Plastic-Free or Low-Waste Living : Is it expensive or hard?

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Today marks the beginning of Plastic Free July, a worldwide challenge to encourage us all to minimise our plastic usage, look at our daily habits, and make small but significant changes. It's not about overhauling your whole life or home, but about making actionable changes to your days, that can carry on easily through the year. 

Like any trends, starting on a plastic-free, zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle could be expensive, but let me tell you it doesn't have to. I suppose it comes down to your way of living and the way you choose to action on certain plastic-free ideas. Of course, to make some changes might cost you an outlay to begin, but sometimes this counterbalances by making savings in the long run.

Here's a few simple tips on how to begin your plastic-free journey without it costing the world (or your wallet):

Don't throw out your current plastic things that are still useful : such as tupperware containers or lunchboxes. Keep using them until you need a new one, then buy one plastic-free option at a time. It's true that some of the reusable stainless steel lunchboxes and containers are more expensive, but if you plan out what you need, and not buy a new lunch box for your kids each year (or semester) the price will outweigh all those broken plastic lunchboxes. While there's lots more available these days (we love River's PlanetBox, and this Bento-style lunch box), some of the best one's I've found were years ago before the eco-options, at camping stores, Just keep in mind what you'll be storing / carrying in the boxes, and look at the seal to see if it'll last or be replaceable. Or maybe team it up with some glass jars for liquids. 

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Buy a reusable water bottle and stop buying plastic bottles of drink everyday: you'll save more than $50 a month ($600 a year) by not buying bottled water. The cost of a reusable water bottle will be paid back in less than a month if you're used to buying 5 bottles of water a week. {$3.50 bottle x 5 days x 4 weeks = $70 month spent on buying water.} Instead of buying sugary drinks while you're out & about, change your family's habits to enjoy the taste of water. It's a million trillion times healthier, so much cheaper, and doesn't have to come in plastic bottles. If your kids are really resisting the no soft drink situation you can add cordial (available in glass jars at the supermarket) or fruit syrup that you make at home - a little fresh lemon juice with some local honey makes a tasty (and healthy) addition to your water. Or even simply add some fresh fruit and herbs - cut up strawberries, melon, oranges and mint look pretty and taste yummy too. We use Made by Fressko for coffee, tea or fruity water, and the Cheeki or Sigg water bottles from Biome*, or Onya's water bottle

Buy yourself a reusable coffee cup: either take your own coffee from home (saving $5 a day!) or find a responsible cafe who offers a discount by using your own cup (saving a possible $130 a year ~ $0.50 saving x 5 coffees a week x 52 weeks). If you buy more than one coffee a day, the savings will really add up and the $25-$30 spent on a reusable cup will be well worth the financial cost. I know there are so many Instagram-worthy reusable coffee cups available these days, which is so fantastic, but have you considered getting a sturdy ceramic mug from a local op-shop for under $5? But some of my favourite reusable mugs are: I love these glass Keep Cups*,  Kim Wallace handmade ceramics,  Bamboo Monkey keep cup.

Make your own or buy in bulk:

  • make your own biscuits at home, rather than all the plastic packaging that comes from shop bought biscuits. Homemade is always tastier, you can control the sugar content, and do away with a whole lot of packaging.
  • make your own tofu - I make ours using this kit * and I must admit, I'm in love.
  • make your own burgers - we're vegetarian, and my kids sometimes do really like those fake-meat veggie sausages when having a bbq or camping. To be honest, the ingredients list is a bit dodgy, so I'm happy when they let me make homemade burgers instead. Plus those packaged ones are super expensive, and the homemade ones are pretty cheap.
  • if you normally buy meat from the supermarket - try your local butcher and ask if they can use your container, or minimal plastic packaging. Most will be pretty happy to accomodate your request if you have easy options.
  • make your own yoghurt or buy a larger tub and decant into smaller reusable containers for school / work lunches. I'm actually surprised how many people buy those mini yoghurts or cheeses & biscuit packets, with all that branding for their kids. It's so much more expensive and often has a lot of sugar or salt. If your kids want their favourite character on their lunchbox cut a picture out and stick it on. Add fruit and a little honey to plain yoghurt.
  • make your own icy poles: all those tubes of plastic filled with sugar water sitting in your freezer. Sure they're convenient - but they're often not cheap or very environmental. There's so many ice pop recipes online I barely bother to add my own - but try freezing chocolate milk (cocoa of course), freshly whizzed watermelon juice, apple juice or simply cordial and fruit. I'm coveting one of these for our freezer for this coming Summer. 
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Simply say no: For me, truly this one is the easiest and hardest. Easiest because I don't have to make a decision, I just say no; hardest because saying no to a whinging demanding persistent kid is really really really hard! Whenever one of my children asks for something in plastic they mostly know what my answer will be. Some people might think I'm being a mean mother, but I'm actually showing my children that we don't need to buy a toy or thing every shopping trip, to enjoy the special presents they do receive rather than always needing more. I'm saving money, the environment and mostly my children from growing up to needing shopping to fulfil them. If you stick to this your children will learn to understand and stop asking you. Decreasing that dreaded mum I want this every trip to the supermarket. Add up how many matchbox cars, mini dolls, shrink-wrapped cute pens you've bought this month - the financial cost as well as the environmental cost. ** for full honesty, I don't say no every single time - because sometimes they wear me down, sometimes I feel like once occasionally is ok, and also because I want them to be able to make their own decisions. If they grow up being denied everything, then they'll rebel and want it all when they're old enough to buy it themselves. It's about guiding my children, not dictating to them.

Change your mindset: Rather than feeling guilty because you can't do or change or fix everything, think about the small daily changes that you can make. Going plastic-free or reducing plastic & waste from your home and lives is hard, but if you spin it around to think of the positives that you're doing rather than the challenges you're faced with it will be much easier. 

* Some of these links are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase through this link I earn a small % of your purchase. It doesn't make the cost change to you, it's just a way of me working with a business that I personally use and believe in, and them supporting me by talking about them. If you're a member of Biome then your points can add up in your account, so make sure you sign up. Also, if you've previously purchased from Biome they still give me a % commission, but a smaller one - so what I'm saying is I value you shopping via my links, even if you're a returning customer.