Zero Waste living: six months in

On my return to Australia, I was conscious of all the small ways in which Western capitalist society was encouraging me to consume. I would walk down the street, passing shops on every street. I would see advertising bombard me from trucks, from cars and buses. Going into the supermarket was an overwhelming adventure, with bright colours and ten different types of the same product, just with screaming slogans proclaiming like a cheap street preacher that it was 100% tastier, sure to improve my gut health and probably make my hair curly.

I would go home, open my cupboards and these screaming products were there, reminding me where I got the thing, what brand it was, and how amazing it was for me or how tasty it was. This isn’t even to mention clothing, whose marketing machine was incessantly telling me I could be more fabulous if I only shopped for every micro-season that their problematic supply chain churned out faster than people could buy. I opened my wardrobe after living on about one and a half suitcases and was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things. I thought that I had pared this down before I left I said to myself. There was clothes in there that either aspirational Renee (she’s got problems and choices ain’t one) had purchased, or good enough but not quite right (a.k.a cheap) Renee had purchased.  Hidden amongst these not-loved riff-raff were the treasures that I’d lovingly purchased – a red lace dress purchased in Capetown that made me look like a sleek spy, the bird cardigan that I’d debated over for months (almost losing an eye and my best friend’s love for the length of the debate), my all purpose navy chiffon number that is great for both funerals and job interviews, my green wool knit that made my green eyes look greener and my fun giraffe jumper with sequins that make small people smile brightly when they see it.

zero waste 6 month 2

During my time away, I had ample time to think. Lots of solo walking and a bout of the mumps ensured that. I had observed on my island home, rubbish collecting on the beach, on the street, or being burnt by neighbours who couldn’t afford, or chose not to use the rubbish service. I saw the gleam in everyone’s eye for the new and shiny here too, fuelled by connections to the diaspora and social media in part. I realised I wanted to get off the stuff train, but didn’t really know how. I knew every time I bought a cheap pair of underpants, I was complicit in poor labour standards for mostly women textile workers in the global south. I knew that by buying synthetic materials, I was washing micro-plastics into the ocean. I knew that by buying packaged products from elsewhere I had participated in the compounding problems of both waste, marketing and a problematic supply chain with food miles, possibly unethical practices and preservatives that was making my gut bacteria wince every time I put those delicious chippies in my chip-hole.

I said to husband when I got home, I wanted to try and transition our home into a zero waste (or at least close to zero plastic home).  This decision had impacts beyond just our food or consumables. I experimented with lots of different aspects of changing our shopping and eating habits, some which have been stickier than others. Its made our meals more wholesome, and often simpler, its made our life less crowded, and sometimes it makes things annoying and inconvenient (hello dropping the frozen compost on the carpet!). Its made me almost paralysed by indecision about clothing. I love clothes, and as I’ve continued to pare down clothing that neither suits me or my lifestyle, I’m beginning to feel the knife-edge of wanting novelty, of wanting something new and shiny. Reframing that feeling, and telling myself that at one stage the bag of clothes that I’m re-homing, was once the salivating purchase of something new! interesting! different! is the only way I’ve been able to control that feeling. I’m trying to go as long as possible without engaging in consumption, but the embarr[ass]ing realisation that my pre-loved activewear pants were see-through is going to send me on a tailspin trying to find something ethical, sustainable and in my size!

The positive benefits are beginning to come to light. My cupboards are wholesome places where mostly glass jarred or the occasional (pre transition) tupperware containers store flours, spices, legumes, noodles, rice and pasta live. I still purchase a couple of things from mainstream stores, after the effort and cost overwhelmed me with the change of seasons – at the moment a tin of crushed tomatoes, husbands instant coffee, stock powder and cordial for our soda maker. Its calmer in there without the screaming. Our fridge, is deceptively empty most of the time, its door filled with a range of condiments in glass, and the precise amount of vegetables, protein (eggs and tofu) and milk that we need for the week. I refuse to throw away produce because I’ve bought too much anymore. I’d rather MacGyver a meal out of what we have, than overbuy. The freezer is the storehouse of the place. We buy in bulk what we can’t purchase from eco-friendly bulk stores where you re-fill containers. Our meat and fish consumption is very low, with one of our maybe twice a week meat based meals (usually a four serve meal for dinner and lunches) usually using an average one persons serve of meat, by utilising vegetables and legumes creatively. I make our own baked beans in the slow cooker and freeze them. I make curries and save one two-person meal in the freezer for a lazy day. Its about designing systems to prevent going to take-aways or going for convenience food at the supermarket. I’m happy to make treats out of our pantry, fridge and freezer, but we do sometimes have treats from the store and recycle their packaging.

zero waste 6 month 1

I have experimented over the last six months with making – crumpets, muffins, six types of bread,  barbeque sauce, cordial – most of which were a culinary success. But theres a balance. Spending four hours making bread a weekend, whilst fun, didn’t always work in Australia’s hot summer, and would limit my ability to participate in other (mostly community based) activities. Crumpets and muffins were better than store bought and freezable – so they are a win – but aren’t strictly necessary for the running of the house. They are going on my semester break bulk cook list. Barbeque sauce was put into separate glass jars and one is frozen ready for the next time I need it. Making my own ginger cordial was a success, but it was time consuming, labour intensive, used a lot of electricity and I’m not sure I trust the supply chain of the ginger enough, to repeat that performance. I refuse to make my own soy milk or tofu. Its too much effort and I’m not the ultimate pioneer woman living her life to milk a soy bean, and we simply don’t eat them enough. Like anything being extreme is a way to set yourself up for failure. I’m not aiming for perfection, I’m aiming for a balanced life where I can manage my responsibilities to myself, my relationships and my community and reduce my impact on the environment. I believe my impact needs to be in a venn-diagram between influencing others, personal responsibility and community action.

The products we purchase for our cupboard mostly now come from the Food Coop. I try and volunteer at the Saturday international kitchen once a month to participate in that community. Women from refugee communities cook the meal and we help prepare (peeling things, stirring things) and help serve (my favourite part) customers. The women get work experience in Australia and I have a delicious lunch, trying new cuisines. A few things come from privately run bulk shops like my premium coffee and snack type things. I’ve been trying to scratch the shopping itch by going to op-shops to fill voids. For example, one of my goals for greater connection, was to try and host monthly dinner parties, meant I was in need of some serving spoons and more plates. Twenty minutes at the op-shop meant I had all I needed for $14 and didn’t purchase anything new (and how flash to have intricate gold patterns on my plates). We purchased some produce bags and try and shop at the fruit and veg market (this doesn’t always work depending on scheduling) to reduce food miles.

This process has given me time. I don’t need to go shopping on the weekend. We don’t need to go and buy things when there’s nothing convenient in the cupboard. Its meant I can volunteer with the food coop, the RSPCA and a local theatre. I’m using my consumption time, to get out there in my community and build the world I want to see – less stuff, more animals and excellent theatre! Its made me re-trust my cooking skills and reaffirmed to me that I can try and fail. Its cheaper and less stressful, but its also fun to figure out how to get around consumption. Its opening up new conversations with people. Its also cheaper, through the combination of wanting less, using less and consuming less.

zero waste 6 month 3

I’ve been asked a couple of times by people for suggestions on how to get started. There’s a million and one zero wasters with glass jars of their last few years of rubbish on the internet. Their advice is good, but I think it builds it up to a point of perfection that leads to people feeling overwhelmed, and falling into the trap that they think that the whole process is so hard that they couldn’t possibly do that. Not everyone is a great cook, or has time, energy or start-up money to get started. Not everyone lives in a house with people who will be on their side and help out (the division of unpaid household labour is for another day folks!). I think there are some sensible steps:

Beginner (low cost, low conflict)

  1. Get a drink bottle. Take it everywhere. Fill er up. Try to only drink that, rather than popping in to get a sugary something in plastic when you`re thirsty.
  2. Stop using disposable plastic things: no plastic cutlery, no straws, no carry bags
  3. Get a reusable coffee cup and actually use it (don`t leave it at home) or make a rule that you sit in the cafe and drink it out of a real cup.
  4. Get a couple of reusable shopping bags to carry purchases in and leave one in your bag, your car and by the front door.
  5. Write a list of what you need (and why) before you go shopping. Its ok to need undies, its probably unnecessary to come out of Kmart with them and six new cushions, a cat costume and six new pieces of trash jewellery.
  6. Give up cling wrap. Use it up (or save it if you know you`ll make doughs where its necessary) and find ways to store food with reusables. e.g. Glass jars from pasta sauces = freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
  7. Set up a system to sort your waste. There`s issues with recycling in Australia but we shouldn`t give up! Sort your hard and soft plastics, educating yourself on what can and cant go into recycling.

 

Intermediate (a little cost, a little time, a little bit of conversation)

  1. Purchase or make some produce bags. Extra points if you support a small business or one that recycles materials (try etsy).
  2. Find some old facewashers or scrubby towels and make them into dishclothes that you wash weekly. (or go to etsy)
  3. Use up things in plastic containers that have nasty side effects – looking at you dishwashing and washing powders – and find some alternatives that work for you next time you shop. I love my soap berries and I`m happy with ecostore dishwashing powder. Next up is refilling our dishsoap at the coop.
  4. Toilet roll – who gives a crap
  5. Find alternatives for single use items – menstruation and makeup removal. I have zero waste options for both. Whatever works for you.
  6. Before purchasing something new, try and reframe what you already have. For example, at the moment I desperately want a black pleated skirt. I have many skirts. How can I pair things differently to come up with a new option?
  7. Beyond that, try and find pre-loved options for your needs. If its washable and hygienic is my motto. If not research options that are more ethical, local or environmentally friendly. Micro-businesses are the best way I reckon.
  8. Maybe join a buy nothing or zero waste facebook group in your community

 

Advanced (effort required)

  1. Set up a system of composting. For apartment dwellers like myself, find a friend with a compost or ring your community garden to see if (and what) they`ll accept your compost. We freeze our compost and once a fortnight take it to the local community garden.
  2. Start shopping at a bulk store. Reduce the number of things you think you need from mainstream supermarkets.
  3. Challenge yourself with new recipes that use simpler and fewer ingredients.
  4.  Go on a shopping ban for a certain period of time, and honestly clean out your closet and cupboards, finding new homes for things that no longer serve you. Reframe your relationship with shopping and stuff. Do your research, know your brands and understand that your choices have impacts.
  5.  Talk to others about why you`re trying something new. Encourage them (but not berate them) to try new ways of doing things.
  6. Read about slower living, minimalism, zero waste and challenge your assumptions, but also the writers assumptions. Like me, not all tips will work for your life and needs.
  7. Be willing to try and fail.
  8. Be generous of spirit, when faced with a smiling colleague with a takeaway cup for you.
  9. Think and act about how you can try and improve the community you live in. How can you help others? Is there a food pantry that needs help?
  10. Have polite conversations to challenge suppliers. I had a twenty minute chat with a supermarket manager about how their business could support me to continue to shop there.

 

Further Reading:

Stuffocation by James Wallman http://stuffocation.org/

Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press (or her podcast) https://www.clarepress.com/podcast/

The Rogue Ginger`s Blog http://www.therogueginger.com/

 

 

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On fast fashion part two #whomademyclothes

Quite accidentally I posted my most recent post about fast fashion in April, coinciding with a broader campaign  #whomademyclothes run by Fashion Revolution. This campaign inspired in part with the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013, which killed over 1100 people. The campaign seeks to highlight the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, and seeks to engage people on these issues in informing their consumption choices. In 2016 alone, Fashion Revolution reached 195 million people online through its hashtag, and it is currently present in 95 countries.

The Rana Plaza collapse has been called “inevitable”. Bangladesh is the third largest exporter of garments in the world, accounting for about 75% of total exports (Donaghey & Reinecke). Currently the manufacturing industry employs over 4 million Bangladeshis (Reuters) across about four to five thousand garment factories. Eighty percent of 2.5 million garment workers are women who tend to be poor, illiterate and unaware of worker rights in national and international regulation. A great number of these workers are in secondary, less regulated markets in even poorer conditions, that supply larger factories, to whom stricter standards of conduct apply. International enterprises typically contract with larger factories, with little consideration of these smaller markets. This means that fashion is hurting women and the vulnerable most.

The two major responses to the collapse and its backlash, led by a coalition of actors within the global supply chain were the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (“Accord”) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”), also respond to these broader forces. In some ways, these market-led responses were global responses to local solutions, illustrating the positive ways in which market actors seek to address issues within their supply chain.

These were in addition to several other initiatives led, by a range of business, worker and civil society coalitions including the Better Cotton Initiative, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Ethical Trading Initiative, joining other global initiatives such as the Clean Clothes campaign, which seek to raise awareness and standards for those employed by the global garment industry. These civil society initiatives are touted as more democratic, flexible and responsive mechanisms that can supplement government and international regulation and market led initiatives. These seem to have little impact on the behaviour of contracted, and subcontracted factories, despite lip-service paid by international brands to end-consumers.

Thats all well and good, but what can I do?

1. Educate Yourself

Understand the supply chain of your clothing and the environmental and social costs associated with your consumption. Consider reading Slave to Fashion or watching true cost or Fashion Victims.

2. Be realistic about your consumption

As I noted in my previous post, the fashion industry (and capitalism) wants us to consume rather mindlessly to create ongoing consumers and profits. Understanding the difference between needing and wanting, is really important here. Consider doing a shopping fast/ban  like blogger Cait Flanders or the 333 Challenge as a way to kick start your personal shopping revolution. Last year, I focused on only replacing broken essentials (undies, socks, gym/swim gear, shoes, stockings). This year, I’m on a kind of 333 challenge, with a very limited wardrobe whilst on my assignment, where I’ve worked out that I really only need a very limited set of work and casual clothes.

Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age and Green Carpet popularised the #30wears test, wherein she asks at the moment of purchase, think “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?” If the answer is yes, then buy the item. If it’s no, then don’t.’

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(source FutureFashionMe on Instagram)

3. Consider alternative and better shopping experiences.

There are two main ways to improve our footprint, beyond just reduction. The first is to consider shopping vintage/thrifting/op-shopping. This extends the life-span of used goods. For those clothes you then wear out, consider if there are uses, like rags or art projects that you can get the absolute last thread out of that clothing.

The second, is finding sustainable or ethically produced clothing. The Good on You app provides useful data about the suppliers of clothing. It also provides an opportunity to send messages to your favourite brands encouraging improvements in their supply chain or impact. For someone like me, who’s clothing options can be quite limited already, as most of the suppliers I had previously purchased from have low ratings, this is somewhat of a challenge. Plus sized ethically and sustainably produced clothing that doesn’t look like a sack of shit, is really hard to find. To get around this, I’m increasingly focusing on purchasing from small Etsy sellers, and really limiting the amount of wardrobe growth.

4. Look after your stuff

Basic care and learning skills like mending can extend the life of your clothing. Consider repairing clothing rather than replacing it, and get shoes and handbags re-soled. If you buy quality at the outset, care for it according to directions and have a reasonable skill with a needle and thread, you can increase the lifetime of your purchase.

5. Participate in campaigns and ask for more from suppliers

Fashion Revolution has some suggestions. You might like to participate in the #whomademyclothes campaign as a first start, and send a couple of emails to your favourite suppliers. Demand transparency through the whole supply chain.

 

 

 

 

On fast fashion

Or Renee and her ever shrinking wardrobe

I’ve always been someone with a lot of clothes and accessories. I am the product in many ways of my beautiful and colourful mother and my equally beautiful carefully coordinated maternal grandmother in this sense, with a love of matching accessories and bright colours and lipsticks. For what I lack of their dark, thick hair and deep brown eyes, I’ve certainly made up for in their love of clothing.

However, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the patterns of our clothing purchases, including its implications for workers, the environment and our collective self esteem.

Clothing has through eternity been a signifier of wealth and status. Certain colours and fabrics suggested you were from a particular caste or class. The cut of your clothes could show whether you were likely to be in a field sweltering over crops, or being fed peeled grapes whilst reclining in the shade.

However the degree to which we could produce clothing, prevented accumulation and waste.  The importance of caring and repairing for clothing, is a dying artform. Mass-production is now the norm, with companies offering ’boutique’  handmade clothing as an alternative.  Whereas in history, most normal people “the plebs” would only have what they needed and this would be repaired until it became rags or some other household use, we have gone from having two fashion seasons “spring/summer” and “winter/autumn” to approximately 52 seasons.

52 seasons – once a week – retailers are pumping out supply into stores whilst communicating to us through traditional and social media, that we need to continue to keep up with fashion. The price-points of many of these retailers suggest that this is attainable and desirable for most people to achieve, and that somehow if we don’t participate we are somehow not “most people”. This drive to do retail therapy and be fashion forward is deeply destructive to our sense of self, our debt and our wardrobes.

Too much stuff 

We are increasingly consuming more and more clothing of poor quality, to the detriment of our health and financial well-being.  The garment and textile industry comprises a large part of the global economy, reaching $US3 trillion in 2011 (Marketline). The world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, about a 400 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to “The True Cost.”

There is no coincidence that this increasing supply of fast fashion (which can be extended to the cheap production of household goods and decorations – looking at you stores with ridiculous prices) has coincided with a growing industry of professional organisers, stores full of “storage and organisational solutions” and Kon-Maries. As people seek to be “most people” who can afford to keep up with fashion, they loose the sense of how much they need.

Shipping our problems elsewhere

We are pushing our waste onto others. Individuals amasse such significant amounts of “stuff” which they can either no longer store or organise that they then seek to “do good” and donate it. A common sight is charity bins overflowing onto the street with no regard for the weather or the elements (or the significant cost of disposing that which is now clearly ruined).

Image result for charity bins overflowing

Worse still this fast fashion is loaded up and sold to people in the developing world. These clothes, already poor quality on sale, now second-hand are being sold to the worlds most vulnerable people, with the people in the developed world believing that they have donated it. Neither side of this transaction is ethical. This supply is retarding the continued growth or development of local supplies (with the added benefit of reduced costs/impact of shipping) and local industry that contributes to a growing economy.

Image result for second hand clothes to developing world

Source: WSJ

Whilst the local charitable organisation may not collect it with this intent, the continued supply of clothing provides a market for middle men to buy these donated products and then sell it for sale in the local markets.  Whilst this may provide an option for low cost and sometimes higher quality clothing for those within these contexts, the ongoing supply of cheap and fast fashion just ships the problem elsewhere. A sorter in India remarked to the Wall Street Journal ““I don’t understand why people throw away all these clothes. Maybe they don’t have time to wash them.” Such is the extent of this problem, terms have been developed for the phenomena. In Nigeria second hand clothes are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and in Mozambique roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity).

The toll of the whole value chain is just too much on individuals and the environment. The fashion industry releases significant amounts of chemicals in the treatment and dyeing of clothing, and this is compounded by doing so in countries where environmental protection is weak or lax, or where the importance of the clothing industry to the local economy overcomes any concerns relating to environmental impact. It impacts the local water supply and reduces air quality.

Image result for fashion pollution

The ready-made garment industry, where multinational enterprise typically seek to arbitrage costs by carefully selecting the location of their manufacturing. There is fierce competition for market share in apparel between developing countries, which often means the reduction of conditions or removal of environmental protections (“Waste Couture”).

(Source: ABC)

So what can a girl do? See my next post ….