Everyone living plastic free or zero waste does it a little differently because as individuals we have different preferences, different levels of knowledge, live in areas with different resources, products and services, and have different levels of support which can affect our decisions. As a family, our methods will change over time as we learn more, nearby towns progress, and family life evolves with growing children and significant life events. But for now, this is how my family lives plastic free and zero waste in 2018.
Waxing: I ‘wax’ with homemade sugaring paste.
Cotton tips: Our cotton tips are made with a bamboo stick instead of plastic which means they can go in the compost after use. All the packaging is cardboard and will be recycled.
Deodorant: I use homemade deodorant using ingredients I can buy in bulk. I’ve also tried a salt stone, vinegar, and various bought brands. I don’t notice any difference between any of them, and I haven’t found an option that I am satisfied with. As someone who works from home, I usually go without deodorant altogether. My husband uses an antiperspirant in an aerosol can which we recycle.
Hand wash: Unpackaged bar soap.
Face wash: Just water and occasionally unpackaged bar soap.
Moisturiser: Usually nothing as I’m not stripping my skin of oils and my skin has balanced out quite well but I use small amounts of coconut oil when I need it. I get coconut oil in bulk but you can also buy it in 1 litre glass jars .
Lip balm: I make my own from ingredients I get package free.
Make up: I wear it maybe four times a year on special occasions so it’s going to last a long time. This means I have no need to make my own makeup or look for sustainably packaged alternatives at this point in time. Check back with me in a couple of years to see if this has changed.
Contact lenses: I recycle my contact lenses and the blister packs via the Bausch + Lomb Recycling Programme at Terracycle.
Dental Hygiene: We use bamboo toothbrushes. We have decided to continue to use store bought toothpaste and recycle the packaging. The plastic tubes can be recycled through TerraCycle’s Oral Care Recycling Program. I do not buy dental floss. I stick my toothbrush bristles between my teeth or use a steel pick that I picked up somewhere. You can also use thread from scrap fabric around your home if you can find one that won’t break. If you feel you need to buy dental floss, the packs are recyclable through TerraCycle or you can seek out some biodegradable versions. I haven’t found an Australian biodegradable dental floss and for those who are vegan, there are no vegan options either.
Hair washing: Everyone in our family washes with water only most of the time. Occasionally I use a shampoo bar (here are some others you might like to try). But these days I mostly choose to use bi-carb soda mixed with water to wash, followed by a kombucha vinegar, lavender oil and water rinse.
Hair colour: I decided to give up dying my hair and return to my natural hair colour because I want to age gracefully and reduce the amount of chemicals my body is exposed to.
Hair styling: I use a hair dryer and a hair straightener when the occasion calls for it. I also made some hair styling wax.
Menstruation: I use a menstrual cup and underwear with a built in liner.
Contraception: My husband had a vasectomy (what a legend!).
Sunscreen: Homemade sunscreen has very low SPF so I’m not prepared to use that on my kids. Instead I buy sunscreen in a large bottle for the whole family to use. Larger bottles are preferable because of the surface area to volume ratio which means you get more product compared to packaging than with smaller bottles. When it runs out we recycle the bottle. We also wear protective clothing to reduce the need for a lot of sunscreen. We are also trialling this natural sun zinc which comes in a tin.
Insect repellent: I use a natural balm which comes in a tin.
Medication: Most medications must be taken no matter what they are packaged in, however we do try to use simple, natural remedies first and dispose of unwanted and out of date medicines via the RUM project so they don’t end up in landfill or waterways. Most plastic bottles can be recycled.
First aid kit: A first aid kit in the home is wise, but they do include a lot of packaging. That doesn’t mean I am not going to have one if it means a life could be saved or serious injury be prevented. I stock my kits with the ‘waste’ from workplaces and keep it well beyond the use-by date. Learn more here: Can You Use Out Of Date First Aid Stock?
Washing / laundry baskets: I use cane baskets, one of them is lined with linen.
Washing machine powder: I bought my laundry powder in bulk. There are brands in the supermarket that are completely plastic free if you don’t have bulk supplies near you. Or, you could make your own.
Stain remover: I use sunlight, eucalyptus oil, soap, or washing soda for stains on clothing, carpet, and other fabrics. I’ve only ever seen washing soda in plastic bags so I started making it myself. I aim to buy Australian, organic essential oils with as little packaging as possible. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get essential oil refills somewhere by the time I’ve emptied these bottles.
De-fluff and de-pill tools: I use a reusable lint clothes brush to remove fluff and hair from clothing rather than a roller with single-use disposable sticky tape and a razor to de-pill clothing.
Here is a more detailed post about my zero waste laundry.
All-purpose cleaner: I mostly clean everything with hot soapy water. I have replaced white vinegar with homemade kombucha vinegar which I use to clean windows, mirrors, and the bathroom.
Gloves: I usually don’t use any but on the odd occasion that I do, I use a pair made from natural rubber and cotton. At the end of it’s life the rubber can be reused as elastic ties before being left to biodegrade.
Dishwasher: My bulk bought powder ran out so I tried using bi-carb soda on its own. I found it didn’t perform well over time so now I use a plastic free powder I found in the supermarket. I occasionally use vinegar as a rinse aid.
Hand dishwashing: I have done a range of different things including buying a bulk amount of detergent (otherwise you can refill from bulk containers at stores or stalls offering this). Buying the bulk sized container is a bigger up front cost but you will probably save money, time, and still be responsible for the same amount of plastic packaging. Now I use any kind of bar soap (beware Velvet Pure Soap contains unsustainable palm oil).
Dish cloths: I use old cotton tea-towels and other rags that I have cut up into appropriate sizes. They get composted when no longer usable.
Dish drying and hand towels: Reusable cotton tea towels or worn bath towels cut to size.
Cleaning wipes: I use our old towelling nappies and rags for cleaning and drying surfaces. I use scrunched up newspaper for windows and mirrors. The newspaper gets composted when I am done.
Scrubbers: I think steel scourers are amazing. They lasts forever and can go in the compost when your done with it. I use crushed egg shell in place of bottle brushes because it works better. I have a reusable straw cleaning brush (unfortunately the bristles are synthetic), and I use an old bamboo toothbrush for cleaning grout and other tight spaces. I still have my old plastic toilet brush in one of the toilets but in the other I have a completely compostable brush in a Moccona jar. And in the laundry I still have some plastic scrubbing brushes which get used for tough jobs like cleaning grout between tiles.
Disinfectant: Eucalyptus oil when needed.
Floors: Boiling hot water, bucket and a mop with homemade sponges. Sometimes I use soap.
Descaler: Washing soda is great for descaling kettles, toilets, and washing machines. It is also amazing for cleaning burnt pots.
Mould remover: Kombucha vinegar.
Air freshener: I open the windows. Sometimes I bring herbs, flowers or foliage in from the garden. Lately I have been placing a scrap of fabric with some drops of lavender essential oil on it into the vacuum cleaner. The smell of lavender fills the house.
Dining table and chairs: Made from recycled timber.
Fridge/freezer: Obtained second hand from a relative who didn’t need it.
Utensils and pots and pans: Almost all made from wood, glass and stainless steel and many obtained second hand. We have a couple of plastic things still in use like Tupperware containers and measuring cups.
Food and drink: I buy our meat in containers, our bread in homemade cloth bags, our produce in reusable produce bags, and I visit a range of stores to buy as much as I can from bulk dispensers using my own cloth bags and glass bottles. I grow and make some of own food and drink, but I also rely on buying a few things in glass, paper, cardboard, or a can which I recycle.
Compost: Food scraps and anything made from biodegradable materials, which can’t be recycled, gets composted. I like to call this extreme composting. Our chickens and dog also get some of the scraps. These days I use the dig and drop method of composting.
Recycle tub: We don’t have kerbside waste collection so I sort our recyclables and take them to a transfer station in my car every couple of months. I reuse the boxes.
Office / Study
Whiteboard markers: We have markers made from recycled paper but in the future we will use refillable markers.
Sticky tape: we found a biodegradable brand made from cellulose and rubber based adhesive.
USB stick: Made from recycled paper.
Printer: We don’t have one.
Laptop, mobile phone, and other electronics: These will be recycled through e-waste recycling facilities at the end of their life.
School uniform: We have managed to source almost all our school uniform secondhand. However, next year the uniform is getting a complete overhaul. I’ll be looking for ways to reduce the amount of packaging we end up with.
Kids clothing: We have been so lucky to receive good quality secondhand clothing from friends and relatives since the day the kids were born, so I have barely needed to shop for kids clothing. We’ve even had a pretty good run with shoes. However, now the kids get good-fitting new shoes which they wear out before getting another pair. These shoes become landfill waste because they are beyond further use and Australia currently has no other way of dealing with this material. We also pass on clothing that has been outgrown. We have one relative who sometimes buys new clothing for the kids as gifts.
Adult clothing: I have not shopped for anything other than underwear and shoes for years. I get enough secondhand clothing given to me to keep me happy. Shannon’s approach is to have a fairly small number of items which get a lot of use and then every couple of years he buys a few good quality pieces new. We are conscious of plastic fibres being an issue and look for clothing made of natural materials. There is a system for all the clothing in our house where items move from being clothes we ‘wear in public’ to clothes we wear ‘around the house’, then ‘on the farm’, and finally we turn them into rags or compost them. Sometimes clothing is repurposed before it becomes farm clothing.
Sports uniforms and gear: We look for secondhand or hire options, but when we need to buy new gear we avoid packaging as much as possible. I wear contact lenses for netball which generates a small bit of waste.
Toys: We focus on giving experiences instead of stuff. I do give the kids pocket money which they are free to spend how they like. Being kids they sometimes want cheap plastic toys, but I feel they are learning a lot for themselves with this approach. For example, how easily cheap plastic things break and saving money for valuable items.
Cubbyhouse: We made a cubbyhouse entirely from salvaged materials and filled it with household items from the op-shop.
Tools: We borrow or hire tools that we don’t have for one-off projects. We repair what we can.
Oils, lubricants, etc: There is still a bit of stuff floating around in the garage from years gone by, but now whenever we need anything we buy it in a can. We will recycle appropriately when they are empty.
Paint: Unwanted paint and paint packaging can now be recycled via Paintback, which is where I took our old paint.
Tools: We use metal and wooden hand tools and try to maintain and repair them. More detail can be found in this post: Garden Tools – Buy Less, Choose Well, Make It Last. I use biodegradable string or old t-shirts that have been cut up for ties. I use fallen branches to make trellises.
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These holey, stained school leggings are now garden ties. Perfect for holding up the tomato plants. #zerowaste #oldschooluniform #plantties #repurposedclothing #upcycledclothing #gardentools #gardening #growwhatyoueat #vegetablegardening #mindfulconsumption #zerowastehome #recycledclothing
Hose fittings: As things break I have been replacing them with brass fittings instead of the plastic ones. I also reuse things I find.
Plants: I avoid plastic pots by buying bare-rooted trees, saving seed, and swapping seeds, seedlings, and cuttings. When I do have pots, I return them to a nursery nearby by which reuses them. This post, 6 ways to get package free plants, provides more detail.
Fertiliser: Here’s a post outlining 9 ways I make fertiliser using waste from around my home. Some nurseries sell bulk seaweed and fish emulsions for you to refill your bottles or you can easily make your own.
Compost: At our new house I use the dig and drop method with free range worms.
Weeds: Weeded by hand or with tools. Boiling hot water.
Pests: I use netting over the vegetable garden and the chooks roam around the beds.
Chickens: The chook house is made entirely from second hand materials. I use shredded newspaper to line their nest boxes and this gets put in the compost when the boxes get cleaned out. They are able to forage for their own food but we also buy grain. I buy the biggest bag I can find and take it to a RedCycle location when empty for recycling. I have also planted plants that I read are good for chook health.
Dog: Our dog sleeps on old blankets in the garage. I buy the biggest bag of dog food I can find (20kg) and recycle the bags via the REDcycle program. Our property is big enough (and she has good manners), so I don’t need to clean up dog poo. It is possible to do this plastic free and to compost dog poo, but please do your research so that you understand what is required. I have a shampoo bar for washing her. She receives appropriate worm and flea treatments direct from the vet which generates a very small amount of waste. More detail can be found here: Our Zero Waste Dog.
Away from home
Eating out: We don’t live or work in a town so we don’t get a lot of opportunity to eat out. When we do, we don’t often have leftovers but I try to remember a container to take them home if we do.
Takeaway food and drink: We use our own containers and cutlery, otherwise we opt for fish and chips, pizza, or something else that comes in recyclable or compostable packaging. We always take water bottles with us. Sometimes we allow the kids to have a drink out of a can, or glass bottle. We use Keepcups for coffee and other drinks.
School lunches and lunch orders: We use a range of simple tools for waste free lunches including containers, cutlery and reusable lunch order bags. I even send a tub of soy sauce so we don’t get the plastic fish bottles.
Holidays: We take our ‘resuables’ with us and do everything we would do at home on holidays too. Here are my holiday reports from the past two years – Vacation in Vanuatu and 9 Lessons Learnt From Our Zero Waste Family Holiday.
I love that this journey pushes me to be more self-sufficient and resourceful with the things I already have. There’s less clutter, less toxic chemicals, and more love put into the things around us. Please feel free to share your tips too.
An earlier version of this post was republished by 1 Million Women, a movement of women acting on climate change through the way we live.