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What to do with old plastic when you’re new to zero waste

The scenario: you’ve decided to change your relationship with plastic. Whether you’re cutting out the single-use plastic, choosing to refuse all the plastic you can, or full-on going zero waste, chances are, you already have plenty of plastic in your home.

(I call this plastic ‘legacy plastic’. The stuff you accumulated before you knew any better or gave much thought to where things end up once we are done with them.)

So… what do we do with all this plastic?

I rarely think there is one answer to these questions. As with most things, it depends – on what it is, what it does (even where you live). Here’s a guide to dealing with legacy plastic.

First of all, do nothing

Don’t follow any decision to cut out plastic or go zero waste by immediately throwing every single piece of plastic you own in the bin. Don’t give it all away yet, either.

When we decide to make a lifestyle change, we want to take action immediately – but chucking stuff out is not the action to take (at least not yet).

Instead, you’re better off just noticing what plastic you have in your home, and how you use it. Paying attention to your current habits might not feel as action-oriented as dramatically discarding stuff, but it’s more useful in the long run.

This way, you’ll notice which things you still need and use, and which things are probably ready to be passed on to new owners.

What to do with single-use disposable plastic

Look at all the single-use plastic you’re currently using in your home. (If you find it helpful, make a list to keep track.) This is anything you’re using once before it gets thrown away or recycled.

Some of this will be packaging with products inside: coffee pods, sachets of sauce, shampoo or moisturiser, potato chips/crisps wrappers.

Some of this will simply be single-use plastic: bin liners, gladwrap/clingfilm, plastic straws, zip lock bags, disposable dish cloths.

With the products, you can start to look for alternatives for future purchases that don’t come in packaging. In the meantime, decide whether you’d like to use these products up, or whether you’d prefer to donate them.

When I decided to reduce my plastic use, I used up all the food that I had in plastic packaging because it was ingredients and products I had purchased for eating. It also meant I could slowly replace items and look for alternatives as things ran out, one at a time, rather than trying to do it all at once.

In my bathroom, I had a box full of sachets and free samples I’d collected over the years that I really couldn’t see myself using. I gave these away (I’d recommend Facebook Marketplace, the Buy Nothing project, Freecycle or Freegle to find a new home for these types of things).

With the non-product single-use plastic, the same choice applies – would you prefer to use it up, or give it away?

Deciding to reduce your plastic use and using up what you already have are not contradictory. There’s absolutely no need to feel guilty about continuing to use plastic after you’ve made the decision to use less. You’ll have plenty of future shopping decisions where you can make better choices.

If you feel weird about using plastic now that you’ve decided to give up plastic, there’s no harm in giving things away.

Rather than seeing yourself as an enabler of someone else’s bad plastic habit, think of it as reducing plastic – because if they are going to buy it anyway, better to use up yours than buy a brand new one.

Also, see it as the chance to plant a seed. When you gift the item you can tell them why you’ve made this choice (no need to be judgemental, simply say something like ‘I’ve decided to reduce my plastic use, and I’m choosing to stop using gladwrap now’). It might spark a conversation, and it might not, but explaining your ‘why’ to people can help people join the dots and think about your actions.

What to do with reusable plastic

You’ve probably got various reusable plastic containers, and other household items made out of plastic: hairbrushes, laundry baskets, coat hangers, even furniture.

It is incredibly expensive (not to mention, wasteful!) to ditch all the plastic for non-plastic equivalents. The best option (from a waste standpoint) is to continue using what you have.

But what if you don’t want to continue using what you have?

Firstly, ask yourself why.

Is it because you’ve been reading about the chemical additives in plastic, and you no longer want to store food in it from a health perspective?

Or is it because you think glass storage jars will make for much better Pinterest photos?

It’s your zero waste life and you can do whatever you like to make it work for you. But the fundamental truth is that it is more eco-friendly to use existing resources than buy new ones.

I’m not telling you to keep stuff you won’t use, or telling you that replacing stuff is wrong. But if we don’t want stuff, we can pass it on to others so that they can use it.

And we can try to find our replacements second-hand, to reduce the impact of our ‘new’ stuff.

  • If you no longer want to use something for its original purpose (for example, plastic containers for food storage) ask yourself if you can repurpose within your home. Perhaps they can be used to store non-food items such as laundry powder, or sewing supplies, or stationery.
  • If you don’t have a use for something, find someone who does. Try online classifieds like Gumtree or Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace or other social media platforms.
  • If something is in good condition, you could try donating to the charity shop/second-hand store – but check that this is an item they actually take before you pop it in a collection box.
  • If you’re looking for something to replace it, try those same places you offloaded the stuff you didn’t want: online classifieds, social media platforms and charity shops or second-hand stores. You might not be successful, but it’s important to try.

What to do with broken plastic

One of the major design flaws with this ‘material that lasts forever’ is that it also tends to break. It becomes brittle over time, bits snap off other bits, and eventually it ends up being irreparable.

If you’re truly committed to reducing your waste, the first thing to do is see if the item is fixable. If only a small part is broken, better to try and fix it and keep it in use rather than toss the whole item.

If something isn’t repairable and is most definitely broken, you have a few options.

Can it be reused? You’d be amazed what people can do with broken stuff. From growing mushrooms out of broken laundry baskets, to turning old electrical appliances into lamps, to salvaging parts, your broken items might still have value to someone else.

List your items on the sites mentioned above, being clear about the fact they are broken, and see if anyone is interested. You never know.

Can it be recycled? First, check if your item can go in kerbside recycling (if you have this service).

Next, check all of your other local recycling options.

(Australia) Recycle Near You – a website run by Planet Ark (a not-for-profit environmental organisation), which allows anyone to search for what can and can’t be recycled in their household recycling services, as well as search for drop-off locations to recycle a wide range of items including electronic waste, batteries, printer cartridges, white goods, furniture and more.

(UK) Recycle Now – operated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRP) with information on where and how to recycle in England, with links to sister sites Recycle for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Recycle for Wales.

(USA) Earth911 – one of North America’s most extensive recycling databases, with over 350 materials and 100,0000 listings included.

Can I go zero waste and throw my old plastic away?

The goal of zero waste is to keep things out of landfill, so throwing everything away to go zero waste isn’t zero waste. But the reality is, *some* plastic will probably end up in the bin.

If you’ve exhausted the other options – it’s not reusable or repairable, no-one else is willing to take it off your hands and it’s definitely not recyclable, then there really isn’t much choice but to throw it away.

Waste is a product of our current system, and it’s not something we can completely avoid.

(I mean, you could store it in a jam jar for prosperity so you don’t throw it in the bin, but really, it’s still waste – and hanging on to stuff like this tends to keep us feeling guilty. Let it go.)

Don’t feel bad about having to toss stuff you acquired when you really had no idea about the problems with plastic, and before you had any knowledge about what is and isn’t recycable where you live.

The thing about deciding to go zero waste, or reduce your plastic use, is that it’s a decision made now to guide your actions and choices in the future. But of course we made less-than-ideal choices in the past. Sure we have to deal with these, but it’s not a reason to feel guilty.

As tempting as it might be to toss all our bad decisions away and start with a clean slate, the real challenge of the low waste lifestyle is making the most of resources – by keeping products in circulation and in use.

When it comes to legacy plastic, if we are trying to reduce our waste footprint, we have a responsibility not to add to the landfill problem if it can be avoided. It’s not always easy and we won’t be perfect. But all the things we can continue to use, gift to others if we know we won’t use them, repurpose, repair and eventually recycle, help keep new resources in the ground.

Try your best, and do what you can.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Struggling with legacy plastic and wondering what to do with it? Got some great tips for passing on unwanted plastic to people who need and will use it? Any plastic dilemmas or lessons learned you’d like to share? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How to make sourdough crumpets (a recipe)

Whilst everyone was embracing sourdough baking at the start of lockdown, I was doing my own experiments – with sourdough crumpets.

(I’m pretty happy with my sourdough bread game, although the oven at my current house isn’t really up to the task – you need a hot oven for a good crust, and mine isn’t so great at getting hot. Shame, considering that’s its only real goal in life.)

And so I thought I’d give sourdough crumpets a crack.

Crumpets, if you don’t know what they are, are a bread product that’s a little like a pancake except it’s full of holes. Which means whatever you smother on your crumpet drips through the holes. Crumpets are common in the UK as a breakfast item, traditionally smothered in butter.

I thought about making regular crumpets, using instant yeast, but that involved a trip to the store to buy instant yeast (which was sold out in most places). Not to mention, I find it’s one of those things that is purchased, two teaspoons are used, and then it expires and goes to waste.

(Oh, quick food waste tip. If you do buy instant yeast, store it in the freezer and not the pantry. This will extend the shelf life. Freezing doesn’t kill the yeast, just slows it down.)

I actually find sourdough easier. Plus sourdough always tastes better.

And so my Covid-19 baking was to perfect sourdough crumpets, and here is the recipe.

Sourdough starter

To make sourdough anything, you will need a sourdough starter. The good news is, you can make your own using flour, water and a bit of time. (I’d recommend using unbleached flour, and ideally organic, as you use the yeasts and bacteria naturally present on the flour to make the starter.) It’s very easy.

I’ve written about how to make your own sourdough starter before. You’ll need about a week to get it going (the time will depend on how warm your kitchen is).

If you’d like to cheat, track down a sourdough starter from someone local. I didn’t want to wait, and so I got a ready-made starter from a neighbour via the Buy Nothing group. (Other Facebook groups or online classifieds such as Gumtree would be ideal places to look.) You don’t need much.

Sourdough crumpets recipe

With sourdough recipes, there are three parts – the first is making the leaven or sponge (as it’s often called), which requires several hours of waiting time, and the next is making the batter or dough, and the final stage is cooking the crumpets.

It’s not a quick process, but the actually ‘doing’ part doesn’t take long. You just have to do a fair bit of waiting.

It will take about 24 hours from the start until the batter is ready to cook. If you want crumpets for breakfast, you’ll need to start the morning before.

This recipe makes 6 crumpets.

Ingredients you will need:

  • 20g sourdough starter
  • 200g spelt or plain flour
  • 200g water
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp honey / maple syrup / rice malt syrup (optional)
  • Coconut oil or butter, for greasing

You’ll also need some metal circles. (I wouldn’t recommend silicone, as the metal heats up and cooks the sides.) You can buy purpose-made crumpet rings, or you can use cookie cutters (this is what I did), or you can DIY them buy cutting the top and bottom off of a tuna can (be careful and don’t cut yourself).

Stage one: making the sourdough leaven

For 6 crumpets, you will need to make 200g sourdough leaven. (If you already have 200g of sourdough starter, you can skip this step.)

I always use the ratio 1:5:5 of sourdough starter:water:flour. Add 20g of sourdough starter to a bowl and mix with 100g water (filtered or boiled and cooled down is ideal) and 100g flour. Cover with a tea towel, and leave for at least 8 hours. During this time the mixture will bubble, expand in size and then drop again. It will be runnier than at the start.

If, after 8 hours, it’s still puffed up and bubbling, leave it a little longer. It will be fine to be left for up to 24 hours on a kitchen bench. Or, if it’s ready but you are not, you can pop in the fridge (covered) for later.

Stage two: making the crumpet batter

Take your 200g sourdough leaven/sponge, and add 100g water and 100g flour to this, and stir to combine. I found spelt flour gave me the best results – it tastes better, and is less sticky than white flour which makes it easier to use, and easier to wash up afterwards. But white flour is cheaper and more readily available.

Avoid using bread flour if you can – the batter will be like glue.

Cover with a tea towel, and wait another eight hours. (It’s good to do this bit right before bed, so the sourdough is doing its thing whilst you sleep, and it’s ready to go in the morning.

Stage three: making crumpets

Heat a pan (I use cast iron) on a low heat, and add oil/butter to the bottom of the pan. Add 1 tsp bicarb and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the mix (and 1 tsp of sweetener, if using) and stir to combine. You’ll notice the bicarb makes the batter puff up and appear lighter and fluffier. You can add a little water if the batter seems thick and sticky.

Grease the inside of the crumpet rings well (I use coconut oil for this). Pop the crumpet rings in the pan and ensure they are flat so that the batter doesn’t ooze out the bottom. Once the rings are heated, spoon the mix into the rings so that they are about 1cm (1/2 inch) thick.

Continue to cook on a low heat. Crumpets cook very slowly. (It’s a bit like watching paint dry, watching crumpet batter cook.) You’ll start to see bubbles appear as they cook. After 15 minutes or so, they edges and base will be cooked and the top will look dry, and they are ready to remove from the ring and flip over.

(Cheat tip – your crumpets will be full of holes, but they don’t always make it to the surface. If you want your crumpets to look more holey, you can ‘pop’ the holes visible just under the surface with a cocktail stick. It won’t affect taste but they’ll look better.)

Once removed from the ring, pop them back in the pan upside down and cook for a few more minutes.

Eat straightaway. (You can keep them to warm the next day, but they really do taste best fresh.) I like to smother mine in macadamia nut butter and a little honey.

Which might not sound super healthy, but with the amount of work they take they are definitely a sometimes food, so why not?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you get into baking during March lockdown? Did you try out some new recipes or revisit old ones – and which were your favourites? Any crumpet related questions or tips? Any other thoughts? Please share your ideas below!

The ultimate list of plastic free swaps

If your looking for ways to ditch the single-use plastic, and look for ideas to lower your plastic footprint, this list is for you.

Good news – there are swaps and substitutions to be made everywhere!

Before we begin – something important to know. We can’t shop our way to a more sustainable lifestyle. None of us need all of the reusables and plastic-free alternatives that exist in the world.

Please don’t feel like this is a list of things you ‘should’ have, that you need to go out and buy. Not everything on this list is going to suit your needs, and buying stuff you never use is the biggest waste of all. Wherever you can make do with what you have, or repurpose something, it’s the best outcome.

An item purchased thoughtfully and used often can replace a lifetime of single-use plastic, and might be worth the investment.

An item that sits in the back of the cupboard before heading off to landfill is not.

Be honest with yourself about you truly need. Rather than a shopping list, see it as a list of ideas. And don’t forget to check for second-hand options first!

This post contains some affiliate links. I do not post links to Amazon when making recommendations, ever.

Food shopping

Glass jars: my favourite are the ones I fish out of the recycling bin, or rescue from my local Buy Nothing group. They are great for both buying and storing groceries, transporting snacks and keeping leftovers.

Storage containers: there are so many options for these, and you need to consider what you’ll use them for. Many ‘bamboo’ containers use melamine as a binder, and are not recyclable, so I don’t recommend these. I find transparent (glass) containers are useful for storing leftovers, and prefer glass that is oven-safe – like Pyrex – so my containers are multi-purpose.

I find stainless steel more useful for transporting food. Some don’t have silicone seals meaning they aren’t leakproof, so consider if this is important to you before making a purchase.

A few options:

Seed & Sprout – make glass containers with bamboo lids that look beautiful (too bad I already have all the containers I need). Australian brand.

Cheeki – stainless steel lunchboxes with no plastic parts. Australian brand.

Lunchbots – make a range of stainless steel lunchboxes (some with plastic lids) including bento boxes and a kid-friendly range. US brand (website is for US orders only); they are stocked at Biome (AU) and Eqo Living (UK)

U-Konserve – large range of stainless steel lunchboxes with plastic lids (they also sell replaceable lids). US brand. Stocked at Biome (AU)

A Slice of Green – UK brand with a good range of own-brand reusable stainless steel containers. They supply other online zero waste stores: &Keep has a bigger range than you’ll find on the Slice of Green website.

Reusable produce bags: from cloth to netting to mesh, there are lots of different options. There are plenty made from upcycled fabric – check Etsy for an upcycler making them near you.

If you’d like the mesh versions, I have and recommend Onya produce bags – they will last a lifetime (mine are 8 years old and still going strong).

I’ve also seen people use laundry bags, so if you already have a few of these, they could be an option!

Bread bags: a cloth bag works fine, as does an old (clean) pillowcase. If you want a purpose-made one, the reusable bread bags by Onya get great reviews.

Food storage

All of the items listed above are good for food storage as well as food shopping. Here are some other ideas for making sure the things that you buy keep fresh for as long as possible once you get them home.

Silicone storage bags: take up much less space than rigid containers, and the best ones are dishwasher-, oven-, microwave- and leakproof. There are lots of options with lots of price points, but this is definitely a case of getting what you pay for. If you can afford it, I’d recommend the Stasher bags.

If you’re looking at a budget option, read the reviews before purchasing.

Fabric (cotton) storage: Fruits and vegetables stored loose (without plastic and not in containers) lose moisture quickly and wild/shrivel. The Swag are bags made of layers of unbleached cotton that are for storing fruit and vegetables. The bags are dampened down and keep produce fresh for up to two weeks.

A low budget option is to wrap our produce in a damp tea towel.

Silicone lids: two options are rigid silicone lids (the Charles Viancin range are available in many kitchen stores, often with flower or fruit shapes).

There are also flexible stretchy silicone lids (like these EcoFlexiLids).

Alternatively, put your leftovers in containers (or glass jars). Or (my favourite) you could just pop a plate on top of a bowl.

Wax wraps: If you’re trying to ditch the plastic wrap (gladwrap/clingwrap/clingfilm), there are a few alternatives. Beeswax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) or vegan wax wraps (AU, UK or USA options) are popular – don’t forget to look at Etsy to support local (to you) makers too. Or you can make your own.

Food preparation

There’s no need to replace things that you already have, but if you didn’t already know that there are plastic-free versions of products, you might find this interesting.

Ice lolly molds: Onyx containers make a great range of plastic-free stainless steel products, including lolly / icy pole molds in various shapes including rockets, paddle pops and popsicles.

You can’t buy directly from the Onyx website, but the following stores have a good range: Biome (AU) , Little Acorns Mighty Oaks (UK) , The Tickle Trunk (USA)

(If stainless steel is out of your budget, there are silicone versions available (such as these ice block push-up moulds by Avanti.)

Bathroom

Toilet paper: I switched to a plastic-free brand of toilet paper called Who Gives A Crap (it’s a social enterprise that donates 50% of profits to charity). They are an Australian company that now also sell their products in the USA and UK.

(They also make kitchen towel and tissues – not things I buy, but things you might.)

Bidet: Others switch to using a bidet to reduce toilet paper use. Haven’t tried it and can’t really comment, except to say I know there are kits you can install without a plumber.

Toilet unpaper: Some people switch to reusable cloth toilet paper (often referred to as ‘family cloth’) – not something I’ve tried either, but it’s an option.

If I did this, I’d probably use old cut up towels or sheets, but there are businesses out there selling purpose-made products like this, with cute designs (a well known brand is Marley’s Monsters, who are based in Oregon, USA, but you’ll find heaps of makers on Etsy – search for ‘toilet unpaper‘. If that’s your thing!)

Toilet brush: I’ve wanted (wanted, not needed) a wooden toilet brush since forever, but I have a plastic one that does the job. Should it ever break, I’m getting this. Probably.

Dental

Bamboo toothbrush: One of the first swaps anyone who starts a less-plastic life goes to is the bamboo toothbrush. I’d suggest Brush with Bamboo, because they were one of the first companies and I find them very transparent about their ethics and choices. Their bristles are predominantly plant-based, being 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon.

Replaceable head toothbrush: Personally, I didn’t get on with bamboo toothbrushes, and I use a toothbrush which has a replaceable head. I’ve had the same handle since 2014, and I just replace the head every few months.

The brand I use is Silvercare, which was what was available in my local store (the brand is actually Italian).

If you’re in Europe look up Lamazuna, who make similar brushes with a bioplastic handle, and also use cardboard (plastic-free) packaging.

Floss: it’s possible to buy floss in a refillable glass jar. Quite a lot of brands offer this product. If you’d like a truly compostable version, the floss is made of silk; if you’d like a vegan version the floss is usually bioplastic (not recycable or compostable). There’s also the option of peace silk (Ahimsa silk) which is considered a cruelty-free option: Geoorganics spearmint floss (UK brand) is made with this.

Interdental brushes: Piksters now sell interdental brushes in sizes 00 – 6 in bamboo (packaged in cardboard). They seem to be readily available, including at high street chemists.

Toothpaste: I’ve made my own for years (here’s my toothpaste recipe) but if DIY is not your thing, it’s possible to buy toothpaste in powder or tablet form, which means it doesn’t need the plastic tube. Again, there are now heaps of brands making these products: my suggestions would be Geoorganics (UK brand, sold in Australia by Nourished Life), or Denttabs (German brand, sold in Australia by toothtablets.com).

Denttabs also sell a fluoride version as well as a fluoride-free version. If you’re in the UK, &Keep has an excellent range.

Mouthwash: not something I use. There are plenty of zero waste mouthwash recipes on the internet (perhaps try this DIY mouthwash recipe by the Zero Waste Chef), but it’s also possible to buy tablet mouthwash.

Personal care

Shampoo: Solid shampoo bars do away with plastic bottles and there are now lots of options on the market. Whilst they can seem expensive, most are long lasting, so overall don’t end up costing more. It’s worth trying a few, as different hair responds differently to different products.

Having tried a few with less-than-ideal results, I settled with (and love) the Source Bulk Foods shampoo bar for my curly hair. Beauty Kubes (A UK brand, but stocked worldwide) are often recommended.

(Or, you could try the ‘no poo’ method and use bicarb or rye flour instead: here’s how it works.)

Conditioner: Solid conditioner bars are the solution to plastic bottles. Ethique bars are a popular choice and come highly recommended (they are a New Zealand company that ship worldwide).

Personally, I use a white vinegar rinse instead of conditioner, and it works as well as any conditioner that I’ve ever used.

Moisturiser: I make my own cold cream moisturiser, and lots of bulk stores sell the ingredients to make DIY products.

(Biome has an online range of ingredients that they pack without plastic.)

If DIY is not your thing, there are lots of products packaged in glass. Or you can buy solid moisturisers too (Ethique make a Saving Face serum bar that I often hear recommended).

I particularly like the Lush moisturiser bars (they are listed on the Lush website as facial oils), which can be purchased in-store with absolutely no packaging at all.

(When it comes to skincare and haircare products, a few stores sell a selection of these brands, and are also have occasional sales which make the products more affordable. Nourished Life have some Ethique bars at half price, Biome and Flora & Fauna also stock a good range.)

Safety razor: a metal razor with replaceable metal blades. There are lots of brands now selling these – I hear reports that cheap ones rust. One of the original and most-trusted brands is Parker; their products are sold in lots of stores.

Period products

Menstrual cups: the first zero waste swap I ever made (way before zero waste became a movement) back in 2003. Back then, there were two medical grade silicone options: the Mooncup (UK brand) and the Diva Cup (Canadian brand – and the one I bought). There was also the Keeper (US brand) ,which is made of natural rubber. These days there are plenty of options, but I prefer to support the brands that led the way.

In the USA and Australia, menstrual cups are regulated by government. These have approval in Australia (country of manufacture listed in brackets):

The USA has a slightly bigger range of registered products, including all mentioned except Juju.

Menstrual pads: reusable pads are a great option, and will last 3-5 years if looked after. Almost all brands use cotton with a PUL (plastic) liner.

A few better known brands:

  • Ecopads Australia – cotton, fleece and/or corduroy pads with PUL liner;
  • Hannahpad Au & NZ – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner;
  • Juju (Australia) – cotton and certified organic cotton pads with PUL outer;
  • Imse Vimse (Swedish brand sold in the UK) – organic cotton with PUL liner;
  • Gladrags (USA) – cotton and fleece, PUL-free*;
  • Hannahpad USA – certified organic cotton pads with PUL liner.

*The only brand I’ve come across that are completely plastic-free are Gladrags (US brand). I have their night pad, and it’s never leaked.

Menstrual underwear: this is underwear that has a built-in liner. I have the Modibodi brand, and I use in combination with my cup on heavier days. They are incredibly comfortable. Some more established brands:

Cleaning

Cleaning products: I’m a fan of green cleaning, which uses mostly edible products like bicarb/baking soda, white vinegar, soap and a bit of elbow grease to get things clean. I’d recommend Clean Green by Jen Chillingsworth as a handy guide to recipes that work (there are lots of the internet that don’t).

Cleaning brushes: there are heaps of wood, metal and/or coconut fibre options. I use a Safix scourer (it lasts for ages and doesn’t smell, ever) and the Import.Ants range of brushes which are sold at my local zero waste store.

Unpaper towel: I don’t bother with kitchen towel or the reusable version made of cloth, but it’s a popular option. Look on Etsy to find local sellers to support (some also use upcycled fabric, which is a bonus).

Laundry

Laundry powder: I buy this from the bulk store. Another alternative is to use soap nuts/soap berries – slightly sticky berries that have a natural saponin content. (You pop a few in a small bag in your washing machine with your clothes, and they will last a few washes.)

Pegs: If you’ve been using plastic pegs, at some stage they’ll likely need replacing (plastic pegs break down in sunlight – bit of a design flaw). Wooden pegs are pretty widely available, but if you’re looking for an unbreakable, buy-it-once-and-it-lasts-forever option, metal pegs are now an option.

There’s different grades of stainless steel include marine grade if you live near the ocean. Pincinox are a French brand and the original stainless steel option, but lots of brands sell wire pegs that are more affordable.

Sock hangers: If you’re restricted to a balcony and don’t have a clothes line, it’s possible to buy stainless steel sock hangers (like this one from Biome).

Microfibres: Something else you light like to consider is a Guppyfriend laundry bag. It’s less of a ‘swap’ and more of an investment – it’s purpose is to stop microfibre plastic pollution in waterways.

You pop your synthetic fibre clothing (things like polyester and nylon) inside, then put the whole thing in the washing machine, and wash as normal. It traps the fibres and stops them getting into the ocean.

(If you’re in Australia, the cheapest place to buy one of these is – randomly – Kathmandu.)

One-stop shops

I’m a big fan of independent stores that sell zero waste and plastic-free products because they believe in the cause, rather than because they see it as a marketing tactic. I can only list the stores I’ve heard of – no doubt there are many more fantastic options:

Australia:

UK:

USA:

This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the products that exist, but hopefully it gives you some options not only for useful swaps, but also for independent businesses to support. Just remember, when it comes to reducing waste, less is always more!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Are there any obvious swaps that I’ve missed, or any products that you’d say you couldn’t live without? Any swaps you’ve made that you regret, and want to warn us about?! Any questions? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen: simple steps to shop, cook and eat sustainably

My new book ‘The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen’ will be hitting the shelves in just a few days, and I’m excited to tell you all about it! Especially if you live somewhere where the bookstores are currently closed, so you can’t pop in for a good old snoop.

Never fear – I am bringing the snoop to you!

I’ve also included some answers to some of the questions I’ve been asked. I’ve had a few questions about the book, so just in case you’ve been wondering too, I thought I’d pop them all together for you.

A bit more about the book: introducing The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen

The book covers three aspects of waste and sustainability: plastic and packaging, carbon footprints and food waste. I wanted to write something that talked about their interconnected nature. There has been lots written on each of the subjects but in isolation. But some of us who care about all of these issues – and we often don’t want to compromise anywhere.

And that makes making choices hard.

Is it better to buy plastic-free but air-freighted from overseas, or is it better to buy plastic-packaged but locally grown?

If groceries packaged in glass have a higher carbon footprint, is plastic packaging better if we want to keep our carbon footprint low?

Is it better to buy everything packaging free, but then increase my food waste as a result? Or choose the packaging to reduce my food waste?

And so it goes on.

What I realised as I was researching the book, is that there is never perfect answer. There are always exceptions to rules. ALWAYS.

Unless we’re going to grow every single thing we eat outside our back door, using rainwater we’ve harvested and seeds we’ve saved, and we’re recycling all our nutrients (I’m not just talking about composting food scraps…), then we are going to have some kind of impact.

Perfect isn’t possible, but better is. And that, my friends, is where this book is here to help. All the ways that it’s possible to take action, to do a little bit better than before. And how to figure out which actions will work (and be sustainable) for you.

Let’s take a look inside the book…

First, the technical stuff. The book is 224 pages, printed on FSC-certified sustainably sourced paper using vegetable inks. It’s full colour and there’s lots of beautiful illustrations throughout – and I even managed to get the illustrator to draw a compost bin, a bokashi bucket… and a mouldy strawberry!

These things are just as important as the pretty stuff, amirite?

A reader asked me if it was gloss paper – no, it most definitely is not! The cover is flexibound, which is half ways between a hardback and a paperback.

Now, the content!

There are five sections:

Part one, the story so far – a look at our modern day food system, how it evolved to be the way it is and some of the problems it has created. I’m not one to dwell on problems, but it’s helpful to have a bit of an understanding of the issues we are trying to fix.

Then, we talk about habits, and making an action plan that’s sustainable for you, starting where you are.

Part two, plastic and pre-packaged: unwrapping the solutions – all about plastic and other types of single-use packaging, and how we can make better decisions around our choices and where possible, use less.

Part three, counting carbon: climate-friendly food choices – covering how our modern food system contributes to greenhouse gas production and all the ways we can lower our footprint, from the way we shop to the things we buy, and what we do with those things once we bring them home.

Part four, food not waste: keeping groceries out of landfill – a look at all the ways we can reduce what we throw away, from better storage to using things up to processing our food waste at home.

Part five, getting started in your (less waste no fuss) kitchen – practical ideas for reducing waste when in the kitchen. From setting up your kitchen to choosing substitute ingredients to use what you have, from tips for cooking food from scratch and simple recipes to get you started.

Here are a couple more sneak peeks of the pages…

Where you can buy The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen

The best place to buy the book, if you can, is your local independent bookstore. If you can’t physically go into the shop to browse, you might be able to call and arrange collection, or they may deliver.

Alternatively, you might like to support MY favourite independent bookstore, Rabble Books & Games (Maylands, WA). They can post, if you’re not local. All books purchased from Rabble will be signed by me :)

Alternatively, here are some online stockists that are selling my book:

Australia / New Zealand stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Book Depository | Dymocks | Mighty Ape (AU) | Mighty Ape (NZ)

UK Stockists:

(Official publication date is 11 June 2020)

Blackwells | Book Depository | Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US and Canada Stockists:

(Official publication date is 16 June 2020)

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indigo (Canada) | Indiebound

eBook:

(Release date 15 June 2020)

Apple Books (iTunes) | Kindle (UK) | Kindle (USA)

Don’t forget your library!

If you’re a book borrower and not a book buyer, please don’t forget to ask your library to stock the book. It’s hard right now with so many libraries currently closed, but if staff are still working behind the scenes they might be able to order it in ready for when they re-open the doors. It’s worth checking!

The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen – your questions answered!

Is The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen a recipe book?

It’s more of a handbook than a recipe book. There are some recipes in part five, but it’s a much more holistic look at the way we shop, cook and eat. From the places we shop at to the things we buy; from navigating confusing choices to making the most of what we have once we bring it home – the book explores the options and ideas to limit plastic and packaging, lower our carbon footprint, get more creative in the kitchen and reduce food waste – without overhauling our entire lives or chaining ourselves to the stove.

Less waste, no fuss.

Is this a book that vegans will get value from? / Is this a book that non-vegans will get value from?

Without wanting to say ‘it’s a book for everybody!’ (because when is that ever helpful?), if you’re a vegan or a non-vegan who gets value from reading my blog, then you will get value from reading my book. Remember, it’s not a cookbook (although the recipes that are included are plant-based/vegan friendly). There’s no beating anyone over the head with a baguette and telling them what they *should* be doing (or eating) – that’s just not my style.

My approach (here and in the book!) is to avoid being prescriptive, and anyways, I really don’t believe there is a single approach that works for everyone in all circumstances. The purpose of the book – as I see it – is to help you find which approaches will work for you (rather than tell you what I think you should do).

Can I get a signed copy?

Yes! If you order from my favourite local independent bookshop Rabble Books and Games (located in Maylands, Perth WA) you’ll be able to request a signed copy!

Pick-up is available in store, or they offer local delivery, or ship by Australia Post for orders further afield.

Are you doing any events or a launch for the book?

Sadly no, all the events that were planned have had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

Why are there different covers of the book?

Actually, there aren’t. There is just one cover – this one.

However, the US office of my publisher released a super early concept version of the front cover several months ago (one that I’d never seen before it was plastered all over the internet!) and it’s been a long process trying to get all the stores to update the image. That cover never went to print, and you won’t actually receive a book with any cover other than the one above. Sorry for the confusion!

Is there an ebook or audiobook version?

The ebook is being published on 15 June 2020. There is no audiobook planned at this stage.

I hope that answers all your questions, and gives you a bit of insight into the book. If I missed anything, be sure to ask me.

I can’t wait for you to have a read, and I really hope you find it useful and actionable!

Everything you need to know to get started with home composting

Composting can seem a little overwhelming. There seem to be so many things to worry about; things that might go wrong. It can seem a bit technical and science-y. But actually, the basics are quite simple, and it is easier to get a compost bin cranking than you think.

If you’re composting at home, especially if you’re a beginner, you don’t really need to get bogged down in the details. Understand the principles, and you’re on your way.

If you love the idea of composting, but simply don’t have the option to compost at home (or where you live), this post on composting without a compost bin might be useful.

If you’re keen to get you own compost system set up at home, read on.

Choosing your composting system

There are a few different composting systems (and I’m only talking about composting today – not other methods like worm farming/vermicomposting or bokashi systems).

For the beginner, there are two great home composting systems: the regular compost bins we are most used to seeing (I call them in-ground compost bins), that sit on the ground or are slightly dug in, and rotary compost bins, which are an enclosed system mounted on a frame.

Compost heaps or compost bays aren’t great for beginners as they are more difficult to manage. Digging food scraps into the ground or in trenches (if you have space for that!) works too, but it’s not really a ‘system’.

In-ground compost bins

These are easy to set up and low maintenance, and usually cost less than the rotary versions. There are a lot of second-hand compost bins available, so it’s probably not necessary to buy a new one. It’s also possible to make them by upcycling plastic barrels, old bins or other old containers.

You’ll find different styles of bin, some with doors at the bottom and heaps of ventilation holes, others that clip together and some with no bells and whistles at all.

I’m a fan of the no bells and whistles type, pictured below (I call them Dalek bins). These work best for the climate I live in. These types of bin don’t have a base, and I dig into the soil (about 10cm deep).

In my hot climate, any ventilation holes are just gaps for moisture to escape and pests to get in. Plus they provide points of weakness (because we all know plastic breaks down when exposed to sunlight).

Doors at the bottom might look cute, but the reality is it is easier to wait for the entire contents to become compost and dig the whole thing out at once.

That said, it’s possible to make most compost bins work. My neighbour was recently clearing out her shed, and offered me this for free. My plan is to dig it into the ground so that the vents at the bottom are covered, and only use it for garden waste (no food waste) to deter any pests that might want to crawl in the sides.

Because of the gaps along the sides, it will probably need a bit more water added than the other type.

Rotary composters

These tend to be more expensive than the in-ground versions, but they are perfect for patios and balconies and spaces where it isn’t possible to dig one into the ground. I’ve seen DIY versions but you’re going to need to be a bit handy to make one, as the cylinder has to be able to rotate on a frame.

There are lots of different styles and sizes, too. Some are long and thin, others are short and squat – and the way they are mounted on the frame (and therefore how they turn) varies too.

When choosing which one is right for you, it’s best to think not only about your space but also your physical capabilities. A huge bin might seem like a great idea, but if you can’t turn it because it’s too heavy, that isn’t going to work.

Another great advantage of these bins is they are less likely to attract pests and are pretty much rodent-proof.

Where to position your compost bin

You’ll often see it written that a compost bin should be placed in sunny spot, but that depends on where you live. If you live in a hot climate, placing a bin in full sun means it dries out. (Compost bins need moisture to work.)

I think it’s more important to think about a spot where you’ll actually use it. At the end of the garden behind the shed might seem like a great idea… until you need to put your scraps in it when it’s dark and raining.

A well managed compost bin shouldn’t smell, so being near a kitchen window shouldn’t matter, but if you don’t trust your skills (yet) perhaps make sure it’s not too near any doors or windows.

If you do have a garden, under a fruit tree is great, as the tree roots will benefit from the compost at the bottom of the bin.

I’d say, choose a warm and accessible spot (in a hot climate, dappled shade / afternoon shade is helpful if possible). Don’t forget, you can always move it later if your first spot doesn’t work out.

Setting up your compost bin

Once you’ve chosen a site for your compost bin (and dug it into the ground a little if it’s an in-ground compost bin – 10cm is ideal), you need to get it set up and ready to accept food scraps.

Compost bins need air (oxygen) to work properly, so when you’re setting up a new bin, it’s good to start with something chunky as the base, that allows air flow. Twigs and sticks and egg cartons are great.

The biggest mistake I see (and yep, this was also me when I started) is to add ALL the food scraps, nothing else, and watch in horror as your compost bin becomes a stinky, fly-infested mass of yuck.

Compost bins need balance. In particular, they need a balance of fresh stuff (called ‘greens’) and dead stuff (called ‘browns’). On a more technical level, we are talking about nitrogen and carbon.

Too much nitrogen (fresh stuff) will make for a stinky compost bin as it will break down too fast, using up the oxygen. Too much carbon (dead stuff) and your compost will take forever to break down.

For a beginner, a good rule of thumb is one handful of green stuff, and two handfuls of brown stuff. Or even three handfuls of brown stuff.

Placing a tub of shredded paper, old cardboard toilet tubes, egg cartons, dried leaves, wood chips, sawdust or straw (all carbon rich) next to your compost bin, so that every time you add some food scraps, you can add some carbon easily, works well.

As you add things to your bin, the stuff at the bottom will get compressed, and eventually run out of oxygen. This will make for stinky compost. Turn your compost with a pitchfork or turning fork (like a giant corkscrew) – or by rotation if that’s the type you have – to keep the air circulating. Turning once a week or once a fortnight is fine, or more often if you start to notice any bad smells.

What can and can’t go in my compost bin?

Anything that was once alive will eventually break down to become compost. There are a lot of myths circulating that you can’t compost things like onions or citrus – of course you can! When it comes to plant-based food scraps, everything goes.

As for other food scraps, it’s not that they can’t be composted, but they are more likely to attract vermin, other pests (like flies and maggots) or harbour dangerous bacteria.

As a beginner composter, avoid putting meat, fish, dairy products, bread and large amounts of cooked food in your compost bin if possible.

Thinking about garden scraps, the only things I don’t put in my compost bin are persistent or nasty weeds – things like couch or Kikuyu grass roots, or those weeds that have the spiky seeds that stab you if you stand on them barefoot.

Although home compost systems tend not to get hot enough to kill seeds, most seeds aren’t really a problem. It can be fun to get surprise tomatoes or pumpkin plants germinating from compost. Common weed seeds like dandelions still go in – even if I didn’t put them in my compost bin, the seeds are going to blow in from elsewhere, and they are easy enough to weed out again if they do appear.

Common composting problems

A good compost bin needs variety, oxygen (air), moisture and microbes/insects to keep it working. When one of these things is missing, you get problems or it slows right down.

Stinky compost bin? Add more carbon rich material, and turn your compost to increase air flow. Make sure food scraps are buried. A well managed compost bin doesn’t smell (or smells earthy, like soil).

Dry compost? Add water.

Soggy compost? If you can squeeze water out of your compost with your hands, it is too wet. Add dry material – shredded paper, sawdust, dry leaves.

Insects? Most insects are fine, so don’t panic. Lots of one type might indicate an issue. Ants usually mean it is too dry, so add water. If flies or maggots are a problem, cover the top with mulch or soil, and make sure food scraps are buried rather than sitting on top. The odd cockroach might make you wince but it isn’t going to harm you or your compost. An infestation probably means you haven’t turned your compost for a while. Mix it up, and keep turning it and they’ll find somewhere else to live. Insects have short lives, and will be gone soon enough.

Not doing anything? Adding a handful of compost or manure will add some microbes to your compost to give it a boost. Turning it will also (literally) help stir things up.

Can I set and forget?

If you want ready-to-go compost in 2 – 3 months (in a warm climate), you need to balance your greens and browns, and turn frequently. But if you just chuck it all in and forget about it, it will break down eventually. Much more slowly, but it will happen. Winter (and colder weather) also slows things down.

If you do want to use your compost bin in the garden, two (or more!) bins can be helpful. If you’re constantly adding fresh food scraps to your compost bin, you are always going to have non-composted bits in your compost. Ideally, you’ll fill one bin to the top, and then continue to turn it whilst starting to fill a second one. That way, you’ll have fresh compost ready to go by the time the second one is full.

Once emptied, you can start refilling again and leave the other one to work its magic.

If you want to start composting at home, the best thing to do is to just start. Then, as issues pop up or you have questions, you can troubleshoot one by one. Most problems are easily fixed. Get a compost bin set up, and you’ll learn as you go.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about composting? Any issues I didn’t cover? Any beginner tips you think others need to know? Any other thoughts at all? Please share in the comments below!

How to freeze food in glass jars (+ defrost it safely)

I freeze food in glass jars, and I have done for years (we’re talking at least 15 years). As a student I resented buying things like zip-lock bags to freeze food – they seemed expensive and unnecessary. Glass jars were something I always had to hand – and they come in all shapes and sizes, which meant there was always one suitable for what I needed to freeze.

So that’s what I used.

It’s a topic that gets a lot of questions. Some people are surprised that it’s possible at all, others have tried and failed and want to know why. And there are a few rules you need to follow if you don’t want broken glass in the freezer.

In all my time freezing in glass I’ve only ever had a couple of breakages, and both times were when I didn’t follow my own advice. Stick to the rules, and you’ll be able to freeze in glass jars without breaking anything.

Understanding the science of freezing in glass

First, a science lesson! It’s helpful to understand what’s going on. Glass breaks because of stress. It’s rigid and solid, so when pressure is applied it tends to crack. (Like, for example, when you drop glass on a hard surface. It can’t absorb the impact, so it breaks.)

Although it’s rigid, glass actually shrinks a little when it’s cooled and expands a little when heated. Nothing that you can see, but it happens. When the outside and the inside of the glass have different temperatures (such as putting a glass jar of frozen food into a bowl of hot water, or putting hot liquid into a cold glass) the glass is shrinking on one side and expanding on the other, which creates stress.

The glass cracks to relieve the stress.

Water expands when it freezes. Food contains varying amounts of water and so different foods expand to different amounts when frozen. Pure water will expand the most. (You might have noticed when you make ice cubes that the level of the cubes rises as they freeze.)

Stock, soup and sauces are all liquid, and so will expand more when frozen than foods like bread or wraps, that have a low water content.

As liquids freeze and expand, they need a place to go. The sides of a glass jar are rigid and so the only way to expand is up. If a jar is narrow, or has sides that taper inwards, the extra pressure placed on the glass sides as the contents freeze will make it crack (which relieves the stress).

This is why wide-necked glass jars, or those with sides that taper outwards, are better for freezing, especially when freezing liquids.

Filling a wide-necked jar to the brim and then screwing a lid on tightly may also cause a jar to crack, because now there is no space at the top for the food to expand. Leaving a lid ajar until the contents are frozen will prevent this.

Foods like chickpeas or frozen sweetcorn have spaces between them, so there is less pressure applied to the sides of the glass (the air gaps can be filled) meaning narrower jars can be used for these types of food.

How to freeze food in glass jars: choosing suitable jars

I prefer wide-necked jars for freezing, and ideally those that taper outwards. My absolute favourite is the Bonne Maman jam jar. Each jar fits a one-portion serve, and the tapered sides mean the frozen contents almost slip straight out when I’m ready to heat them up.

They are also free (I rescue from a local cafe, and neighbours who eat jam.)

I can also stack them in my freezer, which maximises the space.

For liquids, a wide neck is very important. For beans, lentils or chopped vegetables, it’s less important, but still preferable.

I always choose jars that would have been through some kind of heating process in a factory. Jars that previously contained jam, pickles or sauce will have been heat-treated, and are my preference. Jars from the reject shop won’t, and are often thinner glass.

Sometimes you’ll see jars that have a distinctive round circle at the bottom, which is a separate piece of glass fused to the jar. This join is another point of stress weakness, and it’s better to avoid these jars if you can. If you can’t, choose to use only with low water content foods. (Breadcrumbs yes, frozen chickpeas yes, sauces or stock, no.)

I found this out when the base of a jar I’d just used to freeze something fell out as I was washing it up. I didn’t know it was a ‘thing’ until then! Luckily the food was fine, but the process of freezing and defrosting must have weakened the seal, and the jar broke. Now I check for this before using.

If you prefer, you can stick with glass jars that are designated freezer-safe. These tend to be the brands also suitable for canning – they are designed to withstand extremes of temperature. Ball Mason, Fowlers Vacola, Weck, Le Parfait jars are all examples.

How to freeze in glass jars, step by step

Once you’ve chosen a suitable jar, fill it with whatever you want to freeze, following these rules:

  • Fill to the widest point of the jar, and leave a space at the top to allow the contents to expand;
  • Cool the food completely before putting the jar in the freezer;
  • If possible, chill the contents first. Recommended for liquids like stock;
  • Place the jar in the freezer, with the lid off or ajar;
  • Once the contents have completely frozen, screw the lid on tightly.

Don’t forget to label your jars unless it is very obvious what is inside! Your memory will not be as good as you think it is. A date is useful as well as labelling the contents.

The reasons most jars break in the freezer are putting hot contents straight into the freezer, overfilling the jar, using a narrow jar – or all of the above.

My biggest mistake was trying to freeze stock in a passata bottle. Luckily it didn’t crack until it was almost frozen solid, so there wasn’t a big mess to clean up. But it had to be discarded. Lesson learned – these things need room to move!

How to defrost frozen food in glass jars

Heating frozen glass (such as plunging into a bowl of hot water) will make it crack. Don’t do that.

If you’re super organised, you can take the jar out of the freezer and leave on the side for a few hours. Or, you can put in the fridge to defrost overnight.

(If you’re defrosting meat or fish I’d put in the fridge to thaw because they are higher risk in terms of food poisoning.)

A large and well-packed frozen Pyrex container can take a couple of days to thaw in the fridge.

Jars, less watery things, and pieces with more surface area, will defrost more quickly in the fridge.

If you’re less organised, and want to defrost something more quickly, take it out of the freezer and put in a bowl of cold water. It’s important that it’s cold, because warm water will crack your jar. Cold water is still warmer than ice.

Depending what it is, you can add cold water to the frozen item (pour cold water into the jar) – this is how I thaw my frozen chickpeas. It separates them, which means I can get them out of the jar.

It would work for frozen veg, like sweetcorn. You wouldn’t do it to a piece of cake. 

If you’re less organised and also impatient, your best bet is to freeze food in containers or jars that taper outward. Pyrex tapers out slightly, as do Weck jars, as do my all-time favourite, Bonne Maman jam jars. What this means is, as soon as the food starts to defrost, which will happen from the edges inward (the centre will be the bit that thaws last), the frozen food will slide out of the jar.

Take out of the freezer, sit in a bowl of cold water, wait 10 mins or so and then empty the frozen lump into a pan or bowl, or whatever you are going to use to heat up your food. I don’t have a microwave, so I use a saucepan.

I use a low heat and a lid on the pan, and stir to separate the thawed bits from the frozen core. Gradually it reduces down, and eventually its piping hot, and you’re good to go. 

Readers have told me that they put frozen glass jars in a microwave to defrost. I’d be extremely careful doing this, as microwaves don’t heat evenly – if part of the glass is touching hot food and another part is still frozen, the glass will be under stress and may crack. But (apparently) it can be done.

I hope this answers all of your freezing-in-glass-jar related questions! As always, any thoughts, suggestions or ideas that you have, please share with us in the comments. Ask away, I’d love to hear from you!

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 :)