Wash and brush-up

I had intended to write a little more in ‘Plastic-free July’ about reducing the amount of ‘short-term’ plastic in our house, but somehow the month got away with me and here we are on the 27th already!

As I’ve said before, I think it’s impossible to cut out single-use plastics without a complete life-style change. However, it is possible to re-use and repurpose plastic items and to look for alternatives to many plastic objects so that we minimise the amount in the waste stream. In recent weeks I have found (or re-found) several plastic-free options related to cleaning and grooming which I thought might be good to share.

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

I already introduced you to my plastic-free washing-up brush, but it now has a companion at the sink – a tortoise! Years ago I found a vegetable scrubber in a local wholefood shop (alas no more) made with plant fibres and a metal core to hold them together. I used it for years and years until, eventually it started to shed its bristles and I had to give up on it. At the time I assumed that I would easily find a replacement but, despite a thorough search, I had no luck and ended up buying a plastic brush. Admittedly the plastic version did last a long time (certainly not single-use) but recently its bristles flattened and it ceased to function. Luckily, I came across a really great website selling a variety of green household items and they had a version of my old original brush… called a tortoise (although it looks more like a hedgehog to me)! They come in packs of two, so I already have my replacement lined up… or perhaps I’ll pass it on to someone else. On the web site they are shown as coming in plastic packaging, but mine arrived au naturel.

I haven't got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

I haven’t got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

It was from the same website that I bought myself a new toothbrush to try out – bamboo handle and bamboo bristles. We still have an electric toothbrush that I use once-a-day and this is mainly plastic, but the rest of the time I’m using the bamboo one and it’s holding up rather well (I am usually rather hard on my toothbrushes). There are a number of bamboo toothbrushes on the market, but this one seemed to get the best reviews. It’s quite small and has a small head, but it does seem to work and none of the bristles have fallen out, so I am reasonably impressed so far.

And finally, my little plastic-free shopping spree yielded a coconut shell soap dish. I have been using soap rather than shower gel for some months now. First because I can buy it locally-made; second because it reduces that amount of water that is being transported round the country; and third because it’s packaging-free. However, soap goes soggy if left in a wet place. Above the bathroom sink we have a magnetic soap holder:



but for the bath I wanted a soap dish with drainage holes. I had hoped to find a locally-made wooden one because I wanted one that wouldn’t break if dropped. I was unsuccessful in this, but this coconut shell one is simple and does a grand job:

Carved coconut shell

Carved coconut shell

And you can even see that I’m using every scrap of soap by sticking the remnants of the old bar on top of the new one in a decorative swirl!

All-in-all I’m pleased with these small steps to reducing plastic in our home… now if I could just find plastic packaging-free pumpkin seeds, I’d be a happy snail.

Start as you mean to go on

National Recycle Week – Day 1

Council recycling bag

Council recycling bag

So, here we are on the first day of National Recycle Week and I’ve been thinking some more about what I’m doing. Monday is, in fact, recycling collection day Chez Snail – the council collects cans, tins, paper, plastic, cardboard, tetrapaks and polystyrene from homes in our county once a week, so much of our recycling is a no-brainer. Items for recycling go straight in the bag provided and are put out to be picked up every Monday. Everyone in the street seems to do this without any trouble, and folks have even got used to the food waste bins that are emptied at the same time. In fact, we rarely put out any food waste because (1) we don’t waste food* and (2) peelings etc end up either in the chickens or in the compost.

I think that, in our house, everything that can be recycled is, so why should I be thinking much about this subject? Well, the answer is that we still sometimes have waste that cannot be recycled and also I’d like to have less to recycle.

It seems to me that the only way to reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be recycled, and thus to reduce the waste stream, is to think about the whole life-span of any item. If we considered the length of time an object could serve its purpose and the destination of that object at the end of this time,  we might make better purchasing decisions.

So, today, it was appropriate that through the post I received a new washing-up brush. I ordered this last week after a whole saga of inappropriate choices and disappointment. I like to wash the dishes using a brush and for many years I have used plastic brushes. When one started to wear out some months ago I was pleased to find a replacement made of recycled plastic and with a replaceable head. Sadly, the bristles were flattened within a few weeks. I didn’t want to have to buy a new head every month, even if it was recycled plastic, so that option was abandoned. A new plastic one was purchased, but that too has become unusable after only a few months. So, by the power of the interweb, I sought out a more natural alternative, and here it is:

New arrival

New arrival

It is wooden and has natural (plant) bristles. Plus, as you can see, it came with two replacement heads. Now it may be that the bristles fall out after 20 minutes, but at this stage I’m feeling quite happy, because even if a head doesn’t last very long, I can put it in the compost heap, or use it to light a fire. This brush (apart from the metal bits) should never enter the municipal waste stream… and should provide energy rather than consume it when it comes to the end of it’s life as a washing-up brush. Now, that’s my sort of product.


* Despite Mr Snail thinking that the stinky cheese in the fridge should be classified as ‘food waste’!

More water-saving

Following on from yesterday’s post referring to the report from the Energy Saving Trust, I want to examine what it is possible to do to reduce water consumption. But before I do, you might be wondering why the Energy Saving Trust wrote a report on saving water… well, according to their website, they ‘offer impartial advice to communities and households on how to reduce carbon emissions, use water more sustainably and save money on energy bills’. Energy and water are linked because lots of the water that we use in our homes is hot (showers, baths, cups of tea…) and so reducing water consumption can also reduce energy consumption. In addition, producing the water that comes out of our taps requires energy because it is treated to get rid of pathogens etc and when we send it on its way down the drain, it also has to be treated to make it clean enough to release into the environment. The EST says:

Heated water (for activities such as baths, showers, washing up and water-using electrical appliances) contributes a lot to energy bills. But this link, and its implications, often goes unnoticed by householders

Unfortunately, I was not greatly inspired by the report and the measures suggested in it. The EST doesn’t really seem to know who their target audience is, so the recommendations they come up with are a mix of things we can do as individuals and things that governments should do. This is their final list:

  • Aim to replace all remaining old or high-flow showerheads with water efficient showerheads (with flow rates of eight litres per minute or fewer).
  • Increase efforts on water efficiency education, specifically to promote the benefits of shorter showers.
  • Aim to either retrofit and/or replace all high-volume flush toilets.
  • Ensure that the most energy and water efficient machines available are promoted and incentivised.
  • When purchasing or replacing waterusing appliances, choose the most energy and water efficient model.
  • Increase the penetration of water meters in GB housing stock. Reported uptake of water efficient devices and behaviours was found to be greater in metered properties. The rollout of water metering can also provide a key opportunity for householder engagement and education on household-specific water saving opportunities.
  • Seek to combine water and energy saving education and delivery schemes for the benefit of the consumer.
  • Support and promote the Water Label by linking with built environment, procurement and water efficiency initiatives.

Not much for us ordinary folk to work with there, but there was a list in a table on page 28 comparing what people do in metered vs unmetered homes, that might be a little more helpful:

  • Wash dishes with a bowl, not under a running tap
  • Have a cistern displacement device
  • Have an eco-showerhead
  • Use a dishwasher eco-setting
  • Boil only what they need in the kettle
  • Use a water butt in their garden
  • Have a dual flush toilet
  • Do not run the tap whilst brushing teeth
  • Fill the dishwasher before use
  • Fill the washing machine before use
  • Use a hose trigger when watering garden
  • Do not have a dripping tap

But, frankly, I was looking for suggestions that were a bit more creative, and statements like “Flushing the toilet is an unavoidable fact of life” is, frankly, simply not true. First of all, you don’t always have to flush – for example lots of people don’t at night because of the noise; second, there are toilets that use no water, and I’m not talking about huts at the end of the garden, these days there are all sorts of high tech solutions (see, for example, The Little House Company); and third, I know lots of folks who use urine as a resource – on the compost heap or as a liquid plant feed. Perhaps the Energy Saving Trust think we’re all too squeamish to take responsibility for the waste we produce.

That aside – and I know there are people who live in situations where there is little choice about dealing with human waste – there are all sorts of ways we can use our water more creatively and more efficiently. Metan, one of my favourite bloggers, wrote a post a while back in which she described her use of grey water from the washing machine. A simple solution with a pipe allowed her to water her lawn with water that would otherwise have just gone down the drain. Living in Australia, water is a precious commodity, so she found a way to use it twice. And in a comment after yesterday’s post, my friend Linda described multiple uses of one lot of water when she’s camping.

No hose pipes here: this courgette plant is certainly doing well on washing-up water

No hose pipes here: this courgette plant is certainly doing well on washing-up water

When the garden needs water, we always use the stuff we’ve washed-up with (in a bowl not with a dishwasher). Similarly, if I hand wash clothes, then that water goes on the garden too… or in the toilet cistern if it’s wet outside. In fact, hand washing is criticised in the EST report because it uses so much more water than a full washing machine. Well, fair enough if you have sufficient delicate washing to fill your washing machine, but often you don’t. And I actually use very little water for hand washing because I use Euclan, a washing liquid designed for wool that requires no rinsing.

Whilst reducing the time you spend in the shower or the number of baths you have can cut down on your water use (as suggested in the report), using your water creatively and more than once (not suggested in the report) can have a huge impact, as you can see from the figures I quoted yesterday. So, if your shower is over the bath, next time you have a shower, leave the plug in and use the soapy water in the toilet cistern for the next few flushes… you’ll be amazed the difference it makes to your water consumption.

And now I want to know – has any one else got good tips they’d like to share about saving water? I’m wondering if we can cut down a bit more!

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