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Why hankies make a handy gift for a new mum

Why hankies make a handy gift for a new mum
This is my collection of handkerchiefs.

I never used to love hankies or have a collection of them. Prior to going plastic-free, my purse always contained the tissue pocket pack. You know the ones I mean; the small collection of disposable tissues, wrapped up in plastic, that too would be disposed of in a bin.

When I decided to swap my throw away plastic packaged tissues in favour of hankies, I was a little lost as to where I'd purchase them from. Did people still use hankies? The last time I used a hanky, wold have been in primary school.
Yes, that's a hanky tucked into my school uniform. Most of my classmates had the plastic packaged tissue packets. I was jealous. Not many of the other kids had hankies. After a time, I wore my Mum down, swapping the hanky for disposable tissues.

When I confessed to my Mum that I did not know where to buy hankies, she disclosed to having held onto the handkerchiefs her children rebelled against, and sent them my way. Plastic-free of course.

Using hankies over tissues saves on not only plastic packaging, but also landfill waste. The thought of disposable tissues, full of illness laden bacteria hanging out in landfill makes me nervous. At least with hankies, the bacteria is killed when washed in hot water. It sometimes makes me wonder if there are superbugs, growing in our landfill...after all, nothing truly breaks down in landfill, especially when wrapped in plastic rubbish bags.

Conspiracy theories aside, tissue boxes and plastic packaged tissue packets comprise of waste beyond just the tissue. The paper tissues are shipped to stores in boxes, with plastic tape, unloaded from pallets that were wrapped in plastic. For how many tissue boxes we go through, our stores would be disposing of bundles of plastic that we don't even see.

Hankies are designed to be used over and over. Any holes can be repaired. At the end of their life, a hanky can be disposed of in a compost, breaking down between 3-6 months. A packet of hankies is a one time purchase, unlike tissues.

As a new mum, I have found hankies to be one of the handiest and most versatile items to have on hand. If you are thinking of something useful for a parent to be, whether they are plastic-free, zero waste or neither of the two, put hankies on the gift idea list.

5 ways I found hankies to be handy as a new mum

1. For tears

I have yet to meet a parent that has not cried a tear, here and there. There are tears that come with a change of hormones following the birth. The tears from exhaustion. Happy tears. My baby is crying and it makes me cry, tears. My baby is growing too quickly tears. Having a hanky close by to mop up those tears is essential.

2. A temporary breast pad

Ah, leaking breasts. It could be a light leak or a heavy surge, either way most breastfeeding mums will need breast pads. On the odd occasion I've found myself out of my reusable cloth breast pads. They might be damp on the clothes line. I might find them unexpectedly soaked through, because Bub slept a little longer and I forgot to express. Rather than wear damp breast pads or risk going without, the humble hanky serves well as a functional temporary breast pad.

3. Moping up dribbles and posits

We have cloths for our baby's dribbles and posits. Sometimes they are not always within reach. You can never predict when a baby is going to do a sneaky posit. It could be directly after a feed or thirty minutes later. With a hanky in my pocket, I can clean up the dribble and posits quickly.

4. Wrapping up food

I ventured to a cafe on my own with Tifl for the first time. We settled in. I ordered a cup of herbal tea and my fave vegan donut. Just as I was half way through my sweet donut, ole' mate decided that the cafe was not his vibe, showing it loudly. I wrapped up my half eaten donut in a clean hanky and we headed home. Who knew hankies would be handy for food transportation and saving food from going to waste. Win!

5. Playing peek a boo with baby

Interacting with my baby is important for his growth and development. Plus, it's fun for me. I like to grab a hanky, especially one with shapes, and play peak-a-boo or let him stare at the patterns. Who needs fancy black and white books. My old mickey mouse hankies keep him amused.

I'm imagine there are many other ways hankies are useful to new parents, beyond their intended use. If you know of any more, I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

A reply from Elevit

I forgot to mention in my last blog post, the reply received from Elevit.

Er, whose Elevit? Isn't that a pregnancy multivitamin?

Remember last year when I questioned who was responsible for making and reducing rubbish? Here is the blog post. For those who don't want to click through, in a nutshell, I was challenging why zero wasters kept all their rubbish in a jar, when instead we should push the responsibility back onto the businesses making the packaging, we spend so much of our time avoiding. Basically, I felt like so much obligation for avoiding waste fell onto the consumers shoulders, when really it should be both.

Consumers can only avoid so much, and if we are not speaking up, how can these big corporations know that we want change? So I decided to start speaking up, sending back rubbish that I can't avoid and ask for smarter decisions on product design. Tagging these companies in a hashtag won't always work. In the blog post, Rubbish - Who Is Responsible For Making It And Reducing It? I took aim at Elevit and their packaging. During my pregnancy, I chose to take a multivitamin that came with extra packaging. Packaging that I know could be smarter. So I sent it back, with a letter and a suggestion.

Here is what I wrote to Elevit (it was a hand written letter):

Dear product managers at Elevit,
I am sending part of your packaging back, as I could not find a way to dispose of it, other than to landfill. As a consumer, this should not be my full responsibility to figure out if packaging like your blister packs can be recycled. I believe you could do better with your packaging. It is a tad ironic that your product is to help mothers grow a healthy baby, yet your packaging is not healthy for the planet. I have included a sample of how you could make a simple swap from the plastic and aluminium blister pack to full aluminium. This would make your pill packets 100% recyclable. The swap would keep all the blister packs out of landfill, reduce resources, ensuring the next generation you are helping grow will not have to deal with our rubbish. Plastic production and its use can be harmful, not to mention landfills are expanding across the world due to poor packaging designs like this. I hope you will consider switching to full aluminium blister packs.

Erin Rhoads

The below is the reply that came from Bayer, Elevits' parent company:

Dear Erin,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Bayer regarding Elevit. Your feedback is important to us and this has been forwarded to the Elevit team. Should you like to discuss this further, please call 1800 023 884 (Mon-Fri: 9am-4pm. Sydney time. Please choose option 1, then option 2). Please quote reference #AU170021xx. Alternatively, we are able to contact you if you could provide us with your telephone number. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,
Bayer Australia Limited

Shortly after my original letter was sent, I found myself in a conversation with a someone who used to be involved with large corporations like Bayer. Not knowing my life, that I wrote a blog on reducing waste or had sent my rubbish with a letter back to a multinational company, did he tell me that if a handful of written letters are sent on a particular issue, that they have to be presented at the board of director meetings. So who knows, my letter could have made it to a director. Either way, the effort was not done in vain. A seed has been planted somewhere at Bayer.

I'm planning to delve into the subject of speaking up and activism this year, so look out for more on this subject. It seems to be a subject largely ignored. And I plan to research the legitimacy on consumer based issues making it to board of director meetings.

In the meantime, I'd would be interested to hear of stories on when you have spoken up about an issue. Was it met with any reply? How did it make you feel?

Hello from the other side

Don't worry, this is not a post about Adele. Not that an Adele themed blogpost wouldn't be awesome. I'm simply stealing the words for the title, as they are the most accurate description on how I feel right now. It's been six weeks since the birth my son, yet I feel like it's been six billion light years. Life before his birth feels far, far away.

But while I'm navigating the haze of being a new parent, much has been happening on the plastic bag campaign here in Australia. Popular news TV show The Project have joined forces with Clean Up Australia, calling on the final three states without plastic ban policies, NSW, Victoria and WA, to #banthebag. An online petition was set up and sent out, amassing over 100,000 signatures in under a week. Technically, State governments don't view online petitions like these with much legitimacy. Even though it's not a legit petition, the call to arms has helped keep the conversation on plastic pollution afloat. The Project and Clean Up Australia also stressed the importance of contacting local MPs and the three State Premiers via phone, letter and email. This has been particularly essential, with the upcoming report from the inquiry into banning plastic bags in Victoria being released on the 25th of May. Fingers crossed that The Project and Clean Up Australia's campaign is the final push needed to get my state to act.

Back at home, there is other news. The Builder bought a house. I wrote a post back at the end of last year, about how we would be staying in our present home and not moving. We even ripped up the old garden to grow vegetables. The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry, right? It's an old house, built at the turn of the century, and it requires a lot of work. I'm not sure what possessed my husband to decided the move. I did have a rather nasty fall down our stairs while five months pregnant (baby was fine, I was bruised black and blue) and I wonder if that was the catalyst to look for a single story home. Our aim with the renovation, is to reduce the need for any heating and cooling. And the Builder is already salvaging materials to build with. The grand vegetable garden we were to plant this autumn is now being taken over with weeds. We figured there would be no point putting effort into growing vegetables, if we are going to sell the house half way through the winter season.

I also wrote in that same blog post that we would be a one car family. That also went out the window and we are now the proud owners of a secondhand Camry Hybrid. Turns out the Builder's ute did not have the needed contraptions to fit a baby capsule. Getting around the city without a car is fine, and i've been doing it for the past six weeks. However, if we wanted to drive up to see my parents or go on any family adventures outside the city, then we would have been stuck.

Australia's versions of The War on Waste TV show is debuting May 16th on the ABC. I worked behind the scenes on the show with the producers. I am super excited to watch it and see where conversations go on the topic of waste in this country. I'm SO excited that I will be doing a giveaway that week. If you live in Australia, watch out for the giveaway on my Instagram and Facebook.

By the way, our bub will be refereed to as Tif/Tifl on the blog. This is his actual nickname. During pregnancy, we called the bump Tifl, the Arabic word for baby. The Builder is Aussie Lebanese, hence the Arabic. Anyway, the nickname stuck and we continue to call him Tif or Tifl.

Finally, thank you for all the well wishes over the last six weeks. My inbox, instagram, facebook and even mailbox was inundated with sweet words. Your messages made me smile. It's nice to be back here, from the other side.

Welcome to the world, little one

Early last week, I got to birth this human being into the world. 

Weight, perfect. Length, long enough. Name, still deciding. Even though he does not have ginger hair, I decided to keep him. This is of much relief to the Builder, as he is very smitten with the squishy and snuggly bundle of joy. We are happy and healthy, swimming in a sea of love neither of us have experienced before and feeling grateful this little person chose us to be his parents.

This is the fourth trimester, a time to bond with my baby and learn how to be his mother. While I navigate the sleepless nights and days, endless nappies and his feeding schedule, my body is busy healing too; the next forty days will be intentionally slow, as I take time adjusting to all the changes. Dear readers, this means no posts for a little while. When I return, I will have many words to share, on my pregnancy, birth, and trying to raise a human, plastic-free and zero waste.


Upcycling material scraps into twine

Upcycling material scraps into twine
To say I enjoy up-cycling is an understatement. I'm not sure what it is about the activity, that draws me to it. Perhaps it's the problem solving aspect; nutting out a solution to a dilemma, pushing the cogs in my brain to creative overdrive. I love reading about other peoples solutions to practical problems too, and I know that is why I am drawn to blogs, both reading and writing one. Most blogs are infinite resources of solutions. If I have found a good solution or idea, either by myself or read someone else's, I feel compelled to share it, whether one hundred people find it useful or only one. I'm not sure what category this blog post falls into, but I'm going to share it anyway.

The Builder had a couple t-shirts he was not wearing, half synthetic and half cotton. The thread itself was not a blend, rather the graphics on the shirts were clearly a synthetic raised print, not a simple screen print. I have written previously about my dislike of synthetic clothing, due to the micro fibres entering our waterways when they are washed. This week, Story of Stuff shared their campaign on microfibres. Rather than pass the synthetic clothing I had on to charity (for someone else to deal with and to continue polluting water ways), I came up with the idea of turning all of my old synthetic clothing into pillow stuffing. And those pillows I mentioned above, are full!

The t-shirts were all cotton (except the weird plastic print graphic) making great rags for when the baby arrives, to help mop up spills, vomit etc. I feel like rags will be our best friend very soon. The graphic part of the t-shirt could not be used as a rag. I cut up the t-shirts for our rag pile and put the plastic print graphic squares with other odd scrap material, left over from shirts I had turned into cleaning cloths previously. I knew I could turn this pile of scrap fabric into something, but was unsure what.

I then came across a tutorial on turning scraps of fabric into twine. I had found my solution, turning the cloth into strips and began turning it into twine.
Upcycling material scraps into twineUpcycling material scraps into twine
It's not as colourful as Cinita's tutorial and I had to plait it, as it would not twist. But it worked and I am now figuring out what I will turn the twine into from here. I am tempted to replicate the weaving skills, learnt at a class last year with Put Your Heart Into It.

I have had my share of upcycling projects not go 100% to plan, yet I never see them as fails. More like learning curves, the object morphing into something else or more than I imagined. Taking old items, deemed as useless and turning them into something useful, was a common occurrence last century and beyond. I wonder if our ancestors did it purely out of necessity OR was reimagining and rethinking simply an integrated part of our mindset that we as a modern society have lost? Many of the upcycling ideas I find are not new ideas, they are old. Making fabric twine from scraps of is not a new concept.

I feel like this post could start rambling on and on. So I best leave it here and think about what object I will turn my new found fabric twine into.

Are you a fanatical upcycler? Do you like purchasing up-cycled treasures? What is a favourite up-ycled piece you have seen someone create? If you don't like upcycling, what is it about the process that turns you off it? What else could I have done with the scraps of fabric?

Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?

I usually wax lyrical, as do many other zero waste bloggers, on the virtues of zero waste food shopping. Those photos of us, filling up our jars or bags with bulk binned food, is one of the more popular visual associations people have with the zero waste lifestyle. See below.
Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
But when the curtain is pulled back on the store room of these bulk food shops, you would find there is no such thing as zero waste shopping.

Yes, zero waste shopping does not exist! Hear me out, because I am going to talk about a solution further down. Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest we all start growing everything from scratch in our backyards either. 

Bulk food shopping allows the consumer (you and me) to buy food without packaging. We go in, collect our food, shampoo, cleaning products, honey, soy sauce etc from bulk bins. It's usually purchased in jars, plastic containers and cloth bags that are used each time we all shop. Bulk shopping is about the reuse of packaging by the consumer.

It's also about freeing up the responsibility of disposing the packaging. When I take my newly filled jars and bags home, I don't have any packaging to throw away. This type of shopping model is challenging the present supermarket individually wrapped system and I applaud it. Bulk food shopping puts the responsibility back onto the store where I bought it – it's up to them to find a way to deal with the packaging.

When I shopped at the supermarket or corner store, the food came individually packaged for us. Once I emptied the package of food, we disposed of it in our rubbish bin or recycling bins at the supermarket. I was making the rubbish and it filled up the bin each week.

Zero Waste shopping does not exist, because those bins of food we collect it from, is originally filled with food that is packaged, just on a larger scale. Large plastic sacks and tubs, that can not all be recycled or reused is what you would find in the back room of a bulk food shop. If that packaging is recycled, it would be down-cycled, meaning the plastic become another item of plastic and thats it. Down-cycling is the end of the road. Some items do come in paper, but not many. So while we the consumer are not making rubbish, our bulk stores are and that is why there is no such thing as zero waste shopping. It does not exist, yet.
Zero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
At my wedding, we hired TAP. Wines to serve wine. We chose them because we loved their business model; to challenge the wastefulness of wine bottles in restaurants. In a nutshell, TAP. have stainless steel kegs, filled up at wineries and then fitted into restaurant/cafe/bars, providing wine on tap. Rather than a new wine bottle, that comes with a cork or metal lid, stickers, boxes etc, TAP. simply fill up a stainless steel barrel, drop it off at the venue and replace it when needed. The stainless steel barrels are cleaned between refills and will last for over twenty years. At the end of their life, they can be recycled completely, not down-cycled like plastic. One, 20 litre stainless steel keg, is the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine. That is a lot of resources saved. 

The business model got me thinking about bulk food stores. Could a third party company do the same, but for bulk foods and make the zero waste food shopping actually zero waste?

I'll explain how the idea works using chickpeas:

  • Farmer harvests and prepares chickpeas for sale 
  • Puts chickpeas into stainless steel barrels 
  • Third party business that owns the stainless steel barrels, picks up the packaged chickpeas, transporting them to bulk food stores 
  • Bulk food store empty the chickpeas into their dispensers OR let's them sit on the floor for use straight from barrels 
  • Once barrels are empty, third party business collects barrel from bulk store, takes it to another location where it is clean/sterilised
  • The newly cleaned barrels are then dropped back at the chickpea farm
  • The circle continuesZero waste shopping does not exist – is there a solution?
That's my idea to bring zero waste food shopping a step closer to zero, and make it more circular. My intentions when writing this blog post, was not to call out bulk food stores. As mentioned before, I applaud them for challenging the system. I'm merely putting an idea out there, hoping someone, say a millionaire that would like to launch or invest in a sustainably minded business, has read this. You are free to take this idea and run with it. Truly.

Tell me, what do you think of this idea? Or is there a simpler idea on how to make zero waste shopping truly without waste? How would you do it?

Interview with Bottle for Botol

Thank you to everyone that wrote to me with suggestions for the future Changemakers interview series. For those that are new here, Changemakers is where I get to interview Australian legends, community groups, not for profits, companies and individuals that are working on great initiatives to reduce plastic and waste. I believe in sharing the work of others, because you never know how someone else's story will inspire. And I believe it uplifting to read about other peoples hard work; it's a nice reminder that we are not islands when it comes to the war on waste.

Today I'm happy to introduce you to Bottle for Botol, an Australian enterprise that works reduce plastic water bottle in Indonesia. Botol is the Bahasa Indonesian word for Bottle. A fun little fact, I learnt Indonesian at primary and high school. While I'm not as fluent as I used to be, I can still read it.

Bali is a popular tourist destination for many Australian's, and anyone who has been there will have seen the devastating effects plastic has had on the Indonesian island. Indonesia are one of our closest neighbours, and I find it heart-warming that a bunch of Aussies decided to set up a social enterprise, to help lend a hand and educate on the effects on plastic pollution. I hope you like their story as much as I do.

Students in West Bali finished their 8-lesson Environmental Education Program and receive their new stainless steel water bottles!
What is Bottle for Botol about? 
Bottle for Botol is a social enterprise that works with Australian and Indonesian schools to help prevent plastic waste entering our water streams, rivers and oceans. Our program aims to educate students on the importance of protecting our environment by leading a generational change away from single-use plastics. Australian schools are partnered with Indonesian schools, creating a cross-cultural exchange. For every stainless-steel water bottle sold, we donate the same re-usable bottle to students in Indonesia, and a water dispenser for their school. The funds from bottle sales also go toward an education program about the impacts of plastic on the environment.

What prompted you to start the program?
Bottle for Botol was founded in 2013 by a group of Australian volunteers. While on assignment in West Bali, they saw firsthand how dire the plastic waste problem was, particularly on the beaches and in the ocean around Bali, and were compelled to do something about it. Working with Pak Yasa, an Indonesian teacher and passionate environmentalist, an education program for students was developed and piloted at Pak Yasa’s school. The pilot was a huge success in educating students and building their capacity to reduce plastic waste. The program has grown since then to include 14 schools in Indonesia, and 10 schools in Australia.

One of the unique aspects of our model is rather than teach students ourselves, we train and support teachers to deliver the education program directly.

Pak Yasa Tenaya.
What has been the challenges faced so far?
One of the unique aspects of our model is rather than teach students ourselves, we train and support teachers to deliver the education program directly. Initially, we invited teachers from different schools, who were passionate and engaged in environmental education, to a group workshop outlining the program, and providing detail on issues around plastic waste. However, we found that teachers at the school who did not attend the workshop, did not understand our program. In 2016 we changed the process, and now we visit each school separately and run a workshop for the whole school community. This way everyone understands the purpose of the program and why it is important to reduce plastic waste. We have found this approach is very effective because schools often take their own initiatives to reduce plastic waste after our first visit, even before they begin delivering the lessons to students.

Bye Bye Plastic Bags has been widely popular in Bali, but their success has not come without hard work. Have you found it difficult to change people's mindset on plastic bottles in Bali? 
It has been wonderful to see what Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ small team of enthusiastic and passionate students can achieve, but changing attitudes and behaviors is not without its challenges. We believe our bottles, and people’s connection to them, are the key to changing mindsets. One of the questions we are often asked is “won’t the students lose their bottles?” We are very proud that, of the 960 students and teachers who have been part of our program at Pak Yasa’s school over three years, only one student has lost their bottle. The students and teachers feel proud of the bottles because they participated in the design competition and their bottles feature designs by their peers. This connects them to their bottle in a meaningful way and the everyday practice of bringing their bottle to school is an important reminder to avoid single-use plastics.

What are some of Bottle for Botol's achievements so far?
We currently work with 14 schools in Indonesia and 10 in Australia. To date, over 3000 students and teachers have participated in our education program in Indonesia alone. We have delivered 18 water refill stations to schools, so that teachers and students can refill their bottles with drinking water at school. We have run seven workshops for teachers and school staff. Nine students have won our annual bottle design competition and had their designs printed on bottles. 

Junior high school students refill their water bottles at school!
Tell us Bottle for Botol's plans for the future?
Conquer the world! There is so much we’d love to be able to do, but this year we’re focussing on making sure our program is the best it can be. This involves:
  • Updating our Indonesian curriculum to ensure it’s easy for teachers to use in the classroom, students are having fun while learning and we can better measure their progress. 
  • Building on our Indonesian and Australian school partnerships to create stronger connections between the schools. 
  • Raising awareness and increasing impact in the community by strengthening our partnerships with like-minded organisations - it takes a village! 

How can more Australian's get involved?

A student reading his work out loud from his BfB Environmental Education book!
If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?
You can have a tangible impact on the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans, use a refillable drink bottle and purchase one for a student in Indonesia. Allow your children, and all children in the future, to have safe and healthy oceans.


Plastic Bag Free Victoria - The end of the beginning (Update 3)

After posting my last update, the Plastic Bag Free Victoria campaign moved quickly. 

Our Plastic Free July movie and panel discussion was a success. We showed the film Bag It, followed by a rousing conversation on who should take responsibility on plastic pollution; individuals, government or businesses with our panel. The panel included Sea Shepard's Bia Figueiredo, Nicko Lunardi of Scab Duty, Sustainable Table's founder Cassie Duncan, Tammy Logan from Gippsland Unwrapped and special guest Rebecca Prince-Ruiz founder of Plastic Free July. My lovely husband went above and beyond to get food, cutlery, cups and napkins for the event to keep it plastic free. It was a packed event and our community group raised $1000. Thank you to everyone who came along.
Not long after our event, we were told of an opportunity to submit our petition with a Bill that was to be put forward by Greens MP Nina Springle.

Part of the protocol with petitions, is that an MP must submit the petition on our behalf. We couldn't just walk in during sitting week, throw it on the table and start chanting to a chorus of state ministers. Though it did sound appealing. For it to gain any type of traction and keep to a professional standard we had set out to achieve, we had to do things correctly.

Combining the tabling of the petition with the proposed Bill (to ban plastic bags, packaging and microbeads) added strength to Plastic Bag Free Victoria's petition. With the date of the Bill submission less than two months away, we began calling in the petition pages from any businesses, individuals and groups that were collecting signatures.

Our petition was the largest one to be submitted to the Victorian State Government in a decade. 11,600 signatures were collected in less than a year! For anyone that has been following along, we needed to hand over 10,000 for the State Government to take our request seriously.

The big day

On the 17th August, 60 members of Plastic Bag Free Victoria, marched from Federation Square, along Swanston Street and up Bourke St to the Victorian State Parliament carrying signs and a plastic bag chain. The 440 plastic bag chain was to show how many bags Victorian households use on average each year. We met Green's MP's Nina Springle and Ellen Sandell, speeches were made, interviews with local media and the petition was handed over. 
It was an emotional, high intensity moment, for those that have been working on the campaign. Sadly, the response we received when the petition and Bill were tabled, brought us all crashing down to earth very quickly; the current Labor government declared a plan to ban bags to be too difficult. Boom.

Naturally we felt angry and frustrated, especially when South Australia, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory have all put so called “difficult” 10c levy's in place and kept them. What was even more annoying, was that the same political party that is in government now (Labor), pledged way back in 2006 to do something on plastic bags, yet nothing was done.

While the current government declared that they would not put the Bill in place immediately, our petition helped prompt the Environment and Planning Committee to hold an Inquiry into Plastic Pollution in Victoria. Public submissions were invited on legislation to restrict the supply and sale of plastic bags in Victoria. We saw a glimmer of hope!

We rallied the 40 community plastic bag free groups from across Victoria that Plastic Bag Free Victoria represent. From Mallacoota in the east, to Moama in the north, Phillip Island and Torquay in the south to Apollo Bay in the West, everyone begun sending in their submissions to the inquiry.

It didn't stop at the inquiry submissions, we also encouraged everyone to write letters, emails and call state MPs too. Local councils jumped on board sharing their views, pledging their support for a plastic bag ban. Business also added their voice.

Soon Plastic Bag Free Victoria and other local environment groups were asked to a hearing, to share their views face to face. I could not make the hearing due to morning sickness, but I remember sitting there all day feeling like it was our teams last run into battle.

As the cut off for the public submissions came, we asked the Environment and Planning Committee when the final report would be released, thinking it would be weeks away. Turns out they had received more submissions than anticipated and that we would be advised at a later date on it's release. This left me feeling optimistic, and that our efforts during the past year were not in vain.

The reporting date for this inquiry is 25 May 2017. 

We will share it on Facebook, so make sure you like us over there to keep up to date: www.facebook.com/PlasticBagFreeVictoria/

What is happening now?

Community groups are growing and continue to spread the message. We are seeing more and more local action groups and Boomerang Bag initiatives start up across the State.

There has also been movement in other areas of the country with Queensland announcing they would introduce a plastic bag ban in 2018 to coincide with the implementation of its container deposit scheme. NSW and WA is seeing little movement on the bag front presently. But like Victoria, more and more community driven action groups are doing their part to call on policy makers to listen and make a change.

While we wait for the findings to be released in May, Plastic Bag Free Victoria will continue to drive conversation, write letters and encourage change as much as possible.

Getting involved with Plastic Bag Free Victoria has opened my eyes to how much power we have as individuals. I shared recently on an instagram post that blogging won't change the world. It will encourage change and get conversations started, but does not hold the same weight that writing letters, organising petitions and talking with government of all levels has. The handing in of our petition was an end to a year long campaign, but hopefully it brings about a new beginning.

To stay up to date with Plastic Bag Free Victoria you can visit our Facebook page and website.

Upcycling my old childhood teddy bears part 1

When we made the baby announcement, I made explicit instructions to people that we don't want any new items, explaining that we would prefer to get it all second hand. Buying second hand is the way we live and have done for the past four years. This led to many people passing along items they don't use anymore. One of the biggest benefactors was my sister's family (thanks sis!). And my parents were kind enough to drive it all down to Melbourne from the Southern Highlands. In that bundle of baby stuff, were all my old teddy bears.

Most of the bears are in pretty good condition for being 30 years old. They will be perfect for our son, once he is old enough to play with them. If anyone is thinking of getting us a bear, don't...as you can see below, Bub has enough to go on adventures with.
Time had not been so kind to all of the bears though; missing ears, age spots and sagging body parts were sadly found on a couple of them. Passing those ones onto charity was not an option, they were too worn. If I was a kid, I'd want something looking fairly new. And I doubt a second hand store would have tried selling them. They aim to sell quality used goods, and sort through the items dumped at their stores carefully. Don't assume they sell everything that is sent there. 
I thought about gifting them to an animal shelter, as toys for dogs and cats. But what would happen once they were torn up, synthetic fibres strewn everywhere? Probably go into the bin.

Then I sent a text to my mother, wondering if we could upcycle the bears into a new one. And by we, I mean my mum. Because my sewing skills are limited to backstitch. My mum did teach us to sew, knit, cross-stitch, embroidery etc. Regrettably I lost interest somewhere along the way.

My mum is a talented lady on the sewing machine and I remembered that she made a soft doll for my sister when we were younger. Maybe she could do it again, reusing the stuffing of my old saggy teddy bears? It would be a nice present for her grandson, plus he would be getting something “new.” And I know she has a tonne of scrap fabric that could be used for the project too.

So I went about pulling out the stuffing from the bears. Most of the filling was polyester, with some cotton. The casing was also cut into tiny pieces, to be used as stuffing too. The eyes were saved, along with a rattle ball. 
It felt very odd to be cutting up my old teddy bears. The Builder came home one afternoon, walked into the lounge room, surveyed what I was doing, then backed out of the room slowly. I would have been scared too. I'm sure this is how horror movies from our childhood started haha.

My Mum is visiting this week, and I'll show her the filling so she can decided if it's usable. If she deems it not fit, then we will find another way to upcycle it. If it works, then expect a part 2 showing off our Mum's creation.

What would you have done with these old teddy bears? Would you have done something different? Have you made a teddy bear, doll or something similar?

How we clean the kitchen dishes

How we clean the kitchen dishes

When I first went plastic free in 2013, I had to learn of a new way to live. To be more precise, it was never a brand new way of living, rather adopting tried and tested behaviours that worked well for many centuries. These age old methods have been pushed aside for assumed convenience, that has led to devastating amounts of rubbish and waste. From the outside these new habits looked brand new, simply because it was different from the modern normal that everyone around me was living.
To achieve this new way of living without plastic, my success boiled down to questioning everything that I had been told is necessary. The necessary being the plastic packaged goods on supermarket shelves.

Questioning everything I had been told is necessary, pointed out rather quickly how much stuff I did not need. And my use of soap is probably a good example of how far in my journey I have come over the years.

Once upon a time both, myself and my husband used so many different types of soap. Shampoo, face cleansers, body wash, hand wash, foot scrub, surface cleaners, floor cleaner, bathroom cleaner…the list went on. Each one packaged in plastic, competing against each other, but all the same.

As we began shopping at a bulk store, we continued to buy into the need of having separate cleaners for everything. We purchased body wash, floor cleaner, surface cleaner, liquid soap etc in our own containers. The liquid soap was used to clean dishes by hand, went into dispensers in our bathroom too.

We then swapped to soap bars to clean our bodies, face and hair. Now I use a bar of soap for everything. Except shampoo, I can wash my hair just fine with water only.

Shortly after, we began using the same brand of bar soap to wash our dishes. I had been using liquid soap my whole life to clean dishes, that entertaining an idea of using only a bar of soap to clean my pots and pans felt very odd at first.

It has worked perfectly well, lasts far longer than the liquid soap and comes with less ingredients too. Liquid soap requires more ingredients to keep the soap as a liquid, with much of it being water. Storing blocks of soap is far easier, going into old socks, tucked away into our clothes draws.

A simple bar of soap. It’s nothing fancy, made using olive oil with a humble cost of $2.50 a bar. It’s vegan and locally made, with ingredients sourced from Victorian farmers.

We scrub the dishes clean with cotton cloth, cut from an old pair of cotton pants and use this agave scrub from Biome also. The agave scrub works well to get rid of baked on bits. But if i'm struggling, then bicarb or salt works perfectly in those situations. I'm trying to find a similar scrub made here in Australia, any tips?

How we clean the kitchen dishes
I don’t have bottle brushes, as we don’t use bottles for anything but water or tea. Our liquids are stored in jars, and we can reach our hands in there to clean them with our cleaning cloths. If the jar is too slim for the Builder, I can get in there to clean it with my tiny hands.

Each week the kitchen dish cloth and agave scrub cloth are tossed into the washing machine with everything else. After six months, the cloth goes into our compost while the agave scrub cloth will end up as a scouring rag, to help clean shower glass in the bathroom. Synthetic sponges and other weird liquid soap dispensing cleaning apparatus release synthetic micro fibres into our oceans and won’t break down in my compost the way cleaning cloths made of 100% natural fibres will. I love that each of my cleaning cloths will break down within three months and not sit around for thousands of years.

I have turned bar soap into liquid. It's easy, but we prefer the bar of soap. If you want to try making your own liquid soap from bar soap, here is the recipe I used:

HOMEMADE LIQUID SOAP RECIPE / Combine one and half litres of water with one bar of grated soap into a pot, and heat on the stove top. Stir the water and grated soap, until the soap has dissolved. Transfer the liquid to an old bottle and let sit over night. Pour into your chosen dispenser. Handy tip > If you are making this for the first time, before pouring into the bottle to set, pour into a bowl and make a judgement the next day if its too thick or not to your liking. It will be easier to get it out of bowl compared to bottle if its too thick. You want it to be a runny liquid.

How we clean the kitchen dishes

We continue to buy eco dishwashing powder for our dishwasher at the bulk store though. Over the years we have had conversations about the dishwasher – is it truly environmentally friendly? Do we need it? Is it cheaper? It's not used too often but enough for us to query its existence. After three years we pared back our cleaning to a simple bar of soap; perhaps selling the dishwasher will happen one day. Or maybe not with a child on the way. Only time will tell.

I’ll share the details later, on how we clean the house with a bar of soap. Right now, the sun is shinning, and I’m going to enjoy it.

How do you feel about dishwashers? Or do you do it all by hand? Are you like me and do half by hand, half for the dishwasher? I'd love to know if you wash your dishes with a soap bar too.

You're not a real environmentalist unless you do *insert thing here

You're not a real environmentalist unless you do *insert thing here

Do you have solar?
Are you living off the grid?
Do you own a car?
How many cars does your household have?
Do you grow all your own food?
Are you vegan?
Are you vegetarian?
Why would you have a child? It's not environmentally friendly.
How can you live in a city and be an environmentalist?
Do you fly in airplanes?
Do you offset your carbon?
Do you use family cloth?
You can't care about environment and vote for anyone but the Greens, right?

The above are examples of the type of questions, I have received over the years. The questions are usually asked as a test, to find out how much I truly care about the environment. And it's not just me. I have witnessed others cornered by the same inquisitions.

I used to loathe being called an environmentalist. It's a term that I never identified myself as. But over the years, I've slowly cared less about the label people will brand me with. Our society likes to put us into boxes, not for the reason of reducing someone to an ideology, rather I believe its more for ease of use.

But what does frustrate me, is that if you are labeled an environmentalist, there are certain boxes that must be ticked or people will say your not trying hard enough.

“You're not a real environmentalist unless you do *insert thing here”

I want to bust this. Why? It's simply not fair. If anything, these assumptions are limiting, and it means the conversation is owned before it has begun. Doors are shut and people are divided.

There will be people who can answer these expectations, earning them a green tick of approval. And that's great. I applaud those people. But in no way should someone who does not have solar or live 100% vegan be made to believe they are not doing enough. That very person, whose having a finger pointed at them, just might not be there yet and who knows, they could invest in solar, go vegan and ditch their car when it's right for them.

I believe in doing the best you can, with what you have got, where you are.

Next time someone asks you a question, tell them the truth. Tell them that you're not ready to afford solar yet, but are an environmentalist and are doing your best.

The same could be said for the zero waste and plastic-free movements. If you are not ready to try a menstrual cup, but are doing what you can to reduce plastic use in other areas, then a high-five to you. Your journey should be celebrated.

No one owns the environmentalist label. The far left don't own it. It just happens to be where the majority of environmentalists are for now. I am an optimist, and believe that a greater love and respect for the environment can one day diffuse socially through all areas, all political parties.

I truly believe small changes lead to larger changes, and those smaller steps make you no less of an environmentalist than any one else. 

Interview with Insulin For Life

I am planning on expanding my Changemakers interview series, with the hopes of bringing you more interesting and inspiring stories, of those that are tackling waste in their own ways. Today's guest ticks both the interesting and inspiring, while proving that reducing is not just for the dedicated individuals with access to a bulk food store.

The rubbish and plastic produced as a result of medication alone is substantial. For example, hospitals will usually over order on what is needed. But it's not without good reason. They do this to make sure they are ready to provide enough of a certain drug should it be requried. Once the drugs reach their expiry or pill packets are only partially used, they will be shipped off to a facility that will incinerate most of the left over medicine, even if it's still OK to be used.

The waste of medication also happens in our homes. I can think of many instances when I have purchased a medicine, only to be given a higher amount that what is needed. Then it will sit in my cupboard, until it expires. The resources, packaging, transport....everything that went into getting the medicine to me is not completely valued when half a packet is thrown out. It's a tricky area to fix, but don't despair because there are organisations out there working to alleviate the problem of waste in our health care system, while providing help to those that cannot afford medicine.

Insulin for Life is one of these, that is helping to provide insulin for those who cannot afford treatment, by collecting useable surplus medication that would otherwise go to waste. I spoke with board member and volunteer, Joanna Sader on her quest to reduce waste while providing a huge social impact.

What is Insulin for Life about?
Insulin for Life is a health related not for profit that connects unwanted, unused, in date Insulin and diabetes supplies from first world countries; and connects them with the 50% of the worlds population who cannot access or afford Insulin. In addition Insulin for life also runs pro bono diabetes screening and complications camps for those children and young adults who cannot afford healthcare. At these camps pro bono health educators and doctors educate young people and their families around their condition and how to prevent and stabilise diabetes related complications. Insulin for life has a mission to save the lives of 20,000 people by 2020. The world health organisation estimates that Diabetes affects over 422 million people around the globe.

Insulin for life is joining the global movement of sharing excess capacity; Insulin for life is to the pharmaceutical world as ubiquitous as AirBnB is to accomodation and Uber to transport.

What prompted you to start the foundation?
Our story starts in 1984, with 6 year old Arti from India. Arti had Type 1 diabetes, needing a daily supply of insulin. That insulin costs 148% of her family’s monthly salary. They scrape, borrow, beg and go without as much as they can for months to keep her alive. Ultimately, and inevitably, they are faced with the decision to keep Arti alive or sacrifice their entire family of 5 children. Pragmatically, they take Arti back to the hospital where she is left to perish.

The story of Arti’s unnecessary death sparked something for Ron Raab, a worker at a diabetes clinic in Melbourne, Australia. Insulin for Life, with the mission of connecting surplus diabetes supplies with those who need it, is born.

These two pictures are of 6 year old Arti from India – the first one is when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The second picture was taken just a couple of weeks before she perished, she had received insulin and she was thriving. However the cost of Insulin was 148% of her parents combined income and because of this they could not afford to keep her alive.
I got involved with Insulin for life in memory of a close friend who unexpectedly passed away. At just 31 Fiona Kwok had type 1 diabetes and passed away from complications; Fi was a huge advocate for equal access to Insulin, and in her honour Insulin for life carries out the ‘Fiona Kwok Diabetes Complication Prevention Program” designed to prevent and reverse complications of diabetes for those in developing countries.

Insulin is the second most discarded pharmaceutical in Australia. 

Take us through the process for those of us who want to contribute?
Insulin for Life Global supports a network of 10 affiliate organisations who collect diabetes supplies to send on to partner projects in the developing world and raise awareness in their local areas. Australia, Canada, UK, USA are amongst the largest. Supplies are mostly collected from individuals with diabetes who have left over unneeded supplies such as mothers with Gestational diabetes. Once they give birth they no longer need Insulin.

The largest barrier that Insulin for life faces is connecting supplies with those who need them, transport costs are the biggest barrier to overcome and that is why we need donations to sustain the operation.

For details on how to donate supplies and financial donations please go to: www.insulinforlife.org

What has been the challenges faced so far?
Raising awareness in countries like Australia around the fact that Insulin is the second most discarded pharmaceutical and generating awareness around Insulin for Life's mission has been an uphill battle along with our biggest challenge of attracting donations to cover the cost of transport. Insulin for Life global has been established to continue to raise awareness for and on behalf of all the global affiliates, mostly through social media.


Do you think the medical industry could do more to reduce waste?
Yes absolutely. In Australia alone there are approximately 30,000 women per year who have gestational diabetes (diabetes induced from pregnancy). Many of the donations we receive are from women who have so much excess in date medication. Typically we can receive up to 5 boxes from many of these women. Thats not only several months worth of insulin supply but that is roughly AUD$1000 of taxpayer funded product that cant be reused in Australia. If smaller packaging and volumes of scripts were made available then perhaps Insulin would not be the second most discarded pharmaceutical in Australia.

What are some of Insulin for Life achievements so far?
To date, Insulin for Life has saved over $12 million dollars’ worth of supplies from landfill, and diverted it to keep over 20,000 people alive in 74 countries. In addition we have educated hundreds of children and young adults along with their families around their condition whilst providing western standard access to diabetes complications clinics. Depression is a real challenge of having diabetes as a young child or adult as is nerve damage that can cause impotence for young men. Without education many young men suicide and lead an isolated life with depression. The education provided can help reverse and prevent complications such as these.

Tell us Insulin for Life plans for the future?
Insulin for life global has been established to raise awareness and donations around the global mission. We will be focusing our camp efforts within South East Asia over the next 3-5 years where incidence of diabetes is rising; mainly in places like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be?
That just $5 could help save a life by transporting Insulin and stop the unnecessary waste of life saving medication.


Photos taken from a recent Diabetes camp in Ecuador

Expecting a baby

Zero Waste Expecting a Baby
Photo Source
In ten short weeks, I will be expecting a baby. Thrilled, nervous and impatient to meet him (yes, it's a boy) are the everyday emotions that whirl through my mind and body. I'm not nervous for the birth, rather excited for that part. Instead I'm nervous for the future.

Expecting a baby has made my commitment to live a life conscious of rubbish and plastic even more important. Knowing that I am helping raise the next generation has magnified the responsibility I already feel.

We have discussed what type of parents we will be, the issues we may face, namely the struggles that will come with raising a child exposed to a lifestyle, that is counter to how most of society lives.

One thing I'm firm on, is that I don't want to push our child to live plastic free or zero waste. My hope is to be the best example of these lifestyles, encourage him through education, inquiry and kindness, but let him make his own choice. Never make him feel guilty about decisions that might be different to his parents. I believe guilt and shame are two of the worst emotions to inflict on anyone.

I live this lifestyle based around responsibility, not guilt or shame for the environment, animals, people that I share this planet with. My personal reason for going zero waste: I don’t believe the next generation should have to deal with my rubbish. It’s my responsibility. I came to this through education and inquiry myself.

Expecting a child is expecting plastic, expecting rubbish. It will happen; we know this and have accepted it. As parents, we can only do our best.

Happy new year

Long time no blog, but popping in to show that I'm still alive.
This year got off to a languid start. Visitors have come and gone, there have been many trips to the beach, enjoying the company of family and friends. The slowness has been welcomed with open arms. Rewind to this time last year, and I was busy researching venues, catering, and all other necessary areas for our zero waste wedding.

There were a lot of new beginnings last year, starting with our engagement and wedding a short five months later. We fell pregnant with our baby just after the wedding, a welcome surprise on the first day of our honeymoon (and kind of ruined half of our honeymoon with morning sickness). My day job was chaotic for the first half of the year, and as that slowed down, I embarked on many speaking engagements about zero waste living, plus the odd TV, radio and writing for publications that kept me on my toes too. Intermingled in all that was the Plastic Bag Free Victoria petition and submission. Then it all came to a head at the end of the year, as I quit my full time job.

My doctor told me to rest and relax as we entered this new year, and avoid all travel if I can help it. This has meant saying no to two great opportunities to talk about zero waste on a larger scale. Which is OK, there is much going on locally to keep me busy while the baby continues to grow...

  • This blog is going to pack up and move at some point, so if you see it go offline, you now know why. There will also be small changes to help make this website a better resource, especially for the Australian audience. After all, I live in Australia, and wish to inspire change here as much as possible. 
  • Zero Waste Victoria (our growing state based Facebook group) is running an information stall at the Sustainable Living Festival. It's easy to forget that not everyone reads blogs, has Intsagram or Facebook. So I'm teaming up with some of the members of the group to see how we can change that and spread the word. The first step is the info stall and a simple website.
  • Plastic Bag Free Victoria is still going strong, though we are all taking a break while we await news on the petition. I have a big blog post coming up on everything that has happened.
  • I'm booking in talks and workshops post June (aka, three months post birth). I told the Builder that I had booked my first talk for 2017, stating he would have to look after the baby for a couple of hours. There was a quick flash of fear over his face. 
  • We are slowly collecting various necessities for the impending arrival of our baby. Everything that sits in the baby room has been loaned, gifted or passed onto us for free. I'm looking forward to sitting down and writing more baby posts. It's going to be a whole new challenge for us. 
  • The Builder is moving his office home. It will be nice to see him more often. We joke that we barely saw each other last year, even though it was full of milestones. 
  • Our garden, that we want to turn into a vegetable garden, is last on the list. I'm hoping to get it ready for autumn to plant a winter crop. 

I'd say there is enough to keep me busy until the baby arrives. I better get to the shops and do some plastic free shopping for dinner. We have not made it to the farmers market for over a month, and are looking forward to getting back into it this weekend. Hope you all are having a nice start to the year. How many of you have made new years resolution to go zero waste or reduce plastic?
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