Low waste treats

When we initially sat down to take stock of what we were throwing away, one item stood out above the rest – snack packaging.

I’ve always been a baker, so cake-packaging was never particularly prevalent, but chocolate bars and crisps featured heavily. Happily, there are lots of chocolate bars out there which come in paper and foil – everything from Green & Black’s Organic, to Lidl’s most basic line. The other expenses of the week dictate which I choose, but the Lidl ones are really good for cooking with.

Anyway, though I love chocolate as much as the next person, there comes a point when you want to have something… other than just chocolate.

Obviously, alternative snack options include the usual unpackaged suspects – fresh fruit, homemade pop corn (ideally from a refillery, but even in a plastic bag, the packaging is vastly reduced), and home bakes are all excellent. Sometimes though, you just want to eat trashy sweets that remind you of your childhood.

So what are your options here?

Well, chocolate fudge is incredibly easy to make. You need:
-500g of chocolate
-a can of condensed milk.

You melt the ingredients together (either in a pan, slow cooker or bain marie), allow the mixture to cool and then slice into blocks. At this point, you can eat it as it is, or cover the blocks in chocolate and enjoy a homemade Fudge bar. All of the ingredients’ packages are fully recyclable, and if it isn’t eaten first, lasts for quite a while in the fridge.

The other pre-packaged chocolate that’s surprisingly easy to make is honey-comb/Crunchie/cinder toffee. It took me years to attempt it because… well… it just doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you could make at home. I wish I’d tried sooner, though.

I followed this recipe, then dribbled chocolate over the top. I’m considering buying a silicone mould so I can make actual bars of this – it’s absolutely delicious. The ingredients come in metal tins (golden syrup), paper (sugar), and recyclable plastic (bicarb), though the bicarbonate of soda can sometimes be purchased in a refillery, or in bulk online. I buy huge quantities at a time because I used it for cleaning, bath bombs and cooking, which reduces the quantity of waste this produces.

I would love to be able to show you some beautiful photos of these things when I finished making them, but they didn’t last long enough for that. They were consumed within minutes. Literal minutes.

My next step in eliminating snack waste will be to attempt making my own crisps. I have a deep fat frier, but before I get involved in that whole endeavour, I want to try out baking potato skins.

Are there any other recipes you know of to replicate store-bought snacks? I’d love to hear them.

 

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. 🙂

Minimal Waste Garlic baguettes

One of the things I like to do regarding food, is to see how long I can go between meal-planned shopping trips. This results in less food waste as I’m forced to find ways to use up the odds and ends in the fridge which might otherwise go to waste.

One of the easiest, quickest, most obvious ways of using up wilting vegetables is soup and so we tend to eat a lot of it – I am a lazy cook! That said, it can get a bit samey  if you’re having it a few days in a row. For that reason, I really love to serve it with different things; oatcakes, cheese on toast, porcini bread (more on that later), and the all time favourite – a garlic baguette.

The obvious issue with these is the packaging. Some are better than others, but often you find the bread on a plastic tray within a plastic bag, or two baguettes individually wrapped within a larger bag…

As we were getting through so many of these, I decided to try and find a reduced waste alternative. Unfortunately, I can’t get butter without creating waste, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it cracked!

First, you need your baguettes. You can buy these loose at many bakery counters within the supermarkets. I can vouch for the quality of those from Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco, but haven’t tried any from other outlets. Pictured below are some reduced baguettes I bought for 11p. Yes, they came in plastic, but I’ve been keeping these sleeves after use to freeze loose baguettes so they won’t be destined for the bin for a while yet.

Plus, I’m not going to lie – I’m not going to say no to 11p bread. But that’s a discussion for another time. For now, I’m claiming that my buying them helps to reduce food waste…

In addition to the bread, you need around a third of a pack of butter, a garlic clove and a big handful of parsley. I got the parlsey from the reduced section this time, too, but when my plant outside recovers, I’ll be using homegrown again. I’ve also been known to use dried in the past and it does work though obviously you need less –  I reckon about 1tsp is a good quantity.

First of all, melt your butter. Today, I had some just-boiled water in my kettle from the cuppa I was drinking so I used a bain marie, but you could just toss the butter in a bowl in the microwave for around 20 seconds, mashing it at the 10 second mark.

After your butter has melted, mince/finnely shred your garlic and very finely chop your parsley. Mix the lot together and place this in the fridge/somewhere cool until the garlic butter has the consistency of Mr Whippy ice cream.

While you’re waiting slice across the baguette, but leave about 1cm attached the bottom. I don’t know what’s going on with the above picture, by the way. The bread looks miniature but I swear it’s just the angle…

After the butter has hardened a little, it’s just a matter or spooning it in between the slices. Slip the bread back in its plastic, or in one you’ve been saving, or another recepticle of your choice and then freeze.

To reheat these, turn the oven on to around 160C/320F and allow around 20 minutes. To make the most of the oven being on, I usually cook something else at the same time – a cake/some cupcakes/the soup in a casserole dish, for example.

If I’d purchased baguettes loose, bagged them up in my reusable bags like I normally do, and used parsley from the garden, the only non-compostable waste would have come from the butter packet.

Definitely an improvement on the pre-made baguettes, and a fraction of the price.

I would call that a win! What are your favourite ready made foods? I’d love to see if we can figure out a low waste, super-easy alternative! As ever, let me know either here, or on Twitter.

 

Red cabbage rescue

So, you’ve had your festive feast and made sure to save any spare cooked vegetables for classic leftover dishes like bubble and squeak. But what about the vegetables which didn’t make it to the pan – the half red cabbage, for example?

Cabbage is actually one of the easiest vegetables to save from the rubbish bin. Unappetising in a soup – unlike most other vegetables – it makes the most amazing fermented preserve (I’m told by German friends and relatives that I can’t technically call this sauerkraut because it’s red cabbage, but it’s definitely sauerkraut-adjacent).

First, you need to very finely shred your cabbage.

As you can see from my picture, I did not ‘very finely’ shred my cabbage. This doesn’t really impact on the taste, but when you’re grabbing handfuls of it, covered in salt, it’s much easier if it’s thinly cut.

You need to add around 1 tbsp of salt per half a small cabbage (accurate measurements there), then grab handfuls of the cabbage/salt mixture and effectively knead it in the bowl. Eventually, the cabbage will begin to give up a brine. If this doesn’t happen after around ten minutes of kneading then you probably need to add a little more salt and keep kneading.

To store the cabbage during fermentation, you will need a jar, and a weight that fits inside the jar. Please excuse my laziness in not properly removing labels from re-used jars – they do come off on their own eventually…

Decant the cabbage/salt/brine mixture into the jar – the cabbage should have reduced significantly in volume by now. Add any spices you think would be nice – we really like mustard seeds, fennel seeds, corriander seeds and nigella. Mix them all together and then begin to compress the cabbage until all strands are sitting below the level of brine.

When you’re happy with your cabbage/brine arrangement, you need to weigh it down so that the cabbage doesn’t escape as the liquid evapourates.

At this stage, sensible people would add weight inside the glass ramekin…

I am not a sensible person, so I put a jar of rosehip jam on top… Job done. But only because you shouldn’t close the jar lid as the cabbage ferments. If you do, you could end up with a build up of pressure from the gas created by the fermenting process. Place your jar somewhere room-temperaturey (again, very technical instructions) and check on it regularly to make sure no cabbage is escaping the brine.

After about 4-5 weeks, start tasting your cabbage. When it’s ‘sauer’ enough for you, remove the weight, give it a good stir, decant into another jar and put the lot in the fridge. This will then slow subsequent fermentation.

Serve as you would any pickle, but it’s especially good on a creamy oat cake.

How are you using up any leftovers this year? I’d love to hear suggestions here, or on Twitter.

#CutTheWrap – what does low-waste gift-wrap look like?

I’ve spoken recently about trying to #CutTheWrap this Christmas and thought I would take this chance to share some of the ways I’ve done that. I don’t know about you, but I actually found it really hard to visualise some of the ideas people online have been talking about, without actually seeing a picture.

So, here are some pictures!

Some of you may remember my talking about buying second-hand earrings and making my own displays for them. Above is a picture of the finished article – the card the earrings are hanging on is the back of an old calendar which I used to wrap other gifts, whilst the tiny envelope is a sheet of my eldest’s origami paper.

Above is a second-hand silk scarf and a vintage book – I picked both up from my local thrift shop for an absolutely tiny price, then used one to wrap the other. To do this, I used Furoshiki – the Japanese fabric wrapping technique. I have to say – this is a total game-changer for me. I’m going to slowly invest in some second-hand scarves over the next year and use these to wrap my family’s gifts every year from now on.

Here are some gifts wrapped in old music, but you could use maps, or anything else which has a hypothetical expirey date. Arguably, this sheet music could have been put to better use at a charity shop, but it’s an exam piece for grade 2 treble clef trombone – a test I sat in around 1996. As the music changes fairly regularly, this isn’t really going to be useful to anyone…

…Especially as I spilt Ribeana all over the piano accompaniment as a terribly clumsy 11 year old. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone imagined the trombone might be an instrument I should play…

Moving on…

The calendar features again – this time, one of the pages, tied with the annoying shoulder ribbon from the inside of a shirt….

This year, instead of individually wrapping the gifts for my long-distance friends, then posting them in a large outer box, I decided to use the packing paper as the gift wrap. If I’d had more time before the kids came home from school, I would probably have tried to draw a city scape – you know the ones with the gable ends facing out which look a bit like Amsterdam? But time was of the essence so I did a hasty self-portrait instead, instructing my friend to open the card but not the package.

Honestly, I’m sort of wishing I’d waited until the kids were in bed to do the one above because I’m not super happy with it, but never mind. It’s done now and making its way to the intended recipient.

I would love to see any attempts you’ve made to #CutTheWrap – it’s so nice to admire all the creativity that’s out there.

DIY Lego Kits

Recently, I posted about ways to utilise the ‘5Rs’ over the festive period.  If you haven’t already, I would absolutely encourage you to go and check out the full post – there are loads of really lovely ideas for a more sustainable Christmas – but today, I wanted to focus on one of the suggestions in particular.

DIY Lego* kits.

My kids are so incredibly lucky – they’ve inherited a Lego stash which dates back to 1956 and which has been added to over the years by various generations of enthusiasts. Needless to say, we have enough Lego in this house.

That said, both children get an awful lot out of building to the instructions – my youngest, for example, learns how to build in sequence which is a vital skill for pre-reading. And for my eldest, it’s an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Which begs the question – how do I provide the experience of a kit, without actually buying a kit?

Well, the bricks have infinite possible uses, so all I really need in this situation are the instructions. And it just so happens that the Lego website comes with free instructions for their ‘Classic’ kits, and for ‘Minibuilds’.

I opted for the May Minibuild because:
– I’m relatively sure we have all the parts
– The necessary pieces are presented as a list for easy finding
– The instructions are printed on fewer sheets of paper.

After I’d printed the instructions, I went to gather the parts… There was so much Lego in the box, I literally needed to use a head torch…

And completely failed!

Unfortunately, it became apparent after around 45 minutes of searching through our giant Lego box – with a head torch on! – that we didn’t have some of the more recent pieces required. So, back to the drawing board… or rather, the Lego website…

With a better knowledge of what I could/couldn’t easily locate within the stash, I selected… none of the patterns from the website!

Instead, I did an image search on Ecosia (which – if you’re not using yet – you totally should be 😉 ) and came up with…

This!

It’s clearly not going to satisfy the older of my two children, but for my youngest, it’s perfect.

Or would be, if I could find the parts! I did manage to get an alternative for the windscreen though, and as I’ll likely have to hear about every single block my child places, I can be there to talk about how the windscreen needs to be a different piece.

To package it, I made a large envelope out of an old calendar sheet (I posted an image of a tutorial here) and drew a shoddy Lego block on the front. I’ll write my child’s name on the top too, but I don’t really want that all over the internet so will leave it off for now.

So, was it worth the trouble of the research, the searching, half building a model and failing, then frantically trying to find the parts to a second model before Husband arrived home with the children?

Probably. I mean, we have a lot of Lego. I think if I do any more of these prior to Christmas I will:
– refill my printer ink, because the print qualiity doesn’t look amazing,
– invent my own model and photograph each stage
– hoover out our Lego box more often because I found items I’d lost over 20 years ago in that box and even though I’m not hyper vigilant when it comes to dirt, even I am grossed out by this…

In the end, the whole thing took about an hour and a half, and cost me the printer paper and ink. I potentially saved a Lego box, an instruction booklet, an inner plastic bag and the blocks themselves from being dragged into being. I probably saved myself around £5.

Will you be trying to reuse your existing toys in this way? It doesn’t just work for Lego – K’nex, Duplo and other construction kits can be repurposed like this. I’d love to see pictures of any you decide to do – why not get in touch here, or on Twitter?

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* Fun fact – the plural of ‘Lego’ is not ‘Legos’. The term is actually an abreviation of ‘Lego Mursten‘, meaning ‘Lego Bricks’. As this is a compound noun, the pluralisation is added to the second word – i.e. Mursten/Bricks, meaning that ‘Lego’ remains the same, even in the plural.

The term ‘Lego’ is actually a contraction of two Danish words; Lege, which means ‘to play’ and Godt which means ‘good’, or in this case ‘well’.

Look, dad! I used my Danish language degree in real life!

Low waste advent calendar alternatives

It’s nearly time for the countdown to Christmas to begin, so I thought I would take a moment today to speak about advent calendars.

There are loads of really great ways to reduce the waste created by advent calendars. You could opt for a traditional paper-only offering, or buy a toy-themed calendar and reuse this every year – then there’s the refillable option, and books!

Initially, we tried a Lego calendar with the intention of reusing it indefinitely, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to work in our house. Lego seems to inspire such creativity in my kids that they would build that day’s model, then grab blocks from our existing stash and then set about incorporating the calendar bricks into some vast structure that only they could fathom the purpose of… By the time day 2 was over, we realised we weren’t ever going to manage to keep the Christmas blocks seperate.

In the end, I opted for a reusable cloth calendar. It’s beautiful – handmade by the lady who runs House of Wonderland (which you should absolutely take a look at – she has the most beautiful things).

In the pockets, I put a combination of plastic-free sweets and little slips of papers with activities on. Initially, I found it really hard to come up with things to do which didn’t focus on getting, but I think we had a good list last year:

  1. Welcome to DECEMBER! Let’s have some fun! (Chocolate lollies)
  2. Let’s have a walk if the weather is nice and collect some pine cones to decorate the table with.
  3. Write Christmas cards to people we love. You can even draw pictures to put in too!
  4. Take the cards to the post box and send them on their way!
  5. Make some bird feeders from lard and birdseed.
  6. Bake something to give to all the houses on the track.
  7. Here’s £20 – lets see how many yummy things we can get for the food bank.
  8. Write a list of all the things you’re grateful for which happened this year.
  9. Watch the Muppet Christmas Carol.
  10. Sort through our books and give any we don’t want to the library at school.
  11. Make a special card/present for the postie – she’s so busy just now!
  12. Have fun with some sparklers.
  13. Sort through our toys and see if the library wants any for the toy boxes there.
  14. Find out about ‘Sal’s shoes’, ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘The Little Princess Trust’. Choose which one gets £5.
  15. Let’s have a morning dance party before school!
  16. Let’s put up and decorate the Christmas tree!
  17. Watch the Christmas Curious George film.
  18. Let’s read a book by candlelight.
  19. Let’s take your Christmas gifts to your teachers at school & nursery.
  20. Let’s dip some marshmallows in white chocolate to make snowmen!
  21. Write down some of the fun things we did this year – it’s good to remember.
  22. Go to Nannan’s and bake some mince pies!
  23. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas – let’s learn about some other religions.
  24. Watch some Christmas carols on YouTube.

In total, this calendar costs just over £25 – this money covers the food bank donation, the charity donation, and any sundries (like marshmallows) which we don’t already have in the house. Obviously, you could change this amount to suit your own budget, or replace these activities with free things, such as litter picks, or carol services – whatever your wallet and schedule allows for.

All of this was pretty perfect when there was only one child – but then there were two… We did start by taking it in turns to check the calendar, which was fine, but then I read about book calendars so we made one of those too and the kids go turn-about for each.

The book calendar was super easy and very cheap – we just went through our collection and plucked out any stories which were wintery. I stashed them in my room and brought one out a day for the run up to Christmas. Rather than wrapping each one, I made a cloth bag out of some festive fabric from my stash and ploped a new book in each day. At the end of the season, I packed the books away with the decorations so that when the next year rolled around, the stories were both novel and nostalgic – perfect!

What are your advent traditions? I’d love to hear about them! 

 

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?

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?

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.