#PlasticFreeJuly, and how we’re getting on with our shopping.

A while ago, I posted about trying to shop low-waste at various supermarkets and other outlets. 

I thought I would give a brief update as to how I’m getting on, in conjunction with the start of Plastic Free July.

For those who haven’t come across the campaign before, Plastic Free July encourages people to pledge to reduce their plastic consumption, over the course of the month. The website says:

Plastic Free July is a global movement that helps millions of people be part of the solution to plastic pollution – so we can have cleaner streets, oceans, and beautiful communities.

It sounds easy enough, right?

So how have I been doing at reducing the amount of plastic my family consumes in general? And where do I need to improve?

I think the best way of doing this is looking at products that I was either having to drive great distances to purchase plastic-free (i.e. milk) and products I was still buying in plastic. For ease of reading, I’ll neglect to copy over my notes from the original post, but I’ve linked it above in case you’d like to compare.

Milk – My local butcher has started selling this in returnable glass bottles. This means that I no longer have to drive to the dairy, and can combine the travel with my trip to the refillery. So much win!

Double cream – I can also buy this from my butcher. Like the milk, it’s comes in returnable pint bottles. 

Muesli – I’m still buying this, but we’ve made progress in the fact that this no longer has to be from Aldi/Lidl. I’m going to be brave and attempt to make my own over the course of July… I’ll let you know how we get on!

Greek Style Yogurt – I think – for the sake of the challenge – that I’m just going to cut this out of my diet. I’ve reached a point where I don’t want to make excuses for my consumption of store-bought yogurt any more – unlike the butcher’s milk and cream, I can’t account for how the dairy cattle producing this are treated, and I can’t justify the plastic so… yeah… bye-bye yogurt. Sad times.

Scottish Baby Potatoes – I’ve been buying my potatoes in bulk from the butcher since I last posted. They come in large, paper sacks with recyclable plastic handles. I figured this was better than the non-recyclable bags.

Salted Butter – I’m still buying this. I will keep buying this. I have reduced my consumption of it, though, by using a 50/50 combination of oil/milk in cakes, and by using oil in pastry. It really is just a topping for bread now, and an ingedient in cookies.

Stockan’s Oatcakes – I’m still buying these, though not as often as I used to since the schools closed to pupils. For the sake of the challenge, I’m going to try making them – though it’s important to note that the oatmeal comes in a plastic bag too…

Fresh corriander – We’re now growing our own.

Tesco value toothpaste – This is still the toothpaste of choice so I won’t be changing any time soon – challenge or not.

Curry powder – Now that the refillery stocks herbs and spices, I’m sorted!

Asprin tablets – I haven’t actually bought any since the previous post. Hooray! Unless things go horribly wrong, I should have enough to see me through July.

Leaf tea – I’m still buying the same leaf tea, but I’ve started drinking more coffee (made from freshly ground beans – not instant, or a pod – purchased from an independant shop). This is great for two reasons – firstly, less coffee keeps me more awake than more tea so I’m boiling the kettle less. Secondly, I like my coffee black, so I’m using waaay less milk than if I was drinking the equivalent amount of tea that is necessary for consiousness. I’m also drinking fresh mint tea after dinner, so the amount of tea I’m getting through has reduced dramatically.

It’s so easy to think that we’ve reached a plateau when it comes to shopping with less packaging, but even finding ways to swap out one item every week – or even every fortnight – will eventually result in a largely plastic-free shop. And that’s an incredibly empowering thing. We don’t have to accept the shrink-wrapped status quo. By remembering that if we can’t refuse to buy an item, we can reduce the quantity we purchase, we stand to make environmental gains. To quote the amazing Zero Waste Chef;

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.

Throughout the month, I’m going to keep hold of any plastic waste we do generate, in order to talk about it once we’re finished. I’m going to speak about whether foregoing things like yogurt had a negative impact on my quality of life. I sincerely doubt it will.

What are your most recent sustainable swaps? Are you taking part in Plastic Free July? I would love to hear how you’re getting on. Contact me either here, or on Twitter.

 

Playtime

I hear it time and time again when the topic of children arises – how can they have so much stuff?

And at the risk of sounding brutal, the answer is: because we buy it for them.

But do we really need to?

It’s easy to feel judged as a parent – to feel as if by not doing what others around us are doing that we’re somehow failing. But that simply isn’t the case – all our children are different and they all have different interests and passions.

But we don’t need to buy whole new sets of playthings for each of these interests if we invest in good quality, versatile items to begin with. And these might not necessarily be toys. 

The loose parts play movement aims to foster a sense of creativity and inventiveness in children by providing them with tools from which to create the things they want to play with. There is a wealth of information online with ideas all over Pinterest , but there’s also a really comprehensive guide available here, on Play Scotland’s website.

Loose parts might include things like shells, buttons, sticks, empty picture frames, feathers, building blocks, small bean bags, dried peas, cups, and old baking equiptment.

In the picture above we’ve got some corks, stone eggs, chopsticks, wooden fruit, feathers and wooden cutlery.

We also have some beautiful old Danish and German coins we found, whilst clearing out my inlaws’ house.

The dried peas have long been a favourite to play with – they form the basis of many a pretend meal, as well as rubble for diggers and landslides for trains.

Blankets are another wonderful item to add to the mix too – old cot-blankets are ideal as they’re a managable size for small people. These serve as dressing up, dance floors, doll beds, landscapes, i-spy scapes (in the case of one particularly colourful patchwork example) and den-building fodder.

With the above selection of seeminly random objects, we’ve played supermarkets and cafes, built bridges and birdnests, and done no end of collages.

This is the bird my eldest made, following a trip to the local falconry centre.

Over the lockdown period, we used the loose parts to supplement learning – shown here when we modelled parts of the butterfly/caterpillar lifecycle.

The above wooden tray is actually a bread-board I found in a charity shop – the dip where the letters are is intended for butter, whilst the chamber holding the rice originally held a grid for slicing the bread over to stop the escape of bread crumbs.

I used the grid part for threading when the children were younger…
Nowadays, it tends to be used as a musical instrument ‘scraper’. Running a chopstick along the ridges makes an excellent sound.

In the past, it’s also been used for Hama beads – the beads themselves occupying the butter cavity, whilst the plate sit in the bit where the rice currently is. In fact, this single, unobtrusive item has possibly one of the most-used play things in our house. And I can use it for its intended purpose when the kids have finished with it!

There are lots of possible games and activities you can make from loose parts – we’ve enjoyed DIY draughts/checkers, a ring-toss game, mancala, and a whole variety of transient versions of snakes and ladders. You can make counting games, where children place the correct number of buttons or pine cones or blocks onto the relevant digit (i.e. 7 coins on the number 7), or bingo grids where they roll a dice and cover the number they roll using – for example – a shell.

We’ve made matching games, which are great for early literacy – matching shapes is an essential skill for early reading. All I did here was lay keys out on the scanner bed, then press scan.

One of our recent favourites has been float vs sink. You ask the child which items they think will float, and which they think will sink and then you experiment…

The only limits, really, are your imagination… and the size of item you include for younger children.

You can make use of loose parts anywhere – they’re great fun for playing with in the garden and on walks.

Most of the things we use either came from charity shops, the kitchen drawers, or the countryside around us. Conkers and acorns were gathered on woodland walks, wooden spoons and chopsticks were purloined from the kitchen, whilst corks, bobbins and buttons have been diligently saved over the years. Keys were purchased on eBay and things like the wooden fruit and stone eggs were picked up along the way in charity shops.

Obviously we do have purpose-made toys too, but I tend to focus on truly versatile things – Lego, wooden blocks, vehicles, animal figures, dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, and STEM sets like Georello gears and Magformer shapes. All of these are readily available second hand (though branded things like Lego can be slightly more costly, even when used).

Loose parts are cheap, easily-accessible and versatile. A few small drawers of them can replace cupboards-worth of conventional toys. The ones I’ve showcased here tend to be made from natural materials, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to reduce the plastics in my house for many years now. Plastic bottle tops, plastic bobbins, single-use neon shot glasses, plastic straws, plastic pipes… these are all useful, valuable resources too. The point is not to elimiate synthetic materials, but to have fewer, more versatile items. This, in turn, will reduce the need for new toys, the storage to keep them, and the production of them – most of the items listed have either been used before (i.e. corks and bobbins), or can be used after they’re grown out of (i.e. the bread board).

One of the single, easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. Loose parts are a great way to do this whilst fostering a love of imaginative and educational play.

I would love to hear any ideas for how to use loose parts – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how we can use them! You can contact me either here or on Twitter.

DIY Cosmetics

I’ve posted before about making soap but in truth, there are very few bathroom products that I don’t make myself. From the cotton cloths I use on my face, to a really simple bath soak (epsom salts + dried lavender = all there is to it), I like knowing what’s in the things I put on my skin.

This works for me for a number of reasons. Primarily, because I’m really not much of a wearer of make-up, which I think this next sentence will demonstrate…

The tiny little tub in the picture (filled there with my DIY attempt) was the Beauty Naturals powder I bought for my wedding in 2008. It ran out last week…

And I know – you’re not supposed to use make-up past a certain age, but honestly… it was only a little past its use-by date, then only a little past that, then it was so old I couldn’t see the date stamp, and then the tub was basically an antique…

I’ve seen loads of tutorials online about how to make your own face powder from kitchen staples. These are invariably mixed from cocoa powder and some sort of white starch – in my case, I used tapioca starch because my refillery had given me a free bag.  It was past its best-before date…

I’m sensing a pattern…

Most of the ‘recipes’ I looked at dealt with powder for pale skin, but I did manage to find this tutorial on YouTube, which gives a suggested ratio for darker complexions. In all honesty though, I think this is just a case of messing around with the ingredients until you find something you like.

In terms of cost, this is just about the cheapest thing you’re going to find anywhere. You may already have the items you need in your store cupboard and at around £8 for 4g of finishing powder, I would venture that you can buy the ingredients for less, and have enough of them to make powder aplenty for years to come.

Being totally honest, I wouldn’t say this powder is a perfect substitute. It lacks a degree of warmth and the colour I mixed has a slightly grey quality to it when sat in the pot. I think that next time I dry some beetroot peel for stock, I’ll add the tiniest pinch of the resulting powder to try and add more of a ‘blush’. That said, it’s perfectly servicable as it is, so I’ll probably forget for another … ahem … 12 years.

Eep.

Other bathroom cabinet staples which I’ve made include:

Moisturiser: This is really simple. Simply melt around 0.5cm of a block of beeswax (or around 2-3g) with a heaped tablespoon of coconut oil, a teaspoon of olive oil and a tsp of glycerine (available in the baking section at most supermarkets, or online).

Lipbalm: I make this in ‘bulk’, filling up old Vaseline tins, or old liquorice pastile tins. Really, though – any small, portable container will work.

This I make by melting half a bar of beeswax, and the same weight of coconut oil together. Sometimes, if I have any for making my knitting more water-resistant, I add a teaspoon of lanolin. You can buy this in metal tubs online – I bought mine from a seller called ‘Elijah Blue’ but i can’t find links to their shop anymore – or in the baby section at the supermarket labelled as Lansinoh Lanolin cream. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way and it’s a great alternative to the likes of Savlon cream or Germoline.

If you’re trying to avoid animal products, simply substituting the beeswax for extra coconut oil is absolutely an option but do keep in mind that the melting point for your products might be a little lower. This being the case, you may want to consider using a screw-top jar – tiny hotel jam jars are ideal, as are old contact lens cases – as you’re less likely to suffer leaks this way, if your balm does melt into liquid.

Obviously, this means that the lip balm basically becomes pure coconut oil. There’s nothing wrong with that – and it’s definitely an affordable way to do it – but if you wanted to add some other, slightly solid oils there’s no reason you couldn’t do that. I’ve heard good things about cocoa butter.

Dry Shampoo: When I go camping, I tend to use a lot of dry shampoo. I had been using Batiste spray and then the bottled Lush equivalent, but when I read the ingredients on the Lush bottle, I thought I’d have a go myself. The main components are – again – some kind of starch. I add cocoa powder to mine as my hair is really dark, but as above, adjust the ratios according to your own requirements.

In terms of things that I use and I’ve tried making, that’s about it at the present time. If I’m still writing this in another 12 years, I’ll tell you how I got on with DIY eyeshadow (I’ve heard good things about turmeric and cocoa powder), but as I said to begin with, I’m not really much of a make-up wearer.

Have you tried any of the above? Do you have any suggestions as to what I should try next? I would love to hear your comments – either below, or on Twitter.

Beans, beans…

At the beginning of the pandemic, the panic-buying highlighted issues in our food supply chain. In response, there were so many posts online about self-sufficieny.

Whilst I’m sure most of these were well-intentioned, I think it’s unrealistic to expect that people who’ve never attempted gardening before could support themselves completely. That said, there are lots of awesome things you can do to supplement your food shopping with delicious home-grown vegetables, even if you just have a windowsill.

Before I start, I just want to say – I’m not a gardener. This is the first year we’ve tried harvesting more than some herbs, perennial fruit,  and what we can forage. We built the raised beds last November – prior to the pandemic – and have tried to fill them as best we can this season, using what we had on hand (as seeds and seedlings were hard to come by).

So, without further ado, here are the things we grew from the store cupboard.

Garlic

By putting a bulb of garlic in the fridge for a few weeks, and then planting the individual segments, we managed to start 2 rows of healthy garlic plants. When the plants start to wilt a little, I’ll cut the leaves, chop them and freeze them for a milder garlic taste that I can add to stir-fry etc. Then I’ll let the bulbs dry and store them somewhere dark, and cool, and dry.

Corriander

I have a large stash of herbs and spices, and basically anything called ‘seeds’ are exactly that (which took me far too long to realise!). I’ve been growing corriander seeds on the window ledge in the kitchen for months now and they’re doing really well.

Peas

The peas that I grow are from a packet of dried store-cupboard peas, gifted to us in the early 2010s by Husband’s Norwegian colleauge when she moved back to Norway. I couldn’t think of a way to use dried peas that anyone would actually eat, and my eldest was going through a phase of planting things so I let nature take its course with that one…. and got the most wonderful, prolific pea plants I’ve ever come across. I’ve been growing from them ever since, and even though they’re now (at least) ten years old, they still reliably germinate. In short, don’t overlook dried legumes – they’re a wonderful way to plant from your kitchen.

Beans

This one was actually a little mind-blowing (to me, because I’m a numbers nerd)…

A pack of beansprouts at Tesco (correct at the time of writing) costs 70p for 300g, or £2.34 per kilo.

You can buy a bag of dried beans for £2.25 a kilo (already slightly cheaper than the sprouted counterpart).

To sprout beans yourself, all you need is a jar, some cloth, an elastic band, and some water (and some beans, obviously). To be honest, the cloth and the band aren’t 100% necessary either.

Cover the bottom of your jar in beans. What you can see above is around 25-50g, or between 7-11p worth of beans.

Soak them in water for around an hour…

Fix the cloth onto the top of the jar with the elastic band, use it as a seive to remove the excess water and place on the window ledge.

After 24 hours, I could see the start of germination. I added a little more water…

After 48 hours, they looked like this.

After a week, they looked like the picture above! It’s amazing how they can go from just covering the bottom of the jar to filling it.

At this point, just as the first leaves are forming, I normally put the jar in the fridge. This slows growth and make them keep for longer.

The finished sprouts weigh around 200g, which means that per kilo – if my maths is correct – they cost around 35-55p. That’s a lower price per kilo than for 300g of pre-sprouted beans.

If you can buy the beans from a refillery – which I’m lucky to be able to – this results in zero waste sprouts. I use them as a base for winter salads, as texture in summer salads, in stir-frys, and on sandwiches. If you’re meal-planning anyway, it’s very little extra effort to put some ‘beans on to sprout’, and potentially save yourself a few pennies and a plastic carrier.

Even if you can’t buy the dried beans free from plastic, you’re still saving a lot of packaging from landfill. Let’s say – for the sake of easy numbers – that you sprout 50g of beans a time. This means that the 1kg back of beans will give you 20 sproutings. Each sprouting will give you around 250g (I’m saying 250g for easy maths, plus I’ve used the large example of 50g so the resulting sprouts will be slightly heavier). So that’s 20×250=5000g, or 5kg. The equivalent 300g packs of pre-sprouted beans would come in 16.6 plastic bags.

That’s effectively 15-16 plastic bags that you’ve saved from landfill, depending on whether you bought the dried beans loose or packaged.

Hhmmm… I got excited about beans there…

Moving on.

Brocolli & spring onions

Something to bear in mind while storing brocolli and spring onions:

Putting the stem of brocolli in water whilst in the fridge will keep it fresh for far longer. It is the flower of the plant, and needs treating as you would any cut flower.

Spring onions, meanwhile, usually have their roots which means they can effectively be used as ‘cut-and-come-again’ vegetables. All you need to do is pop them in a glass with water on your window ledge, then when you need some, cut down to the leaves, stopping as the colour begins to change to white.

I’ve heard you can do the same thing with leeks, but I’ve never tried it. They don’t last that long in my house. I’m a big lover of leeks…

Regrow?

Finally, I thought I would touch on those videos that seem to be everywhere just now, implying that you can regrow all sorts of things from food scraps. I’ve heard that lots of the ideas don’t work, so I thought I’d test them by putting a lettuce nub in the ground… I’ll let you know how that pans out…

Don’t be discouraged, though. In the past, I’ve had great success as a result of Plants from Pips – specifically with avocado stones.

And that’s all, really.

Have you tried growing anything from kitchen scraps and seeds? I’d love to hear about any successes, either here or on Twitter.

Beeswax wraps

A little while ago, my friend and I had a go at making beeswax wraps and – quite honestly – it was a total disaster that resulted in a lot of wasted wax and a huge amount of mess.

Having then bought some wraps from a lovely lady at a craft stall just before Christmas, I discovered that instead of using the internet’s favourite ‘brush the melted wax on with a pastry brush’ method, that I could have just sprinkled some grated wax on some cloth and ironed it between two sheets of baking paper.

Well, now I’ve had a go at that and I can absolutely say – it’s so much easier and it actually works!

First, I grabbed some scraps of cotton, some pinking shears and some beeswax blocks, then I trimmed the scraps into regular shapes.

After I’d done that, I had a good pile of lovely squares.

Next step, was to grate the wax. I just used my regular cheese grater, but I think going forward – if the charity shops reopen any time soon – I’ll get one specifically for wax. It just makes cleaning it perfectly far less important.

I would like to state at this point that each of those nubs of wax made one wrap. So, if you want to do more than around 3, you’ll need several bars of the beeswax that you find at hardware stores. I buy this because it’s package free – unlike the stuff you get off eBay. But if you’re making these during lockdown, and you decide to order beeswax online, I would absolutely opt for the pre-made pellets, rather than grating a block.

Anyway, this is one of those nubs, grated…

And this is that grate nub spread out onto the cloth it’s about to cover.

And now, for the ironing. I put one sheet of greaseproof paper under the fabric and one on top, then brought out Old Faithful.

This is my Nan’s Rowenta iron. It was made in West Germany, which should give you some idea as to its longevity. Unfortunately, the temperature dial no longer works, so now I use it to iron toasted sandwiches and various craft projects. My ‘fancy’ iron – a sale buy from John Lewis costing a whole £10 – ends up staying clean this way…

Anyway, after you’ve run the iron over once, you’ll notice some parts of the cloth aren’t saturated – like the edges here. They’re a much paler colour to the rest. All you do is sprinkle a bit more wax on and repeat the ironing process.

And then you’re done – two lovely beeswax wraps, from scrap cloth and some package-free wax, ready to replace freezer bags and clingfilm. As these are for my mum, I made some packaging for her…

I just got some brown paper that had been used for padding in an online order, and cut it down. Then I drew on it with the kids’ felt pens.

As you can see – hopefully – from my scrappy handwriting, these wraps are really easy to care for. And if you’re a heavy cling-film user, they could end up saving you lots of plastic over the course of those 6 months.

I feel that I should add at this point that I wrecked my ironing board cover whilst doing this. I didn’t mean to, but actually, it was a good thing because it was dropping to bits anyway. It gave me the impetus to replace the manky, ancient thing I made when I was learning to sew. This could have absolutely been avoided, however, by making the fabric significantly smaller than the baking paper. As I wanted to ‘use up’ some baking paper that we’d used for bread, however, I cut my fabric to the same size and so spilled wax onto the ironing board. And the iron. It’s all a big mess…

Click ‘follow’ for ‘how to recover your ironing board’! 😉

Have you tried making beeswax wraps? Which method did you use?

I’d love to hear about your experiences – why not get in touch in the comments section, or on Twitter?

Drawstring bag tutorial

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

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

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

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

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

From an old trouser leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any tips for make super-simple drawstring bags? Or for other ways to carry your groceries home? I would love to hear about them – here, or on Twitter.

 

Seed Library

THE EVENTS DETAILED IN THIS POST HAPPENED BEFORE THE CLOSURE OF SCHOOLS. THE MARKET IN QUESTION OCCURRED ON MARCH 7TH 2020, PRIOR TO MORE STRINGENT MEASURES TO CONTAIN THE COVID 19 VIRUS. PLEASE KEEP THIS IN MIND.

Once a month, our little town hosts a market in the square.

I would love it if it could be weekly so I could do the bulk of my shopping there – stalls include local cheese makers, fish mongers, apiarists, pasta-makers, game butchers, vegetable growers and bakers. It’s everything a shopping experience should be – meeting neighbours and friends for a chat amongst the stalls, fresh air, local produce…

The absolutely incredible people from Deveron Projects were there too, on this occasion. And they were setting up a community seed library! The basic premise is thus; if you take seeds from the library, you have a go at growing them and then nom all the lovely food. And you return the same number of seed packets as you put in. It doesn’t have to be the same seeds – so, for example, if your crop of peas failed spectacularly because you got over excited and planted them out too early, you would be fine to send back an envelope of something else. Like rocket… just as an example…

Anyway, deeply enthused, I took home some ‘Dazzling Blue’ Kale and some ‘Jaune Obtuse De Doubs’ yellow carrots – both by Real Seeds – as well as some fine curled chervil, donated by a local.

In addition to the seed library, the group also run a community orchard and have operatd a swap shop for the past few years. But Deveron Projects isn’t the only wonderful initiative running in the town. There is also a community owned bookshop which is manned entirely by volunteers. And I could talk for hours about the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) project that is Tap O’ Noth farm, so don’t even get me started on the amazing work by Ellie and Martyn at the Ethical Gift Shop.

When I look at the amazing work that’s going on around me, I can’t help but feel hope for what’s coming next. If all of this is happening in the tiny town of Huntly, the thought of what’s afoot in the rest of the country helps to remind me that there are good people doing good work in spite of a system designed to favour consumerism.

Do you know of any amazing community centred ideas in your area? Are you a part of any? I would absolutely love to hear about your adventures! As ever, get in touch here, or on Twitter.

Cleaning products…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

‘The 5 Rs’ – Reduce

I thought, over the next few months (or any other time I start to run low on ideas for content 😛 ) that I could look at one of the 5 Rs in more detail. This time, it’s the turn of Reduce.

I like ‘reduce’ as a concept – if I was the sort of person who picked a word as a theme for the coming year, I think ‘reduce’ would be the sort of word I’d pick. Reduce my spending, reduce my waste, reduce the time I spend online, reduce the number of things I own, reduce my worries, reduce any excess in my life… so many things I aspire to reduce. 

But realistically, what am I doing about it? I’ve written at length about reducing plastic in the bathroom and food waste in the kitchen, but not a vast amount about things like energy consumption and resource sharing.

I thought I would remedy that today.

Reducing resource use

Books are the obvious one – we get ours from the library, reducing our spending and the amount of resources we use in one fell swoop.

Clothes are another point to mention. In addition to buying second hand where possible, we use dye to make things last longer and do lots of repairing. I also try to select clothes made of natural fibres, but with school uniform, this is incredibly difficult. In future, I’ll post about the other ways in which I get the clothes which have to be new i.e. underwear.

Furniture is largely second hand, with the exception of the mattresses, pillows, and duvets for the beds.

In our room, we don’t use bedside lamps – we actually bought LED lanterns for when we go camping and use them by our bed for the rest of the year. I like items with dual purposes like this – our enamel camping plates, for example, serve as pie/crumble dishes for the rest of the year, and the solar lamps we use to highlight guide ropes to young children on toilet trips during the night double as Christmas lights in the garden. There is no sense in us having lamps by the bed in addition to the lanterns, when the lanterns can serve perfectly well.

In the bathroom, we’re down to the bare minimum of disposables. I recently wrote a long post about ways in which we’ve improved the bathroom compared to how it was in 2019, but I didn’t mention a few of the things I’m proudest of in there.

The bath mat, for example, was made from old jeans and duvet covers. I cut these up using my friend’s rotary cutter and then wove them using a peg loom. Whilst I really love this, and look forward to having another go on the loom when this rug gets too manky to use, I know that I can wait until I have the right fabric to shred by simply placing a towel on the floor. So many times, we buy things, or make things which we don’t actually need because an existing object will do.

In the photo above, you can also see an old pan-stand on which I’ve put some of my millions of spider plants. They’ve been potted in an old pyrex dish. Going forward, I really want to add some more plants with different shapes and textures so I get a lovely tower of green next to the bath… so far, though, it’s just spider plants…

In the dining room, we’ve switched to cotton napkins to reduce the amount of single-use paper towels/kitchen roll we were getting through. The napkins were made from a pack of tea-towels that we didn’t feel did their job properly. I sliced them into quarters, hemmed the raw edges and now they’ve got a new life as perfectly servicable napkins. Hooray!

I’ve spoken at some length about our kitchen before, but I think it’s worth mentioning the soap pump we use for washing-up liquid. This ensures that we’re not pouring more in than we need. The resusable brush handle, the recycled plastic brush heads and the washable knitted cotton cloths all help reduce waste here too.

Reducing energy consumption 

In order to reduce our impact throughout the house in general, we’ve done the obvious – fitted energy saving light bulbs, backed the radiators with foil and switched to a green energy supplier.

These are small acts to reduce our expenditure – both financial and carbon – but they are paying off slowly. One day, I would very much like to be able to reduce our fuel usage further by installing a different heating system, but for now, this will have to do.

In addition to the obvious things – cooking multiple things when the oven is on, hanging washing out to dry and turning off all the lights obsessively – we’ve tried a few other things to cut our electricity use. The camping/bedside lamps I mentioned above help to reduce our power usage as they run on rechargable batteries and each charge lasts for months so that’s great, but the biggest energy saving we’ve made has come from switching our NAS server for a smaller one.

When we set up our home business, we did the obvious thing and got a small-business sized NAS server as a way of backing up our data. It soon became clear, though, that this was total overkill. We were never going to fill 6 drives, doing what we do. We made the switch back to a domestic sized NAS and not only is our living room so much quieter (the ‘new’ NAS isn’t actively cooled), but we’re saving a LOT of electricity. I mean, evident-on-our-bills sort of a lot. Selling on the huge NAS earned us back a significant sum – far exceeding the cost of the ‘new’ (to us) NAS – so we’ve come out of the change more ‘cash rich’ too. It’s absolutely worth looking at your technology and its energy usage to see what you’re able to swap out. It’s just a case of gettinng the right tool for the job.

One of the more controversial swaps I’ve made, has been to do away with my smart phone. It had come to the end of its useful life (due to software updates rather than hardware issues, much to my chagrin) and as I’d deleted my facebook account, have a wonderful camera (which I clearly never use for this blog…) and a GPS for the car, I didn’t see any reason to spend horrendous quantities of money on a new one. Instead, I bought the 2017 remake of the Nokia 3310.

I absolutely loved the original Nokia and spent many a Higher Maths class playing Snake under the table. The bonus of the remake is that battery technology has improved so much since the year 2000 that I can now go seven days or more without needing to charge my phone! Whilst I haven’t seen the obvious change in my electricity bill that I saw with the NAS server, I’m sure that in a small way, this is making a difference. Going forward, I’d like to look into getting a solar-powered charger that would work with my Nokia, but for now, I’ll content myself with not having to plug in every 24 hours.

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As I said last time, it feels as if my efforts to cut fuel consumption have reached something of a plateau, but I will continue to try. Hopefully making all of the above changes (which are either free, or save us money long term) will help us to save up for the larger ‘upgrades’ we need to make in order to be more efficient.

Do you try and reduce your fuel consumption? I woud love to hear any tips you have, either here or on Twitter. 🙂

Confessions of a terrible eco-warrior…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s it, really.

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

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

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

So, what is the next step for us?

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

I’ll keep you updated. ❤