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Not buying it: 5 tips for buying less stuff

The world doesn’t have a recycling crisis, it has an overconsumption crisis. These words (by my friend Oberon, author of the book The Family Guide to Waste-Free Living) ring true to my ears. Sure, we need returnable packaging and reusable products and fixable items, single-use items that compost, products that are designed to last, and circular models that keep items in use.

But even this is not enough, at our current rate of consumption.

We* need to be buying (and using) less stuff.

(I say *we as a society and a global community, recognising that within this there are plenty of people for whom this does not apply: those that do not have the resources to buy what they need, let alone more than they need; and those who already conserve all the resources they can, as two examples.)

Buying less stuff sounds easier than it is, for many of us. It’s so easy to buy stuff, and there is so much (beautiful, clever, thoughtful) stuff out there to buy.

And we know about it because our screens show us all of this fantastic stuff, in the way of social media feeds, adverts and articles. We receive emails. We see it in stores, we see it in catalogues or flyers.

We don’t even need to have the money to be able to buy the stuff we see. Credit is freely available. Buy now, pay later.

In a world that makes it so easy for us to buy stuff, and makes stuff that is so desirable, it is hard to say no.

But if we want to live in a more equitable and sustainable world, we have to learn to say “no” more. A lot more.

It’s not the cool opinion, of course. The more attractive (and marketable!) option is to persuade us to buy a bunch of shiny ‘sustainable’ stuff and encourage us to feel good about our choices.

But we can’t consume our way out of the issues we’re facing as a society and as a planet.

So in the face of all this advertising and all these beautiful things, how do we buy less stuff?

Stem the flow of advertising

What we don’t know about, we can’t buy. The less adverts we see, the less we’ll be tempted to buy things.

  • Unsubscribe from all store newsletters. Everything is on sale of the time, products are constantly being upgraded and when you’re truly in need of something, you can go to them, rather than letting them come to you.
  • If unsubscribing from everything feels like too much, choose the companies you spend the most money with, or the companies you tend to buy stuff from that you don’t actually use. Or even just the ones you don’t buy from anyway. Every single unsubscribe means less adverts, and less adverts mean less temptation.
  • Install an adblocker on your laptop, desktop, tablet and mobile. I use Adblock Plus on my laptop and Adblock Browser on my phone. (Both are free.) They stop all those in-feed ads appearing in articles, and side bar ads appearing on computer screens.
  • When looking at online stores, use a private browser. That way you won’t be tracked. The store won’t ‘remember’ what you were looking at, and you’ll get less sponsored ads in your social media feed showing you exactly the thing you were looking at two minutes ago, trying to wear you down.
  • Put a ‘no advertising material accepted’ sticker on your mailbox, to avoid receiving catalogues. Get in the habit of putting unaddressed items straight in the recycling bin rather than bringing them inside. Anything that gets mailed to you can be returned unopened – cross through the address and write “not at this address, return to sender and remove from mailing list” on the packaging, and pop in the post box.
  • Unfollow pages, businesses and people on social media that spend most of their time selling to you.

Mindset matters

Honestly, mindset must be the hardest part. It’s very easy to talk ourselves into the idea of buying stuff, whether convincing ourselves that we “need it”, making the case that it’s a ‘reward’ for a difficult week, or just sheer stubbornness: “why shouldn’t I buy it?”

Needs versus wants

Distinguishing between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ can be challenging, particularly when the stuff is inherently useful. But useful is not the same as necessary.

One of the most useful questions to ask, is “did I go looking for this particular item to solve a problem I have, or did this product come to me offering to solve a problem I didn’t even know I had until I saw the product?

Example 1, looking to solve a problem.

“My coffee plunger leaks when I pour it, and drips coffee all over the kitchen bench and my shoes and drives me crazy every morning. I’m going to look for a leakproof, drip proof version that doesn’t make me want to scream at breakfast.”

(Of course, problems are subjective and what’s a dealbreaker for someone is simply a mild annoyance to another. That’s not our place to judge. My coffee plungers drips everywhere and it infuriates me every single time I make a mess, but not enough for me to actually replace it. That doesn’t mean everyone would put up with it.)

Example 2, when the ‘solution’ comes to you.

“That kitchen draining organiser rack in this sponsored ad is so clever! It keeps everything so neat and tidy. My own dish draining rack is usually quite chaotic, come to think of it…”

I saw an ad just like this, and the product was clever. But ultimately it’s more stuff cluttering up my place, and another thing to store. Plus the main reason my dishes create so much clutter is because of the volume. (Reusables = dishes.) A dish rack isn’t really going to solve the problem.

We’re much more likely to make better decisions when we actively try to solve a problem, rather than passively letting adverts solve problems for us, which blurs the line between ‘need’ and ‘want’.

Stew on your choices

A useful way to distinguish between needs versus wants is simply to wait, before making a purchase.

How long (and whether) you wait depends on what it is and how much you need it, but assuming it’s a non-emergency purchase, 30 days can be a good length of time.

Did waiting increase your resolve to buy it, and reassure you that this is definitely something that you want to buy, did you realise you could make do with something else, or did you actually just forget about it altogether?

And if you feel like you can’t stew on this choice, because it’s a limited time offer, a sale item, there’s only one left, etc etc, remember that this scarcity marketing is a deliberate tactic that companies use to make us buy stuff.

What would it actually mean and what impact would it have on your life if you waited and the product was no longer available?

Only you can answer that, but it’s definitely a question worth asking.

Find a new reward that isn’t stuff

If you’ve ever gone shopping to cheer yourself up, or bought yourself stuff as a reward for a difficult week, finding a different reward that doesn’t require shopping can be helpful. This isn’t about deprivation or going without so much as filling the gaps with something else.

As a starting point, switching from buying ‘stuff’ to buying consumables (artisan soap or fancy chocolate, for example) can help. We’re not breaking the habit just yet, but we’re shifting it to something that doesn’t involve the accumulation of stuff.

An alternative could be to use your need for a shopping “fix” to buy some pantry grocery items, and donate them to a local food bank.

But the best way to avoid stuff is to find other ways to make ourselves feel better that do not require shopping, or going to the shops.

Taking a walk, listening to a podcast, taking a long bath, going for a run, swimming, picking up litter, reading a library book, playing an instrument, baking, learning a new skill, or something else that brings joy and peace and a sense of satisfaction.

Challenge your ‘not buying it’ muscle

Habits get stronger the more we do them. If we’re used to buying stuff, it’s going to be hard to change gear. But the more we don’t buy stuff, the better we get at it.

One way to reinforce the ‘not buying it’ habit, especially at the start, is to take a challenge. You want to pick something achievable – not buying anything ever again is probably a bit extreme. You could try buying nothing, or simply focus on no new clothes, or start by working on buying nothing new (so second-hand items are allowed).

Or you could challenge your idea of ‘enough’ – for example by deciding to only wear 3 outfits for a month, or only cooking meals that require one pan.

  • Choose a challenge and set your rules, including any exceptions you want to include.
  • Choose a timeframe: do you want to try for a month? Longer?
  • Choose a reward for the end of the challenge that isn’t ‘stuff’ and ideally doesn’t involve spending. This helps rewiring your brain that buying stuff = reward. (You don’t need to only reward yourself if you’re ‘successful’ either – reward yourself for giving it a go.)
  • Did you want to challenge a friend to join you? It can make it more fun if there’s someone else to share the pain with, and there’s nothing like some friendly competition to keep on track.
  • Set aside some time at the end of the challenge to reflect. What worked well? What was hard? How did we feel? Were there any obvious stumbling blocks? What would we do differently next time?

If you struggle, cave in or make mistakes, pay attention to them. They are telling you how to do better next time. If your weakness is Fridays after work, fill that timeslot with another activity to stop you shopping. If you notice that social media encourages you to buy stuff, think about how you can change your usage to reduce this.

Accept that change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Change isn’t easy, nor is it a straight line. But buying less stuff doesn’t have to feel like going without. It’s simply shifting priorities. Making room for stuff that isn’t ‘stuff’.

Buying less stuff means less strain on resources (both the earth’s natural resources, and your personal bank account).

Buying less stuff means you can reduce your debt, or start saving for stuff that really matters.

It frees up the time you spent online browsing, and at stores, to do more enjoyable and meaningful things.

Less stuff more us means more stuff for others. It’s more equitable.

It keeps your house less cluttered. There’s less to sort, and less to tidy. And less to declutter when you realise all that stuff you bought isn’t being used.

When you buy less, you can buy better. The reason I can afford to buy ethical and sustainable items, when I actually need them, is because I buy less overall. Buy less, choose well, make it last.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with resisting the urge to shop? Is there anything in particular you have a weakness for? Are you a master of not buying stuff? What are your secrets? How has your relationship with shopping and stuff changed over time? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

37 ways to use less plastic in 2021

One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions, or goals, that I’m hearing for 2021 is people wanting to use less plastic. It’s such an insidious material, plastic, seeping into every aspect our lives and causing litter, pollution, health issues, harm to wildlife, environmental damage… and using up valuable fossil fuels in the process (99% of plastic is currently made of fossil fuels).

But once its in our lives, getting it back out again can be quite the challenge!

When we think about ‘going plastic-free’ or ‘giving up plastic’ it sounds quite overwhelming, but that’s because we haven’t broken it down into smaller, bite-size pieces. Manageable pieces.

‘Going plastic-free’ might sound unattainable, but ‘buying loose carrots rather than pre-packed carrots’ or ‘bringing my water bottle from home’ don’t seem quite so tricky.

So, to help you get started on this journey to using less plastic, I’ve put together a list of 37 things that you can do to reduce your plastic use. Some you might be doing already. Others might still be in the too-hard basket (for now).

But some of them will be within your grasp, and you can edge a little closer towards your goal.

Food shopping

1. Buy groceries unpackaged. This might not be an option for everything, especially if you don’t have access to a bulk store, but even making a few simple swaps, like choosing the loose fruit and vegetables over the plastic-wrapped ones, or finding a loaf of bread that doesn’t come in a plastic bag will bring you one step closer.

2. Avoid plastic produce bags. If you’re buying fruits and vegetables unpackaged, rather than use the plastic produce bags, you can bring your own reusable produce bags, you can use paper mushroom or potato bags (if possible save them to reuse as paper bags have a bigger carbon footprint than plastic bags), or you can add everything loose into your trolley. If your store doesn’t allow reusable bags to be handled by staff, consider bagging up your own groceries at the checkout.

3. Refuse plastic shopping bags. Bring your own bags, use a cardboard box, hold things in your hands – whatever you can do to avoid plastic bags. If you unintentionally end up with plastic bags, save them and make sure you reuse them – ideally for future shopping trips.

4. Choose glass, metal and cardboard packaging over plastic. If you’re trying to cut down on plastic, choose other packaging types. You’ll find oats and pasta in cardboard boxes, oil and condiments in glass bottles and jars, coffee grounds in metal canisters, and so on. Even choosing brands that have metal lids over plastic lids is one less plastic item.

5. If you can’t avoid plastic packaging, choose the least amount. Sometimes plastic is really really hard to avoid. But you can avoid the wildly overpackaged things, like snack packs inside a bigger plastic bag or ‘fun size’ snacks, or tiny little pots of yoghurt.

6. Where there’s no choice to avoid plastic, choose recyclable plastic over non-recyclable plastic. If you have to choose plastic, try to choose plastic that can be easily recycled where you live (check your local council to find out exactly what can and cannot be recycled). Usually that’s plastic numbers 1 and 2 (PET and HDPE): these two plastics have the most value and are the most recycled. At least the plastic you use won’t be destined for landfill or incineration straightaway, and can be reprocessed and kept in use.

Food storage

7. Switch out plastic glad wrap/ cling film. There are heaps of great alternatives to single-use food wrap, from flexible silicone lids to rigid silicone lids to wax wraps to decanting leftovers into lidded containers (larger jam jars work well for this) to simply putting a plate on top of a bowl. (If you want more details, here are 7 plastic-free alternatives to food wrap.)

8. Embrace reusable containers. Great for leftovers, great for decanting any opened plastic packets that you’ve bought (and will do away with the plastic clip seals), great for taking a packed lunch. Here’s a guide for different reusable container options – but start with what you have, and reuse anything you can, even the plastic ‘single-use’ ones you have accumulated.

Food preparation

9. Replace retired kitchen tools with plastic-free or low plastic alternatives. As your plastic cooking utensils, chopping boards, jugs, servingware, small appliances and other kitchen items wear out, start choosing non-plastic materials instead. There’s a great second-hand market for kitchen tools so you may not have to buy new (plus second-hand is kinder on the budget).

10. Swap pre-packaged for homemade. No-one is suggesting that you start making everything from scratch. You’re busy and there’s already enough to do. But if you can identify the worst offender(s) – the things that you buy that are completely overpacked, the things that you buy the most often, or the things whose packaging drives you the most up the wall, consider experimenting with making from scratch. Whether it’s hummus, cookies, crackers, almond milk or something completely different. Carve out an hour of your week, and give it a go.

On the go

11. Carry a set of reusables in your bag / bike basket / car. Carry the things you’re most likely to use or need. Common items include a set of cutlery (or you could use a spork), a cloth napkin, a reusable coffee cup, a water bottle, and a reusable straw. (Here’s what I carry round with me.)

12. If you carry just one thing, make it a reusable coffee cup. Even if you don’t drink coffee. They are great as a cup for other beverages, including water, for carrying snacks, for carrying the remains of snacks (like apple cores or banana peels), and for transporting leftovers. If you’re short on space, you can get collapsible ones. If you’re on a budget, a sturdy jam jar does the job.

13. Get in the habit of saying no. Turn down the plastic sachets of sauce, the plastic straws, the plastic stirrers, the little packets of sushi ginger, the pre-wrapped cutlery napkin sets, the extra plastic bags, the hand freshener wipes, or any other unnecessary paraphernalia that comes with a purchase.

14. Choose the options that have less plastic. If you need to buy lunch out and all your options come in packaging, look for the ones that have no plastic and the least amount of packaging. Avoid the plastic clamshells and look for items in paper. Or consider dining in. (If you need to go, you can always order dine-in, then pack the item into your own container.)

Around the house

15. Reuse the plastic you already have. Yes you want to go plastic-free, but tossing all of your useful plastic out to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and ‘start afresh’ just wastes plastic. If you have plastic things, use them. If you no longer want to use plastic for food preparation, repurpose things to other areas of the house where possible (plastic storage containers can hold buttons, or laundry powder, or seeds for the garden).

Dental care

16. Switch out the plastic toothbrush. You could switch to a bamboo toothbrush, a reusable brush with a replaceable head, or even Miswak sticks. Failing that, look out for brushes made of certified compostable plastic.

17. Choose plastic-free floss. There are plenty of companies selling silk (including peace silk) or waxed floss in refillable glass containers. Some are packaged in cardboard.

18. Change from toothpaste to tooth powder, or tooth tablets. Before toothpaste was invented, people used tooth powder, and it is a lot easier to package a powder without plastic than it is a paste. Tooth powder usually comes packaged in tins or glass jars. Tooth tablets go one step further, pressing the powder into convenient tablets. You’ll find fluoride- and fluoride-free versions.

(This post has more ideas for a plastic-free bathroom.)

Skin and hair care

19. Switch from liquids to solid products (bar soap, solid shampoo, moisturiser bars). Liquid products consist mostly of water, which is hard to package without plastic. By choosing solid products over liquids, you’ll be able to find them in minimal plastic-free (and sometimes zero) packaging. Because they tend to be concentrated (you’re adding your own water as you use them) they might seem expensive, but they will last much longer and are more economical than you might think.

20. If you love liquids, choose concentrates that you dilute yourself. If you’re not ready to give up liquid handwash or shower gel, you can find concentrates designed to be mixed with water to make liquid products.

21. Simplify. Do you actually need to replace all of those plastic-free products that you buy, or could you just stop using them? Rather than looking for a plastic-free alternative for everything, see which products you can go without. You’ll save money and declutter your bathroom as well as reducing plastic.

22. Wash your hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. Sounds weird, I know. But it works. It really suits my curly hair. If you’re worried about dry hair, use rye flour – it will leave your hair soft. Here’s a step by step guide for washing your hair with bicarb / rye flour and vinegar.

Personal care

23. Switch to reusable menstrual products. If you menstruate, consider using a reusable product rather than the single-use items. There are silicone cups, reusable cloth pads and menstrual underwear to consider. A silicone cup will last up to 10 years; pads will last 3 – 5 years and underwear a similar amount of time, maybe a little less.

Cleaning

24. Switch from laundry liquid to powder. As mentioned above, it’s much easier to package powder without plastic than it is to package liquid. (Bonus tip – liquid detergent used at low temps can gum up the insides of your machine. Especially when you wash at low temps. As told to me by a washing machine technician/plumber after using liquid at low temperatures gummed up the insides of my machine. Powder will make your machine last longer.)

25. Try green cleaning recipes. White vinegar, citric acid and bicarbonate of soda are all you need to clean most things, and a couple of essential oils (clove oil kills mould, tea tree oil is antibacterial). You’ll use way less plastic bottles this way, and your home will be healthier.

26. Switch plastic brushes and cloths to plastic-free alternatives. There are lots of plastic-free options to consider when your current items wear out: wooden dish brushes with replaceable heads, or those made from coconut fibres; reusable wood pulp and cotton wipes; coconut coir scourers; unpaper towel; knitted or crocheted dishcloths; dusters made with feathers; brooms made with palm branches.

Clothing

27. Look for plastic-free fibres. Most clothes are made of polyester, which is plastic. (So is nylon, rayon, organza, faux leather, spandex and polyamide.) When you need to replace items of clothing, look for plastic-free alternatives, or even blends (which is less plastic overall). Cotton, Tencel and hemp are options for vegans; silk and wool are additional options for non-vegans.

28. Buy second-hand clothing. Buying clothing second-hand is a great way to stop new plastic being made. You’ll find plenty of lightly used and even ‘brand new without tags’ items. If you have particular brands you like, seek these out on second-hand selling platforms.

29. Wash your clothes less. Yep, you can reduce your plastic by washing your clothes less. Washing your clothes wears the fabric and eventually causes pilling, fading and creates misshapen clothes. Try airing outside if it just needs a refresh, spot cleaning, or if something isn’t too dirty, a quick rinse on a cold cycle will be fine.

30. Line-dry rather than tumble-dry. Using a tumble drier decreases the lifespan of your clothing. The abrasion and hot temperatures wears the fabric out much more quickly than line drying, meaning you’ll be replacing them much faster (and new clothes tend to mean more plastic.)

31. Use a Guppyfriend laundry bag. Plastic clothing releases plastic microfibres into our waterways. Some fabrics are worse than others (fleece made out of recycled plastic releases the highest amount of fibres). If you have a lot of polyester clothing you can use a Guppyfriend laundry bag when washing your clothes to capture the fibres before they go down the drain.

Stuff

32. Second-hand first. The less stuff we buy new, the less packaging we end up with. Plus we keep useful items in circulation. There is second-hand everything out there: from furniture to homewares to electronics to kids toys to kitchen appliances to kitchen tools to gardening stuff and everything in between. Get in the habit of checking Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Craigslist or local charity shops before you decide to buy it new.

33. If you need something new, buy from a physical store rather than online. Not always possible for everything, especially in the time of Covid. But if you don’t want to receive the oversized box filled with plastic packing peanuts, bubble wrap and other plastic, buy from a store. Even ‘click and collect’ services will probably have less plastic than a mailed item.

(You’ll also be sure that what you buy is what you need, so no need to receive the wrong thing and have to return it.)

The sharing economy

34. Borrow before buying. There are so many formal and informal ways to borrow stuff. Libraries have books, DVDs, CDs, board games and magazines. And then there are toy libraries, tool libraries, and libraries of things. You can join your local Buy Nothing group and informally borrow items through there, or ask neighbours and friends.

Mindset

35. Embrace the old. The more we lose the habit of ‘updating’ and ‘upgrading’, the less stuff we buy and the less resources we use. If something still works, hang onto it. The more times you wear the same outfits and accessories, the better.

36. Fix stuff. When something breaks, investigate whether its fixable before you throw it away. Maybe the company sells spare parts, maybe iFixit has a repair manual online, maybe you can take to a local repair cafe for their opinion. If you can’t fix it, see if you can give the item away for parts.

37. Don’t let one plastic purchase derail your efforts. Couldn’t find a plastic-free alternative? Thought it was plastic-free until you got it home? Ended up with unexpected plastic? We all end up with plastic in our homes at some stage. It’s no-one’s fault, the system we live in really isn’t set up for plastic-free living. The worst thing you can do is let it get you down, or derail your efforts. There will always be exceptions, accidents, mishaps.

Rather than worry about these, focus on the hundred and one – or maybe just thirty-six – other things you can do.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What tips would you add to this list? Are there any plastic-free swaps you’re working towards in 2021? Are you trying to improve and start new habits this year, or refocusing on those you’ve let lapse? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share in the comments below!

How my zero waste habits have changed since Covid-19

The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed a lot of things. From the things we are actually not/no longer allowed to do, to those habits we’ve been forced to rethink and then those we’ve decided to change, there seems to be very few aspects of daily life left untouched.

When it comes to zero waste, low waste and plastic-free living, it’s been interesting to me to see all of the changes. Some businesses have stepped up their game to ensure they continue to create less waste, others have had no choice but to soften their approach. The same goes for individuals and their habits.

I wanted to share how my own habits have changed (and stayed the same) since the pandemic arrived. We’ve all got different ways of dealing with things, and differing priorities, and it’s not to say that my way is the best way, nor am I encouraging you to do what I do. Depending where you live, it might not even be possible right now.

Zero waste – or low waste, at least – might not be a priority for everyone now, but it is still a priority for me. I think I’m hardwired to have heart palpitations at the thought of throwing something into landfill! Of course I’ve had to make changes and compromises (I think we all have, right?) but I’m still trying to navigate these choices whilst keeping my values in my heart.

My zero waste habits that haven’t changed

Shopping at bulk stores

Most of the bulk stores here in Perth are still open, and many are still accepting BYO containers. (I heard of one that was ordered to stop by the council Health department, and I know of a few that have closed to customers and are offering a pick-up/collection service only).

I’ve been lucky to be able to head to my usual bulk store and stock up using my own jars. When the infection rate was at its peak I did use a collection service where I pre-ordered and picked up a few things in paper bags, but for the most part I’ve been able to buy my groceries packaging-free.

Getting (or not getting) takeaway

Personally, I see dine-in and takeaway as two different things. I dine-in when I want to take my time, enjoy the food and the company of the people I’m with. I get takeaway when I’m tired, it’s late and there’s nothing in the fridge. Because I refuse to buy takeaway in anything other than cardboard, my options are limited to pizza and (veg) burgers. Which aren’t things I want to eat particularly often.

Before Covid19, I’d maybe get breakfast, or coffee and a cake a couple of times a month, and maybe dinner with friends once or twice a month also. I’d probably eat takeaway pizza once or month or so (usually at the insistence of the person I live with). With the restaurants closed, I can’t dine out – but I don’t see takeaway as an equivalent. In my mind, they are very different things. Replacing dine-in with take-out doesn’t work for me.

Plus, with the fridge more full than it’s ever been, there’s no ‘there’s nothing in the fridge’ excuse. So my takeaway habit hasn’t changed. Pizza, once a month.

The sharing economy

You’ve probably heard me rave about the Buy Nothing project a million times – it’s a network of hyper-local community groups allowing people to swap and share rather than buy new. Many Buy Nothing groups have closed down temporarily due to the pandemic, however ours has remained open for requests and ‘essentials’ (I live in a lower socio-economic area, and sometimes our members need support of food and other items to make ends meet).

Fortunately, although ours is still operating on a limited basis, I’ve been able to connect with so many neighbours in the past that I have a fairly good network to be able to borrow, share and give outside of the group structure.

And so I borrowed a tarp from one neighbour for a soil delivery, got a sourdough starter from another neighbour (to make crumpets), and dropped off some excess spinach plants for a third neighbour.

If there’s one thing I miss most during this lockdown, it’s my community. Normally there is so much swapping, sharing and banter, and I sorely miss it. I’m grateful that our community is still ticking along and connection is still possible, even though this is not a patch on what is was.

My zero waste compromises for Covid19

Buying new stuff

Well, so far I’ve purchased one new thing – but it broke pretty much all-the-rules that I follow. I needed a cable to connect my monitor to my laptop. For the past two years I’ve been using a cable borrowed from a friend, who had always said it was a long-term loan and he might need it back. Well, working from home came around and he needed it back.

I tried Buy Nothing, but no-one had a spare. I couldn’t find a local computer store. I didn’t want to just head to the mall on the off-chance – and I was conscious that office supplies were selling out as so many people were starting to work from home.

So I used click-and-collect – something I never do. I like to support local stores who don’t have these services, avoid big chain stores, and ideally find stuff second hand. This wasn’t an option either, and so I went to the big-chain store to receive my cable – all ready-packaged in a plastic bag.

I did think about kicking up a fuss and returning the plastic bag, but this was when uncertainty around Covd19 was at its peak and I didn’t want to stress the store guy out any more than he probably already was. Plus I assumed they wouldn’t reuse the bag anyway.

So I sucked it up and took my first plastic bag home in about 7 years.

(I photographed the moment for prosperity, and I’ll take the bag to Redcycle for recycling.)

I haven’t needed to buy anything else, although I dearly want a mortar and pestle (I currently try to flatten my coriander seed with a knife, because my food processor is not up to the job)… but I’m holding out.

Buying items in (home) compostable packaging

My personal low-waste rule is to avoid as much packaging as possible. I’m not perfect, but I always try to bring my own jars/bags/containers, and dine-in rather than get takeaway. Or go without.

It’s easy to go without when there are other options, but when these are taken away, your choices are very limited.

I’ve loosened my rules to include completely compostable and biodegradable packaging. Which means I can now buy ice-cream from the local gelateria – they use compostable sugarcane containers, which successfully break down in my compost bin.

I’ve hardly gone nuts – I think I’ve used about 6 in the last two months. I really believe that the zero waste movement is about using less packaging and embracing reusables and returnables, not just switching the material of single use packaging.

As soon as reusables and dining-in is allowed, I’m tightening up my rules. Until then, I will enjoy ice-cream.

Some zero waste wins

Takeaway coffee

I rarely buy takeaway coffee (I prefer to dine in, or make my own at home – I have an excellent manual press and stovetop steamer that makes amazing coffee). Personally, using disposable cups for anything other than a life-threatening emergency is a no for me. I just can’t do it!

I’ve noticed a few people on various zero waste groups about the place saying that they are happy to use disposable cups to support their local cafes. Whilst I like the sentiment, this is somewhere I’m not willing to compromise – and I really don’t think that my buying a $4 coffee once in a blue moon is going to keep a cafe (that’s had to close its entire restaurant down) afloat.

But after settling on my choice, I discovered that cafe closest to me is offering a returnable refillable cup service run by Renome – reusable cups that you pay a deposit for, and return for cleaning once you’re done (if you want a refill, you simply return your cup to the box, and are served with a freshly cleaned one).

Now this is something I can get behind.

The scheme has existed for a while, but until now I had no reason to use it. The great thing is that the cup is ultimately refundable, so I don’t need to ensure I use it 17 times (which is the case with a plastic KeepCup) to offset the carbon footprint. As long as the cup is used that many times, it doesn’t matter by who. And it’s not more ‘stuff’.

(There are a handful of cafes around Perth actually still accepting KeepCups, but none close to me.)

Supporting local

I think all of us feel a real draw towards supporting local businesses in these times. I don’t have the budget to suddenly start ordering takeaway every day (plus the packaging would give me heart palpitations, and I don’t think my arteries would be too pleased either).

I only buy ‘stuff’ that I need, which isn’t much stuff, and I’m not going to suddenly start shopping for ‘things’.

What I have been able to do is to support local food producers. I’ve been ordering extra in my local veg box (which I’m thankful that I already used, as a lot of these schemes have closed to new customers after a surge in demand).

I found an amazing mushroom grower – The Mushroom Guys – that usually supplies to restaurants, but with the lockdown has turned to selling mushroom boxes to customers. And they are things of beauty.

(I have a bit of a weakness for mushrooms and it’s one of my goals to eventually have a setup where I grow my own.)

A friend sells microgreens and I started a weekly order with him.

It’s meant my grocery spend has gone up, but as there is no spend on eating anywhere else, and as it’s a short-term thing, I’m happy to support local growers and have fresh food delivered to my door.

I’m lucky to have the option, and I’m taking it.

Some zero waste misses

Sneaky plastic

Oh, the sneaky plastic! Yep, I’ve been caught out with this a few times. When you shop at the same places and buy the same things you learn how to avoid the sneaky plastic, but when you’re going to unfamiliar places or buying different stuff, it happens.

A local cafe started stocking bread from a bakery and I placed an order only to find it came in a plastic bag. I asked for bulk risotto rice with my veg box (they run a bulk store also) and got a shiny plastic packet of the stuff instead.

It makes me more aware for next time – sometimes I forget that this is how most places do things!

Can you be zero waste during Covid19?

In Australia, so far things have not gotten as bad as they have in other places, and restrictions have not been quite as tight. We’ve been lucky, and hopefully we will remain this way. I’ve been able to shop at the bulk store and use reusables, and loosen my rules a little to allow for a little fun (or ice-cream, as it’s also called).

I know not everyone has been as fortunate. It helps that my day-to-day routines have not been disrupted too much – I regularly work from home, and I don’t have to navigate homeschooling.

This isn’t a competition. I just wanted to share how I’ve been navigating the choices, and what my experience has been. I’m sure yours has been very different. The thing I’m most sure about, is that whatever your current situation is, whatever you’re having to do to get by, it doesn’t not mean the end for zero waste.

We’ll get through this, and I think our resolve will be stronger for it. Right now, staying safe is the most important thing of all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How has the pandemic changed your low waste habits? What has stayed the same for you? What things have you been forced to change, and what things have you chosen to change? Have your priorities shifted, and how? There’s no wrong answers and I’d love to hear about your experiences and get your perspective on this, so please share in the comments below!

Why coronavirus does not mean the end of zero waste

You may have heard stories or even seen local businesses in your area make the decision to ban reusable coffee cups, or reusable containers. I first heard about this when Starbucks made the decision at the beginning of March to not only refuse reusable coffee cups but also switch all dine-in reusables (cups, plates, cutlery) to single-use disposables.

(Although interestingly they will – at the time of writing – still accept your pre-handled money, unlike other stores which are now also banning cash and allowing only contactless payments).

Around the same time I heard that Bulk Barn, the largest bulk foods store in Canada, is no longer allowing single-use containers. Now, more and more places are announcing similar policies. And I started seeing people ask – is this the end of zero waste?

No, coronavirus is not the end of zero waste. Here’s why.

Coronavirus and the rise of single-use disposables

Before I even begin, I want to emphasise that we are in a unprecedented situation, and it is hard for any business owner to know how to react or what to do to reduce the spread of disease and keep their business running. I think many stores want to do ‘something’ and without clear guidelines as to what this might be – other than shutting doors, which isn’t an easy business decision even if it’s great to prevent the spread of disease – they are trying to take action however they can.

So we might have our opinions on what is inconsistent and what is overreacting and what is sensible and what is necessary. But they are just our opinions, and even the experts are in unchartered territory right now.

Something I read at the weekend that really stuck with me was this: “When you’re dealing with exponential growth [which is what experts are saying we have with infection rates] the time to act is when it seems too early.”

So let’s save our judgement, because we really don’t know.

But what I know to be true – whether we see more and more businesses switching to single-use disposables over reusables because of coronavirus, and even if those businesses decide to keep policies in place after the threat has passed (assuming that it does), is that it doesn’t spell the end of zero waste.

As so often happens in the media, it is being framed all wrong.

Coronavirus can’t touch what zero waste really is

We could have a conversation about what ‘waste’ really means, and whether single-use disposables are truly a ‘waste’ if they are helping reduce the spread of disease.

(After all, almost all of us would argue that hospitals are a great place to use single-use plastic, for exactly this reason.)

But we are not going to have that conversation. Because that keeps the conversation around reusables, and anyone who has been trying to live low waste or zero waste for more than about five minutes knows that the choices we make and habits we form are so much more than reusable coffee cups and takeaway containers.

Zero waste is not – at its heart – about reusables. Zero waste is a mindset. It’s an attitude, a philosophy, a goal, whatever you might prefer to call it. Reusables make zero waste living easier, but they aren’t a make-or-break.

The idea that zero waste is over because we can no longer purchase takeaway coffee from a multinational corporation in a reusable cup is missing the bigger picture. Takeaway coffee generally – there are bigger issues, when it comes to waste. Yes, as a society (well, in western parts of the world, and for the more privileged part of society) we might drink a lot of takeaway coffee, but it’s a small part of the global waste footprint.

Regardless, it is disheartening to see businesses take a step backwards (in terms of sustainability) and make these choices – even when they are justified for other reasons.

Rather than feel frustrated, I wanted to remind you of all the ways that we can try to live with less waste. Because there are plenty of things we can still do, and I like to focus on the positive (and the practical).

Zero waste things you can do in spite of coronavirus

Think creatively about the packaging you need to use. You might not have a choice about being able to use your own containers to the store. You might not currently have a choice with which store you buy your groceries from (if your preferred or regular store has run out of what you need). But maybe you can think creatively about what you buy or how you buy it to reduce your packaging (particularly single-use plastic).

Could you choose the unwrapped produce? The bigger pack sizes? The options without individual packs inside packs? The brands packaged in cardboard? Could you by in bulk (rather than from bulk) and split a larger amount with friends or family? If you can’t do it all, go for the small wins. It all helps.

Make something from scratch. Whether you simply haven’t been able to get something you usually buy pre-prepared, or your simply faced with more at-home time than you’re used to, now is a great time to learn to make something from scratch. Been wanting to try DIY nut milk since forever? Wondered about making bread, or crackers? Fancy giving DIY moisturiser a go?

Perhaps you can use this situation as an opportunity to try ‘one more thing’.

Reduce your food waste. You might not be able to choose whether or not you can BYO packaging, but you can work to ensure you’re not wasting the food that you buy. With the panic buying we’re currently seeing, it makes even more sense to ensure we are using up what we actually buy before it goes bad.

Make sure you are storing food properly so that it lasts, clear out your freezer to make room for leftovers, make a ‘use me first’ shelf in the fridge so everyone in your household knows what needs eating first.

(I’ve got a free resource coming soon all about reducing food waste, so keep your eyes peeled.)

Compost your food scraps. This is different to reducing food waste. This is ensuring that those inedible bits (cores, pips, stems, outer leaves etc) are not put into the landfill / general waste bin. Whether you can set up a system at home – I’ve written about composting, worm warms and bokashi systems if you’d like to know what your options are – or whether you make the most of community composting services, this is a great way to reduce waste.

Now is a great time to set something up – or at least start doing the research.

Buy less stuff. The best thing you can do to reduce your waste is to buy less stuff. Even ‘sustainable’ stuff has a footprint. A big part of the zero waste lifestyle is making do, and making things last. Maybe that means getting stuff fixed. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll never need to buy anything again ever – but as a general rule, the less you buy, the more sustainable you are and the less waste you create.

If you need something, see if you can borrow, or find it for free on Freecycle, Freegle or Buy Nothing. Libraries don’t just lend out physical products, they lend out ebooks, online movies and electronic versions of magazines too – so even if you can’t get to your physical library, you might have options. If you need to buy something, check out the second-hand options first.

(Whether this is possible will depend on what it is and where you’re living – and what the isolation restrictions are – but it is still a consideration).

If you do need to buy something brand new, don’t feel guilty about that. There are better ways to use your energy. Just try to make those purchases mindfully.

Learn more about the issues you care about. You might not be able to take action now in all the ways you’d like, but you can use this time to read up on topics that interest you, try out some new skills, and connect with like-minded people (even if only online, for now).

There are so many great books (or ebooks and audiobooks) and useful blog posts. And courses and videos. And social media pages and groups.

Take the time to get informed.

Write letters and apply pressure to those in power (or make a plan to). It might seem like an inopportune moment to be hassling your supermarket about their single-use plastic packaging policy, or asking your local government member to support a plan to divest in fossil fuels, but these issues aren’t going away, even if they are buried under more pressing needs.

(In fact, some governments and companies are using the fact that others are distracted to push through unpopular decisions, such as the announcement this week by the Victorian government to lift the moratorium on onshore drilling for gas.)

If you have the time and headspace, you might want to use it to start (or continue) to apply pressure on businesses, organisations or government officials to demand change, or ask for answers on policy and decision-making.

You don’t have to send any letters or emails you write straightaway. If the timing seems insensitive or you know it won’t be looked at, you can prepare for when things are settled, do your research, and be ready to go.

Keep supporting your local zero waste store, or independent local businesses, even if they temporarily have to change their policy and disallow reusables. You’ll want them to be there when things get back to normal, so keep supporting them whilst things get tough.

It’s a lot easier for big multinationals to weather disruption than small stores. They need our help.

I don’t want to sugar coat anything – we are in the strangest of times. There are lots of things to be concerned about. But multinational companies opting for disposable coffee cups isn’t one of them. We are better placed focusing our energy elsewhere.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How are you feeling about waste and sustainability issues – have they slipped from your radar, are they there in the back of your mind, or are they at the forefront? Are you coping or are you struggling right now? There’s no right or wrong answers here and definitely no judgement so tell us how you’re feeling and where you’re at, and share any ideas or thoughts in the comments below. We’re in this together.

Learn skills + share them: how to take action in times of uncertainty

I’ve always been fascinated by skills. Particularly hands-on ones. I’m in awe of people who have skills that I do not – like the shoe man (not a sexist gender assign – the two brothers who run the shoe repair place at my local shopping centre call their business ‘The Shoe Man’), or people who know how to sew, or make things with wood or clay, can fix things, or weave, or, or…

The more turmoil there is in the world, the more I’m drawn to learning skills. Knowing how to do things, even simply understanding how things work, gives me a sense of control (and comfort) in times of uncertainty.

I’m not trying to be completely self-sufficient – in fact, I don’t believe that’s a thing. I know that us humans need each other way more than we’d like to admit. No-one can excel at all the things. Having skills is not about self-sufficiency but self-reliance and community resilience: we need to share the skills we have with others and look after one another.

One of the best things about my zero waste journey has been learning new skills. There are still so many I’d like to tackle (weaving! basket making! grafting!) but I’ve definitely added a few to the toolbox over the years.

I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity, and comforted that I can draw on them now.

I wanted to share the skills I have not to blow my own trumpet (I can’t play the trumpet! Not a skill I have!) but to get you thinking about the skills you have, and the skills you want to have.

And then, I want to persuade you to share them (but we’ll get to that at the end).

Soap making

This is one of my newer skills (not shared on the blog yet as I’m still at the learning stage) but it’s what inspired me to write this post. With the coronavirus pandemic, a few things have been consistently selling out at the stores – tinned tomatoes, rice, pasta, toilet paper… and soap.

I’ve needed to make a batch for a while, but it takes a few weeks to cure (and harden – which makes it last longer) – and before the making happened, I ran out. So I asked my friend (who is a prolific soap maker) if she had any spare from her previous batch, and she did.

Three bars of soap, no need to go to the shop, no panic rushing around because everywhere was sold out.

Soon I’ll schedule myself a soap making weekend – and one batch will last me most of the year. (If you want some motivation to give it a go, good old-fashioned soap kills coronavirus. Here’s the science.)

DIY skincare

I make a few of my own products from scratch. I’m a big fan of simple, no fuss, easy recipes that require no specialist equipment and ideally use edible ingredients (meaning I can raid my pantry).

I don’t make everything from scratch all of the time. Recently I purchased some toothpaste because I just couldn’t bring myself to make it – even though it’s a two-minute job. (It’s just that there are always a hundred two-minute jobs that need doing, and this one never got higher up the list.)

But if toothpaste runs out at the store, I won’t panic – I’ll make my own.

I you’re interested, these are the things I make and recipes I use:

DIY toothpaste recipe

DIY deodorant recipe

Alternative deodorant recipe (sodium bicarbonate/baking soda free)

Cold cream moisturiser (can also be used as eye make-up remover and cleanser)

DIY zinc cream (used as sunscreen)

I use a shampoo soap bar (which I buy) and a vinegar rinse to wash my hair; prior to this I used bicarb or rye flour in place of shampoo, and it worked well. I’d happily switch back if I couldn’t buy the soap.

If you’re curious, find out how washing your hair with bicarb and vinegar works.

(Oh, and I use white vinegar, which I buy, but I could easily switch to apple cider vinegar, which I make. It’s super easy and you just need apple cores, a bit of sugar and a jar. Link to DIY apple cider vinegar recipe here.)

Learning to cook

I think knowing how to cook is a really underrated skill. I’ve learned to cook over time (because nobody is born with this knowledge!), but going zero waste really next-levelled my cooking game, because I no longer wanted to buy those pre-packaged and convenience foods in plastic – and so I had to learn how to make my own, from scratch.

I don’t think I’d ever cooked a dry lentil or bean before starting out on this zero waste adventure. Turns out, if you can boil water, you can cook lentils. They are cheap, nutritious and delicious. They also expand up to three times when soaked and cooked (both economical and space-saving – a single packet of lentils takes up much less space in the pantry than the equivalent in cans).

Despite knowing how to cook most of the things, there are still days when dinner consists of toast (I’m not proud) or a bowl of pasta with lemon juice, lemon zest, capers, olive oil and parsley. But importantly, the skills to make things are there.

And there’s always more to learn. I’m keen to try making tofu and tempeh. I said that last year. (Oh, and the year before…) Slowly, slowly.

Learning to grow food

I’ve been growing some of my own food for 10+ years (not all of my own food, not even close!) although I had to relearn much of what I knew when I moved from the UK – where I started out – to Perth, which has a completely different climate.

From an allotment to a small balcony, to a bigger balcony, to community gardens and a community orchard, and now my own back yard, there have been lots of lessons.

With the space to now grow fruit trees, I’m excited for the next stage.

But even in the days with the smallest balcony, there were a few herbs. Something alive and edible. Even without land of our own, it’s usually possible to grow something. Microgreens are another good place to start.

Learning to forage

Another useful aspect of growing food is learning to recognise plants, as there are a surprising number of edible plants and fruit trees on public land. Within walking distance of my place there’s an almond tree and a pecan tree (although good luck beating the birds to those), a fig tree, and several lilli pillies. There are also several overhanging fruit trees – lemons, macadamias and mangoes.

If there’s a black stain on the pavement, there will be a mulberry tree above your head.

(When I was in the UK, brambles – which grow blackberries – were in hedgerows everywhere. There were some apple trees in the square next to where I worked. And mushroom gathering is a growing pastime – one I sadly didn’t embrace before I left.)

Plus, wherever you are… a lot of edible weeds. Which is a whole other food source – and one that grows rather prolifically! Maybe this is a skill reserved for the zombie apocalypse… but you never know, and it’s good to be prepared ;)

Learning to preserve

I learned to preserve when I first got my allotment, because if you grow food you will grow more than you can eat. Things only last so long in the fridge, and there is only so much space in the freezer. Plus freezing vegetables doesn’t do much for them.

Preserving is a way of making things last much longer – often without the need to refrigerate (although some preserves are better refrigerated). Many preserves will last upwards of a year – right around until the next harvest.

I started out learning how to make jams, pickles and chutneys. When I moved to Australia I learned to ferment (sourdough, yoghurt, vegan cheese and vegetables), and more recently got started with dehydrating.

When my fruit trees are cranking (well my future fruit trees – I don’t have many yet) I plan to get into canning – which requires some specialist equipment.

Learning to mend

I can sew a button back on. I can darn holes in my socks. My mending knowledge is no way near extensive (in fact, I’ve pretty much shared my arsenal of expertise) but I’m keen how to learn more about how to mend. Making things last is an excellent skill to have.

(My friend Erin, who is a marvellous mender, has just published her first book Modern Mending, pictured above. Reading and then trying out some of the techniques in this book is one of my goals for the year.)

Learning to share

I truly believe that this is the most important skill of all. Because setting yourself up for ‘self-sufficiency’ by keeping all your skills (and products of those skills) to yourself, and sitting back smugly whilst the world outside – and your neighbours – are struggling is a false victory indeed.

There’s some stuff I’m never going to make. No-one (or very few at least) has time to make all the things. Plus some stuff I find fun to make, other things I find useful to make, and yet more things I just don’t feel that need.

A week ago I gave my neighbour some eggs. A few day later there’s a knock on my door – she has made fresh pasta and has some for me! Pasta isn’t a thing I’d make, and chickens aren’t a thing she’d keep. Sharing skills (and the product of those skills) helped both of us.

(Oh, and she also made pasta for her neighbours on the other side, and the ones next to them.)

Other friends make kimchi, have DIY skills, own tools, can mend, and the list goes on.

Sharing is a skill I definitely want to work on more. I have some incredible generous friends, and neighbours, who give freely – and who inspire me to do more. It’s something I really want to focus on this year.

You’d think sharing might encourage others to take advantage, but I find the opposite happens. Sharing breeds generosity.

I’m offering this up as a solution because it’s worked for me. It’s something practical (and positive) that we can do with our energy and time. If you’re feeling anxious about the way the world is going, or you’re wondering what to do as we’re advised to stay home more, perhaps learning a new skill is a way to put that nervous energy into something productive.

And sharing (be it knowledge, or physical stuff) is a way to help others benefit from what you’ve learned.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What skills do you have, and what skills do you want to learn? Have you been able to share your skills with family, friends, colleagues or your wider comunity? Do you have any other ideas for building resilience in our communities? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

3 Things to Do (Instead of Feeling Guilty) When You “Fail” at Zero Waste

Let me tell you a story about a butternut squash that I found in the fridge. Well, I didn’t find it exactly, because I knew it was there, underneath the silverbeet in the crisper drawer.

Before you tell me that butternut – and other varieties of – squash/pumpkin shouldn’t actually be stored in the fridge, but at room temperature, I’m going to put my hand up and say, yep, I know this.

But it was in the fridge nonetheless.

I suspect what happened was, the veg box arrived, it sat on the side glowering at me for a few hours, and then I decided I’d had enough and piled everything in the crisper/fridge as quickly as possible.

Just because we know what it the best or correct thing to do, doesn’t mean we always do it!

And probably, the fact that it was in the fridge was the reason for what happened next.

Because one day I opened the fridge, and I saw this.

If you hate seeing waste, look away now.

And yes, when I say “one day” I literally mean that I somehow didn’t notice it getting to this point. Clearly it didn’t go like this overnight; but I saw nothing until I opened the fridge and was confronted with this spoiled, rotten and disheveled-looking pumpkin.

And oh, let me tell you about the guilt that followed!

Because I hate waste.

Because I do not identify myself as someone who wastes stuff – so I shouldn’t be wasting stuff, right?

Because I’m organized and I know what’s in my fridge and I don’t let stuff go bad. Except…

Because a farmer went to the effort of growing that pumpkin (and it was organic! Double demerits for me) and then a business went to the effort of sourcing and selling that pumpkin to me. It feels very disrespectful of me to be wasting all that effort.

I have expectations of myself around the way I do things, and I fell short.

Now I’m no stranger to eco-guilt. I think all of us have experienced eco-guilt at some point. When we forget to refuse the plastic straw perhaps, or when we realise the thing we’ve putting in the recycling bin for the last decade is actually not recycable at all.

Basically, if we are not doing everything perfectly all of the time when it comes to trying to live sustainably, there will probably be guilt.

Newsflash – no-one actually does all things perfectly all of the time.

We need time to get those habits ingrained. Sometimes we mess up, sometimes we forget. As beginners it’s easier to forgive ourselves as we are still learning.

But messing up isn’t always limited to beginners. I’ve been conscious of reducing my waste for years now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t mess up! Being more practiced or experienced doesn’t mean slip-ups don’t happen. When they do, I, for one, feel pretty guilty about it.

But the thing about guilt, is that we can deal with it in one of two ways.

We can allow it to crumple us until we feel defeated and like it’s all too hard and what’s the point in trying anyway…

…Or we can take that energy and use it to power our next choice, our next action, and our next commitment.

Let me tell you, the latter option feels infinitely better than the first option.

Dealing with my environmental guilt is something I’m learning how to do. I don’t want to be the person crumpled in a heap, I want to be the one getting back up and dusting myself off.

That doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty, but it means I try not to stay feeling guilty for too long.

Here’s some things I do to turn that guilt into useful action.

1. Remind myself that I’m not perfect, but also that I never said I was, that I actually will never be, and forgive myself for being human.

This should be obvious but I think sometimes we forget that we’re humans, and humans mess up sometimes. I know I do. I know that no-one is perfect but I do set high expectations for myself.

I think that’s okay, but there still needs to be room for error.

So yeah, I didn’t mean to let that pumpkin go to waste. But it happened. I guess I won’t be winning the “zero waste perfection” award this year, but I’m okay with that.

2. Ask myself, what can I learn from this?

Most of my eco-guilt comes from falling short of the standards I set for myself. I think it’s useful then, to have a good look at what happened and why I’m feeling guilty now.

I definitely think that I can get complacent around not creating waste. thinking to myself, I’ve been doing this for so long now that of course I won’t waste anything!

So it’s actually useful to get a reality check. There’s always work to do, it’s easy to slip up when we’re not paying attention.

I had a think about why it happened (I shouldn’t have stored that pumpkin in the fridge, I should have kept a closer eye on what was in the fridge) and resolved to do things differently next time.

I can’t change the past, but I have the opportunity to do things differently in future.

3. Choose something to DO to channel that frustration and guilt into useful action.

Forgiveness and reflection are important, but action is better! That energy has to go somewhere, so why not channel it into something useful?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Talk about the “fail” with others. (Just like this!) We all want to share the wins and successes, but talking about failures is equally important. Change is never a straight line, and it’s helpful to others on the journey to see that it’s a zig-zag, not a perfect arc.
  • Share solutions. For example, this got me thinking – I wonder how many people know how to store food correctly? And how many people end up throwing things away prematurely simply because they stored the thing wrong? I’m adding this to my list of future blog posts. That way I can use my mistake to help others choose better.
  • Make your voice heard. Write to companies, manufacturers and businesses to discuss the issues and share solutions. This isn’t relevant to my situation here as I accept 100% of the blame. But say you ordered something and it arrived wrapped in plastic because you forgot to ask about the packaging, or you were given a straw because you forgot to say “no straw”. You can own your part whilst still reaching out to the business to explain and ask them to do better.
  • Make a change. Forgiveness and reflection are two parts, the third part is doing things differently next time. Whether that’s tweaking our routine, or setting up a reminder, or investing in the tools to do things differently, we need to use this guilt to fuel a new way of doing things.
  • Join a group of others taking action. Maybe it’s picking up litter, or making reusable shopping bags, or writing letters; maybe it’s a group of like-minded people getting together to share ideas… But finding a group that’s bigger than you can help channel some of your energy into creating more systemic change.

I don’t know if we can get rid of guilt altogether. Maybe a little bit of guilt is a good thing. It shows we have an awareness of the impact of our actions. I find that feeling a little bit guilty reminds me that these are things that I care about; issues that I care about.

Used right, we can channel our guilt to take action rather than letting it overwhelm us, and do better next time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you suffer from eco-guilt? Is there anything that makes you feel particularly guilty? How have you learned from it, and how do you try to manage it? or do you not have a guilty bone in your body? In which case – tell us your secrets! Wherever you sit on the scale I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share in the comments below!

 

I’m passionate about zero waste and sustainable living, just don’t call me this…

There’s one word I try to use as little as possible when it comes to talking about zero waste, living plastic-free or anything sustainable living related. In fact, I try never to use it at all.

Could you guess what it is?

I’ll tell you, and you might be surprised. Because it’s a word we hear often. Sometimes it’s even prefaced with words like “responsible” or “ethical” or “conscious” – so how could it not be a good word to use, with such honourable descriptors?

The word is this: consumer.

Now, I consume. We all consume. From food and water, to energy, to the things we buy to use and wear and own, we are consuming.

But calling myself a consumer? That implies that the main thing of value I have to offer is my ability to use up resources.

Being first and foremost a consumer means declaring that our best and most valued traits are our shopping habits.

And that is not the case at all.

I just don’t… I just can’t… identify with being a consumer above all else.

When was it decided that we would be reduced simply to consumers, to cogs in the economy, our value judged by what and how and how much we buy?

I try to never label myself (or anyone else) a consumer, and I don’t want to be labelled a consumer. I don’t really want to be called a responsible consumer, an ethical consumer or a conscious consumer, for that matter.

Yes, I try to consume responsibly, ethically and consciously. But I don’t identify as someone who buys stuff. I feel that labelling someone a consumer takes away their power, and says – the only way that you have influence is by shopping.

We have power. To share ideas, to express our opinions, to call out companies, to make our voices heard, to apply pressure to businesses and governments, to vote, to demand change, and to ask for things to be different.

Our power extends far beyond the things we buy.

Let’s not give our power away.

So if we don’t call ourselves consumers, what do we call ourselves instead?

The way I see it: we are community members. We are citizens. We are people (both as individuals and groups) who care a great deal about the planet and our children’s future.

But somehow this label of ‘consumer’ has got pushed to the forefront and rather than saying “I’m a concerned and passionate citizen” we are reducing ourselves to just one part of the whole: a ‘conscious consumer’.

I am so much more than that, you are so much more than that; we are so much more than that.

Now I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “money talks” and the idea that “we can vote with our dollars for the change we want to see”. And I do believe that this is true: we can vote with our dollars.

But voting with our dollars does not have to mean shopping, or buying, or even consuming.

It can mean choosing green energy, or opting for public transport, or donating money to charitable causes, or contributing to organizations whose work we admire.

In fact, sometimes we “vote with our dollars” when we don’t buy anything at all.

I vote with my dollars when I opt out of the formal economy and swap stuff, share stuff, and make do with what I have.

And yes, I vote with my dollars when I shop at the local bulk store, or buy something from the charity shop.

Very occasionally I’m voting with my dollars when I buy something brand-spanking-new from a store, or less frequently, that has to get shipped from interstate.

Because yes, I consume. I try to consume responsibly, and ethically, and consciously. (And minimally yes, but I do still consume.)

That does not reduce me to a consumer.

Did you see the Guardian article published earlier in May which stated that it had updated its style guide to reflect more accurately the environmental crises facing the world?

So “climate change” is now “climate emergency” or “climate breakdown”, and “global warming” is now “global heating”. The editor-in-chief of the Guardian was quoted as saying that they wanted to ensure that they are being scientifically precise, and communicating clearly.

“The phrase ‘climate change’”, she said, “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

The words we use to describe things are important. Stronger language definitely invokes stronger reactions. Climate breakdown clearly has a sense of urgency that climate change does not.

And ‘concerned citizen’ has a power and gravitas to it that ‘responsible consumer’ does not.

Plus, it’s far more accurate.

We cannot make the world a better place simply by consuming better. We have a chance, we have a choice and we have, I think, a responsibility to do more than simply buy things to try to create positive change.

Let’s share ideas. Let’s share resources. Let’s champion those that do good, and hold those that do not to account. Let’s sign petitions, let’s add our voice to campaigns for change, lets write to our politicians and governments. Let’s get involved where we can, and put our energy into things that matter.

Let’s consume consciously. But let’s not give our power away and reduce ourselves to being consumers, first and foremost. That is not who we are, and that is not the limit of what we can do.

The truth is, we will never save the world by shopping.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree, disagree, did you learn something new, have you changed your mind or are you sticking with the status quo? Whatever your thoughts are I’d love to hear them so be sure to leave a comment below!



Experiments with Less Stuff: 3 Outfits for 30 Days

There’s nothing quite like writing a book about decluttering and living with less stuff to make you re-assess all the things you own, and question again whether the things you have are really being used to their full potential.

Things left languishing in cupboards and drawers barely used? That isn’t the best use of those resources. And all stuff is resources – materials, time and energy went into making these things.

When I own something I barely use, and I know I would make do with something else if I didn’t own it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to keep it. It makes more sense to find a new owner who will use and love the things that I do not.

That’s not to say everything I own is used all the time. I own swimwear even though I’d hardly call myself a beachgoer; I own a selection of baking tins even though I’m not busting them out every weekend.

It’s all about balance: what’s practical, sensible and what’s good for our sanity. Even if I only go swimming occasionally, I need swimwear. In my world, brownies are square and sponge cakes are round. That’s just how it has to be.

But living with less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer need, use or love. It’s about developing a new relationship with stuff. Not just our stuff, but all stuff.

We can see stuff for what it really is: resources, time, craftsmanship and effort. We can be honest with ourselves about whether stuff is practical and useful to us, or whether the stuff’s usefulness will be short-lived; destined to become clutter, and landfill.

And when we buy things and bring them into our homes, we can make sure we maximise their use. If we realise later that things are not being used to their full potential, we can re-home them so that they get the use they were designed for.

Decluttering, for me, is not about clearing space to buy new things. It is about respecting resources, and ensuring the stuff we have and do not use does not go to waste. Decluttering is not synonymous with chucking stuff in the bin.

Instead, it is an opportunity to make good our perhaps-not-so-good-after-all choices.

But of course, no-one wants to declutter things only to realise later on that they needed them after all.

Which brings me back to where I started: reassessing the things I own.

One area where I struggled for a long time in my de-owning journey was wardrobe decluttering. I had so many clothes, nothing to wear, and couldn’t part with anything! The idea of reducing my wardrobe by half, down to 100 things seemed almost unachievable, yet when I finally got there I realised: I still had too much stuff.

Eventually I reduced my wardrobe down to about 40 things. It was no longer overwhelming, and everything I owned I liked and wore – but I knew that really, I still had too much stuff.

The thing is, I am one of those people who just likes to wear the same few outfits all of the time. I live in the same few things, and I like it like that. Most of the people I know would be surprised I even own 40 items of clothing!

The goal with decluttering and de-owning is to find our “enough”. We don’t want too much stuff but we don’t want to be left with not enough, either. But figuring out the point between “too much” and “too little” where “just enough” lies takes time.

When it came to my wardrobe, I didn’t think another round of decluttering would be that useful in helping me find this “enough”.

Instead, I decided to go all the way to the “too little” side, and live over there for a month, to really test what I need and what I don’t.

3 Outfits for 30 Days

A couple of years ago I followed a woman on Instagram who decided to wear one dress for an entire year. It actually wore out half way through, and was replaced with another dress, but she completed the challenge and decided she loved the freedom it gave so much she would wear one dress for life.

That’s definitely a little too little for me (what would I wear when I need to wash the dress?!) but it got me thinking. What would realistically be the minimum viable number of outfits I could wear?

I asked myself a few questions, such as what different types of outfits did I need, what occasions did I need to consider, and what was practical (thinking about the climate, weather and my ability/willingness to do – and dry – the laundry often).

I need clothes that are suitable for presenting in, working in and lounging round the house in.

As for climate, the month of March is late summer/early autumn here in Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate: it’s warm enough to do laundry, hang it outside and bring it in dry a few hours later. It might be cardigan weather in the evening, but it is pretty warm during the day. Rainfall is minimal and short-lived.

With all this in mind, I decided on 3 outfits for 30 days.

1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, and 1 dress. 2 tops, a cardigan and a denim shirt. Plus a pair of leggings if necessary.

(My 3 outfits doesn’t include clothes for exercising, which I’ll still wear.)

I started on 4th March, and I’ll report back once the 30 days are over.

The goal is not to convince myself that this is all I need. The goal is to figure out what works, what is missing, and what things I would prefer to have (and not have) to make my wardrobe work better for me.

The goal is to experiment with less so I can find out where my “enough” lies on the scale.

It’s not so much about deciding which of the things I own I need or don’t need; more about helping me get clear on my future choices.

Owning less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer use. It’s about understanding why we made the choices we made, learning from our mistakes, and getting clear on exactly what we need and what we’ll use.

If we know what we need and are pragmatic about what we’ll use, not only do we end up with less stuff: we use less resources, reduce our footprint, and create less waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever taken part in a “less stuff”, decluttering or minimalism challenge? What were the rules? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you learn anything? Were there any surprises? Or do challenges like this fill you with dread? Any other thoughts? Please share below!


5 Mistakes That Beginners Make When Going Zero Waste + Plastic Free

I don’t know about you, but when I set out to tackle a new project or challenge, I begin by feeling pretty excited about what I’m going to achieve. I feel good about making the commitment, I anticipate how great it’s going to be when I get there.

Only… not long after that, the doubt starts to set in. I realise the enormity of what I’m trying to tackle. I hit a stumbling block, and realise that the goal I set myself isn’t going to be such easy sailing.

It’s going to be hard work, and progress isn’t going to be a straight line.

It can be pretty disheartening after the euphoria of the beginning.

Can you relate?

However, progress is never a straight line, and there’s no need to give up just because things get a little tough. It’s all about practice, and chipping away, and bouncing back after we’ve been knocked down.

Time is always on our side.

No-one learns how to play the guitar in a few days, or speaks a language fluently in a week – so why should other habits be any different?

If you’ve set yourself the goal of really trying to live plastic-free and/or embrace zero waste, chances are you started out feeling great about what you want to achieve, only to feel deflated and overwhelmed as the days roll on. Whether you’ve struggled to find a good bulk store, argued with an obstinate customer service assistant who rolled their eyes and refused to let you use your own containers (or insisted on bagging them afterwards) or simply forgot your reusables because you were in a rush and took the single-use packaging without thinking – I promise you, we have all been there.

When that happens, dust yourself off, file it away under “experiences” and keep going.

We all make mistakes. If you’re a beginner on the zero waste journey, here’s 5 more common mistakes that people make, and how you can think differently about them.

Five Mistakes that Beginners Make When Going Zero Waste or Plastic Free

1. Not Starting Small.

It’s easy to focus so much on the end result that we forget this: big changes are really lots of small changes added together. Yes, the end goal is important. But the small actions are how we are going to get there.

If we want our expectations to meet our reality, we have to start small and achievable.

It’s much more motivating to pick a small, attainable goal and actually achieve it. That’s what spurs us on to take another action. Picking a wildly ambitious goal and then failing to meet it just makes us feel guilty, miserable and more like giving up.

If you’re new to zero waste and have never done anything to reduce your waste in the past, deciding that you’re going to go straight for the “all-my-waste-fitting-in-a-jam-jar” challenge in week 1 might be a step too far.

Why not start with sourcing a good set of reusables, and work on remembering to take them with you when you head out? Or choose one item that takes up a huge amount of space in your rubbish bin, and decide to find a low waste solution to that?

You’ll find some inspiration for micro actions you can take to reduce your waste here.

2. Feeling Bad About the Successes of Others.

Comparisonitis is very real. We see other people doing things that we want to be doing, possibly better than we could ever do them, and we feel bad about ourselves. Social media makes it worse, as we are much more exposed to what others are doing.

But comparing ourselves to others isn’t helpful, especially when we feel miserable or disheartened as a result.

Rather than feeling bad about the successes of others, we can choose to celebrate with them. People make progress as a result of hard work, determination, and courage. Anyone ahead of us on the journey can share their experiences, help us make progress and shine a light on the path to take.

That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Personally, I think that social media is a tool for good, connecting us with great ideas and inspiring people. We can choose to follow people who motivate us and lift us up. People who write kind words, share ideas freely and build supportive communities.

If you find that you follow people who make you feel bad, you can stop that immediately by unfollowing them.

If we find that social media gets a little overwhelming, we can take time out.

If it doesn’t feel good, there is no need to do it. We have the control and the power to change it.

Try to celebrate the success of others. If you find this too difficult, choose to disconnect from it. It’s all a choice.

3. Letting the Negative Opinions of Others Influence Your Journey.

We all try to make the best decisions we can based on the knowledge we have, the time and resources available to us and our experiences. There is rarely a perfect choice, so we do what we think is best in that moment.

That doesn’t mean that our decisions are right for everyone, or are what others would choose.

I think the most important thing is to understand why we make the choices we make: to know why they feel right for us.

Others will have different ideas. Sometimes this feedback can be very useful. We can learn about other (and maybe better) ways of doing things. We can consider new perspectives, and factors we hadn’t considered before.

This can help us make better, and more informed, decisions next time.

Sometimes, although people are well-meaning, these comments can come across as overly critical or negative. It might not be what they say, but the way they say it, or what is implied.

You don’t make your own? I do.

You bought something new when you could have made do/found it second hand? That’s not zero waste.

Do you know it contains palm oil/is made in China/some other thing that’s terrible for the planet? I thought you cared about that.

I believe that most people mean well. Sometimes our passion and excitement for a subject can get in the way of thoughtfulness. Just remembering this fact can help us see past any unintended negativity.

Of course, sometimes people do try to catch us out. To point out our flaws and imperfections. Really, that says more about them than it does about us.

Regardless, there is often (but not always) an element of truth to consider in any negative feedback or comments. It’s worth taking a step back, considering the message and taking any feedback on board for next time.

It’s not worth dwelling on it, though. Or getting upset by it. Or letting it negatively influence our efforts.

Remember, people have no idea about your life. It’s your journey, and you’re figuring it out as best you can.

Negative feedback can be useful. Just don’t let it derail your plans.

4. Not Seeing Making Bad Choices as a Learning Experience.

On any journey we make decisions and choices that, with the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn’t make again. That’s part of the learning experience.

Bad choices are not a reason to give up. We all make them, and we will all continue to make them. Hopefully, the more we progress the less we’ll make, but there are no guarantees!

Making a bad decision, and realising that it was a bad decision, is what helps us make better decisions next time round. I would argue that making a bad decision is better than making no decision – taking action is how we get clarity.

Most decisions will be good, some will be not so good. It doesn’t matter.

5. Making Things Harder Than They Need to Be.

Going plastic-free or zero waste is not about going without. That said, it can take time to find workable solutions for everything. There has to be balance, and in trying to find that balance we can tip a little too far the other way.

To find balance, we need to push things in order to find out just where the equilibrium lies.

However, if we go too far, we need to recognize that, and bring things back, or we will stress ourselves out and the whole thing will become unsustainable.

There’s plenty of ways that we can unintentionally make things harder for ourselves. Creating an unmanageable amount of work for ourselves by trying to make every single thing from scratch. Trying to ensure our entire family is zero waste or plastic-free rather than just focusing on ourselves. Tackling multiple challenges at once, like going zero waste, plastic-free, vegan, organic and local all together. Forgoing things we love (and that make us happy), or letting our health suffer for the “cause”.

We can only do what we can do. Some things we can maintain in the long-term, some things we can strive for only in the short-term, and other things just won’t work for us at all – at least not in the present.

Zero waste, plastic-free and sustainable living is not meant to feel like a chore. Its not meant to feel like a struggle. If it does, it might be time to take a step back and let some things go. There will be a time to try again.

There’s no benefit to anyone in making things harder than they need to be.

If you have any mistakes you’d like to add to this list, I’d love to hear them so please share! Were there any mistakes that you made when starting out? Are there any mistakes you see others make at the beginning of their journey? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

New Habits: 8 Micro Actions to Reduce Rubbish in 2021

A brand new year is about to roll around the corner, and for many of us that means thinking about our dreams, aspirations and plans of what we’d like to see, do and accomplish over the next twelve months. Whilst I don’t set New Years Resolutions, I do like to use this time between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year that was and think about the year that’s ahead.

Before I get any further, let me reassure you: this isn’t going to be one of those posts about “achieving everything you ever wanted in 2021” or “having your best year ever”.

Really, all the big things that we want to achieve and accomplish are the result of taking lots of micro actions. So rather than focus on the big picture, the goal at the end, I’m going to focus on the small things – the journey itself – and encourage you to consider doing so too.

In my experience, it’s a better journey.

For example, if we’d like to reduce our rubbish or plastic-waste in 2018, declaring that we’ll “be zero waste” is a huge step. It sets a high (and possibly unrealistic) expectation of ourselves, adds unnecessary pressure and can feel overwhelming before it’s even begun.

That’s not a recipe for a fun ride.

Rather than make grandiose goals, try thinking about the small steps that need to be taken. Break it down into things that you can start on straightaway. You will start making progress, and that will give you the confidence to take the next step when you’re ready.

It’s not meant to happen overnight. It’s a process, and a journey, and there’s so much to learn along the way. Why would you want to rush?

Here’s some ideas to get you started.

8 Micro Actions You Can Take to Reduce Rubbish in 2021

1. Make 1 Food Item from Scratch

You do not need to be a great baker or masterchef to go zero waste. Being able to make things from scratch is a useful skill, but it has nothing to do with being good at cooking. if you can stir stuff, or use a rolling pin, or chop, chances are you can make something from scratch.

Think about the things you use, and the packaging that you end up with, and find out if you can make any of those things rather than buy them ready-made.

Some things will be far too complicated, take too much time and you won’t think it is worth it.

But other things are very simple, and you might start to wonder why you ever purchased them in the first place.

Simple things to start with (that take no skills and very little time) include pesto, hummus, apple cider vinegar and yoghurt. You could consider getting a (second-hand) breadmaker. Cookies are much easier (and quicker) to make than cakes, and ridiculously tasty.

Just try it.

2. DIY Just 1 Bathroom Product

Food packaging and bathroom products account for the majority of our weekly household rubbish and recycling. By swapping one purchased product for a DIY alternative, you will save a huge amount of packaging over a lifetime.

It isn’t about making DIY alternatives to everything. I buy (rather than make) bar soap, laundry powder and dishwashing liquid. I have good local options (I buy my laundry powder and dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods, my local bulk store) and I don’t have the time or inclination to make everything.

I do make my own toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser and sunscreen. I tried making mascara once and it was a disaster, so I decided not to bother again, but there are plenty of recipes for DIY makeup if its something you wear.

3. Support Bulk Stores

Bulk stores are a great way to shop packaging free, and many bulk stores are dedicated to reducing waste upstream too. This means that as well as reducing the waste for their customers, they are working with suppliers to reduce the waste generated before the stock arrives at the hands of the customers.

Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Not everyone can afford to shop at bulk stores. But there’s still steps that we can take. Choosing to make a trip to a bulk store out-of-town every month, or every two months, is one option. Choosing a small number of staples to buy at the bulk store, even if the rest of the groceries needs to be purchased elsewhere and in packaging due to budget or practical constraints.

Everything that we do makes a difference. If an entire bulk shop isn’t going to work for you, don’t write them off entirely. It’s not all or nothing. Even making the commitment to buy a couple of things occasionally will help: it will help you reduce your waste, and help support bulk stores so they can thrive into the future.

4. Choose (and Use) Reusables

Most of us own reusables, but it takes practice to remember them, and remember to use them. Commit to using reusable shopping bags, or a reusable coffee cup, or not forgetting your reusable water bottle.

If using reusables is something that’s new to you, don’t expect perfection all at once. Choose one thing to get into the habit of remembering, and work up from there.

Once you’ve mastered the basics, then think about investing in some reusable produce bags, or taking your Tupperware or Pyrex next time you go to the bakery or deli counter. If a reusable straw is something that will help you reduce waste, invest in one.

Beeswax wraps or sandwich wraps can help reduce clingwrap (more on alternatives for food wrap can be found here).

Glass jars are a very good alternative for all sorts of things.

Just choose one thing to start with.

5. Buy Local and Support Independent Stores

The more local we can buy things, the better: less fuel, less packaging, and keeping money in the local economy. Whether it is food items (locally grown vegetables and fruit), or supporting a local greengrocer; whether it is using an independent bricks-and-mortar store; whether it is supporting local artisans, there are plenty of ways to support local businesses.

Most of us would agree that we don’t want to support sweatshops and unethical businesses, yet when it comes to shopping, it can be tempting to search out the lowest price, and forget about the bigger picture.

That’s not to say we can all afford organic hand-stitched everything. It’s a balance.

Buying everything local and from independent stores might seem too much of a stretch. In which case, consider making a smaller commitment.

What about doing the big shop at the supermarket, but the top-up shop from the independent grocer? Using the Farmers Market for two months in summer? Buying jeans from the department store, but jumpers from the local mill? Buying books from the bricks-and-mortar bookshop rather than the online giants?

Commit to one change, and start there.

6. Tell Businesses When They Do Something Good

It’s oh-so easy to tell businesses when they are doing something wrong, but we often forget to congratulate the ones that do the right thing. Particularly when the right thing isn’t the easiest thing, or the thing that makes the most economical business sense.

When businesses put their values before profit, or the environment before convenience, we should let them know that we noticed, and that we thank them for their efforts.

This isn’t something that I do often, but it’s something that I want to do more of in the coming year. I see so many businesses doing great things, but do I tell them? Not as often as I should.

If you see something good – and it can be as simple as a cafe using jars of sugar on the tables rather than individual sachets, or as committed as refusing single-use disposable packaging – tell the business that you noticed, and you like what they do.

Let’s celebrate the good guys.

7. Think About Who (or What) You Can Influence

Power and influence isn’t just about being a politician or having a huge social media following. Most of us have the ability to influence others, whether it’s in our workplaces, social clubs, friendship circles, local groups, the council, or our favourite cafe.

I often think that the person who does the stationery order for a business is in quite a position of power, when it comes to reducing waste. Or the person that runs the community garden cake sale. Or the person who chooses the venue for book club.

These things all matter.

Making good choices around these things is about helping others to make better choices too. Starting conversations and opening eyes to new ways of doing things.

Some things can’t be changed, and some people won’t be changed. Family can be the toughest. (You can find tips for dealing with friends and family here.) Rather than trying to fight a battle with those that are reluctant to change, see if there’s somewhere else in your life where you could have a positive impact, and focus on that.

8. Join In.

Community is important. It’s a way to share ideas, support others and be supported, meet like-minded people and enrich our lives. The plastic-free and zero waste communities are two examples of people coming together to support a common cause.

It’s a great feeling to know that others care about the same things as we do.

How you choose to get involved is up to you, but there are plenty of options.

On one hand, reading blogs and commenting is a great first step, as are joining Facebook groups and other online networks. If you can’t find an online group that works for you, or would prefer to connect with local people so you have the opportunity to meet in real life, consider starting your own Facebook group.

Getting out and about and meeting people in real life is even better. If you’re not sure where to start, you could try Transition Towns, local litter clean-up groups (Sea Shepherd and Responsible Runners are good places to look), Boomerang Bags groups, or a community garden.

Here’s some more ideas for how to join in, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, and no matter how much free time you have.

There are plenty of things that we can do to make a difference. Things that are good for the planet, and make us feel good too. Rather than reaching for fantastical goals like “having the best year ever”, my approach this year is to look at the small things I can do to make things slightly better.

Not the best, but better.

It’s all a journey, so let’s be kind to ourselves and have some fun along the way.

Now I’d like to hear from you! What small goals are you planning to work on in the coming months? Is there one thing you really want to work towards, or a number of things you want to tweak? Are you taking the slow approach? What was your approach last year, did it work for you, and how is that influencing your choices this year? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments!