Mainstream media the key to making zero-waste normal?

20 December 2018
I have come to the conclusion that for zero-waste to become normal and mainstream, then we need to ask for help. Most of us who care deeply write to politicians and businesses (often) requesting them to propel this change through legislation, redesigning practices and packaging. While this is important (and please don't stop!) I'm wondering if we should carve out time for writing to another powerful group in the country:

The media!

In May 2017 ABC aired the TV show War on Waste reaching 4.3 million Aussies. It kickstarted conversations across the country with viewers paying closer attention to what they were throwing into their bins. The ABC's war on waste didn't end after the second series was shown this year either. If you pay attention you'll notice many programs and digital content created by the ABC are continuing to encourage us to rethink our plastic use and how much we throw away.

This is highly commendable and I applaud them for their commitment, but we all know the ABC doesn't have the viewership that commercial TV does. When the War on Waste hit our screens Masterchef on Channel 10 still out performed in viewers for each metro city. While the War on Waste was fantastic and necessary viewing, what we need is for these messages to make their way into more mainstream shows like The Block, Masterchef and even sporting events, because it turns out the most watched TV shows in Australia are our football Grand Finals....and a show called Australian Ninja Warrior?? I got the stats from ad news.

If we can convince these TV stations to weave messages to reduce plastic use, composting, rethinking food waste then this whole movement we are trying to push would pick up pace because it would appear normal. This would then lead to further changes by businesses if they see more consumers wanting to buy everyday items like food without all the excess packaging.

Let's look at our bins and what is making up most of it - FOOD! 40% of our bins are comprised of food scraps. That's almost half. When our food goes to landfill we are throwing away water and energy used to grow and ship our food, plus the farmers time and hard work. It's also a waste in landfill because the nutrients that could go back into the earth simply don't. Organic matter like food doesn't break down in landfill. It either becomes a liquid or mummifies, all the while creating methane a damaging greenhouse gas.

Related blog posts: Composting for all types of homes and Make your own compost bin

If TV shows like My Kitchen Rules, MasterChef Australia and The Block started integrating messages on food waste and composting (and plastic, because I think plastic packaging contributes to the problem in a big way!) we’d see change faster. It would help make the practice of diverting food from landfill a normal practice.

For instance The Block could make worm farms and composting a feature. How simple! Buying vegetables without plastic, reminding viewers that writing a shopping list will reduce waste can be easily integrated within the Masterchef dialogue. A visible food scraps bin so viewers can see the contestants putting scraps within. Then repeat these actions throughout the season so that by the end it looks normal.

Mainstream media the key to making zero-waste normal?
Image Network Ten


It might seem farfetched, but then I never thought we'd ever see a TV show dedicated to a war on waste! If you think it's possible I'm going to invite you to help write emails, letters and comment on their social media letting the commercial TV stations to prioritise these messages.

Below is an example of a letter or email you can copy/paste with contact details:

To whom it may concern,

I'm writing to let you know that while I enjoy the TV shows produced, I would like to see an emphasis on waste education throughout your programs going forward. Some suggested ideas you could work into your TV shows are:

  • Encourage composting and worm farms 
  • Write grocery shopping lists to stop people from buying to much food and wasting food 
  • Buy fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging 
  • Using a reusable produce bag 
  • Talk about reusable coffee cups 
  • Include stories about repairing items that break instead of buying new

50% of the food Australian's waste is in our homes and household bins are made up of 40% food that could be composted. If all Australian's kept organics out of their bins then what we send to landfill could almost be cut in half. Since your TV shows are so popular I believe integrating the messages mentioned above would help Australians make some much needed changes.

If you would like to discuss further, I'd be happy to share more idea.

Kind regards,
(your name)



How to get in contact:

Endemol Shine Australia produce Masterchef and a range of other TV shows
Email: info@endemolshine.com.au

Channel 10
Email: contactus@networkten.com.au
Postal addresses: tenplay.com.au/contact-us

Channel 7
I was unable to locate an email
Postal addresses: sevenwestmedia.com.au/contact-us

Channel 9
No email only a contact form ninehelp.zendesk.com/hc/en-au/requests
Postal addresses: nineentertainmentco.com.au/contact-us


OR you can write a message to their social media too:

I enjoy watching (insert tv show here) but would love to see you help raise awareness on reducing waste especially food waste and teaching Aussies about how easy it is to composting/worm farms. 50% of the food Australian's waste is in our homes and our household bins are made up of 40% food that could be better used as compost. If all Australian's kept organics out of their bins then what we send to landfill could almost be cut in half. Since your TV shows are so popular I believe integrating the messages mentioned above would help Australians make some much needed changes.


Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

16 October 2018
Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

I was putting up my plastic-free garage sale sign today when a lady walking her dog commented how helpful garage sales are for passing on the stuff you don't use anymore. Most people know what a garage sale is and how good for the environment they are (reusing instead of buying new = less resource reliance and depletion = less waste), but how many know what the Garage Sale Trail is? The lady didn't and you might not either. In a nutshell, the Garage Sale Trail is...

one BIG WEEKEND of garage sales that's happening right across Australia on October 20 and 21.

It's like an Australia wide second hand party happening all over the country. Garage Sale Trail helps those thinking or planning on hosting a sale to advertise and have it placed on a searchable a map for people to find easily. Users are able to search a town or area of their city and plan out a trail of garage sales to visit.

The service is free with resources for not only households but also community groups, local businesses or even the street you live on if you are keen to get one going with your neighbours. According to Garage Sale Trail's website groups use it as a way to fundraise which I think is a great idea. If you are inspired to join up this year its not to late - simply visit their website to learn how to promote your garage sale like a boss this weekend.

Now, if you are joining the Garage Sale Trail this year (and why wouldn't you?) I'd like to make a request...please don't use balloons to advertise your sale. Often after garage sales balloons used on street signs and power poles can be forgotten. Street signs and power polls sit right next to our gutters. Those forgotten balloons will eventually end up in the gutter unless picked up or removed from the poles by people like me and gutters lead to our waterways where those deflated balloons can endanger wildlife. Yes, I know some are made of latex and will break down eventually. But unfortunately our wildlife don't yet know to wait until the balloons have degraded to a small enough size that would make it safe enough to swallow. You can read more at Melbourne Zoo on the dangers and alternatives to balloons.

And it's not only the balloons left behind, the plastic tape used to attach signs and those balloons mentioned above to poles also pose a serious threat and are often forgotten too. Most of the littler ending up in our waterways is by accident.

There is another way to hang a sign up alerting the neighbourhood about your upcoming garage sale and you can even add a bit of fun with cotton fabric. Want to see how I created mine?


Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

I collect an old box, shone twine, jute or coir string (or hemp...anything made of 100% natural fibres), coloured pencils & pen (didn't end up using the pen), scissors and scraps of cotton or another 100% natural fabric.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

I cut the sides of box and removed the plastic tape too. I'll keep the plastic tape rather than leave it on the cardboard to avoid it ending up in the environment.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

I now have four individual pieces of cardboard. The two larger pieces can be used for the street signs and the others on the day of the garage sale as sign on tables.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

Using my coloured pencils I write the details of the garage sale. With the scissors I add four holes in the middle top and middle bottom for the string. Seven holes were also added to the very bottom to thread the coloured scrap fabric through.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

A close up photo of the very professional holes with the string threaded through.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

And same for the fabric scraps. haha.

Garage Sale Trail (without the balloons and plastic tape)

Now it's ready to hang up on a power pole. If you are looking to put your sign up on pole or anything with a smaller circumference move the holes the string are threaded through closer together. Of course you don't need any fabric or other embellishment if you don't want it. And don't forget to collect your signs after the garage sale.

If you know someone who are using balloons and tape ask them to collect after the garage sale and dispose of both properly.

Happy Garage Sale Trail, Australia! 

Pass on the stuff; pass on memories instead

12 October 2018
My grandma's garden

My grandmother died last month. I'm still finding it hard to believe she is not here. Every other day I keep thinking I should call her for a chat, then realise I've forgotten she's gone. Even though we lived in different countries, I was lucky that I had a close relationship with her. After finishing high school I lived with her so I could get to know my grandmother better as our relationship was mostly conducted through long and expensive phone calls reserved for birthdays and Christmas. And I'm so glad I did live with her because I gained a deep friendship where I learned a lot.

This is the first time I've lost someone close to me. It hurts i'll never see her again and it hurts even more knowing my son didn't get to meet her beyond Skype video chats. The Builder and I had planned to visit next March just before his second birthday and it's now my biggest regret we didn't go sooner. I would have loved that memory of them meeting.

My sister and I inherited her small collection of jewellery but each time I look at her rings, all I think about are the moments lost and memories that will never be made with my son. While I have many of my own I'll share with him, there is something heart expanding about having the special people in your life meet one another. Losing my grandmother was a painful reminder that collecting stuff is not important. It's the people we love and the memories of these people we cherish, that make for a rich life. I'd happily trade her rings for one last hug. 

We might stick to our plans and make the trip to Arkansas in March (free air flights for children under two which is why I held off visiting for so long!) so I can say a proper goodbye and catch up with the rest of the family too. Our rough itinerary was to visit Little Rock to see dads family then onto New York where my brother lives and a stop off in San Francisco on the way home as the Builder expressed interest in visiting. Or it will be Dallas or Houston before coming back to Australia. It would be special to take my son for a stroll through her beloved garden. My book Waste Not launches in the US April 2 (7 March in UK) and If we do end up travelling I thought it would be fun to organise North American meet ups in those cities while we are there. 

In happier news, we are enjoying the warmer weather and getting excited about the Garage Sale Trail happening in a weeks time. Have you signed your garage sale up? This coming Sunday I'll be at Spring Into Gardening Festival doing a zero waste talk plus beeswax wrap demo and co-hosting the Waste Hub with Zero Waste Victoria. Come visit with your questions on how to reduce waste in your life. My speaking events are set for the remainder of the year. I just might be speaking near you soon. 

Looking back at July and August, starting with my book launch!

24 August 2018
It's hard to believe two months have passed since my book has been out in the world; held in your hands, booked out at libraries and being snapped up from bookstores around Australia and New Zealand. My book won't be available outside of Australia and New Zealand until early next year but that hasn't stopped many of you getting a copy! Thanks for all the snaps from Turkey, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia snapping photos as you read Waste Not.

Neighbourhood Books were equally excited for the book offering to host a book launch. It took some convincing by Hardie Grant PR for me say yes. I didn't want anyone wasting time organising an event no one would attend. The exact opposite happened! The beautiful book store was crammed with friends, family and YOU. Thank you so much for coming! I didn't stop talking all night and it was so nice to meet many of you. Apparently the food was all low waste but I didn't get to sample it as I was put on book signing duty. Thank you Hardie Grant and Neighbourhood Books for putting it together.

waste not erin rhoads book launch
Photo Piccolo Angelo Photography

Photo Piccolo Angelo Photography

Photo Piccolo Angelo Photography

To get their office prepared for Plastic Free July Hardie Grant Publishing gifted every staff member a copy of my book plus a reusable coffee cup. If you bought my book from Dymocks and certain book stores you may have scored a reusable tote bag of your own! My editor organised a clothing swap at Hardie Grant that I unfortunately missed due to radio interviews and filming. They are a stylish bunch there so I'm sad i couldn't attend.




The annual Plastic Free July workshops, talks and interviews have kept me busy as usual and amongst all of that  I participated in author Q&As, panel discussions and even met Bea Johnson. We also sold our house and I helped organised Victoria's first Zero Waste Festival. We ran a festival! Something I never thought i'd ever do in my life. A skill to put on the CV haha.

Amongst the circus my son and I have been passing a cold back and fourth. I took a week off recently and we lived in our pyjamas catching up on sleep and snuggles. It was just what we needed. Except for the snotty kisses he would bestow on me...

I have updated my public events page for the remainder of the year, including two workshops in NSW. There will be more public events to come. I just wanted to stop by here to share and celebrate what has been an exciting two months. There has been such a huge interest in reducing plastic and waste this year. Truthfully I had hoped my next blog post would be celebrating a Cash for Containers announcement here in Victoria. Well, that was voted down. Oh well, onwards and upwards. Okay I better get back to packing up our house for the move.

Why now and not then?

22 July 2018
Why now and not then?

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

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

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

Why now and not then?

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

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

Introducing my book Waste Not!

30 June 2018
Waste Not by Erin Rhoads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Where is the book available?


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

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

Buy this book and you'll be supporting Waste Aid


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

Is a book really that eco friendly?


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

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

Thank you


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

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

The Product Stewardship Act Review needs your voice

22 June 2018
Product Stewardships Act Review
Photo Anthony Strong

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

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

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

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

Why do you need my help?


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Get prepared for the plastic bag ban

14 June 2018

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


Second, remember your reusable bags:


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

Third, practice the step above:

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

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


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

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

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

Interview with Boomerang Bags

7 June 2018
Interview with Boomerang Bags
Photo Boomerang Bags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

facebook @boomerangbags
instagram @boomerangbags

Zero waste wool wash

20 May 2018

Zero waste wool wash

Buying a ready made woollen soap for washing is not necessarily needed and can be made from scraps of soap. That's if you have the ability to make it or have the time. If you don't, then that's ok. Living a low-waste lifestyle does not mean you have to make everything from scratch, with many laundry items available from a bulk store and local soap makers. But this was one DIY swap I wanted to share since it's on the easier side of homemade recipes and there is no need to buy anything for it, plus you're using something often forgotten and thrown in the bin or lost down the drain. I primarily use this recipe to make wool wash but can also works for liquid soap too.

Over the year I save up the little ends of soap. You know the ones, to small to be used on the body or face, often slipping through fingers onto the floor of the shower. I could try to squish them onto new bars of soap. Instead I to collect them in an old glass jar until I have 2 tablespoons cup worth. These ends of soap come from the bathroom and kitchen, since we use the same brand of an olive oil soap bar everywhere in the house and on ourselves (read all my low-waste beauty and body swaps).

Zero waste wool wash

Zero waste wool wash

Zero waste wool wash: 

Place the soap ends into the pot and cover with 1.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil on the stove for 5 minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer for another 15 stirring throughout. I usually do this while cooking. Be warned the mixture can bubble over if left unattended in a small pot like mine. Stirring will stop any soapy liquid spewing all over your cooktop. If the soap has not melted and mixed with the water you might need to keep it on the stove for another 5 minutes. The mixture will cook down to 1 cup. Add one drop of eucalyptus oil for its anti-microbial disinfectant properties and ability to help treat stains on clothes. Remove and let cool before transferring to a glass bottle. 

Zero waste wool wash

Zero waste wool wash

How to use:

To wash a nappy cover or sweater use (¼ – ½ teaspoon). I have never used this in the washing machine and probably wouldn't, just in case. Woollens are better washed by hand to reduce pils, shrinkage (depending on the wool and knit) and possible felting. Wool is a wonderful natural fabric for its durability, breathability and stretch but should be treated with care, like most of our things. I use a sweater comb to remove any pils. Wool garments don't require frequent washing as it naturally repels dirt, lint, dust and some stains making it easier to spot clean. I'm all about spot cleaning and extending the life of my clothes by taking care of them. My wool wash is mainly used for our sons wool nappy covers and before I store all the winter woollens away at the end of Spring. I simply hang out my woollens between wears to air them out unless they really smell.
The soap we use is an olive oil soap, similar to a traditional Castile soap. Woollens and most natural fibres do better with a mild soap over detergents.

Simple, right? 

Alternatively, my recipe to make liquid soap from a bar of soap can be used for a home made DIY wool wash too or vice versa. You would need to save at least one cup of soap ends to one and half litres of water.

Our cloth nappy story: what we use, how we wash and what they cost us

19 April 2018

This fluff bum mum has been wanting to talk about our nappy journey for months. A fluff bum mum/parent is a term given to those using cloth nappies. It has been just that, an experience and a journey, especially learning the lingo! But then part of me didn't want to talk about it because truthfully it hasn't been the easiest of roads and isn't my blog here to help sway people to the low-waste lifestyle? I guess that's why I write my blog to share what i've learnt while I fumble around trying to do my best to live zero-waste, hoping others on the same road will learn from my wrong turns.

If you had said the word cloth nappy pre-zero waste an image of white terry towels and Napisan formed in my mind. It turns out these had been replaced with an updated version called modern cloth nappies (MCNs), or I should say versions, because there are more than one style and brand. I started researching nappies (diapers) when I was pregnant, asking the small pool of parents I knew who were using them for brand suggestions. Each piece of advice was different and went along the lines of...

“Try an all-in-one! We love them.”
“Has to be a fitted.”
“I swear by pockets.”
“I like this brand, but then you might like this other one.”
“Prefolds, get prefolds.”
“What kind of covers will you use? PUL or wool?”

I felt well and truly overwhelmed by it all. What I thought would be an easy decision was not. Either way I had to make a choice before bub arrived. Soon enough I was camped out in various Facebook groups:

MCN Review Uncensored
Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under
Aussie Modern Cloth Nappies
Buy and sell your Modern Cloth Nappies (MCN) Australia

Through these groups I learnt about the various MCN styles, the difference between a prefold and a flat, how to use a snappy and the steps needed to preform a successful strip wash. It was also where I discovered thousands of helpful parents, ready to share their love of cloth nappies with everyone. And for someone who knew next to nothing about cloth nappies, or any nappies in general...and let's be honest babies too, it was reassuring knowing there was a group I could turn to when I needed a question answered.

How did I choose our nappies?


Not long after I began researching one of my sisters acquaintances (who reads this blog – hello!) offered to send me her used cloth nappies. They had been through two children and were still in pretty good shape. A few pils and some elastic was loose, but definitely usable for another child. She was happy to pass them on for free, I only had to pay for postage. The brand was Close Pop-in, an all-in-two (AI2) with a double gusset. My Mum saw them and commented I might not like the velcro for when he's older and learns to open it himself (ha!), asking if she could buy a pocket style with snaps similar to my sisters Pea Pods. I said yes and soon enough, she found gently used pocket nappies on Gumtree. If one style worked better than the other, then I'd pass on the brand I didn't use. I visited the Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under group and the nappy brands website to preform a strip wash (nappy terminology for a deep clean) and put them both styles away until my baby's arrival.

The Australian Nappy Association has explanations of all the different nappies and other terms in this link. Very handy and one worth bookmarking for reference. It helped breakdown everything for newbies like me!

It was around this time my obstetrician began to worry about the growth of our baby. His measurements had slowed down, the term IGUR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) was being used and I was monitored frequently to make sure all was OK.

One day after a test I was looking at our carefully organised clean reusable nappies ready for our sons arrival and I wondered if they would even fit him if he was born small. There were brands specifically for newborns but even then I was unsure what delivering a smaller baby meant. My research eventually lead me to flats (one piece of cloth, similar to the terry towelling used before MCNs). I'm glad it did because they were perfect for our baby. They were a little harder to find secondhand and I ended up doing a call out in the Buy and Sell MCN group to see if anyone had a stack they would like to sell. Turns out many parents hold onto them as they make great all purpose rags. I bought around 20 for $50, plus five covers secondhand. Turns out when our baby arrived (a healthy 3kg mind you!) the nappies I had bought would not have fit him just yet.

However, the flats were amazing and I'd recommend them for newborns! Not only are they versatile and low cost, but also easy to clean and can dry in a matter of hours. There are several folds to use with flats to fit any baby (here is a link for a variety of folds or check out youtube). PUL covers were used to keep the nappy from wetting his clothes. At the beginning we did put his flats into a nappy soak before washing and it took me a month to realise this was not necessary and was contributing to his nappy rash.

In between changes during the day I was a big fan of nappy free time. We bought a stack of secondhand towels for this purpose and let him wiggle about. The more nappy free time, the less irritation too.

Around the three month mark our flats were no longer fitting him. The little 3kg baby had caught up and then surpassed most other babies in size. Especially his thighs and bottom. Our son was not graced with a small baby bum, instead he has a long flat bottom which quickly earned him the name Mr. Longbottom. No matter how I folded the flat I couldn't get it to cover his bottom completely. We then moved onto the pocket nappies and the all-in-twos I had purchased earlier to see which would work better. In the end we found the all-in-twos were better for our son. For some reason the pockets never absorbed his pee quick enough and it would wick up the back leaving his clothes saturated during naps.

The Close Pop-ins were great. I couldn't fault them except for the PUL lining, a plastic lining found on most MCNs that makes them waterproof. I'll write a little more about the plastic issue further down. At six months and another growth spurt the nappies become snug around his waist and thighs. I asked the various forums for help trying the advice others had for big babies, but nothing really worked. I had a big baby with a big bottom and big thighs. Simply our Close Pop-ins were not suited to his body shape anymore.

I was a bit annoyed, my sister had used the same nappies since birth for her son and here I was, on my second style. Now I had to find a nappy style/brand for bigger babies. So began my search again. Every time I researched I kept thinking about the PUL (polyurethane) lining and the polyester outter shell of the nappies. While I knew cotton was the only fibre touching his skin on the inside of the nappy, there was still a fair bit of plastic fibre in the rest of the nappy. Since nappies are washed often I knew they were shedding plastic microfibres. I felt guilty and then confused if I should be feeling guilty. Another reason why I was hesitant to write this blog post was because I didn't want anyone else to feel bad for using MCNs because of this. In the end I decided to use this opportunity to go for an all cotton option and with wool covers.

I had purchased a special fitted cotton night time fitted nappy from Australian made SHP Nappies and was so happy with it (and still am!) but we were not in a financial situation were I could buy all new nappies for him. As much as I would have loved too. I kept thinking back to the flats we had at the start. They were easy, affordable, worked well and plastic free. Or they could be if I swallowed my resistance on wool covers

Did you know disposable nappies are one of the top three items to contaminate recycling bins in Australia 

The thought of wool covers was daunting a the start. I dread hand washing my own woollens. I envisioned that I'd be moving my bed to the laundry room. Plus it was hard to find secondhand wool covers before someone else snapped them up. Then one of my friends (who co-runs Zero Waste Victoria with me) pushed one of her used wool covers into my hand after one of our events and told me to just give it a go. I lanolinised it (a natural waterproofing method) and well suffice to say I was hooked. The process was not hard at all plus it felt reassuring knowing I was putting natural breathable fibres onto my son.

In the end we went back to flats in a larger size. I couldn't find any secondhand in the large size and bought new unbleached cotton from Nicki's Diapers. Buying from overseas is always a last option for me. Unfortunately no where in Australia stocked flats big enough. For every nappy purchased from Nicki's Diapers one is given to a child in need.

The larger size fits him perfectly. He's a lot more comfortable and his nappy is no longer popping off. We did keep the Close Pop-ins just in case he slims down now he's up and moving but I doubt they will get much more use. Plus I don't know if they are going to be as absorbent for another child (the cotton is thinning and the PUL is peeling in some places) so I'm going to upcycle them instead.

And this concludes our nappy journey for the past year. Of course, he will be toilet trained in another three months and that will be the end. Haha. I wish! The amount of parents who have told me boys take the longest to toilet train has me fully prepared to be wrestling a nappy onto him for another year or so.

I'm going to save the PUL vs natural plastic nappies conundrum for a different post. I have faced a bit of confusion around zero-waste vs plastic-free during my parenting journey.

On the top left are the Close Pop-ins and to the right are our flats folded, ready to go. I found a unopened packet of snappies at my local Op Shop. Snappies are used instead of pins. In the middle are our cloth wipes. 


Hmmmmm Erin, nappies sound hard I don't know...


First of all, our experience with nappies has been a special one. For those who have had the pleasure of meeting my son will attest to his larger size. I had someone ask me the other day if we celebrated his second birthday and were shocked when I said he was turning one. Everyone I know has used the same nappies from day one and had uncomplicated experiences. We are the rare exception!! When we have baby number two (hey, we are talking about it...) I will use flats exclusively with woollen covers because I feel these most comfortable to use now. 

Are you using liners?


No, we never used liners. I know some people use flannel strips made at home or bought online. I've seen silk as reusable liners too. We just never saw the point. If you'd like to sell your nappies on a liner would be a good idea to reduce the possibility of stains. The flushable versions are not biodegradable and clog up sewerage pipes. 

What about cleaning nappies – isn't it icky?


Cleaning nappies is easy and I don't find it gross. My husband doesn't find it yucky either. At the start everything is washed down the sink and there is not much. Plus, it's your kid and for the first six months he's only consuming breastmilk or formula. Later on as they start consuming solids then it's best to either scrap down into the toilet with a knife or install a hose on your toilet. Remember it's not forever either.

Our method goes like this:
  • Put wet nappy into dry bucket (known as dry pailing). If it's soiled we rinse off and place into the bucket. We have a two story house, so one bucket is in his room that is emptied each day into the main wash bucket down stairs. Once this bucket has two days worth of clothes and nappies, in it goes for a wash. 
  • We continued to use the washing powder from our bulk store we used previously. 
  • Turn on washing machine and the washing faeries do the rest. 
  • I air the woollen covers outside everyday and wash them once a month followed by a lanolise for waterproofing. Something in the lanolin helps neutralise any wee that soaks into a woollen nappy cover. Did you know wool can carry around 30% of its own weight in liquid! They never feel wet in the morning either. Plus the less washing the better, in my opinion! If the cover becomes soiled, which is so rare, then the cover is hand washed that day. 

When I was in the hospital one of my midwives told me she hand washed her children's nappies in cold water every day, with no help from her husband. I keep that thought tucked away in my mind when I sometimes can't be bothered to clean the nappies, a chore I share with the Builder. And yes sometimes I don't want to do it because I can't be bothered. I'm human. And I can't imagine i'm the first woman to think this in the last thousand years or so. I bet there was a woman in the year 1480 who looked at the pile of nappies she had to wash and rolled her eyes. I totally understand HOW and WHY disposables became popular. But honestly the above is not much more work because I have access to a washing machine – it takes around fifteen minutes and I don't have a bin full of poo. I'll take reusables over THAT any day. 

Do you have a recommended recipe for baby wipes?


We used cloth flannel and water. No oils. No soaps. No essential oils. Just good ol' water. 

Is there anything you would have done differently?


Yes! I would have bought flats straight away and then signed up for a Nappy Library where you can trial the styles before settling on what works for you and bub. This would have been a good option when we were trying to find a style for larger babies. 

Are cloth nappies really more environmentally friendly than disposables? Is it actually cheaper?


We worked out that buying disposables from birth to two half/three years old is around $2800 - $3000, factoring in the products being on sale, received as gifts or passed on excess from family/friends.

Buying brand new cloth nappies costs about $1000 if choosing a higher priced brand or much less if going secondhand. In both instances, these will be used from birth for most children (except us! Haha!). To date our nappies cost $645. This includes our first nappies which were free but had to pay for postage. The flats we used at birth until three months. Buying new flats from overseas (postage was huge!) and sourcing the woollen covers and lanolin too.

Our laundry powder costs $11.95 kg. I use a front loader meaning the required amount of washing powder needed is less than a top loader; about a one and half teaspoons. I get 110 washes out of 1 kg of powder and costs 10 cents a wash. I would say we washed each day until he was 3 months old then every 2 days since. So I would guess i've washed 300 times in the last year factoring in other washes like towels, sheets, our clothes. For the past year I've spent $35 on washing powder. I don't know how much longer i'll be washing every two days (this should decrease soon, hopefully). If the trend does continue I will spend all up $105 for my washing powder until he's three.

I wash at 30 degrees Celsius on 2.15 hr cycle. We calculated the electricity per wash costs 16 cents. The estimate for our electricity used by our washing machine over three years is $144.

Front loaders use very little water compared to top loaders, the draw back are their long cycles. The good folk at Electrolux were able to help me figure out how much water is used in different cycles while I was putting in a service call. My usual cycle uses 44L. After the Builder did some number crunching and a call to City West Water we worked out it costs us 10 cents per wash plus water usage charges (water service charge and sewerage service charge) is around 8 cents per wash. This has cost us $54 so far, and for three years will come to $162.

The projected total cost for three years runs at $1056. A saving of over $1800.

Now how many people have quickly calculated the 44L by 300 washes? Yeah, it's a fair amount of water we are using and this is where the argument around disposables vs cloth nappies begins. A study by the UK Environment Agency in 2008 claimed more water is used when washing cloth nappies compared to the water needed during manufacturing of disposables. The amount is not to different, but still enough for many to argue that cloth nappies are less eco friendly than disposables. It's up to the consumer behaviours to dictate the full environmental impact of a reusable nappy post purchase. For instance, choosing line drying over using a dryer, washing below 60 degree Celsius and using for more than one child.

However, there is more than water to think about when it comes to which one is better for the environment:
  • Disposable nappies go to landfill. There is the energy used to transport them to landfill and to maintain the site. 
  • Energy required by consumers to travel to shops each week or fortnight to purchase nappies adds up. 
  • More land is required to produce the raw materials, plastic and wood pulp, needed in disposable nappies since they are a single use item. There is also the constant need for water and energy in the manufacturing of wood pulp plus waste as a by product. 
  • Australians send over 2 billion nappies to landfill each year. It's predicted they won't break down for at least 500 years at the minimum. Until then, viruses or bacteria from illness passed through baby is sitting untreated. This is one of the reasons why landfill sites cannot be disturbed as they pose a significant health risk. 

Not all single-use nappies have the same environmental impact either and there are more eco friendly options too like biodegradable and hybrids. I don't know much about these though so I can't advise on brands. What I do know is that if the brand claims to be biodegradable ask them where it can be dropped off for compost. Most council composting services don't accept them because the composting facility don't accept biodegradable nappies. If a company claims an item they are selling is biodegradable then they should do the due diligence and list where they can be dropped off or even collected for composting. It shouldn't be wholly up to the consumer to figure this out. Over 80% of Australian families use disposables either all the time or in conjunction with cloth. While i'd love to see everyone embrace cloth nappies it might take a long time for this to happen. What needs to start happening is for businesses to make changes in the manufacturing process and working to find effective waste management solutions. If you are a user of disposables and not yet ready to move onto cloth, then write to the brands you use asking them to make changes.

As you can see, I'm very committed to cloth nappies but want to add these points too:
  • Nope, you are not allowed to walk away feeling bad if you trying to reduce waste but can't grasp cloth nappies yet. It's OK. This parenting gig is hard. You could try swapping to reusable wipes to start with and ease your way into reusable nappies. 
  • I understand cloth nappies or cloth nappy cleaning services for those who want to outsource are not available or easy to use for everyone. No judgement :) I've even heard of families in apartment blocks with shared washing machines who are not allowed to wash cloth nappies. There are disposable brands out there that do use more cotton and less plastic. But they can be a little more pricey for some. Some of these roadblocks are not your fault - again don't feel bad. 
  • Don't feel guilty if you nappies might have a lining of plastic. I will happily admit the wool covers do have an extra step in maintenance than PUL covers. We're all just doing the best we can, with what we've got, where we are.
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