Do you have time to spare before 29 June? Because I need your help.
The Product Stewardship Act Review is underway and for the first time the public have been asked to tell the Government how we want our products made and disposed of. This is our chance to stand up and ask for a circular economy. But the only way it will get there is if we all push for this. Are you with me?
The Product Stewardship Act provides the framework to effectively manage the environmental, health and safety impacts of products, and in particular those impacts associated with the disposal of products.
Product stewardship is an approach to managing the impacts of different products and materials. It acknowledges that those involved in producing, selling, using and disposing of products have a shared responsibility to ensure those products or materials are managed in a way that reduces their impact, throughout their lifecycle, on the environment and on human health and safety - The Department of the Environment and Energy
Why do you need my help? I'm a firm believer that we can't all avoid over packaged or poorly designed products as the the only method to moving towards a circular economy. It's not fair or easy for everyone. Business and Government need to step up and make changes, not lump it all onto our shoulders to do better. Our Governments have the greatest ability to enforce standards that will help minimise waste. Government can place requirements on manufacturers to become responsible for the stuff they make.
Look at it this way, if we don't tell the government and businesses we want, the problem will only get worse because they will think we are ok with how the system is now. I don' know about you, but being sold products that are unrepairable, fused shut with toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, forcing us to buy new instead of simply fixing something I own is not OK. This is just one example of thousands where precious resources are being used to make stuff designed to be purposely thrown away. We are stuck on a conveyor belt of waste and frankly, I want to get off and change the system. There is another way to live, don't you think? If you agree then you can help by flexing your citizen muscles and write a submission asking for a change.
I'll put the kettle on and get started... but where do I start? Government websites can be a bit confusing! Great, you'll need a cup of tea. But don't worry you should be able to finish and send a submission before your cuppa gets cold. You are not the only one who finds things like this confusing. Some very helpful people at Zero Waste Victoria and Plastic Bag Free Victoria have created simple and easy to follow guides on how to make a personal submission. Follow their instructions via the links below:
In two weeks, free light weight single-use plastic bags will be disappearing from the major supermarkets, Big W, Dan Murphy's, Bakers Delight and many more locations across the country. Queensland and Western Australia will be catching up with Tasmania, South Australia and Northern Territory when their State wide bans of single-use plastic bags come into effect at the same time too. Victoria is tipped to announce a state wide ban soon and New South Wales is unfortunately not doing anything. I'm not here to dwell on those left behind – instead I'm here to share tips that will help you get ready for life without single-use plastic bags.
From 1st July shoppers will no longer be able to bag (and some cases double bag) their items in a flimsy plastic bag. This is not a complete plastic bag ban, only the free light weight single-use ones. Shoppers will have the option to purchase a thicker plastic bag for 15c. Certain businesses won't be providing alternatives.
But you're not going to purchase the thicker plastic bag because....
15c will add up. If the average Australian uses over 400 plastic bags, shoppers will be forking out over $60 a year. Think of all the smashed avocado on toast you could enjoy. Plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes, not really worth the 15c. Or you could put it towards that house deposit...
Thicker plastic bags still pose a threat to the environment. Nothing has changed there. Saying no to the thicker bags, even if its sold as being reusable because of its durability, is the kinder choice for the oceans and local environment. Plus those thicker plastic bags will eventually be banned too. Plastic Bag Free Victoria and countless other environmental action groups are still asking for a complete ban. It's inevitable so you might as well get into the habit of bringing your own bags now.
Using plastic to collect our shopping is a waste of resources plus it promotes the use of fossil fuels like petroleum. Yes, they can be recycled. Well technically down-cycled into once more item then it's the end of that resources life for now. Instead let's use this plastic bag ban to save our millions old resources for something other than a bag.
The new thicker plastic bags are even uglier than the light weight ones. It's true. Do you really need to carry those avocados and bread out of the store in one. I didn't think so.
First, find a reusable option right for your life and needs:
Human beings survived for a long time without plastic bags. We had cloth bags, baskets, wicker trolleys, our arms, horse and carts, cardboard boxes. There are an array of different tools you can use to carry your food home without the need for a plastic bag. Alternatively, perhaps you could make your own from an old duvet cover, sheets, pillow cases, tablecloth, curtains or join a Boomerang Bags group in your area. Read my interview with the founder of Boomerang Bags here.
Shopping bags made of jute, canvas or cotton string are simple alternatives to plastic. When they become dirty it's easy to place the bags into your washing machine. To make jute, canvas, cloth or string bags a more environmental choice use them for as long as possible and repair any holes that might eventually occur with wear. Then when it gets to the end of its life, they can become a cleaning rag before going to the compost bin where they will break down. Plastic will only break up getting into our food chain and risk ingestion or strangulation of animals.
Foldable bags made of recycled plastic like this option by Onya can fit easily into any handbag or pocket. You can even hang them off your car keys and pull them out of their little pouch as you need one. If you feel the need to wash I suggest to hand wash with a mild soap to reduce any plastic micro-fibres from getting into our water ways.
If you can, try to avoid buying the green 'fabric' bags at certain stores. The fabric is made of plastic. But if you have them at home use them! At the end of the day choose a bag you'll use and reuse.
At the supermarkets and caught without? Ask for cardboard boxes or load everything back into your trolley then wheel back to the car. If you were stuck doing this more than once I reckon you'd remember your bags quickly!
It's going to take some practice to remember plastic bags are banned or not being given away for free anymore when going to the shops. But you are not in this alone. There are millions of Australians who will be in the same position. But let's help each other and reward our efforts to break our plastic habits. The future generations will thank you for making the choice to preserve the earths resources for something more valuable than a plastic bag.
Breaking habits that are ingrained in our life can be hard but not impossible. We all have habits and they are aren't all bad. Many of us have good ones. And soon enough carrying reusable bags will be a new normal habit before you know it.
But, what about lining my bin?
While you are ordering your brunch on the weekend, ask your local Cafe for any surplus newspapers from the day before and use the newspaper to line your bin instead. Your local library is another option to seek out extra newspapers.
Do you think charging for plastic bags will stop people from using them?
Yes, I do. We can take a quick look at the UK where there was a 85% drop in plastic bag use when they began charging for light weight single-use bags. Sure there wasn't a 100% avoidance by everyone but there was a drop and that is a step in the right direction. We will get to a point where we'll look back and cringe at how many plastic bags we used to use.
What about biodegradable or compostable bags?
Choosing biodegradable plastic bags do nothing to promote reuse which will always be a more environmentally friendly choice. A biodegradable bag can still harm and injure wildlife. A biodegradable bag made of a plant source (think corn) won't break down in landfill properly because there is no oxygen. They can't be recycled. Most Australian composting facilities don't take them. And it's rare Aussies home composts are set up to a temperature that would break them down. Even when it does break down or actually break up (it turns into small pieces first that move about the environment faster) there is a residue left behind. There is not enough information yet to determine if these residues are safe. Then there is the risk biodegradable bags are sold without being properly tested or are actually degradable bags but sold with the word 'bio' to lure customers in. Degradable bags are different to that of biodegradable and compostable. It's a confusing and grey area. I see biodegradable and compostable bags as slightly better but are again another bandaid solution and with all the other options above, not necessary at all.
The war on waste, in particular plastic waste, is raging here in Australia. Aside from asking for legislation change and demanding companies make kinder choices, I'm a big believer in leading by example to be a wonderful way to get people to move away from using single-use plastics. If people see others going about their day to day life, using reusable with ease, then others will see this, become intrigued and ask questions. I lost track years ago with how many instances someone has asked me or my husband about our reusable produce bags or why we are shopping with our own containers, instead of choosing the “regular” single-use option. I love that by using some of these very simple swaps in my day to day life has sparked conversations around refusing single-use plastic.
Boomerang Bags are one of my favourite grassroots organisations helping to spark conversations in communities not just in Australia, but around the world. Just recently I saw they now have groups in Iceland! I am very excited to introduce them to you as part of my Changemakers series and I'll let co-founder Jordyn explain what it is they do in more detail. But in a nutshell, Boomerang Bags are cloth shopping bags sewn by volunteers from donated material and set up in stores for people to use if they forget their reusable bags. They then return the bags when they are next in the store.
Before we leap into the interview I just want to say that I have met so many members of various Boomerang Bag groups and they are all legends. I don't just commend them for the time they give up to sew these bags. Rather it's the act of providing people with a sustainable choice no matter where they sit on the economic scale. While the idea is for the bags to come back to the store after use, putting them out there in the community to use for free allows anybody to access a more sustainable option without having to pay money. It's a simple act of kindness. Not everyone has the money to spend on making the sustainable swaps many of us can take for granted. The whole community has an opportunity to feel included in this war on waste. This is just on of the many positive social impacts created by this grassroots organisations that goes beyond the environment. The two are interconnected after all, something worth remembering.
So I'm just saying thank you to all those Boomerang volunteers for your time gathering materials, cutting, ironing, pinning, screen printing and delivering the bags. On that note, if you are someone with surplus Boomerang Bags sitting at home that need to be returned don't forget to take them back either.
Anyway, let's get on with this because I know there are people wanting to know more about Boomerang Bags...
Boomerang Bags started in Australia but is now going strong around the world. Photo Boomerang Bags
What is Boomerang Bags? Boomerang Bags is a grassroots initiative that works to foster sustainable behaviour change through positive, hands-on community engagement. We provide tools for people all over the world to implement a community program, making and circulating reusable boomerang bags as a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Dedicated volunteers and community groups get together to make the bags using collected recycled materials, and share them with the wider community. Through these activities we start conversations about plastic, up-cycle unwanted materials, build social connectedness, and ultimately empower people to take action to reduce the use of plastic bags (and other single-use plastics).
What inspired you to start sewing bags and giving them away for free? Being a surfer and ocean enthusiast, its impossible to ignore the impact that plastic pollution is having on the environment. The more educated I became about the issue, the more motivated I was to do something about it. Tania (the other co-founder) and I met and started brainstorming solution-based activities that could be implemented in our local community. As a teenager I worked as a checkout chick at Woolworths, which is where the plastic-free journey began for me. So plastic bags seemed like a good place to start - and we wanted to provide reusable bags to customers and businesses in our local area so that there was no barrier for them to get into the habit of using them. We were unable to find an Australian (let alone sustainable!) manufacturer, so thats where the idea of sewing the bags using donated, recycled fabric came in. Neither Tania or I are sewers, so we had to call upon help from friends and the local community, for material donations and volunteers to sew. After a few local bag-making events, and a huge amount of support from the local community, we realised how powerful this aspect of the project was in achieving a positive impact, both environmentally and socially.
We provide tools for people all over the world to implement a community program, making and circulating reusable boomerang bags as a sustainable alternative to plastic bags. Dedicated volunteers and community groups get together to make the bags using collected recycled materials, and share them with the wider community.
With over 500 Boomerang Bag communities across the world, are you surprised it has spread so far? Why do you think it's gained popularity? In the beginning we certainly didn't anticipate that boomerang bags would evolve in the way that it has, though we’re stoked with how far it has spread so far. I think part of its effectiveness is that its social, positive and fun, and that it provides a platform for people to be part of the solution. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats of our time, and with more and more research coming out about its negative impacts, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and somewhat helpless. Humans are naturally driven to contribute to society, or ‘the greater good’ in a positive way, and projects like boomerang bags make it easy for people to do so. Everyday we are surrounded by media and advertising that suggest we should be living a certain way. It helps to be part of a collective that is breaking free of old social constructs and shifting towards a more sustainable way of life.
What are some of Boomerang Bags achievements so far? So far, boomerang bags is now active in around 700 communities globally. Thousands of volunteers have collectively made over 200,000 reusable bags, which equates to around 60,000kilos of material waste diverted from landfill. I think the biggest achievements though are the ones that cant be quantified... the social connections, friendships made, and the conversations had as part of movement. Everyday we receive stories about the social benefits of being involved in boomerang bags - people learning new skills to help them find employment, immigrants and refugees integrating into the community, grandparents passing on life skills to their children and grandchildren, people finding their way out of depression through a newfound sense of purpose, and of course those ‘ah-ha’ moments, where people discover how simple (and fun) it can be to cut out plastic waste and live more sustainably. Whats cool about boomerang bags is that it appeals to many demographics, whether driven by their passion for the environment or their love for textiles and crafts, and while volunteering, people meet new people, share their stories and ideas, and inspire each other to do better in their everyday lives, from cutting down on plastic and other waste, consuming less, sourcing sustainable foods and other products, to eating less meat. The ripple effects are immeasurable!
A store in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale advertising they use Boomerang Bags.
Bakers Parlour in Ascot Vale with Boomerang Bags. The tree and box will be topped up with bags sewn by the local Ascot Vale Boomerang Bags group of volunteers.
And what are your plans for the organisation in the future? We hope to see the initiative continue to spread into communities around the world!
Starting a grassroots organisation like Boomerang Bags has it's challenges, what were yours? How did you overcome them and what advice would you give to others wanting to start their own community driven environmental organisation? We didn’t necessarily plan for Boomerang Bags to grow outside of our local community at first, so as it grew there were challenges in trying to keep up with the demand. As an environmental scientist (myself) and a pilot/mum (Tania), we were suddenly thrown into the deep end of setting up an organisation and everything that comes with it…website development, graphic design, social media, volunteer management, content writing, partnership management, accounting. Luckily, we were blessed by so much support from the community to help navigate through and learn what we needed to (which is ongoing!). In terms of advice? Ask for help - there are so many people in the world with specific skills that want to contribute. Don’t be afraid to fail. Sometimes failing is the fastest way to learn!
What are Boomerang Bags top tips to cut back on plastic? Start with one thing, be it plastic bags or other single-use items like straws, then move onto other areas one step at a time (bulk food shopping, etc). Have fun with it…see the plastic free journey as an adventure, rather than an inconvenience!
If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be? Everything you do (or don’t do) makes a difference in the world.
To start your own Boomerang Bags or join an existing group in your area visit the website.
Buying a ready made woollen soap for washing is not necessarily needed and can be made from scraps of soap. That's if you have the ability to make it or have the time. If you don't, then that's ok. Living a low-waste lifestyle does not mean you have to make everything from scratch, with many laundry items available from a bulk store and local soap makers. But this was one DIY swap I wanted to share since it's on the easier side of homemade recipes and there is no need to buy anything for it, plus you're using something often forgotten and thrown in the bin or lost down the drain. I primarily use this recipe to make wool wash but can also works for liquid soap too.
Over the year I save up the little ends of soap. You know the ones, to small to be used on the body or face, often slipping through fingers onto the floor of the shower. I could try to squish them onto new bars of soap. Instead I to collect them in an old glass jar until I have 2 tablespoons cup worth. These ends of soap come from the bathroom and kitchen, since we use the same brand of an olive oil soap bar everywhere in the house and on ourselves (read all my low-waste beauty and body swaps).
Zero waste wool wash:
Place the soap ends into the pot and cover with 1.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil on the stove for 5 minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer for another 15 stirring throughout. I usually do this while cooking. Be warned the mixture can bubble over if left unattended in a small pot like mine. Stirring will stop any soapy liquid spewing all over your cooktop. If the soap has not melted and mixed with the water you might need to keep it on the stove for another 5 minutes. The mixture will cook down to 1 cup. Add one drop of eucalyptus oil for its anti-microbial disinfectant properties and ability to help treat stains on clothes. Remove and let cool before transferring to a glass bottle.
How to use:
To wash a nappy cover or sweater use (¼ – ½ teaspoon). I have never used this in the washing machine and probably wouldn't, just in case. Woollens are better washed by hand to reduce pils, shrinkage (depending on the wool and knit) and possible felting. Wool is a wonderful natural fabric for its durability, breathability and stretch but should be treated with care, like most of our things. I use a sweater comb to remove any pils. Wool garments don't require frequent washing as it naturally repels dirt, lint, dust and some stains making it easier to spot clean. I'm all about spot cleaning and extending the life of my clothes by taking care of them. My wool wash is mainly used for our sons wool nappy covers and before I store all the winter woollens away at the end of Spring. I simply hang out my woollens between wears to air them out unless they really smell. The soap we use is an olive oil soap, similar to a traditional Castile soap. Woollens and most natural fibres do better with a mild soap over detergents.
This fluff bum mum has been wanting to talk about our nappy journey for months. A fluff bum mum/parent is a term given to those using cloth nappies. It has been just that, an experience and a journey, especially learning the lingo! But then part of me didn't want to talk about it because truthfully it hasn't been the easiest of roads and isn't my blog here to help sway people to the low-waste lifestyle? I guess that's why I write my blog to share what i've learnt while I fumble around trying to do my best to live zero-waste, hoping others on the same road will learn from my wrong turns.
If you had said the word cloth nappy pre-zero waste an image of white terry towels and Napisan formed in my mind. It turns out these had been replaced with an updated version called modern cloth nappies (MCNs), or I should say versions, because there are more than one style and brand. I started researching nappies (diapers) when I was pregnant, asking the small pool of parents I knew who were using them for brand suggestions. Each piece of advice was different and went along the lines of...
“Try an all-in-one! We love them.” “Has to be a fitted.” “I swear by pockets.” “I like this brand, but then you might like this other one.” “Prefolds, get prefolds.” “What kind of covers will you use? PUL or wool?”
I felt well and truly overwhelmed by it all. What I thought would be an easy decision was not. Either way I had to make a choice before bub arrived. Soon enough I was camped out in various Facebook groups:
Through these groups I learnt about the various MCN styles, the difference between a prefold and a flat, how to use a snappy and the steps needed to preform a successful strip wash. It was also where I discovered thousands of helpful parents, ready to share their love of cloth nappies with everyone. And for someone who knew next to nothing about cloth nappies, or any nappies in general...and let's be honest babies too, it was reassuring knowing there was a group I could turn to when I needed a question answered.
How did I choose our nappies? Not long after I began researching one of my sisters acquaintances (who reads this blog – hello!) offered to send me her used cloth nappies. They had been through two children and were still in pretty good shape. A few pils and some elastic was loose, but definitely usable for another child. She was happy to pass them on for free, I only had to pay for postage. The brand was Close Pop-in, an all-in-two (AI2) with a double gusset. My Mum saw them and commented I might not like the velcro for when he's older and learns to open it himself (ha!), asking if she could buy a pocket style with snaps similar to my sisters Pea Pods. I said yes and soon enough, she found gently used pocket nappies on Gumtree. If one style worked better than the other, then I'd pass on the brand I didn't use. I visited the Clean Cloth Nappies Down Under group and the nappy brands website to preform a strip wash (nappy terminology for a deep clean) and put them both styles away until my baby's arrival.
The Australian Nappy Association has explanations of all the different nappies and other terms in this link. Very handy and one worth bookmarking for reference. It helped breakdown everything for newbies like me!
It was around this time my obstetrician began to worry about the growth of our baby. His measurements had slowed down, the term IGUR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) was being used and I was monitored frequently to make sure all was OK.
One day after a test I was looking at our carefully organised clean reusable nappies ready for our sons arrival and I wondered if they would even fit him if he was born small. There were brands specifically for newborns but even then I was unsure what delivering a smaller baby meant. My research eventually lead me to flats (one piece of cloth, similar to the terry towelling used before MCNs). I'm glad it did because they were perfect for our baby. They were a little harder to find secondhand and I ended up doing a call out in the Buy and Sell MCN group to see if anyone had a stack they would like to sell. Turns out many parents hold onto them as they make great all purpose rags. I bought around 20 for $50, plus five covers secondhand. Turns out when our baby arrived (a healthy 3kg mind you!) the nappies I had bought would not have fit him just yet.
However, the flats were amazing and I'd recommend them for newborns! Not only are they versatile and low cost, but also easy to clean and can dry in a matter of hours. There are several folds to use with flats to fit any baby (here is a link for a variety of folds or check out youtube). PUL covers were used to keep the nappy from wetting his clothes. At the beginning we did put his flats into a nappy soak before washing and it took me a month to realise this was not necessary and was contributing to his nappy rash.
In between changes during the day I was a big fan of nappy free time. We bought a stack of secondhand towels for this purpose and let him wiggle about. The more nappy free time, the less irritation too.
Around the three month mark our flats were no longer fitting him. The little 3kg baby had caught up and then surpassed most other babies in size. Especially his thighs and bottom. Our son was not graced with a small baby bum, instead he has a long flat bottom which quickly earned him the name Mr. Longbottom. No matter how I folded the flat I couldn't get it to cover his bottom completely. We then moved onto the pocket nappies and the all-in-twos I had purchased earlier to see which would work better. In the end we found the all-in-twos were better for our son. For some reason the pockets never absorbed his pee quick enough and it would wick up the back leaving his clothes saturated during naps.
The Close Pop-ins were great. I couldn't fault them except for the PUL lining, a plastic lining found on most MCNs that makes them waterproof. I'll write a little more about the plastic issue further down. At six months and another growth spurt the nappies become snug around his waist and thighs. I asked the various forums for help trying the advice others had for big babies, but nothing really worked. I had a big baby with a big bottom and big thighs. Simply our Close Pop-ins were not suited to his body shape anymore.
I was a bit annoyed, my sister had used the same nappies since birth for her son and here I was, on my second style. Now I had to find a nappy style/brand for bigger babies. So began my search again. Every time I researched I kept thinking about the PUL (polyurethane) lining and the polyester outter shell of the nappies. While I knew cotton was the only fibre touching his skin on the inside of the nappy, there was still a fair bit of plastic fibre in the rest of the nappy. Since nappies are washed often I knew they were shedding plastic microfibres. I felt guilty and then confused if I should be feeling guilty. Another reason why I was hesitant to write this blog post was because I didn't want anyone else to feel bad for using MCNs because of this. In the end I decided to use this opportunity to go for an all cotton option and with wool covers.
I had purchased a special fitted cotton night time fitted nappy from Australian made SHP Nappies and was so happy with it (and still am!) but we were not in a financial situation were I could buy all new nappies for him. As much as I would have loved too. I kept thinking back to the flats we had at the start. They were easy, affordable, worked well and plastic free. Or they could be if I swallowed my resistance on wool covers
Did you know disposable nappies are one of the top three items to contaminate recycling bins in Australia
The thought of wool covers was daunting a the start. I dread hand washing my own woollens. I envisioned that I'd be moving my bed to the laundry room. Plus it was hard to find secondhand wool covers before someone else snapped them up. Then one of my friends (who co-runs Zero Waste Victoria with me) pushed one of her used wool covers into my hand after one of our events and told me to just give it a go. I lanolinised it (a natural waterproofing method) and well suffice to say I was hooked. The process was not hard at all plus it felt reassuring knowing I was putting natural breathable fibres onto my son.
In the end we went back to flats in a larger size. I couldn't find any secondhand in the large size and bought new unbleached cotton from Nicki's Diapers. Buying from overseas is always a last option for me. Unfortunately no where in Australia stocked flats big enough. For every nappy purchased from Nicki's Diapers one is given to a child in need.
The larger size fits him perfectly. He's a lot more comfortable and his nappy is no longer popping off. We did keep the Close Pop-ins just in case he slims down now he's up and moving but I doubt they will get much more use. Plus I don't know if they are going to be as absorbent for another child (the cotton is thinning and the PUL is peeling in some places) so I'm going to upcycle them instead.
And this concludes our nappy journey for the past year. Of course, he will be toilet trained in another three months and that will be the end. Haha. I wish! The amount of parents who have told me boys take the longest to toilet train has me fully prepared to be wrestling a nappy onto him for another year or so.
I'm going to save the PUL vs natural plastic nappies conundrum for a different post. I have faced a bit of confusion around zero-waste vs plastic-free during my parenting journey.
On the top left are the Close Pop-ins and to the right are our flats folded, ready to go. I found a unopened packet of snappies at my local Op Shop. Snappies are used instead of pins. In the middle are our cloth wipes.
Hmmmmm Erin, nappies sound hard I don't know...
First of all, our experience with nappies has been a special one. For those who have had the pleasure of meeting my son will attest to his larger size. I had someone ask me the other day if we celebrated his second birthday and were shocked when I said he was turning one. Everyone I know has used the same nappies from day one and had uncomplicated experiences. We are the rare exception!! When we have baby number two (hey, we are talking about it...) I will use flats exclusively with woollen covers because I feel these most comfortable to use now.
Are you using liners?
No, we never used liners. I know some people use flannel strips made at home or bought online. I've seen silk as reusable liners too. We just never saw the point. If you'd like to sell your nappies on a liner would be a good idea to reduce the possibility of stains. The flushable versions are not biodegradable and clog up sewerage pipes.
What about cleaning nappies – isn't it icky?
Cleaning nappies is easy and I don't find it gross. My husband doesn't find it yucky either. At the start everything is washed down the sink and there is not much. Plus, it's your kid and for the first six months he's only consuming breastmilk or formula. Later on as they start consuming solids then it's best to either scrap down into the toilet with a knife or install a hose on your toilet. Remember it's not forever either.
Our method goes like this:
Put wet nappy into dry bucket (known as dry pailing). If it's soiled we rinse off and place into the bucket. We have a two story house, so one bucket is in his room that is emptied each day into the main wash bucket down stairs. Once this bucket has two days worth of clothes and nappies, in it goes for a wash.
We continued to use the washing powder from our bulk store we used previously.
Turn on washing machine and the washing faeries do the rest.
I air the woollen covers outside everyday and wash them once a month followed by a lanolise for waterproofing. Something in the lanolin helps neutralise any wee that soaks into a woollen nappy cover. Did you know wool can carry around 30% of its own weight in liquid! They never feel wet in the morning either. Plus the less washing the better, in my opinion! If the cover becomes soiled, which is so rare, then the cover is hand washed that day.
When I was in the hospital one of my midwives told me she hand washed her children's nappies in cold water every day, with no help from her husband. I keep that thought tucked away in my mind when I sometimes can't be bothered to clean the nappies, a chore I share with the Builder. And yes sometimes I don't want to do it because I can't be bothered. I'm human. And I can't imagine i'm the first woman to think this in the last thousand years or so. I bet there was a woman in the year 1480 who looked at the pile of nappies she had to wash and rolled her eyes. I totally understand HOW and WHY disposables became popular. But honestly the above is not much more work because I have access to a washing machine – it takes around fifteen minutes and I don't have a bin full of poo. I'll take reusables over THAT any day.
Do you have a recommended recipe for baby wipes?
We used cloth flannel and water. No oils. No soaps. No essential oils. Just good ol' water.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Yes! I would have bought flats straight away and then signed up for a Nappy Library where you can trial the styles before settling on what works for you and bub. This would have been a good option when we were trying to find a style for larger babies.
Are cloth nappies really more environmentally friendly than disposables? Is it actually cheaper?
We worked out that buying disposables from birth to two half/three years old is around $2800 - $3000, factoring in the products being on sale, received as gifts or passed on excess from family/friends.
Buying brand new cloth nappies costs about $1000 if choosing a higher priced brand or much less if going secondhand. In both instances, these will be used from birth for most children (except us! Haha!). To date our nappies cost $645. This includes our first nappies which were free but had to pay for postage. The flats we used at birth until three months. Buying new flats from overseas (postage was huge!) and sourcing the woollen covers and lanolin too.
Our laundry powder costs $11.95 kg. I use a front loader meaning the required amount of washing powder needed is less than a top loader; about a one and half teaspoons. I get 110 washes out of 1 kg of powder and costs 10 cents a wash. I would say we washed each day until he was 3 months old then every 2 days since. So I would guess i've washed 300 times in the last year factoring in other washes like towels, sheets, our clothes. For the past year I've spent $35 on washing powder. I don't know how much longer i'll be washing every two days (this should decrease soon, hopefully). If the trend does continue I will spend all up $105 for my washing powder until he's three.
I wash at 30 degrees Celsius on 2.15 hr cycle. We calculated the electricity per wash costs 16 cents. The estimate for our electricity used by our washing machine over three years is $144.
Front loaders use very little water compared to top loaders, the draw back are their long cycles. The good folk at Electrolux were able to help me figure out how much water is used in different cycles while I was putting in a service call. My usual cycle uses 44L. After the Builder did some number crunching and a call to City West Water we worked out it costs us 10 cents per wash plus water usage charges (water service charge and sewerage service charge) is around 8 cents per wash. This has cost us $54 so far, and for three years will come to $162.
The projected total cost for three years runs at $1056. A saving of over $1800.
Now how many people have quickly calculated the 44L by 300 washes? Yeah, it's a fair amount of water we are using and this is where the argument around disposables vs cloth nappies begins. A study by the UK Environment Agency in 2008 claimed more water is used when washing cloth nappies compared to the water needed during manufacturing of disposables. The amount is not to different, but still enough for many to argue that cloth nappies are less eco friendly than disposables. It's up to the consumer behaviours to dictate the full environmental impact of a reusable nappy post purchase. For instance, choosing line drying over using a dryer, washing below 60 degree Celsius and using for more than one child.
However, there is more than water to think about when it comes to which one is better for the environment:
Disposable nappies go to landfill. There is the energy used to transport them to landfill and to maintain the site.
Energy required by consumers to travel to shops each week or fortnight to purchase nappies adds up.
More land is required to produce the raw materials, plastic and wood pulp, needed in disposable nappies since they are a single use item. There is also the constant need for water and energy in the manufacturing of wood pulp plus waste as a by product.
Australians send over 2 billion nappies to landfill each year. It's predicted they won't break down for at least 500 years at the minimum. Until then, viruses or bacteria from illness passed through baby is sitting untreated. This is one of the reasons why landfill sites cannot be disturbed as they pose a significant health risk.
Not all single-use nappies have the same environmental impact either and there are more eco friendly options too like biodegradable and hybrids. I don't know much about these though so I can't advise on brands. What I do know is that if the brand claims to be biodegradable ask them where it can be dropped off for compost. Most council composting services don't accept them because the composting facility don't accept biodegradable nappies. If a company claims an item they are selling is biodegradable then they should do the due diligence and list where they can be dropped off or even collected for composting. It shouldn't be wholly up to the consumer to figure this out. Over 80% of Australian families use disposables either all the time or in conjunction with cloth. While i'd love to see everyone embrace cloth nappies it might take a long time for this to happen. What needs to start happening is for businesses to make changes in the manufacturing process and working to find effective waste management solutions. If you are a user of disposables and not yet ready to move onto cloth, then write to the brands you use asking them to make changes.
As you can see, I'm very committed to cloth nappies but want to add these points too:
Nope, you are not allowed to walk away feeling bad if you trying to reduce waste but can't grasp cloth nappies yet. It's OK. This parenting gig is hard. You could try swapping to reusable wipes to start with and ease your way into reusable nappies.
I understand cloth nappies or cloth nappy cleaning services for those who want to outsource are not available or easy to use for everyone. No judgement :) I've even heard of families in apartment blocks with shared washing machines who are not allowed to wash cloth nappies. There are disposable brands out there that do use more cotton and less plastic. But they can be a little more pricey for some. Some of these roadblocks are not your fault - again don't feel bad.
Don't feel guilty if you nappies might have a lining of plastic. I will happily admit the wool covers do have an extra step in maintenance than PUL covers. We're all just doing the best we can, with what we've got, where we are.
A rare photo of the Builder. Enjoying his post work walk around the neighbourhood with our son age one month.
A year has almost passed since our baby was born. How did the time go so quickly? I'm looking back through photos amazed at how different he looks. The dark hair he was born with has now been replaced with a golden rose blonde. I'm not yet ready to give up on his hair turning ginger! He inherited his fathers Lebanese skin tone, which is getting darker by the day. The eye colour has yet to be determined, right now they are hazel but I wonder if they will turn caramel like his fathers. He knows when Dad's at the door before seeing him and starts clapping his hands in excitement. I was going to add he's a great eater but this last month the interest in food has disappeared. He loves to make me laugh all the time and I really can't wait for him to start talking so we can have fun little chats. But then part of me doesn't want him to grow anymore.
We are celebrating his first birthday at the end of this month with family and friends. I think the party is more for me and the Builder to celebrate surviving the first year! I haven't shared a whole lot on our first year of parenting yet. In fact there is a folder on my desktop of half written blog posts with varying baby related stuff – and with the book now out of my hands I have more time to get those blog posts up. And I will have a detailed blog post on nappies in the mix. Ok, let us get onto the zero waste items we used to help reduce waste and plastic during those first three months. Nappies I'm kicking the list off with nappies since these little people poo so freakin' much. Goodness me. No matter what people tell you, there is no amount of mental preparedness for how many nappies you will change in the first three months. It begins at around twelve per day. TWELVE. We started with cloth nappies from the beginning. Actually that is not completely true. While I was in a sleepy haze hours after the birth, a disposable nappy found its way onto my baby’s bottom. My advice is to take a cloth nappy into your birthing suite if this is what you are preferring to use straight away. But if you forget to tell the midwife, I completely understand :) I think the only two things I was concerned about post birth was staring at my baby and getting a vegemite sandwich into my mouth. Haha.
The Builder and I agreed that if our baby went to NICU or there was an issue and disposables were an option to reduce some of the stress on us, we'd use them. We wanted to be flexible in case it did happen because there was that possibility and really no one should feel bad about that. Pushing a baby out of your body or having caesarean for the first time is...well, a whole new experience like no other! You don't know how your baby or you will react to it the event. My advice is to be flexible and kind to yourself.
We purchased secondhand birdseye cloth nappies commonly known as flats, later changing to MCN (modern cloth nappies) when he was three months. I chose flats for two reasons. The first being ease of cleaning and drying time. Since we were heading into winter I wanted nappies that would dry quickly. Standard birdseye cloth nappies are a 70cm x 70cm piece of birdeye cotton. We followed this origami fold tutorial. In the first two weeks the fold was a little cumbersome but before the end of the first month I could do it in the dark (which I did!).
The second reason we chose flats was his size. Cloth flats can be folded to fit a baby of any size by changing the folding technique (there are over 10). His growth appeared to slow down during the last trimester leaving all of us, including the doctor, a little worried. Since we were unsure what his size would be once out and the tests leaning towards him being on the smaller size, flats seemed like the most cost effective choice for us rather than buy MCNs specifically for a smaller newborn that might not get much use after a growth spurt. Since cloth flats are not water poof we used second hand nappy covers. We loved using flats and are about to switch back to them soon. What we thought was a underweight baby is now on the other end of the spectrum!
Instead of buying a new nappy pail we collected three used buckets from one of our local bulk food stores. They were free, perfect size, with secure lids.
Another secondhand item we found easily were cloth flannel wipes which we used with water only. They are so soft on their skin and were easy to clean too. I learnt quickly to drape one of his penis while changing to catch any surprises. If you can't buy them secondhand most of the large baby stores sell them or try an online baby store or even Etsy.
A handy tip from one of my readers: Extra flats or nappy boosters work great as additional padding to soak up the constant bleeding post birth. I didn't bother with post-partum pads, with the flats and boosters being enough along with my regular menstrual pads until the bleeding decreased. For any women or men wondering if you could use a menstrual cup for the bleeding – forget about it! Ha! Apart from a cloth pad and an ice pack, you won't want anything else going near that area for a while. If you don't have an ice pack at home, ask family/friends or invest in a reusable one. Trust me.
I didn't look into any “eco” disposable nappies and wipes and we should have, just in case. There are brands out there but I don't have any recommendations, sorry.
Nursing I had a breastfeeding pillow from my sister who had shared it with another friend before being passed along to me. I've seen many secondhand ones available too. Most come with a removable cover for washing. My sister declined to take it back for her second and truthfully, i'm not sure i'd use it again if we decide to have another child. That's my personal experience. I know others who swear by them. My advice would be to seek extra pillows regardless, one to hold baby until you're comfortable enough and one to prop behind mums back.
I used my own breastmilk instead of nipple cream when I had a bout of cracked nipples and it soothed well. Friends of mine did recommend this Nipple Salve and there were a few local brands at health food stores with similar ingredients.
We bought silicone nipples from Mason Bottle that convert any mason jar into a baby bottle. Since we already had three mason jars it sounded like a simple, low waste option. I planned to only express and feed from the bottle on occasion when I was not home or if I was having any issues, which I did have a couple of feeding issues that were sorted with a lactation consultant. Sometimes he loved the mason bottle without a fuss, other times were a struggle. I don't know if it was the nipple and his mouth not being the right fit or that he preferred the breast. He also never took to the soothers (dummy) or any chew toys when he began teething. We tried two natural rubber soothers, Natursutten and Hevea. At around nine months I stopped expressing for bottle feeding since he was eating more food and now the jars are back in the cupboard full of homemade jam. Had I not gone with the mason bottle I would have invested in Baby Quoddle Nursing Bottle. I have read parents using Pura Stainless baby bottles early on too but wasn't sure about heating up milk in stainless steel.
Since we were using the mason bottle, I froze my milk directly into the glass jars. Sterilising was easy by putting the washed jars into the oven. I washed them using a simple bottle brush similar to this one. To dry, we placed them onto a tea towel away from the other dishes so certain people (ahem my husband) wouldn't mix them up.
Obviously breastfeeding is the least wasteful option. I set myself up with a nursing bottle just in case there were issues with breastfeeding and there were struggles (plus tears of pain!). I would suggest buying one or ask any friends/family if they have a bottle no longer in use. Breastfeeding is not a walk in the park for every woman. If I was unable to breastfeed or chose not to, I would never have felt guilty about buying packaged formula tins. As long as my baby was healthy, that's all that mattered. For anyone who might be interested I was told about the Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB) community.
I love my Hakka breast pump. It's easy to use, comfortable, compact, silent and made from silicone. There were no fiddly extra parts or need to plug in. You just suction it on and let it go to work. I bought my sister one for her second baby. It's something I know we could sell on or find some kind of use for it. I just asked the Builder randomly what we could use it for, his response is watering house plants. Haha.
Soother, mason bottle and hakka breast pump. Basket to the left was used by my Mum when we were babies.
I have had moments where my breastmilk suddenly decreased, something I noticed when stressed or tired. To boost my milk supply during these periods, I would stir some fenugreek powder with warm water and sip throughout the day. Or I would add fenugreek seeds to my meals. Of course, talk with your doctor or maternal health nurse before taking something like fenugreek to help boost milk supply. I just thought i'd share it since fenugreek is an ingredient found at most mainstream bulk stores or could be in your spice cabinet already.
Burp cloths Flannel wipes were set up as burp cloths though he didn't need them until he was past newborn stage. He had colic and we could never ever get him to burp for months. The gas would just stay in there causing so much pain. But once he started burping the cloths were handy to catch those dribbly milk surprises.
Bathtime Small babies don't really get dirty so we kept bath time to two times a week, using only water, no soap products. Since we were wiping around his bottom frequently throughout the day during nappy changes we decided frequent full body washing in a bath was not necessary for our baby as we wanted to promote and protect healthy skin bacteria rather than wash it off (read more here).
We used a secondhand bath from the Builder's brother and set it up in the laundry and bought secondhand towels from the op shop. We used a mixture of washcloths we already had and flannel cloths to wash with.
Bath time with Daddy
Sleeping I detailed here what Tifl slept in and where we sourced it all from. The world is full of enough wraps and swaddles, buying these brand new would make no sense. We accumulated over 20 from family and friends but found we gravitated towards only needing ten and barely touched the rest. For some reason Tifl didn't like being swaddled! He'd Houdini himself out immediately. Put a call out and no doubt a parent somewhere will have a stash of wraps, blankets and sheets ready to lend.
After some thought, we decided against a monitor since he was sleeping with us in our room or near me most of the time. We did come across a selection of secondhand baby monitors on Ebay and Gumtree, plus friends were happy to pass on ones they didn't use either if we had wanted one.
Pram, carrier and bouncerWe picked up a pram from my the Builders sister and have loved it. Before saying yes we took it for a spin and liked how it handled. It's a Velcobaby, about five years old and has another 10 years in it. I organised for a professional clean by Lilies in Melbourne. There are dedicated Facebook buy/swap/sell groups for prams. Also check out Gumtree where many of my friends got their prams from.
I picked up an Ergo Baby 360 carrier with the newborn insert on Gumtree. We used it for the first three months. If you are in Australia look up carry.org.au to locate baby wearing support groups near you. They sometimes have meetups to try different carry styles.
We didn't think a bouncer was necessary so we borrowed one from the Builder's sister. Well, we were proved wrong! He looooved the bouncer. Ours was a manual non electric one.
Clothes Onsies, singlets, beanies and socks/booties were so easy to find secondhand. Family and friends were quick to offload there old stuff to us. Secondhand stores had a plethora of items too. We did find that most of the onseies at secondhand stores were usually press studs and not the zips. Trying to press studs while a baby is flailing their arms about at 3am was not always easy. Again, look at online options like Gumtree and Facebook buy/swap/sell or secondhand baby markets for clothes.
Carseat capsule The Builder's brother also lent us their baby capsule for the first six months. We upgraded to a car seat when we outgrew it. While we could pull out the capsule we never did, but then we didn't use the car much unless going on a long distance drive which was rare.
Toys We didn't use many toys during those first three months, though we had been gifted a secondhand assortment from family and friends. I sang songs and read books to him, which he seemed to love enough. Babies kinda just lay there for the first three months and sleep so much more than when they are older. My sister loaned us a wooden play gym but he didn't begin interacting with it until closer to three months.
Apps There were three handy apps I downloaded. One was Baby Tracker I used to note when I had breastfed and from what side. It has a variety of functions like keeping track of sleeping schedules, nappy changes, milestones and growth records with places to write notes. I think by month four I knew his schedule pretty well and deleted it. I also used Sleep Genius for white noise and of course, The Wonder Weeks. The Wonder Weeks app tells you exactly when to expect certain behaviour changes and the weeks or months he'll be going through a developmental leap resulting in unsettled moods. I think every parent we spoke to pre arrival raved about this app for a good reason. Our library had copies of The Wonder Weeks book and I reckon you'd find one secondhand as it's fairly popular.
Nappy bag One of our old housemates left an unused backpack when they moved out and it has been sitting in our closet for years. I rediscovered it when I was nesting, declaring the bag to be more than suitable as a nappy bag. It's roomy, has different compartments and fits under our pram. I don't think I could do a heavy shoulder bag with my son, preferring the weight of the bag being distributed along my back. I'd come across a couple at a secondhand nappy bags at a baby market looking a bit more stylish than a Fitness First Gym Bag. But hey, it's working for us and is not forever.
In our nappy bag we pack nappies, cloth wipes in an cloth bag, a glass spray bottle (used to be an old deodorant bottle) with water, change of clothes and a wash bag. The wash bag was secondhand too passed on from someone who sold us her MCNs but a cloth bag or even old pillow case would function just as well. For a portable change mat, we bought hand towels from an op shop and use those.
Random items we didn't think of, but needed... Baby nail clippers is something I could have sourced secondhand from another parent but had not even thought about. By the way, why do babies need long fingernails? They are like weapons! A thermometer was also another investment we didn't think to buy and needed soon enough. Another item to think about are thicker curtains, which could be picked up from a secondhand store. Little Tifl could fall asleep anywhere so we were OK without extra dark block out curtains.
Phew! It looks like a long list, right? You'll see we were able to source pretty much everything secondhand, it just takes a little more planning. But as i've mentioned before, other parents (or at least the ones we know) were always keen to help out and lend us everything we needed. Then there was Ebay, Gumtree, local secondhand baby markets, Facebook buy/swap/sell groups and Op shops to fill in the gaps.
Can I let you in on a secret? I love makeup tutorials on Instagram. Do you know the ones I'm talking about? They use what feels like a bajillion products to contour, sculpt and transform faces. I can't put it down to why because there is a lot of packaging involved; maybe it's the artist in me enjoying the process. Makeup is a fun medium for self expression. I liken it to putting on a costume. Similar to slipping on a costume, makeup can be help to trick you into behaving differently. For instance, when I put concealer over the dark circles under my tired eyes and mascara on my lashes after a long night with my teething baby, I don't feel as sleep deprived. Is that just me?
Humans love affair with makeup has been going strong for thousands of years. But over the last four-five decades the packaging has become more and more wasteful. Looking for zero-waste and plastic-free makeup has been an intentionally slow journey as I wanted to make sure the businesses I circulated my money with ticked the right boxes. This concealer is one of the last items i've been searching for.
Apart from my sisters foundation I borrowed for my wedding, I hadn't used anything on my face except tapioca powder since 2014. It's what helps control the shine my oily skin creates. It wasn't until my son came along and some very long nights as a result that I wanted to use concealer. I feel comfortable and confident with and without makeup. However, I'm a working mother and some days I would like to fool my brain into thinking I am more awake than tired.
Dirty Hippie Cosmetics Mineral Cream Concealer is made here in Australia, in Bywong to be precise. Most of the low waste beauty products I've purchased have been from the US but if I can i'd prefer to support the local zero waste market and of course, reduce those air miles needed to send items from overseas.
Dirty Hippie Cosmetics use newspaper and recycled paper packages to ship their products along with a little note also on recycled paper. Both of the newspaper and packaging have been reused. Labels are made of recycled paper printed in-house with vegetable ink. The handmade Mineral Cream Concealer is housed in a secondary aluminium tin, meaning the aluminium is recycled. I prefer to buy ready-made beauty products in either in cardboard or metal, as these two materials have a higher chance of being recycled in Australia. Cardboard can be composted too. While glass has the potential to be recycled continuously (ie glass jar recycled into a glass jar), here in Australia our booming construction and infrastructure industries require a fair amount of sand which they can obtain from glass. The Australian recycling industry is going through a transition since China has reduced what they accept for recycling from us, so hopefully one day in the not so distant future we'll see more true glass jars to glass jars recycling right here in Australia.
While recycling is great (when done correctly), saving on resources, materials and energy by offering refills is a better choice. Dirty Hippie Cosmetics accept tins and bottles back for reuse and refills on all full sized products to residents of Australia. Imagine if every company offered this! We certainly wouldn't be experiencing the panic our recycling industry is facing right now.
Let's talk about the actual concealer; does it work? I took before and after photos last year in September and I'm still using the Mineral Cream Concealer in shade moonlight. It's not heavy enough to hide my freckles which i don't ever want to cover up (love my sun kisses) but provides enough coverage to disguise the dark circles. I also apply it to t-zone. I use my fingers to apply but if you have a foundation brush it would work too. Once applied to my skin I brush over with tapioca face powder to combat any shine. It's a product i'd definitely repurchase from Dirty Hippie Cosmetics. The added SPF 15 makes my pale skin happy, even though I wear a sunscreen and hat most days. I'm happy with the ingredients, there are no synthetic chemicals, preservatives and additives. Since my purchase last year the formula has been updated slightly to be a little thicker and less oily.
The business is quick to respond with any queries too, which is what a customer wants. They also allow for custom orders. Dirty Hippie Cosmetics products are vegan, cruelty free, organic, free of harmful toxins, with ethically sourced and fairtrade ingredients.
I did notice a low waste mascara available on their Etsy store – let me know if you have tried it. I'd be keen to test the BB cream as I've never used this type of produce before. I'm still not sure what BB cream does. Is it like foundation?
Dirty Hippie Cosmetics were kind enough to include a Nourishing Lip and Cheek for me to try. I'm wearing it in the last photo. If you have followed my journey to finding as close to zero waste beauty products you'll know I had bought (and love!) a similar product from the US. It's great to have a version of this available in Australia now. The texture has more shine compared to the matte finish of UrbApothecary Tint Stick but i'm still very happy and use it most days.
I recently came across lunazerowaste for those based in the UK looking for low-waste mascara. If you have an awesome low-waste beauty product you love, leave a link in the comments for others to find.
In case you are wondering I was never asked to review this product by the business, it was purchased myself.
Like many people in their 20s music festivals and gigs made up a big part of my social life. Music festivals and gigs is unquestionably an area where waste is at a peak. I've danced in front of stages on top of forgotten plastic cups, each bounce breaking the material into smaller and smaller pieces. I've stood next to bins trying to find my friends, paying no attention to the fact the bin is actually so full its now spilling out and being blown around the site. Tents have been purchased for music festivals with no intention of taking them home because I assumed someone would collect the tent for someone in need and I could buy another one for at low discounted price. In reality the tent went to landfill. Enticing people into making sustainable choices requires not just education but also providing the means to do so right under their noses until it becomes normal. I remember being at the Australian music festival Homebake in 2007 where festival goers were given 50c off each drink they purchased in exchange for an empty aluminium can they brought back with them to the bar. Needless to say everyone was pouncing on cans wherever you could find them, with people going through the bins to get that discount off their next drink. Providing a cash for container scheme resulted in the festival space staying relatively clean compared to others I've attended. Had this incentive not been provided I doubt any of us would have paid much attention to the cans littering the grass, shoved between tents, piling next to bins.
Last year I read an article on Rolling Stone's website about plastic and waste at music festivals. The story opened with the not so shocking statistic of waste created by each festival attendee attending Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival hovered at 15 pounds (6.8kg per person for those of us from a metric measuring country). Here is a link if you'd like to read the original story. This 15 pounds is almost double that of the daily US average.
Artists have the power to use their talents and platforms to help shift change. A singer standing up on stage telling us to use less plastic and save the oceans is great, but really the idea doesn't float well if the event itself sells plastic water bottles and doesn't encourage the audience to bring your own for refills. This is where Green Music Australia come in, by helping musicians turn their events into more sustainable experiences.
As part of my Changemakers series I invited Tim Hollo founder of Green Music Australia to talk about the need to green up the music industry and how they are helping to do this.
What is Green Music Australia about? Green Music Australia is about harnessing the cultural power of musicians to lead the way to a greener world. We believe that we musicians have a hugely important role to play in influencing people - from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to the words we use, people follow our lead. And we have a responsibility to use that for good, and lead the way out of environmental crises towards a better way of living, in harmony with nature. We run campaigns on issues such as climate change and plastic waste; we work with musicians, festivals and others to help them reduce their impact; and we support musicians to be advocates for change.
What inspired you to create tools to help musicians and the music industry reduce their environmental impact? As a musician and an environmentalist, I was getting increasingly frustrated that our music scene, even though it's full of forward thinking, thoughtful people, has this outsized environmental footprint. A few individuals have been doing great things for a long time, but the bulk of the scene wasn't moving. It was time for someone to do something to get that action out across the industry.
Do you think the music scene in Australia is wasteful? How do you think this could change? Absolutely. You only have to turn up at a music festival in the evening and see the sea of rubbish to realise how much waste we're responsible for. Or look on the road outside an inner city venue. We go through a huge amount of single use plastic, which is so easy to stop, with a bit of forethought and planning. Disposable stuff is such a new invention! There's really no reason why we can't go back to reusable cups, plates, cutlery and bottles, like everyone used to! Yes, it takes a bit of thought, but that's why Green Music is here to help!
Have there been many challenges engaging with musicians or other parts of the music business? The biggest challenge is people thinking it's too difficult. Everyone we talk to wants to do it! But everyone is also so busy, and so close to the edge financially, that they don't want other things to think about. Our challenge is to get them to see how important it is, and to provide solutions to make it easy.
I've been to festivals in the past and seen (...and probably contributed) to the plastic bottle waste left behind at the end. Tell us about your BYO bottle campaign and where this is at. BYOBottle is working to get the music scene to ditch disposables, move to reusables, and stop the enormous stream of plastic waste coming from the music scene. We work with musicians as ambassadors - committing to not using single use plastic bottles themselves and telling venues and festivals they play at that they want jugs or refilling stations made available. And we also work directly with festivals and venues, supporting them to make the change. We've worked with festivals across the country, from Illawarra to Cygnet, from Woodford to WOMADelaide, and the list is growing!
We musicians have a hugely important role to play in influencing people - from the clothes we wear to the food we eat to the words we use, people follow our lead. And we have a responsibility to use that for good, and lead the way out of environmental crises towards a better way of living, in harmony with nature.
What would be your advice on reducing environmental impact for people attending gigs and festivals? Two simple steps - bring your own bottle (check if metal is allowed and, if not, make sure you bring a reusable plastic one), and either ride your bike, take public transport or at least car pool! Those are by far the best things you can do. If you want to take it a step further, get in touch with the festival and ask them what they're doing to reduce their environmental impact - it's pressure from the punters, more than anything else, that will make them move! And, if you're super keen, get in touch with us to see if there's an opportunity to volunteer at the festival!
Describe your ideal sustainable music festival? How would it work? A truly green music festival (and there are a few around the world), would be 100% powered by clean, renewable energy. Ideally some of that would be on site, like solar panels on stages, and dance floors which use the energy of crowds jumping up and down to power the lights! It would also use no single use plastics at all, making sure that all drinks are served in reusable cups or bottles, and food on reusable plates with reusable cutlery. These can easily be collected, washed, and returned to use quickly, with on site dishwashing. It would, of course, have plenty of water refilling stations around the site, well-sign-posted, because it wouldn't sell any bottled water. And it would encourage all punters and artists to bring their own bottles. And it would make sure that public transport is freely available to punters to use, and provide a cycle valet service to encourage people to ride there, if possible. It would also use green composting toilets, compost all food waste, and separate any rubbish that remains from recycling.
What plans does Green Music Australia have for the future? There are a few ideas in the pipeline, but we need more resources before we can think about expanding! At this stage, we are planning on pumping along with the waste campaign! If you had a moment in an elevator and could tell people just one thing, what would it be? Every single one of us is a citizen of this planet. Every single one of us has a responsibility to act to protect the natural world we are part of. And we musicians have an especially important role. It's time we took that seriously, and led the way to a greener world.
I've gone back and fourth on writing this blog post. In the space of six months I received over 200 emails asking the question how to “do” a zero waste and plastic-free pregnancy. Gosh, what a loaded question! And one I was unsure how to answer properly.
With pregnancy well and truly over, I can now identify the three possible areas where plastic is used and how waste could be made and avoided. The areas are:
Making the choice to say no to plastic and waste in any scenario comes down to two main factors; circumstance and knowledge. Our circumstances involve things like health, location, financial, support. A lack of knowledge will inhibit awareness around options available. If we don't know how to do something differently, it can be harder to make a change. For example, my health and my unborn child's health during pregnancy made it difficult to allow for a waste free birth. Since I did not have enough knowledge of pregnancy or birth without modern intervention, I felt limited and slightly overwhelmed also.
So if you were unbound by the limitations of circumstance and had comfortable knowledge, plus time to gain it, avoid waste in these three areas is achieveable.
Continue to shop in the same zero waste style you already are. Reuse containers, bags and bottles at bulk stores or co-ops, delis, bakeries, fruit and veg markets.
Instead of a plastic pregnancy test trust your body to follow these pregnancy signs
Refuse or reduce the amount tests needed during the pregnancy (blood tests and ultrasounds)
Refuse pregnancy multivitamins
Refuse or limit medical intervention through home birth, consulting with a midwife, doula or obstetrician
Borrow or buy second hand maternity wear
Hold onto clothes already in the wardrobe until to uncomfortable for wear
Look for secondhand or borrow maternity bras (if needed early)
All of the above are possible. So why did I, this so called zero waste expert, not have a zero waste pregnancy? A lack of knowledge in alternatives an awareness to the amount of waste, lack of preparedness as I had not expected to become pregnant so quickly, and lastly the circumstance of my health and baby's made some choices harder. So if you came here to read about my zero waste pregnancy, sorry wrong blog. But if you'd like to read about where waste was created and the plastic used in my own pregnancy to better prepare you, then please keep reading.
The day before our honeymoon began I had spotting (bleeding), one of our bodies many ways of announcing “you're pregnant.” We had only started trying a month prior, the possibility of being pregnant didn't seem possible. Plus, we were about to leave for our three week romantic honeymoon visiting London, Norway, South-West France for a friends wedding, hiking in Corsica and relaxing in Sardinia.
I could have trusted my intuition, waiting until we returned to Australia for the standard blood tests which would confirm my pregnancy, but excitement got the better of me. We arrived in London early in the morning and all I could think of was getting to Aldgate East tube station and finding a Boots or Superdrug to buy a pregnancy test before we thought of checking into the hotel.
The little plastic test was positive. We were having a baby. The Builder jokingly asked if i'd take the pregnancy tests home for my waste jar. I decided against carrying a stick covered in pee home. C'mon...
I did recycle the box.
The first two weeks following the pregnancy test were normal. We continued on our honeymoon, incorporating the usual zero waste and plastic-free habits that we have at home and on all our other holidays abroad. Travelling zero waste in Europe is easy, especially France.
By the final week of our honeymoon everything changed. Morning sickness announced itself rudely. With nothing staying down I dreaded breakfast, lunch and dinner. Water came back up. We scrolled lists of morning sickness blog posts reading cures upon cures. Many of them unappealing and often made me dry retch.
At home we would have been able to collect some of the more palatable options zero waste and plastic-free. But we were not at home. We were in a small town on the island of Sardinia, our grasp of the local language hovering between OK and pathetic. The only way of buying ginger was to choose the stuff covered in sugar, wrapped in plastic packaging. Seriously no fresh ginger. Anywhere. So we gave in. The plastic bag came home for us to drop at RedCycle, with most of the sweet ginger inside. It did nothing for my morning sickness.
Tap water in my reusable bottle was begrudgingly swapped for soda water in plastic bottles. The fizz for some reason helped keep fluid down. With temperatures hovering around 35 degrees, I needed to stay hydrated. I became the person we so often scoff at for carrying an armful of plastic bottles out of the store.
We recycled the bottles (sooo many bottles).
As for food, well lucky the Sardinians love their bread or I don't know what I would have eaten. While the Builder enjoyed his Mediterranean feasts, I ate the bread basket. In a panic the Builder bought pregnancy multivitamins thinking the baby was getting no nutrients from all the pane carasau (a wafer thin flat bread popular in Sardinia, resembling a giant water cracker). Another plastic bottle to recycle. The first three months, typically the time a woman suffers morning sickness, is when eating only bread is acceptable. The body will suck any stored nutrients and feed to baby. Something we did not find out until returning home. If we knew this we would have said no to the multivitamins. When we have the right information, we can make smarter decisions, but if we don't then the decisions can be skewed.
By this stage I wanted desperately to be home
You may or may not have seen a little video posted via social media on how easy flying zero waste is. Well, it was easy going to Europe. The flight back to Melbourne was hell. All the food we had bought with us made me sick. I even told the Builder to leave me in Dubai. I'd rent a hotel room for nine months, have the baby and fly home. It took a visit to the Dubai Airport Medical Centre and some medication to get me onto the final leg home.
You know those little biscuit packs often found on planes or at work conferences, the ones with two inside...I ate those from Rome to Dubai, Dubai to Melbourne. Plus those cardboardy bread rolls wrapped in plastic. Oh, and more fizzy water. Every bit of plastic packaging was hoarded and dropped at RedCycle. If I had been stopped at immigration there is not doubt they wold have asked why I had bags of plastic.
I arrived home feeling crumbled. How could something so small be doing this? I closed the blinds and crawled into bed for two weeks, the plastic packaged bread and biscuits were swapped for our usual unpackaged sourdough, covered in lashing of honey or peanut butter or Aussiemite. I tried fresh ginger tea with no avail. The magic of fizzy water stopped working, instead swapped for cans of coconut water.
We recycled the cans (sooo many cans).
Eventually my hormones settled enough for me to function and I was able to visit the doctor to have the usual blood tests to make sure my body was doing OK. I was advised to take a mutlivitamin, B6 to help with nausea and then later found out my thyroid was not functioning meaning I had to take a tablet for this also.
I started to feel a bit helpless - I had used a fair amount of plastic in such a short period of time. I got use to the constant nausea which stuck with me until I gave birth. Bread was replaced with normal food, my cans of coconut water swapped for a pregnancy tea brewed cold. I could not stand hot drinks. This magnesium oil got me through the last three months.
I've never been anti-plastic, simply anti it's misuse. The plastic I used during the first three months was mostly food related and the rest thereafter was for blood tests, ultrasounds and CTGs. In Australia women have two-three routine ultrasounds and two blood tests. If the situation requires monitoring, doctors and midwives recommend more. As the patient we are always in charge and can refuse. I however didn't. My obstetrician recommended further monitoring cautious our baby had IGUR. My uterus was never growing the size it should. All was well in the end, I was carrying 'neat' (neat means the baby was growing more inside my body than outside). I chose to trust my doctor and follow his lead. I knew in my heart he would not have sent me for extra tests if they were not needed as they were stressful and scary. Also, this was my first pregnancy. I didn't know what to expect and I don't think anyone expects the possibility of complications or suffering nausea for nine months. My motto for this lifestyle is 'do the best you can, with what you've got, where you are.'
I guess the point of this blog post is to emphasise there may be moments in life where we will make choices requiring plastic or where we'll make rubbish. I would have loved to have used less plastic and made less waste. A home birth sounded like magic but I was not confident enough to commit. It can be hard to make decisions when some of us have never tried something momentous like birth. With the knowledge I have gained my next pregnancy could be zero waste as I'll have the experience and knowledge to be prepared.
The main reason I struggled to write something about my pregnancy was a fear i'd make anyone feel they had failed living zero waste had they created rubbish. This is not a “10 ways to reduce your rubbish etc” post. It's a story about my pregnancy. Is it possible to have a zero waste and plastic-free pregnancy? Absolutely! There are many MANY women who do. I didn't. But I tried where I could.
Another reason I hesitated writing this was because I suffered feelings of inadequacy from reading posts on “how to do pregnancy” or “what to eat for pregnancy” etc. I didn't ever want to make anyone feel this way when reading my blog. I can imagine the authors of those blog posts never intended to make a reader feel like they were not measuring up, they were simply sharing their own thoughts, hoping to help another woman. Pregnancy has the potential to create so much rubbish, the last thing I wanted to do was make anyone feel bad if they did. It took me a while to listen to the advice I give others when reading about living zero waste and this is to take the tips and apply them in your own way, and never compare yourself. Be flexible, stay patient and try your best. Not one pregnancy is the same as another. And always be kind to yourself and bub.
Late last year I was asked by a blog reader to share the Builder's journey to plastic-free and zero waste living. While I tried to give my best response on his behalf it did not feel right to tell his own story for him. I floated the idea for a interview style blog post on Instagram. It was met with a lot of enthusiasm and eager questions from you all. He said yes. Each of the questions below came from you, the readers. I was surprised to hear some of the responses from him.
For new readers, my husband is referred to as the Builder throughout the blog. This is his trade. He ticks some of the stereotypes us Aussies associate with tradies; drives a ute, wears flannel and loves the footy. Living a plastic-free and zero waste life is not something one would apply to a man working in the construction industry. Hopefully his story will prove there is no eco greenie stereotype. Because you would not catch my husband in the bush hugging some tree. At least not sober...
I'll pass it over to the Builder to answer your plastic-free and zero waste questions... I completed my first Plastic-Free July in 2013. Two months later we moved in together. By this stage, I had decided to live plastic-free but had been doing it in my own home. What was it like at the start for you? Was my lifestyle change difficult for you to accept when I was living it under the same roof as you? Do you want to know the truth? I thought this woman is crazy! Kidding. I thought it was OK, but it was a bit too much for me at the start. It felt like everything took so long. There was a bit of work involved, especially for someone who was not eco mined I suppose. It was a struggle. But once I had the habits and new systems in place it became much easier.
What was the catalyst that made you want to follow along? What clicked?
Like you, it was also a movie. You were settling in to watch the film 'Bag It' and asked if I’d like to watch it as the movie might give some perspective on why you became this crazy plastic-free person. I was alarmed by all the health concerns like BPA and what they could do. I had no idea these existed! A movie is a good way to help explain a big issue like how harmful plastic is.
Have you ever felt like I've forced any of my own changes on you? Does it feel like you've made decisions to reduce waste on your own or are you following what I do?
I don't feel like you have ever forced it on me. I've always had an option to say no and you made this clear from day one. At the start I followed your lead, but only because you were doing the research and could answer any questions I had. Now I have my own systems in place to suit me at home and on my worksite. When I got to the football, beer is served in a plastic cup and not once have you made me feel bad or guilty for purchasing them. They recycle the cup! But a beer at the footy is a vice and I choose it. I think you need to give each person their space and allow them to decide what they'll give up because it can be hard for some and easier for others.
What did you think of plastic-free living before you jumped on board?
I thought it would bottle-neck my life and slow it down, stopping me from getting stuff done. This might have been because you were still trying to figure out the whole plastic-free thing out too.
And now how do you feel about it?
The opposite. There has been a nice knock-on effect of positive benefits adding much more value to my life.
Learning to question what I've been told I need, which has helped me step off the hamster wheel of mindless consumption. I feel I have more control. I learned to appreciate the finer things in life. These days I'd much rather be making memories than buying something. I also enjoy the connection to my community. Getting creative fixing things. All the same things as you.
What's the one plastic item you've given up you miss the most?
I do miss a Powerade. It's kind of hard to substitute that. I'd have a lot of Powerade during the week. Twix, chips. You know the same kind of junk food you sometimes miss. But then the whole palm oil stuff turns me off as well.
Would you continue to pursue a zero waste lifestyle if I was not around?
Yes, I would. But I will admit that you set up many of the processes in the beginning. I enjoy this lifestyle so it would be hard to want to go back, especially now I'm a dad.
You and I both loved second hand shopping years before we met. Buying second hand is part of the zero waste movement. Do you think your love for second hand shopping made it accessible?
Yes, I was a vintage shopper from way back. I didn't have any phobias buying second-hand. Some people do have and will look down on you. Second-hand shopping can be a challenge. You go in there and have to think outside the box. Sometimes you go into a second-hand store wanting to find something and you can't. But then an item surprises you. It kind of forces you to be creative which is something I like. I think that's why I like this lifestyle, it kind of makes you stop and think and get creative.
Quality of life is not measured by the things you buy, it’s measured by the moments you live.
What has been the hardest adjustment for you? Probably my mates, who always have something to say about the way I live now. Their happy to provide their expertise in the area. They just think you have become this totally different person, but really I'm the same person only thinking somewhat differently now.
We have people in our lives that 'don't get it.' How do you deal with this? What are your tips for others?
Just don't bother getting into debates or force stuff onto other people. Some of my mates have come to respect that. They leave me to it and I leave them to their lifestyle but I’m not afraid to banter them when I see a disposable coffee cup in their hand. I'm not out to change anyone’s lives. Just because you don't live the same lifestyle, does not mean you can't still get along. Also don't waste your energy on the naysayers. It's easier for others to drain your energy, so you must step away and stop worrying about what they think of picking up rubbish or saying no to plastic bags.
You work in a very masculine industry, with its share of stereotypes. How do you deal with these and being a “greenie”? Do the people on site make fun of your choices. If so, how do you cope? Yeah for sure they make fun of it. But I don't let it get to me. It's generally the people who are like that are the ones I find hard to manage. It's not their attitude about the environment, it's just their attitude in general. The industry does not encourage you to be eco on the job site, beyond energy ratings in the final build.
Do you have any advice for other people in similar positions? Do what you feel you can do at your job no matter where you work. Over time the majority of people will respect it. Sometimes you do feel like people are making fun of it but then you realise people will like you for who you are. People will make so many assumptions about the plastic-free or zero waste lifestyle, and sometimes it’s easier to let people just enjoy those assumptions. I find it simpler to just lead by example. Quality of life is not measured by the things you buy, it’s measured by the moments you live. When you change this focus you begin to enjoy the interaction life has to offer. Then you never fall victim to your previous lifestyle.
What advice would you give a couple who have different views? Run in the opposite direction! Kidding!! That's a tough one. I think you need to be in a completely supportive relationship that allows each person the freedom to try stuff even if it's different. If you don't have a common ground then it’s going to be a struggle. I didn't give plastic-free a go for a couple months, but I supported you and I know you would have done the same if the tables were turned.
Lastly, what do you like most about living plastic-free and zero waste? I like not having to go to Woolworths and Coles. Major supermarkets make me frustrated. They seem unethical, a contradiction and full of waste. It's nice spending my money somewhere that is more aligned with my values and supporting my community. Life is simple, happier. A healthy, kind lifestyle that makes you feel good.
If you have anymore questions, feel free to put them below and he'll answer them for you.
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