Recent research on seabirds shows that waste lost to the environment was in someone’s hands at some point. Logically then, simple behaviour changes can reduce our impact on seabirds and other species.

This picture is from the CSIRO research linked at the beginning of this article. The plastic is from a dead flesh-footed shearwater, amounting to 8% of the bird’s body weight. That’s the equivalent of 5kg in the average human!
The plastic in this photo is from a dead flesh-footed shearwater, amounting to 8% of the bird’s body weight. That’s the equivalent of 5kg in the average human!

Bringing our own reusables is an effective strategy for reducing the amount of waste in the environment, so it’s worth me covering the basics to give ‘newbies’ some confidence and direction, and ‘oldhands’ encouragement to keep it up.

My first tip is to keep your reusables everywhere you need them, like the boot of the car, the glove box, your handbag or backpack.

Bring your own bags

Plastic bags are everywhere – clothes stores, grocery stores, bookstores – they are constantly in our face! Unbelievably Australians throw away more than 7,000 plastic bags a minute.

The key here is to get in the habit of saying “no bag thanks” and having your reusable bag handy or being prepared to carry your purchase. I find my handbag is usually good enough.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking a paper bag is okay to use once and then throw away. It may not have the end of use problems that plastic bags do, but paper bags still use a lot of resources during production.

If you are like me you have probably kept a large number of plastic bags over the years to reuse. Some people use them as bin liners or dog poo bags, or you could keep one in your sports bag for dirty laundry or wet things. Even so, I bet that you will never get to the bottom of your bag bag. Some IGA, Coles or Woolworths supermarkets have bins for recycling shopping bags, so you can take them there. If your supermarket does not have a recycling bin, make sure you ask them to get one. Also, check to see if they recycle other soft plastics. Currently, there are no soft plastic recycling collection points in Gippsland. Use this locator to find your nearest collection point. Do not put plastic bags into your home recycling.

My homemade produce bags.
My homemade produce bags.

There is another category of plastic bag that is sometimes forgotten about – the supermarket produce bag. I have received a lot of positive interest about my reusable produce bags, and rightly so because they are a simple way to reduce your reliance on single use plastic bags. They are versatile, easy to wash, so light they don’t need to be weighed, and so compact they can be carried with you all the time. You will feel good about making this change.

Why stop there? Reusable cloth bags can be used for buying and storing bread, bulk foods, bi-carb soda and anything else you can get unpackaged. You can even use things like a pillowcase for collecting your bread. The best thing about all these bags, is that they can be made at home from old clothing and spare materials. That’s what I have been doing since committing to not using plastic bags.

My bread bag made from an unused beach towel and cord from old tracksuit pants.
My bread bag made from an unused beach towel and cord from old tracksuit pants.

Bring your own containers

Collecting my meat from the butcher in a glass container.
Collecting my meat from the butcher in a glass container.

You can bring clean containers from home to collect your meat, fish, cheese and other items from the deli.  I have used tupperware, plastic takeaway containers (that I reuse), and glass containers with good lids. You can also use metal containers and jars.

Be prepared for your request to be a challenge for customer service staff who have never been asked to use a container from home before. In my experience, once they get over the surprise of being asked to do something different, they will happily figure it out for you. You might have to tell them how to do it though, especially in supermarkets. My advice is to show your container as soon as you make eye contact and give a quick explanation because they are quick off the mark with grabbing those plastic bags or gloves, and will sometimes toss the bag in the bin if you don’t want to use it.

The assistant should place your container on the scale and press TARE before adding the food so that you only pay for the weight of the food. Most assistants ask me if I want the price label attached to my container; if you are not keen on cleaning them off then ask for it to be partially stuck to the edge of the container.

No doubt you will hear somewhere along the way that using your own containers is unhygienic or against health regulations. This is not the case, there is no law in Victoria against using your own containers (including for doggy bags at restaurants and cafes). However, they may choose to refuse your container under their own policies. There is also no law requiring disposable gloves be worn, or be disposed of after each serving. If gloves are not worn it’s best they use utensils.

I have found a butcher, a fishmonger, and a deli that are very welcoming and accommodating. To avoid using disposable gloves or bags when filling my container they use tongs, spoons, just their clean hands, or the lid of my container to collect my ham as it is being shaved which is then tipped into my container.

It will be a bit nerve wracking when you first use your own containers but stay strong and keep at it. You’ll be proud of yourself in the end.

Using my jar to purchase my salt from String + Salt, Warragul.
Using my jar to purchase my salt.

Glass jars and bottles are reuseable containers that are perfect for collecting dried herbs, spices, salts, tea, oils, detergents, vinegar, and even takeaway drinks like juice and coffee, or food like icecream and dim sims! The uses are only limited by your imagination. The process for weighing your goods is the same as for meat and deli purchases. If you are going to bring a bottle to refill with a product you should know how many millilitres the bottle holds so that you can pay accordingly.

I take my own bottle to refill with olive oil at Grow Lightly, Korumburra.
I take my own bottle to refill with olive oil at Grow Lightly, Korumburra.

My key tip for using your own containers is to plan ahead and know what you want to buy so you can bring an appropriate container. Weekly meal planning is also a good way to reduce food waste.

Don't forget to use your containers when collecting takeaway or taking home leftovers.
Don’t forget to use your containers when collecting takeaway or taking home leftovers.

Bring your own cup

Two of my reusable cups.
Two of my reusable cups.

Paper coffee cups aren’t only made of paper, most are lined with a coating of polyethylene, a type of plastic and it is estimated that one million coffee cups are thrown away every minute! Reusable cups are best – and I bet you have one already so it won’t be an additional investment. If not, you could use a jar with a lid. These days there are also glass Keepcups and collapsable silicone ones that don’t take up much room. Most coffee shops will have had people use Keepcups” target=”_blank”>Keepcups before so you won’t need to feel shy about this behaviour change.

Bring your own water bottle

A stainless steel water bottle goes with me everywhere.
A stainless steel water bottle goes with me everywhere.

I don’t buy bottled water. Apart from the plastic pollution problem, it takes 7L of water and 1L of oil to manufacture a 1L plastic bottle of water, and who knows how far it has had to travel to get to you. These points really make it a ridiculous choice. Overall, tap water has 1% the environmental impact of bottled water.

Choosing tap water over other drinks when out and about is also important for reducing waste. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of having a stainless steel or glass water bottle handy at all times. Or you could slow down, sit down and order something like a freshly squeezed juice – just make sure you refuse the straw.

Bring your own cutlery and straw

My homemade cutlery wrap with stainless steel straw is kept in my car glove box.
My homemade cutlery wrap with stainless steel straw is kept in my car glove box.

I made cutlery wraps for each family member to keep their cutlery and straw in their handbag, school bag, or car so that we never need to use plastic disposable ones. We haven’t needed to use them a lot but the kids think they are cool. You don’t need to make a wrap like this, just keep some cutlery” target=”_blank”>cutlery and a straw nearby.

So your challenge is to try one of these five things that you haven’t been doing already, take a picture and put it on my Facebook page or Instagram. Tell me how your experience was and please use the hastags #bringyourowngippsland and #gippslandunwrapped. It is a great way to connect with each other and share our experiences as well as make it easier for others to find places that welcome #bringyourowngippsland. I can’t wait to see all your pictures!

If you are discouraged by the lack of bulk stores in your area then check out how I do it here.

This post contains an affiliate link. Please refer to my disclosure statement for more information.

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19 thoughts

  1. I was searching my blog for the photo of my BYO produce bags that I have been using for at least 5 years. I bought them from LikLikMunki (I think that’s the name) years ago and every stall holder (and many customers) at WGL Farmers market always comment. Lost count of the number of times I’ve given out the details. 2 Christmases ago my presents to family was 2 bottles homemade passata (in recycled stubbies), home grown garlic, home made pasta, some of these bags and one of the bags was the gift bag with everything inside it. Tied around the neck with a crocheted bright coloured recycled woollen string. Was a great gift, wish someone had given me one! Tried BYO container at local deli and they covered the scale with a plastic bag! Need to keep chipping away on that one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds wonderful, I would love that gift too. Containers at the deli is hard. It’s like they really don’t get that the point is waste reduction – especially plastic. I’ve had disappointing situations like that. Now I stick with a couple of businesses that have gotten to know me and do it well. Keep it up!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Fergie51, Yes LikLikMunki made the produce bags and all sorts of wonderful things from material remnants and old T-shirts, but she is currently in Melbourne looking after an aged mother and mother-in-law so has dropped out of the market place.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. i was refused the use of my Keepcup for takeaway coffee for the first time ever when I stopped at a cafe in San Remo. I was told that it was against Health Regulations, and when I persisted was told it was local Shire regulations. I can’t find anything on the Bass Coast Shire website. After some discussion I decided to try a cardboard paper cup he offered which he claimed contained no plastic and was fully biodegrable. He had 2 types on offer – the standard one which was not biodegradable, and the one I chose which has ‘Environmentally Friendly’ written on it and a picture of a tree (of course I didn’t take a plastic lid). I then transferred my coffee into my Keepcup and told him I was going to compost the cup and see if there was a plastic residue. However it’s possible that the plastic fragments would be too small to detect. It certainly looks like pure cardboard, but if so, would it be waterproof?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t believed you were refused. I’ve had one bad reaction to a keepcup in a café but not refused. Good on you for doing all that. I know that many biodegradable cups still aren’t great but it depends on the brand. Maybe it is bio plastic because I don’t think it would be water proof otherwise. To be honest I haven’t looked into it because Ive always used a keepcup or sat in to drink. I’m very very sceptical that it is against Council regulations. I currently have a long list of questions being answered by the Health Department which I will post the answers to as soon as I get them.

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      1. We have a Health Department employee staying with us at present and he says there is no such regulation from them (in fact he said ‘bullshit’). He thinks it may be possible for a Shire to have their own. I plan to go to the Bass Coast Shire offices when next in Wonthaggi and see what I can find out.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yep. This is what I have in writing from Health Department as a starting point “It is the responsibility of a food business to produce safe and suitable food, as specified under the Food Act (the Act) and Australia New Zealand Code (the Code). Neither the Act or the Code references packaging that is provided by the customer. This means that it would be up to the individual business to determine if it is appropriate for a container provided by the customer can be used.”
        So the business has to own their decision and not blame some regulation. I am aware though that some councils can make things difficult for food and drink vendors.
        Let me know if you find out anything interesting.

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      3. Hi again Wendy. Just got my answers from the Health Department so I’ll publish that blog soon. I thought you’d be interested in this bit though “As stated in my original response there is no legislation that would prevent a business allowing a customer to use a Keepcup. You could always advise the business that you will be speaking to the council to check if this claim is true, but, at the end of the day it is a choice by the business to not allow this practice to occur. Council would not have any power to make them undertake this practice, as it is out of the scope of the Food Act. “

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      4. Because I so rarely go to San Remo, I’m unlikely to visit the cafe owner again to tell him what I have found out. Looking at the bigger picture, because so few people bring their own take-away cups unfortunately, if the cardboard cups he provides don’t contain plastic as he claims, then he may be having a more beneficial effect on the environment overall.

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