Plastic Microbead Ban – and alternatives

plastic free oceans

You may have seen online the petition to get the UK government to consider banning plastic microbeads here. The US has already agreed to ban the production of microbeads in personal care products from 2017.

Microbeads are the tiny particles of plastic that are found in body scrubs, face washes, some toothpastes etc.

They are so tiny that, once they are flushed down the drain, water filtering plants can’t stop them. Unfiltered they end up in the world’s rivers and seas where they don’t degrade. Here they can be ingested by marine life, which is harmful to them and to us (if we end up consuming some of this marine life).

It seems such an unnecessary form of pollution, just to make our teeth brighter or our skin glow.

But there are alternatives…

The very handy Beat the Microbead website here has a great list of products that do and don’t contain microbeads. Since I found out about microbeads I have been searching for alternatives and have discovered Lush’s Ocean Salt scrub which smells of summer holidays and works really well.

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What’s more if you collect five of their plastic pots and return them empty to the store you get a free face mask. They recycle all their black pots (see here).  The blog Refuge for Daffodils has also pointed out that at the bottom of each black pot is a number that equates with how many times it has been recycled (10 is the limit). So far I’ve collected two pots that seem to be on life number 2 and 6.

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The deadline for the UK petition to parliament is 23 January so please consider signing it. And do look at the list of alternative products as well.

2015: Learning from “failures”

As befits this time of year there have been many blog posts and tweets about New Year Resolutions. However one of the most interesting tweets I saw was asking about our own failures from 2015, and what we have learned from them.

As I’m not a big fan of making resolutions on 1st January I thought I would look back to see what I could learn from goals that weren’t achieved, and challenges that weren’t met last year (NB this isn’t supposed to be a morose, ‘glass half empty’ post; I just find the concept of becoming successful through learning from failures a genuinely interesting idea).

1) Not Moving House

This time last year we had put our house up for sale and had great plans of relocating to a larger property within the village. However this didn’t work out. BUT it was with great relief that we decided last summer to take our house off the market and stay where we are. We realised that we really love the location of our small cottage. We have plans to extend a little in the next couple of years to provide another bedroom. In the meantime we have made a few alterations (see below) and fallen back in love with our home.

new look lounge with renovated fireplace

2) Not securing a job

Despite many job applications and a few interviews I have failed to get a weekday job. My aim is to return to marketing but in a part time capacity. At times I have felt disheartened that my painstakingly filled applications haven’t even secured a job interview but I have learned many things along the way: I need more digital marketing experience; I need to write my CV in a different way; I need to make more personal contacts. To this end I have become more digitally literate and have started voluntary work providing marketing support. I have also changed my  hours at the Arts Centre cafe where I work, ensuring I have my weekends free with my family once more.

I have a few ideas for generating some income for 2016 and have faith that the right job is out there for me.

On a smaller scale I didn’t succeed at:

3) Project 333

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on the subject you will know that I have dabbled with Project 333 – the capsule wardrobe programme – for the past year. The idea is that you reduce your clothing, shoes and accessories to just 33 items. and rotate these every three months. While I really like the idea of a small, but perfectly matched, closet I have come to the conclusion that this just isn’t my style. Sometimes I like to wear, and buy, clothes that just don’t match with anything else in my wardrobe. While I still aim to have a small selection of outfits and, as always, buy them second-hand, I have realised that Project 333 just isn’t for me.

Project 333: Winter/Spring 2015

4) Plastic Free, Zero Waste

While these are two causes I feel very strongly about my commitment to them towards the end of 2015 has wavered. While I’m proud that our attempts at a zero waste holiday were fairly successful I have continued to fail at refusing plastic straws. Knowing that these items don’t decompose and seeing the terrible damage they do to marine life this is something I must try harder at in 2016. I realise that there are many plastic-free/waste-free habits I have acquired over the past couple of years that have become so automatic I don’t even think about them (using cloth bags, using my onya grocery bags for loose veg, taking reusable drinks bottle with me), but there are many more that I can adopt for 2016.

waste free festival kit

I’m sure if I think about it, there are many more ‘failures’ from 2015 from which I could learn. However if I could take two things with me into 2016 it would be to 1) continue to live small and accept what I have, and 2) to continue to strive to reduce my impact on the planet. Maybe these are New Year’s resolutions after all…

Waste Free Holiday Travel

Last month our family of five travelled through Europe. We went to France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium by rail. We stayed in hotels, hostels, with friends,  and we also spent ten days camping (in a ready erected tent).

As we had made a conscious decision to travel by train  I was also determined to minimise our impact on the environment. I have been trying to reduce my consumption of single use plastic for a while as well as trying to follow some zero waste principles. It seemed that a rail holiday through some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe would be the perfect opportunity to put some zero waste ideas into action. This proved to be a great learning experience for us all.

Below are the things that worked for us – and didn’t

  1. Toiletries. Having discovered Lush last year when taking part in Plastic Free July I  returned to the store to purchase solid shampoo and conditioner bars plus a gentle body and face soap. I also bought my first ever compostable toothbrush:

Zero Waste toiletries: Lush shampoo and conditioner bars; compostable toothbrush

It turned out that, despite reading mixed reviews, the compostable toothbrush was great. This is the second holiday I have packed Lush products and, although they are small and have less of an environmental impact, we did find that they were fiddly to use and the shampoo and conditioner didn’t work well enough for me.

2. Picnic Set. I added to my Zero Waste Travel Kit with a small metal sandwich box and reusable bamboo straws. We also took sporks, napkins and (somehow smuggled through security) a small vegetable knife.

The picnic kit was invaluable. We could put all sorts of leftovers in the metal sandwich box (which had two compartments and a separate smaller tin). As most of our train journeys were at least four hours we got into a routine of buying food before embarking and then making up sandwiches, cutting fruit etc when on board. Some of the food came in plastic wrapping but by making up our sandwiches etc we did save some waste.

 

3. Water bottles.

Although made of plastic, our collection of water bottles proved to be one of the best buys. The girls each had one of these leak-proof bottles. The top unscrewed and became a small cup. My husband also had a foldable water bottle.

Images waste free travel: reusable water bottles

 

I used my trusty thermos-type bottle which is also great at keeping drinks cold. I also added some sprigs of mint to the flask to add more flavour.

Drinking out waste free

These were invaluable and probably the best thing we took. Public water fountains seem to be more prevalent in mainland Europe and we were able to fill up everywhere. When we arrived at the campsite in 38 degrees heat we made the mistake of buying a pack of plastic water bottles from the supermarket. But after this we relied totally on the standpipes, which meant we didn’t have to pay out for water at the supermarket or have to carry it back!

Waste Free Travel: refilling water bottles in Milan

4. Onya produce bags and other reusable bags

This was our most successful holiday for using cloth bags. We barely bought a plastic bag (and when we did these became rubbish bags). The Onya produce bags were great for buying fruit and vegetables at the campsite and at other markets. Although most shopkeepers weren’t familiar with them there was never a problem with filling and weighing them.

Plastic Free shopping: net produce bags

5. Recycling. While I’m more of a fan of pre-cycling, or refusing packaging in the first place, I was impressed by the number of recycling options there were on our travels. Having camped in France a couple of years ago where there was barely any recycling facilities I was delighted to see so many bins on our Italian campsite (apologies: I think I became a bit of a ‘bin bore’ on holiday). As you would expect the German trains had some great recycling options and, when staying with friends in Holland, I was amazed by the prevalence of recycling bins at the end of nearly every street.

While I would like to give the impression that we were waste free on our travels this wasn’t strictly true. I had two ‘fails’: when it came to using straws I completely failed to use the bamboo ones as I kept forgetting to take them with me. I also realise I need to get a reusable coffee cup to fit underneath coffee machines as my insulated flask does not do this.

In conclusion I  think we reduced our waste a little while on holiday, and am pleased with our use of cloth bags and water bottles. There were some situations where, due to the heat, children’s appetites and lack of time, we had to use disposable items. If you want to travel completely zero waste I think you have to really plan ahead and it’s hard to do this if you are travelling with limited baggage.

 

Zero Waste Week (Days Three and Four): Waste Free Food and Shopping

During Zero Waste Week I’ve been tuning into #zerowasteweek hour on twitter for some great tips and ideas on reducing waste. One of the most common topics has been food waste which got me thinking about our household.

I like to think that we are quite good on reducing food waste. I meal plan for the month so that I know what we need to buy. I’m still struggling with emptying all the contents of our veg box but now that we’re (almost) into soup season this should be less of a problem. I also have this very handy note attached to the inside of my cuboard door to remind me how much pasta or rice to cook for our family (originally from Love Food Hate Waste website).

Zero Waste Week: rice and pasta measurements

But there is definitely more that I can do to avoid an overflowing compost bin. So, as I tend to do one large supermarket shop each month, I sat down and meal planned everything (breakfasts, lunches incl packed lunches and evening meals). This meant I could order the right amount of food. Yet even when I know what food we have and how to turn it into meals there is still the problem of packaging.

For convenience sake (I don’t have regular access to a car, I try to stick to a strict budget) I order one large supermarket delivery every month, interspersed with fortnightly veg and fruit boxes, regular milk deliveries, some refills at local health food stores and small trips to the local shops. Apart from the first activity (which I try to order as waste free as possible) I have learnt to make the other shopping trips as packaging free as possible.

This week I was able to pick up fruit and veg from the local greengrocers as I had transport – and I tried out a new independent butchers so was able to get my meat from there (with far less packaging, but it would be great to re-use my containers for this). Because I use the brilliant Onya produce bags, and our greengrocers have paper bags my shopping haul looked like this:

Zero Waste Week: package free grocery shopping

I was also able to pop into Harvest Health Food Store in Bath and refill my washing up and laundry liquid containers:

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I also decided to go all out this morning and do a massive baking session so that we can rely less on pre-wrapped cakes and biscuits. This is what my kitchen looked like afterwards (there was a lot of washing up so lucky I’d got by bio-d refills the day before):

Zero Waste Week: home baking

But the end result was: stewed plums and apples; plum flapjacks; oat and apple muffins; fruit cake; gingerbread dough (to freeze and make biscuits with at a later date) and fairy cakes (I always make a batch of simple fairy cakes when the oven is one – I just freeze them and the kids decorate at a later date).

Zero Waste Week: package free (and home baked) goodies

So we now have fully stocked cupboards, freezer and I hope we will have an emptier bin and compost as a result!

 

It’s (Rubbish) Festival Time!

Last weekend I volunteered at a local festival and found myself sorting through other people’s rubbish….

The  Cock & Bull Festival is run by the charity Jamie’s Farm and held on a small farm in Wiltshire. If you haven’t heard of Jamie’s Farm before it’s a great organisation. It works with vulnerable children, and those with challenging behaviour, from urban schools. The children come to stay on the farm and learn important skills that help them when they return to the classroom.

The Cock & Bull Festival has been running for five years. It’s a very small-scale event with 500 festival goers and many volunteers. In return for a free ticket I did three shifts: setting up, food prep, and (early on a wet Sunday morning) the rubbish shift.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The latter was probably one of the least glamorous things I have ever done. In the  rain we had to collect rubbish and recycling bags and sort through them so they went into the correct containers to be taken away. Landfill rubbish costs the festival a lot of money every year so, as well as the environmental aspect, it makes financial sense to reduce their garbage footprint as much as possible. This could have been such a depressing shift yet, working alongside the very committed and knowledgable Jenny who had volunteered to run the recycling for the entire weekend, I learnt some valuable lessons:

signs, signs and more signs! There were lots of notices around the festival site (and on the website here) labelling what rubbish could go where. This really helped when sorting through the trash. But I think you need even more concise labelling- and more containers – to make sure nothing gets contaminated and to avoid confusion ie plastic disposable coffee cup lids, plastic straws, coloured paper napkins, wooden cutlery etc.

 

re-usable plastic cups are good. I already had my husband’s re-usable pint glass from Glastonbury but also bought this one (below). When buying your first drink from the bar you had to pay extra to get the re-usable glass, which (in theory) you used all weekend.

re-usable pint glass from Cock & Bull Festival 2015

festival fancy dress can be a REAL pain to recycle. On the Saturday night of the Cock & Bull Festival there is a procession. This year’s them was ‘Insecticider’ so there were lots of homemade (and shop bought) costumes that, by Sunday morning, had been consigned to the rubbish bins. It was good to see so many costumes made from the Wiltshire Scrapstore supplies that were contained within the festival’s craft tent. However, not so great to untangle and try to sort for recycling. (My own costume was an old green jumpsuit with cardboard legs attached and homemade green antennae, ie a grasshopper!)

 

it really is true that one person’s trash is another’s treasure! While I try to avoid taking home things for the sake of it (I passed on a Jamie’s Farm t-shirt as I wasn’t sure I would wear it again) the bunting and mason jar (below) will come in very handy for decorating my daughter’s birthday party next week:

festival pickings: one person's trash...

We also found three pairs of brand new marigold gloves that had been part of a bee costume. These were turned to good use as we wore them to sort through more rubbish. And I must also confess to finding a few bottles of unopened booze which made their way home…

– as I suspected, Cafe Bars generate the most waste. I work in a cafe and I know that, when we offer the disposable option, this is the least environmentally friendly option. At the festival only half of the disposable cardboard cups could be recycled and, of course, the pesky plastic lids couldn’t be recycled at all. I took my trusty Lakeland thermos with me for all my lattes but, of course, this doesn’t fit underneath the coffee machine so they had to use a disposable cup to make the coffee in the first place! This is something I am more than aware of (at my work I use china cups for the coffee shots) – I need to figure this one out when ordering takeaways in the flask.

Overall I was really impressed with the effort the Cock & Bull Festival had made to reduce rubbish. Festival goers, too, seemed very willing to take part in recycling and reducing as well. Interestingly I think this was more prevalent on the main site where there were lots of signs and everyone was doing the same thing. On the campsites there was definitely more landfill and unnecessarily dumped food and drink.

On a personal point I really enjoyed volunteering and have come home a little evangelised having sorted through so much rubbish. Maybe everyone who attends a festival should experience this shift. It’s made me realise more than ever that there really is no such thing as ‘away’ when you throw things away.

 

 

 

Strawberries!

 

We are very lucky to have a Pick-Your-Own farm on the edge of our village. It is a true sign of summer when the Strawberry Fields open for business and we can spend the afternoon picking fruit, playing in the sand pit and drinking tea.

What’s great about the farm is that we can have waste free strawberries. No supermarket bought dull fruit in plastic punnets for us. I admit I do take an old plastic ice cream carton to put the fruit in, but the owner encourages us to re-use our containers which is great.

Having picked quite a lot of fruit we came home and made pink milk (as mentioned here) and I had a go at jam making, which I haven’t done for ages. I was pleasantly surprised with the results – and of course the jam came plastic free (I reused old jam jars, and cut circles from a cereal inner bag for the wax discs)

Plastic free snacks for book group

Last week I hosted my book group meeting (where we discussed ‘Brave New World’ as mentioned in a previous post). A lack of planning on my part, plus the limited stock at our village shop, meant I had to conjure up some snacks. As well as saving money by using what I already had, I also felt some satisfaction in knowing my nibbles were plastic free.

Hummus, Nachos and Broad Bean Hummus

Hummus, Nachos and Broad Bean Hummus

 

I still haven’t perfected the recipe for making hummus at home. I didn’t have any tahini so had to make it up a bit. The ingredients were: garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, chickpeas ( which I had previously soaked, boiled then frozen – or you could use a can), and a little water to make it smoother. I whizzed these all up in my hand blender and seasoned with salt and pepper.

 

Broad Bean Hummus

I came across a recipe for this a few years ago and, as I had quite a lot of broad beans in my veg box, decided to make a summery version of the classic dip. The recipe I used is here. I boiled the beans then whizzed up with garlic,salt, olive oil and a little cooking water. The hummus may look a rather unpleasant shade of green, but it tastes really delicious.

Nachos

I have used this recipe a few times. It originally came from ‘Healthy Food’ magazine. The homemade chips are healthier because you only add a little oil and your own flavourings to them.

Cut the tortilla wraps into triangles, brush lightly with oil, add a little chilli powder (although I suppose you could add sea salt) then bake in oven (200C/180C.GM6) for 3-4 minutes. It’s more time consuming than opening a bag (and the tortilla wraps originally came wrapped in plastic) but it’s healthier and way more satisfying.

homemade nachos

 

Plastic Free July – a year on

Last July I took part in the worldwide campaign, Plastic Free July. The aim of this initiative is to encourage participants to spend a month (or even a week) cutting out plastics, or at least single use plastics, from their lives.

Single use plastics (straws, takeaway coffee cup lids, bags) are the worst sort of plastic. They are cheap to make (while oil is still plentiful) but are the worst at being disposed of. According to plastic is rubbish in the UK we throw away  3 million tonnes of plastic rubbish every year. Most plastic doesn’t rot. It either stays in the holes in the ground where we bury our waste, or ends up downstream in our oceans where it has a drastic impact on wildlife.

When I participated in Plastic Free July last year I found it was a steep learning curve. It made me realise how plastic is present everywhere. Although I’ve decided not to participate this year I am hoping to keep up with those habits I adopted last year, namely:

1. I now (try to) go out armed with a filled water bottle, spoon/spork and napkin. No more disposable plastic cutlery or wooden stirrers for me.

plastic free: Second Hand Tales blog

2. I take reusable bags and have started using these Onya net produce bags for picking up loose fruit and veg.

Plastic Free shopping: net produce bags

3. We’ve switched from plastic hand wash dispensers and plastic shower gel to good old fashioned bars of soap (cheaper and way less packaging).  I’ve actually become a bit of a soap nerd and it has started to become my ‘holiday souvenir’ (when we were in Scotland last summer I bought home bars from the Isles of Mull and Skye). When I have the money and the inclination I buy the soap from Lush as it’s completely plastic free. Otherwise I buy multi packs from Boots or the supermarket (which often come wrapped in plastic)

Soaps and the minimal paper waste

4. Over the past couple of months I have been disciplining myself to refill washing up liquid when I am in Bath or Corsham. Both towns have health food stores with refill stations.

refillable washing up liquid bottles

5. One of the legacies of my adventures in Plastic Free July and Supermarket Free Lent has caused me to shop more regularly at local butchers. Their meat is local, tasty and well priced. It also comes in far less plastic packaging, free from those awful plastic trays you get in supermarkets.

There are still way too many things that I need to do.  I need to remember to take more bags than I think I need shopping, rather than struggling with overloaded bags and juggling things in my hands!

I also need to ASK which is something I find very hard to do. I admire those bloggers who ask – or rather demand- that produce be put in their glass containers, to pour take out coffees into their own flasks

So, although I am not taking part in Plastic Free July this year my aims are:

1. Continue with what I’m doing (as above)

2. Use my Onya produce bags, get takeaway coffee in my flask and say no to plastic straws for my daughters.

3. Try to travel Plastic Free this summer. This is a BIG CHALLENGE. Next month we are travelling by train through France, Italy, Germany and Holland. We will be camping, staying in hotels, youth hostels and with friends. There will be many opportunities to eat and live plastic free but there will also be lots of challenges in trying to avoid single use plastic. I need to learn the appropriate phrases for ‘no straws please’, ‘no bags please’ and see how we get on…

In the meantime I will be following those bloggers here who are taking part in Plastic Free July (#pfjuk)

(Don’t) Make Mine a Pint – the petition from Plastic is Rubbish

So I blogged about the impending end of glass milk bottles but Polythene Pam from the excellent blog Plastic is Rubbish actually put her money where her mouth is and started a petition to ask Dairy Crest to reconsider ending the production of glass bottles in the UK. If you would like to sign the petition it is here.

If you haven’t checked out the Plastic is Rubbish blog please do. It’s passionate, informative and funny.

Eating out waste free

Eating out waste free

I am really trying to cut down on the waste that I produce. Since taking part in Plastic Free July last year I have been a lot more aware of the prevalence of single use plastics in everyday life. On a personal note I have tried to cut down on my own use of plastic straws, plastic single use cutlery and disposable water bottles.

BUT there are also many times when I’ve been caught out when eating out and kicked myself for not being more prepared. For example I often use our local Waitrose cafe in Bath because they have very little disposable products. The cups are china, they have metal cutlery and even the sugar comes in lumps, rather than packets. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I had a coffee in another branch and everything was disposable. Even the cutlery was plastic and came wrapped in plastic as well!

After this incident I vowed to be better prepared. Eating out and travelling waste free requires a lot of pre-planning which I am starting to get to grips with:

1. I have bought some metal teaspoons from a charity shop so I now put one of those in my bag, wrapped up in a cloth napkin. No more wooden stirrers or plastic spoons for my coffee.

Plastic free coffee spoon

 

2. Last summer I invested in this brilliant water bottle from Lakeland. I have tried many reusable water bottles for myself and the kids but this is by far the best (I promise I’m not sponsored by Lakeland!). It’s completely leakproof, keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks stay hot.

Drinking out waste free

3. Having recently had a couple of dining experiences where the cutlery was single use plastic (and wrapped in plastic) I invested in some sporks. While they are plastic (although I had intended to buy some bamboo ones) they can be used again and again. This summer we will be travelling in mainland Europe and I wanted something I could take that would reduce our reliance on throwaway cutlery.

Eating out waste free

I recently went away for the weekend and took my trusty water bottle with me. I was delighted that the hotel room had a glass bottle of water to fill up from. I was also self-disciplined and didn’t open the small shampoo bottles in the bathroom. However I failed when ordering a cocktail which arrived with a stupid plastic stirrer and two straws! I guess I need to be more assertive as well as being better prepared.