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Everyday Sustainable Practices!

We love reading stories about the small everyday actions Australian families are making to help reduce their waste. Local heroes like Karen Murphy really do inspire others to live more sustainable lives!

First published by the ABC on 10/01/2019

Would you bring your own container to the grocery store to help reduce plastic waste?

By Samantha Jonscher

Updated 10 Jan 2019, 2:07pm

A selection of reusable straws and cups available at an Adelaide shop

Reusable coffee cups have become a household staple for many Australians, now some people are stepping up their game in the supermarket.

Key points:

  • Reusable cups, straws and containers are becoming popular among shoppers
  • There are no requirements in the Food Standards Code on people bringing their own containers
  • More people are buying items like cups and lunch boxes to reduce waste

Bring your own containers are growing in popularity as people continue to look for new ways to reduce the amount of plastic waste they create.

Adelaide resident Karen Murphy is one of them.

She brings reusable containers and biodegradable, compostable bags with her whenever she goes to the shops.

Instead of using the typical plastic bags and plastic containers most shops rely on, she hands over her own and asks that they fill them up.

“The first series of the War on Waste, it kind of wakes you up to how much waste we are putting in our landfill bins, recycle bins,” Ms Murphy said.

“So I guess even though we have always been good at using those things, it really inspired me to get down and really reduce it even more.”

A woman stands in her kitchen showcasing food kept in reusable containers

Ms Murphy said at first it was tricky because some shops were unsure about the safety and logistics involved in her request.

But over time, she has developed strong, ongoing relationships with butchers, delicatessens, grocers, fish mongers and bakeries that were willing to let her use her own containers.

“It’s about going to those smaller retailers, because they have a lot more flexibility than the larger stores,” she said.

“You create that relationship with people, they know I come in every week.”

Food safety concerns often cited

Ms Murphy said in her experience, butchers and fish mongers were the most resistant.

“Food and safety is one of the main reasons they say no, they are working with food that has a high risk of contamination from bacteria,” she said.

A piece of meat in a reusable plastic container at an Adelaide butcher

She said she typically used compostable bags for fresh meat that would go into the freezer.

Once they were used, they could be broken down in her green bin or compost.

The mother-of-two was the first to admit it required planning, but remained adamant that it was achievable.

“It does seem inefficient and takes a little bit of practice, but you do get the hang of it,” she said.

Inspiring businesses to get on board

Damian Holmes, who has been a butcher for 33 years, said he was surprised by Ms Murphy’s request when she first asked to be served in her own container, but said he was happy to help.

“The customer is the customer, and you do what the customer wants. You look after their needs and requirements,” he said.

Ms Murphy said she favoured his business because the shop also used tongs, instead of plastic gloves or plastic bags to handle meat, which meant no plastic waste was involved in her purchase.

A butcher looks at the camera while standing above his selection of meat

Mr Holmes said he weighed containers before they were filled, to make sure that customers were only charged for what they purchased.

He said Ms Murphy had even inspired him to reduce the plastic his business relied on.

“In the old days we didn’t have this much plastic, I remember when I was wrapping meat in paper, I’m 55… that’s what we always used to do, so why not get back to what we used to be?” he said.

“It’s an art, it’s a tradition and I’m a traditional butcher.”

What do the regulators say?

Mr Holmes said hygiene was a concern, but if he was concerned about the cleanliness of a container, he would wash it for customers before he used it.

“If the lady wants to use her container and we don’t think it’s clean enough, we will wipe it, we will wash it, and show her that we did the right thing by her,” he said.

Despite concerns from some businesses, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) said there were no requirements in the Food Standards Code regarding people bringing their own containers to purchase food.

“It is up to the retailer to determine the measures they put in place to ensure food is safe and suitable,” FSANZ told the ABC.

“Use food-safe containers, covers and packaging to protect food. Only re-use packaging or other materials if safe for food… don’t repeatedly use packaging designed for single use.

“Ensure containers are clean. Wash them in hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly.”

Committed to reducing plastic

Another of Ms Murphy’s favourite shops is Fabian Muller’s Adelaide grocery store and she said she shopped with him because he was committed to reducing the amount of waste his shop generated.

A man working in a grocery store standing in front of some fruit

“We work closely with our farmers to try and reduce a lot of our waste,” Mr Muller said.

“With our greens we are able to return the crates that they come in, or we give boxes back to our farmers, so they can be re-used.

“We have a little garden out the back that all of our compost goes into as well.

“We are lucky because we are in the organic space, and 80 per cent of it comes from South Australia and we have direct relationships with [producers].”

Kate Pardey, who owns a gift shop in Adelaide’s CBD, said she had seen a noticeable increase in people purchasing items to help them reduce waste.

“Lunch boxes, beeswax wraps, reusable straws and reusable water bottles are really taking off,” she said.

“KeepCups are still selling like crazy though, ever since last Christmas.

“We haven’t been able to keep [them] in stock — we’ve run out of them 12 times in the last year.”

OUR PLEDGE – Landfill Once a Year!

Reducing Landfill

Our progressive local council, Lake Mac have kicked off their food waste composting program, and we are excited…

You see our Landfill bin use to go out more than us (sorry, terrible Dad joke) however with all our food waste now being composted, our little family of four have made a pledge to  put our Landfill Bin out only once a year!

Landfill Pledge

Cue – Gasps of horror from our family and friends!

We are actually quite confident after months of discussion, that with a few, fairly small changes, and some extra effort to recycle more, it’s actually very achievable.

So what’s the plan….

 

Like many Aussie families, we have already started the journey towards living waste free. Over 50% of Australian household waste is organic and can be diverted from Landfill

  • We compost at home, however previously this has been limited to fruit and vegie scraps. The majority of our waste is organic, and so composting has already dramatically cut down on our Landfill. The resulting compost is also amazing for helping my garden grow, even in periods of less rain, and for making my beloved pot plants look their best.
  • Our gorgeous pantry looks like my Nana’s did, with large bulk quantities of everything in glass jars, and piles of fresh produce. It’s where I spend alot of my time when home, and it’s  super convenient.
  • We use reusable cups for coffee. Coffee cups are non-recyclable without specific facilities because of the waxed coating, and so can really increase your landfill footprint. I have even stashed an extra set of 4 in the car now for caffeine, and hot chocolate ‘emergencies’.
  • We say no to plastic convenience at home. So no straws, no clingwrap, no wet wipes, no cotton wool buds, and only our Australian Certified compostable bags for liners, shopping bags and produce bags, all of which we compost after use. To be honest, I did have a hard time initially breaking up with cling wrap, however after building on my collection of reusable containers, I now have the right size for everything … and can normally match a lid to a base! Our lunch boxes are now single-use plastic free, and the sandwiches are just as fresh!

    zero waste

    Landfill items – The small things add up!

What’s going to be new…

  • We will need to be even more committed to the weekend markets. When we don’t get there, the increased packaging we bring home is remarkable.
  • If I miss my butchers closing time, we are vegetarian for the next few days. That way we don’t get stuck with meat trays and moisture cells which often are not recyclable. My lovely butcher even puts our meat into our compostable bags, which also saves on a single use plastic bag.
  • We are breaking up with coffee pods and tea bags. Did you know, in Italy, there are very few takeaway cups, as despite a culture obsessed with coffee, the Italians believe you should pause at the bar, and savour a few slow seconds enjoying the fragrance and taste of your fresh brew! I’m embracing this Italian traditional, and learning to deliberately enjoy the process of pausing to make a coffee or tea.

What’s left, when we are not quite waste free..

  • Textiles and broken items (I have a tendency to break wine glasses, which are not recyclable) We already try to buy good quality, natural fabrics and hand on items once the kids have outgrown them.
  • Some soft plastic packaging! There are certain products that my kids love, and while I’ve tried alternatives, such as home cooking and bulk stores, sometimes in the early morning, with a grumpy three year old, it’s best to comply to their wishes of their favorite cereal, particularly if it’s a healthy choice. Equally, to confess, with a full time job, and busy family life, sometimes I just need the convenience of packet biscuits and gourmet cheeses so I can invite my girlfriends over to debrief on a Friday afternoon!

I know some would consider this cheating, and I know many families achieve amazing zero waste lives. However for our little family, while we are working to minimise packaging, soft plastic from some packaging is a reality. We are however taking advantage of Soft Plastic Bins at our local Supermarket, and dropping our packaging back at the local store for recycling. If everyone were to do this, it sends a really strong message about consumers expectation of  corporate responsibility, and as the volume of that waste grows, and the management of that waste becomes more expensive, commercial businesses who produce excess plastic packaging will be increasingly likely to introduce more suitable alternatives such as compostable packaging, even if that are a little more expensive.

So with these strategies in place, we are confident we can put our Landfill Bin out once a year! However as things evolve, I’ll be sure to share how it’s going, and would love to hear your tips!

So with Plastic Free July now behind us, what’s your pledge!

Why be so concerned about plastics

Why be so concerned about plastics?

Why be so concerned about plastics

It seems everyone, even our national supermarkets, are passionate about reducing plastic waste at present, so we thought we would share the history of plastics, why nearly everything is now made of plastic, and why that poses such a risk to our environment.

A history lesson first!  The term Plastic comes from the word ‘plasticity’, which basically means a material which can be  changed or moulded without breaking. In theory ‘plastic’ can therefore be made from a variety of materials, however most is made from synthetic compounds derived from petrochemicals.

Related image

The first completely synthetic plastic, was Bakelite, which was invented in New York in the early 1900 by Leo Baekeland. Cue memories of my Nana’s bracelet collection that I wore with her high heels as a young girl. Back then plastic Bakelite seemed so modern and glamorous!

However the relatively low cost of plastics, driven by the ease of which it can be manufactured, has resulted in an explosion of the use of plastics.

Today plastics have replaced many materials, such as wood, metal, stone, leather, glass and ceramics, and incidentally wiped out many traditionally trades. Indeed plastic is everywhere… it’s not just packaging but my keyboard, computer, car, indeed even our bright green warehouse is made of plastic (Approx 1/3 of the plastic used in Australia is used in buildings (Plumping, pipes etc)).

The prevalence of plastics in so many products, is a major environmental concern. There is only a finite amount of fossil fuels on Earth, and the extraction process, whether drilling petroleum or mining for coal, can have a devastating impact on the local ecosystem. This damage is expected to worsen, as the most easily accessible fossil fuel deposits are emptied.  In addition, burning fossil fuels as part of the extraction and manufacturing processes is linked directly to global warming.   

The low cost of manufacturing plastic has also lead to lower prices for many items, and as a result, an increase in seemingly ‘disposable’ goods. Today most of us have houses full of plastics, and we tend to replace rather than repair, as it’s often more convenient and cheaper. 

Single use plastic bags are the extreme example of this. So cheap to manufacture in bulk, these plastic bags are essentially ‘free’ when visiting retail outlets. Although convenient, this sense of being disposable has resulted in much higher use, and with no value the rates of litter are also significantly high. In fact, according to Planet Ark, we use 4 billion bags every year in Australia!

Such disposable goods certainly disappear from sight when we throw them in our wheelie bin for collection, but they are anything but disposable. 

 

The durability of plastics, which make the material so useful and popular, also results in the material being very resistant to most natural processes of degradation. As such the wrapping on the chocolate bar snack I’m dreaming about that will last 3 seconds, once in Landfill, will outlive me, my young children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren…   Australians send more than a million tonnes of plastic waste to landfill every year, where it sits… for generations…

Many plastics can certainly be recycled, although, unlike glass and aluminium, the quality of the plastic material does often degrade with each reuse. In addition, sorting plastics into their various types for recycling is also very time consuming, and so expensive, which means that it is actually more cost effective to create new plastic. This complexity and expense impacts dramatically on recycling rates, however as consumers, our purchasing power is often under estimated.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

 

How can we change the world?

Consider packaging as part of your purchasing decisions. 

Approx. one third of plastic in Australian is used for packaging. Considering the packaging as you purchase, and choosing more sustainable options, helps to drive companies to make changes. Choose no packaging where possible for items such as fruit and veggies, and look at the products with less packaging (bulk items versus single service packets) and then choose companies who are investing in more sustainable options, such as certified compostable packaging and recycled materials.

Try to buy quality, rather than quantity, and consider needs vs wants. With a family of young children, this is an ongoing often daily challenge for us, however every little decision counts.

Our exciting new kitchen caddy

Our exciting New Kitchen Caddy

Our team firmly believe small actions can change the world, and we are passionate about inspiring Aussie’s to live more sustainably, essentially by making it just as convenient to be green!

Over the last twelve months we have been busy reviewing best-practice organic kitchen waste collection programs with local councils, as well as talking to many families who are successfully composting their own food waste at home. Our aim was to understand the key challenges, with the aim to improve our products.

The result, our new innovative KITCHEN CADDY, which we are excited to say is not only designed by our team in Australia to assist Australian families, it is also manufactured in Australia.

Why focus on Kitchen Waste?

The opportunity is huge – In Australia, approx. 50% of household waste is organic, and we know from partnering with local councils, that a successful organics program can have a significant impact in reducing community landfill rates, and improving sustainability.

Our food scraps can turn into the next crop – When composted, the precious nutrients in our food waste can be used to fertilised new commercial crops or even family / community gardens. In fact, not only does the nutrients help with soil quality, but when using compost in gardens the water retention of the soil improves as well, reducing reliance on extra watering.

It’s so easy you can recycle at home – Recycling other materials such as cans and bottles requires specialised infrastructure, or in the case of paper, a very messy afternoon with paper pulp ending up everywhere, even in your toddlers’ ears! All you really need to recycle your own food is a dedicated space in the backyard! It’s also a great way to get the whole family involved in living sustainably.

Our new Kitchen Caddy.

The next generation kitchen caddy builds on the success of our conventional caddy, but is packed with additional features, developed as an outcome of our research talking to customers.

  • Most importantly, in an industry first, the new technology we are using allows an informational leaflet to be inserted into the lids, explaining what can be composted. We have two options available depending on if you are home composting, or lucky enough to have the council collecting your food waste.Our exciting new kitchen caddy
  • The snap fitting lid is now lockable when the handle is forward. The lid can also be flipped right back or rested on the handle to allow easy access for scraping.
  • There is a rear mounting tab. Simply put a few screws into the wall or door where you would like the unit to hang. I have mine on the door under my sink, so it’s always near and accessible for the kids.
  • The base is also lined with ‘venting channels’, which simply mean the Compost-A-Pak liners are easy to remove once full.

You can purchase a Kitchen Starter Kit here. We would love to hear about your experience using this product, and diverting food waste!