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Food is free: 8 ideas for where to find it and how to share it

I’m a big believer that the most important part of zero waste isn’t the stuff you buy or the things you use – it is the connections that you make with others.

Ultimately, as a society, if we want to waste less then we need to share more. The more connected we are, the more we can participate in sharing – be it receiving or giving.

I’ve talked about the sharing of ‘stuff’ often (and it’s a big part of what my book Less Stuff is about). Today I wanted to talk about something different that we can share – food – and just some of the many ways that people are already sharing food with others in their community.

Food goes to waste in lots of ways. It might go unpicked on a tree or in a garden bed, or it might be picked but then not used before it begins to go bad. We might buy more than we need, change our plans or our minds, decide we don’t like something we purchased and so let food we have go to waste.

The following community initiatives all exist to help those with not enough have access to what they do need, and those with too much/excess to share what they have. Everyone wins.

Buy Nothing Project

It might be possible to write a waste-related post and not include the Buy Nothing project, but today is not that day. It’s one of the best neighbourhood sharing networks I’ve ever joined. The Buy Nothing project is a global network of community neighbourhood groups that use Facebook Groups to connect members.

It’s only possible to join one group – the one where you live. The vision for the network is ‘buy nothing, give freely, share creatively’, and members can give, lend or take from other members (no swapping, selling or bartering is permitted).

A lot of the items are of course not food, but it’s by go-to resource for finding excess lemons, and I’ve also found avocados, lemongrass, oranges, limes, opened jars of peanut butter, other unopened grocery items and more.

Website buynothingproject.org

Little Free Pantries

You might have heard of Little Free Libraries… well, Little Free Pantries have taken this concept and applied it to food and household items: neighbours helping neighbours.

They are designed to provide better food access to those less able to meet their everyday food needs, but everyone is welcome to provide or take food as they need. It removes the hierarchy associated with food charities, and there is no need to ‘register’.

Their website not only has a map of where the existing Little Free Pantries are located (if you’d like to donate items), but lots of information for setting up your own including detailed plans for actually building a pantry.

Website: littlefreepantry.org

Community Fridges

These refrigerators are located in public spaces, enabling food to be shared with the community – anyone can put food in or take it out – with the goal of reducing food waste, and also enabling those in hardship easy access to fresh food. The first Community Fridges were set up in Germany in 2012.

They are like Little Free Pantries with electricity – meaning that they can offer chilled products, but are more tricky to establish (needing an electricity supply, for a start).

Unlike the Little Free Pantry, there isn’t one overarching network for the fridges, and they sometimes go by different names.

Freedge is a good starting point if you’re in North America, South America or Europe. Website: freedge.org

In Spain they’re called Nevera Solidaria, or Solidarity Fridges. Website: neverasolidaria.org

In the UK, a national network of Community Fridges has been set up by the environmental charity Hubbub with a goal of 100 open Fridges by 2020. Website: hubbub.org.uk

Grow Free carts

Started in Australia and now expanding overseas, this growing network of sharing carts offers free home-grown produce including eggs, jams and chutney, seeds and seedlings. Some carts also offer empty glass jars, old plant pots and egg boxes for reuse.

Some carts are available 24/7, and others have ‘opening hours’ (my local one, pictured above, is only open on weekends). Many local groups use Facebook to detail exact open hours and also what the cart has from day to day/week to week.

Everything is free, and they have the motto “take what you need, give what you can.’

Website: growfree.org.au

(I’m planning on setting up my own Grow Free cart in the next month or so. I’ve sourced a suitable cart – a baby change table on wheels from my Buy Nothing group – and will be posting shortly on how it goes.)

Food Swap / Crop Swap groups

These are informal neighbourhoods groups of people sharing their excess food and produce through recurring events (often weekly, fortnightly or monthly). They run under a few different names, including Grow Swap Share groups and Crop Swap groups, and they all run slightly differently.

Even if you’re not currently growing anything it can be fun to go along and find out who’s growing what in your area, and get to know your community.

Website foodswapnetwork.com (or try cropswap.sydney for a great list of Australian groups)

Fallen Fruit

A map of urban fruit trees and other edibles that is open for anyone to edit. Listings include public orchards and community plantings, trees or shrubs on public or council land, and those on private land. Run by volunteers as a not-for-profit initiative.

Website fallingfruit.org

Ripe Near Me

A map of locally grown food that allows both the public to add any fruit trees growing on public land, or home gardeners and growers to list their surplus (which they can either offer for free or charge a small amount). 

Website ripenear.me

Olio Ex

There are plenty of apps helping reduce food waste, but Olio is one that is completely free, allowing shops, cafes and households to list excess food and share it with neighbours.

Website: olioex.com (app available on Android or Apple)

I’m sure I have only touched the surface of all the great ways that people are sharing surplus food, strengthening neighbourhood ties and connecting community. But I’m also sure that there is something here for all of us. Whether you want to drop some tins at your local Little Free Pantry, download the Olio app, set up a Grow Free cart, check out fruit trees in your nihbourhood or join a local Crop Swap group, the best thing about all of these ideas is that you can start today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Which one (or two!) ideas resonate most with you? What will you do to take action? Are you already involved in one of these and can you share your experience? Do you know of any other great initiatives I’ve missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tis the season of ‘stuff’: what to do with (and where to donate) gifts you don’t need

I know we haven’t actually got to Christmas Day yet, but I’m writing this now because plenty of gifts (and other things you don’t need) are given before Christmas Day. And if you can, passing it on before Christmas Day means it’s more likely to be wanted (and used) than if you wait until January, when everyone is trying to pass on stuff they don’t need.

Last weekend, I was given a Santa-themed gift bag with a couple of boxes of chocolates by my 92-year-old grandfather-in-law. Despite the fact he doesn’t like gifts himself and insists not to be given anything, he seems to like to give stuff, and every year I receive a similar bag of stuff.

First, I give the gift bag away. As soon as I get home. If I can gift to someone before Christmas, it will get reused immediately. Otherwise it’s got to face a year in storage where it might get bent, chewed or otherwise damaged, and then likely forgotten about anyways.

I almost always give the ‘treats’ away. They tend not to be things that I would eat, high in sugar, dairy and palm oil and covered in plastic. Depending on the year I’ve taken to workplaces, given away on Buy Nothing or donated to a Food Bank collection.

No, I don’t feel bad. People give gifts because they enjoy the act of giving. That doesn’t mean that I need to keep things I don’t want or don’t need. There is no obligation to keep things, and letting go of feeling like there is has been great for my stress levels and mental health.

Instead, I try to make sure these things go to places where they will be used.

If I know someone else wants and will use them, that is the best outcome – for me, for them, and for the planet. (It helps stop others buy new stuff, as they can reuse stuff that already exists.)

Christmas Packaging, Decorations and Other Christmas-Themed Things

It’s definitely best to get rid of this stuff before Christmas than after. If you get something you don’t really like, you don’t need to think that you ‘should’ use it as a token gesture this year. Pass it on to someone who loves it and let it be appreciated!

Where to pass on items:

Facebook groups: including Facebook Marketplace, Buy Nothing groups, the Good Karma Network, Pay It Forward groups and no doubt plenty more.

Online classifieds: Gumtree, Craigslist and others.

Neighbourhood network groups like nextdoor.com.

Friends, family, neighbours, colleagues: it’s worth mentioning to people you know that you have things they might want or need.

Gift Food Items

As well as all the places mentioned above, consider donating food items to Food Banks. you’ll often find deposit points spring up in supermarkets and shopping centres this time of year. If you can’t find one, here are some contact details:

Food Bank Australia

The Trussel Trust (UK)

Feeding America/Food Bank USA

If the item is something that Food Banks won’t accept, such as homemade preserves or a box of chocolates that you opened to try before deciding you didn’t like them after all, consider trying to pass on via a food waste app like olioex.com.

Or try your local Buy Nothing group.

(Recent offers on my local Buy Nothing group include Red Rooster small hot chips, delivered by accident – sadly no takers but only because they went cold before anyone saw the post – and some half-eaten room temperature blue cheese, which was snapped up. Not. Even. Kidding. And good for them for not feeling weird about giving or receiving said cheese! Don’t be scared to give it a try!)

Gifted Toiletries and Perfume

I often wonder how many gift sets like this are purchased and never used every year. But I probably don’t want to know. Rather than letting stuff like this languish in the bathroom for the next year, if you’re not going to use it, give it away.

As well as the options listed above, consider donating unopened toiletries to homeless organisations and women’s refuges. Bear in mind that refuges won’t list their actual addresses online, but they will let you know how to donate items.

If you’re in Perth, Ruah Community Services are currently in need of unopened toiletries. Donations can be dropped off at the Ruah Centre, 33 Shenton Street, Northbridge on Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 4:00pm.

If you’re not in Perth, a quick internet search will help you find a service local to you.

What not to do: donate to the charity shop

I know it seems counter-intuitive, but try to resist giving anything to the charity shop unless you know for sure (because you’ve spoken to someone who works at your local charity shop this week) that they want what you have. Charity shops get inundated with stuff in the three months after Christmas as everyone tries to ‘declutter’ their unwanted stuff guilt-free.

Thing is, who is actually shopping at the charity shop in January? Not most people. They just got a heap of stuff for Christmas!

The combination of more stuff than usual and less customers than usual is a recipe for landfill.

There are plenty of people who want your stuff and will be able to use it. Rather than hoping they will pass by the charity shop and spot your stuff in there, donate your items directly to those in need of them.

Christmas is the season of goodwill and giving. So give away what you won’t use, make another person happy, save some resources and take a little pressure of the planet. Wins all round :)

Tired of ‘eco-judgement’? Here’s how I’m tackling it

Have you ever made a deliberate choice to do/not do something because of the environmental, ecological and/or social impact, and then mentioned that choice to a friend, shared it on social media, or made a comment to a colleague, only to be told:

That’s not the best* thing you could be doing’ / ‘your actions don’t matter’ / ‘why did it take you so long to start’ / ‘what about doing x instead’ / ‘don’t you know y has a bigger impact’ / ‘it’s not perfect’ / ‘you’re not perfect’ / another equally frustrating and deflating thing?

Oh you have? I had a feeling it wasn’t just me.

I don’t know about you, but I do not find it the least bit motivating to be told all of the gaps in my effort, nor do I get inspired after hearing all the ways I’m doing everything wrong.

And yet… it happens. To all of us.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this (well, one of the reasons) is that I’m currently in the process of redoing my website (it’s long overdue). Part of that means updating my ‘about’ page, which I last touched circa 2015. Not even kidding.

Writing an ‘about’ page isn’t just writing about me. It’s introducing the website and the ideas and topics I cover to new readers, explaining the types of things I write about, and giving a good idea of what to expect.

As you can imagine, over the last four years, things have evolved a little, and I want my updated page to reflect that.

Now I’ve always tried to keep this website reasonably upbeat, and focus on the positive and practical. I also try to be gentle in my approach. I’m not perfect (and really, who is?), plus I still remember the time before I went down this path, when I did all kinds of things and made all kinds of choices that I wouldn’t now.

I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same thing in 10 years time about choices I make today.

But over the years I’ve softened a little more in my approach and outlook. The more I see other perspectives, the more I see that change is a process, it’s not always easy, and everyone has a different capacity to do so.

This website has always been about the choices I make, why I make them, and how I go about doing what I do. It’s a reflection of the way I think and my personal navigation of the issues. My hope of course, is that you find this useful and practical – but there is no expectation that you will be able (or want) to do everything that I do.

I am not the zero waste police. I want people who visit my site to feel supported, without any underlying tone of judgment. Something I’ve been really trying to do in my vocabulary over the past year or so, and in anything I write, is remove the words ‘should’ and ‘should not’. These are judgment words, full of opinion and swayed by the values of the person doing the judging. I don’t find them helpful.

And so, I am declaring this space a ‘should’ and ‘should not’ free zone. That’s not to say I’ve never used those words in the past, but I am trying not to use them now. My place is to tell you what I do, not tell you what you should do.

Removing judgment words from your vocabulary – you should think about doing this, too. (See what I did there?! There is absolutely no ‘should’ about it. You might like to think about it. I found it helpful. That’s what I really mean.)

One of the reasons I wanted to do this, is because more and more I see and hear about eco-judgment and eco-oneupmanship in the sustainability space – and it makes me sad (or is that mad… maybe both).

Aren’t we all meant to be on the same side – team planet?

Yes, if you have the capacity to do more, then do more. No need to gloat, however! And it isn’t realistic or fair to expect that everyone will be able to make those same choices.

Nor is it realistic to expect everyone to be at the same point in the journey. I know that so often these critiques are given with the best of intentions; but at the start of the journey, when everything is already so new and overwhelming, being bombarded with a whole other set of ethics/morals/values/opinions that weren’t even on the radar a minute ago isn’t usually that helpful.

I feel lucky that when I started out with living with less waste, back in 2012, there really weren’t that many people ahead of me in the journey. So by default, I had the space to find my own way, discover things I could change and make progress at a pace that worked for me.

Now I feel like it’s a little more tricky.

Just today I read an article published by the BBC (no less) declaring that asthma sufferers had as a big a carbon footprint as people who eat meat. But the article was not about reducing air pollution. Instead, it seemed to be entirely the fault of asthma sufferers, for having asthma. Apparently some could switch to ‘greener’ medication.

I don’t know why this ‘eco-guilt’ and ‘eco-shaming’ is on the rise. In the case of asthma sufferers (and is this reflective of these issues in general?), maybe it is simply easier to blame individuals than address the systems that need changing.

Anyways, in my own small way, and in the spaces I hold, I am taking a stand.

There is no room for eco-guilt, eco-shaming, eco-oneupmanship and generally feeling bad whilst trying to do good over here. We’ve got to keep that room available for creating positive change and motivating others, not dragging them down!

When other corners of the internet start to get a little shouty, know that this is my pledge to you.

That’s not to say I don’t want to hear your opinions, especially if they are different to mine! Now I love the comments section of this website. It easily doubles (triples!) the value of anything I write when others share their perspectives, experiences, and yes – opinions. You’ll notice that at the end of almost every post, I invite people to share their thoughts and leave a comment.

Yes, I want to hear from you!

Comments are great. Opinions are welcome. Alternative experiences being shared is encouraged. There’s plenty of room to disagree and offer alternative viewpoints. And I’ve no plans to change this. It creates a richer experience for everyone, and I’ve learned a lot from the comments that you all leave.

This isn’t the same as judgment. That’s when people rock up and start telling others (often people they’ve never met) what they ‘should’ do. I don’t really even need to say this, because we already have such a positive and judgment-free space, but when addressing others, I’m going to encourage you to leave your ‘should’s and ‘should not’s at the door.

Change can be difficult. Eco choices aren’t always straightforward. People have different energy levels, priorities, budgets, commitments, accessibility and skill levels. Everyone is at a different stage of the journey.

Personally, I think we can get a lot more done – and have a much nicer time doing it – if we spend less time looking out for failings, and more time being supportive of where people are at.

Others make choices we wouldn’t make ourselves, but that doesn’t make them wrong. We’re all just imperfect humans in an imperfect world, living in a system where sustainable solutions aren’t always within reach. We are all doing what we can. That’s not a reason to feel guilty. That’s a reason to feel good.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you ever feel guilty about when it comes to trying to be more eco-friendly or live with less waste? Do the opinions of others add to that guilt? Any tips for dealing with negativity? How have your views changed over time? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts below!

Zero Waste Optimism (4 Tips for Staying Positive When The Planet Seems Doomed)

A question I’ve been asked a lot recently is “how do you stay positive?” It’s a fair question. After all, there are plenty of reasons we might despair. Pollution or litter or carbon emissions; the attitudes of governments and political leaders; or the lack of awareness, interest or action on the parts of businesses, organizations and even our friends and family.

Yes, it’s frustrating. Probably the most frustrating thing is not in seeing the problems, but in knowing that there are solutions and yet not seeing change being adopted on the scale it needs to be.

Despite this, I stay positive. That’s not to say I never have moments of doubt or despair, but on the whole, I’d say I’m an optimist. Here’s how I do it.

1. Optimism… or What?

I consider there to be three options. Optimism, indifference, or pessimism. Which translate as: we think that everything will be okay in the end, we simply don’t care, or we think that everything is doomed.

I’m not even sure that I consider this to be a choice. I do care: about the planet, about wildlife, about people, about fairness and equality and doing the right thing.

And if I do care, I can either think that everything will be okay, or that we’re doomed. I can either think that the planet is worth fighting for, that change is worth pursuing, that working towards making the world a better place is a goal worthy of my time and effort… or I can just give up.

And if I give up, if I turn my back on all the things that I care about: well, I don’t actually want to think about what that looks like. It’s not an option I want to entertain.

That’s not to say that I think I’m some kind of superhero or that the future of the planet is in my hands. I know I’m not the only one who cares, I’m not the only one trying to do what they can. It’s not to say that without me the planet is actually doomed (!).

But if there are two choices – one being we ‘win’, and start living sustainably on this one planet that we have – and the other being we ‘lose’, sea levels rise, the oceans fill with plastic and we make ourselves extinct – well, I know which team I want to be on.

Whatever happens, I need to be able to say, hand on heart, that I did something. Knowing that the only way to be on the winning team is to be a part of it keeps me optimistic.

2. Taking Action and Working on Projects

I find projects that get the message out into the community are the best way to keep myself motivated.

For the first six months that I went plastic-free I was very much focused on my own journey, learning skills and creating new habits for myself. After that, I was keen to figure out how to share my knowledge, get involved with the wider community… and I haven’t stopped since.

Over the next seven years, I started this blog and I started giving talks and running workshops. I got involved with my local council running a waste-free event, I worked on the Plastic Free July campaign. I co-started a community fruit tree project and community composting hub, and I set up a community dishes library.

None of these things are ground-breaking or world-changing, but they all contribute to bringing about change nonetheless. Connecting with others, sharing ideas, creating opportunity.

Even by sharing one blog post, or giving a talk to a handful of people, or starting a small project; you never know who you’re going to reach and what influence you’re going to have.

Ideas are like ripples and they spread. I share these things in the hope that others will adopt them, share them, make them better and together we will increase our impact.

Knowing that I’m contributing to something bigger than me and my personal waste or footprint helps keep me optimistic. And always having a project on the go, no matter how small, keeps my fire burning.

3. Remembering Where I Started

When it comes to staying positive, another thing that helps me is remembering where I started.

I’ve always considered myself to be someone who cared about the planet, but I know there was a time when:

  • I asked for an extra plastic straw in my drink;
  • I purchased fast fashion;
  • I snaffled all the freebies regardless of whether I’d use them or not or how pointless they were or how much packaging they came wrapped in;
  • I chucked every bit of food waste in the bin;
  • I was in love with recycling (and saw that chasing arrows symbol on any packaging as a ‘get out of jail free’ card absolving me of any personal responsibility);
  • I felt almost smug about the fact that I owned reusable shopping bags and only took a plastic bag when I needed something to line my bin.

(I’m sure there’s plenty more examples.)

I cared but I was totally disconnected to the impact my personal actions were having, and embarrassingly unaware that actually, my personal actions and my voice are exactly where my power comes from.

I thought it was up to others to change: governments, businesses, organisations. I didn’t realise that I have the power to influence, to champion, to hold to account, to share, and to take a better path every single day through the choices I make.

I believe that when you know better, you do better. If you don’t realise something is a problem, why would you do things differently?

I hold onto these memories of myself and know that if I can change, other people can change too. I like to believe the best of people, and I think that most people want to do the right thing. They just aren’t aware of the impact that their actions have, sometimes.

4. Looking back as well as forward

Lastly, I think it’s important not to focus on the task ahead so much that we forget to look back at what we have achieved and how far we have come. There’s been so much change in the last 7 years and when I think at how much perceptions have shifted, it feels incredibly humbling.

When I first took part in Plastic Free July in 2012, I was one of 400 participants. Last year 120 million people took part in 177 different countries.

Governments across the world are legislating to ban plastic bags, plastic cutlery, styrofoam, food waste to landfill and more.

Change is happening. I know that sometimes it doesn’t feel fast enough, but actually, it’s kind of incredible that we’ve done so much already.

When I think about how far we’ve come, I can only feel optimistic about what will happen in the future.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you consider yourself to be a pessimist or an optimist? What do you struggle with most? What tips do you have for staying positive? How has your outlook shifted over time? Anything else you’d like to add? Please share your thoughts below!

8 Zero Waste, Plastic-Free and Sustainable Lifestyle Books for 21st Century Living

Times are changing. It wasn’t that long ago that the section in the library or in the local book store about green living had a couple of books about keeping chickens, preserving your entire homegrown harvest and going off-grid, a few more about saving the planet without even leaving your armchair, and not very much in between.

Plus, even finding that section in the first place was a mission.

But over the last few years, the number of books focused on living more sustainably and reducing waste, particularly for those of us that live in cities and suburbs, has blossomed.

The best thing is that these books are practical. Live in an apartment? Still in college? Have a baby or young kids? Trying to make your budget stretch further? There’s still plenty that can be done!

I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite books taking zero waste living, going plastic-free and making sustainable choices into the 21st century. They are all books I’ve actually read. They are all different, which is great: different people are on different journeys, and need different inspiration at different times.

Rather than compare, I’ve tried to articulate not only what the book is about but also the style and tone, and who it is ideal for.

Just because something isn’t featured here, that doesn’t mean it isn’t great – it probably means I haven’t read it (yet)! And I do intend to update this list as more good books are released into the world.

Lastly, this post does use some affiliate links. As always, I encourage supporting your local library or your local independent bookstore (if you’re lucky enough to have one) before buying online.

Zero Waste by Shia Su

Shia is from Germany, and has a popular Instagram account called Wasteland Rebel. She lives a zero waste lifestyle with her husband in urban Germany, and is also a minimalist, and vegan.

Zero Waste is a great beginner’s guide with colour photos, well structured and clearly laid out. The content is both thoughtful and practical, and her tone is helpful and non-judgmental. She explains the premise behind the zero waste movement and touches on some of the bigger issues at the core of the waste “problem”, whilst making this a book focused on solutions.

Shia talks about the choices she has made as well as offering alternatives and encouraging readers to find their own way.

Suited for those new to the zero waste movement, or interested in learning how others make zero waste living work for them

Worldwide delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK stockists

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

Erin is a zero waste blogger from Melbourne on the east coast of Australia, who writes the blog The Rogue Ginger. We started writing about plastic-free and zero waste living around the same time, although it took a while for us to connect – and when we did it was interesting to see how much similarity there was in our journeys. I’m very happy to call Erin a good friend of mine.

Erin’s book is an in-depth look into what zero waste is and a practical guide to wasting less. As well as the obvious things like food shopping and choosing reusables, Erin covers weddings, babies, mending, activism and some of the lesser talked-about aspects of living waste-free.

Waste Not is very comprehensive, and written in a gentle, encouraging tone with lots of stories of Erin’s journey along the way. There are recipes and how-to’s and plenty of step-by-steps, although Erin is very clear to emphasize that she does not advocate making everything from scratch.

Suited to anyone who wants a really comprehensive introduction and immersion into the topic, or who wants to get serious about zero waste living. This book isn’t just about why – it’s about how. It’s written in a way that is very easy to read, although the sheer amount of content means it will take a while to work through – trust me, it is most definitely worth it.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Waste Not Everyday by Erin Rhoads

Erin wrote a second book Waste Not Everyday as a sister book to Waste Not, published a year apart. With Waste Not Everyday, Erin wanted to create something more digestible for people who weren’t quite ready to immerse themselves in zero waste, or who wanted quick tips and easy-to-grasp ideas to inspire rather than a comprehensive step-by-step road map to change.

Waste Not Everyday is divided into 365 tips, with simple recipes and heaps of great ideas for reducing, reusing and reconnecting. It’s really easy to dip in and out of, it’s fun and it’s still packed with good ideas.

Suited to anyone who find big in-depth books intimidating, or wants simple inspiration and is happy to go and do their own research to find out more.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

Not yet published in UK/USA/CAN.

A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days by Anita Vandyke

Anita is from Sydney, Australia, although she spends half her time in San Fransisco, and has a popular zero waste Instagram account called Rocket Science (she’s also an aeronautical engineer, and currently studying medicine).

Anita’s book is very different to Erin’s – it’s small, light and easy to read although still full of ideas for living with less waste. Beautifully presented, with illustrations rather than photos. The tone and style is very similar to the posts Anita shares via Instagram, with hints, tip and tricks, giving the reader ideas and inspiration to take away.

Although the book is called A Zero Waste Life in 30 Days and presented as a tip for each day, the actual changes suggested are more about changing our mindsets, habits and behaviours than making simple daily swaps.

Suited to anyone who doesn’t have the time or inclination to read a more in-depth book, or who likes their information in bite-size portions. The book is an entree of the the ideas behind living a zero waste life, written to inspire and motivate rather than providing a step-by-step of how to get there.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble |Indiebound


The Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter

Lauren and Oberon Carter are also from Australia (they live in Tasmania) but their zero waste living experience differs from the media stereotype of the young urban-dwelling woman-only lifestyle: they live on a 850m2 block in Hobart with their three daughters, whom they homeschool, and grow a lot of their own food. They also run the Zero Waste Tasmania Facebook page and an online store called Spiral Garden.

A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living covers a lot of topics not delved into by the other zero waste books on the market: there’s much more focus on doing things from scratch, growing food and the self-sufficiency side of zero waste living. It’s very much a family-friendly guide, with some less commonly seen but definitely practical DIYs, and beautiful photos throughout.

Suited to anyone who loves the idea of embracing the DIY, self-sufficiency side of living in a modern, 21st century way. This book is for those wanting to go further than the more straightforward and most talked-about swaps; and for those interested to learn more about how a family of five can live waste free.

Worldwide Stockists:

Book Depository

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks


Live Green by Jen Chillingsworth

Jen lives in Yorkshire in the UK with her husband and teenage son, and her Instagram account is Jen Little Birdie. She writes about slow and simple living rather than zero waste specifically, but there is so much alignment with her content that I had to include it here – plus I love her tone and voice.

Jen’s book is tiny – it almost fits in the palm of my hand – yet it packs the content in. This book is brimming with ideas. It’s beautifully illustrated in full colour, with six sections: Green Home & Garden, Eco Household, Eat Green, Slow Fashion, Natural Beauty and Simple Christmas. The concept is one idea a week for a whole year. Jen is thoughtful, thorough and there are lots of practical how to’s and recipes to support the ideas and help the reader take next steps.

Suited to anyone at the beginning of their sustainability journey or looking for some next steps, who wants ideas for living more sustainably in an easily digestible format – but still with practical how-to’s. With thoughts on energy efficiency, slow fashion and mindfulness, Live Green covers a broader range of topics than many zero waste books. And that’s a good thing – these issues are all interconnected, after all.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | Indiebound


Less Stuff by Lindsay Miles

Of course I’m including my own book here! If you haven’t met me before, I’m Lindsay, and I’ve been living plastic-free and zero waste since 2012, and writing this blog since 2013. My minimalism journey (or my journey to ‘enough’ as I like to call it, because labels can be so polarising) started because I was struggling with having too much stuff and hating the idea of waste.

It took a lightbulb moment for me to realise that keeping stuff I didn’t need, didn’t use and didn’t like was actually a huge waste – there had to be (and is) another way.

Less Stuff is a book about decluttering but it’s more than that, it’s about redefining our relationship with stuff. How we choose things, how we use things, and most importantly – what we can do with our things when we’re done with them. It’s a practical guide with a step-by-step approach, and in particular there’s a big focus on the ‘how’ of finding new homes for our old things.

Suited to anyone who thinks they’ve got too much stuff, those of us who feel guilty throwing things in the bin and anyone wanting to redefine their relationship with their things.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Hive Books | Waterstones

US Stockists:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Simplicious Flow by Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is a journalist and TV presenter most well-known as the founder of I Quit Sugar, but she is also passionate about reducing food waste (among other things). Her last I Quit Sugar book, Simplicious Flow is actually a zero-waste cookbook.

With Simplicious Flow Sarah wanted to do things differently. Not just with the recipes, but with the whole cookbook-making process (she wrote an interesting piece about the behind-the-scenes here). Talking of content, this book is packed full: there are 348 recipes that range from the kinds of recipes you’d expect in a cookbook to a 3-page spread on using up jar dregs, and a banana cake that uses banana peels.

Suited to those who already have a bit of confidence in the kitchen and want to make more foods from scratch, and anyone passionate about reducing their food waste at home. I suspect this book might overwhelm absolute beginners partly due to its sheer size and partly due to the ‘flow’ which means recipes move from one to another. Sarah’s recipes use a lot of meat, fish, eggs and dairy so if you’re vegan or plant-based this is something to consider. It’s family-friendly, with recipes for kids included.

Worldwide Delivery:

Book Depository | Wordery

Australian Stockists:

Angus & Robertson | Booktopia | Dymocks

UK Stockists:

Foyles | Waterstones


As I said, I’m hoping to add more to these as I get round to reading them. On my to-read list, Tara Button’s A Life Less Throwaway, Kathryn Kellogg’s 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste and Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas: The Carbon Footprint of Everything. All other suggestions welcome!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me – what good books on sustainability have you read? Which did you love? Which didn’t quite work for you? Have you read any of these and what were your thoughts? Any new releases you’re looking forward to reading? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

6 Places to Declutter To that Aren’t the Charity Shop (or the Bin)

I think decluttering is both a good thing (for our sanity and our stress levels), and a zero waste thing to do. Yes, a zero waste thing. Let’s make no mistake: keeping stuff in our homes that we don’t like, don’t need and never use is a terrible waste of resources.

Of course, yes, the most zero waste thing of all is to buy things once, cherish them forever, use them often, and pass them onto our children and grandchildren. But many things are not designed for this, good intentions don’t always work out, items date, technology is superceded, and our lives (and our minds) change over time.

So sometimes we have things we don’t like, don’t need and never use in our homes. But chucking this stuff in the bin or offloading at the nearest charity shop even though we’re pretty sure the stuff we are offloading isn’t definitely saleable definitely isn’t the best thing to do with it.

Which is often why we don’t declutter the things we no longer use. We don’t want to throw things in the bin, but we don’t know what else to do with them. So we let them languish in cupboards and drawers, and we feel guilty every time we see them.

Decluttering does not come down to just two options: landfill or closest charity shop. There are so many other places to take our stuff, and ways to find new owners for things we don’t need.

Keeping our stuff in circulation and giving others the opportunity to use these things is the best thing we can do for this stuff. This is how we declutter, zero waste style.

So what exactly are these options?

Online Auction Sites

The most well-known online auction site is eBay, with 39 country-specific sites, and a presence in 100 countries. But it’s not the only option, and many other smaller auction sites exist with cheaper fees.

These sites have a national and sometimes global audience, making them ideal for items that can be mailed easily (meaning things that are lightweight or easy to pack, such as small electronics, clothing and homewares).

These auction sites are great for connecting your stuff with buyers looking for that item or brand. It’s also useful for people looking for parts, or even items in need of repair (particularly electronics).

Many high quality, unusual or valuable items can be missed in charity shops because they rely on foot traffic and opportunistic sales. With auction sites, customers can browse but they can also search specifically for things they need.

The price of your item and postage is quoted upfront to potential buyers, who will factor these costs into their bids. Listings on eBay can begin at $0.01, so you can still give things away on these sites. And you can cover the postage yourself, if you prefer.

Whilst pick-up only is an option for listing bulky items, there are better platforms to use.

Online Classifieds

I’m a huge fan of Gumtree, which is currently the number 1 online classifieds site in the UK, Australia, South Africa and Singapore. American readers will probably be more familar with Craigslist.

There are also some newer kids on the block such as LetGo, Preloved and Shpock.

Online classified allow you to upload an image (or multiple images) and either set a price or offer the item for free. Most sites are free to use with paid upgrades available.

Classifieds often appeal more to local users, with items like furniture, tools, larger kitchen appliances, bicycles and white goods being easy to pass on. Buyers will collect from your home and can inspect the item before they take it.

Again, people will take broken items for parts and damaged items for repair, so it is worth posting these items and seeing if there is a response. Items can be listed in less than a minute, and it never hurts to try.

Charities and Charitable Partnerships

Charity shops take items to resell, but charities and non-government organisations also collect items to repair and reuse, or pass on to underprivileged communities and groups both locally and overseas.

Animal charities accept blankets, towels and other bedding, old toys, accessories, and food donations.

Women’s refuges, homeless shelters and refugee organisations may accept bedding, furniture, clothing, toiletries, white goods, small appliances and more. The Refugee Council of Australia has a database of refugee organisations accepting donations and what types of goods they accept, which will also give you an idea of the kinds of items that are wanted.

Other organisations focus on specific items: old glasses (they can often be dropped at a local optician and will be tested before being redistributed), sports equipment (Fairgame collects and redistributes equipment across Australia), computers and old electronics, bras, bicycles and more.

Facebook Groups

Facebook groups are a great way to connect with people in your area, and find new homes for your stuff. I’m a huge fan of the Buy Nothing project, which operates as a series of hyper-local Facebook groups. No-one is allowed to join more than one group – the one where they live.

The advantage of decluttering items using the Buy Nothing group is that all the members are your neighbours, so travel time is negligible and journeys are often combined with regular commutes, shop visits or school drop-offs. This means people will be far more willing to take items off your hands than if they had to hop in the car and drive across town.

There are other Facebook groups that work in a similar way, such as the Good Karma network on the east coast of Australia. There also many zero waste groups that allow the offering of stuff (glass jars are always particularly well received).

There are even a few groups called “Give Away Free Stuff” – exactly what we need to find new owners for old things!

Online Neighbourhood Networks

These are neighbourhood networks, a little like the Buy Nothing project or Good Karma Network except rather than being run through Facebook, they have their own platforms. Nextdoor is one of the fastest growing sites. Whilst they aren’t solely for the giving and receiving of second-hand stuff (they also deal with lost pets, neighbourhood watch type issues and other things), sharing is a large part of their service.

Alternatively, Freecycle (and Freegle in the UK) are neighbourhood sites solely dedicated to the passing on and accepting of free stuff.

People You Know

Last but not least, don’t forget that you have friends, family and colleagues who may be interested in your stuff. Probably not everything, but it is worth asking. You could ask people directly or post on social media.

If they are not people who generally shop at second-hand stores it is a good way to gently entice them into the preloved life, and they might be more willing to take things from people they know (you!) than buy from a stranger.

Sometimes exploring these avenues still draws a blank. Even then, there’s still the option of ensuring the materials are recycled rather than putting in the bin. But there’s so much to say about that, it is another post entirely!

The truth is, someone, somewhere wants what we have. We can do our best to find a new owner for our old things. We may not always find somewhere, but it takes minimal effort to ask the question, to do a quick google search for local organisations, or to pop a photo on an online site.

Stuff is useful. Resources are valuable. Success isn’t guaranteed, but we have to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your best solutions for re-homing unwanted items? What is the most unexpected item you’ve managed to successfully re-home with someone else? Anything that you particularly struggle with? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Experiments with Less Stuff: 3 Outfits for 30 Days

There’s nothing quite like writing a book about decluttering and living with less stuff to make you re-assess all the things you own, and question again whether the things you have are really being used to their full potential.

Things left languishing in cupboards and drawers barely used? That isn’t the best use of those resources. And all stuff is resources – materials, time and energy went into making these things.

When I own something I barely use, and I know I would make do with something else if I didn’t own it, it just doesn’t make sense to me to keep it. It makes more sense to find a new owner who will use and love the things that I do not.

That’s not to say everything I own is used all the time. I own swimwear even though I’d hardly call myself a beachgoer; I own a selection of baking tins even though I’m not busting them out every weekend.

It’s all about balance: what’s practical, sensible and what’s good for our sanity. Even if I only go swimming occasionally, I need swimwear. In my world, brownies are square and sponge cakes are round. That’s just how it has to be.

But living with less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer need, use or love. It’s about developing a new relationship with stuff. Not just our stuff, but all stuff.

We can see stuff for what it really is: resources, time, craftsmanship and effort. We can be honest with ourselves about whether stuff is practical and useful to us, or whether the stuff’s usefulness will be short-lived; destined to become clutter, and landfill.

And when we buy things and bring them into our homes, we can make sure we maximise their use. If we realise later that things are not being used to their full potential, we can re-home them so that they get the use they were designed for.

Decluttering, for me, is not about clearing space to buy new things. It is about respecting resources, and ensuring the stuff we have and do not use does not go to waste. Decluttering is not synonymous with chucking stuff in the bin.

Instead, it is an opportunity to make good our perhaps-not-so-good-after-all choices.

But of course, no-one wants to declutter things only to realise later on that they needed them after all.

Which brings me back to where I started: reassessing the things I own.


One area where I struggled for a long time in my de-owning journey was wardrobe decluttering. I had so many clothes, nothing to wear, and couldn’t part with anything! The idea of reducing my wardrobe by half, down to 100 things seemed almost unachievable, yet when I finally got there I realised: I still had too much stuff.

Eventually I reduced my wardrobe down to about 40 things. It was no longer overwhelming, and everything I owned I liked and wore – but I knew that really, I still had too much stuff.

The thing is, I am one of those people who just likes to wear the same few outfits all of the time. I live in the same few things, and I like it like that. Most of the people I know would be surprised I even own 40 items of clothing!

The goal with decluttering and de-owning is to find our “enough”. We don’t want too much stuff but we don’t want to be left with not enough, either. But figuring out the point between “too much” and “too little” where “just enough” lies takes time.

When it came to my wardrobe, I didn’t think another round of decluttering would be that useful in helping me find this “enough”.

Instead, I decided to go all the way to the “too little” side, and live over there for a month, to really test what I need and what I don’t.

3 Outfits for 30 Days

A couple of years ago I followed a woman on Instagram who decided to wear one dress for an entire year. It actually wore out half way through, and was replaced with another dress, but she completed the challenge and decided she loved the freedom it gave so much she would wear one dress for life.

That’s definitely a little too little for me (what would I wear when I need to wash the dress?!) but it got me thinking. What would realistically be the minimum viable number of outfits I could wear?

I asked myself a few questions, such as what different types of outfits did I need, what occasions did I need to consider, and what was practical (thinking about the climate, weather and my ability/willingness to do – and dry – the laundry often).

I need clothes that are suitable for presenting in, working in and lounging round the house in.

As for climate, the month of March is late summer/early autumn here in Perth. We have a Mediterranean climate: it’s warm enough to do laundry, hang it outside and bring it in dry a few hours later. It might be cardigan weather in the evening, but it is pretty warm during the day. Rainfall is minimal and short-lived.

With all this in mind, I decided on 3 outfits for 30 days.

1 skirt, 1 pair of trousers, and 1 dress. 2 tops, a cardigan and a denim shirt. Plus a pair of leggings if necessary.

(My 3 outfits doesn’t include clothes for exercising, which I’ll still wear.)

I started on 4th March, and I’ll report back once the 30 days are over.

The goal is not to convince myself that this is all I need. The goal is to figure out what works, what is missing, and what things I would prefer to have (and not have) to make my wardrobe work better for me.

The goal is to experiment with less so I can find out where my “enough” lies on the scale.

It’s not so much about deciding which of the things I own I need or don’t need; more about helping me get clear on my future choices.

Owning less stuff isn’t just about letting go of the things we no longer use. It’s about understanding why we made the choices we made, learning from our mistakes, and getting clear on exactly what we need and what we’ll use.

If we know what we need and are pragmatic about what we’ll use, not only do we end up with less stuff: we use less resources, reduce our footprint, and create less waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever taken part in a “less stuff”, decluttering or minimalism challenge? What were the rules? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Did you learn anything? Were there any surprises? Or do challenges like this fill you with dread? Any other thoughts? Please share below!


How to Recycle Mobile Phones/Cell Phones (+ Why It Is Important)

The other day, I found a broken mobile phone popped into my letter box. (I’m not sure whether it was coincidence, or whether it was someone on the street who suspected I would recycle it properly). It was properly smashed up, and the chip and some other piece of hardware had been removed from the back (plus the battery and SIM card were missing).

I posted the picture on Instagram, along with the comment that I’d recycle it properly, and I was surprised at how many people messaged me to say “Wait…how do you recycle a mobile phone, anyway?”

Well, for the benefit of all those people, along with anyone else who is currently harbouring an old mobile phone collection in their underwear drawer, here’s the lowdown of not only how to recycle old mobile phones, but also why.

Why Recycle Old Mobile Phones?

Its important to recycle anything and everything, but when it comes to mobile phones, there’s even more reason. Phones contain metals – the average smartphone will contain around 62 different metals. Let’s not forget that most of these metals will have been mined from raw materials.

Phones contain small amounts of valuable metals, including gold, silver, platinum, palladium and copper.

They also contain rare earth metals. Across all smartphones, 16 out of 17 rare earth metals have been used. (The 17th, promethium, is radioactive.) They do things like make bright colours and allow our phones to vibrate.

Finally they contain tungsten, tantalum (produced from “coltan”) and tin. These 3 Ts are the three biggest conflict minerals, along with gold. Conflict minerals are those mined in areas of armed conflict, and traded to fund the fighting. Tungsten is used to make cellphones vibrate; tantalum stores electricity in capacitors; and tin is used as solder on circuit boards.

(If you’d a snapshot of the issues surrounding mining these minerals, this article is a powerful read.

So yes, recycling is always important, but it is especially important when we are talking about keeping valuable and rare metals in circulation, and reducing demand for newly mined conflict minerals.

Small amounts add up. When you think that it is estimated that there’s 5 million old mobile phones lying around in Australia alone, that’s a lot of rare and valuable metals going to waste.

How Do We Recycle Mobile Phones?

Mobile phones count as eWaste (electrical waste) and need to go to an eWaste recycler. Exactly how it works varies from place to place, so I’ve divided by country below.

Before recycling, consider whether the phone is still useful to someone, and whether it is better to sell or gift for re-use. It is better to pass it on to someone who can use it now than keep it just in case.

Technology dates fast. Worst case is you give it away and then need a replacement phone… guaranteed a friend or family member will have a spare one in their sock drawer.

If it’s broken or old, send it for recycling. The recycler may be able to refurbish it, so let them make the call.

Recycling Mobile Phones in Australia

Mobile Muster is the product stewardship program of the mobile phone industry, accredited by the federal government. They have 3,500 drop-off points across Australia including at Telstra, Optus and Vodafone stores, some libraries, council buildings and transfer stations. (Their website has a search function to find your closest location.)

If there is no suitable location, Australia Post outlets will provide free satchels to mail the phone for recycling.

It’s also possible to recycle batteries, chargers and headphones through this program.

Mobile Muster is voluntarily funded by all of the major handset manufacturers and network carriers to provide a free mobile phone recycling program in Australia.

Other private eWaste recyclers also exist. If you’re in Perth, Total Green Recycling are an award-winning and environmentally responsible eWaste recycler that accept mobile phones for recycling.

Recycling Cell Phones in the US

There are a couple of online databases to help you find a recycling drop-off point close to you. Earth 911 is one of North America’s most comprehensive recycling databases, and has over 20 pages of listings for mobile phone recycling alone.

e-Stewards certification is an accredited, third-party audited, certification program for electronics recyclers, refurbishers and asset managers. It identifies the most globally responsible recyclers and attracts customers who care about data security, brand protection, human rights and environmental justice. There is an e-Stewards recycling database to check what’s local to you.

Many mobile phone shops will also take cell phones for recycling, so check with your closest store.

Recycling Mobile Phones in the UK

Oxfam run a mobile phone recycling service, where phones can be dropped off in-store – the proceeds go towards running their projects.

Alternatively, if you can’t get to a store, Oxfam have charity-partnered with Fonebank to allow you to recycle your old phone via mail. (Fonebank have also partnered with the National Trust, Water Aid and Plan UK.

Most of the major phone network providers will also allow customers to drop off phones for recycling in store.

Of course, mobile phone recycling is happening worldwide. If you’re from a country not listed above, please let us know where mobile phones can be recycled where you live.

Let’s get those unused mobile phones out of sock drawers and those materials back into useful circulation!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a stockpile of old phones sitting at home waiting for inspiration to strike? Do you have any other suggestions for recycling mobile phones? Are there any other tricky items you’d like to know how to recycle? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

Second-Hand First: 8 Ideas for Buying Less (New) Stuff

I think we are all agreed, there is a lot of stuff in the world. Too much stuff, some might say. And if we want to reduce our footprint, it is much better to own less stuff, share more stuff, and avoid buying the shiny new stuff where we can.

But how do we go about that, exactly?

Answer: there are loads of places to look. Let’s start with the obvious ones, and move onto the less-than-obvious ones. Let me know of anything I’ve missed in the comments!

1. The Charity Shop

I’m pretty sure all of us have given stuff to the charity shop in our time. Homewares, clothing, toys, books… we love to donate our old unwanted things to the charity shop.

But you know what is even better than donating stuff to the charity shop? Buying stuff from the charity shop.

It isn’t enough to donate our old stuff to the charity shop, and then go buy our replacement items from the big box or department store. Charity shops only sell about 15% of everything that is donated.

The donations that don’t even fit inside the charity shop far outnumber the things on sale…

To close the loop, they need us to buy more things from them.

They don’t need us to donate stuff. They need us to buy stuff.

2. Online Classifieds and Auction Sites

Online classifieds such as Gumtree and Craigslist are a great way to find second-hand items locally, (great for fragile, oversized or heavy stuff) and online auction sites such as eBay are a great way to find items further afield (better for lightweight and easy-to-post items).

I’m a big fan of platforms like these (and I talk about the ins and outs a lot more in my book) because of the way they allow sharing of stuff – most often for a price, but sometimes for free.

3. Online Neighbourhood Networks

Online platforms allow us to connect with our neighbours – some with the sole purpose of buying selling, donating and borrowing stuff, and others with more broad community engagement over things like activities, security and pets.

Some platforms have dedicated membership sites (such as Nextdoor and Streetbank), whilst others use Facebook or Google groups (a quick search will reveal your local options).

Even where these platforms are national and international, it doesn’t mean they will be active in your area so have a look and decide if they are something to pursue or not.

4. Buy Nothing Groups

I could wax lyrical about the Buy Nothing Project all day. In fact, I do. The project is a network of Buy Nothing groups, which exist to help us share with our neighbours, and they operate via Facebook. What makes them unique is that members can gift, accept and borrow things, no money (or even trade) allowed.

And it’s only possible to join one: the one where we live.

The things that are given away would surprise you – both for how great the items are, and for how crazy obscure they can be, too. I’ve been gifted a Dell computer monitor, an almost-new pair of shoes and a desk and chair via my local group.

But it’s not all glamour – I’ve also taken a half-eaten jar of chocolate peanut spread and given away a semi-chewed dog toy. Trust me, almost anything goes.

5. Freecycle and Freegle

Similar to the Buy Nothing groups in that items are offered for free, Freecycle (worldwide) and Freegle (UK) are networks of people sharing items. The platforms are less user-friendly than social media or other newer networks, but they do the job.

6. Verge Collections

Verge collections are the stuff of (my) nightmares. Most councils in Perth allow 2 or 3 verge pickups per household per year, and offer this service for free (well, included in council rates). It works like this: residents put all of their unwanted stuff out on the front lawn, a truck comes along and squashes it into little pieces, and off it goes to landfill.

Cue, sobbing from me.

Every time, the streets are laden with stuff. People throw out 5 mattresses at a time, they throw out perfectly good kids toys. They throw out kitchen appliances, furniture, equipment and even cardboard, metal and other recyclables.

Sometimes every house on the street can have a pile like this of mostly usable stuff, ready for landfill.

Some people love to rummage through the piles and score great stuff. Keeping an eye on verge collection dates in the more affluent suburbs can mean excellent finds, but every suburb has something to offer. I rarely go on the hunt (it upsets me too much), but I’ve rescued wooden garden chairs, an outside table, a worm farm, storage boxes and heaps of garden pots (including some terracotta ones).

The downside of verge collections is that for all the great stuff rescued, there is plenty of great and still-usable stuff going to landfill.

7. Borrowing Stuff

Borrowing stuff can be formal, such as joining the library. They have so much more than books – they have magazines, CDs and DVDs and board games. If you don’t want these, tool, toy and “things” libraries also exist.

Or borrowing can be informal: from friends, family, colleagues or neighbours. If we don’t know our neighbours, the Buy Nothing groups are a great way to make a borrow request.

This is how I was able to borrow a screwdriver to fix my coffee machine (the seal needed replacing).

We often confuse the need to use something with the need to own it. Maybe we need a gadget for a particular recipe, or a hook in the wall to hang a picture. But we don’t necessarily need the blender or the drill. We just need to use them. So we can borrow them instead.

8. Hiring Stuff

Almost everything is available for hire, but these services aren’t as popular as they should be. We can hire dresses and suits, tools, furniture, glasses and flatware – and yet time and again, we buy it instead. My suspicion is that many people think hiring is a false economy – shelling out money for something with nothing to show at the end of it.

For me, this exactly the reason why hiring stuff is so great. We get to use things, then give them back for someone else to use – and we never have to worry about them again.

Not only do hired items arrive clean and ready to go; the hire company is responsible for maintenance. With glass hire, did you know many hire companies will also do the washing up for you?

We forget that it isn’t just the cost of buying stuff. It’s also the cleaning and the storage and maintenance. Because it’s only twice or three times as expensive to buy the champagne glasses rather than hire them, we buy them. We reason we will use them again. Maybe we will – but maybe not.

Once we own them, we have to clean them, and store them. We might need to buy more storage. This is how we end up with big houses with bigger rooms – to accommodate all this stuff.

There’s plenty of stuff already in the world. There’s plenty of stuff in great or usable condition, just waiting for a new owner to maximise its potential. There is absolutely no requirement to buy everything new.

It may not even be necessary to buy it at all.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any tips for finding second-hand items, or avoiding buying stuff? What are your favourite groups or networks? Is this something you struggle with, and what would make it easier or more accessible for you? Anything else to add? Please share in the comments below!

The Hardest Thing about Going Zero Waste (it’s not what you think)

If you had to guess what the hardest thing about going zero waste is, what would you say? Lack of access to bulk stores? Zero waste products being more expensive than their plastic-packaged, overly wrapped counterparts? Lack of buy-in from the kids, or the spouse, or parents, or colleagues?

These things can certainly be challenging. Yes, it would definitely be easier if we all had an incredibly affordable bulk store just around the corner, right next to a veggie shop full of fresh locally grown, unpackaged produce, and our family was so enthusiastic about zero waste living that they fought over whose turn it was to do the grocery shopping.

Let’s just imagine that for a second. Ahhhhhh.

The absolute hardest thing about going zero waste, though? In my view, it is none of these things.

The hardest thing about going zero waste is stepping off the consumer treadmill. The hardest thing is not buying stuff.

Let me explain.

When I talk about “stuff”, I’m not talking about the grocery shop. I’m talking about everything except the grocery shop. Yes, the zero waste conversation often hovers around bulk store shopping and avoiding the single-use plastic packaging that so many grocery items come packaged in.

We forget that everything else we buy is also contributing to the “waste” issue.

Everything. Even the zero waste reusables that we buy. No matter how eco-friendly the product, it still uses resources and it still uses energy in its creation, and it still has an impact on our planet.

Now I’m not saying, we shouldn’t buy anything, ever. Furniture, white goods, clothing, homewares, kitchen tools – it’s all useful stuff. Those zero waste reusables are pretty useful too.

But that’s exactly the problem. There is useful stuff everywhere; we know it is useful, and we want to buy it.

Sometimes we do buy it.

The hardest thing about zero waste is about resisting the majority, if not all, of the useful stuff. The hardest thing about zero waste is not buying stuff.

Change is Hard, and Buying Stuff is Easy

Change can be hard. Starting and then ingraining new habits, consciously trying to remember new ways of doing things before it seeps into our subconscious, researching new ideas and learning new skills – it can be exhausting.

We want to make progress, and fast. We want to see the evidence of this progress.

And that is where the buying comes in.

It’s almost like a beginner zero waste right-of-passage; the buying of stuff. We’ve all done it. (Well, most of us. Including me.) We want to look like we’ve made progress, and so we buy the things to prove it.

The water bottle, the reusable coffee cup, the reusable produce bags.

It makes us feel good before the real stuff happens. The refusing of the single-use items, the remembering of said reusables, and the reshaping of habits.

That’s the real secret to being zero waste. It’s not the buying of stuff, it’s the remembering of stuff.

Of course, it’s okay to buy things. (Yes, it’s always better if we think carefully about our purchases and ensure that they are made by responsible companies and sold by responsible businesses; and they are exactly what we need and will use often. But no-one is perfect all of the time.)

We have to remember, that all of us enjoy a certain amount of comfort that we’d like to maintain. No-one reading this is living in a cave, collecting rainwater, growing all their own food and weaving their own clothes. Let’s be realistic. Maybe we like eating chocolate, or drinking coffee, or wearing ethical fashion. If takeaway coffee is our treat, then it is our treat – and a reusable coffee cup is a useful purchase.

Some things are useful, and some things are necessary. If the “thing” is standing between going zero waste and not (and will reduce waste in the long run), better to buy it.

But at some point, we have to recognize that we cannot continue to buy stuff to reduce our consumption and waste.

We have to reach our “enough”, be happy with what we have, and step off the consumer treadmill.

Stepping Off the Consumer Treadmill

The consumer treadmill refers to the constant desire or pull we feel to buy stuff and upgrade stuff. Letting go of these urges and not succumbing to temptation can be hard. It can take time. Sometimes a lot of time.

But if we are really going to embrace zero waste living, this is what we need to do.

You know how with exercise treadmills, you spend a lot of time and energy walking or running, and yet you never actually get anywhere? Well, the same applies to the consumer treadmill. Buying, storing, maintaining and ultimately disposing of stuff all takes up time and energy, for not much (any) gain.

The happiness we feel when we buy new things is fleeting, and it fades. What we’re left with is a credit card bill and more stuff to take care of – which tends to leave us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed rather than satisfied.

This is a tough lesson to learn.

Change is hard, and buying stuff is easy.

Even when we know that it is true, it can be so hard not to buy stuff. New things are so shiny, and marketers are extremely good at persuading us that we need things. That our lives will be better with them.

When I first went zero waste, the zero waste options on the market were lean. This was a good thing, as I was still in the early I-want-to-make-changes-and-want-to-see-progress stages when buying stuff is such a temptation.

Because the selection was meagre (and my budget was tiny), I didn’t buy a huge number of things, and the things I have are well used.

Then, as I went further down the zero waste path, I embraced the second-hand lifestyle, the making-do lifestyle, the borrowing-rather-than-buying lifestyle.

I learned about my “enough” and I let go of the urge to buy stuff as the solution (to whatever the problem might be).

It is more than 6 years since I first went zero waste, and now there are so many more options for zero waste items – often described as “essentials”. There are reusables for things I’d never have thought of (and would never have considered necessary until I clamped eyes on them), and there are better versions of things that I already have.

It’s easy to see things and think “ooh, I could use that” or “ooh, that is a much better version of what I already have – I should upgrade”.

The challenge is to resist this temptation. It can be a daily challenge. To understand that what is useful is not the same as what is necessary. It is easy to convince ourselves that we will use things, and therefore we need them. Instead, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t.

Things that are useful are not always necessary.

This isn’t about no stuff. We need stuff: it is useful and sometimes necessary. We can buy things because we consider them both useful and necessary, and we can recognize that everything we buy has a footprint.

The most zero waste thing to do will always be to buy nothing at all: to make do with what we have. That doesn’t mean it’s realistic, practical or achievable, but it is the truth.

If we can’t buy nothing, what can we do?

We can buy less, we can buy better, and we can make things last.

We can limit our purchases. We can choose second-hand, or we can borrow, or hire. We can share resources, we can trade, or swap. We can improvise, and make do without.

This is the closest we get to zero waste living.

We can consume resources, or we can conserve them. The planet won’t be saved by us all purchasing yet another reusable.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you find it easy or do you find it difficult to not buy stuff? How has that changed over time as you’ve begun reducing your waste? Is it something you’d like to be better at in the future? Or have you reached a happy balance of “enough”? Any other thoughts? Please tell us in the comments below!