made No Impact Man in 2009, in which he decides to live a no impact life, reducing his waste, transport use, energy consumption (at one point he gets rid of his fridge!) and food miles. He brings his (sometimes reluctant) family on the journey with him. He recieves a fair amount of criticism with both the movie and his decision to make these lifestyle choices in the first place: some question his motivation (he chose to live the life to write a book about his experiences), and others wonder about his choice to film and share some private family moments with his audience. Whilst he does not always come across as likeable, this documentary is all the better for Colin Beavan’s complete warts-an-all approach to telling his story. Incidentally, his passion and commitment to the cause has been proven over time: in 2016, he is still talking about these issues and is interviewed in Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things.

12. Rise of the Eco Warriors

I’ve included this documentary because, despite the name (cheesy as!) and the first 20 minutes or so – where a bunch of mostly white teenagers and young people who have crowdsourced and fundraised for their trip, arrive in Borneo with a plan to “save the world” in 100 days – Rise of the Eco Warriors does has something to offer. After the first 20 minutes, the reality of the situation hits the “eco warriors” and what unfolds is a story about people trying to work together, the enormous devastation that palm oil plantations cause and the complex issues at the heart of it all. If you’d like to know more about palm oil and deforestation, this is definitely worth watching.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What are your favourite eco or environmental documentaries? Are there any that you’d add to this list? Any that you recommend I watch? Were there any that were life-changing (or “lightbulb moments”) for you? Have you seen any of the movies I’ve listed, and what did you think of them? Which were your favourites, and which did you not enjoy at all?  Anything else that you’d like to add? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!