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.
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.
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.
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:
Festive lights – ideally the OTT seizure inducing ones
Christmas tree (real or plastic)
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.
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.
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:
You’ll need a sewing machine (unless you have the time and patience to hand stitch).
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
Outer fabric – I chose a purple cotton fat quarters in various patterns, but it can be whatever you want.
Waterproof inner layer. I used PUL, which is polyurethane laminate – basically a super thin layer of laminate over the fabric to make it waterproof.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s what you’ll need:
135g Shea Butter
180g Coconut Oil
360g Olive Oil
135g Almond Oil
90g Castor Oil
123.2g Lye (caustic soda)
97g Coconut Milk
Few drops of essential oil (optional)
Slow Cooker or Saucepan
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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!!
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
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!
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.
Oh I do so love the festive season, it really is the most wonderful time of the year! From opening my advent calendar each day to hanging up my stocking for Santa (well, Paul) to fill with goodies… but, how do you maintain your favourite Christmas traditions when you’re zero waste?
Lets start with advent calendars. There are the traditional picture ones that every kid hates to get – you know the ones; they’re flat and you open each door and get just a nice picture – don’t even bother! Next up are the the chocolate ones that you’ll find in almost every shop you walk into at the moment – you get about as much chocolate in the whole thing as you do in a single bar and then you’re left with a large plastic tray encased in cardboard. Recently there has been an increase in alternative advent calendars – last year I had a makeup one… but again LOADS of plastic and cardboard.
There are some absolutely gorgeous reusable advent calendar options out there: On the years we have Christmas at our house I tend to put some chocolates into cotton drawstring pouches which I then hang on the tree… every day Paul and I then take a pouch each. It also means I don’t need to buy chocolate wrapped in foil to hang on the tree. You could also get some fabric paint to put little numbers on each pouch so you’re looking for a specific pouch rather than reaching for a random one. You could also do the numbers in different colours so each person is hunting for their own pouch on the correct day. On alternate years we’re with Paul’s family on Christmas day so we don’t usually bother putting a tree up… on those years we have a portable wooden advent calendar (bought for me by former colleagues), each drawer gets filled with chocolate, or sometimes something a little more special. The one I was given was already nicely decorated , although you can get plain ones that you can decorate yourself – great little project to keep kids (and big kids) busy on a rainy day! Hobbycraft have a range of plain wooden advent calendars available for under £20. Of course there are loads of pre-decorated ones available, ready for you to fill – prices vary considerably but a quick Google search will give you an idea of what you can get for your price range.
You can fill the advent calendar with absolutely anything – jewellery happens to fit inside very well (I should be so lucky!), although chocolate is somewhat traditional, small and inexpensive. The main issue with chocolate though is the individual foil wrapping it comes in. My all-time favourite chocolate shop, Montezuma’s, has chocolates available in glass clip-top jars (as loved by zero-wasters the world over!!), you can take the chocolate from the jar, put them into your advent calendar(s) and then reuse the jar for some Christmassy chutney or something. If you’re anything like my husband though, you’ll not want to bother with the advent calendar part and would rather just eat the chocolate straight from the jar! Alternatively, you could make your own chocolate very easily (again, fun little project to do with the kids). How about making up a batch of fudge as well so you’re not having chocolate everyday? The Snaffling Pig Co. has a great range of pork crackling in different flavours, which are also available in clip-top jars (albeit plastic ones). They also do a crackling and beer gift set which I know would go down well with quite a few guys I know.
Every year I get tempted to buy Paul a beer advent calendar but then I see the price and quickly back away. It would be pretty easy to make one though for a lot less. I’d first take a large box that would otherwise be going in the recycling (I tend to buy a lot of Christmas presents online), next cut bottle sized holes in the lid, place a bottle in each hole (maybe do the odd decoy one with chocolate or something instead of beer) and then I’d stick sheets of newspaper to the box to cover the holes (the free newspaper that gets put through the door every week). So this one isn’t really a zero waste option but it is reusing 2 items (box and newspaper) that would normally go straight into the recycling bin.
Instead of having a physical item, how about doing a WhatsApp advent scavenger hunt? Everyone in the group gets sent a list of 12 items (snowman, reindeer, OTT house lights etc) and each time they come across one of the items whilst out and about they take a pic and send it to the rest of the group – whoever gets all 12 first wins a little prize perhaps? Or maybe you could have a prize for each category and decide amongst yourselves who took the best pic in that category.
Alright, so there you have a few ideas for ways you can do a mostly zero waste advent calendar. So, what about the stocking?
First of all, how about making your own from old, worn out clothes? If you’re a knitter or crocheter you could always use up your scrap yarn to make an amazing, totally unique (and probably multi-coloured) stocking. The image above is a free stocking knitting pattern available on the Hobbycraft website. Failing that you can always buy one (just make sure you use the same one each year), and you can find ways of decorating and personalising it if you like. You could even go super old-school and use an actual sock!
Then comes the age-old question of what to put in it… Paul struggles with this even without us trying to avoid waste! Stocking filler gifts don’t have to be big, expensive things – save that for under the tree. So fruit is apparently traditional – the closest I ever got from my Mum was a Terry’s chocolate orange, but Paul’s Mum actually used to put a real satsuma in his stocking. Hankies are always useful for a zero waster, so I would suggest wrapping each thing in a hanky – perhaps a handful of nuts or any left-over chocolates, fudge or pork stratchings from the advent calendar? Bath bits like soap and bath bombs will always go down well, as will candles. If that’s a bit too girly, deodorant, pants and socks are always a staple in Paul’s stocking each year… I have no idea where they all keep disappearing to! Maybe this will be the last year I put those in his stocking, now that we’re trying to live zero waste. Anyway, to use a hanky as gift wrap just place the item in the middle of the hanky, tie the opposite corners together and then pop inside the stocking.
Of course you can put whatever you want inside a stocking or advent calendar, but please try to keep the 5 R’s in mind as you’re deciding what items to buy. I strongly recommend hitting local charity shops first and seeing what awesome bargains you can find before hitting the high street or online shops. The image at the very top is a photo of my dog posing with a little bone toy… someone I know had bought it for her daughter’s dog, but she didn’t like it at all, so rather than throw it away (which was her frst thought), she asked if she could give it to Grue, and he absolutely loved it! Yes, it was plastic so eventually has to be thrown away, but it is being thoroughly enjoyed first.
Best of luck with your own zero waste countdown to Christmas – please do let me know what you’re up to as you get ready for the big day!
Before making the switch to going zero waste in the bathroom, I first let all the empty soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles pile up. I also left the toothpaste tubes, disposable razors and loo roll tubes in that pile too. Why did I let all our bathroom waste pile up? Well I wanted to get a gauge on just how much waste we were both actually creating in this one room of the house… was it really going to be worth the effort of going zero waste? The answer was a big fat YES!!! That pile was so disgusting to look at I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of it. I just had to get rid of it as quickly as possible. In fact I had planned to let the pile build up for a year, but 3 months was all my sanity could take. I am truly sickened by how much rubbish was being created and thrown out by just the 2 of us in such a short space of time.
Now I should point out that my bathroom is not yet completely zero waste, but I have significantly reduced the amount of waste we produce. Here’s how:
The very first thing I did was buy an old school razor, shaving soap and brush. I remember watching my Grandad shave as a child and I’ve always secretly wanted a set like his, but I bought into the marketing… ladies’ razors were specially designed to fit the contours of the legs, never mind that it looks identical to the men’s razors, they are very different, honest! Look, it even as a soft feminine name like ’embrace’… The truth is that the razors ARE the same, they change the names and the colours but that’s about it. The whole razor is made from plastic, minus the actual blades, which are encased in a plastic housing requiring the whole head to be replaced regularly. I’m not even going to get started on the cans of shaving cream! So, the alternative to shaving with disposables is to go old school! I got my set from The English Shaving Company. There is only a single blade that needs to be replaced rather than the whole head. The brush I went for is synthetic, although there are natural options available – at the time of purchase I was more concerned about it being a reusable item, not so much about it being natural. The soap I chose comes in a natural wooden bowl and refills are available (if you don’t fancy making your own). A little while later Paul (my husband) decided to join me in using a reusable razor – he opted for a shavette razor, which is like the old cut-throat razors but instead of being sharpened, it uses the same sort of blade that my safety razor uses… we share the shaving soap and brush.
I’ve already talked about my switch from tampons to a menstrual cup, which you can read about here. It was that switch that got me started on a zero waste lifestyle… so technically that was the first thing I did before changing up my shaving habits, but the safety razor was the first change I made with the specific goal of living zero waste in mind.
I also started making my own soap. I was buying liquid hand soap and shower gel, both of which have now been replaced by bars of homemade soap… I was spending over £100 a year on liquid soap products, I now make my own for less than £10 a year. I know this one may be a little drastic for some people but there are other options available if you don’t fancy making them yourself. Lush have some utterly amazing soap bars available, packaging free! If liquid rather than bar soap is your thing, then you can also make your own from castille soap, or you can buy a huge bottle and decant some into soap dispenser bottles… not ideal, but it’s still better than buying lots of little plastic bottles.
In my last post I talked about how I bought 5 litre bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Before this I tried using my homemade soap bars to clean my hair. I’d read about going no-poo and knew there would be a transition period where my hair would feel grubby for a little while as the silicone coating from commercial conditioners started to break down, but the grubby feeling continued well beyond the transition period everyone else was reporting. I persevered a while longer, adding more vinegar and lemon juice into an acid rinse, but it didn’t help, I was starting to also get a soapy residue appearing on my hairbrush. I then realised the problem was the water quality in our area. Biggleswade is in quite a hard water area, which means the soap residue wasn’t being fully cleared out of my hair. I have to admit, I was really upset at the thought of having to go back to using shampoo… lathering up with who-knows how many chemicals, sending loads of individual plastic bottles to be recycled, spending sooo much money, leaving a silicone coating on my hair so that it “looks” healthy and of course there’s the harshness of the shampoo stripping all the goodness from the hair and scalp, which causes the body to secrete excess sebum (which makes the hair greasy) to compensate, making us wash our hair more often with the very same product that stripped the goodness away in the first place! I’m still not thrilled about it – can you tell?! I couldn’t carry on using just the soap by itself but Paul and I had agreed we wouldn’t make any big changes to the house, until it needs doing – no new kitchen until the cupboards start falling apart and no water softener until the boiler needs replacing for example. Instead I bought the large bottles of shampoo and conditioner by Faith In Nature. I have to admit, this stuff is expensive but it works a treat – my hair is soft shiny and smells divine! Whenever I stay up in Birmingham (at my in-laws’ house) I get to leave the shampoo and conditioner at home in Biggleswade. The water quality in Birmingham is absolutely brilliant, I can use my homemade soap to clean my hair without any residue being left behind. My Grandad isn’t well at the moment and I’ve been living up in Birmingham for the last few weeks so I can help take care of him – thanks to the Faith In Nature conditioner actually conditioning my hair rather than just coating it, I’ve been able to use just soap and not have any grubby transition period. My hair is soft, shiny and a bit more tangled straight out of the shower, but that only takes a few extra seconds of brushing to sort. In theory not stripping the hair with shampoo means the body will eventually get back to normal and not produce as much sebum, meaning you’ll be able to go longer between washes… as a fitness instructor that doesn’t really work for me – I can sometimes need to wash the sweat from my hair 2 or 3 times a day. I would recommend everyone at least try giving soap/no-poo a go and see how you get on.
I’ve also switched up my dental products. Before I was using a whitening toothpaste on my electric toothbrush and then using a tongue cleaner (which I’ve always done, it’s an Indian thing). The whitening toothpaste I was using also brought out a line of matching mouthwash and said it would enhance results, so of course I gave that a go for a while… To be honest, I changed things up a while ago and neither my dentist nor I can tell the difference. I first decided to try a manual toothbrush made from bamboo, rather than plastic – it can be composted once the bristles are worn, although we’re more likely to throw our ones on the fire as kindling. I’ve got nothing against the electric toothbrush, it just ran out of charge around the same time as I learned bamboo toothbrushes and I just haven’t bothered to charge it up again since. I also started making my own toothpaste. My first attempt at making toothpaste was effing awful, it just tasted revolting and was frankly unusable. I used up one more tube of shop-bought toothpaste and then decided to have another stab at making my own. This time I made a tooth powder and it is awesome! I made enough in one go to last me at least 6 months and it didn’t cost me a penny – I used ingredients I already had in the house. I still use my trusty old tongue cleaner but ditched the mouthwash a long time ago. Once you brush the plaque away from your teeth and gently scrape the plaque from your tongue, mouthwash is entirely superfluous – give it a try, I promise your breath will not smell! And let’s face it, £2 for a tongue cleaner that will last a lifetime versus £4.99 for mouthwash that will last a month – surely that alone is enough to give it a go?! You’ll be able to pick up a tongue cleaner from any Indian housewares store or online. Although you’ll likely end up paying slightly more if you do buy online, it’s not going to break the bank. You may have noticed this part has all been about what I do, not what we do and that’s because Paul isn’t ready to make the switch yet, he’s still buying toothpaste for now, and that’s okay – going zero waste is something we all need to do, but some people are able to make changes quicker than others.
There is just one area left that was a source of a lot of waste – toilet paper! This is an area I’m really struggling with to be honest. There are paperless, reusable options available – you simply use a cloth to wipe then drop it into a bag which you then throw into the wash. In theory this is the ideal zero waste option (until someone can work out how to use the three seashells that is) but I just can’t quite bring myself to do it just yet… I can’t even give you a good reason for not being ready! For the time being then we’re still using traditional loo roll. I opted for Cheeky Panda toilet paper as it’s made from 100% bamboo. Bamboo is such a wonderful thing – it grows in a huge variety of climates and is actually a type of grass, rather than a tree. Bamboo also reaches full height in just 4 months so it’s far far more sustainable than chopping down a tree (even if you are planning on replanting 3). My only complaints are that its slightly more expensive than the stuff you’ll get in the supermarket (although not a massive cost difference) and it does still arrive in a plastic bag. I purchased this toilet paper on a subscription basis so once that’s up I’m going to look into other options – I really like the bamboo and recycled options packed in paper from Who Gives A Crap and will most likely purchase from there in the future instead – if I don’t have the balls to give the reusable cloth option a go by then that is!
I’ve mentioned a couple of things I make myself and I will post the relevant recipes in due course. Next week though, I’m starting my Christmas countdown! There have been soooo many times that I’ve seen something I would like to implement or create, but then its almost always too late for me to give it a go in time for Christmas, so I’m bringing my blog plans forward a bit to give you enough time to try out my ideas for yourself. Over the coming weeks I’ll be going through ways to do Christmas zero waste style, including some awesome gift ideas. First up will be ways to do a zero waste advent calendar… yep, there’s options for big kids too! Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss out.