‘The 5 Rs’ – Recycle

A bit of a different one this time (compared to ‘reduce‘ and ‘reuse‘), because I’m not going to talk about how to recycle. I’m going to tell you not to.

Recycling is great – don’t get me wrong – but people tend to act as though it solves all of our waste problems and it really, really doesn’t. Yes, it takes less energy to melt down a plastic milk bottle and make a new one than it does to extract oil, turn it into to plastic and then make it milk-bottle-shaped, but it also takes much less energy over time to just keep reusing a glass milk bottle instead. And glass can be recycled indefinitely so is less likely to end up in landfill/the sea at the end of its useful life. And if it does, it’s less likely to cause harm throughout the food chain.

So, remembering the 5 Rs, we can see that recycle is the penultimate step. By the time we get to this stage, if we’ve been doing our job properly, there shouldn’t be an awful lot of food-related or general recycling left.

So what about the things which are?

Well, when trying to dispose of larger objects – cot mattresses, furniture, carpets etc. – I try to pass them on via Freecycle. Interestingly, if they don’t find new homes through this site, they tend to via the ‘Freebies’ section on Gumtree, or – back when I used the platform – Facebook marketplace. I don’t know whether this is simply because people don’t expect something for nothing, but for whatever reason, things which won’t move on Freecycle will go on Gumtree.

For smaller items which aren’t collected as part of kerbside pickups, it’s worth checking on Terracycle. There are various collection points for hard-to-recycle goods throughout the country so seeing if there are any near you is a good start. For those with a few more spare pennies, you could invest in an ‘All-In-One’ zero waste box but – fair warning – they are an investment. The smallest option is over £100 so this does price it out many budgets. I don’t think it’s something that I’ll be doing, but it’s always nice to see that the option is there.

For a lot of objects, however, thinking outside of the box is required. When we cleaned out the bathroom at my inlaws’ house we excavated a lifetime of spectacles, stacked in neat, sedimentary layers in the cupboard. On the off chance, I asked my optician back in the UK if they could do anything with the collection. Surprisingly, they could! There are actually lots of options for old eyeglasses, some of which are listed in a Metro article here.

Obviously, there are so many things we could talk about disposing of here – pens, scissors, cutlery… the best place to start would be to make a list of the things that you’re disposing of, either regularly or irregularly. After you’ve safely/responsibly disposed of said item, it’s worth having a look at your list and checking out the alternatives that are out there.

Using the example of our sieve, which broke the other week:
– I tried to fix it.
– I tried to look for a way to recycle it (but couldn’t find one).
– I threw it away and tried to live without one. I struggled.
– I did some research as to what alternatives there were. Whilst I could buy a sustainable, fair trade wooden sieve, I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to replace in the future so I looked up industrial cookware on eBay and found a set of 3 used sieves for £25.

Whatever you’re throwing away, take a good look at it first. If you can’t mend it, try to live without it, and if you can’t do that then buy to last. This is the theory that the website (and attached book) Buy Me Once is all about.

It’s also worth noting that some companies will accept their products back. The first example which springs to mind is the oral-hygiene supplier Brush’d. The toothbrush heads we purchased from there came with a stamped, self-addressed envelope which makes it super-easy to recycle the heads. It’s really encouraging to see more companies doing this sort of thing.

Obviously, if you can find alternative products to your usual choices which don’t need recycling then that’s even better – pencil highlighters instead of plastic ones, pens with refillable ink cartridges instead of disposable ball-points, online magazine subscriiptions via the library… there are all sorts of more sustainable solutions out there.

I really hope this was helpful – it’s a hard topic to write about! I’d love to hear what you think – either here, or on Twitter.

Earth Overshoot Day

Recently, I stumbled upon the website Earth Overshoot Day.

I’ve known about the concept of Earth Overshoot Day for a while now. It is defined as being;

…the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

In 2019, Earth Overshoot Day was a heartbreakingly early July 29th. In real terms, this means that we need over one-and-a-half planets to sustain the rate of human consumption.

Due to the Covid 19 outbreak, Earth Overshoot day falls on 22nd August, 2020 – later than the previous year. On the surface, this feels like cause for celebration – good news amidst the dark – but to me, it simply highlights the fact that even when so many nations effectively shut down, we’re still not staying within the planet’s ability to replenish its resources.

But I digress… On the website, there’s a calculator which allows you to estimate when your own personal Earth Overshoot Day is. I’ve had a go at these sorts of things before, via websites like the WWF. The results were not pretty. Partially, this was down to the level of accuracy – one isn’t able to select local produce, as I recall, and as far as I remember there are no options regarding the consumption of non-food items. The terrible results were also partially due to our heavy dependency on oil – for the past year, I’ve been doing 50miles per day in school drop-offs/pick-ups, and our house still runs on oil-fired central heating whilst being made of icy-cold rock.

As I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for punishment, so I thought I’d have a go at this calculator and beat myself up a bit more about the fact that I’m overconsuming…

Except, given the results of the previous calculator, this was actually better than I’d feared.

Don’t misunderstand me – two months of overshoot is still two months too many – but actually, I expected to be closer to the achingly soon July date of 2019, or the still-too-early August 2020.

And in fairness to my former self, I filled this calculator in using my predicted miles for the coming academic year – 40 fewer every day (providing we all go back to school!) – now that both children are studying in the same place. That’s a huge relief.

And all this is well and good – I know where I need to cut back (oil!) – but what I really wanted to mention was the discrepency I came across the following morning. Because I intended to write about the calculator, I went back to check I’d got my numbers right. When I reached the end of this second calculation, I got a vastly different date – July 11th.

Confused, I went through each of the questions carefully and stumbled upon the one I hadn’t remembered to input extra detail into. It was a query which dealt with the consumption of objects around the house.

So, here are the answers I added:

Here are the answers which were automatically presumed:

As you can see, the difference between the responses isn’t huge. It’s not like the average is a ‘massive’ amount by modern consumer standards. But the difference in outcome is huge – 24th October to 11th July sort of huge.

That’s a whole 3 months and 13 days more resources used.

When we use these calculators, it’s easy to feel as though we’re not doing enough – not making any kind of difference – but that isn’t the case. The work we’re doing does matter and we should absolutely keep on doing it.

If you are going to have a go at one of these quizes, I would encourage you to fill it in multiple times. On completing it presuming that lockdown conditions continue for the year, for example, my overshoot day was December 3rd – simply by changing one aspect of our lives (namely travel).

By looking at the potentially huge impact of a single environmental decision, we can decide where best to personally focus our own efforts and where we can realistically make changes.

Coming out of lockdown, I’m definitely going to try and drive less, and to continue with my efforts to buy nothing new. Do you have any resolutions as this period of quarantine begins to ease off? I’d love to hear them, here or on Twitter.

 

 

Happy Birthday…

It’s my birthday in the next few days.*

I feel funny about celebrating birthdays – on the one hand, I’ve been around the sun one more time** and that’s an absolutely mind-blowingly awesome reason to celebrate, if you think about it.

On the other hand, I didn’t actually do anything to get this far – my mum did all the hard work. Really, I should be celebrating her for having had the patience to raise me to adulthood.

An aside: interestingly, I’m all about celebrating my kids’ birthdays for them. I know – I am nothing if not inconsistent. 

In any case, usually, I’d mark the occasion with a big family meal, but obviously that isn’t possible right now, so I will do the next best thing and pledge to buy nothing new for myself for the next 12 months. Because obviously, those two things are basically the same… ?

The thing is, I keep getting asked what I want for my birthday, and honestly – without belittling how rubbish lockdown is in many ways – I want this to continue. I want the swallows to be the only things in my skies, and for all engine noise to stop when the farm parks the tractor at 8pm. I want to sit out in the garden and hear birdsong, and insect life, and smell herbs that I’ve had time to plant.

I’m always telling the kids that we can’t control other people, and that the only thing we have dominion over in this life is ourselves. So I’m going to do what I can do in the hopes that lots of other people have similar thoughts in coming out of lockdown. I’m not going to buy anything new for a year.

I’ve spoken before about having found Jen Gale’s attempt at this utterly fascinating, and having recently seen first hand what a stonking amount of difference consumption can make to our environmental footprint, I figured that I’d have a go myself.  I seldom buy new things anyway, so I’m not sure how much of a challenge this will be, but I guess that’s the point – to open our eyes to our own levels of consumption.

I’m going to try and extend this to my children too, but obviously they do things like grow lots, and have pocket money that I can’t spend on their behalf, but we’ll see how we get on.

I think I need to define some rules about what constitutes buying things for me. For example, am I ‘allowed’ to respond with items that I’d like if I’m asked what I want for Christmas? Or does a gift that I’m buying for my friend count as something for myself?

I mean, the easiest thing to do would be to follow Jen’s rules, which are here. The one about new running shoes definitely doesn’t apply to me, and though I think I’ll probably regret saying it, I think I’m able to make soap for hands and shampoo and cleaning so other than washing-up liquid, I’m not certain I’d need to buy any toiletries or cleaning products. I’m definitely on board with brand new underwear only, but as I’ve got patterns for this and a lot of fabric, there’s no reason I can’t make it… I can’t see me running out of crafting stuff either, but there’s a first time for everything, I suppose.

So… yeah, I guess for the next 12 months, I’m going to try and not buy anything new. And I’m going to write about it…

Things I expect I’ll miss: 
Books: If Covid means the libraries stay closed, I will eventually run out of reading material. Though I suppose I can get the classics via Kindle?
Craft supplies: I might end up breaking my own rules on this one in the run up to Christmas, but mostly I think I’ve got enough stuff to see me through 12 months and then some.
Jeans: I wear through jeans like you wouldn’t believe. And I’ve tried visible mending and machine darning and I still keep wrecking them. It’s not like I don’t have other clothes, mind you – I just never wear them. So maybe this will force me to be a lot more adventurous.

What will probably happen:
I’ll either ace this, and it won’t be an issue, or – I’m not going to lie – I’ll quit because it’s too much work. I hope the later won’t be the case, but I’m a realist and there are various forces at play within my life that I can’t control – there’s an unsteady income, various additional needs to contend with, and a dog which eats everything including his own tail. I’ll do all I can, but I’m only human.

So… that’s that, I guess.

Wish me luck!
___

*Also, the two year anniversary of my quitting Facebook. Time flies when life is full!
** For a total of 20440 million miles, if my calculations are correct.

4 easy things you can do to reduce your environmental impact – right now.

At the moment, it can be hard to make planet-conscious choices at the supermarket, given the various supply difficulties that Covid 19 has brought about. But there are still so many things we can do around the house to help keep our environmental impact low.

The actions detailed below shouldn’t cost anything (with the possible exception of number 4), and in most cases should actually save you money by reducing consumption of the item in question.

The ideas below aren’t listed in any particular order. In terms of impact though, switching your energy supplier is probably going to be the best single thing you can do.

  1. Squish your toilet rolls. It sounds daft, but if you change the shape of the inner tube, you make it less likely to turn too far on the dispenser, leaving you with too much loo roll on your hands. This is especially good when dealing with small children. It seems like it wouldn’t make a difference, but I honestly notice when I forget to squish the tube as I replace it!

  2. Mark your kettle so you only boil what you need. Take your favourite cups, fill them with water, and pour this into your empty kettle, one at a time. Use a permenant marker pen to note the point the water comes up to after each one. I know some kettles come with ‘cups’ marked on them, but in my experience, these don’t match up to the bucket-like vessels I drink my tea from. Also, marking the kettle myself made me more aware of over-filling so I tend to take the time to fill to my own mark now.

  3. Switch your search engine to Ecosia. This is something you only need to do once, but after it’s done, the ad revenue your searches generate will go towards planting trees. I’ve been using it for years now and have no issues with it, but some people report that as it’s based on the Bing engine and not Google, that searches aren’t as… accurate? thorough? good? as they might be. As I say, I’ve never had an issue, but you could always use Ecosia to search Google at the start of each session – then you’re getting the best of both worlds? You can read more about it on Wikipedia – here.
  4. Switch to a green energy supplier. Again, this is a simple, one off act that you can do now and then forget about. I use Cheap Energy Club to keep me updated on the lowest price green provider. The beauty of looking for energy prices this way is that you’ll get an email if a cheaper provider becomes available, so it takes the hard work out of keeping your costs down.

And that’s it! Four simple things which don’t necessitate buying zero-waste alternatives, four simple things which are either free or will save you money, and four simple things you can do from your house!

Which actions would make your list? I’d love to hear if there are any other obvious things I could be doing! As ever, contact me here or on Twitter.

Drawstring bag tutorial

Following a Tweet from Nikki at Thrifty Green Blogger, I thought I might make a tutorial for drawstring bags.

You can find instructions on how to make these all over the internet, from Pinterest to YouTube, but I want to throw my own hat into the ring. It’s not that I don’t think these others are any good, but I want to showcase really easy, really lazy, really quick methods. What’s wrong with doing a proper neat job, I hear you cry? Absolutely nothing at all. But honestly I’m too lazy to do one, and I think it’s better to have a go at making something quick and simple from recycled material, then using it at the supermarket, than it is having the intention to Make A Proper Job Out of It and then never getting round to doing it.

Things to consider: You’re going to want to wash these. They come into direct contact with food. In the interests of keeping microfibres at bay, you’re best to select a natural material. If you plan to use them for loose grocery items (carrots, onions etc.) or dried goods from a refillery then you want to make them as light as possible so as not to needlessly increase your shopping bill. I made mine from the cotton lining of an old dress, but old sheets are fine and if you can’t find anything else then cotton quiling fabric will do. If you want to use them for the likes of loose breads then the weight doesn’t matter – most of these things are chargd by the item. This is where you can make use of old denim, old tea-towels, and heavier weaves. For these, it’s often best to put the string along the long edge as it allows the cashier to open the bag with greater ease in order to count how many croissants etc you have.

What you will need:
Natural fibre fabric (as discussed above)
Thread
Some kind of string
Scissors
A needle/sewing machine

For ease of writing, I’m going to relate the super-easy ‘made from old jeans’ method first….

From an old trouser leg

First of all, cut away a section of trouser leg. I usually cut off the bottom hem when I do this because my hems are always manky, but if you’re a clean person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t leave it on.

Next, turn your section of leg inside out and sew along the bottom – either with the machine or by hand. If you’re doing it by hand, you might want to try backstitch as this is slightly stronger, but the choice is totally yours.

Fold the top of the bag over to create the chanel for the draw string. I like to fold twice so that the raw edge is tucked away, but each to their own. Once that’s done, sew along the bottom of the fold as illustrated (above). This is essentially your drawstring chanel made.

Snip a tin hole through the first layer of fabric on your chanel. This is the hole through which the string will pass. Thread your string through by attaching it to a safety pin and pushing this through the chanel. Turn the bag inside out and you’re finished!

If you’ve been working with a sewing machine, this is a stupidly quick project – two lines of sewing and you’ve got a completed article. And a trouser leg will make 3-4 bags, depending on the size you need. These bags – if made from cotton such as denim – can be washed at high temperature, ironed, frozen, and reused until they rot. Perfect. Plus, you’ve managed to divert some old trousers from landfill. Winning.

You can, of course, make these from sweater sleeves, t-shirt bodies, old pillow-cases… basically any tubular fabric (though I can’t imagine socks being appealling!) . If you don’t have a pre-made tube, or if you want to use the feather-light fabric needed for items sold based on weight, you can add in the following steps at the beginning. Excuse the difference in pen – my black ink ran out…

Cut your fabric twice the width you’d like your bag to be.

Instead of just sewing across the bottom like you would with a length of trouser leg, sew up the side too in order to make an L-shape.

And that’s all there is to it, really.

Do you have any tips for make super-simple drawstring bags? Or for other ways to carry your groceries home? I would love to hear about 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 Garden

I touched on our plans for the garden a long while back, whilst chatting about my kitchen. Since then, we’ve been busy scheming, and now that the new year is on us, it’s time to get to work.

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Using Allotment Month by Month, by Alan Buckingham as our main source of information, I sat down one night and tried to make a month by month plan of what we could realistically achieve within a year as total novices.

Hardback cover of Allotment Month by Month

Then yesterday, with help from our absolutely amazing neighbours at the farm, work began.

Firstly, the conifer hedge at the back of the property came out. I’m not normally one for removing trees, but I’m going to call this one a win – the maintainence of this border was getting increasingly difficult given the trees’ height, it was interfering with the farm’s electric fencing, and now it’s gone, I can plant a variety of native trees and bushes which will flower and provide food for us and various wildlife.

The plan so far is to purchase a ‘Scottish Mix’ of trees from the Woodland Trust.  This includes a holly, a rowan, a silver birch and a juniper. I had also hopes to plant a yew, however it’s potentially unsafe for grazing animals on account of the apparently toxic alkaloids in the foliage and seed-coats (if anyone knows more about this, I would love to hear from you – I’m just reading things online!) so for now, the yew will have to go on hold.

Without the constant maintainence of the hedge to worry about, we can devote our time outdoors to raised beds, which is precisely what we intend to do. Husband planned and built the containers from a mixture of scrap wood and new, treated timber, and we have – so far – filled them with a mixture of shredded branches and rotted manure from the farm up the track.

The next stage – roll on pay day! – will be buying some (peat free) compost as the top layer and planting all manner of exciting things. Because of the chippings and the manure, I shouldn’t need to bring in an awful lot of compost. Eventually, I hope we’ll be able to keep topping this up with our own from the compost bins we’ve managed to source but for now, I’ll be prioritising large sacks and recyclable plastic.

In addition to the compost bins, I hope to purchase a wormery so that the cooked food waste and dog poop can also be processed here – less to transport off site on bin-day. Obviously, you can’t use the resulting soil on food beds (because dog poop), but I’m sure this new earth would be welcome beneath the little bee-buffet I’m trying to cultivate around our deck.

At some point, we absolutely want to get a greenhouse, but as with so many other things, money is a (huge) factor. I think, to begin with, we’ll see how we go with the raised beds and assess the greenhouse situation after that, but given the climate in the north east of Scotland, in all liklihood, we’ll need glass to grow anything beyond potatoes…

I will keep you updated on our progress over the coming months. I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that what I’m doing here is far from a tutorial – we have absolutely no idea what we are doing! – so please don’t copy me! In fact, feel free to comment with ways we can up our gardening game to avoid complete failure!

As ever, please feel free to get in touch below, or on Twitter, with ANY suggestions!

 

 

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. ❤

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. 🙂

My year in review, and my intentions for the coming year.

2019 was a year of wild ups-and-downs for our family, and I can’t believe it’s already come to an end.

The most positive thing that I’ll be taking away from 2019 – looking through the prism of this blog – is that we’ve managed to continue making small changes to our lifestyle, despite all the other challenges we’ve been faced with this year.

My most popular post of 2019 was the book review of Eco Thrifty Living, by Zoë Morrison, followed by the sumary of What I learned in #NothingNewNovember. I would love to hear which posts you enjoyed most so that I can bring you more of what you like reading in the coming months.

Moving forwards, the area I intend to address first of all is our plastic consumption in the bathroom. I spoke about this at length in an earlier post and we’re coming to a point where I feel I can start to make changes.

I also plan on getting more out of our garden – we want to plant up four raised beds for vegetables in the coming months, prioritising heritage seeds, purchased from a UK supplier. If all goes well, we may invest in a greenhouse, towards the end of 2020.

I intend to address our wardrobes and root out as many synthetic items as I can. This won’t always be possible, but I will try to minimise the harm we cause.

We will try to reduce our energy consumption by downsizing appliances, updating elements of our heating system, and prioritising low-impact hobbies.

I aim to read more about reducing our waste – prioritising Working-Class Environmentalism by Karen Bell. I am hoping that my library will purchase a copy so that others can benefit from it too.

I don’t want to write a traditional ‘New Years Resolution’ – I feel like that sets me up for failure – but I promise I will keep trying to reduce my impact on the world. Do you have any intentions for 2020? I would love to hear about them.