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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not even start on my contact lenses…

Anyway. Going forward. What can I change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what haven’t I covered yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Correct at time of publication.

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

 

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?

Sensory issues and the environment

This is something of a sensitive topic, and isn’t one I had expected to cover so soon. But with a post about oral hygeine coming up, I wanted to talk about something seldom discussed in regards to budget or environmentalism – sensory issues.

In the case of our family, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a result of an autistic spectrum condition, but many people struggle with certain textures and sounds – even amongst the neurotypical population (nails down a blackboard, anyone? Open-mouthed chewing?). In some cases, a person’s senses can be so hurt by a certain taste, or sound, or feel that all but a handful of foods are considered ‘safe’. I don’t have science at hand to support me on this one, but often, these safe foods are provided via the constant, unchanging recipes of ready-meals and convenience foods.

These tend to be the sorts of food which are heavily packaged in plastic, but if your child/ren or other family members won’t eat anything else, what options do you have?

Honestly – not a lot. In our case, toothpaste and brushing is the issue and we’re not going to get plastic-free in this area without endangering a child’s dental health, so it’s just not happening. What I’m trying to do instead is change my own actions first and explain them, in the hopes that modelling my beliefs and having an open dialogue will help. I’m also going to make alernatives available in case – as it occassionally does – the urge to try something new does occur and my child chooses to attempt the toothpowder/whatever I eventually decide on.

Perhaps it won’t though. And that’s OK too. I keep telling my children that we can only control our own actions – not those of others, and I think it’s important that I adhere to that myself.

But none of this is addressing the issue of food packaging.

Is there anything that can be done about having to buy food that’s heavily wrapped in plastic?

That really depends on where you’re buying your food and just how restrictive a diet the person with sensitivities has. According to Greenpeace, Iceland has the best policy for reducing single use and non-recyclable plastics, with Morrisons coming a close second. If you could swap – for example – brand name fish-fingers for own-brand ones in either of these places, that’s a good start. Though as I say, that does rely on there being a certain degree of culinary flexibility.

And if you can’t make the change? That’s probably ok. Do the best you can with what you’ve got.

I worry that there is a huge degree of ableism inherent in the ideal of a low-plastic lifestyle. I haven’t even begun to touch upon the pre-chopped vegetables that are housed in plastic and the positive impact these products can have on the lives of those who need them. I’m always reminded of the deep joy experienced by a friend with macular degeneracy – who died at 92 – when he discovered packets of prepared veg. Buying diced beef and ready-cut carrots, potatoes and onions meant that he could dump the lot in a slow cooker with a can of beer and feed himself a tasty, hot meal every night. It allowed him to remain in his own home until his eventual death without relying on me or his neighbours to make his food for him. He was a proud man who deeply valued his independence, something that the much maligned packaged vegetables granted him.

It was, literally, life-changing to have the option of these products, just as I’m sure it’s life-changing when one stumbles upon a safe food for a relative with extreme sensory issues.

I genuinely am doing my best to reduce our waste but there are a number of sensory constraints in our household. It makes this all very challenging and ultimately, we are all human and are all learning. I ask that you’re gentle with me when I post things which are less than ideal becuase I promise – I have looked for alternatives and I will continue looking.

Making Yogurt

On Thursday,  I mentioned that I’d managed to get my hands on some glass-bottle milk.

At £1.20 per litre, this rivals the speciality jersey milk that you get in the supermarkets on price, though on taste, it’s FAR better.

That said, it’s not something I indulge in often. Not because I don’t think it’s worth the money – it absolutely is. The cows are happy, the milking process is literally transparent (with a giant window where customers can watch), and the money goes directly to the farmer rather than a huge corporation. That the bottles are refillable from a vending machine on site and that I can also purchase ice-cream there are the icing on the proverbial cake.

I don’t buy it often because I’m not often passing so close to Aberdeen, and because I’m really mean with my petrol. A round-trip to the dairy takes around an hour and when I’m already spending more on taking the kids to school/nursery than I am on feeding us every month, this is a fuel expense I really can’t justify.

So when I do get it, it’s exactly as precious as all milk should be.

Which is why my heart was honestly in my mouth the whole time I went about making yogurt the other day. I figured, if I could use the refillable milk to make natural yogurt from, then I could do away with another single-use plastic from our lives (and potentially have an excuse to go to the dairy more often…)

The thrift shop my mum volunteers at was selling an old-style Easiyo set, which I bought for £3. Normally, you use sachets of powder with this (which I guess is still a reduction in single-use plastic too as the sachets will be smaller than a yogurt pot and less bulky to transport), but I didn’t want to add another grocery to my shopping list.

I’d read yogurt making tutorials online before which basically involve tossing a couple of tablespoons of natural yogurt into 500mls or so of milk, heating to body temperature and then leaving overnight so I thought I would combine the two methods – I added some yogurt and milk to the Easiyo pot, then followed the instructions on the website

Except I did it wrong. I misunderstood where I was supposed to put the pot and for the first 30 seconds it ended up submerged in boiling water.

It worked, regardless, though the end result is rather thin. I did take a video of it slopping off the spoon, but unfortunately, I can’t get it to load so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The taste is right, the texture – all wrong.

After some internetting, I discovered that keeping the yogurt at a steady temperature for longer is one way to go, so I might try that in future – using my trusty Thermos flasks instead of the Easiyo. This time though, I tried straining it through a coffee filter….

Which is fine, but it does create the waste product ‘whey’.  On this occassion, I’ve used half of the whey as a water substitute in these super cheap tomato scones but this isn’t a sustainable process financially, given that realistically speaking, I’d be throwing this whey out if I were to regularly strain yogurt.

Each 1l bottle of milk costs £1.20 (not counting the fuel to get to the dairy), which means that 100mls costs 12p. I made 600mls of yogurt, so 6×12=72p. But then I strained the yogurt, which meant that I actually got 300mls of yogurt for 72p, and when you can buy natural yogurt at 45p per 500ml*, the whole endeavour becomes something of a moot point.

I checked how much it would be to buy the Easiyo sachets online. A sachet, after all, is less packaging than a bucket-like tub so if I could make yogurt in this way, it would still be a plastic saving. Unfortunately, the sachets cost between £2.50 – £3 and make 1kg of yogurt, which is significantly more expensive than the massive Lidl bucket containing the same amount.

So… what’s the bottom line with yogurt? In short, it’s got to be a rare treat, rather than a staple. Whether I make it myself or buy it in plastic, it needs to be a very rare thing indeed.

Sad times. 😦

If you still eat meat and dairy, do you still consume yogurt? If so, how do you do so sustainably? ❤

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*Prices via MySupermarket – correct at time of publishing.

Reduced-plastic grocery shop – Morrisons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PLASTIC I BROUGHT HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next steps towards less waste…

So last time I posted, I touched on a few of the things that I’ve already been trying to do at home, in order to produce less waste.

This time, I thought I would briefly write about the next few steps I’m planning to take.

DSC_0669
The pretty pea plant which grew over the summer. Hopefully there will be more next year.
  • Further reduce the plastic in my bathroom – I already use bars of soap and shampoo, as well as a mooncup, but we also have an electric toothbrush, dental floss and plastic toothpaste tubes so there’s work  to do there. Let’s not even start on my contact lenses…
  • Reduce the money we spend on heating – We have an oil-fired boiler so there’s lots of scope for improvement there, though none within our budget at the moment. I can, however, mend the dodgy radiator knob in one of the bedrooms so that it’s not scaldingly hot on its minimum setting, and I can put extra foil insulation down the back of our heaters. I can also ensure the boiler is regularly serviced to make sure it runs efficiently.
  • Try to cut down my fuel consumption in the car – With both children going to school/nursery outside of our catchment zone, and with everything being literally miles awaythis is going to be the hardest area in which to make changes. We do have a relatively small, relatively new, fuel-efficient petrol vehicle though, and do just have the one, so I suppose that’s a start.
    – Distance to the nearest settlement = 3.5 miles.
    – Journey time on foot = 1 hr 15 minutes (it’s all up hill and the river means I can’t walk in a straight line).
  • Try to cut down on our water consumption – as I stated previously, I already have a bottle of water in the toilet cistern to reduce the quantity of water used in each flush. But I still love a long shower, and I still sometimes run the tap while I’m washing dises…
  • Grow more of our own food – we only really grow fruit and herbs in the garden just now, which is an absolute waste of land when you take into account that the rest is poorly maintained grass…
  • Reduce the number of synthetic clothes we wear – which would be a lot easier if school uniforms were made from sustainable fibres…
  • Address the plastic in our cleaning products  – This one should be relatively easy as I only tend to use bleach, washing up liquid, vinegar and the various powders for dishwasher/washing machine.
  • Reduce our meat consumption – though the meat we do get comes from the farm at the end of our track, is grass fed and comes with fewer than 30 food miles.
  • Eliminate palm oil – I’m so close now… honestly, I am. This requires a post all of its own though…

What sort of things are you doing that go above and beyond the reusable water bottle and cloth bags?

 

The first steps towards reducing household waste.

I’m not starting from scratch – just so you know.

Through a combination of various factors (primarily financial) these are the environmentally friendly things we’re already doing/using or are trying to do/use:

    • Meal planning – nearly no food waste here! I even endeavour to save things like melon seeds and chick-pea water to use in recipes.
    • Reusable containers – for packed lunch, school snacks, water and tea.
    • Reusable shopping bags – for bread, pick ‘n’ mix sweets, fruit and vegetables and anything else I can find.
    • Cloth napkins – to replace kitchen roll or paper serviettes at the table.
    • Drying clothes outside -rather than using the tumble dryer. (In reality, because this is Scotland and our house is damp, we only really do this during the summer months but it’s better than nothing, I suppose).
    • Using the library – because how many times do you really read a book?
    • Renting our video games – because how many times do you really play an RPG more than once (Mass Effect and Divinity: Original Sin being my notable exceptions).
    • Using a Nokia 3310 – instead of a smart phone. I only charge it once a week.
    • Growing our own food – not much of it, mind you. Mostly herbs and some fruit.
    • Foraging – because who doesn’t love a free meal?
    • Using loose leaf tea and filter coffee – because they taste better and you don’t get tea-bag ghosts in your compost.
    • Shampoo/soap bars – In the bathroom, we use solid shampoo and hand soap.
    • Water displacement – In short, I’ve filled a plastic bottle with water and placed it in the cistern of the toilet. It’s a modern take on the old ‘brick in the tank’ trick, the advantage of the plastic bottle being that it’s not going to break down and wreck your plumbing like a brick might…
    • Cancelled all junk mail – which isn’t as hard as you might think. Check out the Mail Preference Service if you’re in the UK, and Royal Mail’s door-to-door opt out form.
    • Reusable sanitary products – I’ve been using a Mooncup for the past 8 years.
    • Breastfeeding – no longer applicable, but I did feed breastfeed babies.
    • Cloth nappies – again, no longer applicable, but we did enjoy a cloth bum.
Our lovely home-grown mint.

So whilst I’m happy with these choices, I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I’d like to at least halve the volume of landfil waste that’s going in my bin every month and I’d especially like to get my recycling down to one box a month.

Easy, you say. There’s people online who fit a whole year’s worth of rubbish into a pretty jar. 

The issue I’m having?

I live in rural Scotland and I’ve got a budget I need to stick to. There are no plastic-free supermarkets within many, many miles of me and zero-waste artisan products from etsy etc. cost a lot more money than their supermarket equivalents.

So, using what I have access to, I’m going to try and keep my costs as low as is sensible and reduce my wastey outgoings. And what do I have access to I hear you ask? A handful of supermarkets, one (tiny) specialist refillery and a glass-bottle dairy that’s really too far away to make it a sound ecological choice on account of my petrol useage. And the website DoNation. And the collective wisdom of the internet, my local library and the people of my community.

Wish me luck. I think I’m going to need it.