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Where to Find Zero Waste + Plastic Free Essentials Online

As someone who does her best to discourage shopping, I’ve put off writing this guide. For years. Yet I’m regularly asked where to find certain eco-friendly products. And yes: there are certain items that make living plastic-free and zero waste easier. The purpose of this website is to make it easier for people to live more sustainable, ethical, plastic-free and zero waste lives. Very occasionally, that means stuff.

I’ve put this resource together to help anyone looking for zero waste or plastic-free alternatives. I would always encourage everyone to use what they have first, and to look for second-hand options before buying anything new. Borrowing things from friends to establish whether you will actually use them before buying is also recommended.

I would also plead: shop as local as possible, and support independent stores. We all bemoan the lack of choice, the rise of big box stores and the demise of the independent store. Yet when we buy something, the temptation is often to choose the cheapest option, rather than the most ethical.

Remember, when we buy things, we vote with our money for the companies we want to support and the kind of future we want to see.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping

I’ve tried to feature stores that have a range of products, rather than just one or two offerings. This list is only as good as my personal experience and the feedback and recommendations I receive. If you know of a store I should add to this list – please tell me!

The most zero waste option is always to buy from a physical store rather than to purchase online, where the option exists. The next best option is to choose the most local online store to you. Etsy is a handmade marketplace and is a great place to find handmade produce bags, reusable bags and other crafted items, and to support local producers.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Australia

Biome Eco Store

An online store (with stores in Brisbane) that isn’t exclusively plastic-free or zero waste but with a very high proportion of zero waste products. They do have a dedicated “No Waste and Plastic Free” section, and also ship their products without using plastic.

Great for: stainless steel and glass lunchboxes and containers, water bottles, reusable straws, icy pole moulds, cutlery, glass jars, bamboo dental care, and lots more.

W: biome.com.au

Delivery: Australia (Free Delivery over $130); international delivery at cost

Shop Naturally

An online store (with pickup from their warehouse available in NSW) is an online health and wellbeing store with a fair range of plastic-free products in bamboo and stainless steel, and BPA-free silicone.

Great for: water bottles, bamboo kitchenware, glass food storage, popsicle moulds and ice cube trays.

W: shopnaturally.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free shipping starts at $100 spend and minimum spend increases with weight and postcode).

Flora & Fauna

Flora & Fauna is a vegan, cruelty-free and eco-friendly online store selling everything from fashion to homewares, dental care to reusables. Not everything in their store is zero waste or even plastic-free, but they do have a range of options spread across their categories. They also sell some unusual products including copper water bottles.

W: floraandfauna.com.au

Delivery: Worlwide. Austalia: $6.95 for orders up to $50.00, free delivery over $50. Some smaller items have free shipping with no minimum spend. New Zealand: shipping from $10 via DHL. Worldwide shipping from $15 via DHL.

Dandelion Eco Store

An online health and wellbeing store based in Perth, WA (with pickup available from the Growers Green Farmers Market, South Fremantle on Sundays). Rachel has a growing collection of stainless steel and plastic-free food storage and food preparation containers.

Great for: plastic-free food storage solutions including lunchboxes, water bottles, other reusables.

W: dandelionecostore.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (Free shipping to Perth metro over $50; $15 flat rate shipping for Australia-wide metro with spends up to $299; free shipping Australia-wide metro for spends over $300; rural Australia shipping calculated by weight and postcode).

Urban Revolution

An online eco-store based in Perth with a range of plastic free items and reusables and a big focus on natural and compostable options, that ship all parcels with reused materials and avoids plastic where possible.

W: urbanrevolution.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (delivery calculated by weight; local pickup available)

Ecolosophy

An online eco-store with a range of plastic free items and reusables, that ship all parcels without plastic tape or packaging.

W: ecolosophy.com.au

Delivery: Australia only ($9.95 under $150, free delivery over $150)

Going Green Solutions

An online store based in Melbourne (with local pickup available from Hurstbridge, Melbourne) with two main categories: green catering & packaging; and eco home & lifestyle. Has a broad range of products with some less-commonly found items including make-up refills.

W: goinggreensolutions.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (free delivery over $100 if less than 3kg; heavier orders calculated by weight; local pickup available)

The Source Bulk Foods

As the name suggests, The Source Bulk Foods are predominantly a food retailer. They are passionate about zero waste living and reducing plastic though, and have a number of reusables for sale on their website or at their 33 stores across Australia including beeswax wraps, produce bags, Planet Box lunchboxes and water bottles.

W. thesourcebulkfoods.com.au

Delivery: Australia only (from $9.95; price dependent on postcode and weight of order)

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, USA and Canada

Life Without Plastic

An online store dedicated to offering products that are plastic-free, this store has everything you might need (and no doubt, plenty you don’t!) for living a plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle. All of the products are made with stainless steel, glass and wood.

W: lifewithoutplastic.com

Delivery: Flat Rate Shipping to North America & Canada (excluding Hawaii & Alaska); International Delivery at cost.

Mighty Nest

An online store with a focus on natural, organic and non-toxic products, with lots of glass, stainless steel and non-plastic options.

W: mightynest.com

Delivery: USA (free delivery over $50 except Alaska, Hawaii and US Territories), Australia and Canada (delivery at cost)

The Ultimate Green Store

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there are no dedicated categories. There are lots of natural products and recycled materials, and the range is huge. The store offers bamboo homewares, recycled glass products and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: theultimategreenstore.com

Delivery: USA only (except by special request)

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

A small eco-store based in Athens, Georgia (local pickup is also available) dedicated to zero waste living, which also sells a small number of vintage items.

Great for: vintage and arty zero waste items, and reusables.

W: tinyyellowbungalow.com

Delivery: USA (price per order value; orders over $100 cost a flat rate $15), International ($26 for orders under $150, $36 for orders over $150)

Wild Minimalist

A small zero waste online store based in San Rafael, California which also sells a small number of vintage items. They are committed to packaging items plastic-free, and use recyclable materials where possible.

W: wildminimalist.com

Delivery: USA and Canada (shipping calculated at checkout; free standard delivery for orders over $75 to the Continental U.S. & Canada)

NU Grocery (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a growing collection of zero waste products under five categories. They also ship their products completely plastic-free and all packaging is fully recyclable.

W: nu-grocery.myshopify.com

Delivery: Canada only ($10, free delivery on orders over $85)

PAREdown Home (Canada)

An online zero waste store with a small range of products, most of which are plastic-free.

W: paredownhome.com

Delivery: Worldwide, no prices listed.

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, UK and Ireland

A Slice of Green

The sister site of Green Tulip (listed below), A Slice of Green products are focused on waste minimization and the mantra “reduce-reuse-recycle”. Not all products are plastic-free, but the emphasis is on reusables and sustainability. Focussed on food preparation, storage and transport.

W : asliceofgreen.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Green Tulip

An ethical gifts website with 6 core values: organic, natural, British, recycled, sustainable and fair trade. Their sister site A Slice of Green focuses on food-based reusables, but Green Tulip has plenty of sustainable alternatives to conventional products including garden, wellbeing and recycled glass.

W: greentulip.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £30, costs £2.95 under £30), international delivery at cost (on request)

Boobalou

Boobalou is a small UK company working to reduce household waste, with a huge focus on family-friendly reusables. There are four main categories: eco lady, eco baby, eco home and eco living. Whilst not everything is plastic-free, the majority is, and all of the products are more eco-friendly than conventional alternatives.

Great for: anyone with babies, young kids and families.

W: boobalou.co.uk

Delivery: UK (free delivery over £50, costs £2.85 under £50), International (£6.85 flat rate; large orders at cost)

Less Plastic

This small online store is committed to promoting the plastic-free way of life, and all products are designed to live without (or with less plastic). Most products are for food prep, storage and transport, with a real emphasis on stainless steel reusables.

W: lessplastic.co.uk

Delivery: UK (£3.50 under £50, free delivery over £50), international delivery on request

Eqo Living

A small online store and family business committed to offering eco-friendly, reusable products for living with less waste. Most products are for food preparation, storage and transport.

W: eqoliving.com

Delivery: UK only (£4.90 standard delivery under £100, free delivery over £100)

&Keep

Based in Dorset, this online homewares store stocks products chosen with the idea that they are bought “once” and will last forever. Lots of natural materials and fibres, and a selection of reusables.

W: andkeep.com

Delivery: UK only (Standard delivery £1.99, free delivery over £50

Ethical Superstore

This isn’t a plastic-free or zero waste store as such, and there is plenty of plastic! But there is such a vast array of products (it is definitely a superstore!) that there are some zero waste options. They have a home composting section, bamboo homewares, and a small selection of reusables. You won’t find specialist zero waste products here but it is helpful for the basics. They also have a big range of organic natural clothing.

W: ethicalsuperstore.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Natural Collection

Owned by the same company as Ethical Superstore, this online shop has many of the same products but they seem to run different offers, so it may be worth checking both.

W: naturalcollection.com

Delivery: UK and Ireland only (free delivery over £50)

Anything But Plastic

A small online eco store selling a limited range of plastic-free products including personal care items (dental floss, soap and make-up).

W: anythingbutplastic.co.uk

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Online Shopping, Europe

European stores are divided into two sections: those with English versions and those without. (The latter are presented as a list simply because I am unable to read them to give a more detailed account of their offering!)

Sinplastico (Spain)

A Spanish website (with English and French translations) that focuses on alternative products to plastic. There are five categories: kitchen, bath & body, home, kids & babies, and takeaway.

W : sinplastico.com

Delivery: Europe (Spain and Portugal €3-10 under €120, free over €120; France €10 under €120, free over €200; rest of Europe €15 under €120, €10 over €200)

Non-English Online Zero Waste Stores:

France:

Sans BPA
W: sans-bpa.com

Hakuna Tata – Boutique Zero Dechet
W: boutiquezerodechet.com

Czech Republik:

Econea
W: econea.cz

Germany:

Laguna
W: laguna-onlineshop.de

Monomeer
W: monomeer.de

Original Unverpackt
W: original-unverpackt.de

Plasno
W: plasno.de

Plasticarian
W: einfach-ohne-plastik.at

Zero Waste Laden
W: zerowasteladen.de

Zero Waste Shop
W: zerowasteshop.de

Greece

Sapontina
W: sapontina.gr

Netherlands:

Babongo
W: babongoshop.nl

Ecomondo
W: ecomondo.nl

Bag-Again NL
W: bag-again.nl

Younetics
W: younetics.nl

Now I’d love to hear from you! Please help make this list as useful as possible to as many people as possible! If you know of a store that’s missing, please let me know in the comments so I can add it to the list. If you have any experiences of these (or other) stores, please share away and let everyone know your thoughts – good and bad! Any other tips or alternatives to find products also welcome. Tell me what you think in the comments below!

Disclaimer: These companies have been included by me or recommended by my readers as great online stores to purchase zero waste or plastic-free products, based solely on their product offering, ethics and customer service. No store has paid me to be featured on this list. Whilst I have not personally shopped at all of these stores, I can recognise products that I own or recommend in their pages, and I trust the opinion of my readers. This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers.

How to Win an Argument about “Eco Friendly” Packaging

Despite the rather bold title, I’m really not out to start arguments. I’m definitely not out to pick fights. I’d much rather we all got along :) So what comes below isn’t actually about arguing.

It’s about helping others see our point of view when it comes to waste (and that includes eco-friendly packaging). “Eco friendly” packaging is something I get asked about a lot.

It seems that not a week goes by without me having a conversation with somebody about single-use packaging, and why it isn’t the wonderful convenience item that we think it is.

I do not know how many times I have been told by a helpful staff member when I refuse packaging that there is no need to refuse, because “it’s eco-friendly / we recycle / it’s biodegradable”.

I cannot count how often well-meaning friends have shared links about the latest and greatest edible or biodegradable alternative to single-use items with me, expecting me to declare the waste problem solved.

Five years ago, this was me. I thought that if it had “eco-friendly” printed on it (preferably in green and with a nice leaf logo), then it was eco-friendly. I was waiting for science to invent our way out of all of the world’s problems.

But then I looked into it. I started researching, and asking questions, and finding answers that I didn’t really want to hear.

And I changed my perspective.

I’ve put together some of the most common comments I hear and facts I’m told; here’s what I might say in response. They are talking points and things to consider. Hopefully they will help you have better conversations with others about why single use packaging isn’t as great as people think, even if it’s stamped “eco-friendly”.

And if the need arises, maybe even win some arguments ;)

A Word About Arguments

arguments-treading-my-own-path

We’re not really trying to win at arguments, we’re just trying to help others see things from a different perspective. There will always be people who disagree, and that doesn’t matter: some arguments aren’t meant to be won. Don’t try to convert the non-convertable. At either extreme of a point of view is everyone else, and these are the people to have conversations with. The people who want to do the right thing, but find the information available confusing. Maybe they put too much trust in others’ claims about their green credentials (that was definitely me).

  • Think About Where People Are Coming From.

Everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. People who work in the packaging industry won’t love the idea of banning bags or disposable packaging. People who are busy, stressed and tired are far less receptive to new ideas and “help”!

  • Make it About Values.

Whether it’s the caring for the environment, protecting wildlife, helping others, embracing creativity or better health, think about the values that motivate people. People who are motivated solely by their own self-interests are not as common as you might imagine, but if you do come across somebody like this, walk away. You’re better off using your energy elsewhere.

  • Be nice.

Nobody likes a smart-arse, and nobody likes to be made to feel small. Simple things such as smiling, open body language (no crossed arms!) and using helpful language will all assist in getting the message across.

Winning the Argument About “Eco Friendly” Packaging

disposable-coffee-cup-treading-my-own-path

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the questions I’m asked and conversations I have most often. I’d love you to add your own (questions you’ve been asked and answers you’ve given!) in the comments at the end :)

“But the packaging is eco-friendly!”

If, by eco-friendly, you mean not made with fossil fuels, that’s great! However, how is using resources (whether paperboard made from trees, or bio-plastic made from growing corn) to make single-use items that will be used for minutes actually eco-friendly?

Especially when you consider the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and shipping of these resources?

If you mean “eco friendly” because it’s biodegradable, are you ensuring that the packaging is composted? Are you personally composting it, or arranging for it to be so?

Plus did you know that some biodegradable packaging is made with fossil fuels?

If it’s just heading to landfill, that isn’t much more eco-friendly than just using regular packaging.

“It’s biodegradable so it will break down in landfill.”

Landfills aren’t big compost heaps, they are big tombs full of waste that are sealed. They are holes in the ground that are filled up, covered, and left for eternity. Waste breaks down anaerobically and very slowly, releasing methane (a greenhouse gas).

Nothing is breaking down to create space and allow more waste to be deposited. No goodness returns to the soil.

It’s a one-way system.

“It’s compostable.”

Being compostable is great, but only if it’s being put in the compost!

If it’s heading to landfill, it isn’t going to compost. If it’s put in the recycling bin, it isn’t going to compost. And depending on whether it needs hot composting or cold composting to break down, it might not even compost in the home compost bin. I wonder, what are the composting facilities like in your local town/city?

“Wait…Isn’t this disposable coffee cup made of paper?”

Sure, it looks like paper, but actually it has a plastic polyethylene lining. If you think about it, if it was only paper, the hot coffee would seep right through!

Being a mixture of materials, disposable coffee cups are difficult to recycle, so are likely to end up in landfill.

“I can plant this biodegradable coffee cup / coffee pod / other single-use item in my garden and it will grow seeds!”

I have no idea how many coffees you drink in a week, or how big your garden is, but are you telling me that every time you drink a coffee you’ll be planting the waste in your own back garden? That seems like an awful lot of effort to go to!

You could always use a reusable cup or plunger coffee, buy some seeds from the garden centre, and save yourself all that digging!

(Unless you’re just slinging it out of the window and hoping that it seeds… but that sounds like littering to me.)

If it’s still ending up in landfill, sealed underneath a layer of rock, there will be no seeds sprouting – it is just too deep and not the right conditions.

“It’s okay… I will recycle it.”

Recycling is better than throwing away, but it is still hugely energy intensive and in no way a perfect solution. Recycling isn’t a virtuous cycle: products don’t get recycled back into the same thing. Plastic in particular is downcycled (made into something of inferior quality.)

Your disposable packaging is likely made from brand new resources, and recycling them won’t stop new resources being used to create more disposable products.

Plus… is the material is even recyclable in your local area? Theoretically recyclable isn’t the same as actually recycled.

“It’s made with recycled content.”

Recycled content – so no new resources? Or just less new resources? What recycled content are you using, and what is the source of the materials? How are you collecting these materials – are they local, or from interstate, or overseas? How are they transported?

Is it 100% recycled content, or are you mixing some virgin product in there too? What percentage is recycled product? Can the product be recycled afterwards? Will it be? (Let’s not be theoretical about this!) What about the packaging – is that 100% post-consumer recycled content too?

Of course, from a waste perspective, single-use but with recycled content is still single-use.

“Paper bags use three times the energy to produce than plastic bags.”

True, paper bags are more energy intensive than plastic ones to produce, but that isn’t the whole story. Paper bags are made from trees or wood products, which is a renewable resource, and can be sustainable managed.

They are also biodegradable, don’t create long-term litter problems and don’t harm or suffocate wildlife. Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and last forever.

Of course, reusable bags are even better!

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is by no means an exhaustive list so let’s make it bigger and better! Tell me, what are the most common questions that you’re asked? What answers do you give that seem to surprise people the most? Is there anything you’re unsure about? Any claims you’ve read or seen that you don’t know whether to believe? Anything you’d like more clarity on? Are there any of these reasons that (like me) you used to believe, until you looked into it a little bit more? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Finding Solutions to Plastic Pollution (How You Can Help)

One person can make a difference. I believe this, and I embrace it wholeheartedly. Knowing that my actions matter, that is what empowers and motivates me to strive to do a little better every day.

Whilst one individual can have an impact, when individuals get together… well, that’s when change really begins to happen! Collectively, our impact can be amplified. That’s what a movement is – a group of people, working together for the same outcome.

Plastic pollution and over-consumption of resources are both massive, complex issues. The problem isn’t going to be solved just because I no longer have a rubbish bin, or can fit my waste into a glass jar. It’s not going to be solved if 10,000 of us can all fit our waste into a glass jar, either.

It’s going to be solved when we all work together to share ideas, apply pressure to decision-makers and organizations, and offer solutions!

If you’d like to do more, and be part of a movement, here are some options. Whether it’s getting out into your local community, volunteering, joining a campaign, learning more or donating to an organization doing great work, there are plenty of possibilities. If you see something you like, see if there is something similar in your local area… or start your own group!

If you have any others you’d like to add, please let me know in the comments below : )

Citizen Science + Litter Apps

litter-apps-and-citizen-science-treading-my-own-path

Litter apps are a simple way to add any litter you pick up to a national or international database. Citizen science in action! Simply take a photo of what you pick up, and record the location, litter type and brand. This data is collected to identify the most commonly found brands and products, and problem hotspots. The data can be used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions, and to influence politicians, councils and other decision-makers to make change.

– Litterati (US and Worldwide)

Litterati describe themselves as a community that’s identifying, mapping, and collecting the world’s litter. Based in America, they track plastic and other litter anywhere in the world.

Litterati App (iPhone only)

Website: www.litterati.org

– Marine Debris Tracker (US and Worldwide)

An American Debris Tracker app that collects marine debris data from all over the world, including 1200 locations in the USA.

Marine Debris Tracker App for Android / Marine Debris Tracker App for iPhone

Website: www.marinedebris.engr.uga.edu/

– Marine LitterWatch (Europe)

Monitors beach litter in Europe. The app was developed by the European Environment Agency to help aid data gathering in coastal areas.

Marine LitterWatch App for Android / Marine Litterwatch App for iPhone

Website: www.eea.europa.eu

– Tangaroa Blue (AU)

Whilst not an app, Tangaroa Blue’s Australian Marine Debris Database is the most comprehensive collection of marine debris data in Australia. All data can be submitted via this AMDI submission form: since 2004 over 2million pieces of debris have been recorded.

Website: www.tangaroablue.org

Litter Clean-Ups

beach-treading-my-own-path

Sure, it’s possible to just go outside your front door any time, and pick up litter. In fact, that is what many of these organisations encourage. But there’s also something nice about getting together with a group of like-minded individuals and making a much bigger impact.

– Responsible Runners (AU)

An Australian initiative to get runners and walkers clearing up litter. They organize weekly clean-up events around the country involving 30 minute litter picking, and have picked up 21 tonnes of rubbish to date. All rubbish is recorded, and the data is submitted to Tangaroa Blue Australian Marine Debris Database (see above).

Website: www.responsiblerunners.org

– Take 3 For The Sea (AU and worldwide)

An Australian movement that encourages everyone to simply take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, river, or anywhere else. As well as running school education programs, they also offer a Guardian program for local groups to establish, and use social media to spread the #take3forthesea message.

Website: www.take3.org.au

– Sea Shepherd Marine Debris Campaign (AU)

In 2016, Sea Shepherd Australia announced a new marine debris campaign which involves organizing beach and river clean-up events, community engagement and education. At present this appears to be specific to Australia.

Website: www.seashepherd.org.au

– Ocean Conservancy (US)

An American not-for-profit organisation that promotes science-based solutions to protect the ocean. Ocean Conservancy organises the annual International Coastal Cleanup event (a global event), and helps individuals organise their own beach and river cleanups for other times of the year.

Website: www.oceanconservancy.org

– Two Hands Project (AU)

Two Hands Project embodies the spirit of international Clean Up Days, but asks – why not use your two hands and 3o minutes of your time to clean up on ANY day of the year? They occasionally run organized beach clean-ups, and offer secondary school education programs.

Website: www.twohandsproject.org

– Keep Australia Beautiful (AU)

Keep Australia Beautiful works towards a litter-free environment by running grass-roots programs in every state and territory in Australia. They run “Keep Austrlia Beautiful Week” annually, and assist in organising cleanup and other community events.

Website: www.kab.org.au

Campaigning

campaiging

Organisations often work on specific campaigns. Campaigns work towards a specific goal, such as changing legislation on particular issues, often by raising awareness and gaining the support of the public to apply pressure to decision-makers.

– Plastic Soup Foundation (NL)

Plastic Soup Foundation is a campaigning and advocacy group working towards eliminating plastic pollution from our oceans. Based in the Netherlands, they work on a number of campaigns including Reach for the Zero, Beat the Microbead and Ocean Clean Wash.

Website: www.plasticsoupfoundation.org

– Marine Conservation Society (UK)

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is a UK ocean protection charity. They campaign on a number of issues including banning the mass release of balloons and sky lanterns, microbeads and clearer labelling for wet wipes (to prevent them being flushed down the loo). They also run a Plastic Free June fundraising challenge.

Website: www.mcsuk.org

– Surfrider Foundation (US and Worldwide)

Surfrider Foundation is a campaigning organisation dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches. Beginning in the USA 30 years ago, Surfrider Foundation has grown to 18 countries around the world, including Australia. Among other ocean-realted campaigning, they support local, regional, state and national campaigns on plastic pollution.

Website: www.surfrider.org
Surfrider Australia Website: www.surfrider.org.au

– Surfers Against Sewage (UK)

A UK environmental charity protecting the UK’s waves, oceans and beaches. Surfers Against Sewage campaign against marine litter, and recent campagins include “No Butts on the Beach”, “Return to Offender” (which has to be my favourite) and “Think Before You Flush“.

Website: www.sas.org.uk

– Story of Stuff (US)

The Story of Stuff project began as a series of education movies about the environmental impacts of “stuff”. As well as education, they now run campaigns fighting plastic pollution, including banning bottled water and banning the microbead.

Website: www.storyofstuff.org

– The Last Plastic Straw (US)

The Last Plastic Straw campaigns to get businesses to only give out straws on demand, and to use fully biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws. They also raise awareness of plastic pollution.

Website: www.thelastplasticstraw.org

Challenges

calendar

Collective challenges are a great way to raise awareness and build momentum on an issue, as well as creating community and inspiring further action.

– Plastic Free July (AU and Worldwide)

Plastic Free July is a month-long challenge to refuse and avoid single-use plastic. It’s what got me started on my plastic-free journey and has expanded from a local campaign with just 30 participants to a global initiative that spans almost 200 countries.

Website: www.plasticfreejuly.org

Marine Research and Education

Ocean Plastic Research Treading My Own Path

Expeditions and research bring in the real scientific data, and allow us to understand the wider impacts of plastic pollution. It is this knowledge that raises awareness and drives campaigns, education and action.

– 5 Gyres (US)

Founded in 2008, 5 Gyres is a non-profit organisation raising awareness about plastic pollution through science, art, education and adventure. They have been involved with campaigns including the “ban the microbead” campaign, and run programs and expeditions.

Website: www.5gyres.org

– Algalita (US)

Founded in 1994 by Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Algalita have pioneered the study of plastic pollution in the marine environment. They focus on research, education and action, and lead marine expeditions.

Website: www.algalita.org

Umbrella Groups and Coalitions

lighthouse

Umbrella organizations provide resources and offer an identity to smaller organisations, whilst building a sense of community and inclusiveness. Umbrella organisations allow members to share resources and amplify their message, meaning increased effectiveness.

– Plastic Pollution Coalition (US)

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations, businesses and policymakers working toward a world free of plastic pollution. Founded in 2009 and now with more than 400 member organisations (you can find a list of current members here), they provide education, scientific research and solutions for both individuals and organisations. The Education page is a wealth of useful information : )

Website: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are they any great organisations I’ve missed off the list? Any campaigns or groups I failed to mention? Any I’ve mentioned here that you are already involved with? Any that are completely new to you? Do you work with local groups in your area? Do you know about great work being done at grass roots level? I love to hear about others making a difference and creating positive impact so share away! Any other thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear those too, so please tell me in the space below!

Straws Suck… Don’t They? (And Why It Doesn’t Matter If People Disagree)

Last week, I shared a picture of some reusable glass and metal straws for sale in a local café on my Instagram feed, and it went a tiny bit viral.

reusable-glass-and-stainless-steel-straws-treading-my-own-path

There were a lot of comments, some commending the reuse of items rather than their disposal, but others shocked, horrified – disgusted even – at the idea of washing something up when it’s been used and reusing it again.

that-is-disgusting full-of-bacteria

I have to say, I was surprised by some of the comments. It had never occurred to me that people would find the idea of a reusable straw unhygienic. It’s not as if plastic straws, made in factories, and stored in warehouses, are sterile.

What surprised me most is that most people would think nothing of going into a café or restaurant and using their glassware, mugs or cutlery…even though those things have been used by other people.

What is so different about straws?
id-be-all-for-this

Washing up has been around for centuries, and the human race is still here. Most cafes do have dishwashers that reach hot temperatures, meaning they sterilise their crockery, cutlery and glassware. If people are really concerned about using stuff that other people have touched, they can bring their own.

But I have never seen anyone bring their own plate, glass, knife and fork to a restaurant because they are worried about “bodily fluid diseases”.

These straws weren’t even being re-used: they were for customers to buy and take home to sterilise to their heart’s content.

no-thank-you-im-out

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to have the same opinion as me. We all see things differently! But I truly expected any disagreement to stem from laziness or cost. Or whether straws are necessary altogether.

I realise that bringing a straw is too much effort for some, and that the idea of paying for something when you can use the disposable one for free is new to others. Buying one is obviously more expensive than not buying one, and we all have bills to pay.

I just didn’t think that people would consider disposable plastic straws to be a better option.

more-dishes-that-are-impossible-to-wash

Of course, part of me ( a big part of me!) wanted to curl up in a little ball and hide from all the mean comments, or delete the post altogether. But it isn’t about preaching to the converted, is it? What I’m hoping to do is show people new ideas; things they haven’t thought of before. To get them to think about the choices they make, and maybe make better ones in the future.

Are reusable straws are really necessary? Well, that’s a personal choice. I know from watching my mother-in-law struggle (after I insisted that she didn’t need the straw) that drinking a frozen daiquiri is pretty difficult without a straw. So is drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut. Children struggle with holding big glasses, and I used to work at a café where an elderly lady would order her cappuccino with a straw, as her hands were too shaky to hold the cup.

Whether you chose to avoid daiquiris and drinking coconuts, or get a reusable straw, well, that’s up to you. I have a reusable straw, and whilst I don’t consider it strictly necessary, I love the opportunity it gives me to start conversations.

That’s what this is about, after all. Starting conversations. I’m not expecting everyone to see a single photo and change their ways. I’m hoping to plant a seed, or prepare the way for future seeds. I’m hoping to get people thinking, and to question why they make the choices they make.

Not everyone, of course.

I’d love to tell all those naysayers that plastic straws are made of polypropylene, or plastic number 5, which isn’t commonly recycled.

Where it is recycled, it is made into fence posts and garden furniture, or to produce chemicals: it isn’t made into new straws.

I’d love to tell them that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items found in beach clean-ups. That they harm wildlife (hasn’t everyone seen the turtle video?), and create litter.

That disposable plastic straws do more harm than good.

But would they want to listen? I doubt it.

Some people will never change. And actually, that doesn’t matter. Because we don’t need everyone on board with an idea to bring about change. We need far fewer than you might think.

We need as little as ten per cent.

The tipping point for bringing ideas from the minority into the mainstream can be as little as ten per cent. (Here’s the science to back it up.) That is what keeps me smiling when faced with the naysayers.

My goal is not to preach to the converted. But it isn’t to fight, argue, or try to reason with the disbelievers, either. It’s to find those people in the middle ground. In between these two extremes, in the middle ground, lies everyone else.

That’s where I was, when I started this journey. The middle ground. I thought I was pretty sustainable, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought it was all about the recycling. I’d never given much thought to reducing, or reusing, or refusing. Once I did – well, that changed everything.

Mixed in with the converts, and the disbelievers, are the people who see this as a great idea: something they hadn’t thought of before, and an easy action to take (be it getting a reusable straw, or simply refusing a plastic one). For every person who makes a better choice, the planet wins.

Vive the Reuse Revolution : )

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any “green” habits or products that you think are so glaringly obvious to support, and yet you’ve found that others disagree – for reasons you didn’t expect? What reasons? Are there any “green” ideas that at first you weren’t sure about, but over time you’ve changed your mind? What is the craziest reason you’ve heard not to support something that’s better for the planet? How do you deal with naysayers? Where do you sit with reusable straws – do you have one? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

6 (Embarrassing) Confessions of a Zero Waste Minimalist

Ah, those embarrassing decisions of the past. We’ve all made them. (Yes, all of us!) When we change our lifestyles, there are all those choices we made pre- lifestyle change that – when we think back to them – just make us want to cringe. Did we really think / do / say that?!

My personal lifestyle-changing epiphany came in 2012, and for the last four years I’ve lived a plastic-free, zero waste and minimalist lifestyle. I’ve embraced the idea of having “enough”, and slowly reduced my annual landfill waste to fit in a jar, and decluttered all the unnecessary things that were going to waste in my home. But for every “after” there is a “before”.

Let me tell you, my pre-2012 self made some pretty cringe-worthy choices. Here are 6 of my worst.

I “collected” single-serve sachets.

As a kid, I liked to collect stuff. In addition to my collection of National Trust bookmarks and interesting pebbles and rocks, I used to collect single-serve sachets of sauce and sugar. I have no idea why. I had no use for sachets of hollandaise or tartare or French dressing, yet I was fascinated by these tiny plastic portions of sauce.

I’d clear out whole condiment trays at cafes, and store them at home in a box. Sometimes I’d take them out and admire them. I loved how small they were, and all the different colours. But I never used them. Now, the waste of single-serve items means I’d never, ever take one – and I certainly wouldn’t admire them!

I used to ask for an extra straw.

As a teenager and in my early twenties, if I ordered a drink in a bar, I used to ask for an extra straw. One straw wasn’t enough for me, I had to have two! I wish I could shed some sort of light onto why I thought this was necessary, but to be honest, it completely baffles me. Now I live with straw shame.

I purchased (and used) a coffee pod machine.

This must be my most embarrassing, shameful confession. Yes, in my mid-twenties I purchased a coffee pod machine as a birthday gift for a partner… and of course, I used it. It wasn’t a Nespresso machine with those metal pods, it was a cheaper version with the plastic, non-recyclable pods. Not that the recyclability of the pods matters, because the waste that goes into the production of new pods cannot be offset by recycling the old ones, whatever the material.

Single-use convenience at the expense of the planet. There are so many other ways to make and enjoy a decent coffee. I thought that pod coffee tasted good. Now it leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth.

I bought “novelty” gifts.

Novelty gifts. Those “humorous” items that get a laugh, and maybe a few minutes of pleasure, before spending the rest of eternity in landfill. The presents you give to people “who have everything” – yes, I fell for the marketing.

If someone truly has everything, they definitely don’t need novelty gifts. No-one needs pointless tat. Was it really worth spending my money on stuff like this, and creating the extra waste for a couple of laughs? No. Now, if I need to buy a gift for somebody who has everything, I buy tickets, or a restaurant voucher, or an experience. Or toilet paper. Because even people who have everything need toilet paper.

I bought things I didn’t need because they were “bargains”.

Who doesn’t love a bargain? Bargains are one thing, butI used to confuse bargains with “stuff that’s been reduced in the sale”. Actually, these are quite different. A bargain is something that you need, that is available to buy for far less than it is actually worth. Something in the sale is an item that is being sold at a cheaper price than it once was. That doesn’t mean it’s a bargain (it could be on ‘sale’ from a heavily inflated price). If we don’t need it, it definitely isn’t a bargain!

I used to shop in the sales. I’d buy things that were heavily reduced (the big red tag told me so) simply because they were reduced. I didn’t think about whether I needed it, would wear or use it, and how much I would have paid if I had seen it without the red tag. Saving money was a reason to buy it – except I wasn’t saving money at all. I was spending money. Buying stuff I didn’t need was a waste of money, time and resources… and it just added to the clutter and stress of my home. Now I’m clear: a bargain is only a bargain if I need it.

I owned stuff I never used.

Pre-2012, I never really thought about how wasteful and unnecessary this was. It wasn’t that I intended not to use things, but I’d somehow entangled my sense of identity in with the stuff I purchased. I’d pin my dreams of being slimmer on buying tighter-fitting clothes. I’d attach my hopes of mastering a new hobby by buying all the equipment. I’d envision the life that I imagined for myself, and choose things that fitted in that life, rather than the one I actually lived.

I’d buy products before the act, so to speak, and these things remained unused, singing my failures softly to me whenever I saw them in the back of the cupboard. Both minimalism and zero waste have taught me that if it’s not being used, it’s going to waste. Keeping things we don’t use isn’t an inspiration to change, it’s a reminder that we didn’t. If it’s not useful now, it’s better off being given to someone who will use it. Now I only own things that I use.

Why am I sharing this with you? Not because I enjoy embarrassing myself! I want to show you that people can change. We’ve all made poor choices in the past. I certainly have! Those poor choices don’t define me though, just as they don’t define you. We all have the opportunity to do things differently next time.

We can take those poor choices and learn from them, and make better choices in the future. We can look back and laugh (or cry!) at the memories, but we don’t need to hold onto them. Those choices represent who we were, not who we are, nor who we are capable of becoming.

It doesn’t matter if those choices were years ago, or last week, or even this morning. Mistakes made in the past, however recent, are no reason to avoid trying again in the future. Whether that’s reducing plastic consumption, refusing single use items, stepping off the consumer treadmill or something completely different, we can all make different choices. Forgive yourself for those cringe-worthy choices of the past. Know that next time, you can choose better.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Were there any of these that you could relate to? Any that you (fortunately) never made the mistake of choosing? If you’ve made lifestyle changes, did you have an “epiphany” or was it more a gradual process that led you to make changes and see things differently? Was it one thing that inspired you to live life differently or a number of different things? Do you have any confessions of your own? What embarrassing secrets do you have from your past that makes your present self cringe in despair? If you’re in the process of making changes, are there any current habits you have that you’re beginning to question and wonder why you make those choices? Is there anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Can Decluttering be the Opposite of Waste?

For the longest time, I thought that decluttering and zero waste were opposites. Didn’t decluttering mean chucking decent stuff away, and zero waste mean throwing nothing away and hoarding it all?

I couldn’t imagine that the two could work together, yet decluttering has been an important part of my zero waste journey. I’ve come to learn that decluttering and zero waste living are not opposites at all. Decluttering can be just as much about wasting less. If you want to live zero waste, don’t write off decluttering.

Here are five reasons why decluttering is a valuable part of living with less waste.

Decluttering doesn’t mean sending to landfill (or dumping at the charity shop).

When it comes to getting rid of unwanted items, the two most commonly cited options are discard or donate. Discarding really should be a last resort, saved only for those things that are damaged beyond repair, non-recyclable, and possibly dangerous. But what about donating?

Charity shops want goods that are clean, in working order and desirable.They need to be able to sell them! (Charity shops are not places to take soiled, damaged or dubious goods simply because we can’t bear the guilt of throwing them away ourselves.)

But charity shops aren’t the solution for everything, and they don’t have limitless storage. Taking our winter wardrobes in the height of summer will likely mean good quality items end up unsold simply because there isn’t the demand, and offloading things in the week after Christmas when the rest of the country is doing the same thing probably won’t be much help, either. Not all charity shops can accept electrical items.

If you really care about waste, you don’t need to ‘hope’ that the charity shop will on-sell your stuff. You can take matters into your own hands. Finding new owners for the things you want to declutter is the best way to ensure they stay out of landfill.

Before donating, call the charity shop and ask if there are things that they need (and also things that they don’t). There will always be things in high demand and things that aren’t.

Don’t limit your donating to the charity shops. Women’s refuges, charities and animal sanctuaries are other places that accept donations. Schools, clubs, community groups, crafting societies and charities all have needs and might be able to help take unwanted items. Online classified sites like Gumtree are a great way to find new owners for unwanted goods, and a way to offer broken goods for parts and spares.

Decluttering is a way to maximize the use of something.

This sounds counter-intuitive – how is giving something away going to maximize its use? This depends on whether we actually use the things in question. Owning stuff we don’t need, don’t use and don’t like is a complete waste.

There are two main reasons we keep things we don’t need: just in case (fear of the future), or guilt (regret for the past).

We might need it in the future. That is true. But if we haven’t needed it so far, what are the chances? Could we get a replacement quickly, affordably and second-hand? This will depend on individual circumstances, but in most cases, there is no need to keep something just in case.

There will be someone out there looking for that item, who will use it today.

We might feel guilty. There are many reasons that we feel guilt: we made a poor choice, spent too much money, didn’t lose the weight we’ hoped, dislike the handmade gift that we know took so much effort and time.  Keeping something out of guilt does not increase the chances that we will use it.

Keeping an unwanted item and thinking that we somehow alleviate the guilt won’t work. The best way to ease the guilt is to let the item go.

We sometimes try to justify keeping things that that we don’t use rather than giving them away by telling ourselves that we are reducing waste. Actually, the opposite is true. Owning something that you never use is the biggest waste of all. It is far better to give these things to people who truly need them and will use them every day.

Decluttering as an end, not a means.

Decluttering is about removing the unnecessary, the unused and the unwanted from our homes. It’s about removing the excess, and keeping only the things we find useful and beautiful. If our homes are filled with items we use regularly and appreciate, there is little or no waste.

Yet decluttering will only reduce waste if it’s treated as a one-way process, rather than a means. If the purpose of decluttering is simply to make room in the house for a big shopping spree where the old stuff is replaced with a bunch of new stuff, clearly that is going to generate a whole heap of waste.

Until the cycle of consumption is broken, and needless things are no longer brought into the home, decluttering can never mean less waste.

Decluttering helps conserve resources.

Have you ever tried to buy something second-hand, and not been able to find it? Sometimes we need things, and we want to purchase them second-hand, yet that isn’t an option. If we really need that item, we’ll probably have to go and buy it new.

Yet somewhere, there would have been an unwanted, second-hand option that would have been perfect.

Rather than keeping things to ourselves, we should embrace the opportunity to share what we have. There are so many resources tied up in cupboards, wardrobes, playrooms, shed, garages and attics around the world in the form of unused stuff.

Decluttering frees up these resources so others can use them. Donating items we don’t need gives somebody else the opportunity to use them, and helps prevent new purchases.

Decluttering helps form new habits.

I have always found decluttering hard. I found it hard because I was forced to confront my poor decisions (impulse purchases, wasted money, non-repairable items), and my failure to achieve what I’d hoped (hobbies that never got off the ground, clothes I never slimmed into).

I know I’m not alone in this.

We’ve all made choices that we regret, and we’ve all purchased things that in hindsight, we wouldn’t purchase again. Because I struggled so much with decluttering, I now think much more carefully about what I bring into my home. It forced me to examine my old habits, and think about the decisions I had made in the past.

As a result, I now make better choices. Can the item be mended? Can it be recycled? Is it built to last? Do I have a real, genuine need to own it? Is there a second-hand market for it?

I can appreciate well-made clothes, or admire chic decor or clever design, but that doesn’t mean that I need to make a purchase.

There will always be beautiful things. If I don’t need it, or can’t see how I will dispose of it responsibly, then I don’t buy it.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you living or working towards a zero waste lifestyle, and how do you feel about decluttering? Is it something you’ve struggled with or something you’ve embraced? Have your views changed over time? What have you struggled to declutter? What are the reasons that held you back? What are your success stories? Are you a master declutterer? What are your tips for ensuring your items find good homes? What unconventional places have you found that will accept your unwanted items? Anything else you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Local Zero Waste Living (+ How to Shop at Bulk Stores)

A couple of months ago I was at an event, and a friend came bounding up to tell me she had someone she wanted me to meet – a lady who’d recently moved from Sydney to Perth who was passionate about plastic-free living. I went over and introduced myself, and told her that if she had questions for plastic-free shopping, I would be happy to help.

She asked me if I had a list of all the places to shop in bulk. Awkward silence. No, I don’t have a list. It’s all in my head!

I realise that storing all this useful information about local zero waste stores in my head is really not the best place for it, but I wasn’t entirely sure where to share it.

I didn’t think this website was the best place, as I talk about other things besides waste and also, my audience is global. It needs to be accessible to people who live locally without boring everyone who isn’t. I’m pretty sure for those of you who don’t live nearby, hearing about where to buy bulk oats or olive oil in Perth on a weekly basis would get very tiresome!

The other issue is that compiling a list like that and keeping it updated is a big job. Perth doesn’t have a huge population (1.3 million) but it does occupy a rather large area – the same size as Greater London. That means that there are actually quite a lot of bulk stores scattered about the place.

Whilst I know about a lot of them, I clearly don’t know them all. A collaborative approach would be much better, allowing people to add the info that they know… but was that getting a little complicated?

In the end, there was a simple solution. Facebook Groups. After all, pretty much everyone uses Facebook, it’s free to set up a group, it’s possible to upload files and create documents, and anyone who’s a member can edit them.

Plus there’s an opportunity to share images, ask questions, post useful links and connect with others. Perfect!

So I’d like to introduce Zero Waste + Plastic free Living, Perth, Western Australia (the Facebook Group):Zero Waste + Plastic Free Living, Perth, Western AustraliaEverything (pretty much) that is stored in my head regarding shopping plastic-free and zero waste in Perth has been added to this page. I’ll also be hanging out there if people have questions or want help. So if you live in Perth, join us!

I’d absolutely love it if you can add your own nuggets of wisdom and pieces of knowledge to make this page really comprehensive and useful to our community : )

Most of this information is about stores that sell in bulk. Just in case you’re not sure how shopping this way actually works, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the “how to” of bulk shopping.

How to Shop at Bulk Stores

  • The first thing to know is that zero waste shopping is about shopping “from bulk” rather than “in bulk”. It’s not about buying 60kg of oats at a time. Zero waste bulk stores are those that sell their products loose, usually in barrels, drums, plastic containers or sacks. With zero waste bulk stores, there may be a minimum weight for purchases, but that is usually so that the products register on the scale.
  • Bulk stores are not packaging free themselves: they buy products in packaging, but in large quantities. Their customers don’t contribute further to packaging waste if they bring their own bags and containers. The amount of packaging required for one bulk sack is far less than if that product was split into several thousand small packages, each with their own label.
  • You are more than welcome (and usually encouraged) to bring your own bags to fill, although often bulk stores will have paper and even plastic bags available. Container are more suitable for some products (think oils, pastes and anything very fine). If you bring your own jars or containers, you should ask someone at the cash register to weigh your container before you fill it. You should also know the volume of your container as some products are sold by volume rather than weight. Measure it out before you get to the store.
  • Don’t mix products in bags, even if they are the same price unless there is a sign that tells you it is okay to do so. Stores need to keep track of what they sell to order more and avoid running out, so putting 3 different products into one bag isn’t helpful!
  • Some stores will ask you to write the products or stock numbers on bags. If you have your own bags, you can write these on your phone or shopping list as you go round to keep track.
  • At the checkout, be as helpful as possible. Tell the shop assistant what is in each bag, especially if they aren’t see-through!
  • When you get home, it can be helpful to pop any grains, pulses and beans (and any flours from these) into the freezer for 24 hours to kill any weevils or eggs that might be in your products. Whether you do this depends on how fresh you think the items are, how quickly you intend to use them up… and how bothered you are by extra protein ; )
  • Whilst bulk stores are set up for people bringing their own containers, many other places are actually open to the idea – they probably haven’t thought of it before. Butchers, fishmongers, cafes and delis are places where you can bring your own containers. You just need to explain clearly what you’re doing (can you put the product directly in my container?) and why (I’m trying to avoid using any plastic or disposable packaging) before you hand over your container. The why is important if you don’t want your glass container popped in a plastic bag or sealing with cling wrap once it’s filled! Tips: If you’re nervous or worried you’ll be rejected, avoid busy periods and if there’s anyone waiting, let them go first. Smile, act like it’s the most normal thing in the world to be doing and go for it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips to add? Anything I’ve missed off the list? Any facepalm moments you’d like to share about your experiences of trying to buy groceries without packaging? Any lessons learned or benefit of hindsight moments? Please leave me a comment telling me your thoughts below!

Zero Waste Living: What about Recycling?

The idea behind zero waste is creating no waste, and sending nothing to landfill. That does not mean buying everything in recyclable packaging and simply recycling it, however! Recycling is not a perfect solution, and still uses huge amounts of resources and energy.

Many products (including all plastics) are not truly recycled either, but downcycled, meaning they become an inferior product of lesser quality. These are further downcycled, and eventually downcycled products will end up in landfill.

So no, the zero waste movement is not about recycling. Recycling is a last resort.

However, to create zero landfill waste and zero recycling would be a mean feat indeed, and I have not heard of a zero waster who does not recycle at least a little. We all do our best, and aim to recycle as little as possible, but it is extremely hard to produce no waste at all! (And yes, I do see recycling as waste.)

Whilst people living zero waste lifestyles often share pictures of their landfill trash (or lack of it!), sharing recycling is less common. It is, however, something that I (and I’m sure it’s the same for other zero wasters) get asked about a lot.

How much recycling do I produce in a month? Good question. I always say it’s the equivalent of a couple of waste paper baskets, but what does that actually look like – and what type of recycling waste does our household produce?

Well, let there be no doubts or misunderstandings! This is our entire recycling waste produced in one month – from 1st to the 30th April. We didn’t do anything differently; we didn’t set ourselves any challenges – although our observations did change our behaviour slightly, as you’ll see!

How Much Recycling Does a Zero Waste Home Produce in a Month?

As I said, I do not know how this compares to others, and I’m not particularly interested in comparisons. I want to do the best I can, and I’m always trying to improve. I’m definitely not perfect!

Days 1 – 10:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 1 to 10 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home: Recycling Days 1 – 10

Looking at this you’d think all we consumed was beer, chocolate and toilet paper, wouldn’t you?! I feel I must defend myself. Except there is no defence!

  • Yes, my husband and I did actually eat all 5 of those chocolate bars in 10 days (plus some bulk chocolate too, I’m pretty sure).
  • The beer (which my husband drinks; I don’t like it) is a work in progress. There is a great little shop really close by that sells beer refills, and my husband does go there, but he still has a tendency to buy beer in packaging. Whenever I question him about it, he points out that he didn’t sign up for zero waste living, only the plastic-free part! One of his favourite brands has recently been made available in aluminium cans, which is great from a recycling point-of-view (all glass in WA is crushed into road base rather than being made into new bottles). However, lots of cans are BPA-lined, so the health aspect isn’t great. Although that could be said for drinking beer…
  • No, we didn’t actually use that much loo roll in 10 days! I keep the paper for other uses, but my husband had a clearout of the cupboard. The two cardboard tubes are a more accurate! (I tend to keep these for planting seedlings, not sure why these are here.)
  • The rest is a couple of invoices, a business card (nowadays I hand these straight back so this must be an old one) and a couple of scrappy bits of paper. The gold paper is from one of the chocolate bars (the others had aluminium foil, which I’ll come back to later).

Days 11 – 20:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 11 to 20 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 11 – 20

This period is better! I’ve controlled my chocolate consumption (I was a little shocked at the previous picture).

  • Three rolls of toilet paper and their wrappers. Some zero wasters use “cloth” which means reusable fabric; my husband and I don’t – and there is no way I’d ever be able to persuade him to make the switch! (I’ve talked about this decision on more detail here.)
  • More beer – this time in glass. The glass will get crushed and turned into road base which is a little depressing.
  • One chocolate wrapper, one envelope that came in the mail and a receipt.

Days 21 – 30:

Zero Waste Home Recycling Days 21 to 30 Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Recycling: Days 21 – 30

This looks like a lot (and it is).

  • The big stack of papers on the top row in the middle are the result of my going through all of our folders. I do this every 6 months or so to remove all the unnecessary stuff. The pile is about an inch thick and contains old statements, letters, documents, notes, papers from some workshops that I ran, and receipts/invoices.
  • The local newspaper – no idea where this came from but my husband is a fan of the community newspaper, so I guess he picked it up to read.
  • An insurance brochure – uncovered whilst going through our folders.
  • Random bits of cardboard packaging and instructions from when we moved in to our new home, including the packet the keys were in and instructions on how a draining board works. Useful stuff!
  • A very old ibuprofen packet.
  • A “Thank You” card that I didn’t have the heart to give back.
  • A list, a post-it note and a loyalty card for somewhere we haven’t been since forever.
  • Another toilet paper wrapper.
  • The labels from my tent which were still attached to the bag – and I bought this in 2003!
  • A small handful of receipts. I generally decline receipts but sometimes we need them and sometimes they sneak in.
  • Two envelopes from mail that we received.

So that’s it – how much recycling we produced in 30 days. Except that’s not quite it. This is the stuff that was put into our bin for kerbside collection. There’s a little more that wasn’t… yet.

Aluminium Foil:

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Aluminium Recycling from February to May

You may have noticed that I do have a small chocolate bar habit, and with each bar comes an aluminum wrapper. Aluminium can be recycled but single wrappers are a bit small for the machinery.

I save mine up until it’s a ball about the size of an Easter egg, and then I place that ball in the recycling. This is all the foil we’ve collected in 3 months (Feb – May). Once the ball is big enough it will go out for recycling.

Steel bottle tops:

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops for Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Zero Waste Home Steel Bottle Tops in April

Because my husband is switching to cans we have less of these. They can be recycled, but are so small that a single one will slip through the process. To recycle, collect in a tin can, and once the tin can is half full squish it in the middle to stop the bottle tops falling out. The can can then be put in the recycling and the tops should be recycled.

Soft and noisy plastic:

Zero Waste Home Soft Plastic Recycling Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Soft and noisy plastic recycling Feb – May

Soft and noisy plastics can be recycled (or rather, downcycled into garden furniture) but they are often not recycled by kerbside collection systems. In Australia there are bins inside Coles supermarkets where these can be deposited.

I dislike plastic with a passion and try to avoid buying any, but the odd piece comes my way. I save it all up and then take it to the supermarket – usually a couple of times a year.

This is what I’ve collected since February (so 3 months) – it weighs 54g. It’s more than usual because when we moved in to our new home, the draining board, draining rack and chopping board were all wrapped in plastic.

What I’ve landfilled:

Zero Waste Home Landfill Waste Treading My Own Path Lindsay Miles

Two months of landfill waste

For completeness, I thought I’d add a picture of my landfill waste. I’ve been collecting it since March 1st this year. Previously I was reluctant to as I thought it was really gimmicky – but then I realised that it would be a useful visual prop when I give talks.

So this is two months worth of landfill. It contains: the backing from a sticker, a piece of pink tape (that was used to seal the thank-you card above), an old phone SIM card, an elastic band entwined with nylon fibre, an ibuprofen blister pack, an old credit card, two plastic bottle lids that have broken and some packing plastic binding.

There you have it – my complete recycling waste and landfill waste from my zero waste home for the last 30 days.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be.

If you can do better that’s great – and I’d love to hear your tips! On the other hand, if you think this looks impossibly inachievable, remember that I began my journey four years ago.

It’s taken me 4 years to reduce my waste to what I’ve shown you here. Personally, I’m pleased with how far I’ve come, and I hope that in the future I can reduce my waste even further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what did you think? Do you have any ideas how I could reduce my waste further? Can you spot any glaringly obvious areas for improvement? (Please don’t say “eat less chocolate” – I’ve already figured that one out!) Do you have any ideas where I can recycle the things in my landfill jar – particularly credit cards and sim cards as I suspect I’ll have more in the future? What do you think about the idea of people sharing their waste? Do you find it motivating or disheartening? Do you share your own waste progress (if so, tell me the link so I can have a look and maybe learn something new)? Any other thoughts? I really love hearing your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

From Near-O to Zero: How I Got Rid of My Bin

We are moving out of our flat this week, and our rubbish bin won’t be coming with us. We won’t be replacing it either. The reason? We simply don’t create enough rubbish to fill it.

I realised a few months ago that I was spending more time taking things out of the rubbish bin than putting things in it. The odd tissue. Sweepings from the kitchen floor. Onion peelings and spent corn-on-the-cobs (we had an incident with the bokashi bin where we ran out of bran, and it grew moldy and very smelly, and my husband was afraid to take the lid off. With reason – it stank).

All of these things could go in the worm farm, but it was almost a reflex to empty the dustpan or drop things into the bin. (Hence then having to take them back out.) There was also the odd non-recycable thing of course, but not enough to justify keeping a bin in our fairly small kitchen.

As a test, we moved the bin outside onto the balcony to see if we missed it.

We didn’t.

This is a long way to come since 2012, when I first heard of Plastic Free July and began my plastic-free living adventure. Back then I thought I was being a responsible consumer by purchasing eco-friendly washing-up liquid in a recyclable plastic bottle (and then recycling it), and taking my own bags to the shops. I thought that filling my recycling bin up to the brim every week was a good thing.

Little did I realise that this was just the beginning of what I could be doing.

I’d never heard of zero waste back then, or even being plastic-free, yet something about the idea of giving up plastic for a month stirred my consciousness….and my conscience! Deep down, I knew that plastic was a problem. I knew there was too much of it in our environment; I knew a lot of it was completely unnecessary; I knew it was a waste of resources.

Yet somehow I’d never made the connection that I was part of the problem. I was directly contributing to these issues by the way I shopped and the packaging I bought; I was also supporting this system and saying “this is okay”.

I was part of the problem, and I could be part of the solution. I could do things a different way. I could ditch the disposables, reuse what I had and refuse new plastic altogether. I decided then, in June 2012, that I wasn’t just giving up plastic for a month.

I was giving up plastic forever.

With no real idea of what to do, but with complete conviction in my heart that this was the right path to be following, and all the enthusiasm and determination that comes with embracing a new challenge, I set out changing my habits.

First up, I started switching my packaging to paper, card and glass. Most fruits and vegetables were easy to find loose, and those that only came in plastic, I simply didn’t buy. I found pasta in cardboard, chocolate in foil and paper, and toiletries in glass bottles.

Not having a car, I carried my shopping home. I noticed how heavy my shopping had become now I wasn’t buying plastic. I also noticed how bulky the glass jars were, and the cardboard boxes. I became aware of packaging – how much of it I was using – for the first time. When everything was in plastic, I hadn’t noticed. It was so light and stealthy!

Around the same time, about two months in to my plastic-free living adventure, I discovered glass isn’t even recyclable in the state we lived in. It has to be trucked to the next state, some 1500km away. Not all glass collected from recycling bins is trucked there either; some is sent to landfill as it is more cost-effective. Some glass was crushed and used as road base – not quite the virtuous cycle we’re sold!

This discovery totally shattered my presumption that glass was a responsible alternative to plastic. It felt just as wasteful as using plastic. I decided that no packaging at all was the best option, and began to work towards that.

Bulk Produce in Glass Jars

I reconnected with Farmers Markets, and tracked down the local bulk stores to buy my groceries without packaging. I found soap and liquid cleaning products in bulk. I took my own containers to local delis and to my delight, found that they were accepted everywhere I went.

One ingredient or product at a time, I worked on finding a packaging free solution.

It wasn’t a quick process; it took me 18 months to eliminate most of the packaging from my home. I didn’t tackle everything at once – as things ran out I’d look to replace them.

Some things were stubbornly difficult to find, and so I learned to make my own, find an alternative…or simply go without. We looked beyond food and toiletries to other areas of the house, borrowing rather than buying, or shopping second-hand if we really needed something.

It’s surprising, but the less you have, the less you realise you need.

The hardest thing for me was figuring out what to do with all the food waste. Eating lots of vegetables and making lots of things from scratch left us with lots of compostable waste…but no compost bin. Living in an upstairs flat, there wasn’t anywhere to set up a compost bin, and we don’t have any local collection points. Without a car it wasn’t practical to drop it off anywhere.

We have two worm farms but they can’t eat everything that we produce. Eventually, after a couple of false starts, we finally embraced using a bokashi bin for all the food scraps that can’t go in the worm farm – onion peels, lemon skins, spent corn cobs and avocado skins, for example – and this reduced our throwaway food waste to zero.

As the contents of our bin dwindled more and more, I became more and more determined to eliminate the final bits and pieces – however small! We have a junk mail sticker on our mail box but the odd thing sneaks through – I became militant in returning to sender. No free plastic pens required here! We check the fruit and veg we buy doesn’t have plastic stickers on it before we get it home.

If we’re offered any packaging, we decline; if we’re given it, we hand it straight back. We refuse receipts. All little things, but little things add up.

Looking into Empty Bin again Lindsay Miles Looking Into Empty Bin Zero Waste Treading My Own Path

I’m not the first person to give up my rubbish bin (I’m pretty sure that was Bea Johnson, who started her zero waste journey way back in 2008). The great thing is, I know I won’t be the last, either.

Choosing a lifestyle that’s healthier, with food that’s fresh, natural and seasonal, that embraces community and supports local, that teaches new skills and encourages creativity, and that doesn’t harm the planet… what’s not to love? No wonder the zero waste movement is growing every day.

For me, getting rid of my bin means I’ve reached the tipping point. We are creating so little rubbish that it no longer makes sense to keep a container in the house specifically for storing it. Despite giving the bin up, I am sure I will still create waste in the future. I’m not perfect. I have things in my house that I purchased long before I began to think about what would happen to them at the end of their lives; things that aren’t recyclable, or compostable. Clothes that aren’t biodegradable. I choose to keep them until they are used up, life expired, but eventually I will need to dispose of them.

I intend to choose differently next time around. After all, we can’t worry abut or dwell on the choices we made in the past; but we can concentrate on making better choices in the future.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you embarked on a zero waste journey of your own? Are you planning on getting rid of your bin, or do you have another goal in mind? What have been your biggest challenges and greatest successes? Are you yet to try the plastic-free or zero waste path, and is the new year tempting you to give it a go? If not, what is holding you back?! What compromises have you had to make along the way? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

I’m Green… But I Don’t Like Recycling

Before my plastic-free “awakening” I used to religiously recycle everything I could. I’d save all my plastic bottles and traipse across my home city once a month to take them to the only recycling point. I recycled Tetra-Paks back when the only option was to post them back to the supplier. I also saved used stamps and posted those off for recycling too. If something didn’t say it was recyclable, I’d hope for the best and toss it in the recycling bin anyway.

Now I’m so much more environmentally aware…and recycling no longer fills me with joy. In fact, it’s something I actively try to avoid. Thinking that doesn’t make any sense? Read on!

Recycling Lulls us into a False Sense of Security

My main frustration with recycling is that it gives the impression that we are being a responsible consumer and that, by recycling, we’ve done our bit. Of course recycling is far more responsible than sending a whole heap of stuff to landfill, but being a responsible consumer begins long before we throw our trash out.

The main issue is that recycling doesn’t address the issue of over-consumption. It sends the message that you can consume what you want so long as you recycle afterwards. Recycling still takes huge amounts of energy. It involves collection of waste from your doorstep and delivery to a depot, sorting, cleaning, processing and re-molding, followed by shipping to the next part of the chain, and plenty of this recycling waste could be avoided completely by shopping a little differently.

An enormous bin crammed full of recyclables is nothing to feel “green” about.

Recycling is a Business and Operates for Profit

It’s nice to think of recycling as a service that exists solely for the good of the planet, but actually most recycling centres are run as businesses and rely on markets, just like other businesses do. That means if a waste line is of value, it will be recycled, and if it is not of value, it won’t be. This changes according to global prices, demand and labour fees.

For example, to get a clean line of glass to make new glass you need hand pickers who will select glass bottles and leave bits of terracotta, old lightbulbs etc. A machine would sort this as glass and would contaminate the batch. But if the value of glass is low, and the cost of hand pickers is too high, the option might to to crush to make road base or even to landfill.

[This was my big revelation. When I visited a recycling centre (technical name: Materials Recovery Facility or MRF) in Perth in 2012, I was told that the only glass processing facility was in the next State – and this is still true in 2015. To drive a truck there with a load of glass that might be rejected for contaminants was an expensive risk, and the price of glass was too low to employ hand pickers to ensure there was no contamination, so this MRF chose to send all its recyclable glass to landfill.]

Recycling doesn’t always mean Recycled

Knowing whether something is recyclable or not is actually straightforward. One reason is that just because something can theoretically be recycled, it doesn’t mean that it will be, and every council has different rules about what it will accept.

For example, the bioplastic PLA is recyclable, but it is hard to sort without specific technology and most recycling plants don’t have this, so it is not recycled. In fact, the difference in recyclability of all plastic varies wildly from council to council, and country to country. Even moving suburb can mean a whole new set of rules apply! (You can usually find the details of what your council will and won’t accept on its local website.)

Even if you check your council listings meticulously, there is still a chance that your recyclables won’t be recycled. One reason is how they’ve been sent to the MRF. If you’ve bagged your recycling neatly, chances are it won’t be unbagged at the other end but sent to landfill instead. Ditto if you’ve left any liquid in bottles, or left the lids on.

But let’s assume you’ve done everything exactly as you are supposed to. Great…but what if your neighbour hasn’t? Or the guy at the end of your road? People chuck all kinds of things into recycling, and it can contaminate the whole truck and mean the whole consignment gets landfilled. Car batteries, duvets and pillows, even loose shredded paper can contaminate whole loads.

Recycling MRF Perth WA

Recycling isn’t pretty…and when everyone’s waste gets mixed together in a huge truck, chances are there will be some contamination : /

It’s not necessarily that people are deliberately doing the wrong thing, either. Recycling can be confusing! I can confess to putting light bulbs into recycling because hey, they’re glass! I didn’t know any different! Now I know, yes they are glass, but it’s heat resistant glass that melts at a different temperature to regular glass like wine bottles, and isn’t going to do the recycling process any favours!

If not Recycling, then What?!

I want to be clear that I still recycle. Of course I recycle! However my goal is to recycle as little as possible. We have a wastepaper bin which we use as a recycling bin, and we fill it every couple of weeks. We have paper (often mail), paper receipts, the community newspaper and beer bottles.

We don’t buy plastic so we never have any to recycle, although we do accumulate small amount of soft plastic over time, and I usually take a small ball to the soft plastic recycling point about once every six months.

Recycling bin

This bin (loosely packed) get’s filled every one / two weeks with recyclables… less if my husband decides not to buy any beer!

plastic waste

This photo was taken in September 2014, and was the third stash of plastic we collected since January that year. Soft plastics can be downcycled, but I’d rather eliminate them altogether!

Instead of recycling, I try to bring as little waste as possible through the door. Bringing my own produce bags, cloth bags for bread and reusable shopping bags to the shops, buying in bulk, cancelling junk mail and buying second-hand items rather than new has seriously cut down the amount of packaging we throw away.

Everyone knows the manta “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, but we tend to focus on the last one – “Recycle” – when it’s far more environmentally responsible to focus on the first one – “Reduce”. Or add another in front – Refuse!

Recycling is a great place to start in the journey to be more environmentally friendly, but it’s a terrible place to stop. After all, we can’t recycle our way to a more sustainable planet! We need to be just as responsible about what’s entering our house as we are with disposing of it afterwards!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – do you have a love-hate relationship with recycling? Are there any frustrations you’d like to share? Or do you embrace it with open arms?! Has your opinion changed as you’ve gone on your sustainability journey? Have you ever been to a recycling plant and what surprised you about what you saw? Do you have anything else to add? Whether you agree or disagree I’d really like to know our thoughts, so please leave a comment below!