The Rogue Ginger: Blog

Showing posts with label Blog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blog. Show all posts

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  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.

I don't normally buy cashews because they are not local to me but it was the only bag they had at the bulk store available on the day. 

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 packaging is brightly coloured with text and images. On the inside is a foil lining. The bag would have been produced first. To attach the colours, images and writing the printer would attach a film, printing ink, laminating adhesive and laminating film. Four seperate components to get those snazzy logos onto the plastic. Each one created and stored within its own packaging in the printing warehouse.

These are some of the ingredients need to make inks alone. A solvent made of an oil, either mineral, vegetable (hi palm oil!), fatty acid esters. Solvents can also be an ethanol base or an aqueous polymer is water based. There are resins needed. There are many others mixes depending on what kind of ink. And of course there are the pigments. The above components are in conventional ink production and the most widely used. Each of these needed to be made. Every single ingredient.

There are also adhesives or a heating mechanism used to keep the bags shut.

I also don't know if this packaging was created in Australia or made elsewhere. Same with each of the ingredients needed to manufacture the film, printing ink, laminating adhesive and laminating film. How much shipping was needed to create the many parts of the packaging alone?

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. Even if it was recyclable it still has a bigger footprint over the clear plastic bulk bags.

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 can use them again to store clothes or other items. They are also super handy for rubbish clean ups instead of buying new rubbish bags. These hold alot of litter, trust me :) And bulk stores will happily give pass them on.

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. They don't exist to make us feel better about shopping zero-waste. 

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. And then it's only being delayed from landfill.

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. And customers like me can reuse it.

Look at how this pancake mix is shipped to the store. Plastic upon plastic plus stickers galore. The inks and adhesives, the associated waste from those small often overlooked components.

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 this is more for vegetables and fruit travelling long distances. But when it's individually packaged like this i feel it 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, as I'm 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 was dyed many fun shades when they needed hair models. I loved it :) But I love my zero-waste hair care routine more. 

#trgcollab: The Moonflower hair stick was gifted to me by Sava Designs. I use the hashtag #trgcollab to help readers idenifty items that were gifted to me or are paid post. This item was an unpaid gift. All views are my own. I only accept gifted items I would use personally. 

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.


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.


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.


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. 


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



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.


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.


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!

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

Channel 10
Postal addresses:

Channel 7
I was unable to locate an email
Postal addresses:

Channel 9
No email only a contact form
Postal addresses:

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, 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, Siska Nirmala Puspitasari adventure enthusiast and journalist at and zero-waste business associate Jonathan Levy at

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.
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