So, you’ve arrived in Melbourne. The expensive hip city. The Australian capital of culture, art, coffee, veganism and zero-waste movement too. They say Melbourne wins it all in Australia. (Although usually, only people from there say it, hah!)
You heard about all of this, you’re here, and now you wonder, where on earth is the famous ‘Zero-waste Melbourne’? You enter the stores and see almost EVERYTHING packaged in plastic and the things that aren’t, are just CRAZY EXPENSIVE.
You think: “How are they trying to inspire people to live more sustainably if the eco-products are out of average person budget?”
I know I felt this way.
First, I was staying in an Airbnb at Mentone’s beach (a neighborhood way far from the CBD) expecting a beautiful beach and everything ‘eco&organic’. You can imagine how quickly my expectations crushed. I found a few supermarkets and when I saw that everything I wanted was in plastic I was shocked! That never happened to me. Not even in Slovakia! (Usually, all the new trends arrive super late in Slovakia).
So, I asked the nice cashier guy how come they don’t sell anything in glass or something more sustainable. His answer was: ”Ah, you know, we’re really behind in Australia. It just hasn’t arrived in here yet.”
But he wasn’t right. It did. And quite massively. Okay, maybe not to Mentone’s beach but… Once I discovered where, what and how, it wasn’t that difficult. Though that took time.
To find the ‘zero-waste Melbourne’ fast and live on a low-budget, read this post. 😉 The low-budget thing was the biggest challenge. Of course, everyone could be an eco-warrior if we were all millionaires.
Where to find zero-waste shops in Melbourne
Well, it’s definitely not Mentone’s beach! Look for the more of ‘cool hipster’ neighborhoods like Collingwood, Richmond, Fitzroy, Northcote, North, West Melbourne, even Kensington, and I’m sure many others. The key is to stay relatively close to CBD. You’ll find here many organic shops, bulk shops, vintage shops, second-hand shops, recycled goods shops, community centers, sustainable cafes where you can even volunteer.
Also, these neighborhoods have their own farmers markets where you can get cheap organic groceries with no packaging. Once you found your suburb, these are the next steps to take:
Ways to keep your meals zero – waste in Melbourne
If you’re on a hunt for food, these tips will help you find yummy, healthy, vegan, cheap food and with no packaging.
- Buy food only at the farmers’ markets or non-packaged in supermarkets if there’s an option
Get some awesome fresh produce at the Queen Victoria market. It’s open every day except Mondays. It’s one of the biggest markets in Melbourne and if you come a bit later in the afternoon, the food can get crazy cheap. Also, be ready for a busy scene!
If you shop for fruits and veggies at the Victoria Market, the more far away you go from the main building the cheaper it gets. Typically I buy here food for 15 – 20 AUD for the whole week.
These fruits were a last-minute deal. I got all this for the only 3AUD. Yep, I’m serious.
- Dumpster dive
If you want your food for totally free, you can always dumpster dive.
You can find great, untouched stuff in the bin. It’s the advantage (?) of the western world. This would never happen in Asia. If you’re one of those who complain about our insanity of throwing the good stuff away, now it’s your chance to go against it.
If you’d like to fight food waste, this is one of the ways!
You recycle food, feed yourself for free with healthy stuff (usually you’ll find just veggies and fruits), and make new friends.
On my surprise, every time I dumpster-dived, I never ended up alone. I either met some hippie backpackers, students, freegans or just people who were doing the same as me. Fighting food waste. But always with someone to support me.
If you’re scared of the bins, ask the farmers directly to give you the food before they throw it away. After some time of all the bin fun, I started to do it this way too. Suddenly, I realized that the farmers were the nicest people and happy that someone took their food.
As they got used to me, I didn’t even have to tell them anything upfront. They saw me, had everything already prepared in a box and happily handed it to me.
So, don’t feel embarrassed! Tons of people actually do this. Just try it and have fun. Take it as a new confidence challenge.
My friends say that once they started to dumpster dive they even became much better cooks. They discovered new types of veggies and learned how to experiment with food. Me, I also experienced it when I discovered a Korean type of mushrooms in the bin. I learned how to cook it and since then, it’s my favorite kind!
Give dumpster diving a try, and see yourself how you feel about it.
And if not, just stick to farmers’ deals. No worries.
- Buy in glass or paper and then reuse
When I arrived I had no containers to store my meals in. I was happy to buy things in long-lasting materials and then have free containers ready to use. Also, I make my own cosmetics, so I know I can use it for that too.
If you buy something in a glass, you should already know the exact way you’ll reuse it.
If you have enough containers, you can just shop in a bulk. All you need is your produce bags and you’re good to go. At the markets, bulk food shops, co-ops this option is always available. Yet, I like to shop in a bulk always at the farmers’ markets as bulk-food shops tend to be expensive.
- Go vegan or at least vegetarian
Because, can you get a good quality inexpensive meat? No. Veggies and fruits? Yes!
There’s your answer.
Also, if you want to save the environment, know that cows emit methane to the air through their farts. Methane is 84 more times powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere. This creates a more rapid warming effect than other greenhouse gases.
The huge production of meat requires massive amounts of land for livestock. This is one of the main reasons why deforestation occurs too. If you love forests and want to help save them, stopping eating meat is the minimum you can do.
- Shop at bulk food stores (As the last option)
Bulk stores are awesome! But no so much if you’re a broke backpacker.
Even though you’ll get the top quality product here – fresh, organic, local and fair-trade, the price will usually be at its tops too. This is why bulk stores are my last option most of the times.
First time I arrived I went crazy and bought probably everything they had in The Source. I felt so happy I had this option in Melbourne. Later though I realized how quickly I was spending most of my money just to buy food without packaging. Crazy right? So, for the low-budget option, stick to Victoria market or any other one.
Food scraps aren’t bad for the planet as they’re just food, natural stuff, right?
Hm, not really.
If food scraps are chucked in the bin along with other waste, they release methane into the air, polluting it (here we go again) and they don’t decompose. This is why we should compost.
If you only travel, you probably don’t feel like creating your own worm farm or a composter. Me neither, so I found a different solution.
The app called ShareWaste available on the Android app store. It’s free to download and allows you to find people or local farms nearby which are looking for more compost. You can contact the farms via the app and hand them your food scraps whenever you have time.
I’m based in North Melbourne so I bring my food scraps to Kensington where they actually have compost bins just like that on the street. You can even find their compost bins map on google maps and bike straight there.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle
I never understood the logic behind buying the bottled water (unless you’re in a country where it’s necessary). I use my stainless steel water bottle, keep it handy and refill when needed. It’s long-lasting and lighter than having a glass one.
In Australia, there are free water taps around the cities almost everywhere. To help you locate these, there’s an app available on Android called GiveMeTap enabling you to find free water taps.
- Eat out at these places
To eat out is expensive and not so good for the planet as restaurants produce a lot of waste. But we all want that from time to time. So, if you’re thinking of heading out, check out these places:
- Lentils as Anything. Probably the most amazing thing about Melbourne. It’s a vegan community restaurant where you pay as you feel. Works completely only on donations and volunteers help. The food is delicious, they often have an open buffet, concerts, karaoke and the whole concept is just awesome.
- Craft and Co. Free beers every Friday.
- Om Vegetarian. 7,50 AUD for open plate menu (eat as much as you can).
- Kere Kere cafe. Sometimes they have free coffee or food events.
- Coffee is usually pretty cheap everywhere.
- Coffee out – bring your own cup
When I got to Australia I noticed that the ‘coffee to go’ culture is much stronger here than anywhere else I’ve ever been to. Although I try to quit coffee now I still like to go with the flow sometimes and get my takeaway coffee too.
Normally, I keep my reusable coffee cup in my bag and bring it everywhere. (Because in Melbourne you never know when you’re going to feel like coffee.)
Yet, if for some reason I don’t have it I just ask for coffee without the nasty plastic lid and try to reuse the paper cup afterward as many times as possible. When the cup isn’t usable anymore, I compost it (only if it’s a paper cup).
So, these are my best tips to help you minimize your waste and keep it budget-friendly. You don’t need to be a millionaire to live sustainably. Also, if this lifestyle is new to you, just choose only one thing. Once you get used to it, keep adding on one by one.
And as always, let me know in the comments below about your techniques or your discovery of the ‘zero-waste culture’ in Melbourne.