Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Category: Zero Waste (Page 1 of 2)

Climate Impacts On Water Supplies

Water – essential to all life on Earth, yet a resource we take for granted everyday. We watch heart-wrenching footage on TV depicting young children walking for miles to collect a container full of muddy water but rarely stop to consider how lucky we are to have clean water at the turn of a tap. We drink it, wash in it, cook with it… we use it all day everyday and can’t imagine living without having clean water so readily available, but that luxury is set to come to an end within just 25 years unless we take action.

Over 65% of fresh water on Earth is found in icebergs and glaciers (which, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you is currently melting at an alarming rate into the sea), and just over 30% is found in ground water. Only about 0.3% of our fresh water is found in easily accessible lakes, rivers and swamps.

Of the freshwater currently available we already use more than half. We also store 5 times the total of all the Earth’s rivers behind dams and release the equivalent volume of freshwater each year.

Approximately 80% of all industrial and municipal wastewater is released directly into the environment without any prior treatment, with sludge from water treatment plants being spread as fertilizer on farm land – I’ve previously talked about the impact of microplastics (found in this form of fertilizer) in a previous post.

Global water use has increased almost 8 times in the last 100 years. 70% of global water use is for agriculture and, rather worryingly, we lose around 3 billion litres of water a day through leakage in England alone!

Over 50% of the UK’s total river length, some 389,000Km, has been physically modified and therefore affecting the habitat of organisms. It has been estimated that we have seen a decline of 81% in the population of 881 freshwater species between 1970 and 2012.

Today, water related diseases (such as malaria) cause around 3.4 million deaths around the world each year. Although it has now been eradicated in Britain, malaria was once commonplace here until there were concerted efforts in swamp drainage, changes in land use and the development of pesticides.

Ah pesticides… The development of pesticides, pharmaceuticals, as well as increases in their use, has led to an exponential increase in the concentrations observed in freshwater systems. Pharmaceuticals are manufactured with the intention of having an effect on biological systems – approximately 90% of human drug targets were shared with 23 assessed mammalian species. The manufacture of industrial machinery and products continues to produce toxic compounds; for example: flame retardants are widely used in both commercial and domestic products and are associated with significant disruption of the endocrine system of organisms. We are literally killing eco-systems with man-made synthetic chemicals.

Water Footprint – items often (although not always) require water in their growth/manufacture but so too does the packaging it comes in. We also need to be mindful of where the item has come from as it may be available locally, depending on season, but it will likely have been imported from somewhere there is a water shortage, further damaging the area.

The amount of water used for domestic purposes is closely related to its availability, the amount of effort it takes to access it and, surprisingly, our income levels… that’s right, people who earn more tend to also have a higher water consumption!

The UK daily water use average is 149 litres per person. As a rough guide:

  • Toilet flush = 12 litres
  • Bath = 100 litres
  • Shower (more than 10 minutes) = 200 litres
  • Dishwasher = 50 litres
  • Brushing teeth (with tap running) = 5 litres
  • Drinking, cooking and cleaning = 10 litres
  • Car washing (with hose) = 200 litres

Hopefully, you’ve already spotted one or two areas where you can improve your water consumption from that list. You can also reduce your water use by investing in domestic water recycling schemes that reuse water within the house, and of course by collecting rainwater in a water butt to use in the garden during the drier months.

Cape Town, in South Africa, almost ran out of water but through drastic action they managed to avert disaster. From showering for less than 2 minutes and not flushing after each toilet use to seeing who could go longest between washing clothes, the residents certainly had to make their fair of sacrifices. Each person was restricted to using a maximum of 50 litres per day – do you think you could manage that amount? Please join me in keeping track of how much you currently use and then seeing how close you can get it to 50 litres per day!

The New Normal

It’s fast becoming something of a cliche these days but the Covid-19 lockdown is already feeling normal for a lot of people and, dare I say it, I’m actually starting to enjoy it! I miss our families but I love not spending 90 minutes driving to go and see them. I know it is a truly awful time for a lot of people too – some are in mourning for a loved one they can’t say a proper “goodbye” to; some are experiencing domestic abuse; some are desperately missing family and some are just going stir-crazy being stuck inside. Everyday since lockdown began, however, I’ve been trying to look for and focus on the positives which now has me hoping things never go back to “normal”.

Whilst the world has been staying at home the environment has had some much needed breathing space – in just a few weeks (so far) the world is already showing signs of healing! Animals are venturing further into towns and cities. I live right next to a main road and normally have a constant sound of traffic going by as background noise; but now that background noise is birdsong and insects interspersed with the odd car/lorry going by. In 4 weeks my asthma has significantly improved – I no longer need to triple-check I have an inhaler with me when venturing out.

We need to keep this going! This crisis has shown us that we absolutely can make the changes necessary, we just need to keep up the momentum. Lets pick litter so its not a threat to the wildlife returning to our towns and cities. Lets continue to leave the car at home as much as possible to limit pollution.

Lets set ourselves a challenge to repair everything we can before thinking about replacing. With so many shops closed at the moment have you come across an item you normally would have thrown out and replaced? If so, now is the perfect time to have a little tinker and see if you can repair it. Chances are there are several YouTube videos explaining how to do it; and if it all goes horribly wrong then you can go ahead and replace it after all.

Supermarket shopping has been a bit of an issue recently with so many people clearing all the shelves prior to us going in to lockdown. Thankfully I did manage to get everything on my list this week (and several things that weren’t!) but in the first weeks of lockdown I had to literally take whatever I could get and only just managed to scrape together enough food to feed us all. Sadly, this meant more packaging than I would normally like coming into our home… still not enough to fill a wheelie bin in that time but it was still more than I was comfortable with.

Being stuck at home is also a fantastic opportunity to try a new hobby or maybe perfect a craft you’ve previously only dabbled with. Making soap for example is easy to do and is one less thing you need to add to that shopping list. Maybe you’ve always liked the idea of making your own clothes but didn’t know where to start? Now is a great time to learn. In fact, do you think you could go a year without buying any new clothes for yourself?

Of course not everyone is sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. Working from home for some is super easy and they much prefer Donald Ducking a Skype call to being in the office, but for some working from home can be either difficult or impossible at the moment – juggling childcare with working full time – but a lot of employers are seeing the benefits. With lower overheads, no commuting and the same level of productivity, I truly hope most employers will take this opportunity to continue to encourage office-based staff to work from home once schools and nurseries/child-minders are up and running again.

Stay safe everyone and enjoy the lovely fresh air of a healing world.

Climate Letter

I recently heard about Letters To The Earth but I misread the concept to begin with and thought it was just a general climate change based letter, not specifically addressed to the Earth. So here is the letter that I would have submitted.

My dear descendents,

If climate scientists are correct then your lives will be very different to mine and so I wanted to write this letter to you to explain current thinking and actions regarding climate change.

I’ll start by explaining that as a child everything we could ever want was readily available – strawberries in February, not a problem! We could walk into any supermarket and pick up the same produce all year round… and it was all wrapped in plastic! Gone were the days of walking into a shop and buying however much of something you wanted, now you picked up the item you wanted packaged up into the amount the shops wanted to sell to you – it may sound odd to you now but to us, back then, it was just the way things were, no one really thought to question it. Single-use items were becoming very popular in general, from nappies to partyware, we suddenly preferred throwing things away rather than washing and reusing them… At this age we were being taught about climate change but, in all honesty, it felt like an intangible cloud of doom that was never going to affect me. Of course, back then, for every other scientist warning us of what was to come, there would be a climate denier.

Over time more and more hard data and evidence came in about climate change and people were becoming more willing to act. We began recycling and started congratulating ourselves on a job well done. We actually thought that recycling was going to be the solution to all our climate problems. It didn’t occur to us at first that recycling still requires a large amount of virgin resources, less than producing from scratch but still more than was sustainable. Despite everyone’s recycling efforts we were still generating more landfil waste than we could realistically deal with. Actually we were also producing more recycling waste than we could deal with so we were exporting it for other countries to deal with for us. We continued to be able to buy anything we wanted whenever we wanted, and a handful of people were starting to take their own bags into the supermarket with them instead of using the plastic bags provided at the checkouts.

In my early thirties I came across the statistic that the average woman will go through around 17,000 disposable sanitary products in her lifetime. That stat was too much for me. I did my research and invested in a menstrual cup to replace the tampons I would otherwise have purchased. From there I started looking at other ways in which I could eliminate waste from our lives. Shortly after this a new law came in meaning that supermarkets could no longer give away plastic bags, they would have to start charging a fee for them, and that did actually work to drastically reduce the number of bags used. It was just a drop in the ocean but it was a start. All the while climate data continued to roll in. Most people were now convinced of the problem but we’re unaware of just how urgently they needed to act. There were still a few hard-core deniers out there but in the face of so much evidence contrary to what they were saying, they were begining to be viewed as laughing stocks.

We were already starting to really feel the effects of climate change at home and around the world… the intangible cloud of doom was suddenly hanging over us.

Many Governments paid lip service to environmental concerns while consistently falling short of their carbon targets. Why are they so willing to gamble your future away? You don’t matter to them right now, they’re more concerned with their current electorate and securing their seats at the next election, anything beyond that is irrelevant. Plus, big corporations don’t want a change to the status quo, they’re making far too much money from the way things are, so they employ powerful lobbyists to sway the politicians towards inaction.

As I write this I’m doing my absolute best to make the necessary lifestyle changes, and convince others to join in, to ensure the security of your futures… but I fear it’s all come too late!

So far Paul and I have 1 child, Jay, and we’re determined to teach him (and any other children we may have) how to live sustainably – it’s something of a learning curve for us as it’s so different to how either of us grew up. We’re trying to grow some of our own fruit and veg as well and I hope these are skills that continue to be passed down and will hopefully serve you well.

The experts are currently telling us that globally we can expect to see greater levels of flooding, more severe droughts and more extreme weather events. More locally though we’re being warned of a lack of water within 25 years of me writing this letter to you. With that comes the concern that growers will be unable to produce enough food to effectively feed the population.

We’re also learning of the full extent of our disposable arrogance. We’re finding out that the nappies my mother put me in as a baby will not degrade for 500 years for example. We’re learning that the plastic tray our ready meals come in aren’t recyclable. Most alarmingly we’re learning that there have already been 5 mass extinction events throughout Earth’s history and we’re currently barrelling towards a 6th extinction event but this one is being caused by us.

Man-made objects are being found in the deepest depths of the ocean. Pieces of plastic are being found in the stomachs of almost every animal autopsied. Micro-plastic particles are so pervasive that they’re being found in the very air we’re breathing, on top of all the other pollutants I’ve grown up breathing in that is.

The water and food shortages are predicted within my lifetime so I can only imagine at how much of a struggle life must be for you.

For all the times I opted for a takeaway or ready meal instead of cooking at home; for every disposable cup I used because I couldn’t be bothered to wash up and for all the harsh wildlife destroying chemicals I poured down the drain thinking I was getting my house nice and clean – I’m truly sorry!

I’m sorry – such hollow words to echo through time! But that’s really all I can say. I’ve spent many years being wasteful and have now thoroughly changed my ways but I fear change hasn’t come quick enough to safeguard your future.

It is my greatest hope that we do in fact manage to act in time. However, many people even today truly believe that climate change is too big an issue for them to be able to do anything about. They are of course wrong. Everyone doing something makes the issue much smaller and easier to tackle on all fronts.

My biggest regret in life is the part I’ve played towards the destruction of our world.

I wish you all the very best.

With love,

Prisha Hill

So that’s my letter. Over to you: whom would your letter be addressed to –  town Mayor, historical figure, someone in the future, maybe even your past self? And of course, what will you say in your letter? I look forward to finding out, so get writing and let me know how you get on!

“I’m not racist, but…”

The other night I stood up in front of a room full of strangers to deliver a speech (thank you to Tim Huckle for letting me share the above photo). The event was for World Speech Day and each speaker was given just 5 minutes to leave their mark on the audience. As I only had 5 minutes I decided to not just speak about being zero waste but instead used the time as a call to action, asking the audience to join me in reducing their environmental impact. The theme of the event was ‘Ideas For World Citizens’ which I thought was rather apt as it coincided with the second round of youth climate strikes – children from 123 countries putting us adults to shame, it was truly beautiful!

I listened intently to the other speakers and while I felt moved on the night I find I’m still reflecting on everyone else’s words even now. I’ll provide a link to the video when it’s available but for now you’ll just have to take my word for how powerful each speakers’ words were – I know I should do the humble thing here and say how I wish I was even half as good as everyone else, and normally I totally would, but the following morning I awoke to find an email from one of the audience members explaining how my speech had moved him to change his shopping habits that very morning; so I’m celebrating the win!

A little while after arriving home from the event I logged in to my social feeds to check coverage of the strikes. On one of my feeds I was saddened to see someone I know reposting far-right rhetoric, and she’s not the only one… Recently I have seen more and more of my friends sharing posts that make me feel very nervous as a minority.

My Grandad came to England back in the 1950’s. It wasn’t easy for him. He would be spat at and called names as he walked down the street. He would line up outside a factory with all the other workers only for the foreman to walk straight up to him and tell him there was no work for him, they “only hire whites”. He was refused service in most shops and pubs that he tried to enter. It didn’t stop him from pursuing his dream of raising a family away from the farm he had grown up on though. Through sheer perseverance he managed to get permanent work and was able to provide his wife and 4 children with a comfortable life. As time went on he would be more accepted and would start hearing “I’m not racist, but…”

As a child my mother would occasionally tell me stories from her own past – the name-calling and things were a given, it was the other stories that really stuck in the mind: having to watch a neighbour being forced to walk barefoot over broken glass, having bricks thrown at her; a colleague deliberately tripping her up whilst pregnant. Throughout her adult life my mother would be told “I’m not racist but…”

As I was growing up, I still got called names, was regularly told to “go home” and was spat at – nothing had changed there, but things were definitely better than the 2 generations before me had experienced. Still, my entire life I’ve heard the words “I’m not racist, but…”

After 911 I knew strangers would start looking at me differently due to the colour of my skin; the fact I come from a Hindu family, not Muslim, was irrelevant to them, “I’m not racist, but…” continued to be the start to so many conversations that always made me feel uncomfortable. As I got older I discovered people REALLY take offence when you point out “if you have to begin a sentence with ‘I’m not racist, but…’ then you are in fact being racist”.

A little over a decade ago we started seeing the rise in popularity of the BNP (British National Party for those of you not familiar with that particular brand of fascism), whose unofficial party slogan seemed to be “we’re not racist, but…”; and so Paul and I came up with a plan – we were going to set up home in another country if things ever got too bad (read: racist) here in England. We had a vague search for potential countries, the cost of living, house prices, etc. but thankfully the BNP imploded before we ever felt the need to move.

Recently, I have been seeing more and more friends post and repost strong anti-immigration sentiments over all social media platforms. A lot of the reposts are actually hoaxes, or something that has been willfully misinterpreted to fit a far right agenda, but there’s something about the anti-immigration/anti-Islamic stance of the pieces that seems to resonate with more and more people.

I’ve seen people I know saying Shamima Begum (who ran away to join IS as a teenager) should never be allowed back into the country. I’ve seen people I know saying her entire family should be sent to join her. How long before I start seeing people I know saying all Muslims should leave the country? How long before before people I know say it’s all brown people who need to leave? How long before Paul and I need to review our previous plans? Of course, none of these people are racist, but…

In 1968 Enoch Powell made his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. In 1977 he reflected on his speech and insisted he was right and, shockingly, I agree with the first part:

…evils are not demonstrable until they have occurred: at each stage in their onset there is room for doubt and for dispute whether they be real or imaginary. By the same token, they attract little attention in comparison with current troubles, which are both indisputable and pressing: whence the besetting temptation of all politics to concern itself with the immediate present at the expense of the future.

Later in the speech Enoch Powell went on to suggest that white men would one day be oppressed by black men – a fear borne of ignorance, as is all the far-right rhetoric I’m seeing being shared over and over again at the moment. The fact is most people don’t want to oppress or even take advantage of anyone else, they just want the same opportunities to go about their own lives.

There is a minority of people, from all walks of life, who believe so vehemently that they are superior to others, or that others are a threat to their way of life, that they are willing to kill for that belief – these people are not the majority, they are the mentally unstable minority, but they need validation for their beliefs. In order to gain that validation they appeal directly to, and feed into, peoples’ fears; they take nuggets of truth and twist it into plausible sounding hatred; and they spread all-out lies (knowing others are unlikely to fact-check). Eventually kind-hearted, intelligent, truly non-racist people start believing the rhetoric and before you know it they’re sharing posts saying we should deport our citizens for being related to a child who was groomed… would they also advocate the relatives of criminals serving prison time I wonder?

My whole life I’ve heard “I’m not racist, but…” and it’s time to stop! If you’re one of the apparently  growing number of people who think that immigrants are ruining your country then I challenge you to befriend one – help them learn the language and local customs instead of sitting back and berating them for daring to dream of a brighter future for their families. I can’t help but wonder what my Grandad may have achieved if someone, anyone, had helped him out when he first came here – rather than his life story being one of perseverance and eventual contentment, would it instead have been one of ambition and attainment? It’s time to realise that we are all people just trying to make our way in the world… a world that we are killing.

The youth climate strikes are showing us that the kids aren’t concerned about the caveman tribalism of their parents/grandparents. Children in 123 countries have united on a single common cause so why are the older generations having such a hard time getting on board?

The other day I was reminded that we have just one life, so lets not waste it on hatred; we have one planet so lets not destroy it. I want to stop hearing “I’m not racist, but…”, instead I want to hear “I’m doing my part for the environment by…”. We need to finally come together and cooperate if we want to save ourselves from the effects of global warming.

From attending a World Speech Day event to seeing the youth climate strikes and hearing about mass shootings, I have been made aware of the epic power our words can have, for good or for evil; with a word we can change the world!

Making Sense Of Climate Data

A few months ago I volunteered to give a talk on living zero waste. The talk will be in a couple of weeks on 15th March which is World Speech Day, Comic Relief and the next round of school climate strikes – so a pretty busy day all round!

The catch to this talk is that we each only have 5 minutes for our speeches, which is no time at all for such a broad topic. I have decided to concentrate my speech on the 5 R’s of zero waste but leading in to that I wanted to show a graph depicting climate change data to highlight why going zero waste is so important.

I knew printing out a giant bar chart would, for the most part, be met with a blank stare from most of the audience. I wanted a visual punch to help make the most of my 5 minutes (and hopefully get people to talk to me after) so I decided to get the knitting needles out and knit the data as a scarf. 

Thankfully, a quick Google search revealed I was not the first person to think of this and so I was able to adapt this pattern from Sheldon Fiber Designs.

After I had finished knitting I decided to crochet a border around the edge and it was whilst I was busy with my crochet hook that I hopped on a train to attend Climate Ambassador Training – which for the most part means I’m now an official MP botherer! During the training I whipped out my scarf and got a much bigger reaction than I had expected. Taking the time to knit the data was definitely the right choice!

So just what do the colours represent? White is where the global temperatures were average, blue represents cooler years (.1-.3 degrees variance) and well I was going to do red for warmer years but that would have required 6 different shades of red! So I started at yellow and worked my way up to maroon.

When I attended the Climate Ambassador Training I made sure I was wearing the green heart that I made as part of the Climate Coalition’s #showthelove campaign. I started by knitting a green heart and then I repurposed some beads from a necklace I was given years ago. Sadly, the necklace wasn’t quite “me” but I loved it all the same and couldn’t bear to part with it so I’m really pleased to have been able to reuse the beads in this way. How about you, how did your green heart turn out? If you haven’t done one then don’t worry, there’s still time to get involved. Just craft a green heart – you can knit, crochet, sew, cut out felt or how about a paper heart? Then you can decorate it if you want to. Once you’re done just upload a pic to the socials using #showthelove and don’t forget to tag me @PrishaHill so I can see your wonderful creations.

Being a Climate Ambassador is a huge honour and I already have several plans in place to spread the message. As well as giving talks I’ll be holding a market stall with a big spinning wheel, I’m getting all the WI ladies in the county to help me make a giant version of the global warming scarf but made from litter – we’ll then take the giant version with us to Westminster for the #masslobby on the 26th June 2019. I’m also planning a film screening with a discussion afterwards, further details to follow. Of course I’ll also be getting in touch with my local MP and councillors too.

Finally, I’m also going to be researching local residents to see whom I can nominate for a Green Heart Hero Award. If you have someone in mind then go ahead and nominate them – I’m sure they’ll be thrilled their efforts are being recognised!

Could your clothes be killing the planet?

I recently attended a conference on the environmental impact of microplastics. The event was organised by the NFWI and came a day after they published their report, In A Spin: how our laundry is contributing to plastic pollution. The report was presented at a roundtable but I’ll get to that later on.

So, microplastics… a microplastic is any piece of plastic that is 5mm or smaller. We’re all familiar with the intact bottles and lighters etc that are floating around in the sea, and harming wildlife, but not many people have heard of microplastics let alone the harm they can cause.

Being less than 5mm in size means it’s almost impossible for them to be spotted and picked out, however there are some mechanisms in place to try and catch as many as possible. Enter the oh so glamourous world of sewage treatment… EVERYTHING we flush goes through at least one (for very remote places) level of filtration and treatment. Most of us live in towns or cities and we can typically expect our flushes to go through about 3 stages of treatment. Sometimes, and increasingly often, fatbergs are being discovered. The sewage system will develop a blockage and when a team goes down to investigate they find huge solid masses of… mostly wipes actually. Tampons, nappies and cooking fat typically make up around 10-20% of the bergs and the rest are wipes!

The sewage not affected by fatbergs goes through the treatment works and at the end of the process there is a lot of very fertile sludge left over, which is then passed on to farmers to spread around their crops. At the moment there are microplastics that are too small to be picked up by the filtration systems and are making their way into the vegetables we eat.

As far as food goes, that’s just the tip of the iceberg – well done me for not making a lettuce based pun there! Plastic (of all sizes) is turning up in the stomachs of the animals we go on to eat… from fish to birds and mammals, they’re all ingesting plastic from various sources. That plastic can have a hormone disrupting effect on the animals.

It’s not just our food that is being affected, in fact our drinks often contain microplastics too. I can’t go into too much detail here as the study hasn’t been officially published yet but so far researchers have found plastic particles in bottled drinks – they even found types of plastic inside the drinks which weren’t even used in the manufacture of the bottles the drinks came in. I’ll revisit this in more detail once the study is published.

So, before you swear to become vegan and only ever drink filtered water there is one more place where microplastics are entering our bodies – in the very air we breathe! We really cannot avoid it. I should point out that it is believed to only be harmful to us in extremely high concentrations, which experts think is highly unlikely to ever be reached by most people.

The NFWI report focuses on the microplastic fibres that are shed from our clothes in the washing machine. These days it’s rare for anyone to own any item of clothing without some form of plastic in it. We might have the odd 100% cotton t-shirt but it’s likely that the rest of the wardrobe is made up of synthetic fibres.

The round table that the NFWI presented their report at was attended by representatives from a variety of industries to try and tackle the issue from every angle – textile designers are now trying to create a synthetic fabric that sheds fewer fibres during each wash (ideally they’ll be able to get the number down to zero). Washing machine manufacturers will be looking at improving their filters etc to try and catch more plastic fibres, preventing them from entering the waterways. The government are going to think up appropriate legislation and the NFWI are going to raise awareness of the issue so that individuals can play their part too. There were others present, but you get the idea… it’s a multi-pronged attack on the microplastics coming from our clothes.

So while the experts work away at the problem what can we, as individuals, do to reduce the amount if plastic we add to the oceans in the meantime? Well there are a few things we can do right away:

  • Wash at lower temperatures – this will help fewer fibres from being shed.
  • Switch to a liquid detergent rather than powder – powder agitates the fabrics a lot more than liquid detergent and so more fibres are released. There is a zero waste argument for Soap Nuts here, but I haven’t given them a proper run yet so stay tuned for an in-depth review.
  • Only wash clothes when dirty – climbing into some casual clothes for a couple of hours after work means they’re probably still good to be worn again without having to go in the wash.
  • Only run the washing machine when you have a full load and line dry instead of using a tumble drier if possible.
  • Look into an in-wash filter like a Cora Ball. The Cora Ball currently only removes about half the fibres that are released but that appears to be the best available at the moment. At the conference someone from the textile industry announced that the Guppy Friend bags don’t work. Personally, I haven’t tried either (yet).

Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought there. I know it’s tempting to start buying only natural fibres after finding out about all these microplastics coming from our clothes, however there is also an environmental impact there too. It’s a problem that we’re not going to be able to solve overnight, so in the meantime it’s best to alter our laundry habits as per the bullet points above.

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce there will be some exciting changes coming up – I’ll be moving the blog over to a new domain and I’ll also be adding an online shop where you’ll be able to purchase some handmade zero waste essentials.

Advent Adventures

Woo Christmas will soon be here, along with all the traditions that come with it. For us the festive season begins on 1st December with the first opening of the advent calendar. We watch all our favourite Christmas movies while snuggled under a blanket and drinking hot chocolate. We alternate seeing our families on Christmas Day or Boxing Day – this year we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas Day and mine on Boxing Day, but regardless of where we are we always open up 1 present on Christmas Eve right before we go to bed. Christmas morning we tear into our stocking gifts and then go down for breakfast. When we’re with my family on Christmas Day I get to spend the morning cooking – which I love! After we eat we then get to open up our main presents… after that the traditions vary depending on which family we’re with.

So, tradition number 1 – the advent calendar… there are so many to choose from! There are super traditional ones that you open up to reveal an image; there are the good old chocolate ones that I always had as a child; these days you can even alcohol ones and we’ll almost anything you can imagine. This year I was immensely tempted to buy myself a Bomb Cosmetics bath bomb advent calendar, but all of these advent calendars are immensely wasteful. There’s loads of cardboard and often a plastic tray. Eventually my zero waste principles stopped me from buying the bath bomb advent calendar.

Does that mean our advent calendar tradition is to come to an end? Not at all! In fact there are a few ways of doing a zero waste advent.

Reusable Advent Calendar

As well as the cardboard and plastic advent calendars, many shops are now also starting to stock empty wooden advent calendars. You can fill them with so many different things but I’m planning on filling ours with sweets from a local old fashioned style sweet shop – the kind where you can go up to the counter and request a quarter of… in fact I normally go into the sweet shop (Sweet Alley in Biggleswade) with my own jars to be filled with candy goodness.

Earn a treat

How about heading out on a daily litter pick and reward each person with a treat for each item of rubbish they collect that day? This one has the benefit of cleaning up the streets and gives kids a chance to earn more than just 1 piece of chocolate a day.

If the little ones could do with a bit more of an academic boost the lovely people at have provided a themed maths worksheet – why not give your kids a maths problem to solve each day before they get to have their advent treats? Simply grab some treats, download the worksheet and answer sheet and away you go. As this blog is all about zero waste and loving the environment, I have an ocean themed worksheet for you to download (worksheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3 and the answer sheet: subtraction_subtraction_under_the_sea3_answers), however there are other themes and worksheets available through their website.

Christmas Bingo

When I was a kid my Mum and I would drive around looking for all the tacky and way over the top Christmas lights people had adorned their houses with. So, I thought it might be fun to turn if into a full on Advent event. The idea is you have a list of 25 Christmas themed items that you have to cross off as and when you spot them. However, spotting something, let’s say tinsel, for sale in a shop or in your own home doesn’t count, whereas spotting tinsel in someone else’s home would be fine. You can do this by yourself or even compete against friends and family to see who can cross off all the items first. Here are the ones we’ll be looking for this year:

  • Santa
  • Snowman
  • Reindeer
  • Mistletoe
  • Festive lights – ideally the OTT seizure inducing ones
  • Nativity scene
  • Star
  • Candy cane
  • Holly
  • Bells
  • Wreath
  • Gingerbread house/person
  • Elf
  • Stocking
  • Christmas tree (real or plastic)
  • Tinsel
  • Sleigh
  • Carol singers
  • Candle
  • Presents
  • Poinsettia
  • Mince Pies
  • Robin
  • Angel
  • Mittens

It’s only November but I can actually cross off the mince pies already!

What are your advent plans? Have you come up with another way of making the festivities zero waste? Let me know what you’re up to.

I recently attended a conference on the environmental impact of microplastics so be sure to come back next month to hear how it went and to get a break-down of the report.

Harvest Festival

I love Autumn! I love the colours. I love feeling the last breath of summer’s warmth being gently ushered along by gusts of wind hinting at winter’s icy chill.

I also love celebrating the harvest. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not one for pottering in the garden and I struggle to keep plants alive for a full year, but I do enjoy celebrating at harvest time.

As a child we would be asked to take a tin of soup or something into school for the harvest festival. All the tins were then collected together, nicely displayed during an assembly, and then distributed to people in the community who were most in need – the food banks of the 90’s! As a kid I didn’t know or care about the harvest festival. I didn’t even know it was anything to do with farming, to me it was just an annual event where I had to raid the cupboard for a tin of beans. Eventually I questioned what people did before tins were invented and that’s when I discovered the harvest festival was all about celebrating all that nature has given us.

Once upon a time men would gather in the crops and the women would preserve those crops in order to sustain the family through the forthcoming Winter. The Harvest Festival celebrates this ritual – all the hard work of toiling in both the fields and the kitchen comes to a close with everyone enjoying a lovely ploughmans meal, a sheaf loaf and a drink or 2 to rejoice and give thanks for successful harvest.

In that same tradition, this time last year I was gathering up the last fruits of the year and preserving them ready for Winter. I had such an overwhelming sense of being at one with nature – making the most of Summer’s abundance to sustain us through the next season.

This year was a very different story though. The unusual heat that we experienced here in Britain this spring/summer meant that all the fruit I normally gather up had fully ripened by early July which meant no August jam making for me. In fact I didn’t get to preserve anything this year for Winter. Luckily, in this day and age we don’t need to spend Autumn preparing for Winter. Eating seasonally can be reduced to nothing more than another hipster trend that allows gourmet restaurants to charge way over the odds, and the closest most people get to pulling a root vegetable from the ground is washing the dirt off a carrot they bought at the supermarket. And that’s the point – supermarkets allow us to buy the fruits of someone else’s labour. We never have to worry about not having enough food for winter because we can just go out and buy the same ingredients week in and week out any time of the year. It doesn’t matter what season it is, food is grown all over the world and shipped over so we can enjoy things like asparagus in January and strawberries in February if we want to.

I wasn’t able to gather up and preserve anything this year and I’m sorry to say but a lot of farmers took a much bigger hit than that this year as well. Many crops failed entirely and almost all farmers suffered heavy losses. This year more than ever we’re going to be thankful that the supermarkets are able to import food from overseas.

Therein is the dilemma. Supermarkets squeeze producers as much as possible to bring us cheap food year-round, shipping food all over the world thus contributing massively to climate change. However, as a result of climate change we’re having to rely on those same supermarkets (rather than local farm shops for example) to see us through winter at an affordable price.

I’m not trying to suggest supermarkets are the sole cause of climate change here. The modern lifestyle is largely to blame and our reliance on cheap produce from overseas rather than growing our own is just one contributing factor. Did you know that the old council houses (built before the 1980’s) used to be quite small but have relatively large gardens becsuse they expected the tenents to be self-sufficient?! The gardens were divided into 3 sections where crops could be grown, livestock (such as a pig) could be kept and I forget what the 3rd section was intended for now but it doesn’t really matter because of course almost no one did plant any fruit and veg in their gardens (or keep any livestock), instead they mostly became large areas for the kids to play in which is why later builds tended to have MUCH smaller gardens, if at all.

I’m not expecting anyone to suddenly rush out with a spade to start planting some potatoes here, instead I would urge everyone to try and shop local where possible. By all means get digging if that’s your thing though. Is eating seasonally really so bad if it means the food we’re about to tuck into has a lower carbon footprint? Buying direct from a local farm shop or green grocers means you’re unlikely to encounter fruit and veg encased in plastic packaging and you’ll be able to pick from the whole crop, not just the ones that conform to a certain shape or size. One of the bug supermarkets here is currently running an advert boasting about buying the whole crop by creating the “wonky” range – it’s good that they’re not just leaving the ones that don’t make the grade to go to waste, but they’ve wrapped them all in plastic and labelled it as “wonky”. How about buying the whole crop the farmer and selling the whole lot loose?! Let’s stop the vegetation-based apartheid, ditch the plastic, and just let consumers pick their own quantity!

Supermarkets have also recently been advertising their willingness to let you bring your own container into the store… like I said we should be doing in a previous post. Don’t wait for a shop to give you permission to use your own container instead of them giving you a disposable one – just take one with you and ask if they’re okay with it. I’ve been taking my own containers everywhere for a couple of years now and have never encountered anyone unwilling to fill mine instead of their own.

The one harvest ritual I did manage to fulfil this year was the sheaf loaf. I fully intended to take a photo but, in this house we love digging in to bread fresh from the oven and so, on this occasion we had already devoured half the loaf before I thought about taking a pic. I normally bake bread every few days so you think we’d be over the fresh from the oven novelty by now, but no!

One day my little one is going to have a great time getting his hands dirty kneading and shaping the dough with me, and I just can’t wait to be able to share the full harvest tradition with him – the preserving fresh fruit and vegetables ready for winter one, not the taking a tin of soup to school one.

The Biodegradable Scam

Recently I’ve seen a lot of people (friends/family & random strangers on the internet) become more environmentally conscious and wanting to at the very least reduce their plastic use, which is fantastic, the more the better. It would appear a lot of people are starting to become more aware of their dependence on single-use plastic now that bars and restaurants are moving away from plastic straws in favour of paper ones, or at least hiding the straws away from sight resulting in people having to ask for one if they need one. Actually, I recently replied to a FB comment stating that some people have disabilities that mean they need the flexibility of a plastic straw and so the stainless steel straws aren’t suitable and we therefore shouldn’t judge. I replied saying that it obviously depends on the specific disability but a silicone straw may be an option instead as it is just as flexible as plastic but less harmful to the environment… and is dishwasher safe. One lady then almost accused me of being ableist saying it’s not for us to tell disabled people which straws they should use, but everyone else generally didn’t know you could get silicone straws and understood that I was merely offering up an alternative option to plastic that may work for some. Either way, I genuinely think it’s absolutely fantastic that people are starting to think about the issue and have a debate about it, let’s keep it up!

I was even jumping for joy the day the government announced a ban on wet wipes… until I read up on it and discovered their plan is to phase in the ban over the next 20 years! 20 years is just utterly ridiculous – I honestly believe this ban could easily be brought into effect within 2 years. Yes, wipes seem to be everywhere these days – baby wipes and make up remover wipes are the first that spring to mind, but then there are also ones infused with furniture polish so you can clean your house, disinfectant ones, ones to clean your behind with (which should absolutely NEVER be flushed down the toilet), there are even ones for wiping the dog’s paws with… and probably many more I’ve not yet discovered.

In most instances these wipes are utterly superfluous, and could easily be replaced with alternative options – remember changing a baby’s nappy with cotton wool and a bowl of water? Did you know you can remove make up just as easily for a fraction of the cost of a pack of wipes? What was so wrong with spraying furniture polish with one hand and wiping with a cloth in the other? Somewhere along the way we seem to have fallen victim to large marketing firms pushing a disposable ideology onto us, sacrificing the environment for the sake of profit margins.

So the UK government have given firms a 20 year deadline to come up with an eco-friendly version of their wipes, but there are already companies popping up advertising their biodegradable wipes. Of course the biodegradable version is more expensive, but it’s okay because it’s better for the environment so people will be happy to pay the extra… and that’s the scam, people will pay more but it’s likely the biodegrable claims are effectively a great big steaming pile of BS.

I’ve fallen for this myself back in the day. I bought some nappy sacks to use as doggy poo bags because they were biodegradable but didn’t think too much about it beyond that. It was only a few months later that I realised that in order for the bags to biodegrade they need to be placed within a bio-active substance, for example being buried in soil, which doesn’t generally happen with poo bags (or nappy sacks in general either). In fact the bags I got didn’t actually specify what conditions the bags would decompose under.

Typically, when it comes to poo bags, nappy sacks and baby wipes, the products will likely be encased in a plastic bin bag and sent to landfill along with millions of other bin bags and so they won’t start to degrade for 500 years anyway, just like with the non-biodegradable version.

Soil obviously isn’t the only option for biodegradation – there are packing peanuts you can now get which fully dissolve in a bit of warm water. So when it comes to all these new biodegradable wipes that are being advertised to me I thought it was only fair to ask the manufacturers what conditions need to be met for their product to biodegrade but, after over a month, I have yet to see any responses… if you’re determined to use wipes rather than any more environmentally friendly alternative then shop smart! If the packaging says biodegradable but doesn’t give you disposal directions then save your money.

Please don’t wait 20 years before ditching the wipes, be the change and discover all the wonderful alternatives that await you now. If there’s a specific type of wipe that you don’t know how to do without then please get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you.

Baby Jay is here

So last time I promised I’d do a tutorial on how to make cloth sanitary pads but I figured I should at least also be able to report on how they perform, which meant waiting for little one’s arrival.

For the last 2 weeks of my pregnancy I had been getting little hints that labour was close so I was more than ready to meet our little guy by the time he arrived.

Before I go on I should point out that Paul and I had done a hypnobirthing course, specifically the Wise Hippo programme. I wanted to do hypnobirthing because I’d heard so many wonderful things – from entirely pain-free births to really short labour times, I was completely sold! We turned up for our first class and were told these things are not guaranteed, the course is about empowering us to have a positive birth experience… typical!

Anyway, I practiced everyday regardless. I found the MP3 tracks we were given relaxed me so much I was asleep within a couple of minutes of putting them on so I started listening to them while doing various jobs, like cleaning the house and making my pads etc. I think that also helped while I was in labour because I was still moving around and keeping active while trying to be as calm and relaxed as possible.

So basically on Sunday night I noticed I was bleeding… worried, I rang the hospital and arranged to go in to triage. I popped a homemade pad in and went along to the hospital. The midwife had a look at the pad and also did an internal check and reassured me it was just a show. Feeling very relieved we then made our way back home where I then got all of 2 hours sleep (my own fault for binge-watching a certain show) before starting to feel some twinges.

It was around 3.30am on Monday 6th August and I was absolutely convinced they were just Braxton Hicks so I simply went back to sleep. Eventually though I couldn’t sleep and started to get excited that things might finally be happening. Around 6.30am I woke Paul up and asked him to walk the dog and then come back and start timing a few contractions just in case it was the real thing.

I put the hypnobirth music on and got settled while I waited for Paul to get back. I was so calm and relaxed during each contraction that he had no idea when to time and so I had to really concentrate on staying awake enough to tell him when to start and stop timing. Before I knew it we were at 3 in 10 minutes, lasting a minute, and it was time to head to the hospital… although I was still convinced they were just Braxton Hicks.

I was having to concentrate on my breathing and visualisations more and more in the car but Paul was great at jumping in and helping me stay focussed. Eventually we got to the hospital and went through my birth plan with the midwife. It was around this time things started to ease up a bit. The midwives suggested keeping me in for an hour to see if things picked up. I stopped trying to focus and just let the sleep take me – I’m not sure how often women normally sleep through contractions but I highly recommend it!

Unfortunately, the midwives decided it was best if I continued to labour at home so off we went. The car ride home was awful! The contractions were super intense and I simply couldn’t focus anymore. Paul did his best to help me through each one but his priority was on driving safely, of course.

We finally made it home and I immediately stripped off and collapsed on the bed with the same MP3 track still playing on loop from earlier on. Paul went downstairs to make some toast as neither of us had eaten anything yet. At this point I completely lost control and declared I couldn’t do it anymore as I wasn’t getting a break. Paul realised that meant baby would be arriving soon and tried to get me dressed and back to the hospital but I insisted he rub my back instead. He managed to get a top on me before I announced that my waters had just gone and I could feel my whole body bearing down. Paul then phoned the hospital who stayed on the line with him while also dispatching 2 community midwives and an ambulance to the house.

30 minutes after arriving home from the hospital I gave birth to little Jay… we wouldn’t have made it back to the hospital in time even if I had cooperated with Paul trying to dress me. Amazingly, the midwives arrived before the ambulance. They knocked on the door just as Paul could see the top of Jay’s head appear and they came bursting into the room just in time to catch his body.

He is a perfectly happy and healthy little guy but he came out with both hands up by his head which meant I suffered a 3rd degree tear… another draw of hypnobirthing is the low tearing rates but sadly that one was out of my reach. While we waited for the ambulance one of the midwives looked through my birthplan and pointed out that although it was an unplanned homebirth I had in fact managed to achieve almost everything I had specified, which I can’t really complain about!

As for the hypnobirthing: I wish I had realised how close I was at the time I lost control – I think that would have made it easier, but being a first time mum I obviously had no idea how close I was. Yes, I had a shorter labour than the average ‘normal’ labour time. No, I wasn’t technically in pain but I was pretty far from the orgasmic experience some other women report – the pressure was incredibly intense, especially before my body started pushing, and it was just impossible for me to be vaguely comfortable let alone in a position to think about my ‘happy place’. However, I’ll take intense pressure and discomfort over pain any day!

Jay and I had to spend his first night in hospital (back home the following evening) while the staff made sure I was okay after being stitched back up. For this reason we broke out the disposables. I can honestly say the reusable cloth pads are more comfortable than the disposable ones. They’re also far more absorbent so it was just as well I had been willing to use the disposables at the hospital – one of the questions I was asked was whether I had managed to soak through a pad within 2 hours. Thankfully the answer was no anyway, but it would have been a ‘hell no’ from a cloth pad.

The patterns I used to make my pads were purchased online (as were the materials) and I made about 14 maternity pads based on online recommendations. However, this was more than I needed as I found 1 maternity pad was enough to last me all day. The cloth pads also beat the disposables when it comes to leakage as well.

So here’s how to make your own. Equipment:

  1. You’ll need a sewing machine (unless you have the time and patience to hand stitch).
  2. Pattern, which you can find online (paid or free) or you can even create your own if you’re so inclined. I purchased mine through Etsy
  3. Outer fabric – I chose a purple cotton fat quarters in various patterns, but it can be whatever you want.
  4. Waterproof inner layer. I used PUL, which is polyurethane laminate – basically a super thin layer of laminate over the fabric to make it waterproof.
  5. The next layer on top of that is the absorbency layer. I used Zorb but Terry Towelling is just as effective. You’ll want to use 2-3 layers of Towelling to every 1 layer of Zorb, and I used 2 layers of Zorb for my maternity pads.
  6. Fleece top layer. This is the layer that will be next to the skin so it makes sense for it to be nice & soft and absorbent.
  7. Press studs. I bought a kit through Amazon.

Trace and cut your pattern pieces. Place the absorbent layers over the wrong side of your top fleece layer and pin in place while you stitch around the outer edge of the absorbent layer.

Next, place the outer fabric on top, right sides together and then place the waterproof layer underneath and pin along the outer edge. Make sure you don’t pin the middle of waterproof layer – it’ll make it less effective! Stick to the edges… and stitch in place, leaving a gap so you can turn the pad inside out.

Where the gap is, keep the fleece and waterproof layers together and separate the fleece and patterned/outer layers from each other. Make sure it is fully turned to the edges.

Return to the gap you left for turning and gently fold the edges inwards, matching the rest of the pad. Top sew along the entire outer edge.

Fold the wings over one another, as they would sit when the pad is in use, and place the press studs accordingly.

Generally cloth pads should always be washed with detergent only, no fabric softener as that will reduce the absorbency. I know some people who like to throw their used pads straight into the washing machine and I also know some people who prefer to rinse them off with cold water first – I think there are 2 deciding factors here: flow and squeamishness… there’s no right answer, just go with what works for you. Some people say it’s okay to tumble dry PUL on a low heat, personally I wouldn’t risk it though… I always prefer to air dry anyway.

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