Why now and not then?

22 July 2018
Why now and not then?

I’m often asked in interviews what the trigger was that made me want to reduce my plastic and why. For those who don’t know my story it was a documentary (The Clean Bin Project) watched out of boredom in 2013. I often wonder why it was this particular documentary? Why that moment? It’s not like I hadn’t been exposed to other environmental atrocities or how our consumer choices have a direct impact on eco systems and the animals reliant upon them. What made me change then and not before? 

The photo above is of me from 2009. I’m on the island of Borneo travelling around the Malaysian state of Sabah. As you can see i’m about to visit Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. The centre cares for orphaned orangutans as a result of logging and deforestation for palm oil and those illegally caught and traded as pets. Visitors watch from afar as these orangutans eat and play. 

You’d think after sitting there for over an hour and hearing about palm oil, logging, poaching and watching real life orangutans rehabilitate from trauma would lead to personal change by me. But nothing changed. It baffles me why the image of a deceased Laysan albatross in the documentary I watched years later made me want to look at my consumer habits but not an orangutan playing within 100 meters of me. Or seeing acres of palm oil plantations where once stood a thriving habitat for many animals and local people.

Why now and not then?

After I left the island and returned home I was aware the products I was consuming and using contained palm oil but didn’t change. It wasn’t until I was focused on reducing my waste that I gave up all palm oil products seven years after that visit to Sabah. Seven! While it does interest me as to why it took me so long I am reminded too that a seed was planted when i visited the Centre... it just took a little while to sprout. But it does worry me too. Seven years is a long time. 

One of my favourite quotes is 'from knowing comes caring, from caring comes change.' I knew about the issue. I saw it first hand. I cared about the issue but didn't change. At least not right away. Why now and not then? I imagine it’s a question and concern many environmentalists have pondered, perhaps even you have asked too: why does one experience make you change more than another? Is it a build up of knowledge or guilt? How can we help people understand without forcing change upon them?

Introducing my book Waste Not!

30 June 2018
Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

Hello friends. I'm finding it a little weird to be here on the eve of Plastic Free July writing a blog post about my new book Waste Not. It feels like only yesterday I was logging on to write my thoughts following my first eco documentary The Clean Bin Project. For those who have followed my story will know it was after watching this documentary that I stumbled across the Plastic Free July challenge when I was encouraged by the documentary to reduce my plastic. I used this space which was started as a travel blog to document my month without plastic. I wrote about the challenge to hold myself accountable and of course, make it fun. Never once did I envision my blog would be swallowed up by the topics of plastic and waste or that I would be publishing a book about how to make a big difference by throwing away less.

In the middle of last year an email appeared into my inbox. It was from a publisher with another request to write a book. I usually file them away with a polite decline. But I didn’t with this one. Earlier that year the Australian version of War on Waste had aired on TV propelling the discussion of our wasteful practices into everyday conversations. Waste and single-use plastics quickly became a popular topic. Maybe we were finally ready to address the issues around waste? Perhaps it was time for a book. So I had a meeting with the publisher and before I knew it, my seven month old sons change table was converted into a writing desk while he played at my feet. A year later the book is here. And it’s a BIG book (300 pages!) full of tips, tricks, recipes and resources.

Here are a handful of the topics I talk about:
  • Setting up a plastic free challenge for yourself
  • the simple swaps and how to make new habits stick
  • how to conduct a bin audit and plastic audit
  • what you can do to reduce your kitchen waste
  • Growing food and composting
  • how to make safe and low waste cleaning products
  • Decluttering kindly
  • Caring, fixing and repairing
  • Tips for second hand shopping and extending the life of your clothes
  • How to make your own beauty products or find low waste options plus other personal care solutions
  • hosting and navigating events of your own and with family/friends
  • Preparing for children, nappies, kids parties, toys even pets
  • Eating out, travelling and being low waste in the office
  • The different ways to act your vision through activism

There are contributions from kind waste warriors who went above and beyond to provide helpful resources for you too. A big thank you to Sabrina Fraser Burke Co-ordinator of Minimal Waste Central Queensland, Kirsty Bishop Fox of Sustainable Pathways, Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald eco repair wiz, earth advocate Anamarie Shreeves from Fortnegrita.com, Social change strategist and communicator Dr Holly Kaye-Smith, Laura Issell stylist and event manager from Put YourHeart Into It, Kirsten Marren volunteer at Wyndham Little Buddies Toy Library, Amanda Chapman at wastefreeland.nz, Siska Nirmala Puspitasari adventure enthusiast and journalist at zerowasteadventures.com and zero-waste business associate Jonathan Levy at zerowasteguy.com

The book is not just for those who label themselves zero waste; it’s for anyone and everyone who’d like to make simple changes where they can to reduce their individual impact and carbon footprint.

I chose not to put the focus on zero rather it’s about reducing waste at your own pace. It’s practical and I hope gentle too. I know from my own experience and talking with hundreds at talks and workshops over the years that making changes can be hard with each of us encountering different obstacles.

'This is a much-needed guidebook from a true agent of change.’ Sarah Wilson


Where is the book available?


In Australia the book can be found your local bookshop, Dymocks, Collins, Robinsons, QBD, Big W, Kmart, Newslink, Booktopia, Amazon and of course the library. It is also available as an eBook through iTunes, Google Play and Kindle. 

UK, Europe and North America will have their own versions Spring 2019. The publication date in the UK is the 7 March 2019 and US 2 April 2019. 

Buy this book and you'll be supporting Waste Aid


I will be donating 5% of my profits to Waste Aid Australia. Waste Aid works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island (ATSI) communities to create long-term sustainable solutions to address inadequate waste management in disadvantaged communities and in so doing reduce the adverse environmental health impacts. I'll be sharing more about the work they do later this year.

Is a book really that eco friendly?


Before I said yes to the book I did think about whether writing a book would be wasteful. Something like an eBook would be more sustainable right? But a chat at a local workshop reminded me that not everyone reads eBooks or gathers all their information from blogs like mine. Books still hold up as valuable and essential resources. Go into any bookstore or library and the section dedicated to reducing waste and plastic is small. Tiny. Less than five books. But the cooking section will have around twenty plus books dedicated to pasta alone! 

As much as it would have been great to print the book on recycled paper stock unfortunately this is an area without strict quality control and could have compromised the end product. Instead the book is printed on FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified stock. FSC is the highest standard forest certification scheme and the only one to be member of the ISEAL Alliance, the global association for sustainability standards. However the printers recycle everything they can from paper, plastic, wood and metal (printing plates). Paper is cut to size (prior to printing) for each book in order to help reduce excess wastage. The ink used is soy based meaning there are less VOCs. Full disclosure, the cover does have a plastic film. This was a decision my publishing company made to prevent books being returned to the warehouse for pulping if they were marked or damaged in the bookstore which apparently happens often. This will significantly prolong my books life for many many years when it is shared amongst friends, family and anyone you meet. 

Thank you


Thank you so much for all your support over the years. I am genuinely excited to see a growing group of people wanting to learn how to reduce waste. When you buy my book remember to have fun with the changes you make and feel free to adapt anything you read to your own needs. It's not a rule book, simply a guide. 

If you live in Melbourne I'd love for you to join me at the book launch hosted by Neighbourhood Books on Thursday 12 July from 6pm. Tickets can be bought here. I'm interested to see how the book store will do it low waste! See you there.

The Product Stewardship Act Review needs your voice

22 June 2018
Product Stewardships Act Review
Photo Anthony Strong

Do you have time to spare before 29 June? Because I need your help.

The Product Stewardship Act Review is underway and for the first time the public have been asked to tell the Government how we want our products made and disposed of. This is our chance to stand up and ask for a circular economy. But the only way it will get there is if we all push for this. Are you with me?

The Product Stewardship Act provides the framework to effectively manage the environmental, health and safety impacts of products, and in particular those impacts associated with the disposal of products.

Product stewardship is an approach to managing the impacts of different products and materials. It acknowledges that those involved in producing, selling, using and disposing of products have a shared responsibility to ensure those products or materials are managed in a way that reduces their impact, throughout their lifecycle, on the environment and on human health and safety - The Department of the Environment and Energy

Why do you need my help?


I'm a firm believer that we can't all avoid over packaged or poorly designed products as the the only method to moving towards a circular economy. It's not fair or easy for everyone. Business and Government need to step up and make changes, not lump it all onto our shoulders to do better. Our Governments have the greatest ability to enforce standards that will help minimise waste. Government can place requirements on manufacturers to become responsible for the stuff they make.

Look at it this way, if we don't tell the government and businesses we want, the problem will only get worse because they will think we are ok with how the system is now. I don' know about you, but being sold products that are unrepairable, fused shut with toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, forcing us to buy new instead of simply fixing something I own is not OK. This is just one example of thousands where precious resources are being used to make stuff designed to be purposely thrown away. We are stuck on a conveyor belt of waste and frankly, I want to get off and change the system. There is another way to live, don't you think? If you agree then you can help by flexing your citizen muscles and write a submission asking for a change.

I'll put the kettle on and get started... but where do I start? Government websites can be a bit confusing!


Great, you'll need a cup of tea. But don't worry you should be able to finish and send a submission before your cuppa gets cold. You are not the only one who finds things like this confusing. Some very helpful people at Zero Waste Victoria and Plastic Bag Free Victoria have created simple and easy to follow guides on how to make a personal submission. Follow their instructions via the links below:

www.zerowastevictoria.org/2018/06/19/how-to-make-a-submission-to-review-the-product-stewardship-act/

www.plasticbagfreevictoria.org/product-stewardship-act-review/ 

Send your submission to wastepolicy@environment.gov.au email by 5:00pm 29 June 2018 


I'm going to log off and make my own submission now. Thank you in advance for taking some time out of your day to make difference. Your voice is important. 

Get prepared for the plastic bag ban

14 June 2018

In two weeks, free light weight single-use plastic bags will be disappearing from the major supermarkets, Big W, Dan Murphy's, Bakers Delight and many more locations across the country. Queensland and Western Australia will be catching up with Tasmania, South Australia and Northern Territory when their State wide bans of single-use plastic bags come into effect at the same time too. Victoria is tipped to announce a state wide ban soon and New South Wales is unfortunately not doing anything. I'm not here to dwell on those left behind – instead I'm here to share tips that will help you get ready for life without those free single-use plastic bags.

From 1st July shoppers will no longer be able to bag (and some cases double bag) their items in a flimsy plastic bag. This is not a complete plastic bag ban, only the free light weight single-use ones. Shoppers will have the option to purchase a thicker plastic bag for 15c. Certain businesses won't be providing alternatives.

But you're not going to purchase the thicker plastic bag because....


  1. 15c will add up. If the average Australian uses over 400 plastic bags, shoppers will be forking out over $60 a year. Think of all the smashed avocado on toast you could enjoy. Plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes, not really worth the 15c. Or you could put it towards that house deposit...
  2. Thicker plastic bags still pose a threat to the environment. Nothing has changed there. Saying no to the thicker bags, even if it's sold as being reusable because of durability, is the kinder choice for the oceans and local environment. Plus those thicker plastic bags will eventually be banned too. Plastic Bag Free Victoria and countless other environmental action groups are still asking for a complete ban. It's inevitable so you might as well get into the habit of bringing your own bags now.
  3. Using plastic to collect our shopping is a waste of resources plus it promotes the use of fossil fuels like petroleum. Yes, they can be recycled. Well technically down-cycled into once more item then it's the end of that resources life for now. Instead let's use this plastic bag ban to save our millions old resources for something other than a bag.
  4. The new thicker plastic bags are even uglier than the light weight ones. It's true. Do you really need to carry your avocados and loaf of bread out of the store in one. I didn't think so.

First, find a reusable option right for your life and needs:



Human beings survived for a long time without plastic bags. We had cloth bags, baskets, wicker trolleys, our arms, horse and carts, cardboard boxes. There are an array of different tools you can use to carry your food home without the need for a plastic bag. Alternatively, perhaps you could make your own from an old duvet cover, sheets, pillow cases, tablecloth, curtains or join a Boomerang Bags group in your area. Read my interview with the founder of Boomerang Bags here.

Shopping bags made of jute, canvas or cotton string are simple alternatives to plastic. When they become dirty it's easy to place the bags into your washing machine. To make jute, canvas, cloth or string bags a more environmental choice use them for as long as possible and repair any holes that might eventually occur with wear. Then when the bag comes to the end of its life, they can become a cleaning rag before going to the compost bin where they will break down. Plastic will only break up getting into our food chain and risk ingestion or strangulation of animals.

Foldable bags made of recycled plastic like this option by Onya can fit easily into any handbag or pocket. You can even hang them off your car keys and pull them out of their little pouch as you need one. If you feel the need to wash I suggest to hand wash with a mild soap to reduce any plastic micro-fibres from getting into our water ways.

I love these rectangle seagrass or round seagrass as a sturdy alternative. A wicker shopping cart would also be a handy way to shop without the need for a plastic bag. 

If you can, try to avoid buying the green 'fabric' bags at certain stores. The fabric is made of plastic. But if you have them at home use them! At the end of the day choose a bag you'll use and reuse.

At the supermarkets and caught without? Ask for cardboard boxes or load everything back into your trolley then wheel back to the car. If you were stuck doing this more than once I reckon you'd remember your bags quickly! 


Second, remember your reusable bags:


Buying a reusable bag or basket is the easy part. Remembering to use it will be the trick to saving that 15c for your smashed avocado. Read the tricks I used to change my plastic habits
  • Put reminders into your phone.
  • Stick visual reminders around the house, on the back of the door or from your rear view car mirror. Download the image below, cut out and use.
  • Choose a home for you bags and return your bags to this location each time. This will help save time locating them if you are in a rush.
  • If you have children give them the role of plastic bag police. It's their job to make sure the reusable bags are packed and used. They can issue fines if the parents are caught without.
  • Buddy up with your partner, friend, housemate to help each other remember.

Third, practice the step above:

It's going to take some practice to remember plastic bags are banned or no longer given away for free anymore when going to the shops. But you are not in this alone. There are millions of Australians who will be in the same position. Let's help each other and reward our efforts to break our plastic habits. The future generations will thank you for making the choice to preserve the earths resources for something more valuable than a plastic bag.

Breaking habits that are ingrained in our life can be hard but not impossible. We all have habits and they are aren't all bad. Many of us have good ones. And soon enough carrying reusable bags will be a new normal habit before you know it.


But, what about lining my bin?
While you are ordering your brunch on the weekend, ask your local Cafe for any surplus newspapers from the day before and use the newspaper to line your bin instead. Your local library is another option to seek out extra newspapers.

Do you think charging for plastic bags will stop people from using them?
Yes, I do. We can take a quick look at the UK where there was a 85% drop in plastic bag use when they began charging for light weight single-use bags. Sure there wasn't a 100% avoidance by everyone but there was a drop and that is a step in the right direction. We will get to a point where we'll look back and cringe at how many plastic bags we used to use.

What about biodegradable or compostable bags?
Choosing biodegradable plastic bags do nothing to promote reuse which will always be a more environmentally friendly choice. A biodegradable bag can still harm and injure wildlife. A biodegradable bag made of a plant source (think corn) won't break down in landfill properly because there is no oxygen. They can't be recycled. Most Australian composting facilities don't take them. And it's rare Aussies home composts are set up to a temperature that would break them down. Even when it does break down or actually break up (it turns into small pieces first that move about the environment faster) there is a residue left behind. There is not enough information yet to determine if these residues are safe. Then there is the risk biodegradable bags are sold without being properly tested or are actually degradable bags but sold with the word 'bio' to lure customers in. Degradable bags are different to that of biodegradable and compostable. It's a confusing grey area. I see biodegradable and compostable bags as slightly better but are again another bandaid solution and with all the other options above, not necessary at all.

Interview with Boomerang Bags

7 June 2018
Interview with Boomerang Bags
Photo Boomerang Bags

The war on waste, in particular plastic waste, is raging here in Australia. Aside from asking for legislation change and demanding companies make kinder choices, I'm a big believer in leading by example to be a wonderful way to get people to move away from using single-use plastics. If people see others going about their day to day life, using reusable with ease, then others will see this, become intrigued and ask questions. I lost track years ago with how many instances someone has asked me or my husband about our reusable produce bags or why we are shopping with our own containers, instead of choosing the “regular” single-use option. I love that by using some of these very simple swaps in my day to day life has sparked conversations around refusing single-use plastic.

Boomerang Bags are one of my favourite grassroots organisations helping to spark conversations in communities not just in Australia, but around the world. Just recently I saw they now have groups in Iceland! I am very excited to introduce them to you as part of my Changemakers series and I'll let co-founder Jordyn explain what it is they do in more detail. But in a nutshell, Boomerang Bags are cloth shopping bags sewn by volunteers from donated material and set up in stores for people to use if they forget their reusable bags. They then return the bags when they are next in the store.

Before we leap into the interview I just want to say that I have met so many members of various Boomerang Bag groups and they are all legends. I don't just commend them for the time they give up to sew these bags. Rather it's the act of providing people with a sustainable choice no matter where they sit on the economic scale. While the idea is for the bags to come back to the store after use, putting them out there in the community to use for free allows anybody to access a more sustainable option without having to pay money. It's a simple act of kindness. Not everyone has the money to spend on making the sustainable swaps many of us can take for granted. The whole community has an opportunity to feel included in this war on waste. This is just on of the many positive social impacts created by this grassroots organisations that goes beyond the environment. The two are interconnected after all, something worth remembering.

So I'm just saying thank you to all those Boomerang volunteers for your time gathering materials, cutting, ironing, pinning, screen printing and delivering the bags. On that note, if you are someone with surplus Boomerang Bags sitting at home that need to be returned don't forget to take them back either.

Anyway, let's get on with this because I know there are people wanting to know more about Boomerang Bags...

Boomerang Bags started in Australia but is now going strong around the world. Photo Boomerang Bags

What is Boomerang Bags?
Boomerang Bags is a grassroots initiative that works to foster sustainable behaviour change through positive, hands-on community engagement. We provide tools for people all over the world to implement a community program, making and circulating reusable boomerang bags as a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Dedicated volunteers and community groups get together to make the bags using collected recycled materials, and share them with the wider community. Through these activities we start conversations about plastic, up-cycle unwanted materials, build social connectedness, and ultimately empower people to take action to reduce the use of plastic bags (and other single-use plastics).

What inspired you to start sewing bags and giving them away for free?
Being a surfer and ocean enthusiast, its impossible to ignore the impact that plastic pollution is having on the environment. The more educated I became about the issue, the more motivated I was to do something about it. Tania (the other co-founder) and I met and started brainstorming solution-based activities that could be implemented in our local community. As a teenager I worked as a checkout chick at Woolworths, which is where the plastic-free journey began for me. So plastic bags seemed like a good place to start - and we wanted to provide reusable bags to customers and businesses in our local area so that there was no barrier for them to get into the habit of using them. We were unable to find an Australian (let alone sustainable!) manufacturer, so thats where the idea of sewing the bags using donated, recycled fabric came in. Neither Tania or I are sewers, so we had to call upon help from friends and the local community, for material donations and volunteers to sew. After a few local bag-making events, and a huge amount of support from the local community, we realised how powerful this aspect of the project was in achieving a positive impact, both environmentally and socially.

We provide tools for people all over the world to implement a community program, making and circulating reusable boomerang bags as a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Dedicated volunteers and community groups get together to make the bags using collected recycled materials, and share them with the wider community. 

With over 500 Boomerang Bag communities across the world, are you surprised it has spread so far? Why do you think it's gained popularity?
In the beginning we certainly didn't anticipate that boomerang bags would evolve in the way that it has, though we’re stoked with how far it has spread so far. I think part of its effectiveness is that its social, positive and fun, and that it provides a platform for people to be part of the solution. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats of our time, and with more and more research coming out about its negative impacts, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and somewhat helpless. Humans are naturally driven to contribute to society, or ‘the greater good’ in a positive way, and projects like boomerang bags make it easy for people to do so. Everyday we are surrounded by media and advertising that suggest we should be living a certain way. It helps to be part of a collective that is breaking free of old social constructs and shifting towards a more sustainable way of life.

What are some of Boomerang Bags achievements so far?
So far, boomerang bags is now active in around 700 communities globally. Thousands of volunteers have collectively made over 200,000 reusable bags, which equates to around 60,000kilos of material waste diverted from landfill. I think the biggest achievements though are the ones that cant be quantified... the social connections, friendships made, and the conversations had as part of movement. Everyday we receive stories about the social benefits of being involved in boomerang bags - people learning new skills to help them find employment, immigrants and refugees integrating into the community, grandparents passing on life skills to their children and grandchildren, people finding their way out of depression through a newfound sense of purpose, and of course those ‘ah-ha’ moments, where people discover how simple (and fun) it can be to cut out plastic waste and live more sustainably. Whats cool about boomerang bags is that it appeals to many demographics, whether driven by their passion for the environment or their love for textiles and crafts, and while volunteering, people meet new people, share their stories and ideas, and inspire each other to do better in their everyday lives, from cutting down on plastic and other waste, consuming less, sourcing sustainable foods and other products, to eating less meat. The ripple effects are immeasurable! 

A store in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale advertising they use Boomerang Bags.
Bakers Parlour in Ascot Vale with Boomerang Bags. The tree and box will be topped up with bags sewn by the local Ascot Vale Boomerang Bags group of volunteers. 

And what are your plans for the organisation in the future?
We hope to see the initiative continue to spread into communities around the world!

Starting a grassroots organisation like Boomerang Bags has it's challenges, what were yours? How did you overcome them and what advice would you give to others wanting to start their own community driven environmental organisation?
We didn’t necessarily plan for Boomerang Bags to grow outside of our local community at first, so as it grew there were challenges in trying to keep up with the demand. As an environmental scientist (myself) and a pilot/mum (Tania), we were suddenly thrown into the deep end of setting up an organisation and everything that comes with it…website development, graphic design, social media, volunteer management, content writing, partnership management, accounting. Luckily, we were blessed by so much support from the community to help navigate through and learn what we needed to (which is ongoing!). In terms of advice? Ask for help - there are so many people in the world with specific skills that want to contribute. Don’t be afraid to fail. Sometimes failing is the fastest way to learn! 

Photo Boomerang Bags Ascot Vale
Photo Boomerang Bags Ascot Vale
Photo Boomerang Bags Ascot Vale

What are Boomerang Bags top tips to cut back on plastic?
Start with one thing, be it plastic bags or other single-use items like straws, then move onto other areas one step at a time (bulk food shopping, etc). Have fun with it…see the plastic free journey as an adventure, rather than an inconvenience!

If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?
Everything you do (or don’t do) makes a difference in the world. 

To start your own Boomerang Bags or join an existing group in your area visit the website.

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