Tag Archive for: zero waste

6 Plastic-Free Alternatives for Shampoo and Conditioner

Last week I wrote about hair washing with bicarb and vinegar, and I promised all the non-believers that I’d follow up with a post about other alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Here it is: more ideas to wash your hair without plastic.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

I know this might be a bit of a bold one to start with, but I want to say that it’s worth considering! No, it doesn’t work on everybody’s hair, but it’s honestly worth a try. You won’t smell like fish and chips, promise.

I tend to use rye flour rather than bicarb because the pH is closer to the skin’s pH, and it makes my hair softer, but the principle is the same for both. Here’s the instructions.

Moving on…

2. Shampoo and conditioner from bulk stores.

Not all bulk stores have a non-food section, but many do. Bulk stores with a focus on waste reduction (such as my local store The Source Bulk Foods) usually stock these products, and you can buy bulk shampoo, conditioner and other products in your own containers.

Health stores often stock bulk personal care products too, so if you don’t have a bulk store locally, check out any health stores close by.

3. Bar shampoo and conditioner.

Many people who are trying to reduce their plastic use make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging. In recent years the number of options have exploded, which means you can find one that will suit your hair type and budget.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

You can order direct from their website, but if you’re looking for deals or offers you’re better off trying Biome, Flora & Fauna or Nourished Life, who all stock a good range and often have deals.

If you’re in the UK, &Keep is a great online store with an excellent range of plastic-free products and they stock a really good selection of solid shampoo and conditioners.

Lush Cosmetics is another option if you prefer to shop on the high street, with stores across the world (including Australia, USA and UK).

There’s also heaps of micro businesses at local markets (I’ve seen several here in Perth) and online via Etsy. Whilst I can’t recommend anything in particular (I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar, remember?!), I do love supporting local and independent businesses, and it’s great to find someone in your neighbourhood making products.

4. Shampoo and conditioner in refillable bottles.

I don’t recommend purchasing shampoo and conditioner in glass (or other non-plastic containers) as a zero waste option unless they are going to be refilled. Recycling is such an energy intensive process, and there are so many other alternatives, that I truly see it as a last resort.

Rather than recycling the bottles, some companies will allow you to return your bottles for cleaning and refilling. This means you buy a product from them, and can return your empty when purchasing a new one. You don’t actually refill the container yourself, the company takes it away, cleans it, and refills on the production line.

Whilst these companies are not easy to find, they do exist. Plaine Products in the US is an excellent example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I think this is something we will begin to will see more and more of.

(This isn’t to be confused with companies collecting containers back for recycling – such as Lush’s black pot recycling scheme. Recycling takes far more energy than simply washing and reusing.)

If you buy from someone who makes their own, ask if they can refill your containers. Before switching to bicarb and vinegar I purchased shampoo from a small business called Earth Products in refillable, returnable bottles that I provided. The owner didn’t sell refills as such, but was happy to refill my bottles when she made a new batch. I simply had to drop my bottles off in advance.

5. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are often touted as a a laundry detergent alternative, but recently I met a lady on a course I was running who washed her hair with soap nuts. Soap nut shampoo? I was intrigued.

Soap nuts are dried brown wooden berries, slightly sticky, that have a saponin content. I’m always keen to try new things, so I gave them a go. I followed Monique’s instructions:

Place 9-10 soap nuts in a jug and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Allow to sit overnight. Remove the soapnuts from the liquid (they can be reused several times) and store the liquid in the fridge until ready to use.

I filled 1/4 measuring cup with the liquid and used in place of shampoo. It doesn’t foam like shampoo. I finished with vinegar rinse like usual. My hair felt soft and clean. I’m at day 3 now, and my hair could do with another wash, so it doesn’t last as long as bicarb vinegar, but definitely works better than plain water (for me).

6. Shampoo and conditioner in glass.

As I mentioned above, from a zero waste perspective I recommend the other alternatives over choosing glass unless it’s going to be refilled. Of all the options, it’s the more wasteful one. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated with transporting glass, not to mention that shampoo is 70-80% water. Then the glass has to be collected and recycled.

However, we’re not talking about zero waste, we are talking about plastic-free. I definitely purchased non-refillable products in glass at the beginning of my plastic-free journey, and sometimes these choices are important stepping stones to better ones down the track. If you’re not ready for bicarb or bar shampoo and don’t have access to bulk stores, this might be a good step.

If you do decide to look for products packaged in glass, try to find products made locally first. They will have a lower footprint. Try crafts markets and farmers markets, or investigate health stores to see if they stock locally made products.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an eco friendly solution for washing your hair? Any other method you’d recommend? Any experiences with any of these that you’d like to share? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

(Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in wholeheartedly.)

How I Wash My Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar

Most people are a more than a little intrigued when I tell them I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar. (The ones that aren’t? They either say, me too. Or they raise their eyebrows in slight alarm!)

Then of course, everyone wants to know the specifics. How does it work? How is it applied? How often do I need to wash my hair? All great questions. If this has been puzzling you, today I’m going to share some answers.

If you’re really not up for trying it yourself, I’ve also shared a post on alternative plastic-free hair shampooing options. But before you head over there, why not read this anyway – you might be pleasantly surprised!

Washing My Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar

I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb (sodium bicarbonate, also called bicarbonate of soda or bicarb soda) and vinegar since 1st June 2014. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, along with my reasons why (aside from avoiding the plastic bottles). Three years later, I’m still using it, although I often use rye flour as an alternative to bicarb (I’ll talk about this later).

Here’s a picture from the first washes back in 2014…

…and here’s one from this week.

I’m definitely a convert.

So how does it work?

How much of each (bicarb and vinegar) do you use?

I have slightly-shorter-than-shoulder-length hair, and I use between a teaspoon and a dessert spoon of bicarb per wash. This is my shampoo replacement. I use 1/8th cup of white vinegar, diluted to a cup with warm water, as my conditioner replacement.

How do you apply bicarb and vinegar to your hair?

I mix the bicarb with a small amount of water to make a watery slurry (bicarb is water soluble). I apply to my hair, rub in (you wont be able to feel it like you can regular shampoo) and then rinse off with warm water.

I pour the vinegar/water mix over my head slowly, rub in, and then rinse off as I would regular conditioner.

I towel dry my hair as normal.

What containers do you use to store them?

I don’t keep them in the shower. I keep a jar of bicarb under the sink, and a bottle of white vinegar under the sink too. After trying various bowls and cups, I now use my stainless steel measuring cups in the shower. I was never particularly worried about breakages, but it could happen. I also find it easier to pour from the measuring cups than a regular cup or bowl.

A friend of mine tried bicarb and vinegar hair-washing, and kept the diluted vinegar ready in a bottle in the shower. I don’t do this because I learned the hard way that vinegar + hot water is a much more pleasant experience than vinegar + cold water. I would only do this if I lived somewhere so hot I wanted a cold shower.

Aren’t you meant to use apple cider vinegar?

I use regular white vinegar. I know that apple cider vinegar is commonly cited as the vinegar to use, and I’ve tried it, but I prefer white vinegar. I find apple cider vinegar leaves my hair duller. Apple cider vinegar is slightly less acidic than white vinegar, but I’m diluting 1:8 times with water, and rinsing off after a minute or less.

Don’t you smell of vinegar?

Actually, no. If you’re worried about smell, white vinegar dissipates almost instantly upon rinsing. Apple cider vinegar will take a little longer. The first time I ever tried this I was paranoid that I smelled like fish and chips, but I think it was just that my hair is much closer to my nose than anyone else’s.

If you’re really worried about smell, or miss the fragrance of traditional shampoo, you can add a 1-2 drops essential oil to the vinegar before applying.

How often do you wash your hair?

I wash my hair every 3-5 days. Not so much because my hair gets greasy, but because the curls start to look straggly. If it’s only been 3 days, I might omit the bicarb step and just do the vinegar rinse.

Will my hair fall out?

There was an article going around the internet, stating that using bicarb and vinegar to wash your hair will make it fall out. I’ve written my thoughts on that here. There’s no reason why using bicarb or vinegar to wash hair would cause hair loss.

After 3+ years, I still have a full head of hair.

You mentioned rye flour. How does that work?

Instead of using bicarb, I’ve also used rye flour to wash my hair. Bicarb is a salt, and is mined from the ground. Rye flour is ground from rye, a plant. Sustainable speaking, rye is probably the more eco-friendly option. It also leaves my hair much shinier than bicarb. Plus, as it’s not water soluble, it mixes with water to form a paste which is much easier to apply to your hair.

On the down side, if you aren’t careful you can end up with huge flakes of rye flour that look like brown dandruff. Believe me, discovering chunks of flour falling out of your hair as you ruffle it is quite alarming.

To reduce this, you can sieve the flour before you use it (a tea strainer will likely have the finest mesh). Also, post washing, be sure to towel dry your hair really well. And never ever apply to dry hair, or you will end up with a flour crust on your scalp!

Anything else?

If you’re switching from regular shampoo, your hair will take some time to adjust. Regular shampoo tends to strip oil from the scalp, so the skin compensates by making more oil. Some people find when they first use this that they have oily hair for a few days, or even a few weeks. Push through!

Ultimately though, this isn’t for everybody. It works particularly well on people with curly hair. If you’ve tried for a few months and you still don’t like it, maybe it’s not for you. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options.

If you haven’t tried it, I definitely recommend you give it a go! There’s something very satisfying about personal care products that come from the pantry and with single ingredients.

Can I tempt you?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried the bicarb and vinegar method? Do you love it? Did you hate it? Are you tempted to give it a go? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

How to Buy Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese without Plastic

When it comes to dietary staples, some things are very easy to find without plastic or single-use packaging, and others, not so much. Fresh fruit and vegetables? Easy. Fresh bread? Ditto. Milk, cheese and yoghurt? Not so much.

One of the most common questions I receive during Plastic Free July is “where do I find milk (or cheese, or yoghurt) without plastic?” I faced this struggle at the beginning of my own plastic-free journey back in 2012.

(Today I choose a plant-based diet, as do many zero wasters. That, however, is a conversation for another day. Not everybody is ready – or interested – to cut out dairy products from their diet, and I respect that. I have no interest in trying to persuade anyone otherwise. The question is – can these products be sourced without plastic? And the answer is yes.)

If you’re looking to find milk, cheese or yoghurt without plastic, here are my solutions.

Buying Milk Without Plastic

You’re unlikely to find milk in bulk or milk in glass at the supermarket. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t available in your area.

The first places to look would be independent grocery stores, farm shops and health food shops. If you don’t see anything, ask the question – they may not stock any themselves but they may know where does stock it. Alternatively, they may know which brands are plastic-free – and if you know who makes it, it will be far easier to track it down.

In Perth, there are four different brands which sell milk in glass: Sunnydale, Grumpy Farmer, Over the Moon Organics and Bannister Downs. They can be found at IGA stores and independent grocers like the Boatshed and Farmer Jacks. No one store sells all four brands, so you have to do your homework and check out all the stores.

Secondly, try Farmers Markets and farm gates. Some farmers sell milk directly to customers and use a refill system, dispensing with single use bottles altogether. This is fairly common in New Zealand.

Thirdly, you could look for hobby farmers and people who keep their own milking animals. I live in a city, and I have friends (who live in the city also) who keep goats, and other friends who keep a milking cow. I know that might be a step too far for many, but if you really want a solution, don’t rule this option out. These things are more discoverable by word of mouth, but social media is a good place to start.

Something I did was supplement my dairy milk with nut milk. I realised that it was much easier to find cashews or almonds in bulk than it was to find dairy milk in glass, so I began to use nut milk with cereal and in baking. Making your own nut milk is really simple, and you can find instructions for making DIY cashew milk and almond milk here.

Buying Yoghurt without Plastic

If you can find milk in glass, there’s every chance that you will also be able to find yoghurt and cream in glass too. I have seen yoghurt for sale in glass and also in ceramic pots in supermarkets. However, I’d recommend looking in independent grocers, health food stores and farm shops for more options.

If you can’t find it, you might like to know that yoghurt is actually very easy to make yourself. All you need is milk and a yoghurt starter culture (which actually is just a tablespoon of live yoghurt). A thermometer is useful, but it’s possible to manage without. You definitely do NOT need any fancy gadgetry, such as a yoghurt maker. A glass jar wrapped in a tea towel will be fine. Here’s my DIY tutorial for how to make your own yoghurt. Homemade yoghurt will typically last 3-4 weeks in the fridge.

If you can’t find yoghurt in glass, consider buying the biggest tub rather than the individual pots and portioning it up yourself. That will create less waste overall. If you like flavoured yoghurt, you can make it yourself by blending a little sugar and fruit with plain yoghurt.

Buying Cheese without Plastic

Cheese is the easiest of the three dairy products to find without plastic. Most supermarkets will have a deli section, but if not, look for local independent stores, farmers markets, specialist cheese shops and other grocers.

Some  deli counters will have paper to wrap cheese, so you can ask for no plastic. Many will let you bring your own containers.

Some types of cheese are sold in brine (mozarella, feta) or by weight without packaging (ricotta, cream cheese). These are the easiest types of cheese to buy without packaging, simply by bringing your own containers. Smile, act confident and tell the person behind the counter than you’d like to use your own containers as you are avoiding single-use plastic.

Often, your success hinges on the way you do it. Acting like you do it all the time boosts the confidence of the person behind the counter to accept your request. Also, stating what you’d like to do rather than asking adds another degree of conviction. “I’d like to” is much more convincing than “is it okay to..?” If they say no, act surprised, but if they are truly insistent, don’t push. Almost everyone will say that’s fine.

It’s worth mentioning why (no single-use plastic) because staff won’t necessarily realise why, and will wrap your lovely container in gladwrap for “protection” – or pop it in a bag!

Many types of cheese are bought in large wheels or blocks, and will be pre-cut and wrapped by the store to save time. If you can only see pre-wrapped cheese behind the counter, ask whether you can have a piece cut fresh from the block, or whether you can leave your containers there for when the next batch is cut.

Some pre-packaged cheese can be found wrapped in wax rather than plastic. Most of these waxes are made from paraffin (which is sourced from petroleum). Studies have shown that paraffin wax can be broken down in the presence of Rhodococcus sp so if you do buy these cheeses, try composting the wax.

If you’re still having no luck, consider buying the biggest block of packaged cheese you can find (it will mean less packaging overall). Cheese freezes really well, so you can, freeze what you don’t need straightaway.

Bagged grated cheese is all packaging and very little product, so avoid these products and grate your own from the block when you get home. (A food processor with a grater attachment is very useful if you use a lot of cheese. If you’re less fussy, whizzing it through the food processor will also work.) The same is true for cheese slices – it will take less than 30 seconds to slice a block and save lots of packaging, as well as money.

Something else to consider is making your own. Ricotta, mozzarella and halloumi are all incredibly simple to make using milk, and your cheese will be ready in 1 – 3 hours. Labne, a soft cheese made from yoghurt, is also super easy to make. If you’re not confident to make your own, look into cheese workshops in your area.

Still Stuck?

If you feel like you’ve exhausted all these options and you still don’t have a solution, don’t stress. Look at choosing products with the least amount of packaging overall, and ensure that whatever packaging you do choose is recyclable in your local area.

Remember, there are so many ways to reduce our waste in all areas of our life. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are just three things that we consume. There are plenty of other things to work on!

Don’t let not finding these items without plastic be a reason to give up altogether. Much better to focus on the 97 other things that we can change than stress about the 3 that we can’t.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Is this something you struggle with, or not? What solutions have you found? Have you had a go at DIY and how have you found it? Do you have any DIY tips to share? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!

Why You Can’t Fail at Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July started last Saturday, and enthusiasm for the challenge is everywhere! Yet a week or so into the challenge, we all start to see the cracks. We leave our reusables at home. We can’t find an alternative for that thing we really need. We forget to refuse a plastic straw. We return home triumphantly with cardboard packaged items, only to discover that the cardboard outer contains a sneaky plastic inner.

These things happen, and we think we’ve failed.

Even worse, we think we’ve failed…and we think there’s no point continuing.

Well I’m here to tell you, that isn’t true! There’s no such thing as “failing” with Plastic Free July. There’s every reason to keep going.

Here’s why you can’t fail at Plastic Free July.

1. Plastic Free July is about creating awareness.

If you’re anything like me, before you first realised that plastic is everywhere you probably didn’t notice it much at all. Plastic Free July was my wake-up call.

I’d never actually looked around me to see what plastic I was using, where it was going, or what all the litter I’d see in the streets or on the beaches was actually made of.

Plastic Free July is about changing habits. The first step in changing habits is realising that there’s a problem, and realising that there’s a better way. Plastic Free July does both of those things. It creates awareness, and that leads to changing habits.

Nobody can fail at “being more aware”. We might not be able to act on this awareness straightaway, but awareness is the first step to making change.

By being more aware, we’re starting the journey.

2. Plastic Free July is about changing habits – and changing habits takes time.

After creating awareness comes changing habits.

If you were going to learn the guitar, would you expect to master it after picking it up once? No. If you’re planning to lose weight, do you expect to have reached your target after eating one salad? No.

Plastic free July is no different!

A few weeks ago, our lack of success wouldn’t have even been on our radar. We might not have have thought twice about the plastic straw, or the plastic bag, or the plastic packaging. The fact that we are now means that we’re making progress.

Yes, change can feel uncomfortable and that is part of progress, too.

All these things will help us do better and make better choices next time!

3. Plastic Free July is not about all-or-nothing.

Plastic Free July is about attempting to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. ‘Attempting’ is the important bit! How can we fail at attempting, unless we give up?

There’s no “must”, it is simply about trying new things, exploring alternatives and changing habits.

Can’t find milk in glass? Or you can’t think of a practical way to pick up dog poo without plastic? Or the local council insists that we put our landfill waste in a plastic bag in the bin?  Each of these are just one obstacle, but there are plenty of other places where we consume plastic that are very easy to make a switch.

Don’t focus on the stuff you can’t change. Pick some of the other things that you can change, instead.

4. Plastic Free July is a journey, not a destination.

There are no awards at the end of Plastic Free July for who got there fastest. Of course, the less plastic we use, the better for the planet (especially single-use plastic). But change takes time, and honestly, if you’re completely new to plastic-free living and reducing waste, it takes longer than 31 days.

If you’re completely new to plastic-free living, you’ll likely have a lot of ingrained habits to rethink, and a lot of changes to make.

When I went plastic-free back in 2012, I honestly think it took me 18 months to reduce all my plastic. Some things I didn’t even need to tackle for the first year. For example, I had so many plastic-packaged products in my bathroom that it took me about 18 months to use them all up.

Time isn’t important. What was important for me was the journey –  all the things I learned, the missteps, the trials and errors and changes that I adopted to where I am now.

I have no doubts that some people can (and will) get there faster. Others will take much longer. Plastic Free July is about starting the journey (and hopefully continuing it) – not finishing it in 31 days.

5. There’s no such thing as failing.

What is failing, anyway? I looked it up, and I found this definition. “Failure is the neglect or omission of expected or required action.” What does that mean? It means giving up!

If you neglect to try, then you fail. Keep on trying and there is no way to fail.

Which means the only way to fail is to give up, and go back to your old ways.

That is not the same as not being able to do everything. It is not the same as deciding that some things are too hard, for now. It is not the same as slipping up, or forgetting.

Failing is not the same as having expectations of ourselves which come up slightly short against reality.

Success is never a straight line!

Plastic Free July is a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge! On the flipside, it wouldn’t be so rewarding if there wasn’t a little bit of difficulty. It wouldn’t feel like such an achievement if it wasn’t without trial.

So yes, Plastic Free July is a challenge, but oh so worth it. Success always tastes a little bit sweeter when we’ve had to work for it.

If you think you’ve failed at Plastic Free July, take it from me, you haven’t. We’re only a few days in! There’s plenty more time to look for alternatives, build on our experiences, refuse unnecessary plastic and do better.

No “get out of jail cards” or permission slips to give up from me! We’re all here to support each other, help with conundrums, and cheer along from the sidelines.

Believe me, you got this!

Okay, confession time – who here has been feeling like they’ve failed? Is there anything particular you’re struggling with? Please share and we may be able to help! On the other hand, who feels like they are “winning”?! What tips do you have to share? Any advice from seasoned veterans doing Plastic July for the second, third (or fourth or fifth) time? What would you say to newbies? Any other thought to add? Please share below!

A Plastic-Free Future? It’s Already Happening (Here’s Proof)

When we think about the kind of world we want to live in, and then look around us in the present, the difference can feel worlds apart. It can seem impossible to imagine how we will ever make progress, from where we are to where we want to be.

Yet when we start to look closely, we discover that these new ways of thinking are being acted out, all around us. There are groups, businesses and organizations changing the old story by doing things a different way. They are visions, or “pockets” of the future” except they are happening now, in the present.

These “pockets of the future” remind us that change is possible, and that it is already taking place. These examples provide a framework for others to follow, and take the next steps.

When we talk about plastic-free or zero waste living, and the circular economy, we can see plenty of gaps in the system.

We might take our own bags – but what about all the produce arriving in the store in single use packaging? What about those of us who don’t live near bulk stores? What about convenience?

These are simply missed opportunities, and innovative people are plugging those gaps with solutions. I wanted to share a few ideas to give you hope that momentum is building. Change is coming.

How Stores are Addressing Single-Use Packaging

I’ve had this conversation more times than I care to remember when talking about zero waste or plastic-free living. Someone asks: what about the fact that most bulk stores receive goods in packaging, and that packaging the stores receive isn’t reusable?

Whilst that’s mostly true, a huge amount of waste eliminated when stores buy in bulk and allow customers to use their own containers.

Now, stores and businesses are stepping up to the challenge and trying to implement reusable and returnable options for their suppliers.

The Source Whole Foods Victoria Park (WA) – Kombucha

My local bulk store The Source Whole Foods (in Victoria Park, WA) recently started selling kombucha on tap. I’m not really a kombucha drinker, but I love the story behind this product. They have three flavours, which are delivered in stainless steel drums by a local producer in the south-west. Once empty, the drums and switched with full ones, and the empties are returned for cleaning and refilling. Zero disposable packaging.

Not all items that get delivered to bulk stores come packaging free. Many products get delivered in big 20kg sacks or drums, but these cannot be returned to suppliers for refilling. However, many bulk stores that care about zero waste are now starting to have these conversations with their suppliers, to see what options there are to reduce waste at the level upstream.

It’s beginning to happen.

Dunn & Walton Doubleview (WA) – Milk

Dunn & Walton is an organic store in Doubleview, Perth with an excellent cafe and deli. They receive their milk in bulk from Margaret River, and decant into glass bottles which their baristas use. They have saved more than 5,000 plastic bottles from landfill by doing this.

Coffee culture is a big deal in Australia, but almost every cafe uses plastic bottles and tetra paks. For plant-based milks, there’s the DIY approach which cafes are increasingly adopting. The Raw Kitchen in Fremantle is one of a growing number of cafes here in WA offering homemade non-dairy nut milk instead of the carton tetra-paks which typically end up in landfill.

Dunn & Walton Doubleview (WA) – Takeaway

Dunn & Walton also run a tiffin night on Thursday evenings, with gluten-free, vegan Indian takeaway food made by the supremely talented Arti of Arti’s Traditionals. Tiffins are stainless steel, stackable lunchboxes suitable for transporting hot food, typically Indian food.

At Dunn & Walton, customers can buy a reusable stainless steel tiffin on the night, or they can bring their own reusable containers from home, but there is no single-use disposable packaging available as an alternative.

More and more takeaway shops are willing to let customers bring their own containers, but most customers still have the option. Tiffins are not a new idea – millions of people use them every day in India. But they are not commonly seen in Australia… yet.

Coffee Cups to Go (and Come Back)

Reusable coffee cups aren’t new, although they are definitely becoming more mainstream. However, reusable coffee cups rely on us remembering to bring them – what if we forget? What about those people who like to text their coffee order ahead? Having a reusable cup doesn’t work in that instance.

Well, people are beginning to think about ways to get round that.

The Freiburg Cup (Germany) – Borrow and Return


I first read about the Freiburg (it’s in Germany) reusable coffee cup scheme earlier this year. When a customer buys a coffee from one of the 72 registered outlets, they can choose a reusable cup (made of dishwasher-proof plastic) by paying a small deposit. This reusable cup can be returned to any of the outlets for washing and reusing.

Go2Cup (Perth) – Reusable Coffee Cups to Borrow

When I read about the German scheme, I thought it sounded great. I wondered how we could introduce it here. Then I discovered that somebody (Daniel Grosso of Go2cup) is already getting out there and starting it, right here in Perth :)

Go2cup is slightly different to the Freiburg system, and in my view, slightly better. The Freiburg Cup still has a disposable lid, and the scheme is limited to cafes. Go2cup uses fully reusable cups (the lids are also reusable), and has expanded beyond the cafe market. It is also working with events, Farmers Markets, and businesses.

Cups are provided for patrons to use, and these are returned for washing.

Schemes like this allow people to forget their reusables and still refuse the single-use option. I’m sure these ideas will be adopted more widely in the future.

Reusable Bags (to Borrow and Bring Back)

People forget their reusable bags sometimes. Or they pick up more than they intended, and don’t have enough reusables to manage. Rather than resort to picking up plastic bags, there’s another solution – borrowing bags.

Boomerang Bags and Morsbags (Worldwide)

Boomerang bags are reusable shopping bags made by members of local communities, using donated and second-hand materials. Once a stash has been sewn, these are deposited outside stores for anyone to borrow, and bring back.

Forgotten your reusable bags? No problem!

Boomerang Bags started in Queensland, Australia, but have spread across the globe. Morsbags is another reusable bag initiative, founded by Claire Morsman (hence the name) with a similar ethos, in the UK. Before I moved from the UK to Perth in 2011, I worked in a building that had Morsbags hanging in the hallway for anyone to borrow at lunchtime.

Returnable and Refillable Packaging from Online Sellers

There are countless companies out there selling products in recyclable packaging. What is better than recyclable, though, is reusable. That’s where the zero waste movement wants us to head.

Obviously, taking our own containers to bulk stores means refillables. But not everyone lives close to bulk stores. And not all bulk stores sell the whole range of products.

Plaine Products (US)

Plaine products are a US company doing things a little differently. They sell shampoo, conditioner and body wash in recyclable aluminium bottles. Better than simply offering recyclable bottles, they offer a full ‘return and refill’ scheme.

Other companies allow customers to return bottles for recycling. But returning them for refilling is pretty new.

When you receive your order you also receive a return shipping label. When the product’s empty, the pumped is switched with a refill cap, the label is placed on the original box and the product is shipped back – and Plaine Products covers the shipping fee.

I’m lucky enough to have access to plenty of bulk stores, and I prefer to shop local over shopping online. But I do live in a city with plenty of options. For those people who rely on online shopping, this is a much more sustainable option than single-use packaging.

We don’t have a zero waste or circular economy – yet. But innovation is happening all the time, and good ideas are being spread. Schemes like this give me hope for a world without waste.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Were any of these new to you? Do have experiences with using any of these – good or bad? Do you know of any other innovative ideas tackling waste upstream? Any other initiatives you’d love to see happening? Any other thoughts? Please share below in the comments!

(Disclaimer – I am an affiliate for Plaine Products, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only ever share organisations and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in.)

7 Plastic-Free Alternatives to Food Wrap

I’ve always found cling-wrap (or glad wrap, or clingfilm, as you may call it) to be unbearable. Even before my plastic-free days, I couldn’t bring myself to use it. I found that it was either unbearably sticky, and would stick to everything except the one thing I actually wanted to wrap, or the opposite: it was so ridiculous non-sticky that it would stick to nothing at all, and definitely not the thing I wanted to wrap.

It gives me great pleasure then, to share with you some alternatives for clingwrap. Let’s rid ourselves of the frustration, and the cursing, and the inner torment. Nobody needs that kind of stress in their lives! (Or is that just me?!)

Of course, the plastic is completely unnecessary too. If you’re not with me on the frustrations, hopefully you are there on the plastic-reducing ;)

As with all single-use plastic items, there are plenty of alternatives. Here’s 7 of my favourites.

7 Plastic-Free Alternatives to Food Wrap

1. The Bowl on the Plate

I love this option. I love it because it’s simple, doesn’t require any more stuff and suits my laziness. Provided whatever-the-leftovers-are can fit in a bowl, then a plate can go over the top. Job done.

I don’t believe that everything needs to be airtight in a fridge, and the plate-on-the-bowl method is good enough. We don’t have any problems with anything smelling in our fridge, but if that’s something you’re concerned about, popping a small jar of bicarb can help reduce fridge odours.

2. Silicone Lids

Silicone lids are a fancy alternative to putting a plate on a bowl, but have the bonus of being able to form a seal. They are also heat-tolerant so can be used on hot pans.

Silicone is technically not plastic, and seems to last much longer than plastic. It also seems to be more resistant to heating and high temperatures. On the downside, silicone isn’t recyclable. I’d only opt for silicone if I knew I’d use it regularly, and consider it a purchase for life.

I have 3 silicone lids of varying sizes that were a gift from my mum (similar to this lilypad silicone cover). I do find them useful, and I use them regularly, but I don’t think they are a kitchen essential unless you are a clingwrap fanatic ;)

3. Storage Containers (Tupperware, Pyrex, Glass or Stainless Steel)

Rather than wrapping a baking dish with cling-wrap, I prefer to decant my leftovers into glass Pyrex storage containers. Any storage container would work, but Pyrex is what I have the most of.

The great thing about Pyrex (and to some extent, stainless steel) is that it is oven-proof, so if you want to re-heat the leftovers the following day, simply remove the lid and pop in the oven. Putting the original container back in the oven tends to bake on the food, making it much harder to clean.

Whilst I don’t recommend buying new plastic storage containers, if you’re new to plastic-free living or zero waste, you might already have a heap of old ones – in which case, use them. Over time you’ll be able to repurpose and donate and they will eventually break, and you can replace with better alternatives.

4. Glass Jars

Glass jars are the mainstay of the zero waste movement, and for good reason – they are useful for almost everything! Glass jars are great for most leftovers. We use them for chopped veggies, roasted veggies, pasta sauce, curry or dahl, rice, sauces… anything that doesn’t have a structure (so layered lasagne might not work great).

The great thing about glass jars is there’s never a shortage, and they are easy to come buy for free. They also come in every imaginable size, and are particularly helpful for portioning food.

5. Beeswax (and other Wax) Food Wraps

Beeswax wraps, made by by neighbours at Vic Park Honey and sold by my friend Jo in her Urban Revolution store.

Beeswax food wraps are made from cloth that has been coated in beeswax, often with extra additives like jojoba oil and pine rosin (colophony) to make them supple. They can be used in place of cling wrap to cover bowls and wrap food.

Vegan food wraps that use soy and candelilla wax (rather than beeswax) are also coming onto the market.

With both types, they are only suitable for hand washing and not machine washing (the wax will melt at high temperatures). They are not suitable for meat or fish, or wrapping hot food. In time the wax may be lost but they are very easy to re-coat.

In my experience, beeswax food wraps are expensive to buy and cheap to make. If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend making your own. By making your own you can choose the sizes that are most practical for your needs, too. However, if you’re not the crafty type or don’t have the time, supporting local independent businesses is just as good.

6. Sandwich Pockets

Sandwich pockets are made of fabric that has been coated to make it waterproof. In contrast to beeswax and other wax wraps, these are machine washable. The coating is often some kind of plastic, but on the plus side, they are reusable and will not need to be recoated.

The fabrics and coatings vary brand by brand. I would avoid PVC as this plastic contains phthalates, which are known to be detrimental to human health. Some use polyester and others use plant-based plastic which are stated to be biodegradable when they wear out. I’ve had 4myearth sandwich pockets (the ones in the image – which are cotton with a plant-derived plastic lining) since 2012 and they have lasted very well.

These sandwich pockets will help retain moisture and prevent food drying out, but they do not seal and are not airtight, so are better for short term use.

7. Parchment Paper and/or Foil

Not a zero waste option, but a plastic-free option nonetheless. Both can be used to wrap items individually, or they can be used together. Wrapping meat or fish in paper and then foil is recommended as a way to freeze these without getting freezer burn.

I use the If You Care brand of parchment paper – it is FSC-certified and unbleached. It has a silicone lining but is certified compostable, and I have successfully composted this paper at home. They also produce 100% recycled aluminium foil.

Aluminium foil can be washed and reused before being recycled. If you’re careful, you will be able to wash and re-use foil a number of times before recycling it. Yes, it can be recycled – save it up until you have enough to form a ball about the size of an Easter egg and pop it in your regular recycling bin.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Clingwrap: friend or foe?! Which of these solutions is your favourite? Any other solutions to suggest? Anything you’ve tried that didn’t work that you want to warn us about? Anything else to add? Tell all in the comments below!

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links which means if you click a link and choose to purchase a product, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. The links are included to give you more information about some of the products that I own and use. As always, I’d always suggest making do and shopping second-hand before buying new.

Plastic Free July: I’ve Made My Pledge, What’s Yours?

When it comes to making a positive contribution in the world, nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. How big or how small that something is, well, that depends. It depends on so many things: the time we have available, our family commitments, energy levels, where we live, the resources available to us, and more.

Better to make just a single change than to do nothing, simply because others are doing more and we feel that our contribution is small and insignificant. Millions of small contributions add up to make a huge positive impact.

If we can only make one or two changes, then let’s go ahead and make those changes, and be proud of what we are doing.

But let’s not get complacent.

Usually I say: whatever we can do, that is enough. And I do believe that to be true. But I also think there’s a time and a place to re-evaluate and ask ourselves the question: is there something more that I could do?

I think Plastic Free July is the perfect opportunity.

I first took part in Plastic Free July in 2012. (The challenge, if you’ve somehow missed hearing about this great campaign, is to refuse all single-use – or even better, all – plastics for the month of July.) Of course, that first year was a challenge for me (but isn’t that the point?!). The second year wasn’t without its trials. But by the third year, I’d pretty much got my plastic habit under control.

I had two choices. I could sit there smugly, applauding myself on how far I’ve come. Or I could look at my current routines and habits, ask myself: is there any room for improvement?

Guess what?! Unsurprisingly, there is always room for improvement! Nobody’s perfect. Firstly there are always the exceptions that can be tackled. Then there’s the stuff that was too hard or not possible last year – maybe something has changed since then?

Even when things seem good enough, there is always room to adjust and do things slightly better.

When we fostered and later adopted our greyhound last July, I wrote about whether we could have a dog and be zero waste. My biggest challenge was and still is dog food. We have been buying the big 20kg plastic bags of dog food. I’d love to make my own, but when I first looked into it, I ended up feeling overwhelmed. I put it on the backburner.

On the backburner is where it is still sitting.

At the time, it wasn’t a cop-out. Having a dog was something completely new to both myself and my husband, and we needed time to adjust. But 11 months on, it’s fair to say it’s time to revisit this.

Buying processed dog food, made from industrially produced meat, produced overseas, and sold in a plastic bag; that pretty much goes against everything I believe in and everything I want to support.

It was a good short-term solution. But it’s in danger of becoming a longer-term one, because I’ve let myself get complacent.

So for Plastic Free July this year, I am setting myself the challenge to start making my own dog food. We are lucky that our greyhound is the least fussy eater on the planet. I’m a little bit terrified of the extra responsibility, but I can read and research – and I have enough common sense.

By the 1st July, I’ll have something in place.

It might not work. It might be a terrible disaster. Our greyhound might suddenly become the world’s fussiest eater, or it might not agree with him (greyhounds have sensitive stomachs), or it might take so much time to source the ingredients and make that it simply isn’t practical.

But I will never know unless I try.

Isn’t that what a challenge is all about?

Talking of challenges… now I’m going to challenge you.

If you’re new to living with less waste, then I’d recommend giving Plastic Free July a go this year.

If you’ve been pursuing the plastic-free lifestyle for a while, I’m going to challenge you to look at everything you currently do, and find just one more thing to try, to revisit, or improve. Plastic Free July is one month: that’s 31 days to give something a go. That’s 31 days to build a new habit, research alternatives and try something new.

At the end of the 31 days, you might decide that it was all a bit too hard, and you’re not ready. That’s okay, if you tried and gave it your best shot. However… you might find that these new habits aren’t nearly as hard as you thought, and you’ve made a change that you know you will stick to. How great would that be?

There’s never a bad time to embrace change, but the great thing about doing it in July is that there will be plenty of other people embracing making changes too. When I say plenty, I mean a lot. In 2016 over 1 million people took part, and 2017 is set to be even bigger. There’s nothing like doing a challenge with others to feel motivated, and being part of a movement only makes that even greater.

The other important step to making changes is to tell others what you’re planning. I’ve told you my Plastic Free July goal, and now it’s your turn. In the comments, take a minute to pledge your commitment for the month of July. Shout it loud and proud! Let’s see what positive changes we can bring about this July and onwards :)

Seriously, I want to hear from you! Is this your first Plastic Free July and if so, are you taking the no single-use plastics pledge or the no-plastics-at-all pledge? Are you returning for another year and what would you like to change this year for a month? Are there any sneaky bad habits you’d like to shake once and for all? Anything else you’d like to add? Declare all in the comments below!

War on Waste: How Food Rescue Charities Are Fighting Food Waste

The recent ABC television series War on Waste aired last month, and suddenly everyone is talking about waste. Which, in my view, is a good thing. A great thing! As it should be ;) The more conversations we have around waste, the better.

I watched the series myself and thought it was well made, informative and motivational. It did a great job of addressing the problems. The problems need talking about, definitely. But I felt it only touched on the solutions. Which, maybe, was a missed opportunity. In my view, there are plenty of solutions, and we need to talk about these as much as (or more than!) the problems!

No doubt there wasn’t time for everything. (It was only 3 episodes, after all!)

So I thought I’d explore some of the solutions here. Today, I’m going to talk about food waste, and more specifically, what people are doing about.

Food waste is a huge issue in Australia, with around 40% of food being discarded before it leaves farms, and shoppers throwing away 20% of everything they buy (the equivalent of 1 bag of shopping in 5). The UK reported similar statistics with their Hugh’s War on Waste series last year, saying 1/3 of food produced is never eaten. The figure is similar in the U.S.

The supermarkets are linked to a lot of this waste. With their strict cosmetic standards, unbalanced supplier contracts in favour of the retailer, pre-packaging loose items (where they control the portion sizes), and promotional 3-for-2 offers that encourage us to buy more than we need, they encourage waste at every stage in the process.

Arguably, it’s a broken system. But within this system, organizations are doing what they can to reduce this food waste by distributing some of the surplus to others who need it via charity partners.

Here in Perth there are a number of organisations working to fight food waste by “rescuing” food.

Food Bank: are the largest food relief organisation in Australia. They deal with large quantities and collect food on a massive scale. They don’t go to individual supermarkets to collect discards, but rather collect pallets of food from warehouses for redistribution.

Oz Harvest: with their quirky yellow vans, Oz Harvest collect surplus food from all types of food providers, including fruit and vegetable markets, farmers, supermarkets, wholesalers, stadiums, corporate events, catering companies, hotels, shopping centres, cafes, delis, restaurants, film and TV shoots and boardrooms. They collect both fresh food and dry goods and distribute as is to charitable partners.

Food Rescue WA: a WA initiative of UnitingCare West, Food Rescue WA collects surplus fresh produce (no dry goods) from cafes, supermarkets and farmers and repacks into “veg boxes” which are distributed to charitable partners.

Case Study: Food Rescue WA

This week I had the opportunity to visit Food Rescue WA in Belmont (a suburb of Perth). I was amazed, humbled and heartened by what I saw and learned. They haven’t stood by in despair at what can seem an overwhelming situation; they’ve got to work righting some of the wrongs.

Food Rescue WA have just two full time staff, with 4 casual drivers and 100 regular volunteers. Powered by this volunteer army, and with 4 vans that have been donated, they collect food from 49 supermarkets, sort and re-pack, and redistribute to 78 different charitable organisations.

In addition, they have two food carts which collect food from 37 cafes in the CBD, and redistribute directly to homeless people in the city who have no access to kitchens.

Between them, they supply food to organisations who feed more than 11,000 people every week.

“Waste” products that have arrived and are waiting to be sorted and repacked.

Food arrives here at the Food Rescue WA warehouse in various ways and for various reasons. The black boxes at the front are assorted rejects from the supermarkets. The oranges are an overstock. The yellow container at the back (a cubic metre) comes directly from a farmer, with carrots that don’t meet the cosmetic/size standards.

Food Rescue WA only deal with fresh fruit and vegetables. They also receive eggs for redistribution, and occasionally chilled products.

This second yellow container is filled with cosmetically imperfect but completely edible carrots donated by a farmer. The dimensions of the container are 1m x 1m x 1m (a cubic meter).

The food is then sorted by volunteers and distributed into boxes (old banana boxes). The food is distributed so that each box has variety and colour, and looks visually appealing.

Sorting food and packing into boxes..

A partially packed veg box…

Boxes of colourful, edible food saved from the bin and ready to be distributed by the Food Rescue WA vans to people in need.

Food Rescue WA currently operates from Monday to Friday, but they may expand into weekends. The volunteers arrive at 7am and sorting and packing is generally completed by 10am. The boxes are then delivered, with all charities in receipt of their food by 11.30am.

What happens next is up to the charities. Some cook meals using the ingredients; others allow people to take the boxes home to cook for their families.

This operation provides 11,000 meals a week. That’s impressive in itself, but there’s more. Food Rescue WA don’t just fight food waste, though. They fight other waste too.

Plastic

Firstly, they sort and recycle all of their packaging. They have a plastics recycling system where plastics are separated into their different types (numbers) and then this is collected by CLAW Environmental for recycling.

They even go one step further and remove all the plastic packaging from the boxes they are donating to the charities. They realise that the charities won’t have the time or capacity to recycle the soft plastic, and may not have the knowledge to sort it correctly either.

By removing the plastic before it is distributed, it saves the charity workers a job and also the disposal costs, and ensures it gets recycled properly.

Food Rescue WA currently recycles 4 cubic meters of soft plastic a week.

Cardboard

The food received by charities is packed into banana boxes which can be returned for re-use. Typically a driver will deliver new boxes, collect old empty ones and they will be re-used for packing. Each box can be used several times before it begins to wear out. The cardboard is then recycled.

Food Waste

Food Rescue WA have an innovative composting machine called the Orca that aerobically digests unusable food waste rapidly, and produces a liquid effluent that can be safely discharged into the municipal sewerage system.

The jar of apple sauce on top of the machine is in fact the liquid effluent which comes out of the machine after the contents are aerobically digested, and have passed through a grease trap and filter system.

These fresh veggies were added…

…and 15 minutes later they were well on their way to breaking down. The food waste has no smell, or if anything, it smells like a fresh green salad!

Food Rescue WA did secure backing to fund a composter in the past, but unfortunately could not get council approval to install it.

Fighting Food Waste: What Can I Do?

There’s plenty of things we can do as individuals to reduce our food waste at home. We can reduce what we buy, learn to understand the different ‘Best Before’ and ‘Use By ‘codes, and also learn how to tell if something is good or bad without relying on the packaging telling us. We can learn new ways to cook things, embrace home composting and get more organized so there are no longer unidentified objects that used to be food lurking at the back of our fridges. (For more ideas, here’s 12 tips to reducing food waste.)

But we can go one step further. We can support these organisations working to reduce food waste. Here’s three ideas:

Volunteer for a few hours at a Food Rescue service such as Food Rescue WA and donate your time to help collect, sort and redistribute food that’s headed to landfill to people who need it. Or if you have a specialised skill that you think may be of use, offer these services!

Donate to the cause. These organisations run on volunteer hours and donated food, but still need to pay for utilities, fuel and maintenance to keep the operation running. Donating money directly to these organizations is better than buying food from supermarkets to donate. There’s already plenty of food out there that needs rescuing, and supermarkets really don’t need our money – the charities do!

Share their story! Tell your local cafe, restaurant, workplace, supermarket, greengrocer or farmer about these services, and encourage them to use them and support the work that they do.

If you’d like to get involved with or support Food Rescue WA, you can find more information here.

Now I’d love to hear from you! What solutions do you have for reducing food waste – at home, at work or in your local community? What organisations are doing great things in your local community and how could you support their work? Any thoughts on the story I’ve shared? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment below!

 

Plastic-Free For Absolute Beginners: 7 Tips for Getting Started

When we’re new to living plastic-free or zero waste, just looking at the journey ahead of us can seem a little… daunting. On one hand, we’re eager to make changes, and excited to be making a positive impact on ourselves and the planet. But what first steps to take?

There are so many options it can almost feel overwhelming. If you’re feeling like that, don’t panic! I’m here to help.

If you’re keen to get going with plastic-free or zero waste living but don’t know where to start, here’s a handy guide to help you on your way.

1. Don’t throw anything away!

Before you begin, don’t just throw all your plastic in the bin, or dump it at the charity shop. Whilst it can be tempting to “begin again with a clean slate”, it creates a huge amount of waste. If your main motivation for embracing plastic-free living and zero waste is to reduce waste, this is completely counter-productive.

In time you’ll be able to decide whether you can re-purpose things, pass them on to someone who will use them, or use them up yourself. You’ll learn the best way to dispose of things responsibly. You’ll also know whether you need to replace them.

Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey, not a race.

2. Remember change takes time, and the more time you spend on it, the faster you’ll see results.

Going plastic-free or zero waste is about changing habits, and change takes time. Like any habit, if you practice every day you’ll get there faster. The more you practice, the easier it will get.

Yes, you can go plastic-free or zero waste and work full time, have children and pursue other hobbies. You will just make slower progress.

Take into account how much time to have to spend learning new habits, and set yourself realistic goals. If your expectations exceed what’s likely or practical for you to achieve, you’ll end up disappointed and disheartened.

3. Go to your regular stores with new eyes.

Bulk stores (especially those that have been established with waste-free and plastic-free living in mind like The Source Bulk Foods) are an ideal place to buy packaging-free groceries, but in the beginning, don’t rule out your regular stores completely.

Instead, take a little extra time, and go to your regular stores and walk up and down every aisle, looking at every single product. Look for products in glass, cardboard, or paper.

When we shop, we often operate on autopilot. We don’t browse the overwhelming choice of products. We tend to buy the one we always buy, or we choose what’s on offer. Now is your chance to look with a different parameter – plastic-free.

You might find there are more alternatives than you realised.

4. Get your reusables ready.

When you first go zero waste or plastic-free grocery shopping, take more reusables than you think you’ll need. As well as reusable shopping bags, take reusable produce bags, glass jars, and glass or plastic containers with lids of various sizes.

Almost everyone has reusable shopping bags; if you don’t, I recommend looking for natural fibres rather than plastic ones that will eventually end up in landfill.

There are many options for reusable bags, and if you sew you can make your own out of old net curtains or bed sheets. If you can’t sew, handmade reusable produce bags can be found via Etsy, an online marketplace for people who do know how to sew.

If you don’t have glass Pyrex or stainless steel food containers, consider using plastic in the short term until you know which sizes work best for you. Glass and stainless steel is an investment, so knowing what you need is helpful before you splash out. If you’re ready to invest, this directory of online zero waste and plastic-free stores might be helpful.

(There are other bits and pieces you might find you need, like cutlery, a water bottle and a coffee cup. You can find the day-to-day reusables I carry in my handbag here.)

5. Look for bulk stores, Farmers Markets and health stores in your local area.

Before you step out the door, it makes sense to look on the internet. Are there any bulk stores close by? Are there any cooperatives that might have food in bulk? What about bakeries or farm shops? Italian grocery stores often have dry goods in bulk, and well-stocked deli counters. Check when local Farmers Markets run, and where.

You can call places to find out if they have a bulk section, but nothing beats going to have a look. Even if bulk isn’t an option, there might be plastic-free and lower waste solutions. Just having a browse can open your mind to some of the potential.

6. One change at a time.

Rather than change everything at once, focus on one thing at a time. It makes sense to tackle things in the order they need replacing. With food, fresh produce comes first, like fruit and vegetables, milk, and bread. Then there’s longer life fresh stuff like yoghurt and cheese. Then there’s dry goods, and it might be a few months before you need alternatives for some of these.

The same will apply in the bathroom, the cleaning cupboard, the wardrobe and the rest of the house.

Work on replacing things as you need to.

7. Join the community!

Zero waste and plastic-free living is a movement, and a movement needs people! You will find it so much easier and far more rewarding if you connect with others on the journey. You’ll be able to share ideas, vent frustrations, ask questions and guide others.

Not everyone has the support of family and friends, at least not at first. Finding a community of like-minded people will give you a strong support network to keep you motivated.

If you can find people locally to connect with, that’s awesome (if you don’t know where to look, the Transition Town movement is a good starting point). If not, there is plenty of opportunity online – and these groups will welcome you with open arms!

Remember, no-one has all the answers on the first day! Plastic-free and zero waste living is a journey. Enjoy the process, have fun, and know that everything you’re doing makes a difference.

Now I’d love to hear from you! If you’re a beginner, is there anywhere in particular that you’re stuck? Anything you’ve been struggling with? If you’re a veteran, are there any other tips you’d like to add? Anything you think I’ve missed out? Any other comments? Please share your thoughts below!

The Zero Waste Lifestyle is the Second-Hand Lifestyle (A Guide to Buying and Selling Second-Hand)

When people think of the zero waste lifestyle, they tend to think of mason jars, bulk stores and unpackaged goods. Not everyone has access to bulk stores. Many people draw the conclusion then, that without access to a bulk store, they can’t live a zero waste lifestyle.

The truth is, the zero waste lifestyle is about much more than bulk stores and mason jars.

Groceries aren’t the only thing we buy. Furniture, toys, electronics, clothes, books, decor, equipment, household items: “stuff”, in other words.

At some stage in our lives we buy these things. With all of these things, we have a choice. We can choose to buy new, or buy second-hand.

Not everybody has access to bulk stores. But everybody has access to second-hand goods.

Choosing second-hand not only uses less resources, it’s unpackaged and it helps keep existing items in use and out of landfill.

The zero waste lifestyle is very much the second-hand lifestyle.

With the internet, access to second-hand items has become a whole lot easier. Yet some people still find the online world of buying and selling a little bewildering.

I’ve talked about how to sell items online in my eGuide Hoarder Minimalist, but I didn’t talk about buying. (It is a book about decluttering after all!) To live a zero waste lifestyle, buying second-hand is just as important as finding new homes for items we no longer require.

Whilst my husband and I don’t buy absolutely everything second-hand (hello, brand new underwear), all of the furniture in our home is second-hand. There is plenty of second-hand furniture out there to choose from.

We’ve bought almost all of our second-hand furniture using Gumtree Australia. We also use the platform to sell things that we no longer require. Recently Gumtree got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in collaborating. For me, the real questions are: do I believe wholeheartedly in what they do? And do I think writing about Gumtree is of real benefit to you, my readers?

The answer to both is yes.

Gumtree is a great platform for buying and selling online. It’s simple to use and free to buy and to sell: there are no hidden charges or fees. (There are some fees for premium features, but I have never used these.) It connects those with stuff they don’t need with those who want it. So yes, I want to encourage people to use it.

If I can convince more people to start buying second-hand, and sell (or gift) unwanted items rather than landfilling them, that’s wins all round.

If you’re new to the world of online buying and selling, this guide is for you.

How to Buy and Sell Online with Gumtree

Gumtree is an online listings/classifieds platform allowing users to buy and sell items online. It focuses on local trade, meaning most people will go directly to the seller’s home or workplace to buy the item.

The local approach means no shipping costs, lower carbon footprints and zero packaging. People buy and sell from other people within their local community. You get to inspect items before you actually buy them – so no receiving items that aren’t quite how they looked in the picture. No worrying about returns, either.

Using Gumtree: The Basics

To buy or sell you need to register, but the information you need to provide is basic. A name, email address, phone number and location (which can be a suburb). There’s no requirement to provide credit card or banking details.

You don’t need to be registered just to browse.

How to Search Effectively

People who list items on Gumtree want them sold – the sooner the better. I always search by “most recent items” and work backwards. Good value items and bargains rarely hang around!

I prefer well-made, quality items to the cheapest option, but searching by price is possible too. Importantly, it’s possible to search by suburb, local council area, urban area and state.

The categories are quite simplistic. If there’s a dedicated category for what I’m looking for, then I might search by category, but I tend to use the search bar. The search bar is also useful for searching by brand.

Using different search terms for the same thing will give different results. Searching by abbreviation as well as the full name of an item will give more results.

We bought this kitchen island second-hand a few months ago from Gumtree, and added these stools more recently. If you’re after something specific, find out if there’s a style or brand name to search for (these stools are Tolix stools). Not everyone will know the brand or model name, so use different descriptive titles too if you can’t find what you want (“bar stools” and “barstools” give different results, for example).

How To Create a Good Ad

Many people start out selling on Gumtree before they buy. It’s a good way to test the waters and find out how it works. Once you realise that other Gumtree users are friendly people wanting the stuff that you have, it’s easier to embrace the idea of buying.

When creating a listing, the first thing to do is choose a category. The categories are fairly simplistic and quite limited. I use “Home & Garden” the most, and then the appropriate subcategory. Avoid “Miscellaneous Goods” or “other” if you can – they are too vague.

Next you’ll be asked for the type of ad: free or paid. I’ve always used free ads. Paid ads have additional features, but I don’t find them necessary.

Free ads allow you to add 10 pictures. Use as many of them as you can! Don’t just take one out-of-focus picture. Take the front, the back, the sides, a close-up, and any nicks or damage.

When choosing a price, put what you think is fair. You can always edit it later. If you’re not interested in negotiating, write in the ad description “price is non-negotiable.”

When choosing a title, use all those characters! Put in all the words that relate to the item. It’s not meant to read well, it’s meant to attract buyers. For example, “sofa chair lounge armchair seating” will match far more search requests than “comfy chair”.

Also, think about typos. There are almost as many “draws” listed as there are “drawers”! Mention colour, material, and a brand or model name if there is one.

Be as descriptive and honest as you can. If the colour differs in real life to the photos, say so. If there’s damage, however minor, mention it. People would rather know the condition before they arrive at your place.

If it’s a current model, consider providing the link to the store for browsers to compare. Give dimensions; state where and how it was used. If you smoke or have pets, say so.

Finally, add your details. There’s no need to write your exact address, but give buyers an idea of your location. We put our road, but omit the street number on the listing. Whilst you need to give your phone number and email, if you prefer contact via a particular method, write it in the ad description.

How to Communicate:

Gumtree allows users to communicate directly with other users, by mobile phone or email. When contacting someone, be as specific as possible. As a buyer, add in when you’re free to drop by. As a seller, if someone asks “is this still available?”, don’t just respond “yes”. Ask when they want to come and look, let them know when you’ll be home, give a contact number or even the address.

Make it easy for people.

(Also, use your actual name. It’s much more personable.)

If you think something is a bargain, agree to collect as soon as possible.

We needed a bedside table and lamp for our spare room. I’d like a wooden stand, but nothing was available, and we thought this would be a good stop-gap. The great thing about second-hand items is that if you change your mind, you can often sell them on again at the price you paid.

Price (and How to Negotiate)

Ultimately people will pay what they think something is worth, so overpriced items won’t sell. If the price is keen, the item will be gone in less than a week (and sometimes in a matter of hours).

Sellers: if you want something sold quickly, advertise at a low price. If you want more money, be prepared to hold out for longer. Remember – just because you paid a certain amount for something, that doesn’t mean it was worth the price.

Personally, I think it is bad manners to arrive at someone’s house and then start negotiating price. My policy is, if buyers try to negotiate at my house, the answer will be no. I’m always completely honest and overly descriptive in my listings, so there won’t be any surprises when they arrive. They can buy at the agreed price, or leave empty-handed.

Don’t feel pressured to accept less than you want. If they decide not to take them item, someone else will.

Sometimes people arrive with no change. I point them to the nearest ATM/petrol station. If that isn’t practical for you, ensure you have change on you. Some people genuinely forget; others are hoping you’ll round down.

Buyers: don’t feel obliged to negotiate. If you’re happy to pay the price advertised, then pay it. If you try to negotiate a keenly priced item when you’re happy to pay the full price, you’ll likely end up outbid by someone else and losing the item.

There’s no harm in asking if the seller is flexible on price before agreeing to buy. They’ll let you know if they are open to offers or not.

A good indicator if someone will be willing to negotiate is how long it’s been listed. If the listing has been active for 3 hours, chances are a lot more slim than if it’s been listed for a month.

If you arrive to buy and are not comfortable, the item isn’t as described, or you change your mind about the item, don’t feel like you have to go through with the deal. Apologise, say it is different to what you thought, and walk away.

Timing

In my experience, the weekend is when most things are bought and sold. If you list items on a Saturday morning you will have the most chance of success. If you’re looking for bargains, Saturday morning means the least chance of success as everybody else is online too.

Safety and Security

This is a personal consideration. I’ve been using Gumtree for many years without any issues. I’ve sold items late at night, early in the morning and during the day. I’ve had buyers prefer to do the transaction on the doorstep. Others come in (sometimes that is practical and necessary).

I’ve bought items where the seller has handed me the item on the doorstep. I’ve been invited in to collect the item. I even met one seller in a car park!

If you won’t feel comfortable with someone collecting items late at night, put preferred hours on your listing. If you’d rather not go alone to someone’s house, ask a friend to come along. If it’s possible, consider asking the buyer to collect from your place of work.

Other Practical Suggestions

If you’re buying anything big, heavy or bulky, ask if there’s easy access to the front door, if there are any stairs and if there will be anyone to help you move the item. Ask if they have a trolley, and find out the actual dimensions before you get there!

Similarly, if you’re selling, let potential buyers know what they’ll need to bring.

Don’t be scared to ask questions. Ask for more photos, model numbers, measurements, a condition report, where the item was purchased. Better to find out before than make a wasted trip.

If an item is electrical, ask to plug it in. If it’s furniture, sit on it. If it’s already been neatly packed for you, don’t feel bad about asking it to be unpacked so you can look at it properly.

We bought this bed because it was exactly the same as our existing bed (but in white), so we knew exactly what it would be like. (The old bed, also bought on Gumtree, is now in the spare room.) I told the seller I was interested but needed to arrange a trailer. He was moving overseas and had hired a ute, and offered to drop it round to ours for no extra charge! It meant he got to keep it until the day he wanted to move, and we got a hassle-free delivery!

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Shabby

People get rid of stuff for lots of reasons: marriage, divorce, moving home, moving country, children, pets or simply because they redecorate. There’s plenty of good quality, well made stuff out there in the second-hand market. Some of it isn’t even very old.

This lamp was only a few months old, and cost a fraction of the price it would have cost new. Second-hand doesn’t have to mean bedraggled.

For quality items, search for reputable brands. You can take it to the next level and go to the actual shop, write down what you like and then find it all on Gumtree. (I have a friend who did exactly this, and furnished her home at a fraction of what it would have cost new, with everything second-hand.) This works better with chains rather than boutique stores.

If you haven’t embraced second-hand furniture shopping, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try. Compared to most furniture shops, you don’t make a choice and wait 8 weeks for delivery. You get to use things right away.

Once you start finding great, useful items that you need at a fraction of the price you’d have paid to buy new (and without all that packaging) it’s very hard to go back.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you used Gumtree to buy or sell furniture or other items? How have your experiences been? What has been your best find – and what was your worst? If you haven’t shopped online for second-hand, is there anything that you’re worried about or that’s holding you back? Any other questions? Anything to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please comment below!

This post was a collaboration with Gumtree Australia.