In the bathroom – a big, long, text-heavy post

When I first started writing this blog, I mentioned that I’d like to reduce our waste in the bathroom.

So far, we’ve managed to make quite a few changes:
– Soap bars instead of plastic bottles
– Shampoo bars instead of the liquid alternative
– a menstrual cup instead of tampons/pads
– paper-stemmed cotton buds
– using crystal deoderant – it lasts years!
– not using seperate body wash or conditioner
– using vinegar to clean with

A lot of these alterations were driven by cost – bars of soap and shampoo last so much longer than liquid versions and the menstrual cup was a superb investment*.

I’ve used PitROK crystal deoderant for over a decade now and have only had to replace my stick once (because I lost it!) in that whole time. So, even though Boots has it sitting at £6.59, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment and saves money long-term. It does have a plastic ‘sleeve’ – for lack of a better word – but you can buy a plastic-free crystal deoderant from Salt Of The Earth. When my current PitROK stick finally runs out, I’ll be replacing it with this – it’s £4.85, so slightly cheaper. Do bear in mind, though that it’s 75g vs 100g of the PitROK.

So far, so good. Until you bear in mind that at the same time, we still use an electric toothbrush, Aldi’s own brand of dental floss and Tesco Essentials plastic-tubed toothpaste so there’s still considerable work to do.

Let’s not even start on my contact lenses…

Anyway. Going forward. What can I change?

I don’t remeber how much exactly the Aldi floss cost, and unfortunately I can’t find it online, but I did get two dispensers full in one pack and I seem to recall it costing between £1.99-£2.99 (though I could be wrong). According to MySupermarket**, expensive Oral B dental floss costs £2 for 50m at Tesco, making it 4p per metre.

The most cost effective eco-alternative I’ve found so far is the Bambaw floss from EthicalSuperstore – it’s made from cornstarch so is suitable for vegans too. For 50m, plus the reusable dispenser, it works out at £5.75 – just under 12p per metre. The refils cost £6.79 for two rolls, so work out at just under 7p per metre – a significant saving, though still nearly double the cost of the expensive supermarket variety.

Am I going to make the switch? I feel like floss is something that I either have to spend silly money on to get an earth-friendly alternative, or something I have to find an alternative to. I’m wondering if wooden toothpicks might be able to achieve a similar thing and between now and running out of floss, I’ll be looking for some in plastic-free packaging.

Floss aside, teeth are still a big source of plastic in this house. As I stated above, toothpaste tubes and electric brush-heads are big contributors but for the moment, I don’t feel like the former is something I can change. I know, I know… there are loads of alternatives out there, but there are family members with additional sensory needs and to have finally found a toothpaste we all get along with is such a relief that I can’t begin to think of changing that. Should Tesco alter their Essentials recipe, we’ll revisit this with reusable alternatives, but for now, I can’t see that changing.

I can, however, make a compromise with the brush-heads we use. We bought the electric toothbrush as a last-ditch attempt to ensure clean-teeth in the aforementioned family member so I’m not willing to get rid of it. We’ve done our best to choose one that will last a long time – it’s a ‘cheapy’ (from a set of two) that we bought from Costco in the days when we had a membership. The batteries are just standard AA size so we can employ our rechargables here. The fact that we can remove the batteries also means that when the toothbrush finally does stop working (four years and counting so far, though – touch wood!) we can carry on using the rechargables in other things whilst we recycle the handle as a small appliance with the local council.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s not the worst, either. As to the brush-heads though… Until now, we’ve been bulk buying them and still have six-months worth, which we’ll use before buying more. After that, however, we’ll be trialing some LiveCoCo heads which you can return to the manufacturer for recycling. These do cost significantly more than the standard ones (£9.99 for two, direct from the manufacturer!), but I’ll be switching to a cheaper bamboo manual brush at that point in an effort to offset some of the cost. The cheap toothpaste also helps here…

So what haven’t I covered yet?

In the past, we’ve tried the Who Gives a Crap (WGAC) toilet paper and… honestly? It clogged our drain. I don’t think that’s entirely the fault of the loo roll – it’s probably a combination of things. At the same time as trying it, I tried to curb our water consumption by putting full plastic bottles in the cisterns***. On top of that, the decline from our house to the septic tank isn’t that steep so things are predisposed to getting stuck. The WGAC loo roll is great at breaking down, but as a result it did so long before it reached our tank and we were left rodding the drains on nearly a daily – and sometimes twice daily – basis. It wasn’t a sustainable way to live long term so we’ve gone back to loo roll that takes a bit longer to disintegrate. In the future, I’ll be looking to try their more expensive bamboo range, but for now that’s just not possible financially.

Who Gives A Crap - Recycled Plastic Free Toilet Paper ...

Generally, we’ve been selecting 3-ply packs from budget supermarkets which use FSC trees and have reyclable outer bags. Recently though, I discovered Tesco’s own-brand recycled loo roll and so far so good on that. I need to do more research regarding the use of bleach etc. but this might be the best solution for us, going forward.

Cosmetics can be a big producer of waste – both in terms of plastic, unused products, and unwanted gifts. I don’t personally wear make-up, but I do appreciate a good flanel to wash my face at night. Back in the days when I could muster enough energy to paint my face, I found that the terry cloth of the towel was better than any brand of wipe, so I purchased a pack of small terry nappies. After children, they were purloined for their proper purpose, but I’m still partial to a flanel. Being a knitter/crocheter, I’ve seen a lot of really great, free patterns out there for washable wipes and it’s worth checking through the Ravelry archives. This is the one I often make to gift, and I’m super-impressed by this alternative shower-scrubbie.

I think the final thing of note might be razors. My husband stopped shaving many, many, pre-me years ago and I’m still working my way through the razor heads he bought for his Gilette during this time. Obviously, the most eco-friendly thing to do in regards to body-hair is not to shave, but for my own reasons, this isn’t an option for me.

Lots of people have written extensively about the advantages of safety razors over disposable/mixed-material reusables and I’d urge you to read some of their articles about life with one, as I still need to try one for myself. One of the main ideas is that being made primarily from metal, there are few ways for the razor handle to break, the blade is easily changed, is metal only so can be recycled and comes in much less packaging than the mixed-material alternatives.

So after all that text, is there anything you can see that I’ve missed out? I’d love to hear some of your tips for going low-waste in the bathroom – why don’t you come join me on Twitter?

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*I do realise that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of menstrual cups but there are other reusable menstrual products out there – washable pads, period-panties, natural sponges etc – as well as disposable products which don’t contain plastic, or reusable applicators for conventional tampons.  If you’re interested in learning more, the Sustainable(ish) Podcast covers the topic of periods on three seperate episodes.

**Correct at time of publication.

***Using full plastic bottles is generally considered better practise than putting a brick in the cistern – the bottles doesn’t break down and wreck your pipes over time. Don’t learn this the hard way. Student landlords aren’t especially lenient…

 

Mending Son’s Trousers – a Do Nation pledge

Some of you might remember my earlier posts about repairing Daughter’s water bottle and my old sunglasses.

At the beginning of the pledge,  I promised to mend four items – which,  if you think about the amount of things in the average house,  really isn’t a lot.

As with the water bottle,  I nearly didn’t report this one.  I fix clothes fairly constantly, but then I thought the method might be of use to someone.

So,  two holes in a pair of hand-me-down 100% cotton joggers – one on each knee. For the first,  I sewed up the hole and stitched a patch over the top.  Interestingly,  the patch came from a pair of Daughter’s shoes – there is a loop on the back for the laces. We took them off to make them more suitable for school but put them aside for just this sort of thing.

For the next hole, I didn’t want to use a patch as the tear was tiny.

To start with, I secured the hole…

This is technically a fix in itself and if your child/you is happy with the hole like this,  you should definitely leave it – less work! Unfortunately,  my child wasn’t happy with this so to create a patch, I began weaving over the top with some cotton yarn I had left over from a project.  I chose cotton so that the added fibres could be washed at the same temperature without the risk of uneven shrinkage – something I can’t sew my way out of.

I’m really pleased with the finished trousers – the structural integrity is restored and Son is happy with how they look. I would call that a win.

 

 

Every scrap.

So, before I start, I just want to tell you that I took SO MANY pictures to go along with this post.

Only two survived, though, and I honestly don’t know what happened.

Which is sort of heartbreaking, because I did everything I possibly could to make sure as many edible things as possible survived the making of my dinner tonight (see what I did there – nice link into the subject matter, eh?)

Tonight I cooked from the Leon Vegetarian cookbook.

It’s possibly my favourite culinary tome at the moment – the Readers Digest cookery year aside, obviously – and that’s largely on account of the ‘cous cous with seven vegetables’ recipe. I managed to find a copy online, so I would absolutely recommend taking a look, even if you don’t own a copy of the book.

My mission tonight was to save resources in every area I possibly could whilst cooking dinner. Let me talk you through it and I’ll highlight anything I think I’ve done which cuts down on my resource use. You’re possibly doing a lot/all of it already, but I think it’s worth taking the time to recognise when we’re doing well 😉

First of all, this meal was vegetarian, the fresh vegetables were purchased without packaging and the cous cous was bought in a cardboard box from Lidl (though I can now buy it from the plastic-free shop in the village).

Even though the recipe called for plain cous cous, I used some leafs from a cauliflower I had sitting in the fridge – this is a part of the plant people usually throw away, but it’s tasty, valuable food. I fried these with a little garlic and tossed them through the cous cous before adding the water and a stock cube, then setting it aside.

I used the same pan to begin the recipe – see link above for procedure –  and rinsed the tomato can with the 100mls of water to get the most tomatoes possible. Then when I drained the chick peas, I retained the liquid from the can to use in the making of chocolate mousse for my child’s packed lunch.

I placed all of the vegetable peelings in a paper flour bag I saved so that I could put them in the compost bin.

We kept the leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

In the text above, there are nine seperate uses of bold text – nine seperate times when I chose not to waste resources in a 20 minute period.

If we all did this for every meal, we would go a long way to eliminating food waste.

As I said, I don’t have any pictures of the beautiful finished meal, but I do have photos of the leftoves – a.k.a lunch!

   

If you’re interested in the chocolate mousse recipe, you can find it in my post about Aqua Faba.

What are your favourite ways to reduce your waste in the kitchen? Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

Making the most of what we’ve got – thoughts on food

It’s really easy to get into the habit of automatically ditching things, either because it’s what you’ve seen others do, or simply because you’re used to produce looking slightly different – shining cream potatoes or glossy-skinned apples, for example.

This year, our apples took a real battering. The skins were cracked by the sun and rain in combination, and beneath those blemishes were what looked like apple scab. Reading online, the best way to ‘treat’* the fungus is to make sure there’s as little detritus left from the tree for the fungus to grow on, after the tree has dropped its fruit and leafs for the year.

Being honest, my initial thought was to simply scoop everything up into the compost after the last leaf had fallen, but the tree has always been such an excellent fruiter that doing so seemed oddly like the betrayal of an old friend.

So, when a child-sized barrow full of apples was proudly presented to me, I decided to have a go at making the most of the fruit that was there, regardless of looks.

Sure enough, there is a lot of unusable apple in there. The cracks in the peel had made the flesh into a wasp-buffet, which in turn had turned the wasps into gourmet food for our local bird pupolation so stayed on after supper for the apple desert course.

Knowing that apple scab wasn’t a harmful fungus, I decided to just cut away the cracked areas and peel the skin off. Usually I don’t bother peeling the apples from the garden – they’re grown so far from anything that even resembles a pesticide that a rinse under the tap is more than enough to clean them – but on this occasion, I made the choice to strip them back to the fruit itself.

When that was done, I chopped them up and separated the core from the flesh. I packed the cores into a jar and covered them with a water/sugar solution to make cyder vinegar. There are recipes everywhere but Spot of Earth does a pretty detailed tutorial of how to make it.

With the ‘proper’ fruit, I filled a crumble pan and made a topping – a vegan one, in fact (using vegetable oil in place of butter works really well if you use golden sugar – the oil is cheaper too). There were still a good few cups full of chopped apple left so I grabbed the baby slow-cooker which I inherited from my grandmother, filled it and made my go-to apple butter recipe – 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of powdered cinamon for every 2 cups of fruit .

The apple butter will top my porridge in the coming months, and my toast, and any yogurt I happen to achieve… or honestly, I’ll just eat it with a spoon. It’s honestly the greatest preserve I have ever eaten.

It got me to thinking about other foods which don’t get eaten because of… well, I don’t know why.

I’ve always dug out the seeds from pumpkins, melons and squashes – because why would I buy these when they come free in my food. I either toast them in the oven – if we’re already drying mushrooms, or herbs or vegetable peel – or on the car dash-board. I either use them in bread to add some extra texture, or just snack on them.

So when we didn’t eat all of the cake that I made earlier in the week, I resolved not to throw it out. In fairness to my family, this particular cake was terrible – I ran out of cocoa powder so it was a not-so-chocolatey batter that I overbaked in cupcake cases to become what were essentially powder-dry hockey-pucks.

Ahem. Not my finest hour.

Anyway, using a pestle and mortar – I kid you not – I mashed up the ‘cake’. Then I poured homemade cherry schnapps onto it. Not much – just a tablespoon, but it’s potent stuff so that flavoured the lot. Then I folded this cake-powder mush into some chocolate buttercream icing. This, I rolled into balls and covered in dark chocolate.

Honestly, they’re so good I would make bad cake on purpose again.

After the cake incident, I had a look through the council-collected food waste caddy we keep under the sink. The contents tend to be things that are half-eaten. Single, once-bitten potatoes – for example – feature heavily, but not as heavily as Husband’s coffee grounds or my spent loose-leaf tea.

So my challenge is – how would you use these things? The tea and coffee, specifically, rather than the bitten tatties. Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

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*Unfortunately, there’s no real way to treat it that I’ve seen so I can only really attempt to minimise its impact on future crops.

Let’s talk about water…

Last time I posted, I made a list detailing some of the areas of my life in which I saw the biggest need for change.

The first thing I’m going to tackle is relatively easy as it doesn’t require an initial outlay  – I’m going to time my showers. Normally, this is the part where I would try and calculate any financial saving that I was making so that I could add the money to my weekly shopping budget. As loose fruit/veg & bread etc. tend to cost more than packaged, I like to reallocate any money that I save to help cover the additional cost of making ethical choices, but on this occasion there isn’t going to be any financial saving because my water consumption isn’t metered. As with the rest of Scotland, our water is included in our council tax.

Still, Having read 12 Small Acts to Save Our World, I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that all the water which comes into our home has been treated to be fit for purpose, which in turn means that it’s passed through a treatment plant. The more water I use (or indeed, waste) the more energy that’s required to treat it.

I suppose that on a remote level, I’ll be saving money because my water-heater won’t need to work for as long if I’m not heating as much water, but those sorts of sums are beyond me. So, for now, the food budget remains the same.

Anyway… The ‘control’ shower… by putting a plug in my bath, turning my shower on and starting a timer, I aimed to see just how much water I was using on average.

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My shower took just under 7 minutes (I had to dry myself before I could grab my phone and camera to stop the clock and take a picture, hence the times not matching).

This is how much water was in the bath.

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Please don’t judge the state of the tub/how cloudy the water is… or the shampoo bar residue to the right of the taps… I didn’t clean the place before taking this picture, which I probably should have thought to do, but there you go.

On some level, I did expect to see this sort of amount of water – it’s less than I’d use in a bath, which is what I’ve always been told is great about showers. But it’s also a lot more than I would like. It was around 10cm deep and that’s a lot. I mean, that’s more than I bathed my kids in when they were babies so that was a bit eye-opening.

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This is my tub – still filthy – after a two minute shower. You can’t really tell from the photo but there’s less than half of the water of the previous shower in there (which makes sense, given that I was in there less than half as long…)

If you have the means to do this (i.e. a shower over a bath), I would definitely give it a go. It’s one thing to read about the amount of water you save, but to actually see it for youself really brings it home.

Having looked at the Do Nation Shower Power pledge, it looks like tackling my showers in this way can potentially save 11kg of CO2 in a two month period…

That’s 66kg over a year.  If everyone in my family does the same, that’s 264kg CO2 per year (presuming they shower a similar length of time to me).

Have you tried any of the Do Nation pledges? Why not tell me about it here, or on Twitter?

Reduced-plastic grocery shop – Morrisons

On Monday, I went to Morrisons to do my shopping.

While I was there, I saw some pretty great things – my favourite being trays of local eggs where you could purchase as many or as few as required.

If you can read my crappy writing, this is our meal plan for the week. In order of consumption they go…

Lasagne  – I made this on Sunday night so it was ready for when I got in on Monday. It was made from leftovers, so no shopping needed.
Vegetable Chilli – I had some peppers and leftover homemade guacamole in my fridge, as well as canned tomatoes and kidney beans at home. Of the groceries above, I’ll be using onion, garlic and carrot.
Ham Quiche – This is going to use up the ham my son didn’t finish last week, as well as some eggs we already had in. Of the above, I’ll be using the flour to make the pastry.
Stir Fry – I’ll be using another of the peppers from my fridge, some spring onions I have at home, rice, and a variety of condimemts (i.e. fish sauce, sugar, five-spice, soy sauce and cornflour to make a sauce). From the pictured groceries I’ll use a chicken thigh (possibly two) and the brocoli. The rest of the chicken will go in the freezer for future recipes.
Chick pea curry – This is a favourite in our house. I’ll use a can of chick peas that I already have, plus some rice that we already have, plus some lime pickle we already have. From the above, I’ll use onion, garlic and carrot, plus some of the non-brewed condiment* for the start of a mango chutney I’ve been making.
Beurre Blanc – this is the Jack Monroe recipe, only I use spagetti and butter beans instead. The wine we use was inherrited when my inlaws died, and I tend to keep this recipe for the end of the week when the cupboards are running low. It’s a real treat to finish on.

The stuff unaccounted for includes:
Strawberries, 6 bananas, 2 passion fruits, 2 lemons, 4 apples, 1 pineapple, lots of flour, lots of butter, sausage meat, 12 bagels, 1 bar of white chocolate and the rest of the non-brewed condiment.

Plans for the rest:
We’ll just snack on the strawberries. I will carve up the pineapple, mix it with the passion fruits and one chopped apple and we’ll have this as topping for yogurt (more on that in a second) and oats as breakfast. The bagels will cover us for breakfast for 3 days. For lunch, we’ll be having a combination of things on bread, made from the flour above and fresh yeast – usually hummus and grated carrots, or some sort of egg. The sausage meat has been made into sausage rolls of Daugher’s lunch box. she’ll start the week with two of the eight I’ve made, then the rest will go in the freezer so I have some ready-made things for more rushed weeks. The chocolate is for me.

Additional:
This week’s menu is chick-pea heavy so I’ll be collecting the aqua faba to use as an egg substitute in the baking I do (some of it has already been transformed into chocolate mousse for Daughter to take to school). This way, I can use the actual eggs I have as bread topping and in the quiche. Also worth noting – this week I’ve purchased pineapple, but it’s been melon for the last few weeks and I’ve taken to drying the seeds in the oven for use in baking.

Yogurt:
I promised more information regarding the yogurt I was planning to eat this week and I will deliver, but as I’ve been typing out what’s going on there, I’ve realised that it deserves its own post… watch this space.
TLDR? I tried making yogurt from expensive glass-bottle milk…

THE PLASTIC I BROUGHT HOME

And here’s the bottom line bit… How much plastic did I bring home? There’s a film on the top of the cardboard strawberry box (not recyclable) , the meat box (PET1, curbside recyclable) with its film (not recyclable), the butter wrappers (not recyclable), and the tube the sausage meat came in (not recyclable).

As I’m sure you’ve all guessed, the animal products required the most packaging. In future, I can avoid these by taking my own tubs to the Morrisons butcher counter.

How much did it cost? The groceries from the supermarket on Monday were just under £33. The milk – the three litres I bought of it – were £3.60 in total. That makes our weekly shop £36.60. That’s not to say that we’re only eating £36.60 worth of food though – as I detailed above, a lot of what we’re eating is based on food already in our fridge.

So, is it possible to feed a family of four for a week on under £50, whilst still being low-plastic? Sadly, not from just one shop, and not without dietary changes. It also requires a lot of organisation. Husband needs to remember to make bread each day before we can have that for lunch, and I need to make things like chocolate mousse and hummus, not to mention yogurt. Hopefully the further involved we get in this lifestyle the easier it will become.

What are your top-tips for reducing plastic at the supermarket? Let me know either here, or on Twitter. ❤

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*I use non-brewed condiment instead of vinegar because a. it’s cheaper than even the big bottles of malt vinegar, b. it comes in glass bottles when malt vinegar comes in plastic, c. the stuff they stock in Morrisons is made in Scotland so has fewer food miles in relation to me and d. I can use it for cleaning too so it’s multipurpose.

Mending my sunglasses – A Do Nation pledge

I’ve had my sunglasses for five years now. They were a birthday gift from my (late) inlaws and I adore them. But because I’ve had them for five years, and because from time to time they fall off as I chase children/dog across the park, or because I walk into trees while I’m out mushrooming, or I sit on them as I get into the car, they’re not in the best of shape.

So. Having signed up for Do Nation’s ‘Fix It’ pledge, I decided that my sunglasses should be the first thing I tackle. I used this tutorial and bought some second hand lenses from ebay. In the interests of transparency at this point, I should say that the lenses cost more than a supermarket pair of shades. Even second hand, Ray Ban lenses were an eye-watering £35 but I didn’t want to risk wasting money on knock-offs and having them not fit my frames so I shelled out for the branded ones. Apparently, the seller had these lenses removed from their own frames and replaced with prescription equivalents and on this occasion, it worked out cheaper than buying directly from Ray Ban.

Going forward, since I plan to keep these glasses until I’m unable to repair them any longer, I’ll be setting up a saved search on eBay. That way if any bargainous ones come up, I can (if funds allow at the time), make a purchase. Failing that, I’ll know what the average price will be so I can save up when the current lenses start getting scratched.

I’m also going to make more of an effort to use the case that the glasses came with. The popper broke shortly after I bought them so I haven’t used it in at least four years, but I’m hoping I can either repair it, or swap it for my prescription glasses case – it’s a hard-shell and as I only wear my regular glasses between the bathroom and the bedroom when I’m without my contacts, this seems like it might be a sensible arrangement.

I pledged to fix four things during the length of the Do Nation ‘Fix It’ pledge. I plan on also mending a memory quilt that was made from my kids’ baby clothes, the oven (which came with the house and has never really worked properly) and whichever thing breaks next.

Have you done any of the Do Nation pledges? Which do you think would make the more difference in your life?