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…

 

Mind the gap

It doesn’t matter how carefully you look round a house before you buy it, there are always some little ‘surprises’ once you move in. Plus, after the move, you always have packing material to deal with.

When the two new mattresses arrived at my sister’s house, they had some wadding protecting the corners. She had put this to one side in case we could think of something to do with it. It sat in a small pile for a few days and we pondered. During this time, we noticed that the house was rather draughty and discovered that the inner front door (there’s a porch too) had a rather wide gap below it that was allowing lots of cold air in. The only draught-excluder in the house was too narrow for the door… reducing the draught, but allowing quite a bit round the sides. So, what better use for the wadding than a new draught-excluder?

Stuffing the leg of a pair of tights

Stuffing the leg of a pair of tights

First of all, we played with the pieces to see if they would fit across the door – they did if orientated correctly. So, we rolled each piece up and, to keep them rolled up, we stuffed them down one leg of an old pair of nylon tights. A bit of jiggery-pokery and the other leg was used to provide a double layer, before tying the top off and snipping off the excess.

A perfect fit - but not very pretty

A perfect fit – but not very pretty

We double-checked to make sure that our creation fitted snugly across the bottom of the the door and then turned our attention to making it more aesthetically pleasing. The blue curtain you can see in the background of the first picture is only a temporary measure and a new terracotta one is destined to go over the front door, so we wanted to make the draught-excluder match.

Rolling the core in tough cotton fabric

Rolling the core in tough cotton fabric

We started by rolling the ‘core’ in some tough cotton fabric that my sister had in her sewing box. I should say at this point that the fabric has been waiting to be used for more than 25 years… I know this because it was bought at the same time and from the same place as the stuff I used to make my latest shopping bag. We bought it when we were both still living with our mum and dad in Leeds! The ends were tucked in carefully and I hand-stitched this covering in place.

Now, a cream-coloured draught-excluder is not ideal and, anyway, we wanted it to match the rest of the hallway. Up the stairs, above the front door, is a window. My sister had some orange curtains that she wanted to use there, but these were far too long and some pruning and hemming was required. So, I chopped off the bottom of these curtains (she doesn’t much like putting scissors to fabric, but I’m quite blasé about it) and we had plenty in the off-cut for our covering.

Excess fabric

Excess fabric

Some more rolling and, pinning and stitching (making use of the bottom finished edge to avoid having to turn a hem) and we had a completed and completely free draught-excluder for the front door. It was round about this time that I had to return home, but the creativity did not end there. The next day, via e-mail, I received pictures of the original (narrow) draught-excluder also covered with the orange fabric, in place along the bottom of the door from the hall into the living room, plus a picture of the shortened curtains newly hung in the window.

In situ creations

In situ creations

The shortened curtains also in place

The shortened curtains also in place

I love making something from nothing like this… and so useful too.

Wrapped up

Not being one to follow fashion, despite its title, this post is not an end-of-year wrap-up, but about something closer to my heart… packaging.

All this surrounding some small headphones

All this surrounding some small headphones

A few weeks ago I bought myself some new headphones for my MP3 player. After much research, I selected some that should be robust and fit for purpose (listening to audiobooks at night when I can’t sleep and to help me fall asleep). They are the sort that fits into the ear and so they really are small. When they arrived, however, they were contained in a box measuring 13 x 14 x 4.2cm. The packaging included the outer box, an internal piece of cardboard and no less than three separate pieces of plastic. Now, these headphones could have fitted comfortably in a medium-sized matchbox,without the need for any plastic, but that wouldn’t have made them look ‘high quality’, I suppose. Indeed, a quick test revealed that a simple combination of matchbox and their carrying case would have been ideal packaging:

Headphones in (French) matchbox

Headphones in (French) matchbox

Matchbox in carrying case

Matchbox in carrying case

And all that was before we even got to Christmas. I love the idea of a wrapped present and we have a couple of bags containing suitable paper/boxes/bags for wrapping gifts, but most of it is second hand in some way. I collect pretty boxes and tissue paper, along with gift bags, paper and pretty envelopes in which to put gifts. I also collect ribbons  – you’d be surprised how many organic goods come wrapped in tissue paper with cotton ribbon or tape around.

The pile of waste outside just one house after Christmas

The pile of waste outside just one house after Christmas

But I am in the minority. A short walk on the day when refuse was due to be collected after Christmas revealed piles of wrapping and packaging waste. Not content with wasteful, throw-away gifts, it seems that we in the UK want to compound the horror with tons or wrapping paper. It really does sadden me that so many people care so little about our planet and are quite prepared to be profligate with our limited resources.

I didn’t plan to end the year on a gloomy note, so I will make a promise instead… in 2014 I will try to find more ways to encourage people to treasure and nurture our planet and take just a few more small steps (like the Snail of Happiness) towards sustainability.

Wishing you all a happy and sustainable new year!

One more cup of coffee…

After the slightly icky post yesterday about the colonic irrigation of chickens (apologies to any new readers, it’s usually much more tasteful here… actually, you probably won’t be reading this as you were so appalled by yesterday’s ruminations) I thought I’d turn my mind to something much more palatable… my morning cup of coffee…

I have mentioned coffee in earlier posts, but I like it so much that I think it deserves to be the subject of a post in its own right and I read an interesting post yesterday about making coffee drinking more green, which inspired me to write something myself.

When I went out to work, I used to take a big flask of homemade coffee with me every day because otherwise I would have spent all the money I earned on buying coffee… some people say something similar about child care; I don’t have any offspring, but I do have a coffee habit (and a sick chicken) to support. Now that I work from home, in a sedentary job, it would be easy to OD on coffee because I could have a constant supply if I wanted. What’s worse is that I drink it black (I’m lactose intolerant) so it’s just me and the coffee. In fact I was never keen on cappuccino even in my milk-drinking days – it always looks like somebody hasn’t rinsed the washing up liquid out of the cup properly! But to avoid sitting around vibrating, I stick to one large mug of coffee with Mr Snail-of-happiness mid-morning.

We choose to drink Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance coffee at least and preferably something that is grown organically or as part of a community-centred project. There are projects that grow shade coffee, social projects such as those on Mount Kilimanjaro,  co-operatives in many places like Guatemala… I could go on, but just search for ‘ethical coffee’ on the internet and you’ll find lots of information. There’s loads of choice now and you can support great projects around the world through your purchasing . I acknowledge that coffee has to be transported a long way, but generally it comes by boat and without its sale there would be communities with no source of income from outside their local area. I like to support small projects where I know the growers are not being coerced and where they get the money directly… I hope that I am doing the right thing.

Sometimes I order coffee on-line and sometimes I buy from a little local shop that sells the beans (or ground coffee) loose. If the latter, I take my own container for the beans to be put in after weighing to minimise packaging. This way I’m also supporting a business in our area. If I do buy on-line it’s from a small company supporting specific projects.

Anyway, once the coffee beans have arrived we like to grind them either using solar-generated electricity (if it’s a sunny day) or in a little hand-grinder if not. Actually, we have got a bit lazy recently and grind more than required on sunny days to avoid using person-power when it’s dull (we need to keep our energy for the radio on dull days!).

The grounds are then transferred to the most low-tech coffee maker possible: a plastic cone (over fifteen years old) lined with a thick piece of cotton fabric. The water, boiled in our Kelly Kettle (powered by wood from our willow hedge),  is poured onto the coffee and collected in a jug below. After use, we collect the grounds and they go on the garden and the cloth is rinsed out for re-use.

The best location to drink this ethical-as possible (I hope) coffee is in the garden, where we can ponder the vegetables growing around us and discuss future plans for the garden, house, chickens, sustainability, Mr S-o-h’s next book… all powered by coffee.

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