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Thursday, 31 December 2015

A year without plastic

Well we have completed our strange experiment. We have tried and failed of course to manage a whole year without purchasing anything packaged in single use plastic.

We did try quite hard most of the time, but this has certainly been the hardest eco challenge that I have attempted so far. It was bound to be hard. The challenges I've undertaken so far, like a year of buying only second hand clothes, a year of not buying new books, are things that only affect me. It has been up to me and me only to succeed or fail. I like a challenge so I have found it fairly easy to stick to my decisions. This year, though, my challenge has affected my whole family, my guests, my pets even. Now that's a lot harder. But it hasn't been a complete fail.

First of all here's the sum total of our single use plastic for the year.

I tried to get Smarty the Cat to stand in front of the bag to show the scale of our year of plastic, but he wouldn't oblige for long enough for me to snap a picture of him with the bag. He is nearly as tall as the bag.   Does that help give an idea?

All of this plastic is squashed inside a 2.5kg bag of cat food (almost).  When I chose this challenge, I decided that I wasn't going to go anything like as far as trying to make my own cat food.  So I found these clear bags of cat food at Countrywide.  They have been a success with the cats, and this was the first bag of the year, when I found that they also did 10kg sacks. However, I didn't want to find that the cats didn't like it, so I tried the small bag first. We then swapped to buying 10kg sacks which are not squashed inside this bag, because they are being re-deployed for various purposes like storing wood chippings, kindling etc.  So, that way, they are exempt from the single use plastic.

I can't decide whether this looks like a lot of plastic or a little, because I didn't really ever measure the amount of plastic we got through before, and I had already tried to cut out any non-recyclable plastic.  So how does it compare to plastic in a 'normal' household, I wonder?

There's something else missing from this bag too.  Quite a lot of other plastic that I didn't stock up, as I was trying to concentrate mainly on my own shopping habits rather than other people's habits, and the less I used plastic, the more I noticed how much plastic was brought into the house brother people.  If anyone bought something wrapped in plastic, I put it into another plastic bag and sent it out with my weekly recycling (most plastic in West Oxfordshire is recycled).  I think I've put out plastic recycling from other people maybe six to eight times this year as it has taken that long to fill a bag to a reasonable amount to put it out.

Before I commit this little bag of plastic to the recycling I'm going to have a good think about what has been good and what has been not so good about our year without single use plastic (nearly). But that's for another day I think.  Today I'm just going to say that it is done and my family can no doubt heave their sighs of relief, at least for a bit, until I decide how many of the new plastic free habits are going to remain in the Pitt household.  I dare say some of them will be willingly accepted, but not all of them.  I can't remember how far through the year the term 'illegals' became a Pitt family thing - as in "Sorry, Mum, I've brought illegals".  Over the next few weeks, I will tell all, maybe!

In the meantime, Happy New Year!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Zero waste week days four and five

Well done and thank you to Rae Strauss for another inspiring and informative zero waste week. Day four was all about WEEE and furniture. So I thought I would share my most recent furniture makeover.

My daughter found this in a charity shop and I gave the white drawers a coat of paint to freshen it up. It definitely has a few more years of use left in it.

On the WEEE front, I've managed to recycle a very old pair of curling tongues that were my grandmother's and I was concerned for the safety implications of anyone plugging them in.  I also recycled an old camera and a broken torch that I felt was beyond repair and in truth was never much good anyway!

Day Five all about paper is one I'm going to tackle when I get back home.  I've decided to have another go at slimming down the paperwork in my office.  Despite my clear out a couple of years ago I still have way too much paper, and I have way too many books.  That will be my post holiday challenge to get down to the minimum of paperwork and to give away yet more books.  I want to see at least part of a tree put back into use instead of sitting on my book shelves and inside my filing cabinet.

Back to La Belle France, I was pleased to see that one of the supermarkets here has a row of recycling boxes for batteries, light bulbs and printer cartridges. A step in the right direction :)  The amount of rubbish in the general waste bins here shows that it is really only the first step of what needs to be a marathon.  We are lucky that we do have very good recycling facilities in the UK - we just need to use them.  I think the same is true in France - just not enough care and attention is put into the issue of what we throw away.

Happy recycling  and reusing all you Zero Heroes!  If you haven't yet signed up for Zero Waste Week, it is well worth doing so.  There will be monthly updates to keep you going until Zero Waste Week next year.  If you've been on board this year, please do share you reuse projects on social media.  It all helps to spread the word and in turn reduce the amount of needless waste.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Zero Waste Week Day Three

So today is all about food waste and how to avoid it , and how to reduce the packaging associated with it. My speciality! But today it is going to be harder. Much harder as I am now in France, separated from my food waste bin and my compost heap. On the plus side, to minimize packaging, we've brought our Onya weigh bags and the supermarket here were fine with them. There are no single use bags in French supermarkets, but we brought a plentiful supply of reusable bags. All our fruit and veg was packaging free. Meat on the other hand was a challenge. In France meat packaging is often polystyrene and no recycling facilities exist here for that. Plan is to have not much of it. There's also no separate food waste so we have already thrown some melon skin and seeds in the general waste. I don't know what happens to it thereafter. To minimize avoidable food waste we brought the contents of our fridge with us in a cool bag and that provided us our first meal. We plan to get inventive with bread. Croutons for goats cheese salad is our first use it up plan. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Zero Waste Week - Day 2

I'm feeling good about my empty carrier bag store and I've managed to mend the drying rack.

Today it is all about reusing glass.

Here are some of the things I already do.  We are fortunate to have a milkman so we get our milk delivered to our door in reusable glass bottles.  We also buy orange juice in reusable glass bottles from our milkman.  I'm sure this makes a big reduction to our weekly packaging output.

I'also refill some rather lovely glass decanters with rape seed oil and sunflower oil from SESI in Oxford.  It has unfortunately recently been made illegal to refill your own containers with Olive Oil, so I now buy my olive oil in a big tin.  However, you can still refill your own bottles with oil oil mixes such as olive oil and rosemary or olive oil with chilli.

Here's the legislation about the olive oil refills ban for anyone who would like to know more about this.

Inspired by today's Zero Waste Week email I'm planning to tackle a storage issue I've been stressing over for a while now.  It's the tool shed.

Everything is a mess in here.  It always takes a while to find what we need when we need it, so I'm implementing the glass bottle storage system so we can see everything and so we can make much better use of the shelving.  I don't have time to do it today, but I've glued one jars lid to the underside of the metal shelving and filled it with some screws.  I'll see if it holds and then if it does I'll do some more!  If it works, I'll make sure I add nice clear labels to my jars too.

I love Zero Waste Week!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Zero Waste Week - Day One

Today is all about plastic.  Couldn't be a more appropriate place to start for me!

I'm now into my 9th month of trying to live without single use plastic.  It has been a challenge and we have started to crack.

Last week we went to the supermarket to buy the necessary for cricket tea and for some reason it turned into a family outing.  Junior Daughter asked "What's for tea?" and I replied that I was planning to make a curry.  "Can we have poppadoms?" she asked.  I was planning to have a go at making poori from scratch to avoid purchase poppadoms which are only available in plastic packaging, but I couldn't bring myself to have the discussion.  I have been getting the feeling that the family are fed up with this zero plastic challenge. And that's hardly surprising because it is so hard to achieve these days.

I was later informed that the particular poppadoms chosen were because they thought the packaging was more easily recycled than the film-type packaging.  This is true, but it is none-the-less single use plastic packaging.

I also discovered that a sizeable quantity of Diet Coke had been purchased and rather than the individual bottles - which we long ago decided were exempt from our 'no plastic' efforts - they purchased 2 four-packs, which are wrapped in film plastic.  I didn't ask, but just know that these were undoubtedly cheaper than the individua bottles.  Annoying that anything with extra packaging is cheaper than the option without the extra packaging.  It shouldn't be allowed!

Added to that when I took my large reusable plastic tub to the cheese counter, the man serving me insisted that he wrap the cheese in the two plastic sheets he had to use to weigh the cheese and place it in the container.  I was screaming with frustration inside, but just smiled and said thank you and went on my way.  Sainsbury's, if you are listening, why does serving cheese have to involve so much plastic?  Some people on the cheese counter seem to understand that if I take the trouble to bring my own reusable tub to buy my cheese, then clearly I don't want to be lumbered with a load of plastic waste.  But other people just don't get it!  Do I give up trying?  Or do I persist in my efforts to reduce this waste?

But back to the positives of plastic reduction…

Inspired by today's Zero Waste Week email, I decided to take a look at the single use plastic that I have in my house, despite managing to largely avoid it for more than eight months.  At the start of my zero plastic challenge I realised I had quite a lot of the stuff already, and of course I don't want to waste anything, so I knew I would gradually use it up.  I decided in order to try to measure how much new plastic packaging I was introducing through the year, that I would put out any plastic packaging from prior purchases into my recycling bin on a weekly basis as before.  I'm only collecting up this year's plastic packaging.  I remember also wondering how long I would still be generating packaging from things already in stock.  Well, the plastic is diminishing steadily, but there's still some around.

Today, then for Zero Waste Week I'm going to gather together all this plastic and see if I can use it up during the week.

Keen to take immediate action however, I'm also going to tackle another plastic pile-up that regularly annoys me.  Like most people, I imagine, I have a bag full of plastic carrier bags I dip in to when I need one - such as for giving things away. I rarely use these for shopping as I have plenty of reusable canvas and jute bags.

I am pretty sure that I haven't personally gained a plastic shopping bag at all this year, so I don't understand how I come to have soooo many bags.

I can only assume that they've beed breeding in my cupboard.  Although we always seem to need plastic bags on regular occasions, we have accumulated so many, that I'm confident that if I part with these bags - every last one of them - today, we will by the end of the month have somehow accumulated more.  So I'm taking them to the recycling point in Sainsbury's.  Yes, I'm returning some of their plastic for them to make back into plastic bags (or more plastic sheeting for their cheese counter maybe?).

How long will it be, do you reckon, before my string bag is brimming full with plastic bags again?

My final plastic reuse challenge for today is to mend this rather sad looking drying rack!

I'm sure I can find something that will bring it back into life.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Zero Waste Week 2015

Have you signed up to Zero Waste Week yet?  This year it is taking place from 7th to 13th September and it is all about reuse.

You can sign up on the Zero Waste Week website for a series of daily emails from Monday to Friday taking a different waste stream each day and giving you tips on how to reduce that waste through reuse of materials.

I've taken part in Zero Waste Week for the last two years and I've found it a great opportunity to have a good clear out and cut down on the amount of unused resources around the house.  The 2013 waste week was all about reducing food waste and I enjoyed the challenge of using up everything in my fridge. Here's my blog post all about it.

In 2014 the theme for the week was 'One More Thing"  and my "One MoreThing" pledge was to GET MENDING.

In the summer of 2013 I had a huge clear-out and parted with 80 bags of bits and pieces to recycling bins or to my local community shop.  With my daughters to help out, we went through every room in the house and cleaned, tidied and sorted out the things we didn't use and popped them into our bags to take to the charity shop or relevant recycling point.  Clearing out on such a huge scale meant that speed was of the essence and that meant not dealing with the bits and pieces that we couldn't give away because they were broken or needed a thorough clean or some other time-consuming treatment.  That's what led me to my 2014 Zero Waste Week pledge to GET MENDING.  I'm not naturally good at mending stuff.  I find it a challenge and so that's why I thought that making this my focus for Zero Waste Week would help me to finish off the clearing out job that I'd started the previous year.  And it did!  With the help and advice in the daily emails and my own daily blog posts about the mending experience I successfully repaired and often re-homed several more items.

For a while these lovely ladies graced the window of our community shop.
  I'm sure they preferred the view here to being stuck on top of the wardrobe gathering dust!
I successfully re-homed an old saddle and bridle after giving them a really good clean.  They were put back into service on a pony.  I parted with some netting from the village cricket nets to an allotment, to be used as a fruit cage I think.  I mended a porcelain doll and gave this away to a children's entertainer.  One thing I didn't manage to find the time to mend were some very lovely, but broken chairs.  Thanks to freegle I gave them away to someone who would mend them!  I also patched a pair of jeans with some snazzy material from an old sheet.  It was great to realise that I can actually still sew.  All in all, it was an excellent week of getting some resources back into use.  Each day I managed to mend at least 'One More Thing'.

So…What's it to be for 2015?  This year, I've been cutting down on packaging, particularly avoiding single use plastic.  It has been very hard and not entirely successful, though my packaging has been drastically reduced.  One of the things that my plastic free year has brought to my attention is just how much plastic packaging we already had around the house, and in fact just how much stuff we still have despite our efforts at clearing out and de-cluttering.  So this year for Zero Waste Week, as my contribution to 'reuse' I'm going take a good look at all the stuff that we have around the house and see if I can again get some of it back into reuse, by re-purposing it, by giving it away or getting it into a recycling bin to be be turned into something that would be of use.

To sum up, my pledge this year is to GET REUSING or GET RECYCLING.  Zero Waste Week 2015… bring it on!

Sign up and join me.  Click on the Zero Waste Week logo below.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Not So Plastic Free July

So how was your plastic free July?

Mine was by no means plastic free.  We probably had almost as much plastic in July than we've accumulated during the rest of the year.

It started with a party - Senior Daughter's 21st birthday with around 120 guests enjoying the sunshine in our garden and partying through the night.  I did aim to minimise the amount of plastic by making the food simple and tasty from local ingredients that I could buy without packaging.  However, it was a bit of a fail! I think all would agree the party was a success (just the plastic-free bit was the failure).

Although we pre-ordered a large quantity of bread rolls from Sainsbury's for collection on the day, we didn't make any attempt to negotiate having these packaging free, so we had our 120 hot dog rolls and 120 burger baps all in packs of four or six.  We also bought five French sticks and these came wrapped in a plastic sleeve.  Looking back, it really shows that it is all about organisation and if I had made the time I could probably have found a source of rolls that were not all packaged.

There was another bit of plastic we couldn't avoid.  I ordered sausages and burgers from my local butcher - to be packed into my own reusable tubs, avoiding the need for any plastic bags.  They are always excellent quality and the advantage of buying fresh meant that any we had left over would be put into the freezer to keep us going for the summer.  The sausages involved no plastic at all, but the burgers all have a thin circle of plastic in between each burger.  This makes it easier for storage purposes and when you freeze them you can easily separate the exact number of burgers you want to take out of the freezer.  I also found out, though, that the plastic discs are necessary in order for the burgers to come out of the machine that shapes and presses them. So I couldn't go plastic free.  However, I know from experience that when I serve these burgers nothing ever gets wasted because they are so good.
The burgers we had left after the party went into the freezer to be cooked from frozen as needed.
I took three of these cake boxes to the butchers and then picked them up on
 the day of the party filled with burgers, hence minimal packaging. 

All of the accompanying salads were entirely plastic free as I bought pasta, rice, bulgar wheat, and couscous in my own tubs from the SESI refill service.  Although SESI no longer have their shop on the Cowley Road, you can still order on line for home delivery in the area, so I arranged with them that I would leave my tubs with them one day when I had a meeting near by and then pick them up a few days later when I was passing by again.

All of the vegetables that went into the salad were ordered from Cultivate Online and I picked up my delivery at the community shop in Bladon on my way back from work.

We managed to ensure all desserts were plastic free.  I made an array of cakes and served a big bowl of strawberries.  The strawberries were from Millets Farm pick-your-own and I took my own containers to  transfer them into and they happily took back the plastic tubs for picking in order to rinse and reuse.

Eggs are 20p per 1/2 dozen cheaper if you refill
 your own egg boxes at my local butcher
For my cakes, I bulk buy flour from FWP Matthews flour mill in Shipton under Wychwood.  I get sugar and cocoa power in bulk from SESI in my reusable tubs and I take my own egg boxes to refill at the butchers.  Butter comes packed in paper or foil in most retail outlets.

More plastic, though… It is very hard to buy cheese that isn't wrapped in plastic, even when you buy whole cheeses like we did for the party.  However, I've learnt that there's less packaging and less waste by buying larger pieces but limiting the different kinds of cheese.  My standard offering is Oxford Blue, a Cheddar and a Brie and that's it.

The one thing I always make sure to avoid is plastic (or paper) plates, plastic cups, and plastic cutlery.  We have a large box of party glasses, which I've had for 25 years and very few ever get broken.  If we need more than this we 'hire' them from Waitrose.  This is a free service and a few other retail outlets also do free glass hire.  It really doesn't take long to wash them up - which I usually have to do before and after!

I borrow extra serving dishes and plates from family and I will say I had to do a mid-way through the evening wash-up of some cutlery and bowls.  But I always find that someone offers to help, so it doesn't take long and means there's less clearing up later.  I hate seeing people clearing up after parties and throwing everything away.  I'm going to be bold now and say it… it is just lazy.  Let other people help and have fun while you are doing it, but don't try to avoid it with plastic substitutes.

I think the most important way to reduce waste at parties is to make good, fresh, simple food from local ingredients.  None of the food we made was wasted.  We shared out some of the leftover rolls and froze the rest for use at cricket tea the following week.  We shared out the small amount of salads for various family members to have as packed lunch on the Monday and we froze the leftover sausages and burgers.  By sticking to a simple menu - i.e. burgers and sausages and avoiding high risk foods such as cold meats it is very easy to ensure that you don't have food waste.  How to decide on quantity?  I had 120 guests so I allowed 1 burger and 1 sausage each.  Not everyone will eat one of each but because they were bought fresh we knew we could just freeze what we didn't use.  The meat came out of the fridge in batches to be cooked and then more was cooked as and when stocks ran low. If you try to introduce added complications such as more meat options then that's when things get wasted as I usually see that people cook too much in an attempt to make sure there's enough of everything for everyone.  You don't need to do that!  Your guests are not all going to have everything.

Keep it simple, keep it fresh and top up as you go is the way to a great zero waste party. Enjoy!