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I’m passionate about zero waste and sustainable living, just don’t call me this…

There’s one word I try to use as little as possible when it comes to talking about zero waste, living plastic-free or anything sustainable living related. In fact, I try never to use it at all.

Could you guess what it is?

I’ll tell you, and you might be surprised. Because it’s a word we hear often. Sometimes it’s even prefaced with words like “responsible” or “ethical” or “conscious” – so how could it not be a good word to use, with such honourable descriptors?

The word is this: consumer.

Now, I consume. We all consume. From food and water, to energy, to the things we buy to use and wear and own, we are consuming.

But calling myself a consumer? That implies that the main thing of value I have to offer is my ability to use up resources.

Being first and foremost a consumer means declaring that our best and most valued traits are our shopping habits.

And that is not the case at all.

I just don’t… I just can’t… identify with being a consumer above all else.

When was it decided that we would be reduced simply to consumers, to cogs in the economy, our value judged by what and how and how much we buy?

I try to never label myself (or anyone else) a consumer, and I don’t want to be labelled a consumer. I don’t really want to be called a responsible consumer, an ethical consumer or a conscious consumer, for that matter.

Yes, I try to consume responsibly, ethically and consciously. But I don’t identify as someone who buys stuff. I feel that labelling someone a consumer takes away their power, and says – the only way that you have influence is by shopping.

We have power. To share ideas, to express our opinions, to call out companies, to make our voices heard, to apply pressure to businesses and governments, to vote, to demand change, and to ask for things to be different.

Our power extends far beyond the things we buy.

Let’s not give our power away.

So if we don’t call ourselves consumers, what do we call ourselves instead?

The way I see it: we are community members. We are citizens. We are people (both as individuals and groups) who care a great deal about the planet and our children’s future.

But somehow this label of ‘consumer’ has got pushed to the forefront and rather than saying “I’m a concerned and passionate citizen” we are reducing ourselves to just one part of the whole: a ‘conscious consumer’.

I am so much more than that, you are so much more than that; we are so much more than that.

Now I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying “money talks” and the idea that “we can vote with our dollars for the change we want to see”. And I do believe that this is true: we can vote with our dollars.

But voting with our dollars does not have to mean shopping, or buying, or even consuming.

It can mean choosing green energy, or opting for public transport, or donating money to charitable causes, or contributing to organizations whose work we admire.

In fact, sometimes we “vote with our dollars” when we don’t buy anything at all.

I vote with my dollars when I opt out of the formal economy and swap stuff, share stuff, and make do with what I have.

And yes, I vote with my dollars when I shop at the local bulk store, or buy something from the charity shop.

Very occasionally I’m voting with my dollars when I buy something brand-spanking-new from a store, or less frequently, that has to get shipped from interstate.

Because yes, I consume. I try to consume responsibly, and ethically, and consciously. (And minimally yes, but I do still consume.)

That does not reduce me to a consumer.

Did you see the Guardian article published earlier in May which stated that it had updated its style guide to reflect more accurately the environmental crises facing the world?

So “climate change” is now “climate emergency” or “climate breakdown”, and “global warming” is now “global heating”. The editor-in-chief of the Guardian was quoted as saying that they wanted to ensure that they are being scientifically precise, and communicating clearly.

“The phrase ‘climate change’”, she said, “sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

The words we use to describe things are important. Stronger language definitely invokes stronger reactions. Climate breakdown clearly has a sense of urgency that climate change does not.

And ‘concerned citizen’ has a power and gravitas to it that ‘responsible consumer’ does not.

Plus, it’s far more accurate.

We cannot make the world a better place simply by consuming better. We have a chance, we have a choice and we have, I think, a responsibility to do more than simply buy things to try to create positive change.

Let’s share ideas. Let’s share resources. Let’s champion those that do good, and hold those that do not to account. Let’s sign petitions, let’s add our voice to campaigns for change, lets write to our politicians and governments. Let’s get involved where we can, and put our energy into things that matter.

Let’s consume consciously. But let’s not give our power away and reduce ourselves to being consumers, first and foremost. That is not who we are, and that is not the limit of what we can do.

The truth is, we will never save the world by shopping.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you agree, disagree, did you learn something new, have you changed your mind or are you sticking with the status quo? Whatever your thoughts are I’d love to hear them so be sure to leave a comment below!



Community Dishes (to Borrow and Bring Back)

I love it when a plan comes together. This one has taken rather longer than I intended, but finally, it is ready to go. Which means, I can tell you all about it. Introducing the Community Dishes, a set of reusable crockery, cutlery and glassware to borrow and bring back, free of charge.

Why? Because…

It means less waste. Less plastic wrap, less plastic utensils, less single-use disposables, less stuff in the garbage and less litter.

It means less stuff. Less people nipping off to the Swedish furniture store to purchase a huge set of glassware / plates for a one-off event that then languish in the sideboard for years until they are horribly out of fashion and can’t be given away.

It means growing community. Helping people connect with their neighbours, share what they have and consider re-use before purchasing new.

I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the project, and how it works.

The Community Dishes Project – Who, What and Why

Have you ever been to an event where the cutlery was plastic, the plates were disposable and the coffee cups were non-recyclable takeaway cups? Me too. Yes, it is frustrating. Yes, I wish they used reusables too.

The Community Dishes project aims to make this easier for event organizers and hosts to choose the reusable option.

There are plenty of reasons why people choose disposables. Sure, laziness might be true in some cases and lack of knowledge around the plastics issue might be true in others, but I believe most people want to do the right thing. Sometimes, the limiting factors are time and money.

Solutions need to be convenient.

Borrowing large numbers of items is tricky. Most people don’t own party-sized amounts of crockery and cutlery, and borrowing a handful here and a handful there is a logistical (and time-consuming) nightmare.

Hiring is an option but small organizations and community groups can be priced out of this.

I wanted to find a solution, and the Community Dishes project is exactly that. A kit of crockery, cutlery and glassware that can be borrowed for free.

Disposables are viewed as cheap and convenient, so for a solution to be workable it needs to be cheap and convenient too. The Community Dishes kit is free to borrow. Yes, it does need to be washed up and returned clean, but the goal is to make everything else (the borrowing, using and returning) as convenient as possible.

There’s 50 each of cutlery, side plates, bowls, mugs, water glasses and large drinking jars. (There are no wine glasses as wine and liquor stores often provide free glass borrowing services.) The kit is packed into boxes similar to those used by hire companies for ease of transport and storage.

The crockery, cutlery and glassware is catering standard, white, and matching. Catering quality is slightly more expensive upfront, but less prone to chip, crack or break – and doesn’t change style or colour with the seasons as high street homewares brands do.

Whilst it might have been lower waste to fossick through charity shops, experience has shown me that caterers and coffee vans prefer to use standard vessels whose volume they know, and finding matching sets would be a struggle. Also, I wanted it to be as easy as possible for breakages to be replaced with matching stuff.

The funds to establish the kit were provided thanks to a Keep Australia Beautiful (WA), Community Litter Grant.

Community Dishes – How Will It Work?

In theory, anyone can borrow the Community Dishes kit. In practice, because it relies on trust and goodwill to ensure the items are returned (and clean), it needs to stay local and with a community focus. To begin, the word is being spread via the local Buy Nothing Groups, and also the various Perth Transition Town Network groups.

The administration of the kit is run by volunteers (me).

The plan is to record all the borrowing, and count the number of items reused and disposables avoided. In this way, we can measure the impact.

The plan is also to learn from the wins and successes and mistakes of this project, and use this knowledge to create a simple project template, so other people might be able to replicate the idea in their own communities.

It’s hard to talk too much about how it will play out as it’s early days, but by Christmas day 490 items will have been used and reused. That’s potentially 490 pieces of single-use and disposable packaging refused. By this time next year, the numbers should be well into their thousands.

I’ve put together a simple website (which I published yesterday) with some more info about how the kit works and what the project hopes to achieve. You can find out more at communitydishes.org.

There’s still some fine tuning to do, in particular with signage, record keeping, and logistics. The important thing though, is that the dishes are out there, being borrowed and reducing single-use disposables and litter.

I’m excited about the potential, and look forward to sharing more as the project finds its feet. I’d love to see other projects like this one spring up, and hope that the lessons I learn will help others.

Less waste, less stuff, and growing community.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything else you’d like to know about the project? Do you have your own experience with similar projects? Would you use something like this, if it was available? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How (+ Why) I Opt Out of Christmas

December begins next week, and already many of the bloggers, instagrammers and creatives I follow are telling me what I can gift others or ask for this Christmas (all eco-friendly, ethical and low waste, naturally). I ignore them all. The idea of shopping and more stuff and gift lists and wrapping overwhelms me, and I’d rather not take part.

Instead, I’ll promise you that this is the last you’ll hear from me about the C word. We can have a lovely December talking about other interesting and non-gift related things. If you’re a gift giver, no doubt you’ve got plenty of inspiration elsewhere. And if you’re not, hopefully you will appreciate the silence you’ll find on my pages.

But as well as telling you that I’m opting out of Christmas, I want to tell you why, and what it looks like for me.

I’m not here to persuade you to opt out of Christmas. If it’s your thing, and you love it and get joy from it, fantastic. Eat, drink and be merry! On the other hand, if you find it all exhausting and expensive and overwhelming, I thought you might like to see a different way of doing things.

 

What My Christmas Used To Look Like

I don’t hate Christmas. In fact, there are many things about it that I like. I like the getting together of people, the baking, the eating, the board game playing (a Christmas must!). I even enjoyed the gift planning, and trying to think of meaningful gift ideas for the people I love.

I’ve always favoured a DIY approach. I’ve made (mostly edible) gifts for years. I’ve even made Christmas crackers (to ensure the fillings were useful – or edible at least – rather than that pointless plastic!)

That said, I’ve also purchased chocolate advent calendars with individually wrapped chocolates, plastic-wrapped Christmas crackers, wrapping paper, cards, brand new gifts, and food in ridiculous packaging.

Once I embraced plastic-free and zero waste, of course the excess packaging declined and the DIY approach went up, but so did my uncomfortable-ness with Christmas. Because, for all the things I love about Christmas, there’s also a bunch of things that I don’t love.

In the end, the things I didn’t love far outweighed the things I did. I decided opting out was the best thing for both the planet and my sanity.

Why I Opted Out of Christmas

As I mentioned, this is the time of year when we are bombarded with gift ideas and catalogues, and encouraged to buy stuff. However green this stuff might be, in truth, buying anything, however eco-friendly, has a footprint and an impact on the planet.

Of course, going 100% DIY and opting or second-hand can alleviate this a lot… but not completely.

And just because we give these “eco-friendly” items, it doesn’t mean we will receive eco-friendly items in return. As much as we like to gift our friends the zero waste reusables that we love, homemade tie-dyed hankies and batches of jam, our friends can like to gift us back the mass-produced Chinese-made big box retailer branded junk that they love and we don’t.

Maybe it isn’t as extreme as this, but the point is, at Christmas there tends to be a misalignment of values. Which can lead to resentment (from both sides) and unwanted gifts in cupboards, heading to the charity shop, or worse – in the bin.

By taking part in the ritual exchange of gifts, I open the door to this happening. I can give gifts that aren’t appreciated, and I can receive gifts I don’t want. Neither of which is much fun.

The idea of writing a gift list (something I did in the past) makes me feel greedy, and pushes me to think of things to ask for that in truth, I don’t really need. Not writing a gift list opens me up to receiving things I do not need, want or like.

This is why I choose not to take part.

The other thing I find stressful about Christmas is the sheer volume of stuff. It’s not like a birthday when one person receives a few gifts. Everyone receives heaps of gifts, and it’s a crazy consumerist extravaganza. To me, it feels excessive. There’s obligation, pressure, stress – and I don’t want to feel these things at a time that is meant to feel joyful.

I like to buy things only when I need them. I just can’t bring myself to ask for things or encourage consumption solely because the date is 25.12. It just seems too arbitrary to me. I’d rather give someone something they need when they need it, not on a predetermined calendar date.

In short, the reasons I chose to opt out of Christmas:

  • No guilt.
  • No resentment.
  • No obligation.
  • No wasted resources (unwanted gifts, unneccessary stuff, packaging).
  • No buying stuff for the sake of it.

Of  course, I don’t have children, and if I did I’d probably reconsider this in light of different circumstances. I remember the joy and excitement of Christmas as a child, and would probably want to find a way to pass this on – just without the excess and plastic cr*p.

As an adult, I much prefer it to not have Christmas at all.

What My Zero Waste Christmas Looks Like Now

When I say opt-out, that doesn’t mean I cancel Christmas completely.

It’s more that I do nothing proactive (or very little) for the occasion.

I’m lucky that all my friends consider Christmas to be a super low-key affair, so don’t get drawn into gift-giving and parties. (Well, I say ‘lucky’ but maybe this is exactly the reason we are friends!)

But I’m not a complete killjoy (honest!) and I’m not going to give gifts back, refuse invitations to events or spoil the fun for everyone else. Here’s a breakdown of what I don’t do, and what still happens:

Things I Don’t Do for Christmas

  • I don’t write and send Christmas cards
  • I don’t buy Christmas gifts for any adults (and any presents for children that I buy – only direct family members – are experiences, not things)
  • I don’t have a Christmas tree
  • I don’t have any Christmas decorations
  • I don’t write a gift list, and I ask people not to give me anything (this was tricky at first for others to understand, but now we’ve reached a place where everyone accepts it)
  • I don’t buy or make special Christmas food
  • I don’t organise Christmas events, parties or get-togethers
  • I don’t feel obliged to spend Christmas with family – I might, I might not, but there is no obligation at all.

Things I Still Do at Christmas

  • Potentially accept invites to parties (although I can’t think of any in the last 3 years), so long as they are not going to be overpackaged, novelty gift, consumerism-at-its-worst affairs – and none of my friends would dream of holding a party like this anyway!
  • Consider having lunch with family on Christmas day – sometimes. Not every year (that would be too much) and I ensure I don’t arrive until all the presents have been opened so I can avoid the frenzy and waste. It also tends to be a non-Christmassy meal, otherwise I’d probably avoid that too.
  • Eat Christmas food if offered – I do like a good mince pie, and the spicy gingerbread flavours of Christmas, so if someone offers me something tasty and Christmas related, I’ll take it. But overpackaged and overprocessed foods, no thanks.

As I said, I’m not here to be a Christmas killjoy. If Christmas is your thing, that’s great. It’s just not my thing. If you too find Christmas a little overwhelming, you might find making Christmas a little more low-key works for you, too.

Honestly, I have a much happier Christmas without all the trimmings. Opting out is my choice, it’s a choice that works for me, and I wanted to share what that looks like.

If you love Christmas, or sit somewhere in the middle, enjoy the festivities! (Just don’t make too much trash…deal?!)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you love Christmas, hate Christmas or somewhere in between? How has that changed over time? Have have you made Christmas more sustainable over the years? Anything you still struggle with? Anything you love too much to give up? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

How Getting to Know Your Neighbours Helps With Zero Waste Living

It’s easy to reduce the idea of zero waste living to thinking about the products we buy (or don’t buy) and the choices we make as individuals. But zero waste (and living with less waste) is a movement, and movements need people. We can only do so much when we act on our own.

Sure, zero waste living can mean shopping at bulk stores and making our own skincare products. That’s part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Ultimately zero waste about consuming less and buying less, and that means rethinking the way we use resources: reusing, making do, borrowing and repairing.

We think of bulk stores and libraries and Farmer’s Markets as great resources for living with less waste, and they are, but there’s a much less talked about asset almost all of us have access to: our local community.

It’s mentioned far less but is equally (and possibly more) valuable for zero waste living.

One of the most valuable assets for my zero waste journey has been my neighbours. I thought I’d share some of the ways we’ve helped each other reduce our waste, and hopefully give you some ideas for how you might be able to get involved with your own community.

What My Neighbourhood Looks Like

Just as a bit of background, let me tell you a little about where I live. I moved into my current suburb in 2016 from the other side of Perth – so I haven’t lived here for very long. My neighbours from four doors down built the property where I live, and I met them through that process back in 2014. I didn’t know anyone else when I moved in.

There’s 7 properties on my block, some rented and some owned, and residents have come and gone in the two years I’ve lived here. Our suburb is close to the city but not densely populated – there’s about 2,500 residents, with 28,000 in the local government area.

In short, I live in a city but it isn’t an urban metropolis: it has quite a suburban feel.

How I Met My Neighbours

There are probably three ways I met my neighbours. The first (and perhaps most obvious one) is seeing them at their front doors, in the garden, in the street etc, and saying hello.

The second is by neighbours introducing other neighbours they knew and I didn’t. This is both in passing and at various events in the town. Slowly the network spreads.

The third way (oh, how 21st century) is via the internet. One of the best tools has been our local Buy Nothing group, which operates using the Facebook groups function (more on that in a sec).

How My Neighbours Help With Zero Waste Living

Sharing Ideas

Sharing ideas has ranged from the big to the minuscule, and all are important. On the far end of the scale, my neighbour and I hatched a plan to turn the disused patch of land next to my block into a community fruit tree project.

I’d had the idea, and he’d the same idea, and once we got together and realised we both had the shared vision we started to make it happen. (You can read more about how we started our community food tree project here.)

We’ve planted around 24 fruit trees, and they should keep our neighbourhood in plastic-free locally grown produce once they’re a little bit bigger :)

From that, we decided we needed a little help with the tree pruning this spring, and invited the neighbours along so they could benefit from the knowledge.

Lathlain is now sporting the best pruned fruit trees in Perth, not just here but also in all the gardens of the people who came along!

On the other end of the scale, I showed my next-door neighbour how to make mint tea with fresh mint leaves. (It’s super simple – you literally steep fresh mint leaves in hot water. Taste sensation.) Now she does that rather than buy teabags.

She made the most delicious nettle soup I have ever eaten from stinging nettles from her garden. (Not something I’d ever have tried before, but definitely something I’ll try now.)

We’ve also had some good discussions about the in’s and out’s of establishing a functioning worm farm, what actually goes in the recycling bin and some of my neighbours are currently organising a street get-together.

Sometimes it just takes a conversation to spark a new idea or go one step further to changing a habit.

Sharing Resources

A spin-off from the food tree project has been our community composting bank. We share our compost bins with the neighbours, which means lots of food scraps diverted from landfill, and lots of compost we’d otherwise need to purchase. Most of our neighbours have found us through sharewaste.com.

Sharing the Work

The thing about projects led by a single person, is that when that person gets tired, sick, overwhelmed or otherwise occupied, the project tends to fall over.

One of the best things about our Food Tree Project is that there’s multiple people invested, so if one person is too busy, others can step up to keep it going. I’ve taken a step back this year as I’ve had too many other things going on. My neighbour, however, is taking a year off from work and has extra time to keep things going. Consequently the fruit trees look better than ever.

Sharing Stuff

With my closest neighbours, who I know by name, it’s easy enough to knock on the door and ask to borrow something. And I do, regularly. Garden tools, kitchen gadgets, ingredients when I realise I’m out of something mid-way through a recipe and the shops are shut.

Most recently I borrowed a coffee grinder after mine bust, and lent a book to the same neighbour who’d been contemplating buying one and seen (via social media) that I’d already bought it.

I also passed on the magazine to a different neighbour. Things are for sharing!

But when you don’t actually know someone, it’s a little bit harder to borrow something – and possibly a little bit weird to just bang on the door.

Thankfully, the internet can help us out.

There are plenty of online groups and platforms that allow neighbours to connect with each other, firstly on line, and then perhaps in person. The two groups that I use are my local Buy Nothing Group, and my local Swap Share group.

The Buy Nothing Project is a network of hyper-local community groups where people can give, borrow and accept items ,but no money changes hands. People are only allowed to join one group: the one where they live. Consequently the members are all neighbours.

The Buy Nothing group has been a great way to find second-hand items. I tend to give more than I take because I generally don’t need much stuff, but I have scored a few useful items. My two best finds: a pair of almost new trainers in my size, and a computer monitor to use with my (tiny screen) laptop.

Another great win via the Buy Nothing Group was borrowing a screwdriver to enable me to change the damaged/worn seal on my coffee machine. The guy I borrowed the screwdriver from was also kind enough to help me take it apart and gave it a good clean with an air pressure thing.

I purchased a new seal, and the machine is as good as new. The screwdriver was duly returned.

There’s plenty of other donating and lending/borrowing of things via the group. It means resources are much better used (things languishing in cupboards are being wasted) and it means people not buying new stuff.

If you’re not a member of your local buy Nothing group I’d suggest joining, and if you don’t have one, I’d recommend beginning your own!

The Swap Share group meets once a month, and is for people to donate and swap excess garden produce. There’s also been a great deal of swapping recipes and other goods: pickles, preserves, DIY cleaning products and more.

I had no idea pickled radishes were so delicious until I picked some up from a Swap Share get-together!

Without my neighbourhood network there’s no doubt I’d have purchased a lot more things and wasted far more time looking for solutions. Worst of all, I’d have missed the opportunity to get to know and help out the great people who live in my suburb.

Local solutions are almost always the lowest waste solutions. If we’re passionate about reducing our waste, getting to know our neighbours and exploring our neighbourhoods is definitely something to embrace.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you embraced any neighbourhood community groups or hyper-local networks? What have been your experiences? How have you met your neighbours and the people in your suburb – or do you not know them? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino

Back in April, I headed off to Europe to walk across Spain along the Camino Frances, from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in the north-west corner of Spain. Over 35 days I walked 800km. I talked about what I packed before I left; now I’m back and the memory of those sore, sore feet is a little more distant, I thought I’d tell you how it went.

There’s so much I could say about the meaning of the experience, the people I met along the way and the community we grew, and my inner reflections… but this space is about zero waste and plastic-free living, minimalism and treading lightly.

Whilst my experience was a lot greater than learning about different recycling systems and wrestling in Spanish about not wanting a plastic straw, this is where I’m going to keep the focus. Plus, surely you all want to see some holiday recycling bin snapshots?!

Minimalism on the Camino

Packing light is something I’ve got pretty good at over the years, and all up my pack and everything I took (including the clothes I wore, but not my hiking boots) weighed less than 6kg.

Many of the people I met packed more than they needed, and ending up posting stuff ahead to collect later – or got their bags sent ahead as the weight was too much. I wanted to be able to carry my own bag.

I had intended to post ahead anything I didn’t need, but in the end, there wasn’t anything.

That’s not to say my packing was perfect. I definitely did not realise it was going to be so cold! There was snow on the second day, and I only had one long-sleeved top as well as my jacket. Not only that but when I hit sunnier climes, I wanted to wear long sleeves in the sun to stop my arms burning. Black wasn’t ideal for the hot sun.

After wearing said top for 8 hours, it needed washing (clearly). I could make it last a couple of days, but eventually it had to come off!

On day 3 I found an abandoned scarf (yes, it was abandoned, I promise) which probably saved me from freezing to death. Around day 20 I went and purchased some cycling sleeves (literally arm covers) – they can be worn with t-shirts to protect against the sun and are white, not black.

Did I pack anything I didn’t need? I could have got away with one pair of shorts, rather than two. I didn’t wear my vest top much. But these things were so light that it wasn’t the end of the world carrying them.

Plastic-Free on the Camino

I’m sure you know that I don’t buy things packaged in plastic. But when these things are offered to me, it turns out that the Camino had some different rules to everyday life.

I don’t believe in changing rules when you go on holiday. For me it is important to do what I can all the time. But there’s something different about being kilometres from the nearest town, exhausted and hungry, with sore shoulders and aching feet and the beginnings of blisters, and someone offering up chocolate packaged in plastic.

It should be noted that chocolate is my go-to comfort food. I ate that chocolate. Oh yes.

The other thing that I used was those individual plastic jam portions. Those ones I cringe about. In Spain, most places open fairly late in the morning, and there might only be one place open early in the morning to cater for peregrinos (people walking the camino). These places, almost without exception, offered dry (stale?) bread, or occasionally toast, and jam portions.

I don’t even like jam very much. But when this is the only opportunity for breakfast, stale bread alone just won’t cut it, and the next town is 8km away, you suck it up and use the damn jam portions.

Okay, maybe you don’t. But I did.

A couple of times there actually wasn’t anywhere open for breakfast, and I did have to walk 8km to find somewhere. Walking that far on an empty stomach (when you walked 20km the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that) isn’t much fun.

Sometimes it’s not obvious that nowhere will be open until that morning, so there’s no chance to buy snacks in advance. One thing you learn on the Camino, is that when there’s the opportunity to eat (and likewise, use the bathroom) take it because you don’t always know when the next opportunity will come.

In hindsight, what I’d do next time to avoid the jam is buy avocados along the way. They aren’t available in every town, but frequent enough, I think. I did this sometimes (and you have no idea how much avocado envy I’d get from fellow peregrinos when I whipped out my fresh avocado) but if I went back, I’d ensure I was always carrying one. (I’d use half, then carry the other half and use it the next day. They lasted fine.)

One other plastic-packaged thing I bought: medical supplies. Blister plasters (oh Compeed, thank you for everything you did for me) and ibuprofen, specifically. It was a matter of purchasing them and finishing the walk, or not purchasing them and not.

Zero Waste on the Camino

I took my reusables (water bottle, cup, container and spork, and an Onya bag) and all of them were very useful. The container was great for bulk snacks, leftovers, and water on the really hot days (it’s leakproof). The Onya bag was brilliant for buying snacks – fruit, nuts, potato chips (Spain sells bulk potato chips! Heaven!).

There wasn’t much food waste because cooking options are limited and it is easier (and fairly cheap) to eat the peregrino menus. Food waste was limited to peels, skins and rinds.

Composting was next to impossible. Going from place to place meant there was no time to figure out if there were composting options. The odd banana peel or piece avocado skin could be thrown into the undergrowth well off the path, but if there was no undergrowth, just dumping on the path wasn’t an option. As much as it pains me to put anything in the bin, it happened.

Recycling was fairly easy, and even the small villages had central recycling banks for paper, plastic and metal. Sometimes I’d have to carry things for a day or two, but eventually I’d find somewhere.

Plant-Based Eating on the Camino

If you want to walk the Camino as a vegan, it requires some serious forward planning, the commitment to cooking most of your own food – and bringing your own utensils – and (I’d guess) the ability to speak a little Spanish.

Even as a vegetarian, it is tricky. And you have to LOVE eggs.

I’d already decided that I was happy to eat eggs on the Camino before I left (tortilla de patatas, a potato omelette, is pretty much a Spanish staple) but by day 3 I’d decided to eat fish if there were no vegetarian options. When you’re walking that many kilometres every single day, asking the waiter to remove the tuna and egg from a salad and being left with only the lettuce, tomato and raw onion just isn’t going to cut it.

If you’re prepared you can cook beans and lentils and these are fairly easy to find dry in bulk. I wasn’t prepared. Lots of vegans take huge amounts of pre-packaged vegan food with them – and that wasn’t an option for me, either. Nut/soy milk is virtually non-existent.

Saying that, there are vegetarian and vegan options, particularly in the bigger cities. The Vegetarian Way has some details of vegetarian options, but some listings were permanently closed or only offered dinner for residents (not so helpful at lunchtime). I became a little obsessed with hunting down falafels (!) and found a caravan selling the best vegan burgers in the middle of a woodland, so there were definitely some highlights.

My (Not So) Zero Waste Camino: Lessons Learned

I don’t know really these are lessons learned, or whether they are simply things I already knew that were reinforced.

1. Zero waste and plastic-free living takes prior planning.

At home, we develop habits and incorporate this way of living into our daily routine. When we are away, there is no daily routine and so we have to research and plan ahead. Sure, I could have taken the time before I left to research composting options, or look up much more thoroughly the plant-based meal options.

In the end, I ran out of time, and I did the best I could. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but it wasn’t possible for me, this time.

2. Everyone has limits to their time and energy.

I’ve talked about limits to time and energy before, but nothing drains you like walking 20km a day for 14 days in a row without stopping (it was 2 weeks before I took my first rest day). By the end of the day, climbing the stairs to get to my bed was hard enough (why oh why do they give the ground floor rooms to people who arrive first? They are fitter – make them climb the stairs!!!).

I know at the start of the trip I wouldn’t have been able to stand and cook a meal, let alone go to the shops and buy all the things I needed first. We can only do the best we can, and nothing tested my limits and showed me the absolute truth in this more than this walk.

3. Doing what we can is better than doing nothing.

I may have used plastic jam portions more than I care to remember, but I also refused plastic bags and straws, and purchased most of my snacks in bulk (except chocolate, but I made sure that was plastic-free).

I may have eaten fish and eggs, but I also tried to support every vegan/vegetarian cafe that I came across – and told my various vegetarian friends I met along the way about them, too.

To the purists, that may not be enough. But I’m not a purist. As much as I’d like to be perfect, I’m imperfect. I’m passionate about two many things to single-mindedly pursue the perfection of one. I do the best I can. I may have let a few things slide on the trip, but I didn’t let everything slide. It was a great learning experience, and I’m willing to admit my faults.

If I ever do a trip like this again, I promise I’ll come up with a plan to avoid those damn individual jam portions.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any questions about how I dealt with certain scenarios? Do you have insights from your own experience with a similar trip? Do you have any comments, ideas or anything else about any aspect of the trip? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please share below!

Community Composting (+ Tips For Better Compost)

One of my favourite things about living with less waste is that there is never a single solution. There are always lots of solutions. Different options work better for different people and different situations, but there will always be a way.

In Australia, 40% of our landfill bins consist of food waste. Trimmed off bits, peels, skins, seeds, cores, outer leaves, shells, things we left in the fridge a little too long, bad bits, leftovers.

We toss this stuff in the general waste bin, and off it heads to landfill. Which, contrary to what many people believe, isn’t a giant compost heap. It’s a tomb of waste, sealed by layers of rocks (or sometimes layers of plastic) in between the layers of rubbish, and slowly releasing methane into the environment.

At the same time as we throw our food scraps in the bin, we head to the garden centre to buy plastic bags of compost to help our plants grow better.

We’ve got it all wrong!

So what can we do with our food scraps instead?

Before I moved to Australia, I lived in Bristol (in the UK), and I was fortunate enough to have my organic waste collected by the council every week and taken to an industrial composter. This isn’t an option where I live now (although some councils are currently trialing it).

Even if it was, I wouldn’t use that service now. I would rather keep my food waste (it is a valuable resource!) and turn it into something I can use – or donate it to someone else who can use it instead.

I’ve talked about some different ways of dealing with food waste before: DIY worm farms, done-for-you worm farms and bokashi bins. If you’re just starting out on the living-with-less-waste journey, setting up systems at home can take a bit of time.

As always, there’s a solution. Community composting!

For anyone wanting an easy beginner’s solution, or for anyone without the time or space to set up their own systems, community composting banks are perfect.

What Is A Community Composting Bank?

A community composting bank is simply a location where members of the community can go to deposit their food scraps.

(They are not necessarily called “banks”. I was thinking about this word, and whether it was better to use the word “hub”, “centre” or “facility”. A phrase popped into my head that I’ve heard many times before: “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. If compost is what helps us to grow food, then I think bank is the best word after all.)

The best composting banks are those with capacity to handle the scraps they receive; those with unrestricted access; and those that are managed/overseen by someone to check they are working properly, not contaminated or full of pests.

By “best”, I really mean “easiest to use”. That’s not to say others don’t work well too. Given the choice, I’d prefer to turn out to a facility that is open/accessible, has space to take my scraps, and isn’t infected with cockroaches.

I’d still come back if I turned up to find the place was locked, or the bins were full, but not everyone will. To reach the maximum number of people, things need to be as easy as possible.

The other important consideration is location. A 24 hour access composting hub on the other side of town is less practical than the restricted access compost bins just down the road.

As with most community initiatives, the more local, the more useful and likely to be used.

How We Set Up Our Community Composting Bank

I run a community composting hub together with my friend and neighbour. Originally, both of us listed our home compost bins on the awesome website sharewaste.com, a free-to-use service connecting people with food scraps with people with compost bins.

Around the same time, we started a Food Tree project on the land next to my house, planting 34 food trees for our community. We realised that these trees are going to need a fair bit of compost.

We had space for compost bins and we knew plenty of people in our community would be eager to donate their food scraps to our bins.

We started with two bins, and have now increased to five (all donated or sourced second-hand).

As people contact us via Sharewaste, we ask them to bring their food scraps here, and started making compost.

Managing A Community Composting Hub

As with everything, the more people who get involved with something, the more likely it is that things will go awry. With about 20 families currently emptying their food scraps into our bins, we started noticing more and more that things weren’t quite as they should be.

I should add that this is not the fault of the people donating their scraps. As the managers, it is our responsibility to make sure it is all working.

If people haven’t had compost bins before, there is no reason why they would know what is good and what is not.

There were a few problems that we had in particular.

Fresh food scraps going in whichever bin.

This meant all five bins would have fresh food scraps mixed into varying degrees of compost – frustrating when we wanted to dig out the ready compost and there’s a bunch of veggies in there too.

We realised that whilst it might be totally obvious to us which bin was the one for new food scraps, it certainly wasn’t clear to everyone!

Too many veggies scraps (too much nitrogen).

Compost bins need a balance of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen-rich scraps are anything green and fresh; carbon scraps are anything brown or dead. Veggie scraps are high in nitrogen. If the only thing being added is fresh green nitrogen-rich scraps, the bin will get stinky and attract flies and other pests pretty quickly.

For all of the green scraps added, some browns (carbon) need to be added too.

Food scraps not being mixed in.

A big mound of fresh veggies sitting on top of the compost pile will not break down nearly as well as those food scraps stirred in, because that is where the microbes are – inside, not on top! Not to mention that food on top will attract pests.

Too much carbon.

Less of an issue as most people are donating food scraps (nitrogen), but we did find one compost bin completely filled with shredded paper – and nothing else. Without anything else, that would have sat there probably for years, breaking down ever so slowly. In the same way as there can’t be too much green, there definitely can’t be too much brown.

Setting Up a Composting System That Works

My neighbour and I talked about all the issues, and how to reduce them in future. Community things need to be easy, and we felt a big list of rules would be overwhelming and put people off – which is the last thing we want!

We worked through the issues one by one, and have implemented a system.

Firstly, we decided that it was too difficult to expect people to figure out which bin was the one to add their scraps to simply by looking.

We decided instead to implement a linear system, where the scraps always go into one designated bin, and then we will move into other bins along the line manually.

(This means we can also check there’s nothing strange being added.)

We also decided that to make it easy for people to add carbon to their food scraps, we’d set up a bin solely with carbon so they could simply scoop some in afterwards.

Then, we added some signage and labels.

We wrote up the basics on a sign, weatherproofed it and secured it to a post.

We wrote a document with more tips and tricks (the stuff that we’d like people to know) and added a QR code to the sign, so if they have a question, they can check.

We’ve also secured the aerator/composting fork to the signpost (and explained in the sign what it is for) so that it is easy for people to mix their food scraps into the existing compost.

We painted labels on the two bins that people need to use. When in doubt, always label.

In short, we’ve tried to predict in advance what could go wrong, and then solve it before it happens. So far, it seems to be working well.

Looking for a Community Composting Hub?

If you’re feeling inspired to hook into an existing hub or maybe start your own, my first suggestion would be see who else is in your area via sharewaste.com. My second suggestion would be to contact your nearest community garden.

If both of these fail, consider whether you could set up a mini hub at your place. Even if you only have capacity to take a couple of household’s food scraps, it all helps!

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you currently deal with your food scraps? Do you like your current system or would you prefer something different? Have you any experiences with community composting hubs – both good and not-so good? Anything other questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!