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.
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.
I learned what to take on a daily basis and how to pack light for longer trips away. I formed a habit of taking snacks, a handkerchief, and a bottle while on the go. I realised that zero waste is about minimalism and simplicity.
Day to day
A handbag audit could be helpful at this stage. Think about all the items you use on a daily basis and add a handkerchief and small shopping bag to the set.
Essentially, all I need is my wallet, phone, keys and a handkerchief. Everything else depends on where I’m going and whether a bag is necessary. Here’s the full extent of what I take:
Mr Simple wallet: Moving to a “men’s wallet” was the first step to not needing a handbag at all – I just throw coins in my pocket now
Multi-purpose balm in a Lush sample container: For lips, hair, nails, moisturiser and general spruce up
Cough lollies: If I have singing practice. I buy these in glass jars to avoid individually wrapped plastic packaging.
T2 water bottle: Usually just for singing or long walks. This doubles as a thermos and keeps tea nice and warm for hours.
Snacks, handkerchief & bottle
If travelling for an extended period of time, take snacks to avoid impulse purchases, a drink bottle that can be refilled, and a handkerchief for take away sandwiches, baked goods, etc. If you’re more of a sushi fan, a small container is helpful too.
I now have an airport survival kit: Snacks, handkerchief, and water bottle. These three items ensure a package-free trip from Melbourne to Katoomba. That’s a 1.5hr flight plus 2.5hr train ride with loads of waiting time in between. The salty macadamias and chocolate covered almonds prevented me from buying McDonalds Chicken McNuggets at the airport and Pringles on the plane. The water bottle prevented me from guzzling down lemonade and then throwing away the vessel. The handkerchief was used to wrap a toasted cheese and tomato croissant to take away. I also bought an apple for a zero waste snack.
While in transition, take the labels off certain products as a reminder to keep the container and bulk buy / DIY once it runs out.
I’m getting the hang of zero waste travel and learning how to pack light. This is what’s in my toiletries bag for a 3 day trip. This works pretty well for me. We went to New York for 8 days and I took a similar set of items, and it was perfect. If we were camping, we would have tea tree oil and Castile soap – and the blush would be the first thing to go.
Blush powder: I’m working my way through the last of my make up. This powder can easily be made with beetroot powder and cornstarch.
Home made toothpowder
Rose hip oil or Argan Oil
Multi-purpose balm in a tiny jam jar: For hair, lips, nails, feet, etc
Bamboo toothbrush: I recommend Uppercut Delux toothbrush
Reusable make up wipes: Made from my old bath robe
Home made face powder in a Lush tin
Large makeup brush
Pack a capsule wardrobe
Get comfortable wearing pants, jumpers, and jackets a couple of times before washing. Packing light takes practice so it helps to take more holidays (you know it!). This is also great practice for a longer term capsule wardrobe.
All the clothes, accessories and shoes I brought for 4 days away: Tracksuit pants, 2 x Jeans, 4 x undies, 2 x Socks, 1 x Bra, Scarf, Beanie, Leather jacket, Hoodie, Glasses, Sunnies, Cardigan, 4 x T-shirts, Gloves and Boots.
How to be zero waste without lugging your life around
Always remember to bring a handkerchief, a drinking vessel and a shopping bag. Use travel as a test for minimising everyday toiletries & wardrobe. Take note of items that you use on the go. Challenge yourself to pack lighter & smarter.
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 want to fill my life with as much creative play as possible. Making, experimenting and trying new things is good for our souls. Doing this together strengthens bonds and has the potential to build ritual and knowledge from tasks.
Together is better. We’ve been practising making tortillas, mountain bread, sour dough and naan bread. By shifting dinner from a task to a shared ritual, we’ve change our mindset from “I can’t be bothered cooking” to “let’s cook together”. Being surrounded by modern conveniences, I had lost touch with this way of living.
Quality flour + clean water = freedom. If my partner and I can make these things well, then we‘ll no longer value convenience. Instead, we’ll value quality, core ingredients. It will be more affordable. It will be nutritionally better for us. It will help us tap into traditional cultures and connect with our collective history. It will enrich our lives. It’s a win win win.