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.

IMGP5103

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

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.

More stealth plastic

After Mr Snail’s recent discovery of plastic in the ‘plastic-free’ Easter egg he was given, I have been thinking about ‘hidden’ plastics… you know the sort of thing – plastic coatings on the inside of cans and jar lids, plastics in your clothes and plastics in your toiletries. Yes, you read that right “in your toiletries” – I don’t mean around your toiletries in the form of plastic containers, I mean toothpaste and body washes that contain plastics. Specifically tiny plastic beads, otherwise known as microbeads.

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Plastic-free tea

Now, as you know, I was rather upset to discover a while ago that there was plastic IN my teabags and, as a result, I have converted to using loose tea and buying it unpackaged, using my own containers. So, the last thing I wanted to hear was that there might be secret plastics in my toiletries too. When I started investigating further, I discovered that all sorts of plastics – polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethlyl methacrylate (PMMA) and  nylon – are put into all sorts of products – face soaps, body washes, toothpastes, lip gloss and nail polish. There are even plastic microbeads in some anti-aging makeup… you can fill the creases on your face with gunge containing plastic – nice!

Because these fragments of plastic are so small, they are easy for us to ignore and we might consider that this means they are not a problem, but in fact there are real issues. Microbeads don’t get filtered out of waste water in treatment plants, so they get right into the environment where they absorb toxins and are then consumed by aquatic life… some of which gets eaten by humans (poisoned plastic sashimi anyone?):

Plastic microbeads absorb persistent organic pollutants (long-lasting toxic chemicals like pesticides, flame retardants, motor oil and more) and other industrial chemicals that move up the food chain when the toxic-coated beads are consumed by fish and other marine organisms. A single microbead can be up to a million times more toxic than the water around it. (Plastic Microbeads 101)

And it’s all unnecessary! The plastic beads are used because they are slightly abrasive, but there are natural products that are suitable too – like good, old-fashioned pumice, or fully biodegradable apricot shells. Sadly, microbeads are cheap and not too abrasive, so you can be use products with them in every day (thus, potentially increasing consumption).

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

No microbeads in my locally made soap, or my homemade cotton wash cloth

When I investigated my toiletries, however, I was able to breathe easy… my organic toothpaste was free of microbeads, as was my soap (it’s made by a local artisan, so I know exactly what’s in it, including a complete absence of palm oil). I don’t wear any makeup and I don’t have specific face wash (exfoliating or otherwise), so no worries there either. I’m certainly glad that I haven’t found another part of my life that I need to change because of stealth plastic!

If you want to make your concerns about these hidden plastics known, I encourage you to sign the petition on The Story of Stuff web site… just click here.

-oOo-

There is sound scientific research demonstrating the problems, including:

D. Barnes, F. Galgani, R. Thompson, M. Barlaz, Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B. 364, 1985-1998 (2009). In 2012, scientists found micro-beads numbering more than 450,000 per square kilometer in parts of the Great Lakes (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X13006097)

Yukie Mato, Tomohiko Isobe, Hideshige Takada, Haruyuki Kanehiro, Chiyoko Ohtake, and Tsuguchika Kaminuma, Plastic Resin Pellets as a Transport Medium for Toxic Chemicals in the Marine Environment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2001, 35 (2), pp 318–324 (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es0010498?journalCode=esthag)

Chelsea M. Rochman, Eunha Hoh, Tomofumi Kurobe & Swee J. Teh, Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress, Scientific Reports 3, Article number: 3263 (http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131121/srep03263/full/srep03263.html)

Teatime again

I have finally said goodbye to teabags for my daily cuppa. My tea is now in the form of leaves and made using an infuser – either in a pot or a mug. This means that there are no more teabags containing plastic going on my compost heap.

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

Left: Nilgiri; Right: Yunnan

I have sampled a number of types of tea… dismissing the ones made from ‘fannings’. One of the reasons I have avoided  leaf tea for so long is that I detest having debris in the bottom of my cup – those little fragments that escape through the strainer or infuser. Fannings are the smallest grade of loose tea (the stuff called ‘dust’ goes into teabags) and they often get into the brew. A conversation with the very knowledgeable owner of our local tea and coffee shop, The Mecca, helped me to identify some suitable candidate teas of a better grade and I have now settled on buying China Yunnan FOP a lovely medium strength tea and Nilgiri SFTGFOP , which doesn’t seem to get stewed if you leave it brewing for a long time…  a boon for someone as easily distracted as me!

I now know that FOP stands for Flowery Orange Pekoe and is a “high quality whole leaf tea made from the first two leaves and bud of the shoot”, whilst SFTGFOP is Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe – “an even higher quality with more tips than FOP”.  Both grades make tea with little debris in the cup.

New tea tins

New tea tins

This morning I bought supplies of both these teas along with suitable receptacles for them. I chose tins with tight-fitting lids, which I can take into the shop to be refilled. In this way, I will be able to avoid any plastic packaging as well as the plastic in the tea. I know that lots of people enjoy the ‘ceremony’ associated with making tea, but I’m afraid that this is not something that I relish, so I have also ordered an infuser designed to sit in a mug (the diameter of the current one is too small to sit over the rim of the mug – it is specifically designed for its teapot) so that I can quickly make tea without all that mucking about with a pot (sorry tea aficionados).

And, thus, hopefully, ends the saga of the plastic tea (which started here). Who would ever have though that something as simple as a cup of tea would lead me on such a journey of discovery?

The end is nigh…

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

… the end of teabags, that is.

OK, I’m lazy, but I do so love teabags. And I used to think that they were a harmless luxury because they were just made of tea and (unbleached) paper, which composts down and goes back into my garden soil, right? WRONG! They are also made of plastic. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I was shocked to discover a while back that tea bags (apart from the ones with string and a staple) are stuck together with plastic – even the organic ones.

I wrote to Clipper and they told me that yes, they use plastic in their teabags, but it’s not a problem (to them, obviously, not to me). I wrote to Jacksons of Piccadilly because I’d seen mention that their teabags did not contain plastic, but they didn’t even bother to respond… leading me to assume that reports were wrong, because otherwise they’d have been jumping up and down about their plastic-free products and we’d all have been flocking to buy them. So that left me with only one option – give up teabags. You will note that I didn’t consider giving up tea, that would be a step too far!

Tea caddy and a cosy teapot

Tea caddy and a cosy teapot

Of course, giving up tea does not equate to giving up plastic, because most tea comes wrapped in plastic packaging. However, this is not such a problem because (a) at least I can see the stuff and deal with it appropriately, and (b) I can buy my tea loose  from a local shop and take my own container (I already do this for coffee).

And so I have been gradually starting to use loose tea. I bought several different types to try and a new teapot with an infuser. There are still a few teabags in the tin, but only a few, and when they are gone I’m not buying any more. I’m still grumpy about this, but I am determined. Now I just have to decide which blend of tea is my favourite.

Oh, and let me take this opportunity to show off a new tea cosy that I received from a dear friend… and the hens’ attempt to recreate it:

The red heart of Australia

My request for contributions to the Masterpiece friendship blanket yielded more than just the knitted and crocheted squares. Several of the contributors sent me the yarn that was left over from their work.

Kate’s square and lovely letter

One such person was Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia). The wool she included in her package was like nothing I have used before: a fantastic combination of reds and yellows, in a yarn that varied wildly in thickness. She wrote about the colours of Australia being represented in her square, referring to the poem ‘My Country’ by Dorothea Mackellar, which you can read that here. So the spare yarn has been sitting waiting for me to be inspired.

Waiting, that is until I finally decided to do something about my tea. You may remember that I have been fretting about plastic in teabags. I’ve searched for plastic-free teabags. I thought that Jacksons of Piccadilly were the answer, because I read that their teabags have no plastic in them, but a query sent weeks ago has not yielded any response and so this seems just to be a rumour. Finally I bit the bullet (reluctantly) and bought myself a little teapot with an infuser, plus some loose tea.

This pot holds just the right amount for two mugs of tea… which means that when I’m here on my own, it would be a great idea to be able to brew the tea to the right strength, remove the infuser and then keep it warm for a second mug a bit later. Which means that what I really needed was a tea cosy. And what better yarn than this lovely Australian wool? So, I set to work and created this:

Tea caddy and cosy teapot

Tea caddy and cosy teapot

And, just like Australia, at the centre of my tea cosy, there is a hot red heart!

Thank you Kate… the yarn was perfect!

 

Plastic tea

There are a number of folks currently taking part in ‘Plastic Free July’  – a challenge to reject single use plastics for a month. You can read about how people are getting on on various blogs, but the one I am particularly following is Westywrites. And it was through her blog that I discovered my teabags have plastic in them – and yours almost certainly do too!

My favorite teabags

My favorite teabags

I know that some of you (Kate Chiconi) are tea purists and only use leaves, but I like the convenience of a tea bag and I find them easier to deal with when it comes to collecting them for composting. I thought I was safe buying Clipper Organic Teabags made of unbleached paper. Sadly I was wrong… visiting their website I discovered that the two halves of the bag are stuck together with plastic. At least they are open about it and I didn’t have to ask, as seems to be the case with most companies. Anyway, Westy has been encouraging her readers to write to companies and highlight their concerns about single use plastics, so yesterday I e-mailed Clipper:

Dear Clipper
On your ‘our story’ web page you publish the following statement:
“Always a pure, natural product – there isn’t a single artificial ingredient in any of our products.”
However, in your FAQs, I discover that
‘Square “pillow” bags do have a very thin layer of polypropylene plastic’.
Oh, I’m so disappointed! As someone who is trying to live more sustainably, I want to eliminate as much single-use plastic from my life as possible. I love your organic tea bags, but feel that I’m going to have to revert to loose tea because of the presence of this plastic. Yes, I know it’s a small amount, but it’s still there and it all adds up.
Please, please could you consider ways of making tea bags without the plastic? I know it would make you very popular with customers like me who care deeply about the environment and the products we buy.
Many thanks
Dr Jan Martin

And I quickly received a reply:

Dear Dr. Martin,
Thank you for contacting us here at Clipper – it is lovely to hear from you!
With regards to your concerns about their being plastic within tea bags we can confirm that certain types of tea bags do contain polymer fibres. Standard square or round tea bags which are the most common in the UK market will all contain a type of polymer fibre as they are made using heat-sealable filter paper. The tea bag filter paper requires a means of sealing the two layers of paper together as paper will not stick to paper and glue is not used. The filter paper Clipper uses for this type of tea bag contains polypropylene to provide the heat-seal function. The filter paper is food grade for its intended purpose and meets all relevant UK and EU Regulations.
The filter paper used to produce tea bags with the string and tag attached does not need to be heat-sealable, as it is closed differently, and therefore does not contain any polymer fibres/plastic content.
In terms of Clipper packaging in general we can confirm that we do not use PLA material (the biodegradable material used for some pyramid bags and other plastic packaging) as it is derived from corn which may be from GM sources.
Best regards

Hayley Butler
Consumer Care

http://www.clipper-teas.com
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clipper-Teas/172392210758

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Is it time to ditch the bags?

Well, it’s disappointing, but at least they responded. However, perhaps if lots of people wrote to them (and other companies that make teabags) they might start to take notice. So, I’d like to ask you to write a single e-mail, letter or tweet to the company who make your teabags and ask them whether they use plastic in them and, if they do, to stop it!

If you want to join me, the e-mail for Clipper is: help@clipper-teas.com

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