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Gift-giving, sustainability and minimalism at Christmas

In less than two months, Christmas will be upon us. There are aspects to Christmas that I like. I like being able to spend time with family, to eat great food, and to relax. The bit I’m less keen on is the huge consumer-fest that goes with it. The huge amounts of stuff that get bought, the money that gets wasted, the stuff that gets wasted, the frenzy that comes with having to buy this for that person or that for the other person.

I’m not against presents. I love the idea of finding something perfect for someone, putting some thought in to find something that they didn’t know existed, something that they’ll love and use and enjoy. The thing is, at Christmas that generally isn’t what happens. People write lists, or ask for specific things which other people buy for them. Or maybe the gift-giver is worried about choosing the wrong thing, and so gives money instead. For birthdays this is slightly different but at Christmas the reciprocity of it all makes it a farce. You want a jumper, so someone buys you the one you choose. They want a torch, so you buy them the one they want. You both wrap them up and hand them over. You open the present you chose yourself. Assuming the presents cost the same amount, they effectively cancel each other out. You may as well have bought the jumper you wanted in the first place. Only, would you have actually bought it if it hadn’t been necessary to request a gift, or would you have spent the money on something else?

The older you get, the more quickly Christmas seems to come around, and the harder it is to buy things for people as each year they’ve accumulated more and need less. They don’t need anything, so we tend to buy things to replace things they already have – that probably don’t need replacing and haven’t worn out. Or worse – the dreaded novelty gift!

The thing is, my boyfriend and I may feel this way, but not everybody does. For me, quality time with the people I love is far more important than receiving gifts. That’s why I treasure experiences, and why I enjoy the family part of Christmas. But for other people, gifts are important. For children particularly, receiving gifts makes them feel special and loved. For some people that feeling must never go away.

Last Christmas, I made all of the presents that we gave to our family, except one (a vintage trinket pot that I’d bought before I decided to do a homemade Christmas). Basically I baked. For days. I love cooking and I enjoy it, and I figure that everyone loves eating! So I made biscotti, and cakes, and cookies, and biscuits, and spiced nuts, and flavoured sugar… I can’t remember everything, but there was a lot. I also cooked Christmas lunch. For my family in the UK, for whom homemade gifts weren’t possible, I simply didn’t send presents.

But after Christmas, I had doubts. I wondered whether I had assumed that because we like homemade presents so would everybody else. Because we wouldn’t expect presents or mind not getting any, no-one else would either. It didn’t solve the consumerism problem. None of the gifts we’d received were homemade. We also received gifts from my family in the UK – they hadn’t thought of our no-present idea as reciprocal. Everything we received was store-bought, and yes, we received some gifts that we didn’t really need or want. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I’d just rather people saved their money rather than feeling obliged to give us things.

I wondered if our Perth family had judged us for making gifts rather than buying them. I wondered if they thought we’d been cheap. (Not that making homemade gifts is actually cheap – ingredients can cost a fair amount – but they can be perceived as being cheap.) I wondered if the UK family thought we were being stingy, or lazy. I wondered if we were trying to push our values onto our family, and in turn they were trying to push their values back onto us.

We did a great deal of thinking. My boyfriend and I have concluded that we don’t need presents and we are happy for people not to buy us things. If someone thinks of a great appropriate gift then that is one thing, but we don’t need certain amounts spent or certain numbers of gifts on certain days of the year just because that’s what everyone else does. However, other people in our family don’t feel this way. They like to receive presents. And presumably because they like to receive presents, they like to give them too – even when asked not to. We’ve slowly come to understand that if we want them to understand and respect our wishes, we need to understand and respect theirs too. If they want and expect presents, then we need to acknowledge and respect that (whilst keeping to our sustainability/eco/waste-free values) and we can’t try to force our own ideas on them. What works for us might not work for them.

How this works in practice we don’t know yet. I guess we need to find the balance that works for our family, that takes everyone’s desires and wishes into account. Maybe one year we will do a proper family Christmas, and the next year we will take Christmas off. One year we indulge in the gift-giving, and the next year we don’t. Having not tried it yet, I can’t comment about how or whether it will work.

In the spirit of that, my boyfriend and I have decided to take this year off from Christmas. We’ve leaving the country on 7th December and not coming back until 3rd January, which means we will be missing everything. We will not be buying Christmas presents for anybody, including each other, and we are asking our family not to buy gifts for us either. Not before we go away, not for when we get back. No money either. Nothing.

This is the first time we’ve ever requested for our family not to buy us gifts, or give us money. It might be a big deal for them; after all, it’s going against the grain. It is a big deal to us, because it will mean that they respect what we want, and how we choose to live our lives. We hope that they will understand that we’re not buying gifts for them either. By saying that we don’t want gifts but we will be buying them for everyone else just complicates the issue – we don’t want anyone to feel the need to reciprocate. We’ve taken part in consumerist Christmas many many times, so maybe they can try things our way too. Just once. Hopefully in the future we can come up with something that works for everybody.

Having a simple, eco-friendly birthday

Last Thursday was my birthday. I’m not into having a big fuss made, and I struggle with the idea of presents, which potentially means getting a heap more stuff that I don’t really need. The more I travel down this road of minimalism/low waste/sustainability, the more I struggle with it, which combines with the fact that as every year passes by, I have less and less need for new things.

That being said, I am not at the point yet where I want to eschew all presents. I don’t really feel like I need presents to celebrate my birthday, yet there is something nice about acknowledging it – and I think people often feel that one needs the other. I pondered on requesting that nobody buys me anything – but it was only a couple of weeks before and would have been a little half-hearted. Read more

Friday night movie – the Clean Bin Project

I went to see another “eco” movie at a community screening on Friday. This time I saw the Clean Bin Project. It’s about a Canadian couple, Jen and Grant, who pledge to buy nothing for a year, and each collect their landfill waste for 12 months to see who has the least impact. The goal is zero landfill waste. The movie isn’t really about the competition, but rather the journey, and the issues with waste and landfill. There’s some great interviews with some really inspiring people involved in spreading the waste message, too. Read more

Zero-waste kitchen

After my recent blog post on trying to make my own tahini, which was motivated by my desire to use less packaging, I thought I’d write about my quest for a zero-waste kitchen. Let’s be clear, though. I do not have a zero-waste kitchen. It is something that I aspire to, something I’m working towards, but I am not there yet. I might never get there completely either, but it’s something to strive for.

This is my journey so far.

My zero-waste successes

I predominantly buy my groceries from bulk-buy stores. I have a few local stores to choose from that sell nuts, seeds, flours, grains, pulses, beans, herbs and spices in bulk, and I store everything in the pantry in glass jars. I can also buy some condiments in bulk, such as tamari and soy sauce, and cleaning products like dishwashing liquid.

bulkRather than use the bags supplied by the stores, I take my own. I re-use old paper bags (I once read that a paper bag takes three times more energy to make than a plastic bag, so my goal is to use each bag at least 3 times), and also have reuseable washable cloth and netting bags. If reusing paper bags, it’s worth checking what was in there last time. Cinnamon-flavoured brazil nuts are a pleasant surprise, chilli-flavoured sugar is less delightful! I also have a rule that I can’t take any new paper bags from the shop – if I don’t have enough then I have to go without. It’s a good lesson in being more prepared next time!

bags

At my local farmers market there is an egg seller who takes back old egg cartons for re-using. I store my eggs in their boxes at home, so I have four of these so I can return the empty ones to swap with new ones without running out in between. We also have local olive oil producers at the market who sell oil in bulk and refill bottles.

eggs oilIt goes without saying that I only buy loose produce from the other stalls.

If I want to buy items from the deli counter or fishmongers, I take my own containers. When you do this, it’s worth making sure that the assistant weighs your container first – you don’t want to pay for the privilege!

As much as possible, I prepare my meals from scratch to save on packaging, because it tastes far better, saves money, is additive- and preservative-free and is FUN! As well as meals, that includes making my own bread, yoghurt, nut milk, dips… and I’m always interested in learning something new.

My Semi-Successes

We get most of our fruit and vegetables delivered via a local organic veg box scheme. The produce arrives predominantly packaging free, but usually there’s a paper bag in there with something inside. Typically the potatoes and carrots arrive bagged. This means that despite my refusal to pick up new bags at the bulk produce stores, I still seem to be gradually accumulating them. The company were very good about not putting any of my produce in plastic when I requested it – I wonder if I call and ask for no bags at all they will be able to accommodate me?

vegbox1finalThe boxes that the vegetables come in get returned each week for re-using.

I have struggled a little with pasta. I have found one shop that sell vermicelli nests in bulk, as it seems harder to find than rice and other grains. Maybe this is because it is bulky. Sometimes we are caught short, and this means we do buy pasta occasionally in cardboard packaging. We try to stick to spaghetti rather than bulky shapes because the packaging is smallest with this.

pasta(In the last month Barilla have been swept up in calls for a boycott after the Chairman said he would never feature gay families in his advertising, and if gay people didn’t like his message, they could eat another pasta. I’m on the fence about this. I like that they package their products in cardboard and support this, yet the idea of importing pasta to Australia from Italy does seem a little unnecessary. Really, I should make my own…or switch to eating potatoes.)

The first tip we picked up from taking part in Plastic Free July in 2012 was lining our bin with used newspapers. If you want to know how to line your bin, check my post about it here. With a zero waste kitchen we shouldn’t need a bin, but we have no composting facilities where we currently live and what we can’t feed to our worms (and what little plastic sneaks in) still goes to landfill.

We buy milk from a local producer called Sunnydale who take back the empty bottles for re-using. We get stuck with the lids (which we can’t return) but it’s pretty waste free. I have a friend who has goats for milking…maybe that is the next step!?

Things to Work On

There’s still things that we buy in glass jars and tins. I buy tinned tomatoes (I have had a go at canning my own once – it was time-consuming and messy, although successful – but I ended up with three jars. Mass production, I think, is the key. Maybe when tomatoes are in season this year I’ll buy a heap and try to can a shedload of them – not that I have a shed to store them in…). I buy coconut milk, and this is on my list of things to try to make. Tahini is another one!

We have just used up our last jar of olives and I want to start getting these from a deli in future, which should mean better quality as well as less packaging.

My boyfriend likes to drink the odd beer, and beer bottles (and occasionally wine bottles) end up in the recycling bin. These are not something we keep for re-using. On the list for the distant future (when we have the space), homebrew is something that I think he’d like to try.

What else? I recently bought some cocoa butter, which came in a plastic lined bag. I know that it is possible to buy this in bulk, but none of my local shops seem to sell it. I like to experiment in the kitchen, and I don’t want to compromise by going without trying new things. I try as much as possible to keep plastic-free and packaging free, but sometimes I get caught out. Unless I change my behaviour (or an amazing bulk produce store opens down the road) I will never be completely waste-free.

So I try to do as much as I can. I might not be able to achieve 100%, but I can get as close to that as possible. As we find a solution or an alternative for one thing, so I can focus on the next thing. Small steps, in the right direction.

Everyone buys too many clothes…

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.”
– Dame Vivienne Westwood

That was what Dame Vivienne Westwood, the famous British fashion designer, told the press after the launch of her show at London Fashion Week this week, as reported on the Telegraph.co.uk website.

I’ve got to say, I love her message. It’s something I’ve believed in for years. I remember going clothes shopping with my sister as a teenager, and we’d browse through the clothes rails and pick out bargains. When I asked myself if I really liked the item I’d found, how much it cost always came into the equation. “Hmmm, it’s £10 nice”.  Which meant, I like it because it only costs £10 – if it cost more I probably wouldn’t want it. Once I realised that I was only buying things because I saw them as a bargain, often never really wearing them, it made me question my buying habits. There were many reasons why I’d never wear the things I bought – they didn’t really suit me, I didn’t have the right occasion to actually wear it, it didn’t really fit properly… and many more. Every time I’d been seduced by price, but it had ended up being a false economy.

So I decided in my early twenties to take price out of the equation completely. When I was looking for something, I would only buy things that were absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t consider price until I’d found what I wanted – and then I’d check the price tag and decide if I was willing to spend that much. If something is perfect, and I’m sure I will wear it many times, I am willing to spend a little more. It’s a much better system than buying heaps of cheap items that were a “bargain” but that I’ll never wear. Not to mention cheap throwaway fashion that will only get one or two wears before they stretch, fade and/or become mis-shapen.

How has this worked for me? Well, I no longer need to go shopping in the sales. That stuff isn’t really a bargain – it’s all the stuff the store couldn’t sell at full price so had to discount to shift it. Why didn’t it sell in the first place? Whatever the reason (badly cut, odd sizing, strange colours), it may be a reason why the person who buys the “bargain” never actually wears it either.

I spend more per item, and I buy a whole lot less. I buy things that I like, that fit properly, and I know I will wear. Spending more on an item definitely guilt-trips me into wearing it, whereas it’s easy if something only cost a few dollars to cast it aside if you change your mind.

It is something I aspire to, but I’m not perfect. When I first switched from shopping in clothes shops to shopping at second-hand stores and on eBay, I had a brief phase of buying things solely because they were cheap. It seemed guilt-free as they were used items, but I still ended up with items in my wardrobe that I didn’t wear that just took up space. It seemed strange to spend decent amounts of money on second-hand items. Now I’ve changed my mind and if I find something I want, I’m happy to pay whatever the seller asks.

This year my sole non-underwear clothes purchases have been a second-hand jacket, jumper and skirt (plus a new pair of trainers). The jacket and the jumper were not super cheap as second-hand items go, but are really good quality and things I specifically needed. The skirt is an example of my hoarding tendencies and shows that I still have lessons to learn – it is actually the same as a skirt I already have and love, and wear all summer long, so when I saw the second one on eBay I had to buy it. Probably not necessary. Scrap that, definitely not necessary! Shows I still have a way to go!

Back to Dame Vivienne. Obviously her comment has attracted some criticism. Some think she is being hypocritical because she works in the fashion industry. Others think that by promoting quality she is actually promoting the sales of her own designer goods – her comments were simply a way to sell her products. Personally, I think that because she works in the fashion industry, she is in a better place to make her comments and have her views listened to. You need insiders to help make change in every industry, and fashion is no exception. Of course she wants to make money from her work – but you don’t see racks and racks of cheap Vivienne Westwood garments in every store you step into. She doesn’t produce wear-once-and-throw-away items. The comment about buying better quality seems less likely to be a cheap marketing plug and more likely a reference to the irresponsible, sweatshop-produced, poorly made rubbish that flies of the shelves each week – and ends up in landfill in the weeks after that. Not everyone can afford her prices, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all spend a little more ensuring the items we buy are things that are made responsibly, that we’ll love and wear many times. As Dame Vivienne said:

“Instead of buying six things, buy one thing that you really like. Don’t keep buying just for the sake of it.”

Why I volunteered to spend my weekend washing up for other people

Okay, so maybe I’m misleading you. It wasn’t the whole weekend. In fact, it was for a little over three hours on Sunday – but that doesn’t sound nearly so sensational, does it?!

I was volunteering with the Earth Carers – the fantastic group of people who came up with the Plastic Free July campaign. One of the local councils in our area was organising a family fun day called “Celebrate Lake Claremont”, and the Earth Carers decided to run a washing-up station next to the coffee stand so that all the coffees sold would be in ceramic cups – which we would wash up – rather than disposable takeaway containers. They ran a similar stall at the Mosman Park Eco Fair back in June which was a massive success and eliminated disposable coffee containers completely at that event. This was the inspiration to try to offer free washing-up stations at other events… and this one was next.

We do what we can on an individual level. My boyfriend and I haven’t purchased anything in a single-use disposable food container of any kind since July 2012. But we’re just two people. There’s only so much that we can reduce with our own habits. There’s a whole world out there that needs educating, or inspiring, or motivating to change too. So what better way than to get out there in the community and make it super easy for the people at the event to lower their impact?

You’d think that everyone would be totally supportive of such a service. We rock up for free, bringing our own standard barista-sized ceramic cups, and wash them free of charge for the consumers before returning them to the coffee stand for re-use. What’s not to love?

There was actually a bit of wavering at the start though, because someone questioned whether it was hygienic. Yep, you read that right. There was actually the suggestion that washing up coffee cups using ordinary water and washing-up liquid might not be hygienic. We weren’t washing up anything else. Just empty coffee cups. Can you believe it?! We couldn’t either.

So we set up a system to maximise the cleanliness of our cups. We had a four-bowl dishwashing system, with the cups moving from the bowl on the left through the middle bowls to the bowl on the right, and the water getting hotter with each bowl. The last bowl, with the water at 70°C, was for the final rinse. We didn’t make it up either – apparently this is a recommended practice for washing-up stations (we asked Google, although I can’t actually find the link now to share with you).

washingup2

In the three hours we washed up about 100 cups, probably more. Whilst it doesn’t even make a dent on the number of cups being sent to landfill (it is estimated by KeepCup that 1 million cups end up in landfill EVERY SINGLE MINUTE), it is far more than I am stopping heading to landfill with just my own individual action of using a reusable cup.

This is why it’s so important that as well as doing the best we can on an individual level, we try to get out there and inspire change at a community level. We can achieve so much more. It may be small, but it was still 100 cups that would have ended up in landfill without our intervention. It is more than just numbers though – it’s all the people we spoke to and explained what we were doing and why, who will take that message with them. We’re helping the idea to spread and the word to grow. Imagine if every community event, or every other event, had a washing-up station and a zero disposable waste policy? Imagine how many we’d reduce then?

If I want to see change happen, I personally need to do something about it. I can’t just sit around lamenting that other people don’t do enough. I need to get out there and do what I can to make it easy for other people to do more. Which is why I gave up my time on Sunday to wash up other people’s dishes.

As it turns out, weddings are stressful

For those of you who missed the update, my boyfriend proposed at the start of August. It was a complete surprise, but a very pleasant one. It only occurred to me some hours later that actually, after an engagement comes a wedding. It hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Some girls have dreams of their big day, and have been planning it since they were tiny; I am not one of those girls. I have actually very little idea about weddings. I’ve only been to a handful myself. Read more

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

I sold my glass jug blender today on Gumtree. Not exactly front page news, I know, but bear with me.

When I got my new kitchen robot I listed my Magimix food processor and my jug blender on Gumtree straightaway. The Magimix sold almost instantly for the money I asked; they are solid gadgets with fantastic motors and I knew it would be easy. I did not have such optimism for the blender. It’s not a bad blender and it still works, but it wasn’t a great brand, it didn’t have a massive motor and it was a few years old. There was only one other same-model Magimix on Gumtree when I listed mine; there were hundreds of blenders.

I listed it anyway, and after a week, rather unexpectedly, I got a call. Someone wanted to buy it, and offered $20. Rather amazed that I’d even got the call in the first place I agreed (I’d listed it for $30).

When the guy turned up, he explained that he had the same blender and the glass jug had fallen off the kitchen bench and smashed. He’d called the manufacturer who’d told him the price of a new jug…and the price of a new blender. Guess which one was cheaper? Yep, the whole unit. They actually advised him on the phone to just order a whole new unit. But rather than buy a new one, he’d checked on Gumtree first, and there was mine.

It makes me so mad that companies do that deliberately. One bit breaks and you have to replace the whole thing. It’s so incredibly wasteful. Of course it doesn’t make sense that a whole unit would be cheaper than its parts. Yet it always seems to be that way. I feel like they’re trying to condition us to never try to repair things or replace parts, but mindlessly buy new ones instead.

We don’t have to stand for that! That’s why sites like Gumtree and eBay are so useful. They give all the people who need replacement parts access to loads of people who have replacement parts. We don’t have to let these companies have their way!

If I’d have sent that blender to the charity shop, there’s a chance it would have gone to landfill anyway. Not all charity shops accept electrical goods, and they also need to be able to test them for electrical safety. Plus I sometimes feel that sending stuff to the charity shops is shirking our responsibility a little bit. It’s too easy to dump our unwanted stuff and feel good about giving to charity when there’s no guarantee they’ll actually want what we’ve given them. This way I can be sure that the item I’m selling has gone on to a new home where it will be used.

People sometimes think I’m crazy for listing things on Gumtree for such small amounts of money. (I have listed things on there for free, but the lowest price I’ve listed something for was 50 cents – and it got a buyer!) But it’s not about the money. It’s about diverting something from landfill and stopping somebody else buying something brand new when there’s a suitable second-hand alternative. Double win! The argument that you haven’t got the time? Seriously?! You need to take a photo, upload it and write a short description. You can do it from your mobile phone in about 1 minute. Not exactly labour intensive!

I’m feeling pretty smug that I thwarted the electronic company’s attempt to get a new sale, pleased that I was able to give the guy exactly what he was looking for, and glad the blender isn’t stuck on a dusty shelf in a charity shop or heading to landfill.

If you’ve got stuff that’s broken or got parts missing, it’s doesn’t mean no-one will want it. I bet for every functioning blender with the glass jug broken, there’s another with an intact jug but a burnt-out motor. Even if you think something’s beyond salvage, someone else may find it useful for an art or sculpture project. Before you chuck it in the bin, give it a go on the second-hand listings sites. You’ve got nothing to lose!

One year on: how Plastic Free July changed our lives for the better

On Wednesday night my boyfriend and I spoke at the Plastic Free July closing ceremony about how our lives had changed since taking part in Plastic Free July last year. It was lovely to be asked to speak, and great to be able to share with the community what it had meant to us. It was also a chance for us to reflect on how far we had come.

Whilst it’s still fresh in my mind I thought it would be good to share on the blog too.

One Year On from Plastic Free July

When we signed up for Plastic Free July in 2012, I have to confess, I thought it was going to be easy. I thought that we were pretty sustainable already – after all, we took our own shopping bags to the supermarket! I figured we’d buy a few more things in jars, a few more things in cardboard packets, and it would be a breeze.

Then I saw the movie Bag It.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I beg you to seek it out. It’s a documentary that’s funny, clever, down to earth and it gives out so much information without overloading the viewer. I think I’ve seen it five times now and each time I get something new out of it.

I know others who have seen environmental movies and claimed it changed their lives. An Inconvenient Truth is one. The End of Suburbia is another. I haven’t seen either of these, but for me, Bag It was one of those movies. After seeing it, I knew there was so much more I could do. I also knew it wouldn’t be something we just tried for a month. After July was over, we intended to carry on.

July 1st came around, and the challenge began.

Our first couple of supermarket shops after starting Plastic Free July looked like this:

We realised that if we weren’t going to starve we would probably have to make some big changes to our shopping habits.

So we started shopping at markets and bulk food shops like these:

bulkInstead of taking bags at the shop, we re-used old bags – both plastic ones that we already had and also paper bags – and also went to a workshop and made our own washable cloth bags. We also took our own containers to the deli counter and got reusable cups which we carry everywhere with us.

Another simple change we made was to buy bar soap rather than shower gel and liquid handwash that come in plastic. We choose soap made with natural ingredients and without chemicals or additives so we can avoid all that nastiness too, plus it’s made locally by a woman with her own natural skincare and aromatherapy oil business. Wins all round!

soapSo what else? We started buying more of our stuff second-hand. When we moved into our flat we had committed to buying all our furniture second-hand, but after Plastic Free July we started buying second-hand kitchen appliances, and now we always check to see if we can get something we need pre-loved rather than getting a brand new version from the shops.

We make great use of our local library. As well as the obvious books, our library also lends magazines, CDs and DVDs free of charge. This is great if it’s something we just want to flick through, watch once or have a quick listen, as we can then return it for someone else to use. It’s a great way of cutting down on plastic, but also less wasteful of resources and takes up less space in the flat. After all, how many times do you watch most of your DVDs or read most of your magazines?

We also started switching plastic items with non-plastic alternatives as they needed replacing. This cleaning brush on the right is made by a company called Full Circle (their Australian site is here). It has a bamboo handle and the heads can be replaced so you don’t need to throw the whole thing away. The head is made of bioplastic and the bristles are a mix of natural fibres and recycled plastic fibres. I’m not quite at the stage of knitting my own dishcloths yet (I don’t know how to knit, for a start) so this is a good compromise for now. The brush on the left is wood and natural bristles.

brushesI also bought my boyfriend this awesome little stainless steel lunchbox for Christmas, which he really likes. It generates a fair bit of conversation at his work, too. The plastic fork in the picture came from a pre-Plastic Free July long haul flight – I kept my initial set of cutlery and reused it for

IMAG0360 (2)the entire journey, and then my boyfriend used it at work for several months until the prongs finally snapped. Wouldn’t have happened with a metal fork though, would it?!

After Plastic Free July was over, the Earth Carers, that fantastic group of people that came up with the Plastic Free July challenge in the first place, ran a 5 session course on waste. Having been inspired by Plastic Free July we went along. One of the days was a trip to a rubbish tip and a recycling facility.

One of the big changes you’ll probably have found if you took part in the Plastic Free July challenge is that you ended up with a lot more glass bottles and jars. This happened to us, and we continued to recycle them diligently until we visited a recycling facility.

RecyclingThis massive smelly heap is the recycling collected from just a few suburbs of Perth in one afternoon. I also found out that a lot of recycling is actually shipped to Asia for processing, and glass is often trucked thousands of kilometres to be processed in a different state. The glass that is recycled in Perth is often used for road base – not shiny new glass bottles.

Even with the pantry heavily stocked with bulk items stored in glass jars, we were still accumulating more and didn’t have the space to store them indefinitely. To cut them out I decided to make more food from scratch. We committed to try to avoid buying as much as we could in any kind of packaging.

So I learnt how to make yoghurt, labne cheese and sourdough bread, amongst other things.

I also learnt how to make deodorant and toothpaste. I hope eventually to make most of my own cosmetics and skincare, but I haven’t got round to it yet.

The other interesting thing that happened, and arguably the best thing, is that we became a lot more involved in our local community. After the Earth Carers course we also enrolled in a 10 topic, 7 week sustainability course called Living Smart. It focuses on individual behaviour change and goal-setting, and has been a great way to meet like-minded people who live in our area. My boyfriend and I have both completed the Living Smart facilitator training course that allows us to run our own Living Smart courses. So far I’ve had the chance to present at a few courses and we’re looking forward to running our own by the end of the year.

Finding the Balance

One of our biggest achievements over the year has been finding the balance between wanting to consume as little plastic as possible whilst still wanting to stay sane, be happy and remain part of society! There’s no point in depriving ourselves of things if it’s going to make us miserable. After Plastic Free July I thought we’d become plastic extremists and never buy a single thing in plastic ever again. Over time we’ve come to realise that emergencies happen, sometimes we have to compromise and sometimes, plastic can actually be useful. So we do still end up with plastic – here are the main examples.

Firstly, there’s sneaky plastic. If you took part in Plastic Free July, did you buy something thinking that it was plastic free, only to find that beneath the deceptive cardboard outer, some plastic was lurking inside? Yep, us too.

Secondly, there’s the unavoidable plastic. Despite our best efforts to buy second hand, we sometimes need to buy new things, and these often come with all the little bits and pieces wrapped in unnecessary plastic bags. For example, when I decided to make my own yoghurt I bought a wide-neck flask and a milk thermometer new because I couldn’t find either second hand. Both of these had stupid unnecessary plastic, but it helped stop waste further along. Another thing I’ve found impossible to avoid is plastic lids on glass bottles, or plastic linings inside metal lids, although I buy as few as I can and refill where possible.

Finally, there’s guilty pleasures. These are the things that contain single use disposable plastic but we continue to buy anyway. My boyfriend’s top example is beer bottle tops. Maybe when we have our own place he can try his hand at homebrew. Hopefully he will turn out to be a master brewer; otherwise I think these are likely to stay.

capsBirthday and Christmas presents to each other are excluded from the plastic-free rule too – although we keep it for gifts we give to everyone else in the family! We never go crazy though. The stainless steel lunchbox purchased last Christmas actually came in a plastic bag, and I received a board game with various bits and pieces packaged in plastic. Still pretty old-school, really!

If you’d asked me a year ago how Plastic Free July would have affected me, I wouldn’t have guessed anywhere close to where I am now. I think the main lesson has been to take things slowly, and keep at one new thing until it becomes a habit before starting the next thing. A lot of this is now second nature to us, but it took a bit of work to get there.

The other important lesson has to be not to berate others for their choices. Everyone is on their own journey and if you want to inspire your friends and family to change their habits too, it is far better to lead by example than berate them for what they aren’t doing! Once people see you quietly getting on with things, hopefully they will be inspired to try things out for themselves. Everyone needs time!

As a thank-you for presenting we were given a copy of Beth Terry’s Plastic Free book. Despite being so committed to plastic free living I’ve never actually read this book, so I’m looking forward to any new inspiration that it brings!

book

You’ve made it: the last day of Plastic Free July!

Today is 31st July. If you’ve been taking part in Plastic Free July this year, you’ve probably been counting down this day as you’ve struggled with a month of buying no single use disposable plastic. Well here it is!

Congratulations – you made it! Read more