By Yvonne Pflieger

So good to see that there is so much interest in Zero Waste Living. We had a great turn-out last Wednesday at our Zero Waste Living workshop with Keelah Lam, our own queen of zero waste. She has grown up with zero waste and has been re-living zero waste long before it became a thing.

Keelah was one of the co-founders of the Manly Food Co-Op which all started with an EPA Earthworks course that brought together like-minded people to do something about the burgeoning waste problem in New South Wales in the 90s.

Keelah Lam Zeroi Waste Living
Keelah talking about her Zero Waste Living Experience

Keelah had lived in Malaysia before the introduction of single-use plastic and saw how quickly behaviours changed and convenience took over. In the 60s Malaysia still packaged most items in leaves or paper which was then thrown out literally onto the streets. As plastics were introduced, people continued doing the same not thinking about the consequences, so littering has become a huge issue.

Keelah recounted how, when plastic bags were introduced they were valued and treasured, even I remember my grandma washing them out and drying them for re-use. Only a few short years later, they had become a value-less commodity and single-use was the norm.

We all know what a huge problem single-use plastic and other single-use items have become for our planet, so what can we as consumers do?

Anyone can do something about it and it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Every little step counts, it’s all about trying and making an effort to improve and reduce the waste you produce. It was so great to see that most attendees are already doing what they can and most had been on a journey towards zero waste for a while. Everyone was keen to learn more and get inspiration to see what else they could be doing and everyone was willing to share from their experience. We had people from all different cultures and countries, so it was great to hear different experiences and views.

Ask yourself, do you really need this?

If yes, can you make it yourself or buy second hand? Too many of us succumb to fancy marketing messages these days. There is a great animated documentary called “Story of Stuff”, only 21 minutes long, that graphically shows how consumerism is wreaking our planet – It was created over 10 years ago, but it is still so relevant.

So what can you do?

  • Food waste is a major issue contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. So why not use a bokashi if you are living in an apartment, get a worm farm or start a compost? If you don’t have the space or the means, ask a friend or try organizations like Sharewaste who can connect you with people in your area who can take your food waste and add to their own compost (or community gardens) – We ran a Composting in Small Spaces Talk with the lovely Rachael from Kimbriki’s Eco House not that long ago. Have a read about what we learned:
  • Takeaway food: Bring your own container (tiffins and bento boxes are great, but also jars and other containers will work) and ask in a friendly manner if the business if willing to accept them. If they don’t, look for a place that does. Returnr is the new initiative by Jamie Forsyth, one of the co-founders of KeepCup. Returnr is an environmental initiative that aims to replace single use takeaway packaging with reusable solutions, working with a network of cafes and companies. They have just signed a partnership with Deliveroo and are aiming to expand from Melbourne into Sydney.
  • What if you love chocolate cookies, but they only come in double plastic packaging? Buy less often, look for an alternative or make them yourself and look at them as a special treat.
  • Great yoghurt making tip: use a slow cooker.
  • Pens and markers: look for refillable alternatives or use pencils where you can. There are great pencil-like highlighters out there. Use your pencils until they are too short to hold and then add an extension and keep using them. Why not go back to fountain pens? It is such a lovely way of writing and they are refillable and can be used over and over again. Marker pen refill ink can be bought online.
  • Tissues: why not use a hanky? Yes, this might need some getting used to, but you can get them cheaply at op shops or can easily sew your own. When used, they clean really well when soaked in salted water and then washed and air-dried in the sun.
  • Bubble wrap: if you have it, re-use it as often as you can. If you need packaging material, there are felt options out there that are reusable. You can get them from most moving companies or use towels etc. to wrap something that is fragile. And look out for hidden plastics in envelopes.
  • Scourer and dishwashing cloths, e.g. Cux, and sponges made from plastic, can easily be replaced with home compostable alternatives like coconut fibre pads, cut up tshirts and home made dish mops. You can get the instructions here:
  • Glad wrap seems to be a difficult one for many people, but the alternatives are numerous: use a plate or saucer to cover leftovers, a jar or container, beeswax wraps or vegan alternatives like silicone covers and wraps or even towels.
  • Baking paper is okay to use as long as you re-use it, but be aware that most are silicone coated, so they are not compostable. The best alternative is to grease your moulds and trays the old school way, use pyrex or use a silicone mat which you’ll be able to use for years (the Agreena wraps we have in stock can be returned to the company at the end of their life and they will be recycling them for you).
  • Do you need to line your bins? Some councils or strata ask people to wrap their waste, but we believe that no one can force you to do it. If you compost your food waste and recycle everything you can, there shouldn’t be much in your bin anyway. If you can get old newspapers, Keelah showed us an easy way of making a quick bin liner. You’ll find instructions online. Once ready to go into your waste bin, pull out and wrap with a piece of string.
  • Some of us get very angry when they see others using excessive packaging, plastic bags, single-use coffee cups or more. How do you start a conversation? First of all breathe and try to calm yourself down. Then be friendly and seek a chat. If people react weirdly, let it go. At least you have tried.
  • What about leaving excess packaging in the shops? Keelah tells us that she does that when she can’t find an unpackaged alternative. She goes to the till, pays and then says loudly to the cashier, so that everyone in the queue behind her hears, while unwrapping her goods: “Can you please tell your manager that  I just want the product and not the packaging. I am going to leave the packaging here.” Definitely worth trying if you’re game. 🙂

The list can go on and on. There are so many great alternatives out there. Speak to your parents or grandparents. They will still remember how it was before plastic became mainstream and can surely share some hacks that are feasible in today’s fast moving world.

And don’t forget: sharing is caring and can save you a lot of money. Why not share a lawnmower with your neighbours that you will only need every few weeks? If something is broken, why not try and fix it? There are more and more repair cafes popping up (check out Permaculture North Sydney) as well.

You are already doing great work by just thinking about how to reduce waste. Keep going, don’t despair and don’t stress if you are falling back into bad habits at times. You will get back into your zero waste routine and taking one step at a time will make it a breeze. 🙂

What are your zero waste hacks? Please share them with us, we’d love to hear from you!

Plastic Waste
Plastic Waste