Quick links and long reads

Some links, pour vous. 


The War on Waste came back (or never left, for some of us). Watch all four episodes on iview if you missed the series. In the follow up episode broadcast earlier this month, host Craig Reucassel revisits the issues to find out whether the series had any impact on Australian behaviour. Here’s a link to the survey results (over 36,000 people participated!).

Meanwhile, in Canada, the folks are nice, but very trashy. Here’s look at how Toronto’s highly efficient waste management actually obscures the dirty truth from the worse wasters.

A community fridge project in New Zealand, one year later.

Glitter is gaining traction as the next target for micro plastic bans.

This TED talk asks us to reconsider the apocalypse language and scientific jargon to be more persuasive in communicating environmental issues. Completely agree, and part of this has to do with who we are speaking to – what worked on early adopters doesn’t work for the critical masses, who are more attuned to what friends and neighbours say.

I use vinegar to replace a whole slew of commercially marketed cleaning products. It’s surprisingly effective, but don’t dilute if you want the bacteria killing action.

My unpackaged, not quite daily, hair routine

In case you were wondering, this is my approach to zero waste hair care. 


I have longish wavy hair and a reasonable amount of it, which I get cut every 4-6 months at the Sustainable Salon in Surry Hills. I wash my hair once or twice a week – throwing it in a topnot while I shower. I blow dry about six times a year and don’t own hairspray except for the sugar and vodka mix I made myself, and yet barely use. I’ve carted around a bottle of Aveda texturizing spray for roughly eight years since that one time I bought product at a salon. I am determined to use it up, if only to repurpose the spray bottle that contains it.

I’m not a ‘hair’ person because I’ve never had to be. A good cut and very occasionally getting some highlights to frame my face means I can basically wake up and go.

I’m privileged that society accepts my hair as it is naturally, with the exception of that period in the 2000s when straightened hair was de rigueur, Britney was dancing with pythons, and pashminas were a thing. I obviously owned a straightener, which probably still exists somewhere in a drawer in my parent’s upstairs bathroom in Canada, a victim of disuse.

You’d think I’d be easy to please. Sort of? Curious, definitely.

I’ve tried all the things

I’ve tried all the most common zero waste hair washing methods that the internet has offered me:

  • bi carb & ACV
  • shampoo bars
  • more shampoo bars
  • other tempting shampoo bars
  • diluted castile soap (omg, no)
  • avocado pit ‘shampoo’
  • rye flour

And of course, inevitably, water only.

None of which worked out for me. My hair turned into a greasy on the bottom, dry on top, lion’s mane of Nope. It never normalized. I never ‘got through the bad period’. If you did, congrats.

I also struggled with whether some of these solutions were an improvement over shampooing. It seemed like I ended up wasting water by trying to get flour out of my hair, or cleaning my hairbrush and pillows more often from the extra oil buildup. Or using too much of an alternative to achieve a worse result (like the avo pit shampoo that was basically just diluted water with some gelatinousness). It felt like the highest maintenance low maintenance pursuit ever.

We’re all different. A good solution for me must be reduced waste, low maintenance, and also it needs to work.

Shampoo, currently

So here we are. Full circle actually.

One of the first lifestyle changes I made in pursuing the life less wasteful was to buy shampoo in refill from The Soap Dispensary. It had never even occurred to me to look for refills until the first time I walked into the place.

When I moved to Sydney, it wasn’t as commonplace to find personal care product refills, and this was only 3 years ago! So I branched out to find out if other ways of cleaning my hair would work. It’s been fun to experiment, but luckily, so much has changed and it’s now pretty easy to refill shampoo. I can go back to doing what just seems to work best for me – actual shampoo, just without the container. Maybe it’s not perfect, maybe there’s no such thing as perfect anyway, and maybe perfectionism is a trap*.

These days I refill shampoo from The Source and mix it up occasionally with a Lush shampoo bar, which does have SLS, but is packaging free. The latter is great for traveling and threatens to last forever at the rate I’m going. Some people like to throw shade at Lush, for myriad reasons, but who else is doing unpackaged body care at that scale?

I store my shampoo in plastic because I’m not ridiculous. Anyone tempted to store shower paraphernalia in glass should consider how bloody inconvenient (literally bloody) it is to get out of a shower with glass all over the floor, which happened to me when a shower shelf fell out of, unbeknownst to me, broken wall brackets.

In the summer I get into the ocean a couple times a week at least. The salt seems to keep the grease in check, with the bonus of giving me pretty waves. The sun does dry the hair, so I focus on keeping my hair conditioned, and for that, ACV is actually pretty great. After shampooing I spray diluted ACV onto the bottom of my hair using an upcycled spray bottle, then rinse so I don’t smell of salad dressing. Coconut oil on the ends works well too when hair is towel dried.

A dash of a DIY arrowroot and cocoa mixture serves as a dry shampoo if I really try to stretch between washes, which happens in the wintertime when Aussie houses are so chilly I can’t be bothered to wet my hair. My best weapon year round is a floppy hat that both hides my unwashed hair, and protects my face from the sun.

As far as tools go, I use a wooden paddle hairbrush I pinched from one sister or another eons ago. Half the bristles are missing, so it’s a good thing it has a huge paddle portion and one side still works. You’ll never catch my right wrist unadorned by a hair elastic or two – a few years ago I bought a package that I hope will last me the rest of my long life, supplemented by those I pick up from the ground. Same for bobby pins. My secondhand blow dryer broke just before a recent wedding so I went to one of those blow dry only places to get it done instead of immediately replacing the tool. I searched a bit on Gumtree, decided to wait it out, and then my sister in law very conveniently gave me an extra one she had.

So for now, this is my simple, unpackaged hair care routine. My teenaged self would hardly believe that it’s not necessary to shampoo daily, or care if others think my hair looks slightly greasy. My mom would approve and tell me that it’s more or less what she did growing up. Refilling and buying unpackaged is part of the story, but the core of it is doing less altogether. The whole reduce part applies to activities as well as things. Less washing and less styling, which translates to less product used, fewer containers and less water waste.

*It is a trap.

A little ode to sauerkraut (and why you should make it yourself)

Sauerkraut is super. And making it at home means zero waste. 


Did you catch this food diary slash interview with Moonjuice founder and actual (not really) space cadet?

You really ought to. Go, I’ll wait.

Now let’s think about how, for most of human history, and still for many humans today, having any food at all was pretty super. Nutritious food, prepared in an accessible way and within financial reach for the masses is worth celebrating.

One of the way humans could store and preserve precious food before refrigeration was through fermentation. Cheese is just fermented milk, bread is fermented wheat, and so on. It’s used everywhere, we just mostly don’t take notice.

More than just a way to preserve food

Fermentation also helps by adding good strains of bacteria back into western digestive tracts. Gut bacteria is being studied to find out more about its affect on mood and weight. One day maybe we’ll be able to map the human microbiome the way we’ve mapped the genome.

Consider that you might not actually be you, but almost a giant SCOBY, or a host. Your intestines hold a weird and wonderful mix of helpful microbes that assist in processing the food we eat. In fact everyone’s microbiome is different. It’s a symbiotic arrangement where ecosystem rules apply – disrupt things too much by destroying habitat and things might get a bit crazy. Case in point, if you ever been prescribed antibiotics, you’ve probably also been told to pair the dose with plain yogurt, which has some of the same strains of bacteria that help keep your downstairs vestibule healthy. Food can indeed be thy medicine.

If you’re interested in this stuff, the book Gut by medical doctor Julia Enders is an entertaining and very down to earth read, replete with funny illustrations by her sister, on the whole digestive system

Why you ought to try making your own sauerkraut

It’s soooo much cheaper that store bought:  Last I checked, store bought sauerkraut will set you back $15 – $18 a litre here in Sydney. By comparison, one head of cabbage costs $4 and made about 3 litres in my last batch, pictured here.

It’s actually easy: It’s only two to three ingredients: cabbage, unrefined salt and optional whole spices (I like coriander or fennel). It uses a low tech method – shred the cabbage, sprinkle salt on top, pound until juicy, pack in a jar, leave on the bench and wait 2 – 3 weeks. Takes a bit longer in winter, goes a bit faster in summer.

No new packaging: Whether it’s plastic or glass, we all use way too much, even if it actually does get recycled. Why get a new glass jar when you can reuse what you have?

The no-whey sauerkraut method I use

Sauerkraut recipes are literally everywhere because they are pretty much the same, except that some call for whey and some only use salt. After experimenting with both methods over the years, I definitely prefer the results from with salt only – crispy and brightly flavoured. Whey ferments have tended to go mushy on me.

I started with and still use a method based on fermentation legend Sandor Kratz’s instruction. He recommends about 3 tablespoons unrefined salt for every 5 lbs (about 2.5 kilos) of veg. Here’s a link if you need more detail. Side note, I highly recommend his amazing book, the Art of Fermentation.

The salt acts to encourage the growth of lactic acid bacteria strains – the good guys – that are already present on the cabbage. You’ll know if things are going well if the mixture starts to bubble after a few days. The aroma should be fairly innocuous.

Tips

  • I prefer red cabbage since it’s pretty when added to dishes, and has more vitamin c.
  • A fermenting crock with stones for weight is great, but a basic glass jar with shoulders works too.
  • Remember to keep one of the outer leaves of the cabbage to cover the mix and make it easier to push down and submerge into the liquid. The main rule for fermenting is that whatever is under the liquid line is in a safely acidic environment and stays food safe.
  • A fine whitish mould on top is fine, but colourful blues and reds in moulds are no bueno and a sign that something’s gone wrong.
  • Some recipes say to leave on the bench for a few days, but I allow my batches to go for closer to 3 weeks to let the good bacteria and complex flavours develop. Test as you go to see what you prefer.
  • A kitchen scale is extremely helpful when dealing with brines and weight based measures. I got mine at the op shop.
  • Unrefined salt means sea salt or another non-iodine variety.
  • Once you have the basic recipe, have fun and experiment with different spices or chilis and add ins.

Good sense bubbling to the surface

Sauerkraut is good for you, simple and cheap to make and is a perfect way to add an extra umami kick to food. One giant batch every six months is more than enough for me, and I put it on everything. I add a tablespoon to grain bowls, salads, avocado toast, you name it.

 

A few things

A few things that both pleased me and didn’t create any waste


I condition my cutting boards with a mixture of beeswax and coconut oil (4:1 ratio, melted together). Some experts say mineral oil is best for boards, but the internet says coconut oil is okay too. And I don’t have any mineral oil.

I traded extra pine rosin for some beautiful produce bags.

Ocean swims are back on the menu.