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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!

The Magic of Making Ripples

Even the smallest actions can have bigger impacts than we realise. It’s true. When I first came across the challenge of giving up plastic for a month back in 2012 (I’m talking about Plastic Free July) I had no idea just how much this decision would change my life. I had no idea that a world of new discoveries, challenges and opportunities was about to open up before me.

After all, at the time it seemed that all I was signing up for was refusing a few plastic bags and avoiding single-use plastic-packaged groceries!

Plastic Free July changed everything for me. It challenged many things that I’d just accepted to be true, and behaviours I’d simply accepted as the way that things were done. It changed the way I saw the world. It changed the way I saw the problems in the world. It made me realise that change began with me.

It made me act. I slowly cut plastic out of my life, and in doing so I discovered a thriving local community, made many new connections with like-minded people, improved my health, began supporting local businesses and really started living a life that was in line with my values – and felt much happier for it, too!

Plastic Free July ignited a passion in me that has never gone out. The first six months were very much a personal journey, but as new habits formed and the challenges of living plastic-free lessened, this energy and enthusiasm has transferred to something bigger. Now I’m trying to educate and inspire others to think about their own personal environmental impact, and live more sustainable lifestyles, through writing, public speaking and running workshops.

I’ve been running one of these workshops (focusing on sustainable living) over the last six weeks, and last week was the final session. It’s been a great few weeks with a group of inspiring and enthusiastic people, and so rewarding!

At the end of the course I asked the participants to share all the changes they’ve made so far, or are planning to change soon. Here’s what they wrote:

Living Smart Goals

This is the kind of response that makes it all worthwhile! People feeling inspired to make positive changes, and taking action!

In addition, just after the course ended one of my participants sent me an email… “just a quick email to let you know we really enjoyed the course and we have made some positive changes because of it. I have also attached a photo of a letter that got published by our local rag, the Midland Echo. Its not one of my best but l think it makes the point… If someone replies to it, we can keep the theme rolling for a few weeks and perhaps broaden the debate out.”

Here’s the letter:

Dave Knight Letter to Echo Plastic

When I signed up to Plastic Free July in 2012, I had no idea that as individuals, we really do have the power to make a difference. That is where my real inspiration has come. It’s so rewarding to work with people and support them in making changes to their lives, and to witness the satisfaction that comes with these achievements.

Reading these lists filled me with gratitude that I’ve been able to share a message that is important to me, and that the people I’ve shared it with have been inspired to take that message and make it their own.

I realised something else from looking at these lists. Thinking about it on a personal level, in some way, small or otherwise, I have influenced all of those behaviours. To have that kind of influence is a powerful thing.  But of course, we all have that kind of influence. We usually don’t get to see lists of all the things that we influenced, but nevertheless, everything we do has some kind of influence on someone else.  Everything we do has an impact beyond ourselves, even if we don’t always realise.

Our actions are like ripples, that extend out and reach others in ways we don’t always know or see.

Whether it’s the conversations we have with friends or at the checkout when asked if we need a plastic bag, whether it’s the blog posts or articles we write that others read, whether it’s the way we behave when we pick up litter or choose to use a reusable container in public… There are others around us who are observing, watching, listening, and thinking.

It may be the people we know, or it may be the people we simply have a chance encounter with. The things we choose to do, or say, will have an influence on others. Know that whatever you do, you have the power to make a difference.

Why Quitting Plastic is an Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Made Your (My) Clothes?

This week it is the two-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. On 24th April 2013 the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1133 people and injuring 2500 more. The people killed and injured were making clothes to be sold in Western countries. Many of the companies resisted paying compensation, some even denied their garments were being made in the factory at all. Benetton (one of the companies that originally claimed not to have used firms located at the Rana Plaza complex) only agreed to donate money to the victims’ compensation fund last week, almost two years since the accident happened.

With all the major Western fashion retailers involved having contributed, the fund remains $8 million short of its target.

To ensure that these deaths and the tragedy that occurred would stand for something, Fashion Revolution Day was born. The idea is to make people question where their clothes come from – who made our clothes? Often we buy garments with no idea who was involved, what their working conditions are like, whether they are paid a living wage or where they even live. Fashion Revolution Day exists to try to reconnect us with this chain and the values and relationships that are embedded in it.

So..Who Made My Clothes?

A good proportion of my wardrobe is second-hand, and since 2013 I’ve pledged not to add anything more to my wardrobe in an attempt to minimize and streamline. My goal is less items, more staples, better quality, responsibly manufactured, and made of natural or sustainable fabrics. Sure, there’s been a few hiccups along the way, but I’m slowly wearing things out.

But do I know where my clothes were made?

No.

Well, I didn’t…but in the spirit of Fashion Revolution day, I took every single item out of my wardrobe and read the label. Every single item. In fact, I took a photo for prosperity. There were a few things with labels so faded that they could no longer be read, and socks and tights don’t seem to come with labels, but everything else has been inspected.

Here are the results.

China: 52 Items.

Who Made My Clothes? Fashion Reolution Day 2015 China

Hong Kong: 2 items. Phillipines: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes? Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Hong Kong Phillipines

India: 6 items. Bangladesh: 2 items.

Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Who Made My Clothes India Bangladesh 600 px

Turkey: 8 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Turkey

Portugal: 6 items. Italy: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day Italy Portugal

Malta: 1 item. Morocco: 3 items.

Who Made My Clothes Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Malta Morocco

South Africa: 1 item. Sri Lanka: 1 item. Israel: 1 item. Australia: 1 item.

Fashio Revolution Day Who Made My Clothes Israel Sri Lanka South Africa Australia

Romania: 3 items. USA: 1 item.

Fashion Revolution Day 2015 Who Made My Clothes? USA Romania

Unknown origin: 2 items.

Who Made My Clothes

I was shocked. The items in my wardrobe come from 16 different countries, plus 2 have no labels at all. Who knew my wardrobe was so multicultural? I certainly didn’t.

Of course, knowing what country at item was made in doesn’t tell me the conditions of the factory, or the minimum wage of workers. I like to think that by choosing not buying the cheapest brands (even buying most of my clothes second-hand, I avoid the cheapest brands) means I’m avoiding the sweatshops, but actually…how do I know?

The idea behind Fashion Revolution Day is to start asking questions. To look at the labels to see who the brands are, and ask the question – “who made my clothes?”

I still don’t know who made my clothes. But I know where they came from, which is more than I knew last week. It’s a good place to start from. Now I just need to ask more questions…

Now I’d like to hear from you! Have you heard of Fashion Revolution Day? Are you taking part? Do you feel you have a good sense of where and how your clothes are made? Maybe you make them yourself? Or are you like me with no real sense of where they came from? Do you have any tips for finding ethical and sustainable brands? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

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

But there’s still a fair way to go.

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

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

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

“Go on, tell me!”

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

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hair Removal

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

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

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

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

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

Make-Up – Stick to the Essentials

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

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

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

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

Lush makeup in glass bottles

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

Skincare and Makeup Removal

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

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

reusable cloth pads for removing makeup

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

Organic cotton buds in cardboard packaging

That Time of the Month – Go Reusable

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

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

Diva Cup

The Diva Cup: a zero waste solution

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

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

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

A (Surprisingly Easy) Way to Generate Less Waste

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savoury muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savoury muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate.

How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back. (I figure if I do that, at least they can be re-used. If I leave them untouched on the plate, when everything gets cleared away they will probably end up in the bin.) The issue with this, and I’m sure most people will agree, is that anything toasted tastes far better smothered in buttery goodness.

When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking.

I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions.

Here’s the result:

plastic-free butter

Plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organise a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different.

The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!

(Of course there are times when asking gets you nowhere, and then all of the above apply! – But the first step should always be to ask the question).

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no. It’s really not that bad!

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. we can make others realise that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go! There’s no need to cause a fuss, or get angry or grumpy if the answer is no. There’s no need to feel nervous. Remember, the answer could just as easily be yes!

Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever had any great wins just because you asked the question? Have you ever had any dismal failures…and what did you do afterwards?! Do you have any tips for reducing waste when out and about? Any other ideas you’d like to add? Please leave a comment and tell me your experiences below!

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

I mentioned at the end of last year that we’d been deciding whether or not to buy a car, and this drummed up quite a bit of interest from readers. Car ownership can be controversial from a minimalist point-of-view, a sustainability point-of-view, a zero-waste point of view... I thought I’d write about why we were contemplating buying a car in the first place, what our options were and why we ultimately decided to remain car-free.

Some Background – Our Changing Circumstances

At the end of September, I started a new job. My office is a ten-minute walk (through a park!) from our flat. Glen has been working in the CBD for the last 18 months, which was a 45 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 30 minute cycle ride. There is no parking. In November, Glen’s office relocated from the CBD to another suburb. His commute is now a 1 hour 20 minute train-and-bus commute, or a 45 minute cycle ride. Parking is free.

We’ve known about this impending relocation for a while. Our new flat (which we move into at the end of the year) will be much closer to the new office – probably a 15 minute bus or cycle ride. It’s the 12 months before the move that are the issue. If I hadn’t just found a job where we currently live, we’d have moved closer sooner, but that was no longer an option.

Commuting isn’t much fun, and doubling your commuting time (with no compensation – it was the office location that changed, not the actual job) means losing a significant amount of free time. Glen doesn’t want to spend his evenings sat at bus stops.

With both of us working, there is less free time for errands, and a car might make things easier. We thought hard about the options.

Option 1: The Electric Car

The electric car appears to fit with our values. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and it raised a number of issues for us.

First up, electric cars are fairly new here, so there isn’t really a second-hand market. Buying a new car is expensive. One of the reasons I started working full-time was to save for the deposit for the flat. Buying a car would wipe out all that money. A new car would cost the same as my take-home salary for the year: they’d simply cancel each other out. Which rather defeats the point!

Secondly, there’s all that embodied carbon. Buying a new car is hardly a green option, whether electric or not. If we really needed a car, maybe we’d think differently, but this choice was more about convenience than necessity.

Thirdly, having an electric car without solar panels to charge it wouldn’t be ideal. The new house has solar but the current one doesn’t, so we’d need to plug it into the mains (powering it from fossil fuels). Our car port is not next to our flat, so we’d need cables and some ingenuity to manage to charge it at home.

All that convenience of having a car suddenly got remarkably inconvenient!

Option 2: The Conventional Car

What about a conventional car? We’d never even consider buying a brand new conventional car. Old cars are affordable (assuming they don’t keep breaking down) and older cars how a lower footprint, even when their fuel usage is less efficient. The embodied emissions of a car (meaning the energy used in the mining, transporting and manufacturing of the parts and the building of the car) are thought to rival the exhaust emissions over its lifetime. T

he older a car is and the more miles it has clocked, the better.

The thing is, we like living without a car. We’ve made it work for us, and we like the lifestyle. My husband feels that not having a car is part of his identity. You can justify anything to yourself if you try hard enough, but we felt that car ownership might be the start of a slippery slope away from the path we’re trying to follow.

Option 3: The Electric Bike

My husband was really taken with the idea of an electric bike. We have several friends who own them, so he was able to talk about them with people who could provide honest and helpful feedback. The appeal? An electric bike would make the 45 minute (each way) cycle ride to work faster, and less exhausting. The downsides: it’s still a bicycle.

There would still be days when it wouldn’t be practical. Going to meetings before work, or heading out after work, and the bike becomes a burden. If it’s pouring, you still get wet. if it’s a 45 degree day, you still get hot.

It wouldn’t be practical on the weekends if we were going somewhere together, as I’d still have my road bike. Buy two and the cost runs into a few thousand dollars. We have limited storage, they are very heavy and our flat is upstairs.

Option 4: Do Nothing

There’s definitely something to be said for doing nothing. It’s not about inertia or indecision, but about making informed choices. It’s a very minimalist approach to life – allow yourself to settle into your new situation before making decisions, especially if those decisions involve spending money and accumulating more stuff.

Rather than speculate that the commute would be too long, or the cycle ride too tiring, we decided that the best approach was to see how it actually panned out.

Why We Chose to Remain Car-Free

This year our focus is saving for a deposit on a flat, and spending money on other things is a distraction from this goal. Car ownership may give us increased convenience…but at a price. We’ve lived without a car for 3 1/2 years in Perth, and our circumstances have changed before, so there’s no reason why we can’t manage this latest round of changes.

My husband has embraced cycling to work. His current aim is 3 times a week, and whilst he found it quite tiring initially, he is definitely finding it easier. Rather than costing us more, his office move is saving us money (less bus / train fares), and his fitness is improving greatly! He is still contemplating the electric bike idea, but for now the pushbike is good enough.

Do you live car-free? Do you love the freedom it gives you, or find the inconvenience frustrating? If you have a car, is getting rid of your car something you’d consider? Would you contemplate getting an electric bike?! Please leave a comment below telling me your thoughts!

The Bicarb No-Poo Hair-Washing Controversy

I never even knew that there was a baking soda hair washing controversy. I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb and vinegar since last June, and I’ve had no problems. My hair looks and feels better, and I’m in love with the simplicity of it. So when I got this email from a reader, I was quite surprised!

“I was looking at the bicarb/vinegar hair cleaning idea and saw a couple of links like the one below about the pH levels etc. Just wondering if you’d come across this kind of feedback before and if so, whether you found it valid or not? I’m sure like anything there’s people for and against, just curious about the science behind this lady’s thoughts.”

The link she was referring to was an article called Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair. Punchy title, no? I hadn’t seen the article before, so I read it, and then a few more.

Here are my thoughts.

The Science Behind Bicarb and Vinegar Hair Washing

The pH scale measures whether a substance is acidic or alkaline, and runs from 0 to 14. 0 is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline and 7 is neutral (pure water has a pH of 7). The skin has a layer on the surface known as the acid mantle, which is a mixture of sebum (oil that the skin produces) and sweat. This acid mantle has a slightly acidic pH (around 5.5).

Most cleansers and shampoos are alkaline because these clean better than acidic products. Alkaline products will also open up the hair cuticle, as will hot water and hair brushing. However alkaline products can leave the skin and hair feeling dry, and if hair cuticles are left open the hair is more susceptible to damage. That is why conditioner is used after shampooing – to smooth the cuticles and protect the hair shaft.

Bicarb soda is a base with a pH of about 9. Vinegar is an acid with a pH of almost 2. Bicarb is used as a cleaner to remove dirt and grime from the hair; it is also an excellent exfoliant. The vinegar rinse (the vinegar should be diluted so it is not too acidic – I use a 1:4 ratio vinegar:water) restores the pH of the skin to an acidic level, and closes the hair cuticles.

Thoughts on Whether Bicarb and Vinegar Cause Hair Damage

I’ve never read that you should dilute the bicarb to make it less basic – to me that just doesn’t make sense! I use bicarb knowing that it is a base, and only mix with a tbsp water. If hair is wet and you’re in the shower, there’s gonna be some dilution going on, but bicarb is still alkaline.

I disagree that using bicarb and vinegar is like dyeing your hair twice a week. Hair dyes, which are also alkaline, are left on the hair and scalp for for ages, hours even. The bicarb goes straight on, wait a minute and then off. Not quite the same!

Most bar soaps are alkaline and can have pH as high as 10. Many facial cleaners also have an alkaline pH – that’s how they clean.  Alkaline products are definitely drying on the skin, which is why it’s important to moisturise or use facial oils. It’s also important that these finishing products more closely match the skin’s pH as these products will be left of the skin, whereas cleansers are washed off fairly quickly.

The principle is the same with hair. Using an alkaline product will help clean the hair but it risks drying out the scalp and hair if the alkalinity is not countered, wither with a vinegar rinse or other moisturizing treatment.

Remember too that plenty of other environmental factors play a role in the condition of our hair. Diet, medication, hair dyeing, pollution, sunshine, ocean water, chlorine from swimming pools and aging all have an impact of the condition of our hair.

It is clear that the lady who wrote the article has suffered hair damage. What works for some people doesn’t neccessarily work for everyone. In the same way that some people live using bar soap whilst others find it too drying, bicarb clearly does not work for everyone. I know several people who have used bicarb and vinegar for decades and swear by it; the internet will tell many other stories of people who didn’t get on with it.

My conclusion would be that it’s not dangerous, but its also not for everyone. If you can’t get on with it, it’s probably best to try something else.

Don’t Want Bicarb Drying Out Your Hair? Try These Alternatives

If you’re worried about bicarb drying out your hair, there are plenty of alternatives.

  • If you’re happy to stick to bicarb, you can use oils or other treatments (such as avocado, egg or honey) to moisturize your hair after washing.
  • Try using oil to restore moisture to you hair after washing. Try treating your hair with olive oil: After cleaning your hair, squeeze out excess moisture, rub a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your hands, and then rub evenly through into your hair. You can leave the oil on for as long as you like – even overnight (but you’ll need to wear a shower cap!) – the more dry or damaged your hair is, the more beneficial leaving it for longer will be. Wash the oil out after you’re done.
  • Another alternative is moisturising your hair with coconut oil before washing, to help protect the cuticles from damage.
  • After using vinegar ,you could always opt to use regular conditioner (choose one with natural ingredients and preferably some oils) to moisturise your hair.

Feeling less trusting of bicarb after reading this?

  • One popular alternative I found is using rye flour to clean your hair. You use it in the same way as bicarb, making a paste with a small amount of water and rubbing into your hair, before rinsing out and proceeding as normal. Rye flour has a pH of 5.5 so is slightly acidic. I haven’t tried this but I would expect it to be worse at cleaning, but I like that it is plant-based rather than mined. Rye flour has less gluten than other flours so should make less mess in your bathroom.
  • Another option might be to combine bicarb with rye flour so the mix is less alkaline. Again, I haven’t tried this or measured the pH – if you do this please leave a comment and let me know the results.
  • A third option is washing your hair with clay. (Yes, clay!) Meg from Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet uses Rhassoul clay and loves it!

I love the way bicarb and vinegar cleans my hair: I also love the simplicity and minimalism of it (no extra bottles cluttering up my bathroom!). I’m keen to try flour and even clay, but for now I’m sticking to what works for me.

How about you – have you tried bicarb and vinegar hairwashing? Did it work for you or did you never quite get on with it? When did you start using it and have you noticed any drying or damage? Do you have any other green alternatives to suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Minimalism, Mortgages and a Green Swing

Last year I touched on one of the major reasons behind my decision to take on full-time employment. I’m a huge advocate for working part-time hours and one of the best decisions I ever made was going part-time back in 2010 when I first started consciously journeying towards simple living.

However, situations change and last year Glen and I made the decision to buy an apartment. It was not a quick decision – in fact it took us several months to finally commit and sign the paperwork. It wasn’t any apartment we were after, but a specific one… more on that in a sec. The decision to buy somewhere meant that I needed to find employment in order for us to save the deposit.

Taking on a mortgage seemed at odds with our commitment to live simply. One of the biggest attractions is the freedom that comes with having few possessions and having few financial obligations. Neither of us want to feel like we have to go to work just to pay for the stuff we’ve bought or to pay off debt. We’ve pared down our expenses so that we can survive on the salary of one person. It means that if one of us was made redundant (as happened with me a couple of years ago) it doesn’t have a life-changing impact on our spending or standard of living; or if one of us hates our job so much we want to quit, we have that choice. It’s a pretty powerful feeling, knowing that if you wanted to, you could walk away from it all.

However, a mortgage will potentially change all that.

What about the alternatives to house-buying? One of the big lifestyle ideas that’s come out of the simple living movement is the idea of tiny houses – houses that can be less than 10m². Often built on trailers, they don’t require a mortgage and provide debt-free living for converts. We love the idea, but neither of us have any DIY experience – I’ve never even put up shelves! We don’t have any land to park a tiny home. With temperatures in Perth exceeding 40°C in summer, I’m not convinced it would be a comfortable solution. Plus despite our minimalist intentions, we are not ready to fit into a space that small.

Tumbleweed Tiny House

A Tumbleweed Tiny House from the USA. And people do actually live in them!

Another option would be to carry on renting. And actually, I’m a big fan of renting. I find it frustrating when people say “oh, renting is just throwing money away!” How so?! You get somewhere to live in exchange for your rent money – sounds like a pretty good deal to me! Plus when things go wrong, it is someone else’s problem (and expense) to fix them.

So why did we choose to go down the house-buying path? Well, a lot of it was to do with the place we decided to buy. It’s an apartment…but with some differences. It’s part of a project called the Green Swing which has been set up by two couples in Perth. Fed up with the current urban design in Perth, which features huge houses and tiny courtyards, double garages with large driveways, and buildings not adequately designed for the Perth summer heat, they set out to do things differently.

Their focus is on creating small-scale inner city living environments that are high quality and made with recycled materials where possible, promote building community, make proper use of solar passive design to dispense with the need for air conditioning, and have other green features. They started with their own homes, building four dwellings on a block that are centered around a community garden (you can see two of these houses in the featured picture at the top of this page).

They are now working on their second project The Siding, and it is this one that Glen and I are buying a unit from. We first heard about the Green Swing just as the first project was being completed back in 2012 and were really excited that someone was out there doing things differently. When the second project launched on a block four doors down from the original, we wondered if it was something we should buy into…literally!

We thought about it for ages. I’d met Eugenie (one of the Green Swing owners) at a Community Garden open day in 2013 and invited her to speak at the Less is More Festival, which she did. We went to look at Eugenie and her husbands’ place a couple of times and had many discussions about what they are doing, and why, and how. The more we got talking the more we felt that their vision is similar to ours, and the project is one we want to be part of.

So what were our doubts? I’ve already talked about the mortgage. We also held back because it wasn’t… ideal? There are solar panels on the roof, but I wanted a bigger solar PV system. There is a rainwater tank, but it’s small and shared amongst the three units in our building so will only provide token rainwater. There’s no grey water system. The community garden area is smaller than I’d like (I’d have less houses and more garden!). But then I caught myself. Why did I want everything bigger and better? That’s not a very minimalist approach! Plus, whilst I might have done things differently, it isn’t my project. This project isn’t about being the most sustainable community-oriented project ever. Sustainable and community-oriented, yes, but within what’s practical and what’s possible.

Eventually we cast our doubts aside and decided yes. Whilst we like living in our current flat, we are ready for a change. We want to be able to grow our own food. We love the community aspect of the new place – and the whole suburb has a real community feel. Glen is excited that we will no longer have to store our bikes in the bedroom. We love that it will have solar panels and rainwater and we won’t need to retrofit (something we wouldn’t be able to afford if we bought an older property). It has a 10-star energy rating. There’s lots of other great features like communal veggie beds and shared bike storage. And we’re really looking forward to having like-minded neighbours!

The Green Swing – The Siding

The project is still under construction, so we won’t move in until the end of the year. (Hence the new job – we’re saving hard for the deposit.) I’ll share some more info about the building and its green features once it’s completed and I can take photos. You can always have a look at the Green Swing website is you’re really interested (or nosy!)

What I will share is the site plan. Needless to say, I’m really excited about being to grow more of my own food! There will be lots of fruit trees. I’m even wondering if we can get some chickens on that patch of lawn!

Green Swing Site Plan

This is the site plan. Our unit is number 3, in block 2. It’s the ground floor flat. The orange blobs are the community veggie garden beds. It’s no coincidence that our unit opens directly onto it!

 What do you think? Do you like the new place? What about the balance between the desire to living simply and the need for money? What choices would you have made? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!