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How I changed my mind about living zero waste and plastic-free (a story in 5 stages)

A friend of mine volunteers at a local food rescue organisation, which collects mostly pre-packaged out-of-date (well, out-of-date as described by the packaging), damaged and excess food, and redistributes to charities around the city.

Not all the food that is rescued is edible, but some of what isn’t edible for humans is still good for chickens. Yesterday, she dropped around some rescued food for my girls.

Like most of what they rescue, it came wrapped in plastic. I gave the contents to my ladies (who gobbled up the beetroot slaw, tolerated the broccoli, picked at the snow peas and snubbed the watercress completely), and rinsed out the packaging ready to take to redcycle for recycling.

Wet single-use plastic packaging has a really yuck feel to it; it was literally making my skin crawl as I washed it out. It got me thinking about how my feelings for and perception of plastic has changed over the years. At one point I’d have thought nothing of a fridge full of this plastic (oh, and I wouldn’t have been washing it out, nor recycling it); now, having just four pieces on the draining board makes me feel uncomfortable.

There was also a time, in the middle, where I’d have refused point blank to even allow this plastic into my house.

So why has my view on plastic and the way I live zero waste changed over the years? For each of the stages, I can pinpoint a reason why I made the choice, and a reason why that changed. After all, trying to live sustainably in never black and white, and there’s a lot of nuance around different issues.

Over time, I’ve changed my mind a few times. Perhaps you’ve come to different conclusions and made different choices. Or perhaps you can relate to some of these stages, too.

Just starting out (the learning and ‘making mistakes’ stage)

I decided to give up plastic in June 2012, after watching the documentary Bag It. Pretty much overnight, I changed my perspective on plastic completely. I went from the person buying all the plastic whilst complaining that ‘somebody should do something about that’ – and thinking I was some kind of sustainability superhero because I had reusable shopping bags – to realising that there was so much more I could do.

Changing your perspective doesn’t mean knowing all the answers, or doing all the things. For me, it meant starting out by working on changing my habits.

My first focus was avoiding single-use plastic and packaging, particularly when food shopping and buying bathroom and cleaning products.

One of the first changes I made was buying a (plastic) KeepCup, and I didn’t see any irony in buying a plastic cup to refuse plastic (although at the time, KeepCup was the only brand on the market and they hadn’t invented a glass version yet).

I did buy a few other things, but I was lucky in those days that there weren’t a lot of products to entice me with clever marketing. Someone making the same choices today could easily spend a small fortune!

(Which is fine if you both have small fortune and will use everything you buy – and often. But it is an expensive way to learn what you do and don’t actually need.)

There were a lot of mistakes, in the early days. Packets with sneaky plastic, forgetfulness, little awareness around greenwashing and so taking claims like ‘eco-friendly’ on products at face value.

But the more I learned, the better at refusing plastic I got.

From ‘plastic-free’ to ‘zero waste’ (the understanding waste stage)

About 6 months in, I visited a recycling facility (or more technically, a materials recovery facility – which sorts materials but doesn’t actually recycle them).

It made me realise that switching out plastic for other materials (paper, cardboard, glass and metal) didn’t make much sense if these things were also used only once too.

So I committed to reduce all single-use packaging, not just plastic.

I also started thinking about all plastic, not just the single-use stuff. I began to choose non-plastic replacements for items, and non-plastic reusables.

Plastic things – even reusables – still tend to break or wear out (compared to their plastic-free alternatives), and the less I used plastic, the less I wanted to use plastic.

I wondered if I’d done the wrong thing by buying plastic reusables. I purchased plastic-free reusables, but then felt conflicted because buying new stuff (even plastic-free stuff) uses resources and creates waste.

The plastic-free zero waste purist (the ‘uncompromising’ stage)

By this time, all of my habits were embedded, and those who knew me knew that I didn’t use plastic and was serious about reducing my waste. More and more solutions were appearing – from more people writing about waste and sharing ideas, to online and social networks allowing people to share stuff, and more bulk stores and companies focusing on waste reduction with their products and services.

Living with no plastic and no waste was getting easier. I was also testing my boundaries, refusing to let plastic through my door and really pushing myself to create as little waste as possible.

This was the time when the media started talking about zero waste, and there was a lot of focus on fitting your annual waste in a jam jar. I did it myself for a year.

This was definitely the least pleasant stage to be in – both for me, and probably those close to me.

So why was it unpleasant?

Well, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge and I love working out ways to solve problems and reduce my waste. But the ‘waste-in-a-jam-jar’ year meant focusing on the minutiae in a way that never really felt comfortable with me. It just didn’t feel like the best use of my time or energy.

I felt like a fraud for those things I didn’t put in the jar – like the glass bottle of washing up liquid I smashed on my concrete floor, or a label I tossed in a bin whilst out in a moment of forgetfulness.

I also had a few instances where people I knew told me that I made them feel guilty. Not by necessarily even doing or saying anything (although I’m not always known for my tact) – sometimes just my being there made people feel guilty about their choices. Which was rubbish for all of us.

And there were definitely times here when I was more…robust…with my expectations of others. It wasn’t deliberate – sometimes when you’ve come so far you can forget where you were, and that others are still there.

Honestly, it might have been sustainable for the planet, but it didn’t feel sustainable for me (or those around me).

Everything is interconnected (the ‘joining the dots’ stage)

The more I learned about waste, the more I discovered about the waste that happens before stuff comes through our front doors, and the more I understood waste as something bigger than packaging or plastic.

I let go of chasing the ideal of being perfectly zero waste, and started thinking more broadly about the issues.

Waste is about much more than glass jars or plastic bags.

For example, buying food packaged without plastic that then goes bad in the fridge (because the plastic is what helps keeps it fresh) is just creating a different kind of waste.

Or buying a brand new ethically made and ‘sustainably sourced’ thing from overseas (with brand new materials and a big carbon footprint) creates more waste than making do with the less-shiny thing available in the second-hand store.

It’s a hollow victory when you can cram your annual waste into a jam jar, but the majority of society is carrying on as normal. I became less interested in my personal waste ‘achievement’ and more interested in how to create change in my community.

It seemed – still seems – like a better use of my energy to share what I know and help others make changes than sit back and feel like my job is done.

Not sweating the small stuff (the ‘bigger picture’ stage)

I’ve realised that I care too much about too many different aspects of waste to focus single-mindedly on one issue.

I care about plastic waste, but I also care about food waste.

I care about supporting ethical and sustainable businesses producing responsible products, but I care about keeping resources in use by choosing second-hand, and reducing consumption by making do.

I care about my own personal waste footprint, and I also care about making waste reduction more accessible to others.

I’m keen to reduce the waste that I create, and I’m also interested in reducing waste further up the waste stream.

So now, I try to let the small and inconsequential stuff go in recognition of the bigger picture.

I’ll refuse a plastic bag at the store, but I’ll take a plastic sack filled with spent coffee grounds from a cafe (to put in my compost bin) that might otherwise go to landfill.

I won’t buy plastic-packaged food for myself, but I’ll accept it rescued from the bin (to feed myself or the chickens).

I’ll reuse plastic containers in existence rather than buying a brand new metal (plastic-free) version.

I‘m not saying that these choices are the best or right choices, they are simply what work for me, at this moment. The way I feel about plastic and waste has changed over the years, and I’m sure it will change again in the future.

Navigating waste is often complicated, and there tend to be trade-offs one way or another.

I wanted to share this because I really don’t think there’s one way to tackle waste. It can feel like a minefield because there are so many choices and so much conflicting advice. It’s an imperfect world and whilst it isn’t always possible to know what the best choice is, the important thing is that we try.

My advice is: don’t sweat the small stuff. Just do your best.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you changed your thoughts around plastic and waste as you’ve started making changes? Have your priorities shifted or stayed the same? Do you prefer to focus on one aspect of waste, or try to navigate the different aspects? Have you experienced these stages… or different ones? Any other thoughts? Please leave a comment below!

8 Zero Waste, Plastic-Free and Sustainable Lifestyle Books for 21st Century Living

Times are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that the section in the library or in the local book store about green living had a couple of books about keeping chickens, preserving your entire homegrown harvest and going off-grid, a few more about saving the planet without even leaving your armchair, and not very much in between.

Plus, even finding that section in the first place was a mission.

But over the last few years, the number of books focused on living more sustainably and reducing waste, particularly for those of us that live in cities and suburbs, has blossomed.

The best thing is that these books are practical. Live in an apartment? Still in college? Have a baby or young kids? Trying to make your budget stretch further? There’s still plenty that can be done!

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books taking zero waste living, going plastic-free and making sustainable choices into the 21st century. They are all books I’ve actually read. They are all different, which is great: different people are on different journeys, and need different inspiration at different times.

Rather than compare, I’ve tried to articulate not only what the book is about but also the style and tone, and who it is ideal for.

Just because something isn’t featured here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t great – it probably means I haven’t read it (yet)! And I do intend to update this list as more good books are released into the world.

Lastly, this post does use some affiliate links. As always, I encourage supporting your local library or your local independent bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have one) before buying online.

Zero Waste by Shia Su

Shia is from Germany, and has a popular Instagram account called Wasteland Rebel. She lives a zero waste lifestyle with her husband in urban Germany, and is also a minimalist, and vegan.

Zero Waste is a great beginner’s guide with colour photos, well structured and clearly laid out. The content is both thoughtful and practical, and her tone is helpful and non-judgmental. She explains the premise behind the zero waste movement and touches on some of the bigger issues at the core of the waste “problem”, whilst making this a book focused on solutions.

Shia talks about the choices she has made as well as offering alternatives and encouraging readers to find their own way.

Suited for those new to the zero waste movement, or interested in learning how others make zero waste living work for them

Worldwide delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK stockists

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

Erin is a zero waste blogger from Melbourne on the east coast of Australia, who writes the blog The Rogue Ginger. We started writing about plastic-free and zero waste living around the same time, although it took a while for us to connect – and when we did it was interesting to see how much similarity there was in our journeys. I’m very happy to call Erin a good friend of mine.

Erin’s book is an in-depth look into what zero waste is and a practical guide to wasting less. As well as the obvious things like food shopping and choosing reusables, Erin covers weddings, babies, mending, activism and some of the lesser talked-about aspects of living waste-free.

Waste Not is very comprehensive, and written in a gentle, encouraging tone with lots of stories of Erin’s journey along the way. There are recipes and how-to’s and plenty of step-by-steps, although Erin is very clear to emphasize that she does not advocate making everything from scratch.

Suited to anyone who wants a really comprehensive introduction and immersion into the topic, or who wants to get serious about zero waste living. This book isn’t just about why – it’s about how. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read, although the sheer amount of content means it will take a while to work through – trust me, it is most definitely worth it.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not Everyday by Erin Rhoads

Erin wrote a second book Waste Not Everyday as a sister book to Waste Not, published a year apart. With Waste Not Everyday, Erin wanted to create something more digestible for people who weren’t quite ready to immerse themselves in zero waste, or who wanted quick tips and easy-to-grasp ideas to inspire rather than a comprehensive step-by-step road map to change.

Waste Not Everyday is divided into 365 tips, with simple recipes and heaps of great ideas for reducing, reusing and reconnecting. It’s really easy to dip in and out of, it’s fun and it’s still packed with good ideas.

Suited to anyone who find big in-depth books intimidating, or wants simple inspiration and is happy to go and do their own research to find out more.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

Not yet published in UK/USA/CAN.

A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days by Anita Vandyke

Anita is from Sydney, Australia, although she spends half her time in San Fransisco, and has a popular zero waste Instagram account called Rocket Science (she’s also an aeronautical engineer, and currently studying medicine).

Anita’s book is very different to Erin’s – it’s small, light and easy to read although still full of ideas for living with less waste. Beautifully presented, with illustrations rather than photos. The tone and style is very similar to the posts Anita shares via Instagram, with hints, tip and tricks, giving the reader ideas and inspiration to take away.

Although the book is called A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days and presented as a tip for each day, the actual changes suggested are more about changing our mindsets, habits and behaviours than making simple daily swaps.

Suited to anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to read a more in-depth book, or who likes their information in bite-size portions. The book is an entree of the the ideas behind living a zero waste life, written to inspire and motivate rather than providing a step-by-step of how to get there.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble |Indiebound


The Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter

Lauren and Oberon Carter are also from Australia (they live in Tasmania) but their zero waste living experience differs from the media stereotype of the young urban-dwelling woman-only lifestyle: they live on a 850m2 block in Hobart with their three daughters, whom they homeschool, and grow a lot of their own food. They also run the Zero Waste Tasmania Facebook page and an online store called Spiral Garden.

A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living covers a lot of topics not delved into by the other zero waste books on the market: there’s much more focus on doing things from scratch, growing food and the self-sufficiency side of zero waste living. It’s very much a family-friendly guide, with some less commonly seen but definitely practical DIYs, and beautiful photos throughout.

Suited to anyone who loves the idea of embracing the DIY, self-sufficiency side of living in a modern, 21st century way. This book is for those wanting to go further than the more straightforward and most talked-about swaps; and for those interested to learn more about how a family of five can live waste free.

Worldwide Stockists:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks


Live Green by Jen Chillingsworth

Jen lives in Yorkshire in the UK with her husband and teenage son, and her Instagram account is Jen Little Birdie. She writes about slow and simple living rather than zero waste specifically, but there is so much alignment with her content that I had to include it here – plus I love her tone and voice.

Jen’s book is tiny – it almost fits in the palm of my hand – yet it packs the content in. This book is brimming with ideas. It’s beautifully illustrated in full colour, with six sections: Green Home & Garden, Eco Household, Eat Green, Slow Fashion, Natural Beauty and Simple Christmas. The concept is one idea a week for a whole year. Jen is thoughtful, thorough and there are lots of practical how to’s and recipes to support the ideas and help the reader take next steps.

Suited to anyone at the beginning of their sustainability journey or looking for some next steps, who wants ideas for living more sustainably in an easily digestible format – but still with practical how-to’s. With thoughts on energy efficiency, slow fashion and mindfulness, Live Green covers a broader range of topics than many zero waste books. And that’s a good thing – these issues are all interconnected, after all.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

Of course I’m including my own book here! If you haven’t met me before, I’m Lindsay, and I’ve been living plastic-free and zero waste since 2012, and writing this blog since 2013. My minimalism journey (or my journey to ‘enough’ as I like to call it, because labels can be so polarising) started because I was struggling with having too much stuff and hating the idea of waste.

It took a lightbulb moment for me to realise that keeping stuff I didn’t need, didn’t use and didn’t like was actually a huge waste – there had to be (and is) another way.

Less Stuff is a book about decluttering but it’s more than that, it’s about redefining our relationship with stuff. How we choose things, how we use things, and most importantly – what we can do with our things when we’re done with them. It’s a practical guide with a step-by-step approach, and in particular there’s a big focus on the ‘how’ of finding new homes for our old things.

Suited to anyone who thinks they’ve got too much stuff, those of us who feel guilty throwing things in the bin and anyone wanting to redefine their relationship with their things.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Simplicious Flow by Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a journalist and TV presenter most well-known as the founder of I Quit Sugar, but she is also passionate about reducing food waste (among other things). Her last I Quit Sugar book, Simplicious Flow is actually a zero-waste cookbook.

With Simplicious Flow Sarah wanted to do things differently. Not just with the recipes, but with the whole cookbook-making process (she wrote an interesting piece about the behind-the-scenes here). Talking of content, this book is packed full: there are 348 recipes that range from the kinds of recipes you’d expect in a cookbook to a 3-page spread on using up jar dregs, and a banana cake that uses banana peels.

Suited to those who already have a bit of confidence in the kitchen and want to make more foods from scratch, and anyone passionate about reducing their food waste at home. I suspect this book might overwhelm absolute beginners partly due to its sheer size and partly due to the ‘flow’ which means recipes move from one to another. Sarah’s recipes use a lot of meat, fish, eggs and dairy so if you’re vegan or plant-based this is something to consider. It’s family-friendly, with recipes for kids included.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Waterstones


As I said, I’m hoping to add more to these as I get round to reading them. On my to-read list, Tara Button’s A Life Less Throwaway, Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. All other suggestions welcome!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what good books on sustainability have you read? Which did you love? Which didn’t quite work for you? Have you read any of these and what were your thoughts? Any new releases you’re looking forward to reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below!