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.
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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

Pack up your lettuce…

For many years now we have bought much of our meat by mail order from a company specialising in organic produce. Up until out latest order they always sent a pre-paid address label so that we could return and they could re-use the insulated packaging. Our last parcel, however did not contain the label. I enquired, only to discover that the cost of postage has made return of the polystyrene boxes uneconomic. I’m so cross about this… repeated reuse of packaging is such a great idea.

Our local council do accept polystyrene for recycling, but I really didn’t want to take advantage of this unless absolutely necessary*. We thought about paying for the boxes to be returned or even dropping them off when we are over in that direction, but I’m not sure whether the company would accept them back (I will check next time). So, they have been sitting in our hallway whilst I waited for inspiration to strike – which it did on Saturday whilst I was planting seeds.

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Not the most exciting picture ever posted… compost in a polystyrene box

I had two boxes, so I stabbed a few holes in the bottom of one, chucked in some compost, sowed some winter lettuce seeds and covered it with its lid. And there was a nice insulated growing space for some winter leaves. I’m keeping it in the limery and hopefully I will have a crop from it in a few weeks time. Having decided to focus on growing, I am keeping the other box for cultivating mushrooms. I ordered some mushroom spawn (the fungal equivalent of seeds) last week and when it arrives, I’ll use the the second polystyrene box as a mushroom propagator.

Of course, I can’t find a use for a never-ending supply of polystyrene boxes, but at least the current ones are turning out to be useful. I will find out whether the meat company would be prepared to take any other ones we receive back and will return them at our cost if possible, but for now I’m satisfied to have found good uses for something it would have been all too easy to consign to the recycling.

-oOo-

* It’s generally more energy-efficient (and therefore, greener) to re-use or re-purpose than to recycle.

Tiny packets – no thank you

Whilst I was away I stayed in a hotel with tea and coffee-making facilities in the room. I knew this was going to be the case, so I went prepared… happy to use the kettle, but eschewing the teeny packs of instant coffee and various tea bags, not to mention the bottled water.

The goodies provided by the hotel

The tray provided by the hotel

Instead, I took a jar of fair trade, organic instant coffee (the remains from when the builders were here), containers of loose tea (black China and redbush), an infuser, an insulated mug and an enamel mug for taking out and about, and my own water bottle:

My beverage kit

My beverage kit

Since I don’t take milk in any of my drinks, there were no issues with storing dairy. And so, on my trip I managed not to use any disposable cups, tea bags, water from plastic bottles or teeny tiny packages. It’s a small amount of packaging to avoid but every little helps and, in addition, all my drinks were to my taste.

My trip coincided with Zero Waste Week, so it was good to feel that in circumstances where I might have been seduced into producing more waste than usual, I did not, all with very little effort and just a bit of planning.

Deluding myself

Once upon a time, I thought I had found the holy grail… plastic packaging-free coffee. I used to go to the little local tea and coffee shop, they weighed out 500g of organic beans from the glass jar onto the scale pan, then tipped them into my (reused many times) container. In my mind, the coffee arrived at the shop in Hessian sacks, like I’ve seen on the internet. In my mind there was no packaging involved that could not be composted or reused.

And then, one day, I decided to buy 1kg of coffee beans and my illusions were shattered…

Oh no!

Oh no!

The glass jar did not contain a whole kilo, so the shopkeeper went into the storeroom and emerged with a sealed 1kg plastic bag of coffee (silent sob). I restrained myself and suggested that rather than open the bag and weigh out the contents, I’d just take the whole bag. And so I came home with some single-use plastic (which I carefully recycled) and something to think about.

And this is the thing… just because you don’t see the waste, doesn’t mean it’s not there. I consoled myself with the fact that I had used less plastic than if I had bought a smaller amount and had it weighed into yet another single use bag (the shop uses paper/foil/plastic combination bags) and that I had recycled the packaging rather than just sending it to landfill.

It does tick all sorts of other boxes

It does tick all sorts of other boxes

It’s very hard, if not impossible, to track the whole life of any product that you use. Often there is no information about waste, and what information there is has to be taken on trust. However, this is not going to stop me trying to make a difference and reduce the amount of waste I am responsible for. I was, therefore, very pleased to come across PALL: Plastic A Lot Less. Michelle’s idea is to think about consumption and try to reduce it, but not to beat ourselves up if it’s not possible. Just think how much the earth would benefit if we all took this approach. So, next time you’re making a buying choice, think about whether there is a ‘less’ option (for packaging, transport, or whatever) and make a real difference.

Moist

Not entirely plastic-free

Not entirely plastic-free

I am really trying to reduce the amount of waste for which I am responsible and so it was with a sense of dread that I realised I was approaching the end of my current jar of moisturiser. I don’t use many cosmetics, but I do like to have face cream. Last time I needed to buy some I searched until I found an organic one in a glass container, only to discover, when it arrived, that the lid and the pump were hard plastic and it was packaged in completely unnecessary cardboard. So, as I get close to the end of that product I started some research. A particular source of inspiration for all sorts of ways to reduce the use of plastic is the website of Polythene Pam, Plastic is Rubbish. And it was there that I found inspiration… why not make my own?

Here's the kit

Here’s the kit

Actually I was a bit intimidated about this, so I decided to heed Pam’s advice and buy a starter kit from a company called Aromantics. This kit came with some plastic packaging and some small plastic pots in which to keep the end-products, but compared to the amount that would be associated with the equivalent volume (five litres with a few additional oil purchases) of face cream, it’s tiny.

And so, this morning I made a whole litre of moisturiser. The process was really easy and it made me wish we’d done this sort of thing in chemistry classes when I was at school!

It’s plain and unperfumed currently, but I can add whatever essential oils I like to small batches of it. And this was all the plastic I ended up putting in the recycling (it includes the bubble-wrap that was round the thermometer and the glass bottles):

Waste plastic

Waste plastic

So, a quick test confirms that it’s a lovely moisturiser, and I’m looking forward to being able to add various different essential oils to small amounts of it (for which the little plastic pots are ideal)… I rather fancy orange to begin with.

Kindness

The other day my friend Andrea (who I have never met in person) posted the following on Facebook:

Never let the outside world suppress your passion for kindness and altruism. It may be looked at as unorthodox at times, but I promise you that you are not alone. Kindness and love can change the world… we just need to believe that we can make it happen. (John Bryant)

I don’t do new year resolutions – I feel that if a resolution is worth making, you should do it at the time that you think of it… like giving presents. But, having said that, I do think that my focus in 2015 is going to be on kindness and altruism.By choosing to make a stand and to be kind, we can start to separate ourselves from all the confusing stories we are presented with by politicians and the media* and focus on something that is actually achievable, positive and has an impact on our ourselves and others.

If we make connections with other people around the world in a spirit of kindness, we will surely be encouraged to treat our fellow human beings with respect and to respect the environment in which they live. Kindness is not just about charitable donations or helping a friend, it’s about having a caring attitude to everyone. I am especially keen to extend my sphere of kindness to those who I never meet, but who are indirectly affected my choices – the people who make my clothes, grow my food, support my lifestyle.

Some direct kindness is also good for the soul and so later this week I will be dispatching two packages – one to Tasmania and one to the US – to two lovely and inspiring people that I have never met but with whom I wish to share some of my creative bounty. All this is thanks to the kindness of Pauline, The Contented Crafter, and you can read the details here. I want the contents of the packages to be a surprise for the recipients, so no photographs yet… you’ll just have to make do with one of Max testing out some of my packaging material:

This box feels comfy

This box feels comfy

Kindness is something we can all increase in our lives and, in all cases, it will make the world a better place. So, will you join me in trying to be a little kinder?

-oOo-

* Thanks to John B. for another post on FB that made me think about this

 

Soap and Spaghetti

I’m currently well-supplied with liquid shampoo

A year ago, whilst I was participating in National Blog Posting Month, I wrote about shampoo, particularly focusing on the ingredient SLS, which seems to be an undesirable thing to splash on our skin. Eventually, after much research and discussion, I chose to buy my shampoo in bulk from Faith in Nature. I was not entirely happy about this as I was still buying a product encased in plastic and I was still buying a liquid. Ideally, I’d like to use a solid shampoo that does not contain SLS. Why a shampoo bar rather than bottle? Well, because if we buy liquids we are paying (in money and in cost to the environment) to transport water… something that most of us reading this blog have readily available in our homes. For the time being I have plenty of shampoo and so I’m not looking for a replacement, but I did recently come near the end of my big container of liquid soap – I have been using a product from Sonnett that is marketed as handwash, but that I use in the shower too.

Soap and spaghetti

Soap and spaghetti

I stopped using bars of soap many years ago because I found that they irritated my skin (I used to be prone to eczema, although that has disappeared as I have got older). I seemed to be better with shower gels, particularly those based on coconut or other natural oils and with no artificial fragrance. However, recently it seems to have become relatively easy to buy soap from small producers who make it from natural oils, such as sunflower and olive, rather than petrochemicals or palm oil (which I avoid at all costs because even the ‘ethical’ stuff may not be). It turns out, unsurprisingly, that these are much gentler and suit my skin well. I’m delighted by this because this means I’m supporting small, local businesses and not paying for the transportation of water (effectively I’m buying a concentrate rather than a solution). In addition, these soaps tend to come in little or no packaging, which is yet another bonus. I would really like to find someone in my area who makes soap from lanolin because this fits in with my support for British wool producers and would further reduce transport of materials.

But what, I hear you ask, does this have to do with spaghetti? Well, in the same way that it is not a great idea to transport water around the world, I’ve recently been thinking that it’s not a good idea to transport air. And we do an awful lot of this. I’m thinking about goods that are packed ‘loose’ and so have gaps between all the individual bits. So, if you buy spaghetti you are being more environmentally sound than if you buy rigatoni – which not only has spaces between the bits, but also inside them! I suppose the best thing is to make your own, as Mr Snail does when he has time. Flour – the main ingredient – is generally quite tightly packed and you can add locally-produced eggs and oil if you want those ingredients.

So that’s today’s tip for  sustainable living: avoid products with extraneous air or water! Buy soap and spaghetti… just don’t serve them together.

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…

 

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