Ecohack 6 – Op shopping.

I love op shopping, and I have become something of an expert.  Op shops, short for opportunity shops are variously called charity stores or thrift stores depending on where you live.  I’ve been going to the Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies, (St Vincent de Paul), Lifeline and The Smith Family stores for decades! When I travel, I always visit the local charity stores.

I even created a blog The Op-Shop Queen back in 2011.  It was based on giving op shops reviews and buying a complete outfit, not including shoes, for less than $20. It’s archived and no longer accessible although I may resurrect it.Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.16.06

Why Op Shops?

I earn enough to buy new stuff but don’t for several reasons,

  1. I’d rather spend that money on other stuff.
  2. I like the challenge of building a wardrobe from the quirky pieces you can find.
  3. The quality is often better. I’d rather pay $10 for a second-hand designer brand than $2 on a piece of crap made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions. Mind you the designer brand may also have been made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions, but it is likely to be better quality material and hence last longer.
  4. The feel-good feeling it gives me for keeping clothes out of the waste stream and doing my bit for the environment.
  5. It fits in with my buy-nothing-new-unless-there-is-no-other-way philosophy.

Keeping clothes out of the waste stream.

There are plenty of stats about the impact discarded clothes have on our waste stream. Fast fashion which is fuelled in part by social media, is an ugly trend where people wear an item once and throw it away. The desire to be seen in something new for every insta-moment is a real thing for many consumers.

Me? I have never really been into fashion. Ooops back up a bit there! I did wear shoulder pads and peplums back in the 80s, and I am conscious of not looking like an utterly uncoordinated bag lady. These days I try to go for a classy, elegant, timeless look that will withstand the “what colour is on trend this week” trend. If you keep things long enough, they’ll cycle back around anyway.

Keeping clothes for longer means that energy and resources used in making them is saved. We should be aiming for more wears per item.

 

Picking up a bargain.

I buy everything from op shops. Clothes, kitchenware, shoes, towels, stationery, books, magazines, storage containers, toys for my grandson. If I need something I go there first. My best buy to date is an evening dress which was brand new, with tags and still in the shops (i.e. it was still in season). The labelled price was over $900, I got it for $100. I even bought my Iains from op shops!

I am lucky my home town of Wollongong has several substantial op shops which are clean and bright.

You never know what you might find! A year or so after I got divorced, I went into my favourite op shop to find many of the items from my own kitchen on sale! The items that had been part of his split. I was a bit peeved that a lovely fruit bowl which was a wedding gift was there for $10! (I knew it was mine because of a unique sticker on the bottom). I decided not to buy it back.

Op shopping is now on trend!

Op shopping is becoming so popular that it is getting harder to get bargains. The charities who run them obviously want to make money, and I have noticed there has been a rise in prices. Back in the old days, designer brands were on the racks cheek by jowl with the Kmart stuff. Now, most stores have these items in their own section with much higher prices. I guess getting an Armani cashmere jumper at $30 is still a bargain.

I used to hide the fact that my clothes were from op shops. When someone asked me where I bought that fabulous dress or whatever, I’d say “Oh just a little place in Wollongong.” Now I reply “from my special shop” which my colleagues know means the op shop!

Decluttering trends and the time made available for decluttering by the COVID lockdowns have meant that many op shops are packed to the rafters with items discarded by others. Now’s a good time to start op shop if you’re not into it already!

Photo 25-04-13 12 06 54
That entire outfit not including shoes, socks and undies was less than $10

My tips for op-shopping.

  1. Remember that the clothes are there for a reason. The previous owner did not want them anymore. This could be because they are slaves to fashion, have put on or lost weight, gotten older and the thigh-high split skirt is no longer part of their look, or they died. The items could be damaged or stained. There could be buttons missing. CHECK them out carefully. Turn the items inside out and have a look for moth holes, rips, broken zips, missing buttons, stains. I need to improve on this front.
  2. The clothes are checked by the staff before being put on the racks, but they are not washed. There may be stained items. Make a decision if you think the stain will be treatable, otherwise leave it on the shelf.
  3. If it is missing buttons or is ripped is the item worth fixing? If it’s a beautiful item that suits you, maybe you could replace all the buttons, or put a cute patch over the rip. There are some good books about mending available.
  4. Try it on!! This is my biggest downfall. I too often buy things without trying them on, and they end up back in my own donations bag when I find they don’t fit or look terrible.  And while yes, I haven’t wasted much money and I have not contributed to the waste stream, it is still a waste.
  5. Be adventurous, try different colours and styles.
  6. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need because it is cheap, and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Overconsumption is still overconsumption whether it’s brand new or second hand. You still have to find a place to store all that shit when you bring it home! Buying things just in case is still a waste.
  7. Challenge your family to do op shop gift-giving, where all presents have to be either homemade or second hand. Use scarves or other fabric found at op-shops to wrap your gifts. There are usually plenty of used-once gift bags available too.
  8. If you are a super bargain hunter op shops often have colour coded tags and these may attract a discount. Look out for signs in the store. Eg “all green tag items 50% off today” or “all pink tags only $2”. Some shops like the Salvos, have bargain days on Mondays and Tuesday where all items under $15 are only $2 and other items are 50% off. Since I work full time I can only get along to those days in the school holidays.
  9. Remember to take your own unwanted and no longer needed items to the op shop when you’ve finished with them. But don’t take your junk. Op shops have to pay to get rid of any unwearable, unusable items dumped at their doorsteps. This reduces their profitability and how many people they can help. It’s not the tip, so please dispose of real rubbish thoughtfully.

Plans for the future

I have written a post before about my inability to travel light! I have had an idea on how to solve this problem. Next time I travel, I am only going to take two changes of clothes and buy everything else from local op shops as I need it. This, of course, will depend on IF I travel internationally again. Who knows!

Don’t be scared, op shops are no longer smelly dank places where only the homeless people hang out! The car park is full of Lexus and Range Rovers and people snapping up bargains while doing their bit for our planet! 

 

Ecohack 5 – Reducing plastic use

Reducing my environmental impact

Is plastic use a problem for you too? I am trying hard to reduce my environmental impact. In a previous post, I quoted a research paper that showed a tiered approach to reducing your impact. From those activities that have a big impact, like ditching the car or having only one child, down to things that while helpful, have a fairly small individual impact. Having said that, if every individual on the planet did that small thing, like switching to a mostly plant-based diet, the impact would be huge!

Roasted Beetroot Salad
Eating a plant-based diet makes an impact!

 

High Impact Decisions

In my thirties, I made a high impact decision to have only one child based on environmental impacts. At the time, back in the 1990s, it was a bold decision that copped flack from my peers and my (ex)partner.  It came about when I did a subject as part of my teaching degree about the environment.  We went on an excursion to a property on the Georges River near Lugano in Sydney. The owner, an old fellow called Ted, had some ramshackle displays made from recycled bibs & bobs and warned us of the dangers of climate change. I was deeply affected and feared the world my child would inhabit.  He was definitely ahead of his time. Most of my classmates thought he was a looney. I don’t remember his last name and the interwebs are so far silent, on his activities. Nonetheless, the information changed my life.

Plastic is everywhere!

As to moderate and low impact actions, I am consuming less, wasting less and travelling less. [Although travelling less seems like cheating as there is no way to travel far at the moment!] I buy second hand whenever I can.

Despite all these good intentions, I am thwarted by plastic!  Plastic use is my big downfall,  an epic fail. On July 1 when I decided to give Plastic-free July a try, I came home from the shops with 4 bits of plastic wrapping my food! My garbage/recycling bin is still full of plastic stuff.

I don’t know the origin of this quote, but it sums things up pretty well

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

 

Epic Plastic Fails

Plastic Fail number 1: I wear contact lenses. I use daily disposable lenses because I had serious issues with adhesions from the longer-term ones. As a result, every day, I end binning the two little plastic wells and the foil lids.  I have tried to think of ways to recycle them or at least repurpose them but have yet to come up with an idea. It seems like I am not the only one worried about this waste. There are collect and return systems in the US but I don’t think they are in action in Australia. They could make little paint pots?

Solution: I could wear glasses, a money-saving option. I could get laser surgery on my eyes, an expensive option. Wearing contacts is pure vanity, although I did try multifocal lenses a few years back, they made me nauseous and dizzy. Perhaps it’s time to try again.

Plastic Fail number 2: Plastic containers. Everything comes wrapped or packaged in plastic! Milk, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, soap etc etc etc. On the food front; berries, cherry tomatoes, bread are a few examples. Nearly every damn thing is in plastic!

Solutions: I have switched to making as much of my own food as I can with the time I have available. This reduces some of the packaging. I buy my veggies loose, and use fabric produce and shopping bags. But you can’t buy some things without plastic. I guess the choice is not to buy them all.

IMG_5095 2
I am getting pretty good at making my own bread!

I could try solid shampoo bars and buy other liquid products from the bulk store and re-use the containers. That’s on the agenda as a new zero-waste bulk grocery store has opened up near my home. The Port Grocer advertises itself as “affordable”. Let’s hope so.

I recently tried to buy milk in glass bottles. I could only find one shop about 15 km away, and the milk was literally twice as much as the regular milk!

Processed with VSCO with fn16 preset
Glass bottles for milk would be great!

Sigh! Whatever happened to the milkman and the return of the empties at the end of the driveway? Whatever happened to home-delivered bread in wax paper wrapping which was then used to wrap the sandwiches?

Modern, fast, wasteful life! That’s what happened!

 

Eco-hacks – Episode 4: Meal Planning

Meal planning saves money and resources.

You well may ask, how is meal planning an eco-hack? Meal planning reduces your global environmental footprint AND saves you money because if you do it properly, it will reduce food waste.

If food waste was a country it would be the third biggest emitter after the US and China.

FAO 2013

It is an oft-quoted stat that Australian families waste approximately 20% of the food they buy. Put another way, one in every five bags of groceries you lug into the house could end up in the bin!

It’s not just a waste of money (the average family wastes $1036 p.a!!!)  but also a waste of valuable resources. Apart from the food itself, there is wasted energy in materials in the growing, processing (even lightly processed foods), transportation through the various stages. Next, you have to get to the shops and back,  cart the food home, store it and cook it.

The BIG issue apart from the economic waste, is the contribution that rotting food adds to greenhouse emissions. Unless you live in a place where you can compost ALL your food scraps, or are lucky enough to live in a council area that does FOGO, it’s likely your food waste will end up fermenting away underground in a landfill site. This anaerobic fermentation leads to the production of methane gas which is right up there in terms of greenhouse gases. You can calculate how many kilograms of methane gas you are contributing from food waste at this site.

It makes good economic and ecological sense to reduce food waste.

This graphic from the Sustainable Table gives some facts about food waste. Lack of planning is the most significant cause of food waste.

Why I plan my meals.

Meal planning is one of my happy places! Sad, I know, but apart from the joy I get from being organised and being able to draw up lovely lists, it genuinely makes my life easier. I like cooking, I love trying complicated recipes, and I am very committed to eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

While I have always planned my meals in some shape or form, I have upped my game considerably over the last two or three years.  The fact that it contributes to reducing waste is a bonus.

I  was originally spurred on to be more proactive about meal planning for four reasons:

  1. To reduce decision fatigue. What to cook for dinner is a vexed question even in a household of one! Coming home after a day of work and thinking what the f$%# to cook for dinner was a drag, despite my love of cooking! It also makes shopping easier. More on this later.
  2. To ensure I eat properly. After my divorce, there was a time when I survived on potato wedges and wine. (Oh and BBQ sauce!) I couldn’t be bothered cooking, and my nutrition was suffering. Meal planning helped drag me out of that hole by giving me something concrete to concentrate on. That, and the blood test result that showed my liver was starting to revolt!
  3. To save money. By planning my meals, I only buy what I need and don’t have mystery ingredients in the fridge getting slimier and slimier! I make sure I use up what I have before I buy more and I use a shopping list.
  4. To save time. These days I only cook a couple of days a week and make sure I cook at least four servings each time. One for the current meal, one to take for lunch the next day and two for the freezer. I use the frozen meals for the remainder of the week. I usually try and put a week between the time I cook it and when I eat it, so I am not eating the same thing every day. This meant that I have had to buy some more freezable food containers, but these have come from the op shop. (BTW flatter, skinnier containers freeze quicker and allow you to play better freezer-Tetrus)

How I plan my meals.

Now that I am on a money-saving kick, I have changed my planning a little. In the past, I planned the meals and then went shopping. Now, I do it the other way around. I go to the fruit market and look at what is in season and cheap and buy that. I’ll then build the week’s plan around these foods.

For instance this week, pumpkin, parsnips and beetroot were super cheap, so I bought those as well as the usual staples of tomatoes, onions, leafy greens etc. Then, I come home and use either the recipes I have stored in my head or sites like Delicious, Yummly and others to come up with recipes.

This week, the beetroot got turned into beetroot risotto and a warm beetroot and lentil salad. The parsnips will get turned into parsnip mash, some of which will be frozen and some parsnip chips and the pumpkin was turned into pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins and three meals worth of pumpkin gnocchi.

Spreadsheets, of course!

You will not be surprised to know that I have some meal planning spreadsheets! Several! Feel free to copy and adapt as you like.

  1. A general weekly guideline: this is the blueprint or skeleton from which I start. I don’t stick to it rigidly, in that I will only eat lentils on Tuesdays but rather that within the week I make sure I have at least one lentil-based meal. This is a static document. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.56.33
  2. A weekly meal plan overview: On this sheet, I consider things like
    1. what’s already in the freezer,
    2. what food I need to use up  (Priority ingredients)
    3. if I have any social/work things on where I will be eating out.Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.55
  3. A blank weekly plan: The final level. Here, I write the actual meals I have decided on and what recipes I’ll be using. If there is a web-based recipe, I copy the URL and add it to a note on Google Keep, so it’s easy to re-find. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.41
  4. I use an app called My Shopping List on my phone. I am sure there are plenty of others, but this one works for me.

It takes me about half an hour to plan out the meals, and I think it’s 30 minutes well spent with a cup of tea and my iPad!

From a logistics point of view, I think a larger freezer is a must for successful meal planning and reducing food waste. However, be careful it does not become a morgue full of forgotten food! Label your items with the contents and date.

Thankfully, my Council has just announced that it is introducing FOGO from November. Even with a concerted effort not to waste food I still generate more peelings etc than my worm farm can cope with.

My contribution to reducing climate crisis may not be much, but every little bit counts!