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Recipe: How To Make (Plastic Free + Zero Waste) Seed Crackers

If there’s one thing that is next to impossible to find without plastic, it’s crackers. Before I went plastic-free, I’d buy packet upon packet of crackers – usually with the plastic tray, then wrapped in plastic and with a final plastic or cardboard outer. Packaging overload!

These days I do things very differently. I either skip the crackers entirely, and make crudites (fancy term for vegetable sticks – carrot, cucumber and capsicum/pepper) or use bread; or I make my own crackers.

I’ve shared in the past how I make sourdough crackers and carrot pulp flatbreads, and today I’ve got another recipe for you: 4 seed crackers.

I actually found the recipe via my local Source Bulk Foods store, who sell the ingredients ready-weighed in a little pack. I bought all the ingredients separately in bulk as I wanted to avoid the packaging but if you were short on time or didn’t want random amounts of seeds left in the pantry, the pack would be a shortcut.

Being made almost entirely of seeds, these crackers and gluten-free, dairy free and vegan.

The magic ingredient binding the seeds together is psyllium husk: it’s the husk of a seed that’s high in soluble fibre, and binds with water to form a slippery gel. It’s often used in raw and vegan recipes for its binding properties.  It’s pretty readily available at bulk stores. If that’s not an option, chia seeds might be an alternative to experiment with but it’s not something I’ve yet tried.

Recipe: Zero Waste 4 Seed Crackers

I chose raw seeds rather than roasted ones, as the crackers are baked in the oven. If raw seeds aren’t an option, try with roasted ones but bear in mind you might need to add a little more water to the mix.

Preheat the oven to 160°C, line three trays with baking paper or use silicone baking mats.

Ingredients:

490ml water
200g sunflower seeds
100g sesame seeds
60g pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
60g linseed (flax seed)
15g psyllium husk
5g salt

Method:

Mix all the seeds, husks and salt together in a bowl and pour in the water. Leave to stand for 30 minutes until the mixture has a gloopy consistency.

Empty a third of the mix on each baking tray and spread out thinly and evenly using the back of a spoon. Try to make the mixture as thin as possible. (but be careful of creating holes).

Bake in the oven for 1 hour, then remove from the oven and using a knife, score the cracker lines in the mix. Once they are fully baked they will not cut without shattering, so the lines need to be marked whilst the mixture is still soft.

Return to the oven for 30 minutes. Check the crackers and remove any that are cooked (the middle will take longer than the edges). If possible, separate the crackers and return to the baking tray to speed up final cooking.

Return any uncooked crackers to the oven. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the crackers are completely dry, crisp and crunchy. To dry out further, the crackers can be left in the warm oven once it is turned off. Remove from oven and cook completely on a rack.

Store in an airtight tin. They will keep for at least a week.

Possible Variations

There are plenty of other seeds to experiment with: hemp seeds, poppy seeds, chia seeds, or even chopped nuts. You could try adding cumin, nigella or fennel seeds; or herbs and spices such rosemary or thyme, paprika or ground coriander. Recipes are there to be played with!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do make your own crackers? Has it been on the to-do list since forever but you’re yet to get round to it? Or is it something you’ve put in the too-hard basket for now? I’m always interested in hearing new cracker recipe ideas so if you have any favourites – or favourite flavour combinations – share below, along with anything else you’d like to add!

How To Set Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

When my greyhound Hans moved into the house (in July 2016), it was important to me that I didn’t suddenly start using heaps of plastic, or begin sending stuff to landfill. There’s bedding, toys and food to consider – and also what to do with dog poo.

If a dog goes to the toilet twice a day, that’s potentially two plastic bags going to landfill every day also – not to mention the contents.

One of the first things I did was set up a dog poo worm farm. I’ve mentioned it before, but it is something that I get asked about often, so I wanted to take some time to explain the specifics.

I promise you, it isn’t hard. There’s actually very little to it!

Dog Poo Worm Farm Basics

Dog poo doesn’t go into the regular worm farm; it needs to go in a separate one. There are a couple of reasons for this.

One, if worms have the choice between dog poo and banana peels and avocado, they are not going to be choosing eating dog poo.

Two, whereas regular worm farm castings (the nutrient-rich compost left by the worms once they process the food) can be used to grow seedlings and added to the veggie patch, worm farm castings stay in the ground.

This is because faeces may contain parasites and bad bacteria, so spreading it over the lettuce seedlings isn’t a good idea from a health perspective.

Of course, it’s possible to position a dog poo worm farm underneath a fruit tree so that the tree gets the benefits of all the nutrients.

I like the dog poo worm farm set-up (as opposed to digging holes in the ground every time there is something to dispose of) because there is one spot where everything goes. It’s contained and easy to manage.

As someone with a small yard, it is the perfect solution for me.

Setting Up A Dog Poo Worm Farm

I’m a fan of the repurposed materials-and-no-cost approach. I’ve used a 20 litre plastic bucket that was donated to me by the bulk food store once the contents had been sold. It has a lid, which is very important.

I cut the bottom out of the bucket, and dug a hole in the garden big enough to bury the bucket so just an inch was exposed above the ground (enough to ensure the lid is secured).

I don’t bury the handle as it might be useful if I need to move the bin later.

Next, the worm farm needs a big old handful of composting worms. (These are different to earthworms in that composting worms are surface feeders.) The main types are Eisenia fetida, Eisenia Andrei and Lumbricus rubellus but what is actually available depends on where you live.

I just grabbed a handful from my regular worm farm. If you don’t have any to start with, check out community gardens, Buy Nothing groups, Gumtree or good garden centres.

The worms aren’t trapped in the worm farm as the bottom is cut out, so they are free to come and go, as are any other critters looking for some lunch.

The other thing that worm farms need is carbon. I add this by picking up dog poo using old toilet paper wrappers (conveniently ready-cut the the exact size I need) or newspaper. If you use some kind of scoop to pick up, just throwing in a few handfuls of leaves, or some paper or cardboard would be fine.

This bucket holds 20 litres, so eventually fills up. I’ve also seen these worm farms made with old flip-lid wheelie bins which are much larger (often it is possible to purchase broken or damaged ones – contact your local council to find out if they offer this service.)

When the bin reaches capacity, cover the top with soil, then pull out the bucket and replace elsewhere.

As the freshest and least composted poo will be at the top, consider setting up a second whilst leaving the first to continue decomposing. It will make for a more pleasant experience when removing and replacing the bucket.

Dog Poo Worm Farm – Do’s and Don’ts

Something really important to remember is that a worm farm contains worms, and worming tablets kill worms. If your dog has taken worming tablets, do not put dog poo in the worm farm for a couple of weeks.

I don’t regularly give my dog worming tablets (on the advice of my vet), and he gets a yearly heartworm injection (rather than tablets) which lasts for 12 months.

Personally, I’d avoid putting dog poo in the worm farm in compostable plastic bags. Even the ones that are certified home compostable take 6 months to compost, and that is in a regular compost bin, not a worm farm.

If you’d still like to give it a try, I’d suggest ripping the bags open before adding them to the worm farm, and be prepared to leave it “brewing” for several months once it is full.

Something else to bear in mind: composting worms will die in freezing temperatures (they are surface dwellers, unlike their cousins the earthworms, who will burrow for warmth). The eggs should survive. If you live in a country where it freezes in winter, bear in mind that your worm farm might need to be seasonal.

Thoughts About Cat Poo Worm Farms

I don’t have a cat, but I have several friends that do, and whom compost their cat litter. The main thing to be aware of is that cat poo commonly carries a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which cause toxoplasmosis in humans.

This means cat faeces needs to be handled even more carefully than dog poo.

Cat litter can be found made of newspaper pellets, wood shavings, which would both work great in a worm farm.

The volumes will be bigger so a 20 litre bucket might fill up fairly fast.

Can I Flush Dog and Cat Poo Down the Loo?

From what I’ve read the consensus seems to be that it is okay to flush dog poo down the toilet, but not cat poo (because of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite). However, the best thing would be to phone your local water treatment facility and ask them whether they are happy for you to do so, or not.

That way, you’ll know for sure – and if not, they should be able to tell you why not.

Whilst I know that dog poo worm farms might not be for everyone, they have been a great success for me. The smell is minimal (as opposed to the bins at dog parks, which reek), I have it placed in a convenient spot, and it is no extra hassle at all – except, perhaps, when it needs moving.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a pet – and what do you do with their waste? Have you set up a pet poo worm farm, are you game to try – or is it definitely a no-go for you?! What have your experiences been? Are there any other ways you try to reduce their waste footprint? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Where I Find My Zero Waste Consumables (Personal Care and Cleaning)

I”m often asked about the various places I find different items or products without packaging or single-use plastic, and it occurred to me that I’ve never sat down and written a list of ALL the places and ALL the things.

It also occurred to me that creating a list like this would be rather useful. What kinds of zero waste and plastic-free things do I buy, and where do I buy them from?

Of course, if you live in Perth (which is where I live) then these lists will be extra useful as you will actually be able to go to the places I visit.

Even if you’re not a local, I want to give you some ideas about the kinds of places you might be able to source similar products in your own area.

Last week I talked about where I source zero waste and plastic-free groceries and food items in Perth. This week I’m talking about the other consumables: personal care products and cleaning products.

Where I Source Zero Waste Consumables

By consumables, I mean things that run out, get used up and need replacing. Things like food, personal care products, and cleaning products.

Whilst I source things from a number of different places, I’m not going to all the places all of the time. Some places I only visit twice a year. Others I visit weekly. Over time I’ve established a routine that works for me.

Zero Waste Bathroom and Personal Care Products

I have simplified my bathroom routine hugely since going plastic-free and zero waste back in 2012. I’ve cut back on all of the non-essentials (turns out, there were a lot of non-essentials).

I buy good quality bar soap (which I use in place of shower gel, face wash, body wash, hand wash) from Earth Products in The Vines, Swan Valley. I buy 1.3kg blocks which I cut myself (they cut like firm butter) as it is more economical.

Earth Products is a wholesale and retail skincare business, and the owner Marie is an absolute legend. Although technically she doesn’t sell bulk products, she is more than happy for me to refill my own containers.

She is also a huge wealth of knowledge and I’ve learned a lot about DIY skincare and how to use ingredients from her.

I buy all my essential oil refills, almond, rosehip and other oils, shea butter, coconut oil, vegetable glycerine, zinc powder, clay and all kinds of other ingredients here.

I tend to go once every 6 – 12 months and stock up.

Aside from soap, which I buy, I make all my other personal care products myself. Really, it’s little more than stirring together a few ingredients together in a jar. Sometimes there’s a little melting involved.

I make my own deodorant and toothpaste (I buy bicarb and tapioca flour from the Source Whole Foods). I either use almond oil in place of a moisturiser, or I make cold cream (which is beeswax, olive oil and water blended together).

I also make sunscreen (a moisturizer with zinc oxide powder).

I wash my hair with bicarb (or rye flour) and vinegar. I use white vinegar, which I buy in bulk from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle (the only place I’ve ever seen 5% white vinegar).

I don’t actually use a bamboo toothbrush for my teeth (but I did buy one to brush my dog’s teeth!). Early on, I got fed up with the bristles constantly falling out and washing down the drain.

I found out about Silvercare toothbrushes, which have replaceable heads that can be changed every 6 months, and I switched to this.

I purchased my initial Silvercare toothbrush from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle and I also get the replacement heads from there.

The waste toothbrush heads and packaging can be recycled via Terracycle, and the closest hub to me is the Recycling Hub at Perth City Farm in East Perth.

I don’t use disposable menstrual products: I use a Diva cup, which is a silicone reusable menstrual cup. I’ve been using one since 2003 (I’ll write a blog post with more details about this in the coming weeks).

I also have a reusable pad that I use at night.

For hair removal I have an extremely old Gilette razor and I’m currently using up the last blade (purchased pre-2012, and I’m making it last). I also have an epilator whose battery is about to die (purchased circa 2010).

When these both give up the ghost I will switch to a stainless steel razor with stainless steel blades that can be recycled easily at metal recyclers.

This might be too much information (!) but I actually use tweezers to remove armpit air. I’m not ticklish and think my skin must be made of rubber, as I don’t find it painful in the slightest. I find I get a shaving rash with a razor. I appreciate that this might not be for everyone.

I purchase 100% recycled toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap, which is plastic-free and delivered to my doorstep. (I use the paper wrappers to pick up dog poo – they are the perfect size – and this all goes in the dog poo worm farm).

Zero Waste Cleaning Products

I don’t talk a whole lot about cleaning on my blog because cleaning is one of my least favourite things, and the less I can do of it, the better.

Zero Waste Kitchen Cleaning

Let’s start with the dishes. I purchase dishwashing liquid from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically my local store The Source Vic Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house).

I have a wooden dishbrush with a replaceable head, a Safix coconut coir scourer and an import.ants bottle brush cleaner. I used to have a wooden pot brush, but once it wore out I chose not to replace it.

All of these cleaning products can be composted once finished with. The small amount of metal in the dishbrush handle can be recycled via metal recyclers.

There are two physical shops in Perth where I buy these things: Urban Revolution on Albany Highway in Victoria Park, and the Zero Store inside the Raw Kitchen on High Street, Fremantle.

(Another store I recommend – I’ve never actually made it to their physical shop but I have purchased things from their pop-up stalls at markets – is Environment House on King William Street in Bayswater.)

Yes, I also have a plastic dish brush, circa 2012, still going. It must be the longest living plastic dishbrush in history. I will use it until it wears out, be grateful that it has lasted, and whilst it remains in my kitchen not dwell on the fact that it’s fluro green colour (and plastic-ness) is mildly offensive to my eyes.

I also use bicarb soda (purchased from the Source Bulk Foods) for anything that needs a good scrub, such as burnt saucepans.

For cleaning cloths for wiping down the kitchen benches, I no longer buy cloths. Instead, I cut up old clothes, tee-shirts, towels: whatever is worn out. I prefer 100% cotton or natural fibres as these can be composted once they are too tatty for cleaning.

Cleaning cloths tend to start in the bathroom, then migrate to the bathroom, then to the floors before being composted. Of course, they go through the washing machine several times during this process.

I tend to wash my counters down with water and sometimes dishwashing liquid. It seems to work fine. If there’s a stain, I scrub with a used piece of lemon to lift it (things like tea and coffee, typically).

Zero Waste Bathroom Cleaning

Most of the cleaning items I use in the bathroom started life in the kitchen. Cleaning cloths, my Safix scourer, old dishbrush heads: once these things aren’t suitable for dishes I move them on.

I use bicarb (from The Source) and 5% white vinegar from Manna Whole Foods in South Fremantle.

(Planet Ark in Fremantle sell 10% white vinegar for cleaning only, which I used when I had black mold in my damp flat several years ago. Generally I use the 5% vinegar, which is food grade and can be used for other things besides cleaning.)

I use a few essential oils for cleaning: tea tree, eucalyptus and clove oil. All are anti-microbial and clove oil in particular is anti-fungal and great for the shower. Bleach doesn’t actually kill mold, it just turns it white. Clove oil kills the spores. I put a few drops in vinegar and spray the tiles.

(My spray bottle is plastic. I’ve seen aluminium ones, but a reader told me that she stored vinegar in hers for a while, and the bottom fell out of it! I use the plastic one as that is what I have. I’ll try to fit the nozzle to a glass bottle if/when the plastic breaks.)

I also put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil in the toilet to disinfect.

Zero Waste Laundry

I purchase laundry powder from The Source Bulk Foods. I’ve tried soap nuts, and they seemed to work for me, but I just prefer buying laundry powder (and it is more convenient to purchase).

For stains, I simply dab some dishwashing liquid on the stain, then pop into the washing machine. Having tried several remedies over the years, I find this one the most effective and simplest.

I don’t use fabric softener (never have) although white vinegar is reported to be excellent for this – and a couple of drops of essential oil for scent.

Other Cleaning

I no longer have any kind of rubbish bin in my home, so I do not need bin liners. Any non-recyclable, non-compostable waste (of which there is very little, if any) goes directly outside to the rubbish bin. (I kept a waste jar for a year in 2016 as an experiment, but no longer do so.)

Hopefully that’s given you some insight into the kinds of purchases I make and how I use them, and maybe some ideas for things you could incorporate into your life. If you’re in Perth I’d encourage you to visit some of the places I’ve listed. If you’re not, hopefully there’s something similar close to you.

(If there’s no local options, consider supporting an independent zero waste and plastic free business: I have put together a worldwide list of companies that care.)

When it comes to plastic-free and zero waste living, I find that there’s always a lot more options than we first expect.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything you’re trying to source that I haven’t covered? Anything you’ve had success with that you’d like to share? Anything that needs more explanation, or any tips you can add? Any other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Ultimate Guide to Reusable Containers

The conversation around reducing single-use plastic and working towards zero waste often begins with reusables. These are the tools we often need to avoid the single-use and wasteful packaging – alongside getting the habits in place to actually remember and use them, of course!

Today I wanted to talk about reusable containers. It’s a big topic, because reusable containers have so many uses: for carrying food on the go, leftovers and general food storage. There are also lots of options.

I always say this, and it is as true here as anywhere: there is never a single perfect solution, or a one-size-fits all approach. Different things work better for different purposes, and often we might use different things for our different needs.

I thought I’d share some of the things that I use, and some of the things that are consistently recommended to me by my readers. These aren’t the only options by all means, and they may not be the best options for you.

There’s no need to rush out shopping and buy ALL the things. There may be no need to buy any of the things. Be mindful of your purchases. Ask yourself – can I make do? Do I really need it? Will I actually use it?

I simply want to give you some ideas of what’s available and help you find solutions that fit with your lifestyle and needs.

Reusable Containers – Glass

Glass Jars

I’m a big fan of repurposed glass jars. They come in ALL the sizes, and have many uses: dry food storage, holding liquids, keeping leftovers, freezing food (yep, they can; here’s some tips for using glass jars in the freezer) and transporting lunches.

They are also really easy to source, for free from the recycling bin, or for low cost at charity shops.

Occasionally I’ve needed to buy new lids for old jars, and these are available at specialist kitchen shops or online. Metal lids often have a plastic lining, but I see it as a lower waste solution than purchasing an entirely new glass jar with non-plastic lid.

Much as I love the look of (plastic-free) Weck or Le Parfait jars, I prefer to make do with what I already have.

Pyrex (and Other Glass Food Storage Systems)

I’m not a fan of storing food in plastic because of health concerns, so back in 2012 I invested in some Pyrex containers. They have plastic lids, but the containers are (freezerproof, ovenproof) glass.

At the time these were the best budget-friendly option I could find. Pyrex is one of those tried-and-tested built to last brands. When the lids split I’ll improvise with something else.

Since then, more glass storage container options have become available: some with plastic lids, others with glass lids and even those with stainless steel lids (part of the Onyx stainless steel range).

Glass storage containers are something easy to find at the charity /second hand shops. I’ve found a few Pyrex containers in my time.

Reusable Containers – Stainless Steel and Other Metal

I have a variety of stainless steel storage containers and also a titanium one. In this picture, clockwise from centre top: Planetbox, round single tier tiffin, 4 tier tiffin, Vargo titanium BOT, Seed + Sprout lunchbox, Ecolunchbox (with condiment container).

There are some different types that I haven’t used that have been recommended to me, and I’ve mentioned these below too.

If you keep an eye out, it is possible to find second-hand stainless steel containers in charity shops rather than buying new.

PlanetBox

PlanetBox is a stainless steel bento-style lunchbox. The box itself is completely made of stainless steel. There’s no silicone seal and it isn’t leakproof. Great for sandwiches, slices, salads, fruit and nuts.

They have three different versions: the one I have is called the “Launch” (pictured) which has 3 compartments and includes a dipper (little condiment pot). The other versions are the “Rover” (which has 5 compartments and 2 dippers) and the “Shuttle” (which has 3 compartments and a dipper, and is half the size of the “Launch”).

If you’re in Australia, Biome (3 stores in Australia and online) is an authorised stockist of PlanetBox.

Stainless Steel Tiffins

Stainless steel tiffins are the lunchbox of choice in India, and they are one of my favourite options. They are a series of stainless steel bowls that stack together and are clipped in place. The top bowl has a lid and can be used as a single container.

I have a single tier tiffin with an insert that sits inside, and two stackable tiffins (one 3-tier, and one 4-tier).

My favourite is the 4-tier, as each bowl has a stainless steel lid that fits over the top and can be used as a plate. (My 3-tier one is just three bowls, clips and the top lid).

They are easy to store because they stack.

I find them great to take to picnics because they are easy to carry and all the bowls are good sizes.

I purchased my single tier tiffin in Thailand, my 3-tier from a department store and my 4-tier from Dunn & Walton, a store in Perth, WA.

Indian supermarkets are a great and affordable place to find tiffins.

If you’re in the USA, Life Without Plastic have a good range.

Vargo Outdoors BOT Titanium Container

I purchased this titanium container for my Camino Frances hike (800km across northern Spain) because I wanted a reusable container that was extremely lightweight (it holds 700ml and weighs 136g) and also leakproof (it has a silicone ring inside the lid). It can be used to carry water.

(By comparison, the stainless steel tiffin weighs 295g without the inner tray, holds the same volume, but is not leakproof – there is no seal).

I purchased this container from Vargo Outdoors, a US company whose products are stocked by specialist hiking/expedition stores.

Rectangular Stackable Lunchboxes

I have a couple of rectangular stackable lunchboxes: one by Seed & Sprout (pictured) which has rounded corners and a metal divider, and an EcoLunchbox which is more rectangular, without a divider and with a condiment container.

Neither have a silicone seal and neither are leakproof.

Both are a similar size. My EcoLunchBox is better quality but more expensive (you get what you pay for).

The Seed & Sprout lunchboxes are available directly via the Seed & Sprout website. This design is also available with a number of other brand names: Urban Revolution (an online store and bricks-and-mortar shop just down the road from me) stock the Ever Eco version, which looks identical.

I actually purchased my EcoLunchbox via a seller on eBay. There is a larger version called Sustain-a-Stacker which is stocked by Biome.

Other Stainless Steel Lunchboxes

Some stainless steel lunchboxes come with plastic and/or silicone lids. I don’t have any of these, but I can see the appeal if you have children, want a bit of colour and/or are looking for a leakproof alternative. (Without plastic or silicone to form a seal, stainless steel lunchboxes are not leakproof.)

Two well established and popular brands making kid-friendly reusable lunchboxes are Lunchbots and U Konserve. Both are US brands (US and Canada residents can order from these companies directly). Biome (Australia and NZ) and A Slice of Green (UK) stock these brands for those of us a little further afield.

Food Wraps and Lunchbox Alternatives

Containers can be big and bulky, and sometimes we need more flexible (sometimes literally) solutions. Here’s a few alternatives for this type of food storage.

Food Wraps

Food wraps are a great alternative for transporting food. They are often not plastic-free but they are reusable, and reduce the need for other single-use packaging.

I have a set from 4myearth, a local Perth business. These are natural cotton fabric that have been coated with a plastic layer. They are machine washable. I have both wraps and pockets, and I’ve been using them since 2012.

Other synthetic fabric options also exist, including Lunch Skins, Keep Leaf and Onya Sandwich Wraps (which are made out of recycled PET).

Alteratively, if you’re handy with a sewing machine, consider making your own.

Beeswax (and Other Wax) Wraps

Beeswax and other wax wraps are a 100% compostable alternative to food wraps. Due to the natural wax coating they are not suitable for machine washing and need to be hand washed at low temperatures. This makes them unsuitable for some types of foods, such as raw meat.

For me, the ability to chuck in the washing machine is important, but many people swear by wax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are a great opportunity to support local businesses. Most Farmers Markets sell them, alternatively try finding local small businesses on Etsy. If that fails, the majority of online eco stores stock them.

Whilst beeswax wraps are not vegan friendly, there are vegan wax wrap alternatives.

Reusable Silicone Storage Bags

I have personally never used reusable silicone storage bags, but a reader of mine, Katie, raved about them so much I have included these as an option. These reusable bags are designed to replace the single-use plastic zip-lock bags and can be used in a similar way.

The brand Katie recommended was Stasher Bag. These are silicone food storage pouches that can be reused and are dishwasher, freezer, boil and microwave safe.

Rather than paraphrase, I’m going to quote what Katie said directly. (And yes! I did check if she was on some kind of commission too! But no, she is just a fan.)

“I purchased Stasher brand silicone bags and I love them. They are dishwasher, microwave, freezer, and boil safe (for sous vide), and they come with zero plastic. Some of the other highly-rated brands I looked at on Amazon came with a plastic piece to help seal the bag. The Stasher bags seal SO well, and you can even put soups in them.

I’ve been using these bags for frozen fruit. I’ve been buying fresh fruit now that it’s in season, then freezing it to use in my smoothies. This helps me avoid buying plastic bags of frozen fruit from the store. They work very well! I would definitely recommend them. The only downside is that 1/2 gallon (~2 liters) is the largest size, which is a bit smaller than I want.”

Having never been a ziplock bag user, I’m not sure I’d personally get too much use from these. However, if you are a ziplock bag fan, these are a reusable alternative.

Reusable Containers – Where to Source

I’m a huge fan of buying second-hand over buying new. I always check the second-hand stores, online listings such as Gumtree and online auction sites like eBay before I purchase new.

Borrowing (if that’s an option) is a good way to test if you’ll actually use something before committing to making a purchase.

If you do decide to buy new, please consider supporting local brick-and-mortar stores in your area. Actually being able to look at, pick up and generally handle products is a much better way to really decide if something is well made and suitable for what we need.

If that isn’t an option, supporting local independent businesses who genuinely care about the planet is the best way to spend your money. I’ve put together a worldwide list of independent online zero waste and plastic-free stores here.

We can choose to buy new, or we can decide that we can make do without. It’s not wasteful to buy something brand new that we know we will use often, and something that will significantly reduce single use packaging over a lifetime.

The best reusables will always be the ones that we actually use.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite reusables? What do you find the most practical for your needs? Are there any other brands you’d like to mention? Is there anything you’ve tried that you wouldn’t recommend? Have you found second-hand treasures that you love? Anything else to add? I really want to hear your thoughts so please share below!

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small payment at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I’ve used myself or those recommended to me by you, my readers, and I always encourage making do or purchasing second-hand before buying anything new.

A guide to reusable produce bags

When it comes to tackling single-use plastic bags, it isn’t just plastic shopping bags that we want to be replacing with better, reusable alternatives. Plastic produce bags (the extremely thin, colourless, clear bags we see in the fruit and veg aisles at supermarkets) are just as problematic – difficult to recycle, very difficult to reuse and a huge contributor to litter.

Yet the conversation always seems to be around shopping bags, and the produce bags are left out.

Which is a tragedy! There are just as many solutions for replacing single-use produce bags with reusables as there are for shopping bags. Yet it’s something that isn’t on many people’s radar when they are starting out.

It certainly wasn’t on mine.

Fortunately, it is now. I want to share some of the alternatives to single-use plastic produce bags, the pros and cons of different options, as well as a few things you may like to consider.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more about what this means at the end of the post.

Reusable produce bags – some initial things to consider

There are plenty of options with reusable produce bags. Here’s a few things to consider:

Homemade versus purchased

Homemade is always cheaper, and there’s the option to choose the exact size that you need. If you want bags that last and don’t need to be mended continually, an overlocker generally produces better (longer-lasting) results than a regular sewing machine.

The flipside of homemade is needing access to a sewing machine, and knowing how to sew.

If you do know how to sew, produce bags make great gifts.

Second-hand fabrics

Second-hand fabric is an option for making reusable produce bags, and ready-made produce bags that used second-hand fabric are also available. Fabric includes old net curtains, tablecloths, sheets and old bedding. Choose a fabric that is machine washable and can go through a hot wash (rather than the handwash cycle).

Although mosquito netting seems ideal for produce bags, most mosquito nets are impregnated with pesticides, so not desirable for use with food.

Choosing the fabric type

Different fabrics have different properties. Mesh or net bags are lightweight and see-through, but are rarely made of natural fibres. They’re also not suitable for flour and fine powders.

Cotton cloth is natural but not see-through, and is slightly heavier. (Not all stores have the ability to take off the weight of the bag on the scales, so heavy bags will cost more.) Not being transparent will slow down the checkout operators, so be mindful of using too many of these bags on a busy day.

In practice, it can be useful to have different types for different things.

Reusable produce bags – different options

Personally, I have a combination of homemade and purchased reusable produce bags, and made of different materials.

As much as I recommend making do and using what we have where possible, I also know that sometimes we need shortcuts.

If sewing if definitely not your thing (and you don’t have a relative or friend to persuade to do it for you!) then here are some ready-made solutions.

Mesh fabric produce bags

If you haven’t heard of it or used it before, Etsy is an online marketplace where people who know how to make things sell these things to those of us who do not (or do not have the time). There are plenty of sellers on the platform who make reusable produce bags out of old curtains and tablecloths (as well as sellers who use new fabric, if that’s your preference).

If the second-hand approach appeals to you but you just don’t have the time or inclination, I’d recommend looking on Etsy for reusable produce bags made of upcycled fabric.

There’s no one Etsy seller I recommend, instead I’d suggest browsing and finding the seller that is closest to your home to minimise the packaging and transport footprint.

Recycled PET Plastic Mesh Bags

Some people don’t love the idea of going plastic-free and then buying reusables made of plastic. When I first went plastic-free back in 2012 I was the same. But then I looked into it a little more and adjusted my view.

If we stopped using plastic today, and didn’t make anything else made of plastic, there is still a huge amount of plastic already in existence. Legacy plastic, I call it. From a resource perspective, it makes sense to be using this to make resources rather than leaving it somewhere to sit for all eternity.

PET is the plastic that water bottles is made from. It’s hard wearing and durable. The PET plastic bottles can be recycled into a mesh that is used to make reusable produce bags. These bags have a much lower carbon footprint than other “new” bags because they are made from 100% recycled material.

I have a set of Onya bags that I purchased for my first Plastic Free July back in 2012. They may not be as white as they were when I purchased them, but they function as good as new. (Which cannot be said for my biodegradable ones, which have, well, biodegraded and needed some stitching up).

Mesh bags are great for fruit and vegetables, loose salad leaves (the produce can be washed in the bag) and loose bread rolls.

Cotton Produce Bags

Cotton bags are great for all the things that mesh bags aren’t: powders and flours. I have a set made out of an old bed sheet. The advantage of these is that they can be repaired easily, and composted at the end of their life.

It’s possible to buy new cotton reusable produce bags: I’d recommend looking at your local bulk store as they will often stock them.

I’d always recommend supporting a local brick-and-mortar store where you can, but if this isn’t an option, they can easily be found online.

If you’re further afield here’s a list of independent online plastic-free and zero waste stores.

Bulk reusable food bags

These reusable produce bags are a fairly new idea, and are designed for bulk store shopping (as opposed to fruit and veg shopping). Whilst reusable produce bags are very easy to transport, they aren’t ideal for storing food.

Onya Life launched these bulk bags in 2019 (made of recycled PET, which I talked about above) as a lightweight alternative to glass jars. They can be labelled and are suitable for food storage.

They are not something I’ve used, but I think they are a great alternative for those of us who don’t want to carry huge amounts of glass jars on our shopping trips, or have to decant everything into said glass jars when we get home.

Other options: making do

Before rushing out and buying anything new, have a think about what you might already have at home. Many bulk stores accept glass jars for refilling, so consider taking jars rather than bags, if that is practical. A pillowcase makes an excellent cotton bread bag. Laundry bags are a mesh alternative to mesh produce bags – and they are definitely machine washable.

If you do decide to buy something, just be sure that it is something that you will use. Reusables that sit in the back of the cupboard are not a good use of resources!

The best reusables are the ones you use often.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What reusable options do you use? Do you have one preference, or do you use a combination? If you sew, do you have fabric types you recommend and any to avoid? Are there any other alternatives or DIY hacks that you can suggest? Please share you thought in the comments below!

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only ever recommend products I have used, companies I trust or those that are regularly recommended to me by you, my readers. Making do and buying second-hand are always my first recommendations.

5 Ways to Line a Bin without Plastic Bags

With plastic bag bans increasing, and the awareness around the issue of plastic pollution growing, it seems that plastic bags are on the decline. Which is great news, except it begs the question… what is a good alternative to use to line the rubbish bin?

How to line a rubbish bin without a plastic bag is one of the questions I’m most frequently asked.

As with many of these plastic-free dilemmas, there is more than one solution.

How To Line a Rubbish Bin Without a Plastic Bag

1. Use No Liner At All

This might not work for everybody, and it usually isn’t the first step, but have you considered not using a liner at all, and simply rinsing out the bin between uses?

The first question to ask is: what is actually going into my bin? Is there food scraps and stinky stuff? Or is it just dry, clean non-recyclables like plastic packaging and mixed-material products?

Typically the average household bin is made up of 40% food waste. That’s the wet, gross bit that makes our bin icky. If you can separate your food scraps and dispose of them separately, there might be no need for a bin liner.

If you’re not ready to set up a compost bin, find out if there’s anyone in your area who already has, and who is willing to accept their neighbours (i.e. your) food scraps. There’s a free directory at sharewaste.com.

If you’d like to set up a worm farm (these are great for small spaces and can be kept on balconies or indoors) you can DIY your own with old polystyrene boxes or invest in a purpose-built version like the Hungry Bin.

If you already compost or worm farm, but still produce meat and fish products that you don’t want to compost, you can actually bokashi them (here’s some info about how bokashi bins work). The resulting fermented bokashi contents can go in the compost.

Whilst you’re getting a food waste recycling system set up – or if you just don’t have the energy for this at the moment – and you have space, consider using a large yoghurt tub with a lid / lidded bucket to collect food scraps and keep in the fridge or freezer until bin day, and empty these directly into the external bin.

2. Line Your Bin with Newspaper

When I first went plastic-free in 2012, I switched from using plastic bags to line my bin to using newspaper. I received a free community newspaper in the letterbox every week. If you don’t get the newspaper yourself, ask friends and family, neighbours, workplaces or cafes.

This is how I did it:

Using old newspaper means repurposing something already in existence, and no new plastic is consumed.

(This is how I started; next I focused on how to recycle my food waste to reduce the wet stuff, and then I went liner free.)

3. Line Your Bin with Other Repurposed Materials

If you have large paper bags, old cardboard boxes or other packaging, consider using these to line your bin (or to replace your bin). You might find it possible to empty the contents into an external bin and reuse the vessel again.

With all paper and cardboard, it is better to recycle than to compost, and to compost rather than to landfill. However, repurposing something that has already been used is better than buying something new.

4. Line Your Bin with Certified Compostable Bio-Based Bags

Something I often wonder about purchasing brand new bin liners: why would I buy something brand new with the sole purpose of putting it in the bin?

But I did it myself in the past, and we all start our journey somewhere. If you’re not ready to compost your food scraps, don’t think the newspaper method will work for you, and really want to use a purpose-designed liner, then certified compostable bio-based bags are worth considering as a transition step.

The labels “certified compostable” and “bio-based” are important. Plenty of products exist that say “eco friendly” and “green” but don’t (or can’t) back up their claims. If you want a better option than fossil-fuel based plastic, look for these two terms:

Bio-based means made from plants, not fossil fuels. Sometimes they are called plant-based, cornstarch or PLA. They are still plastic, but not made from fossil fuels.

Certified compostable means that the product has been tested and is proven to break down in hot composting conditions. Certified home compostable means the product will break down in a home compost bin.

To ensure the bags you pick are certified compostable, look for these logos:

However, certified compostable does not mean they will break down in the environment, or in landfills, and no compostable plastic has been shown to break down in the marine environment. They are just as capable of creating litter and harming wildlife as regular bags. As with all single-use items, they use a lot of resources to manufacture versus their useful life. Their main advantage is that they reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Avoid oxo-degradable and oxo-biodegradable bags, as these are plastic bags made with fossil fuels that have an additive which means they break down more quickly than regular plastic bags – into microplastic. These are considered by many to be worse for the environment than regular plastic bags.

5. Line Your Bin with Recycled Plastic Bin Liners

If you really need to use plastic, then consider using recycled plastic. The higher the recycled content, the better.

There is so much plastic already in the world, and only 10% of it has ever been recycled. The more we can do to re-use what exists, and stop producing new plastic, the lower the environmental burden will be.

Plastic bags were only actually invented in the 1960s. We managed before, and we can manage again.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you use to line your bin, and how has that changed along the years? Do you have any other tips to add? Or another challenge you’d like some tips dealing with? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Is There Plastic in Your Teabag?

When I first heard that there was plastic in tea bags, I was shocked. It turns out I wasn’t the only one. The subsequent blog post I wrote about it (back in 2014) is my most popular post to date, having been shared more than 44,000 times. (Yes, 44 thousand. That’s a lot of shocked tea drinkers, right there.)

You can still read the original teabag post here, but I thought it was about time to write an update. After all, there’s still a lot of misinformation and confusion around which teabags contain plastic, and what the plastic-free options are.

There’s Plastic in Your Teabags

Can it be that every time we made a brew, we are stewing plastic in our cup alongside our tea leaves?

I do so hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes.

If you’re a teabag-using tea drinker, it is more than likely that there’s plastic in your teabags.

Wait! I hear you say. Not all teabags are equal! True. When it comes to teabags, there are different types. Those different types use different types of plastic, and use it in different ways, but the majority still contain plastic.

There’s the regular pressed paper teabags (the ones with the crimped edges) and yes, these contain plastic. The main reason is that these crimped teabags are pressed shut using heat, and the plastic melts to seal them together. Typically the paper in these teabags contain 20 – 30% plastic.

Then there’s the premium ‘silken’ type, which are always made from plastic (not silk, like the name suggests).

The only teabag type that might be plastic-free is the string-and-tag variety: these can be folded shut and secured with a knot or a staple. But many suppliers of these teabags still choose to use paper with plastic fibres for added strength.

(If the teabag was just paper, and you left it to steep too long, the paper might break down and – imagine the catastrophe – there could be a loose tea leaf floating in your cuppa.)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that organic teabags would be plastic-free, but in fact, the majority of those contain plastic too.

Confusing? This graphic should help simplify things a bit:

The Main Types of Teabag – And What They’re Made Of

Pressed (Heat-Sealed) Teabags

These are the standard square, rectangular or occasionally round teabags that have crimped/pressed edges on all sides, and they always contain plastic. The two separate layers of paper need to stick together to keep the lea leaves in, and paper does not stick to paper by itself. Glue would dissolve in your tea – yuck!

Plastic (usually polypropylene, or less commonly a mix of polyethylene and a polyethylene co-polymer) is woven in between the paper fibres, and melts upon heating to seal the teabag shut. Typically these teabags contain 20-30% polypropylene.

In addition, some companies choose to treat their paper teabags with a chemical called epichlorohydrin to help prevent tears. This chemical is deemed a probable human carcinogen. It is also known to react in water to form another chemical, 3-MCPD, another possible human carcinogen.

Silken Teabags

Despite the name, silken teabags are made from plastic, not silk. Usually found in a pyramid shape, the fibres of silken teabags are woven to make them look like fabric.

These teabags are either made from fossil-fuel based plastic (usually nylon or PET – the same plastic that drinks bottles are made from: plastic #1), or plant-based plastic (PLA or poly-lactic acid, usually derived from corn or other plant starch: plastic #7).

When a company says their tea bags are made with cornstarch, they mean plant-based plastic.

Silken teabags are often spruiked as an eco-friendly choice, but teabags made from fossil-fuel based nylon or PET will last forever – clearly not eco-friendly at all. Plant-based plastic teabags are labelled “eco-friendly” as plants are a renewable resource.

Plant-based plastic is sometimes labelled biodegradable, or compostable. However, just because a silken teabag is made of plant-based plastic, that does not automatically mean it is biodegradable. It is more complicated than that.

Biodegradable means broken down by microorganisms over time. There is no stipulation for avoiding toxic residue, nor a requirement that the plastic breaks down into constituent parts, just that it is no longer visible.

Compostable means something different: that the product undergoes biological decomposition at a compost site, and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, leaving no toxic residue.

A product making either claim should quote the standards used in testing to determine this label. Without this, the claim is meaningless. (You can find out more about certification standards here.)

String-and-Tag Teabags

The filter paper used to produce teabags with a string and tag attached does not need to contain plastic polymer fibres: these teabags close by folding, and are secured by stitching or stapling, rather than by heat sealing.

However, many teabag producers (including organic brands) still choose to use paper with plastic (polypropylene) fibres to add strength to their teabags.

The string is usually made from cotton. If you find a plastic-free variety, these teabags are completely compostable.

Teabags made entirely of paper will rip more easily, and will disintegrate if left to stew in a cuppa. If your teabag seems remarkably resilient, the likelihood is that it contains some plastic fibres.

(If you want to see how teabags are made, this short clip from a BBC2 documentary will certainly open your eyes a little!)

Plastic-Free Tea: What Are the Solutions?

There are two solutions for truly plastic-free tea.

Option One: Look For Paper Teabags That Do Not Use Plastic As Reinforcement.

These will be the string-and-tag teabags, but check with the manufacturer as many brands still contain plastic.

Brands that have confirmed that they do not use plastic in their string-and-tag teabags include Tea Tonic, Pukka teas (although their envelopes are plastic) and Clipper (string-and-tag only: their pressed teabags contain plastic).

Bioplastic is still plastic (even if it’s labelled as biodegradable or compostable) so if you really want to choose a plastic-free teabag, steer clear of anything labelled bioplastic, plant-based plastic, or cornstarch.

Option Two: Choose Loose Leaf Tea

My absolute favourite option is to choose loose leaf tea. The lowest waste option is to buy from the bulk store. If that’s not practical, loose leaf tea can be purchased in tins and cardboard boxes that are fully recyclable.

Loose leaf tea is not as expensive as it appears. Loose leaf tea is often priced per kilo, whereas teabags are priced per bag, which makes it hard to compare.

Actually, it only takes a couple of grams of loose leaf tea to make a cuppa.

The other great thing for cheapskates like me (or rather, people who prefer weak tea) is that it’s much easier to brew a second cup reusing loose leaves than it is with a teabag.

If teapot-washing isn’t your thing, tea steepers are a great way to make a single cup without the hassle of extra washing up.

If you aren’t ready to give up the teabags, there are refillable cotton bags out there, too.

Finally, if you’re a herbal tea drinker, ditch the dried stuff altogether and use fresh leaves. Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and there’s nothing like a cup of fresh mint tea.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you know that most teabags contain plastic? If you did know, have you made the switch? Have you found a brand of plastic-free tea? Have you given up the teabags and embraced the loose leaf? Have you found a different solution? Please share in the comments below!

Why “Guilt” Has No Place in the Zero Waste Lifestyle

Why do I love the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle? Well, there are lots of reasons, but a big one is this: knowing that every single day I can make a difference and have a positive impact. Every single day I have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it.

We all do.

This is something we can all be excited about, and embrace.

There are so many things in the world that are out of our control. Decisions we have little or no influence over. Policies or actions we cannot change. Despite this, we do have the ability to look at our own personal choices.

We all have some influence, even if it is at the household level. We have control of our own personal actions, and we can do the best we can.

We can choose carefully, considerately, and deliberately. We can do our best.

And that is something to feel really good about.

Which means that embracing the plastic-free and/or zero waste lifestyle should be something we feel good about.

Yet all too often, those good vibes are mixed in with something else.

Guilt.

How is it that doing something good can make us feel guilty?

Because it shouldn’t. Yet it does.

For me, I think guilt comes from falling short of “perfect”.

We can strive for improvement. We can aim for better. Indeed, setting goals and working towards improving has plenty of positives.

But it can also be exhausting. We all have our limits.

Most of us will hit these limits long before we reach “perfect”. If perfect even exists.

There’s a gap between wanting to be perfect, and coming up short. This is where guilt sets in.

When it comes to living plastic-free and zero waste, guilt isn’t helpful. We want to feel good about the actions we take and choices we make. Feeling good is the best way to keep going.

Feeling guilty can be paralyzing; like it’s all too hard. Guilt can lead us to think it’s-not-good-enough-so-why-bother-anyway.

That’s not what we want at all! Something is better than nothing. Trying is better than not trying. However imperfect it may be, bothering is most definitely better than not!

Guilt is a topic I keep coming back to. I’ve talked about how being perfect is an illusion. I’ve talked about how it is important to share all the bits of zero waste living, not just the best (photogenic) bits.

There’s another aspect of guilt that I think we need to talk about. How we support one another in our imperfect choices, and the things we say. We have the power to encourage, and we have the power to deflate.

What we say, and how we say it.

It’s so easy, when we’re excited or passionate about a topic, to trip up on this. However well-meaning our intentions are. For example, someone tells us about their newly purchased reusable. And we point out that there’s a better or more ethical version. Or we tell them that it’s easy to find that same item second-hand.

We’re excited to share our knowledge. We’re excited to encourage the next steps.

But it can leave the person feeling judged and inadequate. It can make the person feel unsupported. It implies that they fell short… and that can mean guilt.

It’s not the intention, but it can be the outcome.

I had this experience recently when I threw away my old bag. I received a couple of comments, obviously well intentioned: Couldn’t I have coated the bag in wax? Couldn’t I paint it? Couldn’t I cover it with new fabric?

By this point, the bag was already in landfill. I immediately felt guilty. Guilty for not trying harder to salvage the bag.

And then I thought… no. I try really hard to reduce my waste. I rarely send anything to landfill. (This bag is the most I’ve sent to landfill in years.) I share my tips and insights, and encourage others to reduce their own waste. I do a lot already. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I never said I was perfect.

No, I should not feel guilty for not learning to sew, or researching fabric paint (that comes plastic- and packaging free).

No, I should not feel guilty for discarding one old, worn out thing; and buying one new thing in its place.

No, I should not feel guilty for not being perfect, or not putting up with something that has really served its purpose.

The point is, I did the best I could.

Don’t we all do the best we can?

In which case, shouldn’t we be cheering one another on?

Any change in the right direction is a positive, however small and imperfect it might be. When others make changes, it shouldn’t matter if it’s not the change that we would make. Let’s celebrate their achievements. There’s no need to point out the “better” choices.

There are so many people in the world oblivious to the impact of plastic on the environment, unaware of the resources wasted with single-use items, too wrapped up in the culture of convenience to realise how much it’s harming the planet. Let’s not rebuke those taking steps to do something better.

Judgement and guilt-tripping is not going to inspire anyone to keep trying. Encouragement and inclusiveness, that’s much more motivating.

Let’s be kind. We’re all in this together. We must celebrate the wins. Applaud the steps in the right direction. Cheer on any decision that’s an improvement on the previous one.

In my view, the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles are all about encouraging others to make better choices. And any step in the right direction is better than no steps at all.

Let’s not berate others for how far they’ve got to go. Let’s celebrate how far they’ve come.

Zero Waste Kitchen: DIY Chickpea Falafels Recipe

I buy dry chickpeas in bulk, a couple of kilos at a time. I soak them, then cook them, and then proceed to make every chickpea recipe I can think of. (I do freeze the spare for later, so it’s not about needing to use them up. More a celebration of this delicious and super versatile legume.)

One of my staples is chickpea falafels.

Falafels are actually only a recent staple. Well, the DIY version are. Back in 2011, before I left the UK, I’d buy little plastic tubs of falafels all the time. Plastic tub with plastic lid, and cardboard packaging outer – with 8 falafels inside. I could polish those off in one sitting! Oh, the single-use packaging waste! {Cringe.}

Then I went plastic-free, and falafels were no more.

I’ve tried making falafels many times over the years, but every attempt was a dismal failure. Dismal and messy, I should add. (Which is why I purchased the little tubs.)

I figured they were just too hard, until I went to a party where we had to bring a dish, and my friend brought homemade falafels. And they were ah-mazing! I demanded the recipe, and vowed that I would make them too.

Confession: the first time I made them, they were a disaster. But I knew that my friend had mastered it, so I knew it was possible. I stole all her secrets (we spent rather too much time discussing the finer details of falafel making), I tweaked the recipe a billion times to adjust to my taste and what was in my pantry, and now I have a recipe that works every time. Hurrah!

So if you’ve tried to make falafels before, and you’ve found that they’ve been a disaster, I want to encourage you to try again. Not all recipes are equal, and a homemade falafel is worth striving for, in my view!

But first, let me quickly talk about chickpeas.

How to Cook Chickpeas from Scratch

Tinned chickpeas tend to have added salt and sugar, not to mention come in a steel tin can that ends up in the recycling. Bulk dried chickpeas are a fraction of the price, and there’s no (or next-to-no) packaging or additives.

Plus fresh always tastes better.

I buy chickpeas a couple of kilos at a time, and cook a big batch. First, I soak.

I take my soaking very seriously. Soaking makes chickpeas and other pulses more digestable because they release anti-nutrients. It’s not just about reducing the cooking time.

I soak my chickpeas for 2 – 3 days, changing the water every 8 – 12 hours.

After the first couple of days, bubbles start to appear. Then I know that biology is happening and they are becoming more digestible. (They are actually gearing themselves up to sprout, which is what will happen if they get soaked for about 5 days.)

I usually change the water a couple of times after the bubbles start appearing, over the space of a day or so.

After the final rinse/water change, I cook on the stove for 1.5 hours.

Then they are drained (don’t forget to save the water! This rather murky looking liquid is actually the stuff of magic – aquababa!) and left to cool. After that, I pack the chickpeas into jars and containers. They will keep in the fridge for at least a week, and can be frozen.

Or, I make falafels! Here’s how.

Recipe: DIY Chickpea Falafels

You’ll need a food processor or stick blender with a chopper for this.

Ingredients:

4 cups chickpeas
1/2 cup coarsely ground oats
4 tbsp potato flour or tapioca flour
2 onions, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
2 big handfuls fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 big handfuls fresh parsley, finely chopped

Oil, for frying.

Method:

If you don’t already have coarsely ground oats, take regular oats (you’ll need slightly more than 1/2 cup oats, as you get more ground oats in a cup than you do whole oats!) and whizz them in a food processor until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Next, whizz the coriander, garlic and parsley together to make a green paste and set aside.

Add the chickpeas to the food processor and grind until coarse. Add the onion and blend again until combined. It’s fine to be a little chunky. You’ll continue to blend as you add other ingredients so it doesn’t need to be super smooth.

Add the flour, oats and spices, and mix again until combined.

Finally, add the green herb/garlic paste and stir to combine. I do this last as it’s easy to see when it has all combined evenly.

If the mixture feels hot and sticky, pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.

Next, heat up the oil (enough to fill the base about 1/2 inch deep) in a shallow pan.  Take the chickpea mix, and roll into balls, then press down to flatten slightly. Mine tend to be an inch or so across, and a cm or two thick.

The oil needs to be hot or the falafels will disintegrate when they are added to the oil (learned from experience). My hot plate has a range from 1 – 9, and I use setting 7. Put one in the oil to test, it should bubble immediately. If not, wait until it does before adding any more to the oil.

Add the falafels a few at a time, and after a minute or two turn over to cook the other side.I use a fork to flip rather than tongs.

I tend to roll a few, then add them to the oil, roll another few, then turn the first ones over to cook the other side, add the newly rolled ones to the oil, roll a few more then remove the first ones from the oil, turn the second, add the third to keep things moving. If it’s your first time, you might find it easier to have them all rolled in advance – this will take longer.

Once they are done, place on a cooling rack to drain the excess oil.

Store in the fridge, or can be frozen.

Troubleshooting:

If they start to disintegrate, stop. Drain the oil into a bowl using a tea strainer to remove all the bits, then put back in the pan and try again. It might have been that the oil wasn’t hot enough first time.

If disintegrating is still a problem, consider baking in the oven. You’ll need to brush with olive oil. They won’t taste exactly the same but they will still taste good.

If they don’t taste completely cooked all the way through, finish them off in the oven for a few minutes on a medium setting.

Note about the Ingredients:

I’m a big believer that recipes are there to be broken. Meaning, try things out but then make them your own! Add extra spices, substitute ingredients you don’t have for those you do and try things out.

This recipe was originally given to me by a friend (a photograph out of a cookery cook she had) but I’ve changed pretty much every ingredient. The original recipe used breadcrumbs and I changed to oats as I always have oats and don’t always have breadcrumbs. The few times I’ve tried breadcrumbs, they tended to disintegrate. Now I stick to oats.

I used potato flour by mistake thinking it was regular flour (I really should label my jars) and it worked so well I stuck to it. Both potato flour and tapioca flour are great at binding, which is why I use them and it keeps them gluten-free.

Fresh herbs are great and I use parsley and coriander as I have both, but I’ve also made with just parsley. If you like other herbs, try those. I’ve heard that dill is also great.

After chatting on Instagram with an Egyptian lady who makes falafels every day, I tried using raw chickpeas (bear in mind I soak them for three days, so they are pre-sprouted). The mixture is much wetter, but actually they seem to cook even better and the resulting falafels are firmer. The taste is a little different but equally good. I make these if I’m a bit behind schedule and don’t have time to cook the chickpeas first.

Next spring I intend to try with fresh broad beans!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you made falafels? Are you game to try these? Any tips or “how-not-to-do-it”s that you’d like to share? Any other chickpea recipes that you love? Leave a comment below!

Spilling the Truth About the “Perfect” Zero Waste Image

I’ll admit it. I do like a stylish, carefully curated zero waste image. I’m prone to double-tapping “like” when a snap of a beautiful pantry with whole foods stacked neatly in glass jars appears on my social media feed.

I think that pictures of products made of stainless steel and glass are much more visually appealing than the equivalents in plastic.

But I also know that for me, zero waste doesn’t really look like that most of the time.

Sure, I can take a cute snap of my pantry essentials once I’ve hauled them home from the Source Bulk Foods (which is my local bulk store, and lets me bring and fill my own jars – and jars can look lovely in a photograph)…

…But then they get shoved in my pantry, which is not some kind of oasis for groceries, but a ramshackle assortment of mis-matched jars with mis-matched lids.

The kind that won’t be gracing the front cover of magazines anywhere, ever.

The reality is, zero waste is a lot more jumbled and mis-matched and imperfect in real life. At least, it is for me.

That may seem obvious. But a scroll through any social media feed suggests that zero waste is all perfectly matched jars, beautiful white homes and stylish accessories.

This begins to set unrealistic expectations.

It plants the idea that we need different things – better things – in order to fit with the zero waste lifestyle.

Zero waste is a lifestyle choice. But that lifestyle, in my mind, is one of consuming less and making do with what we already have.

It’s easy to see how the curated images of social media could give a different impression – one that implies a need to purchase new things if they fit with the zero waste ideal.

But zero waste is not about consuming more.

The most important thing with living zero waste is the intention. The intention to reduce our footprint, reduce our waste, and make the best choice we can with the time, resources and options available to us.

Image is secondary to this.

Of course, we all share the best images we have. Good images help – they help attract attention, raise awareness, start a conversation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing the best, so long as we don’t only share the perfect bits. There are lots of imperfect bits to share, too.

Without sharing those, we are doing the zero waste movement a bit of a disservice.

Perfection is intimidating. No-one should feel that this lifestyle is unattainable because they don’t own the “right” things.

As someone who could never describe themselves as effortlessly stylish (or, let’s face it, even stylish when I do put in the effort), zero waste does not look perfect in my house.

Yet I’m definitely guilty of curating my images to share more of the perfect bits, and omit more of the less perfect bits.

Crazy really, when I believe that intention comes before image.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some snaps from my zero waste life that fit firmly in this category. The embarrassing, cringe-worthy, no-way-near-perfect images that are the reality of what zero waste living looks like for me.

Intention over Image: What Zero Waste Really Looks Like for Me

The Zero Waste Pantry

I’ve already shared a couple of pictures of my groceries and pantry above, but groceries in glass jars are such an iconic image of the zero waste movement, I thought I’d share a couple more of my less-than-perfect moments, just to get my point across.

Sharing pictures of my grocery shopping in glass jars on social media is one of my guilty pleasures. I like the way groceries look in glass, and I also think it’s useful to share the kinds of foods that it’s possible to buy in bulk.

Whilst my groceries tend to look pretty stylish when laid flat, viewing from the top down reveals the truth about the containers I use: upcycled jars with mis-matched lids retrieved from the recycling bin over the years.

In fact, if I empty the entire contents of my pantry, it’s the same thing on a bigger scale.

For me, the intention is to reuse what I can. I’m happy with upcycled mismatched jars. Whilst I love the look of Weck and Le Parfait jars, I can’t justify buying new (and as they are German and French brands, they don’t often turn up second-hand in Australia).

My pantry might not look the most aesthetically pleasing, but it works for me.

Zero Waste Cleaning

My washing-up set-up looks pretty much like this: a wooden dishbrush with replaceable head, a natural pot brush, and dishwashing liquid purchased from the bulk store.

Oh, but there’s also my 2012 dish brush, which doesn’t often turn up in photos due to the fact it’s plastic, bright green, and really doesn’t suit the zero waste aesthetic.

In the spirit of zero waste, I said that I’d keep it and use it until it wears out, and then obviously not replace it. Well, it’s now 2018, and that damn brush is still going strong! Which, really is a good thing, considering how quickly plastic dish brushes degrade.

It might not look good in the photos, but the intention is to use things until they wear out, and choose better next time, and that brush continues to serve its purpose.

Zero Waste Bathroom

I make my bathroom products from scratch, with ingredients that I buy packaging-free, and I use repurposed containers. Ticking all the zero waste boxes there!

However, there’s plenty of other things in my bathroom that don’t fit the zero waste aesthetic at all.

When I first went plastic-free I used a bamboo toothbrush, and I hated it. The bristles would fall out in my mouth and then get washed down the sink (hello, microplastic). After more than a year of that, I had enough and purchased a toothbrush with replaceable heads.

Since then (we’re talking back in 2012), the number of bamboo toothbrush brands has exploded, and many of my readers have suggested bamboo alternatives that don’t lose bristles. The thing is, now I have this brush, the most zero waste thing is to keep using it. Plus it works, which is what I want from a toothbrush.

Yes, it’s ugly (and definitely not the zero waste aesthetic). But that’s how it sometimes is.

The intention is to create as little waste as possible whilst still feeling comfortable with the choice I’ve made. Bamboo toothbrushes just didn’t do it for me.

Whilst we are on the subject of ugly plastic, I still have my plastic razor from circa 2009. When I went plastic-free, I had the razor and a number of blades, and I declared that I would continue to use it until the heads wore out, and then I would replace it.

This picture is from 2014, when I still had three blades left.

I’ve been down to the last one for a while, and eventually it will wear out. But a good rinse, drying properly and polishing the blades with a piece of denim cloth has seen it last a lot longer than I expected.

Of course, a stainless steel razor would look much better in my bathroom, and in any pics I share. But actually, what I need is a razor that works, which is what I have. Right now the only reason to swap the ugly plastic one for a shiny stainless steel one is the aesthetic.

Which from a zero waste perspective, isn’t the intention. Replacing functional items solely for better looking ones makes no sense.

The point I want to make is this: zero waste isn’t picture perfect.

Don’t get disheartened by “perfect” images. We all share the best moments, but that is rarely the whole story. Behind every perfect image is plenty of imperfection. That’s just how life is.

Don’t be tempted to buy new stuff to “fit in”. If you want to fit into the zero waste lifestyle, use what you have, and make do.

Zero waste is about intention. It isn’t about buying the right things. It is about caring about the right things.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What do you think is missing from the curated zero waste images shared in social media? Are you guilty of sharing the better bits and excluding the less good bits? Do you ever feel embarrassed about the appearance of your zero waste attempts? Are you happy to share things exactly as they are, whatever they look like? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!