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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!

What I’ve been up to…

Do you ever get yourself into a situation, and wonder how on earth it was that you ever agreed to get involved in the first place? This time last week, that was me. You may have noticed (from the distinct lack of personal photographs on the blog) that I’m not a particular fan of having my picture taken. So how was it that I agreed to be photographed last Monday morning wearing a pair of overalls, sitting in a knitted (yarnbombed) wheelbarrow, clutching a live chicken?

Well…

Let me tell you about the Less is More Festival. Read more

Spreading the sustainability and clean living word

When I started this blog, I was motivated because I felt like I was at a real turning point in my life. I was on a journey… a journey that started with a bigger commitment to being more sustainable, but became so much more than that.  It has led me down all sorts of interesting paths. I felt like I was learning so much, and I really wanted to share what I was finding out, as well as keep a kind-of record of my progress.

I love being able to share what I know, and as part of that I got involved with Living Smart, a not-for-profit organisation based in Australia that provides practical knowledge and skills for people to live more sustainable lives. Read more

Blogging, sustainability…and blogging about sustainability

When I started this blog, I wanted it to be about my sustainability journey. I wanted not only to be able to keep a record but also to share it with the wider world. I felt like I was at a significant turning-point in my life and I wanted to write to help guide my thoughts. So far, I’m really enjoying both writing and being able to connect with a whole online community that I never really knew existed before. Read more