I broke my promise and found my voice

31 August 2015

If you are an avid reader of this blog you would remember the promise I made with Promise or Pay for Plastic Free July. Well, I broke the promise.


For those new, this is the backstory: I partnered with Promise or Pay for the Plastic Free July challenge. The goal of Promise or Pay is to help encourage people who want to achieve a goal by putting money down. Participants can make a promise, like giving up plastic for July, then put money down as an incentive to stick to the goal. If you break your promise, the money goes to a charity (in this case it went to the Two Hands Project). If you succeed and keep your promise, the money stays in your pocket. There is an option for family and friends to donate money that will go to the charity if you keep your promise.

Here is the original post. 

Seeing how I already lived a plastic free life I decided to make a different promise – convince a local café to move their plastic straws under the counter. I gave myself 35 days, put $100 down and managed to get a couple donations.

I don’t like plastic straws. I don’t quite understand why we need them beyond medical reasons. After all human beings drank for a loooooong time without them and survived. I feel like I pick up straws daily on my walk from home to the station. I receive messages from older readers who remember when straws were paper not plastic. There are reusable options like steel, glass and bamboo. Really, there is no need for the plastic straw. They are used once and thrown out, sitting somewhere, a wasted resource

When I made the promise the café I wanted to approach had already been decided. It is a short walk from my house, the usual place we feel like having a weekend breakfast outing. Besides the close proximity and yummy food, their stance on cooking with as much local and seasonal food makes me smile. Plus they sell reusable coffee cups

With 35 days, easy walk plus being a sustainably minded café, how did I end up breaking my promise?

Simply for the same reason I made the promise in the beginning.

Fear.

My true intention for making the promise was to push myself out of my comfort zone. I have made the necessary changes in my life to live with less plastic and create less trash. Now it’s time for me to take what I know and share it not just on my blog but beyond. I have mentioned before that I want to become more active in my community and educate others about living with less plastic and trash. The promise was part of the step.

While I had 35 days, I was overseas for 21 of those. So I had 14 days - two weeks! I left it until the second last day of the promise to approach them. I kept putting it off, making up excuses. I was afraid of being laughed at, rejected or just made to feel stupid. It never crossed my mind that they would be receptive. I let my fear get the better of me.

On the afternoon I decided to visit the café I collected two of my stainless steel straws and wrote out a list of places to buy reusable straws (steel, glass and bamboo) and also wrote down the Responsible Café’s website for them. Off I trotted to the café. As I walked up to the door I saw a gaggle of teenage girls sipping coffee. I felt that pang of fear again. Would they hear my conversation with the café and laugh?

I then swiftly pulled myself together. After all I am a woman in her early 30s and I was doing this so these girls won’t (hopefully) have to wrestle with unnecessary plastic.

The café door opened, I approached the counter and asked for the manager. They were not in and would be back later in the week. I was a little bummed. My sister & nephew would be in town and it would be past the deadline. BUT the waiter was so kind and listened to my hasty spiel. They took my list of suggestions promising the manager would be delighted to read them.

As I walked home, listening to the train rattle past and planes flying overhead, I felt something shift. Yes I had broken my promise, but I conquered my fear. My promise was not just about the plastic straws it was about me finding a voice. I was always scared of sounding like I was preaching, being annoying or just made to feel useless.

A couple of days later I was scrolling through my newsfeed and saw that the café had signed up to be a Responsible Café from my suggestion.

As for their straws? I checked in last week and the plastic ones are GONE! Paper straws have replaced them.

I have not had time to contact other cafes yet but I am going to, because I had nothing to be worried about. If people knock me back, big deal, I will just go to another café.

If you are like me, a bit of an introvert and shy, don’t listen to those naysayer voices in your head stopping you from speaking up. Leave a note, have a word when it’s quite (they are busy working after all) or drop the establishment an email. You’re an important voice in your community and you can be an agent of change.

Thank you Promise or Pay for helping me find my voice.

10

Zero Waste Trip USA: Arkansas

26 August 2015
Zero Waste Trip USA: Arkansas

My last visit to the US state of Arkansas was four years ago. I never imagined the next one would be part of a zero waste holiday.

When people plan those epic road trips across the USA, Arkansas is not usually a destination travelers would think to visit. It's considered a drive through. But for me, it's never left off the itinerary. For this Australian raised lady, Arkansas is my second home. Half of my family live in Arkansas, so I decided to invite my boyfriend for a visit to meet my southern relatives.

Arkansas is called the Natural State for the simple reason that it is full of national parks, rivers, mountains perfect for all types of outdoor actives. Now it was waaaaay to hot and humid (with no wind!) for us to really partake in any of them. It was the kind of heat that required us to have afternoons naps, then reappear in the evening when the heat is a little less intense, and the hum of cicadas fill the evening air. The Builder was able to see some of the Natural State when we visited places like Falling Water Falls and Petit Jean. I was a little bummed that I could not show him more of the national parks. Next time! Because it is a beautiful place to explore.











We did get to explore Little Rock, where we were based. We rented a home through Airbnb in Cammack Village close to my family, sharing the space with family visiting from out of town. Little Rock is a small city compared to Melbourne, but like most US cities is spread out. Public transport can be hard to come by, making a hire car necessary.

Zero waste was easy in Little Rock. With it being summer there was a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables and fruit that we picked up from farmers markets. We visited two, one in the River Market district (Grandma wanted fresh peaches to make the Builder a true Southern dish). The other market was held at Westover Hill’s Farmers market, not far from where we were staying. We filled our bags with locally grown tomatoes, aubergines, peaches, melons, cucumbers, eggs, zucchini, squash, snake beans, bell peppers and even tried pickled eggplant. We also picked up sunflowers from my Grandma. Both markets were a treat to visit and the produce was tasty. The food we bought served us well for breakfast and snacks. Except for one breakfast, where I dragged the Builder to Shipley’s Do-Nuts at 6:00am and we loaded up on Do-Nuts in our own cloth bags.









We did not have access to compost. My grandmother said it can be a little hard to compost as it attracts animals. So I got resourceful by simply chopping up the scraps into tiny (very tiny!) pieces and scattered them on the yard for the birds to enjoy. Taking it back to Australia was never a thought because of quarantine laws. I have since found out that there is a home pick up service for those in Little Rock to have compost collected and returned to you as soil.

I found a Whole Foods over on Bowman Road through the Bulk App that would have allowed us to pick up dry foods in our own bags and containers if needed. But we were so happy with the vegetables and fruit from the markets, we did not end up visiting the store.

The rest of our meals were eaten out because…you know…the Builder had to try some Southern dishes like catfish, hush puppies, burgers, fried chicken, BBQ and cheese dip. We always had our containers on us to scoop up any surplus food while we were out.



The Builder also found that whenever he asked for a coffee in his own cup, he would get a discount automatically. There was never a sign nor did we go to shops that advertised it. It was just something they did. Maybe that was just the famous southern hospitality :)



My favourite place to eat was The Root Café on SoMa (South on Main Street) and the neighborhood around. They champion local produce from Arkansas, with a focus on fresh and homemade. The portion sizes were perfect, plus the prices were not crazy like similar places can be. This area was not what it was on my last visit, so it was great to wander down the street. If you are in the area, I recommend a stop at The Green Corner Store for an ice cream. I tried the s'mores flavour. Deeevine. I also got to visit the place my parents were married. Was very sweet.







Little Rock also has a handful of local breweries. We visited Stone’s Throw and enjoyed a rather generous tasting tray. With all this new growth I wondered what the city will look like on my next visit.



A walk around The Big Dam Bridge awarded us beautiful sunset views over the Arkansas River. We also got busy picking up rubbish when we were down there. Recent flooding meant there was quite a bit.



The best part was just being with my family. Due to our locations, I rarely get to see them as often as I would like. It was nothing short of lovely to introduce my boyfriend to them and also part of my history.

After our time in Hawaii, we were ready for any straws and avoided them easily in Arkansas. Telling the person seating us was key to this process. This made Arkansas a straw free success for us! We always had our water bottles with us and would top them up before we left which they were always happy to do. Because it was very hot we made sure to stay hydrated.



We also visited Manhattan Beach in LA (close to the airport) on our way home. We rode bikes around to Venice and Santa Monica - taking it easy before our flight back to Melbourne.

Our flight back to Melbourne was with Qantas. It was a late night flight so we ate before we got on the plane and finished off some snacks we "acquired" from the hotel's buffet for breakfast. Taking our own ear phones, extra clothes for warmth, using a cloth bag and clothes as a pillow and our water bottles helped us avoid all trash on the flight and enjoy things like a Downtown Abbey marathon.

Here is our rubbish at the end of our trip including both Hawaii, Arkansas and LA. The main item were...receipts. Also in the trash are plane tickets, a wrist band (because apparently I look 18?!), two visitor stickers from the Clinton Presidential Library, plastic from the top of a wooden skewer, clothes tag from a second hand store shopping trip, receipt rolled up, broken elastic band, a plastic martini stick, two straws. Not pictured are two stryofoam plates and one straw. We created more trash from this trip versus our last one to the Philippines.

And I don't know why?! We did many of the things like take our own toiletries and we were way more prepared with containers for food. I think it was because for most of our trip in the Philippines we did not have to buy our own food as it was catered for during one of the weeks, so no receipts. I wish we had created less trash but lessons were learnt. It was nice to avoid the baggage tags, and I realised that I don't really need to pack that many clothes.



If I had to make suggestions or a list of what I learnt on this trip it would be the following
  • Say No to Straws. Tell the person seating you that you don’t want any water. Then ask the waiter for a glass but with no straw. The waiter will sometimes appear with glasses of water with straws in them so its key to tell the person seating you. 
  • When you order a salad and would prefer no salad dressing, don’t ask to have it on the side. It will come in a plastic container. We learnt this from looking at other patrons…which leads me to...
  • Look at the meals people are having and don’t be afraid to ask some questions on how things are served. We would always scan the restaurant/cafe to see how things worked. 
  • Give napkins back to the servers. I carry my own so we did not need them
  • Having a kit on us at all times made it really easy. We were always prepared.
  • Research where you are going, look for markets and bulk stores. 


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Zero Waste Trip USA: Hawaii

21 August 2015
This time last month I was in the USA, relaxing in Hawaii and visiting family in Arkansas. It was a fantastic trip, with many precious memories made. It was also the first zero waste trip I had made to the United States.



...and, it was harder than I thought it would be. I have completed trips to Myanmar, China and Philippines where avoiding waste was easier. But each country is different.

One lesson I have taken from my other zero waste trips is to simply be prepared. For this trip I did things like research the airlines, the airports for water dispensers, bulk food stores plus the tools we would need to shop and eat zero waste. Read my five Items that will make your plastic free holiday easy over at Plastic Free Tuesday.


The bulk of our trash on our last trip was made up of baggage tags that are attached to luggage when checked in. We decided to not check in any luggage and stick to carry on for the three weeks. You can read what I packed in my bags here.

The beginning of the trip

We flew to Hawaii with Jetstar, a budget Australian airline. Jetstar passengers must pre-purchase meals when booking their tickets, something I think all airlines should offer. We did not pre-purchase meals, instead we took our own food onto the plane that we snacked on.We could refill our bottles with the help of the staff.

No blankets or pillows are offered either. I packed a maxi skirt that could be used for my inflight blanket and packed clothes into one of my food bags for use as a pillow. Save on plastic packaging, save on waste and save on $$$$.

The Builder did encounter a small plastic wine bottle (I don't drink on planes - it just makes me puffy and leaves me feeling blah). He thought it would be glass. The staff assured us the plastic bottle would be recycled. He drank it bitterly.

Our plane arrived in the morning. I love that wonderful feeling of getting off a place in a warm climate when you come from a cold one. We had a connecting flight to Maui, that we found out would be delayed until late afternoon. We had eaten all our food (I had not prepared for a delayed connecting flight!) and feeling a little tired plus hangry the search for unpackaged food (or at the very least something recyclable) commenced.

We could not find anywhere in the main terminal that would serve food onto into our containers or cloth bags. There was a restaurant/bar in the airport that had ceramic dishes on the bar. Jackpot, we thought. A sandwich was ordered, and while we waited, a celebratory 'we are on holiday' local beer was poured. Then the sandwich came out...on styrofoam plates? If you are in this position at Honolulu airport find Quiznos. It was hidden in another terminal and the sandwiches come wrapped in paper (we discovered as we watched others eat them). Honolulu does have water stations to refill bottles.

One plastic wine bottle, two styrofoam plates...not off to the best start.

An email to the Honolulu airport about their lack of fruit for sale and a flight later we arrived in Maui. We headed to Paia, twenty minutes from the airport in Kahului and settled in for the week.

Maui

Our week on Maui was filled with trips along the Road to Hana (one of America's top road trips), swimming, hiking through lush forests, walking to a dormant volcano, driving along slim winding roads that leaves the average tourist wondering how the locals do it, watching my man kite board, writing, eating fresh tropical fruit, admiring turtles from the shoreline (so many turtles!!!) and wondering if I would run into Oprah. I didn't bump into Oprah but we were privy to a performance by Willie Nelson in his bar...and we did not realise it was his bar or him until we got back to Australia.











Zero Waste Trip USA: Hawaii


If you read my post on what I packed, you will remember that we took a backpack that had a bunch of items to make our trip zero waste easy. Containers, bags, cups, cutlery, straws. Wherever we went, the bag came too.

The Road to Hana was beautiful and is a major draw card for peoples visits. But my favorite part of it was visiting Coconut Glen's Ice Cream Stand. It was non dairy, made from coconut cream. We saw that the ice cream came in cardboard cups and asked if we could get the ice cream in our own cups. The dude in the stand pulled out old coconut shells instead saying we could use them if we did not mind eating at the stand. Alot of people take the paper cups to go. We used our own spoons to devour the delicious coconut cream. A must visit! Really really good. Like I went on about for a few days.





We really enjoyed staying in Paia. I not only picked it for the location but also because the guest house we stayed in had a working kitchen, plus they composted. Paia also boasts a great bulk food store called Mana Foods and we bought food from there and took it back to the house to cook. Try the local yams and sweet potatoes - heaven! We were able to eat locally sourced food the whole time we were there.

We did not eat out that much. But the times we did a race would commence to ask the waiter for no straw in our complimentary water. The first time took us by surprise because Australian's don't do straws in water.  Aussies will plonk down a glass bottle of water and two glass cups. The first time we asked a waiter that we don't want a straw - well it was an event. Be prepared for straws when in America. The first time you meet your waiter they will be serving you water with a straw. Tell the person seating you, who will be different to waiter, that you don't want any water. Then when you waiter does come ask for water with no straw. 

The easiest way to get around Maui is with a car. The island is dotted with little roadside stalls selling fruit, cakes and BBQ. We had our plastic free/zero waste travel kit on us at all times, so if we were hungry we could stop and grab something in our containers. Paia had many restaurants, but we enjoyed the food we cooked more. We ate vegetarian when we were cooking for ourselves as we could not find unpackaged meat. Keeping vegetables and fruit is easier than keeping meat so we were happy with being vegetarian. Whatever food we cooked for the evening was consumed for lunch the next day (the guest house provided free breakfast - fresh fruit from their backyard!!!). And it was not fancy cooking, just grilling local vegetables on the BBQ at the guest house. Mana Foods do have a place to buy ready made meals in to go containers but we did not ask if we could use our own.







Maui is a pretty switched on island when it comes to sustainability. Actually the whole state of Hawaii is. Being an island state they have to deal with many ramifications of plastic pollution and waste. There are plenty of beach clean ups happening on various islands too. While we could not get involved with any while we were there, that did not stop us from rolling up our sleeves and taking 3 (or more) for the sea.

With plenty of research, cooking at our guesthouse and enjoying the simple things we were able to keep waste to a minimum.

Here is the rubbish from our time in Hawaii...


We did not take the styrofoam plates because the waiter took them before we could say anything. The waiters are fast in the US!

Next stop is Arkansas...where you might be asking, why we went there!
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Reuse Cheese Wax

19 August 2015
I love cheese but my compost does not seem to love the cheese wax. Instead I have been storing it until I could find a way to reuse cheese wax. Turns out there are a couple ways the wax can be reused.


Reusing Cheese Wax

We like our aged cheddar. It can be used in a range of dishes, most people love it and will lasts a long time. Plus the price is reasonable. The blocks of cheese we buy are small wheels, covered in wax and accompanied by a sticker that cannot be recycled. I am in talks with cheese stores here in Melbourne to a find cloth bound cheese that comes without a sticker or just simply packed in a paper box. There are a couple options, one being a 20kg wheel (!). The cloth can be composted easier or even reused in the kitchen after a wash.

Back to the waxed cheese we have been buying from our local deli - cheese wax is a mix of paraffin and microcrystalline, both petroleum based. The wax is also coloured with food grade colours. This wax cannot be made into a candle but it does have other uses that make it reusable. We would happily keep buying our cheese like this but the massive stickers are simply annoying and really not needed. We used to buy wedges of cheese from larger wheels that we could get in our own container. However each time we would do this, the deli would wrap a new piece of plastic cling wrap around the cheese wheel we were buying from. It kinda defeated the purpose of reducing plastic in our life, ultimately leading us to buy mini wheels of cheese in wax.

Until I get my hands on cloth cheese this is what I do with my old cheese wax. 

I clean the wax, making sure there is no cheese left on it. Once clean I melt it down in a double boiler, then pour it out onto a surface and once cool enough simply roll into balls that I can store in a glass jar for use later on. If you feel like it or want to do something while watching a movie then you could roll the wax by hand using the heat of your hands to mold together.

Reusing Cheese Wax

Reusing Cheese Wax

Reusing Cheese Wax

Reusing Cheese Wax

Reusing Cheese Wax

Uses include:
  • Fire starter. The oil in the wax will help sustain a flame. Handy for camping or when there is not enough dry kindling. 
  • Sealing jars and bottles. 
  • Let the kids make medievel wax seals. 
  • Reuse the wax to coat your own hard cheese or pass onto someone who makes hard cheese at home. 
  • Mold it into shapes for fun or to practice drawing objects.
I'd love to know if you have any other uses for wax? Do you eat as much cheese now you are living without plastic?
15

Synthetic clothing fibers in our oceans

12 August 2015
Image from valueontherainbow.tumblr.com
Last year I read an article that made my heart sink. It was about synthetic clothing fibers in our oceans. Months before I had only just reached my first year of living plastic free and I was feeling pretty good.

The article said:
85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

I closed the article with dread. Here was yet another plastic that was doing harm and frankly I did not know how to write about it let alone deal with it.

Since that article I have halved my wardrobe, taking boxes of clothing and shoes to charity stores. Since that article only clothes made of natural fibers have been making their way into my wardrobe BUT I still have a synthetic clothes made of nylon and polyester that I wear each week. Of which up too 1,900 fibers can be rinsed off my clothing and into the water during a wash.

Last week a news outlet published a similar story here and I can only imagine this issue gaining more traction.

Even when I tell people that I don't buy plastic because I try to live plastic free, my statement is met with questions about the thread in my clothes. I agree awkwardly that is an issue I am trying to figure out. Banning synthetic fibers is the obvious step but not the easiest.

Sure I could take the polyester and nylon clothes of mine to the local charity stores and go completely natural so that when people do ask about plastic fibers in my clothes I can go "Ha, but it's natural"...but am I just putting my clothes back into the cycle where they will be bought, worn and washed by another person?

And what happens if everyone started doing this too - what do we do with all these synthetic clothing that we can't use? Insulation? Incinerate? Can they even be recycled into something else that won't get into our oceans?

Am I better off keeping them, boxing it up in my attic, so someone else does not continue to send plastic fibers out into the world?

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My #1 tip for plastic free and zero waste living

5 August 2015
I am asked over and over what my #1 tip for plastic free and zero waste living is.



Don’t compare yourself to others.

That's it. Don't compare yourself to others.

We are all unique individuals on different paths, living different lives.

There are books, blogs, websites, forums, Facebook pages, Instagram feeds all with their own way of being plastic free and/or zero waste. Seek them out, learn from them, ask questions, but don’t compare how you do it with how someone else does it. All these outlets are great for exploring ideas but they are not measuring sticks.

And I do encourage the exploration of this lifestyle. Just remember, following someone else’s process will not guarantee that the process will work for you or even apply. Be loose and flexible, allow for mistakes. Allow for time. Months. Years.

Go at your own pace; figure out what works for you. It’s not a race. Not everyone’s rubbish has to fit into a box or a jar. If you can’t get ingredients in bulk to make your own deodorant, don’t fret.

You will find a solution for the plastic and the trash, in your own way, which works for you.

Comparing yourself to others will only hold you back and stop you from seeing what you can achieve.

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