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Why coronavirus does not mean the end of zero waste

You may have heard stories or even seen local businesses in your area make the decision to ban reusable coffee cups, or reusable containers. I first heard about this when Starbucks made the decision at the beginning of March to not only refuse reusable coffee cups but also switch all dine-in reusables (cups, plates, cutlery) to single-use disposables.

(Although interestingly they will – at the time of writing – still accept your pre-handled money, unlike other stores which are now also banning cash and allowing only contactless payments).

Around the same time I heard that Bulk Barn, the largest bulk foods store in Canada, is no longer allowing single-use containers. Now, more and more places are announcing similar policies. And I started seeing people ask – is this the end of zero waste?

No, coronavirus is not the end of zero waste. Here’s why.

Coronavirus and the rise of single-use disposables

Before I even begin, I want to emphasise that we are in a unprecedented situation, and it is hard for any business owner to know how to react or what to do to reduce the spread of disease and keep their business running. I think many stores want to do ‘something’ and without clear guidelines as to what this might be – other than shutting doors, which isn’t an easy business decision even if it’s great to prevent the spread of disease – they are trying to take action however they can.

So we might have our opinions on what is inconsistent and what is overreacting and what is sensible and what is necessary. But they are just our opinions, and even the experts are in unchartered territory right now.

Something I read at the weekend that really stuck with me was this: “When you’re dealing with exponential growth [which is what experts are saying we have with infection rates] the time to act is when it seems too early.”

So let’s save our judgement, because we really don’t know.

But what I know to be true – whether we see more and more businesses switching to single-use disposables over reusables because of coronavirus, and even if those businesses decide to keep policies in place after the threat has passed (assuming that it does), is that it doesn’t spell the end of zero waste.

As so often happens in the media, it is being framed all wrong.

Coronavirus can’t touch what zero waste really is

We could have a conversation about what ‘waste’ really means, and whether single-use disposables are truly a ‘waste’ if they are helping reduce the spread of disease.

(After all, almost all of us would argue that hospitals are a great place to use single-use plastic, for exactly this reason.)

But we are not going to have that conversation. Because that keeps the conversation around reusables, and anyone who has been trying to live low waste or zero waste for more than about five minutes knows that the choices we make and habits we form are so much more than reusable coffee cups and takeaway containers.

Zero waste is not – at its heart – about reusables. Zero waste is a mindset. It’s an attitude, a philosophy, a goal, whatever you might prefer to call it. Reusables make zero waste living easier, but they aren’t a make-or-break.

The idea that zero waste is over because we can no longer purchase takeaway coffee from a multinational corporation in a reusable cup is missing the bigger picture. Takeaway coffee generally – there are bigger issues, when it comes to waste. Yes, as a society (well, in western parts of the world, and for the more privileged part of society) we might drink a lot of takeaway coffee, but it’s a small part of the global waste footprint.

Regardless, it is disheartening to see businesses take a step backwards (in terms of sustainability) and make these choices – even when they are justified for other reasons.

Rather than feel frustrated, I wanted to remind you of all the ways that we can try to live with less waste. Because there are plenty of things we can still do, and I like to focus on the positive (and the practical).

Zero waste things you can do in spite of coronavirus

Think creatively about the packaging you need to use. You might not have a choice about being able to use your own containers to the store. You might not currently have a choice with which store you buy your groceries from (if your preferred or regular store has run out of what you need). But maybe you can think creatively about what you buy or how you buy it to reduce your packaging (particularly single-use plastic).

Could you choose the unwrapped produce? The bigger pack sizes? The options without individual packs inside packs? The brands packaged in cardboard? Could you by in bulk (rather than from bulk) and split a larger amount with friends or family? If you can’t do it all, go for the small wins. It all helps.

Make something from scratch. Whether you simply haven’t been able to get something you usually buy pre-prepared, or your simply faced with more at-home time than you’re used to, now is a great time to learn to make something from scratch. Been wanting to try DIY nut milk since forever? Wondered about making bread, or crackers? Fancy giving DIY moisturiser a go?

Perhaps you can use this situation as an opportunity to try ‘one more thing’.

Reduce your food waste. You might not be able to choose whether or not you can BYO packaging, but you can work to ensure you’re not wasting the food that you buy. With the panic buying we’re currently seeing, it makes even more sense to ensure we are using up what we actually buy before it goes bad.

Make sure you are storing food properly so that it lasts, clear out your freezer to make room for leftovers, make a ‘use me first’ shelf in the fridge so everyone in your household knows what needs eating first.

(I’ve got a free resource coming soon all about reducing food waste, so keep your eyes peeled.)

Compost your food scraps. This is different to reducing food waste. This is ensuring that those inedible bits (cores, pips, stems, outer leaves etc) are not put into the landfill / general waste bin. Whether you can set up a system at home – I’ve written about composting, worm warms and bokashi systems if you’d like to know what your options are – or whether you make the most of community composting services, this is a great way to reduce waste.

Now is a great time to set something up – or at least start doing the research.

Buy less stuff. The best thing you can do to reduce your waste is to buy less stuff. Even ‘sustainable’ stuff has a footprint. A big part of the zero waste lifestyle is making do, and making things last. Maybe that means getting stuff fixed. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll never need to buy anything again ever – but as a general rule, the less you buy, the more sustainable you are and the less waste you create.

If you need something, see if you can borrow, or find it for free on Freecycle, Freegle or Buy Nothing. Libraries don’t just lend out physical products, they lend out ebooks, online movies and electronic versions of magazines too – so even if you can’t get to your physical library, you might have options. If you need to buy something, check out the second-hand options first.

(Whether this is possible will depend on what it is and where you’re living – and what the isolation restrictions are – but it is still a consideration).

If you do need to buy something brand new, don’t feel guilty about that. There are better ways to use your energy. Just try to make those purchases mindfully.

Learn more about the issues you care about. You might not be able to take action now in all the ways you’d like, but you can use this time to read up on topics that interest you, try out some new skills, and connect with like-minded people (even if only online, for now).

There are so many great books (or ebooks and audiobooks) and useful blog posts. And courses and videos. And social media pages and groups.

Take the time to get informed.

Write letters and apply pressure to those in power (or make a plan to). It might seem like an inopportune moment to be hassling your supermarket about their single-use plastic packaging policy, or asking your local government member to support a plan to divest in fossil fuels, but these issues aren’t going away, even if they are buried under more pressing needs.

(In fact, some governments and companies are using the fact that others are distracted to push through unpopular decisions, such as the announcement this week by the Victorian government to lift the moratorium on onshore drilling for gas.)

If you have the time and headspace, you might want to use it to start (or continue) to apply pressure on businesses, organisations or government officials to demand change, or ask for answers on policy and decision-making.

You don’t have to send any letters or emails you write straightaway. If the timing seems insensitive or you know it won’t be looked at, you can prepare for when things are settled, do your research, and be ready to go.

Keep supporting your local zero waste store, or independent local businesses, even if they temporarily have to change their policy and disallow reusables. You’ll want them to be there when things get back to normal, so keep supporting them whilst things get tough.

It’s a lot easier for big multinationals to weather disruption than small stores. They need our help.

I don’t want to sugar coat anything – we are in the strangest of times. There are lots of things to be concerned about. But multinational companies opting for disposable coffee cups isn’t one of them. We are better placed focusing our energy elsewhere.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How are you feeling about waste and sustainability issues – have they slipped from your radar, are they there in the back of your mind, or are they at the forefront? Are you coping or are you struggling right now? There’s no right or wrong answers here and definitely no judgement so tell us how you’re feeling and where you’re at, and share any ideas or thoughts in the comments below. We’re in this together.

5 Bad Habits I Shook by Going Zero Waste

Often when we talk about the changes we’ve made since deciding to refuse single-use plastic, reduce our waste and/or live more sustainably, we focus on the products we buy (or no longer buy). There are plenty of articles online about ‘zero waste swaps’ and indeed, I’ve written a few myself.

I thought it might be interesting to change the focus slightly, and rather than talk about products, talk about habits. Now I’ve still got plenty of bad habits to shake (going zero waste does not make you a perfect human, alas), but luckily for me, embracing low waste living has enabled me to shake a few.

Throwing my food scraps in the trash.

That bin went to landfill, and I just thought that the landfill was a great big compost pile. I found out later it is most definitely not. It’s an engineered (and expensive to construct) depression in the ground that entombs waste without air, and creates a lot of methane instead.

Then there’s the fact that food makes for a stinky bin and attracts flies (particularly in hot climates), and needs hauling to the kerb every few days. Did you know that between 20 – 40% of everything the average householder throws away is food scraps?

Not to mention, I was throwing away my food scraps, and then buying plastic-wrapped bags of compost at the garden centre for my plants!

Setting up a worm farm, and then a compost bin, reduced my rubbish bin to almost nothing, solved the ‘how do I line my bin without plastic?’ problem (if there’s nothing stinky and wet going in the bin, it doesn’t need a liner) and gave me free nutrients for the garden.

There are so many solutions to dealing with food scraps. There are options whether you’ve got a garden, a balcony, or no outside space at all. There are options even if you can’t be bothered setting up and managing a system yourself.

Find more info here: How to compost without a compost bin.

Being ‘in love’ with my recycling bin.

Yep, I used to think that recycling was the best thing ever. (And pretty much that I was the best thing ever for filling it to the brim!) I saw that chasing arrow recycling symbol as my ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card for packaging. ‘Oh it’s okay. It’s recyclable!’

It simply never occurred to me that I could say no to unnecessary packaging, refuse the excess, reduce what I did use and even rethink some of my choices for less wasteful alternatives.

As I’ve said often, recycling is a great place to start. But when I realised it was not the place to stop, and there was so much more I could be doing, that was when I really began to reduce my waste and my footprint.

Recycling – and learning how to recycle properly rather than chucking everything in and hoping for the best – that’s the first step. But it’s better to have an empty landfill bin and an empty recycling bin than an empty landfill bin and a recycling bin that’s overflowing.

Accepting free samples of everything.

I loved anything that was ‘free’. In fact, if somewhere was offering freebies, I’d quite often take one and then circle back round to take a second one. Because, free!

Cringe.

Whether it was sachets of moisturiser with real gold flakes in them (yes this was a real sample I once accepted), scented foot odour reducing insoles (again, a real thing) or any ‘free’ miniature or travel-sized thing whatsoever from any hotel, I was snaffling these thing up.

The old me thought all this stuff was great. It was duly popped in the cupboard and forgotten about. Yes, most of these freebies I didn’t even use. The new me just shakes her head at the old me.

What about all the resources? The pointlessness? The waste? The perpetuation of the cycle of more samples and free stuff?

Let’s just say, I don’t do that any more. I actually get more satisfaction now from refusing stuff than I ever did from taking it. (The only freebies I get excited about these days are my friends’ excess garden produce and cuttings from their plants which I’d like to grow in my garden.)

Taking ‘eco-friendly’ labels at face value.

Even before I went plastic-free and low waste, I’d buy all of the eco-friendly products. It was pretty easy, because so many products are labelled ‘eco-friendly’!

(Or if not ‘eco-friendly’, the equally eco-friendly sounding ‘green’. Bonus points – in my mind – for having an image of a green leaf on the packaging.)

It was only after I began to reduce my waste that I began to question these labels, and stopped taking them at face value.

There are no independently verified certification scheme for labels like ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’. (Or ‘biodegradable’ for that matter, but I won’t go into that now. If you want to read more, you’ll find my post ‘is biodegradable plastic: is it really eco-friendly‘ a helpful read.)

Anyone can write labels like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘green’ on their packaging. And they do!

Rather than let the person who designed the packaging tell me that a product is eco-friendly, I now prefer to do my own research. If a company is truly environmentally responsible, committed to sustainability and equitable in the way they do business, they will be able to back up their claims.

They will be transparent, happy to answer questions, eager to find out answers that they don’t already have, and keen to talk more!

If ever I write to a company claiming to be eco-friendly, and receive responses that are cagey, defensive or hostile, I choose not to support those companies.

That’s not to say I can always find all the answers. But I make an effort and try to be conscious in my choices.

Waiting for ‘somebody else to do something about that.’

Before I decided to reduce my single-use and other plastic, I was the person picking all the overpackaged things off the supermarket shelves and muttering how ridiculous it was, and how somebody should do something about that, whilst piling those same things into my trolley.

I thought it was up to the manufacturers to change their packaging. I thought it was up to the stores not to sell these items. It did not cross my mind that I also had a role to play in this, and a way to influence change – I could just not buy them.

I don’t think it is solely the responsibility of individuals to create change. But we buy things and support (or don’t support) brands and companies, and companies pay attention. We can apply pressure, start conversations, write letters, share the good and try to hold the bad to account.

I don’t have the empirical evidence, but I’m pretty sure that nobody ever successfully influenced change by muttering under their breath. Nor by doing the exact thing they were complaining about.

It feels so much better to be doing something, and trying, however small that ‘something’ might be.

Embracing a life with less waste might not have ironed out all my flaws, but it’s definitely helped me shake some bad habits along the way.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What bad habits (if any) have you kicked through reducing your rubbish and trying to live more sustainably? Any bad habits you’re trying to shake that are still a work-in-progress? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 Zero Waste Tips for Moving House

Last weekend, I moved house. And when it comes to moving, unless you can literally fit all your possessions in a single backpack, it is a bit of an ordeal. There are boxes, packing materials, stuff you forgot you owned, stuff you no longer need, things that are (or get) damaged or broken… and so it goes on.

Moving can create a lot of waste. But with a tiny little bit of planning, it’s possible to eliminate a lot of the unnecessary waste. Here’s some tips.

1. Don’t Move What You Don’t Have To

Moving things that you later decide you don’t need is a waste of time, effort and fuel in a moving truck. At the other end, when there are new homes to find for everything you do want and other bits and pieces to sort out, offloading stuff you no longer need is an added hassle.

If you know you don’t need something, sell it or give it away before the move.

I didn’t have time to go through all of my books, games, boxes of jars and other bits and pieces to assess every single thing I own on merit before the move. But moving a book is a little different to moving a kitchen island (especially one that literally wouldn’t fit in the new place).

So I prioritised the big, heavy and fragile things (like the kitchen island), listed some things I knew I no longer needed and did what I could.

Sites I use to pass on unwanted goods:

  • eBay is great for anything high-value, easy to post and listings that would benefit from a bigger (less local) audience;
  • Gumtree is great for bigger items like furniture, anything that the buyer want might want to inspect and test before buying (like electronics) and is good for giving away free stuff;
  • Buy Nothing groups are great for giving away items locally.

2. Source Second-Hand Packing Materials

There is really no need to spend a fortune (or spend anything, actually) on fancy packing materials. You’ll be able to get almost everything you need second-hand, and be able to donate it again afterwards for someone else to reuse.

Boxes: I’ve never purchased a packing box in my life and I’m amazed that people actually do! There are so many boxes already in existence that can be used.

I ask friends, family, colleagues and neighbours for useful boxes, either to borrow or to keep and then pass on. My neighbours had some amazing reusable Dutch moving boxes (they are from the Netherlands and brought these boxes over when they moved 12 years ago) that fold together and do not require packing tape.

I checked the local grocery store and got a couple of sturdy tray-type boxes with handles at the side. These are great for moving my pantry and things that don’t stack well.

Packing Materials: Keep packing materials that you receive (or find) to pack fragile items. If you don’t buy much (like me!) ask around to see what others have or put a call-out online. Shops often have a lot of bubble wrap they are throwing out, and tissue paper. Who Gives A Crap toilet paper wrappers are good too, as are old newspapers.

(Once you’ve moved, list all your packing materials online for someone else to use, or give to a store that can use it for packing their sales.)

Tape: I have a very old roll of (plastic) packing tape that I purchased in 2011 and lives on. I don’t tape my boxes shut, I fold them by overlapping the flaps, but a couple of boxes needed taping at the bottom. The fridge door also needed taping shut whilst moving.

If I hadn’t owned any tape, I’d have purchased paper packing tape, but I prefer to use what I already have.

There is a surprising level of guilt around using plastic tape when moving within the zero waste community. If you can’t find an alternative and need to use it, then use it, no guilt required. It is better to tape boxes securely with plastic tape than smash the entire contents of an un-taped box because you were trying to save waste.

Old sheets/tarp: These can be useful for draping over and protecting items transported in a truck, van or trailer – to protect from dust, grease or the elements. If you don’t have any, ask around. Buy Nothing groups are ideal for this.

3. Use What You Have

It’s likely you already have plenty of great packing containers and also packing materials at home.

Suitcases and bags are the obvious choice for containers, but your laundry basket, large pans, plastic crates and decorative baskets might also be useful for transporting your stuff.

Plus, if you happen to buy anything that comes in a box in the weeks before the move, keep the box!

Plenty of things can be used as packing materials. Reusable produce bags, reusable shopping bags, tea towels, regular towels, socks, scarves, pillowcases – all can be used to cushion more fragile items.

4. Make a Plan for Your Perishables

If you’re going to be moving the fridge an/or freezer, you’ll need to turn it off before moving, and wait a few hours once it’s in its new home before turning it back on. Which means, there needs to be a plan for the things currently in there.

Planning to use up your perishables might be helpful if you’re moving far. Personally, I didn’t want to run down my fridge too much, because I had enough to do with the unpacking after the move, and didn’t want to have to go grocery shopping also.

I asked a few friends and neighbours if any had space in their fridge and freezer, and found one place for my frozen goods and another for my fridge stuff. (I also asked some friends if I could borrow their camping fridge, but alas, they were going camping that weekend!)

Worst case, if you can’t find somewhere to store your food, you can give it away so at least it isn’t being wasted. Offer to friends, family and neighbours or use a dedicated food waste app like OLIO to find new homes for edible food.

With the fridge stuff, I just concentrated on moving the real perishables. It made finding a temporary space a lot easier. Things like sauerkraut, pickles and jars of jam can cope without refrigeration for a day, so they were boxed and moved with everything else.

5. Choose Your Vehicle Wisely

Damaging your stuff in the move is a waste, and damaging yourself by lifting too much heavy stuff isn’t great either. Multiple vehicle trips are going to use more fuel than a single trip, and then there’s your time: no-one has too much of that and there are better things to do than moving inefficiently.

Think about what you’re trying to move, where you’re moving to and what would be the most appropriate (and efficient) way to transport it all.

When moving in the past I’ve booked a man-with-a-van, used a friend’s car, rented a trailer and borrowed a van from work, depending on the situation and what was available.

This time round, I hired a truck with a hydraulic lift. That’s because I had 12 x 100 litre plant pots full of soil to lift, not to mention a wheelbarrow, a 180 litre worm farm, 3 compost bins, wine barrel planters and a 240 litre bin full of soil.

One or two things could have been wrestled into a van, but this was too much.

The furniture, white goods and boxes fitted in the truck for the first trip. The pots and garden stuff completely filled up the truck for the second trip.

There were also a few back and forth car trips, which was easy as this was a 3 minute drive between homes (I’m literally just a few minutes up the road).

6. The Bigger (or Further) the Move, The More You Plan

Because I wasn’t moving far, I could be (and was) a lot more flexible – by which I mean disorganised – in my approach.

In reality, it was very easy to load up a car and drop a load of things off in between doing other errands, as both homes are in the same neighbourhood. I got the keys on Tuesday and booked the truck for Friday, so the in-between (work) days were useful for moving things that might have got damaged in the move (like houseplants) and things I wanted to sort straightaway (like my pantry).

If I’d have been moving a few hours away (or anything more than 30 minutes, realistically) I’d have made sure everything was packed, boxed and labelled before the day.

Well, I’d have tried!

Moving is definitely stressful, but it doesn’t have to be wasteful.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for moving? Do you have a move planned and are wondering what to do about certain things? Any other comments or thoughts to share? Please let us know in the space below!

My Zero Waste Coffee Routine

Earlier this year, my old coffee machine finally gave up the ghost. It’s a miracle she lasted as long as she did: given to me second-hand, a bottom-of-the-range model that made surprisingly good coffee and survived almost daily use for seven years.

She had a couple of repairs and fixes in her time…

…but finally the pump went, and she was officially declared life-expired.

What remains is a mix of plastic, metal and electronic parts that are hardly a recycler’s dream. The metal will be recycled, but I don’t hold any hope for the plastic parts (which is most of it).

I didn’t want a replacement machine that was going to go the same way as this one. I wanted one with less bells and whistles (or rather, bits that can break and plastic parts), something made to last, much more repairable, and recyclable (if it comes to that).

Sure, I’m familiar with the French Press, and the stove-top espresso maker (also known as the moka pot). But the old machine made a proper espresso. And I wanted the replacement to do so too.

My answer was a lever press espresso machine: these create pressure to make espresso not through electricity and pumps but through manual levers and muscle power!

Many lever press espresso machines do not require electricity (although you need hot water to make hot coffee).

This machine is called the ROK espresso GC, made by ROK. There are a few different versions of lever press espresso machines on the market (and some of the price tags will blow your mind) but this one was the clear winner for me, not because of aesthetics (although she is stunning, for sure) but because of the ethos of the company behind the product.

Lots of companies say they are committed to sustainability but ROK really demonstrate these values with everything they do.

  • The plastic parts are minimal. Nor do they ship in plastic. The main body is made of die-cast aluminium (completely recycable, hurrah);
  • They offer a 10 year warranty on all metal parts, and sell spares of the other parts;
  • ROK was originally called Presso, and the design was slightly different. When they switched to the current design (the GC), they launched a conversion kit meaning all current owners could upgrade their existing model without having to buy a whole new machine;
  • They won ‘Most Sustainable Product’ in the kitchenware category at the 2019 Buy Me Once Excellence Awards, who judge brands on their commitment to sustainability, durability, aftercare and eco-innovation.

When I emailed ROK to talk sustainability, they kindly offered to send me a ROK espresso machine to try, which was very generous and for which I’m immensely grateful. Six months later, the machine I was gifted is still as loved as ever, and I use it every day.

I didn’t just want to talk about machines though – I wanted to talk through my entire coffee routine, from start to finish. From beans to milk and all in-between.

Before anyone even thinks about bringing up the fact that it would be much more sustainable to not drink coffee at all and just sip rainwater, I get it. Yep. You’re right. But I like coffee. And I personally don’t think drinking a cup of coffee in the morning at home is that extravagant, in the scheme of things.

There are worse ways to have a footprint. If I’m going to drink coffee, the least I can do is make it as low impact as possible.

The Coffee Beans

I buy my coffee beans from a local roastery Antz. They source their beans in bulk from ethical co-operatives (such as this one in Colombia), roast the beans themselves and sell to customers without packaging.

They also have a grinder, so I get my beans ground freshly at the cafe.

It ticks a lot of boxes for me: supporting a small local business, supporting Fair Trade and cooperatives, and avoiding unnecessary packaging.

(It’s possible to find Australian grown coffee beans, but they grow on the other side of the country, in Queensland and northern NSW. I’ve never seen these beans in store, only online. And always in plastic.)

The Milk

My old coffee machine had a steam wand to foam milk. The lever espresso machine does not. I add homemade cashew milk to my coffee, and it needs to be warmed first. (Cashew milk has a tendency to sink when added cold, which isn’t a disaster; other plant milks will curdle if not heated before adding to coffee.)

I discovered that such a thing as a stovetop milk steamer exists, and invested in a Bellman stovetop steamer. It’s like a mini pressure cooker: fill with water, screw the lid down tightly and heat. The water builds up steam which is released down the steam wand to make steamed milk.

It’s a pretty nifty gadget, suitable for gas, electric or induction stovetops (or campfires!). Being made of solid stainless steel, it should last forever (there are a couple of silicone rings that no doubt will need replacing, but that’s it).

The Coffee Machine

I’ve already introduced you to the ROK espresso machine, but I thought I’d talk you through how it works.

The ground coffee is placed in the portafilter which locks into the machine. boiling water is poured into the black water tank at the top. Lifting the arms slowly releases the water into the coffee below.

Next, pressing the arms slowly back down to their start position over about 30 seconds, the machine pours an espresso, which I then add steamed milk to.

There’s a bit of an art to it, which is actually the point – however, it can be a bit intimidating at first, especially when we’re used to pressing a button. Fortunately there’s a few YouTube videos out there, and it’s fun to practice and learn.

There’s something very mindful about making coffee this way. I really enjoy the way it makes me slow down, and I like the ‘unplugged’ process. It makes my ”coffee break’ an actual break! It’s also really easy to clean, which is always a win in my book.

Find out more about ROK coffee.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are you a coffee drinker? What is your morning routine and what are you doing/have you done to make it a little bit more sustainable? (It doesn’t have to be coffee – it can be tea, it can be exercise, it can be a beauty or bathroom routine – whatever it is for you!) Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below :)

How to Make DIY Coconut Milk from Scratch (A Recipe)

DIY coconut milk is one of the things I tried very early on in my plastic-free journey. I started making it in 2013, got tired of making it a few months after that and decided not to bother cooking coconut milk dishes.

Then my local bulk store started selling coconut milk powder, and that was my go-to.

Hence the recipe never made it onto my blog. But I decided I wanted to retry making coconut yoghurt (the recipe for coconut yoghurt did make it onto the blog, although it’s been tweaked since then) without using the tins. My zero waste journey has rather progressed since 2013, after all!

Plus whilst the coconut milk powder is pretty good, it’s not the same as coconut cream. And it is something we can DIY.

The coconut milk we buy in cans is made from the flesh and juice of young coconuts. Most of us don’t have access to young coconuts to make our own, but we can make something almost as good using dried (mature) coconut and water. I prefer to use shredded coconut (I look for the untoasted, unsweetened version). Desiccated coconut will work too.

You’ll need a blender. (Only attempt to use coconut flakes if you have a top-of-the-range blender.)

In Australia, canned coconut milk is coconut and water. Canned coconut cream is just coconut with less water. Literally. Check the back of the cans next time you’re in the store. Coconut cream is 80% coconut, 20% water; coconut milk is 60% coconut, 40% water. If you do buy cans, choose the coconut cream (it’s usually the same price) and add your own water from the tap. No need to import extra water from overseas.

In the UK, coconut milk is around 50% water. Coconut cream in the UK is often really thick – it’s not that high in coconut either (less than 70%), it’s just full of gums and stabilizers to thicken it.

Did I mention those cans are usually lined with plastic, too?

Get yourself some shredded or desiccated coconut, and try making your own.

Ingredients:

  • 300g shredded coconut
  • 1 litre boiling water (and then another litre)

The amounts don’t really matter, more coconut will give you more cream. If you don’t have access to a bulk store and the bagged coconut is 200g, use that – it will be fine.

First Press: Coconut Cream

Boil the water in a kettle, pour over the coconut, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. (If your blender has a glass or metal jug, you can do this step in your blender; if not you may prefer to use a glass bowl or saucepan instead.)

Blend the coconut and hot water until combined.

Strain the mix into a glass jug using cheesecloth or a clean tea towel to separate the pulp. Squeeze the cloth to ensure all the moisture is removed – you will want to allow the mix to cool slightly before you do this (or wear gloves!). Once you’ve strained every drop out of the pulp, pour the coconut milk into a glass jar, screw on the lid, and set aside.

Second Press: Coconut Milk

Now place the coconut pulp back into the blender, and add another litre of boiling water. Leave to sit for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. The second batch will be thinner.

(If you want to squeeze every drop of goodness out of your shredded or desiccated coconut, you can repeat with a third litre of water.)

Place the jars in the fridge.

Once in the fridge, the solids will separate from the liquid. The first jar will have a thick, solid coconut cream layer. The second jar will have a much thinner coconut cream layer. (The third jar, if you did a third press, probably won’t have any coconut cream).

If you’d like to use the coconut cream, you can scoop off using a spoon. Alternatively, if you prefer coconut milk, you can warm the jar and shake to recombine, or empty the entire jar contents into a pan and gently warm the cream with the liquid to recombine when you’re ready to use.

The second batch is great for adding to smoothies instead of water, for cooking grains (quinoa, white rice or millet will absorb the coconut flavour), or adding to soups or dahl. It’s not as rich as coconut milk, but there is definitely some coconut flavour.

Coconut cream and coconut milk keep for up to a week in the fridge, an can be frozen.

You’ll also be left with a bowlful of pulp. This tastes a little like desiccated coconut, but with less flavour (you squeezed that out)! You can freeze this, or dry it out in the oven on a low heat for an hour or so. (Don’t put it in the pantry as is, because it contains moisture and will go mouldy.) Alternatively it will keep in the fridge in a container for a few days.

Add the pulp to porridge, smoothies or even curries to add some flavour and fibre. You can also bake with it: you can sub a small amount of desiccated coconut (up to half) for leftover pulp in baking recipes, or use in veggie burgers/patties. There are plenty of options!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you DIY coconut milk? Do you DIY any other milk, and if so how do you like to use up the leftover pulp? I’ll share my leftover pulp recipes another day, but if you have any great ones you’d like to share, I’d love to hear in the comments! Anything else to add? Let me know in the space below!

Plastic-Free Living: 10 Foods I Make From Scratch

Reducing plastic and living with less waste means ditching the plastic wrap and other single-use packaging, and some foods are hard to come by without packaging. Either that, or they are very expensive to buy plastic-free.

As I’ve gone down the path of waste-free living, I’ve tried making various things, mostly for these two reasons.

Some things, I have discovered, are well worth spending the extra money on to buy the package-free version and not have to make your own! Others turned out to be either so simple, so tasty, or so much less expensive to make from scratch that I really have no reason to ever go back to the pre-bought versions.

This isn’t about being a slave to your kitchen. I do enjoy making things, but I appreciate it isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, so I’ve focused on the quick, the easy and the satisfying. I’ve put together a list of foods I make that are less waste and low fuss. You’re welcome.

DIY Crackers

If there’s one thing that’s impossible to buy plastic-free or zero waste, it’s crackers! I tried making crudites (fancy word for vegetable sticks) and slicing fresh bread in place of crackers, but they lack that lovely crunch which makes crackers so desirable to eat.

I’ve tried a few different recipes. The ones that get made the most are the seed crackers. They are simple to make; all they require is soaking the seeds in water, then spreading out on a baking sheet and slowly drying in the oven. You can find the recipe here.

If already you’ve decided that this is a step too far, another super easy way to make crackers is to thinly slice a baguette, drizzle with oil and bake in the oven, turning once half way through.

These are so simple to make and require only 25 minutes in the oven, that they probably don’t even require a recipe, but here is the recipe if you’d like to see the steps.

DIY Pesto

I make pesto all the time, with whatever greens I have to hand. Basil pesto is a summer classic but in winter when the parsley, coriander and nasturtiums are growing, I use these instead.

The basic formula is garlic, two large handfuls of greens, 1/2 cup of nuts and some oil (avocado sometimes to add smoothness and thicken, and nutritional yeast for cheesy flavour if required). You can also sneak in wilted salad leaves to reduce waste.

A blender is ideal, a herb chopper will also work and so will a pestle and mortar. Most pesto will keep in the fridge for at least a week, and it freezes really well. Four zero waste pesto recipes here.

DIY Dips (Hummus, etc)

Have you ever noticed that the more natural ingredients (and therefore ‘fancy’) a store-bought dip is, the more packaging is included? There’s the tub, the foil lid, the plastic lid to go over the foil lid, the cardboard sleeve and then the tray it’s displayed on in store.

Rather than pay for all that packaging, I make my own. They taste much better anyway. I mostly use a food processor, but you can also use the herb chopper attachment with a stick blender, a stick blender itself if you’re making large quantities, a pestle and mortar if you don’t have gadgets, and even a fork if you like a more textured dip (I always use a fork when making guacamole).

My staple dip is hummus (you can find the recipe here). If I’m being fancy (well, if I need to use up old veg and want to disguise them in something tasty) I’ll add beetroot (raw or cooked) to the mix, or roasted sweet potato. When fresh broad beans are in season I use those in place of chickpeas, without the tahini and a lot more lemon juice.

DIY Legumes (beans, pulses, lentils)

I don’t buy chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils or any other legume in a tin, I make my own by cooking the dried beans.

Lentils are really easy because they just need a quick wash and then can be thrown into soups, stews, dahls as is, and will cook in the pan.

Beans and chickpeas need soaking first. They all vary slightly but the longer the better. If you change the water every 8 hours you can keep them soaking for days (they won’t go bad, but eventually they will sprout!) and you can pop the still-soaking beans in the fridge to bide some extra time before you’re ready to cook them.

I soak my chickpeas for a couple of days, then boil in water for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. (If you have a pressure cooker you can reduce the cooking time to minutes).

They store really well, in the fridge for at least a week, or you can store in glass jars (just chickpeas, no liquid) in the freezer. They fit really well in my freezer door.

DIY Sprouts

I’m counting these as ‘making’ and not ‘growing’: soak most seeds and smaller lentils and beans (chickpeas also work) and they will sprout a root, making beansprouts.

They don’t look the same as the ones you buy in the store: they are not as elongated (expect a length 1-2 times the length of the original seed/lentil) but they are so much tastier.

You don’t need any equipment for this, just a glass jar (or a colander if you want to make heaps). Soak and drain the sprouts but keep moist, cover jar with cloth or colander with a plate, rinse and drain morning and evening. In 2-7 days you’ll have sprouts (depending on the lentil/seed type – mung beans are very quick, and you’ll need a week for chickpeas). Full instructions here.

DIY Apple Cider Vinegar

This is one of my favourite things to make because it ticks all the boxes: it is low effort and super simple and it can be made for (almost) free! Bought apple cider vinegar , on the other hand, is expensive.

All you need is some apple cores, stems and peels (you can use whole apples, but I prefer to eat the actual apple and just use the waste bits), some water and a spoonful of sugar, all mixed together in a glass jar. The natural yeast in the apple will ferment the sugar first to alcohol (you’ll smell cider) and then to vinegar (which is what happens when alcohol is exposed to air).

It takes about a week to finish fermenting, and only requires the occasional stir during this time. Stores for months. Recipe here.

DIY Nut Milk

Nut milks (and their cousins seed milks) are really easy to make from scratch. Soak 1 cup of nuts (or seeds) overnight, then rinse and blend with 4-5 cups water. If you have a cheap blender, add the water one up at a time rather than all at once for a smoother result.

With some nuts, like almonds, you might like to strain (I use cheesecloth) because there is a lot of pulp. Other nuts like cashews don’t need straining at all.

Cashew milk is one of my favourites as it also lasts well, around 7-10 days in the fridge. Homemade almond milk lasts 3-4 days. Recipes for cashew and almond milk here.

DIY Nut Butter

An easy thing to make and a great way to avoid palm oil, added sugar and salt and of course, packaging. Peanut butter is the one we always think of but you can make any type of nut butter. Cashew and macadamia butter are light and sweeter, and of course, hazelnut butter pairs best with chocolate.

You’ll need a food processor or a high power blender (most blenders are designed for liquids, not solids). Roasted nuts blend much more quickly and easily than raw ones (and taste better, generally). It will take about 5 minutes to make your own. Full nut butter instructions here.

DIY Stock

Rather than buying stock powder, I make my own using vegetable scraps. I save onion peels, leek tips, garlic skins and any other bits I don’t eat (except kale stalks, I did that once and never again), filling a jar in the freezer a I go until it’s full.

If I peeled carrots and potatoes I’d save these scraps too, but I prefer not to peel and eat the scraps as they come!

Then, I boil the scraps in a pan of water for an hour with some bay leaves, strain off the scraps, cool down and freeze in a wide-neck jar or ice cube molds, and use as I need.

DIY Frozen Sweetcorn

Before I went plastic-free, I’d buy bags of frozen sweetcorn. I’ve never liked the canned stuff, so I didn’t want to switch to that, but I like the ease of having it in the frezzer. So I make my own.

I buy fresh corn cobs, boil, drain and cut the kernels off. One cob has about 150g kernels. Then I pack tightly in a glass jar and freeze until I need. Step-by-step instructions here.

I don’t believe that the zero waste lifestyle or going plastic-free means making everything from scratch. There are a lot of things I don’t make from scratch, or only make sometimes. But when it’s quick, easy and low fuss, you save on all the single-use packaging and you get to eat the results of your creations, why wouldn’t you at least give things a try?

You may find it fun, you may wonder why you haven’t been doing this your whole life already, or you may decide it is an experience never to be repeated. But you’ll never know if you don’t try. Whatever happens, you’ll definitely have a new-found appreciation for the things you eat – whether it’s something homemade or something you’re extremely glad someone else is making so that you don’t have to.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any favourite from-scratch recipes? Are their any foods you can’t find in packaging that you’re yet to successfully DIY? How do you balance making your own with buying ready-made? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!


15+ Swaps for a Plastic-Free Bathroom

The two areas of the home where we tend to use the most single-use plastic and other packaging are the kitchen, and the bathroom. The good news is, both have plenty of opportunity for doing things differently!

In many ways, the bathroom is easier to tackle. We don’t need to replace the items as often or as quickly (toothpaste doesn’t go bad like milk or cauliflower does), and there are less products to switch. (Surely no-one’s bathroom cupboard has more products than the pantry, fridge and freezer combined?)

Plus even if you’re not feeling drawn to DIY, guaranteed someone in your town does! There is so much opportunity to support local businesses when it comes to making bathroom swaps.

I thought I’d run through all of the swaps I’ve made to give you some ideas that might work for you. There are plenty of awesome brands making thoughtful products, and I can’t list them all (I don’t know about them all!).

So I’ve shared the ones that work for me – and part of that means being available in the physical zero waste stores in my neighbourhood. I prefer to buy local where I can, and support independent businesses trying to create positive change.

If that’s not possible, there are heaps of great online independent small businesses that you can support.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste Swaps – Hair Care

Shampoo soap: I washed my hair with bicarb and vinegar for about 3 years, but a two month trial with just water left my hair really dry, and I decided to switch to a shampoo bar to fix it. I really like the Source Foods shampoo bar, which I buy from my local Source store in Victoria Park.

There are heaps of brands making solid shampoo soap and most people find it takes a while to find one that works with their hair. (I’ve only tried two, the Source one is great, the other was not great at all.) If you don’t love the first bar you try, keep going. Some companies also make samples so you can test without committing to a huge block you don’t end up using.

Conditioner (white vinegar rinse): I still use white vinegar to rinse my hair (instructions here). I don’t use any other styling products. In fact, I still cringe at how much I used to spend on conditioner and frizz-ease hair serums when actually, white vinegar does a much better job for a fraction of the cost and with no plastic waste.

White vinegar is pretty easy to find at most bulk stores (I refill an old wine bottle), or even at the grocery store in glass. You can use apple cider vinegar as an alternative.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste Swaps – Dental Care

Toothbrush: you’ll probably notice that my toothbrush appears to be plastic. That’s because it is plastic. But it’s not single-use: it has a replaceable head. Back in 2012 when I went plastic-free, bamboo toothbrushes were far less common and I just couldn’t get on with the two brands that were available to me. So I switched in 2014, and for the last 5 years I’ve kept the handle and replaced the heads.

The brand I have is SilverCare: it’s made in Italy (I purchased from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle). There’s a small amount of plastic with the packaging. Annoyingly, Silvercare changed the shape of the head recently, meaning it is harder to find the heads that fit my brush.

I’ve since found another brand Lamazuna, made in France, that uses 70% bioplastic (plastic made from plants, not fossil fuels) in the handle, and also uses no plastic packaging. I’m wondering if the Lamazuna heads fit in the Silvercare brush handle.

The heads can be recycled via Terracycle.

Toothpaste: I make my own using equal (ish) parts glycerine and sodium bicarbonate (also called baking soda, bicarb or bicarb soda) mixed together to form a paste, and I add a couple of drops of peppermint oil. I look for plant-based glycerine, and food grade bicarb.

Dental Floss: I purchase a brand called Dental Lace, who make floss from mulberry silk that is coated in a plant-based Candelilla wax. The floss comes in a refillable glass container with a metal lid, along with refillable packets of floss in certified compostable packaging. I purchase it from Urban Revolution in Victoria Park.

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste Swaps – Skincare

Bar soap: Bar soap has replaced all of the liquid products I used to use: face wash, hand wash, shower gel and body wash. After being terrified of making soap for far too long, I finally gave it a crack at the end of last year and am pleased to say it is not as hard or dangerous as I thought. I made soap with coconut oil, olive oil and rice bran oil, and I’m still working through that first batch.

Should soap-making not be your thing (yet), look for a good quality soap made from vegetable oils.

Almond oil: I use almond oil as a light moisturiser in summer, applying straight after a shower whilst my skin is still damp to help keep my skin hydrated. A few bulk stores sell almond oil, otherwise olive oil is just as good and even more widely available.

Oil is also an excellent make-up remover, and doesn’t sting like chemical versions do.

Cold cream: I make a cold cream for winter, which I use as moisturizer but can also be used as a cleanser. It’s a blend of beeswax, oil (rosehip if I have it, almond if I don’t, or olive oil) and water. I use a version of Galen’s cold cream (you can find my cold cream recipe here).

Deodorant: I’ve made by own deodorant since 2012. It’s a 1 minute job, literally stirring tapioca flour, bicarb and coconut oil together in a jar. Best and most important thing: it actually works! If you’re sensitive to bicarb I also have a bicarb-free deodorant DIY recipe that uses clay instead – you can find both DIY deodorant recipes here.

Sunscreen: I make my own sunscreen too, using zinc oxide powder, which is a physical barrier against UVA and UVB rays. I tend to make one batch that lasts all summer. Here’s my DIY sunscreen recipe (and more information about these products).

Make-up: I wear very little make-up. The product I use most is blusher and it is simply pink clay. There are some great small businesses out there making plastic-free and zero waste make-up and I’ve tried and would recommend both Dirty Hippie Cosmetics (Australian-based) and Clean-Faced Cosmetics (US-based).

Plastic-Free / Zero Waste Swaps – Other Bits + Pieces

Toilet paper: I’ve used Who Gives a Crap toilet paper since it launched in 2013. The boxes are delivered plastic-free to my doorstep. I use the wrappers for various things including picking up dog poo and gift wrapping (different pieces for each activity, clearly).

There’s another brand I’ve also tried which I liked called Pure Planet, as an alternative option.

Make-Up Rounds: The reusable make-up rounds I use are made of organic cotton (I’ve seen others made of bamboo but I prefer 100% cotton), and the fabric is offcuts from other products. The ones I have were a gift from my friend Jeanne who owns a small ethical underwear business called Pygoscelis but there are plenty of other brands, or you could even sew your own.

Cotton buds: These may be single-use, but they are also non-negotiable for me. I simply cannot stand having water in my ears! (Yes, I also know that you are not meant to put them in your eyes. What can I say? I’m livin’ on the edge.) I use 100% biodegradable ones made by Go Bamboo with a bamboo stick and cotton tip that can be composted. These are another purchase from Urban Revolution in Victoria Park.

Soap Saver: I have a little bag made of flannel for putting in scraps of soap to use rather than them going down the drain. I love this and it’s saved me so much soap and so many blocked drains! I purchased this at a market, but they are easy enough to make or track down.

These swaps might work for you, you might find something different or better, or you may not see the need for some of the things I use. There’s never a perfect way to reduce your waste, only a ‘better’ version that works for you.

All you need to do is look at the products you’re currently buying and using, and ask yourself – could I switch this out for something better?

That’s how we reduce our plastic consumption and our waste: one simple swap at a time.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What low waste/plastic-free bathroom swaps have you made? What are you still struggling with? Any products you’d recommend – or recommend steering clear of? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Experimenting with Less Stuff (+ 8 Lessons Learned)

How many outfits is too many outfits, how many outfits is not enough outfits… and how many is just enough? I’ve been wondering this question ever since I first started decluttering my wardrobe back in 2012.

At the time I had a whole wardrobe full of things I didn’t like, didn’t fit and that I didn’t wear, yet I couldn’t bear to part with anything.

I thought I’d never be able to shrink it, but as I did I found it actually became easier to let things go. And with each round, I realised I needed less than I thought I did.

I’ve been hovering at the 40 things mark for a while, but I still feel that I probably have more than I need. I still gravitate to wearing the same few things ALL of the time.

I don’t find any joy in having lots of options. Give me my comfortable, most worn-in things any day.

Rather than do another round of decluttering, trying to chase the line where “enough” becomes “not enough”, I thought I’d flip things on their head. Go straight to the “not enough” to see how it felt, and what I learned.

So, I picked 3 outfits to wear for 30 days.

Here’s what I learned.

3 Outfits in 30 Days: Did It Actually Happen?

The 3 outfits consisted of: two pairs of shoes, 1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, 1 dress, 2 shirts (1 sleeveless, 1 short-sleeved), 1 cardigan and 1 denim overshirt.

And yes, I kept to it! The most interesting thing for me was that I didn’t wear the trousers at all.

As someone who lives in trousers, this was surprising – but the weather was a little too hot, and so I kept wearing the skirt. The dress got a bit of wear, but was mostly kept for work-related things and occasions where I needed to be smart.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Loved About the Challenge

I didn’t find wearing 3 outfits for 30 days to be a trial at all, although it isn’t something I’d want to stick to forever. In particular, this is what I loved about it:

1. Making wardrobe choices was easy.

There was absolutely no thinking about what to wear, and I loved this. Wake up, check the weather, dress accordingly (cardigan vs no cardigan). It definitely made the mornings easier.

2. I love wearing the same thing every day.

The challenge really confirmed this for me. I like to wear the same thing over and over. I’m just not someone who takes great (or any) joy in picking out outfits, and accessorizing accordingly.

I get more joy picking up the thing I wore yesterday and discovering it doesn’t need to be washed and I can wear it again today, zero effort required!

I wondered if I would get bored wearing the same thing day in, day out. I did not get bored at all. I relished it! At the end of the challenge I continued to wear the same skirt and shirt for another week at least.

I just don’t need so much variety.

3. Getting 30 wears

I hate waste (you might have noticed) and clothing takes a lot of resources to make. Take cotton – there’s preparing the land to plant the fibres; growing, watering (so much watering!) and harvesting the crops; spinning and processing the cotton into yarn; weaving and dying the fabric; cutting and stitching together the garment, and transporting the finished product to the store.

I’m sure there’s a heap of steps I missed, too.

The point is, it takes a lot to make one garment. If we want to maximise these resources, respect the growers and workers who grew the fibres and manufactured these garments, and not let good things go to waste, we need to wear the things we own, and often.

Lucy Siegle coined the idea of “30 wears” meaning that all items of clothing we own should be worn at least 30 times. (If it isn’t fit for purpose, or we don’t think we will get that much use out of it, then we probably shouldn’t buy it in the first place.)

There’s nothing like sticking to 3 outfits for 30 days to ensure you get 30 wears out of things!

Okay, so even with the skirt I didn’t actually get 30 wears in 30 days (probably more like 27!) but it felt good knowing that I was using what I had to the full potential.

3 Outfits for 30 Days: What I Didn’t Love About the Challenge

As much as I loved the challenge itself, there were a few things that I didn’t love, which mostly centred around the practical.

4. It was a little too limiting.

I’ve already said that I love wearing the same thing again and again, and I do – but sometimes the choice was a little bit restrictive.

On the really hot days it would have been great to wear shorts, but they weren’t on the list. Having a more sensible pair of trousers might have been… well, sensible.

I managed and it was fine. But a bit more choice – even just a couple of items – would make things easier when having to dress for particular occasions.

5. When you have only 3 outfits, laundry becomes challenging. 

With such a small number of outfits, laundry was a challenge.

I could dry clothes outside in a matter of hours. My biggest problem came because I needed something to wear whilst actually washing the laundry.

It wasn’t a problem with the skirt, but it was a problem with the tops.

On a couple of occasions I resorted to wrapping a scarf around me as a makeshift top whilst I did my laundry, because I didn’t want to cheat. I also wore the cardigan as a top (which I hadn’t thought of before, but worked very well).

But it would have been easier to have included a tee-shirt or another top.

Another other challenge came with running the washing machine. My entire wardrobe took up less than half of the washing machine (although there was still clothes for exercising, underwear and socks).

In order to not waste power and water by running it half-empty, I washed my clothes with bedding and towels.

A couple more outfits might have relieved the constant need to be doing the washing (and believe me, I wear things for as long as I can before laundering).

3 Outfits for 30 Days: Lessons That I Learned

I don’t really think I had any big A-HA moments; it was more reconfirming things I already knew or suspected to be true.

6. The more things that I can pair with other things, the better.

What I really liked about the items of clothing that I chose was that pretty much everything could be worn with everything else*.

(*Well, in my opinion they could. I have no idea about fashion and no sense of style, so you may disagree, but in my mind it all works!)

When I realised that both the cardigan and over-shirt could be worn as tops in their own right, I was thrilled! Options galore :)

One of the ideas behind a capsule wardrobe is staples that mix-and-match. Whilst I’ve always known this, realising how much difference it makes when everything goes with everything else has made me determined to ensure that future purchases don’t just go with one or two things… they go with (almost) everything.

Oh and whilst we’re talking about capsule wardrobes, you’ll notice that my wardrobe is not full of pastels or black or muted tones. I like colour, and I think it’s still possible to choose staples that are fun.

3. Quality, quality, quality (and natural fibres).

It was interesting to see the process of an item having 30 wears in such a short amount of time. I don’t launder my clothes after every wear, but with the small amount of items I wore it was noticeable how often they were going through the washing machine.

If I wore a shirt 3 times and then washed it, that’s still 10 washing machine cycles for 30 wears.

It made me realise how often in the past (long before this journey started) that I’d buy clothes based on {cough cough} aesthetics or price alone. Practicality was out the window.

Without realising, of course, that dresses made entirely of sequins are impossible to wash once, let alone 10 times; and tops that cost $2 from a fast fashion store aren’t designed to go through the washing machine and come out the same shape and not pilled and bobbled.

I learned my lessons with both of these things a long time ago.

But a reminder never hurts.

And I think it’s useful to not only ask the question “can I imagine myself wearing this item 30 times” but also the question “will this garment withstand at least 10 washing machine cycles, and probably more?”

Also, when it comes to having less, natural fibres makes a big difference. The red shirt I wore is polyester (purchased from the charity shop). Honestly, I feel like I’m wearing a plastic bag when I wear it, it breathes NOT AT ALL, and it needs washing after every wear.

By contrast, the blue shirt is made of Tencel, breathes beautifully, and can get away with a few wears before washing.

When your wardrobe is minimal, this matters. Yet more reasons to choose natural fibres over polyester.

8. Less is better.

And finally. For me, yes, less is better. When I (finally) reduced my wardrobe down to 40 things back in 2017 I still suspected I could still live with less.

I was right. More importantly, not only can I live with less, but I prefer it this way.

I don’t believe in prescribing numbers of things to own, and I definitely don’t think 3 outfits is a long-term solution for me, but challenging myself to live with less has definitely helped me realise the things I like to wear, the amount of choice I like to have, and the kinds of garments I’ll chose in the future.

And now I’d love to challenge you! You don’t have to pick 3 outfits, you could pick 5, or even 10. Choose a number that you know will test you without driving you crazy, and challenge yourself to wear only those things for 30 days.

You might love it. You might absolutely hate it. Whatever happens, you’ll learn a lot about yourself and your habits in the process. Are you in?

Next, I want to hear from you! Are you game to give this a go? How many outfits is your comfort zone? And how many would be a real challenge for you? Have you ever done a challenge like this before – and how did it go? Do you love the idea or hate the idea? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Introducing Less Stuff: A book about changing our relationship with our things, with a zero waste perspective

Today is the day is the day (although actually, it might have been yesterday, I’m not entirely sure) that my new book Less Stuff officially makes its way into the world!

And to mark the occasion I wanted to tell you a little bit about it all.

What’s the book Less Stuff about?

Less Stuff: simple zero-waste steps to a joyful and clutter-free life (which is the full title) is a practical guide to changing our relationship with stuff for the better.

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

The clutter filling our spaces impacts on our productivity, stresses us out and keeps us stuck. Our stuff stands in the way of the lives we dream about.

But what about when it comes to throwing away all that stuff? After all, there is no ‘away’. Decluttering is great for our mental wellbeing, and when done right it can be good for the planet, too. When we rehome, repurpose or recycle the things we no longer need, we free up existing resources for others and reclaim our homes with less guilt.

Less Stuff is a guide for people who find it difficult to declutter and who don’t want to see things go to waste. Step-by-step, you’ll explore finding your ‘enough’, learn how to let go of your old possessions without sending them to landfill, and eventually break the cycle of stuff. The end result is a planet with less strain, a home with more peace and a life with more meaning.

When we think about zero waste or living with less waste, our first thoughts always go to grocery shopping, or consumables like personal care products. And this is a great place to start because we purchase these things often and use them often.

But at some point in the journey we need to move onto thinking about all the other stuff.

Less Stuff is a book to help navigate making the decisions about what is useful and necessary and what is actually going to waste – and then what to do with it to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfill. Because there are plenty of options, when you know where to look.

It’s a book about why, and it’s a book about how. It’s practical with a step-by-step approach.

Where you can buy Less Stuff

You can support your local independent bookstore, and that would be my first suggestion. Alternatively, here’s a list of some online stockists that sell my book:

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks | Rabble Books (the local bookstore where I held my book launch, they have signed copies)

UK Stockists:

Blackwell’s | Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US and Canada Stockists:

Less Stuff is not released in the States until 6th August but you can pre-order here:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo | IndieBound

eBooks

Kindle (UK) | Kindle (US)

Wait…don’t I love libraries?

Yes! I absolutely love libraries. I pride myself on having a very small book collection because most of the books I read I borrow from library.

Most, but not all. I didn’t say my non-existent book collection. I own a few titles that possibly the library didn’t stock, or I wanted to own to be able to refer back to the content often, or because I wanted to support the author and their work.

We all know the kinds of books we like to own and the kinds we are happy to borrow. Do what whats for you. If you’d rather borrow Less Stuff than own a copy, that’s awesome and I’m honoured!

So absolutely, if libraries are your thing, please support your local library and borrow my book.

Even if you’re not convinced that Less Stuff is something that you’d like to read, if you’d still like to support my work you can request that your library stocks my book so others have the opportunity to read it.

Is writing a book a zero waste thing to do?

Yes, I do believe it is – well, at least I do for this book. Everything we do has an impact and a footprint, after all – and I still drink coffee and travel by car and wear clothes and use the heating when it’s cold.

We have a footprint but we can be mindful of what we do, and try to make the best choices that we can. If creating a book to help others rethink their waste and to support them in doing so can help with the big picture, then I’m all for that.

So yes, not writing a book at all would use less resources, but I’m not sure its always about the least amount of resources so much as the best use of those resources, and I think this is an important message to spread.

If one book means one less skip bin of useful stuff heading to landfill, then that is definitely a good trade-off.

And you know me and the content I like to write and share – I’ve made this book as practical and useful as possible. That’s the only way it could be.

If a publisher had contacted me and say, hey, we love your zero waste grocery shopping flatlays… how would you like to make a coffee table book for us? Well… that would have been a no.

What steps were taken to make the book zero waste?

Ah, I’m glad you asked!

I was pretty fortunate that Waste Not (an excellent zero waste book I reviewed earlier in the year) was published by Hardie Grant books last year, and the author (and my friend) Erin Rhoads had already been through the book-publishing process and asked a lot of the questions that needed asking.

By the time I was on board, the publisher already had answers and was happy to take a zero waste approach.

The cover does have a very thin plastic film. It is a feature most (if not all) flexibound books have – to protect the book and ensure longevity. Less Stuff is a book that is designed to be handled, thumbed through, put down and picked back up again often. A completely plastic-free cover might seem like a purist zero waste approach, but books with dirty fingerprints being pulped because they are deemed to be “damaged” before they are ever read is not.

It’s a balance. In my view, it is better to create a book that will last and can weather heavy handling than create a book that uses no plastic but creates more waste overall.

Why a book and not blog posts?

Books are different to blog posts. The content is different and we use them differently. It is not one or the other. They can both exist. For Less Stuff, I’ve written 42,000 words. Now my blog posts are long… but they are never that long! (More like 1000 – 1500 words).

And a 42-week blog post series might have been a bit dull…

This book is not an “instead of”. It’s an “as well as”. Not everyone who reads books reads blogs and vice versa. It’s a way to reach a different audience, and to share content (and a message) in a new way. That’s pretty exciting.

And finally, a big thank you… to you.

The fact that this book exists at all is in no small part thanks to you. You have been reading my blog, commenting on my posts, sending me emails, sharing your stories and ideas and giving your thoughts so freely for all these years. Not only have you been my audience, but you’ve also provided a lot of the inspiration and motivation.

My journey has been so enriched for having you join me along the way.

Thank you.

This page includes affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

How to Go Zero Waste and Do Less Dishes

If I had to say there was a drawback to living plastic-free or zero waste, then I would say it is this: the dishes.

There’s not really any way round it. Choose reusables and you’ve got to wash them up. The more reusables, the more washing up.

Sigh.

It’s not that I hate washing up. I love washing up… well, once it’s done and put away. (I’m less of a fan of the dirty dishes.) It’s not that I mind the process itself either. It’s just that there are always dishes.

Always. Dishes.

Still, once we’ve accepted that there will be dishes, we can do things to ensure there are less dishes. The less the merrier, I think! (That’s not a saying, but it should be.) Because we’re not going back to single-use plastic and disposables, right?

So let’s do what we can to make less dishes.

To Dishwasher or Not to Dishwasher?

As soon as I mention dishes, someone brings up dishwashers. Yes, I’ve read the studies, and it is true that some dishwashers use less water than filling a sink and doing the dishes by hand.

A modern water-efficient dishwasher might use 15 litres per cycle. Depending on the size of your sink, how careful you are with water and how long it takes for the water to run hot, plus any rinsing, hand washing can use a fair bit more.

There are other factors. Dishwashers use electricity. They are also big chunks of metal and plastic (those resources had to be extracted from the ground), and take up a fair amount of space in a small kitchen.

I have solar hot water, meaning it comes from a tank heated by solar panels whereas a dishwasher would run from the mains. I have a fairly minimalist kitchen, and I’d run out of things before the dishwasher is even full. (This is by design – for creating less dishes. I’ll come back to this.)

Plus, I have unresolved childhood trauma around dishwashers. Don’t ask ;) All things considered, a dishwasher won’t work for me, and I’m happy with my sink.

If you have a big family, you already have a dishwasher or you know that a dishwasher will be the thing that makes less waste possible for you, go for it! Look after it, service it, get it fixed and make it last.

For those who have taken the path of more dishes and no dishwasher, here’s my tips for keeping them to a minimum.

Not Dirty? Don’t Wash It.

Now I’m not advocating for risking food poisoning here, but we can be sensible about these things. And if something isn’t dirty, we can get away with not washing it.

Level 1. The wipe.

Does it need to be washed, or could it just be wiped? Plates that have had toast or dry crackers tend to accumulate nothing more than a few breadcrumbs. These can be brushed off.

The same goes for lunchboxes that have had sandwiches in them, and bowls used to weigh out dry ingredients. Sometimes I’ll wipe out a jar from the pantry rather than wash it if I know it is something I use often (pasta, oats).

I find a wipe with a clean dishcloth or a dry tea towel is enough.

Level 2. The rinse.

Some things can pass with a quick rinse, particularly bowls, plates and cutlery (not forks) if rinsed straight after using. It depends what is was used for and by whom of course. I’d be happy to rinse a spoon that I’d used to measure out coffee, less so if someone had just eaten a dessert with it.

I’m also happy to quickly rinse out pans that have steamed vegetables or boiled pasta, too.

Oh, and I save the rinse water and add to the compost or worm farm.

Level 3. Wash it up.

Actual washing up is best for anything baked on and greasy, most cooking pans, dinner cutlery, day-old lunchboxes, pantry jars that have been stored to a while, anything sticky.

Coming back to food poisoning, the highest risk foods include ice-cream, rice and animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy). I’d recommend washing up anything that contained these foods.

Own Less Stuff

There are two reasons why owning less stuff helps with the dishes. The first is that with less stuff, you use up all the stuff more quickly and need to wash it before your kitchen gets swallowed by unwashed dishes.

This doesn’t create less washing up, but it does create less overwhelm, and keeps things more manageable.

The second is that when your stuff is all used and dirty and you need something but can’t be bothered to do the dishes, you’ll spot clean that one item – or just use it again as is – which means the number of dishes don’t get any bigger. And some things get used again before being washed up.

If I’m out of side plates for lunch I’ll figure out which one had toast for breakfast, dust the crumbs off and use that again. Same for mugs and making tea. No net gain in dishes.

Eat Like No-One is Watching

Well, when no-one is watching, does it matter if you use a proper plate? Or could you just eat out of the saucepan? Classy no, but if it saves on dishes then I am willing to make these sacrifices.

Quite often if I reheat my lunch I’ll eat it out of the pan, or if it was stored in a container I’ll then eat it in that rather than dirty a plate. If there’s the last of something coming out of the fridge I’ll eat that straight out of the container, too.

Me 1, dishes 0.

Make Your Dishes Multi-Purpose

If try to avoid washing something up after it has been used once. If I can get a few uses out of something before it heads to the dirty dishes pile, that’s a win. If I’ve used a bowl to weigh something out, I’ll try to use that same bowl for the meal. I might even store leftovers in it, in the fridge.

I’m a big fan of using the saucepan I used for cooking as the leftover container – meaning, I stick the saucepan straight in the fridge. Especially if the food can be reheated in the saucepan. Otherwise I’m washing the pan, putting the leftovers in a container, emptying the contents back into the pan the next day and washing it all again.

Saucepans are excellent stainless steel storage containers that we already own.

I do the same thing with glass jars. Just finished off the pasta? That jar is good for leftovers in the fridge.

Plan Your Meals with the Dishes in Mind

Just thinking about all the prep you need to do in advance can save on dishes, particularly with trickier-to-clean items like blenders. I like to time my prep to maximise the making of stuff and minimising the washing up.

For example, I might make nut butter, scrape that out of the blender and then make nut milk (usually with a different type of nut). Once emptied, I might make pesto, and then whizz up some tomatoes. Four things and one wash.

I don’t need to eat all these things that day, as they will keep in the fridge for a few days. Rinsing out a jar later is less onerous than cleaning the blender. Again.

Make Extra

I never make a one portion meal. Not only because of dishes but also because it is never twice as much work to make twice as much. I always make extra, and pop the leftovers in the fridge or freezer for later.

Reheating something uses far less dishes than having to chop, steam, boil or stir-fry a bunch of different things every single meal.

Plus, I am a messy cook. Stuff gets everywhere. I might as well trash the kitchen once, and then enjoy the relative tidyness for a few days.

Sometimes I’ll just double or quadruple the recipe. Other times I’ll just cook more of an ingredient. I always make a big pan of rice or quinoa, and keep the leftovers to make stir-fry or to go with something else the next day.

In an ideal world Sunday is my day to do this, when there is more time to make things and clean up. It feels good to start the week without an onerous pile of dishes every night. If that doesn’t work, it tends to be mid-week when I’m sick of the chaos!

Eat Leftovers Cold

I like leftovers cold. I don’t have a microwave, and to save on using a pan to heat things up I just started eating my leftovers cold. Pasta salad is a thing, rice salad is a thing, so it isn’t that strange not to heat things up.

It does depend on the weather – in the depths of winter I’m prepared to wash than pan for the heat it gives!

There’s no miraculous way to end the dishes, but there are little tweaks we can do to create less of them. On the plus side, there’s no hauling bags of trash to the kerb every week, and there’s no trashing of the planet, by contributing to the litter/landfill/plastic problem.

Plus there’s something quite satisfying about a gleaming stack of glass and stainless steel. And if the options are creating dishes or creating plastic pollution, I know where my choice lies.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you have any tips for doing less dishes, we want to hear them! Do you have a dishwasher, or do you manage without? How do you keep the dishes under control? Please share your thoughts in the comments!