24 June 2019

Plastic Free July: Why a commitment works for waste-free living

Four and a half years ago, I decided I wanted our family to make some changes so that we'd be living more harmoniously with nature and utilising the knowledge we'd gained in our permaculture learnings. One of the ways we were going to do this, I'd worked out, was to reduce our family's waste. I made a list of how to approach it, and the slow, incremental changes we might need, to get there. We'd already mastered composting, and had a dry bin, so food waste was pretty much taken care of. Our focus for the next part of this journey would be on reducing packaging waste and specifically plastics. It didn't seem too overwhelming, but we didn't know quite where to begin, and the list was long and would take some time and persistence to make sure we got to the end of it. Then life got busy and I forgot all about the list.

Later that same year, I'd gained some knowledge about how damaging plastics are in our environment, and the realities of downcycling and recycling. I wanted to do more. And surprisingly, an opportunity to challenge ourselves to commit to living more sustainably, arose. Focusing not just on waste, but on water, energy and other habits, we had two weeks to challenge ourselves to live more sustainably. I knew we needed to aim to live waste and recycling free. We made a family pact, knowing it was only for two weeks and we could change back to our old ways if we wanted, at the end of the challenge. We put away anything in the pantry that was plastic and prepared to pretend that for two weeks that it didn't exist. And we made the leap. It was exciting. Something we could problem solve as we went along. It felt a bit like a game, and because we'd committed to it, any decisions we faced had a clear cut answer, for us and the kids.

After the second week, we realised how easy the shift had been for us, so we decided to keep going for as long as we could. By the third week, new habits were well formed and everything became quicker and easier within our new normal. Then we started seeing all the plastic everywhere and were horrified that we hadn't really seen it before. It's been nearly four years now, and we haven't looked back. The slow nature to detangling ourselves from the evidence of our pre waste-free life is where baby steps were used, but that happened naturally as things broke or were used up and became legacy waste, and we learned not to choose them again.

We often consider the approach we took in shifting to waste-free living, and for us, the only way it was achievable for us was a time-based commitment. The long drawn-out baby-steps approach, using arbitrary time limits, would have led to fatigue and confusion about what was acceptable and what wasn't. It would be difficult for a child to understand why we might buy rice crackers in plastic, for example, but choose not to buy chips. Instead, we looked for alternatives together, and had fun doing it. We've found that when making a change as a group or family, a strong and simple commitment is best. And setting a time limit makes it not too daunting.

In one week, Plastic Free July will begin. It's a fantastic opportunity to commit to making change as an individual, family, or workplace, with an achievable timeframe. Although we reckon the simplest and most powerful place to start reducing waste is with food, to really take it to the next level, you'll want to look at packaging and plastics. For many excellent Zero Waste advocates we know, their successful commitment began with Plastic Free July, so it's a proven path towards waste-free living, and one we'd been aware of before our challenge. We might have saved tonnes more waste by committing sooner! By committing to living plastic-free for a day, a week or a month, you'll be examining how your food and household products reach you, and how you use single-use products when you're out and about. You'll be creating new habits and learning what resources are around you. You may be surprised where it leads you!

Plastic Free July have a fabulous new website full of helpful information, so hopefully you're now convinced and can pop over there to sign up and read more. But you might like to use this week to have a chat with the people in your household, make a pact, look at the plastic in your home and think up some solutions for avoiding it. Then leap in and have fun!


If you need more ideas and inspiration for July, there's always our book! It's bursting with them! We're also planning to offer a few workshops for Hobart locals, like this Waste-free Masterclass at the South Hobart Tip Shop and blogging and chatting about waste-free living online. Also, stay tuned for an extra special and exciting thing we've collaborated on, in the next week. We're looking forward to sharing it with you!

~ Lauren. x

The beautiful photos in this post were taken by Natalie Mendham.

18 June 2019

Educating our kids for the future they'll inherit.

One month ago, we wandered around the corner for a democracy sausage and to choose the government to take us forward into an uncertain future. Voting that day, it felt like choosing the world our kids would inherit. We were full of hope. It felt like so much depended on it, in terms of our response to the climate emergency, and how we care for each other as a community. We were hopeful there would be at least a glimmer of positive change. But for most people I know, the results that day were hugely disappointing. Even my own mum, an eternal optimist, was quite distraught. Friends began looking for ways to create positive change, at a personal and local level. Something we’re all about, because we know the positive impact such changes can make.

For us, it meant taking a moment to think about what more we can do. And explaining to our kids what had been chosen for them. Re-evaluating how we’re living and fighting harder to protect this beautiful planet. But also making sure our kids are prepared for what may come. For us, that also meant examining our home education program and making sure it addresses climate emergency and the consumption crisis. And suddenly the curriculum resources we’d been utilising didn’t seem so necessary any more.

In the same year we began to live waste-free, and after many years unschooling, the owlets asked for a plan. Something mapped out that they could use semi-independently, that would tell them exactly what they “should” be learning. We chose a secular curriculum, and loosely followed it. For the most part they’ve enjoyed it. The history and science learnings reinforcing some things they already knew, and they felt comforted that they were learning the "right things", what their schooled peers were learning. But that shifted for us all last month.

Suddenly, how to write an essay didn’t seem quite as important as how to write a letter to the local MP. Learning things by rote didn’t seem as important as learning from experience. Keeping up academically seemed less important than creative and entrepreneurial thinking and being good humans. Learning about events of the past seemed less important than how to live in the future. We talked about whether university education would be relevant for them and the knowledge and skills they'll need. They're undecided. And although it may seem like a dramatic response, as a family, we decided to let go again and embrace the way of learning we started out with. To trust and keep talking, and working on our passions, and keep learning about nature and how to live as part of an ecosystem, with less harm. But also a long list of practical skills needed now and into the future.

So far, our list is full of skills like baking bread, chopping wood, mending holes in clothes, fixing things, pruning fruit trees, learning how government works, learning about local indigenous plants, animals and people, catching the bus, and finding out about alternative currencies. Each of the owlets has popped their own ideas down and they’ll all be working towards doing each these things independently. Some of them they’ve already mastered. Some of them are in our book! Some are in our Seedlings eCourse, which we're doing again. Some of them we adults are yet to master, so we’ll be working on them too, and adding to this list as we go on. This sits alongside their individual interests and passions, all the books they like to read, the things we like to do and learn about for fun or necessity. We’re making the most of every minute, but also slowing down where we can. Learning what matters, together. Learning from life, and for our lives, now and into the future.

~ Lauren. x

5 June 2019

Waste-free Sourdough Crackers

I live with a baker now. In January, Oberon set out on a mission to learn to make bread, using our friend Bonnie Ohara's wonderful book, and he did! This has meant lots of yummy warm and fresh bread, and an abundance of sourdough starter in our house again. And the owlets have a renewed interest in baking, and a new activity to enjoy with their Dad.

Also, unrelated to this, but since we started living waste-free, we haven’t bought crackers for almost 4 years. We haven’t really missed them too much, but they’re a nice snack to have on hand. Happily, our abundance of sourdough starter means we have a regular cracker supply once more! And a very quick and delicious savoury treat to snack on. And no waste, while we’re making our food stretch further. Hooray for new skills and new ways to be creative with turning waste into resources.

Sourdough Starter Crackers
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together into a ball of dough. Dust your table surface with a little flour and knead the dough until it’s fairly smooth. Roll the dough flat until it’s only a few millimetres thick (thinner = crunchier). I do this on the back of a baking tray, lined with parchment or greased and dusted. Cut the dough into squares with a knife or pizza cutter, then prick each square with a fork. Drizzle with olive oil and spread the oil gently with a pastry brush. Sprinkle whatever flavours you’d like on top - things like sea salt, sesame seeds, seaweed salt, herbs like rosemary are all great. Bake at 180 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool and eat with your favourite cheese or dip, or just as they are!