Low impact hobbies

Trying to reduce our impact on the planet doesn’t begin and end with what we buy and how we travel – the things we do in our free time have an impact too.

There are so many ‘green’ ways we can spend our time – some obvious and others less so. Here are a few of my favourite hobbies, both eco-friendly and those which are less so, but I’ve included both in the interests of full disclosure and because there are ways to make a few of the ‘less good’ hobbies significantly greener.

Walking

This is a no-brainer in ‘green’ terms. What’s better than getting out into the world and enjoying the world around us, after all? We’re out every day with the dog, but more so in the late summer and autumn as this is the main foraging season – both for fruit and mushrooms. And who doesn’t love free food?!

If you need a little help to get over the ‘doorstep mile’, then taking a camera and indulging in a little photography can help. The cameras in most modern phones are great these days, so you don’t necessarily need special equiptment. I still have an old DSLR from my pre-children, pre-self-employment days and really enjoy just parking myself somewhere in the summer months to wait…

Eventually dog or child will oblige and I can snap a magical memory. Taking a picnic and a kite on a walk can turn it from a morning out into a whole day. We keep an ‘adventure kit’ in the back of the car – it contains the makings of tea and coffee, cous cous, cutlery, enamel plates, a change of clothes for everyone, some towels and our Ghillie Kettle – my 30th birthday gift from my dad and the best one ever!

Reading

Reading is possibly my favourite thing in the world to do. It can be 100% free, used for learning or just entertainment. In the day time, you don’t even need to switch on a light to do it so it’s really low-impact. And at night, all it really takes is that lamp – though a cup of tea makes it even better 😉

Signing up to the local library totally transformed how I read – it was like being given permission to order every book I’ve ever wanted and it costs nothing (unless I bring the books back late…) It’s a fantastic way of sharing resources and finding out about local events. Through our library – just one room, open three days a week for two hours a time – I’ve learned CPR, taken my kids to craft sessions, nursery-rhyme sessions and Lego clubs. I’ve checked out knitting books, sewing books, How-To books, cook books for the apocalypse and too many stories to count – all for free.

I realise that not everywhere is equipped with a library full of passionate staff, and if that’s the case, there are other ways to read for free/very cheap.

I was lucky enough to score one of the older models of Kindle on Freecycle, many years ago and use it now for things I find via BookBub. Basically, you sign up and once daily you’ll be sent a round-up of cheap/free e-books from the genres you expressed an interest in. Particularly of note was the time I got Naomi Klein’s ‘This Change’s Everything’ for all of £1.99. It was turbo amazing.

Another way of reading for free without a library is to check out Project Gutenburg. This is a collection of literature on which copyright has expired, so before you shell out on the classics, it’s totally worth looking here first.

Obviously, there’s the usual second-hand market – online and charity shops – but there is still some cost there, even if it is just a small one.

Gaming

I don’t just mean video-games either – I play anything. I especially love a board game.

Board games are fairly kind to the environment – most are made from cardboard/paper pieces with only a handful of plastic bits (if there are any), and few require batteries.  Charity shops and online are a great place to buy second hand games and there are some real bargains to be had out there. They’re brilliant for children – they teach turn taking, dealing with disappointment, cooperation, as well as maths and language skills.

Ocean Bingo Illustrated - Holly Exley Illustration

They can be absolutely beautiful, deeply educational and a lot of fun. We took a huge pile to our after-school club and it was so sad to see how many children were put off at first – thinking they were ‘boring’. A couple of rounds of Hape’s ‘Ghostly Hours’ soon fixed that though! Who doesn’t want to catapult small creatures at one another – right?

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With kids, board games can get stale quite quickly, so churning through charity shop finds and returning them is one way to keep things fresh. Or you could make your own – either with pens and paper, or with Lego. Your only limits are your imagination.

In terms of electronic games, the waters muddy slightly…

Increasingly, friends of mine have been doing away with physical media, choosing to download their purchases instead. Which is great, because there’s not an actual item to dispose of when it’s outlived its usefulness and there’s no transport costs – financial or environmental. This is a really expensive way to play games, though.

Second hand games are a totally viable option, but even used, a popular PS4 title can set you back a fair bit. PC games tend to be cheaper but so often, it costs less to buy a used console than it does to buy an expensive gaming PC. A console makes a great media centre too – streamer, DVD player etc. – so you can get away with fewer lumps of tech attached to your TV.

As I said above, I will play absolutely anything so I spend a lot of time with the games you get as part of PSN Plus. Which is great, if you’ve got a Playstation… less so if you don’t, or if you’re interested in a specific title. This is where services like Boomerang Rentals comes in. Cheaper than second hand, this is a great way to share resources. I was skeptical about the packaging until I tried it out, but it’s reused on the return journey so the only waste at your end is a slim strip of plastic.

Of course, if you have a PC, you do have other options – my favourite being Abandonware – basically the Project Gutenberg of the video-game world, this site collects old games and makes them available for download.

If you’re not sure where to start, my nostalgic self absolutely recommends Utopia: The Creation of a Nation.

It goes without saying that playing video games uses electricity, but turning off the TV and any other paraphanalia you might have attached (amp, console etc.) when you’re not playing can go a long way to helping reduce the power consumption.

Crafting

My crafting skills have saved me so much money over the years and have kept so many of my textiles in circulation when they would otherwise have been binned.

I knit well, can crochet a little, and can mash stuff through a sewing machine if I need to. These can be really expensive hobbies, if you buy everything new, but as above, second-hand is a great way to keep things sustainable and affordable.

That said, with yarn, I’m a real pushover. I reason with myself that with yarn, you should divide the cost by three because you’re getting:

  1. The yarn – a beautiful item in its own right (the stuff in this picture came from GamerCrafting).
  2. The joy of working it – literal hours of entertainment.
  3. The finished item – a unique piece of art.

I do buy a lot of my yarn at the charity shop, but when I do want to splash out on something special, I tend to go for independant weavers/dyers, or an ethical store like Yarn Yarn (the banana yarn is especially scrumptious).

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Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive – I included foraging in with walking when it really deserves its own post, for example. But I wanted to highlight that there are loads of low-cost, low-impact hobbies out there, as well as ways to make things you might already be doing a little more earth-friendly.

How do you pass the time?

Mending the Oven – a Do Nation Pledge

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken about fixing my sunglasses, mending son’s trousers, and replacing the lid on daughter’s water bottle as part of Do Nation’s ‘Fix It’ Pledge.

I’d promised to mend four things during the two-month time-frame and as it draws to a close, Husband and I finally got around to doing the big fix which had inspired me to take the pledge in the first place – we mended our oven!

This is the oven which came with the house when we moved in:

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It is, by far, the nicest oven I’ve had access to since I lived at home with Mum’s coal-fired Aga. However…

The long, thin oven on the right hasn’t ever worked. The fan’s been broken since – I presume – before we moved in… five years ago.

To mend this, we searched online for the model number of the oven and found the manual, then from there, we searched for the broken part and bought a replacement. At this point, I would definitely say that you need to be careful with the listings – we searched ‘genuine Rangemaster part’, but if we had read the description better, we would have learned that we were actually buying a part for a genuine Rangemaster…

And usually, I’m all for a bargain, but in this case we got what we paid for. When we opened the package, the bolts we needed to fix the fan in place weren’t there.

We did, however, get three completely superfluous screws…

Luckily the bolts on the original fan were intact so we were able to reuse them, but honestly – they’re grimy and very worn so I’m not entirely comfortable with that. Next time I’m in town, I’ll buy new ones, but for a quick fix this is perfectly adequate.

The swap itself was easy enough and facilitated by a video online (which I won’t post a link to because a. Husband looked it up, and b. your oven is probably different to mine).

The research time for the part was probably ten minutes. Including the cleaning of the space behind the over before we dared tread there, the fitting itself took around thirty minutes. The part cost under £35 including delivery.

So ,I’ll take that as a win!

I’ve now commpleted my four Do Nation repairs, but this has definitely made me rethink a few things. As I said when I posted about Son’s trousers, I’m pretty good at repairing textiles and do so regularly, but it was really nice to learn that it’s not so hard to repair other things too – even bigger, scary, grown-up things like ovens.

In the bathroom – a big, long, text-heavy post

When I first started writing this blog, I mentioned that I’d like to reduce our waste in the bathroom.

So far, we’ve managed to make quite a few changes:
– Soap bars instead of plastic bottles
– Shampoo bars instead of the liquid alternative
– a menstrual cup instead of tampons/pads
– paper-stemmed cotton buds
– using crystal deoderant – it lasts years!
– not using seperate body wash or conditioner
– using vinegar to clean with

A lot of these alterations were driven by cost – bars of soap and shampoo last so much longer than liquid versions and the menstrual cup was a superb investment*.

I’ve used PitROK crystal deoderant for over a decade now and have only had to replace my stick once (because I lost it!) in that whole time. So, even though Boots has it sitting at £6.59, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment and saves money long-term. It does have a plastic ‘sleeve’ – for lack of a better word – but you can buy a plastic-free crystal deoderant from Salt Of The Earth. When my current PitROK stick finally runs out, I’ll be replacing it with this – it’s £4.85, so slightly cheaper. Do bear in mind, though that it’s 75g vs 100g of the PitROK.

So far, so good. Until you bear in mind that at the same time, we still use an electric toothbrush, Aldi’s own brand of dental floss and Tesco Essentials plastic-tubed toothpaste so there’s still considerable work to do.

Let’s not even start on my contact lenses…

Anyway. Going forward. What can I change?

I don’t remeber how much exactly the Aldi floss cost, and unfortunately I can’t find it online, but I did get two dispensers full in one pack and I seem to recall it costing between £1.99-£2.99 (though I could be wrong). According to MySupermarket**, expensive Oral B dental floss costs £2 for 50m at Tesco, making it 4p per metre.

The most cost effective eco-alternative I’ve found so far is the Bambaw floss from EthicalSuperstore – it’s made from cornstarch so is suitable for vegans too. For 50m, plus the reusable dispenser, it works out at £5.75 – just under 12p per metre. The refils cost £6.79 for two rolls, so work out at just under 7p per metre – a significant saving, though still nearly double the cost of the expensive supermarket variety.

Am I going to make the switch? I feel like floss is something that I either have to spend silly money on to get an earth-friendly alternative, or something I have to find an alternative to. I’m wondering if wooden toothpicks might be able to achieve a similar thing and between now and running out of floss, I’ll be looking for some in plastic-free packaging.

Floss aside, teeth are still a big source of plastic in this house. As I stated above, toothpaste tubes and electric brush-heads are big contributors but for the moment, I don’t feel like the former is something I can change. I know, I know… there are loads of alternatives out there, but there are family members with additional sensory needs and to have finally found a toothpaste we all get along with is such a relief that I can’t begin to think of changing that. Should Tesco alter their Essentials recipe, we’ll revisit this with reusable alternatives, but for now, I can’t see that changing.

I can, however, make a compromise with the brush-heads we use. We bought the electric toothbrush as a last-ditch attempt to ensure clean-teeth in the aforementioned family member so I’m not willing to get rid of it. We’ve done our best to choose one that will last a long time – it’s a ‘cheapy’ (from a set of two) that we bought from Costco in the days when we had a membership. The batteries are just standard AA size so we can employ our rechargables here. The fact that we can remove the batteries also means that when the toothbrush finally does stop working (four years and counting so far, though – touch wood!) we can carry on using the rechargables in other things whilst we recycle the handle as a small appliance with the local council.

It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s not the worst, either. As to the brush-heads though… Until now, we’ve been bulk buying them and still have six-months worth, which we’ll use before buying more. After that, however, we’ll be trialing some LiveCoCo heads which you can return to the manufacturer for recycling. These do cost significantly more than the standard ones (£9.99 for two, direct from the manufacturer!), but I’ll be switching to a cheaper bamboo manual brush at that point in an effort to offset some of the cost. The cheap toothpaste also helps here…

So what haven’t I covered yet?

In the past, we’ve tried the Who Gives a Crap (WGAC) toilet paper and… honestly? It clogged our drain. I don’t think that’s entirely the fault of the loo roll – it’s probably a combination of things. At the same time as trying it, I tried to curb our water consumption by putting full plastic bottles in the cisterns***. On top of that, the decline from our house to the septic tank isn’t that steep so things are predisposed to getting stuck. The WGAC loo roll is great at breaking down, but as a result it did so long before it reached our tank and we were left rodding the drains on nearly a daily – and sometimes twice daily – basis. It wasn’t a sustainable way to live long term so we’ve gone back to loo roll that takes a bit longer to disintegrate. In the future, I’ll be looking to try their more expensive bamboo range, but for now that’s just not possible financially.

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Generally, we’ve been selecting 3-ply packs from budget supermarkets which use FSC trees and have reyclable outer bags. Recently though, I discovered Tesco’s own-brand recycled loo roll and so far so good on that. I need to do more research regarding the use of bleach etc. but this might be the best solution for us, going forward.

Cosmetics can be a big producer of waste – both in terms of plastic, unused products, and unwanted gifts. I don’t personally wear make-up, but I do appreciate a good flanel to wash my face at night. Back in the days when I could muster enough energy to paint my face, I found that the terry cloth of the towel was better than any brand of wipe, so I purchased a pack of small terry nappies. After children, they were purloined for their proper purpose, but I’m still partial to a flanel. Being a knitter/crocheter, I’ve seen a lot of really great, free patterns out there for washable wipes and it’s worth checking through the Ravelry archives. This is the one I often make to gift, and I’m super-impressed by this alternative shower-scrubbie.

I think the final thing of note might be razors. My husband stopped shaving many, many, pre-me years ago and I’m still working my way through the razor heads he bought for his Gilette during this time. Obviously, the most eco-friendly thing to do in regards to body-hair is not to shave, but for my own reasons, this isn’t an option for me.

Lots of people have written extensively about the advantages of safety razors over disposable/mixed-material reusables and I’d urge you to read some of their articles about life with one, as I still need to try one for myself. One of the main ideas is that being made primarily from metal, there are few ways for the razor handle to break, the blade is easily changed, is metal only so can be recycled and comes in much less packaging than the mixed-material alternatives.

So after all that text, is there anything you can see that I’ve missed out? I’d love to hear some of your tips for going low-waste in the bathroom – why don’t you come join me on Twitter?

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*I do realise that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of menstrual cups but there are other reusable menstrual products out there – washable pads, period-panties, natural sponges etc – as well as disposable products which don’t contain plastic, or reusable applicators for conventional tampons.  If you’re interested in learning more, the Sustainable(ish) Podcast covers the topic of periods on three seperate episodes.

**Correct at time of publication.

***Using full plastic bottles is generally considered better practise than putting a brick in the cistern – the bottles doesn’t break down and wreck your pipes over time. Don’t learn this the hard way. Student landlords aren’t especially lenient…

 

Microwave drying

I’ve spoken briefly before about drying herbs in the microwave, in order to make stock/boullion. Now, as the weather starts to turn, I’m drying what’s left of my annual herbs, and the perenials which die back over winter.

Lovage is amongst the first to yellow, but with its big, fleshy leaves and a celery-like, peppery taste, this forms the basis of most of our winter stews. In order to keep us in lovage over winter, the kids and I gathered as many good leafs as we could and took them inside.

Once washed and dried, we spread them on a microwavable plate and cooked on high for two minutes, stopping half-way through to let the steam out of the microwave in order to speed up the process.

After the two minutes of cooking time, the leafs had retainned their vibrant green colour and wonderful smell, but could be easily crumbled and compacted into a jar.

(The jar in the picture above is actually the mint we dried… I had a brain fart and photographed the wrong container, and it’s too dark to redo it now).

There are many wonderful things about drying herbs this way.

  • You can enjoy herbs which aren’t readily available at the supermarket, all year round.
  • There is no packaging to dispose of – plastic or otherwise!
  • The process is quick and relatively energy efficient – definitely faster than drying in an oven!
  • It’s free, aside from the power usage.
  • It’s a great way to use up any excess fresh herbs you buy, rather than letting them turn to slime in the fridge.
  • Most leafs can be dried in this way. In addition to mint, I’ve also tried camomile greens, nettles and borage. I’m going to try raspberry leaf next summer, too.
  • This is a great activity for even very young children to help with – there’s no cutting involved, no hot pans and it’s easy to see results in minutes.

Do you dry your own herbs and teas? I’d love to hear your experiences – why not join me on Twitter?

Mending Son’s Trousers – a Do Nation pledge

Some of you might remember my earlier posts about repairing Daughter’s water bottle and my old sunglasses.

At the beginning of the pledge,  I promised to mend four items – which,  if you think about the amount of things in the average house,  really isn’t a lot.

As with the water bottle,  I nearly didn’t report this one.  I fix clothes fairly constantly, but then I thought the method might be of use to someone.

So,  two holes in a pair of hand-me-down 100% cotton joggers – one on each knee. For the first,  I sewed up the hole and stitched a patch over the top.  Interestingly,  the patch came from a pair of Daughter’s shoes – there is a loop on the back for the laces. We took them off to make them more suitable for school but put them aside for just this sort of thing.

For the next hole, I didn’t want to use a patch as the tear was tiny.

To start with, I secured the hole…

This is technically a fix in itself and if your child/you is happy with the hole like this,  you should definitely leave it – less work! Unfortunately,  my child wasn’t happy with this so to create a patch, I began weaving over the top with some cotton yarn I had left over from a project.  I chose cotton so that the added fibres could be washed at the same temperature without the risk of uneven shrinkage – something I can’t sew my way out of.

I’m really pleased with the finished trousers – the structural integrity is restored and Son is happy with how they look. I would call that a win.

 

 

Every scrap.

So, before I start, I just want to tell you that I took SO MANY pictures to go along with this post.

Only two survived, though, and I honestly don’t know what happened.

Which is sort of heartbreaking, because I did everything I possibly could to make sure as many edible things as possible survived the making of my dinner tonight (see what I did there – nice link into the subject matter, eh?)

Tonight I cooked from the Leon Vegetarian cookbook.

It’s possibly my favourite culinary tome at the moment – the Readers Digest cookery year aside, obviously – and that’s largely on account of the ‘cous cous with seven vegetables’ recipe. I managed to find a copy online, so I would absolutely recommend taking a look, even if you don’t own a copy of the book.

My mission tonight was to save resources in every area I possibly could whilst cooking dinner. Let me talk you through it and I’ll highlight anything I think I’ve done which cuts down on my resource use. You’re possibly doing a lot/all of it already, but I think it’s worth taking the time to recognise when we’re doing well 😉

First of all, this meal was vegetarian, the fresh vegetables were purchased without packaging and the cous cous was bought in a cardboard box from Lidl (though I can now buy it from the plastic-free shop in the village).

Even though the recipe called for plain cous cous, I used some leafs from a cauliflower I had sitting in the fridge – this is a part of the plant people usually throw away, but it’s tasty, valuable food. I fried these with a little garlic and tossed them through the cous cous before adding the water and a stock cube, then setting it aside.

I used the same pan to begin the recipe – see link above for procedure –  and rinsed the tomato can with the 100mls of water to get the most tomatoes possible. Then when I drained the chick peas, I retained the liquid from the can to use in the making of chocolate mousse for my child’s packed lunch.

I placed all of the vegetable peelings in a paper flour bag I saved so that I could put them in the compost bin.

We kept the leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

In the text above, there are nine seperate uses of bold text – nine seperate times when I chose not to waste resources in a 20 minute period.

If we all did this for every meal, we would go a long way to eliminating food waste.

As I said, I don’t have any pictures of the beautiful finished meal, but I do have photos of the leftoves – a.k.a lunch!

   

If you’re interested in the chocolate mousse recipe, you can find it in my post about Aqua Faba.

What are your favourite ways to reduce your waste in the kitchen? Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

Aqua faba

Recently,  I was asked to contribute an article to my local magazine. I made the decision to focus on the waste we create around our food.  You can read it here – I’m on pages 14 & 15.

In case you can’t view the PDF, here’s some pictures of the vegan meringue and chocolate mousse I made to go along with the article.


Aqua-faba meringue recipe

  • 1 can’s-worth of aqua-faba (I prefer the chick-pea kind but kidney bean works well too)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the over to 100C.
Whisk the aqua-faba until it doubles in volume.
Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until the
AF stands in stiff peaks.
Slowly add the icing sugar and fold in, gently.
Spoon dollops of the mixtrue, or pipe it, onto a lined baking sheet.
Place in the oven for two hours and don’t open the door during this time.
After the two hours, turn off the oven but do not remove the meringues for at least another hour, though ideally, they are best if left until the oven has reached room temperature.
Once completely cooled, store in a cool, dry place.

Chocolate mousse recipe

  • 1 can’s-worth of aqua-faba (I prefer the chick-pea kind but kidney bean works well too)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g dark chocolate (use vegan-friendly chocolate if required)

Set your chocolate to melt in a bain marie or bowl over a pan of boiling water.

Meanwhile, whisk the aqua-faba until it doubles in volume. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whisk until the AF stands in stiff peaks.

Gently fold the melted chocolate into the AF mixture.
Spoon into appropriate recepticles (I use old china teacups, but glass ramekins from store-bought
puddings work really well too).

Refridgerate for a few hours until firm.

Enjoy with fresh berries and whipped cream/coconut milk, or eat plain as a desert

 

The reality of plastic-free shopping

This morning, armed with my shopping list, meal plan and a rare full tank of petrol, I decided to see how many things I could purchase without generating plastic waste.

As Husband didn’t have any work this morning, he opted to join me and our youngest child (4) on our mission. Given that no one was remaining in our home, the dog had to come too*, which added an extra dimension to our trip – an almost full car, a time limit in each shop, and little space to put the groceries.

Three supermarkets and one private dairy later, and this was the state of affairs:

The circled items contain plastic packagaing. Though the above picture isn’t that clear, I hope that it’s visible enough…

Anyway – the first place we called was Lidl. I like shopping here because they have a bakery section with loose items, a good selection of loose veg, and you can buy nuts by weight – ideal snacks for after school. It’s also cheap, so if I can get the majority of my shopping here, I’m onto a winner. I also made sure to buy something from the bakery section for us to snack on for when the 4 yr old announced ‘I’m Hungry’, lest we accidentally gave in to the inevitable incessent requests for something grab-sized and packaged.

Again, the picture quality isn’t amazing but items on the list which did come housed in plastic were those which I knew would be plastic-wrapped anywhere but which were cheaper at Lidl.

These were:

  • Muesli (one of our sensory safe foods which must come from Lidl anyway).
  • Double cream – I will use the pots for packed lunch deserts/freezing things in.
  • Greek Style Yogurt – for a recipe in which the yorgurt serves as marinate. Leftovers will be breakfast/decanted into smaller containers for packed lunch and the bucket will be used to store/freeze/transport items from the package free shop.
  • Spatzle/German Egg Pasta – Husband’s taste of home. I don’t begrudge him that and Lidl only sell it every few months so we stock up. I will use the bags to freeze things in as they come with metal ‘ties’.
  • Cod Fillets – I don’t know. Husband put them in.
  • Scottish Baby Potatoes – See ‘Cod fillets’.

After Lidl, it was on to Morrisons. There is maybe a mile between the two, through the town centre. On my own, with a shopping trolley, I would definitely have walked it in my pre-children days. Of course, in my pre-children days, you didn’t get fined for staying too long in one car park. This ‘parking eye’ nonsense means that unless you plan to ignore all the fines you get sent until they leave you alone**, you have to keep moving your car between supermarket car parks. In our case, we had to travel through the centre of an already concested town.

Anyway, that’s a rant for another day… Plastic purchased from Morrisons, bearing in mind we took our own jars for olives etc:

  • 4 Packs of salted Brittish Butter (this makes many things a safe-food – non-negotiable)
  • 6 packs of Stockan’s oatcakes (though I forgot to circle two cheese-flavour packs for the picture). These are wrapped in a thin layer of plastic and nothing else, unlike the likes of Nairns – for example – which are in cardboard and then further plastic inside. Both Stockan’s and Nairns use sustainably sourced palm oil for their oatcakes.***
  • 1 pack of fresh corriander – we can grow this in future, but I accidentally killed off the last plant and the new one hasn’t germinated yet. Buying cut herbs in a bag seemed less wasteful than buying living herbs in a pot when I already had a pot.

Finally, we made our way to Tesco, which I’d been hoping to avoid, but Morrisons had run out of fresh yeast (on the plus side, the yeast from Tesco is free so… bonus). Another store within a mile – again it was necessary to repark.

As you can see, the reciept does not say ‘fresh yeast’ on it… basically, you just walk up to the bakery section in large stores and ask the staff for some fresh yeast, please. They then go grab you some, give it to you, and you show it to the cashier as you leave. Then that’s it – you’re not charged (or shouldn’t be).

You might also be able to see that most of what’s on the Tesco reciept is plastic wrapped, but in this case, I’m glad of the individual plastic packaging. Only the tea, the asprin and two of the essentials toothpastes came home with me. The rest went into the foodbank collection box. I’m not sure how easy it would be to distribute a huge sack of salt, but little plastic shakers are easy enough to pass out. Obviously “poverty plus plastic” is too large a topic for a layman like me to tackle, but it’s instances like this which  raise a lot of questions for me. It’s easy to get judgy about plastic use, but our situations are all so difference and there are so many without a choice – it’s a nice reminder to be gentler with another.

But I digress, of the stuff that came back with me, the following contained plastic:

  • The toothpaste tubes – a ‘sensory safe’ item, this is non-negotiable.
  • Curry powder – not available in larger containers in any of the supermarkets we visited and not available at this time from our plastic-free shop.
  • Asprin tablets – the only thing which will touch my migraines. I live in the cope of finding these housed in glass bottles somewhere but have yet to be successful.
  • Leaf tea – the box is cardboard, there are no bags so no plastic there, but the film beneath the lid is ‘not currently recyclable’. Still, it’s a start.

And then we went to the dairy. I refilled my three 1-litre glass bottles, as well as a large plastic milk bottle originally from Tesco and a plastic 1 litre tonic-water bottle. The later two were sterilised using milton, so didn’t require heat. I’ve frozen both of the plastic containers so that we will have lower-waste milk for longer this week.

You might have noticed a large quantity of some of the goods – the muesli and the toothpaste, the tea and croissants, for example. These are either part of our ‘safe’ set of products, or are part of the ever-vital routine of our household (Sunday morning croissants – mmm). I’m trying to gather a little ‘backlog’ (I don’t want to call it a stock-pile yet), in case Brexit does disrupt food lines to the extent expected. At least this way, I have options.

If you’d like to read more about stockpiling, Jack Monroe – as ever – has you covered.

So yes, having been to 4 seperate businesses, 12 out of the 45 different items purchased were packaged with some kind of single-use plastic. That’s just over a quarter of all food.

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*The dog happened to us, almost accidentally. He was originally purchased as a Jack Russel x Chihuahua by someone who, presumably, had never seen either breed (given that he’s undeniably a sight-hound x labrador). On his growing larger than the family had expected, they put him on Gumtree as ‘free to a good home’ and he was lucky enough to be picked up by a local greyhound charity. Placed with one home, it soon became evident that he couldn’t be left alone without destroying things so he was moved on. To us. Because 99% of the time there’s someone in our house, he’s usually the happiest, easiest dog ever. On that other 1% of occassions we toss a coin and either leave him here (in which case he destroys ALL THE THINGS) or we take him with us. Today we took him along.

That was a really long back-story for one sentence… oops.

**I don’t recommend it. It’s pretty stressful…. or so I hear. Ahem.

***I know you can make oatcakes fairly easily, and I do quite often, but these are just so great to have in the house – ready made – for if my packed-lunch plans fail, or if the bread doesn’t work for lunch and we don’t have time to wait for me to make an alternative.

My Zero Waste Kitchen – Dorling Kindersley

This is a really cute, colourful little book – laid out in classic Dorling Kindersley fashion. As one would expect from this publisher, there is a lot of really solid advice here, spread out in bright and cheery text boxes.

Overall, this reads like a cook-book for the experienced, rather than an environmental book and I’m not entirely sure who it’s aimed at. If you’re the sort of person who cooks the sorts of things in the book then you know most of these tricks already, however if you need the book to tell you this stuff, then you probably need more detail.

My eldest child (8) really enjoyed reading it and said it was very educational, but at the same time, how many 8 year olds are in charge of a kitchen? Perhaps this is something for students who are just starting out in their own flats?

That sounds disparaging, but I’m a really experienced cook and there was still new information to me here – I didn’t clock that microwaving my dish cloths would sterilise them, but of course that’s A Thing. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that before!

I guess this is one to get from the library if your local brach carries it. A great once-through sort of book with a few key points to take away.

What great waste-reducing tips have you found in unlikely places? Why not come and share them with me here or on Twitter?

 

Making the most of what we’ve got – thoughts on food

It’s really easy to get into the habit of automatically ditching things, either because it’s what you’ve seen others do, or simply because you’re used to produce looking slightly different – shining cream potatoes or glossy-skinned apples, for example.

This year, our apples took a real battering. The skins were cracked by the sun and rain in combination, and beneath those blemishes were what looked like apple scab. Reading online, the best way to ‘treat’* the fungus is to make sure there’s as little detritus left from the tree for the fungus to grow on, after the tree has dropped its fruit and leafs for the year.

Being honest, my initial thought was to simply scoop everything up into the compost after the last leaf had fallen, but the tree has always been such an excellent fruiter that doing so seemed oddly like the betrayal of an old friend.

So, when a child-sized barrow full of apples was proudly presented to me, I decided to have a go at making the most of the fruit that was there, regardless of looks.

Sure enough, there is a lot of unusable apple in there. The cracks in the peel had made the flesh into a wasp-buffet, which in turn had turned the wasps into gourmet food for our local bird pupolation so stayed on after supper for the apple desert course.

Knowing that apple scab wasn’t a harmful fungus, I decided to just cut away the cracked areas and peel the skin off. Usually I don’t bother peeling the apples from the garden – they’re grown so far from anything that even resembles a pesticide that a rinse under the tap is more than enough to clean them – but on this occasion, I made the choice to strip them back to the fruit itself.

When that was done, I chopped them up and separated the core from the flesh. I packed the cores into a jar and covered them with a water/sugar solution to make cyder vinegar. There are recipes everywhere but Spot of Earth does a pretty detailed tutorial of how to make it.

With the ‘proper’ fruit, I filled a crumble pan and made a topping – a vegan one, in fact (using vegetable oil in place of butter works really well if you use golden sugar – the oil is cheaper too). There were still a good few cups full of chopped apple left so I grabbed the baby slow-cooker which I inherited from my grandmother, filled it and made my go-to apple butter recipe – 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of powdered cinamon for every 2 cups of fruit .

The apple butter will top my porridge in the coming months, and my toast, and any yogurt I happen to achieve… or honestly, I’ll just eat it with a spoon. It’s honestly the greatest preserve I have ever eaten.

It got me to thinking about other foods which don’t get eaten because of… well, I don’t know why.

I’ve always dug out the seeds from pumpkins, melons and squashes – because why would I buy these when they come free in my food. I either toast them in the oven – if we’re already drying mushrooms, or herbs or vegetable peel – or on the car dash-board. I either use them in bread to add some extra texture, or just snack on them.

So when we didn’t eat all of the cake that I made earlier in the week, I resolved not to throw it out. In fairness to my family, this particular cake was terrible – I ran out of cocoa powder so it was a not-so-chocolatey batter that I overbaked in cupcake cases to become what were essentially powder-dry hockey-pucks.

Ahem. Not my finest hour.

Anyway, using a pestle and mortar – I kid you not – I mashed up the ‘cake’. Then I poured homemade cherry schnapps onto it. Not much – just a tablespoon, but it’s potent stuff so that flavoured the lot. Then I folded this cake-powder mush into some chocolate buttercream icing. This, I rolled into balls and covered in dark chocolate.

Honestly, they’re so good I would make bad cake on purpose again.

After the cake incident, I had a look through the council-collected food waste caddy we keep under the sink. The contents tend to be things that are half-eaten. Single, once-bitten potatoes – for example – feature heavily, but not as heavily as Husband’s coffee grounds or my spent loose-leaf tea.

So my challenge is – how would you use these things? The tea and coffee, specifically, rather than the bitten tatties. Why not come and let me know on Twitter?

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*Unfortunately, there’s no real way to treat it that I’ve seen so I can only really attempt to minimise its impact on future crops.