A few things

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


If there was a theme to my week, it would be local food, grown and shared. Case in point, my friend Serena gifted me five enormous avocados from the tree in her Bondi backyard.

Sometimes, hoarding pays. I realized this sprayer top perfectly fits a small amber glass container whose rubber dropper top has disintegrated. I’d been hanging on to both. A perfect vessel for a peppermint essential oil and water room spray. 

I made it to a crop swap at Pocket City Farms and left with armfuls of swapped goodies, including kale, green beans, lemongrass, oregano, curry leaf seedlings, cuttings of dragonfruit and elderflower, and so much more. You can also buy produce grown on site from the farm stand near the entrance. I paired this pungent bouquet of basil with the tomatoes in a salad later that day. Tasted of summer.

 

 

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 few things

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


This Thursday I’ll be leading a discussion after a screening of the documentary Recipes for Disaster, in which the filmmaker and his family give up oil products for a year. The exercise explores how his decision affects his family, and his relationships. Things gets a bit tense. Admittedly, the filmmaker goes way further than I generally do, but all the same, it’s great topic to crack open – how will the changes you make in your life impact on those around you?

Some unpackaged soap I like to call ‘Weekend in Bondi’. Also, the coconut scrubby it’s sitting on makes an excellent soap dish.

A recent market haul that was waste free, even if the goods don’t appear to be hyperlocal (although Aussie seasonality continues to confuse me). The egg man traded me for my empty carton, the bread man gave me a discount for having my own bag, and the fruit man gave me the bananas for free. I picked the rosemary on the way home, roadside.

 

Eating on the go without making trash: yes we can

juice-with-metal-straw

Ten easy ways I avoid waste when eating on the go. Plus, what I do when I end up with trash I didn’t want. 


Too often, eating on the go can result in a mountain of trash.

If you’ve ever done a waste audit, you’ll probably quickly realize that waste generated from feeding ourselves is 80 – 90% of the issue. And for once I’m not talking about compost. I’m talking about plastic forks, straws, toothpicks, parchment, styrofoam, little umbrellas in your drink, etc.

And it’s not just plastic either – even if we replace these materials with those that have a better afterlife, like bamboo cutlery and paper bags, there are still significant impacts in land use, manufacturing and transportation. Plus, how much of that ‘earth friendly’ packaging ends up anywhere but landfill anyway, hmm? Given the choice of plastic or paper, yes I’d choose paper, but my favourite choice of all is no packaging.

Ten ways to minimize waste when eating out

A little forethought and a couple of reusables are all that I need to avoid the common types of food related landfill fodder.


1. Eat in

Enjoying our food makes it more nutritious for us. Usually it also means less garbage. Usually.

Australia's cafe culture is still dine in friendly.
Australia’s cafe culture is still dine in friendly.

2. Bring a kit

I carry reusables in my handbag. They are light and don’t take up much space. Plan according to what you think you might need. Strolling along the coastal walk might mean a reusable cup, hiking might mean a beeswax wrap for cookies, and grocery shopping means a lightweight reusable bag.

Mt. Kozzie cookie
Beeswax wraps are lightweight and perfect for hikes.

3. Take it naked

When life hands you a croissant, just take it.

croissant


4. No cuppy, no coffee

If I don’t have a cup, I don’t get a coffee – simple. Or I dine in (point #1).

reusable cup
I work less than a block away from the nearest cafe, so I take an office mug.

5. Pack snacks 

When I’m hungry, I’m more Godzilla than Ghandi so I pack snacks to avoid the temptation of packaged items or unrelenting hangriness. My boyfriend appreciates this.

BLISSBALLS3
These bliss balls are made from leftover pulp from making nut milk. Search the site for the recipe.

6. Ask for ‘no straw please’

Think ahead when ordering something typically served with a straw, like a juice, smoothie, bubble tea or anything on ice. In North America, even a simple glass of water is likely to be served with a straw (or two!!). If you can’t live without one, bring your own metal or glass straw.

coffee with straw take 2


7. Take home leftovers

I bring my own container to restaurants to avoid food waste without creating any new container waste. Bonus: lunch is made for the next day.

ramen
I will never understand how anyone can eat an entire bowl of ramen in one sitting.             It’s. Too. Much.

8. BYO container

If I get takeout, I just bring my own container. It’s not weird.

Zero Waste takeaway
Wecking the reusable angle

9. Bring home compost

Very few restaurants in Sydney recycle their food scraps. I take mine home to my own compost.

leftover lemons
#camposting

10. Refill from the tap

Sydney’s tap water is fresh tasting and clean. Single use bottled water is completely unnecessary.

Departures area refills.
Departures area refills.

What to do when you’re given trash you didn’t want

Sometimes, even when we are ultra clear about asking for no single use packaging (and it’s not even busy, and we give them our reusable cup, and we smile nicely, and, and, and….) it happens – we’re served with packaging we didn’t need or want.

URGH.

Don’t let it ruin things.

SadCup
One disposable cup does not a complete failure make. A lifetime of dependence on single use cups is the real issue.

 

If I end up with wrapping or trash, I recycle or compost everything that I can. For example:

  • Greasy or food contaminated brown paper can be composted.
  • Unsullied brown paper packaging can be reused for groceries or bulk food shopping, then recycled.
  • Paper napkins can be composted.
  • Wooden chopsticks, toothpicks or cutlery can be reused in the garden, composted, or used as kindling for lighting a fire.
  • Foil can be recycled.
  • Plastic coffee cup lids can be recycled in Sydney’s commingled kerbside recycling (the cups can’t be recycled though – you could use them to start seedlings for your garden).
  • Soft plastics can be recycled through the Redcycle drop boxes at the front of Coles stores.

Be nice (and clear)

I also try to impart why I’ve asked in the first place. As frustrating as it can be to be given trash I didn’t want, ranting won’t help. I try to make it a connection and teaching moment to build allies behind the counter. If we want others to join us in practicing living a low waste lifestyle, we have to show that it’s fun, doable, and ultimately about empathy. We are over-served packaging because that’s what ‘good service’ currently means to most cafes. Asking for less waste helps to communicate that no trash is how customers want to dine. They’ll adapt.

Living low waste is the way of the future

There is no reason eating a meal should result in any material waste other than a few food scraps for the compost, at home or when we’re out.

One day our restaurants and cafes will be closed loop masterpieces that embrace Zero Waste operating principles. Visionaries like Joost Bakker have already proven it possible. The rest of the industry just needs to catch up.

But for right now, the idea of living without making trash is new to most people on all sides of the delivery counter. The good news is, usually once they understand the reason behind it, they’re into it and will want to help. That’s been my experience here in Sydney. By packing reusables and taking a firm, but polite, stand on unnecessary single-use packaging, I’m demonstrating that it is possible and it’s not actually that difficult.