Every tree is a forest

Recently, I posted about replacing my evergreen hedge with native trees. 

I had been planning to purchase some saplings from The Woodland Trust,* but something last week stopped me, and I decided to put a post out on Freecycle instead. What I discovered was something inspiring.

My notice read something to the effect of;
WANTED: Tree weeds. Do you have saplings growing where there should be no saplings? I would be very happy to come and remove them, and give them a good home.

An amazing couple responded to my ad, and so I set off – armed with my shovel and some empty dog-food sacks in which to transport the roots.

As my sat nav brought me towards the house, I passed a plantation of young trees and wondered if this was where my saplings would be coming from – the response had said, ‘We have some trees to spare’ so I thought that perhaps the couple had bought a large quantity to fill the field and hadn’t been able to fit them all in.

When I arrived, however, the lovely people donating the plants took me round to the back of their house where they presented the biggest monkey puzzle tree I have ever seen. It looked to be around six storeys high and was apparently planted when the house was built. As the cottage looked to be around 200 years old, I could well believe it. It was absolutely magical – an enormous ladder of spiney branches, reaching into the sky.

And all around it, at waist height, were bare saplings. The homeowners explained that birds came to sit on the tree, pooped as they set off again, and spread a variety of mystery seeds all around the monkey puzzle tree. Most were obviously raspberry canes, but others looked more robust and it was these we settled on.

I mentioned the plantation as I began to dig, saying that I’d thought the saplings might be coming from there, and they explained that the entire thing had been filled with self-seeded examples from beneath the monkey puzzle tree.

I was absolutely taken aback. Here was the making of a forest, stemming from the planting of one single tree. The huge field full of saplings had been laid in the last ten years – how many generations had been in that house before this point and had pulled up all those potential trees? How many trees had been lost through being in the ‘wrong place’?

As humans, we have both the power to destroy and to protect, and never have I seen it as starkly as I did here. The residents of this cottage had the option to do as all their predecessors did – to rip out the self-seeded trees which threatened to take over their garden. But they didn’t. They chose to save literally hundreds of saplings and create native woodland instead. And now that they’ve filled their own land, they’ve chosen to help others plant trees too.

And each tree – as evidenced by that incredible, giant beanstalk-esque monkey puzzle tree – has the potential to create not just one, but a multitude of forests over the course of its life. And all those forests need in order to become are humans willing to work with the natural world, and not against it.

I took home and planted a beech, a holly bush, an-almost-certain-rowan, and three mystery trees. Whilst our slip of garden won’t ever be big enough to plant a forest in, I am now determined that I will pass on whatever saplings come form these plants. I might not be able to plant a forest here, but I can make sure that while I am custodian of these trees, that I give their forest every chance I possibly can – even if that’s dispersed throughout the region.

Have you planted any trees this year? Do you think it’s something you have space for in your garden? What would you plant if you did? As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts – here, or on Twitter.

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*I just wanted to touch on why I did things this way. Firstly – fewer transport miles. There were a total of six miles between where I am and where the trees were. This means that – secondly – I know that whatever I plant can survive here and will be hardy enough to tolerate the weather. Third, there’s no packaging – I reused the sacks my dog’s food came in, and now that my saplings are in the ground, I’ll be able to use them again. Fourth – and it’s a big one – time. According to everything I’ve read, it’s actually pretty late in the season for me to be planting trees. Apparently, they need to be moved during their winter dormant phase so as we move into spring, the window for getting them in the ground grows ever shorter. I didn’t know how long postal delivery would be, so this seemed like an instantaneous alternative.

And finally, even though I didn’t get the trees from the Woodland Trust, I put in a donation to the same value as I would have spent. The charity does absolutely amazing work, and I want to support them – it’s why I chose them to buy trees from rather than my local garden centre. I feel like this way, everybody wins.

 

Slivers of soap

Bar soap is often one of the first things people do when transitioning to a lower-waste lifestyle. Swapping out plastic hand-pumps can save you money – a bar of soap generally lasting longer than a bottle – and as many are available in paper, this simple action can save space in the recycling bin too.

That said, there is a significant downside…

You end up with loads of little slivers of soap that are too slippery and small to properly handle. These often end up as a source of frustration and – in our house, certainly – are prone to ending up in the bin, even though they’re still technically capable of doing thier job.

The other night, though, @TinyAcorns posted a photo of a clever little cloth bag which holds all your scraps of soap together and makes then usable again.

As I already had my knitting stuff out from making the dish cloths, I thought I would have a go at replicating this.

Again, as with the dish cloths, I used a vintage cotton from my late mother-in-law’s stash, but if I were to be purchasing something specifically for this project, I might choose something a little… rougher? I feel like there is great potential for the cotton to get slimy over time, whereas something like linen, or even the rougher, heavier jute might just soften. I may experiment in future to see, but for now… cotton it is. Any natural fibre will do, though wool might shrink. synthetics will last longer, but they also shed micro-plastics so that’s a drawback.

Anyway, this is what I came up with. You might want to adjust this pattern to make it wider (add more stitches, in multiples of 3), or longer (do more rows). I think, though, that for cotton, 15cm is definitely long enough – the cloth seems to stretch quite a bit in the water.

Cast on 30 st with 4mm needles.
Rows 1 & 2 – knit.
Row 3 – (k1, yo, k2tog) all the way along
Row 4 – (k1, yo, k2tog) all the way along
Repeat these four rows until your fabric measures around 15cm. End on row 2 and cast off.

Sew up the bottom and the side to make a little bag, then either pass some string or a long crocheted chain through a row of holey bits to make a draw string

And that’s it, really.

Pros: This is a super quick, easy project that you can finish in an hour or so. It uses scrap quantities of yarn, so you don’t need to buy anything specific for it. It definitely keeps all the little slithery bits of soap together.

Cons: This particular yarn bleeds colour… which is less good if you’re washing hands. It stretches quite a bit when wet. I’m not sure how cleaning it is going to work, and what it’s going to look like over time.

You can’t really see it in the picture above, but when you squeeze the bag as if to let some of the water out, you get more bubbles. Which isn’t bad, exactly, it just means that you need to scrub, then squeeze, then rinse in that exact order, or get more blue on you than is strictly necessary.

So, would I make this again? Absolutely – like I said, it’s quick and fun and does what I want it to. Have I worked out all the potential faults yet ? Nope. Not by a long way. And that’s ok. We’re all learning what works and what doesn’t. If this doesn’t pan out in the long term, I can always have another go at making a Frankenstein’s Monster soap from the grated remains of all the other soaps. It didn’t end well last time, but that’s not to say it won’t on another occassion…

I’ve posted this project on Ravelry, in case anyone is interested. It’s just a project page with the pattern in my comments. I would love to see yours if you have a go, though. As ever, you can get in touch here, or on Twitter.

Peter Piper plants a pot of peas in paper…

Work on the garden continues, and this week I dug out one of the gifts we’d been given for Christmas so I could set to work making some biodegradable plant pots.

This little gizmo is great for so many resons.

a. It doesn’t come in plastic.
b. It isn’t made of plastic.
c. It prevents the use of plastic pots.
d. It offers a use for scrap paper (rather than it being resigned to recycling).
e. The pots it makes are biodegradable so when you’re ready to plant out, you don’t disturb the roots of what you’re planting – just pop the whole lot in the ground.

Plastic plant pots are a real bugbear of mine. Firstly, they’re prone to cracking. Secondly, they blow over in the wind or – as in the past few storms – blow away completely with your apple tree-babies in! Finally, unless you want an especially large pot which needs to be light, they’re not essential. You can plant seedlings in pretty much anything – I love a syrup can, personally, but toy stacking cups, mugs without handles, and plastic trays from supermarket meat are all completely servicable ‘pots’ too. In short, if it’ll hold water, you’re golden.

Anyway, I digress.

All you do to make the paper pots, is wrap a strip of your scrap around the thing that looks like a pestle. You then fold the overhang of paper over the bottom of the pestle and mash it into the ‘mortar’. Then you remove the resulting paper container and you’re done.

Of course, you don’t need to buy a fancy gadget to make free paper pots. If you want to use a similar method to the one detailed above, you can simply wrap your paper around a jam jar and push the base into the upturned jar’s lid (presuming the base of the jar is slightly smaller than the lid). Alternatively, you can snip at four points at the base of a toilet roll to around a third of the way up, then fold these ‘flaps’ in on themselves to create a pot base.

Whilst I do plan to plant carrots in paper pots, these particular ones are destined for peas. We have a tree-stump in our garden and I have ambitious plans for it involving peas… watch this space…

Gardens are a fantastic place to use up resources which we might not use inside. Whether that’s via compost, seeds from our food, or paper (as above), all of these actions help to minimise our impact directly and indirectly. Directly; as a way to dispose of our waste which isn’t landfill. Indirectly; by providing us with (potentially) plastic-free food with zero food miles, habitat for wildlife, habitat for pollinators, and as a way to process carbon in the atmosphere. What are your favourite things about gardening, and do you have any tips for things to reuse outside? As ever, I would love to hear them – here, or on Twitter.

More low impact hobbies.

A while ago, I did a post about low-impact hobbies such as reading, playing games, and photography, but I keep thinking of more things so thought I would do another round up of eco-friendly ways to pass time.

Puzzles

A personal favourite at the moment is jigsaws – we buy them from the chairty shop, do them once and then return them. They generally cost between £1-3 for a 1000 piece puzzle which is a LOT of entertainment for the money. Combine this with an audio book from your library, or a free podcast, and you’ve got a recipe for a fun evening in. Or at least… I think so.

Musical instruments

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This is a bit of a tricky one in terms of cost so it really depends which instrument you want to play and whether or not you already have one. I’m – honestly, don’t judge me – a massive fan of the recorder. It’s cheap, compact, available in wood, and easy to pick up. I know it has a bad a reputation given the number of school children who seem to believe that the point is to blow it as hard as possible, but when played properly it’s every bit as beautiful as a flute. I mean, check out this concerto...

If recorder really isn’t your thing, the ukulele is a great option. You can pick up a good one relatively cheaply – even new – and there are countless YouTube tutorials out there, as well as free tab music online. The size makes them easy for children to play and as all four strings are tuned to a chord, they sound fine even when strummed by small, enthusiastic hands.

Personally – because I’m a sucker for punishment – I’m learning violin. This isn’t a cheap option, but I was lucky enough to inherit one that isn’t dreadful so I thought I should probably learn to play it. So far, I still sound like I’m scratching nails down a chalkboard but I’m not getting worse so I’ll take that as a win. It’s good fun, regardless.

Most libraries have a good supply of music tutorial books and ours has a 3 month borrower limit (or rather, you get 1 month with each book and can renew 3 times) which is ample opportunity to practise the music.

After the purchase of the instrument, playing it can be incredibly cheap. Whilst I’m going to need more violin lessons – because they are such an… analogue instrument, and it’s tricky to get the right note – it’s perfectly possible to teach yourself the recorder. You either play the right note, or you don’t – get the fingering or you, or you don’t. If you have a tuner/tuning app on your phone, the same applies to the ukulele. Using library books and online tutorials makes it completely free to play, and none of the above  require any power.

A great way to resource share, or to try your hand if you don’t want to make a big financial commitment, is to rent an instrument. Some councils do this for school children, whilst some brass bands will offer the loan of something to play, sometimes in addition to lessons. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, pick up a new skill and connect with your local community. And practising will take up time at home. If brass music isn’t your thing, then it might be an idea to try local folk groups and see if they have a similar scheme.

With instruments, it really is a case of, ‘you get what you give’. If you devote an a small amount of time to practise every day, you’ll get good quickly. Better to do ten minutes daily than an hour every fortnight, so making it part of your routine really helps. 

Volunteering

If your schedule allows, volunteering can be a really fun thing to do. Whether that’s in a charity shop, with your local library, at your kids’ school, on a village hall comittee, at your local hospital, or just taking part in a #2minbeachclean next time you walk your dog, there are literally thousands of organisations looking for people to help. It’s generally free (a lot of places pay travel expenses), it’s a great way to meet people, an excellent boost to a CV, and you’re helping to build the sort of world you want to live in.

I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the years – as an NHS breastfeeding supporter, a library lackey, at school clubs, and in a charity shop. When we first moved to our current area, it was volunteering which helped me find new friends and I’m so glad I did it.

Writing

I’ve reviewed a lot of books about the environment in the last year – and am probably due another round up of them soon! – and common to nearly all is the need to talk about why we’re taking steps to reduce our impact on the planet.

Even if you’re not ‘a writer’, you helping every time you you chronicle your experience in a blog, or Twitter feed, YouTube chanel, or local newsletter article. Figure out a way you feel comfortable communicating and then do it! Whilst you might need the use of electricity to do this, it can make an enormous difference. If yours is the post which pursuades someone to start carrying a water bottle, then you’ve just increased the impact you have on water-bottle consumption by 100%. And that’s pretty magical.

Of course, you can write other things too, just using a pen and paper. Snail Mail is one of my absolute favourite things to do in an evening – it’s slow, deliberate, and an incredibly intimate way of keeping in touch with friends. And nothing cheers the recipient up like a hand-written letter in the post box. Makes a change from bills, right?

I would absolutely love to hear any other suggestions you might have for ways to pass the time. The further down this route I go, the more willing I am to give just about anything a try, so challenge me! I’d love to hear your ideas here, or on Twitter.

 

 

 

‘The 5 Rs’ – Reuse

Following on from the last post I did, looking at ‘The 5 Rs’ more closely, I thought I would take this to look at the super-fun world of reuse.

This is my favourite way to keep things from landfill and give them a new lease of life because it can be such a creative form of environmntalism. Some of my favourite things in our house have come about this way and I thouht I’d share them with you now.

First up…

The light was against me, taking this photograph, but what you’re looking at here isn’t the hanging (handmade and bought from a charity shop) – it’s the pole that the patchwork is suspended from. This was an old clothes rail in a 1950s wardrobe that came out of my Nan’s house in 2006. The wardrobe travelled round all my student digs and early married life with me, but it eventually disintegrated in around 2010 after over half a century of constant use. I kept the metal bar from it though, and the lovely fixtures, and it’s been used for all sorts since – hanging mugs from s-hooks in the kitchen, to holding little crocheted baskets of nappies over a changing table. The lesson here – if you’re throwing something out anyway, try to think of it as commponent parts. Some might still be useful.

Next…

Another example of component parts – we had a beautiful lamp that got smashed in one of our many house moves, so instead of binning the electrics, we fitted them inside an old whisky box, drilled holes in and made a ‘decorative wall light shelf thing’. At some point in the future, if we need an actual lamp that casts light, we can take this to bits and reuse the electics but for now, it makes the room look very cozy when we sit upstairs reading.

Next…

You don’t have to physically alter something to change its function. You just need a little imagination. This is a vintage toy cot that both my children have grown out of and which we now use for storing their picture books.

Of course, you can simply continue using something for its intended purpose… jars and tubs are a classic example of this, but pretty antiques absolutely count too. There are so many items from the middle of the last century which are absolutely perfect for a lower-waste lifestyle – wicker shopping baskets, tea caddies and strainers, clockwork hand-whisks… these pieces of kitchenalia were produced to last and though old, will function perfectly well. I didn’t take a picture because the state of it is frankly embarassinng, but my toaster is a 1960s bright orange floral monstrosity that was made in West Germany, whilst my iron  – of the same origins – is from 1975 at the earliest. Just because something is old, that doesn’t mean it won’t work perfectly well. As long as you have any electronics properly tested, you’re golden!

One of my favorutie ways to reuse plastic from food – which I haven’t photographed because we haven’t got any seedlings going yet – is to employ old meat/soft fruit punnets as plant pots. You can fit so many more square containers on a window ledge than round, and the fruit punnets already have drainage holes in the bottom. Last year, we grew cress and rocket indoors in them, but hopefully this year, we’ll be able to start our garden vegetables this way.

Obviously, the ways you can reuse things are only limited by your imagination – I would absolutely love to see the creative ways you’ve found to extent the useful life of your items. Why not get in touch – here or on Twitter.

 

Cleaning products…

So many fantastic posts have been written about eco-friendly cleaning over the years that I’m sort of reluctant to weigh in on this… but here goes.

In my opinion, you only really need three things to clean effectively – soap, an acid, and an alkali. In my case, I love washing-up liquid, vinegar/citric acid, and bicarb.

That said, I still buy dishwasher powder and washing powder.

So why do I do this? In short, because the machines prefer the powders. I have used liquid soap (which I made myself by grating a bar) in both dishwasher and washing machine, but whilst the items in the machines got clean, I found that the drain in the dishwasher got a bit more… slimey than usual, and the washing machine didn’t quite clear the drawer as well.

After the liquid soap experiment, I went back to dishwasher tablets but these are deceptively wasteful. I’d rejected the idea of powder on the basis of its plastic bottle, but whilst the boxes for the tablets were cardboard, each tab was individually wrapped in plastic film. Fail. Another issue is that in our soft-water location there was too much soap in a tablet and this left residue on the crockery. We cut the tablets in half and that worked fine, but it we still had the issue of the non-recyclable wraps. In the end, I decided that a recyclable bottle of powder was the best plan as we could use as little as we wanted and nothing was going to landfill. It turned out to be a great solution long term because I’m now able to buy powder refills at my local package-free shop. Win.

For dishwasher salt and rinse aid, I’ve been using Sodasan and Bio D respectively. These are both in recyclable packaging and score well on the Ethical Consumer lists.

Washing powder is actually surprisingly easy to find plastic free. We’re using ASDA’s cheap non-bio just now, but Morrisons is great, as was Tesco’s. Again, the soft water means we can use far less than the recommended and still get clean clothes.

Over the years, I’ve tried many things – the DIY liquid soap, soap nuts, an Eco Egg (which was fine for nappies, but terrible for school uniform – go figure), and fancy ‘Bio D’ powder. The biggest disappointment was the Bio D, to be honest. I bought it from Ethical Superstore on account of it being good for septic tanks, and because of the success with the rinse aid, but in all honesty, I wish I hadn’t bothered. It looked as though it came in brown paper but this was actually non-recyclable plastic, and I just don’t feel it got things that clean. Admittedly better than Ecover and Method in terms of ethics (both of these companies being owned by SC Johnson – a company which admits to animal testing), Bio D didn’t deliver the product that I was expecting so my next stop looks to be Eco-Leaf. I’ll update you on that one.

As for the rest of the house – it took me a long time to give up bleach (I really love bleach). For my loo these days, I essentially make bath bombs. I read in one the many books I’ve borrowed in recent months (I think it was Zoë’s Eco-Thrift Living but not 100% sure) about how using acid alone to clean the toilet can lead to eroded pipes. In an effort to counter that – and based on nothing but my secondary school science education, and enthusiasm – I mixed 2 cups of citric acid powder with 1 cup of bicarb, then spritzed it with water until it stuck together and pressed the lot into silicon ice cube trays. Now I plop one of these into the toilet bowl, let it fizz a bit and apply the toilet brush (a few words about eco-friendly toilet brushes here). An unforseen bonus is that if I forget a birthday present, I can put some of these in a pretty jar and say they’re bath-bombs – there’s nothing harmful in there.

I know, I know… I probably shouldn’t confess to giving toilet cleaner as a birthday gift but I might as well come clean – I am great at crafts and dreadful at organising myself.

For everything else, I tend to sprinkle bicarb on and then spritz with vinegar. I really like making citrus vinegar because it doesn’t smell like my misspent youth behind a chipshop counter. It does look a bit like wee when you filter out the peel though, so I guess that’s the payoff… After I’ve used the spray, I wipe the whole thing down with hot water and washing up liquid, using my knitted dish cloths.

What do you use to clean your house? Do you use commercial cleaners or DIY things? I would love to hear about any tips you have, either here or on twitter.

 

Confessions of a terrible eco-warrior…

Well, I just did the WWF carbon footprint questionairre survey thing (official name, that) and apparently, I’m producing 108% of the carbon I should be for 2020…

Apparently, the areas in which I need to improve on most are…

…unsurprisingly, my household consumption of energy and my travel.

So, firstly, do I agree with this? The travel – certainly. The household – probably.

For balance, I took another survey and got the results above. There seems to be a discrepency between the two surveys – the WWF one puts us at 11.4 tonnes, whilst the second survey puts us at 8.44 tonnes. Given the UK average is apparently around 10 tonnes (according to WWF) and 14.1 tonnes (according to Carbon Independant), I would say we were somewhere in the  average range for the UK population… (…but then, isn’t everyone – technically?)

I’m trying not to get too hung up on the numbers, but I have to say – I’m a little disappointed. I work really hard to reduce the impact I have, but short of moving into a city (or at the very least, a village), I can’t think of ways to reduce our travel impact further and which are within our financial reach.

At the moment we’re running a relatively new (2014), small-engined Petrol car. It’s well maintained, the tyre pressure is checked monthy and I make a conscious effort not to carry excess weight. I suppose that after summer, the number of trips to school/nursery will halve as both offspring will be in the same building at the same time, so perhaps it’s just a matter of holding on until then.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to either swap this car for an electric vehicle, or add one to our ‘fleet’ (the fleet of one car and two bicycles! Ha!), but again – finances make this a prohibitive action.  The best I can do for now is to combine trips – i.e. go shopping whilst my eldest child is at their club, or visit friends whilst children are at school rather than making special trips. On the rare occassion I make a trip alone, I do walk into the town, but there’s no way I could do that with my miniature entourage – it’s over an hour’s walk, and health complications make anything more than around 30 minutes painful for my youngest. If anyone has any ideas on reducing milage when you live in a spot with minimal public transport, I would LOVE to hear them.

In regards to the household usage, heating accounts for just about all of this. We live in a 3-bedroom, detatched house in the middle of nowhere. When we moved in, I had no idea just what a difference this would make to our heating use, compared to living in a small semi-detatched bungalow and our previous terraced house… More fool me. Exterior walls are cold.

Eventually, we plan on replacing the old velux windows upstairs with newer ones (again, money) as the double glazing that’s there was installed in the late 80s so isn’t very efficient. Meanwhile, I’ve backed each of the radiators with reflective foil (I think there’s a DoNation pledge that covers this, but I can’t remember what it is) in an effort to lose less heat to the rock that surrounds us. We keep the ambient temperature to a cool 14C in the rest of the house and heat the living room with a log-burner as it’s where we sit. We wear a lot of sweaters. And woolly socks. And walk around with wheat bags stuffed about our clothing. The glazing is better downstairs, but I’d like to get curtains (again, money) which would help keep heat in.

We buy the wood for our stove from managed local woodland, and the stove doesn’t get lit until later afternoon. We boil our kettle on the top of it when it’s on – it’s not reducing our immediate emissions, but it’s at least lowering our electricity costs, I suppose.

That’s it, really.

And you know what? All of it feels like excuses. We could do X if Y… We could change X but… At this stage, I’ve done pretty much all of the ‘superficial’ things I can do. The next stages seem to need serious commitment, whether financial or otherwise.

To improve at this point we could: move to the village where school is, move to the bigger village where there is public transport, change to an electric vehicle, change our whole heating system to a more earth-friendly one, clad the house with insulation… none of it cheap, none of it easy.

It’s disheartening, because it feels a lot like I’ve plateaued, but I suppose I should take heart from the fact that we’ve managed to get this far without having to do anything drastic to make a difference. Which is actually a pretty interesting thought – at no point so far do I feel as though I’ve made a sacrifice. The actions I’ve taken to reduce our impact on this earth have either enriched our lives, saved us money, or both.

So, what is the next step for us?

Well, it will require some serious thinking. We’re currently a single-income, self-employed, EU-citizen-earner family, living in the UK, so nothing is certain at the moment. It’s not the nicest place to be, and it certainly leaves us reluctant to spend money. I think, to begin with, curtains are probably the next step…

I’ll keep you updated. ❤

A much-too-long essay about meal planning

Meal planning is something that is spoken about often when it comes to reducing food and financial waste. The idea is simple – plan what you’re going to have to eat in advance, then purchase what you need in the quantities required.

In practise, it can be a hard habit to get into – especially if you’re used to wandering the supermarket without a list. I think the biggest difference I found to begin with wasn’t the price (though that was vastly reduced), but the quantity of food. I had everything on my list, but my trolley contained only around a third of my usual items.

Hopefully, if you’re new to meal planning, the information below will help you begin to save money, and prevent waste. The following is based on an article I wrote back in August 2012 for another blog, but I’ve updated it to focus on the environment.

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I try to approach meal planning with the 5Rs firmly in mind – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle & rot.

So, first step – we need to eat, so how can we refuse food?  In this case, we refuse to buy items we already own.

To begin with, I check the freezer and the cupboard, then make a list of what’s there. It usually becomes evident at this point which foods I can easily make from the ingredients I have, and what I can make by adding just a few extra things. This forms the basis of my meal plan.

So, for example, if my cupboard yields 3 complete meals and 2 incomplete ones, I would write down the ingredients to complete those 2 meals which are missing components.  Then, for the remainder of the 7 dinners, I would use the ingredients already on my list as my basis.

When it comes to reduce, this is the part where you assess what you actually need. This could involve questions such as

– ‘Do I need the BOGOF box of cereal?’ (If I don’t, should I simply buy one, or donate the extra non-perishable item to the food bank?)
-‘Do I need to buy snacks on top of any baking I’ll do at home?’
-‘Do I need to drive to the shop – can I car-pool, walk, or get a delivery? Can I use public transport, or call at the shops whilst running another errand?’
-‘Do I need to go shopping at all? If I start to put milk and bread in my freezer/switch to a milkman, could I plan cleverly and shop every second week /monthly ‘.

Reducing whilst shopping also covers our aims to reduce the packaging we bring home. Is it possible to make your own version of something to cut back on plastic, or using alternatives to plastic store-supplied packagaing such as your own cloth bags for loose bakery products and vegetables, or selecting frozen over fresh when the frozen goods are packed in cardboard.

In terms of financial savings, if there is a choice between a premium brand and a supermarket equivalent, it’s well worth considering the value/basics ranges – presuming the packaging is the same. It’s also worth noting that the class 2 veg available at some supermarkets is both fantastic value and helps to prevent food waste.

Another financial point to make is that it’s worth checking the kilo price of food too – remember that one can of sweetcorn costs around the same as a massive bag of frozen. Admittedly that frozen bag is usually plastic, but in terms of shipping costs – carbon and financial – and wastage, the plastic is going to be better, especially if the can contains a plastic lining which renders it unrecyclable. You can also use weigh out exactly the quantity of frozen sweetcorn that you need and then save the rest indefinitely for a longer period – unlike when you open a can, use half, and forget about the remainder at the back of the fridge… ahem.

If you have a bread machine, or are up for making your own bread by hand, there are further financial and environmental savings to be had. You can buy small cans of fast-action dried yeast, but Tesco bakery sections will provide fresh yeast for free (and you can take your own packaging) and Morrisons sell small packs of it for very little money. If you don’t want to have your oven on for long periods, you can also bake your loaf in a slow cooker. Once you’ve cracked a plain loaf of bread, pizza dough isn’t a difficult second act. We’ve had great success with making and then freezing pizza bases – saving on packaging and money – for use on busy days.

There are some amazing posts online about low waste snacking (and my own offering, here), so I’ll just cover a few basics now. If you can get reduced fruit juice you can make some pretty good ice lollies. Just pour the juice into a mould and freeze. Or alternatively, you can make something which tastes exactly like a Feast by blending 2 tablespoons of Nutella with some soya milk. Mmmm…. By reusing your own lolly moulds, you save the individual wrappers from landfil, the box from recycling, and the shipping cost of frozen goods. It’s also miles cheaper and you know exactly what you’re eating.

Popcorn is the classic low waste snack – buy the kernels, pop them at home and flavour yourself. Make in advance and pack in Tupperware, or used paper flour bags for packed lnches. Even if you can’t get this package-free, it’s still far less wasteful than bags of ready made stuff, bags of crisps etc. and it’s quick and easy – plus you can flavour it with whatever you like.

Reusing in terms of food comes down, once again, to examining our intake and the packaging our food comes in. If we plan our meals well, pay attention to portion size when we’re cooking (and by this I mean, what will we realistically eat – different people have different appetites and that’s ok), and don’t over-purchase perishable items, there shouldn’t be a huge amount of leftovers to reuse. Obviously, though, we’re not perfect, and plans change, so periodically this will happen. That’s Ok – just do a quick search online for ‘X leftover recipes’ and see what you can come up with. If you’re not going to use the food in question straight away, put it in the fridge – either in an airtight container (and here you can reuse old jars or yogurt tubs etc), or in a bowl with a plate for a lid.

The packaging from our food sort of crosses between reuse and recycle. We can reuse it – as stated above – to store other items, but we can also employ it an any other number of ways. A personal favourite is to use food packaging to grow plants in. Rather than buy new plastic trays, I like to use the hard-to-recycle black plastic trays to start seedlings in, sometimes with a clear plastic tray over the top. I particularly like planting things in old treacle tins, like this avocado pip:

I’ve spoken in the past about how much I love enamel as a material, but old food tins are a close second when it comes to household objects. If you’re not sold on the idea of them as pretty things in your home, try searching Pinterest for ‘vintage tins repurposed’. From cake-stands to lampshades, there are ideas aplenty.

Packaging can serve in other ways too – you can see some old coffee jars here, and some old wine corks which have found new life amongst our toys. A friend of mine even collected Bonne Maman preserve jars for a year and then used them as her glassware. Our own drinking glasses are mustard jars that Husband’s mother purchased over the course of a few years in 90s Germany, and I make jellies and mousses in ex-Aldi-yogurt jars for my eldest’s packed lunches.

More unusual reuse came about when I made soap before Christmas – the bottoms of plastic milk-bottles make superb soap moulds, as do selection-box packages (gifted to us, not purchased by us).

If there really isn’t anything else you can  repurpose your food packaging for, check with your local council as to what they do and don’t recycle.

Which leaves us with rot. There are lots of ways to really get the most out of any remaining food waste – composting at home and local food-waste collection being the two most common. You can, however, use some waste products to create dye, such as onion skins and avocado pips. Other things – such as spent tea and coffee can be used to grow things like cress or alfalfa shoots on.

I hope some of this has been useful. I realise we moved away from the basics of meal planning pretty early on, but hopefully this will help someone start to reduce their shopping waste.

What are your best tips for ensuring we don’t use more than we need in the kitchen? I would love to hear your suggestions.

Extending garment life with natural dye.

When I first started writing this blog, I never thought I would end up flashing my underwear online, but fast-forward and here we are – a post, solely about my smalls.

Before we go any further, I should probably explain.

Generally, when something of mine wears out, I replace the item with its second-hand equivalent. Generally. There are, of course, some exceptions. One of these is definitely underwear. So, that being the case, when I do buy underwear, I buy it with longevity in mind. For me, that means 100% cotton, bright white (the reasons to be explained below) and with replacable elastic. I can’t honestly remember where the current set came from, but they’re ingenious – the waist band has what appear to be button-holes sewn in, but they’re actually there so that if the elastic snaps, it’s a really simply job to replace it.

Above, I mentioned that I like to buy bright white underwear – that’s because I used to bleach them to extend the time they looked new. Then I realised that bleach probably wasn’t environmentally brilliant so I took to dying them when they started to look a bit grey. This worked far better in terms of longevity – begin with a pale shade and then go darker until eventually you dye them black. Winning. Only, until now, I’d been using the machine-dye packets which are probably even worse than the bleach for my septic tank.

Then I watched this video, and decided to try some of the natural dye techniques it suggests. In this case, I made dye using red onion skins and turmeric.

I won’t show you the horrible, grey ‘before’ shots of my old pants. No one wants to see those… but here are some pictures as things got underway.

I started by mixing water with some of the non-brewed condiment I bought a few months ago – a ratio of around 2 parts water to 1 part condiment. Then I added the cotton and the onion skins and boiled for half an hour. I allowed this to cool in the pan and then tossed them in the washing machine drum.

Then onto the turmeric. Again, I added a 2-1 combination of water and non-brewed condiment, then around 3tbsp of turmeric powder.

Again, I boiled this for around 30 minutes and allowed it to cool. Then I tossed the cotton in the washing machine drum with the onion-dyed garments.

I washed both at 30 with my regular powder (at this point, Asda Non-Bio), then dried them.

The results were far better than I had expected. The vibrancy of the yellow doesn’t really translate to the screen very well, but it’s like sunshine in real life.

What I didn’t realise, as I threw the turmeric underwear into the machine drum, however, was that there was already a pile of napkins in there. The napkins were, from the residual turmeric, turned a very pale lemon colour. Fine – thought I – I can use some laundry bleach on them to bring them back to white. Not ideal, sure, but at least it’s laundry bleach and not actual bleach bleach.

Well… here’s the thing. When you add an alkali to turmeric, it goes red. So there I am, stirring laundry bleach round my slightly yellow napkins and they’re turning slightly pink and it occurs to me that a lot of this ‘bleach’ is probably bicarbonate of soda. My next experiment is absolutely to see what sort of red turmeric and bicarb make.

I’m not sure how these will wear, or if the colour will rub off on other clothes, but underwear seems like a fairly safe starting point – if it does transfer to other clothes, it will be on the inside.

Like I said above, dye is a really great way to extend the life of clothing. I tend to buy ‘new’ things (i,e, in charity shops) in as pale a shade as possible so when they start to look grubby, I can hide all the stains with a new colour. I love the process too – you never know what you’re going to get at the end of it. Some of my all-time-favourite garments have come about this way.

Is there anything you do to make your clothes last longer than they would otherwise? I’d really love to hear about any methods you use.

Improving the bathroom

Those of you who’ve been with me a while might remember my very long post about the single-use and plastic free items in my bathroom, and about how I planned to improve things.

Well, some time has now passed and some of the consumables are coming to an end, so I thought this would be a great time to examine some of the alternatives I outlined last time. In addition to this, I need to replace my toilet brush and soap-trays so I’ll be writing about that too.

As I said last time, we use an electric toothbrush. I had planned to buy the LiveCoCo replacement heads, but they do have quite a hefty price tag and you need to pay additional postage to return them for recycling. A chance post on Twitter led me to an alternative option, by Brushd . The initial purchase price is cheaper, and the postage to return the heads for recycling is prepaid. For me, it’s a no-brainer – I ordered the Brushd option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brushd also do a corn floss in a glass container. The website doesn’t actually list floss refills so I was reluctant to buy from here, even though doing so would reduce the amount of waste created by postage. I emailed the company to enquire about refills and they will apparently be adding them at some point in January so I decided to take the risk. Hopefully other brands of refills will fit, even if Brushd decides not to go ahead with adding this product.

When we first moved into the house, and I decided to start using bars of soap instead of pumps, I bought some wooden soap dishes. These have served us really well, but they’re… well… wood. And when wood gets wet, it starts to break down.

This is where we get into somewhat muddy waters, if you’ll pardon the tentative pun. What do I replace the soap dishes with?

If I replace them with more wood, I’ll have to do the same in a further five years and though five years is a reasonable amount of time, it’s definitely not the best I can do. My aim with replacing things in this house is to do it once, then never have to think about it again.

With that in mind, what are my options?

PLASTIC:
– Positives – 
It lasts forever (unless it breaks). It’s light to transport, readily available and won’t shatter on the tiles if the children drop it. It’s really cheap.
– Negatives – It lasts forever, unless it breaks – at which point it becomes landfill/recycling. I don’t like the look of it. There’s a risk it will end up in the ocean if it’s not properly disposed of.

GLASS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, recyclable, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms.

ENAMEL:
– Positives – This is one of my favourite materials of all time – especially in the kitchen – and I love how it looks. It lasts forever. It doesn’t break if the children drop it. It’s light, to tansport costs are low.
– Negatives – Pinterest and that whole serving-chips-in-old-camping-mugs thing has made enamel really popular so it’s no longer the cheap, cheerful nostalgic thing it was when I first started using it. Whilst I would love to find an enamel soap dish, there don’t seem to be any out there for less that around £15 when you factor in postage and quite simply, I can’t afford that.

CERAMICS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, versatile, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms. It does break down into rubble, but that seems like a loss of resources.

NOTHING
– Positives –
It’s free! I don’t need to source anything so I get more time to enjoy my life!
– Negatives – 
My sink ends up looking like the slime monster of doom attacked it and I have to clean more often… Which doesn’t happen, because I hate cleaning, so the blob begins to absorb bathroom dust and- Well, you get the idea. Just no.

WOOD: 
– Positives – It’s cheap, sustainable, light to transport, readily available, and doesn’t shatter on impact with the tile floor.
– Negatives – I don’t want to have to keep replacing it every few years.

So, as usual, no perfect option. I was moaning about this to my mum, though, and she suggested that I start to think outside the box in my internet searching. Just because I was going to use something as a soap dish, that didn’t mean it needed to start out life as one. She suggested searching for ‘ashtray’ because the decline in cigarette smokers means that these can be had for pennies and are plentiful. She also suggested I search ‘trinket dish’ as these have largely fallen out of fashion too. Armed with these new search terms, I set to work and soon found a plethora of interesting, vintage articles for no more than a few pounds.

I opted for enamel – as I said above, it’s one of my favourite materials – but rather than choose the kitchen-style white-with-blue-rim, I selected patterned enamel on copper. Not as light as the stuff I use for baking/camping, but still pretty practical for the bathroom. I bought the one pictured below, plus a pair of smaller dishes which will be used upstairs – one for the soap and one for the shampoo bar. Even including postage, these three soap dishes cost less than I would have payed for the modern, fashionable equivalents.

If time wasn’t against me, I would definitely have had a look around our ‘local’ charity shops, but by the time I drive over there, I generally only have ten minutes to look around before I have to drive back to pick up the children.

The other item I really wanted, was an eco-friendly toilet brush. The plastic one we have been using has definitely come to the end of its life and I need to up my game. Shamefully, I didn’t even think of the fact that as my brush was balding, it was shedding the plastic bristles into my septic tank.

This became another case of thinking outside the box. You can buy some lovely toilet brush holders but these were brand new and expensive, and though I’m not advocating second hand loo-brushes, buying a brand new jug to put a poop-cleaner in really didn’t sit right with me.

If you’re happy to spend big money to get plastic free items, Utility make this beauty – pictured above. 

Boobalou also do a lovely version that’s slightly more affordable. It can be purchased from their own website, or from Ethical Superstore.

I decided I didn’t want to pay for the container, though, and though I purchased the Boobalou brush, I made the decision to repurpose an existing object for the container – in this case, stoneware jars.

I seem to remember these being pretty big in the 90s, Changing Rooms sort of era, but happily, they’ve since fallen out of fashion.

Stoneware Jar | eBay

These are absolutely perfect for my needs:

  1.  Not plastic
  2. Second-hand
  3. Really easy to clean (outside with a hose – ha!)
  4. Heavy, so won’t tip over with a brush inside (a fear re. the enamel jug, above)
  5. Cost less than £10 incl. postage, but easily available at charity shops etc.
  6. Durable – most are Victorian, These aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

In our case, they also match the bathroom tiles so I’m calling that a huge win!

Until now, I had been scrubbing my loo with bleach, but I’ve found a refillable soap – Suma EcoLeaf toilet cleaner –  which I’ll try out when my new brushes arrive. I’ll take pictures too – I’m hoping it will be as pretty a solution as possible!

Hopefully, my septic tank will thank me for all of this!

Right, enough about my loo for one post! I hope you’ve found some of this useful – I think sometimes it helps just to see the various thought processes behind other peoples’ purchaces, in case it solves an issue we’ve been having with our own.

I’d love to hear any comments you have on this – either here or on Twitter. 🙂