There is power in deliberation. Conscious inaction can be a good thing. At the beginning of my journey, I kept myself in a state of growing awareness. Mindfulness helped me know what to do and allowed me to set a plan that was tailored to my unique lifestyle and social situation.
Let’s break this down into small bite sized pieces. In this post, we can take a moment to observe our Kitchen & Dining behaviours:
Food waste: Are you finishing the meals you prepare? Do items go dormant in the fridge until they’re thrown away? Recognise patterns.
Animal consumption: Count the number of animal products used to make a meal i.e Ricotta + Chicken = 2. Take note of anything you could live without.
Dormant appliances: Consider that the items in your kitchen should work for the space they occupy. How often is each item put to work? Are they paying their way?
Disposables: Do you use plastic wrap, paper towels, disposable wipes or silicon-coated baking paper? Observe your reliance on these items.
This might seem like it’s only for zero waste beginners, but we can all take a moment to observe where we are at. None of us are perfect. There are insights and opportunities in observations. Be patient with yourself. A change is coming…
Today, I have an astounding hangover after a fun night away with new friends.
Last night, I fed 15 people a low waste vegan meal for $35. For those not in Australia, that’s *incredibly* cheap. I got a massive bag of field mushrooms, 6 large cans of tomatoes, 5 packets of spaghetti, 1 large jar of olives and a giant zucchini for the price of 10 takeaway coffees. In light of #fashionrevolutionweek, the low price of my food begged the questions #whomademyfood? #whogrewmyfood? Were they paid and treated fairly? Nope.
It helps me grow and learn when I call out my own hypocrisy. I like to think that this mindfulness can balance me out and will prevent me from being too pious or evangelical about my lifestyle choices. My purchase was ethical in one way but not in another:
✅ Almost plastic free
✅ Some items entirely package free
✅ Meal was for staff and volunteers of a charity working to build resilience in the pacific in light of climate change.
❌ Food purchased at @colessupermarketswho (among other questionable business practices) subsidises their costs through pokie/slot machines
❌ Ingredients were not ethically sourced / Farmers may have not been treated fairly to produce this food
❌ Non organic / GMO food
❌ Spaghetti made by Barilla who also have reeeally messed up ethical standards.
One thing’s for sure: I did not let the red wine go to waste last night. Today, I meditated in the sun because I’ve forgotten to look after myself these past few weeks. Look after your planet, your body, your mind and others each and every day. Be patient with yourself. Forgive yourself. Nobody’s perfect. Especially not me
The whole range of possibilities was overwhelming and took practice before i had a smooth system in the home. For instance, I’m saving Apple scraps to make homemade apple cider vinegar and after a bit of practice, the vinegar is working really well. But it wasn’t easy to save the scraps in the first place. I went through months of throwing apple cores in the compost and cussing because I’d forgotten that I wanted to save them. I had to ease into this habit.
I’m all about baby steps. My approach to food scraps is the perfect example of new habits growing into wholistic, systematic adoption. I now have 4 freezer bags and a vinegar bottle for saving different types of scraps. Obsessed much? 😂 Here’s how baby steps turned into something bigger:
I started by saving vegetable scraps for stock.
After that, I kept a bottle of vinegar in the cupboard for citrus peels. When full, it makes orange vinegar.
Then, I added a second freezer bag for fruit and mint leaves. When full, I make a batch of iced tea.
During apple season, I added a 3rd freezer bag to make apple cider vinegar from scraps. Pictured is the jar used for fermentation and the watered down ACV drink that makes my belly very happy.
Lastly, I added a 4th freezer bag for sad vegetables or leftovers that I could blend together to make soup. We’re pretty good at making the right amount of food but this was a good fall back just in case our eyes were bigger than our bellies.
It’s seems like an obsession but this all built up very slowly. It helped that the transition to zero waste left us with a surplus of zip lock bags that needed a permanent use. One freezer bag lasts about 2 years with this system.
It also helps that the result of these little steps are truly delicious drinks/food. My taste buds are stoked.
We save fruit scraps in a freezer bag to make iced tea. When the bag is full, I put it in a 2L jug and add a dash of red tea and mint (if we have it). I fill the jug with boiling water, cover, let it sit for a day, strain and compost the scraps. I bottle the warm tea and leave in the fridge for a few hours. The result is a refreshing iced tea, particularly rewarding on a summer day.
Zero waste on the go! I used to have two individually-wrapped museli bars a day. I now keep a jar of mixed nuts, dried fruit and chocolates in my bag that I can snack on between meals. This simple habit has prevented me from buying impulse snacks when I’m out and about. It’s great for work, car, flights, picnics, bush walks, camping and walking/riding around the city. I love that it’s easy to share too. This small and mighty jar could bring me one step closer to being the cool guy at the pub when we want something to nibble on.
Second hand score! $10 Crofton pot from a garage sale. This is a huge upgrade from our Teflon-coated @stanley.rogers frypan bought new for around $40 at a discount store many years ago. Funny how buying second hand can result in major upgrades at a fraction of the cost.
Zero waste husband!! My partner does most of our grocery shopping and cooking while I tend to be a workaholic. That’s how it’s always been. When I first told him about my ambition of a zero waste lifestyle, he responded with support and apprehension. Given that he does so much around the house, I was worried he‘d get defensive if I suggested zero waste alternatives. I didn’t want to be making extra demands.
It was all good! We took this transition as an opportunity to learn something new. He asked a bunch of questions along the way and we researched and shared ideas together. We set standards like “the ZW solution must be as good as or better than the existing approach.” This helped us feel like everything was an upgrade. It also made us extra conscious when not being zero waste. Positive reinforcement and honest observations helped.
I’m so proud of how far he’s come. These are loose organic bananas he got from @terramadreorganics – just one detail in a huge fortnightly shop that was almost entirely plastic free and organic. He’s a pretty amazing human.
Living the simple life is easier said than done! We’ve been making truly terrible sourdough bread lately. I’m determined to keep practising but there must be an important detail I’m missing. Like everything about me, my sourdough is inconsistent and incapable of settling with one way of being I am creating problem children who grow up to be sad toast, breadcrumbs or worm food.
Our starter has abusive parents. I’ve inherited one quality starter, “Kate”, which got mixed up in a tragic salt accident (totally my fault). I’ve made one from scratch, “Yeastie Boy”. Yeastie attempted to revive Kate but tragically suffered the consequences. Lastly, James and I made a bouncing baby “Phillis” (named from a typo ‘fill us up with bread’). Phillis was left out for too long without feeding. I revived it with organic flour and distilled water. Phillis is still with us (pictured).
Our dough is feeling low. My dough rises *some* of the time. I’ve tried gentle folding and more intense kneading. I’ve had a friend show me how to make this step by step. Maybe the inconsistency is caused by varying temperature and time between working the dough.
This is a post for all my non-vegan earth lovers and for anyone, like me, whose mind is boggled by zero waste dairy. It gets easier. Our approach is to seek out recyclable, reusable or byo packaging and generally eat more plants. While our health and well-being are paramount, we feel that any effort in favour of plant-rich foods should be applauded.
As Michael Pollan says…
“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
Here’s some food for thought on zero waste dairy:
Adopt something plant-based: I’m a non vegan ex-cheese snob who loves soy milk, coconut yoghurt, nut butter; and macadamia feta. I’ve tried cashew Parmesan and discovered that it’s easier to make myself. It’s great on roast vegetables. As a result, I’m now cooking with nutritional yeast. It’s not always peachy. When our soy boccocini melted into a ‘pearl jam’ consistency, I must admit I struggled to find it appealing 😜
Ask questions: By popular demand, a couple of local dairy farmers are now stocking milk in refillable glass bottles. We want to be a voice in that popular demand. For me, it still takes courage, but I’m getting used to saying “I’m trying to reduce my plastic use, would it be ok to put this in my own container?” I’m looking forward to a day when I can buy soy milk in glass too. We also return egg cartons for reuse.
Avoid plastic: We have found milk, yoghurt and cheese in glass or paper packaging from local suppliers. We buy parmesan in bulk to reduce packaging overall. It’s a conundrum for me that many vegan options are not yet plastic-free in Australia.
Favour local, ethical farmers: We’re lucky enough to live near ethical farmers. When we do buy dairy, we’ll try to support those that are not only ensuring that animals live well, but they also support environmentally sustainable practises in agriculture. Meat and dairy industries vary across the world, so this one takes a bit of research. I’m forever learning and try to be mindful of bias, propaganda and greenwashing.
Make it yourself: I experimented with homemade yoghurt and it’s surprisingly easy! Am yet to make vegan milk, but the recipe for almond milk seems like a no brainer.
Plant-based cheese review from a cheese snob!!
My French-influenced upbringing made me a cheese fiend for most of my life. I understood the difference between cheeses before I knew how to multiply. When I was 3, I liked smoked gouda. When I was 8, my preference was brie. Just like a fine cheese, I was well cultured. Later in life, when I lived with my best friend and vegan buddy, I actually found it easy to be vegan at home… except for cheese.
The bocconcini is ok. The texture matches its dairy counterpart. It melts in an unfamiliar and less attractive way though (it looks like ‘pearl jam’ when melted). It’s soy-based but doesn’t have a soy after-taste (note that I might be biased because I love soy milk). It tastes creamy.
In use: Do not melt. Add to salads and serve cold.
The cashew cheese is astoundingly delicious but you can make this yourself for a fraction of the price. Just grind up some cashews, salt and yeast and save a heap of dollaridoos (As a bonus: Add silken tofu for a creamy vegan béchamel sauce). This jar is far too expensive for what it is but I like that they have exposed how easy it is to substitute the flavour of Parmesan sprinkles. To me, this mimics the cheap Parmesan flakes, not the actual cheese block.
In use: Sprinkle on roast vegetables before putting in the oven. Then make your own after this runs out.
I learned to celebrate the wins and not punish ourselves if we produce household trash. I learned to keep a close eye on waste collection services and know where my trash is going. I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish in the street, and the power of community to work on bigger clean up projects.
Celebrate the wins
Take a moment and enjoy the feeling of not needing to take the bins out. Thank everybody in your home for their efforts. It’s not about perfection, it’s about incremental improvements and chances are you’re doing great.
For fear of being disappointed, I tried not to pay close attention to the landfill we generated. At 7 months, I finally estimated our rate of waste creation. I worked out that we would fill one landfill bin every 8 months, and one recycling bin every 5 weeks. Previously, it would take 2 weeks to fill both bins. Our household has 3 people and one dog. One of us is slightly more obsessed with zero waste than the others… Guess who!? If we were to stop making incremental improvements, this is the rate we’d be at. I think that’s pretty great! I thought it would take much longer to get to this stage. Plus, a lot of the waste we were still creating was from products we bought before my zero waste rampage. I love not needing to take the bins out…
Be aware of waste collection
Observe waste collection services and be aware of what happens to waste after it leaves the home. At work, plastic bin liners are a clue that recycling might not be sent to the right bin. Ask questions. Seek answers.
We recently found out that our waste collection service has been cutting corners by dumping recycling into their landfill trucks. It’s not all the time, but it’s still really messed up. We’ve put pressure on body corporate who are in the process of rectifying everything. The service provider will now lose their very big contract (over 200 dwellings… that’s a lot of wasted recycling!). Until now, I’d never thought to check how our bins are being collected. I put my trust in the fact that recycling goes to a recycling plant. Every area is a little bit different, so we’ve learnt our lesson to be aware of what happens to our waste after it leaves our home. Another positive from this is that we are even more committed to reducing our recycling waste.
Pick it up
When the time is right for you, try to pick up 3 items of rubbish. This small and mighty habit can prevent those items being washed down the gutter and into a waterway.
I’m learning to stop and pick up rubbish. Honestly, when I do it I feel a bit weird. I don’t want to appear forthright, pious or alienating to passers by. So, I try to be discreet when I do it. Apart from the looks I get (which are completely in my own head), I also feel a little overwhelmed by the task of picking up rubbish. There’s so much of it and so much being created at a business level. To encourage incremental habit-building, I’m going to just pick up 3 items max (thank to Take 3 for the inspiration).
Organise a trash party
If there’s an area that really gets you down, volunteer to clean it up. Tell others about it and invite them to join. One hour of cleaning between a small group of people can result in massive improvements on the ecosystem and community.
At the start of Plastic Free July, I set the goal of cleaning up a small part of the Merri Creek for one hour every Sunday of the month. If anyone else came along, it was a bonus – and what a bonus it was! With the help of friends, we filled 7 landfill bins (120L each). This is a big achievement for me, but it’s just another day for the legends at Friends of Merri Creek who have been tirelessly cleaning the creek for a long time now.
I have so much respect for people who do this kind of thing regularly, even at a small scale. It’s hard work! One hour of picking up rubbish made my back sore. The walk to the car carrying loads of rubbish made my arms dead (Exercise? What’s that!?). We found some seriously gross items in the creek including a crack pipe and loads of syringes. In one instance, I travelled interstate to get there on time and when I finally arrived, it rained heavily – yet we still managed to stick to the weekly goal. I sound like I’m complaining but I have truly loved every minute of it. This whole experience has created new memories from old junk.
How to slay the trash monster without losing your soul
You’re doing your best. Don’t beat yourself up if you produce household waste. Be aware of what happens to this waste after it leaves the home or office. Pick up 3 items of rubbish in the street. Consider organising a clean up project. Be realistic and take it at your own pace. Little efforts go a long way.