Posts

Join the War on Plastic with Plastic Free July (+ 3 Ideas for Plastic Free Veterans)

Another year, another Plastic Free July – and the appetite for living with less plastic is stronger than ever! More and more of us are concerned about plastic pollution and more importantly, determined to do something about plastic use in our own lives.

Plastic Free July always swings around at exactly the right time of year. Never heard of it before? Plastic Free July is a free-to-join challenge that runs during the month of July. It encourages us to choose to refuse single-use plastic, and be part of a movement that is not only raising awareness but taking action and sharing solutions.

I first took part in my first Plastic Free July back in 2012, when I was one of about 400 participants. Since then the challenge has grown exponentially, and last year it’s estimated that 120 million people from 177 different countries took part.

If you’d like to be registered for this year’s challenge, you can do so via the official Plastic Free July website.

I’ve written about Plastic Free July every year since my first challenge, and this year is no different in that respect. But I always try to approach it from a different angle, and this year I wanted to reach out to the plastic-free veterans.

There are plenty of articles for plastic-free beginners; I’ve written a number of them over the years. Here is last year’s contribution: 5 Tips to Get Prepped For Plastic Free July (and Living with Less Plastic). (There are plenty more in the archive).

I also created this graphic and accompanying (free) eBook to give you more ideas to get started.

But for those coming back for a second, third, fourth or more year, getting those same beginner’s tips you received in year one can seem a little… well, repetitive.

So today’s post is for you.

3 Plastic Free July Ideas for Plastic-Free Veterans

Find Your ‘One More Thing’ Swap

You’re a pro at bringing your reusable bags to the store, you remember to refuse the plastic straw, you opt to dine-in rather than getting those takeaway containers and you’re a regular at the bulk store. Hurrah!

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still something more to do or somewhere else to improve.

  • Take another look at the contents of your landfill bin and your recycling bin, and see if there’s anything in there that could be swapped out for something plastic-free;
  • Consider revisiting something that you tried in previous years and decided was too hard – maybe times have changed and this year is the year you succeed;
  • Try to make something new from scratch: maybe a food item, a cleaning recipe or a personal care product. That doesn’t mean committing to make it from scratch forevermore! It’s simply about experimenting with change;
  • Maybe there’s something that is too expensive, impractical or time-consuming to become a permanent change in your life, but you can commit to making this change for 31 days during July to show solidarity with the movement and do your bit.

Plastic Free July isn’t just about refusing plastic. It’s about learning new skills, examining our habits and challenging ourselves to do better.

Take the Challenge Beyond Your Own Habits

Those first years, Plastic Free July is all about changing habits, making swaps and settling into new routines. Trying to remember our reusables and investigate all the alternatives takes up a lot of energy, and time.

But new habits eventually become ingrained, and the time we once spent figuring out all of this stuff is freed up again. Plastic Free July is a great time to spread the refuse single-use plastic message to people who haven’t heard of it before.

Maybe that means pinning up some posters at work, or persuading your local cafe and shops to get on board with the challenge.

(You can find the whole range of official Plastic Free July posters – free to download – on the Plastic Free July website.)

Maybe it means giving a talk to your colleagues or your community, organizing a litter pick-up or hosting a movie screening.

Maybe it means writing to companies expressing your annoyance with their packaging and suggestive alternatives, or writing to companies to tell them you love their commitment to reducing waste.

Maybe it means writing to your local councillor or MP to ask them what they are doing about plastic pollution.

Use your voice to speak up for what matters, and share what you know.

Be The Kind of Person You’d Have Liked Supporting You in the Early Days

Chances are, if you’ve been living plastic-free for a while, you’ve ventured down the rabbit hole and discovered a whole heap of twists and turns along the journey.

There are probably plenty of choices you made and things you did back at the start that with the benefit of hindsight, you wouldn’t do again.

Try to remember this when you see others making similar choices. You have the benefit of hindsight, and they don’t. Yet.

How would you have felt if you’d triumphantly shared your first plastic-free chocolate bar purchase that took you three weeks to track down, only to be told that a) didn’t you know that particular Fair Trade organic bar is made by a multinational company b) it’s probably not vegan c) haven’t you heard of palm oil d) you didn’t buy it in the supermarket, surely e) did you even look at the carbon footprint?

It’s unlikely you’d feel inspired to continue, that’s for sure.

Part of the journey is trying new things and making mistakes. If you see someone sharing a choice they made that you wouldn’t make, before diving in to “help”, ask yourself: how helpful will it really be for you to share your opinion right now?

This is particularly true on the internet, with people you don’t know. No-one wants to be berated in public by someone they’ve never met and who has no idea about their individual circumstances.

That’s not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t share information. Just be sensitive about what you share, who you share it with and how you share it.

People need time to find their own way. That first Plastic Free July can be overwhelming. As someone who has gone ahead, we can try to remember that, be encouraging, inclusive, and celebrate the small wins of others.

If we want people to feel confident to take the next steps, we need to be supportive with the first steps.

Challenges such as Plastic Free July are not just for beginners, but we all start as beginners. If you are a beginner, I want to assure you that whilst change can be challenging, it is also fun… and very rewarding. Those ahead of you are here to help when you get stuck – we have all been stuck at some point! If you are a veteran, remember that part of our challenge is continuing to push ourselves, not get complacent and help keep the spark alight in those just starting out.

Happy Plastic Free July, everyone!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a plastic-free newbie? A veteran with one year’s service? Two or three year’s service? Four or more years of service? If you’re a veteran, what do you remember most about starting out? Do you remember?! And what advice would you give to someone taking the challenge for the first time? Any other thoughts or ideas? Please share your comments below!

How to Recycle Mobile Phones/Cell Phones (+ Why It Is Important)

The other day, I found a broken mobile phone popped into my letter box. (I’m not sure whether it was coincidence, or whether it was someone on the street who suspected I would recycle it properly). It was properly smashed up, and the chip and some other piece of hardware had been removed from the back (plus the battery and SIM card were missing).

I posted the picture on Instagram, along with the comment that I’d recycle it properly, and I was surprised at how many people messaged me to say “Wait…how do you recycle a mobile phone, anyway?”

Well, for the benefit of all those people, along with anyone else who is currently harbouring an old mobile phone collection in their underwear drawer, here’s the lowdown of not only how to recycle old mobile phones, but also why.

Why Recycle Old Mobile Phones?

Its important to recycle anything and everything, but when it comes to mobile phones, there’s even more reason. Phones contain metals – the average smartphone will contain around 62 different metals. Let’s not forget that most of these metals will have been mined from raw materials.

Phones contain small amounts of valuable metals, including gold, silver, platinum, palladium and copper.

They also contain rare earth metals. Across all smartphones, 16 out of 17 rare earth metals have been used. (The 17th, promethium, is radioactive.) They do things like make bright colours and allow our phones to vibrate.

Finally they contain tungsten, tantalum (produced from “coltan”) and tin. These 3 Ts are the three biggest conflict minerals, along with gold. Conflict minerals are those mined in areas of armed conflict, and traded to fund the fighting. Tungsten is used to make cellphones vibrate; tantalum stores electricity in capacitors; and tin is used as solder on circuit boards.

(If you’d a snapshot of the issues surrounding mining these minerals, this article is a powerful read.

So yes, recycling is always important, but it is especially important when we are talking about keeping valuable and rare metals in circulation, and reducing demand for newly mined conflict minerals.

Small amounts add up. When you think that it is estimated that there’s 5 million old mobile phones lying around in Australia alone, that’s a lot of rare and valuable metals going to waste.

How Do We Recycle Mobile Phones?

Mobile phones count as eWaste (electrical waste) and need to go to an eWaste recycler. Exactly how it works varies from place to place, so I’ve divided by country below.

Before recycling, consider whether the phone is still useful to someone, and whether it is better to sell or gift for re-use. It is better to pass it on to someone who can use it now than keep it just in case.

Technology dates fast. Worst case is you give it away and then need a replacement phone… guaranteed a friend or family member will have a spare one in their sock drawer.

If it’s broken or old, send it for recycling. The recycler may be able to refurbish it, so let them make the call.

Recycling Mobile Phones in Australia

Mobile Muster is the product stewardship program of the mobile phone industry, accredited by the federal government. They have 3,500 drop-off points across Australia including at Telstra, Optus and Vodafone stores, some libraries, council buildings and transfer stations. (Their website has a search function to find your closest location.)

If there is no suitable location, Australia Post outlets will provide free satchels to mail the phone for recycling.

It’s also possible to recycle batteries, chargers and headphones through this program.

Mobile Muster is voluntarily funded by all of the major handset manufacturers and network carriers to provide a free mobile phone recycling program in Australia.

Other private eWaste recyclers also exist. If you’re in Perth, Total Green Recycling are an award-winning and environmentally responsible eWaste recycler that accept mobile phones for recycling.

Recycling Cell Phones in the US

There are a couple of online databases to help you find a recycling drop-off point close to you. Earth 911 is one of North America’s most comprehensive recycling databases, and has over 20 pages of listings for mobile phone recycling alone.

e-Stewards certification is an accredited, third-party audited, certification program for electronics recyclers, refurbishers and asset managers. It identifies the most globally responsible recyclers and attracts customers who care about data security, brand protection, human rights and environmental justice. There is an e-Stewards recycling database to check what’s local to you.

Many mobile phone shops will also take cell phones for recycling, so check with your closest store.

Recycling Mobile Phones in the UK

Oxfam run a mobile phone recycling service, where phones can be dropped off in-store – the proceeds go towards running their projects.

Alternatively, if you can’t get to a store, Oxfam have charity-partnered with Fonebank to allow you to recycle your old phone via mail. (Fonebank have also partnered with the National Trust, Water Aid and Plan UK.

Most of the major phone network providers will also allow customers to drop off phones for recycling in store.

Of course, mobile phone recycling is happening worldwide. If you’re from a country not listed above, please let us know where mobile phones can be recycled where you live.

Let’s get those unused mobile phones out of sock drawers and those materials back into useful circulation!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a stockpile of old phones sitting at home waiting for inspiration to strike? Do you have any other suggestions for recycling mobile phones? Are there any other tricky items you’d like to know how to recycle? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Second-Hand First: 8 Ideas for Buying Less (New) Stuff

I think we are all agreed, there is a lot of stuff in the world. Too much stuff, some might say. And if we want to reduce our footprint, it is much better to own less stuff, share more stuff, and avoid buying the shiny new stuff where we can.

But how do we go about that, exactly?

Answer: there are loads of places to look. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and move onto the less-than-obvious ones. Let me know of anything I’ve missed in the comments!

1. The Charity Shop

I’m pretty sure all of us have given stuff to the charity shop in our time. Homewares, clothing, toys, books… we love to donate our old unwanted things to the charity shop.

But you know what is even better than donating stuff to the charity shop? Buying stuff from the charity shop.

It isn’t enough to donate our old stuff to the charity shop, and then go buy our replacement items from the big box or department store. Charity shops only sell about 15% of everything that is donated.

The donations that don’t even fit inside the charity shop far outnumber the things on sale…

To close the loop, they need us to buy more things from them.

They don’t need us to donate stuff. They need us to buy stuff.

2. Online Classifieds and Auction Sites

Online classifieds such as Gumtree and Craigslist are a great way to find second-hand items locally, (great for fragile, oversized or heavy stuff) and online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to find items further afield (better for lightweight and easy-to-post items).

I’m a big fan of platforms like these (and I talk about the ins and outs a lot more in my book) because of the way they allow sharing of stuff – most often for a price, but sometimes for free.

3. Online Neighbourhood Networks

Online platforms allow us to connect with our neighbours – some with the sole purpose of buying selling, donating and borrowing stuff, and others with more broad community engagement over things like activities, security and pets.

Some platforms have dedicated membership sites (such as Nextdoor and Streetbank), whilst others use Facebook or Google groups (a quick search will reveal your local options).

Even where these platforms are national and international, it doesn’t mean they will be active in your area so have a look and decide if they are something to pursue or not.

4. Buy Nothing Groups

I could wax lyrical about the Buy Nothing Project all day. In fact, I do. The project is a network of Buy Nothing groups, which exist to help us share with our neighbours, and they operate via Facebook. What makes them unique is that members can gift, accept and borrow things, no money (or even trade) allowed.

And it’s only possible to join one: the one where we live.

The things that are given away would surprise you – both for how great the items are, and for how crazy obscure they can be, too. I’ve been gifted a Dell computer monitor, an almost-new pair of shoes and a desk and chair via my local group.

But it’s not all glamour – I’ve also taken a half-eaten jar of chocolate peanut spread and given away a semi-chewed dog toy. Trust me, almost anything goes.

5. Freecycle and Freegle

Similar to the Buy Nothing groups in that items are offered for free, Freecycle (worldwide) and Freegle (UK) are networks of people sharing items. The platforms are less user-friendly than social media or other newer networks, but they do the job.

6. Verge Collections

Verge collections are the stuff of (my) nightmares. Most councils in Perth allow 2 or 3 verge pickups per household per year, and offer this service for free (well, included in council rates). It works like this: residents put all of their unwanted stuff out on the front lawn, a truck comes along and squashes it into little pieces, and off it goes to landfill.

Cue, sobbing from me.

Every time, the streets are laden with stuff. People throw out 5 mattresses at a time, they throw out perfectly good kids toys. They throw out kitchen appliances, furniture, equipment and even cardboard, metal and other recyclables.

Sometimes every house on the street can have a pile like this of mostly usable stuff, ready for landfill.

Some people love to rummage through the piles and score great stuff. Keeping an eye on verge collection dates in the more affluent suburbs can mean excellent finds, but every suburb has something to offer. I rarely go on the hunt (it upsets me too much), but I’ve rescued wooden garden chairs, an outside table, a worm farm, storage boxes and heaps of garden pots (including some terracotta ones).

The downside of verge collections is that for all the great stuff rescued, there is plenty of great and still-usable stuff going to landfill.

7. Borrowing Stuff

Borrowing stuff can be formal, such as joining the library. They have so much more than books – they have magazines, CDs and DVDs and board games. If you don’t want these, tool, toy and “things” libraries also exist.

Or borrowing can be informal: from friends, family, colleagues or neighbours. If we don’t know our neighbours, the Buy Nothing groups are a great way to make a borrow request.

This is how I was able to borrow a screwdriver to fix my coffee machine (the seal needed replacing).

We often confuse the need to use something with the need to own it. Maybe we need a gadget for a particular recipe, or a hook in the wall to hang a picture. But we don’t necessarily need the blender or the drill. We just need to use them. So we can borrow them instead.

8. Hiring Stuff

Almost everything is available for hire, but these services aren’t as popular as they should be. We can hire dresses and suits, tools, furniture, glasses and flatware – and yet time and again, we buy it instead. My suspicion is that many people think hiring is a false economy – shelling out money for something with nothing to show at the end of it.

For me, this exactly the reason why hiring stuff is so great. We get to use things, then give them back for someone else to use – and we never have to worry about them again.

Not only do hired items arrive clean and ready to go; the hire company is responsible for maintenance. With glass hire, did you know many hire companies will also do the washing up for you?

We forget that it isn’t just the cost of buying stuff. It’s also the cleaning and the storage and maintenance. Because it’s only twice or three times as expensive to buy the champagne glasses rather than hire them, we buy them. We reason we will use them again. Maybe we will – but maybe not.

Once we own them, we have to clean them, and store them. We might need to buy more storage. This is how we end up with big houses with bigger rooms – to accommodate all this stuff.

There’s plenty of stuff already in the world. There’s plenty of stuff in great or usable condition, just waiting for a new owner to maximise its potential. There is absolutely no requirement to buy everything new.

It may not even be necessary to buy it at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for finding second-hand items, or avoiding buying stuff? What are your favourite groups or networks? Is this something you struggle with, and what would make it easier or more accessible for you? Anything else to add? Please share in the comments below!

8+ Ways to Go Zero Waste Without Spending Any Money

There are so many posts out there dedicated to all the things we can buy to be zero waste. This is not one of them. Yes, sometimes the things that we buy are helpful in reducing our waste now and in the future – such as reusable produce bags or a compost bin. Buying things can be necessary. Consumables (things like dishcloths, scrubbing brushes, handwash) run out, and need to be replaced.

But zero waste is not all about buying stuff. The zero waste lifestyle is not a consumer lifestyle. As George Monbiot said, we can consume more, or we can conserve more… but we can’t do both.

If we continue to talk about zero waste living in terms of the things we can buy, and encourage more shopping and the accumulation of stuff, we’re staying on the consumer treadmill and still using resources at an alarming rate.

Not to mention, as soon as we talk about buying stuff, zero waste appears to be only for those people not trying to stick to a budget.

 

The good news is, plenty of things that lead to living zero waste can be done for free! No spend required.

Here’s how you can embrace zero waste living without buying anything.

1. Glass Jars

Glass jars are your zero waste friend! And even better, they are free!

Stop recycling your glass jars, and save them for re-use. Rescue glass jars out of your friend’s recycling bin. Rescue glass jars from cafe and restaurant recycling bins (this is where I scored all of my big 2 litre glass jars). Ask on your local Buy Nothing group, or zero waste/sustainable living Facebook Group. Put an ad on Gumtree or Craigslist asking for free jars.

Once you have your glass jar collection, use them for everything! They can be taken to the bulk store to buy ingredients without packaging, if this is an option for you. They can be used for food storage – taking lunch to work, keeping cookies on the counter, organising your pantry, storing leftovers in the fridge, and even in the freezer. (Yes, you can store glass jars in the freezer. More info here.)

They can be used for preserving jams and chutneys. (Eventually the lids may need replacing, but most lids will last a few rounds. Use lids with the air lock pressy button thing to ensure they are sealed.)

They can be used on the go for takeaway smoothies or coffee.

They can be used to store non-food items, like toothbrushes or pens.

They can be used as packaging for gifts (store-bought or homemade treats, soap).

They can be used as water glasses (I have a lovely set of Bonne Maman jars, with the wide mouths, for this purpose).

Glass jars replace so many other storage containers, and there is no need to buy a single one. If a jar breaks, there is a plentiful supply of more free glass jars almost everywhere we go.

2. Line Your Bin without Buying Bin Liners

There is absolutely no need to buy bin liners. Depending on the size of your bin, what you put in it and how often you fill it, there are plenty of zero waste solutions that don’t cost a cent/penny.

When I first went plastic-free, I used old newspaper to line my bin. I received a free community newspaper, and there was a cafe down the road that offered the daily newspaper for free to its customers to read, so of course the paper got covered in coffee. (More info on lining a bin with newspaper here.)

My bin was wastepaper-sized. It is much trickier to line big bins with newspaper, and some recycling collections require the waste to be bagged (mine gets tipped into a big co-mingled recycling bin, so this isn’t an issue).

It also depends on how much wet and stinky stuff goes in your bin. If you compost your food scraps and only dry stuff is going in the bin, you could use an old jute coffee sack, old pillow case, repurposed plastic food bucket, a cardboard box or do away with any kind of liner altogether.

If you need a waterproof/plastic liner, consider what other packaging you buy that you could repurpose. Some ideas are plastic bread bags, empty potato chip packets, or pet food/litter bags. If you don’t have enough, ask your friends, family and work colleagues… or put a request on the groups mentioned above.

(If you create a lot of waste, consider separating into “wet” and “dry” – that way you can use one of the ideas above for the dry stuff, and keep the plastic liners for the wet only, to make them go further.)

Better to reuse something already in existence than create something new.

3. Eat Your Food Scraps

So much food that we throw away, we can eat. I don’t mean stuff that was edible but is now past its use-by date, I mean food that IS still perfectly edible… we just don’t know how to use it.

Using scraps that we would usually throw in the bin makes the household budget go much further.

Wash potato peelings, toss in a little oil and then bake in the oven for 10 mins or so each side until crispy. Free potato chips!

Rather than chucking the broccoli stalk, cut the outer edges off, and dice or slice the soft green core. Add to pasta, stir-fries and curries just as you could the florets.

Outer cauliflower leaves can be roasted – drizzle with olive oil, add plenty of garlic and roast until the green outers are crispy and the stems are soft. Alternatively, chop and add to curries.

Save onion skins, the top green parts of leeks, carrot shavings, zucchini tips and other veggies scraps for making stock. Pop into a glass jar, freeze, and when the jar is full boil it up to make a veggie broth. (The same can be done with animal bones to make meat/fish stock).

Keep your apple cores and peels and make into your own apple cider vinegar – the only other thing you need is a tablespoon or so of sugar. Can be used in cooking, as a digestive tonic, for hair washing (yep, that’s a thing – and will save you buying conditioner) and even cleaning.

4. Compost your food waste (for free)

Setting up a compost bin, worm farm or bokashi system can cost money, but it doesn’t have to. The bins and buckets required for these things are often given away for free, second-hand. Keep you eye out on Gumtree or Craigslist, and especially if you have verge collections locally.

Failing that, it is possible to make these things with repurposed materials and minimal effort. Worm farms can be made from repurposed polystyrene boxes (ask your local supermarket for theirs) – here’s a step-by-step guide on making a polystyrene box worm farm.

Most community gardens or people with worm farms will give you a handful of composting worms for free to get you going.

A bokashi system can be made using two repurposed white builder/food buckets placed one inside the other, with holes cut into the inner one to create drainage.

If doing it yourself is just a step too far, find somewhere local that will take your food scraps for you. Community compost hubs and community gardens are everywhere, and so are willing backyard composters. The best place to find somewhere local to you is sharewaste.com.

5. Cleaning Cloths / Wipes

There’s no need to buy cleaning cloths, wipes, rags, paper towel or tissues. We can simply repurpose old fabric that we would previously have recycled as rags. Old towels, bedding, T-shirts, work shirts… even underpants, if you’re not faint-hearted.

Typically natural fibres work better over completely plastic polyester fabric.

Chop old clothing into squares to use as cleaning cloths, handkerchiefs (you can store them in a glass jar on the coffee table!) and reusable “unpaper” towel. Cut into strips to make rags.

Using sharp scissors will help prevent the fabric fraying, crimping shears will help even more and if you can sew the edges up, that’s the best solution to make them last.

Obviously, the better we are at sewing the better these things will look. Aesthetics matter to some. And whilst a few of of us might revel in the rebellious act of using old underpants to do the dishes, it might be a step too far for others.

Look at where you use disposable paper products, look at the fabric you have on hand, and do what works best for you.

6. Borrow before Buying

We often don’t need the thing that we buy, we need to result that it offers. We don’t need a drill, we need a hole in the wall. We don’t need a blender, we need to puree vegetables for a one-off recipe.

Informally, you can ask friends, family, colleagues or neighbours if they can lend you the thing that you need.

More formally, you may have access to libraries. Books, toys, music, movies, games and tools can all be borrowed this way.

I’ve just set up a local Community Dishes library for people to borrow crockery and cutlery, to save them buying new stuff at the blue-and-yellow furniture store or using disposables. There may be something similar in your area. Libraries of Things are popping up in more places, too.

7. Find for Free

If we need the thing, we still don’t have to buy it new, or even second-hand. We can find it for free. We can ask friends, family, neighbours or colleagues, we can look for ads on online classifieds, we can put requests in Buy Nothing groups, and we can trawl verge pickups looking for the item.

Second-hand means no packaging, it also means keeping existing items in circulation and reduces demand for new products, saving resources. Second-hand doesn’t always mean cheap. Second-hand and free – well, that’s within everyone’s budget.

People often have things languishing in the back of the cupboard, and are keen for someone to take it off their hands. I’ve scored a clothes drying rack, an electric fry pan, heaps of lemons, a computer monitor and an almost new pair of trainers from my local Buy Nothing group, all for free.

8. Reusables for On the Go

Rather than buying a water bottle, upcycle an old glass passata bottle, or a VOSS glass water bottle.

Rather than buying a reusable coffee cup, use a glass jar. Make a heat band using elastic bands, or those silicone charity fundraising bracelets. Or, if you’re crafty, sew or knit a band.

Rather than buying a reusable lunchbox, use a glass jar or tea towel to wrap food, or make a sandwich wrap from fabric if you can sew.

Rather than buying a set of to-go cutlery, take your kitchen cutlery out with you. You can make a wrap to keep it neat, or wrap it in some cloth.

There you have it – a few ideas to get you started living zero waste, no spend required. Don’t buy in to the idea (see what I did there?!) that zero waste means spending money. Sure, there are nice things to buy, and many of them are useful. But zero waste living can still be pursued whilst spending nothing at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you do any of these things? All of these things? Are you new to zero waste/plastic-free and overwhelmed at all the stuff you think you need to buy? Are you a pro at using second-hand and free solutions? What no-spend zero waste tips would you add? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

10 Easy Zero Waste Hacks from Instagram

There are plenty of zero waste solutions and plastic-free living hacks, and many are so small and simple (when you know what they are, of course!) that they never make it to a blog post. They’re the kinds of snippets that I share on Instagram – but that’s not very fair for those of you who don’t use the platform! Even if you do, it isn’t always very easy to find them again.

So I thought I’d put together some of my most popular tips over the year for you. None are big enough to be a blog post in themselves, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out!

1. Don’t let fresh water run down the drain – collect it to use.

Most of us are comfortable with the idea of turning off the tap whilst we brush our teeth, but when we’re waiting for the cold water to run hot, it’s easy to let it go straight down the drain.

Instead, use a bottle or container, collect the water and use it later.

I used to use old wine bottles to do this, but because my hot water tank is on the roof three stories up, it takes forever to run hot – it can be 7 litres of cold water first. And that is a lot of wine bottles. Now I have two big Klean Kanteen growlers, and I use my other water bottles for the extra.

I’ll use the water for cooking, and also in the garden. My hot water tank isn’t old, so I’m not too worried about using the water to boil pasta. However some people have old water tanks and don’t trust their pipes, and if that’s you, use the water for cleaning, to water house plants and on the garden.

2. Use your cooking water on the compost.

Sticking on the subject of water, collect the water from cooking rice, pasta and veggies, and pour it on the compost (or on the garden). There’s nutrients in that water, and they are going down the drain if you don’t save them!

If it’s water from cooking veggies you can probably use it to water plants, but pasta water will be too starchy.

I tend to use a saucepan to collect the water – ideally a dirty one so the hot water dislodges some of the food – and tip that outside.

3. Label your bulk jars using a grease pencil.

I rarely label my pantry jars, I mostly know what things are without the labels. Pasta – yep I can tell that by looking at it, no label required. The one thing I’ve found hard to identify is white powders. There’s a big difference between laundry powder and bicarb soda and rice flour, so it’s quite an important one.

I use a grease pencil. It’s a wax pencil, it comes off fairly easily so I’m not committing a jar to one type of ingredients forever, and the lead is wrapped in paper.

 Wax pencils (they are sometimes called chinagraphs) can be found in art supply stores, usually without packaging. I have a black one and a white one, although the white one is rarely used.

4. Reusables do not need to be single purpose.

I’m a fan of anything with multiple purposes – it means less stuff, and more use for the things I own. My KeepCup has been used far more often as a water glass, for buying things at the bulk store and taking home leftovers than it has been for buying takeaway coffee – which is something I rarely purchase.

Glass jars can be used for takeaway smoothies and lunch on-the-go, produce bags can be used for straining nut milk. The best one I heard recently was somebody using their hat to buy loose mushrooms from a grocery store!

5. Remove the labels from your glass jars without getting jar rage.

Glass jars are so useful in so many ways, and upcycling old glass jars is the most zero waste solution. But first, you need to get that old sticky label off. And sometimes, that can be a battle and a half.

Soak the jar in water, and hopefully the label will come loose. Try to scrape it off. If that doesn’t happen, wipe coconut oil on the label and wait a few hours, and then the label will come off.

You’ll probably be left with a sticky, gluey smear on the glass jars. For this, eucalyptus oil (and I’m told lemon oil works but I have never tried this myself) will get it off. Dab a small amount on an old rag, and wipe.

The result: gleaming glass jars that don’t have Dolmio labels with an expiry date of 1994 or “keep refrigerated” sitting in the pantry.

6. Save your onion peels (and other veggie scraps) to make stock.

Whenever I peel an onion, I save the tops and tails and outer skins and pop into a jar in the freezer. (Yes, glass jars can be frozen.) I collect until I have a good amount, and then I make stock.

To make stock you boil the skins with water. You can add other veggie scraps (or bits of veg) – zucchini, carrot, potato, garlic, herbs. I’ve found too many brassicas (broccoli, kale stems, cabbage etc) doesn’t make for good-tasting stock, so I leave these out.

I don’t tend to peel carrots or potatoes so I rarely have these scraps, and I often make stock just with onion. I then use the stock to make risotto. It can be cooled and frozen too.

7. Make DIY vanilla essence.

Anything in little bottles tends to be more packaging than product. To avoid the tiny little bottles, I’ve been making vanilla essence for years – using brandy. (I purchased a bottle to make a Christmas cake years ago, used a teaspoon – as you do – and then discovered I could make vanilla essence with the rest.)

Use 1-2 vanilla pods, slit down the middle with a knife, pop into a glass jar, cover in brandy and leave. The flavour infuses over time. I probably wait a month until I first use it.

Once it’s run out, I top up again with brandy. I do this a few times until I notice the vanilla flavour has diminished. Then I dry out the pods, grind to a powder and use in baking.

8. Cook more than you need, and freeze for later.

I rarely cook a meal for one. I’m a huge fan of cooking extra, eating leftovers few a few days, and freezing meals for later. Pasta sauce, lentil stews and dahl all freeze extremely well. I make quadruple batches of falafel and freeze half. Roasted veggies, extra lentils or beans – yep, I freeze it.

Crumble topping – make one, freeze one for later.

It doesn’t take much extra time to make more, and it makes exactly the same amount of mess in the kitchen, so for me it’s win-win. It means that when I don’t have much spare time to cook, I can fossick through the freezer and find something healthy, homemade and delicious without having to do too much.

9. Hack your recycling.

If the two choices are landfill or recycling, I want to opt for recycling. Because of the way our recycling is sorted in WA, size matters. Anything too small (smaller than the palm of your hand) will be missed, and probably jam up the machines.

There are a few hacks to get around the size issue.

With bottle caps, which are steel, pop into a steel can, and once it is half full, squeeze shut. The caps can’t fall out and will be picked up by the magnet when the metal are sorted.

With aluminium foil, save it up until it is a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and pop that in the recycling. When it’s this size the eddy current will be able to sort it. Wine bottle caps that are made of aluminium can be added to the ball, as can aluminium blister packs (if there’s no plastic).

10. Make tea from fresh herbs.

This is one of the easiest, cheapest and tastiest hacks ever. Rather than buy dried herbal tea, find the fresh stuff and make your own. Mint grows almost everywhere, it is hard to kill and people who grow herbs often are willing to share, so you don’t even need to grow it yourself.

I tend to drink mint tea, or lemongrass and ginger tea (I grow lemongrass, and can buy Australian ginger). My neighbours drink sage tea and lemon verbena. There are plenty of options.

Zero waste and plastic-free living is about thinking creatively and finding solutions. These solutions don’t need to be complicated or expensive. Often it is the simplest ideas that work best!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have yo any great tips to share – either that you learned from someone else or made up yourself? Are there any hacks above you’d never thought of before? Anything you’re going to embrace? I’d love to know what simple hacks, tips and tricks you’ve learned so please share in the comments below!

8 (More) Tips for a Zero Waste Wardrobe

With 6,000kg of clothing and textiles discarded every 10 minutes in Australia alone, there’s a huge potential for us to reduce our waste when it comes to our wardrobes. Last week I talked about how we can make better wardrobe purchases. This week I’m going to talk about the other end of the spectrum: what do to with the clothing we no longer need or want, without sending it to landfill.

1. Donate or Sell Clothes You Don’t Wear

Take it from someone who let unworn clothing sit in her wardrobe for years: if you don’t wear it, donate it.  If it was expensive and you feel guilty about wasting your money, sell it to alleviate some of the guilt.

Unworn clothing is not serving any purpose languishing in the back of the wardrobe.

Things sitting unworn deteriorate, get moth eaten and are a waste of resources. Whilst it’s sitting there someone else could be wearing it and loving it. Give them the chance to do so, and make the best use of the time, energy and resources that went into creating that item.

2. Learn Simple Clothing Fixes

I don’t know how to sew particularly well or use a sewing machine competently, but I have mastered a couple of basics.

Firstly, I do know how to darn. It’s simple, therapeutic and has saved many a jumper and sock of mine from landfill.

Natural fibres do have a tendency to develop holes, so knowing how to stitch them back up again is helpful to extend the life of things.

I’m not going to give a tutorial here because I’m no expert, but the principle is making a little cross-weave of thread across the hole. Sew strands up and down first, and then from left to right weaving under and over the other strands. (PS my darning mushroom is an orange. Does the job.)

Similarly, I know how to stitch a button or popper back on. Another very simple thing to do. I’ve purchased shirts from the charity shop that have likely been donated because a button was missing. An easy fix. I’ve also had buttons come off in action.

If I lose the button and there’s no spare, I move a button from the pocket or the very top (which I don’t use) to replace the spot where I need the button.

I purchased this shirt from the charity shop which had obviously been donated because one of the poppers was deformed. I simply stitched a new one on, and I had an almost new shirt.

If you’re a total newbie and/or the idea of attempting a mend on your own stresses you out, Repair Cafes and other community sewing groups exist. Here you can find sewing repair tutorials, where you can learn to fix your stuff for free (or low cost) with the help of someone who actually knows what they are doing.

3. Pay a Professional to Fix Your Clothing

If you don’t know how to fix something, and have no inclination to learn, find someone who does. My boots have fallen to pieces more times than I care to count (actually, I think they’ve been repaired 4 times).

I have no idea how to fix shoes, but luckily for me there is an awesome shoe repair service at the local shopping centre.

Over the years my boots have needed resoling, restitching, reheeling, reglueing, a toecap put in and a zipper replaced. But every time they come back good as new, and for much less than the cost of a new pair of boots.

I’ve also used a mending service to fix buttons back onto jeans (I think they need a special tool: it definitely isn’t a sewing job).

4. Repurpose Fabric

There’s a whole step between stopping wearing clothing, and tossing it out. Repurposing.

Clothing rarely disintegrates entirely; it tends to wear in certain spots. A pair of jeans might wear through at the bum, crotch and knees but the legs are often fine. A dress might wear out at the armpits or sleeves but the body is fine.

This is literally the most lazy repurpose in the world – I used the denim from a jeans leg to make an iPad case. I shuffled the iPad down the leg until it fit, then cut the leg just below and stitched the two sides together to make a case. It might look lame, but that was in 2014, and I still have that case. It does the job.

If the material is good quality or hard-wearing, it may be possible to donate to someone crafty to repurpose, or for projects for kids. Whether it’s for recreating into new altered clothing, making hankies, Boomerang bags, fabric bunting, cushion covers or something more creative, people can make good use of old clothing.

Buy Nothing groups are a good place to make inquiries, and Gumtree is a good option to place a free listing.

5. Use Old Natural Fibre Clothing As Rags

When my clothing from natural fibres is life expired, I chop it up to use as cleaning cloths – for the kitchen first and then the bathroom. They can go through the washing machine a few times, before ending up in the compost bin. Zero waste.

I’ve tried this with synthetic fibres but it doesn’t work nearly so well as plastic doesn’t absorb water. Now I stick to only natural ones.

6. Compost Natural Fibres

If your clothing is completely, utterly worn out, and is made entirely of natural fibres, you can compost it or put in a worm farm. If your clothing is part natural fibres, you can put in a worm farm, and the worms will eat the natural part, leaving the synthetic part.

If you don’t have access to textile recycling (or you don’t trust your textile recycling) consider composting your old clothing.

I’m not sure what the etiquette is with donating old underwear for recycling, so I pop in the worm farm. I get left with an elastane shell, and the cotton is recycled into soil. I also use old clothing as a cover for the worm farm. Eventually it breaks down.

7. Donating Clothing to Charity Shops as Rags

Not all charity shops offer this service, but some do – they will take clothing specifically for use as rags. It’s best to call first to find out if this is the case, and they will be able to tell you what they want and what they don’t.

If this is an option for you, be sure to label your donation clearly as “Rags”. This saves someone rummaging through it all and coming to the same conclusion.

8. Donate Worn Synthetic Clothes for Recycling

Worn clothing can be donated for recycling. Increasingly clothing companies and department stores will take back their own brand of clothing for recycling, but a few companies (including Levi Strauss in the US, and H & M worldwide) will take back any brand of clothing.

I take any won out synthetic clothing I have to H&M, because textile recycling is hard to find on Perth (and I want H&M to shoulder some of the responsibility for the excessive textiles problem they have helped create). If you’re lucky, you may have a council collection service or drop-off facility.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you do with old unwanted textiles? If you’re creative, how do you repurpose old fabric? Are there any ideas I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Personal Care and Cleaning)

I”m often asked about the various places I find different items or products without packaging or single-use plastic, and it occurred to me that I’ve never sat down and written a list of ALL the places and ALL the things.

It also occurred to me that creating a list like this would be rather useful. What kinds of zero waste and plastic-free things do I buy, and where do I buy them from?

Of course, if you live in Perth (which is where I live) then these lists will be extra useful as you will actually be able to go to the places I visit.

Even if you’re not a local, I want to give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source similar products in your own area.

Last week I talked about where I source zero waste and plastic-free groceries and food items in Perth. This week I’m talking about the other consumables: personal care products and cleaning products.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Bathroom and Personal Care Products

I have simplified my bathroom routine hugely since going plastic-free and zero waste back in 2012. I’ve cut back on all of the non-essentials (turns out, there were a lot of non-essentials).

I buy good quality bar soap (which I use in place of shower gel, face wash, body wash, hand wash) from Earth Products in The Vines, Swan Valley. I buy 1.3kg blocks which I cut myself (they cut like firm butter) as it is more economical.

Earth Products is a wholesale and retail skincare business, and the owner Marie is an absolute legend. Although technically she doesn’t sell bulk products, she is more than happy for me to refill my own containers.

She is also a huge wealth of knowledge and I’ve learned a lot about DIY skincare and how to use ingredients from her.

I buy all my essential oil refills, almond, rosehip and other oils, shea butter, coconut oil, vegetable glycerine, zinc powder, clay and all kinds of other ingredients here.

I tend to go once every 6 – 12 months and stock up.

Aside from soap, which I buy, I make all my other personal care products myself. Really, it’s little more than stirring together a few ingredients together in a jar. Sometimes there’s a little melting involved.

I make my own deodorant and toothpaste (I buy bicarb and tapioca flour from the Source Whole Foods). I either use almond oil in place of a moisturiser, or I make cold cream (which is beeswax, olive oil and water blended together).

I also make sunscreen (a moisturizer with zinc oxide powder).

I wash my hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. I use white vinegar, which I buy in bulk from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen 5% white vinegar).

I don’t actually use a bamboo toothbrush for my teeth (but I did buy one to brush my dog’s teeth!). Early on, I got fed up with the bristles constantly falling out and washing down the drain.

I found out about Silvercare toothbrushes, which have replaceable heads that can be changed every 6 months, and I switched to this.

I purchased my initial Silvercare toothbrush from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle and I also get the replacement heads from there.

The waste toothbrush heads and packaging can be recycled via Terracycle, and the closest hub to me is the Recycling Hub at Perth City Farm in East Perth.

I don’t use disposable menstrual products: I use a Diva cup, which is a silicone reusable menstrual cup. I’ve been using one since 2003 (I’ll write a blog post with more details about this in the coming weeks).

I also have a reusable pad that I use at night.

For hair removal I have an extremely old Gilette razor and I’m currently using up the last blade (purchased pre-2012, and I’m making it last). I also have an epilator whose battery is about to die (purchased circa 2010).

When these both give up the ghost I will switch to a stainless steel razor with stainless steel blades that can be recycled easily at metal recyclers.

This might be too much information (!) but I actually use tweezers to remove armpit air. I’m not ticklish and think my skin must be made of rubber, as I don’t find it painful in the slightest. I find I get a shaving rash with a razor. I appreciate that this might not be for everyone.

I purchase 100% recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, which is plastic-free and delivered to my doorstep. (I use the paper wrappers to pick up dog poo – they are the perfect size – and this all goes in the dog poo worm farm).

Zero Waste Cleaning Products

I don’t talk a whole lot about cleaning on my blog because cleaning is one of my least favourite things, and the less I can do of it, the better.

Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning

Let’s start with the dishes. I purchase dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically my local store The Source Vic Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house).

I have a wooden dishbrush with a replaceable head, a Safix coconut coir scourer and an import.ants bottle brush cleaner. I used to have a wooden pot brush, but once it wore out I chose not to replace it.

All of these cleaning products can be composted once finished with. The small amount of metal in the dishbrush handle can be recycled via metal recyclers.

There are two physical shops in Perth where I buy these things: Urban Revolution on Albany Highway in Victoria Park, and the Zero Store inside the Raw Kitchen on High Street, Fremantle.

(Another store I recommend – I’ve never actually made it to their physical shop but I have purchased things from their pop-up stalls at markets – is Environment House on King William Street in Bayswater.)

Yes, I also have a plastic dish brush, circa 2012, still going. It must be the longest living plastic dishbrush in history. I will use it until it wears out, be grateful that it has lasted, and whilst it remains in my kitchen not dwell on the fact that it’s fluro green colour (and plastic-ness) is mildly offensive to my eyes.

I also use bicarb soda (purchased from the Source Bulk Foods) for anything that needs a good scrub, such as burnt saucepans.

For cleaning cloths for wiping down the kitchen benches, I no longer buy cloths. Instead, I cut up old clothes, tee-shirts, towels: whatever is worn out. I prefer 100% cotton or natural fibres as these can be composted once they are too tatty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths tend to start in the bathroom, then migrate to the bathroom, then to the floors before being composted. Of course, they go through the washing machine several times during this process.

I tend to wash my counters down with water and sometimes dishwashing liquid. It seems to work fine. If there’s a stain, I scrub with a used piece of lemon to lift it (things like tea and coffee, typically).

Zero Waste Bathroom Cleaning

Most of the cleaning items I use in the bathroom started life in the kitchen. Cleaning cloths, my Safix scourer, old dishbrush heads: once these things aren’t suitable for dishes I move them on.

I use bicarb (from The Source) and 5% white vinegar from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle.

(Planet Ark in Fremantle sell 10% white vinegar for cleaning only, which I used when I had black mold in my damp flat several years ago. Generally I use the 5% vinegar, which is food grade and can be used for other things besides cleaning.)

I use a few essential oils for cleaning: tea tree, eucalyptus and clove oil. All are anti-microbial and clove oil in particular is anti-fungal and great for the shower. Bleach doesn’t actually kill mold, it just turns it white. Clove oil kills the spores. I put a few drops in vinegar and spray the tiles.

(My spray bottle is plastic. I’ve seen aluminium ones, but a reader told me that she stored vinegar in hers for a while, and the bottom fell out of it! I use the plastic one as that is what I have. I’ll try to fit the nozzle to a glass bottle if/when the plastic breaks.)

I also put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the toilet to disinfect.

Zero Waste Laundry

I purchase laundry powder from The Source Bulk Foods. I’ve tried soap nuts, and they seemed to work for me, but I just prefer buying laundry powder (and it is more convenient to purchase).

For stains, I simply dab some dishwashing liquid on the stain, then pop into the washing machine. Having tried several remedies over the years, I find this one the most effective and simplest.

I don’t use fabric softener (never have) although white vinegar is reported to be excellent for this – and a couple of drops of essential oil for scent.

Other Cleaning

I no longer have any kind of rubbish bin in my home, so I do not need bin liners. Any non-recyclable, non-compostable waste (of which there is very little, if any) goes directly outside to the rubbish bin. (I kept a waste jar for a year in 2016 as an experiment, but no longer do so.)

Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the kinds of purchases I make and how I use them, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your life. If you’re in Perth I’d encourage you to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, hopefully there’s something similar close to you.

(If there’s no local options, consider supporting an independent zero waste and plastic free business: I have put together a worldwide list of companies that care.)

When it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, I find that there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Ultimate Guide to Reusable Containers

The conversation around reducing single-use plastic and working towards zero waste often begins with reusables. These are the tools we often need to avoid the single-use and wasteful packaging – alongside getting the habits in place to actually remember and use them, of course!

Today I wanted to talk about reusable containers. It’s a big topic, because reusable containers have so many uses: for carrying food on the go, leftovers and general food storage. There are also lots of options.

I always say this, and it is as true here as anywhere: there is never a single perfect solution, or a one-size-fits all approach. Different things work better for different purposes, and often we might use different things for our different needs.

I thought I’d share some of the things that I use, and some of the things that are consistently recommended to me by my readers. These aren’t the only options by all means, and they may not be the best options for you.

There’s no need to rush out shopping and buy ALL the things. There may be no need to buy any of the things. Be mindful of your purchases. Ask yourself – can I make do? Do I really need it? Will I actually use it?

I simply want to give you some ideas of what’s available and help you find solutions that fit with your lifestyle and needs.

Reusable Containers – Glass

Glass Jars

I’m a big fan of repurposed glass jars. They come in ALL the sizes, and have many uses: dry food storage, holding liquids, keeping leftovers, freezing food (yep, they can; here’s some tips for using glass jars in the freezer) and transporting lunches.

They are also really easy to source, for free from the recycling bin, or for low cost at charity shops.

Occasionally I’ve needed to buy new lids for old jars, and these are available at specialist kitchen shops or online. Metal lids often have a plastic lining, but I see it as a lower waste solution than purchasing an entirely new glass jar with non-plastic lid.

Much as I love the look of (plastic-free) Weck or Le Parfait jars, I prefer to make do with what I already have.

Pyrex (and Other Glass Food Storage Systems)

I’m not a fan of storing food in plastic because of health concerns, so back in 2012 I invested in some Pyrex containers. They have plastic lids, but the containers are (freezerproof, ovenproof) glass.

At the time these were the best budget-friendly option I could find. Pyrex is one of those tried-and-tested built to last brands. When the lids split I’ll improvise with something else.

Since then, more glass storage container options have become available: some with plastic lids, others with glass lids and even those with stainless steel lids (part of the Onyx stainless steel range).

Glass storage containers are something easy to find at the charity /second hand shops. I’ve found a few Pyrex containers in my time.

Reusable Containers – Stainless Steel and Other Metal

I have a variety of stainless steel storage containers and also a titanium one. In this picture, clockwise from centre top: Planetbox, round single tier tiffin, 4 tier tiffin, Vargo titanium BOT, Seed + Sprout lunchbox, Ecolunchbox (with condiment container).

There are some different types that I haven’t used that have been recommended to me, and I’ve mentioned these below too.

If you keep an eye out, it is possible to find second-hand stainless steel containers in charity shops rather than buying new.

PlanetBox

PlanetBox is a stainless steel bento-style lunchbox. The box itself is completely made of stainless steel. There’s no silicone seal and it isn’t leakproof. Great for sandwiches, slices, salads, fruit and nuts.

They have three different versions: the one I have is called the “Launch” (pictured) which has 3 compartments and includes a dipper (little condiment pot). The other versions are the “Rover” (which has 5 compartments and 2 dippers) and the “Shuttle” (which has 3 compartments and a dipper, and is half the size of the “Launch”).

If you’re in Australia, Biome (3 stores in Australia and online) and The Source Bulk Foods (40 stores across Australia) are both authorised stockists of PlanetBox.

Stainless Steel Tiffins

Stainless steel tiffins are the lunchbox of choice in India, and they are one of my favourite options. They are a series of stainless steel bowls that stack together and are clipped in place. The top bowl has a lid and can be used as a single container.

I have a single tier tiffin with an insert that sits inside, and two stackable tiffins (one 3-tier, and one 4-tier).

My favourite is the 4-tier, as each bowl has a stainless steel lid that fits over the top and can be used as a plate. (My 3-tier one is just three bowls, clips and the top lid).

They are easy to store because they stack.

I find them great to take to picnics because they are easy to carry and all the bowls are good sizes.

I purchased my single tier tiffin in Thailand, my 3-tier from a department store and my 4-tier from Dunn & Walton, a store in Perth, WA.

Indian supermarkets are a great and affordable place to find tiffins.

If you’re in the USA, Life Without Plastic have a good range.

Vargo Outdoors BOT Titanium Container

I purchased this titanium container for my Camino Frances hike (800km across northern Spain) because I wanted a reusable container that was extremely lightweight (it holds 700ml and weighs 136g) and also leakproof (it has a silicone ring inside the lid). It can be used to carry water.

(By comparison, the stainless steel tiffin weighs 295g without the inner tray, holds the same volume, but is not leakproof – there is no seal).

I purchased this container from Vargo Outdoors, a US company whose products are stocked by specialist hiking/expedition stores.

Rectangular Stackable Lunchboxes

I have a couple of rectangular stackable lunchboxes: one by Seed & Sprout (pictured) which has rounded corners and a metal divider, and an EcoLunchbox which is more rectangular, without a divider and with a condiment container.

Neither have a silicone seal and neither are leakproof.

Both are a similar size. My EcoLunchBox is better quality but more expensive (you get what you pay for).

The Seed & Sprout lunchboxes are available directly via the Seed & Sprout website. This design is also available with a number of other brand names: Urban Revolution (an online store and bricks-and-mortar shop just down the road from me) stock the Ever Eco version, which looks identical.

I actually purchased my EcoLunchbox via a seller on eBay. There is a larger version called Sustain-a-Stacker which is stocked by Biome.

Other Stainless Steel Lunchboxes

Some stainless steel lunchboxes come with plastic and/or silicone lids. I don’t have any of these, but I can see the appeal if you have children, want a bit of colour and/or are looking for a leakproof alternative. (Without plastic or silicone to form a seal, stainless steel lunchboxes are not leakproof.)

Two well established and popular brands making kid-friendly reusable lunchboxes are Lunchbots and U Konserve. Both are US brands (US and Canada residents can order from these companies directly). Biome (Australia and NZ) and A Slice of Green (UK) stock these brands for those of us a little further afield.

Food Wraps and Lunchbox Alternatives

Containers can be big and bulky, and sometimes we need more flexible (sometimes literally) solutions. Here’s a few alternatives for this type of food storage.

Food Wraps

Food wraps are a great alternative for transporting food. They are often not plastic-free but they are reusable, and reduce the need for other single-use packaging.

I have a set from 4myearth, a local Perth business. These are natural cotton fabric that have been coated with a plastic layer. They are machine washable. I have both wraps and pockets, and I’ve been using them since 2012.

Other synthetic fabric options also exist, including Lunch Skins, Keep Leaf and Onya Sandwich Wraps (which are made out of recycled PET).

Alteratively, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, consider making your own.

Beeswax (and Other Wax) Wraps

Beeswax and other wax wraps are a 100% compostable alternative to food wraps. Due to the natural wax coating they are not suitable for machine washing and need to be hand washed at low temperatures. This makes them unsuitable for some types of foods, such as raw meat.

For me, the ability to chuck in the washing machine is important, but many people swear by wax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are a great opportunity to support local businesses. Most Farmers Markets sell them, alternatively try finding local small businesses on Etsy. If that fails, the majority of online eco stores stock them.

Whilst beeswax wraps are not vegan friendly, there are vegan wax wrap alternatives.

Reusable Silicone Storage Bags

I have personally never used reusable silicone storage bags, but a reader of mine, Katie, raved about them so much I have included these as an option. These reusable bags are designed to replace the single-use plastic zip-lock bags and can be used in a similar way.

The brand Katie recommended was Stasher Bag. These are silicone food storage pouches that can be reused and are dishwasher, freezer, boil and microwave safe.

Rather than paraphrase, I’m going to quote what Katie said directly. (And yes! I did check if she was on some kind of commission too! But no, she is just a fan.)

“I purchased Stasher brand silicone bags and I love them. They are dishwasher, microwave, freezer, and boil safe (for sous vide), and they come with zero plastic. Some of the other highly-rated brands I looked at on Amazon came with a plastic piece to help seal the bag. The Stasher bags seal SO well, and you can even put soups in them.

I’ve been using these bags for frozen fruit. I’ve been buying fresh fruit now that it’s in season, then freezing it to use in my smoothies. This helps me avoid buying plastic bags of frozen fruit from the store. They work very well! I would definitely recommend them. The only downside is that 1/2 gallon (~2 liters) is the largest size, which is a bit smaller than I want.”

Having never been a ziplock bag user, I’m not sure I’d personally get too much use from these. However, if you are a ziplock bag fan, these are a reusable alternative.

Reusable Containers – Where to Source

I’m a huge fan of buying second-hand over buying new. I always check the second-hand stores, online listings such as Gumtree and online auction sites like eBay before I purchase new.

Borrowing (if that’s an option) is a good way to test if you’ll actually use something before committing to making a purchase.

If you do decide to buy new, please consider supporting local brick-and-mortar stores in your area. Actually being able to look at, pick up and generally handle products is a much better way to really decide if something is well made and suitable for what we need.

If that isn’t an option, supporting local independent businesses who genuinely care about the planet is the best way to spend your money. I’ve put together a worldwide list of independent online zero waste and plastic-free stores here.

We can choose to buy new, or we can decide that we can make do without. It’s not wasteful to buy something brand new that we know we will use often, and something that will significantly reduce single use packaging over a lifetime.

The best reusables will always be the ones that we actually use.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite reusables? What do you find the most practical for your needs? Are there any other brands you’d like to mention? Is there anything you’ve tried that you wouldn’t recommend? Have you found second-hand treasures that you love? Anything else to add? I really want to hear your thoughts so please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small payment at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I’ve used myself or those recommended to me by you, my readers, and I always encourage making do or purchasing second-hand before buying anything new.

Behind the Scenes: What ACTUALLY Happens to Recycling

I love a good tour of a recycling facility or a landfill site. Asking the question “where does our rubbish and recycling actually go?” is one thing, but to actually go and have a look? That’s a completely different experience.

Recycling is presented to us as a green, clean solution – but the truth is, it’s stinky, resource-intensive and run by markets. Meaning, if it’s not cost-effective to recycle, then it won’t be recycled. If no-one wants to buy the stuff that we’re collecting for recycling, then it won’t be recycled.

My first visit to a recycling centre (which has the technical name of Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF – pronounced “murf”) was back in 2012. I’d just taken part in Plastic Free July, and was working hard to reduce my plastic and choose glass, paper and cardboard instead.

That MRF visit changed my perspective on waste almost as much as Plastic Free July did.

Because it didn’t look like how recycling looks like in the brochures.

Because it was kinda stinky and gross, and there was so much of it.

Because the guy showing us around was hell-bent on telling us: if we can’t sell it for good money, we send it to landfill.

This was the recycling from just a few suburbs collected in a single afternoon.

Visiting that MRF challenged my perceptions of recycling. It wasn’t green, or clean. It was a business, and it was running for profit. If landfill was a cheaper option than recycling, then the resources were landfilled. The ones that were recycled were baled into containers and shipped overseas for processing.

Everything went overseas for processing. None of that happened in Perth.

The biggest revelation for me was that glass is not recycled at all in Perth. Some MRFs sell glass to be crushed into road base (which I personally don’t consider to be recycling), but at this MRF, all glass was landfilled.

(Five years later and this is still true: glass is still not recycled in Perth, nor it seems, on the east coast of Australia.)

That visit to the MRF changed the way I viewed waste completely. There I was, choosing glass over plastic, only to find out that all that glass was heading to landfill.

That was not what I had expected.

That was my realisation that it wasn’t just plastic I needed to refuse, it was all packaging. I hadn’t heard of “zero waste” back then, but that visit was the start of my zero waste journey.

I’ve been pretty obsessed with waste ever since, and I’ve been to plenty of MRFs and other waste recovery places to find out exactly what goes on. I thought I’d share a few of these insights for those of you who can’t make it to one.

What Goes on at a Materials Recovery Facility (Recycling Centre)?

This is one of several recycling facilities in Perth. This facility services 5 councils. It cost $20 million to build.

The recycling is dumped on the floor by the recycling trucks, and from there is loaded onto a conveyor belt and the various recycling streams are sorted.

First the cardboard and paper is separated by spinning rollers into mixed paper, old corrugated cardboard and old newspaper (the three structures labelled in the picture below).

The glass is sorted by a tremel, crushed and used for road base. The steel is separated by a magnet, the plastic is sorted by an optical eye that can differentiate PET, HDPE and mixed plastic, and these are separated. An eddy current is used to separate the aluminium.

The resulting materials are baled and loaded into containers for shipping overseas: China, Malaysia or Indonesia. The recycling facility works on 3-month contracts with these purchasers.

What happens once these materials arrive overseas is a grey area. The companies have standards and agreements to adhere to for recycling and processing the waste, but there are also reports that most of the plastic is burned as a cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

What Happens with Commercial Composting?

Commercial composting can use various different “wastes” but for households, there are two main types of collection – those that use a dedicated food organics and garden organics bin (FOGO – they do love acronyms in the waste industry!) and those which compost the general landfill bin.

This facility composts the landfill bin. This means a much higher level of contamination.

Residents tend to put things in their landfill bin that they are told they cannot recycle. That makes sense, yes? But it means plastic, broken glass, pottery, broken electronics and all kinds of other stuff gets mingled in – and sent here for composting.

The first job is when the landfill waste arrives here is to remove as much of the big contaminants (bicycle wheels, gas bottles, large plastic items) from the waste. This is sorted with a big truck. Then it’s loaded into the composting machines, called digesters. They are 67m long, and there are 4 of them at this facility.

The “waste” is rotated in the digester for 3 days before being deposited in a large warehouse (the size of two soccer fields) to mature. It’s turned every few days by a machine, and cooled using giant fans to circulate air.

To prevent odours, the digesters have these enormous biofilters, made of tanks filled with water and wood chips. There are four of these: one for each digester. The air is sucked out with a vacuum filter.

The compost is then sieved and screened to remove metal, plastic, glass and other pieces, and transported for further processing. Because it still has high levels of contaminants, it is only suitable for agricultural use.

Commercial composting facilities that accept dedicated food and garden organics bins have much lower levels of contamination and produce a higher grade compost.

Is This Typical? Is This What Happens to MY Recycling?

The truth is, every recycling facility is different. Some are much more high-tech than this, and some are much lower tech. Some use hand-pickers (real people who separate rubbish and pick out contaminants) and others rely solely on machinery.

Commercial composters are also different, and processes vary. Some councils don’t utilise these services at all, and simply landfill the contents of the landfill bin.

No two Materials Recovery Facilities are exactly the same. (Even where the machinery is the same, the contractors might be different, the ability to sell resources to markets is different, volumes will differ, and operating costs – meaning profitability -will be different.) If you are even the slightest bit interested in waste and where it goes, I recommend visiting your local one. Many (but not all) are open to the public. Contact your local council or waste contractor, and ask if they run tours.

Even if they don’t, there might still be an opportunity to have a look. Ask the question!

No Recycling Facility has 100% Recycling Rates

Recycling is always subject to contaminants, error and changes in the market. Someone putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin can contaminate a whole load (think asbestos and hazardous waste).

Markets change all the time. The value of plastic fluctuates with the price of oil. If oil prices are low, there’s less incentive for manufacturers to use recycled plastic as new plastic will be cheap. If oil prices are high, it’s more expensive to ship low-cost materials overseas for processing.

Councils often encourage us to put things into our recycling bins to get us into good habits. Or, they might prefer non-recycables to go to a recycling facility for sorting and removal, rather than putting them through a commercial composter (where they can do more damage). Or they think it is just too confusing to go into details, and we’ll get overwhelmed if they don’t make it really simple for us.

Acceptance of a material into a recycling bin is not a confirmation that the material will be recycled. It just means that it is the preferable option: to establish good habits, reduce contamination elsewhere, and give us faith in the recycling system.

Recycling Uses Huge Amounts of Energy

Recycling takes a huge amount of resources. Trucks need to collect those recycling bins from our streets, drive them to sorting facilities (and sometimes they get taken to a transfer station first, meaning two road trips) and then heavy machinery is required to sort the different streams. Then the materials need to be baled, loaded into containers and shipped to their final destination – which is often overseas.

Once overseas, there’s more processing and transportation.

Yes, recycling helps reduce new materials from being mined out of the ground. Yes, it uses less energy overall than making new things. Yes, it definitely keeps things out of landfill and keeps materials in circulation longer.

Recycling is definitely preferable to not recycling.

But recycling is not a perfect solution. 

Recycling is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Refuse, rethink, reduce, reuse and repair – they all come before recycling.

Much as I’d love to live completely waste free, we don’t live in a circular economy. Many things are not designed for reuse. I still produce recycling – everyone does. I still receive letters in the mail, purchase the odd thing in paper or cardboard, buy wine in glass bottles on occasion, and  find plastic packaging entering my home.

But I try to keep my recyclables to a minimum. If I can refuse something, then I will.

I pop those things I can’t (or choose not to) avoid in my recycling bin and I hope for the best.

Before I embarked on my zero waste lifestyle, I would see my full recycling bin as a badge of honour for being the responsible eco-citizen. Now I see anything that enters my recycling bin as a waste of resources, a failure of my imagination, a flaw in the system.

Most importantly, I see these things as something to work at improving for next time.

It is fantastic that recycling exists. It saves all those resources from landfill, and gives them the opportunity for reuse. We will always need recycling, but we mustn’t rely on it, or think of it as the solution.

Recycling is a great place to start. But it’s a terrible place to stop. We can do so much better.

War on Waste: How Food Rescue Charities Are Fighting Food Waste

The recent ABC television series War on Waste aired last month, and suddenly everyone is talking about waste. Which, in my view, is a good thing. A great thing! As it should be ;) The more conversations we have around waste, the better.

I watched the series myself and thought it was well made, informative and motivational. It did a great job of addressing the problems. The problems need talking about, definitely. But I felt it only touched on the solutions. Which, maybe, was a missed opportunity. In my view, there are plenty of solutions, and we need to talk about these as much as (or more than!) the problems!

No doubt there wasn’t time for everything. (It was only 3 episodes, after all!)

So I thought I’d explore some of the solutions here. Today, I’m going to talk about food waste, and more specifically, what people are doing about.

Food waste is a huge issue in Australia, with around 40% of food being discarded before it leaves farms, and shoppers throwing away 20% of everything they buy (the equivalent of 1 bag of shopping in 5). The UK reported similar statistics with their Hugh’s War on Waste series last year, saying 1/3 of food produced is never eaten. The figure is similar in the U.S.

The supermarkets are linked to a lot of this waste. With their strict cosmetic standards, unbalanced supplier contracts in favour of the retailer, pre-packaging loose items (where they control the portion sizes), and promotional 3-for-2 offers that encourage us to buy more than we need, they encourage waste at every stage in the process.

Arguably, it’s a broken system. But within this system, organizations are doing what they can to reduce this food waste by distributing some of the surplus to others who need it via charity partners.

Here in Perth there are a number of organisations working to fight food waste by “rescuing” food.

Food Bank: are the largest food relief organisation in Australia. They deal with large quantities and collect food on a massive scale. They don’t go to individual supermarkets to collect discards, but rather collect pallets of food from warehouses for redistribution.

Oz Harvest: with their quirky yellow vans, Oz Harvest collect surplus food from all types of food providers, including fruit and vegetable markets, farmers, supermarkets, wholesalers, stadiums, corporate events, catering companies, hotels, shopping centres, cafes, delis, restaurants, film and TV shoots and boardrooms. They collect both fresh food and dry goods and distribute as is to charitable partners.

Food Rescue WA: a WA initiative of UnitingCare West, Food Rescue WA collects surplus fresh produce (no dry goods) from cafes, supermarkets and farmers and repacks into “veg boxes” which are distributed to charitable partners.

Case Study: Food Rescue WA

This week I had the opportunity to visit Food Rescue WA in Belmont (a suburb of Perth). I was amazed, humbled and heartened by what I saw and learned. They haven’t stood by in despair at what can seem an overwhelming situation; they’ve got to work righting some of the wrongs.

Food Rescue WA have just two full time staff, with 4 casual drivers and 100 regular volunteers. Powered by this volunteer army, and with 4 vans that have been donated, they collect food from 49 supermarkets, sort and re-pack, and redistribute to 78 different charitable organisations.

In addition, they have two food carts which collect food from 37 cafes in the CBD, and redistribute directly to homeless people in the city who have no access to kitchens.

Between them, they supply food to organisations who feed more than 11,000 people every week.

“Waste” products that have arrived and are waiting to be sorted and repacked.

Food arrives here at the Food Rescue WA warehouse in various ways and for various reasons. The black boxes at the front are assorted rejects from the supermarkets. The oranges are an overstock. The yellow container at the back (a cubic metre) comes directly from a farmer, with carrots that don’t meet the cosmetic/size standards.

Food Rescue WA only deal with fresh fruit and vegetables. They also receive eggs for redistribution, and occasionally chilled products.

This second yellow container is filled with cosmetically imperfect but completely edible carrots donated by a farmer. The dimensions of the container are 1m x 1m x 1m (a cubic meter).

The food is then sorted by volunteers and distributed into boxes (old banana boxes). The food is distributed so that each box has variety and colour, and looks visually appealing.

Sorting food and packing into boxes..

A partially packed veg box…

Boxes of colourful, edible food saved from the bin and ready to be distributed by the Food Rescue WA vans to people in need.

Food Rescue WA currently operates from Monday to Friday, but they may expand into weekends. The volunteers arrive at 7am and sorting and packing is generally completed by 10am. The boxes are then delivered, with all charities in receipt of their food by 11.30am.

What happens next is up to the charities. Some cook meals using the ingredients; others allow people to take the boxes home to cook for their families.

This operation provides 11,000 meals a week. That’s impressive in itself, but there’s more. Food Rescue WA don’t just fight food waste, though. They fight other waste too.

Plastic

Firstly, they sort and recycle all of their packaging. They have a plastics recycling system where plastics are separated into their different types (numbers) and then this is collected by CLAW Environmental for recycling.

They even go one step further and remove all the plastic packaging from the boxes they are donating to the charities. They realise that the charities won’t have the time or capacity to recycle the soft plastic, and may not have the knowledge to sort it correctly either.

By removing the plastic before it is distributed, it saves the charity workers a job and also the disposal costs, and ensures it gets recycled properly.

Food Rescue WA currently recycles 4 cubic meters of soft plastic a week.

Cardboard

The food received by charities is packed into banana boxes which can be returned for re-use. Typically a driver will deliver new boxes, collect old empty ones and they will be re-used for packing. Each box can be used several times before it begins to wear out. The cardboard is then recycled.

Food Waste

Food Rescue WA have an innovative composting machine called the Orca that aerobically digests unusable food waste rapidly, and produces a liquid effluent that can be safely discharged into the municipal sewerage system.

The jar of apple sauce on top of the machine is in fact the liquid effluent which comes out of the machine after the contents are aerobically digested, and have passed through a grease trap and filter system.

These fresh veggies were added…

…and 15 minutes later they were well on their way to breaking down. The food waste has no smell, or if anything, it smells like a fresh green salad!

Food Rescue WA did secure backing to fund a composter in the past, but unfortunately could not get council approval to install it.

Fighting Food Waste: What Can I Do?

There’s plenty of things we can do as individuals to reduce our food waste at home. We can reduce what we buy, learn to understand the different ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By ‘codes, and also learn how to tell if something is good or bad without relying on the packaging telling us. We can learn new ways to cook things, embrace home composting and get more organized so there are no longer unidentified objects that used to be food lurking at the back of our fridges. (For more ideas, here’s 12 tips to reducing food waste.)

But we can go one step further. We can support these organisations working to reduce food waste. Here’s three ideas:

Volunteer for a few hours at a Food Rescue service such as Food Rescue WA and donate your time to help collect, sort and redistribute food that’s headed to landfill to people who need it. Or if you have a specialised skill that you think may be of use, offer these services!

Donate to the cause. These organisations run on volunteer hours and donated food, but still need to pay for utilities, fuel and maintenance to keep the operation running. Donating money directly to these organizations is better than buying food from supermarkets to donate. There’s already plenty of food out there that needs rescuing, and supermarkets really don’t need our money – the charities do!

Share their story! Tell your local cafe, restaurant, workplace, supermarket, greengrocer or farmer about these services, and encourage them to use them and support the work that they do.

If you’d like to get involved with or support Food Rescue WA, you can find more information here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What solutions do you have for reducing food waste – at home, at work or in your local community? What organisations are doing great things in your local community and how could you support their work? Any thoughts on the story I’ve shared? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment below!