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. 

Is shopping at Bulk Stores or Co-Op's the best way to reduce packaging waste?

14 May 2019

Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?

Have you ever walked into a bulk store or co-op with cloth bags and jars tucked neatly into your basket ready to do a zero-waste shop, feeling a little smug you won't be creating any rubbish? Only to spot an employee filling up the bulk bins from a plastic or paper bag. The realisation there is packaging in waste-free shopping has you turning away in horror, wondering if you are even making a better choice by trying to shop so called 'package free'. 

So if there is packaging at a bulk food store, is it this the best choice compared to buying packaged food at a supermarket? 

Let's compare cashew nuts packaging from the supermarket to those found at bulk food stores.

Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?

On the left is a 200g packet of cashew nuts purchased at a supermarket in exactly the same way I shopped for food before I went zero-waste; grabbing the first bag of affordable nuts I saw and rushing to the cashier to pay.  Never stopping to consider the packaging at all or where they came from. 

To the right is a large plastic bag I collected from a bulk food store that originally held 2.5kg of cashew nuts. The contents of this plastic bag was emptied into a bulk dispensing bin at the store.

Both the supermarket and bulk store nuts were delivered in cardboard boxes, with the supermarkets version containing more individually wrapped packets of nuts within that same box. The bulk delivery contained this one bag.

Most cardboard boxes delivered to the supermarket are flattened and recycled, while bulk stores allow customers reuse these boxes first before they will be recycled. Some supermarkets are setting aside a small collection of boxes for customers to use as an alternative to plastic bags but again this is a small number. Already the bulk store gets extra points for reusing this component of the packaging before recycling.

Let's look at the packaging:


200g packet of cashew nuts purchased at the supermarket:
This is made plastic and foil, so that's two materials. Two resources. It doesn't pass the scrunch test so it's not recyclable at any of the soft plastic drop off locations. I double check the back of the packaging to see if the new Australasian Recycling Symbol can confirm this. They don't have it - only the Do The Right Thing landfill logo. I know there are nuts sold in soft plastic bags that would make it recyclable but I was in a smaller supermarket and they didn't have the option. It was this or or another brand in similar packaging.

Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?


This is the Australasian Recycling Symbol beginning to appear on packaging. It helps tell the shopper what can and can't be recycled. Especially handy when trying to figure out if there is sneaky plastic inside a cardboard box:

Australasian Recycling Symbol



2.5kg bag of nuts from bulk store:
The see through plastic is similar to a bread bag and passes the scrunch test. It can be recycled. Well down-cycled. What is worth noting is the lack of colours or other materials, meaning there is no ink used in the manufacturing process. No advertising. No logos. Just a simple (big) bag of nuts. Fewer resources compared to the other packaging.

The bag is large and with a wash in soapy water I could find another use for this before it would ever go to recycling. 

Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?
Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?


Most (not all) bulk food stores are founded with an environmental focus and make sure the packaging from their products is disposed of properly. I know many bulk food stores actively engaging with their suppliers on ways to reduce the need to even recycle or at worst throw away anything, instead working together to return and refill.


This 2.5kg bag of cashew nuts equals 12.5 of the 200g packets. 12.5 pieces of foil, plastic and ink ending up in landfill and that's if every single packet goes into a bin. 

Should the packaging have been recyclable, then we have to hope all 12 would even be recycled. There is no way we can guarantee the customer will make the choice to do so.

The single plastic bag from the bulk store is easier to manage since there is only one to take responsibility for. In this case it will be down-cycled into outdoor furniture such as park seats, bollards, play equipment, boardwalks amongst other items. It's not perfect but again it's a step in the right direction of resource value.

It comes down to one piece of packaging being disposed of responsibly vs twelve 

Look at how this pancake mix is shipped to the store. Plastic upon plastic plus stickers galore. I'll happily get my pancake mix from my bulk food store. Yes that's right you can buy pancake mix at a bulk store!

Is shopping at Bulk Store or Co-Op the best way to reduce packaging waste?


I often hear the argument plastic packaging is needed to reduce food waste but I don't see it this way at all. If anything it promotes food waste. Bulk food shopping allows me to dictate how much food I need. If a recipe calls for two tablespoons of cashews or one cup of lentils, then I can buy exactly what I need and not forced to buy more.

The lack of logos and advertising at bulk stores and co-ops is not only more pleasing on the eye making the experience relaxing, i'm also not bombarded with gimmicky words or 2 for 1 deals telling me to buy more more more!

Bulk stores and co-op's are having a resurgence and with more people waking up to the packaging waste I can only foresee more change to come. It's hard to tell now if the answer will be bulk stores. Until then I'll happily support my local store pleased to know they are on my side when it comes to fighting the war on waste. 

My zero-waste hair care routine

10 January 2019
water only zero waste hair care no shampoo

I started washing my hair with only water three years ago. To be fair, I don't use water alone. Here is what I do:

1. Using my fingers I massage the scalp followed by a thorough brush twice a week, usually after my son goes to bed. If you are new to water only, scalp massage and brushing is key. Regular scalp massage and brushing helps to release the oil from building up at the scalp. It will be over a week before my roots start to look oily. Yay to washing hair less often!

My mum bought me a boar bristle brush after my Acca Kappa brush fell apart. I have read claims from others who wash with water only that boar bristles help move oil from the roots down through the hair with greater efficiency, but I can't say there was a huge difference between the boar bristles and a wooden pin brush.

The boar bristle brush is not my favourite as it's difficult to work through all of my hair (I have alot of hair!) and I can only guess it would suit those with less hair. Plus there is the whole animal exploitation issue of using boar bristles. There are vegan agave fibre hair brushes if you are looking for something similar to the boar bristle style. I'll continue using mine until it's broken then go back to a wooden bristle brush like this Holzstifte hair brush. Similar to my old Acca Kappa the Holzstifte is made of FSC Beechwood with a natural rubber cushion, making it compostable at the end of it's life if there are no adhesives used (I'll update this once Holzstifte get back to Biome who are chasing this information up for me). Only downside is the brush comes all the way from Germany. I would love to know if there are any similar hair brushes made within Australia or NZ.

2. On the day I wash my hair (about every 10 - 12 days) I'll take sprigs of rosemary, steep them in hot water until cool or an overnight cold brew the evening before. Transferring to a spray bottle I'll work it through my hair focusing on my scalp. Rosemary helps to remove any build up, reduces scalp irritation and alleviate dandruff while promoting hair growth. Plus it smells pretty.

Then I get into the shower, using my fingers to scrub at the scalp. I don't put anything into my hair like a conditioner since the natural oils in my hair conditioned perfectly well. It all sounds very lovely, washing rosemary through my hair la la la. Truthfully my son and I shower together, making it anything but a relaxing experience.

Once a month I like to use Ethique's Conditioner Wonderbar to add extra moisture too. Their packaging is compostable paper and cardboard. Being true to zero-waste I reuse the cardboard for writing lists or craft projects with my son, before I consider composting or recycling. One solid conditioner bar is the equivalent of five liquid conditioners, meaning I don't need much at all.

3. When I want to accentuate my waves I'll work through a teaspoon of linseed gel after the shower. Marshmallow root is useful with waves and curls too. Similar to the rosemary, I steep the marshmallow root in warm water, let cool and spray through my hair. The rosemary is collected from the garden or around the neighbourhood, while linseed and marshmallow root are sold at Friends of the Earth bulk store in Collingwood. Linseeds also makes a great egg substitute in cooking. I also share a homemade hair wax with the builder. Recipes for the hair wax and linseed gel are in my book

water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
Boar bristle hairbrush, upcycled glass spray bottle that I've had for years, rosemary from the garden and a wide tooth comb for use post shower that I've owned since so long that I can't remember. 

Since giving birth my hair has lost some of its wave and volume, but that might be because I'm still breastfeeding. At least that's what a friend suggested. If you have knotty hair, marshmallow roots slippery properties help to keep hair tangle free. Simply spray on post shower. I still use a wide tooth plastic comb after a shower, especially if I'm putting linseed gel or my salt spray for a beach wave look.

The water only method was a movement I chanced upon by accident. We were tossing three avocado seeds into our compost each week and I began to wonder if there was another way to use them before sending to compost. I didn't expect to find a recipe for avocado seed shampoo. Over time I began decreasing how much shampoo I was adding until it was just the avocado seed water then simply made the switch to water only. I'm not sure if it was gradual reduction in shampoo or the avocado seed that allowed me to skip the whole greasy hair issue other water only washers experience at the beginning.

Prior to the avocado seed shampoo I refilled my shampoo and conditioner at the local bulk store. I used a shampoo bar like the brand Ethique when I travelled as they were light, before I knew zero-waste was a thing or that our obsession with plastic was an issue.

I did try the popular zero-waste no poo method of bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar. This never worked for me. The bicarb left my scalp red and sore, the apple cider vinegar didn't seem to do anything either. Rye flour was OK, but I have a lot of hair and I found it took a long time to get out.

When it comes time for a haircut I do let the hairdresser wash my hair with their shampoo. It's only a couple times a year so I treat it as a deep clean. My hair doesn't change and there is never a transition phase back. But this could be because the salon I go to uses gentle products. They are part of Sustainable Salons Australia. Sustainable Salons Australia help hair salons recover up to 95% of salon waste, diverting it from landfill through different programs. Think items like chemicals, paper, hair, plastics, razors and tools. Proceeds from selling materials such as foil goes to OzHarvest providing meals for the homeless. If your salon is not with Sustainable Salons Australia, let them know about this zero waste community initiative.

I was very nervous in the lead up to the photoshoot for my book. Part of me wanted to get my hair washed and blow dried, plus my makeup professionally done. But I decided to stick to what I do in my day to day to keep it authentic. I even went water only for my wedding day. When I have a speaking event or TV interview I'll usually style it straight or curl with my hair straightener. If I have time I'll use my blow dryer too. 

As my hair gets closer to wash day, I do need to sprinkle dry shampoo at the roots which is simply tapioca flour. It doubles as my face powder too. Usually by this time my waves have vanished.

Most of the time I wear my hair down or in a bun using a hair stick stick gifted to me by Saya Designs, braided, braids pinned up and if I have time a crown braid (my fave). The wood used to make these plastic-free hair sticks are from the large roots left behind from logging plantation sites in Indonesia. Their packaging is made of 100% recycled materials too. I love the hair stick because when when someone asks where my beautiful hair stick is from (which is often) it’s an opportunity to tell them about the issues with deforestation and mass production. Wearable activism, I like that.

The kind folk from Rubber Cuppy gifted me hair bands made from recycled bike inner tubes. They are a bit stiff at first but with some wear they begin to soften nicely. Rubber Cuppy are a Melbourne based reusable coffee cup company using old bike inner tubes as the protective covering around the glass. They are not selling the hair ties at the moment though. But they might if you ask!

I have hair ties collected off the street too, boiled to remove germs. If the thought of picking up hair ties sounds too germy then I'd recommend the Kooshoo a natural and biodegradable hair tie made of organic cotton and natural rubber, instead of the synthetic kind you'd find at most stores.

water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
water only zero waste hair care no shampoo
My upcycled hair ties, a Christmas gift from Rubber Cuppy and the beautiful Moonflower hair stick by Saya Designs


So why the water only? Why not just stick to shampoo & conditioner if your bottles can be refilled at the bulk store? Or at least shampoo bars?

When I started thinking about how much rubbish I was making (and leaving for the next generation) I also began to question everything I've told been is necessary. Turns out shampoo ended up being a product I did not need for myself. Simple answer to what people think will be a long winded reply. Zero-waste/minimal waste/low waste (whatever you want to call it) isn't purely focused on reducing rubbish, it's also about questioning the status quo. At least it is for me. Much of the stuff we use and bring into our lives is probably not needed yet we do it simply out of habit. I like to question those habits and hope to gently nudge others to do the same.

What kind of hair do you have?

To give you context, my hair is thin but there is alot, making it look deceptively thick. As I mentioned before it is wavy which means my hair is on the drier side as wavy and curly hair tend to be. My hair is naturally red but does have some henna colouring through it after I left it in too long when I was doing a conditioning mask with it. Henna is to messy for me and I'll continue to stick with the regular hair masks that I share in my book Waste Not. If anyone in Melbourne is looking for bulk henna visit Wholefoods on Lygon Street, East Brunswick.  No longer available but Lush might still sell blocks of Henna, wrapped in paper. 

Fun fact, I used to work for a leading hair care brand. My hair was smothered and sprayed by a variety of products (I had a HUGE box of free hair products). It's been dyed many fun shades when they needed hair models. I loved it :) But I love my zero-waste hair care routine more. 

Our son's first birthday party

2 January 2019

We celebrated our sons first birthday at the end of March...last year. It makes sense I'm posting this nine months later, right? I know, I know. It's almost the second birthday. Technically I did begin writing this blog post after his birthday, but the book promotion and talks, followed by writing another zero-waste lifestyle book has amongst other things, taken up some of my writing time. So here it is, better late than never. By the way, we did create rubbish....more than anticipated.


Invitations

Digital invitations were sent out via SMS using the location as the party theme. We invited around 70 people and 65 attended. Everyone was punctual with their responses however I did make the RSVP ten days before the party so we could plan what we needed accordingly. If you don't fancy using the SMS option try GreenInvite or even a private Facebook event.


Location

We are very lucky to be surrounded by parks and bushland where we live. I decided to utilise one of the local parks to host our sons party as it had BBQ facilities, toilets, water fountains and a playground. The Black Pearl Pirate Ship located on the Maribyrnong River in Aberfeldie provided the perfect backdrop and entertainment for free. Next to it was a pavilion with picnic tables and seats, meaning we didn't have to bring much from home apart from ourselves and the food.

Being the tail end of summer, we crossed our fingers the weather would hold out. It did by an hour.

our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party

Food and Drink

We served popcorn, fruit, biscuits, small baked goods, 'sausage' rolls and 'cheesy'mite folls, followed by a falafel station with bread, dips and salad. Everything was easy to grab and vegan. The day ended with a homemade cake.

It was the kind of food we wanted people to be able to eat while standing up and moving, because with younger kids adults are always rushing off making sure everything is OK and well, bigger kids are always moving. I didn't get any photos of the food, or many photos at all! My time was split between socialising and making sure nothing was flying away.

Everything but the biscuits and cake were purchased pre-made and this is when we ended up with plastic, some obvious and some sneaky. The Lebanese bread used to eat the falafel with comes in plastic, but we did try to purchase without. The owner of the bakery told us that if we were to buy the bread without plastic it would dry out by lunch time. We cringed and went ahead. It was only three bags (we quartered the bread) but still the decision was agonised over. The plastic is a soft plastic that can be recycled (ahem, downcycled!) through the major supermarkets recycling programs. Three bread bag ties went into my waste bin.

Our falafel and dip were bought in our own containers that we organised before the day. Nuts and popcorn came from local bulk food stores. We assembled a fruit platter but I think in the future we'll just serve watermelon as it was the only fruit devoured by everyone. The ingredients to make the biscuits and cake were purchased at the local bulk food stores too. My mother in law provided a salad to have with our falafels, and used tea towels instead of cling wrap.

Now the sneaky plastic came from our small baked goods. I had intended to drop off reusable plastic containers to the bakery the day before but simply forgot. I wasn't to worried at the time since I had seen cardboard carry boxes. When we took the empty boxes home after the party I noticed the inside  was shiny and I did the hot water test to see if there was a plastic coating. Sure enough there was. So I separated all the plastic (polyethylene) from the cardboard, took the plastic lining to the soft plastic drop off with the Lebanese bread bags and recycled the rest of the cardboard in our normal kerbside recycling bin. It was less than a handful of plastic but still, it was plastic and would have ended up in landfill during the recycling process.

The Builder accidentally dropped the esky carrying the beer and wine, smashing two beer bottles on the footpath. These were swept up and put straight into the bin at the park. This is kind of funny because the effort I went to find second hand plastic plates and plastic drinking glasses was done so we wouldn't have to worry about any of the children breaking glass in a popular public location.

Apart from beer and wine, there was a drinks dispenser from home full of lemonade, the same recipe from my book and used at our wedding. We had several glass bottles of water for guests to fill their cups up with too.

We set up a recycling bin for bottles and a small compost bin for any scraps too. 

our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party

Plates, cups and serving platters

We had regular plates for the adults and plastic plates for the kids, along with plastic drinking cups and wine glasses for the adults. As mentioned above I was trying to be cautious in a public area. I had the crockery plates from previous events on hand, so all I had to do was find the plastic kids plates and drinking cups. Luckily Savers had more than enough. Actually, I don't know if it is really lucky...goes to show just how much second hand plastic there already is. We've decided to hold onto these for future parties and loan out for friends and family to use. If you are in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, feel free to get in touch should you like to borrow anything.

Extra serving platters and bowls were gathered from family and secondhand stores to. We used cotton napkins too. It was also a straw-free event but I did bring some of my metal ones from home just in case.

I will admit we are lucky to have storage space in our home to keep a lot of these party specific items. But we wouldn't hesitate to borrow everything instead of buy disposables. People are more helpful than we give them credit for so that's why I always encourage people to ask those around them to borrow and share. Otherwise buying from a secondhand store and returning is worth considering too as you can view it as a monetary donation while helping reduce waste.

In my book I break down how I plan for parties to help reduce relying on disposables through to planning the food to be bought and cooked. Using a piece of paper, usually a scrap of paper from The Builders invoices, i'll draw a line creating two columns. The first column lists each dish to be served, with second column used to work out how many plates or serving platters I need. This helps me work out if I need to borrow or buy extra, and whatever is needed will go onto my shopping list.

Related blog posts: My newborn essentials list and Baby shower gift ideas and Our Zero Waste Wedding

our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party
our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party
our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party

Decorations

The day of the party was VERY windy and it turned out the pirate ship was located in the windiest spot along the river. The linen table cloths, bunting and fun pirate decorations I had collected stayed in the car. We had a hard enough time stopping the wind from blowing the food away! It was a calamity but I can laugh now at all the effort I put into decorations for them to not be seen. At least for this birthday. When you have a party outdoors everything is at mercy of mother nature.

The pavilion next to ours was also hosting a party and they had balloons, single-use plastic cups and plates blowing around. It was hard to watch, especially being on the river. Another reason to avoid disposables.

Party bags

No party bags were handed out but we did encourage kids to take home as many cakes they wanted.

Gifts

We asked for no presents, but were aware some people would bring them. I've said before i'm not against presents, understanding people will bring them because some people are gift givers. And that's OK. Out of all our guests we received five presents, mainly champagne for us! But we were also happy to receive cuddles for our son.

The request for no presents was put into the SMS message like this:
We kindly ask for presents, your presence and a cuddle with the birthday boy is enough.

The gifts for our son were wrapped thoughtfully like this set of books in scraps of cloth and the leaves as the card and gift tag. Others wrapped gifts in old wrapping paper and even cloth bags.

To be fair, everyone knows the lifestyle we live so we didn't have to ever bring up the subject of wrapping paper with anyone. If you'd like to but don't want to offend anyone, try sharing a blog post or an image from Pinterest to your personal Facebook page to help pass on the hint you are trying to reduce your plastic and rubbish.

our-sons-first-low-waste-birthday-party



The party was easy to plan and this was because my son was turning one, so he had no say in what he wanted. Apart from the plastic, broken bottle and windy weather, it was a successful party. The party was also a learning experience, as are most things when we try them for the first time. We'll be better prepared for the next children's party which we might do when he turns 5. Hopefully my cake baking skills will improve by then and I can attempt a Woman's Weekly Birthday Cake. His 2nd birthday will be in the US visiting my family, and I'm excited for that.

Our son was happy, enjoyed his cake and we got to celebrate making it through the first year with our family and friends. A big thanks to my mum and dad who helped us get everything ready for the day and especially my mum, who saved the day with the cake. For anyone wondering, it was this banana cake recipe with a passionfruit glaze. The flour was substituted for a gluten free option and tasted great!

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