My Plastic Free Fail

Plastic – we just can’t avoid it – can we?

I’m fascinated and inspired in equal measure by the bloggers, writers and instagrammers who share their zero waste or plastic free journeys.  Cutting down (or even cutting out) disposable or single use plastic is one of my goals and so Mr T and I tried to live “plastic free” for one week.  We’re pretty “Green” already, so I thought that avoiding single use and disposable plastic would be quite easy. I was proved wrong and the experience led me to a few conclusions, which I’ll share at the end. The photo above shows our household bin after one week. It’s not pretty, but I wanted to share it, just to try and illustrate how I’m part of the problem and also trying (and failing) to be part of the solution. In contrast, our recycling bins are overflowing with paper , unwanted marketing brochures, cardboard packets, glass jam jars, beer cans, deodorant canisters and miscellaneous household ephemera). Reducing our recycling is another goal we’re working on. We don’t use plastic bin bags, we realised a while back that our household bin only contains packaging (Cheshire help us recycle almost everything else), so the bag became redundant.

First, according to Greenpeace website, here are some sobering facts:

 Scientists have estimated that, globally between 4.7- 12.7 million tonnes of plastic end up our oceans every year, causing harm to marine life and leaving a toxic trail of plastic pollution that is also entering the food chain as plastic accumulates and breaks down into smaller fragments in the water and on the seabed.

All European waters have been found to contain plastic marine litter, including along the coasts, the continental shelf, and deep-sea waters .

Europe plays a key role within the global plastic industry. It is the second largest producer of plastic globally (around 50 million tonnes are produced every year). In the EU, packaging is the most common use of plastic, making up almost 40% of plastics demand. However, a lot of the plastic produced is used to make single-use products, which quickly lose their value through incineration, landfill, or when they become marine litter.

Only 29.7% of post-consumer plastic waste which entered the waste stream was recycled in the EU in 2014. The rest was either landfilled or incinerated. In 2012, the EU-27 countries exported half of the plastics collected for recycling, equivalent to 3.4 million tonnes of plastic with an estimated value of EUR 1.7 billion (87% of which went to China).

You can search online for some pretty gruesome images of plastic waste, I don’t feel the need to share them here.  Now, on to our week:

Monday: Off to the supermarket. I thought this would be easy, we already take our own shopping bags, and take our own plastic bags for bagging up loose veg. It seemed daft to me that we would take our own carrier bags, but carry on using single use bags for fruit and veg, so we switched to a combination of cotton bags and re-using plastic bags a few years back (after watching a film called Message in the Waves – I’ve added a clip at the end of this post).  I came unstuck (no pun intended) with the tiny sticky labels on the cabbage, peppers and bananas. I didn’t bag them, but when I got home I realised the little stickers with the variety and origin are plastic. Even my local fruit and veg shop has these. Apparently they are required additions. Ho hum. A friend came to visit, she refuses to drink our goat’s milk (“It tastes grassy”) and turned her nose up at the raw milk from our village farm (“Is that safe? Isn’t it full of germs?”). So a trip to the village shop was needed. The small bottle of semi skimmed cow’s milk had a tamper proof seal, which can’t be recycled. Apparently these are mandatory. “Consumer demand”, I was told. It seems we’re so mistrustful of our fellow human beings we need tamper proof seals on just about everything we buy. The remainder of the milk we froze, ready  for the next visitor, the bottle and cap went in the plastics recycling bin.

Tuesday: How Green are disposable contact lenses?  Mr T occasionally wears disposable contact lenses. According to his optician, they’re “90% water and biodegradable”, but the single use packaging is made of foil and non recyclable plastic. On the up side Mr T doesn’t wear them every day, but I can’t find a way around the packaging and everything I’ve read tells me they’re not biodegradable  at all and just end up in landfill. Mr T’s optician had also told him they can be flushed down the loo – wrong – they should be disposed of with your non recyclable household rubbish.

Wednesday: I really thought I’d be OK with my laundry routine. We buy liquid wash in a 5l container and refill and old plastic bottle for easy dispensing. Mostly we wash at 30 degrees, on a full load. My pegs are made of recycled plastic (great, lots of Eco Brownie Points there), but those pesky pegs have been a thorn in my side. Every time I hang out the washing, at least one breaks, the plastic has become brittle. I emailed the manufacturer, who told me the recycled plastic “can become brittle when exposed to sunlight”!!! Honestly, I feel that warrants three exclamation marks. What’s the point of a peg you can’t expose to sunlight? I could (In fact I think I will), write a whole blog post on the stuff that’s sold as eco friendly, but really isn’t. I understand the need to have markets for recycled plastic, but if they’re not up to the job, it’s just another fail. I’m going back to wooden ones. At least when they break they go in the compost or for fire lighting.

Thursday: I need a new toothbrush. Have you ever tried to find a truly environmentally friendly toothbrush? You can buy ones with bamboo handles, but the bristles are nylon (and despite what you might read on the packaging, it’s rarely the biodegradable sort). I ordered one online, after looking at recycled plastic brushes, latex and handles with replacement heads, I decided this would be a the best, if most expensive option. It arrived in a plastic lined jiffy bag. Big fail. Apparently the order was “fulfilled by a third party, who don’t share our environmental values” I was told. At least I can reuse the packaging next time I have a small parcel to post.

Friday: Fail, fail, fail. When will magazines stop sending out subscriber copies in plastic bags? I’ve emailed so many publishers about this and never get  a satisfactory answer. Yes, I know I could switch to digital subs. But I’m old fashioned, I like a proper magazine to read and I like passing them on to friends and family. Once discarded we use them as fire lighting for the woodburner, or put them in the recycling bin. Two charity bags came through the letterbox, I managed to give one back as I happened to be near the door when it was delivered, but now I’m stuck with a bag I don’t need and didn’t ask for.  I picked up my dry cleaning, yet another plastic hanger I didn’t ask for – at least the assistant agreed to take it back.

The Weekend:Another online delivery. This time in a cardboard box, the glass bottle inside protected with cellulose chips. But the tape was plastic. I know the worms in my compost love cardboard. But they never touch the plastic tape and every year I pull loads of it out of the compost heap and put it in the bin for landfill. There must be a decent non plastic packing tape by now? Then my supermarket delivery arrived (Ocado earn gold stars because they buy back plastic bags for recycling). I have a chronic illness and I work from home. Sometimes a supermarket delivery wins out over the effort of driving to the shops. Every piece of fruit and veg was wrapped in a bag labelled as “not currently recycled”, the cardboard box of granola had a plastic bag inside and even the free magazine was wrapped in polythene.

So, we sat down with our bottle of biodynamic wine (glass bottle, real cork) and looked back over the week. Our experiment certainly highlighted a few areas where we could “do better”. But, as consumers we’re pretty much at the mercy of retailers and manufacturers. I’ve reached the conclusion that plastic free is a great aspiration, but will only really be an option when single use or disposable plastic is designed out of the supply chain. As consumers, we need to start asking companies  to look at alternatives and stop selling us the myth that single use or disposable means convenience.

I feel strongly that manufacturers, retailers and governments have a role to play here. It’s not enough for committed individuals to say no to single use plastic.  It’s going to take a real shift in how we live, shop and consume. So, was our plastic free week* really a failure? No, I think it was a small triumph. After one week, our bin is definitely emptier than usual. It took a bit of time and thought and there are still a few areas where I haven’t found a workable solution. I’m still looking for a perfect replacement for my disposable razor, dental floss and toothpaste tube.

Have you tried to be plastic free? I would love to hear how it worked out for you. Do you have any tips for avoiding the pitfalls we encountered this week? Or thoughts on how  we can be part of a plastic free future? If you haven’t really considered this before, you might like to read this piece “Could you go for a month without plastic?”

Or if you’re already concerned about plastic pollution, maybe you’d  take a look at this Greenpeace petition, asking our governments to legislate against single use plastic.

*We set out to avoid single use and disposable plastic items. Sadly, a completely plastic free home isn’t achievable for us – yet.

Note:

The film Message in the Waves was made by the BBC Natural History Unit  in 2007. There’s a clip below, or you can watch the film on BBC iplayer. (Note it’s currently only available for another 28 days).

 

 

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Food for Free

No, I’m talking about foraging today. I’m thinking about those “stealth” free foods that live in my freezer. You might remember I talked about my top ten freezer favourites last week.  Today I want to introduce you to a few things that make my life easier and feed us practically for free.

  1. Spicy chicken wings. Every time we buy a whole chicken, I cut off the wings before cooking. Save them up in a tub or a bag in the freezer and next time BBQ season comes around defrost them, steep in a spicy marinade of oil, soy sauce, chilli flakes and fresh ginger. Roast in a hot oven or cook on the BBQ for a tasty snack that has cost you almost nothing.
  2. Pizza toppings. Next time you open a jar of pasata, scoop out a couple of tablespoons and freeze in a small tub.  If you paid attention last week, you can use this to top a small pizza base, add a few frozen veg, some herbs and some of that frozen grated cheese and voila – an pizza snack for one. Serve with a baked potato and salad for a perfect Friday night tea
  3. Save left over chilli, curry or stews and freeze in individual servings. They make perfect ready meals and can easily be stretched by adding frozen left over rice, pasta or frozen vegetables.
  4. Pea soup –  a bag of  frozen peas makes a quick soup, add some frozen ham leftovers or mint for flavour.  There’s a great quick pea soup recipe on the BBC Food website. We grow our own garlic and onions, so I tend to think of them as free food.
  5. End of the week soup. OK, so not strictly free. Most of us find a few veg lurking in the fridge or veg basket at the end of the week. Use a decent stock cube if you don’t have fresh stock in the freezer (or  look out for 9 Meals from Anarchy stock (see link in sidebar (not sponsored).  Chopped onions, garlic and herbs can be used for flavour. BBC Good Food website has some great recipes for soup you can make from leftovers. Even a potato and a couple of carrots can make a delicious soup. Top with some of that frozen grated cheese and a few toasted nuts or seeds (again you can make a batch and store in the freezer).

Feeding yourself and your family quickly and cheaply is an art form. You can learn it and passing these skills on to your kids prepares them for when they inevitably leave home. You might also like to take a look at my store  cupboard staples page and stock up your kitchen. Next week I’ll be sharing five quick and delicious meals you can cook from the store cupboard – you might be surprised!

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Food You Can Freeze

What’s in your freezer? You might be surprised by what’s in  mine.

Instead of ready meals and ice cream, my freezer is stuffed with the things I need to make life easier. Apart from all the every day essentials (bread, butter, frozen veg and milk). I also freeze cream, grated cheese, mashed potatoes and crisps (yep, even crisps can be frozen).

Learning to love your freezer and use it efficiently will save you time and money and offers all kinds of opportunities to use up your leftovers creatively. If you’re not confident about how and what to freeze, you might want to refer to these tips on freezing  on the BBC website first.

Now for my freezer top ten:

  1. Whipped cream – I know, who has left over whipped cream? But sometimes it happens. I pipe mine into stars and open freeze it before storing in plastic tubs. Use it to decorate cakes, trifles, hot chocolate or even a cheeky Irish coffee.
  2. Cheese – next time you go shopping, buy yourself a great big block of really tasty cheddar cheese. Grate it (I use a food processor) and store in the freezer. You can use it straight from the freezer for pizza toppings, gratins or  cheese on toast.
  3. Mashed potato – I always peel and boil extra potatoes. Use the mash for fish cakes, topping left over mince to make a cottage pie or use it to make a fish pie.
  4. Eggs – yes, eggs freeze really well. Separate the yolk from the white (and label them). Frozen egg whites make great meringues, yolks can be used for custard. There are some great tips for freezing eggs on this American website.
  5. Fresh herbs – if you like to buy bunches of fresh herbs or have plenty in the garden, freeze the stalks  of coriander or parsely for soup (carrot and coriander is delicious), the leaves can be crumbled straight from the freezer into sauces.
  6. Bread – sliced bread can be toasted straight from the freezer. Cut up crusty bread into croutons and bring them out when needed, defrost slightly, toss in olive oil and herbs. Fry or roast until brown and crispy.
  7. Wine – yes another of those “but you’d never find any left over in my house” ! But, freeze small amounts of left over wine in ice cube trays and use them in sauces – brilliant in a “spag bol”or for a dash of white wine in a risotto.
  8. Pasata – or any tomato sauce. We rarely use a whole jar, so I freeze the leftovers for pizza toppings or sauces. In summer I make sauce with the glut of tomatoes, but you can just as easily freeze the shop bought ones.
  9. Cookie dough – make a batch of cookie dough, roll into a sausage and freeze. Slice and bake as usual when you need to impress unexpected guests! You can also freeze pizza dough – roll into circles and use straight from the freezer – or freeze the dough and defrost before using.
  10. Crisps – Mr T loves to buy those huge sharing bags, and more often than not we’ll eat the whole bag without thinking. Freezing them keeps them crunchy and keeps them out of temptation. It’s also a great way to take advantage of those special offers. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself or check out the Huffington Post’s 17 foods you didn’t know you could freeze“.

Back in the 1970’s when my mum bought her first freezer it came with a handbook full of recipes, tips and advice. Today we seem to have forgotten how to freeze – it’s so easy to just fill our baskets from the frozen food aisle – by making my freezer work for me I save time, money and  reduce my food waste. It’s a bonus that can always find a few treats when we need them… hot chocolate and whipped cream anyone?

 

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Intention, Not Perfection

Well, first news is  we’re “normal”.

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I’ll qualify that. I’ve been struggling with how to describe our lifestyle to others, and eventually I’ve realised the obvious. We’re normal. Our lifestyle is normal for us. And, just as in every other aspect of our lives, everyone has a different idea of what that means. We constantly compare ourselves to others, which can be quite unhealthy and unhelpful. Whether its jobs, homes, holidays or the behaviour of our little ones, it seems we can always find a way to shame others or feel bad about ourselves. But I’m not into shaming, I don’t buy into the idea that my life is “better ” or worse than anyone else and that means I’m giving myself  (and you)  permission to stop the guilt and the anxiety.

I’ve been fretting about all that plastic in my waste bins (the recyclable and the non-recyclable). I feel really guilty that I’m deliberately buying stuff that will never go “away”. It’s become something of an obsession. I can’t stop myself reading and googling about the truth behind plastic’s short term convenience over long term harm to people and the planet. Someone recommended I read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson; she wrote a blog and now promotes her book and her lifestyle all over the world. It’s a great read, plenty of food for thought and her commitment to not bringing potential waste into her home and a refusal to throw stuff “away” is admirable. I’ve also been recommended that we go “plastic free” or “waste free”, in fact any number of lifestyle choices have been presented to me which involved, refusing, giving up and going without.

But is it achievable for me and the Mr? I don’t think so. The whole concept, of “giving up” and going without just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’m not a “giving up” kind of person. As a Catholic child I rebelled against Lent, choosing positive actions over weeks of self-denial. I could never give up chocolate, but I would promise to make my bed every day instead. Bea Johnson’s approach is to rethink those 3R’s we’re so familiar with (reduce, reuse recycle) and instead she advocates a 5 R’s approach. The first of which is “Refuse”.  She says we should all learn to say “No thanks”, more often. I take her point, but I prefer to reduce. Choosing to take a cotton tote bag shopping, using a washable cup for take away coffee and carrying my own water bottle I’m already choosing to refuse disposables. I think my approach is more positive. It allows for the inevitable “blips”, those trips when you just aren’t prepared. I also think that the concept of refusing is quite negative. At one point Bea Johnson talks about asking her boys to refuse candy when out trick or treating so they don’t bring waste into the house. That’s a big ask for a small boy – I’m not sure Mr T would give up his packets of crisps and chocolate bars so easily! I’m uneasy with the idea of any philosophy that invites failure. That’s why diets don’t work for me. I beat myself up every time I “fail”.

Mr T and I live an intentionally simple life, but we certainly have acquired a lot of stuff we don’t need.  I was mulling over this concept of reducing versus refusing when I opened the drawer of my dressing table. The one where I keep my beauty essentials along with all those freebies and samples that seems to accumulate almost without thought.  I like to think I buy natural beauty products, avoiding products that have been tested on animal, but  I’m wary of  companies that boast about their eco credentials. You’d think those claims would mean the packaging was easier to dispose of or recycle. However, even the organic hair serum I paid an arm and a leg for turns out to be packaged in a non-recyclable pump dispenser (and annoyingly, I can’t see how it can easily be taken apart when I get near the bottom. So unless I attack the packaging with a bread knife I’ll lose the last inch of product). And what about all those tiny sample pots and single use sachets? It always feels great to snag a freebie at the makeup counter or to be given a free sample. But my dressing table drawer is full of unopened tubes and sachets I’ll never use. Those trial sizes that come free on magazine covers or with a full size purchase always seem so exciting, but judging by my dressing table, they soon lose their appeal.  In an effort to make my morning and evening routines less complicated I’m going to think more carefully before I accept those freebies in the future. Not just because their plastic packaging can’t be recycled and won’t break down in landfill, but because accumulating stuff for the sake of it is making me uneasy. I intend to bring less free samples into the house, but I’m not going to beat myself up when the occasional trial size finds its way into my home.

I used to make my own hand salve and lip balm, and so I’m going to find that recipe and start making my own again (I have lots of tiny pots and containers thanks to all those beauty freebies). That will stop the flow of empty hand cream tubes and lip salve tubs that fill my bedroom waste basket. It’s going to be hard to stop myself asking for “nice hand cream” at Christmas – but if I intend to make more and buy less, then I won’t need any – and less trips to the beauty counter means less opportunity to dither over a free sample!

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be asking myself some hard questions and searching for answers as I figure out how I can simplify my life and lift this feeling of unease that’s affecting me so much right now.  So, if you’ve got an eco-worry; a recycling dilemma or just want to know more about living with less; just ask. I can’t promise to know the answer, but we can find out together and help each other.

I’m not going to admonish myself when my Lupus means accepting a supermarket delivery filled with fruit and veg in non-recyclable packaging. But’ I intend to plan and prepare better so those emergency deliveries aren’t needed as often by stocking my freezer. Life is about intention, not perfection.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt for Unsplash

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Saying Yes, Not Saying No

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and get in touch after my last post – blimey what a confused lot we are! Thanks also to the kind friend who reminded me that we can never please all of the people all of the times – and that no-one can do everything. The task of living a “good life” becomes overwhelming. It’s much easier to break down our intentions into steps (big and small) and recognise successes and failures as part of the journey. I was also reminded of the short  film The Story of Stuff, which was released ten  years ago If you haven’t seen or heard of this, do go and check out the website or listen to the Story of Stuff Podcast.

And special thanks to the person who reminded me of my own advice: When you want to encourage people to change their behaviour tell them what they can do, not what they shouldn’t do. So, heeding my own advice, here’s what we’re saying “yes” to.

We’re saying yes to:

Re-usables

I’ m digging out my crochet cotton make up remover pads (that means saying no to future purchases of disposable cotton wool). You’ll be able to find the free pattern over on my knitting and crochet website later this week.  I’ll remember to take my Sigg water bottle out with me to avoid any temptations to buy bottles when I’m thirsty. I’m keeping up with the habit of carrying a cotton tote in my handbag (no accidental plastic bag purchases). We’ll continue to drink fresh coffee made using our cafetiere and compost the coffee. When a single use option is the only option, we’ll say no, or find a way to repurpose the packaging. We’re already well down this path, but we can definitely do “better”.

Meat and Dairy:

Yes, I know all about industrial meat production, factory farming and food waste. I’ll keep buying free range meat from the local farm shop, eggs from a friend and cow’s milk from the self serve machine at our local farm. This is the issue which seems to create the most conflict among groups and individuals trying to promote a greener or more ethical life. I don’t want to argue about the merits for and against (I was vegan, I worked for an anti vivisection charity, I am at peace with my choices). We’ll continue to eat plenty of fish and vegan dishes (they’re already a part of our weekly meal plans) and I’ll make sure to bulk  buy and freeze so we don’t waste anything and reduce the overall amount of packaging that comes into our home.

Buy more glass:

When I do buy something in a container I’m choosing glass first. All the research I’ve done (and my own gut instinct) leads me to believe that plastic is just scary. It leaches chemicals, it’s hard to recycle, it pollutes the ocean (I don’t want to lecture – make up your own mind, but we’re definitely heading towards a life with less plastic). Mr T drinks goat’s milk and so I’m choosing tetra pak over plastic, because so far what I’ve read makes me believe that’s slightly “better”. But I’m learning as I go. If I can source a local supplier of goat’s milk direct from the farm, that will be even better! Ultimately I’d like to see our whole packaging mountain reduce, but small steps…

Growing our own and shopping local:

I love to grow my own food, watching seedlings grow is so exciting. Every time I walk into the garden I am thrilled that it won’t be long before we’re putting home grown food on the table every day.  I like to know where my food comes from, trips to the local farm shop and markets are great places to meet the people who feed us and to ask question about the origin of what we’re buying.

Faitrade:

We’ve always bought Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. Over the years it’s become easier to buy a whole range of Fairtrade foods and fashion. I like that Fairtrade principles pay attention to the environment and to the people employed. It feels good to me that people and planet matter to the organisations that run and support Fairtrade.

So there you are, five easy wins towards reducing my eco guilt. Your choices might be different, that’s fine. The small stuff adds up to big stuff.  Slowly, very slowly I’m hoping we’ll see a reduction in the stuff we throw away (that’s my biggest indicator) and that will mean less stuff bought. We’re also going to be more mindful about what we do buy, and how we dispose of it.

I’ve been reading blogs and books (on my kindle) about people who have adopted plastic free, or zero waste lives. I can’t help being inspired, but I know that this lifestyle isn’t an option for us (at least not yet). It would just be too hard, too overwhelming and I know that my Lupus affects my choices and my lifestyle whether I like it or not. I’m learning that my “Greenish” life is a journey, not a destination and I’m grateful to have you all along for the ride!

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Green (ish)

2013-11-03 10.24.21Labels are tricky. Over the years I’ve struggled with how to define my lifestyle. Is it slow? Mindful? Intentional (more of that another day). Or am I green, low carbon, eco friendly or ethical? The problem is, however I define myself, someone else will have a different set of values. I’ve been told my lifestyle isn’t “ethical” because I eat meat and “green” still carries all sorts of baggage. Whenever I find a way to describe how we live, someone else will find fault or gleefully pick up on my failings.

So, I’ve tended to stick to “Greenish” if people ask. The fact is, I just think of our lifestyle as “normal”. Well, it’s normal for us. Trying to avoid waste, thinking about our shopping habits and trying to buy clothes made of natural fibres in factories that value their workers all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

My neighbour recently “went vegan”, she’s on a mission to convert us all to a plant based lifestyle. Yesterday, she drove a 10 mile round trip to buy  a tetra pak of soya milk (she’d run out and “can’t” drink her coffee black). I thought about our own purchasing habits. When I run out of milk, I can walk to the local farm, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle from the vending machine and be home again in under half an hour. I struggle with the idea of getting in the car and driving so far to buy one thing. The packaging has to be recycled, the ingredients in her milk were part of the mechanisation of food production that I’m trying to avoid. But, she’s happy. Her choice didn’t harm an animal, that’s her bottom line.

So, how do we stay friends? Our ethical, moral and  lifestyle choices seem to be at odds. I buy organic, Fairtrade and local. She buys vegan ready meals, wears plastic shoes and acrylic jumpers from Primark. She eats an awful lot of imported fruit and veg. Air miles, carbon footprint and the issues of recycling aren’t on the list of things she worries about. She has made her choices and she’s happy with her decisions.  I’m happy(ish)  with mine.

Does it matter that someone else has a different set of values and priorities? Just because someone has a different idea of “a good life”, does that make it OK to criticise and condemn? I find myself mulling this over a lot at the moment. I would dearly love to reduce the amount we recycle. I really struggle with the concept that an overflowing recycling bin is a badge of honour – I’d much rather we just didn’t buy so much stuff in the first place. I worry about how many clothes we own and fantasise about building a capsule wardrobe, filled with eco friendly cotton, linen and wool. Yet most of my clothes come from charity shops and surely that has merit in a greenish life?

I struggle to know what’s best. I have a penchant for sparkling water. Is it better to buy in huge plastic bottles, smaller glass ones or invest in a soda stream and make my own?  My instinct tells me glass recycling is “better” than plastic, but I don’t know enough to be sure. A soda stream is made of hard plastic, needs refills of gas cyclinders and would involve a trip into town when I need a new one. I am confused.

If I’m confused, with my background in environmental education, community organising and low carbon consultancy what hope does anyone else have? For the time being I’ve settled on buying glass bottles and trying to reduce my overall consumption (on the basis that glass can be recycled over again, while plastic is much harder to process and recycled plastic has a limited market). If I’m wrong on that, please let me know where I can find out for sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion we can spend too much time worrying about “doing the right thing”, and that even in this internet age, getting accurate and useful information is a tricky business. I’m reaching the conclusion that simply buying less “stuff” might be the answer for us. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that buying single use  or “disposable” products makes me uneasy. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share my journey to less stuff. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into our house, reducing our plastic addiction and finding solutions to all those “disposable” products that make our lives “simpler”.

If you’re struggling with the same dilemmas, or have solutions to these “eco worries”, do let me know. Perhaps this is a journey we can take together?

A Few Thoughts on Freebies

gxd8hcmi0iq-parker-byrdWe all love a freebie. It’s no secret that for lots of bloggers, Instagrammers etc the odd freebie or gift from a company is considered a perk of “the job”, while for others it’s a major source of income. If you post pictures of “free stuff”, you might want to take a look at this piece from BBC news on the subject of making money from Instagram. OK, so it refers particularly to the US, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to the UK. US consumer regulators are clamping down on celebrities and influencers who regularly post sponsored content without declaring their relationships with the brand. Marketing companies, individuals and celebrities have all been affected and I’m pretty sure that UK advertising standards authorities won’t be far behind in requiring users to be more transparent about the origin of products in their photos and blog posts.

There’s nothing wrong with sponsored content, just be sure your readers and followers know what you’re doing. Make sure you state early on that a post is sponsored (in the subject line or at the top of a post). Don’t hide disclosure among the hashtags, you might think that adding #sp or #ad to that long list of hashtags is OK, but many of your followers won’t see or read that far.

I’ve said before, that when it comes to monetising your blog or social media platform it pays to be open and honest. Readers aren’t averse to reading sponsored posts (in fact they appreciate you sign posting them to great products).  I have a whole page (see above) devoted to disclosure about how and where content is sponsored. Using words like “review” or just saying “XXX sent me this great product to try and I loved it” is usually enough to alert readers to the origin of a product.

Making money from social media is nothing to be ashamed of. Just be open, honest and write interesting content. Follow that advice and you can’t really go wrong!

 

Made in May – Giveaway

Sponsored post – give away open to UK readers only

The Gentlemans Wardrobe cover

It’s May, and if you’re a maker with an Instagram account, you can’t fail to have noticed the popularity of the MeMadeMay hashtag.

To celebrate this annual excuse to flaunt your handmade “stuff”, the team at GMC has offered one lucky reader a copy of Vanessa Mooncie’s new book “The Gentleman’s Wardrobe”, which is full of great sewing patterns for men.

My own sewing skills are very limited and so I’m hoping this book might inspire me to up my game and make something for Mr T.  Each project in the book comes with a full size paper pattern, something I find very useful, as printing out pdf patterns online and then taping them together just over complicates things for me.

I’m told by friends who sew, that finding decent patterns for men can be tricky. In which case, this book will certainly be of interest. The patterns include shirts, trousers, a messenger bag and even a bow tie! It’s certainly not a book for beginners. It assumes lots of prior knowledge and a certain understanding of the language of pattern cutting and sewing up techniques. But, with it’s on trend “hipster vibe” photography and illustrations, I am certainly enjoying it and I am definitely inspired to give some of the projects a try. There is a short techniques chapter and where technical terms are used, a note in the text signposts you to the relevant page for an explanation.

So, if you would like to win a paperback copy of Vanessa Mooncie’s “The Gentleman’s Wardrobe”, just leave a comment below telling me what you’re currently making. The giveaway will stay open until 12 noon (UK time) on Thursday 11th May.

Good luck x

Full publication details for The Gentleman’s Wardrobe  are given below. You can also find details on the GMC books website, where you’ll find details of all their current titles.

For debonair gentlemen who eschew denim in favour of tweed, and feel that grooming and gallantry should not be consigned to history, this book will prove extremely diverting. Featuring a cornucopia of elegant garments and accessories to sew, this beautifully illustrated tome is full of inspiration and charm. Including beautiful garments such as pyjamas, waistcoat, trousers and jacket, plus indispensable accessories such as cravat, flat cap and wallet there’s something for every fellow who’s looking to be more urbane than urban. Whether you make these smart projects for yourself or a loved one, this selection of spiffing sartorial gems will put a spring in anyone’s step.
ISBN13 : 9781861087478
Pages : 176
Photographs : 70 photographs
Price: £16.99

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A Very Nice House in the Country

Oh my, look at this garden. How lucky am I to sit out and stare at this every day?

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June 2016

To paraphrase Blur, we live in a very nice house in the country – how lucky are we? Technically it’s a bungalow, but we’re not going to quibble over the lack of an upstairs are we? One of the advantages of living in our “very nice house” is the beautiful garden we’ve created.  When we moved in there was just a lawn and a Silver Birch tree. No flower beds, no borders, just a lonely tree and a mouldering wooden bench. We’ve spent 20 years creating this garden and I can tell you where almost every plant came from. You know how I feel about full disclosure, so let’s give Mr T credit for his contribution to this garden transformation, which amounts to lawn mowing, dead pet burying and shed building! In the early days we had strict rules, whatever we bought had to earn it’s keep. That meant edible or evergreen, preferably both. We begged and stole plants from friends and neighbours, I sowed seeds and took cuttings. 20 years on I can see that all that early work was worth it. My garden gives me joy every day.

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Ruby Chard 2017

Our garden also feeds us – literally and spiritually – nothing helps restore balance better than sitting by the fire, drinking beer and eating food you’ve grown yourself. I’d like to say it’s deliberate, but it’s definitely the result of a lack of energy and inclination that we also have a bounty of free food in the form of weeds and wild flowers that flourish in our borders and in the hedges.

I’m busy transplanting seedling in the greenhouse, watching carefully for signs of activity in the perennial beds and getting excited about our first nettle soup of the year (we’ve already had risotto and gnocchi, soup is for the later, tougher stems).

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Nettle soup topped with creme fraiche and chives

It feels good to grow food; it feels even better that now we are able to find room for flowers and decorative shrubs that do little more than look pretty for a few weeks each year (but that’s OK too, they give me joy and that makes them pretty useful in my book). They’re also finding their way into dye pots, releasing magical colour and helping me find new ways of recording the memory of the garden (because one day we’ll move from here and I want to have something to take away).

In the last few years I’ve also noticed that gardens are pretty forgiving. Veg patches don’t mind if you occasionally forget to weed or to thin young plants. When the grass gets too long it gives the dandelions time to flourish (young leaves for salads, flowers for the dye pot and roots for our favourite dandelion and burdock recipes). Because we back onto farmland we’ve learned to accept that nettles and cleavers will always “win” if you try to control them, so instead we eat young nettle shoots and as a bonus the butterflies lay their eggs. Neater gardeners might frown at our lack of order, but for me it’s a bonus. Our garden is filled with all manner of wildlife and self seeded gems.

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Nasturtiums – essential salad garnish!

If there’s a lesson to be learned in letting my garden grow a little wilder these days it’s that the unexpected can bring good as well as bad. Not being in control is OK.

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • When you look up from the tv and realise outside is far more interesting! Happy Bank Holiday weekend everyone. I shall mostly be harvesting onions, drinking g&t and reminding myself how lucky we are to have this view.
#slowliving #thankful #girlgardener #mygardenrightnow #cheshirelife #thewayweliveinthecountry #permaculture Finished a new shawl. Far too hot to wear it, but luckily my shed is a great backdrop! Yarn is King Cole Riot. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #neverenoughshawls #sheshed #madenotmanufactured #crochetlove Free food! Next best thing to growing your own food is eating other people's homegrown. I'm looking after my neighhour's garden & boy does he have a lot of radishes just now! I have written a blog post about more of my favourite (almost) free foods. Link in profile, now I'm off to pickle these radishes.
#frugalfood #foraging #ediblegarden #growyourownfood #girlgardener #allotmenteering #eattheseasons #permaculture  #zerowaste #slowliving #gardentotable #organicgardening #forktofork I'll admit it, I grow this mostly for it's amazing colour - but the stems are delicious sauted with chorizo or streaky bacon!
#mygardenrightnow #girlgardener #girlsthatgarden #permaculture #growyourown #ediblegarden #bakingandmaking #slowliving #organicgardening I do love a formal garden. I walk through this one every Friday on my way to knit group.  Castle Park is a hidden gem.
#gardens #castlepark #parksandgardens Thanks @simplycrochetmag for featuring my crochet picnic basket :) The pattern is available  now in Simply Crochet celebrations edition. You'll need a cardboard box to upcycle & some chunky cotton yarn, I used DMC Natura XL & finished it off with leather buckles from Bag Clasps. 
#crochet #crochetgirlgang #upcycling #reloved #crochet #makersgonnamake #lovecrochet
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