8 March 2019

Women and the mental load of waste-free living (+ a soap recipe)

There's an elephant in the room, when it comes to waste-free living. In the majority of households attempting to reduce their waste, it is still largely the work of women. Women often have the desire to make change in practical ways, and carry the burden of researching and strategising ways to implement waste-free shifts in their households. Women and children worldwide are also most likely to suffer the impacts of environmental issues and poor waste-management. It's been well documented that women are at the forefront of the actual day-to-day work of environmental change. Anecdotally, Oberon and I have seen it in the Facebook group we run (Zero Waste Tasmania), where more than 80% of members are women. And across social media, the majority of accounts devoted to the practical business of zero waste living are women. Women are the ones buying our book, although hopefully the men in their lives are reading it and trying things, too, and we've addressed this in the book. Waste-free living doesn't have to be burdensome. In fact, it can be joyful and enriching as you find a closer connection and care for nature. It's even fun! But in our home, it's fun, and not burdensome, because it's shared.

Women carry the mental and physical load of waste-free living, and we need to see that shifted. It has to shift for more of us to be able to make space to take more waste-free living practices on. It was the manufacturing of plastic packaged products and 'convenience' foods that simultaneously gave women freedom from their homes and created the huge environmental problem we face today. Meanwhile, men have, for the most part, carried on as usual, embracing 'convenience' products and being left somewhat off the hook. This has to change, for all our sakes, but especially for our children who will discover the full effect of choosing 'convenience' over responsibility.

But for today, on International Women's Day, I'm going to leave the mental load of pushing for that shift to the men-folk (thanks, Huz), and recognise and celebrate the women who have done so much practical work to care for their families, their homes and our planet. I'm often drawn to think, on such days, of the people who lived on the patch of land where I live, before me. First the muwinina women who cared for it so very well that only a midden and stone fish traps by the foreshore remain as evidence that they'd impacted this land. And then the farmer's wife, who possibly seldom made it to our patch of the orchard while she tended her home and garden. Or the housewife who lived here before us, who saw fit to install lots of small cupboards for their preserves, which inspired me to think about filling them with preserves of our own.

While we were in the process of compiling recipes for our book, I visited my Mum's place and she pulled out a couple of notebooks she'd had stored away. Simple notebooks featuring beautiful handwriting, on plain, lined paper, yellowed now from age. The pages were filled with recipes and notes, taken by my two grandmothers, who began them as young, newly married housewives. They began writing them towards the end, and immediately after WW2, and both notebooks reflect how they were striving to stretch their resources further when they were required to keep their homes running, and families fed, on very little. It was a time when food was rationed, Victory gardens were encouraged, and wasting food was illegal or very much frowned upon. And women bore the brunt of that work.

As I turned the pages of hints & tips, so often shared by friends or in newspaper articles, government publications and magazines in a time before Google, I found many that looked like the handy hints we've come to know and love, in our waste-free living travels. But one of my favourites as I flicked through, was my maternal grandmother's method of using up all the old soap ends to make new soap. I snapped a photo so I could bring it home to try. I never met Doris, my mum's Mum. So having a little routine of hers in our own family rhythm seemed like a wonderful idea. So we saved up the soap ends, and gave it a try.

I had to do a little tweaking and estimating to quantify things like how many soap ends a family might make in 3 months, or how big a small cup or her pie dish might be. But we got there in the end. I was delighted to share the making of it with Little Owlet, and I'm happy to say it worked well. And so we have olive oil scrap soap in our home, stretching our resources further, and creating a beautiful product from old, as my grandmother did. Here we've shared the recipe, as you can find it in our book. It's one that's dear to our hearts. 

MAKE THIS :: Olive Oil Scrap Soap

What you'll need:
1 cup soap ends
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for oiling 
soap mould - a small glass baking dish works nicely
1 cup water

Grate the soap ends and place them in a
saucepan with water. Make sure the water just covers the soap. 
Place over a medium heat and stir well until
the soap fragments have dissolved.
Remove from the stove and add olive oil,
stirring well.
Beat well with a whisk and, while the
mixture is still warm, pour it into an oiled
dish or mould.
When the soap block is completely cold,
turn it out onto a board and cut it into
Leave your new soap bars to harden for
a few days before using. 


Our book 'A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living' is available in all good bookshops (including ours!), and libraries now. Published by Plum Books and featuring photographs by Natalie Mendham, who also took the first picture in this blog post. 

~ Lauren. xx

5 March 2019

The one where we wrote a book

 Last Friday, we held a very special celebration in one of our favourite bookshops. Family and friends where there, and the place was bursting with supportive folks. Then we answered some questions and signed our names... It felt a bit like our wedding day! Only, we both had headset microphones, instead of a celebrant, our friend Hannah (from Good Life Permaculture), led us in conversation under the watchful eye of our three children, and we signed our names several times over, in copies of our very own book! And so this rather large side-project we've been keeping to ourselves all this time, was launched and sent on it's way, with big hopes and dreams that it will help to make a difference in this world of ours.

How did it come about? Two years ago, we were contacted by a publisher who suspected we might have a book to write about waste-free living. We agreed, and set to work (through a long winter and a flu season that has now become family legend), and we photographed, edited and finished the book, only to see our publisher fold in the week it was due to go to print. Fortunately, the very wonderful Plum Books rescued our project, and turned it into this magnificent book that arrived on our kitchen table just a few weeks ago. There was much whooping and cheering, and a r
ound of applause because this little labour of love is just as much the work of our children as it is ours.

Why a book about waste-free living?  Because we want to take personal responsibility for the waste we create, the legacy we leave, and what we normalise for our children. In a world heading for environmental destruction, its vitally important that those who can, do. That we curb the trend of overproduction and waste. That we stop draining the earth's resources. And in a political climate where decisions are being made that hinder the protection of our environment, it's an act of hope to work against and outside the societal structure that creates wasteful systems. We're voting with our wallets, and with our time. It feels joyful and we (and our children) can sleep a little easier at night. Waste infiltrates every aspect of our lives, and working to live without it, as individuals and communities, can go a long way towards creating the kind of positive change this world needs.

‘A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living’ is a collection of our favourite recipes, information and handy hints all in the one place. It’s the book our kids will take with them when they leave the nest. It’s filled with recipes from our mums and grandmothers. And it’s filled with hope. Beginning with tackling food waste, to packaging and household waste, and then how we approach waste in our interactions with friends, family and the broader community, the book has a gentle structure that can be followed (it's actually the process we followed when shifting towards waste-free living), or it can be dipped into as needed. We called it 'A Family Guide...' rather than *The* Family Guide, because it's our process and what works for us. It isn't prescriptive. But it's our hope that readers will find their own path with it, personalise it and make it their own.

One happy reader, who picked up a copy at the launch, said this about it: ".... Get the book. Get it. It's so wonderful- a cheerful little guidebook for regular folk (families and singles and couples) to ditch plastic and other packaging and by-products, connect with community and care for the environment. There's no preaching, there's no greenwashing. There's also no fear. So, it's really readable and the tips are doable. I'm going to share more of it this week because every time I find a moment to steal I read another random page of it and smile." 

Our book is available now in all good bookstores and libraries, and if you’d like a signed copy, you can pre-order one from our little shop, Spiral Garden, and we’ll post it to you.

Huge thanks to all at Plum Books and Pan Macmillan for publishing our book and helping it make its way in the world. Thanks also to brilliant Tassie photographer, Natalie Mendham, for the beautiful photos. And to Michelle Mackintosh for the beautiful design, Chris Middleton for the excellent cover photo, and to the always wonderful Costa Georgiadis for setting aside time to read the book and provide a beautiful foreword. We're still pinching ourselves that we've been given this opportunity, and that people are finding it practical and enjoyable to read is a massive bonus. Go well, little book!

~ Lauren. xx

9 October 2018

Waste-free life: when the stove breaks

One of the less talked about aspects of waste-free-living is how to deal with large household appliances, and the waste associated with them. Electronic waste from things such as discarded televisions, fridges, mobile phones, dishwashers, ovens and small appliances all add up to a big amount of ‘stuff’ to manage at the end of the life of those items (approx. 73kg eWaste per year for the average Aussie household). The rise of eWaste has many drivers; one being the planned obsolescence trend, encouraging people to buy the new model and throw away the ‘old’ one, and the availability of interest free deals, as well as the trend in poorer quality electronic items being made. Large whitegoods used to last for over 20 years, but these days new models will often have a much shorter life spans of only 2 to 5 years. 

We've had the opportunity to really examine our e-waste this past 18 months, with most of our larger appliances slowly dying. It's been an expensive and thought-provoking time. Each time something has broken, the decision-making process has had a slightly different outcome, which reminds us that there's no one correct fit for every family and situation.

Our flashy electric Euromaid oven stopped working properly in January. It was only about 5 years old, and the second one we'd had in that time, as the door fell off the first one while it was still under warranty. We watched, horrified, as they casually wheeled a new stove in to replace a small broken hinge. And so this time, we faced the dilemma of what to do next. As usual, we referred to the to the waste hierarchy (Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle...) to help us formulate our plan, and here's how it went:

Refuse – We couldn't really refuse the oven in this case. We need ‘something’ to cook our food in/on. We reframed our thinking around cooking and energy use, and explored the option of buying a sturdy wood-fired stove and oven (i.e. refusing a standard electric one), which could be set up to heat our water and heat our home. The pros were low energy bill, great heating, and having an appliance that was likely to last for decades, avoiding planned obsolescence. And there's just something about a wood stove... The cons were the high initial cost, the increased time needed to maintain a wood cooker, the difficulty the owlets might have in learning to cook on a wood stove and how that might translate once they left the nest, and the layout of our house meant a retrofit to wood cooking was not ideal. There was also uncertainty around the efficiency (or potentially harmful impacts) of wood, versus the availability of hydroelectricity (another renewable source) from the main grid. After much research and consideration (and a little sadness!), we decided against that option.

Reduce -  In this case, we couldn’t really reduce from one oven without not having one at all. But, for these past 9 months we have reduced, to an extent. We continued to use the tiny top oven/griller as best we could (as the main bottom oven was broken), and we used the still-functioning stove top. This did mean that we were a little bit hampered in what we could cook and in the amount of cooking we could do at any one time. No homemade pizzas or big batches of biscuits. No baked dessert!  Or if we did want to cook those things, we needed to have the oven on for longer to cook multiple foods, which would be less energy and time efficient. In our waste-free day to day, the oven is an important tool, as so many things are prepared from scratch. Not having a functioning, large oven was making things not so easy. The final straw was when the inner walls of the small working oven fell away!

Reuse (and repair) - When we had a repair person out to look at the broken oven and dishwasher (which we couldn't repair either and decided not to replace), the quotes we received for fixing the oven suggested that the cost of repair would be almost as much as the cost of a new oven, with no certainty of longevity even after repair.  This was where we learned about the short expected lifespan of many new models – most are made from cheaper-quality components and not designed with repair in mind (or models where replacement parts are only available if expensively bought from overseas). We were assured that 5-6 years is a decent innings for an appliance these days.

After a little more research, we found a local business that takes broken second-hand kitchen appliances and repairs them for resale. In the case of stoves, we discovered they only really take Westinghouse ovens, as these are one of the few brands that can be easily repaired in Australia. For example, switches on Westinghouse ovens have been known to blow after some years of use, and many people discard the whole unit, instead of paying the $70 or so for a replacement switch. Also, many units are discarded when rental homes change tenants, or when home owners want to renovate or ‘upgrade’ the kitchen. So, we found a model that suited us and got it delivered and installed for less than half the cost of buying and installing a new model, and less than it cost to repair our old stove.

Recycle - An electrician came and took our broken oven away. The old unit will be used for parts, and what’s left will go to scrap metal recycling (Recycling being lower down on the waste hierarchy). The secondhand unit that we bought even comes with a 3-months parts and labour warranty, so we've got a little time to see how well it works and test it out.

The Verdict
We were happy that we could buy secondhand. It made sense for us to support a local business that had established because the owner was sick of seeing so many appliances go to landfill, and sought to address that. Sometimes going to those superstores like Harvey Norman just feel so at odds with our efforts to reduce waste. With our second-hand unit, we can avoid the waste associated with the production of a brand new appliance. We avoiding the transport waste (fuel) to ship a new appliance (or its components) from overseas. We avoiding packaging associated with a new appliance (usually polystyrene, flexible plastic, some rigid plastic tags or guards, and a big cardboard box). That waste tends to be out of sight, until the new appliance is inside your home.

We chose a model that we understand to be relatively fixable, that we could afford (and find). There are higher-end models that are repairable, but then you have to weigh up the cost of the appliance with the cost of repair (which might be expensive for fancy European models). We also chose a model that's a little smaller and more efficient to run than our previous model. It looks as if the oven and griller have never been used. It's sturdy, unlike many of the new stoves we saw available new, and like every stove we've ever cooked on in every rental property, and even this home for the first 5 years. It's cute and certainly a little bit retro (harkening back to the era when our house was built), and seems like a downgrade from the stove we had before. It's a little juggle to fit all the pots, but it's doable and the oven is the same size as before. It has fewer bells and whistles than most new stoves you can buy, but we see that as a good thing. No clock to struggle with at daylight savings time. No specialty settings. A light that turns on with a switch, and a timer that works when you turn it and doesn't require a full understanding of the manual. The owlets love hearing it go 'ding' when the cake is ready. And it's as clean as a whistle!

What We Learned
As usual, the waste hierarchy was useful in working through the problem of replacing a broken appliance. Beyond the Rs, we find it also helps to think about the hidden waste - the energy used and waste produced in getting the prospective item to you, and what waste might result when you’re done with it. If you can, look for secondhand, look for locally made, look for durability and repairability, look for good energy-efficiency, and consider functionality (does it meet your needs?) – you may not need all the bells and whistles! And, always look for recycling services, if you have electronic waste that is beyond repair or reuse. Apparently the Victorian Government intends to ban eWaste to landfill by 1st July 2019. We're hoping that Tasmania will follow suit. Ideally, we'd love to see businesses being more transparent about their products' planned obsolescence, so we can avoid so much waste in the first place. Until then, it's a task of assessing each situation as it arises and often making some compromises before finding a solution that works for your wallet and your practical needs.

~ Oberon & Lauren.

23 June 2018

No time for baby steps: Zero waste is not a journey

Time and again we hear the shift towards a different way of living described as a "journey". Changes  seen as something that might take months, or even years to work towards, with tiny changes in habits made each week, or within an arbitrary timeframe. Through the choices our family has made over the years, I'm pretty sure we've described a few different shifts in this way ourselves. But our experience of waste free living has highlighted for us why we feel like the baby steps, long, slow journey approach may not be the best way to tackle taking responsibility for the waste you create. The thought of moving towards zero waste living as a years-long, or even lifelong journey, is downright disheartening. It can make it seem like an unattainable goal, when really the shift is quite simple at its core. The earth needs us to speed things up a little, and we believe that's totally achievable for many people. Reframing how you approach it can make all the difference. 

Towards the end of her life, my dear Nana gave up smoking. I suspect she already had advanced lung cancer by then, so it was the thought of breathing a little easier and not struggling through another winter cold with a raspy cough that convinced her. And possibly a stern word from her doctor. Nana was a force to be reckoned with, and when she decided to do something, she did it. Just like that. And so she quit smoking one day, cold turkey. She was almost 80 years old. It was somewhat bittersweet the day Nana realised how easy quitting would be. "Oh, I thought it would be hard and take months, and I'd have to join one of those program things. I'm not a joiner!" Nana said. But once she'd made the decision to quit, she found it quite simple, taking each day as it came, and she wished she'd done it decades earlier. Fear of the journey meant she missed meeting her first great grand-daughter (Big Owlet) by six months.

I sometimes wonder if it's this fear of the journey that holds many of us back from committing to making straight forward changes, like reducing the plastic we've come to rely on in our homes. It alls seems too daunting. We don't want to deal with the length of time it will take to work out all of the things we'll need to do, and how hard it will be to learn and remember new habits. I know this is what had been holding our family back from making the leap. Not really understanding how best to approach zero waste living, or what our life would look like without the weekly supermarket trip or online delivery. It all felt like an expensive, uphill battle. And so we chipped away at it and thought about it slowly, still forgetting our cloth bags most times and still lamenting the things we felt we couldn't change.

It took a little nudge towards commitment to get us to rip the bandaid off and try waste free living. We audited all our waste, spent a week researching, and then dived right into to two weeks of living waste free. That was one full pay cycle, and felt like enough time to get the day to day workings of it in place. We put all the things we couldn't buy at a bulk foods shop, butcher or green grocer on lockdown, and lived like they didn't exist for those two weeks. What we discovered, somewhat sceptically at first, was that our shopping budget remained the same, our quality of life remained (and was even better then before), and this thing we'd been putting off, or considered approaching in tiny increments, was actually achievable all at once, when we approached it wholeheartedly.

We discovered that zero waste living isn't a journey, it's a simple decision, made over and over again. 

Every day you make hundreds of choices about where you shop, or what you consume, and how. You choose that single use straw, or you refuse it. You choose that single use coffee cup, or you bring a cup from home. You choose to buy a packet of biscuits instead of making them. You choose. We all do. If each time you choose to buy or consume something potentially wasteful, you ask yourself the simple question; "Am I willing to take responsibility for consuming this product, and the waste it creates?", the way forward becomes very simple and clear.

There are times when the decision to consume that potentially wasteful thing is absolutely valid and justifiable, and there should be no guilt felt during those moments. We each have different situations and life circumstances where potentially wasteful products are necessary to keep us going, and if you're facing that situation, then your decision is obvious. Describing zero waste living as a "journey" makes the choices that seem contrary to a waste-free approach to be setbacks along a linear path. When really, they are not. They are just choices you need to make, that are right for you at that time. At other times, where there are valid alternatives you can access, those are the times where your choice to live waste-free guides all the little choices you make. And it informs all of your choices throughout the day, until your entire week can be counted in resources, compost and lived experiences, rather than who's putting out the bin.

Possibly the biggest fear when it comes to leaping into zero waste living (and often a reason for the baby steps approach), is the perceived cost. It's an understandable concern. We hear: "Bulk food shops seem expensive! Oats cost $4/kg at the bulk foods shop and $1.50 at the supermarket! That's unaffordable!". On the surface, that seems correct.  But in our experience, buying everything without packaging, and making food and household products from scratch means the costs even out. You're more likely to buy what you need, rather than surplus servings, and you're less likely to impulse buy those biscuits when the packaging and advertising isn't there to entice you as you wander the aisles. If you continue to buy that expensive deodorant or toothpaste, rather than making your own for a fraction of the cost, then spending more on oats does absolutely seem out of the question. But if your entire shopping approach has changed, and you're embracing waste free living in a wholehearted way, it's quite possible that you can afford more on certain products while spending less on others. You may not see how that balances out without doing some serious sums, or jumping right in.

Many of the more successful zero wasters, those who have managed to embrace zero waste living effectively and for the long term, will tell you their change in lifestyle began as the result of a commitment. Either a challenge set externally, or by themselves. And they looked beyond the challenge to incorporate more change into their lives. It's that all in, wholehearted approach that helped them along. And then once they got started, the momentum propelled them forwards until there was no looking back. That's been our experience, and it could be yours too. The world can't wait for bans to take effect and for baby steps towards reducing plastic and household waste to catch up. It needs solutions now (most of them exist), and we are each of us responsible for those tiny choices we make every day. Are you ready to make the leap?

If you'd like to set yourself a challenge to help you leap towards waste-free living, we'd recommend joining Plastic Free July. Tackling plastic will help you address one of the more wasteful aspects of modern living, while giving you the kick start you need to make the waste-free shift in other areas of your life. If you'd like to tackle the whole lot in one go, try joining our Zero Waste Families eCourse, which could see your family move to waste-free living in four weeks. 

~ Lauren. xx

20 April 2018

Live well, without recycling

Once a fortnight in my street, and in many streets around the country, people roll out their recycling bins for collection. Kerbside recycling is now the norm for many people, despite only being introduced in most areas during the 1980s or later. People are generally well accustomed to paying attention to what materials their waste is made from, and sorting into the appropriate bin. But situations change, and I think it is time to rethink our attitudes and approaches to recycling.

You may have heard that from Jan 1st 2018, China stopped accepting a range of recyclable materials from Australia. This means that an estimated 619,000 tonnes of stuff that used to be shipped away for China to deal with (e.g. China would recycle plastic into things like rubbish bins), now has to be managed in some other way. Under the previous process, recyclable material would have made a chunk of money for those in the recycling industry – around $500 million dollars a year (for 600,000 tonnes). But now the recycling industry and people within local councils (who collect, sort and manage waste collection) are scrambling to figure out what to do next.

One of the consequences of China’s import ban is that some municipalities might start sending the contents of kerbside recycling bins straight to landfill. Blergh. What a waste. All those jars, cans, bottles, paper and other recyclables that were rinsed, sorted and put in the recycling bin by YOU – now sent to landfill with the rest of the waste from regular waste bins. So far, Ipswich City Council, southwest of Brisbane, has stopped kerbside recycling (although the latest news is that they may have reversed this decision). There is a risk that other councils will retract their kerbside recycling if costs become untenable (in the absence of the cheap, send-to-China option). 

Many councils are stockpiling; hoping and waiting for a local solution to recycle or manage recyclables in a way that avoids landfill. But stockpiling can get expensive and hazardous, and local recycling solutions are few and far between. Councils might start increasing household rate prices to deal with the increased quantity of recyclable material that has to be managed locally. Others might beg the state and federal governments for money to fill the gap. But that won’t solve the longer-term issue of what to do with all the recyclable waste material generated by people in Australia each year.

There have also been whispers of new ‘waste to energy’ schemes being established in Australia to deal with ‘residual waste’ (i.e. waste left over after recyclable material is sorted out). Even the national environment minister is keen on the idea. This might follow along lines of waste to energy plants in Europe and elsewhere. But these, are, in my view, not sustainable long-term solutions. Waste-to-energy plants do little to discourage consumption of harmful plastics and other materials, because those materials are what keep the power plant operating. Waste-to-energy systems do not reflect a closed-loop system, but rather, a slightly elongated linear one. And they still produce waste (approximately 25% of the volume of waste inputs are outputted as a toxic ash, for landfill). We need to do better.

We CAN do better!

The solutions are already all around us. Zero waste solutions, particularly those that provide ways to refuse or reduce quantities of certain types of packaging and waste, can empower you to avoid all this recycling (and landfill) malarkey altogether. And you can start now.

You don’t have to wait for your local council to act. You don’t have to ‘wait and see’ if new recycling plants will be built in Australia, or wait for waste-to-energy plants to be built to deal with all your waste. You don’t even have to wait for some magic plastic-eating enzyme product to hit the shelves. There are actions that can be taken immediately to address the problem of the millions of tonnes of waste going to landfill and recycling. Try these:

  •           Make that decision to commit to avoiding waste. Not just for straws or plastic bags, but for all the things you consume, including those items whose packaging you were normally put to recycling. It’s not as difficult as you might think. Once you’ve made that conscious decision to actively avoid waste (including excess recycling), then many of the other answers you need are out there!
  •           Get informed! Join your local zero waste group. And if you don’t have a local group, Zero Waste Tasmania (which we run), accepts people from all over.
  •       Scout around for alternatives. Think hard about what foods and ‘stuff’ you really need to keep you well-fed and happy. Can you find packaging-free alternatives? Or if you can’t find packaging free options, can you use your own packaging, or only buy compostable packaging.
  •       Get composting – for many people, more than half of their waste comes from food scraps and organic matter. If you can nail a good composting system that suits your home context, then you might be able to halve your waste!
  •       Get talking! The solutions that work for one person don’t necessarily work for everyone. So, talk with your family and friends, your local shop keepers, your social network, and help each other problem solve ways to reduce or avoid certain types of packaging. Think of refillable options instead of single-use, look for home-compostable packaging over plastic, and consider home-made snacks and sweets (or bulk bought ones in your own bags) over plastic-wrapped ones. If you’re stuck, ask online – and the hive mind of your zero waste group will respond, often with more ideas than you can poke a stick at!
  •       Get activisty! Speak up and write to government representatives, businesses and product manufacturers and tell them what changes you'd like to see that help to reduce waste. What products do you think should be better regulated or banned, and what packaging needs to be replaced or eliminated? What other positive actions can you encourage?

The previous situation (sending our recycling to China) was not environmentally sustainable. I mean really, how many plastic rubbish bins do we need in the world? The current post-import-ban situation is also not good, but it is prompting Australia to take more responsibility for its own waste – its own mess. Let us not fall back on harmful, out-of-sight-out-of-mind solutions such as stockpiling and waste-to-energy. Let us use this as a flag to pay more attention to our own waste, and to look for ways to avoid it in the first place. We live in such a geographically large country that recycling is inevitably limited in its efficiency, due to long transport distances and hence, fossil fuel inputs, involved. All the more reason to reduce and avoid waste in the first place.

Oh, and the photo above, shows our little owlet holding the sum total of one year of our recycling. What is more significant is what you don't see - 26 recycling bins of recycling avoided, for each year that we have lived waste-free. This waste-free lifestyle has proven to be quite easy for us, and so we think it is totally doable for many other people in Australia to live similarly, by applying solutions that work for their own circumstances.   

This Sunday is Earth Day! This year’s campaign is around the mission to end plastic pollution. To support this initiative, we are offering our Zero Waste Families e-course for only $10 (which is more than 50% off RRP) between now and midnight Sunday. The course is designed for you to do over a four-week period (or at whatever pace suits you), and aims to provide many solutions for living without waste. Use the coupon code EARTHDAY2018 at checkout, to claim your discount on our e-course.

~ Oberon.

4 April 2018

Waste-free pillows (and sweeter dreams)

We'd been putting off the inevitable decision, and cost, around choosing a new pillow for quite some time. Huz and I bought curved foam pillows more than 12 years ago, and despite cleaning the cover and protector regularly, I'm sure that there were cities of dust mites living in them. Yuck. Probably not great for my dust-mite allergy, and possibly the reason I'd had recurrent sinus infections. And our pillows were starting to disintegrate, with tiny bits of foam flaking off. Gross. Apparently, you're supposed to change pillows every three years, or every six months if you have allergies, so we were well overdue! We started to look at what would be the best waste-free option for us.

Firstly, we wanted to find something home compostable, so we could avoid landfill. That discounted latex foam from our search. Organic cotton, bamboo, wool, and feather were all compostable options we considered. But, of course, there were ethical and environmental considerations to take into account with each option. Distance the materials would travel to reach us, water used in creating the fibre or filling, treatment of animals in animal-based fillings, treatment of fibres and chemicals used in production... And cost. These factors are going to be different for each person, depending on where you live, what you have access to, health considerations, and what you can afford, so one of these may already be right for you. But what was best for us?

Where we live, in Tasmania, we're always happy to try local options to avoid products travelling by air and sea. So, after a hunt around, we were happy to find Tasmanian grown buckwheat hulls. These are a by-product of buckwheat farming. They're also grown by a supplier of our favourite organic grocer, so we asked her to order us a sack with her next delivery, keeping carbon miles relatively low. And as they're not generally a highly sought-after product, the cost was pretty low too (ours was about $10 per pillow). Buckwheat hulls are often used to make yoga bolsters and cushions. They've been used for sleep support in Japan for over 600 years, and you can actually buy ready-made buckwheat pillows in a few places online, so we didn't feel like we were planning something completely eccentric!

We had the sack of hulls sitting in a corner of our lounge room for almost a year while we wrote our book, so it's taken a little while to get to making the actual pillows, but making them was super easy. I wish we'd done it sooner! Here's how we did it:

We already had zip-up pillow protectors, so we re-used those and filled them with a comfortable amount of hulls. I should add here that pillows are actually not a requirement for living and it may even be better for our bodies to sleep without them, but while we get our heads (and necks) around the concept of pillow-free living, we've started with about half a grain sack each of hulls. We will consider reducing the amount of hulls until we're sleeping comfortably without a pillow. Next we zipped up the pillow protectors and added a pillowcase. And that's it. So easy!

To clean the pillow, unzip the pillow protector and pour out the hulls. Then give the protector a wash, and if you can find somewhere to spread out the hulls and give them a little sunlight (perhaps a clean bedsheet or flyscreen away from breezes), that should help to keep the hulls fresh.

So, what are buckwheat hull pillows like to sleep on? Well, they're a little noisier than your average pillow! It's a bit like sleeping on a beanbag, or even a wheat bag/heat pack. They do take a little rearranging, and they're a bit firmer than we've been used to. But they're also super comfortable. The hulls are quite light and soft, hold their shape well, and when you get the right position, it's wonderful. They provide good neck support, and are low-allergy, chemical free, and unscented. The airflow through the hulls keeps them dry and, because they're non-nutritive, and the hulls have regular movement, they're not attractive to pests. I found the knot at the back of my neck disappeared overnight, and my allergies and sinus infection seemed to clear up right away. We did find initially that we tended to move more during the night, and even wriggle down the bed a little, but we actually felt better for that, and persisted. It took Huz a couple of nights to get used to the buckwheat hulls, but now he sleeps comfortably every night.

My favourite thing to try is turning buckwheat hull pillows into enormous dream pillows. Herbs that promote deep sleep and relaxation (such as lavender, rose petals and hops) are fab. The dried herbs can be added in a handmade sachet, or scattered through the buckwheat hulls, for a beautiful sleep.

When it's time for us to replace our buckwheat hulls (in about 10 years), we'll take them out to the garden and compost them and source some new hulls... Great for our garden, good for our bodies, and gentle on the planet.

~ Lauren. xx