8 November 2018

What a Zero Waste Home tour changed for me

A couple of months ago I was fretting over whether I should do a Zero Waste Home tour. It was to cost $40, and I've had a very spendy year. I'd already read and been inspired by Bea Johnson's Zero Waste Home book, and I felt I was already living a low-waste life. What if I learnt nothing?

In the end I went, and I learnt heaps! I emerged inspired and informed. This post describes what I've changed as a result.

The tour was by Nic at Mainstream Green in Cambridge. She opened up her minimalist, stylish and inspiring home. I highly recommend it.

Nic reveals all as she opens her fridge.

House plants

The ornaments in Nic's house are almost all plants. They look fantastic! I've been reinvigorated to care more for my own, and have been given a couple of new ones by a friend who propagated them.

Anthurium rescued from near-death at Countdown about a year ago.

String of pearls propagated by a friend.

Birds nest fern that my daughter bought me for $2 last Christmas at the Warehouse. It was tiny back then!

Freezer organisation

Nic is very into time efficiency, and swears that since undergoing her zero waste revolution she's saved time and money. One of the keys to that is her chest freezer. I've been using ours more by making double quantities of meals and freezing half, and also freezing things I hadn't thought of before, like milk, to save dashing to the shops as often.

Our freezer is now fuller than this but better organised.

Shortly after the tour as I was queuing at the Hamilton Farmer's Market for my favourite milk (which is also Nic's), I spotted people filling their own glass bottles with the milk! Turns out it's even cheaper to fill your own! My neighbour gave me some one-litre bottles she didn't need and I've started my refilling habit. I wash the bottles very well and dry them thoroughly.

I recently froze the first one without tipping out a bit of milk first, and even though the lid was on loosely, the bottle broke as the milk expanded. Bummer. Lesson learned.

I've also snaffled small cardboard boxes from Pak'n Save to help organise our small chest freezer. Previously it was pretty chaotic, which made it hard to find things.


There is so much space to reno your routine in the bathroom! Firstly, I instigated a new bathroom rubbish system. The old one consisted of an ice cream container in a drawer, and the new one consists of two ice cream containers in the drawer. The second one takes biodegradable waste for the worms.

Here are the other changes I've made:
1. Nic uses sweet almond oil as a moisturiser. I went to buy some, and the herbalist at the shop recommended jojoba oil instead because it's lighter. I love it! It goes on like an oil but a minute later it's absorbed. In future I hope be able to refill the bottle I bought originally because I noticed that the herbal shop gets it in big bottles.

Previous experience has taught me that because homemade moisturisers don't have preservatives, they are prone to growing germs. Therefore, you don't want to add bacteria by dipping your fingers into them. I don't know if that's an issue with oil, but in case it is I poured a portion of the oil into a glass eye dropper bottle. The rest went in the fridge to keep it fresh (oil tends to go rancid). To apply the oil I drip some on the back of my hand and smooth it on my face from there.

2. Silk dental floss. It's bothered me for years that dental floss and its packaging goes to landfill. However, I strongly believe in taking personal responsibility for my own health to prevent pain, expense and further consumption in future years, and that includes keeping my teeth shipshape. Now I have a solution!

Like Nic, I use Do Gooder silk floss. The glass and metal container (which is far more attractive than any other floss I've seen) gets refilled with paper-wrapped refills. The cardboard packaging and the floss itself is compostable. My first lot went into our worm farm and has disappeared!

As a bonus, it's about the best floss I've ever used - it has more grip than most and doesn't break.

I'm keen to use Do Gooder's toothbrushes too, but the head shape's not quite right for my tooth needs at present - although they tell me they're working on smaller, pointier heads. In the meantime, I use one from Grin.

3. I noticed Nic had some Underbalm deodorant in her bathroom drawer (there was no clutter in there so we could see everything!). I've since experimented with Underbalm's magnesium version, and I am delighted that it actually works to cut out the stink! I have tried many natural deodorants over the years; they've all let me down. This one's packaged in glass (recyclable) with a plastic lid (which appears not to be recyclable).

4. My old plastic razor has been going for years, but I was keen to move to a safety razor because they're all metal and therefore recyclable. Nic had one and seemed to be happy with it. I was put off by the price tags of the new ones, and then remembered my mother used to have one. She produced it for me and now I have a vintage Gillette safety razor! We reckon it's probably from the 1950s or 60s, and it's still perfect. I am amazed at how much more closely it shaves. I haven't cut myself.

5. Encouraged by the success of all these changes, I went a bit wild. I decided to try cutting my own hair, mainly because it was getting shaggy and my next appointment wasn't due for a while. As a curly-top I had successfully cut it when I was a student - curly hair is forgiving. Turns out I enjoyed the snipping so much that I went a bit far and now have shorter hair than I've had for years! I don't mind it, though, and I generated a whole lot of curls to feed our worms. The downside is that I missed my quarterly chat with my lovely hairdresser.


Decluttering is a crazily popular zeitgeist at the moment. Nic appears to be a queen of it while I am a mere underling. Nevertheless, her house inspired me madly and I am determined to achieve a tidy, clear house. Progress has been brilliant so far. There is now so much space on my desk that my cat has room to pose as a fluffy grey cushion next to me as I work.

The most telling reason to declutter came when I tackled the laundry cupboard. There were several products there that I'd recently bought more of, not realising we already had them. That is a maximal waste way of living!

Nic's wardrobe

As for so many women, my wardrobe needed tackling. Although almost all my clothes are second-hand, there was still so much I rarely wore. Nic mentioned the documentary The True Cost, which I duly watched and found fascinating and horrifyng. Once you've watched it, you'll NEVER buy cheap imported clothes unless they're second hand. (I am forced to do so occasionally for my daughter's dance costumes - at times all the dancers must be dressed identically. The mothers are thrilled not to have to sew.)

A particular statement of Nic's has stuck in my mind and is helping me clear out the house: If you have something you're not using, and someone else could be using it, that's a form of waste, too.

Worm farm envy

I dislike buying more stuff to be zero waste! That approach seems twisted to me because buying less is central to zero waste living. So when the zero waste home tour led to me buying a $330 hunk of virgin plastic, I was shocked.

My desire was launched by final stop on the tour, Nic's backyard. It had a flowering kowhai with numerous singing tui - divine. It also featured a Hungry Bin worm farm to gobble up her family's food scraps and other biodegradable waste. Several people had already told me how much they love their Hungry Bins, and when I spied Nic's one I could see the brilliance of the design. A serious case of worm farm envy washed over me.

Our new worm farm: a Hungry Bin
I already had a worm farm, but it was inconvenient and messy to feed and empty, and I repeatedly neglected my worms. This was in spite of being inspired years ago by this TedX talk given by a large-scale New Zealand worm farmer who talks about the magic that occurs when food scraps pass through a worm's digestive system.

My envy spread when, that evening, I watched the video on the Hungry Bin website. My husband happened to be in the room and his eyes lit up. "We should get one!" he said. Such rash expenditure is unlike us.

We managed to delay for all of two weeks before he bought one. My worms are loving their new home and for the first time ever they are getting fed regularly.

Other people buy takeaways for dinner; we eat home grown vege-and-egg omelettes and buy a worm farm.

My old worm farm, which I nearly managed to turn into a worm coffin. It has now been sold for $20.

The deets

Nic runs her home tours quite regularly: check her events page. I'm sure everyone comes away with different tips; I've just talked about what resonated with me, but there was so much more!

A zero-waste gift I received earlier this week.

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