Plastic Free July: Week 4

As you can probably guess, given that it is now August, last week marked the end of Plastic Free July for 2017. I learnt a lot from the experience and am surprised at how much I enjoyed it – but then again I am someone who is pretty easily pleased by simple things; like pictures of cats on the internet, and icecream.

At the end of July, our plastic purchases for the month looked something like this:

Items included: Nick’s emergency hangover Chicken Big Mac on day 2, Nick’s emergency iced coffee on day 10 (he actually had two of these but got rid of the evidence of the other one), Nick’s tobacco pouch (cigarette filters not pictured), plastic postal bags and some packaging for me, which, semi-ironically, were all received when buying items to replace my single-use plastic. Also not pictured: some plastic lined paper that our cheese was wrapped in in the first week. 

There’s obviously a bit of disparity between Nick and I in our plastic consumption, but for a household of two I thought this was a pretty good effort. Nick was actually very generous in his participation of PFJ, and even though he kinda hated it, he never really complained too much since he saw how much I was enjoying it (although our friend did confide in me on the weekend that he hated it a lot, haha). I’m really impressed with how he did, and that he stuck to it as best he could when he probably could have snuck in a few more of those iced coffees.

Despite our efforts, this is how much soft plastic in total I’ll be dropping off for recycling next:

This bag is a culmination of things, namely from food my parents gave me that were wrapped and bagged in plastic, some gifts from friends that were also plastic wrapped, and plastic from items in the kitchen and bathroom etc. that were used up in the month, which I plan to or already have replaced with reusable/bulk items over time.

Now that PFJ has ended, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learnt in the last month; things that I expected to change, things that surprised me a little bit, things that I want to continue now that it is August. 

Here are some of the things that I discovered by doing Plastic Free July:

  1. It takes fuckloads of planning. As in, what bags/containers/jars to take, what you actually need, what plastic-free alternatives are out there, where you can buy them, is there even any point in bothering to get that item, etc. etc. etc.
  2. By going plastic-free, you become incidentally minimalistic, because of all the things detailed in the point above. 
  3. It is actually very rewarding emotionally doing things plastic-free, and being minimalistic, and it dawned on me a couple weeks in that the feeling is surprisingly a lot like that feeling of euphoria you get when you do a bit of retail therapy/online shopping. That surprised me quite a bit, and knowing that I can get that amount of satisfaction from actually buying less was pretty cool.
  4. You start seeing plastic shit everywhere, and it can be really annoying. The other day I saw a lady with a bunch of bananas, bagged in plastic, only for her to put her plastic bag of bananas into a reusable grocery bag. Like, what. Why would you do that. It can be really draining, but you just have to persist and be positive and believe in change and in people power. Or something like that.
  5. There are plastic-free alternatives for just about anything, and you can buy nearly anything in bulk/plastic-free. Other than potato chips, Asian-style noodles, nori sheets, and Nick’s favourite brand-specific snack items, there wasn’t actually that much that we had to completely give up. Just yesterday I discovered there are bulk food stores that do things like yeast and miso paste packaging free. And you can buy stationery like highlighters and packing tape and stuff plastic free. Magic!
  6. You eat a lot better by going plastic-free (or junk food just gets a lot more creative). To placate Nick’s crankiness, I managed to find packaging free lollies and chocolate. Lollies like Lifesavers and Fruit Tingles wrapped in the paper and foil became a good impulse treat. We even found beetroot and tapioca chips, which was the closest we got to potato chips. We did eat a lot more bread, but I think that suggests the amount of snacks relative to actual food probably needed an overhaul anyway. For takeaway nights, we’d get pizza or stuff from the fish and chip shop wrapped in butcher’s paper.
  7. As above – you get creative. Navigating your way around plastic becomes an interesting challenge. Making food from scratch, making your own cleaning products, or your own personal use items like toothpaste or deoderant (I haven’t tried this yet). Looking for plastic-free alternatives for everyday sorts of items like shaving razors (you can buy stainless steel), kitchen sponges, makeup wipes, shampoo and conditioner bars, all sorts of stuff. It’s like a choose your own adventure story but for hippies! My favourite this month was finding a way to get plastic-free bubble tea. So good!
  8. You have to cart a lot of shit around, and be okay with it. I now take with me at any given time my reusable coffee cup (because emergency coffee), and a little cotton drawstring bag that contains stainless steel straws and cutlery (because emergency snacks). Last week when I met some friends for bubble tea, I brought two smoothie cups for a friend that didn’t have one, and for myself. To be fair, with the amount of crap I carry in my bag on a daily basis anyway, the only real difference is how much awkward clinking goes on from random glass and/or stainless steel items now constantly on my person.
  9. You have to be really assertive when explaining to shop keepers you want things to be obtained plastic-free. You might get a person at the counter who is totally on board and extremely helpful one week, then you might get someone who will use a plastic bag/plastic gloves to put your items in your containers the next week. Starting each shop with “Hi I’m trying to use less plastic and I would like to get x items in y receptacle without any plastic please” will become this annoying mantra that you spew out of your mouth until every staff member knows who you are and remembers you as The Weird Girl Who Hates Plastic Just Do What She Wants Until She Leaves You Alone. It’s great.
  10. Small businesses and local businesses become your friend. It helps with the problems discussed in the previous point. Your local farmer’s market becomes your friend too. Suddenly, you have your go to butcher, a cheese guy, a snack guy, a guy to buy soaps from, and oils from. I even have a tofu lady! Your reliance on big supermarkets becomes negligable. In July, I only needed to go to a major supermarket to buy lightbulbs. It is incredibly liberating to find yourself not needing to rely on the big conglomerates to get what you need; to actually buy locally and eat seasonally and live as simply as you feel you need to.
  11. You will start to question everything you thought you knew about living a sustainable lifestyle. During PFJ I learnt about the plastic in tea bags, about how glass isn’t actually recycled in Western Australia (in certain nominated councils it gets crushed for concrete/roads, otherwise it actually just goes into landfill), about items that can or can’t be recycled, items that can or can’t be composted, how they should be recycled/composted, all sorts of FACTS and THINGS. 
  12. There are a lot of helpful zero waste and plastic-free support groups on Facebook for your local area, which go hand in hand with swap groups and Gumtree-esque buy and sell/bartering groups, which are generally all focused on minimising waste from making it to landfill. There are a few paranoid kooks and annoying wishy-washy hippies in these groups, but for the most part, people are cool and ordinary and really helpful with answering questions you may have, and so long as you don’t get bogged down by overly negative posts and the slightly-less-scientific nonsense that occasionally slips through, it’s a boundless resource for living with less waste.

Overall, it was a really rewarding experience, and I’m excited to continue on with living as waste free as possible. I don’t think realistically we’ll ever be completely zero waste, but it will be good to get as close to it as possible. I’m learning new things everyday – yesterday I found out there is a company that will recycle my contact lenses and the blister packs that they come in! And everyday, despite the occasional feeling of futility of it all, I feel a lot better about trying to do my part, and living semi-mindfully. I’m especially appreciative of the privilege of being able to choose what I consume, ethically or consciously or otherwise; that I live in a country/city where I am afforded those choices, and in turn that I can afford to make those choices without being too hard done by financially.  

I’ve been pleasantly surprised and totally thrilled by the conversations I’ve had with friends and family who have found my posts on social media interesting, who’ve actually been part of small businesses focused on reducing waste, who have bought a stainless steel straw or similar reusable item, or just interested in the food made from scratch from all the unpackaged raw random materials. It’s created a connectedness to my local community in a way I didn’t think was there before, and it has been by far my favourite part about the experience. 

But really I’m mostly just happy I don’t have to give up bubble tea, heck yeah.



Plastic Free July: Week 3

I did a couple shops this week. First my usual shop at my local farmers’ market, where I get all my fruit and veg, as well as bread, cheese, and eggs. I get my partner’s meat from a local butcher.

I also went to a bulk food store I hadn’t been to before, that was not too far from me. I heard it was a great place to get washing powder, which is what I’d run out of this week. On top of that, it turns out it did a lot of snacks and treats in bulk, as well as flour and lots of gluten free products.

One thing I’m finding difficult is making the treats last. I think I need to portion them out into smaller jars, so I don’t just end up eating a whole massive jar of veggie chips or what have you in one go. Right now, the thing I am struggling with the most is how much plastic we are still accumulating, even when making all these changes. While a lot of it is plastic that is slowly being phased out, it’s still kind of disheartening to see. Hopefully the amount of single use plastic will slowly dissipate over time.

Plastic Free July: Week 2

This week was hard.

Nick and I love pre-packaged snacks, potato chips in particular. Nick is also really specific about his morning ritual of a cigarette and a carton of iced coffee. I’ve never seen him go more than a day or two without one, so asking him to go a whole month was probably a bit much for him. He lasted ten days before finally cracking (or getting caught with one), bless him.

I deleted my week two shop photo off my phone, forgetting I wanted to blog it, but I have it posted on my Instagram here. Results were mixed this week; while we successfully managed to get all our food without plastic, including ham and tofu, it wasn’t without hiccups. A miscommunication with our local butcher meant that plastic bags were used to then put Nick’s meat into the container, which kind of defeats the purpose of the containers in the first place! It was kind of frustrating, but you can only just kinda try better and be clearer about your purpose next time.

I did make a really awesome orange and almond cake this week though, using oranges from my parents’ tree, eggs from my boss, and leftover almond meal from my homemade almond milk. I didn’t bother drying out the almond meal beforehand; the result was an incredibly moist cake (albeit a very precarious one to get out of the cake tin).

I’ve been looking at non-food related plastic items in my household too, and trying to think of ways to minimise/eliminate them. So far this week I’ve replaced toilet paper wrapped in plastic with paper-wrapped and 100% recycled toilet paper, plastic single-use feminine hygiene products with reusable ones, as well as a stainless steel straw and a reusable glass coffee cup. Given that I am pretty conscious of how poor I am, it’s going to be a slow process replacing everything, and some things, like my plastic storage Tupperware, for example, just seems more sustainable to leave alone as is rather than replacing. But so far I am really enjoying this process of reducing my footprint and my waste output as best as I can, and getting rid of unecessary plastic in my household.

Also, cake. Cake is pretty good too.

Plastic Free July: Week 1

This year I am (unofficially) participating in my first ever Plastic Free July! Unofficial as I didn’t sign up on the website or anything, just decided to do it. I feel like I’ve been environmentally conscientious for as long as I can remember, probably starting with being obsessed with Captain Planet as a kid. Wanting to help the environment steered my career choice when I decided to study Conservation Biology at university, as well as fostering my natural interest in science. 

Through every stage of my life, I’ve felt like I always did my part in helping the planet. I never littered, I recycled when and where I could, and refused disposable water bottles where it could be avoided. But as time goes on and I get older, I’ve been thinking more about living ethically, and in particular about food waste and sustainability; things like where our food comes from, how it is obtained, how it is packaged, and so on. I went from buying whatever was cheapest to buying only free range meat, and when it became apparent that free range legislation in Australia did little in the way of enforcing free range conditions, I stopped eating meat altogether. But while being vegetarian or vegan is often touted as the only way to effectively reduce problems associated with food waste and animal cruelty, it too is rife with its own set of problems. Plant-based protein sources are often packaged in ridiculous reams of plastic (as well as being sourced from overseas), which in my mind effectively negates many of the environmental benefits of  engaging in that lifestyle in the first place.

So, what next? In recent months public awareness has taken a significant shift, with programs such as War on Waste highlighting issues and putting the spotlight on wasteful packaging and consumerism. Packaging and plastic has been at the tip of my consciousness for a long time, but it has always seemed too hard an issue to tackle, too many things that would have to be given up. Towards the end of June, seeing it crop up so much in social media, I finally decided to see if I could do it. 

Looking just at food, I looked at what our weekly shop consisted of, and what we could do to eliminate plastic. While I’ve been veggo for a couple years now, my partner still eats meat in a big way, so the first step was finding a butcher that would be willing to use tongs to collect meat into supplied containers. Luckily, our local butcher was very accomodating. I’ve always collected fruit and veg loose and carried in green bags, so that was no big deal. I’m lucky in that my local farmer’s market also has great options for bread and cheese, and so these were also no worry to collect in my own containers and use paper bags for. My biggest problem has been my protein, and my plant-based milk. Our household overall has a huge problem with pre-packaged snacks, particularly savoury snacks like potato chips.

Tackling my items was a bit harder. First, I had to find a bulk food store that was convenient for me, that did food loose and without packaging. I chose one that was on the way to my sister, who I was planning on visiting anyway. Then it was deciding what to get and finding jars/containers appropriate for that item. I got a few lentils and pulses in big glass jars, and a Tupperware container for almonds to make almond milk. I also got a small jar of savoury soya crisps. All good, or so I thought.

Turns out I needed a much bigger jar for the soya crisps.

By the first afternoon, I’d eaten all the soya crisps. Mistake. By mid-week I already missed my savoury snack hit (terrible, I know). Determined to not cave on my first week of PFJ, I grabbed what remained of my packaging free cheddar, a fistful of chives from my balcony (about the only thing still alive in my pitiful balcony garden), and looked up a recipe for savoury biscuits. Turns out there’s heaps online. I used this one, adding a sprinkle of paprika and extra salt. They turned out really good, if a little short (probably from over-working the dough). It was just what we needed to get us to the second week of PFJ.

I’m really excited about this project, I haven’t needed to step into a major supermarket at all this week and it has felt incredibly liberating. I feel like PFJ is very achievable (although I just did my weekly shop yesterday and I have already eaten all the soya crisps again). Bring on week 2!

1st Birthday Bike Cake

I made a bike cake for a first birthday last month! At the request of mum, I made it dairy free with as little sugar as possible. I used a double batch of this Teresa Cutter Naked chocolate cake recipe, then added sugary icing on the top, as well as some chocolate rocks. That way, kids not used to so much sugar could just scrape the icing off (or rather, the parents could).

We made the cake a bike theme due to the birthday boy’s love for bikes and all things with wheels! The bikes are just toys that we placed on top. I also used crushed Oreos (which are dairy free) to make the dirt track on the cake.

Overall, this was a lot of fun to make, and I’m really happy with how it turned out!

Poptart Drip Cake

One of my absolute best pals turned 30 last month and I really wanted to make her a special cake for her big day. I’ve been looking at these over the top drip-styled cakes on social media, and I knew this was what I wanted to do. Ness loves candy and cereal, and especially poptarts, so when I was trying to think of the things I wanted to use to top the cake with, it seemed like the perfect choice.

The cake itself was a vanilla buttercake covered in buttercream frosting. The drip was a white chocolate ganache, made by combining 100 mL of simmering double cream with 100 g of white chocolate, then coloured using “lipstick pink” chocolate colouring. I think I was expecting more of a neon pink, but it was still an awesome colour all the same. I then decorated with the poptarts, some lollipops, Fruit Tingles, and other assorted candy. 

And sprinkles, obviously.

I also commissioned my friend who runs Poppy Mae Design to custom design a card for her! It looks faded here but it is actually holographic and just reflecting strangely. It was so cute and I highly recommend for any calligraphy-style prints or cards you may need!

For her birthday we went out for breakfast and then had post-breakfast dessert! It was such a lovely day and I’m super glad the cake turned out exactly how I envisioned it!

Reign in Mud Slayer Cake 

One of my favourite people in the world recently moved back to Perth after living in Melbourne for about five years. I wanted to make him an awesome cake to welcome him home, and came up with this Slayer cake. Since Tom is lactose intolerant I made it completely dairy free. I used a Mississippi mud cake recipe (found here), and substituted the butter for margarine.

I made a chocolate ganache by melting 200g of dark chocolate, taking off the heat to cool a bit, then adding about a quarter of a cup of full fat coconut cream. I was worried it might curdle or something, but it was actually super nice and glossy!

Aww yiss.

To decorate, I made a really quick icing out of icing sugar and margarine, and piped it out into the star shape. I think the cake was still a bit warm, which is why the icing looks a bit… suspect. Anyway. I then rolled out some red fondant, cut out the letters, and laid them onto the cake. I had the letters pre-arranged on the base of the cake tin that I baked the cake, so that I knew they would fit.

This cake was honestly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made, I think I ended up eating more of the cake than anyone else! It went great with the boxed wine that was also gifted 😉