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7 Tips for Choosing Ethical Zero Waste Essentials

The zero waste and plastic-free movements have been steadily building momentum over the last few years, and along with that, so has the proliferation of associated “stuff”. When I started my plastic-free journey back in 2012, there were products to assist with zero waste living, but choice was limited. Now, it seems we are inundated with options, an there are more coming onto the marketplace every day.

That makes me a little nervous.

It makes me nervous because zero waste is about not creating waste; buying less stuff, and making do with what we have. It still means the occasional purchase, but usually “buy-once-and-will-last-forever” type products.

The more stuff on the market, the more we are tempted to buy, the more fashion and style comes into it and practicality and functionality seem less important.

When there’s so much choice, and there’s the temptation to buy more or try new things, these reusables can become “single use”. Reusables made of glass or stainless steel have a big production footprint. Great if we use them all the time, and of course they are made to last forever. But we have to use them often.

When we buy things and then don’t (or rarely) use them, they aren’t such better than single-use.

Finally, it makes me nervous because choice is paralyzing, and too much choice can lead to overwhelm and inaction. Changing habits is hard, and that is without having to exert energy deciding which products might be useful and appropriate, sifting through the greenwash and making good decisions.

Choice adds another layer of complexity.

I recognise that we often do need to buy stuff at the start of our plastic-free and zero waste journey. Not everything, but some things. Now there’s all this choice on the marketplace, I thought I’d put together an ethical zero waste purchasing guide to help navigate through some of the choices.

1. ‘Needs’ versus ‘wants’

There are many beautiful, ethically-produced things out there. Far more than we could ever need. The truth is, we can appreciate and admire the things we see without having to purchase them all. It can be tempting to buy something, thinking “I need this”! But really, is it a  need – or is it a want?

Can we make do without? Can we sit on the decision for a week, or a month, and decide whether we really need it?

The most zero waste option is always to make do with what you have, and buy nothing.

That’s not to say we should never purchase anything. Sometimes “wants” have a place. Sometimes we want to support a local ethical business because we believe in the work they do. Sometimes we know we don’t need something, but we really really want it, and we decide to buy it. No-one is perfect, and we all have desires, standards of living we want to maintain… and moments of weakness!

It’s a balance.

Let’s not kid ourselves that buying things makes us more zero waste. It might help our journey, it might support others in theirs, but is buying something the absolutely most zero waste thing to do? No. So let’s make the things that we do buy the absolute best ethical choices that we can.

2. Before you go shopping…

Think about what you need. Think about the properties what you need has to have. Think about how you’ll use it. Decide what you need, and then go looking for it. Going to a shop for “inspiration” likely ends up in you buying things you don’t actually need.

Do your research. Look online, and search for options. If you find a product you like the look of, go to the manufacturer’s website and read more. Read their mission statement and ethical credentials. Read customer reviews.

If you find the choice overwhelming, ask others on social media what they recommend to narrow your choices down.

3. Read the labels. And I mean *really* read the labels.

Just because someone has shared a photo of a product on social media and stated it is compostable/ethical/zero waste/better, don’t just take their word for it. Go to the product’s website and look. What is the packaging made of? Where is it produced? What is the company’s reason for being? Ethical companies will be clear about their commitment to sustainability.

Does it claim to be biodegradable or compostable, and if so, is it certified? (Biodegradable can include toxic residue, and doesn’t mean that it will break down in home or even commercial composting facilities. There’s no regulations on using this term, and lots of products make the claim without providing evidence. If a product isn’t certified biodegradable or better still, compostable, I would avoid it.)

What does “better” mean? There’s a product on the market called “Boxed Water is Better”. Better how? Their containers are made of paperboard, a plastic-lined card that isn’t easily recycled in Australia. Why is it “better”? It’s because water packaged in paperboard uses less carbon emissions to transport than bottled water packaged in glass. Better in that scenario, yes, but why are they shipping water around the globe anyway? Transporting water to countries that already have drinkable water coming out of the tap doesn’t strike me as environmentally sound.

Ask questions. Dig deeper. Suspect everything ;)

If you ask questions, and can’t find the answers, stay away. Better to support those companies that are transparent and honest.

4. A gap in the market or a slice of the pie?

There are companies that have been working on the plastic-free / zero waste message for years. Stores like Biome opened in 2003, Life Without Plastic opened in 2006; brands like Klean Kanteen formed in 2002. They’ve been trailblazers in getting the zero waste message out there.

Then there are new companies and brands, popping up year after year, increasing the reach, making zero waste more accessible, and offering new products and ways of doing things.

I’m all for choice, and I love new companies that offer innovative products, improve and build on existing designs, or increase accessibility by opening in new markets.

What I don’t love is companies who see that there is money to be made, and rip off another company’s product with their own label, or maybe make a cheaper version (easy to do when someone has done the design work for you and proven the business model).

If the only differentiating feature of a zero waste product is that it’s cheaper than an identical product available on the market, that’s not a great reason to buy.

Where products are similar, I prefer to support the original. They were the ones that took the risk and put their product out there.

Where there’s multiple options, I look for other criteria: who owns the business and how it is run, what organisations and non-profits they support, how they manage their supply chains, where production and offices are based, how they support their customers.

5. Be wary of Kickstarter (and other crowdfunding campaigns)

Crowdfunding campaigns ask the general public to support them in raising funds to begin a business venture, often in exchange for a discounted product. Don’t get me wrong – there are heaps of great projects worth supporting.

But there are many more that are not.

What makes a good project? In my mind, it is something that does not exist already; a product that there is clear demand for, and there seems to be a viable business model behind it all.

Projects I prefer not to support: anything that seems like more unnecessary “stuff”, anything made of plastic (we have enough plastic stuff in the world already!), another version of a product that already has a saturated market. (Do we really need another reusable coffee cup design, or reusable water bottle? Maybe…but probably not.)

Crowdfunding campaigns offering discounted versions of reusables which imitate products already on the market can be tempting. We all know reusables can be expensive. But these campaigns put pressure on existing businesses. Once the discounted phase is over, are the new companies likely to stay in business? Or are simply they fracturing the market?

6. Choose your stores wisely

I think it is so, so important to support local, ethical businesses when making purchases. Ethical products purchased from a Big Box store in order to save a few dollars is missing a huge opportunity to support a small, independent, ethical business. The way I see it, these purchases are an investment, which will last years, and a few extra dollars upfront is worth it.

Yes, no-one wants to be ripped off, and we all have budgets we need to stick to. But that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the absolute lowest price.

Ask yourself honestly, can you afford to spend just a little bit more? Those few extra dollars probably aren’t that much to you, but your support will mean a lot to a small business.

My first recommendation, before we even start to think about hitting the shops, is to try to find what you need second-hand. Try Gumtree, eBay, Buy Nothing groups, or charity shops.

Next, I always recommend local brick-and-mortar stores (or market stalls) in your local area. No shipping costs (both financial and emissions/carbon footprint), no unnecessary packaging, and you get to connect with a real person.

If that isn’t an option for you, then consider independent ethical online businesses. I’ve put together a worldwide list of online independent zero waste stores here.

(You’ll never ever find me linking to Amazon. The owner is worth US$81.6 billion: many would argue he made his fortunes by destroying competition and the high street, avoiding paying taxes, and other dubious practices. Maybe you’d argue that it’s fair – business is business. Personally, I don’t see why one man can possibly need all that money. I value choice, and I’d rather see thousands of small businesses owners earning enough money to send their children to college and affording holidays and buying good food than one man reap all the wealth.)

7. It’s not about perfection…

Ethical purchases are a minefield, and there’s rarely a perfect solution. There’s always compromise or trade-offs somewhere. The most important thing is making conscious choices. Knowing why you made the choice you did, and putting thought into the decision.

Think about what’s important to you – the carbon footprint, the production conditions, the company’s wider ethical footprint, transport miles, supporting the local economy, supporting Fair Trade, whether it’s made to last forever, whether it’s recyclable, whether it’s compostable. Chances are you won’t be able to tick all the boxes.

Ticking some is better than none.

Don’t be afraid to take action or make choices that aren’t perfect. Better to do something than do nothing. Worst case, you realise down the track that you could have chosen better. That’s a learning experience. We’ve all made mistakes, opted for choices we wouldn’t take again.

Let’s aim for progress, not perfection.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your biggest ethical struggles when it comes to making purchases? Do you have any non-negotiable criteria? How has your view on ethical purchasing changed over time? What tips do you have to add? Anything else you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. This in no way affects my recommendations as my priority is always you, my readers. I only recommend brands I love, and that I think you will love too.

6+ Zero Waste Plastic-Free Snack Ideas

This week, I’m talking snacks. Specifically, zero waste snacks that you can make at home. If you have access to a bulk store, then you’ll have access to heaps of delicious plastic- and packaging-free snacks. For example, we can buy vegetable crisps, flavoured nuts, rice crackers, protein balls, and chocolate-coated everything (not to mention chocolate itself).

If you don’t have access to a bulk store, then this is not the least bit helpful. I realise that!

Rather than bore you all (or make you jealous) by telling you how wonderful bulk stores are, I’m going to focus on things that you can do and snacks that you can make without access to a bulk store. Level playing fields for all!

Zero Waste Snacks: Fresh Fruit

I know, I know. Boring! But also very good for you. Extremely easy to find without packaging.

Zero Waste Snacks: Fruit with Extras

I get it. You don’t want fruit. You want chocolate. You want something satisfying. I hear you.

But fruit is very versatile, and can easily be jazzed up. One of my favourite things to make fruit a little more filling (and tasty) is to slather it with nut butter. Apple slices spread with almond butter is the best. (If you’re allergic to nuts, or want a cheaper option, consider seed butters.)

Literally, nut and seed butters are just blended nuts or seeds. The natural oils are released with the friction, so there’s no need to add anything else. Generally toasted (and cooled) nuts will blend better than raw ones, so unless you have a super fancy blender, stick to toasted.

Another favourite is chopping bananas into rounds, and filling two rounds with peanut butter to make a sandwich.

Talking of bananas, I’ve also seen them peeled, dipped into chocolate (maybe half the length) and then nuts, seeds, coconut or other sprinkles used as a topping.

Orange segments, strawberries and raspberries can also be dipped in chocolate (assuming you can find berries packaging-free).

Zero Waste Snacks: Nice Cream

“Nice cream” is often used to describe vegan ice cream, but actually it’s not really ice cream – nothing so complicated. It’s actually just blended frozen fruit, which makes a soft-serve sorbet / ice cream that is eaten straightaway..

This one is mango and banana. A spoonful of nut butter or coconut butter adds a bit of creaminess. Literally take frozen fruit out of the freezer, and blend. Then, eat. So refreshing on a hot day!

Another favourite “nice cream” combo of mine is chocolate banana peanut butter : literally 2 frozen bananas, 1/3 cup cocoa powder and 2 tbsp peanut butter, blended. Yum.

Zero Waste Snacks: Vegetables

Yes, vegetables can be a snack. Carrots, capsicum, cucumber, radish, celery can all be chopped into crudites – although I tend to just chomp on carrots as they are. If you’ve got a dip (such as hummus – see my recipe here) all the better, but they can be good on their own. Pesto and even peanut butter (yes, carrots and peanut butter are a “thing”) also make good dips.

Broccoli has to be my favourite vegetable ever. I could eat bowlfuls of it… and I do. I like to fry it on a high heat so it chars a little, then add a big squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of tablespoons of tahini and mix together. Yum.

If you’ve never made kale chips, you are missing a trick. Yes, they look green and a little too healthy, but actually they are oily and salty and very tasty. I add to a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle a little salt and pepper and bake in the oven on a low temperature (100ºC) for about 30 minutes.

(The low temp dries them out whilst keeping them green. If the oven is too high they will dry out and be ready quicker, but they will also be brown – not nearly so attractive.)

We don’t buy potato chips as they don’t come without packaging. Sometimes as a treat we’ll make a bowl of roast potatoes (chopped into small cubes and roasted to increase the crispy surface area) and snack on them. Probably not the healthiest option, but potato chips aren’t exactly either!

Vegetable peels also make great potato chips / crisps. I don’t tend to peel my veggies often (who can be bothered?!) But sometimes a recipe calls for peeling. If that’s the case I give the veggies a good scrub, peel and then put the veggies in a bowl with a small amount of olive oil. Mix, lay out of a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10 mins or so, turning half way through.

This works for most veggie peels: potato, carrot and parsnip are my favourite (and the tastiest), but beetroot peels and sweet potato peels also work.

Zero Waste Snacks: Other Crunchy, Salty Things

When I crave snacks, it’s not necessarily that I’m hungry. (Usually I’m procrastinating!) Often I just want something crunchy and salty. For me, my go-to option is popcorn.

Even if you can’t buy popcorn from a bulk store and without packaging, a 500g bag of popping corn will make a LOT of popcorn. If you were to buy that many packets of pre-popped popcorn or even potato chips, the waste would be enormous. Even if it comes in plastic, popcorn is a very low-waste snack.

I always make mine in a saucepan. Heat enough oil in the bottom of the pan to coat the kernels (but not so much it covers them) and heat until the kernels begin to pop. Rather than use a saucepan lid, I use a tea towel to stop the popcorn pinging out of the pan. Whilst popcorn is doing its thing, it releases a lot of steam. I find with a saucepan lid the moisture condenses and drips back onto the popcorn – cue soggy popcorn. The tea towel allows the steam to escape and gives you crispy popcorn. Hurrah!

(As soon as the popping slows down, take the pan off the heat, otherwise the popcorn will burn. You can always save unpopped kernels for next time.)

Roasted chickpeas are another snack I make. I tend to buy chickpeas in bulk and cook them up a couple of kilos at a time, so I’ll often make a batch of these. If you have access to dried chickpeas, either in bulk or in large bags, this is a great option. If you can only buy the tins, I probably wouldn’t bother (you’ll end up with way more packaging than snack). You can find my roasted chickpea recipe here.

Zero Waste Snacks: Really Simple Making & Baking

When I think of snacks, I think of something quick and easy. Baking is great, and I love it, but it often requires a little time. However, there are a few things that you can pull together and bake very quickly, so I’ve included a couple of ideas.

Bliss balls are the first option. All you need is a blender or food processor. They are typically made from nuts and dates blended together and rolled into balls. The less ingredients the better, in my view.

These are macadamias, shredded coconut, rice malt syrup and the juice and rind of a couple of lemons. Macadamias, dates and fresh ginger are also a great combo. And anything chocolate-flavoured, of course. Simply google “bliss balls” and you will find millions of options.

Cookies are another simple, low fuss baking solution, and 84th & 3rd’s 3 ingredient emergency cookies are a great zero waste option, requiring oats (these can be bought in cardboard only if not in bulk), pears and chocolate. You can substitute the pear for banana, switch the chocolate for nuts, add a couple of spoonfuls of nut butter to increase the flavour.

I’m not going to delve into full-on baking in this post, but of course, your imagination is your only limitation. Don’t be afraid to google recipes, or even inspiration for single ingredients and see what the internet has to offer. Or even better, experiment!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What are your favourite zero waste and plastic-free snacks? Any recipes that you’d recommend? Any tips and tricks to share? Any particular struggles that you have? I’d love to know more so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

A Zero Waste Food Diary (Part 1): Mealtimes

I get asked about this a lot and I’ve been intending to write about this for ages: the kinds of things I eat in a typical week. I confess, I tend to get stuck in a rut of eating the same 5-7 meals week in, week out until inspiration strikes again. (Can anyone else relate to that?)

Even though there is a whole plethora of things I love to eat, my brain seems to forget them all save a few. Then I’ll glance on a long-forgotten recipe, and that will become the new staple for a couple of months, and something else will fall off the list.

So what I’ve shared below isn’t a typical week, so much as a collection of the kinds of things we eat.

I don’t tend to meal plan, at least not week by week. We get a veg box delivered once a fortnight (from The Organic Collective) and we never know exactly what we are going to get. We also have a veggie garden that does not ripen according to any meal-planning schedule. Fortunately, I do have a knack for being able to whip up a meal even when my husband assures me that there is simply nothing to eat in the house.

Organic Collective Veg Box

The veg box arrives on a Tuesday, and I’ll open it up to see what we have and make a rough meal plan in my head for the next fortnight. There will be things that I need to buy to supplement what I want to make. I also tend to buy avocados (we eat a LOT of avocados; grateful they grow here in WA), mushrooms, onions, garlic and tomatoes from the store fairly regularly to supplement the box.

In my veggie garden there is always a variety of greens, plenty of herbs, chillis and some seasonal vegetables. (I recorded a garden tour video last week for my Patreon page; you’ll get access to this and additional content if you become a member.)

Garden Pickings

Sometimes I make my own sourdough, but recently we’ve been buying bread from Escape and Rebellion, a local microbakery. My bulk goods come from The Source Bulk Foods (specifically the Vic Park store), which has everything I could ever need… and plenty of things I don’t but that I buy anyway (hello, enormous and delicious chocolatey section.)

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Breakfast

Porridge is one of our staple breakfasts. I cook the oats on a very low temperature with water, and stir through a little cashew milk as soon as I’ve taken it off the heat. I often add hemp seeds, chia seeds or flax seeds. Sometimes I add fruit: chopped banana or mulberries (when in season).

Toast comes and goes as a breakfast item. I don’t think it’s really that healthy; but it’s easy, and since we discovered the new microbakery we have been eating it a little more. We generally top our toast with mashed avocado, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of hemp seeds.

Muesli is another breakfast basic. I make my own using this no sugar muesli recipe. Sometimes I’ll use it as a topper for porridge or a smoothie if I want some extra crunch.

Smoothies and smoothie bowls tend to be more a summer thing than a winter one. Smoothie bowls are simply smoothies that are thick enough to eat with a spoon. Adding half an avocado and a few spoonfuls of nut butter helps bulk it out.

It is worth noting that I am a huge fan of leftovers, and will quite often have leftovers for breakfast: salad, rice and vegetables, etc.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Lunchtime / Light Meals

It is actually quite hard to distinguish between lunch and dinner in our household, as lunch usually consists of last night’s dinner or other leftovers. We don’t tend to eat sandwiches or wraps or other lunchtime-y things.

One of the reasons I don’t love having bread in the house is that it is all too easy to have toast for lunch as well as breakfast. Sometimes we will have bruchetta at the weekends, but not often during the week.

Great things to put on bread / bruschetta (aside from avocado): dips (hummus especially), pesto, fresh tomatoes, fresh mashed broad beans, lots of herbs.

Dips are really easy to make from scratch. I make hummus often (you can find my hummus recipe here). To make beetroot hummus I simply add finely grated beetroot to the regular hummus recipe (both raw and cooked beetroot work). Hummus freezes really well, so make more than you need and freeze the rest.

To eat I either slather on toast, chop up veggies to make crudites or make my own sourdough crackers.

Salads tend to be a side serve rather than a meal in themselves, unless it’s a 40 degree day. Salads do not have to be boring. If they are insipid and without any flavour or substance, it just means you will spend all afternoon eating chocolate.

I’m a big fan of a colourful salad, but I also like making green salads where the only ingredients can be green. This can include: lettuce, kale, pan-fried broccoli, lots of herbs (ideas include coriander, parsley, Thai basil and mint – probably not all at once!), cucumber, green capsicum/pepper, green jalapenos, avocado. I always add some kind of fat (avocado, nuts and/or seeds) and try to include different textures. Capers add a bit of punch.

For salad dressing I add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, maybe a dash of apple cider vinegar and a drizzle of tahini.

Colourful salads can contain everything! Don’t be afraid to add apple or pear, strawberries (which go amazingly with tomato) or mango to a salad. Roasted vegetables that have cooled are a great addition too (think butternut squash, sweet potato, beetroot). Always add some kind of crunchy topping – nuts or seeds, even croutons.

I often eat salad with a side of quinoa. Generally I mix it all up in the bowl, but here I was being all fancy-like. It’s simply green lettuce, cucumber, avocado, roasted zucchini, quinoa, roasted carrots, olives, chickpeas and sauerkraut (DIY sauerkraut recipe here).

Soup is another lunch option. I tend to like soup that only has one or two vegetables in it (rather than generic chunky veg soup), so it tends to be made if I have a glut of something. I often have a corn cob with soup for lunch, and have been known to use soup as a pasta sauce.

A Zero Waste Food Diary: Dinnertime / Heavier Meals

I take a lot of my inspiration from Yotam Ottolenghi. The man is a vegetable-cooking genius, and he is not even vegetarian! An Israeli-Italian living in London, he knows how to use vegetables, pulses and beans to create filling, tasty, flavourful dishes. I own a couple of his cookbooks (and as a minimalist, that’s saying something!)

Some of his recipes can be a little fiddly but most are easily adaptable. If you’re unsure how to get started with vegetarian cooking, or using chickpeas and other pulses, I’d recommend his books Plenty and Plenty More (check your library).

These falafels are not from Ottolenghi, but it’s the kind of thing you’d find in his books. (I suspect he has a recipe somewhere.) After struggling to make falafels several times, I’ve finally nailed a recipe and these have become a staple in our house.

(Back when I lived in the UK, before I went plastic-free / zero waste, I used to eat a lot of falafels. They came in a hard plastic tub, with a plastic film lid, then with a cardboard outer. You’d get 8 in a pack. I bought them often. Cringe!)

I almost always serve with roasted cauliflower (not tried roasted cauliflower? You’re missing a trick!) and a rice salad which I’ve talked about below.

This rice salad definitely draws inspiration from Ottolenghi: he has a bunch of salads that look like this. I’ve made most of them over the years: these days I follow a general formula rather than a recipe as such. As a minimum I cook white rice, lentils (usually puy lentils) and quinoa. I cook all three separately and combine when cooled). I’ll thinly slice and fry onions until caramelised. Then I add heaps of herbs (coriander, parsley and mint tend to be the ones I have; I don’t necessarily use all but at least two). Finally I add something for sweetness (pomegranate, cape gooseberries, dried cherries) and something for crunch (roasted almonds, occasionally pine nuts).

Sometimes I’ll add wild rice, or use red rice instead of white rice. The puy lentils can be switched for beluga lentils, or green lentils, or even chickpeas. I’ll use spinach or mizuna lettuce instead / as well as herbs. Sometimes I add cumin or lemon zest. I find it pretty flexible.

I also make an enormous bowl and we tend to eat it for lunch and dinner for a few days.

We also eat a lot of stir-fries and one-pot vegetable dishes. This one below was inspired by Ottolenghi – I didn’t have half of the ingredients, but had similar things so I looked at the picture and made my own version. It’s white sweet potato (pre-cooked) fried in a pan with onion, chard and chickpeas, and lots of lemon juice.

More vegetable one-pot meals: this would be the kind of filling I’d use for baked potatoes or sweet potatoes – topped with avocado and drizzled with tahini.

This is literally a use-up-whats-in-the-fridge meal. I used two pans to try and keep the flavours different and make it a bit more interesting.

We eat pasta occasionally, usually with a tomato-based sauce (we chop up fresh tomatoes), or with pesto (made with herbs from the garden) or a creamy sauce made with avocado. This is chopped greens (kale, spinach and parsley), fried in garlic, drizzled in lemon juice and mixed with some pesto.

We also eat a lot of dahl (which is basically Indian spiced cooked lentils). I tend to use yellow lentils for this. I first made dahl using Nigel Slater’s recipe way back when. I still use it as a base recipe, but mess around with the spices, or add coconut milk (probably not a very dahl thing to do) or add lots of kale.

Usually I don’t mix dahl with rice, but this was a case of reheating leftovers and only wanting to wash one saucepan.

Roast vegetables are a winter staple in our house. I roast a lot of butternut squash and other pumpkins, sweet potato, beetroot, carrots. Once roasted I use in salads, as a side, or with puy lentils to make a more filling dish. Alternatively I used leftover roast veggies to make soup, or add to hummus.

I have a guilty pleasure of roasting actual potatoes and then eating out of a bowl as a snack.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this isn’t a complete food diary of what I eat in a week – rather I’ve tried to show you as many ideas as possible. There’s plenty more I could talk about. Plant foods are so versatile, it is truly impossible to run out of inspiration!

In part 2 I’m going to be talking about zero waste snacks: in particular, snacks to eat when you don’t have access to a bulk store. Until then, I’d love to hear from you! What are your go-to zero waste meals? Any quick and easy ones you recommend? Or anything that takes a bit of effort but is totally worth it? Any flavour or ingredient combos you love? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Is Zero Waste Only for the Privileged? (And Does It Matter?)

I’ve received a few emails recently asking whether I think zero waste is a lifestyle for the privileged. After all, it is predominantly represented in the media by white, seemingly middle-class females. Is zero waste really a lifestyle for everybody? Or just the more affluent few, or those with more time on their hands to spend traipsing to the various trendy organic stores and making DIY skincare products from scratch?

I wanted to explore this further by answering four questions: what is privilege; what is zero waste; is zero waste a lifestyle for the privileged; and ultimately, does it matter?

What is Privilege?

A good definition of privilege is this: “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. These “privileges” are often unearned, for example, being born into a particular country or family. Actually, privilege is a lot more complex than simply calling it an “advantage”. Often it’s multiple advantages, based on all kinds of factors.

This short video (less than 2 minutes) does a great job of explaining privilege, and this video below (which is 4 minutes) demonstrates how different people are affected by privilege in society.

In many ways, privilege is an advantage that manifests itself as choice. The more privilege, the more choice.

Having privilege doesn’t make anyone a bad person. It doesn’t mean not having to work hard, or struggle to achieve a goal. It just means having advantages that make these things easier than for someone else without that privilege.

What is Zero Waste?

I think it is important here to explain both “zero waste”, and also “zero waste as represented by the media”, because they are not the same.

“Zero waste” is about sending nothing to landfill, and recycling as little as possible. It’s about rethinking the way we do things: refusing what we don’t need, reducing what we use, reusing what we have, repairing what we can, and recycling as a last resort.

Zero waste is about consuming less, making conscious choices when we do need to make purchases, supporting companies who are trying to do the right thing and reducing our environmental impact. It’s about choosing second-hand, borrowing or making do, choosing things that will last and taking responsibility for our personal choices.

Of course, the media represent zero waste in a slightly different way. Zero waste in the media is the newsworthy bits, the glamorous bits, the bits that invite intrigue and discussion. The media love to talk about and show photographs of glass jars of annual trash, trendy bulk stores and Farmers Markets.

Some of the most popular zero wasters are glamorous Americans who are also extremely photogenic and live in beautiful houses and apartments, and their lifestyles lend themselves to media coverage.

But this is just a snapshot. Even glamorous zero wasters shop at second-hand stores, and compost their food scraps, yet this isn’t talked about nearly as much. Or they choose to buy nothing at all – but where is the photo opportunity there?

Is Zero Waste a Lifestyle for the Privileged?

I would say no. But also yes.

Whilst any “lifestyle” is a choice, and therefore infers some level of privilege, the zero waste lifestyle is the lifestyle of consuming less, of refusing the unnecessary. Of borrowing, and choosing second-hand. These choices are accessible to most.

So no, the zero waste lifestyle is not reserved only for the young, affluent, or those with plenty of time on their hands.

The media might represent the zero waste movement as white, female and middle-class, but scratch beneath this veneer and you will find that zero waste is embraced by men and women, young and old, from all of the continents.

The glass jar full of trash might be the emblem of the movement, but to me, the zero waste lifestyle is a philosophy and a set of principles rather than a destination.

Anyone can subscribe to the ideals.

How far and how quickly we can progress towards these ideals, in practical terms; I do think that is a matter of privilege.

Having a choice – about where we live, where we shop, what we buy and how we spend our money – that is a privilege.

I don’t have children. I don’t have elderly or sick relatives that I need to look after. I don’t have any disabilities, serious health complaints or allergies. I live in a city with plenty of options. I can do a big bulk grocery shop once a month because my budget allows me to, rather than having to go every week. Because the bulk store is very close to my house, I can also pop over there if I’ve forgotten a couple of things.

These factors make it easier for me to reduce my waste, and that is privilege.

Access to bulk stores and Farmers Markets, the choice of grocery store, being able to afford things like stainless steel lunchboxes or organic oats, these choices are not available to everyone.

For those of us who do have access to these things, we are privileged.

Of course, zero waste is not about stainless steel lunchboxes or organic oats. It’s about working towards reducing waste, consuming less and choosing better. Privilege makes it easier, for sure. The less privilege and the less choice, the harder we have to work for our desired results and vice versa.

Zero waste is no different from any other scenario.

Does it Matter?

I don’t want to talk about whether privilege matters. Rather, I’m interested in why, when it comes to living zero waste, privilege is talked about at all, and more so, why it is seen as a bad thing.

Privilege exists everywhere, that’s just a fact. Yes, privilege tends to mean more resources and more choice. Like many things, zero waste is easier for some than others.

But that shouldn’t stop us doing what we can. Every step is a step in the right direction, and small changes still add up to create a big impact.

Whenever I see negative press or comments about zero waste in the media, the discontent tends to be around privilege; perceived and actual. It is perceived that zero wasters are well off, and therefore the lifestyle is not attainable to most.

Firstly, I disagree that zero waste is only for the affluent. I disagree that we need expensive zero waste “trinkets” (like stainless steel lunchboxes or reusable coffee cups) to live zero waste. They are luxury items.

As someone who owns both a stainless steel lunchbox and a reusable coffee cup, I realise this. The most sustainable and zero waste choice would be for me to not drink coffee at all, and drink only water. But I enjoy an occasional coffee, and so I have a reusable coffee cup.

That doesn’t mean these things are necessities of the zero waste lifestyle.

The “stuff” gets talked about so much because it is a talking point! But talking about the “stuff” can detract from the real message.

 Zero waste is the lifestyle of refusing, rethinking, reducing, reusing and repairing. Of using what we have, and making do.

Buy nothing new and choose second-hand – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Join the library – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Ride a bike and get rid of the car – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Refuse a plastic bag and a plastic drinking straw – that’s the zero waste lifestyle. Own less pairs of shoes, choose the best you can afford and wear them often – that’s the zero waste lifestyle.

Let’s not get distracted by the things that others buy. Zero waste is not about what we can afford to buy. It is about what we choose not to buy. Ultimately, zero waste is not a lifestyle of “buying” or “stuff”. The less we buy and the more we make do, the better job we do of living zero waste.

Secondly, I’m at a loss as to why anyone would think it is a bad thing that those with privilege are choosing to live zero waste, use less resources and tread more lightly on the planet. There are plenty of people with privilege exploiting the planet, using more than their fair share of resources, and encouraging consumption.

Why attack or dismiss those using their privilege trying to make the world a better place?

Anyone working towards reducing their impact and sharing what they’ve learned should be applauded, in my view.

I am very aware that I am white, female, middle-class, and living in Australia. The stories that I share are written from this perspective: my lived experience. Most zero waste advocates share their own experiences and lifestyle choices. It’s fact-sharing rather than prescribing a lifestyle for others. We do what we can, and we share what we know.

I do not think that people with privilege talking about and advocating for zero waste is a bad thing. However, if they are the only people talking about zero waste, then that is a bad thing.

I don’t think the issue is one of privilege. I think the real issue is one of representation. That is what matters.

Waste is something we all make decisions about, every single day. We all have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it. Reducing waste is accessible to most.

But if zero waste is only talked about (or represented in the media) by one group of people, with one set of experiences, how can we expect everyone to embrace this way of living?

How can we expect those not in this group to relate, or to connect, or to feel inspired?

Whilst the zero waste movement is represented as white, female and middle-class, there will always be people who feel excluded.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that if we want the zero waste movement to spread, we need to be supportive, inclusive, and encourage all voices, even those that are different to our own.

We need to recognize that people have different experiences and different journeys.

We need to recognize that we cannot and do not speak for everyone.

Where we have privilege, we need to be aware of it. Not deny that it exists, but recognise that it is there.

Privilege isn’t a bad thing in itself. It’s how we use it that counts.

A Beginner’s Guide to Sauerkraut (+ Fermented Vegetables)

Today, I’m talking cabbage. (Stay with me…it gets better, I promise!) Now cabbage and I, we have a bit of a love-hate relationship. I like cabbage, but it arrives in the veg box every week, reminding me that there’s still last week’s cabbage in the fridge refusing to go bad.

(Of course, I can’t put a perfectly good cabbage in the compost. If it happened to accidentally go bad…well, maybe I could justify it, but cabbage is stubborn!)

In fact, cabbage simply refuses to go bad, which actually makes it a rather good zero waste vegetable. (It shrivels a little and the outer leaves go brown, but peel those leaves back and there’s still perfectly good cabbage underneath.) Plus it grows at a time of year when many other more delicious vegetables do not.

If you want to eat seasonal and you live anywhere except the tropics, cabbage is going to feature on your menu. But cabbage week in, week out; it can wear a bit thin.

That, my friends, is why we need to embrace sauerkraut.

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. That might not sound delicious, but it’s a tangy, crunchy, super healthy vegetable that’s tastier than the name suggests. Sauerkraut contains millions of good bacteria, so is like taking probiotics, but without the packaging. Sauerkraut also lasts for ages in the fridge.

I’ve kept sauerkraut in the fridge for a year. Fresh cabbage might seem to last forever, but it won’t last a year.

The good news is, whilst fermenting sounds hard, it is actually very easy. Plus you don’t actually need any specialised equipment. Sure, there’s all kinds of fancy gadgets out there, but you can get going with a glass jar and a tea towel. Oh, and some cabbage ;)

That said, you don’t actually have to make sauerkraut with only cabbage. You can mix cabbage with other vegetables like onion, carrot and beetroot.

But let’s not get distracted thinking about all the wonderful potential! Let’s start at the beginning.

Some Fermentation Basics

Fermentation is a process that uses good bacteria and yeast to transform a product. By fermenting, we crowd out the bad bacteria with good bacteria, which changes the flavour and texture, but also helps lengthen the shelf life of the product. For example, yoghurt is fermented milk: whereas fresh milk will last in the fridge for up to a week, yoghurt might last a month.

Fermenting is anaerobic, meaning without oxygen. (Although confusingly, some foods are actually fermented with oxygen, such as vinegar.) In my experience of making sauerkraut, this “without oxygen” rule doesn’t need to be absolute. By removing oxygen we create conditions for the good bacteria to multiply, and these prevent the bad bacteria getting a hold and spoiling the food.

Fermentation has been used for centuries as a way of preserving food, prior to refrigeration. People were fermenting long before air-lock attachments and special fermentation jars were invented. This specialist equipment can help, but isn’t necessary.

I make sauerkraut a few times a year, and I simply don’t see the need to buy specialised equipment when it works without.

Because we are dealing with bacteria, we need to be careful not to be too over-zealous with the cleaning. I’d avoid using an anti-bacterial hand wash or chopping boards, for example. Clean is good, sterile not so much.

How to Make Sauerkraut (No Fancy Equipment Required)

I’m a big believer that you don’t need fancy equipment. I don’t use any, and I’ve been making sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables for over 4 years. If you’re a professional, that’s different, and with certain ferments, it can be crucial. But for sauerkraut, I personally don’t believe that it is.

Ingredients:

Cabbage;
1/100th weight of cabbage in salt.

So if the cabbage weighs 1 kg, use 10g salt. Basically, divide the weight by 100. (It is possible to eyeball it, but when starting out it helps to measure.)

Equipment:

A large bowl;
A glass jar that you can fit your fist into (or if you have large hands or small jars, you’ll also need a wooden rolling pin);
A weight that fits inside the glass jar (I use a smaller glass jar filled with water);
A tea towel.

Method:

I’ve included a lot of photos before to give you a really clear idea of what each stage is meant to look like.

Remove the core of the cabbage (the stalky white bit), and chop the cabbage into strips. Weigh the cabbage, put into a large bowl and sprinkle the salt on top (the amount is calculated based on the weight of the cabbage – 1 kg cabbage equals 10g salt).

Massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands, and the salt will begin to draw the water out of the cabbage. This is what you want to happen. Massage for 10 – 15 minutes until the cabbage looks like it has shrunk.

At this stage I always add a tablespoon of cumin seeds. I love the flavour it gives. You can keep yours plain, add cumin or go crazy with the spices. At the beginning, I’d suggest keeping it plain until you learn what flavours you’re meant to be looking out for.

Notice how the cabbage appears to have shrunk. (If you taste it at this point, it will taste like salty cabbage, not sauerkraut.)

Next you need to start packing the cabbage into the jar. Choose a jar that’s going to have room for the juices to expand because they will. Ideally find one that you can fit your hands into, but if not, a rolling pin will work.

Put a few tablespoons of cabbage into the jar, and press down as hard as you can. You want to squeeze out any remaining liquid. Keep adding the cabbage and pressing, and you’ll start to see the liquid rising above the cabbage.

This is important as the liquid helps keep the oxygen away from the cabbage, and creates the right conditions for fermentation.

Once you’ve put all the cabbage in the jar, add any liquid remaining in the bowl into the jar. Do not add any other liquid.

The cabbage will probably sitting slightly under the water level. To compact it down and thereby raise the liquid level, use a weight. I use a smaller jar that fits inside my large jar, or a bottle (I fill it with water to make it heavier).

If there’s any floating or escaped bits of cabbage, poke them under the liquid. Next, I cover with a tea towel.

The bottle on top is pressing the cabbage below the water line and excluding oxygen, and the bottle restricts the amount of jar entering through the lid. For me, this is enough.

If you’d like to put a lid on the jar (and it fits), this will exclude oxygen better. However, it has its own drawbacks. In the fermentation process, carbon dioxide gas will be released. Unless you remember to open the lid at intervals to allow the gas to escape (called “burping” the jar), your jar could explode. Won’t happen with a tea towel!

(That’s why you can buy fermentation valves that allow carbon dioxide to escape without letting in oxygen. For some things, like cider making, it is very important. For sauerkraut and lactic acid fermentation, it is less critical.)

Every day, check your cabbage. You’ll start to notice bubbles forming. I tend to press the weight down to squeeze out the bubbles, and also check for any floating bits. If there’s cabbage floating on the surface, it is in contact with air (oxygen), so needs to be submerged or removed.

After 1 day (see the bubbles starting to form both on top, and within the cabbage layers):

And after 3 days:

How quickly and how much it bubbles will depend a lot on room temperature. If your jar is narrow or filled to the top it can be helpful to place in a bowl as it might bubble over!

This is a different batch, but shows how much it can bubble (and I’ve seen more than this!):

I tend to keep my sauerkraut on the kitchen counter, covered with a tea towel (to also exclude light) until the bubbling subsides, which takes 1 – 2 weeks.

Some people like to leave their sauerkraut on the counter for several weeks or even months to increase the good bacteria (it will also taste more sour). In my view, it doesn’t really matter, and once in the fridge fermentation won’t stop, it will just continue very very slowly.

When the bubbling subsides, the sauerkraut should be crunchy and taste sour (but delicious). You may see a white film, this is kahm yeast and is harmless. I’ve never had an issue with mold, but if you see anything multi-coloured or blue, that batch might be better in the compost.

When you’re ready to place in the fridge, you can remove the cabbage/sauerkraut from big jar and put into something more practical. The less surface area the better, so choose a smaller jar. At this stage it is fine to place a lid on the jar.

Other Fermentation Ideas

You can ferment most veggies and even fruits, but they have varying levels of difficulty. If you’re a beginner, stick to hard veggies like beetroot and carrot, or use softer vegetables like onion as part of the vegetable mix, but not all of it.

That said, I’ve had success fermenting chillies, and I’m sure capsicums would work well also.

My personal favourites are carrot, onion and white cabbage with cumin seeds – taken from a South American ferment called curtido.

I also like beetroot and purple cabbage together because the colour is fantastic.

I made an amazing turmeric ginger sauerkraut once that tasted like piccalilli, but I’ve never been able to recreate the flavour combination since.

Fermentation is a great way to preserve vegetables, and it a healthier option than pickling: the food is literally “alive” with good bacteria (there’s not heat process to kill them) and there’s no added sugar.

Plus it means I get to keep my cabbage in the fridge for literally months, without feeling the slightest bit guilty about it!

Now I’d like to hear from you! Do you ferment vegetables? What are your favourite flavour combinations? Have you had any disasters? Are there any other tips you’d like to add? Are you tempted to give this a go, or does the idea still scare you a little? Please tell all in the comments below!

10+ Practical Ideas for Eco-Friendly Plant Pots

I started my plastic-free life back in 2012 and my gardening life long before that. When it comes to plastic-free gardening, though, I’m still a relative newbie. I lived in an upstairs apartment for my first few zero waste years, so there was no garden to practice with.

I’ve been living in our new place, complete with garden, for over a year now, and there’s been plenty of opportunity to learn. I’ve come to realise that whilst plastic-free might be the goal, there is so much “waste” plastic that can be reused in the garden, that I’m more focused on zero waste (and reusing) than plastic-free.

I’d rather use what exists than purchase new “zero waste” items.

I thought I’d share some of my plastic-free and zero waste gardening tips, beginning with eco-friendly plant pots.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Plant Pots when Growing from Seed

The best way to avoid waste is to grow from seed. Saving your own seeds, and swapping seeds with others, is the best way to source seeds. However, it isn’t always practical. If you’re establishing a new garden, like I was, you’ll probably need to buy seeds.

However, before you go shopping, I’d recommend looking for local gardening groups and seed swaps, just in case. A few of our local libraries even offer seeds to “borrow” – the idea is that once you’ve planted them and have your own seeds, you return these to the library.

Some seeds can be sown directly in the ground, but most need planting into trays or pots before planting out.

Toilet rolls

Toilet rolls are the perfect size for seedlings, and you can fold one end over to make a base. However, if you have a productive garden, getting enough can be a challenge!

If you need more, Buy Nothing groups and Gumtree are a great way to find them. Similarly, if you don’t need your own, they are a great way to offload them to someone who does. Save them up until you have enough to entice someone to make the trip, and give them away.

It sounds bizarre, but if you look you’ll see that old toilet roll tube trading is a real thing! ;)

Newspaper Pots

My favourite way to make seedling pots is folding them, origami-style, using old newspaper (you can find DIY instructions for making seedling newspaper pots here). There’s no tape and no glue, no tools required and it takes less than a minute to make one.

I love these as, unlike toilet rolls, there’s no need to store them. Grab a couple of old newspapers and make everything you need in half an hour.

You can buy tools to make newspaper pots. They are usually made of wood, and to make the pot the newspaper is wrapped around a cylinder and pressing into an indented base (here’s an example of a wooden paper potter). Personally I think they are unnecessary, and as a minimalist I like to keep my tools to essentials only.

Wooden Seedling Flats

These are wooden boxes that are not compartmentalised, used for seed-raising. They are filled with soil and seeds sown, which can be transplanted once they’ve germinated.

Seedling flats can be made from softwood (like pine) or hardwood. If looked after properly and maintained, they can last several years. The most eco-friendly option are those made from reclaimed timber and offcuts.

Soil Blockers

Soil blockers are metal presses that allow you to press soil together to make cells to plant seeds without any other material. I first heard of soil blockers via Milkwood, and whilst I love the idea, I’m yet to give them a go. A friend has recently purchased one so I’m keen to test it out and will keep you posted.

Purpose-Bought Compostable Pots

It’s worth noting that ‘compostable’ is not the same as ‘biodegradable’. Compostable means it will break down in a compost bin or soil into humus (natural material) with no toxic residue. Biodegradable means it will be broken down by bacteria under certain conditions (often tested in a lab).

A ‘biodegradable’ label does not guarantee it will be broken down into constituent parts, only that it will break down small enough that it cannot be seen. It does not guarantee there will be no toxic residue.

There are a lot of pots that fall under the “compostable” category. The most eco-friendly ones are natural and made of waste materials like coconut coir or aged cow manure. Less environmentally sound ones are made with brand new wood fibre, and/or peat moss (removal of peat moss has been linked to global warming).

Whatever they are made from, they are designed to be single-use. They require energy to manufacture, package and transport. If we can use what we already have, that is a more eco-friendly option.

They are more durable than newspaper or toilet rolls, so are a good option for growing seedlings to sell or where they need to look more professional.

Purpose-bought Biodegradable Pots

Biodegradable (but not compostable) pots are often made with PLA plastic, also called corn starch or plant-based plastic. This is a polyester made from plant material rather than fossil fuels like traditional polyester.

Some PLA pots will state that they are compostable, but this will usually refer to composting under controlled conditions. They should state the test standard used and be “certified compostable.” Without the certification, the claim is meaningless.

These pots are a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional fossil-fuel based plastic pots. It should be possible to reuse them a few times before they begin to break down.

Personally, if a pot says biodegradable but does not say compostable, or is made of PLA plastic, I would avoid it unless absolutely necessary.

Things I don’t recommend:

Eggshells might look cute, but they are ridiculously impractical to fill. I found the same with egg boxes, and they are so absorbent they dry out the soil, but if you don’t live in a hot climate, they might work. On the downside, too cold and damp and they will encourage mold growth.

Terracotta pots aren’t great for seedlings as the roots can attach to the clay and get damaged in transplanting. Brand new compostable seedling punnets might sound green, but they seem a waste of resources when there are so many other options to use.

Transplanting Seedlings to Bigger Pots

Sometimes seedlings need to be transplanted into bigger pots before heading out to the veggie patch.

Reusing Seedling Trays/Plastic Pots

I’m a big fan of re-using what we have. We don’t use plastic at home, but I often find plastic plant pots thrown out on verge collection day, and I collect them to re-use. Plastic yoghurt pots, milk bottles and other plastic containers that can all be re-used to make plant pots.

Plastic that has been used with soil is difficult to clean and won’t be recycled. That’s fine if you intend to reuse the plastic as plant pots again and again. If there’s a choice, it is better to choose plastic that isn’t recyclable over plastic that is, and aim for as many re-uses as possible.

Plastic that is left in the sun will also begin to photo-degrade (break down into smaller pieces). They will last better in cooler, shadier conditions.

Potting On (Transferring Plants from Small Plant Pots to Bigger Plant Pots)

Seedlings eventually grow up, and either go into the garden or need bigger, more permanent homes. Whilst it’s easy to find small pots in various sizes, as the size goes up the opportunities become more limited. Here I’ve focussed on some of the biggest options, which are big enough to plant a small tree.

Terracotta Pots

I’ve found that terracotta pots aren’t great for small plants that I intend to repot as the roots get damaged, but they are a great plastic-free option for bigger plants, bulbs or annuals. We got these pots from the verge when our neighbours moved to Queensland.

One thing to note about terracotta – it is porous, which means in hot summers it can wick moisture out of the soil. One solution is to paint or glaze on the outside or the inside, to maintain the moisture of the soil, or choose pots that are already glazed.

Wine Barrels

I love wine barrels. They look beautiful and rustic, and are a waste product of the wine industry, but they are also very expensive to buy. These two wine barrels were purchased several years ago, but now they’d cost more than $100 each. Great for a feature, but not practical if you are on a budget or need more than one.

Wine barrels can be stained or varnished to help protect them from the weather, but ultimately the wood will break down. In Perth with its long dry summers, a wine barrel receiving haphazard (or no) care should last several years. In wetter climates I’d expect they’d need more management.

Olive Barrels

Olive barrels are big 190 litre food-grade plastic barrels that olives are imported in. They cannot be re-used by the import/export industry, so they are a waste product. Yes they are plastic, but they are second-hand. Much as I hate plastic, I love re-use,. Most terracotta pots for sale in WA are imported from Italy, whereas these barrels are already here. They are also extremely low cost – one barrel costs around $25 and can be cut in half to make two pots.

I would always choose the orange barrels, which are food grade. The blue ones are chemical barrels and most originally contained pesticides and fungicides, or other chemicals. They also tend to buckle in full sun, whereas the orange ones do not.

I’ve made all my olive barrels into wicking beds, meaning they have a hole at the side rather than the bottom, and a reservoir below the soil to hold water. This means the soil can wick water from the reservoir in summer, so the plants need less watering. Because a container needs to be fully waterproof to do this, it is difficult to do without plastic.

Upcycled Things

Honestly, it is only your imagination that will restrict you when it comes to finding eco-friendly plant pots. I’ve seen garden beds and plant pots made of old toilets, sinks, bathtubs, metal tins, plastic clam-shells and much more.

Just because it isn’t round and sold in a garden centre, it doesn’t mean that you can’t grow something in it!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other suggestions to add to this list? Do you have any “not-to-do”s or things to avoid? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen used as a plant pot? And more importantly – did it work or was it a fail?! Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Permaculture Principles for Modern (Zero Waste) Living

Have you heard of permaculture? Founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture was the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. The term came from “permanent agriculture.”

Let me tell you, it’s actually about a lot more than gardening.

Since the 1970s, the idea has expanded and grown, as has the movement. At its core it is a ‘systems thinking’ approach, and the design principles can be applied to anywhere where sustainability is the focus.

But many people would describe permaculture as a “philosophy” – a set of guidelines to live by. Many people would describe zero waste in the same way. Both have the idea of fair share, not taking or using more than we need, not wasting resources or people.

Because of this, I think permaculture principles (and ethics) are just as relevant for plastic-free (and zero waste) living. They are relevant to people living within cities, and without so much as a pot plant to their name.

But many people without gardens simply don’t know enough (or anything!) about it.

Let’s change that! I’d like to introduce the permaculture principles, and their relevance (as I see it) to the zero waste movement.

Permaculture Living: The Three Ethics

At the centre of the movement are three ethics: people care; earth care; and fair share. I would argue that anybody who believes in sustainability believes in these three ethics.

Permaculture Living: The 12 Principles (And How They Relate To Zero Waste Living)

The 12 principles of permaculture, developed by David Holmgren in 2002, are described as “thinking tools”. Used together, they can enable us to re-design both our environment and our behavior in a world of less energy and resources.

They are guiding principles for an ethical lifestyle.

Observe and Interact.

To me, this is about taking the time to look around us, to explore our surroundings and learn from others. We often learn good habits from others, or we find answers simply by watching and thinking.

By asking questions, seeking out information and being open to learn, we can come up with solutions that work for us.

Catch and Store Energy.

To me, this is about efficiency. Making the most of things when they are abundant, and being able to use them when they are not.

We think of energy as electricity or power, but it’s just as true for water and food, and the energy embedded in resources. From a zero waste perspective, maximising the use of anything is encouraged.

I like to think of reusables as “caught and stored energy”. An item, build to last and used forever. Rather than single use items that require energy to make, energy to ship and then are gone from usefulness forever. Wasted energy.

Obtain a Yield.

In gardening terms, this principle is pretty obvious. Actually, it should apply to everything we do. Money is another obvious yield, but it goes deeper. We don’t have to be paid for something to get pleasure from it. Yield can also mean enjoyment, satisfaction, motivation, and fulfillment.

When we love to do something, the pleasure of simply doing it can be its own reward.

There is a danger of doing things that bring us no pleasure, satisfaction nor other reward: they ultimately leave us burned-out, demotivated, resentful and frustrated.

That’s not sustainable.

Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback.

Permaculture looks at this from a systems perspective, but I think it’s just as relevant for individuals.

None of us are perfect. We strive to do the best we can. When we receive feedback telling us there is a better way, or pointing out something we hadn’t thought of before, we can begrudge and feel judged and not take action; or we can embrace the challenge to improve ourselves a little more.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.

This is definitely a principle that underpins both the plastic-free and zero waste movements. Most plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, and recycling options for all plastics are limited (and result in downcycling).

The zero waste movement embraces a circular economy, and aims to see nothing sent to landfill.

Both movements value choosing materials that are natural, renewable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable.

Produce No Waste.

My favourite principle! Clearly the zero waste movement is built around “produce no waste”, but permaculture has a different (broader) perspective.

Whilst permaculture recognizes there is a bigger system, the zero waste movement can lean towards individualism.

In permaculture, reusing and repurposing other people’s waste is a huge part of reducing our impact and use of resources. The zero waste movement celebrates individual action and achievement: it focuses on reducing personal landfill waste, but doesn’t always recognize that waste is still produced upstream.

Personally, I think they both have a place, and I think both ideals can learn from the other.

Design From Patterns to Details.

This principle recognises the value in observing before doing, and the importance at looking at the bigger picture before making choices.

From a zero waste/plastic-free perspective, I see the patterns as “habits” and details as “stuff”. Rather than deciding to embrace a low-waste lifestyle and then spending hours choosing the best mason jars to equip the pantry with, it is better to look at our habits first.

Take time to look for the patterns, and then decide what fits best.

It’s another way of saying: take time, observe first, and do second.

Integrate Rather Than Segregate.

Integration is important for any community. It’s what glues community together, and it’s what creates a movement. To get the best outcomes, we need to work together.

There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. There is only ‘us’.

Whether we teach, motivate, encourage or provide support, communities are best when we embrace networks, share freely and collaborate.

Community is strong in both permaculture and zero waste, and for many of us, that’s the best part.

Use Small and Slow Solutions.

Bigger isn’t always better. Small and slow solutions are at the heart of the zero waste movement. Taking time, making do, thinking creatively; embracing local and seasonal.

Use and Value Diversity.

There is never a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There is rarely a single way to do anything. There are different voices and different perspectives, and different ways of doing things, even when the outcomes are similar.

We connect with different stories, and everyone has something to add.

Use Edges and Value the Margins.

In permaculture, we talk about the interfaces between things being where the most valuable, diverse and productive elements lie. The edge of a pond, lake or river; or the edge of the forest where the trees meet the grassland.

In zero waste, I think of these “edges” and “margins” as the parts that are often seen as waste – things like offcuts or scraps. Yet they have just as much potential and are just as valuable – it often just takes a little creative thinking.

Creatively Use and Respond to Change.

“Vision is not seeing things as they are but as they will be.” Both the permaculture and zero waste movements are build around a desire to do things differently; to do things better than the “status quo” of overconsumption and exploitation.

Both embrace creativity, not at an artistic level but at a solutions-based, practical and ideas level. Looking at the system, and creating new ways to do things better. Seeing things that aren’t working, and coming up with better ways.

It isn’t about having all the answers, or creating change on a global scale. It’s about being creative with what we know and what we see, and doing things differently.

For me, both permaculture and zero waste living offer practical solutions for those of us that feel dissatisfied with the current ways of the world, and want to  create a more positive future. Neither are perfect, but they enable us to do things differently, and encourage those that follow to go one step further.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is permaculture new to you or old news? How do you think the permaculture principles compare to zero waste living? Which principles do you personally see as the most important – or do you think all of them? Do you have any personal principles that you live by? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Behind the Scenes: What ACTUALLY Happens to Recycling

I love a good tour of a recycling facility or a landfill site. Asking the question “where does our rubbish and recycling actually go?” is one thing, but to actually go and have a look? That’s a completely different experience.

Recycling is presented to us as a green, clean solution – but the truth is, it’s stinky, resource-intensive and run by markets. Meaning, if it’s not cost-effective to recycle, then it won’t be recycled. If no-one wants to buy the stuff that we’re collecting for recycling, then it won’t be recycled.

My first visit to a recycling centre (which has the technical name of Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF – pronounced “murf”) was back in 2012. I’d just taken part in Plastic Free July, and was working hard to reduce my plastic and choose glass, paper and cardboard instead.

That MRF visit changed my perspective on waste almost as much as Plastic Free July did.

Because it didn’t look like how recycling looks like in the brochures.

Because it was kinda stinky and gross, and there was so much of it.

Because the guy showing us around was hell-bent on telling us: if we can’t sell it for good money, we send it to landfill.

This was the recycling from just a few suburbs collected in a single afternoon.

Visiting that MRF challenged my perceptions of recycling. It wasn’t green, or clean. It was a business, and it was running for profit. If landfill was a cheaper option than recycling, then the resources were landfilled. The ones that were recycled were baled into containers and shipped overseas for processing.

Everything went overseas for processing. None of that happened in Perth.

The biggest revelation for me was that glass is not recycled at all in Perth. Some MRFs sell glass to be crushed into road base (which I personally don’t consider to be recycling), but at this MRF, all glass was landfilled.

(Five years later and this is still true: glass is still not recycled in Perth, nor it seems, on the east coast of Australia.)

That visit to the MRF changed the way I viewed waste completely. There I was, choosing glass over plastic, only to find out that all that glass was heading to landfill.

That was not what I had expected.

That was my realisation that it wasn’t just plastic I needed to refuse, it was all packaging. I hadn’t heard of “zero waste” back then, but that visit was the start of my zero waste journey.

I’ve been pretty obsessed with waste ever since, and I’ve been to plenty of MRFs and other waste recovery places to find out exactly what goes on. I thought I’d share a few of these insights for those of you who can’t make it to one.

What Goes on at a Materials Recovery Facility (Recycling Centre)?

This is one of several recycling facilities in Perth. This facility services 5 councils. It cost $20 million to build.

The recycling is dumped on the floor by the recycling trucks, and from there is loaded onto a conveyor belt and the various recycling streams are sorted.

First the cardboard and paper is separated by spinning rollers into mixed paper, old corrugated cardboard and old newspaper (the three structures labelled in the picture below).

The glass is sorted by a tremel, crushed and used for road base. The steel is separated by a magnet, the plastic is sorted by an optical eye that can differentiate PET, HDPE and mixed plastic, and these are separated. An eddy current is used to separate the aluminium.

The resulting materials are baled and loaded into containers for shipping overseas: China, Malaysia or Indonesia. The recycling facility works on 3-month contracts with these purchasers.

What happens once these materials arrive overseas is a grey area. The companies have standards and agreements to adhere to for recycling and processing the waste, but there are also reports that most of the plastic is burned as a cheap alternative to fossil fuels.

What Happens with Commercial Composting?

Commercial composting can use various different “wastes” but for households, there are two main types of collection – those that use a dedicated food organics and garden organics bin (FOGO – they do love acronyms in the waste industry!) and those which compost the general landfill bin.

This facility composts the landfill bin. This means a much higher level of contamination.

Residents tend to put things in their landfill bin that they are told they cannot recycle. That makes sense, yes? But it means plastic, broken glass, pottery, broken electronics and all kinds of other stuff gets mingled in – and sent here for composting.

The first job is when the landfill waste arrives here is to remove as much of the big contaminants (bicycle wheels, gas bottles, large plastic items) from the waste. This is sorted with a big truck. Then it’s loaded into the composting machines, called digesters. They are 67m long, and there are 4 of them at this facility.

The “waste” is rotated in the digester for 3 days before being deposited in a large warehouse (the size of two soccer fields) to mature. It’s turned every few days by a machine, and cooled using giant fans to circulate air.

To prevent odours, the digesters have these enormous biofilters, made of tanks filled with water and wood chips. There are four of these: one for each digester. The air is sucked out with a vacuum filter.

The compost is then sieved and screened to remove metal, plastic, glass and other pieces, and transported for further processing. Because it still has high levels of contaminants, it is only suitable for agricultural use.

Commercial composting facilities that accept dedicated food and garden organics bins have much lower levels of contamination and produce a higher grade compost.

Is This Typical? Is This What Happens to MY Recycling?

The truth is, every recycling facility is different. Some are much more high-tech than this, and some are much lower tech. Some use hand-pickers (real people who separate rubbish and pick out contaminants) and others rely solely on machinery.

Commercial composters are also different, and processes vary. Some councils don’t utilise these services at all, and simply landfill the contents of the landfill bin.

No two Materials Recovery Facilities are exactly the same. (Even where the machinery is the same, the contractors might be different, the ability to sell resources to markets is different, volumes will differ, and operating costs – meaning profitability -will be different.) If you are even the slightest bit interested in waste and where it goes, I recommend visiting your local one. Many (but not all) are open to the public. Contact your local council or waste contractor, and ask if they run tours.

Even if they don’t, there might still be an opportunity to have a look. Ask the question!

No Recycling Facility has 100% Recycling Rates

Recycling is always subject to contaminants, error and changes in the market. Someone putting the wrong thing in the wrong bin can contaminate a whole load (think asbestos and hazardous waste).

Markets change all the time. The value of plastic fluctuates with the price of oil. If oil prices are low, there’s less incentive for manufacturers to use recycled plastic as new plastic will be cheap. If oil prices are high, it’s more expensive to ship low-cost materials overseas for processing.

Councils often encourage us to put things into our recycling bins to get us into good habits. Or, they might prefer non-recycables to go to a recycling facility for sorting and removal, rather than putting them through a commercial composter (where they can do more damage). Or they think it is just too confusing to go into details, and we’ll get overwhelmed if they don’t make it really simple for us.

Acceptance of a material into a recycling bin is not a confirmation that the material will be recycled. It just means that it is the preferable option: to establish good habits, reduce contamination elsewhere, and give us faith in the recycling system.

Recycling Uses Huge Amounts of Energy

Recycling takes a huge amount of resources. Trucks need to collect those recycling bins from our streets, drive them to sorting facilities (and sometimes they get taken to a transfer station first, meaning two road trips) and then heavy machinery is required to sort the different streams. Then the materials need to be baled, loaded into containers and shipped to their final destination – which is often overseas.

Once overseas, there’s more processing and transportation.

Yes, recycling helps reduce new materials from being mined out of the ground. Yes, it uses less energy overall than making new things. Yes, it definitely keeps things out of landfill and keeps materials in circulation longer.

Recycling is definitely preferable to not recycling.

But recycling is not a perfect solution. 

Recycling is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Refuse, rethink, reduce, reuse and repair – they all come before recycling.

Much as I’d love to live completely waste free, we don’t live in a circular economy. Many things are not designed for reuse. I still produce recycling – everyone does. I still receive letters in the mail, purchase the odd thing in paper or cardboard, buy wine in glass bottles on occasion, and  find plastic packaging entering my home.

But I try to keep my recyclables to a minimum. If I can refuse something, then I will.

I pop those things I can’t (or choose not to) avoid in my recycling bin and I hope for the best.

Before I embarked on my zero waste lifestyle, I would see my full recycling bin as a badge of honour for being the responsible eco-citizen. Now I see anything that enters my recycling bin as a waste of resources, a failure of my imagination, a flaw in the system.

Most importantly, I see these things as something to work at improving for next time.

It is fantastic that recycling exists. It saves all those resources from landfill, and gives them the opportunity for reuse. We will always need recycling, but we mustn’t rely on it, or think of it as the solution.

Recycling is a great place to start. But it’s a terrible place to stop. We can do so much better.

How I Feed My Dog Without Plastic

You may remember that my Plastic Free July pledge this year was to stop buying dog food in plastic, and start making it myself. Aside from the plastic, I didn’t love that the brand that suited our greyhound best was imported from the USA, I didn’t love that it was supporting industrial agriculture, and I didn’t love that it was highly processed.

These are all things I try to avoid, and I was very conscious that buying this was against so many things I believe in.

Believe me, we tried other brands. We tried all of the Australian ones, and several other high quality ones. Whilst he ate them all with equal vigour (our boy loves his food), we noticed other effects: fat depositing around his neck, weight gain, loose stools, and one brand that led him to go to the bathroom four times every single day.

Not to mention, all the brands left his skin very itchy. Sometimes he would nibble at his legs so much his skin would bleed.

Enough is enough. I had to at least try homemade dog food.

Our greyhound Hans came to live with us a year ago. It was time to stop making excuses, and start knuckling down and getting the plastic-free dog food happening.

 Getting Started with DIY Dog Food

The internet can be an overwhelming place, and full of contradictory information as to what is best. My three main concerns were:

  • How would I know how much to feed him? (Wet food is very different to dry food.)
  • How would I ensure he was getting all the nutrients he needed?
  • How would I know that the food was safe?

Before I go any further, disclaimer. I am not a vet, nor am I an animal dietitian. This is not professional advice nor a recommendation. This is what I am exploring for our dog based on my own research and am sharing for information purposes only. Please do you own research or consult a professional.

How Much Do I Feed My Dog?

There are plenty of guidelines for feeding dogs wet or homemade food on the internet – and of course, they are all slightly different! I realised that if I underfed or overfed him, it would eventually become apparent with changes in his weight, energy levels and appearance.

Hans weighs 30kg, and he’s being fed 800g – 1kg of food per day.That seems to fit within most recommendations.

How Do I Ensure My Dog Gets All the Nutrients They Need?

I worried about this for a while, before realising that there are plenty of commercial pet foods that fall short here. Dog nutrition wasn’t even considered a few decades ago. Not forgetting, there are plenty of people who do not consume all the nutrients that they need.

In natural habitats, dogs are scavengers. They don’t get two meals a day fed to them out of a bowl. They might not get two meals a day.

That’s not to say I don’t want to do my best. But it gave me some perspective.

I looked into nutritional supplements to add to homemade dog food, but many of the recommended ones are not available in Australia.

I looked at the labels to discover the ingredients, did some research into the nutritional benefits, and opted to make my own.

How Do I Know My Homemade Dog Food Is Safe?

That was the easiest one to answer, because there is plenty of information on the internet regarding ingredients that are safe for dogs, and those that are not.

The second thing I found helpful was to look at the ingredient lists on the dog food I was buying, and try to mirror these ingredients in the dog food I was making.

Half the ingredients are things commonly available: carrots, sweet potato, rice. Other ingredients had unpronounceable names. For these, I asked the internet:

  • What is [insert name of unpronounceable ingredient]?
  • What foods contain [unpronounceable ingredient]?

Then, if I wasn’t sure, I’d ask: is [food containing unpronounceable ingredient] safe for dogs?

It turned out that these ingredients were either preservatives or a component/vitamin/mineral found in many natural foods.

In terms of toxicity, or malnutrition – these things become apparent over time. We are keeping a close eye on Hans and if we notice any change in his appearance or behaviour, we will consult a vet.

DIY Homemade Dog Food – Vegetable Component

Dogs need protein, fat, minerals and vitamins. Dogs don’t actually need carbohydrates at all. Carbohydrates like white rice and corn are  typically used in commercial dog foods as a filler, because they are cheap. But they offer little nutritional value.

For several months before I embraced the DIY dog food, I tested various ingredients on our greyhound. I’d add a small amount to his bowl along with his kibble. He gobbled everything up. And I mean everything.

I’ve heard that greyhounds can be fussy eaters. Not our boy!

The vegetable component has three parts, in equal proportions.

1. Protein component: 33%

Rather than use carbohydrates as a base, I use lentils. They are cheap but contain protein and vitamins. Typically I use red lentils as they are quick to cook. I soak for 30 mins, rinse thoroughly, and boil in a pan for 30 minutes. Once they have cooled I blend to a puree.

Red lentils are my preferred choice, but I have also used green/brown lentils, puy/French lentils, chickpeas and black beans. (Chickpeas and black beans require much longer soaking and cooking times.)

2. Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Cooked Vegetable Component: 33%

Sweet potato is a good vegetable to give dogs, because it contains beta-carotene, a pre-cursor to vitamin A. It also grows well in Western Australia and is available all year round.

Occasionally I use pumpkin (butternut squash or Japanese pumpkins) as an alternative.

I grate in my food processor, then steam for 12 minutes until cooked, and blend together with the lentils.

3. Raw Vegetable Component: 33%

This tends to be mix of whatever is in the fridge or the garden, but typically is 50% raw carrots and 50% of a mix of green leafy vegetables, beetroot, brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower), zucchini/courgette and cucumber.

These are blended together raw, and then mixed with the lentils and orange vegetable components.

DIY Dog Food – Vegetable Fats

I add a tablespoon of oil (olive oil or coconut oil) to every meal, and/or 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds. Hans is also a huge fan of both peanut butter and tahini so I sometimes stir this through his food as a treat.

DIY Dog Food – Animal Products Component

Hans gets a fair amount of protein from the vegetable component of his diet, but we also add fish, eggs and other animal products.

Sardines: 4-5 per Week

Rather than feed Hans fish oil or supplements, it makes sense to me to feed him whole sardines. He eats whole sardines (head, guts and all) and he loves them.

Eggs: 2-3 per Week

Several of our friends have egg-laying chickens, so we source our eggs directly from them rather than buying commercially produced eggs. I also save the eggshells, wash, dry and grind them into a powder, and add a tablespoon along with a raw egg mixed in with his food.

Chicken Necks: 4 a Day

We’ve got a system with our butcher now where we drop off a big container, and when he gets chicken necks in, he fills up the container and gives us a call to collect. I was terrified of giving Hans chicken necks at first because I’d read that dogs can swallow them whole. Of course, the first time I gave him one, he swallowed it whole. And the second one. Naughty boy!

Now I have to hold them at either end and feed them by hand to ensure he bites in the middle and chews before swallowing.

Other Meat

I’m still finding my way with this one. I’m still exploring the various butchers and trying various options, and I don’t have an answer… yet. Hans is happy with whatever he gets, so it’s up to me to find a waste-free, sustainable and local option that I’m happy with.

DIY Dog Food – Nutritional Supplement

I make up a supplement to add to the dog food to give it an extra nutritional punch. I looked at a number of supplements (both available for purchase and DIY recipes), looked up the nutritional content of each ingredient, and made my own based on that, along with what ingredients I could find.

The ingredients I use: ground flax seeds, ground sesame seeds, chia seeds, barley grass powder, lecithin, turmeric, maca powder, and seaweed (either dulse flakes or wakame).

(I realise these ingredients might sound very foreign! I’ve been able to find most of them in bulk at The Source Bulk Foods, who have 35 stores across Australia. The only one they don’t stock is wakame. They also sell other things like brewer’s yeast and other green powders which can be used instead/as well as. Outside of Australia, I’d try a health food shop.)

I’m still playing around with quantities of each ingredient, and also how much to use.

DIY Dog Food – Progress so Far

So far, we have been DIYing it for about 7 weeks. As with all new habits, getting into a routine is the hardest part. We’ve also had to pretty much empty our freezer of our food to fit in Hans’ food!

I can’t report back regarding cost yet, as we are still finding our way. I hope to do an updated post in a few months with actual recipes and costs involved.

The Positives:

Hans loves his new food! He gets much more excited now we’re serving up fresh food than he did with kibble (although he still thought kibble was pretty darn fantastic.)

I feel better about what I’m feeding him. I just feel more comfortable knowing his food is natural and not made in a factory somewhere overseas.

His energy levels are unchanged.

His stools are much better! Which is very helpful when you’re trying to pick them up with newspaper and take home to compost ;)

He has completely stopped itching. Whatever it was that was irritating his skin in the kibble, it’s no more. Hurrah!

The Negatives:

Hans has lost a bit of weight. Actually, we think he might have been a little overweight before (something that is VERY hard to tell with a greyhound). Lots of people have commented on how good he looks and how good his coat looks. But we are keeping an eye on him to ensure he doesn’t get too skinny.

We now have a new friend (or should I say trip hazard) in the kitchen. Whereas he never showed much interest before, now he knows that his dinner comes from there, he is like a constant companion. And if you open the fridge door – there he is beside you!

Did I just hear the pantry door open?

Now I’d love to hear from you! This is all new to me, so I’d love to hear from your experiences. Do you make your own dog food, and if so, what ingredients do use use? What lessons have you learned? If you want to give it a go but are unsure where to start, what are you stuck on? Are you a vet and do you have any (off-the-record) advice? Anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

Plastic Free and Taking the Challenge One Step Further

For most of us, living with less waste begins as a personal journey. As we start to discover more about the issues caused by waste, particularly plastic, and the options and alternatives, most of us begin wondering how we can get others involved. Whether it’s our families, our friends, our colleagues, the local school, the local cafes or shops, we want to spread the message and bring others with us on the journey.

Today’s post is about what you can do to take that step: to take the ‘living with less waste’ message out of our homes and into the community.

Host a Movie Screening

A movie screening is a great way to get people together to raise awareness of the issues, and start a discussion about solutions and alternatives.

One of the first things I did after signing up to Plastic Free July for the first time back in 2012 was attend a community screening of the plastic documentary Bag It. Even more than signing up to the challenge, that documentary changed my life. In a little over an hour I’d gone from feeling fairly relaxed about my plastic use to realizing that plastic was a huge problem but with so many solutions – and something that I could do so much about.

Movie screenings can be as big or as small as you like. Anything from:

  • borrowing a DVD from the library and showing it to a few friends and family;
  • Getting a community screening license from a distributor to show a movie in a public place such as a community hall or function room;
  • Using community screening platforms such as Tugg, which allows you screen documentaries in cinemas, through selling tickets in advance. The model works a little like crowdfunding – if not enough tickets are sold, the screening is cancelled.

If you’d like some inspiration for a good documentary to show, my top 10 list of documentaries might be a useful starting point.

Host a Plastic-Free Morning Tea or Supper

Invite others in your local community, workplace or school to attend a waste-free morning tea or supper, where all of the food has been purchased and prepared without single-use packaging.

You can invite community members to accept the challenge and bring a dish without packaging, or you can prepare or source it all yourself to ensure no sneaky plastic makes its way in.

Inviting someone to speak is a great way to engage the group with some of the solutions. Here’s some ideas:

  • Invite a local organisation to talk about the great waste reducing initiatives they’ve adopted;
  • Invite a local eco store to attend to talk about some of the products they sell and their benefits;
  • Invite someone who lives in the in the local area to share the story of how they reduced their own waste.

Set a table with some reusable alternatives to talk about, and give everyone the chance to share their ideas and ask questions. The idea is to get everyone thinking, and talking…and then acting!

Host a Litter Pick-Up or Beach Clean-Up

A litter pick-up is a powerful way to get others fired up to take action. Connecting others to places where litter ends up brings attention to the scale of the problem, and taking action by removing the litter goes a huge way towards protecting the ocean. Removing litter from the environment is also a positive reinforcement of the impact we can have when we work together.

To organise a litter pick up, set a date and time, gather necessary equipment (gloves, tongs, buckets, bags or old pillowcases to collect the litter) and start promoting it to your community. Offering a (plastic-free) morning tea is a great way to reward those who turn out to help and another way to continue to conversation.

Join (or Start) a Local Boomerang Bags Group

In an ideal world we’d all remember our reusable bags – but everyone forgets sometimes, right? Boomerang Bags was set up to reduce plastic bags by providing free bags for shoppers to borrow and bring back. But even better than providing bags, Boomerang Bags is all about communities getting together to volunteer to sew their bags, out of freely donated old fabric.

Before a group launches, they need to make 500 bags. (Nobody wants to launch and then run out of bags in the first weekend!) Boomerang Bag depositories are placed in shopping centres, and then the public are free to take and then return as required.

You can find out more about Boomerang Bags here, including where the current groups are and how to start your own group.

Get your Local Cafe (or Business) Involved

If your local cafe doesn’t give a discount for reusable coffee cups, your local store insists on giving plastic bags to everyone, or your local bar dishes out plastic straws with every drink, have a chat to them to see if they are willing to do something about it. You never know if you don’t ask!

Asking a local cafe, store or business to take part in Plastic Free July is a great way for them to be part of a global challenge and test customers’ receptiveness to charges or discounts, no longer offering single-use items and other initiatives.

Find out if there are other local initiatives that they can be a part of. Responsible Cafes is an Australian volunteer-run organisation which supports cafes who offer a discount to customers who use reusable cups. They have posters for display, and information that cafes can share with their customers. Plus all cafes that sign up are placed on a map, allowing locals to support the cafes near them who are doing the right thing.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you taken zero waste or plastic-free living into your community, and if so, how? Have you been to any great community events? Are there any other ideas you’d like to add to this list? Any of these you’re planning to adopt? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!