Prisha Hill

Zero Waste living in a disposable world

Tag: 5 R’s

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 education.com 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.

Soap (box) Time

This month I was going to give you a nice and easy homemade soap recipe but then I came across a couple of things that made me really want to get on my soap box and scream – so I decided to do both!

Let’s start with the rant: I have just seen a post by a woman on Facebook proudly stating that she has just got back from Tesco and left all the packaging from her fruit and veg at the checkout and that next time she’s going to take some boxes so she can also unpack the meat and take it home with her that way, because at least then all that packaging won’t end up in her bin. Now I know some of you will be thinking I would be proud of this woman for taking a stance against packaging, but instead all I can think is what a f***ing tw*t!! She has not helped the situation at all there, all she has done is create a scene, delay the checkout process and pat herself on the back for it! It’s nothing more greenwashing on a personal rather than corporate level. The supermarket does not care at all that she has left the packaging there, she has still paid slightly more for the packaging in the first place and at the end of the day their profit margin is all they care about, not how much plastic packaging they’re sending to landfill. She included a photo of the fruit and veg she had just purchased and all of it could have been purchased loose, without any packaging in the first place. She already plans to take her own boxes to put meat in next time and again leave the packaging at the store – how about taking those boxes to a butchers instead? That way the meat was never packed in a bunch of plastic in the first place and therefore the packaging never needs to go into her’s or anyone else’s bin. The only way to get through to the big supermarkets is to vote with your feet – they will regularly review stock levels and if they notice an upsurge in the sales of loose fruit and vegetables while the more expensive pre-packaged stuff is being left on the shelves to rot, do you really think they’re going to keep restocking the pre-packaged stuff, or is it more likely they’ll respond by giving the consumers what they want which is even more loose fruit and veg?

The other thing that irritated me recently was listening to a show on Radio 4 all about lists. I have said previously about making a shopping list to in an attempt to reduce food waste, but I probably should have specified that I meant for you to make a list on your phone. I get that people of a certain age don’t like to carry their mobile phones with them and will only turn it on if they need to make a call, in which case I understand why they would prefer to use pen and paper to make a list – in fact, Jenny Eclair (who presented the radio show) admitted to still using a Filofax to organise her life. There are multiple apps available, but I prefer to just use a plain and simple notepad app that comes pre-installed on the phone. It’s nice and simple, with me at all times and when I’m done I can just delete it and nothing ends up in the bin. I know, there’s just something about hunting around in your bag for a slip of paper, poking a hole through the list as you try to cross an item off at the supermarket and then having the satisfaction of screwing it up and throwing it away once you’re done, but go on, give your phone a go for at least a month and see if you don’t find it easier.

Alright, rant over. So, now that I’ve stepped down from the soap box, I’d like to tell you how to make actual soap… I started making my own soap not just because I wanted to cut down on packaging but also because I got sick of seeing so many ingredients I couldn’t pronounce on the back of said packaging. So here is my super easy soap recipe. It’s so easy, you can even get the kids involved (should help keep them quiet for a bit). You probably have most of what you need in the house already, and if not you can either substitute for something else or you can pick it up from a local shop.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 135g Shea Butter
  • 180g Coconut Oil
  • 360g Olive Oil
  • 135g Almond Oil
  • 90g Castor Oil
  • 200ml Water
  • 123.2g Lye (caustic soda)
  • 97g Coconut Milk
  • Few drops of essential oil (optional)
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Spoon
  • Stick Blender
  • Slow Cooker or Saucepan
  • Soap Mould
  • Towel

First of all pour your water into a bowl and then in a well ventilated place (I like to wait for a sunny day and do this bit outside) add the Lye to the water (never ever the other way around, and you may want to wear some protective gear for this bit – a pair of marigolds for example) and give it a little stir until it has all dissolved. I would advise letting little ones watch but perhaps don’t allow them to do this bit (depending on their age). Adding Lye to water will generate an exothermic reaction which will remain warm to the touch for a little while – you also don’t want to inhale too deeply over the bowl, just stir at an arms length away. Once you’re done gently stirring, you can set it aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

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Start with the coconut oil as that takes the longest time to melt in my experience. You can either melt it in a slow cooker, on the stove or in the microwave – all good options, there’s no right or wrong here. Personally I use a slow cooker (it’s the only time I do use it) and just add everything into the pot to as soon as I’ve measured it out, so next I would add the shea butter to start melting. Then add the other oils – you should have just the lye water, coconut milk and the essential oils not in your pot at this point.

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By the time the coconut oil has fully melted in the slow cooker, the lye water should have stopped reacting and should now be cool enough to handle. Carefully add it to the melted oils, taking care to not splash any on yourself… I’m told it can cause a burning sensation.

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Grab the stick blender and give it all a good whiz. When you get a thin trace, i.e. it starts to look a little bit like Vaseline, add the coconut milk. Mix it all in and wait for it to get a little thicker, then add a few drops of essential oil (if using) and mix well.

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Transfer into your soap mould. If you have any cling film then you can put a bit over your soap – I don’t have any so I just skip this step. With the soap in the mould, cover with a nice thick towel (or a few if they’re quite thin) and leave for about 24 hours.

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After about 24 hours you can turn it out the mould. If you’re using a block mould like me then now is the time to cut the soap before it gets too hard. If you have a tray of individual soap moulds then you can just turn them out. The soap then needs to be left to cure for about a month, being turned every couple of days. The curing is just giving it a chance to harden, the soap is technically ready so if you’re really desperate then you can use it right away.

I know it sounds like a lot, but the actual amount of time you’ll spend making the soap is less than an hour. Here in Biggleswade we have quite hard water so I tend to make just body soap. If you’re lucky enough to have soft water then you can try making a body and shampoo bar in one – you just need 935.5g coconut oil, 355ml water, 154.22g lye and a few drops of essential oil (if desired), the method for creating the bars is the same.

You can always experiment with the recipe, try different oils, add some flower petals or even add some mica powder to create different colours – happy experimenting!

Zero Waste Gift Guide

With Christmas just around the corner, there are so many wonderful gifts on the shelves of every shop you walk into. Unfortunately you can pretty much guarantee that those gifts will come in far too much packaging! Sadly, I don’t have the answers on this one – I’ve been at this a year now and I am still struggling with finding zero waste gift options. Ideally, we would spend all year lovingly making the perfect gift for everyone on our list, and they in turn would absolutely love and cherish it for all of time. The reality is that most handmade items are likely to be shoved to the back of the cupboard for all of time instead – we seem to place more value on the generic store-bought items we asked for than we do the items that a loved one has spent months preparing as a surprise for us. That’s not the case in the Hill household, but it definitely rings true for other members of the wider family, and it’s definitely something I’ve been guilty of in the past.

So, if you know someone who will appreciate a homemade product, then fantastic! There’s still plenty of time to whip up a little something for them. For everyone else on your list, here’s a quick (almost) zero waste gift guide:

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First up is the ecoffee cup – a reusable coffee cup with a difference! You don’t have to be a coffee fiend to enjoy these cups, in fact I’ll often be found at a coffee shop getting mine filled with hot chocolate this time of year. Every year 100 BILLION single-use coffee cups get sent to landfill. Carrying around a reusable not only cuts down on the waste going to landfill but most coffee shops will give you a discount for taking in your own cup. There are so many different types out there: metal, ceramic and sadly plastic, but what makes the ecoffee cup different is that it is made from bamboo with a silicon lid and sleeve, this means that should anything happen to the cup and it needs to be replaced then the lid and sleeve can be recycled (where facilities exist) and the cup itself can be composted. These cups are also available in so many amazing colours and designs – mine is purple but I’m so loving the new wooden effect designs and the William Morris collection is just gorgeous! A truly wonderful gift that will get a smile, help the planet and is easy on the wallet.

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By now you’ve probably heard about the plastic microfibres being released from our clothes in the wash and ending up in our oceans, destroying marine life. For a lot of items it’s easy enough to switch over to purely natural fibres, but workout clothing is something I’ve been struggling to find… until now! Enter BAM, a bamboo clothing store with collections for men and women. Normally when I look at fitness clothes using natural fibres, they’re all intended for yoga and don’t really stand up to a HIIT session. Now for some this wouldn’t be considered a perfect gift, more of an insult, but for any fitness fanatic you’ll be golden! Potentially pricey but e-vouchers are available if you’d like to send someone a contribution towards a new outfit rather than paying for the whole thing. They do have regular clothes available as well as sportswear, but I was just so thrilled at seeing a natural fibre designed to withstand a hardcore workout!!

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How about a magazine subscription? In fact, a number of magazines are now available as a digital subscription so you don’t have to worry about all those sheets of paper going into the recycling. Of course, the person you’re buying the subscription for will need to have a suitable device to view the content on, but these days I think most of us already do. It’s not just magazines, you could also gift an e-book to someone

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Something every zero-waster always needs more of: glass jars! Whether its going to be for jam, chutney, a fresh batch of body lotion, these jars are an absolute must in our house, yet there’s never enough! Okay, so it’s not the sexiest gift in the world, but it is an immensely useful gift that will keep on giving for decades to come. If the recipient is a zero waster then a few empty jars will be an absolutely fine gift, if they’re not then you’ll need to fill them first otherwise you’ll look like a total d**k come Christmas morning!

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The least zero waste option, but one of my favourites – BoroughBox is an absolute life-saver when it comes to gifts! There’s literally something for everyone, from cheese-making kits (that I was eyeing up for myself) to vegan picnic hampers, you’re bound to find the perfect gift for someone here. This wonderful site has actually saved me from having to buy a certain someone socks again this year! The Christmas pudding pic at the top was also from BoroughBox, click on the link to be taken to the product page.

Still need inspiration? See what little gems you’re able to unearth at your local charity shops – we’ve got quite a few here in Biggleswade, and some of the stuff for sale is actually brand new (in case the recipient is likely to turn their nose up at a charity shop gift). If you know someone who is an avid reader, you’ll most likely be able to find some pre-loved editions of books in a charity shop. We always get Paul’s grandparents an Oxfam unwrapped gift – you know, where you pay for a goat to go to a random African villiage – however, my only gripe with that is they send a card and things in the post, I’d much rather just put the money in the collection tin and then tell his grandparents which charity we gave the money to. I know they wouldn’t care if we did that, yet every year we end up still going with the unwrapped option – I’m determined to make this the year we break the habit!

There’s just one more, rather important, area that I haven’t mentioned yet – presents for little ones! Often the parents will be able to give you an idea of what they want/need. It’s almost impossible to get anything for them that will be zero waste. Best of luck finding something suitable for the miniature human(s) in your life! Just remember: most plastics that claim to be BPA-free instead contain BPS which has been shown to be just as bad, so do your research before hitting the shops, but always take your cue from the parents – if they’re happy to give their child any type of plastic then that’s fine, the last thing they want is a lecture about plastic, but if the parents prefer for their children to play with wooden toys then stick with that, even if you do think you’ve found a suitably safe plastic. If the parents haven’t given you any cues and they also haven’t come up with any suggestions for you, then the number 1 rule you MUST apply to buying a child a gift is to make sure you buy them something you secretly want to play with yourself!

Whatever gifts you end up giving, please don’t bother giving someone a store gift-card. You’re handing over a single-use plastic card and they’re unlikely to find something for the exact amount on the card so will have to add some of their own money towards any purchases, which has to be within a time-limit set by the store – and that’s all assuming you’ve got them a giftcard for somewhere they would normally like to shop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into shops for the first time only to spend a giftcard I’ve been given, ending up with stuff I didn’t need. Even if someone has said they want to save for X, from a particular shop, still just give them the money instead of getting the giftcard – it’s better for the planet, saves you trekking over to the shop and gives the recipient some leeway to change their mind. If you’re thinking of getting someone a giftcard because you don’t really know them/what they like that well, then the best present you can get them is a coffee – take them out to a coffee shop, or anywhere for that matter, and just spend some time with them, get to know them. Time spent together is so much more precious than handing over a bit of plastic.

Mind your R’s…

Hopefully you’ve fully mastered your P’s and Q’s by now, so it’s time to move on to your R’s. The 5 R’s of zero waste to be exact. In order, these are:

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

Refuse – In my opinion Refuse and Reduce go hand in hand, but the basic premise is to simply refuse anything you don’t need. Stranger thrusting leaflets at you that you’ll barely glance at before throwing them in the recycling bin – “no thanks”; do you really need the shrink wrapped broccoli that costs more than the loose broccoli sitting next to it? If you don’t need it, don’t let it into your home.

Reduce – So you’ve whittled down your shopping basket to items you definitely need, without any excess packaging, but now you need to reduce the items you do need to things you will definitely get through. For example, if you have a recipe that calls for 2 fresh lemons then buy 2 single lemons rather than 6 lemons encased in a plastic net advertising it’s 10% off – you’ll save money (even with the 10% off), won’t have 4 lemons rotting on your kitchen counter and you won’t be sending a plastic net to landfill.

Reuse – We have so much stuff these days it can often feel like our houses are more storage spaces rather than living spaces – how much of that old worn out stuff can you re-purpose? From re-gifting items to using old clothes as dust cloths and even retaining shower water to use on your garden plants (if you’re so inclined) – there are so many things we can do around the home to breathe new life into the stuff we already have instead of spending money on yet more stuff. With this in mind, don’t be afraid to hit the charity shops, like they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure – just make sure you’re buying something you definitely need! Better yet, can you borrow an item from someone else?

Recycle – The second to last option, just one step up from sending your rubbish to landfill, yet so many people think that by putting their recycling bin out every fortnight they’re doing their bit for the environment. The truth is recycling still requires a fair amount of energy, granted it’s less than what is required compared to producing items from virgin materials, but it’s not great. There is a wide range of items that can be recycled these days so make sure you check the label on any of the items that you MUST buy. However, a lot of items that get sent for recycling still ends up in a landfill for a number of reasons. There is a lot to be said about the ecological impact of the manufacture, recycling and disposal of plastic materials in particular, which will be the subject of a later post. In fact I’ll cover a whole range of topics illustrating how recycling is not the answer in due course. For now though, the message is simply that we need to address the issue further up the chain. Supermarkets and manufacturers have their role to play, but so do you… try to avoid purchasing items that require recycling or landfill disposal (that includes the packaging the item comes in).

Rot – If an item doesn’t fall into any of the other categories then it will sadly have to go to landfill where it will slowly break down over time, emit noxious gasses as it does and leach potentially harmful chemicals into the soil. As it currently stands, Brits produce enough landfill worthy waste to fill up the Royal Albert Hall in just 2 hours! The current housing shortage in the UK means many houses have been (and are being) built on former landfill sites, yet as the population grows, so too does the amount of waste we produce.

It’s easy to put our waste in the wheelie bin, roll it out to the pavement and then forget all about it once the lorry comes round to take it away, but the truth is there is no such thing as “away”. Do a quick image search for “Smokey Mountain Manila” and just know that we are responsible for that. Those images, in such stark contrast to the image at the top of this post, is what is beneath the feet of most of us – here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have a layer of soil over it, but the contents are the same.

As you can see, our current way of living simply isn’t sustainable. We all need to throw away our disposable lives and make a change towards using what we already have and only buying what we truly need. Yes, I know change is hard – I’ve been at this for almost a year now and still have changes to make, but going zero waste isn’t an overnight all-or-nothing switch, it’s about taking baby-steps in the right direction. I mean, you can take massive strides if you want to, but living a more eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle means making lasting change. The best way to ensure success is change gradually so you barely notice the difference. Make doing the right thing a habit that you keep building on, and one day you’ll look back and be amazed at just how far you’ve come, you’ll be amazed at the way you once lived, and all the waste you threw out, back in 2017.

So there you have it, the 5 R’s of zero waste, and hopefully some food for thought. Next week I’ll cover zero waste shopping in more detail – as much as I love living in Biggleswade it can be really hard to avoid packaging waste, so I’m going to share with you some very simple shopping changes (beyond plastic bags) you can implement wherever you live. I hope you’ll join me then, but if you have any questions or comments in the meantime then please get in touch.

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