What I learnt during Plastic Free July 2021
For Plastic Free July in 2021, I took it to the extreme and set myself a goal of living zero waste to landfill. Spoiler, I failed. But I wanted to share my learnings and hopefully provide some inspiration for you in 2022.
At the end of June last year, I temporarily relocated to Wellington to participate in the Creative HQ Climate Response Accelerator and bring Foodprint to the capital. I figured, new city, new house, why not start off right - without a rubbish bin. I was only due to be there a few months and generally speaking I live a pretty low waste lifestyle, but am by no means perfect. Spoiler, I failed. Due to a number of factors (lockdown included) I adjusted my goal to be to only put out one Wellington Council yellow rubbish bag.
Packaging Free Pantry Staples
My first weekend in Wellington, I went to three different op shops to buy some jars to fill at a refillery. At home in Auckland I have a cupboard full of glass jars from things like yoghurt and peanut butter, but with limited space I wasn't able to bring them with me. A couple of weeks later I found another refillery, Hopper Street Refill, where they had a jar library which would’ve been a better choice from the start. The best thing about Hopper St, is that when I left to return to Auckland they gladly took all of those containers meaning I know they’ll continue to be used by other low waste shoppers. Refilleries are great for many shelf stable items. I was stoked to find Hopper Street had oat milk powder, vege stock and plastic free tofu!
I usually use Ethique’s bar shampoo and conditioner, but also gave their concentrates a go while in Wellington. I’d rate them as highly as the bars. I got an order of With Small (formally Smartass) toilet paper for the house. It was more than enough to last the whole 4 months I spent in that house and then some. And I’ll be honest I felt pretty smug about that one when we went into lockdown.
In Auckland, I have a worm farm and bokashi bin for my organic waste that then gets returned to the garden. I was only in Wellington for a short time and didn’t have a garden, so at first I was a bit worried about what I’d do with my food scraps. But I was delighted to find a new friend via ShareWaste. If you’re not familiar with ShareWaste, it’s a site for sharing your waste. If you have a compost system with capacity to take more you can list your details on the site. On the other side, if you have organic waste and no way of disposing of it, you can find someone in your neighbourhood who can take it. Each week I’d drop off food scraps to Judy knowing that they were being fed to chickens and returned to papatūākunu.
Much to my delight, I found package-free dried soy beans at an Asian Supermarket. I’ve never attempted to make tofu before, mostly because I don’t think I’ve ever found dried soy beans before. It was easy enough to find a recipe online and it was pretty straightforward to follow, but it was time consuming (great for lockdown). In short, it was soak, blitz, sieve, boil, scoop, wrap and press. The end result was delicious, but it took ages. Moving forward, I’m going to stick to buying plastic free tofu.
Fruit and Vegetables
I definitely missed my veggie garden at home, but luckily fruit and vegetables do tend to be one of the easiest things to get plastic free. While in Wellington I was ordering from Wonky Box. They take produce that’s been rejected by the growers normal buyers for reasons such as rhubarb that was too long, yams shaped like a "Y" or pears that are too small for the supermarkets. For $30 they deliver a huge box of produce, it’s great quality and even better that it’s preventing food waste. If you’re in Auckland, you can check out Perfectly Imperfect who offer a similar service working with Auckland growers. Farmers markets are another favourite for waste free fruits and vegetables and are particularly good if you're looking for something unique or specific.
Bring Your Own Container (BYOC)
As you’ll know by now, I’m a big fan of bringing my own container for my Foodprint orders. There’s a very cool company also based at Creative HQ who are making reuse even cooler - Reusabowl. They have reusable bowls for takeaway without waste. You pay a $10 deposit for a bowl which you can reuse or return it for a refund. They also set up offices with their own library of bowls that can be used across the city. Keep an eye out for their distinctive orange lids, I hear they’ll be making their way around Auckland very soon too.
When it comes to cleaning I've found that keeping it simple is the best way to go. I love using a basic citrus and vinegar spray, see more here. For tougher stuff, I dust a bit of baking soda on too. For things like dishwashing liquid, dish detergent and laundry detergent, I went with Eco Store as again I didn't have any suitable containers. I love that Eco Store has their own closed loop recycling system. I was able to refill the bottles and then when I left, return them to Eco Store to be remade into future bottles.
Even with all of these actions and more, plastic and other rubbish still found it’s way into the house. For example, my WiFi modem and a couple of other online purchases arrived in plastic courier bags. The jars and a few other kitchen bits that I got at the op shop all had little price stickers on them. I managed to get a parking ticket 🙄 (Wellington parking was so confusing!); there were some pill packets and plastic caps on glass soy sauce bottles. I’d also rescued bunch of small packets of herbs and spices from a friend.
One thing I learnt is that usually when people make a zero waste commitment, there’s often a lot of advance planning that goes into that decision. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury of time and there was little advance planning. I really just threw myself into it and so I'm not going to be too hard on myself. Many of the habits I formed last July have lasted through to this year. And for any that I slip up on, I'm so much more aware knowing there's a better alternative. This year, I'm keeping it simple and switching my toothpaste to Solid.
Waste free living is completely doable, thousands of people do it every day. I’m definitely no expert on this, so I want to give a shout out to some of the inspiring people who are so far ahead of me on this journey - Waveney Warth, Miriama Kamo, The Rubbish Trip, Ethically Kate and The Great Eco Journey.
Happy Plastic Free July 2022!