Tag Archives: environment

Zero Waste Update 4

Ok so I promise this is not turning into a Zero Waste blog. There are a lot of those around and while they can be very inspiring, I do find they tend to run out of new things to talk about after a while.

However, I read back over a couple of my previous Zero Waste posts last night and realised how much things have changed, especially my attitude!

I can’t believe I complained about recycled toilet paper being “ugly” and in this post said, about people who use cloth baby wipes:

There are people who use old rags as baby wipes and wash them. Good for them.

So, just a quick update on what’s new around here….

Baby wipes– While we’re on the subject: I couldn’t really find a definitive answer on the environmental impact of bamboo/viscose etc etc but I suspect it’s still significant. When in doubt, something reusable is almost always going to have less impact than something single use. Also, what really bothered me was the plastic packets they all come in, which is definitely single use and not recyclable/biodegradable etc. So I took the plunge. Mr L had a couple of old t shirts destined for the rag bag so I chopped them up and have been using them as babywipes. I just wet about 10 at a time in a sink of cold water with a squirt of baby shampoo in it (although this is probably unnecessary) and store them in a small reusable baby wipe container we had lying around. Once they’re dirty I chuck them in the laundry sink and put them in the next wash. Because they’re thick and fairly large (actually probably no bigger than a standard babywipe, but more substantial because of their thickness), one usually does the job, so a box of 10 lasts at least a day, usually two.

Miss L isn’t a big fan of them, but she’s practically toilet trained now. Baby L doesn’t care as long as his bottom’s clean. I must point out though, for those unaccustomed to the different grades of baby poo, that the newborn poos (when all they drink is milk) are liquid and relatively inoffensive. Once they start eating solids there is a steady progression in gross-ness as their poos become more voluminous and solid, and once they’ve smooshed around a nappy for anything more than a few minutes they are probably not something you want to use a reusable anything on. So for these ones of Miss L’s, I do the bulk of the job with toilet paper and then finish off with a reusable wipe.

Apologies to anyone for whom that was TMI.

Coffee cup– I broke my ceramic mug at the zoo when it was knocked out of the holder on the stroller (talk about first world problems). Apart from being slightly embarrassed about the big “smash” inside the (supposedly) quiet Kiwi enclosure and then having to scrabble around picking up broken bits of china (one of which cut me), I felt like a complete idiot that I had just created more waste in trying to avoid waste. I had visions of the pieces of ceramic lying, never to decompose, in a landfill somewhere, the shards cutting the feet of small animals or ripping the guts of sea birds open. Then I got a grip.

My new cup is plastic, so it shouldn’t meet the same fate. I actually like the spout better than my old one, it’s nicer to drink out of, and in the unlikely event that I one day have no use for it, it’s recyclable. (Yes, I know, internal lecture to self about the evils of plastic recycling)

I was faced with a real dilemma the other day though, stopping for a quick coffee on my way home without my cup!! What to do?!?! Easy, I decided to “have here”. Only it was 4.30 and they were clearing up and told me I could only have it in a takeaway cup!! Wracked with guilt (and desperate for a coffee) I wondered what I should do. As she made the coffee I stood there already feeling guilty for the waste that one coffee cup would produce. So I compromised, and took the cup but asked for no lid…. After all, I consoled myself, it’s not about being perfect. I think I need to start thinking “Less waste” rather than “Zero waste”.

Toilet paper– I’m now buying Safe from Huckleberry Farms. Recycled toilet paper, paper packaging, and no, it’s not that ugly. It’s certainly prettier than the job it’s designed for anyway!

Also at Huckleberry Farms I found they stock a few things which might be handy- they let you fill your own container with Ecostore washing up liquid, meaning I don’t have to go all the way to Binn Inn for it. They also sell Global Soap, so I bought a bar of their stain remover to see if we can do away with the plastic-packaged Vanish stain remover which comes in handy for baby poo explosions and the collars and cuffs of Mr L’s business shirts when they get grubby. So far, the trial on the shirts has been disappointing…. Might have to try harder.

Loving Earth Chocolate– also at Huckleberry Farms, this chocolate comes in a compostable wrapper. And costs a small fortune. But at least I only buy (and therefore eat) a tiny bit at a time.

Cooking– kiwifruit jam, more marmalade, tamarillo chutney…. All of these are easy to make, taste great, are zero waste and are great to give away as small impromptu gifts. They also invite oos and ahs of admiration as people say “OMG how you have the time to make your own jam with 3 children?” Well I have the time to update my Facebook and watch crap TV, so I figure I have the time to make jam. What’s that? You update your FB and watch crap TV too… precisely.

Other pleasing discoveries have been zero waste crackers (good with cheese) and “larabars”- also pseudo healthy- as a chocolatey treat. What’s also good about making these things yourself is that as making them is (arguably) harder work and more expensive than tossing a packet in the supermarket trolley when you walk past them, you feel less inclined to polish off a whole packet. This is probably also because they are quite rich- you just wouldn’t eat a whole tray of them.

Toiletries– I am now using Lush toothy tabs instead of toothpaste (most of the time). They took a bit of getting used to but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They don’t give you that big mint hit but they do leave your teeth feeling really clean and smooth and most mornings I wake up feeling fresher. They feel a bit odd- a bit like brushing your teeth with chalk, but they taste so much better than any bicarb concoction that I came up with. They are quite abrasive though (hence the smooth teeth!) so I hope they aren’t damaging the enamel on my teeth. The abrasiveness also means I have to keep my mouth open when I brush as my toothbrush rubbing against the corner of my mouth with the toothy tabs was really irritant. I’m using “Breath of God” at the moment, which I chose on the recommendation of the shop assistant as being the least radical change from conventional toothpaste. And if I’ve had something particularly garlicky or I just want to be “normal” again I do occasionally still use regular toothpaste, probably about once every 3 or 4 days.

Lotion bars- Lush also do massage bars so I bought one to use instead of body moisturiser. I’m not a big body moisturiser user anyway, but occasionally my legs or elbows get dry and I want to put something on. I’ve been really happy with these- they go on quite sparingly and smell subtle but nice (of lemons, despite being supposedly peach scented). Once the weather warms up I have a feeling they might melt a bit too easily and be a bit greasy, but we’ll see. You can keep them in the fridge but who wants to go to the kitchen after a shower to put on moisturizer before they get dressed??

Unfortunately both the toothy tabs and the lotion bars are slightly more expensive than the products they’re replacing.

I’ve now used up the J&J cornstarch so I’m just using regular cooking cornflour instead of deodorant. I looked around for a while for a metal shaker for it but gave up and bought a plastic one- hopefully it’ll last.

Books– I did a bit more reading- “Plastic Free” by Beth Terry, who attacks plastic not just due to the waste impact but all the other evils it supposedly delivers (endocrine disruptors, carcinogens etc etc). I take these things with a grain of (package free) salt, but it’s easy to see how planting the seeds of doubt and fertilisng them with supposed science to a naïve (or even merely) open mind can create obsession and paranoia. I can imagine how people get turned against things like vaccination and fluoride, two other 20th century innovations that have done a lot of good but can be portrayed as the harbingers of just about every modern day affliction you can imagine. That said, I’m still trying to avoid it as much as possible, without being too paranoid about the damage it might be doing me personally.

I also read “The Zero-Waste Lifestyle” by Amy Korst by but to be honest it didn’t contain much I hadn’t read before, so it was a skim read really. That’s not to say it wouldn’t be interesting to someone embarking on a zero/less waste change but it didn’t hold a huge amount for me.

Right so much for that quick update.

I promise to write about something different next time, really!!!

 

 

Zero Waste Update 3- Collecting Rubbish

Sometimes I feel like I’ve become that annoying, preachy, eco-warrior from hell… Some days I feel like it’s all completely futile. But most days I feel like I’m actually on a meaningful venture that might, just maybe, make a difference. If not to the world then at least to me, my family and even my neighbourhood. There’s been enough interest on my Facebook Zero Waste posts – several likes, a couple of (positive) questions or comments- that suggest to me that a) there are more people who are interested in changing their own habits than I thought there were and that b) there are more people who hadn’t thought about a lot of the issues but are open to hearing new ideas. If there are a lot of people who are cynical about the whole thing and sick of me banging on about it, then at least they’ve had the good cyber-manners to keep quiet.

So, what’s new in the Life household, zero waste wise?? Lots but I think this one deserves a post of its own…

I’ve been on a couple of walks with the dog which have doubled as rubbish-collecting expeditions. One day last week, after a lot of wind and rain (and as it happened the day after the weekly council rubbish collection) I walked down to our local water-front park. The walk itself pretty much demonstrated the journey of a piece of rubbish (plastic and otherwise) that gets dropped in the street. There was so much of it around, undoubtedly much of it dropped and/or blown from household bins as the garbage truck picked them up. From the footpath, rubbish had blown into the gutters. It had then washed along the gutter to the drain, where surprisingly large pieces (and of course small ones) are able to enter. I picked up a shopping bag full of rubbish up off the street and out of the gutter on my way down to the park (about 1km away).

The park is on the water’s edge- there is a narrow harbour beach with a small retaining wall and with the recent wind and high tides the water level had evidently risen high enough to overflow and rise up onto the grass. Once it had subsided, the tide had left a high water line of sticks, plants, shells and RUBBISH. It was incredible. Much of it was plastic. Light enough to float and be washed up, I guess. Top mentions go to the round plastic peelable seals that most milk cartons come with these days. Second was probably those plastic ring seals that the milk cartons without the peelable ones have. There were the ubiquitous bottle tops from sports drinks and bottled water, particularly those small round clear plastic caps they put over the plastic pop-up spout. Plus the inside of pens, miniature plastic soy sauce bottles, many unidentifiable small plastic bits and bobs and of course, a couple of drinking straws. Beer bottle tops and cigarette butts topped the non-plastic offenders and just to mix it up there was also a piece of polystyrene which had broken up into a million billion pieces and I probably picked up about fifty of them.

The park has a dog poo bag dispenser, which I usually shun in favour of my own dog poo bags (we are currently using up our bought stock, after which we’ll start repurposing the other plastic bags that still, somehow, make their way into our home from time to time.) However, on this occasion I was quite glad of the bags, they are the size of a medium freezer bag and I filled 2 of them with small bits of litter from the park.

I set off back up the hill, feeling very virtuous although bothered slightly that if that rubbish hadn’t made it to landfill the first time, perhaps it wouldn’t the second, either. Or the third, or the fourth. Another thing I’ve noticed is how old and tatty a lot of the plastic is and I wonder how long it’s taken to look like that- are these bits of rubbish that have been in the water a month? A year? A decade?

This morning’s walk was more focused on the macro. I took a big department store bag with me (it was the first to hand) which proved lucky as, today being Monday, there seemed to be a lot of weekend rubbish around- not just bottle tops but bottles!! I walked down to a local beach this time. In total, 3 beer bottles, a vodka bottle and a bourbon and coke can plus several cigarette packets and soft drink bottle labels. Plus an equal number of milk bottle seals. At least my neighbours aren’t just drinking booze! The beach itself had the usual little plastic bits and bobs, I didn’t have the time (or, to be honest, the inclination) to pick every single one of them up. After all, I’m meant to be enjoying the walk too, not just staring down at my feet looking for bits of rubbish.

So on my way home I was thinking, I probably need a set of guidelines for when it all seems too much, a futile exercise, or one that becomes a chore rather than a good deed.

Perhaps I should focus on plastic, or big things, or just get a bag-full then stop. I’ve already decided that tiny things in the gutter (in fact most things in the gutter) can just stay there- there’s not much point trying to make the world a better place for myself, my children and the dog to live in if any of us gets taken out by a car whilst scrabbling around in the gutter for rubbish. I’m also really careful with tins and broken glass, my tetanus immunisations are up to date but similarly getting a festering infected wound is probably counter-productive to my zero waste endeavours.

So if you see a strange woman and a bored-looking dog wandering around the beaches and parks of Auckland, it’s probably me!

Zero Waste Update 2*

*I wrote this post in May but it looks as though I didn’t post it…. think maybe Baby L interrupted… Oops!

And so we continue this zero waste project… this morning as I was gazing into our rubbish bin (yes, I know, sad) I was struck by the proportion of its contents that consisted of nappies. We only have 1 child (Miss L) in nappies, although that’s soon (ie hopefully within the week) to be 2. Miss L, at 15kg and 22 months old, is simply too big for the cloth nappies I have, and I’m not forking out for another system when I hope she’ll be toilet trained in the next 6 months. I do try to make a nappy last as long as possible (sometimes invoking the need for nappy cream) and she does have some nappy-free time (usually at her own insistence) which saves on nappies and also does the job of nappy cream. I know it’s not ideal. But it works for us. As with Master and Miss L, I’m intending to use a combination of cloth & disposable for Baby L.

Wipes are another ongoing issue and source of enviro-guilt for me. I looked into bamboo wipes, and will probably give them a go, but I did some research on bamboo on the internet and found conflicting info. Yes it’s “biodegradable” under the right circumstances and “natural” but many sites seemed to suggest that the environmental impact of growing bamboo (clearing land, water consumption) is considerable. Worse than the alternatives? I don’t know. The other option would be toilet roll and some plant-based, super expensive body lotion from somewhere like Ecostore and I was prepared to try this option but annoyingly, when I was there the other day, I found they only sell teeny weeny bottles (not just expensive but also quite wasteful and their bottles are not refillable, just recyclable). I also thought about cloth wipes and just washing them but I know that the realities of washing a poo-encrusted piece of cloth would be prohibitive and it really wouldn’t take off. So back to bamboo it is, I suppose.

So how are the other projects going?

Reducing packaging

My new bread system is working brilliantly! I found an unused large linen drawstring bag, which had come as one of those protective covers for my Country Road Tote bag- which I use all the time unless I have the nappy bag (which is almost all the time) but regardless, I don’t empty my tote and put it away, so I have never had any use for the special bag-bag. I washed it and use it for my bread. It easily fits 4 large loaves, 6 rolls and the occasional scone or other treat.

I felt jubilant last week at the supermarket after psyching up and asking for my chicken breasts from the meat counter to be placed into my Tupperware container (actually they’re Décor but anyway). I had convinced myself that surely I wasn’t the ONLY person to have ever done this, right? The woman looked at me like I was mad. She glanced sideways and said “I’m not really sure I’m allowed to”. I said “I just want to save the plastic”. She added “I’ll have to weigh the container too”. I smiled, said “Just put it on the scales and zero it, then stick the label on the lid”. I was probably the most exciting customer she had all day. Certainly the most excited, I felt positively buoyant after the experience! Today that all came undone when I tried to buy ham from a different branch of the same chain of supermarket and was told “We’re not allowed to do that” but I was offered one of their plastic boxes instead of the usual plastic bag. I tried to explain that my objection was to the plastic, not to the bag, but got nowhere so took the plastic bag and walked off trying to look more haughty and less sheepish than I actually felt. Might have to work on that one….

We are bin-liner free! This was a really easy progression. I used to double line my bins (!!!) in case the liner leaked, so I wouldn’t have to clean the bin (I’d only routinely throw one liner away though, unless it had leaked and the second was dirty). Yes, I’ve had to wash the kitchen bin out a couple of times but it’s really no big deal. I try to put messy rubbish straight into the wheelie bin (the way our house is laid out this is not a big hassle, although once the rainy days of winter arrive I may feel differently) and for really, really messy things (eg chicken bones boiled & strained to make stock) I do put them in a plastic bag.

Toilet rolls– I placed a bulk order for 48 400-sheet 2-ply toilet rolls, from a website called insinc.co.nz, made from recycled paper and wrapped in paper, delivered in a cardboard box, no plastic!! Not entirely sure of the hydrocarbon cost and carbon emission created from the delivery of the box by, presumably, motorised transport but anyway.

Bamboo toothbrushes– I paid $6 a piece for these in Ecostore, then saw a different brand in New World for $4 each so bought one of those too just to compare. As soon as my plastic ones wear down, they’re getting a trial run. Ditto some bamboo cotton buds (which I personally don’t use but Mr L does).

Soap dishes– we are a liquid-soap free house! The bars are quite messy, I think maybe even worse on a dish. Plus they get dirty if you have really dirty hands (think grease from a car exhaust). Plus once they get soft the kids like to dig their fingers into the bars which is wasteful and unsightly but then I suppose so is chucking out a plastic soap refill container every few months.

Washing powder– I found a new brand in cardboard packaging going cheap in New World so decided to give it a go- it’s called Ecoplanet. Not as zero-waste as refilling my ice-cream container at Bin Inn, but I’d bought the non eco-friendly powder last time at Bin Inn, and was feeling guilty about that. I like the Ecoplanet better than some of the other eco-brands as the packaging is completely plastic free- no annoying plastic bag hiding inside the box and even a cardboard scoop instead of those plastic ones that you then get left wondering what to do with.

Cloth napkins– I dug out my (hardly ever used) cloth napkins to use instead of kitchen roll- we weren’t ever great kitchen-roll consumers anyway but I like to use one if I’m eating something messy and they kids have taken to using them too.

Shops

I continue to visit Bin Inn, trying to be mindful of the environmental issues associated with driving there in the first place. I have bought canola oil, golden syrup and honey there now and they do, in fact, sell olive oil, it’s just not on display.

Some other places I’ve found include:

Wise Cicada in Newmarket- they have loads of stuff on offer and seem to market themselves as an organic café/deli/general store. In fact, not all their products are “eco-friendly”- like the cotton-nylon shower puff they had. They had a lot of alternative-style, hemp and hessian bags and clothes for sale but I didn’t feel they offered much over and above my other eco-resources except for staff members with dreadlocks.

Huckleberry Farms– this appears to be a chain, the closest one being within a few km of our house. It seems to be more of a health-food shop and they do sell a lot of naturopathic/alternative health products, but they have a moderate selection of dry goods in bins.

And so we continue to pare our waste down…. Until next time!

Zero Waste Update

Well, it’s been ­­­3 weeks since my Zero Waste aspirations began. So far I’ve been quite excited and impressed by the changes we’ve made and by how easy they have been.

So far we’ve managed to:

Refuse plastic bags for our bread and bakery products. This has simply been a matter of requesting a paper bag for the (numerous!) hot cross buns we buy (“Yes, of course no problem!” has been the unanimous reply) and buying our bread from the pick-your-own section of the supermarket. I’ve stopped buying sliced bread as I couldn’t see how, even from Baker’s Delight, this was going to work in a paper bag. Instead I slice my own- I thought the kids would protest about the uneven, more rustic slices, but actually, they haven’t.

Refuse or reduce other packaging

  • Soap- we’re phasing out liquid soap and I’ve ordered some wooden soap dishes online to make it less messy (although to be honest, it’s not too bad but a soap dish which allows the soap to drain and dry between uses should also extend the life of the bar).
  • Bin Inn– our patronage continues and I have bought sugar, washing up liquid, laundry powder, baking soda and buckwheat there. I was excited to see they sell honey and golden syrup as well as canola oil (but alas no olive oil). The other very exciting find was their peanut butter machine- you take your own tub, select smooth, medium or crunchy, and let the machine grind your peanut butter straight into your tub! The kids loved it and so did I!

Ecostore products

  • The toilet brush is great, as toilet brushes go. Not only does it look quite classy (if it’s possible for a toilet brush to look classy) but the bristles are nice and flexible so it cleans brilliantly, and the kids haven’t given it a second glance- I was worried with it not being enclosed that they might want to play with it.
  • I’ve only just finished my regular shampoo (I realised my hair only really needed washing once a week while I’m pregnant- it seems much drier plus I am not exercising so it doesn’t get sweaty), so have only used the Ecostore stuff once. It seemed ok, not very lathery, but I’m sure lather is just some marketing trick to make you feel like you’re getting really clean.
  • Also loving the string bags and no one at the supermarket has had an issue with me buying my fruit and veg in them.
  • The free soap I got dries my skin a bit so I might try another variety next time.
  • I haven’t tried the sanitary products yet.

Dog poo– most of this has gone over the fence with no complaints from the neighbours (human or bovine.)

Bins– I have also cut down on bin liners (we used plastic shopping bags) by not bothering to line the nappy bin in the garage- it stinks anyway so what does it matter- and chucking as much as possible straight in the wheelie bin rather than into a house bin first and filling up a plastic bag. A bin liner now lasts 2 or 3 days, instead of less than 1. This creates the illusion of less rubbish, certainly, as everything packs in tighter, but I like to think we actually have been throwing less out too.

Deodorant- the bicarb/cornflour/coconut oil concoction became difficult to use as the weather has got cooler, as it’s not as soft and easy to apply. I could add more coconut oil I suppose but I’ve actually taken to just using cornstarch (J&J at the moment but I am going to try and move to plain kitchen cornstarch) and perfume with no complaints (from myself or others!)

Picking up rubbish at the beach– I felt like a total hippy but I picked up a small bag (yes ok it would have been better to use a bucket) of rubbish- cigarette butts, wrappers, bits of plastic etc at the beach yesterday.

Resuable coffee cup– we have started taking them out when we get a takeaway coffee (which is actually not all that often anyway). Even Mr L was on board with this today.

Marmalade– I made a big batch of marmalade for the grand total of about $7 this week- made the equivalent of about 5 jars from the shops. Of course it has been bottled in reused jam jars I’d been saving.

My next goal is to source and try out the following:

  •  Shampoo bars- dog & human
  • Bamboo shower puff
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Bamboo babywipes
  • Toilet rolls made from recycled paper AND free of plastic packaging
  • Containers for meat from shops etc

 We’ll see how we go!

Zero Waste Home

So I came across a blog called “Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson a few weeks ago while reading an article on reducing plastic consumption in your life.

Bea is a French woman living in the US, married to an American guy with 2 children. Essentially, she describes how she lived a fairly “traditional” French childhood in suburban Provence (it never occurred to me that they had suburbs in Provence as I’ve always assumed it was all quaint medieval villages and lavender fields but evidently there are suburbs too!) then when she moved to the US she found herself embroiled in the “American Dream”- big house, big garden, 2 gas guzzling vehicles and a disposable lifestyle.

Motivated by wanting to live in a slightly more atmospheric, inner suburb of whichever US city she’s in, but unable to afford the same scale of house, they embraced minimalism to allow them to downsize and move closer into town.

Eventually she transitioned to and embraced not just having less stuff but creating less waste.

I found the book really quite interesting as it generally seemed to support the feelings I already had about being green and recycling (ie that recycling surely can’t be the “chuck stuff out totally guilt-free” card everyone seems to regard it as). She doesn’t go into a huge amount of detail about the process of recycling, its byproducts and the like, but she does touch on a few processes and suggests that the real problem is plastic. According to Bea, plastics are rarely recycled into equally sustainable products, they are often “downcycled” into products that can’t then be recycled a second time and go to land/ocean fill.

Her philosophy, as I had kind of already embraced myself, is to minimise the amount of stuff that comes into your house, that’s the only way to really minimise the stuff that goes out again. Her 5 Rs are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. Fairly self- explanatory, but to spell it out,

  • Refuse as much stuff as possible
  • Reduce the amount of stuff you do let into your house
  • Reuse it (as opposed to recycling it)
  • Recycle and Rot (composting) are then last resorts before throwing it in the bin

Some of her tips go a bit far for my liking (each to their own, but she advocates dusting cocoa powder on your cheeks instead of foundation and I don’t fancy a load of flies swarming around me or smelling like a hot chocolate) but she has motivated me to try and reduce as much as possible the amount of stuff we chuck out and to focus, first and foremost, on cutting down our plastic waste.

Some things I’d already been doing for a while, like:

  • Avoiding cling wrap as much as possible- for about a year I’ve been using reusable sandwich wraps. There are several available on the market and many of them are quite expensive, cashing in on a combination of the food-safety paranoia and the environmental concerns surrounding plastics. I must say I found some very reasonably priced ones at Howards Storage World in Australia and I have no idea what their environmental or food safety profile is, but having bought only two and used them all year, surely that’s better than the roll of cling wrap I would otherwise have gone through?
  • Re-using paper in the printer. I used to get a lot of it from work- for some reason my old workplace in Sydney was so wasteful with paper and you’d find reams (literally) of paper printed on one side only that people had left in the printer, I’m not sure why- printed in error I guess, so I’d swipe it and take it home to use. The main problems were I’d actually acquire more than I could use (I don’t print much stuff out at home) and a couple of times I had to be careful about ending up with printouts which had sensitive information on the reverse side.
  • Composting- in Sydney this was a no-brainer as we had a garden we could use the compost in and also chickens, whose poo really needs mixing with compost as it’s too harsh to put straight on the soil (apparently). This had fallen by the wayside since moving to Auckland, mainly because we didn’t have any sort of garden beds (or chickens) to benefit from compost, also because we had nowhere convenient to put a compost bin and finally because every house in NZ (our new one included) seems to have a waste disposal system, which I have always considered an American thing. Anyway we have resurrected our composting habit- it’s amazing how much goes into it and how satisfying it is!
  • Reducing electricity & gas consumption- this was always easy to comply with as it reduces your bills. Happily our new house has instant gas hot water with a thermostat, meaning I have been able to turn down the temperature our hot water is heated to. I could never see the logic of paying to heat water to hotter than your skin can stand, only to cool it down by mixing it with cold water for a shower. It’s not quite as hot as it could be for washing dishes, but it’s fine.
  • Resuable water bottle- I HATE paying to buy water when I’m out, so this is easy.
  • Resuable coffee cup- Mr L and I both have these, however our main motivation was again financial, we’d use them to take coffee from home rather than taking them to cafes to get them filled. But I’ve done it a couple of times now and they haven’t thought I’m a complete weirdo! It’s not that hard. I had also been taking mine to work, to make cups of tea in rather than using the Styrofoam rubbish they have there.

Since reading Zero Waste Home, some of the new things I’ve looked into have included:

  • Buying bread in paper bags as much as possible. I always reused the plastic bags our bread came in, usually for cleaning up after the dog (see below) but felt bad. It’s been pretty easy and hasn’t confined us to expensive Bakers Delight bread (although we do go there quite a bit anyway), turns out our local budget supermarket has very nice loaves of bread which you self-serve in paper bags. Of course, Bea would suggest getting your own cloth bread bag (she uses a pillow case) and doing without the bag altogether, but then what do you store it in when you get home?
  • Packaging- with other products, too, I’ve been much more aware of packaging and trying to stick to a hierarchy of none-paper-glass-plastic. I realised (with horror) that the bars of soap I’ve been buying to use in the shower come in non-recyclable plasticky paper wrapping. I bought some in simple cardboard boxes and have now found some without wrappers at all. They are a little more expensive, but are still less than $3 per bar. I also agonized over my choice of honey in the supermarket, feeling ashamed of my convenient plastic flip-top squeezey bottle- I mean how hard is it to take the top off and use a knife??* But there was no honey in a glass jar, I couldn’t believe it!! So I got a screw top plastic jar which looked like it could be used again, instead of the flimsy, throwaway soft plastic things that most of the honey seems to come in here.   [*I might add that I have previously been down the “which honey container to buy” decision tree, and what led me to the squeezy bottle (when the jars are way cheaper and would ordinarily have won) is the fact that I HATE it when people leave crumbs in the honey/marmalade/jam/butter and even more when there are traces of butter in the non-butter spreads, it grosses me out. I even go so far as to use a clean knife (not the buttery one) after buttering the toast to apply the spread, in order to avoid contaminating it. I realise not everyone shares my OCD tendencies and so to avoid irritation I resorted to buying the squeezer. Anyway, I digress.]
  • And on the subject of soap, for years I have been a liquid soap user, again, not being able to stand the soggy mess on the sink that collects with bars. But I figured it’s a lot of plastic, so when we finish the liquid stuff we’ve got, I’m going to try bars for handwashing once again. (I never got into shower gel for the simple reason it’s so expensive compared to bars of soap, so I’m sure I can cope with bars at the sinks).
  • New shops- I ventured to Ecostore, which I had always dismissed as a complete rip-off in the past, but actually some of their stuff is ok. I came away with a toilet brush (our cheap metal and –gasp- plastic one had fallen apart after about 5 uses, so I bought a wooden handled, natural bristled one, with a wooden & ceramic stand. The brush is compostable so when it gets grotty you chuck in on the compost heap. Then you just buy a replacement brush to put in the old stand. I also bought some organic cotton string bags, which I put fruit and veg in at the supermarket (the things that are too much hassle to have loose) and some all-natural, compostable sanitary pads which were also cheaper than I expected. NB I will NOT be composting these as I think it’s kind of gross for the other household members, but I figured they’ll decompose quicker in the rubbish tip than the normal sort. Some shampoo & conditioner in refillable bottles completed my purchase, and I was rewarded with a free bar of (package free) soap and a lip balm! I was prepared to buy a large tub of laundry detergent, as I quite like the Ecostore stuff, but was disappointed to find they only have a very limited range of products that they’ll refill and their powder detergent isn’t one of them. You can take your containers back but I was told by the woman serving me they recycle them, they don’t refill them. Not like at…..
  • Bin Inn– a chain of sort of health-food shops I suppose is how they describe themselves, but most of their products are in bins sold by weight- you take your own containers which they weigh empty, then weigh again when you’ve put your loot into them! What a fabulous idea. So far I’ve bought rolled oats, sultanas, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, laundry detergent, dry dog food and dog treats. The stuff is reasonably priced- some of it’s more expensive than in the supermarket but some of it is a lot cheaper so I think it breaks even. There’s one about 20 mins drive from us, so it’s probably an awful waste of petrol to go there all the time, but once I get my system going it might work quite well!
  • Dog- I always put her mess into plastic bags then in the bin, but our new house backs onto a big overgrown field whose only users are cows, so I have started chucking her poo over the fence into the long grass. I’m sure the cows won’t mind, given how much mess they themselves make. And when it’s exposed to sun, rain and flies, dog poo doesn’t hang around that long anyway, certainly not compared to sitting in a plastic bag being preserved on a rubbish heap.
  • And finally, I have also tried making my own deodorant!! Using 1/4 cup bicarb soda, 1/4 cup cornflour and 4 tsp coconut oil. It’s ok, it’s like a stick deodorant only not in a very convenient dispenser (you rub it on with your fingers). I’m not a super sweaty, smelly person, luckily, or I don’t think I’d get away with it. I have been a bit sweatier than usual, but I have about 4 bottles of perfume that take me aaages to get through so I figured I’d start using them daily and they can supplement the deodorant. I generally buy fragrance-free deodorant anyway, and have always balked at the cost of the aerosol stuff. As luck would have it, I didn’t make it to Aldi during our recent trip to Sydney to buy any more of their cheap, perfectly acceptable, mildly-fragranced stuff anyway, and I was already resenting paying $7 a can for branded stuff here.

It’d be nice to get to the point where we don’t have to put up with meat, cheese, fish & deli products in their inevitable plastic wrapping but to do this I think I’m going to have to start shopping at small local shops who’ll take a BYO container and put the stuff into it. An idea I like in theory, but the convenience of a supermarket instead of 5 different outlets, particularly with 2 kids in tow, just wins out most of the time.

Will we ever do away with plastic altogether? No. And I don’t think we’ll achieve completely zero plastic waste either. Plastic has its uses. I have a lot of plastic tubs already and I can’t see the point of chucking them out to buy other substitutes- I’ll use them until they fall apart (ideally forever)- surely that’s better than them going to landfill now? Plus, plastic is really useful for keeping things fresh! I keep my vegetables in plastic bags in the fridge so they don’t go soft. And plastic is better than paper for keeping bread from going stale. What I am trying to do is have designated sturdy plastic bags which I can reuse many times over before they need to be thrown out.

 Anyway, we’ll see, It’s a start, at least!

Branding

I never thought too hard about why I objected to branding when it came to kids’ stuff. I just found something about it instinctively inappropriate. I could never really understand people who declared: “Oh my child loves The Wiggles/Hi Five/Peppa Pig” (for the record I actually do quite like Peppa Pig but that’s another story.) I mean, as the parent surely you are the one who determines what your child is exposed to? I realise once they start school it’s a slightly different story, but I knew for a fact that MY child would NOT love “The Wiggles” because I find them intensely irritating and would therefore not let him watch them. (So far, so good). One of the mothers in my mothers group (she actually left after a couple of months but we stayed Facebook friends) declared that, at 6 months old, her daughter could say “Dora”. My first thought was “Yeah right!” and my second was “How tragic”.

I’ve always consciously tried to avoid branded toys. We accidentally ended up with a Thomas engine, which Master L refers to as “Thomas” because it took us months to notice the names of the vehicles were written on the bottom and this green engine’s name is, apparently, Luke. So we got that wrong, but who cares? I’ve always avoided branded clothes, cartoon-character and action-hero pyjamas (which is quite difficult actually), I guess because I didn’t like the idea of “forcing” my child to become a fan of something specific, preferring him to form an interest in trucks/animals/planes in their own right.

And so various scenarios have popped up over the years which have reinforced my aversion to branding and allowed me to articulate some of my specific objections

  1. Cost- When shopping for Lego for my (now 10 year old) nephew, I was shocked to see that plain-old use-your-imagination-and-build-your-own-thing Lego was half the price of Harry Potter/Barbie/Star Wars Lego. Some of the parts for the Thomas and Friends train set cost $100!!! Crazy- $100 for a kid’s toy which you can’t even use in isolation!
  2. Duplication- Identifying something with a brand encourages buying more stuff and duplicating kids’ belongings. In the last couple of weeks I have started thinking about Christmas presents for my little nephews. I liked last year’s strategy of giving experiences rather than stuff, but circumstances have made that much harder this year. So I asked my sister-in-law what she might want for her kids (who have so many toys they literally don’t know what to do with them). She told me “Any of the Thomas and Friends wooden railway set, or any Postman Pat or Fireman Sam stuff.” Now, I don’t have a particular problem with Postman Pat, I actually quite like Fireman Sam (Mr L’s first language is Welsh and so we have the Welsh-language version Fireman Sam DVDs, which helps me justify letting Master L watch them considerably) and, as it happens, I can’t stand Thomas, but it wasn’t my opinion of the particular TV shows that influenced my reaction. Whatever happened to kids having “a fire engine” or “a train set” (which Master L does, in fact, have)? Why do kids now have to have the Thomas train set AND the Chuggington train set, or Postman Pat’s van AND Fireman Sam’s jeep?? My 10 year old nephew now has millions of Lego bits and pieces because he has about 20 different Star Wars Lego models. Sadly, I’m not sure if his brain or the Lego is adaptable enough to build something non-Star Wars with the millions of bricks he has, or if he has even thought to try.
  3. Fashion status- And apart from the cost and the needless duplication of plastic and metal bits and pieces which seems to be a way of life now in our throw-away society, the branding of kids’ toys promotes a sense of fashion status very early on. I know Master L, at almost 3, is too young to be aware of this, but I bet by the time he turns 4 and certainly by the time he turns 5, he will be aware that other kids have the Thomas train set and he has the generic version and that there will be status associated with that. Having said that, I know that as a 7 year old, I always felt slightly envious of kids who had Barbie dolls and all the Barbie paraphernalia that went with it. Even with my slightly less cool Sindy doll, I almost never got the “proper” Sindy clothes for her to wear, I had to make do with the £2 version from the town market. And my friend who had a plastic doll she used to call her Sindy doll would receive scornful comments at school such as “That’s not a proper Sindy doll” (including from me). I do recall a certain sense of missing out from not having the brand-named versions of most things, although on the rare occasion we were given something “proper” (like the My Little Ponies from my uncle), I realized pretty quickly they were actually fairly boring. I don’t want to be the clichéd, uncool, crochet-wearing mother who says “Just because everyone else has it doesn’t mean you have to have it too” but by the same token, I like the fact that I’m now not really a brand-name kind of person. I don’t buy designer (very often) and if I do, it’s because it’s the best one I can find and I can justify the expense rather than simply because a specific person has lent their name to it.

So, for now, we will continue to avoid Thomas and Postman Pat and I will no doubt read this post in a couple of years and smile at my idealism. Next week for his birthday, Master L will receive a mini soccer goal post set and some yellow diggers. All wrapped in Lightning McQueen wrapping paper.

I wanna be a greenie

I fancy myself as a bit of a greenie. My first dabble into conservation and the like was at the age of about 16. I suppose it’s the typical age for such idealistic pursuits, along with forays into religion and expressing non-specific ambitions to “help people”.  My own 16 teen-green efforts consisted of buying a “Save The Planet” t-shirt, cutting environment-related articles out of the newspaper and concealing pages of used paper (notes, letters, etc) into piles of newspaper which, at the time in my area, was the only form of paper for which there was any kind of organised recycling collection. I thought it was ridiculous they’d collect newspaper for recycling but not normal paper. My laborious deception was well-intentioned, although probably somewhat misguided, to this day I feel slightly guilty that I may have been unwittingly sabotaging the local council’s recycling process and that whole vats of newspaper pulp contaminated with my Year 10 French homework needed to be discarded.

Like religion, environmental issues (although more concrete) seem to generate a substantial amount of controversy and conflict on a community and political level, as well as immense confusion on a more personal one. Unlike religion, however, “being green” is something I do aspire to, even if I haven’t found many (or indeed, any) of the answers.

So I make no apologies for the fact that this simply poses questions rather than answering them. I make absolutely no pretence at having a deep understanding or having researched the issues in depth. It’s not a cynic’s knock-down of the way our society has attempted to protect our environment, it’s a genuine admission of confusion and brain-fry!

The facts as I see them are:

  1. Our planet has limited resources. They are likely to outlast me, I’m not so sure about my children though. While this is, to some extent, part of the natural cycle of the universe, including the evolution and extinction of species throughout time, it’s a beautiful planet and my children are (usually) beautiful specimens on it so it’d be a shame not to try and look after it.
  2. The most efficient way to minimise our impact on the environment is to use less of everything we incorporate into our consumer, convenience-orientated lives to start with, rather than trying to find inventive ways to dispose of our waste.

 The main thing I stubble with when trying to understand “environmental impact” (whatever that means) is that most disposal processes seem to use up some kind of resource.

  1. Landfill. Even without going into the complexities of a rubbish-tip ecosystem and all the various side-effects of letting our stuff fester in them, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that some of the stuff we throw away takes a loooooong time to decompose/dissolve/disappear. Actually there’s not much conflict there. I can see how, if it doesn’t have to go into landfill, that’s a plus.
  2. Recycling. I can’t help but feel that everyone feeling virtuous about recycling is kidding themselves (or being kidded) just a tiny bit. I’m not saying a glass bottle is better off in the rubbish dump than in the recycling bin, but when you think about the process of recycling, the whole thing (from the collection to the processing to the manufacture of the recycled stuff) is still using natural resources- fuel for the recycling truck, electricity and water and who knows what else for the recycling plant and the rest of the process. It’s not zero impact. Even more so with paper recycling. Not that I know much about the process itself, but surely a piece of paper in a rubbish tip breaks down much faster than a glass bottle…. Apart from saving trees (and apparently they now plant forests specifically intended for making paper and therefore renewable), I’m not sure what benefit recycling paper has, except that the rubbish tips fill up slower. Is the extra room in the rubbish tip worth the energy expenditure to recycle the paper? I don’t know and I don’t understand how you can make that comparison when you’re weighing up completely different resources.
  3. Food disposal. Apparently food in rubbish tips sets up some awful chemical reaction and generates methane and other planet-warming gases. Plus it makes up a large percentage of household waste (back to full rubbish tip issue again). In the L household, we don’t throw away a lot of food waste anyway, as (in Australia, anyway) we’d compost most food scraps or feed it to the chickens or the dog. But I don’t understand how our backyard compost bin (which I have not noticed emitting offensive gases of any sort, perhaps they are odourless) is so very different to food waste composting in a rubbish tip. Our Kiwi rental house on the other hand, has a waste-disposal unit, which chops up food residue and flushes is down the sink. Is flushing it into the sewer better than putting it on the ground? Doesn’t it upset the marine ecosystem? I’m confused.
  • All these issues are, of course, set in a personal context of sometimes conflicting motivations and priorities. For me, those are mainly:
  1. Cost versus “eco-friendliness”- eco-friendly are often more expensive than standard. Usually not a lot, but at times this is a consideration and I’m sure more so for people less comfortably off than us.
  2. Decluttering vs reusing- yes I love the idea of using old bath towels as dog towels then cleaning rags then goodness-knows-what until they are threadbare and falling apart. I could say the same for every container, piece of cardboard, hook, nail, piece of string which I could “repurpose”- in other words, leave to clutter up my home until I decide I want to use it for something else. But this just doesn’t sit well with me. I know there ARE people who have little drawers full of spare buttons, categorised by colour and size, and never need to buy a button again. But come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever bought a button either and neither have I used one from my (now in landfill) button collection. Besides, most people I’ve met who have this kind of stuff lying around, don’t have it sorted and stashed, they have it spread in a cluttered mess and can’t find what they need when the need it so have to go out and buy it anyway. Only you probably can’t buy 1 button, you probably have to buy a packet of 5….
  3. Aesthetics- yes I know it’s vain and superficial and all the rest of it, but when I said I fancied myself as a greenie, I meant a pleasant smelling, reasonably well-dressed greenie, not a social outcast dressed in clothes from 20 years ago and greasy hair. Sometimes you just want clean, brand new stuff.

 So what have I tried myself?

  1. Cloth nappies- ok well I must admit I think they probably are an environmental winner. I am not forking out for “biodegradable” (see later) disposables. However, my kids last a lot longer in a disposable than a cloth nappy, so I am using more cloth nappies per day than disposables. Apart from the obvious inconvenience, when you do the maths, you are talking about washing maybe 6-8 cloth nappies vs using maybe 3-4 disposables. Not to mention the extra clothes from the leakages because you forgot to change the nappy after 2 hours. I machine wash them in cold (usually) water and (always) air-dry them. They are made from synthetic fabric, coloured brightly with synthetic dyes in a factory which I’m sure is powered by hamsters running on a wheel…. Yep. Oh and they came in a zippered plastic pouch which I kept for ages intending to repurpose but threw out in a decluttering frenzy. Or was it when I found my baby with it over her head and thought maybe it wasn’t such a good thing to have lying around?
  2. Toilet paper and sorbolene as an alternative to baby wipes. Does toilet paper down the toilet have less “environmental impact” than a baby wipe in a rubbish tip? I thought it probably did but now I’m not so sure. And what about sorbolene, isn’t it a petroleum/hydrocarbon derivative…. Should I be using plain water???? Or just going without nappies altogether and doing that reflex voiding thing?? There are people who use old rags as baby wipes and wash them. Good for them. Some of these people even go to the extremes of using the same process in lieu of toilet paper for the adults in the house. What’s wrong with that? Unlike a baby, at least an adult can put their own wipes in the washing machine.
  3. Eco-friendly dishwashing liquid, washing powder, cleaning products. After shopping around till I find one I like, I do feel happy about using these.
  4. Home-made washing powder and cleaning products. The cleaning products I can cope with (bicarb IS an amazing thing and as long as you can cope with the smell and acid burn of white vinegar in your airways you’re fine) but the washing powder was a dud- the clothes just didn’t smell clean (I know, I know, aesthetics again)…. So I threw away the painfully sourced bulk quantities of washing powder ingredients….
  5. Biodegradeable plastic bags- whether you accept them for your shopping or buy them to line your bins, it is hard to live without plastic bags. (It’s actually also quite hard to buy fruit and veg that aren’t in plastic bags at times.) I always thought biodegradeable meant they were ok! They magically disappear without a trace! Right? No, apparently they disintegrate into tiny plastic particles, which get into the waterways and poison the whales or something…. Oh god really? No whales at the bottom of a rubbish tip…. When caught short walking the dog the other day and forced to pickup her business with a large wad of tissues I had in my bag and scoop it straight into the bin I thought “aha! Tissue is surely better for the environment than a plastic bag???” Then I thought a bit more about the practicalities and…. Um, well, no.
  6. Paper- at home, we’ve shredded it (with an electric shredder, which overheated and blew after about a week and is now in landfill) and used it for chicken bedding and then compost (it doesn’t compost very well, by the way), and now we’re burning it in our wood-burning heater. Paper + fire + O2 -> CO2 + small dose of guilt. Hmmm.
  7. Toilet paper- I used to use recycled, unbleached stuff, but truly, it’s ugly. I looked at a website recently called “who gives a crap?”…. Nice idea and I might be tempted to try it if we were in Sydney still, but it’s expensive! So use less, I hear you say…. Back to the baby wipes on the kids then…

 And so it goes on…. When talking about “environmental impact”, what is the magic equation? Is it better to waste water than electricity? Is putting stuff in landfill better than putting it in the waterways? Part the problem is I’m trying to compare apples with oranges.

Without a doubt though, if I can say no to the packaging, the containers, the plastic and reuse things, that surely has to be better then either discarding or recycling? Rethink, reduce, reuse, before you recycle. [Punchy slogan stolen from our local tip in Sydney, I always meant  to do one of their tours to find out more about all this stuff, but never got round to it.]