My Zero Waste Dilemma

I set myself a goal, that by the end of 2016 I would have removed all single use plastic from our home. I’ve introduced the beeswax food covers, been kindly gifted some seriously awesome 4MyEarth* products, we make our own bread and don’t eat very much package food as it is. But there is one thing that I’m really struggling with, one thing that’s causing my zero waste dilemma. The financial cost vs the cost for the earth.

4MyEarth food covers

My grocery shopping now consists of stops to three different stores, Wholefoods in Geelong, Aldi in Drysdale and then the Woolworths in Portarlington, as well as this we visit the local farmers market each Friday morning.

So, last Thursday (I aim to only do groceries once a fortnight, saves money I think), Elliot and I were in Geelong at Salt Therapy and so began our fortnightly grocery adventure. We stopped in at Wholefoods and I picked up some shampoo and conditioner, I had my own bottles so I just filledΒ them up, I got some pop corn kernels and as a treat we grabbed a couple of pawpaw spears (using the beautiful 4MyEarth bamboo produce bags). And just out of curiosity I snapped some photos of the prices of the package free nuts.

Next stop on the way home was Aldi. Elliot loves sitting in the trolley, he’ll talk to everyone who walks past and I can usually be in an out in under 30 minutes. I grabbed the few canned goods, some cheese and headed to the nut section. Raw almonds, raw walnuts, raw macadamias and salted and roasted cashews was what I grabbed, each one in it’s very own plastic bag.

Now, here is my dilemma. The price vs the plastic. We set ourselves a very tight budget, we do this because we need to (there’s a blog post coming about this). So when I see raw conventional almonds at the health food shop for $32 a kg and the same nuts at Aldi for $19.99 a kg, then I start to struggle. The same went for all the other nuts, Wholefoods walnuts $30 kg vs Aldi $19.98, Wholefoods raw macadamias $52 kg vs Aldi $32.48. We don’t have the money to spend an additional $10 per kg in some cases a fortnight.

I’d love to know your opinion on this one, because it really is troubling me. There’s not a lot left for me to cut out on our zero waste journey but nuts and seeds is a killer!

28 thoughts on “My Zero Waste Dilemma

  1. I’ve given quite a lot of thought to this one, and come to the conclusion that we can only do what we can. Like you, we try to minimise our eco-footprint, but it’s always a financial balancing act – for instance, we pay an extra fee for green energy (it’s basically a cost per KW over standard) and we’ve just received a letter advising us that the top up cost is about to double. So we need to make decisions. We try to always buy higher welfare meat, but I’m acutely aware that not everyone can afford to do that. Organic can be prohibitively expensive (and often a wank, if I’m honest). Some random thoughts:

    1. There’s so much we can do to minimise waste and expense – stretching out meals, using up leftovers, doing as much as we can at home, growing our own. Every little bit makes a difference to a tight budget and reduces our environmental impact.

    2. All that glistens isn’t gold – our dishwasher repairman is passionate about repair and reuse and the difference it makes to the environment, but he firmly believes that environmentally friendly washing pellets reduce the life of a machine. So we don’t use them. Sometimes the only difference between an organic product and a chemical-free one is simply the cost of certification, which is ridiculously expensive in Australia. And so on.

    3. No-one is “better” than anyone else (sorry, this is my own personal rant). It annoys the crap out of me when people (definitely not referring to you!) get on their high horse about their “purer” lifestyle. As I said, we all do whatever we can, given our individual circumstances. I think the opportunity we have as bloggers is to share ideas and tips that we’ve discovered that might make the journey easier. It really isn’t our job to tell others that our way is right and theirs is wrong.

    Ugh, what a rant. Sorry hon. Hope it’s ok. πŸ™‚ x

    1. Celia, I love your rant! It is so honest and holds so many valid points! I agree 100% that we can only do what we can do. I also agree that organic can be a wank, I’m much more concerned with buying food with minimal food miles (but this is just a focus of mine). I love reading your frugal posts about using cheaper cuts of meat, stretching them over many meals and how you use up your leftovers! I’m so interested to hear that the eco-friendly dishwashing tablets aren’t great for the dishwasher. Do you mind me asking which ones you use instead? And I totally agree that no one is better than anyone else, I get so frustrated when people disagree with others about their way of living. P.S I’m pretty glad you specified that you were referring to me, because I try my hardest to be open to everyone πŸ™‚

      1. Clare, the advice we’ve now been given by three dishwasher repairmen is to only use powder, never pellets. We use old fashioned Finish powder. Apparently the pellets clean really well, but they’re also hard on seals etc. Thanks for letting me rant – and I think you guys are doing amazing things! I keep saying to Pete…”they BUILT their own house! From scratch! Mostly by themselves!” πŸ™‚

  2. It’s a tough one. I would take the view that what you save by prioritising financially is worth it, because it allows you to live the life you have chosen, which includes being very conscious. You don’t have to achieve every goal at every stage of your life. Perhaps when E is older or the blog makes more money then you can go back to the other store for nuts. I think you need to realise how much you DO do and not how much more you could do.

      1. Holidays and family time are a totally different type of valuable. I would totally buy budget to meet my goals in those areas.
        Do you have any kind of loyalty scheme/bonus points/coin jar that you could use to save and then buy the nuts and things in bulk?

      2. We absolutely could do a little coin jar to save up for bulk nuts, but again that change is something that I’d rather put into Elliot’s savings jar or go towards the additional groceries we need each fortnight.

  3. As with everything, I believe we can only do what we can do at the time, whilst striving to make whatever small, incremental changes we can along the way. If nuts and seeds are the only things you have left that you buy in plastic then that’s still an incredible change that you have made.

    Maybe consider buying them less often but in the giant bags so it’s one large plastic bag as opposed to more, smaller ones? The supermarkets near me now have those self-serve nut stations so hopefully that will happen near you soon too, that way you’ll be able to take your own bags for those as well. No matter what, don’t beat yourself up about it!

    1. I completely agree Liz. Everyone is doing what they can. I love the idea of those self-serve stations, but sadly I think that’d add yet another stop to my grocery mission.

  4. I’m in a similar situation with travelling all over to get what I need, and it does seem like we are spending way more but I did a direct cost comparison over the coarse of a month and found that we still saved $600 a month on household expenses from choosing plastic free! I see it like this, there are some areas where I can make significant savings like in household cleaning, which means I can afford a little bit more on the food. I know how stressful it is to have no money – we were nearly bankrupt once and have struggled for years – but I’ve also come to the conclusion that we just have to value food for what it is worth. Gotta admit though, this did not cross my mind when I needed every cent to be able to eat some days. Hope that helps alleviate the strain a bit. If you want to read more about my costs, I wrote about it here

    1. I love that you were saving more in household expenses. I think we already make most all of our cleaning products etc, so we don’t have any where left to save any more money. I look forward to reading your post. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. Great post Clare, and something I too think about often. I buy as much in bulk as I can (and freeze) which cuts down on the single use plastic. We use far less plastic than we used to, so I don’t beat myself up for sometimes using single use bags (such as when I freeze meat I have bought in bulk). My view is that every little bit counts, and when there are times the budget needs to outweigh the environment, that’s just the way it has to be. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re doing about 90% more than most. xx

    1. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while. We buy a lot of bulk meats and flour etc, but nuts are so expensive and so I just buy them fortnight to fortnight. I’m not being too hard on myself, just raising the questions and hoping someone might have an answer for me πŸ™‚

  6. I often wonder about this when I’m seeing online so many people talking organic/ethical/waste free lives.

    For me, our budget wins out every time. As a family of six on one income I need to be realistic. I’m naturally frugal & I like to think the small things I so at home- grow food, keep chooks, compost, cook from scratch,but local ( when I can), buy secondhand, waste little, be sensible about our energy/water use- make up for the fact I can’t afford to spend money in other areas.

    I think doing what we can with what we have is best πŸ™‚

  7. I’m with Celia all the way. We can only do what we can do! And I think the main thing is that people are trying to do their best… We’re a household of 4, I now earn a quarter of what I was earning previously and we have 2 children to support and we have a budget that we must stick too.

    We choose to spend what we can on organic/local grown/ethical but like you this involves driving all over the country side to get it.

    The thing that gets to me is people who say ‘just budget and you eat all organic blah blah blah’… We do budget, we don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t have foxtel, don’t have expensive mobile contracts or over priced internet, no credit card debt, own our cars and have a mortgage that is well within our means. Despite all of this I am hard pressed to pay $40+ kg for nuts or anything for that matter!

    The cost of living these days is out of control. We got our quarterly water bill today, we’re concious of the amount of water we use – 4 people in the house and we use the equivelant of 1.5 persons… $90 of the total $234 that is our bill was for usage! We are forking out $144 in bloody service charges. Don’t get me started on the bloody electricity and those stupid smart meters!!!

    1. I agree with Celia and you too. Like you say, we can only do what we can do. The cost of living is incredibly high, and we’re all trying to make ends meat, all the while trying to do the best for us, our families and the planet. And aren’t water bills insane!

  8. I agree with all the comments about doing what you can in each different area. I wonder though if there is also a question here about the quality of the nuts – and I realise that’s a really subjective thing – but are the nuts at aldi ‘conventionally’ grown (and perhaps the ones at the whole foods shop organic and therefore the price difference?). It may be that the quality of each product has some different factors that give rise to the price differential.

    1. Isn’t it great that we are all on the same page AJ. I forgot to mention that the prices I quoted were all conventionally grown nuts. But you’re absolutely right that there might have been quality differences otherwise.

  9. Hi Clare,

    I think doing what you can, when you can, is what is most important. It seems to me that you are consciously doing a lot already to reduce your use of plastics and that’s something to feel good about. Writing about it here on your blog puts it out there for others to consider what changes they may be able to make given their own life circumstances.

    As far as nuts go, I wait until they come on special at my local bulk food store and buy them then. That’s not often so I save up over time for when they are significantly cheaper. I am also aware of the different prices of different types of nuts. For example, pine nuts cost a LOT so I will often substitute slivered almonds which are generally cheaper and just as yummy in a salad. To prevent nuts going rancid, because that would be a tragic waste of money and food, I store them in the freezer in clip-lock bags that I have been washing and re-using for ages.

    I hope those ideas help.


    1. Thanks so much for these amazing tips Meg. I love that your bulk food store does sales, I’ve never noticed that at mine. Also I love your suggestion for substituting different nuts. Thank you so much.

  10. I found a ‘seconds’ store that sells at huge discounts produce about to spoil and processed food that is at or past sell by date so while it is a 30 minute ride on the freeway I think is worth it, I do make a commitment to using those items to reduce spoilage and loading up the compost pit. Our grocery stores take back plastic bags (the stretchy kind of plastic) so during the winter I clean and dry frozen veggie and fruit bags and add them to their bin. I use almond butter to make almond mylk so limit our bulk nuts there. Also, I substitute bulk sunflower seeds wherever I can as they are considerably cheaper. We are blessed with many food co-ops and regular grocery stores carry some bulk so Whole Foods isn’t our only option. I rarely go to Aldi’s per the plastic. When I do shop there it’s usually for what they sell in jars or cardboard. Seems like the global economy is penalizing all consumers equally, so we could rally against the corporations with CSA’s and creating new co-ops without brick and mortar overhead costs. I agree with everyone, do what you can, be frugal.One more thought, maybe shop with others so you can reduce your trips (buddy goes to store A and buys for both of you while you do same at store B then meet up to divvy things up…?) Thanks for creating this venue to share!

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