Take what you can carry

Last Wednesday, on my scurry home from the train station I came upon something that upset me. There was a huge skip out the front of an empty shopfront loaded with assorted timber (much of it was floating timber flooring), building waste and, on top, a multitude of bowls and other kitchen items.

I was devastated by the fact that so many serviceable items were being thrown away en masse.  So I did what any concerned citizen would do – I ignored the sideways glances and took what I could carry. Then went back with a bag.

After loading up my bag I had to give myself some self talk and say ‘I can’t save it all’ to help me to walk away. It really saddened me to see such a mountain of resources getting sent to landfill.

After a good wash, the following items are now destined for my local charity shop:

plates

A couple of sets of small bowls, some slotted ladles and some beautiful plates and now on their way to a new home.

With the prevalence of websites like Gumtree, Freecycle, Ziilch, not to mention the collection services offered by most local charities, there is little excuse to throw away so many serviceable items. These items could be helping to set up the house of a person in need, just what one lucky bargain hunter is looking for or helping a charity shop to raise money to support the community.

 

 

Fill ‘er up

Good news, friends: we have found a zero waste way to buy beer and wine in Melbourne.

Both beer and wine come in glass bottles, so they aren’t the worst waste offenders in the world, but I had still been on the lookout for ways to avoid single use bottles that then need to be sent off for recycling (bearing in mind that recycling is plan b, or c, not plan a) – and even glass beer bottles often come in plastic packs of six.

Let me introduce you to my new friends Rewine and TruBru.

Rewine

This is a beautiful business based in both the Queen Victoria Market and the Preston Market who will soon be venturing into their own retail/dining site in our Northern Suburbs.

I visited the QVM stall, located out in the big sheds, rather than the deli/indoor section. I was so happy when I tracked this guy down – it is a beautiful way to buy wine. It feels much more ‘cellar door’ than buying from the bottle shop attached to the supermarket.

The concept is very simple: buy a bottle of wine to get started. Once it’s empty, give it a wash and take it back for a refill (at a $3 discount as you are reusing the bottle).

There is a good range of wines available (and I’m told that there is work being done to make certain sparkling varieties available for refill too) and the prices are very reasonable. Winning.

TruBru

This was a very recent discovery, which seems crazy as they are actually right around the corner from our house.

Here you have a business started by a man who is very passionate about beer. Fresh beer. Not beer that has been sitting around in bottles for weeks or months at a time.

Similar to the concept at Rewine, you will need to buy your TruBru bottles the first time around and then bring them back for a refill (3 different bottle sizes available, which seems like a clever idea to me).

There is a rotating ‘menu’ of 2o beers on offer and a great system for bottling so as to keep it fresh for about 6 weeks.

You can sample the different beers to decide what you like, and lets face it, you’re consulting with an expert; he’ll figure out what you like.

 

 

A Simple Routine

Now that we’ve got most aspects of the kitchen and grocery shop ‘zero wasted’ I have turned some attention to the bathroom AKA ‘stealth plastic land’. Seriously, this is a room that quietly accumulates plastic ‘containered’ (tubed, bottled, bagged) products, laden with unpronounceable (and often questionable) ingredients.

Soap

One of the simplest changes that we made a while back was going back in time to package free, bar soap. We buy our soap with literally zero packaging by finding the small scale sellers at markets and well, lots of places (they’re popping up everywhere – you’ll see them everywhere now that I’ve said that). The bars go straight into my shopping bag.

FullSizeRender 20

The old bars just get ‘smushed’ onto the next one so that they’re not wasted. Do you like our clam soap holder?

Razors

Another simple but significant change that we’ve made has been this guy here:

FullSizeRender 19

The safety razor.

We purchased this one from The Shaver Shop for roughly $30 (there are different types at different prices) although they can also be found second hand (no dramas with buying the razor used, it’s really only the blades that you wouldn’t want to share). The boxes of razor blades cost about $5 for 10 blades and I have read that if you are diligent about removing them and drying them off after use each blade can last a couple of months. Winning.

Compared to disposables this is definitely the better option for both the environment and your wallet. The most environmentally friendly option is the cut throat razor (as they don’t need replacing, just sharpening), but even the name of that gives me the heeby jeebies… If you’re skilful enough and brave enough (I’m not, my stomach is churning as I write this) they’re certainly out there and do an excellent job.

The safety razor takes a little getting used to for someone who is used to disposables. Slow and steady wins this race; but you’ll find that as you get used to it you gain a little more speed. I’m almost getting brave enough to do my knees now! Almost. I’m creeping up on them. (I only use the razor for my legs as I have an depilatory machine for underarms and other areas that might otherwise be waxed).

In terms of shaving foam/cream – the old fashioned bowl, soap bar and brush sets are definitely making a comeback!

Toothpaste

Another change that I’ve made after some broad online reading in zero waste communities is toothpaste. I’ve stopped using it. Instead, I use this:

FullSizeRender 17.jpg

‘Toothpaste’ a combination of coconut oil, baking soda and stevia. I probably won’t bother with adding the stevia next time as I don’t think it’s necessary.

That’s a combination of coconut oil, baking soda and stevia (the natural stevia is what makes it green). Oh, and that’s a bamboo handled brush (I’ll still have to throw away the bristles, but the handle will be buried in the back garden when I’m done).

After using this for about a month my teeth feel fantastic. They’re possibly whiter than with regular toothpaste and they feel very clean. I’m going for my 6 monthly check up soon so after receiving confirmation from an expert that my teeth are still healthy I’m hoping to bring the rest of my household on board with this.

There are a number of recipes for zero waste toothpaste online. Some add a touch of peppermint oil (for if you love the minty sensation) or other ingredients, but so far I’m happy with this one.

Toilet Paper

I looked into quite a few options before making a decision about toilet paper. Factors in this included: packaging, percentage recycled paper used, availability.

I was close to buying a paper wrapped package of 6 rolls from the corner shop, but ended up opting for Who Gives a Crap* and their bulk buy home delivery. I like the fact that my purchase supports sanitation projects in developing countries, and, their subscription system is very convenient.

 

Everything else

This will be a work in progress. So far:

  • I had recently purchased a new face cream before committing to going zero waste, so I have until that plastic tube runs out to figure out a more sustainable alternative. Similar story with shampoo and conditioner. Throw your ideas at me on this one!
  • I have had an attempt at making body cream using a recipe I found online (a combination of coconut oil, cocoa butter and olive oil) but I’m not shouting its successes from the rooftops. It is ok. It’s doing the job for the moment, but I need to work on this one (I got something wrong and the texture isn’t quite right). If anyone can suggest a way of buying shea butter from bulk in Melbourne I’d be able to try another recipe that I’ve been looking at. Let me know!
  • Not being a big makeup wearer, I have a bit of time up my sleeve before I need to start making any real substitutions here. I’ve been doing some homework about the ingredients in cosmetic products though and may find myself simplifying my makeup bag further before actually needing to buy or make anything new.

 

Let’s face it, most of these changes are by no means ‘new’ or ‘modern’, rather they are a return (or thereabouts) to a former, simpler way of doing things. Much of this involves going back to the way things were done before we had the convenience of plastic packaging. So far, it’s been a lot easier and simpler than I would have expected.

 

FullSizeRender 13

Going Old School

This little jar represents a challenge. You see, inside of the jar are my last two disposable cotton rounds (is that what they are called?) for removing eye make up.

When I made the decision to reduce my waste and use of disposables I resolved not to buy any more when these ran out (I’ve adopted a similar policy with a number of products around the house); I had found a clever idea online where you can make your own reusable, washable, fabric rounds.

To begin, I bought an old baby blanket from the Salvation Army for $2 – the fabric is lovely and soft so should be good for the job.  All that remained was to cut appropriately sized circles and then sew sets of two rounds together to make them feel nice and cushiony like the ones you buy.

Fortunately I am not a big wearer of eye makeup so there hasn’t been too much urgency on this.

I don’t own a sewing machine (I don’t know how to use one) nor am I particularly talented with hand sewing (although I do try on simple mending jobs).

Here is the ‘weapon’ at my disposal:
FullSizeRender 15.jpg

This glorified stapler wasn’t entirely what I was imagining when my mum told me that she had found a little hand held sewing machine that she could post to me… Not to be deterred though, I had a bit of a go last night:

 

Today was certainly not spent basking in any kind of handicraft triumph.

The stapler/sewer hybrid seems to have encountered difficulty ‘cornering’ with such stretchy fabric (if you are a sewer you would likely have anticipated difficulty with this fabric and advised against it. No such thing occurred to me).

Before shelving my dreams of home made, puffy, little facial rounds (and turning to Etsy for help) I’ll put the call out: friends, if you are handy with a sewing machine (and have some patience!) and would like to guide me through this project I’d love to hear from you. I promise to arrive bearing a thermos of my best chai and some home made biscuits.

This Moment is Enough

Reposted from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. A thought provoking read. 

I was in a plane descending into Portland for a quick stopover, and I gazed upon a brilliant pink sunrise over blue and purple mountains, and my heart ached. Instinctively, I looked over to Eva to share this breath-taking moment, but she was sleeping. I felt incomplete, not being able to share…

http://zenhabits.net/enough/

IMG_5924

Making it Work

The cover photo of this post is a photo that I posted on Instagram today; a sort of celebration of having (finally) taken enough containers/cloth bags to get through the shopping, and also the feeling that I am building a relationship with key businesses (deli, butcher etc) which made the whole shopping experience feel easier today. Hurrah!

Sharing photos and stories of the transition to a zero waste (or reduced waste) lifestyle has started some great conversations with friends and family about what we see as important in the world. I’ve gotten a kick out of this. There was one particular online conversation that kept me thinking; this was a conversation about the difficulty of reducing your environmental impact when living outside of metropolitan areas.

My first response to this question was ‘could you start a co-op?’ as I’ve heard of groups of people successfully managing to join forces and establish their own system of buying dry goods (and some liquids) in bulk to then distribute. Here are some examples of such groups.

The issue with this response, I realised later, is that it sounds like hard work. It is hard work! There are people who have successfully done this, but it must be acknowledged that getting people to join the zero waste movement isn’t going to happen by asking them to attempt such huge tasks in order to get started. There need to be small, achievable steps first.

We need to begin by picking the low hanging fruit, so to speak.

My brain kept ticking over about this conversation as I was making dinner and I found myself mentally brainstorming ways of reducing grocery waste in almost any location. A few of these ideas were things that we did in the early stages of making the change, before we decided to go all in. I spoke about these here.

Here are a few more ideas:

  • Thoughtful fruit and vegetable shopping. I am aware that I already spoke about this one in the previous post but one thing that I didn’t mention was the fact that this doesn’t necessarily need to happen in a produce market or a farmers market in order to be zero waste. It’s great to shop at a market rather than a supermarket because of the increased access to organic, local produce and the knowledge that you are supporting a small business. If this isn’t available to you though, most fruit and vegetables can be bought with minimal waste if you approach your supermarket shop mindfully (and armed with reusable bags). Opt for the loose items rather than those that are wrapped or packaged (every little effort counts). Buy the small, whole pumpkin rather than the one that has been cut and wrapped.
  • When presented with the choice between two similar items try to choose the brand that comes in more sustainable packaging. For example: when given the choice between the rolled oats that come in a plastic bag and the ones that come in a cardboard box, choose the box; when choosing a brand of honey or peanut butter, choose the one that comes in the glass jar rather than plastic (glass jars are handy for storing food later).
  • Don’t underestimate the utility of paper bags (preferably recycled ones, of course). Now that I am training my eye to spot bulk I realise how many places it pops up in. Even my local corner store has a little ‘bulk section’ with lollies, chocolate raspberries and a small range of nuts and soy crisps. They may provide a roll of plastic bags to scoop them into, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore your packaging options. I keep a couple of brown paper bags that I reuse for last minute snacks, I’ve also discussed the option of using a paper mushroom bag or bread bag with the shopkeeper (they’re totally on board). These kinds of bulk sections are popping up in many supermarkets, usually with plastic bags and no facility for taring containers for refilling, but paper bags are a great way to sidestep this (if you’re careful with them you can reuse the same ones repeatedly). I’ve also bought loose spinach leaves in a paper bag.
  • The deli counter in most supermarkets should be able to help you out if you want to use your own containers. They are usually able to tare containers on their scales and have things like olives, cold cuts and salads packaging free. It’s worth a try.
  • Simplify your cleaning regime – there is very little around the house that can’t be cleaned with vinegar and/or baking soda. I’m frustrated at the moment with the lack of glass bottle options available for buying vinegar, but buying a big (even if it’s plastic) bottle of vinegar and a box of baking soda certainly seems like a less harmful option than a load of different chemicals in plastic bottles and containers.
  • Seek alternatives to cling wrap, baking paper, zip lock bags and aluminium foil (I donated ours to a community drop in centre to remove the option). Leftover food can be stored in jars or containers; I often put half used onions, avocados, lemons in an old jam jar for storage in the fridge. Take your lunch in a jar/container or wrapped in a cloth napkin rather than a single use wrap (or, check these out – there are different versions in a number of online stores, or you can make your own). If you’re careful about how much you fill your jars, you can even use them for freezing food. Grease baking trays with a little butter or oil instead of using paper or foil to line them.
  • Inform yourself about how to store fresh foods in order to extend their lifespan. Google is wonderful for this! One way that we’ve started to do this is buy washing our green leafy vegetables on the day we buy them then transferring them to a large airtight container (we use a pyrex dish with a lid) with a cloth napkin top and bottom to control moisture. They stay crisp for at least a week so we don’t waste anything. This is particularly important when you have limited access to shops and need to make things last in between visits.
  • Keep a cloth napkin and ‘real’ cutlery in your bag so that you can politely refuse the disposable alternatives in cafes or when taking a packed lunch.

We do have more power than we realise. It may not be possible in every location to achieve ‘zero waste’ but every reduction you make contributes to a more sustainable future.

Every person who peers at you as you refill a paper bag instead of a plastic one or as you ask for your jars to be filled has now been made aware that an alternative exists.

Every ‘dollar vote’ you cast when shopping lets retailers know what you want to see more or less of.

IMG_5924

A breakdown of my grocery haul: fruit and vegetables loose or in reusable organic cotton bags (ordered online, but can be made out of an old sheet if you’re handy like that); fish and meat in jars; honey in a jar (we get an old honey jar refilled); reused bottle filled with ‘vinegar magic’ from bulk that I want to try out (mix of vinegar, tea tree and lavender for cleaning); deli goodies in jars; seeds, nuts and cocoa butter (looks like white chocolate buds!) bought from bulk in jars. 

 

Getting what you want 

This is a post that I actually wrote at roughly this time last year but never published. While my life has moved on dramatically since writing this, I can’t help but feel that the sentiments behind it are still relevant across different areas of life. I hope you find meaning in it – 

Recently I’ve found myself in a bit of a quandary.  You see, even the things that we want the most and work hard to obtain or enter into don’t necessarily come easily.  In fact, like most of the things that are worth having in life, they come full of challenges.

So, when we find ourselves in these challenging times it can be hard to express or talk about – after all, this is something that we really wanted, isn’t it?

If we tell people that actually, things aren’t so simple and some days aren’t that fun, does that make us ungrateful? Will people start to think that we regret our decision?

Sometimes, we can even find ourselves up against a certain kind of smugness, after all, doubters and negative nellies can get a strange kick out of the ‘failures’ of others; it justifies their initial negativity.

Here’s the reality: sometimes, being an apprentice is hard.  Sometimes changing from the familiar to the completely unfamiliar leaps about between exhilarating and stressful, which can be exhausting.  Sometimes I crave a feeling of competence and get frustrated that I don’t achieve it easily (if at all).

It’s not always easy to talk about this with people, after all, I chose to do this.  I even worked hard to get here.  Despite the overall sense that I’ve made the right decision, some days are just plain tough.

The tricky thing is when people say things like ‘how is everything going?’. ‘how is your new job?’ and ‘are you still enjoying it?’.  I find myself constantly forcing out a positive, even if I’ve had a terrible day.  Heaven forbid that I let anyone know that despite knowing of many of the challenges I was getting into that I am not strictly ‘cheery’ about facing them.

Why do we fight to paint an endlessly positive picture of something for the pure reason that ‘I chose this’?  It’s time to get past the guilt or fear or whatever it is that stops us from being honest and realistic, otherwise how do those we care about know when we need them?