Saturday, 6 February 2016

On being a conscious consumer - simple ways to reduce waste

I am trying hard to avoid buying products that generate waste, but inevitably I come home from grocery shopping with another collection of food items shrouded in plastic - some recyclable, some not. Some even with double layers of wrapping.  Puffed rice biscuits, organic flour, pasta ...

Even though I am committed to being a conscious consumer, our family still creates far too much waste. We grow lots, we take our own containers to stores, we visit local farms, markets and coops. We compost anything biodegradable .... but still it troubles me how easy it is for us to fill the bins - garbage and recycling.

Harvesting fresh salad greens just before lunch is such a delight.
We've been challenging ourselves to wean off plastic packaging and reduce waste.  Here's our basic plan...

  • Step one - Celebrate and recognise the positive steps we've already been able to take.
  • Step two - Do a waste audit and look at where most of our wastes are coming from.
  • Step three - Decide which of those products we actually need to purchase.
  • Step four - Find ways to make or purchase those products without the wrapping (start with the easiest ones to replace).
  • Step five - Keep seeking alternatives for the others.
Interestingly, the more we explore these options, the simpler our purchases are becoming, the less we buy and therefore the less we spend. Also most noticeably, the healthier our food is.  Being a conscious consumer supports positive frugality, voluntary simplicity and healthy living.

To celebrate some of the steps we've already been able to take to reduce waste ...

Growing our own, and purchasing food at farm gates and farmers markets

We grow lots of vegetables, herbs and fruits here in our garden at the community gardens we're involved with.

Large fennel bulbs are great in lunchtime salads. At the moment, I'm waiting for the seeds to ripen for harvest.

Abundant brassicas and edible flowers at the Moving Feast garden at University of Sunshine Coast.

We have four types of mulberries growing - this is the Dwarf Red Shatoot vareity (immature fruit)

Just down the road too is an organic farmer who opens his farm once a week selling fruit and veg. We take our own bags and basket. Also a few hundred metres further up the road is a biodynamic farmer who offers farm gate sales.

Once a month a farmers market happens at Crystal Waters and the farmers come to us.

This farmers market is happening tomorrow. We always look forward to it. It's a great time to catch up with friends from around the village and valley, and for the kids to play freely and safely around the village green.

Supporting local artisan makers

For some time now we've not needed to buy loaves of packaged bread. The local bakery, Crystal Waters Sourdough Bakery, makes beautiful wood-fired organic sourdough bread. His flour comes in paper or cloth bags, and he sells his loaves in brown paper bags. You can, of course also choose not to take a bag. Recently my kids have become interested in learning how to make this bread - watching the process through the bakery window so intrigued them. Les the baker saw them there and kindly invited them in over a couple of weeks to teach them and shared some of his starter too.

Crystal Waters Sourdough Bakery

Shopping at a local food cooperative

I appreciate the shops where it is an option to choose packaging and bring my own containers.

My local organic food coop in Maleny sells lots of things in bulk - honey, olive oil, tamari, tahini, peanut paste, apple cider vinegar, dishwashing liquid, seeds, grains, pulses ... chocolate!  I take my collection of jars and homemade bags with me to refill. I love going into this little shop - it's so friendly and welcoming.

The wonderful Maple Street Coop (image:

Making teas and icy poles at home

It's small, but there is quite a bit of wrapping associated with teas and coffees. My garden is full of herbs and bush foods that are fabulous teas - particularly blended with a little spoon of honey.

One of my favourite garden teas - tulsi, lemongrass, lemon myrtle with some honey, ginger, coriander seeds and cinnamon.
The kids love a cool icy treat on a hot day. Instead of packaged manufactured ice blocks and ice-cream, we make our own little icypoles from biodynamic juice or our own freshly squeezed citrus.  At the market too, other local kids have a stall selling mango ice-cream - just frozen mango pushed through a Champion juicer - yummy! Always a favourite.

Ice cream from just frozen mangoes - nothing added.

I feel lucky to live in a place where accessing local, fresh and unpackaged whole foods is an easy task.  But I know there are ways, wherever we are, to cut back on waste. For example, if I still lived in Brisbane, I'd be shopping at the weekly Northey Street Organic Markets and signing up for a box of produce from Food Connect. Reducing waste with food packaging is just one aspect of diminishing waste in our lives - what can we also do in our offices and schools, our clothing, sports and hobbies?  There are so many ways to become more conscious consumers. Each week I am attempting to make some changes in a positive direction until I have reached zero waste - and then continue to work toward going beyond zero - creating abundance.


  1. I bought cherries a while back and I was not going to eat them all before they expired, so, I chucked them in a container and into the freezer thinking I might be able to cook them into something at a later date.
    Well finances were low recently and I needed to eat some fruit.
    Frozen balls of watermelon have proved delicious , then I spied the cherries. Nothing to lose I took some out to defrost and see what they'd be like.
    Well, I couldn't wait and as soon as my teeth could get thru them they were being eaten. It was like sorbet!
    I was very impressed and will, in future, buy more to freeze when they are affordable and taste good.

    I think it's worth poking a ice block stick of some kind into the watermelon balls before freezing next time, stabbing them with a fork to get a bit off to eat is a little dangerous lol ����

    1. Lovely - cherry sorbet! I love the frozen watermelon ball idea too. Frozen oranges are also a delicious treat.

  2. I do what I can to reduce waste, the compost bins at Beelarong Community Farm get my kitchen scraps, and the worm farms receive my banana skins and any fruit peelings (not citrus). I cook from scratch and that helps, but I find if I do visit the supermarket - the amount of packaging is astounding. We are lucky in Brisbane to have a good supply of Farmers Markets, and the organic Sunday Market at Northey Street.

  3. City farms, community gardens, farmers markets and other community food systems help so much. It is so wonderful to see how these are flourishing around the world.

  4. Plastic packaging bothers me too, Morag. Even though I buy in bulk, use my own bags and reuse cardboard boxes, go to markets and get a co-op order, there is still plastic in our bins each week. I did find out that one of the major supermarkets has an option where you can take back certain types of plastic packaging to be recycled into playground equipment but I think reducing the amount that comes into our home is the real key.

    It's great that all your family are on board. One thing that my family does is a project known as "Take 3 for the Sea" which encourages everyone to collect at least three pieces of plastic whenever they visit a beach to stop it ending up in the sea. We don't limit ourselves to the sea, every time we take the dog for a walk or are out at a park, we pick up any plastic we see to stop it ending up in our oceans. It would be lovely if we could eliminate it from our landfills too, wouldn't it!

    1. You're right - the key is to reduce the amount that comes into our homes. I love the 'Take 3 for the Sea' project. I'll look it up - we always pick up too and it'd be great to make this part of a bigger picture. Thanks!

  5. I love: "the simpler our purchases are becoming, the less we buy and therefore the less we spend. Also most noticeably, the healthier our food is. Being a conscious consumer supports positive frugality, voluntary simplicity and healthy living."

  6. Hi Morag, another great post! I have made a concerted effort in the last year to think about packaging that comes through my door, and have upped the recycling of any food waste (worm farm and digging it in it the garden) it feels good when our bin and half empty when it's bin day.
    I had planned on getting up to Crystal Waters for the market Saturday, but darn, I missed it, will try for next month. I am also very interested in a permaculture course, I had planned on doing a weekend beginners course down in Byron Bay but if you are offering one I would rather do yours as its closer to me.