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. ❤

A much-too-long essay about meal planning

Meal planning is something that is spoken about often when it comes to reducing food and financial waste. The idea is simple – plan what you’re going to have to eat in advance, then purchase what you need in the quantities required.

In practise, it can be a hard habit to get into – especially if you’re used to wandering the supermarket without a list. I think the biggest difference I found to begin with wasn’t the price (though that was vastly reduced), but the quantity of food. I had everything on my list, but my trolley contained only around a third of my usual items.

Hopefully, if you’re new to meal planning, the information below will help you begin to save money, and prevent waste. The following is based on an article I wrote back in August 2012 for another blog, but I’ve updated it to focus on the environment.

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I try to approach meal planning with the 5Rs firmly in mind – refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle & rot.

So, first step – we need to eat, so how can we refuse food?  In this case, we refuse to buy items we already own.

To begin with, I check the freezer and the cupboard, then make a list of what’s there. It usually becomes evident at this point which foods I can easily make from the ingredients I have, and what I can make by adding just a few extra things. This forms the basis of my meal plan.

So, for example, if my cupboard yields 3 complete meals and 2 incomplete ones, I would write down the ingredients to complete those 2 meals which are missing components.  Then, for the remainder of the 7 dinners, I would use the ingredients already on my list as my basis.

When it comes to reduce, this is the part where you assess what you actually need. This could involve questions such as

– ‘Do I need the BOGOF box of cereal?’ (If I don’t, should I simply buy one, or donate the extra non-perishable item to the food bank?)
-‘Do I need to buy snacks on top of any baking I’ll do at home?’
-‘Do I need to drive to the shop – can I car-pool, walk, or get a delivery? Can I use public transport, or call at the shops whilst running another errand?’
-‘Do I need to go shopping at all? If I start to put milk and bread in my freezer/switch to a milkman, could I plan cleverly and shop every second week /monthly ‘.

Reducing whilst shopping also covers our aims to reduce the packaging we bring home. Is it possible to make your own version of something to cut back on plastic, or using alternatives to plastic store-supplied packagaing such as your own cloth bags for loose bakery products and vegetables, or selecting frozen over fresh when the frozen goods are packed in cardboard.

In terms of financial savings, if there is a choice between a premium brand and a supermarket equivalent, it’s well worth considering the value/basics ranges – presuming the packaging is the same. It’s also worth noting that the class 2 veg available at some supermarkets is both fantastic value and helps to prevent food waste.

Another financial point to make is that it’s worth checking the kilo price of food too – remember that one can of sweetcorn costs around the same as a massive bag of frozen. Admittedly that frozen bag is usually plastic, but in terms of shipping costs – carbon and financial – and wastage, the plastic is going to be better, especially if the can contains a plastic lining which renders it unrecyclable. You can also use weigh out exactly the quantity of frozen sweetcorn that you need and then save the rest indefinitely for a longer period – unlike when you open a can, use half, and forget about the remainder at the back of the fridge… ahem.

If you have a bread machine, or are up for making your own bread by hand, there are further financial and environmental savings to be had. You can buy small cans of fast-action dried yeast, but Tesco bakery sections will provide fresh yeast for free (and you can take your own packaging) and Morrisons sell small packs of it for very little money. If you don’t want to have your oven on for long periods, you can also bake your loaf in a slow cooker. Once you’ve cracked a plain loaf of bread, pizza dough isn’t a difficult second act. We’ve had great success with making and then freezing pizza bases – saving on packaging and money – for use on busy days.

There are some amazing posts online about low waste snacking (and my own offering, here), so I’ll just cover a few basics now. If you can get reduced fruit juice you can make some pretty good ice lollies. Just pour the juice into a mould and freeze. Or alternatively, you can make something which tastes exactly like a Feast by blending 2 tablespoons of Nutella with some soya milk. Mmmm…. By reusing your own lolly moulds, you save the individual wrappers from landfil, the box from recycling, and the shipping cost of frozen goods. It’s also miles cheaper and you know exactly what you’re eating.

Popcorn is the classic low waste snack – buy the kernels, pop them at home and flavour yourself. Make in advance and pack in Tupperware, or used paper flour bags for packed lnches. Even if you can’t get this package-free, it’s still far less wasteful than bags of ready made stuff, bags of crisps etc. and it’s quick and easy – plus you can flavour it with whatever you like.

Reusing in terms of food comes down, once again, to examining our intake and the packaging our food comes in. If we plan our meals well, pay attention to portion size when we’re cooking (and by this I mean, what will we realistically eat – different people have different appetites and that’s ok), and don’t over-purchase perishable items, there shouldn’t be a huge amount of leftovers to reuse. Obviously, though, we’re not perfect, and plans change, so periodically this will happen. That’s Ok – just do a quick search online for ‘X leftover recipes’ and see what you can come up with. If you’re not going to use the food in question straight away, put it in the fridge – either in an airtight container (and here you can reuse old jars or yogurt tubs etc), or in a bowl with a plate for a lid.

The packaging from our food sort of crosses between reuse and recycle. We can reuse it – as stated above – to store other items, but we can also employ it an any other number of ways. A personal favourite is to use food packaging to grow plants in. Rather than buy new plastic trays, I like to use the hard-to-recycle black plastic trays to start seedlings in, sometimes with a clear plastic tray over the top. I particularly like planting things in old treacle tins, like this avocado pip:

I’ve spoken in the past about how much I love enamel as a material, but old food tins are a close second when it comes to household objects. If you’re not sold on the idea of them as pretty things in your home, try searching Pinterest for ‘vintage tins repurposed’. From cake-stands to lampshades, there are ideas aplenty.

Packaging can serve in other ways too – you can see some old coffee jars here, and some old wine corks which have found new life amongst our toys. A friend of mine even collected Bonne Maman preserve jars for a year and then used them as her glassware. Our own drinking glasses are mustard jars that Husband’s mother purchased over the course of a few years in 90s Germany, and I make jellies and mousses in ex-Aldi-yogurt jars for my eldest’s packed lunches.

More unusual reuse came about when I made soap before Christmas – the bottoms of plastic milk-bottles make superb soap moulds, as do selection-box packages (gifted to us, not purchased by us).

If there really isn’t anything else you can  repurpose your food packaging for, check with your local council as to what they do and don’t recycle.

Which leaves us with rot. There are lots of ways to really get the most out of any remaining food waste – composting at home and local food-waste collection being the two most common. You can, however, use some waste products to create dye, such as onion skins and avocado pips. Other things – such as spent tea and coffee can be used to grow things like cress or alfalfa shoots on.

I hope some of this has been useful. I realise we moved away from the basics of meal planning pretty early on, but hopefully this will help someone start to reduce their shopping waste.

What are your best tips for ensuring we don’t use more than we need in the kitchen? I would love to hear your suggestions.

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!