‘Tis the season

It’s after the holidays, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how being a Zero Waster/wannabe-minimalist/life simplifier relates to the consumerist mindset and spending spree that is the holiday season.
Up until not very long ago, I didn’t think much about Christmas presents. It was just something you had to do. During my London years, I used to associate the appearance of Christmas decorations in Oxford street to the daunting awareness that I had to get people stuff. Every Christmas I would fly back home with a suitcases full of presents for my friends and family, and as much as I did enjoy buying nice things for them, I also felt like this was an obligation more than a pleasure.
December 2016 was our first Christmas in New Zealand, and since we were not going home I didn’t buy any presents to my loved ones. Instead, I sent them cards that I painted myself, and wrote them letters saying that I missed them. That was the most personal gift I’ve ever given them.
I realised all I was doing was taking the values I’d normally apply to my own day-to-day life and extending them to other people. I’m all about minimising waste and simplifying my life, so obviously I wasn’t going to forget about that when it came to present-giving.
But this posed another issue: what about the presents I was going to receive? I started to dread the prospect of unwrapping a present only to find the umpteenth birthday cake-shaped hat from Ikea (yes, that’s something I’ve actually received).
My main goal this year became to avoid superficial gifts that I didn’t need. How was I going to do that? I was gonna speak up. Thanks to finding the balls to tell people what I did and didn’t want, I managed to have my first (almost) Zero Waste, conscious-consumer-oriented, kinda minimalist Christmas.
And this is what I’ve learned:

  • It’s ok to ask
    A few months prior to my return, I wrote to my family members and gave them my Christmas wish list. I knew it wouldn’t make sense to ask for no presents at all as people still feel compelled to get you something, so at least I was going to ask for things I actually wanted or needed. This may be a bit blunt but at least you won’t end up with stuff you’re never going to use.
    This also goes for wrapping paper: I’ve asked everyone to please not wrap any of my presents or to at least use old wrapping paper or whatever wrapping they had lying around. It worked!
  • Presents don’t have to be a physical thing
    Giac, for example, always asks for experiences for his birthday. This Christmas, his aunt and uncle told us to pick anything we want to do in Welly and they would pay for it – it can be anything from a theatre performance to a museum exhibition to dinner in a fancy place. That’s amazing because it’s up to us to decide, and it’s one less item we had to carry back to New Zealand in our suitcase.
  • Cashy -cashy
    If somebody really doesn’t know what to get you (and is kind enough to tell you), you can always ask for money. This obviously only applies to people you are particularly close to, but if they really won’t go for not getting you anything, in spite of you insisting, then just ask them to give you a little bit of cash – which you can use to cover some boring expenses like paying for gas or for some bills.
  • Go with someone
    My mum didn’t get me anything for Christmas. Instead, she said she would come with me to whatever shop I wanted to check out, and if I did want to buy something she would pay for it. I’m not gonna lie, it was amazing to feel this spoiled and I did end up buying a bunch of things. But at least they are all things I love! And I got to spend time with my mum 🙂

Now, you’re always going to get the odd relative who doesn’t listen to you or doesn’t understand why you have so many requirements, but that’s ok. There’s only so much you can do and you can’t demand that everyone gets where you’re coming from. Remember not to get upset (something I still struggle with) and maybe try to explain your position again to them. At least you’ll know you’ve done your part.
I actually had some really great conversations about Zero Waste with people I would have never thought would be interested in that, so another lesson I’ve learned is to never assume. People are always going to surprise you!

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Zero Waste toiletry bag

I’m flying back home in eleven days and I’ve already packed three times. This is what I’m taking with me in my toiletry bag. It’s not 100% Zero Waste but getting there. I haven’t included things like soap or toothpaste as I’ll be staying with friends and family so I’ll be borrowing from them, these are just the things that I can’t do without.

Make Your Own – Face Cream

Good evening fellow readers, forgive my absence but I FOUND A JOB so now I have a little less time to plan my blog posts as well as way less energies to concentrate. But here I am now, with a shiny recipe on how to make your own face cream.

Disclaimer: I have dry, sensitive, acne-prone skin (yay). It’s always been super difficult for me to find a good face cream because all the anti-acne creams tend to make your skin even drier, and all the creams for dry skin don’t do anything for your pimples. So I did some research and designed this cream specifically for my skin type. Therefore it might not work for you!

Disclaimer #2: This recipe is 100% made up by me. I picked the ingredients and tried to mix them together. I am not a doctor nor a dermatologist so you’re more than welcome to try this at home but don’t blame me if something goes wrong.

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Ingredients

  • Coconut oil (optional)
    I thought I’d use coconut oil as a base, but I wouldn’t if I could go back. I already use coconut oil to wash my face and it leaves my skin very moisturised, so I don’t really feel the need to add more oil when I apply my face cream. Plus coconut oil makes the cream excessively oily, considering the second ingredient is shea butter. Don’t get me wrong: I still think it works great, however next time I make this cream I probably won’t use coconut oil.

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  • Raw shea butter
    It’s probably a better idea to use this as a base instead. Shea butter is a great moisturised for dry skin, it has a very thick texture and it absorbs quickly. I’ve used shea butter-based creams before and I really love the consistency and the smell.
    Buy it here.

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  • Jojoba oil
    Jojoba oil is known for its moisturising properties (on skin, hair, everything! I use it in my homemade shampoo as well), and it’s gentle on sensitive skin.
    Buy it here.

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  • Castor oil
    A naturally astringent, castor oil helps pull impurities from the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, and it acts as a barrier against the outside world’s harsh conditions, something you really want if you live in a place where you have nothing in between the sun and your face (hello New Zealand). I’m not sure about SPF, but it’s good to know you have some sort of sunscreen in your daily moisturiser.
    Careful: castor oil is very thick so you’ll only need a small amount. (Also, it smells like death).
    Buy it here.

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  • Vitamin E
    It’s never too early to start fighting those wrinkles. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which means it helps preventing tissue aging. Whoo!
    Buy it here.

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  • Witch hazel
    You’ll find witch hazel in a lot of face toners because of its soothing properties. My skin gets irritated easily and witch hazel is supposedly great for nourishing dry skin, as well as working as an anti-acne and fighting signs of aging.
    Buy it here.

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  • Zinc oxide
    Zinc oxide adds a little bit of sunscreen and helps fighting acne, too. It comes as a grainy powder but it is solubile so it will dissolve as lomg as you make sure you mix it in properly.
    Buy it here.

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Because I live in the middle of nowhere I had to buy all these ingredients online. I used iHerb (USA based) and GoNative (NZ based).
GoNative gives you the option to add a comment before placing your order, so I asked them to please use as little padding and packaging as possible, and to draw a unicorn on the box. They are now my favourite shop.

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iHerb was excellent in terms of delivery (it took less than 10 days to deliver from the States to New Zealand – trust me, that’s good), however I couldn’t find a way to ask them to minimise the packaging, so everything came in the usual styrofoam padding.

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The whole point of making your own face cream, beside knowing exactly what’s in it and customising it to meet your specific needs, is obviously to stop buying creams and body products that come in a plastic container. So when it came to purchasing the ingredients, I opted for the products that came in a glass container rather than a plastic bottle whenever I could (only coconut oil, castor oil, witch hazel are in glass, unfortunately).
The good news is that I’m pretty sure I can make multiple products out of the same ingredients, which overall are going to last me longer than a regular face cream. Also, I’m going to reuse the containers, and when it’s time to buy them again I’ll either reconsider the packaging, see if I can refill them rather than re-buy them, or I’ll just buy them in glass jars next time I’m in London (there’s much more variety there).

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Zero Waste challenge – Week 2

Week 2 of out Zero Waste experiment ended yesterday, and I’ve got mixed feeling about it.
Here’s a picture of the rubbish we have produced over the past seven days, divided in recyclable (on the right) and not recyclable (on the left).

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Recyclable: wine bottle (brought by a friend), paper scraps, milk cartons, tins (which I’m giving to a friend to reuse), pasta and rice packaging (that we had already), random plastic padding (from something I ordered online), toilet paper rolls (we only used three! We probably didn’t eat that many veggies this week).
Not recyclable: noodles packaging, random labels, receipts, cloth scraps (from sewing), contact lenses, pills packaging, toothpaste tube, baking paper.

It feels like we haven’t done much better than the first week; in fact this looks like way more rubbish than last Thursday.
The good news is that the majority of it is rubbish that comes from items that we had already. At this point we’ve run out of every packaged food we had around the house, so from now on we’ll simply buy everything in bulk (apart from a few exception listed below).

One issue that came up is what happens when you have people over. A couple of friends came for dinner on Saturday night and they brought a bottle of wine wrapped in a paper bag. Luckily everything is recyclable, however we could have avoided it altogether had it been only the two of us.
I’m not saying we didn’t enjoy a nice glass of wine (or jar –we don’t actually have any glasses), all I’m saying is once you decide to go Zero Waste you need to make sure that your friends and people around you are aware of it.

Conclusions
It’s been a very interesting couple of weeks. My favourite part was refusing: accepting that some things you simply have to go without, and coming up with inventive solutions to make whatever you refused yourself. (This doesn’t always work: at some point I wanted to bake cookies but I’d run out of coconut butter, so I looked up a recipe to make it myself but failed miserably, end ended up with… Basically crumbles.)

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So the other lesson is: failing is ok. You need to make mistakes in order to learn and eventually succeed.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll ever be one hundred percent Zero Waste. For the time being I’m willing to make the following exceptions:

  • Dairy-free milk
    I did make my own almond milk once but almonds are mega expensive and not very sustainable (it takes a lot of water to grow them). So I buy milk in recyclable cartons instead.
  • Contact lenses
    I really don’t like contacts, but I play basketball once a week and I can’t wear glasses in games. I’m not sure what else to do so for now these will need to be an exception.
  • Toothpaste
    I really don’t like the coconut oil/baking soda homemade one! I did try but the taste never grew on me. I might give it another go again in the future but in the meantime I’ll try to buy one that comes with as little packaging as possible.
  • Coconut butter
    The reason why I failed to make my own is that I don’t have a high-speed blender. To make coconut butter you basically have to blend dried coconut flakes for a very long time at high speed, and after about five minutes of blending my blender started to overheat and I worried that it was going to die on me. But I still want to bake cookies, so I’m buying coconut butter in a recyclable container (or I reuse the container to keep stuff in).

However, in spite of these exceptions, after these two weeks we realised that it’s really not that hard to reduce the rubbish you produce. It’s interesting to research alternatives, rewarding to come back from your grocery shopping without any plastic packaging, and fun to create your own recipes.
Plus, I’ve learned that the best way to do this is to take it step by step, so the above exceptions are basically a way to make my transition easier – you never know, maybe one day I’ll learn to make my own milk and love the taste of baking soda.

Ps. I’m posting this on a Friday as I didn’t have time to post it yesterday, therefore Seven Things is postponed to next week. Oops!

Make Your Own – Face Scrub

Hello lovelies, as part of my Zero Waste section I’m starting a sub-segment called Make Your Own, which is all about making your own skin products, toiletries, cleaning products etc in the comfort of your own home, avoiding any extra plastic and unnecessary packaging. Being Zero Waste doesn’t mean you have to give up on your favourite goodies!

I haven’t been making that many products so far, mainly because I’m still trying to finish a bunch of half-used face creams and stuff that I thought would be worth bringing all the way to New Zealand with me. However one thing I haven’t used for months while I was travelling is face scrub. I used to suffer from mild acne a couple of years ago and my dermatologists recommended that I stopped using face scrubs altogether until my skin was cured. So I thought it was about time to re-incorporate a good old scrub into my skincare routine.

My favourite scrub in the whole universe is Ocean Salt by Lush. I had decided that during my transition phase towards a 100% Zero Waste lifestyle Lush products would be my one exception, as all their containers are recycled and recyclable (AND everything smells so amazing). But alas, Lush costs an arm and a leg in the Southern Hemisphere! So whatever I can make, I make.

So here’s my face scrub recipe. Good news: you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry.
Also: disclaimer! This face scrub works ON MY SKIN. But everybody’s skin is different! So it might not wor on you.

Ingredients

  • Coconut oil
  • Ground coffee
  • Baking soda
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

As for the dosage, this is really up to you. Coconut oil is going to be your base so you want to use more of that compared to all the other ingredients, and also you don’t want to overdo it with the baking soda (it’s abrasive). But what you have to do is basically just mix the ingredients all together until they look smooth and blended. The coffee might be hard to mix in (it’s stuck to the top in the picture below), but as long as you make sure you scoop a little bit out when you actually use the scrub you’ll be fine.

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My skin is dry, very sensitive, and acne-prone, therefore it’s always been super hard for me to find a scrub that would get rid of the impurities without leaving my face like it’s been polished with sandpaper.
What I LOVE about this scrub is that it’s not harsh at all on the skin. In fact it’s super moisturising because of the coconut oil and olive oil. The ground coffee and the sea salt will softly rub away any dead cells without leaving your skin dry. Plus it smells amazing! I know you wouldn’t say that by looking at the ingredients (weird combination) but trust me, it’s going to be hard not to eat it.

I would recommend to only use this scrub once a week because, as much as it it moisturising, it’s still a scrub, and you wouldn’t want to be too hard on your pretty face.

I love the idea of making my own toiletries/skin care products because it’s fun, educational, and you know exactly what’s in them. Plus of course, there’s no extra packaging involved.

Zero Waste challenge – Week 1

As you guys probably know by now, I do love a challenge. What I like even more is getting other people involved, especially when I think it’s for a good cause.
Waste minimisation has been my top priority in the past months, so Giac and I are currently challenging ourselves to live Zero Waste for two weeks.

The first week, which ends today, was all about using anything we already had that came with a packaging, assessing the amount of waste we produce on average in seven days, considering exceptions and compromises, while also refusing to buy anything that comes in plastic and trying to limit any packaging to recyclable materials at the same time.

The second week –assuming that at this point we have used up anything we had already purchased- is going to be about refusing and reducing even more, hopefully avoiding anything that comes in packaging at all, as well as assessing side effects such as whether we are saving money or we are eating better etc.

This is a review of the first week.

First of all let me tell you, this has been much easier than expected. Giac and I are already very aware of the rubbish we produce and we’ve been on a journey to minimise it since we moved to New Zealand. So we were already having a head start.
However there are things we are still struggling with (as in, items we find it hard to refuse or we haven’t found an alternative to yet).

This is all the rubbish we created in the past seven days, divided in recyclable (on the right) and not recyclable (on the left). I haven’t included all the compost, but just imagine a mountain of banana peels and tea bags as tall as you.

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Recyclable: pasta packaging, tin, paper scraps (tea box, notes etc), soy milk carton, flour packaging, paper napkin, toilet paper rolls (let’s ignore the fact that we used five rolls in seven days).
Not recyclable: makeup wipes, floss, receipts, fruit stickers, various plastic packaging, chocolate packaging, oatmeal packaging, canola spread container, contact lenses + container, chewing gums, various plasticky labels.

This is the result of a combination of consuming goods we had already and refusing to buy as many packaged items as possible.
In order to keep out mental sanity we decided not to go cold turkey and give up all packaging altogether. We decided to refuse as much as possible while still buying things that we think we need and we haven’t found an alternative to yet.
Below is a list of things we managed to refuse, things we compromised, and some final thoughts.

Things we refused

  • Spinach
    I do love a green smoothie. I always put spinach in my smoothies, however when I wanted to make myself one on a Friday, I realised I didn’t have any spinach and I couldn’t just go to the supermarket and buy it because spinach comes in a plastic bag. So I had to wait for the farmers market on Sunday to buy some in bulk. Zero Waste is all about being organised!
  • Sugar in coffee
    We’ve been to Starbucks a couple of times in the past week, and normally we’d both grab a sugar to go with it. Now we are either bringing our own sugar from home in a small container, or we simply go without.
  • Painting my nails
    I rarely do it, but sometimes I enjoy nail polish. However, removing it means using a cotton pad (landfill) and nail polish remover (toxic), so my solution was simply not painting my nails. I’m sure I’ll get over it.
  • Art supplies
    I didn’t need to buy any, but I did go visit my favourite art shop the other day, only to sadly notice how pretty much everything is wrapped in plastic. Will need to find an alternative to that.
  • Bread
    The bread we normally buy comes in a paper bag with a plastic insert. I haven’t got round to make my own bread yet, but for now we resorted to buying loose rolls instead, which also turned out to be cheaper.

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  • Incense
    My inner hippie loves some incense. I burn it pretty much daily. That’s why I ran out of it and I’ve been looking for some packaging-free sticks. The ones I found were not really my favourites so I haven’t bought any yet. I really like coconut and nag champa but they come in paper + plastic. Will see if I want to go with the less preferable flavours but in the meantime more research is needed!
  • Chocolate
    Giac is addicted to Cadbury chocolate. The packaging, however, goes straight to the landfill. As an alternative I’ve been baking like crazy to make sure he gets a daily supply of cookies instead.

Things we compromised

  • Pasta
    Unfortunately, pasta in bulk is not really a thing yet. I’m more of a rice person and could happily live without pasta (despite being Italian), but Giac has pasta pretty much every day. So we did buy it, after making sure we found a brand that has recyclable packaging.
  • Soy milk
    Haven’t got round to make my own milk yet. I will try for sure in the future, but for now I’m taking it one step and a time and still buying soy milk, as long as it comes in a recyclable packaging.
  • Condoms
    Probably TMI here, but lots of contraceptives are wasteful. I’ve been considering switching to Daysy, but haven’t made up my mind yet. This probably requires a separate blog post as it’s quite a broad subject, but in the meantime any suggestions in this field would be more than welcome!

Where we shopped instead
In order to minimise the amount of packaging, we went to the farmers market on Sunday (nothing new here, we shop at the farmers market on a regular basis already), and for anything other than fruits and veggies (i.e. rice, sugar, spices, seeds) we found this nice place in Newtown called Moshim’s (go check it out if you are in Welly) which has a huge selection of goods in bulk. We brought our own bags and jars, and ta-daaa! Zero Waste shopping.

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I also made my own shampoo, switched to a new face wash, and will try to make my own face cream as soon as the raw ingredients I ordered arrive (recipes coming soon!).

Overall conclusions
Forcing yourself to set aside every piece of rubbish you produce really makes you aware of it, and personally it still feels like we accumulated a lot. Compared to the average household, though, I think we did pretty well.
For me, the best way to transition is not to go Zero Waste overnight but to take it one step at a time. Replace what you need as and when you run out of it (i.e. I still have a couple of face creams that I’m going to use up before I make my own, so I can re-use the containers as well), take your time  to do your research and find sustainable alternatives. Ideally you want to go package-free, but if you can’t try at least to find the same item in a recyclable packaging.
Keep in mind that the point of living Zero Waste is accepting the fact that recycling is not the solution: refusing is (part of) the solution. So an even better approach is to consider whether something you want to buy is something you really need. You’ll find that nine out of ten times you can probably go without.

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