School uniform and the environment

As a return to actual, physical school grows ever closer, I decided to take a look at the uniform my children will wear.

Going forward – possibly two of the words I use most on here – I won’t be buying the branded school stuff. This makes me slightly sad, because I love our little, wonderful school and I’m proud of it, and I know my children are too. But the sweatshirts and t-shirts are largely polyester, and as white cotton shirts are a viable alternative, I think I’d be wrong not to make the switch.

Meanwhile, I’ll be using my newly-purchased ‘Guppy Friend’ bag in an effort to reduce the damage done by the microfibres of the current uniform – at least until these garments wear out. Like the stingy economic parent that I am, I set aside the clothes my eldest wore to school and saved them for my youngest. This week, I took them out to check the state of them before going back…

… I’ve got to say, those t-shirts really don’t look good.

On the one hand, I know that within five minutes, whatever I put either child in will be covered in… something. On the other hand, I know that so many other children will be returning to school with lovely, brand new clothes so I don’t want my two to feel left out.

So, I thought I would attack the half-decade-old stains with some soap that was recommended in one of the lectures of the Sustainable(ish) online festival. Said soap came from a website called Chateau Du Savon and arrived plastic free in the post – bonus!

For obvious reasons, I’m not going post pictures of the school uniforms online, but suffice to say – they’re messy. For illustrative purposes, however, I did manage to find an item of clothing in a comparibly dreadful state….

This is a white shirt that my husband wore whilst chain-sawing an entire tree into small enough pieces to burn in our stove.

Let’s all have a good look at that shoulder… Take note.

So, it’s a challenge. Almost as much of a challenge as my eldest’s hideous old t-shirts…

As I said, this white shirt is masquerading as a school uniform, so from this point on, I’ll be referring to it as such.

I started by soaking the polo shirts in cool water. This actually removed a fair amount of grot. I then rubbed the bar of soap directly onto the areas which were most stained – namely the inside of the necks, and the point on the front of the shirt where the stomach meets the table.

After I’d done that, the water looked like the picture above.

So I rinsed and scrubbed a second time and got this…

Still mucky. So I filled the sink one more time, scrubbed lots, and then tossed everything into the Guppy Friend bag.

The result was actually incredible. Honestly, I wish I’d done it sooner, and it gives me hope for when I do switch to white cotton shirts – perhaps they won’t end up as destroyed as I’d feared.

And that shoulder is all clean again!

Not that you can really see from this picture, but the cuffs also came out particularly well. No-more worn-on grime.

I wish I could show you the transformation that took place on the uniforms themselves – there was only one shirt which really didn’t scrub up to the point where I could pass it off as new.

It begs the question – why do we buy new uniform every single year? Obviously if our children grow, we need to replace items, but there seems to be a mass purchasing before the start of every autumn term where back-to-school=new uniform. This really isn’t necessary. If we take care of our clothes, they will last so much longer. This involves washing cool, line-drying, and keeping them in a good state of repair. All of these things will save you money. All of these things will reduce your impact on the environment.

I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy specialist stain-removal soap, or laundry bleach, or Napisan – even using concentrated amounts of regular soap will help – but if you do make this small, environmentally sound investment, you’re likely to see big rewards.

I plan to cover the repair of a chewed sweater cuff in the coming weeks, so if you have a child that likes to eat their jumpers, it’s worth coming back!

Do you have any top tips for keeping children’s clothes free of stains? Are you a fan of the back-to-school, everything-new-for-a-new-term ‘tradition’, or are you happy to reuse things until your child outgrows them? Comment below, or on Twitter.

The End of #PlasticFreeJuly – a long, musing post.

So, July is drawing to a close and I’ve been trying my best to live without plastic packaging – how did I get on?

It’s a hard thing to quantify, really. I jumped on board with this at the very last minute with absolutely no forethought as to how I was going to talk about it all, so I’ve not done any prep whatsoever. Had I been an organised soul, I would have photographed what a week of plastic looked like pre-July so we would have a comparison.

Alas.

I do, however, have a particularly heartbreaking photo of a swan’s nest I took in Amsterdam harbour in 2012. Yikes.

Anyways, I did take pictures for each week of the challenge, so at least we could have a look at what’s there.

If you’re not interested in reading the breakdown, head straight to the conclusion.

WEEK ONE

Image

2 x plastic milk bottles, Sweet wrappers, 2 x ‘Rice & Grain’ sachets, Channa Masala Kit, Croissant box, Meat Tray, 2 x Mozzarella bags, A bag for bread rolls, A bag for tatties, Strawberry box, Misc. bags, Postage material.

I recycled the meat tray, strawberry box, the two milk bottles and the cardboard in the packages which were mixed materials.

WEEK TWO

Image

Croissant box, Meat Tray, Mozzarella bag, A bag for bread rolls, Bag from a brownie mix, Pack of sunflower seeds, Crisps, Butter pack, Bag from muesli, Antihistamine blister packs, Coffee bag,Tomato Paste cap, Top of a chocolate spread jar, Cheese packet, 3 black foam trays, Bag from a salami.

The meat tray and card from the croissant box went in the recycling bin.

WEEK THREE

Image

Jiffy bag, 3 x vacuum packaging, replacable dish-brush head, granola bag, almond bag, cream lid, crisp packet, 2 x croissant box, jelly baby bag, dog food sack.

I recycled the croissant boxes and will reuse the jiffy bag and dog-food sack.

I’m adding this picture, because when I take out what I can recycle/reuse, this is the volume of plastic waste for my family of 4 in week 3…

Image

WEEK FOUR

Image

Coffee bag, muesli bag, cover from a multipack of cans, cocoa powder pot, crisp bag, yeast box, 2 x mozzarella bag, cheese bag, butter pack, scotch tape pack, Costco sandwich box.

I’ll recycle the lid of the cocoa tub, the yeast box and the scotch tape holder. I’ll use the sandwich box as a propagator in the spring next year.

CONCLUSION

Even though I didn’t notice a huge difference to usual in our plastic consumption, this was an incredibly interesting exercise. Having the weekly picture and analysing each one really made me focus on the areas I haven’t managed to reduce our consumption of waste in – animal products being the obvious one. Were plastic my only focus, I could change this easily by buying from the deli counter at Morrisons and bringing my own tubs, but outwith July, I do try and think of fuel consumption too. I’m not sure how to balance this one long term, but hopefully a solution will become evident.

The other big area in which I noticed waste was surrounding convenience – trays from lunch out, the sachets from our camping food…. All things designed to be grabbed and consumed with minimal thought and effort. Coincidentally, mid way through the month, Surfers Against Sewage posted the following infographic on Twitter :

It’s really interesting to note that with the exception of Tesco, all of these are convenience brands – things that are designed to be ‘grab and go’. There are three ‘stimulant’ brands – Red Bull, Lucozade and Costa Coffee – designed to keep your fuelled for longer. I can’t help but feel as though if we all slowed down – rested instead of caffeinated – we’d make less mess.

And I know that slowing down isn’t always an option in a world full of such sweeping inequality. There are hundreds of posts I could write on the subject, but in short, a lot of people actually aren’t paid enough to slow down and many of us have been conned into thinking we aren’t paid enough to slow down – trapped in debt we’ve used to pay for things we don’t need. In addition, a 2018 study found that women have an average of 5 hours less leisure time a week than men. Until we address these inequalities which are eating into our time, convenience – perceived or real – is always going to sell.

So what’s the answer? The single most effective thing we can all do is ‘buy less’. It sounds easy, but in a society where even the bus stops are designed to tempt you into wanting something you don’t already have, it can be harder than you’d think. It’s especially hard in a country where poverty is increasingly viewed as a moral failing.

Those of us with the luxury of a disposable income need to stop over-consuming because it widens the class divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ – it fuels the desire for debt and the idea that happiness can be purchased. We need to start by being honest with ourselves about the difference between want and need, then we have to act accordingly. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to cancel junk mail (I talk about that here), unsubscribe from all promotional emails (if a shop’s worth going back to, I’ll remember it), and install an Adblocker on my internet browser (I use this one).  It means that I have to actively search out things I’d like to buy, rather than succumb to outside influences. Adding the layer of Plastic Free July and Buying Nothing New has really helped to focus that effort too.

I can only speak for myself – in this as in all things – but I would love to hear your take. Did you participate in Plastic Free July? Will you be continuing with any of the swaps you’ve made?

Beanbag Revamp

My parents bought this beanbag for my eldest child, just before we moved in with them (in order to facilitate a house move) around 6 years ago. It didn’t always look like this, though – originally, the beanbag was an amazing, vibrant orange colour, and made of pleather.

Since the initial purchase, it’s definitely been a well-loved item of furniture and I’ve refilled it more than once (using beans I picked up on Freecycle, no less). It’s now 7 years old, though, and just as loved as ever. I get the impression that it was constructed for fun and aesthetic impact, rather than longevity. I especially feel like the pleather wasn’t made to last that long. In fact, let me show you…

Isn’t it an awesome colour? You can see the white specs on the seat, though, and here’s a close up of where the layers of plastic are peeling away.

Sad times. I expect that in years gone by, this is where I’d have thrown in the towel, saved the beans and the zip, and taken the rest to the tip.

But not today!

I decided to go stash-diving and select a new fabric to cover the beanbag with.

First, I drew up a pattern. Looking at how the original shape was constructed, I made three panels – one for the back and sides, one for the front and top, and one for the base. I cut draughts for these from some old lining paper that the kids had drawn all over…

I then used this to cut out the fabric, which I proceeded to stitch together into the top and sides of the cover.

At this point, I put the beanbag in, then stitched the bottom on by hand. If I’d taken all the beans out, put the original shell into the new cover and then returned the beans, I could have finished the entire thing using the sewing machine but honestly, knowing how those annoying little beans behave, it was actually just quicker to sew this myself.

I finished by adding velcro along the back seam. This isn’t so I could extract the original shell – which I can’t see myself doing – but so I could access the zip to refill the whole thing, should this become necessary. I used velcro that I found in amongst my mother-in-law’s sewing things, which is – coincidentally – where I found the blue, floral fabric.

It was a total pain to do, I’ve got to confess. The plastic of the velcro was really tough to sew through and I would say that if you decide to give this a go on your own beanbags, you either need to learn to sew with a thimble or do the whole thing on a machine. I could not have made this, were it not for the little thimble I learned to sew with last year. Having that tiny shard or armour on my middle finger made the whole thing possible.

And this is the end result. You might notice the handle at the top of the beanbag here – I achieved this by cutting two little sections of interfacing, and leaving part of the top seam open.

I can’t actually get over how neat the handle looks.

And that’s about it really – here’s to another 6 years, at least!

Have you ever tried making a beanbag, or recovering one? Have you attempted to make covers for any of your other furniture? Would you have chosen fabric that was a little more… subtle? I’d love to hear your opinions.

 

Low Waste Living with Children – the baby years and beyond!

Looking back over the last few months, some of my most popular posts have been those which look at how to reduce waste and expenditure with young children. Today, I thought I would try and bring together a lot of that information.

A point to note: my own children are just that little bit older now – past the nappy stage, past the days of pushchairs and slings – so some of the things I’m suggesting might not be current. I do try my best to keep up to date, but really, this isn’t where we’re at right now so keep that in mind as you read. I’m just a parent, trying my best – not an expert in child-rearing.

In the very early days, things like nappies, milk, clothes, and transport are key. I’ve spoken a little about them here. This is a fairly comprehensive post, but looking back, something I wish I’d had the money/car-space to do is to invest in an extended rear-facing childseat. Some of these will see your child from birth to 25kg which means you’re only buying one seat which spans this entire time. My own have had three seats each. This would have reduced our waste in this area by 2/3. This becomes especially relevant when we consider the fact that second-hand car seats are discouraged for safety reasons. This is definitely one of those cases where buy-well, buy-once applies.

Going back to clothes for a second – whilst charity shops, car-boot sales, repairs, online auctions and schemes like Lost Stock are all great, it’s worth remembering that there are rental schemes (like Bundlee) out there. It’s also worth remembering, that you don’t need to conform to societal norms. Clothes can be passed between genders. 

As children get older, they’re increasingly viewed as a potential ‘market’. Toys and books aimed at children are big business. You can reduce your spending here by using your local library and by embracing the loose parts toy movement. There are also toy subscription services like Whirli.

If you’re specifically looking for books which discuss the environment and the natural world, then there are many available for a whole range of ages. One of my favourites is Plants from Pips as this encourages easy, instant action.

If you’re looking at opening a dialogue with older children, a great starting point is this Need vs Want activity – it certainly got me thinking!

A bit of a controversial one, but if you’re looking to spend more time at home as a family, then remote working might be the solution you’re looking for. Not only will this cut out your commute, making it a more environmentally friendly option, but you also win back the time you would have spent in the car. The above link details some of the ways in which we’ve learned to work around children in the 8+ years Husband has been working from home.

When it comes to birthdays and other celebrations, don’t feel as if you need to go completely overboard. I’ve written about Christmas gifts and advent calendars before, but the same theories can be applied to other events. Whether you’re buying used gifts, books about sustainability, or creating gifts from things you already own, there are many, many ways to reject the common consumerism of celebration.

The wonderful thing about children is that if we take the time now to discuss things with them and teach them the reasons we’re making the choices we are, then we’re investing in a better world for the next generation. No time educating a child is wasted (even if it feels like it at times!).

What are your favourite ways to reduce waste with children? I’m always on the look out for new ideas! You can contact me here, or on Twitter and Pinterest.

Oak and Ash and Thorn, by Peter Fiennes

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
Oh let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, INVERSNAID

Quoted in the book Oak and Ash and Thorn (OAT) by Peter Fiennes, the above poem largely sums up the message of this work. At its most basic, OAT is a love letter to British woodlands and an obituary to the ancient forests we’ve lost. More than that, though, it can serve as a roadmap to where we could should be going, if we want to make things better.

The book is structured in such a way that we follow Fiennes on a tour of different woodlands – from scraps of forest near large London airports, to slivers of wood abutting Sheffield. Along the way he explores our national relationship to the forests and concludes that whilst Britain loves trees, we’re afraid of the woods. By citing beautiful classic literature and contemporary studies, Fiennes holds up a very telling mirror through which we’re invited to examine the changes that have been made and those we’re making.

It sounds, from what I’m saying, like something of a bleak book – but it really isn’t. The last chapter in particular is a wonderfully hopeful end to an otherwise sometimes often heartbreaking tale. Yes, in places, it feels like an extended edition of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, but that’s down to the truth that we are exploitative and take our woodlands for granted. The prose and mood – by contrast – are optimistic and focus on the restorative power of the woods. I think this is the overall message we’re supposed to take from the book – forests are healing places. 

There are many chapters in which Fiennes begins by entering the woods in a dark mood. Whether discussing hunting, macarbre fairy tales, or impotent rage against impending service stations and runway expansions, his time in the trees is always grounding, always mending. 

This book took me far longer to read than many of the others I’ve reviewed. Written in proper prose, rather than the bullet points of ‘how to’ guides, the format accounts for some of this – but not all. I think, primarily, it was a desire to actually digest fully the information I’d been fed. It isn’t that the prose is heavy, or difficult to read – the difference is that there’s nutrition in it. A meal, instead of a snack – nourishing and wholesome and a little bitter. And like a proper meal, the things I’ve gained from reading it will help build me – shape me – and become a part of me. This book is one of those rare tomes which I’ll keep with me, long after I’ve closed it.

Now, more than ever, I’m determined to make a change.

The Woodland Trust is mentioned often in the book. If you’re interested in discovering more about thier invaluable work, you can find out about what they do here.

Have you read Oak and Ash and Thorn? I would love to hear what you thought of it. You can get in touch either here, or on Twitter.

Unexpectedly useful items for low-waste living

Whenever I find myself in a bit of a rut, I tend to find myselflooking online for some ideas about low-waste living. Sometimes I’ll find something new, but often, I keep coming across beginner tips in low-waste living. Which is great – we all have to start somewhere – but I do sometimes feel like after a certain point, we’re sort of just left to get on with things.

And on the one hand, I absolutely appreciate just how much of a difference it can make if you take your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup when you’re out and about, but I find myself wishing that there was more being written about the unexpected things which help with waste reduction.

So, keen to redress that balance, I thought I’d give you a run-down of things that I find really useful when it comes to cutting back…

  1. Funnels – I really, really love my jam funnel. The wide opening makes it ideal for decanting things like pasta and rice, preventing wastage through spillages. Since we started using our local refillery for dried goods, decanting dried goods has become a fairly regular occurance and whilst I could technically manage without this, it does make life significantly easier. The example below came (I think) from Lakeland many, many years ago. It has survived many jam seasons, the dishwasher, two children using it in the bath to slosh water… I highly recommend. The other funnel is equally useful for cordial, homemade schnapps, oils and all things liquid. I use the jam funnel to refil glass yogurt tubs for school lunches – replenishing the containers with chocolate mousse, or homemade jelly. The jam funnel also allows me to buy mayo and other table sauces in glass jars, then decant them into old plastic ‘squeezy’ bottles.

  2. A Bucket – This one might seem a little random, but I honestly don’t know where I’d be without my bucket! I’ve spoken before about trying to save water, but that’s not easy when you factor in how my shower works. You have to turn it on from across the corridor, before running into the bathroom, stripping off and jumping in!  Having a bucket on hand to retain water that would otherwise run down the drain really helps for watering plants – both inside and out. I also use the water to wash the car. Whilst we don’t have a water meter (water is included in council tax in Scotland), I can imagine this being especially useful for those who do.
  3. A teapot & thermal cup – This has halved the amount of tea I use. Not because I drink less tea, but because I waste less. At the moment, I use a little red, enamel pot. It happily fills two cups and uses one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to do so. When I make tea now, I always pour a second cup into my thermal ‘to go’ mug and come back to it later. This means I don’t have to boil the kettle a second time, use another spoon of tea, or throw out the unused no-longer-hot liquid. Winning all round.

The beauty of all of these things, is that they tend to be present in most households. Perhaps not the jam-funnel, but the bucket and the teapot are fairly common items. The others are cheap to pick up second hand, and the bucket needn’t be a bucket – it could be an old waste-paper bin, a washing-up bowl, a particularly large saucepan…anything which catches water. You don’t need a teapot either – using a heat-proof jug is perfectly acceptable too.

What are the unexpectedly useful items on your low-waste list? I would love to hear them – either here or on Twitter.

Buy Nothing New – month 1 review

So, what I have a learned so far?

It’s only been a month, and I wasn’t a huge ‘consumer’ before I made this pledge, so I haven’t found the actual not-purchasing as difficult as I might have done, were my buying habits different. That said, books and other things I ordered online before my birthday have been coming through the post in drips, which means I haven’t felt it as acutely as I might.

What I have noticed, however, is a feeling of what can only be described as ‘overwhelm’ at the quantity of things in my house. As I’ve said before – we’re not a family overburdened with stuff. I like to aim for a quantity of items which would fit easily into two transit vans, should we ever need to move again – one for me to drive, and one for Husband. We also have no storage built into the house. As a property that was originally constructed in 1901, there just wasn’t a need for built-in wardrobes…

Even so, I’ve become acutely aware that if anything breaks, I can’t just throw it out and buy a replacement. This means that I’ve been hit with a sense of responsibilty for every single object I own. I feel that I am obligated to repair anything which needs it because I am unable to replace it in the near future.

Really, though, shouldn’t this just be usual?

Shouldn’t we feel a sense of responsibility to care for the items we’re custodians of?

Anyway, in practical terms, how have I done?

I have made purchases this month – though as specified, these are not new items. I’ve bought:

  • A second-hand set of stainless steel sieves. Two days after my birthday, our 25p-just-got-married-Sainsbury’s-Basics plastic sieve snapped in half. We tried to glue it and failed. We then tried to live without it – using a collinder instead – but failed in that too. Rice just poured through the holes. I bought second-hand commercial cookware, though, so these items should – in theory – last a domestic setting a lifetime.
  • Four Woodland Trust Guide Books. These were brand new, so I think I’ve technically broken my promise in the first month, but these aren’t for me so… does that technically count? I was caught off guard when the opportunity to meet my youngest child’s nursery teachers arose. We went foraging with the class one day and I thought it would be a nice ‘Thank You’ gift to hand over something about fungi. Because I’m fickle, I’m OK with this – it supports the Woodland Trust and shares a love of the outdoors.
  • A two-minute egg timer. Bought second-hand on eBay, this is to aid in the daily battle that is brushing teeth. It’s made of wood and glass, and is pre-loved. I think it fits the bill of ‘permitted’ purchases well.
  • Books. In addition to the guide books noted above, I bought the next comic in the series Husband is reading, and a violin music book for myself. In both instances, I bought these items used, though ironically, the violin music cost more second-hand than it did to buy new. That one stung a little, I will admit.

And that’s it! A total of just under £70 including postage.

Has there been anything I specifically wish I could buy, but didn’t?

  • Cotton wadding for the middle of a patchwork quilt. I’ve done the top layer, have the fabric for the bottom layer and just need some kind of filling. I’m sure that if I wait, a solution will present itself, but I’d love to tick another finished craft off my list, so this one’s haunting me a bit. If, by November, I haven’t found a way to complete this without making a purchase, I probably will buy some wadding and use the quilt as a gift.
  • Buy a Stranger a Book via the Big Green Bookshop. Every Wednesday, Simon at the Big Green Bookshop runs the ‘Buy a Stranger a Book‘ event on Twitter. It’s exactly what it sounds like – people can offer to purchase a copy of their favourite work for a stranger. I think I’ll make this an exception to the rule and participate in this going forward, but for June/July, I haven’t done it because I felt like I was breaking my own arbitrary rules.

‘The 5 Rs’ – Recycle

A bit of a different one this time (compared to ‘reduce‘ and ‘reuse‘), because I’m not going to talk about how to recycle. I’m going to tell you not to.

Recycling is great – don’t get me wrong – but people tend to act as though it solves all of our waste problems and it really, really doesn’t. Yes, it takes less energy to melt down a plastic milk bottle and make a new one than it does to extract oil, turn it into to plastic and then make it milk-bottle-shaped, but it also takes much less energy over time to just keep reusing a glass milk bottle instead. And glass can be recycled indefinitely so is less likely to end up in landfill/the sea at the end of its useful life. And if it does, it’s less likely to cause harm throughout the food chain.

So, remembering the 5 Rs, we can see that recycle is the penultimate step. By the time we get to this stage, if we’ve been doing our job properly, there shouldn’t be an awful lot of food-related or general recycling left.

So what about the things which are?

Well, when trying to dispose of larger objects – cot mattresses, furniture, carpets etc. – I try to pass them on via Freecycle. Interestingly, if they don’t find new homes through this site, they tend to via the ‘Freebies’ section on Gumtree, or – back when I used the platform – Facebook marketplace. I don’t know whether this is simply because people don’t expect something for nothing, but for whatever reason, things which won’t move on Freecycle will go on Gumtree.

For smaller items which aren’t collected as part of kerbside pickups, it’s worth checking on Terracycle. There are various collection points for hard-to-recycle goods throughout the country so seeing if there are any near you is a good start. For those with a few more spare pennies, you could invest in an ‘All-In-One’ zero waste box but – fair warning – they are an investment. The smallest option is over £100 so this does price it out many budgets. I don’t think it’s something that I’ll be doing, but it’s always nice to see that the option is there.

For a lot of objects, however, thinking outside of the box is required. When we cleaned out the bathroom at my inlaws’ house we excavated a lifetime of spectacles, stacked in neat, sedimentary layers in the cupboard. On the off chance, I asked my optician back in the UK if they could do anything with the collection. Surprisingly, they could! There are actually lots of options for old eyeglasses, some of which are listed in a Metro article here.

Obviously, there are so many things we could talk about disposing of here – pens, scissors, cutlery… the best place to start would be to make a list of the things that you’re disposing of, either regularly or irregularly. After you’ve safely/responsibly disposed of said item, it’s worth having a look at your list and checking out the alternatives that are out there.

Using the example of our sieve, which broke the other week:
– I tried to fix it.
– I tried to look for a way to recycle it (but couldn’t find one).
– I threw it away and tried to live without one. I struggled.
– I did some research as to what alternatives there were. Whilst I could buy a sustainable, fair trade wooden sieve, I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to replace in the future so I looked up industrial cookware on eBay and found a set of 3 used sieves for £25.

Whatever you’re throwing away, take a good look at it first. If you can’t mend it, try to live without it, and if you can’t do that then buy to last. This is the theory that the website (and attached book) Buy Me Once is all about.

It’s also worth noting that some companies will accept their products back. The first example which springs to mind is the oral-hygiene supplier Brush’d. The toothbrush heads we purchased from there came with a stamped, self-addressed envelope which makes it super-easy to recycle the heads. It’s really encouraging to see more companies doing this sort of thing.

Obviously, if you can find alternative products to your usual choices which don’t need recycling then that’s even better – pencil highlighters instead of plastic ones, pens with refillable ink cartridges instead of disposable ball-points, online magazine subscriiptions via the library… there are all sorts of more sustainable solutions out there.

I really hope this was helpful – it’s a hard topic to write about! I’d love to hear what you think – either here, or on Twitter.

Elderflower Cordial

One of my absolute favourite things to make from the garden is elderflower cordial.

It’s so easy to make, and though you need to leave it to steep overnight, it’s actually incredibly quick in terms of weeks. You don’t technically need anything other than store cupboard ingredients – sugar and water, and the zest of some lemons. It does benefit from some citric acid, though.

Firstly, collect a bowl of flower sprays. Pack the bowl quite tightly and let it stand for a few hours – this gives any bugs time to escape.

Once you’ve done that, break the larger stalks off and decant the flower heads into a large pan. Add the peel of some lemons – I used 4 this time, ‘zested’ using a vegetable peeler.

I tried to add the zest of some limes in too, but they were a bit old and gnarly so there’s just that solitary green scrap there…

I covered all of the ingredients in my pot with boiling water, put the lid on, and let it steep for 24 hours – a bit like a giant pot of fresh elderflower tea.

Coming back to it the next day, I put a fine metal sieve – lined with a clean cotton tea towel – over a bowl and strained yesterday’s concoction.

I was just going to pour the whole lot over, but in the end, I decided to use a slotted spoon to remove the larger sprays of elderflower.

After that, I strained what was left. This made it much easier to clean the tea-towel afterwards.

Now for the important part of the instructions – measure the volume of fluid you have left. You need to add grams of sugar equivalent to the number of mililiters in order to make the cordial. So, for example – I measured 1.6l fluid, and added 1.6kg of sugar.

I really like to use Silver Spoon sugar – we used to live near the factory in Suffolk – because it’s grown in the UK so has fewer food miles than alternatives, but as ever, that’s a personal preference.

If you’re adding citric acid to the mix – and I added around a tbsp for this quantity – then stir it through the sugar here.

Once you’ve worked out how much sugar you’ll need, add both sugar and fluid to a large pan, then heat until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, sterilise your bottles.*

All that’s left to do at this point is to decant the finished cordial into the bottles.

Whilst – in theory – this should last well at room temperature, I like to store it in the fridge. With most things – to my shame – I’ll just skim any mould off the top, but that isn’t possible in  a bottle like this so I tend to err on the side of caution.

Dilute to taste – I like a roughly 1:5 ratio with tap water, but you can add sparkling water instead for a bit of fizz.

Have you tried making your own cordials? I’d love to hear what kinds you’ve made! Tell me about it here, or on Twitter.

__
* There are all sorts of ways to do this. Some people like to use boiling water, others use the oven and microwave, but personally I like to use Milton cold-water steriliser or the non-branded equivalent. If I’ve got the oven on anyway, or if I’d planned on boiling the kettle, then I’m happy to do these things but you need such a small amount of the liquid steriliser and you’re not burning through power to heat things by using it, so it’s my favourite method. As with the sugar, though – it’s all just personal preference.

#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.