Going crackers

I’m rather a fan of crackers and cheese and of cheesy crackers on their own, but recently I’ve been unable to find any that didn’t give me pause. First, there were some lovely locally made crackers… they were delicious, but came with a lot of packaging. Then there were some lovely crispy treats that I bought from a farm shop in north Wales when I was on my travels… and discovered had been imported all the way from Australia (WHAT?) plus they had a lot of packaging. Then I found some different local ones, that not only had loads of packaging, but also were made with palm oil (I didn’t even buy these as I noticed before I put them in my shopping basket).

It’s just like the saga of the biscuits… the only solution is to make them myself. A quick internet search and I found a simple basic recipe (flour, salt, oil and water) that could be adapted. I made some with freshly ground black pepper and some with added cheese, and voila… plastic-free, palm oil-free, yummy crackers…

My health or the planet’s?

The other day I had an e-mail from Patricia with the possible text for a blog post. Here is what she wrote:

IMGP6953I was tempted to call this Scrap Unhappy, but will refrain and remain positive, but I am concerned with medical waste.  Not on the huge hospital scale, but my own small domestic waste from the first aid box and prescription and non-prescription drugs.

I just finished a bottle of medicine and was rinsing out the bottle recalling a time when medicine bottles were returned to the chemist for re-use. Now that is impossible, but I can recycle both the glass bottle and the hard plastic top in my council doorstep collection. But that’s about all that is recyclable in my home pharmacy.

At the beginning of this year I went through my first aid box, not a job I’d done before and I’m ashamed at how many out of date items I found and more to the point of this blog, disturbed by how much plastic was in there. Long gone are the days when first aid meant linen bandages and cotton wool, lint and little gold safety pins. Tubes of antiseptic and cream for insect bites etc all needed replacing and although I couldn’t stick to my preferred brands, which all came in plastic,  I was happy to find how many products were available in metal tubes. I found Weleda especially helpful and their staff were as knowledgeable about their packaging as their products. Their package arrived in paper, card and potato starch based pellets that would bring a smile to the sternest Snail.  But plasters – what are they? Micropore? What is it? How are they to be disposed? When they have been used on wounds, I feel the only way that meets both health and safety demands of disposal is burning, but otherwise? And what of those bits that come off plasters?  Has anyone moved away from these plasters in pursuit of something greener?

However the real trouble started when I looked at my prescription and non-prescription tablets. They all come in blister packs. As far as I can tell none of them, not even a simple aspirin or antacid is available in a bottle. And what are blister packs? It seems as if there is no requirement for medicines to contain information about safe disposal beyond the safe disposal i.e. return to the pharmacy, of the drugs themselves. I once gardened for a large community and a member of that community took her daily walk after lunch around the grounds. She took with her, her daily pill and one could follow her progress by the tiny metallic plastic top that had come from the blister packed pill. Now I guess we could make our way across the planet following this and other home medicine spoor.

Has anyone else tried to ‘green up’ their home remedies? I’d love to hear from you or can you please point me to others addressing this.

What an interesting post I thought… I’ll put that up later in the week… and then I got toothache…

… not just an irritating ache, but real, powerful pain that had me scurrying for strong painkillers and a hot water bottle and then, as quickly as possible, to the dentist, followed by the pharmacy, where Patricia’s words came back to me.

IMGP6956So, here I am this evening, still with my hot water bottle, but also with various types of medication all in an abundance of packaging. Turns out that I most likely have a gum infection, so there are antibiotics (blister pack/cardboard box), then I needed strong painkillers (blister pack/cardboard box) and interdental brushes (plastic and cardboard packaging plus their plastic handles and bristles) and antiseptic mouthwash (plastic bottle).

Well, there go my environmental credentials as soon as I have a medical problem. Perhaps there are alternatives to some of these products that have less or more environmentally friendly packaging, but when you are literally crying with pain, it’s not the time to seek them out.

And I’m not the only one in our household with dental issues. Daisy has rather poor teeth. I do clean them with a brush (plastic) and doggy toothpaste (hurrah! metal tube), but she also has a tooth cleaning chew every day and these come in a box with several plastic packs each containing a few chews. However, I have recently found an alternative. It is possible to buy unpackaged dental health chews from our local big chain pet shop, who simply put an elastic band around them. Next time I buy some, I will take my own container so they can go straight in that.

I genuinely understand why it is considered best practice to put tablets into blister packs, but I can’t help feeling that if we trust our pharmacists to dispense the correct drugs, we could perhaps trust them to put those drugs in a bottle for us too. And certainly over-the-counter medication could easily be sold in sealed, returnable bottles, as used to be the case.

Anyway, I’m now going to take some of those strong painkillers, so you may not get any sense out of me for a while…

Soap and flannel*

by Patricia Collinspat soapAn American friend sent me these lovely soaps for Christmas and I’m doing my best to work my way through them because of the packaging.  My mother would not be pleased. She had far more patience and self control and would keep soap, no matter how pretty or enticing, in our clothes drawers for months before thinking of using them. This not only scented the clothes, but apparently hardened the soap so that it would ‘go further’ when finally put into use. Has anyone else come across this trick? Usually I still save soap before use, but is there science to prove saved soap goes further?

The reason I’m racing through these soaps is the packaging! Each one is wrapped in a pretty piece of pure cotton. The wrapping is secured with two small stitches so that it comes undone easily, and I just can’t wait to make something of these pretty pieces of cloth. Each one is  7×5.5 inches – I still sew Imperial. For those who don’t that’s 17.5x14cm and I will have five pieces. Any thoughts on what to make? Having complained of poor packaging on numerous occasions, I just can’t wait to get my hands on this lot.

PS This isn’t an ad for the soaps, but anyone interested can see from the wrapper who makes  and sells them via the internet.

-oOo-

* Well, fabric, really

 

Shame

It seems to me that large manufacturers and retailers are genuinely out of touch with the public. As environmental awareness increases and there are more and more demands for reductions in packaging, ditching unnecessary single-use containers and abandoning built-in obsolescence, it’s time that big corporations made some changes. Now I know that it takes dinosaurs a long time to respond, but I can’t help feeling that some of the reluctance to change is because it’s simply easier not to. However, it is not impossible – specifications can be amended, processes can be modified, expectations can be altered. Making the excuse that it’s because of economics just does not wash (economics are a fiction – plastic in the sea killing marine life is a reality).

So, I have decided that I will take action. I already vote with my money, but that’s a rather private action and, whilst it is important, is not going to make a huge difference in isolation. I am, therefore, taking to social media with direct, public messages to companies that I have issues with. Today, via Twitter, I targeted Seasalt, who make lovely organic clothes, claim to be environmentally responsible and pack all their goods in plastic.2018-08-21 (2)They did respond, which is at least something, but obviously it’s easier to blame someone else:2018-08-21 (3)

They haven’t responded further, but I hope that other people will join in and we might be able to persuade them to make the change.

I would like to think that shaming companies publicly might have some effect, because after all social media is a key part of their marketing strategy. Perhaps you’d like to join me? Do tell me about any companies that you have contacted and how they have responded. Perhaps we can support each other and make our ripples into waves.

Gotta lotta bottle

It’s that time of year again, when I miss an early morning swim in order to do an early morning shop. Some people rush out for the Boxing Day sales or for Black Friday, but not me. All I’m interested in is fruit season, when I can fill the car with boxes of produce and spend the following few days preserving it for the long winter months.

So, last Friday saw me off to Newcastle Emlyn at 7am to see what was available. It’s always hard knowing what to buy. You can’t plan ahead, because if you do I can guarantee that they won’t have the thing you want, but I was on the lookout for tomatoes, peaches, pineapples and peppers. What I came home with was tomatoes, peaches (two types) and apricots, as well as some potatoes and other vegetables for ‘normal’ cooking. And as a result, my kitchen looked like this on Friday:

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just waiting

So far, I have processed all of the tomatoes into oven-roasted passata (half-litre and quarter-litre jars)

and I’m making good progress with the apricots and peaches, plus we’ve eaten lots of them fresh and I’ve rotated my stock in Tim’s cupboard, so there’s a shelf ready to fill

I won’t share a picture of the slightly frazzled chef!

-oOo-

I love cooking with homemade passata; roasting the tomatoes adds a depth of flavour that you simply don’t get with tinned tomatoes, or even fresh ones. However, I also spend time doing this every year in order to avoid waste. As you can see from the pictures, the tomatoes come in cardboard boxes (which we burn or compost, depending on our current needs) and the jars are reused year after year, with the central disc of the lids being replaced when they stop sealing efficiently (they last several uses, although the manufacturers tell you to use them only once). This means that we minimise packaging and also avoid any potential problems with BPA leaching from the plastic coating inside tin cans (yes, metal cans also contain plastic)*.

Anyway, so far, so successful… I wonder what my next early morning shopping trip will yield.

-oOo-

*If you want to know a bit more about the issues associated with cans contaminating tomatoes, this seems to be a balanced article on the subject.

 

A supply problem

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non-homogenised milk… complete with cream

The best laid plans are often scuppered by circumstances beyond our control… and so it has been this year with my cheese-making.

I love making cheese and I was happily enjoying doing it using milk from a farm just down the road until the summer. And then it all came to an end. The milk I was using was linked to a food-poisoning scare at the local farmers’ market and sales ceased. Now, we and many other local people had been drinking and using this milk for over a year without incident, including during the time the problem occurred. I haven’t been able to find out whether there was any conclusive link between the milk and the food poisoning, but the upshot is that the farm has stopped selling raw milk and have not yet decided whether they will ever start again. Whilst this should have been nothing more than a set-back for me, it’s actually turned out to have completely scuppered my home cheese-making.

The real problem is that, to make cheese, you need non-homogenised milk. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pasteurised or not, but it mustn’t be homogenised… which almost all commercially available milk is. I hunted the internet, but I’m not having much joy. You can buy it from a posh supermarket that we don’t live anywhere near, but it really isn’t commonly available. I thought that I had found another local farm to buy it from, but further investigation revealed that their milk too was homogenised.

I can only assume that homogenisation is so common because it allows milk sellers to control exactly how much butterfat there is in the milk. Sadly, it means our milk is one further step removed from being ‘natural’ and so I can’t make cheese. The other depressing upshot is that our milk for general use is now arriving in plastic packaging – something I had completely eliminated by collecting our milk in my churn direct from the tank on the farm.

So, my quest continues and in the mean time, I’ll have to buy my cheese ready-made, and eat the stock I’ve already got maturing.

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fortunately, this monster is now in the fridge maturing

Coffee break

Over the years I’ve written a lot about tea – mainly about the hidden plastic in tea bags and my quest for plastic-free tea. I don’t often, however, write about coffee. This is, perhaps, because we’ve been buying coffee beans and making coffee in a cone with a washable cotton filter for many years now (long before we gave up tea bags… in fact since before I started blogging I think). However, I’m always looking for good coffee and any changes that can make it a little bit more eco-friendly. Recently we have been buying our coffee in the 1kg wholesale bags the roasted beans arrive in at the shop. This prevents the use of any extra packing, but still there’s a paper/plastic pack involved.

I was interested, therefore, to read about an experiment examining the best way to pack roast coffee. Once roasted, coffee beans release gases and ‘mature’ for a few days, allowing the flavour to develop. If roasted beans are put straight into a bag and sealed, the gasses are trapped and the coffee develops a stale flavour. To address this, many good quality coffee brands are packed in bags with a plastic valve, but these valves are generally not recyclable.

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sustainable production, compostable/recyclable packaging

Interestingly, it turns out, after roasting, placing the beans in paper bags allows them to develop a good flavour. From an environmental perspective, this is good, as paper can be readily recycled or composted. So, this week I ordered coffee from Roasting House, who roast the beans to order and then pack them in paper bags. Of course, they do use a plastic pack to send them through the post, but they use biodegradable and recyclable plastic and I will reuse this anyway (I never buy new postal packaging and always keep a stash for re-use). It’s single material, which is far better than the plastic-bonded-to-paper packaging of the wholesale bags we were getting previously.

The company take their environmental impact seriously, aiming for zero waste to landfill, buying 100% renewable electricity and making local deliveries by bicycle. In addition, they source their coffee from farms that operate under sustainable practices. It’s possible that I am much closer to waste-free coffee now.

Out of my life

As the year draws to a close I have been reviewing some of the changes that I’ve made in my life over the past 12 months. Every year I try to do things to make my life that bit more sustainable, and this past year has been no exception:

  • I’ve given up liquid shampoo and shower gel in order to reduce transport of water and to cut out a bit of plastic packaging. I did come across some previously unnoticed shampoo in the bathroom the other day which I am using up, but once that’s done with there will be no more. I’m now only buying bars of soap/shampoo packed in cardboard/paper.
  • In goes the second one

    Our own container at the take-away

    I’ve started saying ‘no’ to lots of packaging – taking our own containers to the butchers and the take-away, for example, means a few less plastic bags and a bit less aluminium foil in the world.We also take our own fabric bags and repeatedly reused plastic bags to the greengrocer’s to put our veggies in. Plastic carrier bags have not been part of our life for many years.

  • We are now buying all our milk direct from a local farm. This means much lower energy inputs (transportation, processing) and no plastic cartons, as we take our own churn. In addition, we are keeping money in the local economy and the milk is delicious and great for making cheese, yoghurt and extracting the cream.
  • I’ve invested in a steam juicer, so we have another way of processing all the apples we tend to get given in the autumn. Making our own juice means repeated re-use of the bottles (cutting down on packaging), reducing transportation of processed juice and thus fewer food miles and knowing exactly what’s in the juice we are drinking.
  • I’ve given up fly paper – it may seem like a small thing, but it’s nice to feel that the fly control in the limery is being achieved by plants rather than a manufactured product.
  • during

    home-made brass cleaner

    I’m now making my own deodorant – it’s more effective than the ‘green’ stuff I was buying before, plus there’s relatively little packaging and it’s made from very simple ingredients.

  • I’ve started making more of my own cleaning products: re-usable cleaning wipes, window cleaner, brass cleaner. All of these rely on limited ingredients and I now have supplies of alcohol, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils to make what I need when I need it.
  • I’ve increased the amount of mending that I’m doing. Darning, patching and sticking things together with Sugru are amongst my most common types of mending.

I’m not sure that’s everything for 2016, but it seems like some good steps forward. My next challenge is a bit more daunting: excluding palm oil from my life. I think that all our toiletries and household cleaning products are palm oil free, and I cook most of our food from scratch, so there’s none in that, but I do have a problem: my weakness for biscuits. I do like a chocolate digestive biscuit with a cuppa and sadly I have found that McVities, who make my favourite type, use palm oil. So, I have to find a brand I like that’s ethical, make my own, or give them up entirely. I’m now checking all the other products we use that may contain palm oil, just in case…

 

From underwear to underarms

This week, whilst we are addressing delicate issues, let’s talk about deodorant. As regular readers will know, I’m trying to move away from items that come packaged in plastic and to use products that don’t include petrochemicals as ingredients. I do think that there is a place for plastic, but its indiscriminate use does annoy me. Over the past few years I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stuff in the bathroom that comes wrapped in plastic and to make some of my own toiletries so I know what’s in them:

  • my manual toothbrush is made of bamboo (although I also use an electric toothbrush that is plastic)
  • my shampoo is bought in bulk to minimise the packaging, and when the current lot is used up I plan to start using a solid shampoo bar (less water transported around the country and, hopefully, no plastic in the packaging and all-natural ingredients with no palm oil)
  • I make my own moisturiser and although some of the ingredients come in plastic, there’s a lot less packaging overall than when buying jars of fancy lotions and creams
  • I stopped using shower gel/liquid hand wash and now only use soap, from  either It’s Baaath Time or The All Natural Soap Company. The latter use no plastic at all in their packaging, whilst the former is under new ownership (by a friend of mine) and I’m not sure what the packaging will be like from now on, but I know it won’t be excessive. Neither company use artificial additives or palm oil.
IMGP0241

a lot less plastic than before

Thus, most of my basic needs are now being covered in a plastic-reduced, ethical ingredients way apart from toothpaste and deodorant. I can’t bear to give up toothpaste and I’m not even going to try to make my own… it’s just one step too far for me. I do, however, buy an ‘ethical’ brand. Deodorant, though, seemed easily doable after reading this blog post by Jen Gale. Best of all, I had all the ingredients – coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour and essential oils – already in the house. Basically, you mash everything up together (6-8 tbsps coconut oil, ¼-½ cup bicarb, ¼ cup cornflour, a few drops of essential oils), put it in a pot and then rub it in as required (the coconut oil melts with the heat from your skin and is absorbed very quickly). I made the whole job easy by using my Kenwood mixer to do the combining of ingredients, but you can just use a fork. The choice of essential oils is personal, but I used six drops each of orange, tea tree and mint.

I made mine a couple of weeks ago, so I have had chance to test it out before writing, and I can report that it seems to work. I guess that, like all deodorants, if you were  exercising vigorously, it wouldn’t stand a chance, but for everyday wear it seems good. Of course, if you are looking for an antiperspirant, this will not do the job, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy to block your sweat glands – there are good reasons to sweat! The choice of essential oils is up to you, which means that you can use a mix of perfumes to suit your nose and that these can be as strong or subtle as you like. I especially like peppermint, as it makes the skin tingle a little.

This seems to be a relatively easy win for me – the mixture is quick to make, I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients and I just use it as normal as part of my regular morning routine. And so far no one has complained about the way I smell… but if I start spending more time with my on-line friends than my face-to-face ones, you’ll know why!

It’s still there even if you can’t see it

Well, Plastic Free July has come round again and so I’m encouraged to think about single-use plastics and what more I can do to cut them out of my life. The actual challenge for the month, if you take a look at the website, is:

Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).

I don’t exactly participate in the challenge, but every year I try to think about at what progress I might be able to make to reduce single use plastic consumption.

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Plastic-free-ish

By this time last year I had already ditched teabags (almost all of which contain plastic in the bags themselves, not just their packaging). Sadly, over the past year I have discovered that whatever containers we take to the shop to transport our loose tea home in, the tea actually arrives at the point of sale in packaging that does include plastic… despite my romantic notion that it might arrive in wooden tea chests! Yes, I know it means it’s fresh and there’s less wasted tea, but it appears that unless we grow our own, we cannot exclude plastic entirely from our tea-chain (like a food-chain, but more beverage-y).

And this sort of highlights the problem. It’s possible to think about solutions when you know that something is there, but when it’s hidden you may not even know you’ve got a problem at all. Perhaps I’m cynical, but when I read those stories on social media about the person who only generates a jam jar of waste in a gazillion years, I just think PAH! Unless you are self-sufficient, there is going to be some plastic waste in your life. Go to a restaurant? I bet some of their ingredients come wrapped in plastic – just because you don’t see it and don’t have to dispose of it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Grow your own food? I bet there was some plastic in the seed packet or enclosing the compost you bought.

And so, I’m not beating myself up about plastic… yes there’s some plastic packaging in my life, yes I wish there wasn’t, but hey, I’m trying little by little to reduce and otherwise either to reuse it or recycle it…

…instead I’m being concerned about all those hidden plastic fibres being shed from the fleece I bought because it was made from recycled plastic and which are now accumulating in our seas… sigh

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