Sustainable Sunday Swap: Reusable Shopping Bags

sustainable swaps


Swap plastic shopping bags for reusable shopping bags.

This is no shocker – plastic disposable shopping bags are not cool. They’re terrible for the environment, choking up waterways and destroying sea life (just google “plastic bags in the ocean” for some imagery) or simply going to landfill. 

When the “green bags” became popular at Coles and Woolworths I took the challenge seriously, bought a stash and after a few failed attempts finally got into the habit of taking them every time I went shopping (it just naturally comes with the shopping list now). 

But. Those “green bags” are so named for their colour more than their environmental prowess, as it turns out they’re still made from plastic (and many people throw them out once they’re broken). If you still have these bags don’t throw them out, just make them last and try to repair any damage!

The canvas or jute style bags or totes are best (not the kind lined with plastic though!) and are pretty easy to find these days. If forking out money to buy a stash of fabric bags is not in your budget then maybe try sewing your own? Boomerang Bags is a concept where people use a simple bag pattern to make bags using (typically) scrap/rejected fabric (think old curtains, table cloths, bed covers, sheets etc) as well as scrap fabric from your sewing projects (small pieces can make excellent straps!) and then supplying them to a local shopping centre for the community to borrow (and return) when they forget to bring their own bags. 

With the Western Australian Woolworths and Coles now announcing they’ll be removing the free disposable lightweight plastic shopping bags from their stores by 2018, this is the perfect time to create a new habit and start bringing your bags with you everywhere you go! 

Catchup

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So I’ve been desperate to get back into blogging here (with a deep urge to inspire and connect with other likeminded people), however I kept finding blogging was “too hard”. This will be my third blog post claiming to “be back”. But it’s all about finding the time right? So I experimented. I thought I’d microblog on Instagram for a while to get back into the rhythm of things and soon enough I was finding it easy to find the time. I’ve had this blog since May 2011 and I cringe to look back at some of my previous posts, I have essentially been experimenting with this whole “eco thing” for years but still not quite figuring it out! But six years on we have so many awesome things available to us – awesome bloggers who have written books, podcasts, TED Talks, workshops and community groups. Even the ABC produced a TV mini-series “The War on Waste” bringing big environmental problems into the spotlight. We can not divert our eyes any longer! So I’m jumping in head first, right in the midst of my first Plastic Free July challenge, ready to have fun, inspire and be inspired.

CHALLENGE: Connect with your food

sustainable swaps, weekly challenge

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My latest challenge has been to re-connect with my food. I think a lot of people blindly shop for their food these days. We simply don’t ask enough questions (where did this come from? Who grew this? What are these ingredients? What does this food do to my body? Are these ingredients harmful? etc). By connecting with your food, you connect with your body and health and happiness.

My “re-connection” with food was sparked by a recent dietary challenge* after trying veganism (FYI I was inspired to go vegan after watching the documentary Cowspiracy). However my body reacted so badly (terribly, painfully) to this new seemingly healthy diet that I had to keep a food diary and really, truly, think about everything I ate.

If you’ve watched a documentary like Cowspiracy, Food Inc, or even Jamie Oliver’s Fowl Dinners (I was vegetarian for years after watching that one!), you’ll start to question what (or more importantly WHO) you are eating.

Here are some simple challenges you can set yourself to reconnect with your food:

BUY LOCAL

There really is not comparison to buying your fresh food (fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy + more) from the farmer’s markets. You are buying direct from the grower. You can ask questions and get answers. It’s also a great way to buy food in season (i.e. not buying vegetables flown in from the other side of the world). It’s also a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning!

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EATING MEAT

Spending a good portion of my life as a vegetarian (and that small time as a vegan!), I have had to learn the hard (and emotional) way that I need meat in my diet. Some people make this choice because they simply like the taste. But hey, let’s at least give a shit about how this animal came to be yeah?

Some easy ways to keep meat in the diet in a sustainable and ethical way:

  • Get your portions right. The Australian Department of Health suggests a maximum of around seven serves of protein a week. A serve of meat is around 90-100g raw meat (that’s about the size of a burger patty!). So that means only one meal a day should be meat, or if you have a large portion of meat in one meal then skip the meat the next day. Don’t forget two eggs are considered a portion of protein, so you could forgo the meat all together if you had eggs for breakfast! Some quick and easy solutions: Cut your steak portions in half. Roast a whole chook at the start of the week and you’ll be set for days (you can even freeze the leftovers).
  • Choose ethically sourced meat. Livestock kept in natural habitats (i.e. pasture fed cows and free range chickens) are a better choice. Organic and bio-dynamic is even better. Their livestock are generally given a much better life and the farms they come from don’t use pesticides, herbicides, growth promotors or hormones – and they don’t eat genetically modified food.

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GROW YOUR OWN

I know, easier said than done – and nothing is more demotivating than being a plant killer. I’d suggest starting small; herbs are generally pretty easy and move on to leafy greens from there. Check on your plants regularly to check they’re happy and healthy and look out for pests. More on this later!

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REFUSE PLASTIC

This goes beyond remembering to bring your ‘green bags’ (which by the way, are an environmental nightmare in themselves – the fabric is made out of plastic!). But extending your bag collection to produce bags (some are made from mesh, or you can make your own hessian ones), and bringing plastic tubs with you (for bulk buying fine things like flours or liquids etc).

If you buy through a bulk buy store (who openly welcome you BYO container) or local farmer’s markets it will be a lot easier to avoid this conundrum. I fear that refusing plastic containers at conventional supermarkets will just have them thrown in the bin.

When I went to the farmer’s markets however, it was super easy. I asked the organic farmer if I placed my cherry tomatoes into my own bag would they take the plastic tubs back to reuse them? They were more than happy to accommodate me and even commented that the plastic tubs are quite expensive. I also managed to visit a banana stand just as the lady was about to bag up a kilo of bananas, I told her to not bother bagging them up and to simply had them over. No problem.

So here are some initial challenges to get you reconnected with your food. What will you choose first? What will be your biggest challenge?

 

* by dietary challenge I mean the doctors can’t seem to diagnose why I react to certain foods. I’ve spent the last 10 years eating a self-diagnosed gluten intolerant diet but am now finding myself intolerant of other foods too. The GP has simply handed over a FODMAP diet information sheet and wished me luck.

Where do I begin?

the journey

snake vine out my window

Everybody has to start somewhere I guess. Every day I think about the environment, the planet, the human race. I have two young children and I worry about what state the planet will be in when they are my age. I try to be a good human every day, make ethical and informed choices, consider all the options, read the label, ask the questions, say no to that plastic bag, compost our scraps, recycle that glass, resist buying another thing, repair something that is broken, water my garden and look out my kitchen window to the snake vine and its yellow flowers and thank my lucky stars that I am where I am. I made a conscious decision in 2011 to start blogging about caring for the environment, mostly because at the time my friends and family didn’t understand it. I think since then it’s not so unknown, and I have met other friends who share my passion. Whilst I have come a long way since then, I still feel like I’m on a journey to becoming a good human. I still haven’t figured it all out. It is a really big job to change old habits and stand up for what you believe in. But I’m getting there. Some ‘eco blogs’ are scary, they are so full-on that you are left feeling like a failure, like the job to becoming environmentally conscious is so big (too big) that you wonder if it’s even possible. It is. And you don’t have to be superhuman. Being good even 50% of the time is amazing. That’s reducing your impact by half. So give yourself a break and start small.

What could you change today that can make a positive impact on the planet?

Potato Printing Tshirts

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I try to get most of my toddler son’s clothes secondhand – though the older he gets the less secondhand clothes are available and I’m starting to realise why – toddlers get really dirty and active so the clothes don’t last. So I’ve started getting clever with his wardrobe. I’ve started buying affordable, well made, ethically produced plain tshirts and personalising them – and potato stamping is by far the easiest way to do it.

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I feel like this is so simple it barely justifies a tutorial. Just peg the tshirt to some cardboard (so the paint doesn’t go through to the back of the tshirt). Then simply cut a potato in half, make a shape, dip it into fabric paint and blot it onto some paper towels (or brush the paint onto the potato stamp using a brush if you have one) then stamp it onto the tshirt. Then just let it dry.

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I think they came out pretty well! It’s actually been months since I initially wrote this post and took the photos and the tshirts are still going strong!