How to Live a Low Plastic Life

recycling-symbols

So, we’re more than halfway through the year and this week I put my black bin out to be emptied again (it’s been a few months). Yet again it’s mostly filled with plastic packaging, a couple of disposable razors, a toothbrush and the pesky toothpaste and hand cream tubes that for years I thought I could recycle in my household bin collection, but I’ve now discovered are only for for landfill. (Note to self, learn what all those recycle logos on products actually mean). But, once again the main culprit is plastic food bags and wrap that cannot go in my household recycling.

My bin contents.jpg

I’ve realised that the “plastic free” ambition is not achievable and I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. Instead, just as we set out to go low carbon in 2006 (and cut out CO2 emissions by half) we’re going low plastic. Much as I love scrolling though the pristine while shelves of the “zero wasters” on Instagram, their kilner jars filled with bulk buy dried goods, their shiny bathrooms equipped with safety razors and shampoo bars, I just find their so called solutions just cause a whole heap of new headaches for me.

Take the safety razor for example. I’ve bought my fair share of disposable razors over the years and considered switching to a safety razor with steel blades, but as the zero waste bloggers are starting to discover, those pesky steel blades are darned awkward to recycle. They can’t be tossed in your household metal recycling (and despite the tips and “zero waste hacks” you might read on Instagram, never, ever just fill a steel food can with used blades and throw it in your household recycling). Apart from the safety issues when your recycling is hand sorted at your local MRF, they can cause all kinds of problems to the machinery. There’s a really useful piece on how to dispose of razor blades on this American website. I asked the friendly guys at my local recycling centre if they would take them in the general metal collection bins and they said no, but suggested I take it up with my local Council, which I will do.

But, I have given up disposable razors. I’ve switched to a combination of waxing and using an epilator. Yes, the epilator is plastic, but over it’s lifetime that’s a lot less non recycleable plastic than the razors and my model seems to go several weeks without needing to be recharged. Lucy Siegle (who incidentally has a new book out)*, has a few suggestions in the old post from the Guardian, answering a reader’s questions “What is the most eco – friendly method of hair removal”

I’ve also discovered that some of the larger supermarkets will recycle the thin, stretchy film and food bags that I end up with after an Ocado delivery. Thanks to Recycle Now and Karen Cannard who writes the Rubbish Diet blog, for that info. So now I’ve started saving up the plastic bags for when I find out which of my local supermarkets offers this service. When I go to the supermarket myself, or to the greengrocers, I’m still using a combination of old plastic food bags and cotton mesh bags. No-one seems to comment any more.

This just leaves the problem of the toothbrush and toothpaste. I have lots of issues with my teeth and I’m reluctant to give up my toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Instead, I’m writing to the company that make sit on a regular basis to ask when they’ll switch back to a metal tube. I switched to a wooden toothbrush, but I still have dozens of plastic ones that have been saved up for years as cleaning tools and every now and again one of them finds it’s way into the rubbish.

I think a Low Plastic Life, is definitely the way forward for us. I can’t see a time when we’ll ever be completely zero plastic – it’s far too useful – but using it wisely and thinking of it a valuable  resource  that is “too precious to throw away” has made me think differently about our buying habits in general.

I’d love to know if any of you have adjusted your plastic buying habits, the wins, the epic fails and the tips you’d love to share. The “Five on Friday” format is changing, so instead of a list of links and snippets I’ve read or watched I’m going to start sharing ideas and some of our simple swaps to help you choose a low plastic life. In September I’ll be showing you how we made the move to a “low plastic bedroom”, so if that’s got your wondering, check back on the first Friday in September for the first in my new series and lots more new content on Baking and Making.

Until then I’m taking a short break for August!

  • I’ll be reviewing this new book soon.

 

 

Nature Nurtures Me

nurtured by nature.jpgWhen I was a child, my dad would often disappear for walks. occasionally he’d take us with him, point out grebes swimming on the river, name the trees and the wild flowers or explain why we shouldn’t pick the hogweed*. Mostly he walked in silence, and it’s only now I’m a grown up that I understand his need to be outdoors.

You see, nature nurtures us. In the late 1980’s, I worked in a school in the suburbs of Manchester, it had a stream running through the grounds and some of our more enlightened staff knew that making sure our “troubled children” had access to that space, to “dip” in the pond, discover pond skaters, damselflies and grubs made life easier in the classroom. Those kids were calmer, more able to sit and listen. As teachers, we noticed a difference too, we talked about “clearing away the cobwebs” or how lovely it was to breather fresh air. Truth be told, we dragged those kids outside as much for our own well being as theirs! Thirty years ago it wasn’t called “Forest School” or the “outdoor classroom”, it was just informal access to nature  and we knew the benefits without mountains of research papers to tell us why access to the outdoors mattered. Everyone looked forward to dry days when we could step outside and weave an appreciation of nature into the curriculum – and if you are sceptical of the effect of nature on mood and behaviour, visit any school playground on a windy day and take note of how it affects the children – our dinner ladies* used to  dread windy lunch times!

on the rocks

Whilst we were encouraging those kids to spend time outside, feel the sun on their backs and the wind in their faces, the recognition that being outdoors could improve well being was being accepted across the world. In Japan, the concept known as  “Shinrin – Yoku” (sometimes called “forest bathing” )was gathering momentum. The healing power of being outdoors was accepted as a legitimate course of treatment. Even the NHS implemented changes to hospital design and organisation after published research that showed patients with beds near the window healed faster and went home sooner! (Roger Ulrich‘s research was first published in 1984 and was considered ground breaking at the time).*

Of course, now the media have embraced this concept as “new” and innovative and now we all read constantly that being outdoors is good for the soul as this piece in the Guardian shows, Author and nature lover Emma Mitchell has embraced the idea of being outdoors as a strategy to ensure her mental well being . If you’re interested, then the nature Fix by Florence Williams is definitely worth a read. It’s a fascinating account and exploration of the healing possibilities of nature.

Even the smallest access to green space ( or just being able to see it through a window) can improve out mental and physical health. Notice how children will press their noses to the window on rainy days, anxious to connect with the outdoors. This need to be in nature is with us from the earliest age. I try to eat my breakfast, or at least gulp a mug of tea in the garden every morning. I think of it as a time to balance myself before the onslaught of social media, emails and deadlines. Even better, if I can squeeze in a walk in the forest or through the woods I know my day will be calmer and more productive.  If you’re interested in reading more about this, then I thoroughly recommend  this article in Business Insider, which lists “12 science backed reasons why spending more time outside is healthy“.

Garden Robin

Spending time outdoors has allowed me to observe nature close up, my photographs of birds, butterflies and garden wildlife are a happy accident of time spent sitting, walking or watching. I know that my mental and physical health improves when I get outside, I notice less pain and inflammation in my joints and I often discover the solution to a problem or difficulty. We need access to sunlight to manufacture vitamin D, so clearly the need to be within nature is built into our DNA?

There still needs to be more willingness to accept the existing evidence that nature heals, and to continue to research the best and most effective ways we can use what we already know. Children cooped up in classrooms, prisoners on almost 24 hour a day “lock down”, patients denied access to the outdoors because health care providers prefer to keep them in their beds “where we can see you” and office workers who lunch at their desks because stepping outside the office is no longer the norm. Everyone can benefit from a change in attitude and policy.

It’s hard to ignore the evidence. Nature nurtures, sustains, revives and inspires us. We should all spend more time outside, every day.

 

*The sap is irritating and can cause a nasty rash – leave it alone!

*During my time as a student Nurse, Ulrich’s research was causing a stir. A new hospital wing was designed around a courtyard, so patients could not only see the gardens, but walk in them through patio doors

*dinner ladies / lunch time supervisors

 

Recipe: Sticky Stuff Remover

How to remove sticky labels

I make lots of jams, flavoured gins and preserves. That means I’m always scavenging empty bottles and jars to store my produce. Every jar is washed and the original label removed – but sometimes that’s easier said than done! Some labels are so firmly glued on, nothing seems to shift them! You can buy “goo gone”  or “sticky stuff remover” products, and some people swear by WD40, but I wanted to see if I could come up with my own. Usually I scrape off as much of the label as I can, then soak in hot, soapy water. If I’m lucky, the label slides off and doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Occasionally, nothing works and even huge amounts of elbow grease (which, incidentally is the best cleaner available)  won’t shift the darned glue – what do they use to stick those labels?

You can see from the photo below, even my all singing, all dancing recipe won’t work 100% of the time (that clear plastic bottle has defeated me), but most of the bottles are clean and label free. Ready to be filled with lotions, potions and produce from my kitchen garden (look out for my lavender champagne recipe, coming soon).

So, what’s my “secret” recipe? Simple, good old trusty baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda)* and vegetable oil! You’ll also need a dash of perseverance and plenty of elbow grease (for the uninitiated, that’s good old fashioned wrist / arm scrubbing action).

Simply mix equal quantities of oil and baking soda in a dish and apply to any remaining glue or label. Leave for up to an hour before scrubbing off with wire wool, an old toothbrush or your favourite eco friendly abrasive cloth (I use the Body Shop hemp body mitts, they are great for household tasks). The baking soda is the star of the show here, the oil just binds it and stops it sliding off the jars and bottles. You can use any oil, some blogs recommend coconut oil, others olive oil*.

how to remove sticky labels the after photo.jpg

Wipe off the oil / baking soda residue and rinse your jars in hot soapy water and leave to dry. Remember they will need to be washed, dried and sterilised before use to avoid risk of contamination.

Once you’ve filled your jars, you’ll need to label them with contents and an ingredients list. The best labels I’ve found for the job come from Eco Craft. They also offer  free pdf templates for their labels, which are very handy and save a lot of time setting up your own.

Not so difficult eh? Like most home made cleaning products and home remedies, the most valuable ingredient is time. I like to keep a jar of baking soda by the sink (clearly labelled), so that I can use it for all kinds of cleaning tasks. It’s great for removing burnt on food from roasting pans, or getting stubborn stains off the coffee maker too.

 

  • Health and safety note: Whenever you’re making your own eco –  friendly products, remember to wear rubber gloves and an apron. The ingredients might be less toxic, but they can still cause irritation and can stain your clothing. Always use clean containers and avoid mixing shop bought cleaners with your home made ones  as chemical reactions can occur. Wash all surfaces and utensils after use.

Gardener’s Hand Salve

My hands work hard, and I like to pamper them. Not with manicures and glossy polish, but a home made salve that soothes and leaves them soft. It’s easy to make, even in the smallest of kitchens and the ingredients are easily sourced. If you don’t have a decent herbal supplier nearby then you can order online from Neals Yard.  I first shared this recipe way back in 2009 and I’m still making it.

One of these days I’ll take a fresh set of photos, these are awful! Thanks to the” instagram generation”, we all expect beautifully styled images, artfully arranged to tell a story and inspire us to roll up our sleeves and emulate our favourite posts. Me, I still snap away on my smart phone and rarely think about composition! So yes, these photos look “clunky”, old fashioned and maybe even a little out of focus, but they’re honest and they’re mine – not “borrowed” from pinterest or shamelessly retouched in picasa!!

To see the real beauty of this salve, make a batch for yourself. Even buying all the ingredients from scratch will probably cost you less than a tube of organic or fancy pants hand cream and you’ll be able to impress all your friends with home made gifts (yes, I still give this at Christmas). You can buy small jars, but I like to rinse and re-use face cream jars or even those tiny little tins you buy mints in. Be resourceful, use your imagination and have fun in your kitchen! I’ve always “pottered about” with home made cosmetics, making face masks with fruit or egg white, concocting lip balm coloured with beetroot (not a great success, pink hands, pink worktop) and I like the idea that what I put on my skin is as natural as what I eat. It’s a lot easier to find organic, “natural” cosmetics these days, but it still pays to read your labels carefully.

Chamomile hand salve:
Ingredients: 50g dried chamomile flowers, 150ml olive oil, 1tablespoon chopped of beeswax, 10 drops of wheatgerm oil, 5 drops of benzoin tincture, 10 drops of chamomile essential oil. A bain marie or double boiler*, 2 small, sterilised glass jars.
method:
Put the chamomile flowers and the olive oil in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (or use a bain marie if you have one), warm gently for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate or chop the wax. Strain the chamomile and oil mixture and return the infused oil to the bain marie, add the beeswax and stir until it has melted. Remove from the heat. Add the wheatgerm oil and benzoin tincture and stir gently. Pour the liquid into the glass jars, add 5 drops of chamomile oil to each jar and stir gently with a cocktail stick.

Leave to cool completely before sealing the jars.
You can use a different essential oil if you like, but chamomile is gentle and soothing.

This salve can seem a little hard at first, so warm it, by rubbing gently between your fingers before massaging into your hands (or, even the rough skin on your feet, it’s bliss after a day’s sight seeing).

NOTE:Certain essential oils are not recommended if you have a medical condition, are pregnant or breast feeding, always take advice before using, if in doubt leave them out!

*Just a bowl over a pan of simmering water – just like you would melt chocolate.

 

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