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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!



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 2019

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 2018” or “having your best year ever”.

The last few months of 2017, I was busy. Busier than I wanted to be, more stressed than I wanted to be. I kept thinking back to all the things I’ve written in the past about simple living, and how important it is to me, and yet somehow it felt like I’d steered away from that path.

For me, 2018 isn’t going to be about speeding up. It isn’t going to be about packing more in, ticking a bunch of things off my “achievement” list and wildly chasing dreams, whatever it takes.

It’s going to be about slowing down.

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 2018

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!

How To Begin a Zero Waste/Plastic Free Facebook Group

Back in April 2016, I set up a Perth Zero Waste + Plastic Free Facebook Group. I wanted to create a space where local people could get information, ask questions, receive feedback and “meet” other people in our area. My website focuses a lot on zero waste and plastic-free living: the what, the why, and to some extent, the how – but not the finer details.

I always felt that this was missing and needed talking about somewhere, but I didn’t know where, or how to manage it. This kind of information changes quickly, and it is a lot for one person to keep on top of.

Eventually it occurred to me that Facebook Groups could be the answer.

Last week, the Perth Zero Waste + Plastic Free group hit 5,000 members. 5000! I am so proud and humbled that our community has that many people who care about their waste, and that they have all been able to connect with one another thanks to this group. The ideas shared and friendships made has been so inspiring.

I’m a huge fan of connecting offline, and there’s nothing like attending a workshop or talk or group activity to really get into the spirit. But there’s definitely a space for online groups. We don’t all have the time or energy to get out into the community, and besides – if you just want to know where to buy plastic-free tofu, that isn’t really a workshop kind of question!

I think when they work together – people meeting online and then connecting offline – that’s magical.

Our group has been really successful, and has far exceeded my expectations – not jut in terms of numbers, but also the kinds of information available and also the types of people who have joined. It’s a really diverse group, too. I talked about zero waste privilege a few weeks ago, and this group definitely debunks the white, middle-class female myth about zero waste living.

I definitely think it’s the members who have made the community what it is. But I also think the success has been due to the vision and the planning, and the way it is administrated.

Love or hate Facebook, there’s a lot of people using it. More than one billion people, in fact. Whilst we can all lament the fake news, and the fact we spend far more time looking at cat videos than we ever intend to, Facebook is a useful tool. Facebook groups in particular, have been a great way to connect with like-minded people. (At the time of writing this, Facebook Groups are still free from ads – another reason I like them.)

I thought I’d put together a guide for how I set up and how I run our Facebook group, what’s worked well and what I’ve learned. Whether you’re thinking of setting up your own group, or have a group that you’d like to improve, hopefully you’ll be able to draw from my experiences.

Setting Up a Zero Waste Facebook Group – Before You Begin

Consider Who The Group Is For, and What You Want It To Achieve

Think about your audience, the types of people you’d like to attract as members, and the types of people you think that you can serve best. What is your area of expertise, and who will benefit from joining a group that covers this?

Think also about how many members would make a good group. More isn’t necessarily better. Do you want a smaller, more connected group who you can get to know and maybe transition to an offline group? Do you want to keep things very local (just to your suburb), or to your town, or region/county/state? Is it for certain language speakers? Do you want the broad depth of knowledge that comes from a worldwide group?

Is your group just for women, or men; young mums, retirees, or students; low income earners, the unemployed or professionals? Beginners or experts?

There’s no right or wrong answer, but it helps to think about this in advance. Things evolve over time, but if you have a clear idea who the group is for, it will keep the information offered specific and relevant.

Try to think deeper than just “everybody”! Whilst “everybody” sounds inclusive, the more general you are, the less helpful you will actually be to your members.

For my group, it was specifically people who live in Perth who wanted to learn more about reducing their waste. They can be experts or beginners, but the information shared in the group has to be relevant to living zero waste and plastic free in the Perth area.

Why? Because I felt that this information was in my head and needed to be shared, and my website wasn’t the place. I knew people in Perth would want to know the specifics that other blog readers would not.

I also remember when I first took part in Plastic Free July back in 2012, the Facebook page was very small. Because Plastic Free July began in Perth, it was easy to get local information there. Fast forward a few years and there are now 30,000 followers on the Plastic Free July page. There is no way you’d find out which local grocers sell milk in glass.

I felt people new to Plastic Free July were missing out on something useful that I had experienced.

Check The “Competition”

I don’t really believe in competition. When we’re all working towards a common cause, it isn’t a competition, is it? What I really mean is “duplication”. There is absolutely no point in exactly recreating something that already exists. See what exists, and ask yourself – how will your group be different?

This doesn’t mean that if someone is doing something similar, that there isn’t space for you. Competition can mean there is high demand! Think about how many cookbooks there are on Italian cookery, or even something as specific as pasta – heaps.

However, duplication is wasted energy. There will be a different take or a different spin that you can offer. Be clear what it is.

Consider Who Else Can Join When You Launch

Tempting as it can be to open up the group to everyone, if you’re clear about who your audience is and who you want to participate, be careful about letting others who do not fit those categories in. Whilst it could be fine, you might dilute the message and usefulness of the group for other members.

One thing that I should have done differently was be much stricter about who could join the Perth group. The group is for people in Perth to talk about Perth things, but when I launched the group, I opened it up to members worldwide. I think I worried about getting enough members to make the conversations interesting and provide value. Honestly, when I set it up, I hoped to reach about 500 members. The group hit 500 members and kept on growing, and I realised if I didn’t change who could join, we’d end up with a generic audience with less relevance.

Firstly I limited the audience to Australia, and then Western Australia. Now anyone wanting to join has to let us know where they live in Perth or WA to be considered as a member. There are still some inter-state and international members who joined before we changed the terms (we didn’t delete anyone!), but they know that the conversation is Perth-centric.

Prepare the “Rules”

I wrote a couple of documents outlining what the group is about, who can join and how we expect members to behave. Our group is friendly and supportive, it doesn’t matter where you are in the journey and no question is a stupid question.

When new members join, they are expected to read this post. Whilst not everyone does, it is helpful to refer back to when conversations stray from the topics. It’s also useful to assess if a post or member doesn’t meet the standards we expect, and needs removing.

Running A Zero Waste Facebook Group – The Early Days

Finding New Members

I started with the people I knew, people who were already Facebook friends. I’m lucky that I have a lot of friends passionate about this topic! I probably started the group with 80 or so personal friends.

When I give talks, I always mention the Facebook group at the end as a next step for people to join. (I actually mention this rather than my website.) After every talk I give, a new flush of members comes in. As the audience grows, friends of friends request to join, and so it has grown organically.

Finding Admins

Unless you’re on Facebook all the time, you’ll likely need admins to help you approve new members, answer questions and delete spam. I asked a good friend and my husband to help admin the group (my husband uses Facebook much more than I do).

At the start, I checked in every day, often twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening). As the group has grown, I’ve found I need to do this less often as there are plenty of knowledgeable people in the group to answer questions and share expertise.

Running A Zero Waste Facebook Group – Maintenance

Moderating a Growing Audience

As the audience grows, so does the number of admins required. I didn’t react to this quickly enough at the start, and there were a couple of times when huge fights broke out and then blew up in between the times I checked. When someone called it out as the admins “allowing this to happen” I realised it was too big for me to manage.

Once a group has been running for a while, it’s easy to spot the people who post often, are helpful, polite, and have interesting insights. I asked a few of these people (I chose people I’d also met in real life, although this isn’t necessary) to join as moderators. I really wish I’d done this sooner – it was a huge weight off my shoulders and it stopped any crazy conversations getting out of hand.

Occasionally I post to remind people about the values of the group (being nice to beginners, answering the question asked rather than telling the asker what they are doing wrong, not posting blatant advertising or Amazon affiliate links) but it doesn’t happen that often. Other members who are not moderators know how the group works, and are quick to jump in and remind people if a conversation begins to go off track.

Moderating the Conversation

Not every single post is 100% useful or 100% relevant, but we try to delete as little as possible. By sticking to the guidelines (no salesy posts or affiliate links, relevant to Perth, and relevant to zero waste and plastic free living) it’s pretty easy to decide whether something should stay or go. Posts about tiny houses in Oregon or India banning styrofoam might be really interesting, but they don’t fit the description of what our group is about, and ultimately they detract from the message.

Now we have 5000 members, we have to keep things stricter. We have a lot of posts per day, and we don’t want members feeling like the feed has become a bunch of memes. Happily, I think it’s worked.

Overall, I love what our group has become. It feels like a positive, inspiring and motivating space to spend time. (That isn’t something I thought I’d say about social media.) That’s not to say it’s perfect, and there are occasional disagreements and fiery exchanges, but overall the support offered and received is wonderful. It’s one of the best things I ever did to support zero waste living in my community.

If you’ve been wondering how you can get the zero waste or plastic free message out into your community, maybe it’s something you can do too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you use Facebook Groups for connecting to your community (doesn’t have to be zero waste related) and what benefits have you found? Have you had a good experience, or a bad experience? Had it been mixed? Any other thoughts about Facebook groups you’d like to add? Leave a comment below!

Permaculture Principles for Modern (Zero Waste) Living

Have you heard of permaculture? Founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture was the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. The term came from “permanent agriculture.”

Let me tell you, it’s actually about a lot more than gardening.

Since the 1970s, the idea has expanded and grown, as has the movement. At its core it is a ‘systems thinking’ approach, and the design principles can be applied to anywhere where sustainability is the focus.

But many people would describe permaculture as a “philosophy” – a set of guidelines to live by. Many people would describe zero waste in the same way. Both have the idea of fair share, not taking or using more than we need, not wasting resources or people.

Because of this, I think permaculture principles (and ethics) are just as relevant for plastic-free (and zero waste) living. They are relevant to people living within cities, and without so much as a pot plant to their name.

But many people without gardens simply don’t know enough (or anything!) about it.

Let’s change that! I’d like to introduce the permaculture principles, and their relevance (as I see it) to the zero waste movement.

Permaculture Living: The Three Ethics

At the centre of the movement are three ethics: people care; earth care; and fair share. I would argue that anybody who believes in sustainability believes in these three ethics.

Permaculture Living: The 12 Principles (And How They Relate To Zero Waste Living)

The 12 principles of permaculture, developed by David Holmgren in 2002, are described as “thinking tools”. Used together, they can enable us to re-design both our environment and our behavior in a world of less energy and resources.

They are guiding principles for an ethical lifestyle.

Observe and Interact.

To me, this is about taking the time to look around us, to explore our surroundings and learn from others. We often learn good habits from others, or we find answers simply by watching and thinking.

By asking questions, seeking out information and being open to learn, we can come up with solutions that work for us.

Catch and Store Energy.

To me, this is about efficiency. Making the most of things when they are abundant, and being able to use them when they are not.

We think of energy as electricity or power, but it’s just as true for water and food, and the energy embedded in resources. From a zero waste perspective, maximising the use of anything is encouraged.

I like to think of reusables as “caught and stored energy”. An item, build to last and used forever. Rather than single use items that require energy to make, energy to ship and then are gone from usefulness forever. Wasted energy.

Obtain a Yield.

In gardening terms, this principle is pretty obvious. Actually, it should apply to everything we do. Money is another obvious yield, but it goes deeper. We don’t have to be paid for something to get pleasure from it. Yield can also mean enjoyment, satisfaction, motivation, and fulfillment.

When we love to do something, the pleasure of simply doing it can be its own reward.

There is a danger of doing things that bring us no pleasure, satisfaction nor other reward: they ultimately leave us burned-out, demotivated, resentful and frustrated.

That’s not sustainable.

Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Permaculture looks at this from a systems perspective, but I think it’s just as relevant for individuals.

None of us are perfect. We strive to do the best we can. When we receive feedback telling us there is a better way, or pointing out something we hadn’t thought of before, we can begrudge and feel judged and not take action; or we can embrace the challenge to improve ourselves a little more.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.

This is definitely a principle that underpins both the plastic-free and zero waste movements. Most plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, and recycling options for all plastics are limited (and result in downcycling).

The zero waste movement embraces a circular economy, and aims to see nothing sent to landfill.

Both movements value choosing materials that are natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable.

Produce No Waste.

My favourite principle! Clearly the zero waste movement is built around “produce no waste”, but permaculture has a different (broader) perspective.

Whilst permaculture recognizes there is a bigger system, the zero waste movement can lean towards individualism.

In permaculture, reusing and repurposing other people’s waste is a huge part of reducing our impact and use of resources. The zero waste movement celebrates individual action and achievement: it focuses on reducing personal landfill waste, but doesn’t always recognize that waste is still produced upstream.

Personally, I think they both have a place, and I think both ideals can learn from the other.

Design From Patterns to Details.

This principle recognises the value in observing before doing, and the importance at looking at the bigger picture before making choices.

From a zero waste/plastic-free perspective, I see the patterns as “habits” and details as “stuff”. Rather than deciding to embrace a low-waste lifestyle and then spending hours choosing the best mason jars to equip the pantry with, it is better to look at our habits first.

Take time to look for the patterns, and then decide what fits best.

It’s another way of saying: take time, observe first, and do second.

Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Integration is important for any community. It’s what glues community together, and it’s what creates a movement. To get the best outcomes, we need to work together.

There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is only ‘us’.

Whether we teach, motivate, encourage or provide support, communities are best when we embrace networks, share freely and collaborate.

Community is strong in both permaculture and zero waste, and for many of us, that’s the best part.

Use Small and Slow Solutions.

Bigger isn’t always better. Small and slow solutions are at the heart of the zero waste movement. Taking time, making do, thinking creatively; embracing local and seasonal.

Use and Value Diversity.

There is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There is rarely a single way to do anything. There are different voices and different perspectives, and different ways of doing things, even when the outcomes are similar.

We connect with different stories, and everyone has something to add.

Use Edges and Value the Margins.

In permaculture, we talk about the interfaces between things being where the most valuable, diverse and productive elements lie. The edge of a pond, lake or river; or the edge of the forest where the trees meet the grassland.

In zero waste, I think of these “edges” and “margins” as the parts that are often seen as waste – things like offcuts or scraps. Yet they have just as much potential and are just as valuable – it often just takes a little creative thinking.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

“Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.” Both the permaculture and zero waste movements are build around a desire to do things differently; to do things better than the “status quo” of overconsumption and exploitation.

Both embrace creativity, not at an artistic level but at a solutions-based, practical and ideas level. Looking at the system, and creating new ways to do things better. Seeing things that aren’t working, and coming up with better ways.

It isn’t about having all the answers, or creating change on a global scale. It’s about being creative with what we know and what we see, and doing things differently.

For me, both permaculture and zero waste living offer practical solutions for those of us that feel dissatisfied with the current ways of the world, and want to  create a more positive future. Neither are perfect, but they enable us to do things differently, and encourage those that follow to go one step further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is permaculture new to you or old news? How do you think the permaculture principles compare to zero waste living? Which principles do you personally see as the most important – or do you think all of them? Do you have any personal principles that you live by? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Do you know what’s in your food? (And can you trust your supermarket?)

If we all knew what went in our food and connected with where it came from, if we all shopped locally and supported independent shops rather than the big supermarkets and if we all cooked a little more from scratch, rather than buying products in packets containing dubious ingredients, then in my mind, the world would be a better place. We’d be healthier, we’d be more connected to the seasons, our food systems would be more sustainable, and local economies would thrive.

But the problem is, supermarkets dominate the landscape, we’re short of time, and so supermarkets seem like a good option. The choices are endless. There’s a lot of “choice” on those shelves that isn’t even real food. Products made with fake ingredients, pumped with preservatives and then packaged and marketed in a way that make them look enticing, often with clever and emotive language, and of course, pictures.

Most of us don’t really stop and consider all this choice. It’s overwhelming. We put our trust in the supermarkets and the companies that sell the products lining the shelves. We let them choose for us. We don’t realise that in many cases we’re being misled. Just because something looks healthy, or comes from the “healthy” aisle, or has “natural” printed all over the box, it doesn’t mean that it is.

We don’t know what’s really in those packets because we don’t take the time to study the ingredients. Most of us don’t have the time. Even if we did, spending hours in the supermarket reading all the labels may not be our idea of fun. But filling our bodies with man-made ingredients, chemicals and preservatives isn’t much fun either, and it certainly does nothing for our health. I’ve thought of a solution. Rather than encouraging you to read all the labels next time you need to buy groceries, I thought I’d make things a little bit easier. I’m bringing the labels to you.

The Bakery Aisle

There’s nothing more ironic than the “treats” lining the bakery aisle, all fillers, preservatives,  mystery ingredients and refined sugar.

tempting temptingingredientsIngredients are always listed starting with the ingredient that there is most of, in descending order. Which means these cupcakes have more sugar and water than anything else. Yes, water. In a cupcake. By adding emulsifiers, water can be mixed with oil and stabilised. It’s a sneaky way to bulk out a product on the cheap. junk15 junk16These muffins contain more flour than sugar, and more oil than water, but they’re still making use of the emulsifiers to bulk out the product with non-ingredients. You might notice at the bottom of the label that they have been “Thawed for your convenience”. So these have been made somewhere else, cooked, frozen and transported, and then defrosted in order to sit on the shelves as a bakery product. junk20Everything about these is wrong. There’s 24 E numbers, a high water content, palm oil is a listed ingredient (demand for palm oil is causing large-scale deforestation and devastating the orangutan population) as well as thickeners, preservatives and added flavourings.

The “Health Food” Aisle

To distinguish between this junk food and all the other junk food lining the shelves elsewhere in the store, the supermarket has labelled this section “health food”.

healthaisleThere is a high proportion of gluten-free snacks, but being gluten-free doesn’t automatically qualify something to be healthy. Nor does the label “organic”.

jnk2 jnk1I tried to count the ingredients of these crackers several times, but had to give up – there’s just too many. Not to mention the brackets within brackets within brackets. Food should not be this confusing.jnk3 jnk4 Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids are synthetic (man-made) fats. They are also E numbers (diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides is also called E472e). Shoppers often avoid E numbers, so manufacturers write the names of the ingredients out in full to make the product appear to be more natural.jnk5 jnk6These organic vanilla bars contain brown rice, sugar, oil and salt. In fact, they contain 5 types of sugar and 2 types of oil. And that’s pretty much it. Doing the maths, these bars are 35% rice, so they are 65% oil and sugar. Yuck. They are a great example of how organic doesn’t necessarily equal healthy.

The Drinks Chiller

Adequate breakfast solutions? Hmm…jnk7 jnk8This “chocolate-flavoured beverage” has 0.5% cocoa. That’s less than 2 grams in a 350ml drink. The four main ingredients are water, sugar, powder and oil. Because the vitamins listed do not state their whole food origin, it is extremely likely that they are synthetic. Synthetic vitamins are not absorbed by our bodies as easily as natural vitamins, and don’t behave in the same way. Synthetic B6 is actually made from petroleum. jnk9 jnk10I find these ingredients crazy. If you want to drink mocha flavoured milk for breakfast, why wouldn’t you add some coffee and a spoonful of cacoa powder to your own milk in the morning, and add some sugar if you like it sweet? Why go to the shops and pay extra for milk solids, modified starch, emulsifier, flavours, salt and artificial sweeteners?jnk11 jnk12Interestingly, this pack claims a serving size is 250ml, whereas the serving size for the chocolate milk in the previous pictures was 600ml. By making the serving sizes smaller than are probably realistic, the calories, sugar and fat content seem much smaller. One serving of this contains 21.25g of sugar. But if the serving size was comparable with the other product and was 600ml, there would be 51g of sugar per serving!

So what are the solutions?

Don’t despair! If you’ve been reading this and feeling guilty, despondent, or overwhelmed, there’s really no need; there are plenty of alternative options and choices out there. Here are just a few that I’ve found helpful.

  • Make your own at home. I don’t mean making everything from scratch, all the time, if that’s not your thing. Figure out what works for you, in terms of what you like to eat, your time and your skill level. There’s always options. If you can’t bake, and haven’t got the patience to learn, what about simple raw desserts like this one?
  • Get yourself a blender. It doesn’t need to be expensive or even new (you can pick one up from somewhere like Gumtree with minimal outlay) and you can make smoothies, milkshakes and even desserts (like this chocolate mousse) in minutes. I use mine almost every day and I wouldn’t be without it.
  • Think outside the supermarket. If you like the convenience of ready-made, look around your local area for a bakery, a deli and a butcher/fishmonger that make things from scratch and sell them fresh. My local bakery bakes their bread every morning on site. The local butcher makes ready-to-go meals daily, and the fishmonger sells chowder, sushi and marinara mix in addition to the usual fish.
  • Farmers’ markets are the perfect place to find local producers, and a great place to pick up all kinds of delicious treats. Usually you’ll get the chance to talk to the people who actually make the products so you can find out what goes into them, hear about new things they are planning to try out, and even make your own suggestions.
  • If you’re time-poor, vegetable box schemes are a great option and often deliver far more than fruit and vegetables to your door. Riverford in the UK deliver organic pies, tarts, soups and vegetable burgers as well as dairy products and pantry staples, in addition to their core business of fruit and vegetables.
  • If you really need convenience options and can’t ditch the supermarket, try the freezer aisle. Freezing food is a way of preserving it, because of this frozen foods don’t need fake ingredients and extra preservatives to prolong their shelf life. That’s not to say there isn’t some junk in this department too, but it can be a better alternative than the chilled aisles.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you do buy and eat something rubbish, and definitely don’t give up. Just because you ate one Dunkin’ Donut, it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and doomed to eat Dunkin’ Donuts forevermore. Or that because you ate one, you may as well finish off another 11. Or because you ate one, that you’ll never be healthy/be able to quit the supermarket/be perfect etc etc. Accept that we all have moments of weakness, forgive yourself, dust yourself off, and try again.

Whilst I do think it’s important that we realise what’s in our food, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for convenience – we all have busy lives. But the better our food choices are, the better we feel – both inside and out. Choosing real food helps support farmers, growers and local businesses. Ultimately it gives us more options, better quality, and safer, healthier, more nutritious food, whilst encouraging farming and production systems that don’t deplete soils, damage the environment or harm wildlife. Who wouldn’t want that?

What do you think about convenience foods? Do you have anything you struggle with, or any great tips or things that have worked for you in avoiding junk? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!