Choosing how and where I spend my money is important to me. This rule also applies where I choose to eat my food. 

Melbourne is known, unofficially, as the foodie capital of Australia. Being from NSW, I joke it's because the weather is not the best in Melbourne and they don't have the beautiful beaches Sydney has to offer, so the city has to entertain/lure people with something else. 

It feels like there is a new restaurant/cafe/venue opening up every day, making this city a competitive place to find a meal. And if I want to find a meal that meets my eco values, it can feel like I'm searching for a needle in a haystack. 

I value places that think about their waste (both food and packaging), composting, reduced plastics, community minded, local food, fair food, organic. 

Fair Food Forager helps me to pick a business that aligns with my values. Their website and smartphone app, connects people like me, with the food business I want to spend my money with. When I am looking for somewhere to eat, I simply put in my post code and can browse the ethical food choices in my area. 

Food business are added to the app and website, by every day eco conscious individuals or by businesses themselves. The team at Fair Food Forager will then asses if the businesses nominated for listing, align with their ethical values. 

I got to chat with the developer Paul Hellier about what inspired him to build his fair food community website and smartphone app. 

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Interview with Fair Food Forager

What is Fair Food Forager about?
Fair Food Forager is creating a competitive / business reason for food growers, sellers and artisans to include ethical and sustainable practices in their business model. To achieve this, we have created a website and smartphone app that lists the more ethical and sustainable options right across Australia. Basically we want to highlight the businesses that are worthy of your money and make consumers aware of some of the little but very positive things being done in thousands of food venues, everywhere. We want to change the way the world eats, by helping people make better and more thoughtful decisions regularly.

What inspired you to start the website?

After about a decade of picking up litter, daily, from my local beach and being frustrated by the constant supply. I decided I wanted to do more, have a greater impact and felt that technology had to be a part of whatever that solution was.

After another year of deep thought, consideration and talking to lots of people, I decided that food was the link I needed. After a trip away and trying to get myself a sit down coffee in a ceramic mug to no avail. I realized an app to help me find the businesses that care, was definitely the way to go. The rest is history.

We want to highlight the businesses that are worthy of your money and make consumers aware of some of the little but very positive things being done in thousands of food venues, everywhere. We want to change the way the world eats, by helping people make better and more thoughtful decisions regularly.

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Interview with Fair Food Forager

Tell us about your new app?
The Fair Food Forager app lists restaurants, cafes, grocers and suppliers who are making steps to be more sustainable and ethical. You as the consumer can help us populate the app, so that we can all work together to help people find food that is lighter on the planet.

Often when we are away from our hometown we end up settling for something not so healthy or ethical because, well we are just hungry and have already looked for a while and there just isn’t anything around. However it is regularly the case that there is something, we just don’t know where to find it.

Our plan is, that people discover these great caring businesses; they list them and help the next caring consumer to find it. Then as business owners realize that consumers are choosing ethical options, they will see the need to either increase their levels of sustainability or start tackling it in some way.

We have identified 11 categories of sustainable practices with individual icons (Sustainable Palm Oil is coming soon). At a glance, these icons identify what areas a business is tackling and helps the consumer make a choice based on what is important to them.

The icons list categories including; Fair Trade, Sustainable seafood, reduced food waste, reduced plastic waste, chemical free, local produce, homemade, charitable, ethical / free range, vegan and vegetarian.

What has been the challenges developing this kind of service?
Funding and time are by far the biggest challenges for us. I am not a web developer, so I had to pay someone with these skills to create the website and app. I’ve saved and borrowed money to make it happen, but I thought that if I’m going to get it off the ground, this is the quickest way.

The team has grown to 6 volunteers including myself, we all have bills to pay, and so everyone is working on Fair Food Forager in their spare time. It’s a team of motivated, go-getters, who all contribute massive world changing ideas. Though for now, we must prioritize and only do that which is most important in changing the way the world eats.

Interview with Fair Food Forager

If any readers would like to develop a website or app that relies on user input, what is your advice on how to approach it?
I think you have to talk about it and talk about it a lot, to everyone. Don’t worry about someone stealing it. Chances are they aren’t going to put in the work that you have, or they are going to copy it anyway, once you are live. You can hide your idea, but then no one will know about it and worse still, you will miss all of that invaluable input.

There are many reasons to talk about it. You might speak to that one person that can really help you get the word out there. Or, people will tweak and refine your idea with fresh ears and eyes and that could be the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t.

Also I think its important to tell the like minded, find your tribe and they will help you spread the word. You can’t be everywhere.

What plans does Fair Food Forager have for the future?

Our biggest plan is to make this platform valuable all over the world. I love the idea that I could travel around the world impacting less as I go. People could list their favorites, in say San Francisco that will benefit us when we travel there, and that person will benefit when they travel here in Australia. Everyone wins!

We are also working with some great partners on a variety of things, from reducing plastic waste to educating consumers on sustainable palm oil, sustainable seafood to reducing food waste. There is just so much good to do.

I have to add that I look forward to working with people like you Erin, people passionate about the state of the planet. I believe that we shouldn’t under estimate the power of our purchasing dollar, the more people choose to avoid over packaged, unethical, unhealthy food. The more business will listen and cater to what the people want.

As a community we can all help to minimize the negative impact that eating has on the planet.

If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?

Just do something, start somewhere simple, make it a habit and go from there. You don't have to be perfect, but who knows, you might change others with your new behaviour.

Right now, the website and smartphone app are only available in Australia and New Zealand. If you know of a cafe/restaurant/venue or run a business of that nature, and you believe it should be listed on Fair Food Forager, PLEASE add it. I truly believe sharing is one of the most important actions that will help shift awareness. Plus, I love travelling around Australia and would prefer to support ethical, waste minded businesses as much as possible :) 

Whenever I end any of my community talks or converse with eager people about the zero waste or plastic free lifestyle, I always encourage those with internet connections to join online groups. Usually, I point them towards Facebook for location based groups specific to their city, town, or state.

While blogs, books and online articles are helpful tools, conversing with people in your own suburb or town on ways to begin a low waste lifestyle can provide confidence to those looking for solutions locally but not finding many via google searches.

These online groups are thriving hubs for people that;
  • Want to reduce their waste
  • Need answers to questions relating to their suburb, town, city and state
  • A place to share frustrations of an over packaged plastic item
  • Sharing new bulk stores or a butcher, baker and all the other businesses in-between that allow customers to shop with their own containers
  • Troubleshooting zero waste questions with a group
  • Sharing real life experiences
  • Want to help others
  • Share ideas, tips and tricks
The list could go on and on. I love logging into these groups, browsing the rousing conversations being had.

Below is a list of link to the Australian zero waste online communities that I know of. 

Zero Waste Victoria

Zero Waste Tasmania

Zero Waste and Plastic Free Living Perth

Zero Waste Sydney

Zero Waste Newcastle

Zero Waste Families 
Zero Waste Families is not location specific. I thought i'd add it, as it's Australian based.

If you know of other Australian zero waste online communities, let me know. I’d love to add them to the list. I encourage you to share this post too. Creating communities like this, is one of the many ways we can support the growth of the zero waste and plastic free movements here in Australia. 
I kindly receive dozens of emails each week, from companies asking me to try their product. While it's very nice, rarely will one actually fit with my lifestyle. Which is why, you don't see many of these disclosure statements before I write a blog post...the product I am about to talk about was gifted to me. All thoughts are my own.

Two weeks before the Builder and myself were about to embark on our honeymoon, an email from Ethique arrived in my inbox. A New Zealand based company that was aiming to be the most sustainable beauty company in the world.

Here we go I thought, another one...

But it wasn't another one. This one was different.

You see Ethique make beauty products; soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturisers and other similar products. What sets them apart is their very simple aim. Like me, they want to prevent unnecessary plastic bottles and jars from being used and thrown away. So far they had prevented 60,000 bottles and jars from being thrown away. There ultimate goal is 1 million. They cater for the person who wants to do better, but does not have the time to necessarily make their own stuff like soap, conditioner and moisturisers.

While I enjoy making my own products, and I know some my readers do too, not all of us have that time or even want too. Including myself. And that's ok. Living plastic free or zero waste, does not mean weekends or evenings have to be filled with DIY beauty projects.

Ethique make all of their products in solid form. No liquids. No need for the bottles and jars. Each product is simply wrapped in compostable packaging. It's kinda hard not to fall in love with a company that dislikes plastic and unnecessary packaging as much as I do.

I decided to check out their website, see what products they had and learn more about them.
  • Certified B Corp 
  • Cruelty free
  • Climate neutral 
  • 20% of our profit goes to various animal & environmental charities 
  • Natural ingredients 
  • Compostable packaging for a totally waste free product 
  • Sustainably sourced ingredients 
  • The owner does not like bioplastics 
  • Vegan friendly products
As I was about to head overseas, I decided to try the saving face serum. Ordinarily I use plain hemp oil on my face. However, I had a 7kg weight limit due to some internal flights on the honeymoon (hand luggage only for me). And glass jars add weight. Every little thing adds up. A solid moisturising block would weigh a lot less and take up less room.

Here is how it arrived:

Ethique's solid beauty bars with plastic-free packaging

Ethique's solid beauty bars with plastic-free packaging

Ethique's solid beauty bars with plastic-free packaging

How to use the Saving Face Serum bar:
After I wash my face in the morning, I simply warm the Saving Face Serum in my hands, then wipe the bar over my face. If I have any extra on my hands, I'll rub it into the ends of my hair. 
Ethique's solid beauty bars with plastic-free packaging
Good morning. Snap taken on our honeymoon. No makeup. In my pyjamas, getting ready for the day. 

The verdict:
  • I really love it AND am still using the first portion of the bar eight weeks later
  • There were NO breakouts (I have the oiliest skin and break out very easily) 
  • It did not melt when we left the car sitting in the sun on days reaching 35 degrees (woohoo!) 
  • No need to worry about it spilling out of a bottle 
  • No 100ml restriction anxiety when travelling
  • It was light weight and took up next to no room
  • Gorgeous subtle smell 
  • The fine lines around my eyes softened
  • I don't have to clean a bottle at the end
When I need to purchase another, I can ask for a refill only and continue to use the original box for it's home. It's small things like this that make me smile.

Turns out fancy pants serums don't need to come in bottles or jars. Compostable packaging and recyclable boxes work just as well, if not better.

Along with the saving face serum we received soap and shampoo bars. We are currently trying their soap (oh my gooodness, Lime & Ginger...the SMELL is divine). And my friends gave the shampoo bars a whirl, all are very satisfied. One had never used a solid shampoo bar before, and has now be safely converted. I think what pushed her over the edge, was learning that the average shampoo can be made up to 80% water. When you are washing with water in the shower or bath, then that extra water is just a waste. Ethique solid shampoo bars are equivalent to three (300ml) bottles of liquid shampoo. That's a lot of water and money saved, plus the bars last longer.

Ethique does not contain:
  • Sodium lauryl/laureth sulphate 
  • Parabens 
  • Phthalates 
  • Ingredients that form nitrosamines or dioxins 
  • Formaldehyde or formaldehyde donors 
  • Palm oil 
  • Petroleum byproducts 
  • Animal products 
I have faith Ethique will very easily hit their goal of preventing 1 million bottles and jars from coming into existence. Not only are they passionate about preventing plastic waste, the company is transparent, friendly and will answer any tough eco question you might have for them (I had a couple). I usually find that companies asking tough eco questions of themselves, are never slow to respond with truthful answers when asked. It's the kind of relationship you want with a company, who is asking to put stuff on your body. I trust Ethique to do that.

Thank you Ethique for letting me try your product. #giveupthebottle
I've saved $400 using a menstrual cup and cloth pads
Photo from Death to Stock Photo
When I decided to reduce my plastic waste, one of the first swaps I made, was to invest in a menstrual cup and cloth pads. I continue to use these happily three years on.

Aside from the endless plastic waste that I have avoided since July 2013, the biggest drawcard has been the amount of money saved.

I have saved over $400 by simply reusing.

Once I tallied up the amount I could have saved on tampons and pads since I got my first period. The amount was in the thousands. In all my talks, I stress that I wish my younger self had known about reusable menstrual items.

Years ago I volunteered for a week at a female refugee, set up over Christmas. Women who live on the street (voluntary and involuntary) were given the opportunity to stay at the refuge, enjoy a meal, have a shower and sleep in peace. When a new woman arrived, we would take them to a room that was full of second hand clothes and donated toiletries. One of the first items each new woman grabbed was the tampons and pads. It had never occurred to me before what women living on the streets or fleeing a domestic situation did for their period.

Last year, a woman was fined $500 for stealing a pack of tampons from a service station. The lady had allegedly stolen the tampons for a friend who was too embarrassed to buy them herself. I could only imagine that stealing tampons and pads is far more common than anyone would know. They are an expensive necessity.

While it was nice that I had saved all this extra money, I made the decision to pass it on. I have a roof over my head and food in my cupboards. If things were to ever go belly up, my family and friends would help me out. But not everyone has the same support networks. 

Share the Dignity is an Australian organisation that collects a range of menstrual items to pass onto women in need.

With the $400 I had saved, I was able to buy 10 JuJu cups for 10 women who would like to use menstrual cups during their period. The women are offered what type of menstrual item they would like. I chose to donate menstrual cups because they are what I use. I love them and sing their praise to anyone who asks.

The menstrual items are supplied to organisations that work with homeless and women at risk of homelessness, including domestic and family violence refuges.

You can click here to learn more about other products that can be donated or find drop off points in your area.

Most women don't really have a choice when it comes to our periods. It arrives each month regardless of where we are or what we are going through. No woman should have to question her accessibility to a sanitary item, whatever she may chose.

I often talk about how reducing waste and how we spend our money can help drive equality. So too can sharing, in all it's different ways. And what I did was just that, sharing what I had with others.
Make your own plastic free zero waste shoe polish

As I have navigated my way through this plastic free and zero waste lifestyle, one rule that has been a constant is looking after my things. Whatever it is, I care for it as if I'm going to own this item for life or be in good enough condition that if I passed it onto someone else, it would continue to look and function well. Luckily my mother taught me from a young age the importance on the regular polishing of my leather shoes to make them last. 

I have memories of sitting next to the fire, polishing my Clark school shoes. Those sessions of rubbing the polish on, followed by a brush, kept my shoes looking new and lasting a long time. 

To this day I have been an avid shoe polisher. My trusty Clark's have since been replaced by leather boots and when I pull them out each winter, I make sure to give them a polish. 

This past winter I ran out of my old store bought polish. No big deal because, shoe polish is easy to make at home. 

For my shoe polish, I use two ingredients; beeswax and olive oil. The beeswax adds protection, useful with frequent rain. Olive oil will condition the leather while adding some shine. 

I use beeswax from Melbourne City Rooftop Honey. They have bee hives located on the rooftops of Melbourne's buildings, in an effort to bring more honey bees back to the city. Companies and individuals can adopt or sponsor a hive, then collect the honey for use or is sold on. I purchased my block of beeswax from Melbournalia. It's wrapped in paper and comes in a calico bag.

1/4 cup grated beeswax
5 tablespoons olive oil
Glass jar

To make
Combine the grated beeswax and olive oil in a double boiler over a low heat. As the beeswax begins to melt, stir the mixture thoroughly. Pour into a glass jar

How to use
With a clean cloth, rub the shoe polish across the shoe, in circular motions. Let the shoe polish sit on the show for fifteen minutes. Then wipe off any excess. If you have a shoe polish brush, move it across the shoe. This can be kept for up to two years.

Below, you can see the boot on the right has been polished.

Make your own plastic free zero waste shoe polish

I love a cracker. But purchasing those crunchy morsels plastic free is difficult. Luckily they are super easy to make, requiring only three ingredients.

The great thing with this recipe, is that it can be altered to suit you. Think of it as a base for you to go off and do whatever. I sometimes make a buckwheat and corn cracker gluten free alternative.

Simple Three Ingredient Cracker Recipe

Simple Three Ingredient Cracker Recipe

1 cup of flour (any flour you want)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons of cold water

How to put it together
Combine flour and olive oil in a bowl. The mixture will be crumbly. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until you get a dough like consistency. Depending on the flour, you might not need all 4 tablespoons or you may need more. Break the dough up into four equal parts and roll out thin (around 2mm). I use a pasta machine but a rolling pin or even wine bottle will do the job.

I then cut the crackers to a desired shape, lay on a baking tray and put into the oven at 200C for 8 minutes. I'd advise putting the timer on your oven for 6 minutes to have a quick look to see how they are going as each oven is different. The crackers will be golden and crispy when done.

Simple Three Ingredient Cracker Recipe

If you want, add spices and herbs when combining the ingredients to make the dough. Try rosemary and thyme, turmeric and pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar...really any combination that tickles the taste buds. 

The oil is not necessary at all. I have made these crackers using only flour and water. If you are omitting the oil, more water will be required. 

Once cooled, store away in a glass jar and hide from family members so they don't get gobbled up. 
Many people don't realise Plastic Free July originated in Australia or even know who started it. So I thought I'd introduce you to the lady that dreamed up and runs Plastic Free July, Rebecca Prince-Ruiz. She graciously answered my questions on how Plastic Free July started, challenges faced and achievements so far.

For those that have followed my blog from the beginning, will know Plastic Free July was a catalyst for change in my life. Three years ago I participated in my first Plastic Free July challenge, saying no to the big four of single use plastic; plastic bags, plastic straws, coffee cups and water bottles.

Over the years I have directed people towards the challenge, whether it's July or not. I even saved up money last year to put an advert in my local paper. I love it that much. It's accessible, focusing on doing your best with what you have got.

Plastic Free July Rebecca Prince-Ruiz
Photo Plastic Free July

What prompted you to start the Plastic Free July movement?
Actually I didn’t intend to start a movement, it began with a decision to change myself. I work in waste education with the wonderful Earth Carers programme at the Western Metropolitan Regional council in Perth.

Every year we run the free Earth Carers course, taking people to local waste facilities. When I first visited a recycling facility where household recycling was being sorted I was overwhelmed. I had always felt like the good green citizen when I recycled but seeing the sheer volume of material and the complex and intense process to transport, sort and then again transport to the point of recycling (often in another state or overseas) made me suddenly question everything in my recycling bin and how I came to have it. Having the “recycling symbol” on plastic packaging doesn’t mean that it will be recycled. The number simply identifies what type of plastic the item is made from. Recycling rates depend on where the item is disposed, local waste management facilities and other factors. Last year Australia achieved an overall plastics recycling rate of 20%. Even if this was higher recycling will never be the whole answer, sometimes it’s cheaper to use virgin plastics rather than recycled content.

After this visit I decided to try and avoid purchasing any new single-use plastic the following month – which just happened to be July, 2011! With my colleagues and through our Earth Carers network around 40 people joined in the challenge which we later called Plastic Free July. The initiative has ballooned to the extent that in 2015, over 36,000 participants from 90 countries were involved, including individuals, schools, community groups and businesses. It has grown because people are concerned about the plastic pollution issue and this gives them something tangible to do about it. We didn’t know how to totally avoid plastic but it’s been a community effort and everybody shares their ideas and efforts and that inspires others.

Photo Plastic Free July

What tools does Plastic Free July offer someone who is looking to cut down on plastic?
Our website has lots of tips and ideas to live plastic free including a handy toolbox with an A-Z guide. There are ideas and alternatives for shopping, every room in the home and more. Over the years we have tried to gather ideas we have come across and make our campaign a central point to share stories. We don’t have all the answers ourselves so we link to other websites and online resources around the world…there is no point reinventing the wheel! Through our social media channels and a weekly e-newsletter during July people can share their ideas and their questions. I think the best thing PFJ offers is trying plastic free living in a community. It certainly isn’t easy but by joining the challenge you are not alone. Trying it in intentional way for a month is a good way to raise awareness and learn new habits.

...In 2015, over 36,000 participants from 90 countries were involved, including individuals, schools, community groups and businesses. It has grown because people are concerned about the plastic pollution issue and this gives them something tangible to do about it.

How can people get involved?
People can signup for the Plastic Free July challenge to refuse single use plastic at our website for a day, a week or a month. You will get support and won’t be alone. Have a look at what you use and pick a few items you commonly use to avoid. If you do end up using something don’t give up trying – focus on what you can avoid, not what you can’t. Don’t give up, its a challenge, not a competition – once your eyes are opened you will start to realise it’s everywhere. And most of all – have fun, it’s a learning experience and there are so many good things in life that don’t come wrapped in plastic.

Photos Plastic Free July
Have you faced any challenges with running Plastic Free July?
Our biggest challenge is not having enough time and resources to fully manage the campaign which has grown so far beyond our boundaries. It is resourced by a very low budget and a part time salary which has nowhere near enough capacity to respond to all the interest in the campaign or to develop it to its full potential. Having some wonderful volunteers and interns we have been able to extend the campaign to some degree but having a bigger team would allow it to go so much further, as I’m sure is the case with so many similar organisations.

If any readers would like to start up their own movement/campaign, what would you advise?
Make it something you are really passionate about. Talk to others and do a bit of research and try and connect with other people or organisations working on the same issue. During my recent Churchill Fellowship I met with many inspiring individuals and organisations working on the plastic pollution issue. If we connect our campaigns it avoids both duplication of effort as well as dilution of the message.

What are Plastic Free July’s top tips to cut back on plastic?
Remember reusable bags, water bottles and coffee cups and refusing unnecessary plastic such as straws and buy food in bulk. It can greatly reduce unnecessary packaging and is better for your health too. Shop at a markets and get to know local stores in your area which are happy to refill your containers. Let store owners know why you are purchasing a particular item (or boycotting) and spread the message by voting for your dollar.

Photo Plastic Free July

What are some of Plastic Free July’s achievements so far?
I think the greatest achievement of Plastic Free July is that it has offered a tangible, practical way for people to do something about the plastic pollution problem that so many people are aware of and are concerned about. People, schools, organisations and businesses have embraced the challenge and by sharing ideas and efforts there has been an incredible ripple effect. Seeing whole towns such as Margaret River in WA, Byron Bay in NSW and Raglan in NZ take on the challenge is inspiring, especially when you have businesses, councils, community groups, schools and the public all taking action in a connected way. Having people who take the challenge from personal behaviour change to spreading the message wider by writing, organising events and becoming change-makers in their communities is creating that ripple effect that is wonderful to see.

What are Plastic Free July’s plans for the future?
The aim of Plastic Free July has always been to get the message out to the wider community. Plastic pollution is a problem that has solutions – but it will take all of us working together to change the system to reduce the problem at the source. Personal behaviour change is important but we need our governments to take a stand and introduce legislation which addresses common litter items such as plastic bag bans, banning microbeads and introducing extended producer responsibility for packaging such as a container deposit scheme. I’d like to see Plastic Free July as helping to drive that change.

In February 2016 Rebecca travelled to the USA, the Netherlands, UK and Hong Kong on a Churchill Fellowship to spend two months investigating innovative programs of raising awareness, management and solutions to the plastic. Keep an eye out on the Churchill Fellowship website for her report. 
Upcycled pillow stuffing

Remember when I wrote about synthetic clothing fibers getting into our oceans? Since then, more articles have been penned and published on the subject. From science journals to bloggers, the unease has grown.

Knowing the plastic fibers of polyester, nylon and acrylic, even with my infrequent washing, were travelling down the drain and going into the ocean left me feeling irksome. I addressed this in the blog post last year hoping to kinda get over it. But I have been unable to shake it. Slowly, I have been collecting all my synthetic clothing into a pile in the closest preferring to wear items of my wardrobe made of cotton, wool and flax.

I had no intentions of donating my unwanted plastic clothing to a local charity store. I’d just be dumping a problem I had onto someone else.

Eventually ALL the synthetic shirts, dresses and skirts from my wardrobe were pulled from my wardrobe. Except is near impossible to get underwear without some form of elastic. 

I decided to take inspiration from Sustainability in Style and turn used clothing into stuffing. Hers were for an upcycled fabric bolster, mine was to fill pillows. 

Unlike Sustainability in style, I did not cut mine into strips rather keeping them in as is to stuff into the pillows as is. They were still wearable clothes. It remind me of backpacking trips and camping holidays where I stuffed my clothes into a t-shirt to use as a makeshift pillow.  My synthetic clothes filled three pillow cases. 

The pillow casing was made from used hessian and they sit on an old church pew at the entrance to our house. If you came into our home, you’d have no idea that the pillows are stuffed with old clothes.