Alex Mealey is the primary blogger for Effect the Change. Our sustainability queen, she was into compostable tea bags well before Coles and Woolworths thought about stopping plastic bags. Super keen on meeting new people and learning she's always looking for ways of doing small things that will make a big difference in the home.
From leafy carrot tops to broccoli stems and pineapple cores these ‘food scraps’ all have wonderful but relatively unknown health benefits. Get creative and use them in anything from salads to frittatas and you’ll be well on your way to zero-waste.
For inspiration and recipes check out this article by Two healthy kitchens here and another one by Amazing Waste Cookbook here.
Propagate herbs and veggies …and an aura of calm
Use your current stash of herbs and veggies to supply yourself for weeks and months to come. Not only will you be corona-apocalyse ready, you’ll be reducing your CO2 footprint.
For herbs, take cuttings from supermarket plants (or your neighbour’s garden) and grab some empty glass jars. Then see Learning Herb’s instructions on cuttings here, or, if the roots still attached follow the advice in this article.
For veggies you’ll need some dirt and/or pots lying around, but no need to buy any special potting mix or fertiliser that you don’t already have. To get going check out Urban Cultivator’s guide here.
DIY cleaning cloths
Instead of buying plastic sponges and new cleaning cloths, think resourcefully. Those ripped jeans, out-of-shape tee, and old bedsheets could be your next reusable table wipe.
If you’re out of luck and can’t find anything to at home, order some sustainable reusable wipes online with our affiliate Biome here.
Save water… and money
Self isolation means more water usage at home. So here’s a few tips to reduce your next utility bill while also helping the planet…
Wash only full loads of dishes and clothes.
Fill an empty plastic bottle with water and place it in the toilet’s cistern. This will reduce the amount of unnecessary water used in each flush.
Reuse water from cooking veggies, rice, and pasta. Instead of straining it down the sink use it to make vegetable stock, to water the garden, or bucket flush the toilet.
While you’re waiting for the shower water to heat up, collect the cold water in a bucket and use this for the lawn, your plants, or again to bucket flush the toilet.
If you love gift giving but don’t want to contribute to the harmful junk that ends up in landfill – say snow more! We’ve got six ways for you to choose more sustainable prezzies below.
If you’re more of a visual person check out our video here, otherwise read on!
1. Have yourself a plastic free Christmas
Plastic takes years to break down, but it’s also a sign that something is single-use or won’t last. Alternatives made from metal or wood (with as little plastic as possible) should be reusable, last longer, and break down quicker. If you can, also try to avoid packaging that’s plastic as well!
Psst… for an online store selling plastic-free goods from toys to clothes pegs, check out Biome. Their products also come delivered plastic free.
2. Choose quality
The idea is to make sure items stay out of landfill for as long as possible. This means, put back that fast fashion tee shirt, those non-refillable plastic pens, and that cheap Chinese hair straightener. Find something that the person can use for years.
To find quality fashion you don’t have to hunt for expensive shops in obscure locations. Instead use the Good On You app to guide you on brands you already know. It’s free and ranks common fashion brands on how environmentally friendly they are. Then you can choose to support only those brands moving in the right direction. For cosmetics, remember to also look for cruelty free and vegan brands, you see our list of recommended brands here.
3. Tis the season to buy consumables
If you’re buying for someone who already has everything, someone you don’t know well, or your minimalist friend, your best bet is something that can be consumed. Something that can be ingested, digested, or sunk back. This reduces waste and clutter by ensuring that the gift isn’t sitting in a drawer waiting for bin day.
Favourite go-tos include liquor, sweets, baked goods and gourmet just about anything: tea, coffee, condiments (jams, chutneys, pâtes), cheeses, olive oils, vinegars, and of course chocolate covered anything.
Farmers markets and boutique countryside stores are great for finding unique versions of these products.
If you need to make a bigger gift, package multiple consumables into a delicious hamper.
4. Go digital
The less ‘stuff’ on this planet, the less that goes to landfill, and the less CO2 expended the manufacturing process. It’s also great for your minimalist friend or the person who already has everything.
The ultimate list of digital or non-material gifts can be found at the Slow Your Home website. But we’ll list some ideas to get your started below.
Tickets to the: cinema, theatre, music concert, art gallery, or sporting event.
Annual passes to local attractions, gardens and houses.
Membership to a sporting team.
Vouchers for a: massage, spa day/hot springs, restaurant, or an adrenaline experience.
Subscription to an online magazine, newspaper, or Spotify.
Passes to a class in: cooking, dancing, musical theatre, yoga, or art.
Payment for an online course (at skillshare for example).
Vouchers for: Etsy, iTunes, Google Play, e-books.
A donation to charity on their behalf.
An Air bnb experience.
5. Prezzies with environmental kick backs
Believe it or not, some companies use their profits to give back to the environment. We’ll give you the low down on out top favs below.
Environmental Kick back
Clothing Shoes Outdoor gear
Part of their profits (1%) provides funding for grassroots environmental organisations.
Products are made from sustainable and ethical natural materials, and they support the charity Soles4souls.
Bottle for Botol
Metal water bottles
For every bottle purchased, a student in Indonesia receives a bottle, a water dispenser for their canteen, and a plastic pollution reduction education program.
For a longer list of companies (selling clothes, bags, and jewellery) that are giving back, check out a fantastic article by Business Insider here.
6. Upcycled, handmade, and second hand
Shopping for these items significantly reduces your Christmas footprint. Plus, upcycled and handmade products tend to be unique ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces. Second hand items are also great for books, vintage items, collectors items, and toys or books for children’s stockings.
The easiest places to find upcycled and handmade gifts are Etsy and your local farmers markets. However you can also check out our Facebook and Instagram where we regularly show off amazing sustainable Australian brands we know and the incredible people behind them.
Have you ever wondered if your gift wrap is recyclable? Well… the answer is not always. Despite having the word ‘paper’ in it’s name, wrapping paper often contains heavy dyes and plastic elements which make it non-recyclable. But there’s no need to get your tinsel in a tangle – we’ve got you covered with some chic and sustainable alternative gift wrapping options below.
1. Reusable and recyclable cardboard boxes
Boxes that are not coated in a shiny finish are more likely to be recyclable and give that warm vintage feel. Boxes are also great because your recipient can reuse them next year.
If you want to wrap over the top of your box to add some artistic flare, check out points 3 and 4 below, or dig out your old paint set.
2. Cloth bags
Make or purchase reusable cloth bags. These are especially good for items such as jewellery, small books, gourmet baked goods, and cosmetics.
If you’re doing this yourself, the most sustainable (and affordable) material is always what to already have at home: unwanted bed sheets, tee shirts, and scrap material lying about. If there’s nothing at home, try your second hand shop, or the discount bin at your local fabric store.
3. Newspaperor magazine pages
Instead of buying these new collect old ones from work, your parent’s house, and the local library or coffee shop.
To make it special, choose a section of the paper or magazine that suits your recipient: the comic strip, the beauty and fashion section, the travel pages, the sports pages, or a fascinating opinion piece.
Psst… this also provides entertainment for when they’ve finished admiring your gift.
If your recipient is learning a new language – bonus points for finding a paper in that language!
4. Sheet music, old books, maps, blueprints, posters etc.
Anything papery that is destined for the bin – pages of an old torn up book (even better if you choose pages that will resonate with your friend), old posters, old paintings, comic book pages, pictures from your wall calendar, sheet music that you don’t use anymore, blueprints that you don’t need, and your out-of-date Melways.
If you don’t have these lying around, a second hand shop is the perfect place to thrift them.
For the artistically minded and nimble fingered, this is an ancient Japanese way of wrapping gifts using squares of fabric.
Again, source the material from your home or a second hand shop, then check out Youtube for videos to guide you through it.
6. Avoid sticky tape
Instead of sticky tape to bind it all together, try material ribbon (the non-plasticky type of you can), or twine. Then employ some clever folding. This makes it easier for your recipient to reuse the wrapping, and gives your gift a vintage look.
If you must use tape, use as little as you can get away with.
It’s one of the areas we spend the most time in and as such, it’s a place were we can make a big impact with only a few small habitual changes.
Find 14 easy ways to ‘go green’ in your kitchen below.
Use wax wraps instead of plastic wrap
This is my favourite way to cover bowls of leftovers, blocks of cheese, and sandwiches. The warmth of your hands molds the cloth over the item and it seals within seconds. Plus beeswax makes the cloth slightly antibacterial and smell nice.
They can be reused multiple times and last 6-12 months. Well loved wraps can also be revived by following the steps in this video.
To find them, check out markets, bulk food stores, whole food stores, and Australian online shops such as Biome or Bee Wrappy. If you’re really sustainably minded you can also make your own from scrap material, check out this tutorial.
If wax wraps aren’t your thing, Agreena sells food grade silicone sheets that can be washed, reused, and eventually recycled. Again check out Biome for these.
2. Use Tupperware and mason jars
Another way to aviod plastic wrap and zip lock bags is to use containers and mason jars for leftovers, lunches, and snacks. These are great for safe and unsquisable transportation or storage.
Plastic free options are ideal – you can find a range of such items with both of our affiliates ONYA and BIOME.
3. Drink loose leaf tea and avoid coffee pods
Unfortunately some tea bags contain plastic which means they can’t go in the compost, and we all know plastic coffee pods are quickly filling up our landfills. (See our episode on coffee pods here.) This makes loose leaf tea and instant coffee an alternative that is green, compostable, and (in my oppinion) better tasting.
Buy in bulk to reduce waste from packaging, and choose a tea strainer that is plastic-free to be even more enviornmentally friendly.
4. Use plastic-free compostable dish washing brushes, and reusable kitchen cloths
Plastic scrubbing brushes and sponges both contribute to the plastic content of our landfill. Alternatively, consider using a compostable bamboo brush and a reusable cloth to go zero-waste on your dish cleaning regime.
They’re very affordable (especially if you use old material for the dish cloth), and last a helluva lot longer. Check out our affiliate Biome for a range of both items.
5. Dry your fruit and veg with a clean tea towel
Instead of wasting single use paper towels, dry freshly washed fruit and veg with a clean tea towel – it’s hygienic and cost effective. It was embarrassing how long it took me to figure this out!
6. Use environmentally friendly dishwashing liquid and multipurpose cleaners
Grey water safe, cruelty free, and plant based cleaning products are getting easier to find. We’ve noticed the following environmentally conscious brands appearing in most supermarkets recently:
Unfortunately most takeaway coffee cups are not recyclable, so ensure you never have to use one by purchasing a few and strategically storing them in your car, your office, and your home.
Most cafes are happy to accept these now and some even provide discounts for using them.
8. Get creative to use food that’s about to go off
Avoid food waste by checking for nearly expired food regularly. To make it easy for yourself, a small cardboard box labelled ‘Eat me first’ can be your visual reminder in the fridge or pantry.
Smoothies and juice are always a great way to use fruit and veg, while meat can be cooked and then frozen to both meal prep and reduce waste at the same time. If you get stuck, Google is always on hand to find recipes with odd ingredients.
9. Buy from bulk food stores and avoid buying plastic packaged foods
Foods available at these stores are stored in large bulk containers that require you to self-serve. They usually include: pasta, lentils, cereals, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. It’s not a one-stop shop for food, but it’s an excellent start to reducing plastic packaging waste, plus you are able to gather the perfect quantity for your lifestyle.
Step 1) Bring a set of Tupperware, mason jars, or reusable bags, to put food in.
Step 2) Weigh your containers when you arrive and mark the weight on the jar (a marker is usually provided).
Step 3) Fill, pay, enjoy.
For a list of bulk food stores in Australia see here. If there isn’t one near you try and find one on your way to work, the gym, your mums house or any other frequently visited location.
10. Consider reducing your meat intake
Reducing meat helps to minimise the impact of farming on land, and the amount of greenhouse gasses produced in the process.
Meatless Mondays is a great place to start, and in the future… maybe just Meat Mondays.
11. Compost your food scraps
Food scraps (and other organic material) that enter landfill produce methane and carbon dioxide upon decomposition. If you don’t have a garden to fit a compost bin, consider a worm farm as these can fit under your sink or on your balcony. Another compact alternative is a Bokashi bucket. These are airtight (no smells!) and fit under the sink to produce a nutrient rich liquid for fertilising your garden.
Apartment dwellers can check out more space efficient composting ideas here.
Conveniently, some councils have also started accepting food waste (including meat and diary) in their green waste bins (e.g., Glen Eira in Melbourne). Be sure to check with your council.
12. Cook more energy efficiently
I rarely fill the kettle to the top or wait for the oven to preheat. Forming new habits with the following tips can help reduce your energy use:
Thaw food in the fridge instead of defrosting in the microwave
Fill the kettle with only as much water as you need
Keep the lid on pots cooking over the stove top where possible
Don’t preheat the oven unless absolutely necessary
Fill the oven with food when you do use it (freeze what you don’t need for later)
Use a toaster instead of the grill to toast bread
13. Recycle soft plastics
As well as cardboard and paper recycling, keep a bin at home for soft plastics. These can be recycled at Coles and Woolworths RedCycle bins next time you pick up your groceries. (Empty food packets can still smell a little, so consider choosing a bin with a lid on it.)
Examples of soft plastics that can be recycled are:
The most organic, ethically sourced, and carbon neutral herbs and veggies are grown at home. Even if you’re tight on space, these edible gardens can be tailored to a window sill, balcony, external wall, or a single square foot of yard – check out this article for some inpriation and ideas.
Finding beauty products that are cruelty free, vegan, and palm oil free can be tricky. Websites such as PETA and Animals Australia list companies that test on animals, but I still want to know whether the product is vegan, grey water safe, made from recycled materials, palm oil free, and affordable.
Below is a list of brands available in Australia that my friends and I used to switch out old products once we’d finished using them. It was difficult to find ones that meet all the desired criteria. However the good news is that companies are working towards this gap in the market, so it will only get easier.
Unfortunately, most companies do not report how ethically their products are sourced. Although it is good to hear that Lush and The Body Shop are tracing the source of their ingredients and collaborating with farmers to ensure fair trade where possible.
Chemist Warehouse Priceline Coles Woolworths Baby bunting Big W
The Body Shop
Make up Skin care Hair care Fragrance
Selected products, check labels
Uses certified sustainable palm oil
The Body Shop stores
Of course, the next step towards environmental sustainability would be using waste/plastic free products. Making small steps to encourage companies to act in more ethical and environmentally friendly way is a powerful place to start.
Effect the Change.
Small actions, big changes
For more tips and info about living sustainably check out our videos and like our Facebook page!