Zero-waste and plastic-free underwear: my review of The Very Good Bra

31 October 2019
Zero-waste-plastic-free-underwear: a review of The Very Good Bra


I have a few rules when it comes to buying apparel for myself:

  1. Secondhand first
  2. If a particular piece cannot be sourced secondhand then I choose clothing made of natural fibres grown and sewn in Australia by brands with ethical values and full transparency
  3. Choose materials that are as natural as possible so they can break down in my compost after it's beyond repairing and repurposing.

These above rules have been fairly easy to follow. In the past seven years I have purchased 90% of my clothing secondhand, three new jumpers that adhere to rule 2 and 3 (all were from Woolerina). And my shoes have been bought secondhand.

But underwear is where I draw the line, for now.

Rule 2 was always hard to follow when it came to buying underwear especially bras as they can contain quite a few components like elastic and clips that can't make it zero-waste. So I chose brands with ECA accreditation (Ethical Clothing Australia). Obviously wearing no bra would be the most zero waste option but I like the added warmth in winter! In summer I'm happy to go without sometimes. Plus I found a bra a non-negotiable when breastfeeding because I leaked for a year. 

When I was pregnant The Very Good Bra appeared on the scene with their zero-waste bra. Naturally I bookmarked them for when I would be free of maternity bras. Just as my son was starting to reduce his breastfeeding a timely email from CEO and founder Stephanie Devine landed upon my inbox asking if I'd like to try the black zero-waste bra for free.

Now, anyone who has breastfed will know just how worn maternity bras become. Your breasts morph significantly throughout, stretching the fabric. And at the beginning the poor bra can become saturated with milk, no matter how many breast pads or towels are shoved down there. At least mine did. So after two years of my breasts belonging to someone else, being sucked and chewed at all hours of the day you can understand why I would be excited for a new bra? And this wasn't just any bra, it was a zero waste bra! Meaning the life cycle had been accounted for and it could avoid landfill.

I've worn the bra for six months and I must say, it's incredibly soft. It felt so nice to slip it on during winter especially. The fabric is made of Australian knitted and dyed Lenzing fibre Tencel, with tree rubber and organic cotton elastic and custom made organic hooks and eyes. If you would like to learn more about Tencel visit Good On You. I do understand that Tencel is not perfect, but then most massed produced fabrics seem to have a negative. It is worth noting that the company Lenzing are working to reduce those negative impacts.

The thread holding it all together is tencel too. Most clothing thread is a cotton polyester mix chosen for durability. So if a cotton t-shirt was placed into a backyard compost (after being reused as a rag obviously!) everything will break down quickly except for the polyester part of the thread.) When the zero-waste bra is at the end of its life the metal hooks and eyes can be removed for recycling and the rest buried where it will return to the earth. Metal, even those small parts can be recycled. In Australia check with your local council how best to collect and drop off. For instance I can take metal to my local Transfer Station. 

I'm pretty sure I would repurpose the material before composting, but thats me! I treat composting like I treat recycling; as a last resort.

But how does it fit?


I have the bra in a 32C and the fit is supportive throughout the day. The straps never fall off my shoulders, a problem I have had often in the past and the three clasps at the back are easy to use. So far it washes well with no pilling. This bra is underwire free. I will be buying the peach version for myself so I have more than 1 bra though I might try the 32B as that is what I used to be pre-nursing so I can compare. There is a small amount of room towards the top of the 32C but not enough that anything slips out when I bend over.

Tammy Logan from Gippsland Unwrapped wrote a review last year if you'd like to read it here. Her blog post also includes other reviews within the with people of different bust sizes.

There is a lack of machinery and skills available for this type of bra to be made locally since Bonds took their production offshore to China. The cost would also jump to over $120 if produced locally. I do know founder Stephanie Devine would love to have everything sourced and made locally. It's just not an option presently. Stephanie has such passion and drive that I can only see her brand continuing to do great things.

The bra currently costs $95 which I understand is a big investment when compared to a cotton bra from a brand like Bonds. But the fair treatment of garments workers and brands like The Very Good Bra is important to me. I'm investing in a sustainable fabric, carefully thought out materials and living wages. If more people that can afford this kind of bra and choose to invest into this system then the price would reduce. So share with others and let them know. 

The Very Good Bra has started making zero-waste undies too. Most undies (knickers, panties) contain a plastic elastane which is not compostable. Elastane is a plastic fibre that helps give underwear that stretch.

I am holding onto my maternity bras just in case we decide to try for a sibling. For those with old maternity bras that are in good shape you can pass them onto the Uplift Project. They would love reusable nursing pads if you have any laying around.

Are there any other zero-waste underwear options out there?


Now I don't like doing reviews on products I have not tried myself but I will share with you some brands I've found throughout the years worth checking out:

Rawganique:

The underwear in this link contains no elastane. The fabric used is either 100% hemp or organic cotton depending on the style. But the thread used is poly core (a cotton polyester mix). This is because when a cotton thread is used in the leg area and waist it can break easier due more movement. So technically the seams can be cut off and compost the rest. I'd do that.

Cottonique:

I found this brand while looking for zero-waste maternity bras when I was pregnant. There are some interesting bra and underwear options without elastane. Pieces in Natural are sewn with 100% cotton thread so technically these could be composted with the metal loops recycled. I have linked those options here: Women's Drawstring Brief (Natural) and Women's Drawstring Bra (Natural).

Up and Undies

This a small business based in Portland, Oregan in the US selling undies made out of used material like t-shirts found at secondhand stores. All scraps are kept to knit rugs. Technically these won't go into the compost but I love the ingenuity and fun designs of this brand.


There is a wonderfully detailed blog post by Design Diary on how to sew your own underwear should you be inspired by Up and Undies and want to try it yourself.


I'd love to know if I have missed any brands as I'd love to add then. Send me an email via my contact page and I'll put your suggestions onto the list.

Readers suggestions:
Farm To Hanger - The Bio Range

The Very Good Bra was gifted to me free of charge. All views are entirely my own. 

Books That Will Inspire Kids to Protect Our Planet

21 July 2019
Books That Will Inspire Kids to Protect Our Planet



Much like the audience they are intended for, kids books are successful at getting to the point on an issue. There are wonderful titles focused on exploring, explaining and inspiring young minds on big environmental and social problems our world is facing without the doom and gloom many of the books us adults read on the same subjects.

I often think it's the simplicity of kids books that results in the young readers simple and obvious solutions. Maybe our big adult books make it harder to see the solutions?

At some point in the not to distance future I know our son will want to have chat about why we hire toys from the toy library instead of buying brand new or why we don't buy most of our food in plastic packaging plastic. Unless of course by some miracle there has been a sweeping change in the next year (I can dream!). Instead of Mum going on a spiel about pollution and the devastating effects our overflowing bins can have, I'll use books to help start the conversation.

I thought it would be nice to share the books I have collected to help start those conversations and hopefully inspire. Thank you to Penguin Books Australia and Scribe Publications for sending me two new kids books to add to my collection. These have been marked with an asterisk *. If you have any other books that have helped you and your family, send me an email as I'd love to add them to the list.

If you happen to click a link and buy an item from the website Book Depository, I will receive a commission that is of not extra cost to you. 

How to Save the Whole Stinkin' Planet : A Garbological Adventure

by Lee Constable and Illustrated by James Hart

TV Host and science communicator uses her skills to train up young readers to be ultimate waste warriors. Lee explains where our stuff goes when we put our rubbish and recycling bins out, the ways we can reduce and divert waste from landfill properly, how to set up a compost. As kids work their way through the book they earn badges. Sections of the book are hands on with fun DIY activities, big information is turned into accessible facts, plus questions are asked along the way to help this new knowledge stick. It's a fun hands on book that would be suit that would be great for the whole family to work through together. For those who have read the book and wondering what my Waste Warrior recruit name is, well it's The Great Splatto. This book was a gift from Penguin Books Australia.

Plastic : Past, Present and Future

by Eun-Ju Kim and Illustrated by Ji-Won Lee

Eun-Ji Kim book details plastics invention and history, from its uses throughout society to looking at how complacent we became leading to the devastating impact on our environment. The book then looks at attempts being made to reduce our reliance and what is happening around the world to fight plastic pollution. I love Ji-Won Lee's bright illustrations and diagrams help explain the complex processes of plastic production and recycling in an easy to follow method. The overall book is the first children's book one I've read that explains in depth everything about plastic. This was a gift from Scribe Publications. 


I like Old Clothes

by Mary Ann Hoberman

This poem was published in 1976 follows two children as they talk about their love for used clothing. To them wearing hand-me-downs, clothes from friends and charity stores is normal. I enjoy when topics like this are presented as normal and now more than ever second-hand clothe shopping needs to be made regular. It would make a great book to read with kids helping them understand where clothes come from, how to care for them and where they can go after we stop wearing them.

Sea Change 

by Joel Harper and Illustrated by Erin O'Shea

The main character has red hair, but you never know her name because there are no words in the book. Instead it's purely beautiful illustrations that take us through a young girls trips to the beach where she encounters a plastic rubbish that she then starts picking up. The rubbish is then taken home and turned into a sculpture to be used as school to inspire fellow classmates to help clean up the beach that then leads to the whole school community to also clean up the bach; one person can make and inspire others. The book is printed on 100% recycled fibers using 100% post consumer waste.

All The Way To The Ocean

by Joel Harper and Illustrated by Marg Spusta

Another Joel Harper book and this one does have a written story along with illustrations by Marg Spusta. Issac shows his friend James what happens to rubbish that ends up in our gutters as it travels through the storm water drains, leading to our oceans, lakes and rivers. The book focuses the marine life directly affected by plastic pollution. Similar to Sea Change the book ends with the two kids sharing what they know with others and encouraging a clean up at school.

Ocean Warriors: Plastic in Paradise 

by Cath Witten and Illustrated by Jasmine Kammeyer

This book was a gift to my son from my sister and her family. You know the cool sister that told me I should watch The Clean Bin Project. The story is in Bahasa Indonesian and translated into English underneath. Which makes sense since all proceeds from the book go to creating a sustainable waste management system in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, the Amazon of the Ocean. Two siblings work together to reduce plastic pollution after rescuing a tea turtle from eating a plastic bag.

Lelani and the Plastic Kingdom

by Robb N. Johnston

Lelani opens a plastic bottle floating in the ocean to find a note inviting her to visit an island made of rubbish from all over the world. It's on this Island she meets Sam, who shows her the plastic straw forest and and marine animals entangled in rubbish, all caused by the waste sent to this now growing island from the Fast Lands. Lelani is inspired to make changes when she returns to her home and share this knowledge with her community. This book would be suited for older childern around the age of 8-10. The watercolour illustrations are beautiful and worth purchasing the book for alone.

Friends of Our World

by Alexis Todorovski and Illusrated by Azzalene Todorovski

Alexis's book focuses on illegal dumping of items which is huge problem. It's not just the dumping of rubbish in remote locations, but right here in our own neighbourhoods. The characters Mondo and Amigo ask their friends from around the world to share the message of reusing and recycling instead of dumping stuff like clothing, furniture and other household goods.

A Bag and a Bird

by Pamela Allen

Set in iconic Sydney, A Bag and a Bird follows Alex and his mum on a picnic outing when one of their plastic bags blows away and gets stuck on an Ibis (a well known bird in Sydney!). Through Alexander's story we learn how plastic bags can damage the environment and those that depend on it. A great story to help kids to becoming more aware of the impact of their choices.

Compost Stew

by Mary McKenna Siddals

Keeping those organics like food scraps out of landfill is important to helping fight climate change and putting much needed nutrients back into the soil. Mary's book aim is to show how easy it is to do this by composting, how to start and what can and can't go into a compost.

Sullie Saves The Seas

by Goffinet McLaren

Following Memorial Day weekend a seagull calls a meeting with other beach birds asking for help to do something about the rubbish left behind on the beach. They then go about teaching humans how to reduce their rubbish and not leave it in their natural habitat. I did find some parts of this story sad and think the book is best suited for older children 8-12.

Happy reading :)

Waste Not Everyday

Waste Not Everyday


My second book Waste Not Everyday is out in the world! Did you get your copy yet?

This book is the younger sister to my first book Waste Not.

Waste Not Everyday
has 365 tips, one for each day of the year. My goal with this book was to provide digestible information in an easy to use format that would help get people started on reducing their waste.

It’s broken up into three sections using the same structure of a professional bin audit; food and organic, recyclables and other. A bonus fourth section is focused on reducing waste in the wider world.

It can work as a companion to Waste Not or given to someone who wants to make changes but feels overwhelmed or doesn’t want to subscribe to a particular lifestyle, but is determined to start somewhere. There is no preaching. No guilt. Only solutions to help fight climate change through reducing, reusing and reconnect.

Just like my first book 5% of the profits I make will be passed onto Waste Aid Australia.

Waste Not Everyday is available in all places where books are sold and of course, at your local library.

Why I will never buy clothing made of recycled plastic (and it's not because of the plastic microfibers)

29 June 2019


Water photo created by jcomp

The other day I was scrolling through Instagram when a post stopped me. The image featured a jumper made of recycled plastic. 12 plastic bottles to be exact. However it was the caption explaining how the item of clothing was going to save us from drowning in a sea of plastic that had me rolling my eyes. I looked through the comments hoping to find someone else as unimpressed. Instead all I found was praise.

Clothing made of recycled plastics is a growing market. Shoes, pants, tops, activewear, accessories and much more are being sold to us as the solution to keeping plastics out of our oceans and landfill. These items are made of bottles and fishing nets, discarded in the ocean. Well that's how it's sold to us. Yes, the fishing nets made of plastic fibres (also known as ghost nets) are discarded. But I was not as convinced about the bottles. I asked seven companies selling clothing made of recycled bottles where these bottles were collected from and the response was a country or region; India, China and around South-East Asia. No other information was offered.

When I first started learning about plastics plaguing our oceans the idea of clothing made of ocean plastics was very appealing and sounded like it could be part of a solution. I even wrote a blog post in 2014. However, my views have changes considerably and it's not because of plastic microfibres or the impact recycling plastic has on the environment. Well, these are part of it but not the sole reason for my change of mind. 

Plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets turned into clothing, shoes and accessories will not save the oceans. This is simply a bandaid. Obviously halting plastic production would be the ultimate fix. Since we don't have access to the off switch in the plastic manufacturing facilities, one of the next best steps is providing financial assistance to organisations focusing on education and setting up clean drinking water facilities.

When I see sweatshirts made of plastic bottles selling for $55 by the brand Everlane, all I can think of is “gosh, that money could be better spent going to education programs helping communities understand the need to break free from plastic.” 

Similarly $68 on a pair of Girlfriend leggings would be much better invested in creating safe accessible drinking water in areas of this world where there is none or setting up recycling in communities that have nothing. Safe drinking water would have a huge impact beyond plastic pollution. 

Imagine what 1,110 Euros, the price of Prada's new Re-Nylon backpack, could do for a community group lobbying government to set up legislation to reduce plastic use in a country with inadequate waste collections. 

It's hard for me to watch the praise these companies receive. They are profiting from this so called solution by tapping into our habitual need we've learned to buy new stuff. Shouldn't we pass it onto those doing meaningful work in areas of the world where clean water is lacking, recycling systems are poor or non-existent and waste education needed?

With second hand clothing stores in most of our neighbourhoods filled with so much inventory or the many second hand online outlets popping up these days, wouldn't it be smarter and kinder to choose second hand or even go without, and pass on the $55 to help fix the real issues? 

It's only easy to throw out when communities have no access to education or waste services. By the way this jacket costs $175 which would provide THREE water dispensers for a school canteen in Indonesia.


But what to do with all the bottles out there? I hear you and I don't have the best solution. Ultimately I would rather see a plastic bottle turned back into a plastic bottle. Not clothing. Until plastic bottles are potentially phased out then it makes much more sense to collect and repurpose as a bottle for people in areas without access to clean drinking water. Instead of clothing companies using fishing nets while selling washing machine filters to catch the microfibres, they should change their business model. These companies just want you to continue buying their stuff without the guilt. It's part of that belief consumers should change, not the companies. It has to be both. Cute active wear is not a necessity. Clean drinking water is. 

I understand it might sound like a big ask for people to donate $50 towards an environmental group without any tangible immediate return like a sweater. I don't know where the need to have physical proof to prove we care comes from. T-shirts with eco slogans or recycled plastic backpacks have become a status symbol. This isn't just in the environmental movement, the practice is everywhere. We should be OK to pass on money to help without some kind of return.  I can assure having worked with and interacting in many grassroots environmental organisations, our donations are pivitol when it comes to fixing clean water, education, waste and recycling services.


There are a number of organisations tackling plastic pollution closer listed below. But before clicking through think about your own neighbourhood or a region in your country where that money can uplift. Here in Australia half of Aboriginal communities have no rubbish bin or waste pick up service. This is why I have chosen to donate 5% of my profits from Waste Not and Waste Not Everyday to the organisation Waste Aid Australia to help change this. Here are suggestions for other groups and projects:

Donations for A Plastic Oceans go towards facilitator education programs within local communities in local languages, creating youth educational films, installing Elkay water refill station at under-served schools and supporting local activism.

The Oliver Ridley Project works to not only remove ghost nets from oceans but also provide educational outreach while working with fisheries to minimise and reuse fishing gear.

Bottle for Botol sets up education, reusable alternatives and tools to empower students to create change in their own communities.

There is also projects like Sri Lanka's Poseidon Army, Cambodia's first Nature Discover Centre, help build an accessible library out of eco-bricks in Malawi, fund a small island recycling & waste management in Fiji, provide assistance to Reef Check Malaysia to create a waste management and recycling system on a Borneo island and Reduce Plastic in Tanzania. I could continue with this list.

The greatest teaching during my “journey” to create less waste and reduce plastic is learning to pause before buying anything and meditate on how the impact my money (or other resources like time and physical energy) can be used to help lift up others. I realise it's a luxury to think like this, so I don't take the responsibility lightly. And that's not to say I'm perfect in that thought 100% of the time. But as always, I try. 

I live in an area with robust recycling and waste management, quality environmental education within reach and clean drinking water in abundance. This scenario is not the same everywhere and by redirecting my purchase hopefully one day it will be. 

Sneaky plastics in our food packaging

20 June 2019

Did you see the video posted by MEL Science revealing the hidden layer of plastic inside aluminium cans? If you missed it, watch it below




Plastic is typically used in canned food and drinks to stop metal leaching into the food or drink. Carbonated drinks and some foods have high acid levels meaning they leach faster. Even if the food are not high in acid the metal can still leach. If you see cans are BPA free this doesn't mean it's free of plastic, instead the BPA has been replaced with BPS or BPF. You can read here about studies being conducted on the BPA replacement as to whether they are safe or not here.

Because the plastic amount is small it's typically removed during the recycling process usually by high heat when cans are recycled.

These type of plastic linings are not solely in aluminium cans either. The metal lids on glass jars will have a lining of plastic too just in case the food comes in contact with the lid. This is the main reason why businesses accepting glass bottles and jars for refill will not use the metal lids as the plastic will be removed during the sanitation process. Those metal lids are usually sent off for recycling and they buy new ones, or use plastic lids.

There are other types of packaging with sneaky plastic hiding within. The most popular item most people will know is the cartons used for milk (including plant based milks) and juices, where the plastic is layered between the cardboard. The plastic helps stop the milk from leaking while lasting longer on the shelf. Take away cups used for coffee also have a layer of plastic otherwise that hot drink would leak also. Even some tea bags contain plastic.

Below are a few items that have have plastic linings and other chemicals you may not know about.

A cardboard box at a conference (food was supplied), coffee cup found outside the house (my street sits just off a main shopping strip. Alot of coffee cups get left behind near us), ice cream (again, another littered item) and the chip cup (asked staff for the chips on the plate but the request didn't make it to the kitchen).



To find out if a cardboard or paper based item like the ones above have a lining of plastic is simple. I cut off a piece and place into hot water, then let it sit for 10 minutes. The plastic will seperate from the cardboard. Each one had a lining of plastic. It was the cardboard box which surprised me the most. But there you go, plastic is sneaky and almost everywhere. This type of plastic could be recycled via RedCycle soft plastic drop off at the major supermarkets...but who is going to do that?? Plus the resources going into creating these for a single use is not needed for most of us.


A friend was going to throw out this pack of puff pastry. It has been over six year since I had used this kind of product but I knew there was thin layers of plastic between the pastry but as the cardboard outer packaging caught the light I saw a sheen that had me wonder if this had sneaky plastic. So I did the hot water test...and yes, there was hidden plastic again.



I'm not anti plastic, simply anti the misuse. With the rise in awareness of plastic pollution, I'm beginning to see more and more food businesses swap out takeaway food packaging for paper based options because they want to do the right thing. However these will be lined with petroleum based plastic or plant-based plastics. The thing is, how would a customer know there is even plastic lining these items let alone what type of plastic. If it can be recycled will the lining be recycled with the paper? will it break down? or will it be sent to landfill? If people think it's compostable at home will the sneaky plastic end up in the compost pile? None of this information is available on the packaging and staff rarely know themselves. And if it's not lined with plastic will the packaging contain PFAS?

Related blog posts: Is shopping at bulk stores or co-ops the best way to reduce packaging waste? Zero waste shopping does not exist, is there a solution?

So who needs to make changes. The Government should make it a requirement for all companies to explain in detail on the packaging what it's made of similar to the The Australasian Recycling Symbol. Ingredients for food are mandatory so why not our packaging. If a cardboard based product is going to be easier to compost with a compostable plant based lining, then why not enforce this as the standard lining too. That way there is no confusion for composting at home and encourage more public composting bins. I'm not 100% aware what would happen should this kind of compostable plastic lined paper end up in the recycling stream and i've been waiting for answers from a couple of sources. Plastic water bottles and plastic containers made of compostable plastics do contaminate regular plastic recycling. 

As you can see there is a lot of processes that need to change. The funny thing is the solutions are easy for most of us when it comes to avoiding this confusion in take-away packaging:

  1. Take the time to sit down and eat a meal on a real plate. Get away from the office desk and use the time to enjoy a break.
  2. Order takeaway in your own container. Simply phone ahead to see if the cafe or restaurant will allow you to bring a container to use instead of a single-use option. Visit TrashlessTakeaway.com.au  for a list in your area.
  3. Australian businesses Returnr and ReTub are partnering with business encouraging the reuse and refill of food containers. Customers simply put down a deposit for a reusable container when paying for the meal. Customers get the deposit back when the container is returned. This system is not new, India has been offering returnable tifins for a long time.

I understand some of our food will always need packaging including takeaway. And I'm aware we won't give up take-away food, not because our modern society loves it, simply humans have always enjoyed some form of takeaway food. 

However when I see what looks like complex “solutions” to the problems of packaging, in particular takeaway, rarely do there conversations address our need to change mindsets. Packaging made of seaweed or mushrooms....great, but how much would we need to create this for takeaway packaging alone. Does it just exacerbate the go go go loop we are stuck in. The packaging needs to change but also so do we. 

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