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
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.
I learned to split my bins, write ‘landfill’ on my kitchen bin, save my scraps, make my own cleaners, use what we have before replacing it, favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials, and understand how to store food to maximise its lifespan.
Split my bins & keep the landfill small
The kitchen should have a teeny tiny landfill bin as well as compost, recycling, and potentially a separate soft-plastics recycling bin if this option is available to you. The mindset is that all of these bins should be the last resort for items that come into your home (ie consider using food scraps for stock before composting them).
Our compost bin is bigger than our landfill bin. We keep it on the kitchen bench so it’s front of mind and easy to access. I made it out of a metal tub I found and the lid of an old pot. Essentially, it just needs to be leak proof and have a hole on top to breathe.
Our tiny landfill bin is hidden in the laundry cupboard next to the kitchen (out of sight, out of mind). We also have a soft plastics bag hiding in this cupboard to keep us all sane while we transition as a household.
At our current rate of waste creation, I’ve estimated 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, mostly from kitchen waste. Shrinking the size of our kitchen bin encouraged us to think twice about throwing things away.
Food scraps have a multitude of uses. They can be turned into stock, iced tea, cleaning products and beauty products. The freezer is a great way to keep food until you’re ready to turn it into something new.
At our place, vegetable scraps are put into a bag in the freezer and then periodically turned into a delicious veggie stock for risotto, paella, soup and stews. On top of veggie scraps for stock, I’ve been saving fruit scraps for iced tea. The core and peelings of stone fruit are perfect to infuse overnight with mint leaves and some red or black tea. It makes a really refreshing cold drink. Meat off-cuts and bones make amazing stock, too. Even coffee grinds can serve a purpose before they go to compost, my favourite is a deep-cleansing body scrub combined with coconut oil.
Make my own cleaners
I hope I never need to buy cleaning products again. Vinegar rules!
Dishes & Hands: Castile liquid soap. We have the same soap pump for both dishes and hands.
Multipurpose spray: Vinegar + Castile soap + water. This spray is used for benchtops, floor, cupboards, oven, fridge, etc. It can even be used on carpet, leather and upholstery.
Orange vinegar: Orange scraps + White vinegar + 2 weeks. The cleaner smells amazing and is highly effective. I also love seeing the bottle/s of orange slices on display in the kitchen. I find it decorative and beautiful. It’s become my own version of cut flowers. I also throw lemon rind in there if I don’t have a use for it.
Baking soda: No recipe needed. Just put it in an old spice shaker and use for scouring the oven, cooktop, kitchen sink, drains, and stubborn grease. Shake on a surface and use the multipurpose spray to see it froth and bubble.
Use what we have before replacing it
Zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Use up what you have before replacing it with a zero waste alternative. Either that, or give it to someone who doesn’t have the same flexibility as you. Hide single-use items out of sight (out of mind) to help reduce any dependency.
We hid items in the garage to see if we could live without them. It worked. As a household, we can live without bags, plastic wrap, baking paper and snap lock bags: so, I was happy to give these away.
I have learned that zero waste thrives with a ‘make do’ attitude. Did I need to buy a metal lunchbox? No. I did not. I could have put leftovers in any jar or plastic container that has been floating around in my cupboards for years. Or I could have bought a plastic lunchbox from a thrift store for $1. Thanks to this very pretty, over-priced lunchbox, I’ve become conscious of why I am buying something. I don’t regret this purchase. It’s encouraged me to form a habit of bringing my own lunch to work. But, I don’t want anyone to think they need to prepare themselves for going zero waste by buying anything. Trust me, you can make do. The goal isn’t perfection, it’s improvement.
Favour long-lasting re-useable items
If anything needs to be purchased, favour long-lasting reusable items made from wood, metal, glass, marble, and natural fabric. Better quality products can be bought second-hand.
When the time comes to replace something in the kitchen, consider natural materials like wood and metal. These are often easier to find at thrift stores (I am looking forward to replacing our old kettle with an antique stove top one).
Beeswax wraps: Substitute for plastic cling wrap
Metal utensils and cookware: With wooden handles.
Glass & Stainless steel containers: For food storage
Wooden chopping board: For fruit, veggies and bread.
Marble chopping board: For chopping meat and cheese.
Store food to maximise its lifetime
Research how to store fruit and veggies to maximise their lifetime. Utilise the freezer. If food starts to go bad, there’s often a recipe that compliments this part of the food’s lifespan (ie old milk makes excellent greek yoghurt, old veggies make great soup and old bananas make sweet smoothies).
Storing food takes a level of observation. I try not to over-stock so I can easily see if something is getting old. I have found a few simple tricks like storing carrots in a jar with a splash of water, or keeping fruit in the fridge to help it stay fresh a little longer in warm weather. I researched the main foods that we eat, and found tips for each one.
If we’re over-stocked, we’ll chop up food for the freezer such as carrots, corn, peas, spinach leaves, minced garlic, ginger, berries and sliced sourdough.
When the pantry gives us sad looking food, I turn to Pinterest for inspiration and see what comes up. Most fruit and vegetables have a recipe that compliments each stage of it’s life.
How to transition to a zero waste kitchen
Write ‘landfill’ on your smallest bin, and split the rest into compost, recycling and soft plastics. Utilise your food scraps by saving them in your freezer. Store food to maximise its lifespan. Consider DIY cleaners. Favour long-lasting re-useable items and natural materials. Use what you have before replacing it.
For zero waste groceries, I have learned to shop local, seasonal produce. Forming simple – but sometimes easily forgotten – habits of bringing shopping bags and jars so I could buy package-free where possible. I look out for glass and paper packaging to avoid wasteful plastics. I took my time and now embrace the idea of an empty fridge.
Shop local, seasonal produce
Local, seasonal produce can be bought from farmers markets, through delivery services, or from independent grocers. If none of these options are available, then seasonal produce can be bought from large supermarket chains – you just need to keep track of what’s in season.
Every fortnight, we order a $30 box of fruit and veggies from Ceres Fair Food. At first, it was too much of a good thing – what does one do with four broccolis between three people? After giving some produce to neighbours, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. Pinterest made it quick to look up options. I made broccoli soup, broccoli pesto, broccoli stir fry, broccoli gratin, broccoli pasta… we were not short of ideas. It became a satisfying challenge to cook all of the food delivered to us. If we can’t get through it all, I chop it up and put it in the freezer.
Shopping bags & glass jars
A large shopping bag can hold multiple bags and jars. This helps reduce plastic bags and containers. These items can be kept in the car or near the front door to help kickstart the habit. We keep our jars in a little carrier to avoid spills.
For weekly top ups, I take a small and large shopping bag, 2 jars and a handkerchief. The jars carry wet bulk like liquid soap, peanut butter and vinegar. The handkerchief holds baked goods and the bags hold everything else. For a bigger shop, we have four large canvas bags that we take to the supermarket. Fewer bags make it easier for the cashier to fill them. These require a trolley and a car to take home.
Finding a store requires a bit of research, but there’s plenty of online directories to get started. Most have only dry bulk (flour, nuts, grains, chocolates, etc) and some have expanded into wet bulk (oil, liquid soap, honey, peanut butter, kombucha, etc). To perpetuate a new zero waste habit, we favour places that are friendly, inclusive, and enjoyable to shop at.
The Source was my entry point into package-free shopping, back when I didn’t know what zero waste was. I used to walk there on my lunch break and get myself a little treat, like vegetable crisps or chocolate covered blueberries. Their beautifully merchandised store makes it easy to understand a totally new way of shopping.
Let’s face it: Getting started is daunting! I’ve had my fair share of patronising, pious staff and overwhelming, poorly merchandised stores. Most of these stores felt like “organised chaos” with a high barrier of entry. It made me feel lost and unmotivated. Fortunately, package-free stores are an expanding part of the retail sector which means improved customer service and merchandising.
Some stores are hesitant to sell items package free. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage to ask questions and suggest change.
I find that the main reasons for stores to hesitate with BYO packaging are:
OHS – If they’ve been burned before, they’re not going to budge. Leave it be. They have a business to protect.
Efficiency – If the store is busy, any to change their workflow tends to add stress and delays. Be nice. Maybe come back later.
Lack of understanding – Most people understand if I say “I’m trying to go plastic free” but they won’t understand if I say “I’m zero waste”. Be nice. Be patient. Have courage. We’re all learning together.
Production lines – A large scale company (like a supermarket chain) has loads of moving parts. They can’t change overnight. Inquire politely via social media and customer service streams. Suggest change. Follow up. Be patient.
How to balance zero waste & grocery shopping
Bring your shopping bags & jars. Favour seasonal produce. Buy package-free at bulk stores and avoid plastic at big supermarkets. Ask questions. Be patient while retailers adjust too.
Even in the big city, I believe that zero waste has a high barrier of entry but this story has a happy ending.
To begin my journey, I spent some sweet dollaridoos on a moon cup, a safety razor, beeswax wraps and a new lunchbox. These items made a significant dent in my weekly budget. A year later, it’s worked out to be financially viable and I don’t need to buy these items again. I tried to not buy anything I wasn’t 100% sure I needed (here’s lookin at you: tongue scraper!). I had to be in it for the long haul with this kit.
Today, I’m fortunate to be able to eat local, organic, plastic-free wholefoods because the soil here is rich and a portion of my income is expendable. I buy organic nuts and grains entirely package free. It’s easier for me because there are bulk stores within walking distance. Compared to the packaged “dollar dazzlers” at major supermarket chains, I started spending a lot more on food… but then something else happened:
I no longer needed to buy beauty or cleaning products.
We didn’t need to buy bin liners, cling wrap, aluminium foil and zip lock bags.
We learnt how to buy and cook exactly what we need, how to store it and how to make use of scraps.
The bathroom cupboard needed little restocking because I was making my own or favouring multipurpose products.
I stopped buying goods brand new and learnt to repair instead of replace.
We sold items because we no longer had a use for them.
We started making more items from scratch like bread and tortillas, which worked out cheaper and more enjoyable.
I realised that major supermarket chains charge more for organic produce (beauty standards?) so we saved by going direct to farmer.
I have a feeling that organic food is why I’m not getting sick as often, so I’m not buying cold & flu medicine all the friggin time… that’s just a theory… I’ll probably get sick now that I’ve suggested that… *cough*
The steep curve eventually balances out. It gets better. It pays off. It’s worth it. But I ain’t gonna tell you it’s easy.
I got really into DIY when I started going zero waste. It’s cheaper to make it yourself but it’s not essential. I’m happy to discover that more and more items are available package free. This is dishwashing powder from @ceresbrunswick. I first bought it packaged from @thankyouaus so that I could refill into an appropriate container. I haven’t attempted DIY dishwashing powder simply because it’s convenient and easy to buy ready made and package free.
Side note: For package free living, containers become a careful long term consideration. The right container makes dispensing easier and means I won’t get my white powders mixed up
I haven’t eaten cow, pig or lamb in almost 10 years. Plus, I’ve hardly eaten any meat in the last couple of months. I’m practically vegetarian. I listen to my body and it rewards me when I feed it an occasional piece of quality meat. I’ll aim to eat anything that has a neutral-positive effect on the Australian environment but I still have much to learn. My approach comes with naive hope that Australia will:
Favour consumption of over-populated pests;
Build up the population of native wildlife through consumer demand; and
Reduce meat consumption overall.
No more binge eating 3-4 types of meat from animals that can’t withstand drought. No more “throw another shrimp on the barbie” or highly televised lamb advertisements in the lead up to Australia day. No more “you don’t make friends with salad”. Respect, diversity and control.
Introduced species such as rabbit, camel and water buffalo are over-populated and problematic for our native wildlife. If they were a popular meat, maybe our native flora and fauna would be slightly better off?
Australia has a lush selection of edible plants and tasty native meats such as emu, wallaby, kangaroo and crocodile. Cruelty aside, if we were farming more natives, surely that’s a better use of agricultural land compared to cattle, pig and sheep farming? It could reduce soil salinity, irrigation and land clearing. Maybe the cattle farmers would maintain employment. Maybe more of our land can be focused on re-wilding initiatives and greater biodiversity.
Supporting any form of monoculture (cow, cotton, soy, etc) can have detrimental effects on the environment. I’m not saying this approach is perfect. It’s just another way to look at conscious consumerism. 🙃
For Aussies: Kangaroo steak can be found at @colessupermarkets and @woolworths_au in the ‘Game meat’ section. Occasionally, we can find rabbit, duck and camel too. These are NOT sold package free. Markets and boutique butchers sometimes have alternative meats where you could try to byo container (still working up the courage to do this myself).
I believe that purchasing alternative food is a vote in favour of diversity. 🐄🐖🐑🐓
I love that this is what sweet potatoes look like. The look on the cashier’s face was priceless when she held the 8 inch penis potato. We dubbed her expression a “professional smirk”. This #uglyproduce is currently not accepted by big supermarket chains. I like to think that the clause states that produce “must not be too penisy”. Jokes aside, I can’t understand why it’s such an issue. They’re missing out on all the fun. 😂🍆
This is progress. Here is our grocery haul from the newly dubbed “anxiety inducing organic shop” @terramadreorganics. I love this store, but I wasn’t surprised that 80% of you answered ‘yes’ to feeling overwhelmed at bulk food stores in general. I get overwhelmed too.
Scales are the unsung hero of the zero waste movement. We got this slim little set a few years back and I now use it to weigh containers before taking them to the package free store. It’s not an essential item. This weigh in can be done at the store. I like weighing at home so I can fill my jars with chocolate, peanut butter, chips and kombucha without any further delay 😆. For extra zero waste brownie points, ditch the batteries and go analog!