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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Swishing Update

Junior daughter went to school today wearing her lovely jacket she swapped on    That got me in the mood to write about my clothes purchasing habits this year.

In 2013, I set myself the challenge of not buying any new clothes for a year.  In August that year I wrote an update about what it felt like, what I'd bought and what I thought I'd saved. I finished the article declaring that 'eight months in and swishing has become a lifestyle choice I love'.  By the end of the year I had acquired quite a few new clothes - probably more than ever before - but I'd spent less than £100.

Nearly a year later, I've taken a look back at how my Swishing challenge has affected my buying habits longer term.

Firstly, I'd say, I have hardly spent any time in clothes shops.  The 'clothing outlet' I've spent most time in this year is probably The Blue Cross charity shop in my nearest town as they have a habit of putting really nice outfits in their window that lure me in.  I have asked a few times to try on the fab outfit but have been, so far, unsuccessful in finding one that fits.  On one visit, though the dress that got me in there was too big, I did find a nice green t-shirt at the grand sum of £3.50.

Other than that, I've made just three more purchases and I think I made those purchases very much with the thought about how the clothes and the sellers are impacting on the planet.

My first purchase, early in the year, was a 'buy my own' birthday present from my grandmother.  I chose this lovely tunic from Pre:Loved run by Jackie.  Jackie sells a combination of secondhand (pre-loved) and new clothing clothes from her shop in Towcester, but she will also post out items to customers who contact her via her Facebook page.

My second purchase of the year was a pair of bamboo leggings.  The more I learn about sustainable living, the more picky I get about everything I buy.  I have previously bought bamboo clothing because  it is a fast growing crop that has a much lower water footprint than cotton, and it produces a lovely soft fabric.  In researching the ethics of bamboo clothing I found that there's a 'standard' for organic bamboo just like there is for organic cotton, the Global Organic Textile Standard.  So that's what I was looking for - GOT organic bamboo leggings.  In my search, I found these thermal bamboo leggings.  I'm not quite sure what happened about the organic bit, but the leggings are proving to be fab.  Since taking to my bicycle this year as my main mode of transport I am finding that leggings are the most convenient winter clothing for getting about by bike and it is certainly helping that they really are very warm.

My third and final purchase this year is this wonderful jumper hand made by the Woolly Pedlar, Sue Reed, from reclaimed materials.

Sue turns unwanted knitwear into funky clothes, soft furnishings and accessories.  Much of the knitwear Sue uses has been rescued before going to landfill. It may have been ‘ragged’ by charity shops or wholesale textile merchants, because of felting or holes. These can be cut around and used in patchwork designs. Sue also buys top quality second hand jumpers and uses these for the bodices of jumpers and sweatercoats. She makes sure there's no waste from her designs as she passes on any scraps that she doesn't use herself for crafts such a proggy matting, which is a 'time honoured north-east tradition'. Sue chooses to work with wool as it is a totally natural product, totally renewable, biodegradable and has excellent insulation properties.  She says:  "Each new creation is very much a ‘serendipity’ moment, with each design depending on what jumpers I have been able to find. No two items are ever the same."

I find, as we near the end of the year, I've spent around £120 pounds on clothing and I'm confident I'll have lots of wear from these items.  I'm also pleased that two out of my four purchases have have been supporting two wonderful women, who are creating sustainable businesses in the textile industry.  This has also opened my eyes to the fact that I can and will raise my standards in terms of what I buy.  From now on I want to support the hand-made, the ethical, the reclaimed.  That's my way forward in clothing.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

More naked shopping!

This naked shopping is becoming a habit.  After my trip to Whole Foods Market a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had been hoping to find somewhere to buy pasta other than in a plastic bag.

Rae Strauss, who runs Zero Waste Week, tweeted the question and there followed a wonderful conversation about where you could buy various items without the usual plastic packaging.  From this I learnt about a couple of packaging free shopping options in Oxford...

The first is Farm Fresh Oxford at Jericho Barn.  Farm Fresh Oxford are a hub for local farm produce.  They do deliveries in the local area, so if you are in Oxford, check out their website.  You can also visit  them at Jericho Barn.  They sell fresh tagliatelle which comes in a cardboard box, but I believe you can also use your own containers.  I'm looking forward to trying it out, next time I'm in Oxford on a Friday or Saturday. (They are open Fridays from 3-8pm and Saturdays from 9 to 11.30am).

The second option for naked shopping is SESI which can be found at the Methodist Chapel in Jeune Street opposite the Penultimate Picture Palace.  SESI are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and they have an array of dry goods that they buy in bulk and you take along your own containers including bottles for oils and vinegars.

Rina weighing out my couscous
Some of the dry goods available at SESI

I bought wholemeal and white flour both from a local mill, light brown sugar, wholegrain couscous, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dried mango, pistachios and peanuts.  I also bought some Greek olive oil, some cider vinegar and some red wine vinegar in some lovely glass containers my Dad bought me for Christmas.  I had found a beautiful glass decanter style bottle tucked away in a cupboard, so I used that to buy locally produced rape seed oil.

I had forgotten to take my empty washing up liquid container but Rina had a stock of donated bottles, so I bought this locally produced spiced ginger washing up liquid too.  Doesn't that sound just perfect for the Christmas washing up?

What I loved about shopping at SESI apart from the fact that I met some lovely people there, was that everything had a story. The dried mangoes I bought for Junior Daughter were not only Fair-trade but they were from a Women's Copoerative in Burkina Faso, so this, to me, felt doubly important.   I think if I am are going to buy goods shipped from afar, then I want to know that those goods are doing some good.

This was definitely my perfect shopping experience.  It was easy, fun, informative and I got to taste what I was buying.  I recommend it highly, whether it is for reasons of avoiding plastic, buying local, organic and fair-trade or just because you want your food to taste great.  I want all of that, and that's what I got.  When you get all that, you might rightly expect to be paying a lot for it, but that is definitely not the case at SESI.  I spent around £35 pounds which I know is way less than what I would have been able to buy everything for in a supermarket even without going for organic or fair-trade products.

(Okay, here I confess to arriving home with far fewer apricots than I bought, because they were so delicious.  That's the problem when you taste before you buy.  You know how good they are before you get them home.)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Pumpkin and Sage Risotto

I had a bit of pumpkin left from pumpkin number two from the Pitt Pumpkin Patch, so last night I made pumpkin and sage risotto.  Hubbub asked me to share my recipe for their #pumpkinrescue campaign.Truth be told... it was a bit of a 'throw in whatever needs using up' kind of recipe, but broadly speaking this is what it involved.

A tablespoon of olive oil
1 red onion
1 clove of garlic
Arborio rice (200g)
About a pint of stock
Cubes of pumpkin (about 600g)
Sage leaves - a large handful
Black pepper
Sea salt
Some leftover bits of chicken (about 200g)
Some leftover gammon (about 300g)

Firstly, the stock was made from boiling up the chicken carcass from Sunday's roast dinner along with the vegetable peel from Sunday and some that I'd collected last week, which was mainly onion skin and pumpkin skin.

The olive oil was what was left from a pot of olives I was munching as I cooked - you know I hate to waste anything!  This oil had a few herbs in but any olive oil will do.

Chop the red onion and stir fry it in a little olive oil for a few minutes, then chop and add the garlic for a further couple of minutes.  Add the arborio rice and toss it around in the onion and garlic and oil for about a minute.  Add the stock a bit at a time and let the rice soak up the liquid almost entirely before you add the next lot of stock.  I added initially about 3 ladles of stock.  When I added the second lot of stock which was a further three ladles I added in the pumpkin, chicken and gammon, a generous twist of back pepper and about half the sage leaves.  After the second lot of stock was almost soaked up I tasted it and added a little sea salt. I added the rest of the handful of sage leaves along with the last of the stock.

The Pitt Pumpkin Patch
About Hubbub

"Hubbub is taking a fresh look at things we are passionate about: food, fashion, sport, homes and neighbourhoods. Through festivals, events and playful displays we help people come together to enjoy themselves, learn new things and do good.

One thing we want to do is make the most of food and stop edible food from being thrown away. 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin are thrown away at Halloween each year, that is why we have launched our #pumpkinrescue campaign and are hosting the Oxford Pumpkin Festival.

For more information visit our website"

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Shopping Naked

It has been maybe ten years now that the Pitt family have only needed to put their 'general waste' bin out for collection once or twice in a year and even then it hasn't had much in it.  This was the photo of our entire residual waste for 2013.

Residual Waste for 2013
Now, it helps, of course, living in West Oxfordshire, where there really isn't very much at all that can't be recycled in your kerbside collection boxes - and they even take flyaway plastics as long as they are bagged up so they don't fly away during the collection process.  I've also actively taken steps to think about my residual waste each year and have tried to avoid buying things that can't be reused, recycled, composted or burnt on my stove - or things that have packaging that can't be recycled, reused etc.  And I've done that for a while now, so zero waste has become a habit.

But, this morning I put out four black boxes each of which was fairly full of recyclables. I'm pretty sure I put out four boxes, if not five, the week before and similar the week before that.  That's a lot of packaging for one family.  I have taken in the recycling from the cricket club annual dinner and we also had a rather large 18th birthday party, but it really has none-the-less got my attention. So I decided that over the next few weeks I'm going to really try hard to reduce the amount of packaging I amass.

We have for a long time bought much of our fruit and vegetables loose and last year I converted a patch of garden to grow salad herbs in order to provide unpackaged salad leaves.  My local butcher will accept my various reusable plastic boxes for when I buy meat.  I've been experimenting with making homemade snacks, particularly to reduce food waste as well as to reduce packaging.  But there are still so many things that come in a plastic bag.

I came across this write-up of Whole Foods Markets supermarket chain on the blog and it dawned on me that on one of my now very occasional journeys that I still make by car I drive right past the one in Cheltenham.  So today, I went prepared with a reusable shopping bag and my tiny bag of 'Onya Weigh Bags' - which are reusable, washable very lightweight mesh bags and checked out the Cheltenham branch of Whole Foods Market.

The selection of fruit and veg looked very inviting, but I had come to investigate those cupboard store ingredients like dried fruit, cereals, rice and pasta that are rarely found sold loose.

I came away with the following haul:

1. UK sourced jumbo oats at £1.09/kg.  The last box of oats I bought - because it was the only one I could see that was UK sourced with entirely recyclable packaging - is currently £2.70/kg in Sainsbury's.

2. Organic arborio rice £2.99/kg.  The last box I bought was priced at £2.20/kg from Sainsbury's.

3. Brown basmati rice at £2.39/kg.  Sainsbury's brown basmati rice is £1.80/kg

4. Organic raisins £5.99/kg. Sainsbury's organic raisins are £5.00/kg but the raisins I usually buy there are £3.00/kg.

5. Dry roasted peanuts £5.39/kg.  The cheapest dry roasted peanuts in Sainsbury's are £4.40/kg but I wouldn't buy them as the packaging isn't recyclable even in West Oxfordshire.  The ones I'd likely buy were £6.70/kg.

Price wise, it seems you win some you loose some.  If I'd bought around a kilo of each item then given the 30p discount Whole Foods Market gave me for using my own bags then I paid £1.15 more than I'd have paid buying what I'd normally buy at Sainsbury's or 85p less if I'd have chosen organic raisins.  I did a taste test on the raisins I had left at home and the ones I'd just bought and the latter were definitely tastier.  I doubt that's just down to freshness as raisins don't last long in our house.

So price-wise I felt it was ok and quality wise and packaging wise I'd give it top marks.  I love the fact that I would soon know exactly how much I can buy to fill my storage containers for each item and I loved the fact that I was left with no packaging to recycle.  I also cheekily took the opportunity to check out my Onya bags on the scales compared to the paper bags the shop provides and my Onya bags weighed a tiny bit less.  I will be shopping there again next time I pass.

I was only disappointed that there was no bulk buy plastic free pasta.  So it looks like I will have to try and make my own :)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Recycling Polystyrene

Yesterday I was asked this question on Twitter…

Technically the answer is 'Yes' - Polystyrene can be recycled and I learnt when I visited the Resource and Waste Management Show in Birmingham last year that it is recycled in the UK.

The map on this link shows you where in Britain you can find polystyrene recycling points.

But likely the more practicable answer here is NO.  Why?  The problem lies in collecting waste streams for stuff that is not an everyday waste item.  In addition, polystyrene is very light and bulky- it is actually 98% air!  That's the reason it is a good item for packaging, but a bad item for recycling.

In West Oxfordshire we are asked to put polystyrene into our grey rubbish bins - the ones for residual waste.  Would I do that?  NO WAY!

Polystyrene is one of those things I actively avoid whenever I can so I don't get a lot of it.  For instance I won't buy something in a supermarket that is packed in a polystyrene food tray.  I don't understand why a food processing company would choose a material that is so rarely recycled to package something they want us to buy on a regular basis and so I won't give them my business. Plain as that!

However, I have found that people will bring things to my house that are packed in polystyrene and occasionally I have had parcels arrive protected by polystyrene or filled with polystyrene pellets.  So what do I do with them?

I turn it into a resource and reuse it.

A timely project for polystyrene right now is for potting up my geraniums to bring them indoors for the winter, which I do every year towards the end of October.  Of course, I save the polystyrene from previous years but each year my geranium collection grows by about half a dozen plants as I take cuttings and separate bits of plant that have naturally rooted during the year.  So I always need a bit more polystyrene or broken crock for the bottom of the plant pots. For this purpose, I keep a bucket in my garage into which any bits of polystyrene or broken cups and plates get stored until I need them.

This is last year's stock about to get used this weekend.

A couple of other projects that have used up my stock of polystyrene lately:

This planter that Mr Pitt made for me out of some recycled wooden planks needed quite a lot of drainage in the bottom.  Polystyrene was ideal for that as it does the job of rocks and pebbles - but without the weight.  It keeps the soil in but allows the water to find ways through and creates a dry zone between the soil and the wooden base of the planter so that the wood doesn't rot.

You may notice that it also used up my collection of bits of oasis from various flower arrangements acquired at weddings, several cricket dinners and a few other events.  I always knew I'd find a use for it eventually!

Secondly, my local community shop that raises lots of money for our village clubs and societies sells quite a few fragile things, so I recently took a bag full of tissue paper and some polystyrene packaging pellets to them, which they said they were always in need of.

If you don't have storage space for your polystyrene in a garage for example then you could maybe put it on Freegle.  I often find things will go same day or within a couple of days.  People use polystyrene sheets as insulation in greenhouses.  It would make a reasonable substitute for oasis for dried flower arrangements too.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Zero Waste Week 2014 - Day 7

Well, with a week of sorting out and de-cluttering my house should be looking lean and green, but that's not really the case!  This has served to highlight that we have way too much stuff in our house, because just like last year, you would barely notice that anything has gone.

Of course, my de-clutter was on nothing like the scale of last year's exercise, but I have still managed to re-home a fair amount.  This year was much easier than my last year's attempt - and that was largely a psychological thing as I felt there were lots of people doing it with me, throughout the Zero Waste Week community and the helpful ideas and the encouragement were a great inspiration.

The most noticeable improvement in the Pitt household is without a doubt the tool shed.  Take a look!

In the sort out we managed to Freegle a few things we no longer need and best of all I found the paint I needed to repaint the wooden supports of the barn, which took up most of yesterday but what a pleasure that was in the sunshine!

I still have a few items from the tool shed awaiting re-homing via Freegle, but I think these will be collected later today and I have a few bags in my hallway awaiting a trip to the charity shop and to various specialist bring banks, such as the one for CDs and video tapes.  These will go over the next few days.

But the crux of my Zero Waste Week pledge was to GET MENDING!

What have I actually repaired? Feeling my report card might say 'must try harder' I thought I'd do a quick check.

I repaired the boxes of a few games and puzzles so they could go to the charity shop. I patched a pair of jeans, which I'm really pleased with so I'll definitely patch my other pair one evening this week.I washed the clothes of some porcelain dolls, so they were smart enough to give to the charity shop, but one lovely lady remained behind with a broken foot.
Just a couple of stitches needed now
I've glued her foot, but while I was doing that the ribbon detached from the shoe, so when it is good and fast I'll have to try to put a couple of stitches in to attach the ribbon again and then I'm going to pop her on Freegle to see if I can find her a new home.

So actually, I'm thinking all in all not too bad.  I said I would mend and mend I did.

I've also found myself inspired to try to go for a few more reusables rather than recyclables or things that would end up in my wood burner.  I found these lovely refillable Christmas crackers which I'll be buying this year and refilling with lovely reusable things such as makeup wipes from Made by Gituce.
Re-fillable Christmas Crackers from Keep This

Another highlight of the week was the various attempts at crisp making.  Yesterday, inspired by this tweet from the Rubbish Diet I made the potato peelings from the Sunday roast into delicious crisps, using up a bit of sunflower oil left in a pan along with some fresh rosemary from the garden.  Yummy. Whilst sharing the crisps with family, it was nice to hear Junior Daughter reporting the crisp making attempts from earlier in the week.  She loved the butternut squash crisps and they have the added advantage of being made with no oil, so a totally fat-free and highly nutritious snack with ZERO packaging.
Butternut squash crisps ready to go in the oven

We managed to save a few for another day!

One green habit that I'll be resurrecting is to use Freegle more.  I hadn't used it for a while and it has become a lot easier recently, so now I know how easy it is to use, I'm going to make sure I use it more often and make sure I don't keep things I don't need.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Zero Waste Week 2014 - Day 6

Looks like today's Zero Waste Week email was written specifically for me! (Or are you thinking that too?)

I was feeling very pleased with myself yesterday after cleaning out my fridge and de-cluttering my kitchen.  But that was before I looked behind the curtain. (What else are curtains for but to hide the clutter behind them?)  This is what awaited me this morning on my kitchen table.

I will have to find a home for this lot today but last last night I couldn't be …

Yep… procrastination!!

So, where's it all going to go?

Well, the stamps, foreign coins and beads will go to Against Breast Cancer, so that's easy as I have a permanent box on the go for them.  If you don't know anyone who collects this sort of thing and several charities do, then maybe you could set up a collection point at a local school, playgroup, library or cafĂ©?

There are some safety pins, which have a place in my sewing box, but this makes me think that I actually have so many safety pins I really could part with a few, so I'm going to put a packet of them together for Junior Daughter's ballet school - where they often need them for emergency costume alterations, repairs and keeping the halter-neck catsuits in place when the velcro fails!

There are some odd bits from games, which I will re-house, for now in my box for lost games and puzzle pieces (yes…more procrastination but..).  It might just mean that another game gets completed and so can then find a new home.  There are several metal screws, washers and nails and a picture hook, which will be put in their proper place with the tools in the utility room and a couple more bits of metal and hard plastic to be housed in the appropriate containers in the garage.

I need to do a bit of research on the contents of the hand-warmer as, if I don't know what's in it, I don't know how to dispose of it safely.  TAKE NOTE MANUFACTURERS OF SUCH STUFF!!! IT MAKES ME MAD, MAD, MAD.  I try not to buy anything that I don't know how to dispose of at end of life these days, but I haven't always had that at the forefront of my mind and I also have to deal with things other people bring into the home.  It really should be made illegal not have accurate information about what something is made of, or if it needs to be a closely guarded secret for commercial reasons then it should be the law to provide an address to send it back to for whatever form of reuse or recycling is possible.  Don't you think?

Anyway, I'm procrastinating again!  What I was really going to say was… Wish me luck… I'm going in..and Dad's coming too! 

We may be some time ;)