Super affordable, eco-friendly gift ideas

I’m still in the depths of #NothingNewNovember, but that hasn’t slowed the relentless crawl towards Christmas.

This time of year is full of contradictions – it’s a time of enormous waste, but simultaneously one in which families stretch themselves to their financial limit. And often beyond.

So, what can we do to redress this balance?

There are lots of ways in which you can reduce the amount of waste you create this winter.

To help me do so, I’m going to begin by looking at the ‘5 Rs’ of Zero Waste:

So, how do we REFUSE this Christmas?

My large group of university friends and I have agreed not to buy one another gifts this year, and another friend and I have agreed not to buy for one another’s children. None of the people involved need anything new, so an electronic greeting will be more than enough.

And what if – for whatever reason – you can’t come to this sort of agreement with friends and family? REDUCE.

This could be as simple as starting a Secret Santa, rather than buying individual gifts for everyone in your friendship group/office. With children, we’ve had great success with the following formula for Christmas lists –

Something they WANT
Something they NEED
Something to WEAR
& Something to READ

want need wear read printable tags | Cool for Christmas ...

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of buying additional ‘bits’ for stockings, on top of the above however having a specific set of perameters to aim for has helped to focus my mind considerably when shopping for gifts for my children.

Using existing toys in new ways is another way to reduce the amount of things entering the house. If you have siblings with an appropriate age gap, having the eldest gift one of thier outgrown toys to the youngest can be a great way of fostering generosity between family members.

I’ve not tried it myself, but I have heard great things about Whirli – a toy-box subscription. This sharing of resources is a great way to reduce unwanted toys in the house – when something is no longer played with, it can be returned for another child to enjoy. This looks a little costly for us, to be honest, but

And while we’re on the idea of libraries, I really love the idea of letting someone else choose my books for a set amount of time.

For adults, it might also be possible to gift a charity donation, or offer to pay a month’s fee for a subscription service they already use. Even something as simple as offering to do someone’s ironing, or bring their lunch to work for a week at a time of their choice, or gifting someone a home-cooked meal could serve as a Christmas present. Not all gifts need to be physical – our time is valuable too.

Finally, consumables are an excellent idea – especially if you know it’s something the recipient loves. These transient items take up no space in the home long-term and prove useful in day-to-day life.

And if this isn’t an option? REUSE.

Most of the gifts I’ve actually purchased this year are used items and certainly for the rest of this month, I only plan to buy used things.

There are loads of ways to get pre-loved objects – car-boot sales, charity shops and online are tried and tested methods, but organising a swap amongst friends is surprisingly easy. When I hosted a swap of children’s items, we agreed to only bring things we’d be happy to recieve as a gift and that anything left at the end would be donated to a specific place (in our case, the donations were split between the local women’s shelter and the local council’s social work department).

This is all well and good, but where does RECYCLE fit into all of this?

Well, it’s possibly to recycle items already in your house. Over the course of the year, you might have been given things that aren’t to your taste, or made purchases you now regret. These can either be traded – as above – or gifted directly.

You can also ‘recycle’ toys already in use. Lego has a variety of free building instructions on their site which you can print off. Then it’s just a matter of raking through your stash to find the relevant blocks. From the looks of things, this would work better for younger builders, but there’s nothing to stop you from building your own huge fortress, photographing it as you go, and then smashing it to form a DIY kit. As we’re swimming in Lego, inherited from my brother, this is something I plan to do for my youngest, so I’ll update you on my progress there…

Possibly the best point to make regarding recycling is that any gift wraps should be carefully considered.

Yes, most paper is recyclable, but wrapping with metalic patterns and any covered in plastic tape isn’t. Perhaps it’s possible to reuse some gift-bags from previous years, or to use cloth to wrap with – wouldn’t a lovely bar of homemade soap, wrapped in a face cloth be a great gift? Or using second-hand silk scarves instead of paper? There are loads of great tutorials online for how to do this – just search ‘Furoshiki’.

Alternatively, reusing old maps, old calendars (pictured below), old books, old magazines and newspaper, with plastic-free tape or plain string can look fantastic. Failing that, buying a new roll of brown packing paper is probably the most eco-friendly gift wrap you can get. All of these can be dressed with ribbon, drawings or evergreen trimmings.

Hopefully, you’ll have no need to ROT anything over this festive season, so instead, if you’re still considering new gifts, try to make things yourself from salvaged materials, or buy ethically and intentionally. Avoiding palm oil, choosing FSC wood products and simply not purchasing more than you need to, all make a positive impact at this time of year. This is also a great opportunity to gift items like tote bags and reusable water bottles as the recipient of these gifts might begin to make small changes in their own life.

I would love to hear your top low-waste, low-cost gifts. Why not come and share them on Twitter?

Reducing waste with very young children…

This post has the very real potential to be huge, so let me just cover the basics today and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to let me know here, or on Twitter.

Anyway.

Happily, my children are past the baby stage.

I found those very early days so difficult – especially with my first. Trying to do anything through the haze of sleep-deprevation was an uphill struggle – even something as basic as feeding myself. Whilst I did use cloth nappies and breastfeed both children, my experience of being too tired to cook and relying solely on ready-meals made me determined to reduce the waste I produced for my second child.

Before I offer up the list of things I learned, I want to add, above all else, how important it is to be kind to yourself in those early days. The information below is based on my own experience – if you don’t feel up to doing any of these things then that’s OK. Your mental health after welcoming a child into your family – via adoption as well as birth – can be stretched to its very limits so I will say it again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.

That said…

There are numerous ways to reduce waste with very young children.

Reusable nappies
Let’s start with the obvious. Reusable nappies are probably the first thing which spring to mind when you begin to consider reducing child-related rubbish. Full-time cloth can seem daunting, but swapping just one disposable nappy a day for cloth can save 365 nappies a year from landfill – and with a pack of 35 Pampers costing around £8.50 from Tesco, it’d also save you approximately £85.

Whether you opt for terry squares, or a modern all-in-one cloth nappy, there are all sorts of solutions out there. There are cloth nappy libraries all over the UK and most can be found via facebook so you don’t need to heavily invest in one style straight away. Even if you’re not up for cloth nappies, using cloth wipes, old flannels or cut up towels can help cut waste.

Breastfeeding
I’m not here to discuss bottle vs. breastfeeding. There is absolutely a place for both – either in isolation or in combination. For a whole host of reasons, however, breastfeeding is considerably kinder on the environment. That said, it can be tricky to establish a good breastfeeding relationship – both mum and baby are learning to respond to one anothers’ cues and this takes time. It can help to find a breastfeeding group prior to giving birth so that you already have a support network to help when the time comes. Libraries should have copies of the book ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding‘ by La Leche Leauge, whilst websites such as Kellymom and ABM are a wealth of information. Failing that, there is always another breastfeeding mother on facebook, and plenty of groups dedicated to the art so support is available day and night.

If you do choose to go down the route of bottles – for formula or expressed milk – borrowing a selection from friends can be a good way to figure out which your baby prefers, before investing in a certain set. The same goes for formula, if you want to use this – buying a selection of ready-mixed cartons before settling on a huge tub of powder will help to reduce waste if your baby won’t take to a specific brand.

Utilising existing kitchen equiptment to sterilise is another good way to reduce waste – for example, a microwave steriliser.

Baby food & Eating in the early days
It’s really easy – as I said above – to forget yourself in those early, sleep-deprived days. I relied heavily on ready meals with my first and still feel guilty about it. With my second child, I made sure to batch cook and fill my freezer with homemade meals, but not everyone has that option.  If you feel able, it might be worth asking friends and family to gift you some proper food, rather than baby items you might not need. Jars of dried fruit, foil wrapped chocolates and other easy-to-grab snacks can help stave off the ravenous hunger that comes with breastfeeding – the same ravenous hunger that is rarely assuaged because to do so would involve moving a tiny, sleeping human. Leaving snacks around the house is one way to help meet your/your partner’s own needs during this time.

When baby is ready for solids, jars, pouches and mini snack-packs of baby food usually account for a large proportion of child-based waste. Something as simple as packing a (reusable) bottle of water and a banana or some carrot sticks when you go out can help stave off meltdowns caused by hunger, and prevent you from needing to buy anything that’s individually packaged while you’re out. Feeding Baby the foods you eat is the easiest way to avoid waste at mealtimes, but if you’re really not the most confident cook, then there are loads of crafts on Pinterest which utilise baby food jars. It’s also good to remember that of the pre-packaged foods available, jars are probably the least wasteful – glass can be recycled an infinite number of times, but plastic has only a few cycles before it’s destined for landfill.

Clothes
Second hand is definitely the way to go here – babies seldom wear clothes out before they’re outgrown so there’s a good chance you can pick up some high quality items. You can even extend the life of poppered tops in one of two ways – either by snipping the crotch off and hemming the bottom to make a t-shirt (or not, if it’s a jersey fabric), or by purchasing vest extenders. Available online, these essentially lengthen the crotch section by adding another slip of fabric. You can also snip feet out of sleepsuits to extend their life by a few months, and skirts can be made to last longer with a little lace sewn around the bottom hem.

The easiest thing you can do though, is to remember that children need fewer clothes than you think. Conventional wisdom says that you need a lot in case of accidents – and in the early days, this is very true – however it’s easy to carry this forward as our babies become toddlers, pre-schoolers and ‘proper’ children. In reality, you only need around four or five tops, three or four sweaters and five or six pairs of trousers, shorts or skirts.

Toys and books
Again, second hand is a wonderful way to buy toys. Aside from the fact that you might be able to pick up some vintage gems from your own childhood – My Little Pony and Optimus Prime, anyone? – it’s easy to find good quality toys, either online or at car-boot sales. Again, conventional wisdom would have you avoid plastic, given that it’s non-biodegradable, but used, good quality plastic playthings are ideal if you plan to have further children or if the toys themselves will span a large age range. Lego is the perfect example of this. Daughter is the third generation to enjoy our enormous box of Danish blocks and I remember playing with the same bricks from the age of four until I was well into my teens.

If you have the budget available, a toy subscription such as Whirli is a great option as this means you don’t have to store any toys which aren’t getting played with. Like a book library, this is a wonderful way to share resources.

As with clothes, it’s easy to think that we need more toys than we do, but creative toys can fill almost any hole. Again, Lego is a perfect example – it can be a castle, a dolls house, a race car… the options are literally limitless. Toy kitchens can be made outdoors from scrap timber and used as mud-laboratories, the birthplace of culinary masterpieces and as a paint palette. Dressing up clothes can be found in charity shops, or from parents’ wardrobes. Craft supplies can be as simple as some beads cut from old costume jewellery or the contents of the recycling box.

Loose parts play is a fantastic and affordable way to fire the imagination. Keeping a collection of things like corks, pine-cones, shells, twigs and feathers is a great start. My absolute favourite things in our loose parts collection are a set of wooden Ikea bowls that I found in a charity shop, some absolutely beautiful chopsticks (similarly sourced) which feature carved animals, and some sea glass that we found on our camping trip to Oban. The children absolutely adore the dried marrowfat peas and dried butter beans we’ve got out at the moment, but the biggest hit in terms of ‘grains’ has been the coffee beans my husband bought and didn’t enjoy – they were played with for months and served as pepples in a dinosaur diorama, food on our toy farm, filling for tin-can instruments, and just about everything else in between. Loose parts make up the bulk of our toys and I doubt I’ve spent more than £40 on all of them over the decade I’ve been a parent.

Our favourite ‘toy’ at the moment is our ‘Story Stones’ – we painted characters, settings and props on some rocks we found in the garden and spend hours making up stories about the combination we pull at random from the bag.

And speaking of stories, books can be found second hand, or at your local library. Doing this can make a huge difference in terms of waste as books cannot be recycled with regular paper due to the glue which binds them.

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Like I said at the start, these tips are generally for very young children, though there are a handful which transfer to school-age.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’d be really keen to hear what your suggestions are – for all stages of childhood.

But, once again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Above all else, remember that those travelling with children need to attend to their own oxygen masks first – we can only do our best.

Back to the beginning…

So far, I’ve been covering where we are, in terms of reducing waste.

Which is fine – I can only really write about what I know, afterall. However, everyone has to start somewhere so I thought I would share some of the first actions I took towards reducing our household waste.

The following is largely taken from a pair of articles I wrote for our local magazine – AB54.

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Easy first steps towards Zero Waste are all over the internet, but here’s where we began…

Bottled Water is a major contributor to waste problems worldwide and is possibly one of the easiest issues to address. If you’re at a restaurant, specifically ask for tap water when you’re ordering. When you’re out-and-about, carry a refillable bottle. Even if you only buy water once a week on average, that’s 52 bottles a year you’re saving from landfill or recycling.

Packaged Food is another quick fix – when shopping for vegetables, choose loose ones and lay them directly in your trolley. They’ll be weighed at the counter exactly as they would have been in the little plastic bags and you can pack them in your choice of containers for the ride home. Now that free carrier bags from the supermarket are a thing of the past, it’s only a very small stretch to toss a Tupperware container in with your shopping bags to transport any fragile vegetables (like tomatoes, for example).

Another great way of doing away with food packaging is to take an old-fashioned packed lunch. Plastic Sandwich Cases or Tubs from Pasta Salads soon mount up. On average, a full time employee spends 232 days a year at work – accounting for holidays and weekends – so, imagine just how much rubbish you’d create if you bought a supermarket lunch every day. 232 plastic containers… most of which never see recycling bins as they’re eaten on the go and are tossed into street-corner, unsorted, trash cans. Even if the thought of getting up early to make packed lunch doesn’t appeal, even something as simple as carrying a cutlery set can help to cut down waste – no more plastic stirrers for tea or coffee, no more plastic spoons or forks for the tubs of pasta salad.

The suggestions above are easy and workable into every-day life without much of a sacrifice. If you’re already employing some of these suggestions, why not consider swapping out some of your disposable household products for reusable ones? Kitchen-roll can be replaced with muslin cloths (something many of us have left-over from when our children were babies), tissues can be replaced with handkerchiefs (and these have the added bonus of being much softer on the nose during hayfever season!), whilst swapping just one disposable nappy a day for cloth can save 365 nappies a year from landfill – and with a pack of 35 Pampers costing around £8.50, it’d also save you approximately £85 a year.

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After we’d got to grips with the above, we moved onto the following…

One of the easiest ways to cut down on waste is to opt out of unsolicited mail. All you need to do is visit the Mail Preference Service (MPS) website and follow the steps there. Whilst the process of opting out is quick and easy, it can take between 2-4 months for this to take full effect, so keep that in mind if you continue to receive unexpected advertisements after you’ve signed up with MPS.

A huge source of household waste is food packaging, but this too can be reduced – even if you only have access to mainstream supermarkets. Choosing loose fruit and vegetables is an obvious way of doing this, but considering your options in other areas of the store can also lead to reduced waste. For example, if you’re presented with two brands of muesli – one in a cardboard box and one in a plastic bag – your instinct might be to choose the cardboard box, however as the box will inevitably contain a plastic bag of muesli anyway, you’re better in this instance to choose the breakfast without the cardboard. Even though the box is recyclable/compostable, it’s better that it’s not there to begin with. The bag alone is adequate packaging.

It’s also worth trying to embrace the bakery section of the supermarket.  By taking your own cloth bags with you, you can eliminate plastic packaging from baked goods. The bakery is an especially good place to bring your own containers as bread isn’t costed according to weight – you pay per item – so your bag isn’t going to add anything to the price of your shop by being heavier than its plastic counterpart.

It might also be worth looking for plastic free packaging in the freezer section. This takes trial and error, of course, but things like frozen breaded fish are often available in cardboard boxes, whilst in the fridge they might be presented in a plastic tray that’s covered in cling film and a cardboard sleeve.

It’s also worth having a look for aqua-faba recipes online. Aqua-faba is the water that canned legumes come in and it’s an amazing substitute for egg whites. I was sceptical when I first read about it but if you drain a can of chick-peas or kidney beans and whisk the fluid, it peaks like egg whites. You can use this to create sweet, nutty meringues or deeply flavoursome chocolate mousses – all from something you’d normally throw away! And if you’re using up a waste product instead of eggs, you’re cutting down on food consumption.

Finally, don’t overlook the borrowing of things you might only use once – for example, books, films and video games. Books and films can be rented from the library service (the later for a small fee) and video games can be rented via a postal subscription. Not only does this mean that more people can use the same resource making it a greener option, but you also stand to save some money too. If getting to the library or a post box is an issue, then using websites like Abandonware or Project Gutenburg might be a better option. The former offers video games on which the copyright has expired, whilst the latter is a library of free eBooks, all available within the public domain.

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So, what are your top tips for someone just beginning to reduce thier waste?

Crafting Gifts in #NothingNewNovember – The map!

I had been planning to buy my dad some woollen socks for his Christmas gift, or to knit a pair. This being #NothingNewNovember, though, I’m unable to just buy the socks, or even the yarn to make them with. Whilst my stash holds plenty of scraps for a few child-sized pairs, there aren’t any leftovers big enough for adult feet and he’s really not an odd-sock sort of human.

So, back to the drawing board.

One of his great passions in life is ‘maps’. He collects a certain vintage Ordnance Survey collection, and I did consider keeping an eye out for some of those missing from his collection – they’re not new, after all! The issue with this is that I don’t know which he has and which he doesn’t. That being the case, I consulted the all-knowing entity that is Pinterest.

And found some absolutely amazing map embroidery – the crafter had consulted (I presume) the satellite photos available online, and from them,  stitched a beautiful, textured landscape.

I’m not an embroiderer, but as I’d inherited a huge stash of sewing silks I decided to give this a try. It’s also going to help towards my Do Nation ‘All Made Up’ pledge…

First, I turned my laptop brightness up to its highest setting and traced the features of the landscape round my parents’ house onto some paper.

I then took this sheet over to my kids’ light box and used it to trace the image onto a scrap of tablecloth (the rest of which I’d used as quilt backing, last year).

I then slipped the cloth into an ambroidery hoop, inherited from my mother-in-law and proceeded to sew!

I haven’t really done any embroidery since I stitched the trails of the planets on a solar-system sampler in my school years (during which, Pluto was still very much a proud planet!), but I remembered chain stitch so started there…

Finally, I started adding in some colour – French knots for the trees and satin stitch for some of the fields…

Then I stopped.

Don’t get me wront – I’m delighted with how it’s looking so far, but I have some travelling to do next week. And frustratingly, I’m going to have to fly.

Aside from the obvious ‘air travel produces SO much waste’ thing, I’m frustrated by my mode of transport for two reasons:
1. I don’t trust that I’ll be able to take my knitting with me, given that my needles are metallic and very pointy.
2. I am terrified of flying.

So, I’m going to take my embroidery along instead, hoping it will have some sort of magical hypnotic power to take my mind of the impending doom that I fear will befall me whilst locked in a metal box, miles above the earth…

Ahem. I digress.

You’ll have to wait until I get home to see the finished article – I’m really excited to see how it turns out and I hope that it’s given you some ideas for tricky gift recipients. ❤

Are you making any of your gifts this year?

In the kitchen – another text-heavy post

Recently, I covered changes I have made and plan to make in my bathroom.

Today, it’s the kitchen’s turn. I’m not going to cover grocery purchases (having touched upon that here) but I will make mentionof foraging and home-grown produce.

So far, here are the changes I’ve managed to make:
– We’ve reduced the amount of washing-up liquid we use by putting it in a handpump by the sink, instead of leaving it in its bottle.
– I’ve knitted cotton dish-cloths to avoid disposable ones. These can be bleached and washed at 90C should I feel that the regular wash isn’t getting them clean enough.
– We use a recycled dish-brush with exchangable heads (not perfect, but more on that later).
– I’ve replaced kitchen roll/paper napkins with washable ones. These are made from old tea-towels.
– I clean with citrus vinegar and knitted cloths.
– Rather than buy specific storage tubs, I’ve been reusing jars and plastic tubs from the food we’ve been unable to buy package free.
– We dry many of our own herbs/teas.
– We forage as many mushrooms as we can get our mits on!
– We use dishwasher powder instead of tablets – this is available package-free from the local refillery and as we’re in a soft-water area, we can get away with using far less than the recommended amount.
– We use washing powder from a cardboard box (at the moment it’s ASDA’s own brand non-bio) but in future I’ll be trying this from the local refillery.
– We use loose-leaf tea and coffee-beans, rather than bags and pods.
– We have a small one-litre kettle so that we seldom boil too much water.

Once again, pretty good so far. But where could we improve?

To begin with, there’s the scrubbing brush – still plastic, though recycled plastic, and with heads that switch out.

We had tried the lovely wooden brushes which everyone on Pinterest seems to have, but just couldn’t get on with them. Both Husband and I felt like we were bending the neck every time we applied any pressure, but for those of you who are slightly less heavy-handed, they make a really lovely plastic-free alternative.

With both brushes, we tried to extend the lives of the heads by putting them through the dishwasher on the top shelf – a successful endeavour in both cases, though we did get better results with the plastic brush.

So what else still happens in our kitchen which shouldn’t?

We do still boil too much water, despite the mini kettle. I went through a phase of keeping a large Thermos on the side to put surplus boiled water in, but I forgot to use it afterwards. Also, during the winter months, we use a log-burner to heat the living-room and if I actually pulled myself together and bought a hob-top kettle, I could very easily just plop the kettle on the stove and make a cuppa without using electricity at all.

I still use baking paper – especially when making bread in the slow cooker. I’ve tried all sorts of other things to stop the dough from sticking but nothing else has worked. That said, I do reuse the sheets until they grow brittle so it’s still not a single-use item for me. I’d like to invest in some proper reusable ones, but at the moment, it’s not a top priority.

I’ll talk about the raised vegetable beds which husband has made in another post, but for now, let me simply say that they need filling with earth. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to find a container to put compostable matter in. I do already use a compost bin (when I remember) but to be honest, most of our food-waste goes in the kitchen-caddy to be removed by the local council. Which is fine – don’t get me wrong – but it seems ludicrous sending things away to rot when I need rotted matter here… And again, I know I can’t fill all four beds with kitchen waste (though I reckon I could fill one with spent tea-leafs alone…) but coupled with some manure from the farm at the top of the hill and the bits of tree we need to take down, I imagine we can vastly reduce the amount of soil we need to bring in.

This brings me neatly on to what I feel is the biggest point of waste in my kitchen – the spent tea and coffee. Husband grinds his own coffee beans and uses a filter, which is great, and I’ve been a leaf-tea person since I started drinking tea so at least there’s no plastic there, but there are a lot of leavings. I think I’ve figured out a way to turn some of the coffee grounds into soap as a sort of exfoliator, but the tea has me stumped. I know it will all rot down, but I’m very keen to explore any alternatives – I seem to get through so much daily.

I’ve mentioned my ‘Adventure Kit’ in other posts but I feel it’s worth popping in here too, as reusable cutlery and enamel plates are so incredibly useful. The plates in particular are the stars of my kitchen – they can go straight from freezer to oven (and frequently do when I freeze a crumble), they’re dishwasher safe and are perfect for camping, eating picnics and basically everything.

Is there anything I’ve failed to mention here? Is there something I’ve missed? I’d love to hear other ways I can make a difference in my kitchen.

 

 

 

The first gifts…

In the spirit of #NothingNewNovember, I thought I’d share some of the second hand gifts I’m planning to give in December as these are the only things I plan to buy throughout this month.

To start with, I’ve bought some second hand earrings.

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I bought these five pairs for £5.50 from my local charity shop. Here they are, drying after a bath in cold-water sterilising fluid. I chose to clean them in the cold-water solution because I didn’t know whether the beads were glass or not, and if they were, whether they would be able to tolerate boiling water without cracking.

My plan is to pierce holes in some pretty card to display these on, and then package them in some origami envelopes made from pretty, festice paper.

Peppy envelope | origami book | Pinterest | Origami ...

My eldest child actually taught me how to make the envelopes, but the image above is a really clear tutorial that came up in a quick search.

Last year, I spent around £40 on new earrings for family members, so at a quarter of the price I’m delighted with them, even without the eco-friendly aspect.

This is one of the many occassions that sustainability and affordability go hand-in-hand. What are your favourite money-saving, earth-friendly gift ideas – I’d love to hear about them! 

#NothingNewNovember

In a recent exploration of Twitter, I stumbled upon the hashtag #NothingNewNovember. And yes, it’s an old one, but one I’m going to attempt it this year regardless.

The reason this appeals so much to me is the timing – it comes at a point in the year when I would normally be getting ready for Christmas. And yes, I already buy a large number of my gifts used – particularly for my own children – but this is a great way to focus my mind in the run up to what is arguably the most wasteful time of year.

I’ll be doing another Do Nation pledge to help me along with this too – All Made Up, in which those participating promise to make a certain number of gifts themselves. As a crafter – I knit well, crochet adequately, and mash things through a sewing machine – I’ve got loads of resources with which to create amazing gifts so I probably need to purchase very little to make this Christmas happen (though many people will be getting knitted socks…).

In addition to only buying used items to gift, or making gifts myself, I intend to buy nothing at all for  my household during this time – beyond the obvious consumables (i.e. food, soaps, petrol etc.)

This will be especially difficult given the fact that I’m going to visit friends midway through the month.

What are your top tips for reducing the amount you buy over the holiday season? Come and let me know!

Low impact hobbies

Trying to reduce our impact on the planet doesn’t begin and end with what we buy and how we travel – the things we do in our free time have an impact too.

There are so many ‘green’ ways we can spend our time – some obvious and others less so. Here are a few of my favourite hobbies, both eco-friendly and those which are less so, but I’ve included both in the interests of full disclosure and because there are ways to make a few of the ‘less good’ hobbies significantly greener.

Walking

This is a no-brainer in ‘green’ terms. What’s better than getting out into the world and enjoying the world around us, after all? We’re out every day with the dog, but more so in the late summer and autumn as this is the main foraging season – both for fruit and mushrooms. And who doesn’t love free food?!

If you need a little help to get over the ‘doorstep mile’, then taking a camera and indulging in a little photography can help. The cameras in most modern phones are great these days, so you don’t necessarily need special equiptment. I still have an old DSLR from my pre-children, pre-self-employment days and really enjoy just parking myself somewhere in the summer months to wait…

Eventually dog or child will oblige and I can snap a magical memory. Taking a picnic and a kite on a walk can turn it from a morning out into a whole day. We keep an ‘adventure kit’ in the back of the car – it contains the makings of tea and coffee, cous cous, cutlery, enamel plates, a change of clothes for everyone, some towels and our Ghillie Kettle – my 30th birthday gift from my dad and the best one ever!

Reading

Reading is possibly my favourite thing in the world to do. It can be 100% free, used for learning or just entertainment. In the day time, you don’t even need to switch on a light to do it so it’s really low-impact. And at night, all it really takes is that lamp – though a cup of tea makes it even better 😉

Signing up to the local library totally transformed how I read – it was like being given permission to order every book I’ve ever wanted and it costs nothing (unless I bring the books back late…) It’s a fantastic way of sharing resources and finding out about local events. Through our library – just one room, open three days a week for two hours a time – I’ve learned CPR, taken my kids to craft sessions, nursery-rhyme sessions and Lego clubs. I’ve checked out knitting books, sewing books, How-To books, cook books for the apocalypse and too many stories to count – all for free.

I realise that not everywhere is equipped with a library full of passionate staff, and if that’s the case, there are other ways to read for free/very cheap.

I was lucky enough to score one of the older models of Kindle on Freecycle, many years ago and use it now for things I find via BookBub. Basically, you sign up and once daily you’ll be sent a round-up of cheap/free e-books from the genres you expressed an interest in. Particularly of note was the time I got Naomi Klein’s ‘This Change’s Everything’ for all of £1.99. It was turbo amazing.

Another way of reading for free without a library is to check out Project Gutenburg. This is a collection of literature on which copyright has expired, so before you shell out on the classics, it’s totally worth looking here first.

Obviously, there’s the usual second-hand market – online and charity shops – but there is still some cost there, even if it is just a small one.

Gaming

I don’t just mean video-games either – I play anything. I especially love a board game.

Board games are fairly kind to the environment – most are made from cardboard/paper pieces with only a handful of plastic bits (if there are any), and few require batteries.  Charity shops and online are a great place to buy second hand games and there are some real bargains to be had out there. They’re brilliant for children – they teach turn taking, dealing with disappointment, cooperation, as well as maths and language skills.

Ocean Bingo Illustrated - Holly Exley Illustration

They can be absolutely beautiful, deeply educational and a lot of fun. We took a huge pile to our after-school club and it was so sad to see how many children were put off at first – thinking they were ‘boring’. A couple of rounds of Hape’s ‘Ghostly Hours’ soon fixed that though! Who doesn’t want to catapult small creatures at one another – right?

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With kids, board games can get stale quite quickly, so churning through charity shop finds and returning them is one way to keep things fresh. Or you could make your own – either with pens and paper, or with Lego. Your only limits are your imagination.

In terms of electronic games, the waters muddy slightly…

Increasingly, friends of mine have been doing away with physical media, choosing to download their purchases instead. Which is great, because there’s not an actual item to dispose of when it’s outlived its usefulness and there’s no transport costs – financial or environmental. This is a really expensive way to play games, though.

Second hand games are a totally viable option, but even used, a popular PS4 title can set you back a fair bit. PC games tend to be cheaper but so often, it costs less to buy a used console than it does to buy an expensive gaming PC. A console makes a great media centre too – streamer, DVD player etc. – so you can get away with fewer lumps of tech attached to your TV.

As I said above, I will play absolutely anything so I spend a lot of time with the games you get as part of PSN Plus. Which is great, if you’ve got a Playstation… less so if you don’t, or if you’re interested in a specific title. This is where services like Boomerang Rentals comes in. Cheaper than second hand, this is a great way to share resources. I was skeptical about the packaging until I tried it out, but it’s reused on the return journey so the only waste at your end is a slim strip of plastic.

Of course, if you have a PC, you do have other options – my favourite being Abandonware – basically the Project Gutenberg of the video-game world, this site collects old games and makes them available for download.

If you’re not sure where to start, my nostalgic self absolutely recommends Utopia: The Creation of a Nation.

It goes without saying that playing video games uses electricity, but turning off the TV and any other paraphanalia you might have attached (amp, console etc.) when you’re not playing can go a long way to helping reduce the power consumption.

Crafting

My crafting skills have saved me so much money over the years and have kept so many of my textiles in circulation when they would otherwise have been binned.

I knit well, can crochet a little, and can mash stuff through a sewing machine if I need to. These can be really expensive hobbies, if you buy everything new, but as above, second-hand is a great way to keep things sustainable and affordable.

That said, with yarn, I’m a real pushover. I reason with myself that with yarn, you should divide the cost by three because you’re getting:

  1. The yarn – a beautiful item in its own right (the stuff in this picture came from GamerCrafting).
  2. The joy of working it – literal hours of entertainment.
  3. The finished item – a unique piece of art.

I do buy a lot of my yarn at the charity shop, but when I do want to splash out on something special, I tend to go for independant weavers/dyers, or an ethical store like Yarn Yarn (the banana yarn is especially scrumptious).

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Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive – I included foraging in with walking when it really deserves its own post, for example. But I wanted to highlight that there are loads of low-cost, low-impact hobbies out there, as well as ways to make things you might already be doing a little more earth-friendly.

How do you pass the time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not even start on my contact lenses…

Anyway. Going forward. What can I change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what haven’t I covered yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Correct at time of publication.

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

 

Microwave drying

I’ve spoken briefly before about drying herbs in the microwave, in order to make stock/boullion. Now, as the weather starts to turn, I’m drying what’s left of my annual herbs, and the perenials which die back over winter.

Lovage is amongst the first to yellow, but with its big, fleshy leaves and a celery-like, peppery taste, this forms the basis of most of our winter stews. In order to keep us in lovage over winter, the kids and I gathered as many good leafs as we could and took them inside.

Once washed and dried, we spread them on a microwavable plate and cooked on high for two minutes, stopping half-way through to let the steam out of the microwave in order to speed up the process.

After the two minutes of cooking time, the leafs had retainned their vibrant green colour and wonderful smell, but could be easily crumbled and compacted into a jar.

(The jar in the picture above is actually the mint we dried… I had a brain fart and photographed the wrong container, and it’s too dark to redo it now).

There are many wonderful things about drying herbs this way.

  • You can enjoy herbs which aren’t readily available at the supermarket, all year round.
  • There is no packaging to dispose of – plastic or otherwise!
  • The process is quick and relatively energy efficient – definitely faster than drying in an oven!
  • It’s free, aside from the power usage.
  • It’s a great way to use up any excess fresh herbs you buy, rather than letting them turn to slime in the fridge.
  • Most leafs can be dried in this way. In addition to mint, I’ve also tried camomile greens, nettles and borage. I’m going to try raspberry leaf next summer, too.
  • This is a great activity for even very young children to help with – there’s no cutting involved, no hot pans and it’s easy to see results in minutes.

Do you dry your own herbs and teas? I’d love to hear your experiences – why not join me on Twitter?