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My Story: How I Quit the Plastic Habit

As part of the event I spoke at last week organised by Plastic Free July, I was asked to talk about my own journey in reducing my plastic consumption. One of my favourite topics! It was a great chance to reflect on how my life has changed in the 3+ years since I gave up plastic.

For those of you that couldn’t come along I thought I’d share my story with you here too.

Back-track to 2012, and I thought I was doing all the right things when it came to being environmentally friendly. I diligently recycled everything I could. I was a master recycler, sorting the plastic PET and HDPE bottles from the TetraPaks and the polypropylene plastic packaging, and disposing of it all responsibly. I religiously took my own bags to the shops.

Of course, every now and then I took a plastic bag at the checkout – after all, I needed them to line my rubbish bin…

I first heard of the Plastic Free July campaign when I saw a flyer at my local library. I’d been living in Australia for just 6 months, having moved from the UK, and I was still finding my way around my local community. The challenge was to give up plastic for the month of July. Give up plastic for a month? I thought. Easy!

As part of the pre-Plastic Free July launch, there was a movie screening of the plastic documentary Bag It! I went along. It changed my life.

It was literally a lightbulb moment. A realization that plastic was a problem. A waste problem, a health problem, a lifestyle problem, a political problem and an environmental problem. And a realization that it was a problem that I could do something about.

I realised that if I wanted to see things change, I had to start with me. I also realised that giving up plastic wasn’t something that I was only going to commit to for a month. I was in it for the long-haul. Plastic-free was going to be my new way of living.

Going home that night, I was aware for the first time that plastic was everywhere. How had I not realised?! Had I been walking around with my eyes shut?! Everything was packaged in plastic! My pantry was filled with plastic-packaged products and my bathroom shelves were lined with plastic bottles. Shrink-wrap, bubble-wrap, plastic-wrap, plastic-lined, plastic-coated, plastic-sealed – arghh!

And so my plastic-free living adventure began.

That first plastic-free shop at the supermarket, I took home bananas, bread, apple juice in a glass bottle, pasta packaged in cardboard, toilet paper wrapped in paper and chocolate. The only plastic-free things that I could find. I realised that if I was going to commit to this, I had to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the first things I did to ease the transition:

  • Got hold of a reusable cup and reusable produce bags
  • Switched to bar soap and ditched the shower gel and hand wash
  • Looked up local veg box delivery schemes to avoid the supermarket packaging
  • Hunted around for bulk food stores – even places that sold a single item like olive oil
  • Headed to Farmers’ Markets to see what options were available
  • Dusted off the cookbooks and tried new recipes featuring ingredients that were easier to find in bulk
  • Learnt how to make my own yoghurt, bread, nut milk, dips, you name it!
  • Learnt how to make basic toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste
  • Talked to local producers / traders about selling items to me without packaging
  • Bought more things second hand and made use of the sharing economy – like using the library
  • Started using newspaper to line my bin rather than plastic bags!

In the beginning I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes! I bought plenty of things that I thought were packaged solely in paper or cardboard only to find sneaky plastic inside! I’d forget my reusable coffee cup, or my produce bags, or purchase random ingredients in silly quantities, like 3 kg of sesame seeds simply because I’d found them in bulk but without having the slightest idea what I was going to do with them! Like all things, you keep trying and slowly you get better. Habits form and it gets easier. Now it’s second nature, and I don’t really need to think about it.

The benefits have been enormous, and in plenty of ways that I hadn’t expected. The journey that giving up plastic has taken me on has been so much fun! I never though that giving something up would give me so much more, but it has.

Interestingly, I spend far less on food now than I did before I quit plastic. Partly because all the processed food comes packaged in plastic, all the junk food that adds up on your grocery bill but doesn’t actually fill you up. Plus I stopped buying into those deals that seem like great offers until you end up with packets of stuff you don’t really need.

My diet is a lot better. I shop locally so the fruit and veggies I buy are a lot fresher, I eat far more whole foods and a lot less sugar, and I have a lot more energy.

I learned so many new skills.

That was all in the first six months!

I began my plastic-free journey by looking at the actions I could take, the changes I could make so it was very much a personal journey. As my expertise grew, as I learned more and more about not only the problems of plastic but also the solutions, I was determined to spread the message and to inspire other people to use a little less plastic in their lives.

I started writing my blog, which has connected me to thousands of other people looking to live a similar lifestyle, has allowed me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm, and also learn so much more. I’ve also got involved in my local community, not just with Plastic Free July but also the Earth Carer network and Living Smart, and I also organized a Sustainability Festival called the Less is More Festival in 2013 and 2014.

What really gripped me right from the start about plastic-free living was that it was something that I could do. It’s something we can all do. Plastic is something that we’re faced with every single day. Multiple times a day. We can choose to use it, or we can choose to avoid it, and we make these choices every single day. We can make a difference. We just need to decide what kind of difference we want to make.

You’ve heard my story and now I really want to hear yours! How did you stumble onto the plastic-free path? What have you done to reduce your plastic consumption? What have you found easy? What’s been your biggest challenges? Whether you’ve been working on it for years or you’re new to the idea, please share your journey so far! Tell me your successes and your hopes in the comments below!

Can this Empty Tin of Tuna Save the World?

The people at my workplace aren’t the best at recycling. Plastic-free living and zero waste just aren’t on their radar. We’ve slowly introduced paper recycling, and I’m working on moving everyone away from those ridiculous pod coffees to a shared pot of French press coffee under the guise of being more sociable and team-oriented and  community-minded within the office (don’t laugh, because it’s actually working!).

But there’s still a fair way to go.

Last week I fished (excuse the pun) an empty tin of tuna out of the bin, gave it a rinse and left it on the side in order to take it home and save it from landfill. Someone went to throw it away and I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms and saying “no no no no no, I’m going to take that home and recycle it.

Cue raised eyebrows. I’m used to people thinking my ideas and slightly strange, so that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. The people in my office are slowly getting used to my strange ways, but last week we had a guy working with us who usually works at a different site, and he probably has no idea that I’m a “bit of a greenie”, as they like to say.

“I could tell you something something about recycling, but I won’t”, he said.

“Go on, tell me!”

“No no no. I don’t want to upset you.”

“Go on. You won’t upset me”.

Cue me persuading him to reveal his secrets. Eventually he relented. “Well, you know, I have a friend who knows a lot about these things. Of course, I recycle what I can, I do my bit, but he’s told me that recycling isn’t as good as people think.”

No kidding! Of course, I know a fair bit about waste myself, and having been to a number of waste recovery facility sites on tours and visits, I’m well aware that recycling isn’t the green solution that people think it is.

We compare notes, and bounce facts off of one another.

“In WA, only about a third of all waste generated is recycled at all.”

“A lot of the resources that are sent to recycling facilities aren’t actually recycled at all – their sent to landfill.”

“Anything that’s sent for recycling in a plastic bag is automatically sent to landfill – it’s too risky and time-consuming to unpack.”

“Any bottles, jars or containers that still contain liquid are not recycled but sent to landfill.”

“When people throw pillows, duvets, terracotta plant pots, light bulbs and even shredded paper into recycling streams it contaminates the waste and the whole shipment may get sent to landfill.”

“Glass is not recycled in our state – it’s either trucked to the next state or landfilled.”

“Most plastic and paper products collected at recycling facilities are shipped offshore to Asia for processing.”

I know that all of these facts are true. I’ve read enough reports, been to enough talks and seen enough with my own eyes not to doubt any of them for a second. It makes taking that small empty tin home seem like such a tiny drop in the ocean; such a small thing to do against the insurmountable problem of waste.

Yet I took that tin home anyway and recycled it.

Recycling bin

I’m not trying to kid myself. I know that waste disposal is a huge problem, and my recycling a single can of tuna isn’t going to save the world or make everything better. But what’s the alternative? Give up? I care about the planet, the environment and the people who live on it, and I’m going to take some responsibility for it. I believe that it’s the right thing to do. I might not be able to do everything, but I can do something, and focusing on what I can do is the best place to start.

There’s something else. I have hope. I honestly believe that most people simply don’t realise that we’re living in a system in crisis. They are so busy with their lives, doing the things that they’ve always done, that they just don’t know that there’s a problem. After all, there was a time when I thought recycling was enough. I thought I was being a responsible citizen, buying things in single-use disposable packages and then disposing of them appropriately in the correct recycling bin.

I believe that if I keep doing what I’m doing, and others join in and do their bit, then eventually the tide will turn. I’m not just talking about recycling. We’re never going to recycle our way to sustainable living. But it starts with our personal actions. It starts with the choices we make, and it grows from there. To the conversations we have, to the alternatives that we share, to the ideas that we spread.

I’m not saying it will be fast, or simple, or easy, but together we can make it happen.

A Guide to Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom (Part 2)

In Part 1 of Reducing Plastic in the Bathroom I talked about the basics – simple things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic you consume. Now I’m going to talk about all those other issues that us women have to deal with…hair, makeup, looking good, and that time of the month.

Hair Removal

Over 6 years ago (before I understood how ridiculous it was to use fossil fuels for such tasks!) I purchased an epilator – an electronic gadget that removes hairs by the root. Aside from the fact that it’s a huge chunk of plastic with electronic components that probably had a huge carbon footprint to manufacture, there are some advantages from a waste point-of-view. It has a rechargeable battery (that is still going after 6+years), there’s no blades that need continually replacing, and there’s no need to apply shaving foam / cream, or lotion afterwards.

As long as it lasts I’ll keep using it.epilator for hair removalIn addition, I actually have a plastic razor with disposable blades. This may surprise you, but wait, don’t judge! This is another 6+ years ago purchase. I bought the last blades whilst still living in the UK, over 4 years ago. I use it very sparingly, more for emergencies than anything else – hence why I still have 2 blades from 2011!

I also re-use and re-use and re-use the blades, and I’m careful to ensure they don’t rust. Whilst a completely stainless steel blade and handle would look much more the part for someone who promotes plastic-free living, I’m a firm believer in using up what you have first – and this is still in acceptable condition. These two blades will probably last me a couple more years!

Plastic Gilette Razor with Disposable Plastic HeadsWhen all the plastic paraphernalia has gone, then what? Thankfully, there are plenty of options.

  • Sleeves, leggings and long trousers: personally I prefer the shaven look, but I’m also fairly lazy so if I can get away with it by covering up, then I will!
  • Stainless steel razors: becoming more common to buy (look in proper barber shops) but it is easier to cut yourself than with plastic disposable “safety” razors.
  • Tweezers: this is probably not for the faint-hearted, but I’m a huge fan ; )
  • Sugar waxing: this a waxing process that uses sugar (yes, sugar) rather than petroleum-based wax to remove hair. It’s possible to do this at home, or go to a salon. I’m certainly intrigued, although I’ve never tried it.

Make-Up – Stick to the Essentials

Most plastic-free / zero-wasters will agree that it’s far easier to make do with a whole lot less when it comes to make-up! Finding plastic-free, chemical free products can be a challenge, so cutting out anything unnecessary definitely helps. In my twenties I owned multiple shades of eyeshadow, most of which I only wore a couple of times (if that) – what a waste!

I very rarely wear make-up now, but when I do, I stick to the basics – mascara and blusher mostly. (I still have a bag of very old makeup which I use extremely rarely – like on my wedding day!)

It’s possible to buy makeup in tins and in glass. Local artisans often sell products at Farmers or crafts markets and you can discuss with them the possibility of using your own containers. If this isn’t an option, look online for Etsy sellers who sell their products without plastic.

There are plenty of websites out there with recipes for making your own cosmetics. I’ve seen recipes for making blusher using ingredients from the pantry like cacao powder. I can’t recommend any but if you know any good websites with this kind of info be sure to leave a comment at the bottom of the page!

Lush makeup in glass bottles

This lipgloss and mascara were purchased as a gift. the bottles are glass and the wands are recycled plastic. not perfect, but better than plastic tubes.

Skincare and Makeup Removal

Skincare routines are synonymous with disposable makeup pads that come wrapped in plastic. To some extent, using bar soap as a cleanser removes the need for daily cotton pads, but there are still times when they’re useful. However, like all things, there are reusable options!

First up, consider using a flannel to clean your face. It’s also possible to buy reusable pads, or make your own using old towels or other material. I wouldn’t recommend getting bright white ones as they will decolour (especially if you’re using to remove mascara!). Make a few, then throw into the washing machine and you’re ready to go again!

reusable cloth pads for removing makeup

I use cotton buds occasionally and I buy organic cotton ones with a cardboard stem. The box has a small plastic window, but it’s the best I can find currently: the plastic-free ones I used to buy were discontinued.

Organic cotton buds in cardboard packaging

That Time of the Month – Go Reusable

I’ve used a Diva Cup since 2003. It’s a silicone reusable menstrual cup that is worn internally (find more details here as to how it works). I’ll try to spare you too much detail but in summary, they are very comfortable, last ages (you don’t need to empty for several hours) but the removal and emptying can take a bit of getting used to. If you do forget to empty it and it fills up, or you don’t insert it properly and spring a leak…well let’s just say that you do NOT want that to happen. It is messy.

I recently bought a new one: women over 30 need a slightly bigger size as their hips expand, apparently. I actually managed to buy this from a chemist, whereas the first one I had to get shipped from Canada to the UK in the days when internet shopping was almost non-existent!

Diva Cup

The Diva Cup: a zero waste solution

The other product that’s popular amongst zero-waster is homemade or reusable sanitary pads. I don’t have any, but I think they are a great idea – it’s just that I haven’t got round to it. Pinterest is full of DIY tutorials if you’re keen to make your own, otherwise I’d recommend looking on Etsy for local producers. There’s really no need to be using plastic-wrapped disposable products.

There you have it – Part 2 of my guide to reducing plastic in the bathroom. I hope it left you feeling inspired to make some changes!

Now I’d love to hear from you! I’d love to know if you have any further ideas that haven’t been covered in this post or the last? I’d also love to know if you have any recipes, guides or tutorials for DIY products?  Is there anything that you struggle with, or anything you find too extreme? What are the biggest challenges for you, and what have you found easy? Please share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Bokashi Bins: the Whats, Hows and Whys

Inspired by watching Dive! last week, and thinking about reducing the food waste I send to landfill, I’ve decided to revisit the bokashi bin. We give most of our food scraps to our worm farm, but there are some things that worms just don’t like (onion skins and lemon peels, for example) and these end up in the rubbish bin.

When I attempted my first Zero Waste Week in June I used a Bokashi bin to process my food waste to avoid sending it to landfill. Having completed a full cycle with this system, I thought I’d explain what they are, how they work and how I found using one.

The Bokashi Bin: What Is It?

Bokashi bins are home composting systems that are designed to be used indoors.  (Technically, they aren’t composting, but fermenting.)The bokashi system comprises two parts: a bucket with a sealable lid and a tap, and also bokashi mix, which are fermented grains (such as wheat bran and rice husks) that contain microorganisms. There is a tray inside the bucket to separate the liquid leachate that drains off with the sold waste.

Removable tray inside the bokashi bin.

Removable tray inside the bokashi bin.

Bokashi Bins: How Do They Work?

Bokashi bins work by fermenting food, and need anaerobic conditions (no oxygen). The bokashi bin has a tightly fitting lid to seal the waste. (This differs from composting which requires oxygen). Food waste is placed in the bucket, the fermented grains are sprinkled on top, everything is compacted down and the lid is sealed. Because the food isn’t decomposing, there’s no terrible rotting food smell (although it’s not odourless), and it doesn’t attract pests. When the lid is on, there is no smell at all.

Bokashi bins have a tap on the bottom that allows the excess liquid to be drained off. A surprising volume of liquid is produced (how much exactly depends on the types of food you add to the bucket). Being very acidic, it’s not suitable to put on plants unless it’s heavily diluted, and even then it’s recommended that young roots are avoided as it will burn them. It does, however, make a great toilet and drain cleaner! No dilution is needed, you just pour it straight down.

Once the bin is full and the contents are fermented – usually after 4-6 weeks – the waste needs to be buried, or composted.

Bokashi Bins: Who Are They For?

Bokashi bins are touted as a great alternative for people who don’t have a garden and can’t compost their food waste. They are a fairly small and contained system suitable for indoors. They can deal with all types of food waste, including cooked food, meat bones, citrus peels/onion skins, egg shells and dairy – all things that you can’t put in compost or worm farms – so if you’re committed to zero waste, they are part of the solution.

The Bokashi Bin Review

I did not buy my bokashi bin – it was a gift from a friend who rescued it from a verge collection where it was destined for landfill. Conveniently, there was also a pack of bokashi grains with it. Bokashi bins are fairly easy to find second-hand, if you look in the right places!

I used my bokashi bin for citrus peel, onion skins, egg shells, corn on the cob waste, fruit stones and vegetable stems – things I can’t put in the worm farm. Because of the low water content of these things my bin filled up quite quickly: probably 4 weeks in total. Despite the low water content, I was surprised at how much leachate came off.

Bokashi bin first layer

The start of my bokashi bin filling…

Bokashi bin mashing

Each layer is covered with a sprinkling of grains, and then pressed down tightly.

Full bokashi bin

Filling the final layer of the bokashi 4 weeks later.

The smell of the bokashi didn’t bother me. When I opened the lid, it has a sour, fermented kinda smell (as you’d expect) that wasn’t unpleasant. I was quite impressed that with the lid on, there was no smell at all. The leachate smell, however, I could not bear by the end! It didn’t smell bad, just sour, but very strong, and I really didn’t like it.

Bokashi bin drained liquid

Bokashi bin leachate. It might look a bit like honey, but it most definitely does not smell like honey!

The frustration came when the bucket was full, and I had to empty it. The waste needs to be buried, so I found a corner of our communal garden to be the bokashi grave. The bucket was surprisingly heavy, and having to carry it down flights of stairs and across a car park was a pain, as was digging a big hole using only a trowel. (I’m sure a spade would have been easier, but bokashi bins are touted as solutions for people who live in apartments, and I’m sure most apartment dwellers with no garden don’t own a spade – I don’t). Fortunately the hole was big enough, so I emptied the fermented mass of waste into it and covered it over.

Digging a hole to bury the bokashi waste

Digging a hole to bury the bokashi waste…

Burying the bokashi waste in the garden

Filling the hole with bokashi waste.

Bokashi bin waste all gone (buried)

The bokashi waste final resting place.

I now understood why a lot of bokashi bins end up on the verge.

 Should You Give Bokashi Bin Composting a Go?

I didn’t find the bokashi bin the most practical thing in the world, but I love that they provide a solution to disposing of food waste that can’t be composted or given to the worm farm.

However, you need to buy the fermented grain bokashi mix, which comes in a plastic bag and isn’t cheap. Having to buy the grains would be a deal-breaker for me. (If you’re dedicated, there are instructables out there for making your own.) Needing somewhere to put the waste when the bin is full – either a compost bin or digging it into the ground and burying it – makes it impractical for many people. Bokashi bins are often touted as alternatives for flat-dwellers who can’t compost, but that often means they don’t have land to bury the bokashi waste either.

Should you give it a go? Yes! I’m a great believer that you should try everything once! How else are you going to know if it’s for you? See if you can find a bin second-hand, or borrow one from a friend. Before you begin, just be clear on what you’re going to do with the fermented waste – you really don’t want it hanging around your kitchen for eternity.

Good luck!

I really want to hear you! Have you ever used a bokashi bin? How did you find it? Do you have any tips or ideas to share? If you haven;t used one, what’s putting you off? Please tell me your thought and ideas an leave a comment below!

A (Surprisingly Easy) Way to Generate Less Waste

On Sunday morning, my husband and I went on a big cycle ride around the river, and stopped at a cafe we’d never been to before for coffee and a snack. We ordered savoury muffins (I am currently a little obsessed with savoury muffins) and they were brought out to us, all toasted and delicious… with two plastic-packaged portions of butter on the side of the plate.

How I hate those individual butter portions! So fiddly, so unnecessary, and such a waste! Some barely contain more than a teaspoon of butter!

Normally, I send the butter portions straight back. (I figure if I do that, at least they can be re-used. If I leave them untouched on the plate, when everything gets cleared away they will probably end up in the bin.) The issue with this, and I’m sure most people will agree, is that anything toasted tastes far better smothered in buttery goodness.

When I handed the butter back, I did something completely un-groundbreaking.

I asked the waiter if I could have some butter cut from the block in the kitchen rather than the individually-wrapped butter portions.

Here’s the result:

plastic-free butter

Plastic-free breakfast!

It got me thinking. Sometimes there’s no need to get indignant. There’s no need to lament, or to start a petition, or to rally the troops, or organise a boycott. There’s no need to get frustrated, or to wish things were different.

The only thing we need to do is ask the question – can this be done a different way? Surprisingly enough, often it can!

(Of course there are times when asking gets you nowhere, and then all of the above apply! – But the first step should always be to ask the question).

Most people aren’t deliberately trying to create as much waste as they possibly can (even though sometimes it might seem like it). It’s just that they’ve never really thought about it. They’ve never thought about the consequences, the impacts, or the fact that there might be a different (and better) way.

What’s the worst that can happen? Somebody says no. It’s really not that bad!

Simple Questions to Ask to Reduce Your Waste

There’s no need to just accept things are the way they are! Starting the conversation is a great way to tell the world that there is another way. we can make others realise that waste is a problem, but it’s a problem with plenty of solutions.

Here’s some ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your local deli / butcher / takeaway if you can bring your own containers
  • Ask of you can put multiple products in the same container (if appropriate)
  • Ask for no straw
  • Ask for your coffee in a proper cup (even if they say they’re serving takeaway only, they will probably make an exception if you ask)
  • Ask for a glass for water rather than a disposable plastic cup
  • Ask to use your own plate at a takeaway food stand

Just give it a go! There’s no need to cause a fuss, or get angry or grumpy if the answer is no. There’s no need to feel nervous. Remember, the answer could just as easily be yes!

Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever had any great wins just because you asked the question? Have you ever had any dismal failures…and what did you do afterwards?! Do you have any tips for reducing waste when out and about? Any other ideas you’d like to add? Please leave a comment and tell me your experiences below!

How to Read Your Gas Bill + How I Saved $300 a Year

I have a confession. I actually enjoy receiving our power bills. It’s because I’m a bit of a nerd and I like to see how much energy (and money!) we’re saving by being as energy-efficient as possible. Today we received a new gas bill in the post, but when I ripped open the envelope my heart almost stopped because I saw the graph:

Graph on gas bill

Energy usage graph on gas bill

How on earth had our gas usage skyrocketed that much?

Before panic ensued, I checked our average daily consumption in units. This information is always included on your bill. It turns out that we hadn’t used many more units than the previous bill after all. Phew!

Gas bills for new flat

For this billing period we used 4.40 units per day, compared to 4.12 units per day on the previous bill.

The new bill confirms that we’re using less than half the energy we used at the previous flat. That sounds pretty impressive. This works out to be a saving of $300, which, I think you’ll agree, is even more impressive. So what is the secret?

First up, I’m just going to explain how to read your gas bill. It’s vital if you want to know how much energy you use and how much it’s costing you! It also means you can compare your usage with similar households to find out if you’re actually paying more than you should be. (Extra bonus –  knowing how to read your bill also prevents heart-attacks when you receive misleading graphs!)

A Quick Guide to Reading Your Energy Bill

  • The first thing to check is that the bill you’ve received correlates with your meter! (This isn’t likely to be a problem unless you’ve just moved, but it’s worth mentioning.)
  • Secondly, check if the bill is based on a meter reading or an estimate. If the bill is estimated, the amount may be very different to what you’ve actually used. You can usually contact your energy company to give an accurate reading and receive a new bill.
  • Be wary of graphs! The energy companies can use data to manipulate what you see. The reason my graph had such a huge change was because I moved mid-way through a billing cycle. The first bill I received was for 44 days. The second was for 89 days. It stands to reason that my second bill will cost twice as much as the first bill – it’s for double the amount of days!
  • Look for the average daily consumption, measured in units. That tells you how many units you are using every day. Energy is priced per unit, so the cost to you is the amount your company charges per unit multiplied by the number of units you have used.
  • If you can’t find your average daily consumption, it’s easy to calculate by finding the total number of energy units used and dividing by the number of days in the billing period. For my latest bill I used 391 units over 89 days, which is 4.39 units per day.

How I Saved $300 a Year in Gas Bills

This isn’t the part where I tell you I switched providers, and offer you a nifty little affiliate link like you’ve no doubt seen a gazillion times before. Nope. Sadly the gas company in Perth has a monopoly on the supply, so I’m stuck with these guys for now. I saved that much money without switching providers. I’ll tell you how I did it.

I moved house.

Not to a smaller house. I moved to a bigger house.

I moved to a bigger house with an additional demand for gas over the previous house (this place has a gas oven; the previous place had an electric one).

I might also add that the flat I moved to is in the same complex, made from the same materials and with the same insulation (or lack of).

Despite all of things thing, my gas bills have halved. See?

The daily energy use at my old flat was between 9 and 11.49 per day compared to less than 5 in the new flat.

The daily energy use at my old flat was between 8.9 and 11.49 per day compared to less than 5 in the new flat.

Do you know what made all that difference?

This guy.

New Boiler

This 5 1/2 star energy rating boiler that doesn’t have a pilot light meant my gas bills halved…without me doing a thing!

The boiler.

Compared with this guy:

Boiler with a pilot light

Meet Mr Inefficiency: Boiler with a pilot light

I did everything in our old flat to reduce our gas use (that’s why the unit consumption dropped a little during the year), but there was one thing I couldn’t get away from. The pilot light. That boiler burns gas even when it’s just sitting there. Even when it’s 40ºC day and you really don’t want any kind of heat at all. Our new boiler, by comparison, only burns gas when it’s ignited.

That’s all it’s taken to cut our bill by $300.

We didn’t install the boiler ourselves, it came with the rental, and in that regard we’ve been lucky. However, it has also highlighted to me the importance of fuel-efficient appliances, not just for the emissions they produce but also the cost savings they provide.

You may not be able to change your gas boiler, if you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck with an inefficient one (but if you are, here’s one idea for reducing how much energy it costs you). There are, however, plenty of other appliances that use energy that you do have control over. Think about all the other energy drains in the home: the heating, lighting, washing machine, dryer, the vacuum cleaner, small kitchen appliances, fridge and freezer, and other electrical equipment. Next time you need to change something, don’t just consider the initial cost, because in the long term it may end up costing more than you think.

Are you a homeowner who has installed energy efficient appliances, or are you a renter who is stuck with rubbishy inefficient junk that your landlord installed to save himself a buck or two? Are there any other appliances you’ve switched to energy saving and know have saved you money and cut your bills? Do you have any tips or experiences to share? I always love to hear from you so don’t forget to leave a comment!

Zero Waste Week 2014: Reducing Landfill on Holidays

When I first agreed to participate in Zero Waste Week, I had totally forgotten that I would be on holiday. Being completely waste-free isn’t easy at the best of times, but what about whilst on holidays, with all that uncertainty and all those unknowns?! At home with your routines and habits, and you’re comfortable with where to buy the things you need, it’s far easier to plan and make preparations.

When I did realise, I decided it would be good to give it a go regardless. Your morals and philosophies shouldn’t change just because you’re not at home! I love a challenge, and anyway, I wasn’t planning on throwing my zero-waste philosophy out the window just because I was on unfamiliar ground…so why not just keep on doing what I always (try to) do?

My Pledge: To Send Nothing to Landfill during Zero Waste Week

The theme for Zero Waste Week 2014 is “one more thing”, so I wanted to pledge something that would be a challenge – not something I do already – and sending nothing to landfill is my long-term goal. Holidays or not, that’s what I want to be doing!

For the first few days I was in London visiting my sister, who was responsible for the shopping. She actually lives right next to a bulk bin store and a superb little greengrocer that sells most of its produce loose – even the majority of herbs, and things that are often plastic-wrapped like baby carrots. I often hear that bulk bin stores don’t exist in the UK, so I like seeing things that prove this wrong! I was also very pleased to learn that she buys her olive oil in bulk using a refillable bottle : )

Unpackaged refill bulk store sign

Yay! Loose, unpackaged and bulk foods for sale in London right around the corner from where my sister lives (Newington Green).

Loose produce at the greengrocers

This superb little greengrocer had so much stuff completely packaging-free, including herbs, chantaney carrots, chillies and all sorts of other exciting and exotic things!

Using reusable cloth bags at the bulk bin store

Bulk bin store and my sister’s first experience of using reusable produce bags. “But prunes are sticky!” then “Oh, you can just wash the bags after.” Yep, it’s that simple!

We also ate out quite a bit (I’m on holidays!). That said, I’m always vigilant to refuse any unneccessary packaging, particularly plastic cups and straws, and bags of any kind. I’ve been carrying my metal lunchbox around with me in case I have any leftovers that need to be taken home. Alas, I’m far too greedy for that and my plate is always spotless!

Ottolenghi London salad selection

This is the salad selection at Ottolenghi in Islington, London. The salads are offered as take away or for dining in. They are amazing. I went twice in three days (eating in of course!). Mmmm.

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This was an awesome little pizza place where they use sourdough for the bases. I loved the upcycled tins being used as cutlery/napkin holders, and also the refillable oil and water bottles.

After a couple of nights I’m back staying with my parents in Kent. They have a garden full of home-grown produce and both home- and council-collected composting, so landfill waste is not a problem from food. I trained my mum to take her own containers to the butchers during Plastic Free July 2013. She doesn’t have any bulk bins stores locally, but she does her bit. (She’s even joining in the zero waste action by keeping a list of all the things she’s sending to landfill!)

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Being able to grow your own and then compost the food scraps is an awesome way to cut down on packaging and landfill waste.

Zero waste vegetables for dinner - no packaging in sight : )

Zero waste vegetables for dinner – no packaging in sight : )

I also composted a tissue after blowing my nose, so as not to put it in the bin. Not particularly interesting but worth a mention because my mum was absolutely horrified/disturbed at the idea! I even had to fight to be allowed to put it in the composting bucket! She was quite grossed out by the thought of having to wash it out after when my tissue had been in there. Never mind that it has rotting vegetables, coffee grinds, moldy tomatoes and other stinky stuff in there – it was my tissue that she found the most disgusting!

Zero Waste Week: What About the Waste?

I was feeling very pleased about how little waste I’ve generated until my sister pointed out that I used some dental floss and a cotton bud at her house, and both went in the bin. I don’t floss because I’m lazy and I can’t find plastic-free floss, but my sister has had a root canal and is keen not to have another one. Staying with her and observing her superior dental routine, I felt guilty about my lack of flossing, so joined in…I didn’t even think about the waste! As for the cotton bud, I just assumed she used ones with biodegradable stems, but the one she has are made with plastic. Oops. She also doesn’t have any composting facilities either, so even a biodegradable one would have ended up in landfill.

My sister also cooked me dinner on the first night, and the vegetable peelings ended up in the bin, but I didn’t buy the ingredients or make the food (and everything was bought before I arrived), so I don’t think it counts.

At my parents’ house, there is a snack cupboard full of plastic-packaged things that I try to avoid, but I confess to eating a few handfuls of peanuts from the open (plastic) bag in the cupboard. And a biscuit from a packet. (And most of a bar of chocolate, but that comes in foil and paper which can be recycled!) Tomorrow I will be better behaved!

Zero Waste Week has been quite fun so far, and I’ve enjoyed seeing how my family have picked up some of my ideas and my influence is rubbing off. In a place like London it can be quite overwhelming when you see how much rubbish is produced (everywhere, by everyone, all the time), so it’s reassuring to think that it is still possible to take action. After all, small actions taken by lots of people lots of times adds up to making a big difference, and that is what leads to real change.

How about you? Are you taking part in Zero Waste Week? If so, how has your experience been so far? What about vacations: do you try to keep your standards the same when on holiday, or do they take a holiday too? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment!

Zero Waste Living: Glass Dharma Reusable Glass Straws

Plastic straws. Is any single-use plastic more wasteful than the plastic straw? (Okay, yes; I can certainly think of a few other examples, but plastic straws have got to be up there with the best – or worst – of them.) I’ve been using a stainless steel straw for a while, but I don’t like the way it feels against my teeth, and it’s quite hard to keep clean as you can’t see inside.

So when Glass Dharma, who make reusable glass straws, asked me if I’d be interested in trying out their glass straws, of course I was more than happy to oblige! I’ve brought them on holiday with me, as that’s the time when I’m eating (and drinking) out more often, and at unfamiliar places where I don’t know the local straw policy!

One of the great things about Glass Dharma is they actually understand the plastic waste problem, and they don’t send their straws out in a heap of plastic bubble wrap. Each straw is packaged in a card box, and the parcel was plastic-free too. Although the straws are made from glass, it’s toughened (they use borosilicate – the strongest commercially available glass) and they offer a lifetime guarantee against breakage.

GlassDharma plastic free drinking straws plastic-free packaging

Four Glass Dharma straws, with no plastic in sight!

GlassDharma plastic-free drinking straws

They sent me four different straws to try, and a miniature brush for easy cleaning! There is a decorated straw, a bendy straw, a bubble tea straw (which is wider) and a shorter straw.

I have plastic-free living friends who question the need for straws at all. Whilst I agree that often straws are unnecessary and I always refuse disposable ones, I have found at least three situations when a straw (reusable only, of course) is preferable to no straw.

The first is when drinking smoothies or juice. Because you end up with moustache marks in the colour of your drink that can be surprisingly hard to wash off. If you ever drink out of a glass jar, all trendy like, you make end up with juice on your nose. It has happened to me. With turmeric. And with green smoothies. Those drinks stain!

The second is when ordering frozen drinks. I remember when my parents and my boyfriend’s parents met for the first time, and we all went out for dinner. Someone ordered a daiquiri. I insisted there were no straws. When the drink arrived, it was frozen (of course), and the waitress, who had remembered there was no straw requested, asked if we’d still like no straw before handing one over with a very smug expression! Now I have my own reusable straws that is something that will never happen again!

The third is when ordering a drink that requires stirring or mixing. Of course, you could request a spoon, but depending on the glass, a long-handled spoon might be needed and might not be available. My mother drinks tomato juice with tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. They always give her a plastic stirrer to mix it all together. She was under the impression that they were washed and reused, which of course they aren’t. She double-checked with the bar person who told her they get put in the recycling (which doesn’t neccessarily mean they get recycled, that depends on the company that manages the recycling; it does mean they are single use).

This possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

This is possibly one of those single-use plastic items that is actually more pointless than the straw: the single-use stirrer!

The next step was taking them out for testing! I thought I’d share the work with my straw-using friends and family, to make sure they all got a workout.

First up - the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

First up – the decorated straw, as tested by my mother for her regular tomato juice. No silly plastic stirrer needed!

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Bendy straw!

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Bendy straw again : )

I thought the glass straws were great. Glass feels better in my mouth than stainless steel (and definitely plastic!), and being able to see if it was clean was definitely a bonus that the stainless steel straw doesn’t offer. I’ve been carrying mine around in the boxes they came in, and that seems to offer enough protection. The glass straws are taller than the stainless steel one I have, which fits neatly into my To-Go Wear bamboo cutlery set, but the shorter Glass Dharma straw fits. I prefer them to the stainless steel straws and I’d definitely recommend them.

I love anything that makes zero waste (and plastic-free) living easier, and I love it when companies really get behind the reasons why people want to live this way (to avoid waste, to avoid chemicals, to protect the environment and live sustainably). Glass Dharma do this perfectly, and they also make products that are designed to last (no built-in obsolescence here).

Just to clarify, Glass Dharma sent me the straws, but my opinions are my own. As always! : )

Zero Waste Week is Coming Up…

You know me…any excuse to bang on about waste and I’m onto it! Which is why I’m super excited to be an ambassador for Zero Waste Week 2014. Zero Waste Week is…yes, you guessed it…a week of living with less waste, and it runs from 1st – 7th September.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

As part of the challenge, you need to make a waste pledge, and the theme this year is “one more thing”. I’m already reasonably close to zero waste and I had a go at a completely zero waste week back in June with reasonable success (completely zero waste meaning no landfill and no recycling – only compostable waste), so I wasn’t sure what my pledge should be at first.

What extra thing could I manage?

Then I realised, I’m actually away from home that week, and it’s always much harder to keep standards up when on holiday. So I decided I’m going to commit to not sending anything to landfill during Zero Waste Week, although recyclables are acceptable.

No matter how zero waste I try to be, there’s always something that sneaks into the rubbish bin, so I think this will be a good challenge!

Lindsay Treading My Own Path Zero Waste Week Pledge 1

Do you like my Zero Waste Week pledge? I wrote it on the back of the cardboard packaging from an empty box of pasta! (Which then went into the worm farm.)

The challenge began in the UK, but you can take part no matter where you live. The problem of waste is global, after all, so let’s make this an international challenge! There’s still plenty of time to make a pledge. Check out the Zero Waste Week website for some more inspiration, and then join us and sign up for the challenge yourself : ) There’s no excuses: you still have almost two weeks to prepare!

Once you’ve decided what your “one more thing” will be, please leave a comment below telling me what you’ve pledged. I’d love to hear from you!

Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /