Stop Staring at Screens by Tanya Goodin

Digital Detox Book | Tanya Goodin | Digital Detox Expert ...

Stop Staring at Screens by Tanya Goodin isn’t technically an environmental book, nor is it what I thought it was when I ordered it from the library, but it still gets an honourary mention.

To be honest, I checked this out with a view to learning why my youngest child is so absolutely smitten by anything with flashing lights. This book definitely doesn’t do that, but it does provide a quick, easy read, and champions getting out into the world so I’ve included it here.

The slim volume is divided into small sections, each advocating a different approach to reducing the amount of time a family spends online, using thier phones. It’s a really pretty book – the photography is glorious – and whilst I don’t feel it’s applicable to me (given that I use a Nokia…) it’s definitely worth a mention for anyone who is looking to replace screen-time with more family connection.

So, how does that factor into the whole ‘environment’ thing that I’m aiming for here? Well, lots of ways. The more we engage with the natural world, the more we come to care about it. The more time we spend on our phones, the more power we use, the more we’re exposed to advertising, the more we feel dissatisfied with what we have, the more we want to use resources that the world can ill-afford. It’s better for our mental health, our physical health and our planetary health to unplug.

Have you read this book? Do you have any tips for reducing the amount of time you spend online? I would love to hear your ideas, here or on Twitter.

‘The 5 Rs’ – Reuse

Following on from the last post I did, looking at ‘The 5 Rs’ more closely, I thought I would take this to look at the super-fun world of reuse.

This is my favourite way to keep things from landfill and give them a new lease of life because it can be such a creative form of environmntalism. Some of my favourite things in our house have come about this way and I thouht I’d share them with you now.

First up…

The light was against me, taking this photograph, but what you’re looking at here isn’t the hanging (handmade and bought from a charity shop) – it’s the pole that the patchwork is suspended from. This was an old clothes rail in a 1950s wardrobe that came out of my Nan’s house in 2006. The wardrobe travelled round all my student digs and early married life with me, but it eventually disintegrated in around 2010 after over half a century of constant use. I kept the metal bar from it though, and the lovely fixtures, and it’s been used for all sorts since – hanging mugs from s-hooks in the kitchen, to holding little crocheted baskets of nappies over a changing table. The lesson here – if you’re throwing something out anyway, try to think of it as commponent parts. Some might still be useful.

Next…

Another example of component parts – we had a beautiful lamp that got smashed in one of our many house moves, so instead of binning the electrics, we fitted them inside an old whisky box, drilled holes in and made a ‘decorative wall light shelf thing’. At some point in the future, if we need an actual lamp that casts light, we can take this to bits and reuse the electics but for now, it makes the room look very cozy when we sit upstairs reading.

Next…

You don’t have to physically alter something to change its function. You just need a little imagination. This is a vintage toy cot that both my children have grown out of and which we now use for storing their picture books.

Of course, you can simply continue using something for its intended purpose… jars and tubs are a classic example of this, but pretty antiques absolutely count too. There are so many items from the middle of the last century which are absolutely perfect for a lower-waste lifestyle – wicker shopping baskets, tea caddies and strainers, clockwork hand-whisks… these pieces of kitchenalia were produced to last and though old, will function perfectly well. I didn’t take a picture because the state of it is frankly embarassinng, but my toaster is a 1960s bright orange floral monstrosity that was made in West Germany, whilst my iron  – of the same origins – is from 1975 at the earliest. Just because something is old, that doesn’t mean it won’t work perfectly well. As long as you have any electronics properly tested, you’re golden!

One of my favorutie ways to reuse plastic from food – which I haven’t photographed because we haven’t got any seedlings going yet – is to employ old meat/soft fruit punnets as plant pots. You can fit so many more square containers on a window ledge than round, and the fruit punnets already have drainage holes in the bottom. Last year, we grew cress and rocket indoors in them, but hopefully this year, we’ll be able to start our garden vegetables this way.

Obviously, the ways you can reuse things are only limited by your imagination – I would absolutely love to see the creative ways you’ve found to extent the useful life of your items. Why not get in touch – here or on Twitter.

 

A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button

Whilst I’ve really enjoyed books like Natalie Fee’s ‘How to Save The World for Free’ and Lucy Siegle’s ‘Turning the Tide on Plastic’, I’ve been after something a bit different for a while now. It’s not that these aren’t valuable titles – they absolutely are – but they can be a little… samey if you read a lot about the environment.

A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button looks at the problem of overconsumption from a different perspective –  by examining how marketers manage to get us to buy things we don’t need. As someone who used to work in the advertising industry, Button sheds light on the tricks that are used and how we can combat them.

Having decided that the ad industry wasn’t for her, Button then went on to create BuyMeOnce – an amazing resource for people looking to buy items which will last. Again, drawing on this expertise, she speaks about the sorts of questions we should be asking manufacturers and retailers when making a purchase, as well as the sorts of questions we should be asking ourselves.

In fact, there are whole sections of exercises for discovering what your ‘true’ tastes might be. Despite the fact that I grew up in charity-shop clothes and hand-me-downs, and have actively been trying not to aquire anything new for the last five years (and trying to reduce my general environmental damage for the last decade), I still found theses really useful – particularly the one concerning interiors.

Visiting friends and family in Denmark has often left me feeling as though I should decorate in a more… Scandinavian fashion. Home-decor there is a lot more homogonous and as a result, there’s a certain sense of visual peace to the country that I feel as though I should try and emulate. The exercisefrom Button’s book definitely helped me to realise that just because it is prevalent, that doesn’t mean I like it. I’m much more ecclectic and chaotic at my core. 😉

Though I did borrow this from my library, it’s a book I will be purchasing in the future. I’m on a deadline to return it, but I’d actually like to take the opportunity to work through all of the exercises slowly and carefully. I think they’ll be a total game-changer in the coming years – especially as my eldest enters their teen years. Being able to know which questions to ask to get my child thinking will be invaluable.

Have you read A Life Less Throwaway? What did you think? Did any of iwhat you learned come as a surprise? I’d love to hear your thoughts, 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. ❤

How To Save The World For Free by Natalie Fee

How to Save the World for Free by Natalie Fee is exactly what it sounds like – a book full of no/low cost ways in which we can change our lifestyle in order to have a smaller impact on the environment.

The style of prose in the book is accessible and friendly, and the layout is really inviting. There was a lot of really great information – many things I hadn’t thought of before, as well as al the usual about reusable bottles etc.

My main qualm with the book was when the author said the Danes don’t have a word for draught. They do. Two, in fact – træk, and gennemtræk. You don’t need an overpriced degree in Danish Language to find this out, either. You can check on Google Translate… But that said, as my main issue with the book, it’s not a huge deal (though it does make me question the credibility of some parts…)

One of the things I liked most about this book, and which I had the biggest problem with in the XR book, was the citations. Instead of printing all the citations out and increasing the book size/hindering its accessibility, the references are available online. I really think this is a great and very simple compromise. It also means that anyone has access to the reference material, so even if you borrow this as a library book, for example, you can still check facts later and delve further into the topic.

I think, of all the books I’ve read so far, this is my top choice for anyone just starting out in trying to live a more eco-conscious life. It covers the obvious stuff, but also explores the less obvious.

Have you read How To Save The World For Free? What did you think?

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips By Holly Farrell

RHS Plants from Pips by Holly Farrell is a great little book which everyone in this house has greatly enjoyed.

Not technically an ‘eco’ book, but definitely worthy of mention for so many reasons, this little tome is a wealth of information regarding regrowing plants from the seeds in our foods.

My mum originally gifted it to my children with a view to helping them learn where their food comes from, but it’s also a great way to produce food from what is largely considered waste -imagine  homemade compost, growing seeds we would otherwise throw out, planted in recycled containers, all producing delicious things to eat with zero food miles? It doesn’t get much better than that, really. And don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions that my growing army of house plants are going to somehow tip the carbon scales back in our favour, but they’re definitely not hurting! Imagine if everyone who ate an apple planted the pips – the world would be a vastly different place…

The instructions in here are clear, concise and accurate. So far, 4/5 of avocado pips we’ve planted have resulted in fledgling trees and we’re all delighted. My youngest is so taken with the idea that he’s even started coming home from nursery with carefully gathered kiwi seeds from his afternoon snack…

There’s not a huge amount more to say about the book – in short, if you can get hold of a copy then do. It’s pretty, it’s accurate, the instructions yield results even when undertaken by two under-tens and an adult with a genetic pre-disposition to destroy plants by looking at them… you can’t really ask for more, can you?

Have you tried planting any seeds from your supermarket vegetables? Did you have any success? I’d love to hear about your results – avocado or otherwise!

 

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.

Your local library.

In 2019, I borrowed and returned 146 books from my local library.

Some of these were reference books, some audio books, some travel guides, and most were fiction.

Normally I buy books used, but even if the average second hand book only cost £1, that’s still £146 saved in 12 months.

If I factor my children into the equation, the financial saving roughly triples.

That’s a saving of £438, give or take a few pounds.

Definitely not a saving to be sniffed at. Admittedly, we are a family of avid readers anyway,  but the amount I read definitely took a sharp incline when I deleted my Facebook account, and when I signed up for the Do Nation ‘feed your noodle’ pledge.

Reading is an amazing, low impact hobby, and one of my great joys in life so it’s easy for me to prioritise it. That said, I understand that this isn’t the case for everyone – libraries everywhere are increasingly under pressure to cut costs, so opening times might be erratic. Ours, for example,  only opens for three days a week and the hours aren’t exactly ideal for shift work. I’m lucky in that I can pop in on my way to school pick up,  but this isn’t the case for everyone.

So, how can we utilise this resource if we’re short on time? Most libraries offer an e-book service which can be accessed at home at any time.  If you don’t have a dedicated e-reader, there are loads of apps out there which allow you to use your phone or computer. This is great for cook books,  or other reference books,  but it’s not necessarily great for reading novels just before bed. This is where Freecycle, Gumtree and eBay come in – both my brother and I have sourced free e-readers from these sites and in our area,  they seem to come up relatively frequently.

There are so many amazing environmental books available at this time – to me,  it just seems right to borrow them from the library so that we can better share resources.

Do you know of any other easily accessible resource sharing schemes out there?  I already rent my video games,  but I’m keen to see what else is out there!