It’s Zero Waste Week

It’s already day two (just), but it’s not too late! I’m not a great one for signing up to challenges like this (although I know that lots of people find that they provide a good incentive), but I am particularly taken with this year’s theme: One More Thing. So, I’ve been thinking about one more thing we could do…

Chez Snail, we don’t produce much landfill-type waste – a small bag every month, perhaps. Food waste is minimal too, partly because eating fresh from the garden means that what isn’t harvested to be eaten straight away carries on growing, and partly because we don’t over-shop and we are happy to eat left-overs. But we do send quite a bit for recycling – maybe one rubbish sack every two weeks, so I’m sure there is room for improvement here.

We could cut down on the number of superfluous things that we buy and this would reduce the amount of packaging that we throw away and (in theory) reduce the amount of stuff we discard because we have a newer or better version. In practice, however, we aren’t big consumers, so trying to do this probably wouldn’t make a huge difference.

What a waste!

So, the only way forward is to buy things with less packaging… and perhaps to try to persuade manufacturers to use less packaging. I’m always irritated by things that come with superfluous layers of sealed plastic wrap… why does a dvd need to be shrink-wrapped – it’s hardly going to go off, is it? Electrical items seem to be particularly bad for quantity of packaging, something I have bogged about previously in relation to a small set of headphones I bought. Indeed, a recent purchase of a breadmaker for Mr Snail seemed to yield rather more plastic, polystyrene and cardboard than was strictly necessary (did the pan really need to be in a separate plastic bag?). I gather, however, that amongst the worst offenders in terms of packaging are perfumes and high-end cosmetics, especially those in ‘gift packs’. Since these are items that I never buy, I cannot speak from experience, but in such cases, it appears that the manufacturers consider that more packaging makes for a classier product. SIGH.

The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN – a British organisation) do produce a factsheet that explains the reasons for some of the packaging that we might think is excessive, although they also say:

But if you still think that a product seems to be over-packaged, contact the retailer or manufacturer to complain, or call 08454 04 05 06 or go on-line to Consumer Direct at www.consumerdirect.gov.uk so that trading standards officials can investigate. Over-packaging is against the law.

Indeed, they produce another factsheet entitled Packaging and Environment Legislation, which provides some context. Do remember, though, that INCPEN is run by manufacturers and retailers, not consumers or environmentalists. Still, it’s a start.

Too much for a set of headphones?

A few years ago there was a campaign to try to persuade supermarkets to encourage their suppliers to use less packaging. The idea was that shoppers would remove excess packaging at the checkout and leave it there for the supermarket to deal with. I’m not sure what impact it had, but I suspect that manufacturers were so far removed from the action that they hardly noticed and the supermarkets probably just cleared up without much comment. It’s probably better to contact manufacturers directly… at least that way you are communicating with someone who has the potential to do something about the issue.

And after all this pondering, what am I, The Snail of Happiness, going to do for Zero Waste Week? Well since I’m finding it difficult to further reduce the waste that goes out of the house, I think I’m going to take a look at the waste that stays in my house: the objects that are packed away unused, or simply sitting around gathering dust. I’m going to convert these things into something useful by sending them to a charity shop, or selling them or simply making use of them myself. I think some rummaging around in cupboards, drawers, the airing cupboard and the loft is in order…

 

I told you so…

I really am hopeless at throwing things out… so many items might just possibly come in useful in the future and I just can’t bring myself to consider them to be trash. Even recycling can be a challenge, because I’m always aware that it’s better to reuse or repurpose an object than to break it down and make it into a whole new something. As a result of this, our contributions to landfill are small, but our house is stuffed full of, well, stuff. We are trying very hard to cut down on what comes into the house to avoid too much accumulation.

My new old calendar

My new old calendar

Recently I have been trying to have a bit of a clear-out, before my office bursts at the seams and so a few weeks ago I went through some old calendars and diaries, cut out any pictures I thought might be useful for teaching (the Trees for Life diaries were particularly good for this) and put the remnants in the recycling. There was one calendar, however, that I just couldn’t bring myself to dispose of because it was made by my friend Anja for 2003 and contained lots of her own drawings. So, I put it to one side thinking that, perhaps I would cut it up and make a collage of the pictures. Then yesterday, Mr Snail-of-happiness came across it and noticed that the days were right for this year… it’s 11 years old and that’s the time that the days and dates match up again.

So, Anja’s calendar is now in use again (I hadn’t written on it first time round because it was so lovely) in my office and I am feeling smug that I didn’t throw it out or cut it up. OK, OK, I know that I can’t keep everything, but sometimes I do feel pleased with myself that I held on to an item that did turn out to be useful.

The frog chorus

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I had been given some yarn that a friend acquired from Freecyle. Some of this was knitted up into fancy pieces that had clearly been destined to become a number of blankets, but the knitter had abandoned the project. I’m not fond of frogging* my own work, but someone else’s is a different matter.

So, I started with a heap of knitted pieces, some of which were stitched together:IMGP0516

I separated them into individual pieces and then frogged them all, so that I ended up with lots of small balls of wool and scraps:IMGP0521

The scraps will be used for stuffing, but the balls had to be sorted into groups of the same yarn, gauge and colour:IMGP0523

The problem with yarn that has previously been knitted is that it has ‘memory, and so it tends to be kinky! Some fibres have better memory than others, so some retain their waviness more strongly. Rolling the yarn into balls helps to resolve the problem and is enough for some fibres, like acrylic, but wool is particularly tenacious and requires more processing to persuade it to forget its previous form. The simplest way to deal with this is to wash it, so next I combined each wool type and colour into hanks, which I then soaked in warm water with a little gentle detergent designed for wool (I use one from Sonett made from olive oil):IMGP0529

I then hung the hanks up to dry and waited to see if this was enough.IMGP0533

Interestingly, this worked fine for most colours, but the reds and pink remained quite wavy. So, I resoaked them overnight and hung them up, but this time weighted down gently:IMGP0534

They still didn’t end up completely straight, but were good enough for hexipuffs. All the hanks, once dry, were wound back into balls ready for knitting with:IMGP0546

In fact, the acrylic had so little memory (it is clearly the goldfish of the yarn world) that just rolling it into balls straightened it out. I, therefore, decided to leave it at this and wash it once it had been turned into finished products, in this case mainly eco bath puffs, pictured here with a couple of hexipuffs made from the straightened wool:IMGP0545

It all sounds like a bit of a rigmarole, but the whole process was very enjoyable (especially the frogging, despite being unable to get the Frog Chorus out of my head for the whole time) and I’m really delighted that I have gained some yarn for nothing more than a bit of time and have prevented something else going to landfill.

-oOo-

*Hang on, I hear you saying, what on earth is frogging? Well, for those of you who are not fans of Ravelry (the knitter’s favorite web resource), it’s unravelling a piece of knitting. Huh? Well, because you rip it, rip it, rip it…

Catharsis… or clearing the decks

Catharsis is defined by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as ‘the process of releasing pent-up emotions’, but recently I have been thinking of the medical definition of ‘purging’. So, domestic catharsis is taking place…

As I’ve mentioned before, here chez Snail we are hoarders. It sometimes seems that nothing gets thrown out because anything might turn out to be useful. There is always the worry that, should we dispose of any item, as soon as it is gone we will need it. However, over the past few weeks I have been trying to have a clear-out.

I don't think it even fits me anymore!

I don’t think it even fits me anymore!

Rather than throwing things away, I have decided that selling is good. It’s not the time of year for car boot sales, but it does seem to be the ideal time to sell things that other people might consider would make good seasonal presents (whether for the solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Yalda… whatever). So, with this in mind, I have launched myself into e-bay selling. I have raided the loft and found never-opened jigsaw puzzles; I have delved into the coat cupboard and emerged with motorcycle gear (we haven’t had a motorbike for about 8 years now); I’ve unearthed hardly-worn shoes from the bottom of my wardrobe and hardly-worn clothes from the hangers. The satisfaction of selling such items is two-fold: we make a little money from them and they go to someone who actually wants them, rather than accumulating dust here or ending up in landfill.

Currently I’m only scratching the surface, but I have good intentions to be persistent, so that slowly I will make a dent in the ‘stuff’. Now I just have to hope that I don’t suddenly unearth a motorcycle and need that leather jacket and gloves again!

Waste not…

I like to be green: saving energy, growing food, cutting down on water use, all the things that crop up throughout this blog. But from a different perspective, much of what I write could be about saving money: repairing rather than replacing, minimising fuel bills, buying packets of seeds rather than baskets of vegetables from the supermarket, and so on. Whilst some aspects of our life have required quite large financial investments (having solar pv panels fitted, for example) many of the changes we have made have required relatively little, on no, money and have saved on outgoings (for example filling the toilet cistern with rainwater rather than metered mains water).

What I want to write about, today, however, is about getting the most out of the things that you buy, by using all of everything rather than just some. According to Love Food Hate Waste, in the UK

We throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, costing us £12bn – most of this could have been eaten.

They say that this equates to every person in the UK throwing away, on average, 120kg of food every year. Yes, you read that right 120kg per year! I know that I don’t throw away anywhere near that, so someone is chucking out considerably more!  Actually, none of our uneaten food goes to waste here; one way or another it gets used: fed to the dogs, chickens, wild birds, worms or compost bin. So even if we don’t eat everything directly, some of it comes back round in the form of home-produced fruit, veg or eggs. And because we are not self-sufficient and have to buy lots of our food, the net result must be that the ‘waste’ should be considered a resource that increases the fertility of our land. Most of what goes to the garden one way or another is not food that could have been eaten, it’s usually peelings, pods, tops, outer leaves etc.

When we do have left-over food, we either eat it the next day or put it in the freezer for later use. I try, also, to use every scrap of food when cooking. Thus chicken carcasses are picked clean and then boiled up to make stock for use in soups, sauces, risotto, casseroles and so on. When collecting food from the garden, it’s often possible just to collect what you need, so there isn’t any waste at all. For example, cut-and-come-again lettuces allow you to pick as many leaves as you need and leave the rest of the plant growing. This also means that you get fresh leaves every time, not some that have been sitting in a plastic bag for a week. Of course, in good years, there are gluts in the garden and then preservation is necessary. But even simple measures, like sealing left-overs in a bag or container before putting them in the fridge can allow you to enjoy them a couple of days later without a risk to your health.

Scrapers, funnels and other extraction tools

However, I still like to get the absolute maximum out of the things that we do buy: I can’t bear leaving any of a product behind in the packaging. As a result I have an impressive array of jar-scrapers, brushes and scoops… if I’ve bought something (or even been given it), I am going to use every last scrap of it that I can! I also have a couple of special funnels designed so that one bottle can be held over another to allow every drop of liquid to be transferred to the new receptacle without standing around holding the bottles for an hour or so. I use these for all sorts of liquid, but oils in particular.

Bisected tube

I also cut open plastic tubes, so that I can access whatever has stuck to the side. This applies equally to food or cosmetics. About three weeks ago I apparently came to the end of a tube of moisturiser. When I cut it open I discovered that about 1/3 of the total original volume was adhered to the inside of the tube and could not be squeezed out in the conventional way, but could be accessed easily after judicious application of scissors. Call me cynical, but I can’t help feeling that the manufacturers would be quite happy for me to simply buy a new tube once no more moisturiser could be accessed through the nozzle. I guess that I’m not a good consumer from the perspective of manufacturers, even if I am a wonderful consumer from the perspective of the planet. But I know which I’d rather be!

A tyre-some problem

Reading a post by Mischa Hewitt on the Brighton Permaculture Trust website this morning, got me thinking about using old tyres*  in the garden (and elsewhere).

Tractor tyres… not in my garden!

When I was an enthusiastic young gardener, I heard that you could use stacks of old tyres to grow potatoes in…. simply place a tyre on the ground, fill it with compost, put your chitted seed potatoes in and when they sprout, place another tyre on top and fill with more compost. It seemed like a good idea to me and we duly acquired some old car tyres and gave it a go. All went well to begin with, although lots of compost was used and filling the enclosed part of each tyre was a little tricky (I’ve since learned that many people stuff them with straw). The potatoes grew, as did the stacks of tyres… they didn’t look very attractive, but that wasn’t the point. Then came the time to harvest…

Mr Snail-of-happiness was not home when I wanted to harvest the first lot, so it was up to me. Do you know how heavy a tyre is? No? Well, let me tell you that rubber is not light and that they have steel inside too. Now imagine this already heavy object filled full of soil and compost. I tried to lift the first one off the stack… I couldn’t. Not only was it heavy, it was also quite high up (a pile of four or five tyres is not an insubstantial structure). So, I decided to push the top tyre off and empty it once it was on the ground. Then I discovered that tyres are designed to be grippy. OK, I knew this, but I had never really experienced it before. A good shove is certainly not enough to slide one tyre off another. In the end I used a lever and the top tyre thudded to the ground, distributing soil and compost but no potatoes. I eventually located a few tubers  and about a gazillion slugs… which seem to love living in the rims of compost-filled tyres, particularly those that have nice air spaces in them because the person who filled them up didn’t pack the compost into every available space. Turns out that slugs also like something to snack on whilst they are living in the tyres and potatoes make an idea meal. SIGH.

We did try using them again the next year, but never had the great success that was promised and the whole harvesting business just put me off using them. Since then, I’ve never planted anything in a tyre. I’m not saying that some people don’t grow brilliant crops in tyres, it’s just that they are not for me. Now I grow my potatoes either in soil in the garden or in bags (light and easy to empty). I have some bought bags, but have been collecting suitable ‘waste’ ones for future years, so I will be doing my bit for re-purposing even without the tyres.

Tyre slices used in a construction project – these will be covered in earth eventually

Of course, there are other reasons we might not want to use tyres… either in the garden or elsewhere. They do have lots of toxic chemicals in them… after all they now seem to be classified as hazardous waste and cannot be placed in landfill (either whole or shredded) in Europe. But they are increasingly being used in engineering projects… whole in the construction of ‘earthships’ and shredded or otherwise processed in other construction projects. What proportion of the toxic chemicals leach out or are emitted as gases seems to be unquantified as yet. It would be good to see more research on this, so that we can feel confident that, whatever is being done with worn-out tyres is appropriate and safe.

-oOOo-

* or tires… which are rubber things in the US but means ‘grows weary of’ in the UK!

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