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Zero Waste Workshop in Auckland!

March 8 2016

Hi there,

I (Waveney) have a ‘how to live rubbish free’ workshop coming up on Sunday the 20th of March 2016. It’s a real hands on, half day workshop, with small numbers guaranteed. It’s the first time I’ve offered such a practically focused learning session and I am really excited about it because I reckon each attendee can leave with the skills they need to achieve zero waste. If you can’t make the 20th, I’m offering the same course on Saturday the 14th of May. The courses are held on Auckland’s North Shore through the Kaipatiki Environment Centre. To book click here.

Also, in other news, (literally) the online news group Stuff came to our house the other day and posted this video showing round our ‘near’ zero waste kitchen and also wrote an accompanying story which you can find here. This is my first collaboration with my employer, Auckland Council and I’m pleased to report we are all happy with how it worked out.

Waveney’s speech at the inaugural Theories of Change conference

March 6 2016

What’s your theory on the steps involved in creating a just world where people and nature can flourish?

Recently I was asked to give a 15 minute talk on just that and it certainly got me thinking. The speech was for the Theories of Change Hui held at Auckland University in February. It was a true privilege to be speaking alongside some of New Zealand’s most effective activists, politicians, advocates, grass roots leaders and business people.

We all answered the same four questions:
• What is your background in social change?
• What is your theory of change?
• How do you manifest your theory in your own practice?
• If there was something wrong with your theory, what would it be?

I think I was asked to speak to represent the consumer side of things. Can consumers make a difference? Or do we have to rely on change coming from social institutions or powerful business leaders? I didn’t realise it at the time of writing, but my theory, copied out below, was a little different in terms of the power I placed on the “bumbling individual” as opposed coordinated or best practice approaches suggested by most other speakers.

What is your background in social change?
– Two decades ago, right here at Auckland University I completed a mind opening BA in Sociology.
– From the moment I was out the door all I wanted to do was create a better world. Aside from attending rallies and signing all the petitions I could find, this rather unglamorously worked itself out as me spending my twenties and early thirties in small, poorly insulated NGOs hanging out with unruly disenfranchised youth. Turns out, it wasn’t my calling.
– Then, at the age of 33, I belatedly realised that my consumption was compromising the planet’s continued ability to support life. In response to this, my husband and I almost immediately publically challenged ourselves to live for one year without creating any rubbish. This created more interest than we anticipated, and it was actually quite hard! Luckily we narrowly escaped with our pride intact and lived to tell the tale.
– Since then I have continued to role model and advocate for consumer power.
– I’m currently a Senior Community Advisor at Auckland Council, still working with minimising waste.

What is your theory of change?
My theory of change is not very grand, and I may have been hungry when I developed it. It’s a three-part theory:

  1. Keep nibbling
  2. Nibble the bits you like
  3. Accept people who nibble differently to yourself

Point 1: Keep nibbling.
The system we are trying to change is complex. As Niki,Jeff and others have pointed out, alarmingly, this means we can’t predict certain actions will have certain outcomes. Just let that sink in. Imagine if when I walked up Symonds Street it only sometimes took me to the start of K road. I wouldn’t be sane for long. Also, it can seem that the power doesn’t sit with us. It could be some of the time, or it could be almost all of the time that we feel like our actions make little difference. This is a frustrating situation, so what to do?
Keep nibbling.
– There is hope.
– We have more power than we think.
– We know that complex systems can change.
– And we know that change is not always slow and steady, but that systems can have tipping points, where sudden, dramatic change can happen overnight.
– We also know that if we plant nothing, we grow nothing.
– But if we act, even though we can’t predict the outcome, we know that every action has an outcome.
– I chose the word nibble for a couple of reasons. I have at times felt completely overwhelmed by where to start, and what to do; Nibbling sounds simple. Just pick something and give it nibble. I have also at times actually felt guilty or burnt out from thinking I’m not doing enough. Nibbling sounds doable. We are in this for the long haul. Keep nibbling.

Point 2: Nibble the bits you like
– Even if we could establish that some actions and strategies are more effective than others, my theory of change encourages people to follow their energy and stick with their skills because this is where we are all personally most effective.
– It’s the old adage, if you’re a pear, it’s a waste of your talent trying to be an apple. The best thing is to work hard on being a great pear.
– Maybe you want to invent things, or count things, or sew things, or sell things, or do nothing but compost, perhaps you want to live in the country, or live down town. Be yourself. Just do want you’re good at, find your energy, follow your passion.
– You can be yourself and be effective. In fact, I’m suggesting that this is the most effective thing you can do.

Point 3: Accept people who nibble differently to yourself
– Look around you, we are all in this together, yet we don’t all, always see eye to eye. Some are edgy, some are pragmatic. Some of us would rather walk into a room full of suits and Champagne and others would say give me dreads and ganga any day.
– It’s nice to be accepting of others, but that’s not why we are here. We haven’t come here today to the “theory of nice” hui.
– Diversity is strategy.
– Divided we fall
– I’m not glibly suggesting nibbling away at this huge beast of a problem because I can’t think of anything else to say. I’m not suggesting you nibble at the bits you like just to save you feeling overwhelmed.
– This is strategy.
– This is how to effect change in complex systems.
– Always hold the power of the disassembled crowd in your mind. It doesn’t matter if you are physically sitting here today in this crowed auditorium or if you are alone at your computer. We are always part of the immense power of a crowd, whether we are assembled or not.
– Collectively, we are part of the largest people movement in the history of people. There are not only millions of individuals involved, there are millions and millions of organisations involved (Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest)
– And – when we all act, all in such different ways, – guess what? Its complex.
– Complexity and diversity is the perfect strategy for a complex problem.
– The more nibblers, from the more angles, the better.

How do you manifest your theory in your own practice?
– My theory of change has empowered me to act and given me the confidence to do what I’m good at.
– For me, let me be honest, writing petitions and law reform, and lobbying, bores me to tears. And activism – front line activism – scares me half to death. For the record, I also am crap at making things and running businesses, so I don’t think I’ll be supplying any innovative new green technology to the market any time soon.
– So the question is, is there anything left? What can I do? What am I good at? Do you know what else we need? We need 4.2 million kiwis to change the way they think, and buy stuff.
– Not only does our Rubbish Free lifestyle stop and make people think, it’s provided me with a platform to take the message of sustainability to 100s of 1000s of people.
– I’m nibbling away, tackling the normality of buying cheap, disposable, planet destroying products. And amazingly I’ve found that the people who buy this stuff typically also actually care about the planet. I love that! It’s so ridiculous but it is also so positive. I know it’s complicated but I choose to go from the basis that people are good, but haven’t yet linked their actions to the effects. I love connecting with people from all walks of life and inspiring and supporting people to make changes.

If there was something wrong with your theory, what would it be?
There is an “anything goes” approach that permeates through my theory.
– Firstly it seems to be anti-strategy: in the face of some compelling arguments today, most of which have argued for a particular strategy over others, am I standing here saying: I’ve had this great idea, we should all just do what we want(?) – when clearly some approaches do work better than others. I agree that we need strategists, coordination, and collective action. But I don’t think that means we can’t have anything else. I put forward “nibble the bits you like” – because I don’t believe there is ever a theory, or a box that we can all fit into, – but that we do all have something to offer.
– Secondly, by endorsing navigating your own ‘true north’ is my theory just a reflection of our increasingly me-focused, individualistic society? Well, I hope not, the intent is to celebrate diversity, which frees people to be effective, empowered and impassioned. And in my experience when we embrace diversity, (including our own), we learn more, become more connected and less individualistic.
– Thirdly by encouraging acceptance, if that’s taken to the extreme then does that mean I have to be accepting of violence? Or insincerity? Again, if it were taken that way, then yes that’s an issue, but since when did “accept one another” lead to violence and crime? I hope the theory can encourage tolerance, and increase our acceptance of others even if we don’t agree with everything they say.
– My last critique is that my theory relies on each of us being capable of critical self-reflection and being open to the advice and wisdom of others. If we are not, all sorts of detrimental nonsense could ensue. But, I’ve put the theory forward because I believe the bigger risk is millions of people not realizing that their actions, however small, could make a difference.

Thanks everyone.

Rubbish Free with kids!

January 18 2016

We did our challenge 8 years ago. Over that time, I couldn’t count the number of times parents have been impressed with our “one year one bag” achievement until they learn that we don’t have children.
“You have no idea” they say. “You should try taking on my two-year-old.” Any sense of environmental inferiority is quickly replaced by a self-assurance Matthew and I are living in some weird alternate reality and that living rubbish free simply can’t apply their family. There is nothing I can say to this. There’s no come back and everyone knows it. The childless couple can’t give time management advice, or worse, suggest labour intensive rubbish free parenting tips.

But over the years I have met many families who do manage children (their bowel motions, their expectations, their instant and constant need for food…) and manage amazing waste-less households. Most recently, Candace and Max of Glen Innes, Auckland, with school aged Nena and toddler Marcy have just completed a low key new year’s resolution to “waste less.” –But what’s happened is incredible. They ended up going completely hard core and didn’t put their Auckland Council rubbish wheelie bin out for one whole year, but that’s not all. They had baby too! I am in completely in awe of them. TV3 News aired their story last night.

Candace is also the author of one of my favourite blogs: Real Living, striving for a wasteless life. Here’s a link to the “one year one bin” post. Any time looking around this blog is time well spent as it’s full of great DIY tricks, recipes and inspiration galore.

If you are a parent of preschoolers and you are still reading, firstly thanks for being so gracious. Of course everyone has different circumstances, and taking on additional challenges may not be what your mental health is screaming out for right now. However, if you are up for seeing what big or little changes you could make check out Waste Free Parenting with Kate Meads (you may know her as the NZ famous Nappy Lady). The website is packed with product information and tips, and connects you with the Waste Free Parenting workshops offered throughout the country. The workshops are fun and usually include free or discounted products.

In the meantime, hat’s off to all the parents!

Candace (left) & Waveney (right)

Candace (left) & Waveney (right)

Well, that was a Plastic Free July…

August 6 2015

Well we made it through Plastic Free July. I think the overall verdict was that it was fun (could it be that we need to get out more?) and that we are getting soft in our old age. To that end, I can recommend not attempting to do Plastic Free July and Dry July at the same time. I heard of one person attempting this and it sounded intense!   (Definitely not the month to host the party of the year).

The fun part of the plastic free challenge was that we ended up knowing quite a few people that were doing it, it was like all these closet hard-core Rubbish Free Junkies came out oIMG_6228f nowhere to give it a whirl. And I don’t know why but I find it fun to challenge myself, actually I do know what it is. It’s satisfying. No one wants to feel like a chump and living with all this environmental nonsense can quietly wear us down. Putting a bit of effort in and winning probably releases all the same endorphins as running around after a ball. Plastic Free – power to me.

As for getting a bit soft, as I mentioned last blog, we still went for some convenient personal hygiene and health items. This made all the difference because baking soda toothpaste now makes me miserable. We also bought plastic wrapped organic lemons and bananas from the supermarket. I did try and get some lemons off my neighbour’s tree, she was overseas and said to help myself but I couldn’t navigate the high tech gate.

Today I bought my Vogels bread again. First official single use plastic act of August.


Plastic Free July

July 13 2015

Matthew and I are doing Plastic Free July, an international movement that’s picking up pace in NZ too. I decided to do it spontaneously three days before it started. I was the guest speaker at an event that the Waikato Environment Centre put on for people that had challenged themselves to do Plastic Free July. I was speaking about our rubbish free year back in 2008, and felt that in many ways the audience was more dedicated than I was. So I publicly committed before I could really think it through and came home and told Matthew. He reminded me that he was there before me because he has been suggesting for a while that we try plastic free. But really! Plastic free makes rubbish free look like a walk in the park.

What we mean by “plastic free’ needs some defining as I’m of course typing this on a plastic keyboard. While some plastic is used for long lasting hard-wearing purposes, other plastic is designed for single use. Its this single use plastic that we are attempting to live without through July. We all know it makes no sense to make something that needs to last for a few days or months into a toxic problem that could last a few thousand years. But it’s normal and convenient. And in my experience ‘normal and convenient’ are two underestimated but pretty powerful forces.

And that’s where Plastic Free July kicks in. I find myself in the “UNcomfort” zone of inconvenient and abnormal again and I do love a good challenge. Day 12 so far. Today’s crisis was being hungry at the petrol station and not being able to buy one single thing, even their pies were wrapped in a foil plastic packet. Then we went mountain biking and ended up with a single use plastic entry band taped around our little rubbish free wrists.

Plastic free is a much tighter category than rubbish free, because plastic recycling is out. This knocks out margarine, milk and yoghurt. Most households in NZ don’t recycle their soft plastics (bread bags, cheese wrappers etc) because they are not usually accepted at kerbside, but we had found a company that will take clean soft plastic so prior to July I’d been able to enjoy Vogels and Colby cheese and Matthew could have his Weetbix. It’s a shock to the system but not impossible to find alternatives. Dad has been baking a fresh loaf of bread for us each week which has been appreciated.

So far the true stumbling blocks haven’t had much to do with food. We are continuing to use toothpaste, dental floss, deodorant and Panadol, (those of you that have to deal with us daily will be pleased about us being clean smelling without headaches!) We are still feeding the dog bulk dry dog food, which comes in a massive plastic bag. And although I’m trying to use a pencil I keep finding plastic disposable pens in my hand, I don’t even know where they come from. But that’s it so far, we have mostly surprised ourselves with what we already had in place. We are so used to living rubbish free that I had stopped appreciating things like GreenCane toilet paper (with no plastic wrapping); razors with replaceable blades; wooden biodegradable dish scrubber; bulk refills in the garage for detergent and laundry liquid.

So at the one third mark still feeling chipper!

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Psychology for a better world

September 3 2012

I find it very easy to slip into disillusionment when it comes to the reckless, irresponsible and naive ways in which our species is interacting with this world. This week I read an article in The Herald suggesting that with record Arctic ice melting many scientists believe that the worst case scenario predictions regarding climate change may in fact turn out to be too conservative. These feelings of powerlessness and being overwhelmed often return at a micro level as well as I go about my personal life, perhaps having dutifully cleaned my cans and bottles for recycling, biking to the farmers market, and taking containers to the butcher to avoid plastic and styrofoam packaging, and then observing the amount of single use, plastic material thrown out at the medical facility I work at.

That is why it was almost a relief to read Auckland Uni associate professor Niki Harre’s book ‘Psychology for a Better World’. Whilst working my way through the chapters on encouraging creativity and commitment, the role of who we are and where we belong, and making the most of our desire to be good, I found that my sub-conscious narrative of ‘changing the world’, was being challenged and re-framed, to one of working with the ‘winds of change’. Rather than feeling a responsibility of creating behaviour change, I have become more focused on simply being a sustainability advocate, doing what I do, and encouraging others along the journey.

For those of us for whom reading is a bit of a chore, Niki has now released a 15min film covering the main ideas of book. It is full of cool animations and completely held our attention for the whole time, and we were particularly taken by the couple at 11:09 :)


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Closing down sale!

August 8 2012

Change is afoot at Rubbish Free!

Just over two years ago we rehashed the Rubbish Free website to try and make it easier for folk to reduce the amount of landfill rubbish leaving their homes. We did this by adding the Rubbish Free Guide, a searchable database of ideas and tips on reducing landfill rubbish and the Rubbish Free Store, an online store with products to help in this quest.

We’ve been absolutely wrapt and humbled by the support given to us in this endeavour. However, as Waveney and I both continue to work day jobs we’ve been finding it harder and harder to devote the time the Rubbish Free Store requires. Unfortunately, the store doesn’t generate enough income to pay someone to run it, (including ourselves!), and because it is so closely associated with us, we have decided not to sell the business. Instead, at the end of August, we will close the virtual doors on the store for the last time.

The Rubbish Free Guide will remain, along with the rest of the website which includes the blog, and we are going to add a page providing information on talks or presentations we are involved in, which will also continue.

Every cloud has a silver lining though, and for you that means an opportunity to bag some bargins! We have reduced all of the items in the store to the cost price, and they will remain at that price until they’ve sold out, or the 31st of August, whichever comes first.

So, please get in quickly and stock up with any items you may have been thinking of buying for yourselves, or plan ahead and get your Christmas and birthday presents sorted early!

As much as it is sad to be closing the store, Waveney and I feel very bouyed that there are now many other places on the web that folk are able to get products from. Back when we did the Rubbish Free Year in 2008 this wasn’t the case and I remember trying to get toothbrushes for ourselves from Sweden and Boston in the States. We are also hopeful that by removing the store from our lives we will be able to remain available for talks or consultations and that this will be more sustainable in the long term.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement. Please feel free to email me at:

Kind regards,

Matthew and Waveney


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Rubbish photos…um, I mean, Photos of Rubbish!

July 9 2012

This week I came across the Plastic Is Rubbish blog. Based out of the UK these guys are trying to live without plastic and blogging about it, but they also have set up a Flickr account with beautiful, but disturbing, photos of rubbish in nature, like this one;

They are eager to gather more images, so if you have some great shots I’m sure they’d love to hear from you.

We are also cheering all those across the Tasman, (that’s Australia for our international readers), who have engaged in the Plastic Free July challenge. You’ll be able to find out more on their Facebook page and perhaps jump on board yourself?

Finally, for the rest of July we have free shipping on our 3-packs of Stabilo Greenlighter Pencils. These are a fantastic alternative to plastic highlighters, are nice to use and made from FSC certified wood. By buying a pack your total order will have free shipping so maybe do some browsing while you’re in the Rubbish Free Store!

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Kid’s parties – help!

June 8 2012

We recently received an email from Georgina asking;

i wondered if any of your readers would have suggestions for a rubbish free childrens party? Reusable plates etc are easy.

The hard part is the compulory goody bag (it really is) which usually has a) way too may sweets and b) loads of really throaway plasticy toys (laser lights (v cool), water pistols, random toys that come in packs of ten and break the first time you use them etc etc)

I tried using little notepads and pens last year but really its the plastic that was popular with the 6 year olds

The stuff that comes home from parties usually ends up in landfill within a week.

So what can I do that it is reasonably green and likely to be popular with kids?

We have information in the Guide on Parties and Children but it’d be good to get some specific rubbish free information on Children’s Parties – Can you help?

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Volvo Ocean Race

March 19 2012

This weekend I was lucky to be able to head down to the Auckland Viaduct, joining the other 250,000 people who came through the week to check out the Volvo Ocean Race Village. It was a fantastic atmosphere and awesome to be able to get right up close to the boats as the crew were preparing them for the trip across the Southern Ocean. What’s all this got to do with rubbish? Well, plenty as it turns out!

The Volvo Ocean Race organisation is placing a lot of emphasis this year on highlighting the issue of rubbish in the oceans through the Keep the Oceans Clean campaign. In the village they had a large area dedicated to education, displays and products aimed at addressing this issue. We were able to grab a drink Anna and Mick from Go Bamboo who were there promoting their fantastic toothbrushes, (available here), and were joined by Joao Parrinha, one of the artists with Skeleton Sea.

Skeleton Sea are traveling to each of the stopover ports of the race where they go out and collect rubbish from the local beaches and then run workshops enabling people to turn this waste into art. Traveling with them is a giant Flip Flop Fish made out of jandals collected in just one hour from a beach in the Canary Islands.


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Older is better? We’ll see.

March 1 2012

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Dee in Nelson. The email was equal parts enquiring and venting. Like many, Dee was expressing her frustration at what appears to be a built in obsolescence to the appliances we buy for our homes. A few years ago friends of ours had their heater, toaster, jug, and washing machine break down within a few months of each other. The interesting thing was that they’d bought all of the appliances new at the same time when they were married seven years previously.

Dee explained that their washing machine seemed to break down fairly regularly and each time was costing between $500 – $600 to repair. Because of the nature of the design the washing machine, like many appliances in the home now, are beyond the scope of a handy person with the usual tools to repair. My suggestion was to either take out a second mortgage in order to buy the best machine recommended by in the hope it would last a long while, or try buying the same machine second hand which would be about the same price as a cheap new machine.

Dee found a third option – she bought an old wringer washing machine! After reassuring me that she wasn’t going crazy she explained that “…they wash well and if they break down any handy man can fix it”. So, Dee is now doing the washing for her family of six which includes teenage boys, and grows to seven when her grandaughter stays over. The granddaughter is in cloth nappies and so this wringer washing machine is going to be working pretty hard. Apart from being easy to fix, the machine only cost $100 and will save money on gym fees! Dee will be checking in with us once in a while to let us know how it is going and whether she’ll keep it up. All the best to Dee!

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Stock with bumps and bruises means a great deal for you!

November 21 2011

Many years ago I had a job merchandising products in supermarkets. It amazed me the amount of stock that would arrive, or become, damaged on it’s way from manufacturer to customer. The standard practice was for the retailer to return the product for a refund, whereby the manufacturer would destroy it. Considering the amount of resources involved in creating these products and distributing them, this seemed highly wasteful.

Unfortunately, over the past year of retailing toothbrushes we’ve built up a bit of a collection of toothbrushes where the packaging has been damaged. We’ve got neither the inclination, nor the resources,to return them to our supplier, and so it is that we’ve decided to offer you guys a deal! If you’re happy to receive a slightly crumbled box or individual toothbrush in return for a significant saving you’ll love this!





Until stocks last, we’re selling 12 packs for $30 reduced from $45, and individual brushes for $3 down from $4.50. We’ve got them in soft, medium and child at the moment and they are all in a similar condition to those pictured. Check out the Bathroom category in the store for more information or to purchase.






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Spring update

October 31 2011

Well, I hope like us you’re enjoying the signs that Spring is well and truly here! We’ve got lots of seeds planted which seem to get moved ten times a day; inside overnight, out into the sun in the morning, under the porch when it starts bucketing down, out into the sun…good ol’ Auckland weather!

ALL AROUND THE WORLD Over the past wee while we’ve become aware that there are lots of folk doing great things to reduce the amount of rubbish they create in their homes. In the US Bea Johnson has a Zero Waste Home, Adam & Amy have completed a Green Garbage Project in Oregon, Jen Metz in Hawaii has just finished her Trash Free Year, Beth Terry continues to blog about her Plastic Free Life in San Francisco, and over in the UK ‘Mrs Green’ and her family have My Zero Waste which chronicles their efforts. Closer to home, huge congratulations go to Robin and Heather List from Masterton (that’s Rob in the picture) who on the 24th of August, put out one, (not very full), Council bag of their rubbish from a whole year! Currently, Julz and some friends in Christchurch are trying to do 40 Days without Waste. It is part of larger self-challenge to commit to doing something for forty days, there blog is also a great example of some fantastic writing! We’re going to add all these to the Links Page, and so if you know of any others please let us know.

HANDBOOK It’s been off the shelves for a little while, but we’re proud to say our ’10 Steps to Living Rubbish Free’ handbook is available again! This is a second edition and we’re confident that we’ve got rid of all the little typos sullying the first edition, so much so, if you find one we’ll refund the shipping cost!

GLASS The latest page to be added to the Rubbish Free Guide, the page on glass outlines why you can’t put your broken glass, or window glass, in with your curbside recycling. Unfortunately it also outlines why there really isn’t too many alternatives then the landfill. It is written with a very strong Auckland bias, and you may know something we don’t, so please feel free to inform us and we’ll update the page.

NOVEMBER SPECIAL If we needed an excuse I suppose we could say it is to welcome in Spring, or it is my birthday, but I don’t think we do. All we need to do is tell you that for November our Freeset Bags Grocery Bags are available for the low price of $4.95! Usually $7.95 these great bags are strong, light and made of jute, a quick growing plant found in abundance in India. Freeset offers alternative employment to many women and girls working in the sex industry in Kolkata. Eco friendly + social justice = a feel good deal!


Matthew & Waveney


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Renovation rubbish & the perils of buying second hand

September 12 2011

In stark contrast to our supermarket bag of rubbish from 2008, this week we filled a massive 60 litre council bag and sent it off to landfill! The culprit? Renovations!

A couple of weeks ago we moved from our ‘apartment in the sky’, to the suburbs on the North Shore of Auckland. The term ‘slum lord’ is a great description of the previous owner, who had the place filled to the brim with tenants with very little love, or concern, shown to aesthetics and cleanliness! Knowing how important environment is on feelings of wellbeing, the last two weeks has seen us stripping wallpaper, plastering, sanding, painting, painting and more painting in an effort to make it feel comfortable to live in. Thanks to the help of family we now have a lovely place to call home and are looking forward to planting a garden next.

I set up a system in the garage for sorting out the waste as we set about cleaning the place up; boxes for scrap metal, plastic recycling, organic waste, and rehoming (via Freecycle), were dutifully set out, but it was the pile for landfill waste that grew the largest and fastest. The wallpaper was able to be put out with the paper recycling, and the carpet from a bedroom found a new home in another person’s games room through Freecycle, and Trademe is about to see a few more listings but there were other things that we just couldn’t avoid sending to landfill – such as the 100% nylon carpet from around the toilet…

At first we felt really guilty about the ‘Rubbish Free Couple’ throwing out so much rubbish! But guilt isn’t a good place to work from, so we re-framed it all and realised we are just dealing with the consequences of other people’s decisions thirty years ago when the place was decorated. Their choices in what materials to use then define what options we have available now that it is time to retire those materials in their current form.

As a result, we have been very conscious of what we are bringing into our home now, so that whoever is redecorating in thirty years hopefully has an easier time avoiding sending stuff to landfill. Our main approach is using second hand items wherever possible. Given that the most impact an item has during it’s life is generally in it’s construction, once energy has been imbeded in an item it is best to use, or reuse it, for as long as possible. We heard Resene paint has the lowest VOCs so have been buying it from Trademe off folk who had it leftover from their decorations. We got some great carpet and had a local guy lay it, and are currently on a search through the home demolition yards for a bathroom mirror / cabinet.

It hasn’t been without it’s testing moments however. This week we purchased a second hand vanity unit from a demo yard for $25 more then the identical unit was on special in the store! The plumber was all for the new one, which would have been easier for him to work with as opposed to having to use existing holes, and we had our moments where the shiny new one looked appealing, but in the end second hand won out! Because we wanted to spend as little as possible, we were essentially limited to MDF construction. And because we aren’t big fans of MDF we were very reluctant to be responsible for more of it entering the world in the form of cheap joinery. However, because there was an MDF unit already existing that no one wanted, it seems wise to re-use it for as long as possible and thus our purchase of the second hand unit.

Reading the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that life must be very draining in our household as we agonise over every little thing! I can assure you that’s not the case. Once in the habit it is almost unconscious weighing up asthetic, price, and environmental impact when purchasing an item. Thirty years ago the decorators of our house weren’t expected to consider the third factor when choosing an item, but given what we know today it seems completely irresponsible to continue to do so.

$350 new - $375 second hand!

Umbrellas…yep, I’m really going to write about umbrellas!

June 12 2011

On Friday, while walking from the bus stop to work, I overheard an astute young high school student observe that umbrellas and wind don’t seem well matched. It was bucketing down at the time and his companion’s umbrella had just turned inside out. I have to admit, that it was with a certain amount of smugness that I tightened my grip on our umbrella and continued my daily pilgrimige impervious to the rain falling around me.

My smugness was probably a sub-conscious attempt at self soothing, because our umbrella cost us about $120! After observing numerous umbrellas in city rubbish bins destined for landfill on a rainy day a month ago, we resolved to buy the best umbrella we could and as such the Blunt Umbrella entered our lives.

Designed and owned by a Kiwi who was sick of the disposable nature of umbrellas, Blunt has been getting plenty of media interest, even making into the TV news. In Blunt’s words; “A major flaw of conventional umbrella design is that in even light winds the fabric can tear away from a tip or comes away from the ribs. When this happens, the whole structure collapses and the umbrella heads straight to the landfill.

The Blunt solution is a uniquely tensioned canopy combined with a flatter aerodynamic profile. This revolution in umbrella design also eliminates any sharp edges and weak points.”

We’ll let you know how it goes, but judging from Friday’s outing I think we’re onto a winner!

We’re ditching the car!

May 30 2011

Recently I’ve been reading a book called; ‘What’s Mine Is Yours: The rise of collaborative consumption’. In it, Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers outline the increasing phenomenon of sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping.
What's Mine Is Yours
Not being ones to miss out on the action we’ve decided to jump on board and give it a go…we’ve sold the car! Waveney and I live in downtown Auckland, catch buses to work where cars are available if we need them for our jobs during the day, and so we figured it’s never going to be easier then now to go car free in NZ. By the time we rent a car park, ($50/week), fuel (avg $60/week), insurance, warrant of fitness, registration and maintenance we worked out that it was costing us around $150/week to have our car! So, we’ve sold the car and are now putting that $150/week into a separate ‘car account’, and will withdraw from that account when we need to rent a car.

Yep, we’re not so saintly that we’ll never drive anywhere, we’re just going to try and do it collaboratively! We’ve signed up for CityHop, the NZ version of ZipCar. Basically, you pay $65 to join up for six months. Whenever you need a car you either phone, or go online, and book it for however long you need it. It is $15/hour which includes fuel and insurance, and between 6pm – 8am it is just $30 all up. When the time comes to pick up the car, you simply walk up to it, swipe your card over a reader on the windscreen and the car unlocks. Inside you’ll find the keys and away you go. Once you’re done you simply return it and walk away. There are cars located at different spots around the city, and lucky for us one is right at the bottom of our building, in fact it is a lot closer then our old car park which was a couple of blocks away. For weekend trips we’ll rent from a traditional car rental agency.

It’s early days, but so far we’re breaking even. Last week we put our $150 in the bank and today I just spent $95 renting a car for one day this weekend to get to a friend’s birthday out of town, by the time we pay for petrol it should be bang on. Stay tuned to hear how we go!


Eco-consumers, keep shouting!

May 23 2011

You may not have heard of Unilever, but there is a fairly high chance you’ve used or purchased one of their products. Unilever is a British / Dutch multinational company which, according to Wikipedia, owns over 400 brands, employs 160,000 staff and had a revenue of around 44 billion dollars in 2010. In NZ we’re familiar with seeing Rexona, Dove, Lynx, Lipton tea and Streets ice cream, it would be a rare supermarket isle that doesn’t have a Unilever owned brand in it. Consequently, when they started talking about radically improving their sustainability record a couple of years ago, many people held their breath in hope…many are still holding their breath, but can at least let a little air out!

When we were in the midst of doing our Rubbish Free Year in 2008, Waveney and I were approached by Unilever in London and asked if we could create a challenge for 12 of their executives. These folk were spread around different countries and Unilever was keen for them to get an understanding of the challenges facing consumers wanting to reduce the amount of packaging and waste coming into their homes, as well as the issue of disposal. So, we created a 8 minute video introducing ‘Unilever’s Biggest Loser!’. You can watch it here! The idea was that they went home and for the next week kept all of their rubbish, which they weighed. The following week they attempted to reduce the amount of rubbish created from their homes and the person with the biggest percentage drop became ‘Unilever’s Biggest Loser’. The whole exercise seemed to go very well, and seemed to be helpful in promoting the eco-consumer cause.

We felt fortunate to be able to engage with Unilever in this way, and it was thanks to my oldest brother Christopher letting some colleagues know about what we were doing. Until last month, (told in proud brother voice), Christopher has been heading up Unilever Canada, but is now heading back home to work with Air NZ. Just prior to leaving Unilever he gave a speech to 2000 business leaders at the Toronto Convention Centre outlining how Unilever has been doing a couple of years into it’s Sustainable Living Plan. In it he clarifies that Unilever wants to make money and believes the way to do this is by decoupling growth from negative environmental impacts and contributing towards sustainability. So, by 2020 they plan to have halved the environmental footprints of their products, source 100% of their agricultural raw materials sustainably and help one billion people take action to improve their health and wellbeing.

To try and reduce the showering time of the average North American they’ve created a ‘dry shampoo’ which allows consumers to ‘refresh’ their hair between shampoos thereby reducing the number of showers taken solely for the purpose of washing hair. Deodorant barrel sizes are being increased in order to reduce the amount of packaging to product ratio, which, if all the deodorant producers were to move to this larger barrel size over 755 tonnes of plastic would be eliminated from the waste stream in Canada.

Over the years, Unilever has come under fire from a number of quarters challenging it’s practices with regard to various environmental and social issues. But after banging on for the last few years about the need for manufacturers to change their ways, I felt it was time I acknowledged the not insignificant improvements that are being made and offer some encouragement to eco-consumers that your voices are being heard, so please keep shouting!


May 9 2011

Today I had a phone call from Mary in Christchurch who was querying what to do with some spent AA batteries she had lying around. It inspired me to update the information in the Guide on the subject, and reproduce it here…

The main issue with batteries is the heavy metals contained within them.
Disposable, or alkaline, batteries used to contain a lot of mercury, however that has changed with many manufacturers now using none at all. Unfortunately, because there are no valuable materials in a ‘disposable’ battery, (meaning that there is no recycling stream for them), they can still do a lot of damage if not disposed of probably, and currently, that involves encasing them in concrete before sending to landfill!
A market does exist for recycling rechargeable batteries such as; lithium, l-ion, and NiMh. However, if you are concerned about recycling your batteries, you are probably also eager to make sure the folk doing this are not adversely affected by handling the toxic materials. The Basel Convention requires signatories to ensure hazardous materials are disposed of safely and correctly. As such, batteries collected for recycling in NZ, are sent to developed countries like Korea for processing.
It is not recommended to use rechargeables in your smoke alarms, and we found ours protested noisily when we tried to! Other than that we have found rechargeables to be a great investment and now we’re on board with the habit of recharging we wouldn’t go back.
So, how do you go about ensuring your batteries end up in the right spot? Well there are are a few organisations in NZ who accept batteries and other hazardous materials for recycling. For example, Interwaste collect both types of batteries and charge a fee for disposing or recycling them. In the case of alkaline batteries they charge $3.95/kg to encase them in concrete and transport to the landfill. For rechargable type batteries they charge $5.95/kg to transport them to Korea for processing.
The next obvious question is how to get around paying to dispose of your batteries? Head to a Sony or Battery World store. Both retailers accept batteries and will forward them to Interwaste and pay the fee themselves. Or, before we all go running off to hand in our one or two spent batteries, you might want to consider employing this fantastic idea from Ellen and her partner in your workplace;
“We converted two old cardboard boxes by making a slit on top and putting some battery pics all over and our names if people had questions. We put the boxes in highly frequented spots and our colleagues have started to use this for their dead batteries. This ensures that people who have only a few batteries (not worth going to the drop off station for many reasons) recycle their batteries and we just make a trip to the Hazmobile (Auckland) every 6 months – and then it is worth it, we get rid of probably 40kg of batteries, most of which would have ended up in the rubbish.”

Ellen mentions Auckland’s HazMobile service which collects hazardous household waste such as batteries, chemicals and fluorescent lamps. If you’re outside Auckland, your local authority can advise you on local battery collectors and recyclers.


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NZ’s Best & Worst Packaging Awards 2011

February 21 2011

This is a fantastic idea! The crew at Wanaka Wastebusters have come up with a way for folk to nominate the best, and more importantly, worst, examples of packaging in NZ, at So, nows the time to vent all your frustration with overpackaged fruit wraps, (what’s wrong with fresh fruit?), and eggplants on styrofoam trays. At the same time ,you might want to applaud, (warning: shameless self promotion coming up), these responsibly packaged toothbrushes! You’ve got till midnight 20th March to get your nominations in.

This is part of a wider project that the Wanaka Wastebusters are involved in called Demystifying Packaging Choices. The overall goal of the project is to raise awareness about the issue of packaging waste and to help people to choose the best forms of packaging so they can reduce, reuse and recycle. They’ve already conducted a survey on the packaging choices people make, have created a web resource to help with these choices, are running these awards along with a national roadshow, and will finally follow up with another survey to see if its all made any difference to the choices people make.

In the past we’ve blogged about the frustration of having to look out for greenwashing. No doubt we’ve all seen examples of it, well when looking around the Unpackit website I stumbled across this wee gem – the Seven Sins of Greenwashing. It outlines seven ways of critiquing a product to ensure you don’t spend your eco-dollar unwisely.

You’ll be able to follow the results of Unpackit’s competition on their website, and we’ll also keep you up to date with any developments.

All fired up for 2011!

February 8 2011

When I was a kid, one of my favourite books, (and probably a strong influence on my adult worldview), was The Sneetches by Dr Seuss. The book covers issues such as consumerism, prejudice, and discrimination, but the reason I mention it here is for the purposes of a simple analogy. In the book, there is a machine into which the Sneetches enter without a star on their bellies, and emerge with a star…all that to say; ‘that’s how holiday’s feel for me!’

By the time holidays role round, my thoughts on the state of our world are often heavy with cynism, despondency, and fatalism. However, by the end of a break, these have magically been replaced with optimism, excitement, determination and a belief that things can be different. The amazing thing this year is that I haven’t even had a proper break yet from my day job as a social worker. Still, other people’s holidays must have rubbed off because Waveney and I are all fired up for 2011!

On the surface of it, the newspaper stories that were the turning point for me are really negative! On the 10th and 11th of January the NZ ran two stories highlighting the issue of waste in the waterways. The first article opens with the assertion that, “Some of Auckland’s most popular coastal spots are becoming rubbish dumps as floating piles of garbage wash up on them.” It goes on to point out that there are a number of sources for the rubbish including boaties throwing waste overboard, rain causing street litter to be washed into storm water drains, (which flow directly into the sea), and strong winds causing this waste to be washed on to beaches. In one day, four to five volunteers can gather between 3000 – 3500 litres of rubbish including plastic bottles, polystyrene, tampons, sanitary pads, condoms, nappies, car tyres, and yep, one day even a kitchen sink! The next day, a second article highlighted the estimated 35,000 cigarette butts that are washed into the Hauraki Gulf every day, making them one of the worst polluters of swimming spots in the region.

So, how did this lead us from despondency to optimism? Well, I was particularly struck by the number of people volunteering and working towards improving this situation. On the 6th of December ‘Love Your Coast‘ coordinated 1000 volunteers who collected 200,000 pieces of rubbish from Rangitoto Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Folk connected to the Waitemata Harbour Clean-Up Trust were available on their boat that day and many other organisations were present as well including; Sustainable Coastlines, The Sir Peter Blake Trust, Keep NZ Beautiful, Motutapu Restoration Trust and Forest and Bird. WIth so much education, action and general good will I’m sure the situation of waste in our waterways will be improved – how can it not?

I’m sure that by the time the next holiday roles around I’ll have plenty of answers to that question! But in the meantime this is what we’re up to here at Rubbish Free. On Waitangi Day Waveney and I volunteered at the Okahu Bay Waitangi Day Festival which is hosted by the local tangata whenua, Ngati Whatua o Orakei, in collaboration with the Auckland City Council. The aim is to avoid any landfill waste being created from the day and so we were stationed at a waste station giving the public guidance as to which waste goes where. We stayed over at the marae on Saturday night and got to know how hosts a little better which was awesome. The hospitality and grace with which we were welcomed and looked after was incredible.

On the 12th of February we’ll be at the street market in Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, promoting the Rubbish Free message and then on the 6th of March we have a stand at Ecoday in New Lynn. So, if you’re in the area on any of these days, and you see us, please come by and say hello! Happy belated New Year!

So long 2010!

December 20 2010

Wow, what a year! When the year began neither Waveney or I had any idea what it held, as we loaded up the car and moved north to Auckland from our hometown, Christchurch. After a few false starts, it is ending with both of us working in paid employment we love, and a new and improved Rubbish Free website and online store! was re-launched on 1st June 2010 and now boasts over 100 pages of ideas of ways to lighten our footprint on this beautiful planet, as well as this ongoing blog, and an online store with over 47 individual items on the ‘shelves’.

It’s that time of the year when all the ‘Top 10′ lists come out, and this year we’re adding to them! Judging by the reaction of the Rubbish Free Community, here’s a few of your favourite things from…

Favourite Guide topics are;

  1. Shampoo and Conditioner
  2. Composting
  3. No Knead Bread Recipe

Top sellers in the Store;

  1. Toothbrushes – a hands down favourite!
  2. Sandwich Wraps
  3. Reusable Bags

On looking back on the blogs we’ve written this year, it was easy to spot the favourite three, which are;

  1. A Juliet Garden
  2. ‘I have a bag thanks’
  3. Statistically Speaking

So, for the next few weeks we’ll be taking time out where we can, enjoy the company of friends and family, and looking forward to 2011 when we plan to at least double the size of the Guide, keep adding cool rubbish free products to the Store, and most importantly, keep up the communication with all of you fantastic, generous, and enthusiastic Rubbish Free Supporters!

Thanks heaps for all of your kind words and emails and for providing ideas and encouragement with the aim of reducing waste and rubbish. Happy Holidays and we’ll see you on the other side!

Eat lunch then brush your teeth Rubbish Free!

December 12 2010

This week we received our latest shipment of bamboo toothbrushes, and we’ve now got three types in the Store! The original brush has been rebranded as ‘soft’ and is joined by a ‘child soft’ version with a shorter handle. The third brush is a ‘medium’ bristle brush for those who like a bit more firmness when brushing their teeth. The bamboo used is of a different type to that consumed by Pandas and therefore does not threaten their food supply, whilst also being a sustainable material. The bristles themselves are synthetic being made from Nylon 4, a biodegradable nylon, and the brushes come in paper based packaging. So, you can throw the brush in the compost to break down if you like and the packaging can go out with your paper recycling.

The other addition to the Rubbish Free Store this week is a range of stainless steel containers from LunchBot. Like the water bottles we have available, these are also made from the highest quality food grade stainless steel available (304) and come in a range of sizes. We’ve been using the Eco box for about six months and it is going great! We’ve used it for storing meat in the freezer, holding leftovers, and of course as a lunch box and it is showing no signs of aging. The thing we really like about stainless steel is that it doesn’t retain any of the flavours from previous items stored in the container and there is no risk of chemicals leaching onto our food. Also it is a great example of a reusable item, that when it has eventually done it’s dash, is recyclable.

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Love your Coast

December 6 2010

This week the ‘Love Your Coast’ campaign is kicking off with 1500 volunteers heading to Rangitoto today to pick up rubbish along the coastline and is supported by Jack Johnson. The campaign is aimed at cleaning rubbish from Aotearoa’s coastline as well as raising awareness of the huge impact rubbish is having on our coastline particularly as we head into summer. Tomorrow there’ll be a clean up in Wellington, Christchurch on Wednesday and the West Coast on Thursday, so if you are in these areas and have some time you might want to get involved.

After hearing about the Love Your Coast campaign my eyes were suddenly opened to a number of organisations working to clear rubbish from the coastline. The Waitemata Clean Up Trust has been going since 2002 and have since collected 2.5 million litres of rubbish, which is at least 60 shipping containers! There’s also Sustainable Coastlines and Keep NZ Beautiful.

Its awesome that these campaigns and organisations are out there doing this work. From looking at their websites and videos, it appears that the majority of the rubbish gets into the harbours and waterways via the storm water network. Obviously, its important to keep rubbish out of these systems, but the best solution is to avoid having the rubbish in the first place!

We’ve had some great ideas on how the Lyttelton Winter Light Festival can avoid using glowsticks. The best suggestion so far is from Freedom in Christchurch who suggested making lamps from a small glass jar, with a tee light candle inside, tied to a bamboo stick with wire. Freedom confessed to it not actually being her idea and said she remembers buying one at the festival a number of years ago. I suspect they may have been fazed out in favour of glowsticks due to the danger of children dropping them and glass smashing on the streets, not to mention a lighted candle going flying, but I’ll discuss it with Julie at the Lyttelton Time Bank. Thanks for the ideas and please keep them coming!

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November 29 2010

Juliet’s gard…sorry…Waveney’s garden, has aphids! Who knew that aphids could reach the 33rd floor, but there they are, crawling all over the lettuces in particular and having a good ol’ time. Apparently aphids are spread by the wind, so I guess that explains them finding Nirvana up here, and they are one of the most destructive insects to plants in temperate regions, (thanks Wikipedia). They feed on sap and by doing this they take nutrients away from plants which soon start showing signs of distress with curling, mottled leaves, yellowing, wilting, and low yields.

So, this week’s question of the Rubbish Free community is; where can we buy some ladybugs? Apparently ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids and one ladybug can be responsible for killing 1000 of the blighters! Today I captured one from my mother-in-law’s garden and carefully placed it on an aphid covered leaf, but unfortunately ten minutes later and it’s gone! We have heard though that there are people who sell ladybugs but we’re struggling to find these mythical folk. So, if you know of anyone we’d love to hear from you.

Next week I’ll let you know how we’re getting on in finding an alternative to glowsticks for the Lyttelton Festival of Light, which we blogged about a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had a couple of good ideas, but would love to hear more and you’d be in the running to win a free box of bamboo toothbrushes

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Anyone got some spare sheep kidney fat?

November 14 2010

Today I’m fighting a cold. I woke with a sore throat and as the morning has progressed it has been joined by a slightly runny nose, slightly achy muscles, and a slightly fuzzy brain. It’s like a kind of scale, after ‘slightly’ comes ‘moderately’ and then it peaks with ‘really’. So, four vitamin C tablets and a couple of cloves of raw garlic later I find myself lying on the couch reading through an old book my mother came across. I guess it dates from many, many moons ago and it makes the following suggestion regarding a cure for colds;

“Get the hard fat from around a sheep’s kidney and grate 1 teaspoon. Put in a cup and pour hot milk over, sweeten to taste with sugar or, if preferred, salt and pepper to taste. This is a splendid cure for an obstinate cold, with cough, or is very good to build anyone up after illness. It is pleasant to take, like rich, creamy milk”

The same book also has other handy hints such as; “If, when cutting fresh bread, you frequently dip the bread knife in boiling water, the bread will not crumble.” and “When roasting meat put a small teaspoonful of sugar in a corner of the baking tin. It will ensure a good supply of gravy.” Or for those who reside in cooler climes the helpful tip that; “A little common salt added to the last rinsing water when washing prevents the clothes freezing on the line.”

Now, where to get some sheep kidney fat…