Posts

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet (but no, I’m not a vegan)

The food choices we make have an impact on the planet. There’s 7 billion of us, and we all need to eat, so we’re talking a huge impact. When I quit plastic in 2012, I stopped buying food products in plastic packaging, which meant processed and mass produced food. Initially I was motivated by waste, but then I began to think about how sustainable my food choices were in other ways.

I started shopping locally and buying whole foods and the environmental impact of my diet reduced as a result.

Recently I’ve started hearing more and more about choosing to go vegan to fight climate change, and “eating for the planet” and it got me thinking about my own diet and whether being vegan was the most sustainable choice for me. I’m 99% meat free and this year I committed to aiming for fish-free too. I avoid dairy.

I guess you’d describe my diet as plant-based, but I’m not a vegan. Here’s why:

Why I Choose a Plant-Based Diet

Plant Based Diet Not a Vegan Treading My Own Path

I love vegetables.

I mean I really truly absolutely love vegetables. They are friggin’ delicious. Give me all the vegetables any day! I love the fact they are so varied, so versatile – you can eat them boldly, or you can sneak them into anything.

I love making vegetable-based desserts (it’s far more possible – and delicious – than it sounds).

Did I always love vegetables? Not particularly. But when you step away from the supermarket and go to the Farmers’ Markets and grow your own you discover a whole other world of taste and satisfaction.

Creativity in the kitchen.

Experimenting in the kitchen is my creative outlet. I love mixing things together and trying new combinations, or new ways of doing things…and vegan cooking is a world of opportunity.

Vegan food in the 21st century is super creative, with raw desserts that rival conventional desserts, dairy style products made of nuts that are a million miles away from those processed-fake-cheese-vacuum-packed-blobs and clever ideas like making meringues from leftover chickpea brine that make my mind run overtime.

Fish and plastic in the ocean.

I stopped eating meat a long time ago, but my husband and I have always eaten fish. More and more though, when I see the reports of how much plastic is in the ocean, and in our fish, it makes it seem less appetizing.

If you’ve taken part in a beach or river clean up then you’ll know exactly what I mean! That plastic is being ingested by fish (a study showed 25% of fish contain plastic) and what that means for human health is still being researched.

Plastic aside, the other question is whether there really is sustainable seafood. There’s plenty of issues with fishing – like overfishing, using indiscriminate nets and bycatch.

I’m happier sticking with my vegetables.

Bottle Return Schemes are a pain.

Until recently, my husband still bought dairy milk for his coffee. We bought the milk in glass bottles and returned the containers. Simple – except without a car, returning the bottles was difficult, and we’d end up storing several months worth before we could return them.

Cue a cluttered kitchen and much grumbling. We did it because we cared.

Eventually he decided to switch to nut milk (we use cashew nut milk for coffee, or a blend of 50/50 almond milk:cashew milk if I make both at once). The clutter-free kitchen, the fact it is much harder to run out of cashews than milk and the general ease means he won’t be going back.

The Ethics of the Dairy Industry.

If I’m completely honest with myself, I always knew that the dairy industry wasn’t all happy cows and green grass. But I ate so much dairy (milk and cheese) and liked it so much that I never thought I’d be able to give it up – and so I didn’t think about the ethics. (There’s a term for that. It’s called cognitive dissonance.)

I didn’t want to think about it.

What changed my mind was Plastic Free July. It changed the way I shopped and the types of meals I cooked, and I started buying less dairy and experimenting with nut milks and other alternatives without really intending to.

Once I realised I really wasn’t consuming that much dairy any more, I finally opened my eyes to the dairy industry. Cows produce milk after having a calf, but the farmer doesn’t want the baby drinking the milk, he wants to sell it to us. So the calf is removed (sometimes only hours after birth) – and if it’s a male calf it will often be destroyed (and we’re talking millions per year worldwide). Mothers get no time to bond with their young.

To keep a cow producing milk she needs to give birth every year, as milk production declines over time. So 305 days after calving, she is taken off milk production to gestate another calf (she is given 60 days to rest prior), and the cycle begins again.

It’s industrial agriculture.

Cow Angelina Litvin

There’s plenty more I could say, but I’ll just say this: personally, supporting the dairy industry doesn’t make me feel good, and I don’t think (in its current form) it’s a sustainable industry in the 21st century. I try to consume as little dairy as possible, and we no longer buy dairy for home.

Out and about, it’s hard to avoid completely and we do what we can.

Why I’m not a Vegan

I’m motivated by sustainability principles.

I’m also motivated by ethics and health, but my guiding value is sustainability. Living in a city in a country with an abundance of fruit and vegetables, it’s very easy for me to choose to eat a plant-based diet.

Were I to live somewhere else where vegetables weren’t so prevalent, my diet would probably be different. I value local and seasonal over big business agriculture and industrial food systems, and that means I won’t rule out non-vegan alternatives. I’m always open to new ideas.

I still eat eggs.

It’s not possible to get B12 from a plant-based diet without eating fortified foods (mass-produced chemical laden cereal and bread? No thanks) and I’d rather get the nutrients I need from food than take supplements.

That said, I’m pretty fussy with my eggs. There is no way I’d eat a battery egg (despite being banned in the EU since 2012, they are still available to buy in Australia) and after the controversial press surrounding labelling of free-range eggs I stick to super local, organic, clearly labelled eggs – or get them from friends.

Eggs Autumn Mott

I still eat honey.

Bees are amazing, and honey is a superfood – full of nutrients and thought to be immunity-boosting. I love that it can be produced locally, whereas other minimally processed sugars like coconut sugar are imported. The other alternative? Big business sugar cane sugar with all the nutrients stripped out. No thanks.

I still buy non-vegan fabrics.

As I’ve mentioned before, my goal is to have a wardrobe comprised of almost entirely natural fibres. This means silk and wool (both no-nos for true vegans) will be a part of that. I’ve bought leather in the past but since I’ve learned more about how polluting the leather industry is and the toxic effects of chromium poisoning, I’m avoiding this until I learn more.

I’m a ‘freegan’ more than a vegan.

I’m definitely not into labels or trying to pigeon-hole myself into any kind of category, but I can’t bear waste, and this includes food waste. I’m not bothered so much with the waste of food-like substances like pre-packaged, processed junk food (well, I hate the waste of course, but I’m not gonna eat that stuff!), but if I had the choice between eating a grass-fed organic steak or watching it go in the bin and going hungry, I’d probably opt for the former. Fortunately that kind of dilemma doesn’t happen very often.

To sum up, I’d say that negotiating ethics and morals is a minefield, and there’s almost always compromise somewhere. I’m comfortable with the choices I’ve made. Eating locally produced food as much as possible, seasonal always and small-scale and independent as an ideal, a plant-based diet works for me. But no, I’m not a vegan.

Now it’s your turn to give me your thoughts on this! How would you describe your diet? Do you eat a plant-based diet? Would you call yourself a vegan? Whether yes or no, tell me your reasons! Why have you made the choices you made? Have you changed your diet due to environmental, ethical or sustainability reasons, or is food an area that you’re not willing to compromise with? Is it something you want to change in the future, but you haven’t begun yet? Does the place you live restrict the choices you make? This is such an interesting and juicy topic and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

My Intention for 2016: Stop Thinking, Start Doing

A couple of years ago, I did away with New Years Resolutions in favour of setting an intention for the year ahead. In 2014, it was “movement”. In 2015, it was “balance”. In 2016, my intention for the year is “do”.

I don’t generally think of myself as a procrastinator, but there are always plans and plots and schemes bubbling away in my mind, things I want to learn and see and do and create and get involved with. Far more than I have hours in the day! Often these things get pushed aside until I have the time.

2016, I have decided, is the time.

My intention in 2015 was “balance”. At the end of 2014 I re-entered full time employment in a field unrelated to sustainability. I’d spent 6 months unemployed, and I needed to pay the bills. With my experience in behaviour change, community education and waste I’d been sure I would be able to find work in the sustainability or waste education fields, but six months later I’d had no success, just plenty of rejection letters.

I felt frustrated and disappointed. I felt like I’d failed.

Working full-time was a bit of a shock to the system, and not just the hours it took up. It is a high-pressure, stressful job with no downtime, where unpaid overtime is an expectation…and even taking your 30 minute lunch break away from your desk raises eyebrows.

That said, I liked the work. I disliked that it was taking me away from the things I wanted to do.

After three months of working, sleeping and little else, I realised that I needed balance. I needed my job, but I wanted to write, to grow, to share my experiences and to inspire others. I had to continue working towards what I believed in. That is what 2015 was about, for me.

I haven’t written as much as I’d like. I haven’t volunteered as much as I’d like. I haven’t exercised as much as I’d like. I haven’t eaten as well as I’d like. I haven’t spent as much time with my friends as I’d like. I haven’t given back as much as I’d like. That said, I did find balance, and 2015 was a great year. I published my first book. I ran my first sustainable living course. I was invited to talk to several different groups of people about living without plastic.

I saw orca whales at the Bremer canyon. I learned how to ferment vegetables. I bought the sewing machine I’d been talking about getting for two years. I finally mastered the art of decluttering. I went to workshops, met and hung out with like-minded people, and got inspired all over again.

What I did realize in my year of seeking balance, is that doing all of these things is what fires me up, stirs my soul, nurtures my creativity and pushes me to be a better person and help create a better world. This is what I love to do.

This can’t be the thing that I do after I’ve spent most of my week at a job that does none of these things. I can’t be fighting for scraps of time amongst the chores and errands after I’ve expended most of my energy working to build someone else’s dream. I have my own dreams to act on.

Working part-time would be ideal (I still have bills to pay, after all) but my current workplace doesn’t support part-time hours. I knew this but I asked anyway. They said no. Maybe I’ve been reading too many motivational quotes on Instagram, but I feel like life is too short not to do more of what I love. I quit my job. My last day is this Thursday.

So what does that mean?! It means exciting times ahead! It means the chance to do all of those things that have been waiting in the sidelines. I’m already committed to running another sustainable living course in February, and I’m in talks to possibly host another after that. It’s only January and I’ve signed up to do three talks about plastic-free living for various Plastic Free July events.

I’ve joined our local community garden and have been allotted a veggie bed… plus soon I’ll have my own garden to plant. I’ve begun researching sewing classes. I’ve been looking into a few volunteering opportunities locally. I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen, either.

I’m really looking forward to sharing what I learn with you, too. I can’t wait to get back into writing more, and I have some big plans to create content this year that I’m hoping you’ll find really useful. After the success of my first book, I’m also thinking about writing another ; ) You can probably tell the cogs are whirring and my mind is working overtime right now, so I need to have a think about what I want to prioritise (I don’t want to be burned out by February, after all! – and I clearly can’t do everything I dream about) but stay tuned because exciting things should be coming this way!

I can’t say I’m not going to need to find another job at some point. Book sales are steady, and with the courses and other bits and pieces that bring in income, plus the savings I’ve made whilst working, it means I can commit to taking some time out. Longer term, who knows?! The time is now. I need to seize the opportunity I’ve taken and make the most of time I have; it may not last forever. Stop thinking, and start doing. Finding out where that takes me will be a great adventure!

Now I’d really love to hear from you! What are your intentions for 2016? What are your hopes and dreams? What will you do to get that little bit closer to them? Are you struggling to find balance between the things you want to do and the things you have to do? When you reflect back on last year, what stands out for you? Did you have any intentions for 2015, and how did they work out? What were your biggest achievements, best lessons and favourite moments? I’d really love to know your thought so please leave a comment below!

From Near-O to Zero: How I Got Rid of My Bin

We are moving out of our flat this week, and our rubbish bin won’t be coming with us. We won’t be replacing it either. The reason? We simply don’t create enough rubbish to fill it.

I realised a few months ago that I was spending more time taking things out of the rubbish bin than putting things in it. The odd tissue. Sweepings from the kitchen floor. Onion peelings and spent corn-on-the-cobs (we had an incident with the bokashi bin where we ran out of bran, and it grew moldy and very smelly, and my husband was afraid to take the lid off. With reason – it stank).

All of these things could go in the worm farm, but it was almost a reflex to empty the dustpan or drop things into the bin. (Hence then having to take them back out.) There was also the odd non-recycable thing of course, but not enough to justify keeping a bin in our fairly small kitchen.

As a test, we moved the bin outside onto the balcony to see if we missed it.

We didn’t.

This is a long way to come since 2012, when I first heard of Plastic Free July and began my plastic-free living adventure. Back then I thought I was being a responsible consumer by purchasing eco-friendly washing-up liquid in a recyclable plastic bottle (and then recycling it), and taking my own bags to the shops. I thought that filling my recycling bin up to the brim every week was a good thing.

Little did I realise that this was just the beginning of what I could be doing.

I’d never heard of zero waste back then, or even being plastic-free, yet something about the idea of giving up plastic for a month stirred my consciousness….and my conscience! Deep down, I knew that plastic was a problem. I knew there was too much of it in our environment; I knew a lot of it was completely unnecessary; I knew it was a waste of resources.

Yet somehow I’d never made the connection that I was part of the problem. I was directly contributing to these issues by the way I shopped and the packaging I bought; I was also supporting this system and saying “this is okay”.

I was part of the problem, and I could be part of the solution. I could do things a different way. I could ditch the disposables, reuse what I had and refuse new plastic altogether. I decided then, in June 2012, that I wasn’t just giving up plastic for a month.

I was giving up plastic forever.

With no real idea of what to do, but with complete conviction in my heart that this was the right path to be following, and all the enthusiasm and determination that comes with embracing a new challenge, I set out changing my habits.

First up, I started switching my packaging to paper, card and glass. Most fruits and vegetables were easy to find loose, and those that only came in plastic, I simply didn’t buy. I found pasta in cardboard, chocolate in foil and paper, and toiletries in glass bottles.

Not having a car, I carried my shopping home. I noticed how heavy my shopping had become now I wasn’t buying plastic. I also noticed how bulky the glass jars were, and the cardboard boxes. I became aware of packaging – how much of it I was using – for the first time. When everything was in plastic, I hadn’t noticed. It was so light and stealthy!

Around the same time, about two months in to my plastic-free living adventure, I discovered glass isn’t even recyclable in the state we lived in. It has to be trucked to the next state, some 1500km away. Not all glass collected from recycling bins is trucked there either; some is sent to landfill as it is more cost-effective. Some glass was crushed and used as road base – not quite the virtuous cycle we’re sold!

This discovery totally shattered my presumption that glass was a responsible alternative to plastic. It felt just as wasteful as using plastic. I decided that no packaging at all was the best option, and began to work towards that.

Bulk Produce in Glass Jars

I reconnected with Farmers Markets, and tracked down the local bulk stores to buy my groceries without packaging. I found soap and liquid cleaning products in bulk. I took my own containers to local delis and to my delight, found that they were accepted everywhere I went.

One ingredient or product at a time, I worked on finding a packaging free solution.

It wasn’t a quick process; it took me 18 months to eliminate most of the packaging from my home. I didn’t tackle everything at once – as things ran out I’d look to replace them.

Some things were stubbornly difficult to find, and so I learned to make my own, find an alternative…or simply go without. We looked beyond food and toiletries to other areas of the house, borrowing rather than buying, or shopping second-hand if we really needed something.

It’s surprising, but the less you have, the less you realise you need.

The hardest thing for me was figuring out what to do with all the food waste. Eating lots of vegetables and making lots of things from scratch left us with lots of compostable waste…but no compost bin. Living in an upstairs flat, there wasn’t anywhere to set up a compost bin, and we don’t have any local collection points. Without a car it wasn’t practical to drop it off anywhere.

We have two worm farms but they can’t eat everything that we produce. Eventually, after a couple of false starts, we finally embraced using a bokashi bin for all the food scraps that can’t go in the worm farm – onion peels, lemon skins, spent corn cobs and avocado skins, for example – and this reduced our throwaway food waste to zero.

As the contents of our bin dwindled more and more, I became more and more determined to eliminate the final bits and pieces – however small! We have a junk mail sticker on our mail box but the odd thing sneaks through – I became militant in returning to sender. No free plastic pens required here! We check the fruit and veg we buy doesn’t have plastic stickers on it before we get it home.

If we’re offered any packaging, we decline; if we’re given it, we hand it straight back. We refuse receipts. All little things, but little things add up.

Looking into Empty Bin again Lindsay Miles Looking Into Empty Bin Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

I’m not the first person to give up my rubbish bin (I’m pretty sure that was Bea Johnson, who started her zero waste journey way back in 2008). The great thing is, I know I won’t be the last, either.

Choosing a lifestyle that’s healthier, with food that’s fresh, natural and seasonal, that embraces community and supports local, that teaches new skills and encourages creativity, and that doesn’t harm the planet… what’s not to love? No wonder the zero waste movement is growing every day.

For me, getting rid of my bin means I’ve reached the tipping point. We are creating so little rubbish that it no longer makes sense to keep a container in the house specifically for storing it. Despite giving the bin up, I am sure I will still create waste in the future. I’m not perfect. I have things in my house that I purchased long before I began to think about what would happen to them at the end of their lives; things that aren’t recyclable, or compostable. Clothes that aren’t biodegradable. I choose to keep them until they are used up, life expired, but eventually I will need to dispose of them.

I intend to choose differently next time around. After all, we can’t worry abut or dwell on the choices we made in the past; but we can concentrate on making better choices in the future.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you embarked on a zero waste journey of your own? Are you planning on getting rid of your bin, or do you have another goal in mind? What have been your biggest challenges and greatest successes? Are you yet to try the plastic-free or zero waste path, and is the new year tempting you to give it a go? If not, what is holding you back?! What compromises have you had to make along the way? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

A Christmas Gift-Giving Guide for Minimalists…and their loved ones

Christmas always seems like the hardest time of year to explain to people that you have enough stuff, and you really don’t need any more. Family, friends, colleagues…for most of the year they seem to accept (or put up with, at least) our plastic-refusing, stuff-avoiding, minimalist and zero waste ways, but somehow, when it gets to Christmas time, the message seems to get lost.

“But it’s Christmas! How about I buy you some eco-friendly stuff? Some reusable bags? A book about decluttering?” We don’t really want or need any of this stuff, but it can be hard to say no, or to explain how whilst you may have loved gifts as a five-year-old, times have changed and so have you.

Of course, we don’t help ourselves either. In turn, we try to push our own agendas onto our loved ones. We buy them cards from charities letting them know that rather than a present, we’ve donated money on their behalf to a village in Africa. We give them the eco-friendly gifts we like to use, like reusable bags, in the hope they will embrace our zero-waste ways. Or we give them nothing, thinking they will understand because they know that we don’t value presents ourselves.

Except often, they don’t.

We end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need and don’t want, our loved ones end up with something they don’t want or appreciate (or worse, nothing when they did expect something) – and everybody feels misunderstood and unappreciated.

The truth is, gift-giving is complex, because giving gifts mean different things to different people. It took me a while to understand this. I was constantly puzzled why I would receive gifts despite asking for no gift at all, and that my close relatives would be offended because I hadn’t bought them a gift.

I thought that acting in the way I wanted to be treated would help them understand, but really it only brought resentment. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why my requests were falling on deaf ears, and I was left feeling guilty, with all this stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, most of which ended up being donated.

It was a book I read that made me change the way I thought about gift-giving. It suggested we connect emotionally with others in different ways, and we feel appreciated in different ways… and one of those ways is through gifts.

Most people appreciate gifts, sure, but the idea that gifts could be someone’s main emotional “love language” – that it was the main way they felt appreciated and understood – was actually somewhat of a surprise to me. I assumed it was something we could all just “do without”. As someone whose major love language is “quality time”, I enjoy the festive season for the chance to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, eat good food and have long conversations.

For me, presents don’t need to be a part of that; I’d assumed it was the same for everyone else. I didn’t realise that for some people, presents are genuinely a big part of Christmas.

Once I’d understood this, I began to realise why I was receiving gifts I didn’t need or want. If receiving presents is the main way a person feels loved and appreciated, then it makes sense that they would want to give gifts in return. To them, it’s more than a bunch of stuff; it’s an emotional currency.

I thought everyone liked sitting around after Christmas dinner chatting and setting the world to rights, because quality time is my emotional currency, but I’ve learned that others (my husband’s family, for example) don’t get the same pleasure out of this at all! It’s easy to assume that what works for us works for others, but it doesn’t always.

With this in mind, I’ve relented on my hard-line “no gifts for anyone” policy. Remember, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean “stuff”. Being respectful of others’ needs doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of things.

Gifts can be experiences: meals out in restaurants, tickets to shows or concerts, a day out at a museum, time spent together as a group. They can be homemade (I prefer to stick to edible gifts with this; not everyone will appreciate a tie-died hankie), or homegrown (vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and seedlings all apply). They can be in the form of favours and sharing of skills (an evening of babysitting, an afternoon gardening, walking the dog).

I try to keep bought gifts to an absolute minimum, but if I decide that a physical gift is more appropriate, I opt for second-hand: charity shops and also vintage and antique shops, or online auction and classified ad sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve got it completely right…it’s been a process of learning and understanding over the last few years. After all, for many years I gave and received gifts willingly. This is still new territory for us and our families.

It has been somewhat of an adjustment for friends and family to learn to accept that when we say no gifts, we really mean it, and for me to understand that just because I don’t want anything, applying this rule to everyone else may result in offense being taken (learned the hard way).

Initially, I suspect that our families thought this way of living was a phase that wouldn’t last. We probably thought that we could bring them round to our way of thinking. Now we’re all learning to find a happy medium. Slowly they’ve become more sympathetic to our different values and needs. Whilst they may not agree, they have begun to accept. Likewise, so have we.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you dealt with conflicting ideals between loved ones at Christmas? Have you learned to compromise, or reached a mutual understanding? Is it a compromise you’re happy with, or do you still think there’s work to be done? Do you stubbornly refuse to back down – or do they?! Is gift-giving still a source of conflict during the festive season? Have you had good experiences, bad ones..or both? What lessons have you learned? I really want to hear your insights on this so please leave a comment below!

Zero Waste Living: 15 Things I Reuse (And One I Don’t)

It’s Zero Waste Week on 7th – 13th September this year, and once again I’ve signed up to be an ambassador of this awesome initiative. Of course I’ll still be talking about waste on the other 51 weeks of the year (you know me!), but I do love it when a community really gets together to draw attention to the subject, the issues and the solutions, and it’s such a great opportunity to spread the zero waste message just that little bit further ; )

This year the topic is “Reuse”. As someone who strives to be zero waste, I love to reuse things! It eliminates a lot of waste, but also a lot of spending on unnecessary things, and a fair amount of clutter too. Who wouldn’t want to get the most use out of the things they own?!

15 things that I swear by to live my Zero Waste lifestyle…

1. A reusable coffee cup.

Even if you don’t drink takeaway coffee, I think owning one of these is invaluable. I carry mine with me always. It’s useful for getting water from public water fountains or if you go into a cafe and find they only serve takeaway cups. If you fly, it’s great for drinking any kind of drink in a plane. I’ve also used mine at parties where wine was served in disposable wine glasses. If I’m buying ice cream I’ll use the cup rather than one of their disposable ones. Plus, because it was a lid, it’s great as an impromptu container.

Reusable Coffee Cups aren't just for coffee!

Reusable coffee cups aren’t just for coffee! They make great reusable containers for all kinds of treats!

2. Reusable bags.

I was on the “bring my own bag to the supermarket” train back in the early 2000s, and would pack all my plastic-packaged goods into my own reusable tote – “oh no, I don’t need a bag!” Little did it occur to me that I could use reusable cloth / mesh bags for the produce I was putting inside the tote! Even if bulk stores aren’t local to you, reusable bags are great for buying loose fresh produce.

Reusable bags aren’t just for food shopping either! You can use that same reusable tote for other shops too. These days I always take my own bag to clothes shops, hardware shops, kitchenware shops…anywhere where I need to pick something up.

Reusable Bags for Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable bags come in all shapes and sizes…there’s no need to limit yourself to one big tote!

3. A water bottle.

This is a total no-brainer for me. Aside from the fact that bottled water is predominantly unregulated and plastic leaches chemicals into the water (not to mention the ethics of bottling water in drought-stricken regions like California or countries where most of the population don’t have access to safe drinking water like Fiji), sucking water out of the ground trucking water across states and even across countries is a huge and unnecessary waste of resources. Most of us have access to municipal water at a fraction of the cost (as much as 300x cheaper). If you really don’t like chlorine or fluoride, it’s possible to get a water filter fitted.

If you’re in any doubt about bottled water, watch the documentary Tapped.

4. Reusable Cutlery.

I have a nifty little bamboo set that was a gift, but you can also find metal camping sets, and charity shops always have plenty of cutlery too if you want to avoid buying new. Alternatively, use what you already have in the kitchen! My set contains a knife, a fork, a spoon and a set of chopsticks. Plastic cutlery often isn’t fit for the purpose – have you ever tried to cut anything with a disposable plastic knife?! I’ve successfully peeled and de-stoned a mango with my wooden knife!

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery Zero Waste Week 2015

Reusable Bamboo Cutlery (it would be just as easy to make a set with op-shop finds) and I’ve added a stainless steel straw to complete the set!

5. A Reusable Straw.

Whilst I don’t use straws often, I think that single use straws are up there as the most wasteful plastic items out there. They are also one of the top 10 items found in beach clean ups. I have a stainless steel one which I keep in my cutlery pouch, and a glass one which I prefer, and came with its own cleaning brush.  Carrying a straw means I’m never caught out, but also it’s handy to lend to friends! I know from experience that there are a few drinks that need straws – icy drinks like dacquiris and fresh coconuts, for example.

6. Reusable Containers.

Just as it never occurred to me for years to bring my own reusable produce bags to the shops, it never occurred to me to bring my own containers, either. Now I take reusable containers (pyrex, stainless steel, glass jars and occasionally plastic) to the deli, bulk stores, Farmers Market and bakery to avoid any unnecessary packaging. It certainly makes unpacking much easier – everything goes straight in the fridge / on the shelf!

I also find them great for storing leftovers, keeping perishables fresher, and freezing food, as well as great containers for non-food items.

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

Reusable containers. The glass is heatproof so can double as oven dishes too : )

7. Cloth Wraps.

Containers are great, but bulky and not always practical – and if you stick to glass and stainless steel, they are fairly costly too! I have some reusable wraps (another gift) that I use carry lunch or snacks when space (or weight) it at a premium. They are also great for purchasing food to-go from cafes and avoid paper bags. If you don’t want to buy new ones you can make your own using old material (reuse…yay!) and beeswax (soy wax should work if you’re vegan). Find a tutorial for making your own beeswax wraps here. They are also great for keeping fresh herbs and salad leaves fresher in the fridge, and can be shaped and molded to cover bowls for leftovers.

8. Old Clothes.

Whilst I’d love to learn, I’m no sewer, and cannot whip an old worn shirt into a snazzy waistcoat or other wondrous design as seen on Pinterest. I can darn holes, and that’s it. Once my clothes are truly worn and past repair, they can still be reused. If you’re feeling creative, make into reusable food wraps (see above). I cut them into rags, where they begin life as dishcloths. As they wear further they are downgraded to kitchen surface cleaning cloths, bathroom cleaning cloths, floor cleaning cloths and finally toilet or bike cleaning cloths.

In the past I’ve been sucked in and purchased those “eco friendly” cleaning cloths. This makes no sense when I have suitable fabric at home that costs me nothing and wastes no new resources!

9. Old Towels.

You can cut up old towels as mentioned above, but another great use for worn towels and bed sheets is to donate them to animal shelters. They are always in need of them, and it might be a better use than cutting that bath sheet up into 62,000 dish cloths that you’ll be using for the next 15 years!

10. Reusable Cotton Rounds.

When I was a kid, I used a flannel to wash my face. As I grew into a teenager I began using disposable cotton rounds (or cotton wool) to clean my face (which chemical-laden cleansers) and to remove make-up. That clever marketing got to me! These days I use good quality soap, I have reverted back to a flannel and I have reusable fabric rounds for removing make-up, which I throw in the washing machine and re-use. You can buy these or Etsy, or if you’re crafty make your own from old clothes (see # 8).

11. A Body Brush.

Body brushing is great for increasing circulation and removing dead skin cells, and saves buying another product for the bathroom – particularly as these exfoliating products often come in non- or only partically-recyclable containers… and commonly contain plastic microbeads to act as the exfoliant!

dry body brush Zero Waste Week

12. Toothbrushes.

Once my toothbrush is no longer fit for using to clean my teeth, it gets relegated to the cleaning basket. Toothbrushes are great for cleaning grouting, tiles, awkward corners, taps and other fiddly places, and also for cleaning bikes.

13. Baking Paper.

I’ve had this debate a few times in Instagram and Facebook – if I’m zero waste should I be using baking paper at all? Which led me to write about The Rules, and conclude that whilst it might not be the most zero waste thing to do, it does mean my homemade chocolate brownies are infinitely more delicious. Maybe in the future I’ll change, but for now it stays. That said, I use it very sparingly, and yes, I reuse it. I find a quick wipe when it’s just come out the oven is enough to clean it, and there’s always the other side. I bake often, so it doesn’t end up hanging around for too long. When it’s finished, I use it to make worm farm bedding so it doesn’t go in the bin.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays.

As long as the quality of my chocolate brownies is at stake, the baking paper stays. But it always gets reused.

14. A Hankerchief.

We don’t buy tissues for our home. Instead, I use a handkerchief. My dad has always used a hankerchief, and as a kid I used to think it was completely gross. Isn’t it funny how you grow up and realise that a lot of what your parents did (and said, and told you to do) was actually not as daft as you thought?! (Note – don’t ever tell them I said that!) I started using one when I realised that you couldn’t buy boxes of tissues without the plastic around the dispensing hole. Then I realised that hankies make so much more sense, and they are far softer on the nose than any of those cleverly marketed and relatively expensive fancypants tissues ; )

15. Old Envelopes.

You can have a “No Junk Mail” sticker on your mailbox, and switch to paperless billing, and still people keep sending you stuff in the post. Grr! I use the envelopes as notebooks, to write shopping lists (pinned onto the fridge door) and I cut out squares of blank paper which I use to stick over the address to reuse other envelopes and mailing bags that I’ve received. Reuse is better than recycling, and I never need to buy these things!

…and One I Don’t.

  1. There’s one reusable item that some zero-wasters have adopted which I haven’t, and that is…reusable toilet paper (cloth wipes). It’s just not gonna happen in our house. I’m not opposed to the principle (although my husband draws the line here), but I think the constant need to keep up with the laundry (and bear in mind we live in a city with 40°C summers and no air con in our home) means the hygiene factor wins. I’m sure it works for some people, but it won’t be working for us!
toiletpaper

Recycled, ethical, plastic-free…but not zero waste : /

The thing about “reusing”; it doesn’t have to be about getting creative with empty bottles of dishwashing liquid and old toilet rolls. It’s as much about the everyday stuff that we use every day. Plus, because it’s stuff we use every day, being able to reuse (rather than buying new and then discarding to landfill)  has a far bigger impact – on our wallets, on the way we use our time, and on the environment. Why would you want to live any other way?!

Now I want to hear from you! What are your favourite things to reuse? What would you add to the list…or is there anything you’d add to the “No Go” list?! What have you found the most helpful in your zero waste journey? What has been the biggest struggle? Are you tempted to take part in Zero Waste Week this year, or have you already signed up and if so, what’s your personal challenge?! I love hearing your thoughts so please tell me in the comments below!

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Ah, Plastic Free July is over, and we can all relax for another year! Note I said relax, and not go back to old habits! ; ) For me, Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the word, share ideas and encourage others to adopt some plastic-reducing habits, and I was lucky enough to be asked to speak at some events this July.

As well as hoping to inspire others, talking about my personal journey and digging out old photos is a great way to reflect personally on how far I’ve come, and where I hope to head next in this journey!

The talks I gave during Plastic Free July were an overview of my personal journey in living with less plastic. There was a lot to pack in, but there was a particular part my journey that stood out for me. Not because it was the most interesting, or most surprising  – in fact I’m sure my audiences didn’t see this as any more significant than anything else – but it was definitely the most significant for me.

Plastic Free Sanitary Protection

Reusable DivaCup menstrual cup, and reusable washable GladRags sanitary pad

On the left is a reusable silicone menstrual cup, and on the right is a reusable washable sanitary pad. Both things I have adopted as part of my plastic-free / zero waste journey. Why was this so significant, though? Well, for two reasons.

Keeping with the Old…and in with the New

In terms of my plastic-free journey, these two items actually represent one of the first zero-waste habits I adopted…and one of the last. I first purchased a Diva Cup back in 2003, after reading an article in a magazine. They weren’t common at all back then: I had to order it from Canada and ship it to the UK. I was heading off on a 12-month overseas trip and had read that tampons etc weren’t always easy to buy in less Westernised countries. Plus this method was less wasteful, and in the long-term saved money.

I was sold from the start, and never went back. This photo is my second one (women’s hips widen with age apparently, so women over 30 need a different size), bought far more recently and from a high street chemist – I guess times have changed for the better!

The reusable sanitary pad on the right, is something very new… probably my newest zero waste habit! Even in March, when I wrote my Plastic-Free Guide to the Bathroom, I was yet to adopt reusable sanitary pads. In fact, this pad is only one month old! Back in March, I thought they were a good idea; I just hadn’t gotten round to getting one. Now I have one (a night pad made by Gladrags) and I love it!

But rewind two years, and the very idea made me cringe. Reusable cloth pads were something for hippies, surely?!

When I think about it, this cringing doesn’t really make sense. I’ve always believed in cloth nappies for babies. My mother used cloth nappies on me – I’m not sure disposable nappies were even invented back then. Is this really that different?

Why did the idea of a reusable pad gross me out, when cloth nappies didn’t? It’s not like walking around wearing an uncomfortable plastic sheet of dubious absorb-ability that sounds like a rustling crisp packet is really that pleasant, is it?!

Becoming the Person You Weren’t

Talking to my audience about reusable pads, I was reminded of the very beginning of my my own plastic-free living journey. I always talk about seeing the movie Bag it! and how it was a life-changing movie for me, but prior to that screening was a talk by a local couple who were already living plastic-free. They were real hippies, making everything from scratch and buying nothing new.

I remember the audience asking questions, and one of the responses being about reusable sanitary pads. And I remember wrinkling up my nose! Thinking, there is no way I’d ever be wearing a reusable pad! That is a step too far for me!

Oh the irony, that three years later I was standing in front of an audience extolling the virtues of those very things I had dismissed as a step too far!

The irony didn’t escape me at the time, either. How intriguing that in three years I had gone from listening to that person who seemed so different from me, whose lifestyle seemed so removed from mine, to being that very person!

I think it’s a really interesting lesson. A lesson in how we change and grow, in how much possibility there is, about how unexpected life can be. A lesson that we should be open-minded, and open to change, and just because we think we will never be a certain way, life is far more unpredictable than we expect!

The other interesting thing is that I don’t feel any different. I don’t look any different (in fact, that’s especially true as my wardrobe remains virtually unchanged in the three years that have passed!).

Yet I am very different, in the way I choose to live my life now compared to then. It’s just so ingrained now that I really can’t imagine living any other way.

The thought I wanted to leave you with is that change can be hard, yes, and change can be confronting. Change can seem so removed from where we are now that we can’t ever imagine ever actually getting there.

Yet we change all the time.

It doesn’t matter now if we think something is too hard. We can focus on the things that are easy, the things we can change and the positive steps that we can take. I didn’t write off the whole plastic-free movement because I couldn’t imagine canning my own tomatoes or using reusable sanitary pads. I just made a few changes, then a few more, and kept on going.

Somewhere along the line, I became the person I never thought I’d be…and I’m glad.

Now I want to hear from you! How have you become the person you weren’t?! Are there any habits you’ve taken up that you never would have imagined a few years ago? What habits do you still think of as a step too far?! How has plastic-free or zero-waste living changed your mindset? Are you a convert to reusable sanitary pads or do you still find the idea kinda weird?! I’d really love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

A Podcast about Plastic and Advice from the Military

Last week I had the pleasure of being interview by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin for his weekly podcast. I say “pleasure” because Gavin is the King of living sustainably and blogging about it, so the opportunity to have a chat with him was very welcome. (Yes, that’s a capital ‘K’.)

I found Gavin’s blog when I was just beginning my own journey. Whilst he writes about all the things that I don’t (urban homesteading, cheese-making and gardening – and I’m pretty sure he’s never taken part in Plastic Free July!) we actually have a very similar story.

We both had our “lightbulb moments” after watching movies (his was “An Inconvenient Truth; mine was “Bag It”), we were both so inspired by our own personal journeys that we had to start sharing our messages with the world and started blogging, public speaking and running workshops.

Gavin’s epiphany came a long time before mine though… he began blogging way back in 2008, when I still thought being an environmentally-conscious citizen stopped at recycling : /

In case you can’t tell, I’m a little in awe of Gavin. His blog is great, his passion is all-consuming and very infectious (remember I was talking about passion last week? You only need to read Gavin’s work to feel the fire…) and this passion translates into blog posts, podcasts, ebooks, workshops, a side blog in cheese-making, and more. All whilst working (almost) full-time.

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you could be doing more? Gavin is the guy that proves it!

Here’s the podcast link – we’re talking about plastic-free living (of course!):

Once the interview was over I took the opportunity to ask my own questions. Or one in particular.

How do you get the time to do all this stuff?!

Gavin’s answer? I don’t have a TV.

Wrong answer! I don’t have a TV either, and I can’t  imagine getting a fraction of this done! I told Gavin I didn’t have a TV, and that he’d have to try again.

Maybe it’s because I was in the military? I’m very regimented.

Hmmm. I have no experience of the military, but this sounds plausible to me. Organisation. Planning. Things I know are important, but techniques that maybe I don’t always implement. I’m a dreamer and a schemer, but translating all of these into action? Not necessarily!

This isn’t the part where I tell you that I’ve decided to become more organised. (Of course I have decided that, but I make that decision weekly, and am yet to implement it fully!) This isn’t the part where I tell you to become more organised, either. But I do have some advice.

I left that call feeling really inspired, determined to learn more, share more, do more and connect more. In the way that negative people can make us feel demoralised and drain our energy, passionate people taking positive actions lift us up, inspire us to do more and make us feel more confident that we can achieve our goals.

If passion is a fire that burns within us, like-minded people doing inspiring things help to fan those flames. This is the part where I tell you to make those connections with people who inspire you. Reach out – by email, through commenting on a blog post, a phone call, via social media.

Don’t just stop there! Find out what local events are happening, what speakers are in your local area, and connect in person! Any way that works for you. Make those conversations happen. You’ll be glad that you did!

Right. Maybe I’ll begin getting organised after all… ; )
Now I want to hear from you! How have you connected with people that inspire you, and what did you learn? How did you feel? How has this impacted the way you do things in your own life? What ways do you find best to connect with like-minded and inspirational people? Do you have any tips? Or anything else to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share them in the comments below!

Grocery Shopping…But Not As We Know It!

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

PFJ Shop Signs Wasteless Pantry

The Plastic free Support Group meets on Wednesdays : )

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

Zero Waste Pantry Mundaring

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

Bulk oils sauces vinegars

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

Bulk spices

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

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

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

Bulk Pasta

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

Other highlights were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kind of community service other shops should offer ; )

No Bulk Stores Near You? Don’t Despair!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m Green… But I Don’t Like Recycling

Before my plastic-free “awakening” I used to religiously recycle everything I could. I’d save all my plastic bottles and traipse across my home city once a month to take them to the only recycling point. I recycled Tetra-Paks back when the only option was to post them back to the supplier. I also saved used stamps and posted those off for recycling too. If something didn’t say it was recyclable, I’d hope for the best and toss it in the recycling bin anyway.

Now I’m so much more environmentally aware…and recycling no longer fills me with joy. In fact, it’s something I actively try to avoid. Thinking that doesn’t make any sense? Read on!

Recycling Lulls us into a False Sense of Security

My main frustration with recycling is that it gives the impression that we are being a responsible consumer and that, by recycling, we’ve done our bit. Of course recycling is far more responsible than sending a whole heap of stuff to landfill, but being a responsible consumer begins long before we throw our trash out.

The main issue is that recycling doesn’t address the issue of over-consumption. It sends the message that you can consume what you want so long as you recycle afterwards. Recycling still takes huge amounts of energy. It involves collection of waste from your doorstep and delivery to a depot, sorting, cleaning, processing and re-molding, followed by shipping to the next part of the chain, and plenty of this recycling waste could be avoided completely by shopping a little differently.

An enormous bin crammed full of recyclables is nothing to feel “green” about.

Recycling is a Business and Operates for Profit

It’s nice to think of recycling as a service that exists solely for the good of the planet, but actually most recycling centres are run as businesses and rely on markets, just like other businesses do. That means if a waste line is of value, it will be recycled, and if it is not of value, it won’t be. This changes according to global prices, demand and labour fees.

For example, to get a clean line of glass to make new glass you need hand pickers who will select glass bottles and leave bits of terracotta, old lightbulbs etc. A machine would sort this as glass and would contaminate the batch. But if the value of glass is low, and the cost of hand pickers is too high, the option might to to crush to make road base or even to landfill.

[This was my big revelation. When I visited a recycling centre (technical name: Materials Recovery Facility or MRF) in Perth in 2012, I was told that the only glass processing facility was in the next State – and this is still true in 2015. To drive a truck there with a load of glass that might be rejected for contaminants was an expensive risk, and the price of glass was too low to employ hand pickers to ensure there was no contamination, so this MRF chose to send all its recyclable glass to landfill.]

Recycling doesn’t always mean Recycled

Knowing whether something is recyclable or not is actually straightforward. One reason is that just because something can theoretically be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it will be, and every council has different rules about what it will accept.

For example, the bioplastic PLA is recyclable, but it is hard to sort without specific technology and most recycling plants don’t have this, so it is not recycled. In fact, the difference in recyclability of all plastic varies wildly from council to council, and country to country. Even moving suburb can mean a whole new set of rules apply! (You can usually find the details of what your council will and won’t accept on its local website.)

Even if you check your council listings meticulously, there is still a chance that your recyclables won’t be recycled. One reason is how they’ve been sent to the MRF. If you’ve bagged your recycling neatly, chances are it won’t be unbagged at the other end but sent to landfill instead. Ditto if you’ve left any liquid in bottles, or left the lids on.

But let’s assume you’ve done everything exactly as you are supposed to. Great…but what if your neighbour hasn’t? Or the guy at the end of your road? People chuck all kinds of things into recycling, and it can contaminate the whole truck and mean the whole consignment gets landfilled. Car batteries, duvets and pillows, even loose shredded paper can contaminate whole loads.

Recycling MRF Perth WA

Recycling isn’t pretty…and when everyone’s waste gets mixed together in a huge truck, chances are there will be some contamination : /

It’s not necessarily that people are deliberately doing the wrong thing, either. Recycling can be confusing! I can confess to putting light bulbs into recycling because hey, they’re glass! I didn’t know any different! Now I know, yes they are glass, but it’s heat resistant glass that melts at a different temperature to regular glass like wine bottles, and isn’t going to do the recycling process any favours!

If not Recycling, then What?!

I want to be clear that I still recycle. Of course I recycle! However my goal is to recycle as little as possible. We have a wastepaper bin which we use as a recycling bin, and we fill it every couple of weeks. We have paper (often mail), paper receipts, the community newspaper and beer bottles.

We don’t buy plastic so we never have any to recycle, although we do accumulate small amount of soft plastic over time, and I usually take a small ball to the soft plastic recycling point about once every six months.

Recycling bin

This bin (loosely packed) get’s filled every one / two weeks with recyclables… less if my husband decides not to buy any beer!

plastic waste

This photo was taken in September 2014, and was the third stash of plastic we collected since January that year. Soft plastics can be downcycled, but I’d rather eliminate them altogether!

Instead of recycling, I try to bring as little waste as possible through the door. Bringing my own produce bags, cloth bags for bread and reusable shopping bags to the shops, buying in bulk, cancelling junk mail and buying second-hand items rather than new has seriously cut down the amount of packaging we throw away.

Everyone knows the manta “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but we tend to focus on the last one – “Recycle” – when it’s far more environmentally responsible to focus on the first one – “Reduce”. Or add another in front – Refuse!

Recycling is a great place to start in the journey to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s a terrible place to stop. After all, we can’t recycle our way to a more sustainable planet! We need to be just as responsible about what’s entering our house as we are with disposing of it afterwards!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you have a love-hate relationship with recycling? Are there any frustrations you’d like to share? Or do you embrace it with open arms?! Has your opinion changed as you’ve gone on your sustainability journey? Have you ever been to a recycling plant and what surprised you about what you saw? Do you have anything else to add? Whether you agree or disagree I’d really like to know our thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic Free July – the countdown begins!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Start the conversation

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

4.  Find your community and join in!

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

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

5. Audit what you buy

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

6. Get out the cookbooks!

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

7. There’s no need to buy new stuff

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

8. Remember – new habits take time to establish

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

 Looking for More Ideas?

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

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