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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!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Plastic Free Packed Lunch

The summer term always seem to whizz by at top speed.  This has been a term of being out and about in every bit of my spare time at community engagement events, school assemblies, school sustainability conferences and carrying out as many assessment visits for Eco-schools England as I can fit in.

When I've been out and about a lot in previous years, I've often found myself living off packet sandwiches, crisps and tea and coffee from paper cups.  Does that sound familiar?  This year, though, having made the decision to try to go (single use) plastic free, that had to change.  I thought that this part of my plastic free year would be the hardest part to succeed with, but in fact, it has been easier and much nicer than I expected.  It just involves a teeny bit of forward planning.

When I'm making dinner, I usually now plan lunches for myself and Junior Daughter for the next day and make a bit extra that we can turn into a packed lunch. This usually involves either pasta or couscous or mixed salad.  We take our lunch with us in reusable plastic tubs and take tap water in a refillable container everywhere we go.  JD likes the fact that she saves about £20 a week doing this (or rather having it done for her mostly, although occasionally she will make her own and mine rather than me making it).  JD has also reported back that many of her friends comment on how delicious her lunch looks and she says that she knows she is getting a healthier diet than she'd end up with if she shopped for lunch in the supermarket every day like most of her friends do.

When travelling by train or bus again I take snacks with me as well as water so I'm not tempted to buy packaged foods. Again this is a big money saver :)  I also have a refillable coffee cup which occasionally goes out and about with me, but I'm pretty fussy about my coffee so I often take a flask of fruit or herb tea instead.  Fruit tea and herb tea have the advantage of not getting that bitter, stewed taste if you don't drink it straight away.

Freddie the Frog contains banana chips, cranberries and dates to help me
 avoid the temptation of packaged/processed snacks on the train journey.

Trying to live a plastic free lifestyle is certainly a trial, but at least this part of it is easy.  This is a plastic-free habit I feel I can keep up.  As for the rest, well…

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Plastic Challenge - four months later

The Pitt family have been plastic free now for four months.  Well almost… almost plastic free that is.

Any eco challenge would really be pointless if you didn't use up what you already had and despite the fact that I've been doing my best for naked shopping for a long time now, I feel that at the end of four months of being close to plastic-free purchasing, we are still surrounded with plastic, plastic and more plastic in our house.

By the end of February we had accumulated this little collection below - all from items we already had in stock before the start of 2015. I kept this stock of plastic in a small box in my recycling cupboard.

It came in handy last week when I did a Dustbin Diet workshop at St Christopher's School, in Accrington, Lancashire. I did take great care to gather up all my plastic resources to bring home with me, having littered the stage with them in assembly and then thrown them around the classroom while discussing the difference between valued resources and wasted rubbish.  The students absolutely got the point and they are now working away at their own version of 101 Ways to Live Cleaner and Greener for Free which will be published in July this year, and more importantly they are thinking about how to break the habit of throwing away rubbish and planning ways to reduce, reuse and recycle more.

Then on Friday, while I had the loan of the car, I had a clear out of my recycling cupboard.  I had cards to take to a local collection point to be turned into new cards, which are sold for charity.  I had some clothes I no longer needed - a cardigan that somehow got left out of the children's clothes clear out a couple of years ago and some golf trousers belonging to Mr Pitt's slimmer days as well as some old frayed shirts.  All this was destined for the community shop where they sell the clothes but also get money for 'rags' too.  I had a broken mouse and and a broken iron destined for the small electricals collection bin in a nearby car park and I had my tub of plastic.  Having cleared out my cupboard, the temptation to recycle the plastic was overwhelming and so out it went into the recycling box.  I have the pictorial evidence to remind me.

Then I wondered: what would I use as resources for my next Dustbin Diet session? Time to start again on the plastic packaging box, I felt, and so I've been having a use it up week.

On Saturday, we munched our way through a packet of oatcakes that came in a Christmas hamper. On Sunday we used up some biscuits in a lovely lime cheesecake.  We finished up a layer of a box of chocolates that had been hanging around a while, and we finished one layer of the cheese crackers we bought at Christmas.  That was already quite a lot of plastic!

Then, I finished up an old packet of yeast that had got left behind in the back of a cupboard. (It still worked fine.)  I emptied out a few things from their flimsy plastic packaging and put them into reusable storage jars. I also rounded up the bottles of various products such as shampoo and conditioner in the bathroom and finished them off this week, rinsing out the last dregs.  In no time at all I have filled my plastic resources container ready for the next school!

But all that is plastic we already had, so what of our plastic free purchasing this year?  I have to say, that as we are trying to live our lives as close to 'normally' as possible, we haven't managed to succeed in keeping our purchases 100% plastic free.  I think we have managed to cut down significantly though.

Here's our single use plastic purchase list for the first four months of 2015.

The necessary stuff...

  • 2 small plastic bubbles from the new batteries for our kitchen scales,
  • plastic packaging from cat wormer and flea stuff,
  • plastic packaging from various medicines.

The stuff we could have avoided if we had been more organised…

  • 2 plastic lids from tetrapak orange juice when we decided we needed extra orange juice for a party (we normally buy orange juice from the milkman in reusable glass bottles).
  • The plastic wrapping from three birthday cards when I didn't remember to buy suitable cards from our wonderful local charity cards (These are still plastic wrapped but I return the wrappers for reuse.)

Stuff we could have avoided but didn't notice or think about...

  • 4 lots of plastic wrap from round wine bottle lids - while most of these seem to be metal, we haven't discriminated between those wrapped in plastic and those wrapped in metal.
  • The very annoying bit of plastic that the person serving me in Oxford Covered Market wrapped my cheese in without me noticing, EVEN WHEN I HAD SPECIFICALLY ASKED HIM NOT TO!!!

Stuff that we could have avoided but cracked (i.e. the complete fails!)...

Junior daughter's list:

  • the wrapping from a plastic punnet of grapes bought while out longer than expected
  • plastic packaging from some flapjack - again while out and about and hungry without enough pre-planned snacks
  • the plastic wrapping from a bag of apples
  • the plastic wrapper from some 'honey barbecue wholegrain snacks'
  • two plastic bags from clothes bought via Internet.

My list:

  • the wrapping from some feta cheese when I'd promised to make a Greek salad for a shared buffet supper

Family shopping list:

  • 1 plastic bag from Emmentaler cheese bought on holiday in Austria
  • 1 large packet of crisps bought on holiday in Austria 

Plastic brought in to the house by others…

  • the flimsy plastic wrap from inside two boxes of cheese straws brought to a party
  • 3 plastic punnets from olives brought to a party
  • a small bit of cling film from something brought to a party

Other miscellaneous items that have appeared...

  • a small pack of Galaxy Minstrels
  • a large pack of M&Ms
  • a small silver packet from some kind of biscuits

Who did they get munched by, I wonder?

And here it all is:
Our 4 months' worth of plastic packaging.

In addition to all this we've acquired:

  • a small piece of bubble wrap which I'll keep for reuse
  • various 2 litre plastic bottles from lemonade and coke and tonic water which we are going to use in the garden as cloches
  • a plastic bag from the butchers when we couldn't resist buying their delicious pasties and hadn't come prepared with a container (we opened the bag really carefully so we can reuse it!)
  • the plastic bag from a 2.5 kg bag of cat food which we are using to store all our plastic for the year
  • two 10kg sacks from cat food - already used for garden purposes
  • three tubs with lids from Philadelphia cheese washed and already reused several times for storage

So how have we avoided having much more plastic than this?

1. Quite a bit of home baking - we have so far made all our own bread, biscuits and even oat cakes and crisps.

2. Always taking our own bags and containers when out food shopping.

3. Buying from shops rather than the Internet and whenever possible buying second hand from charity shops.

4. Being organised about taking drinks, meals and snacks when out and about and particularly for Junior Daughter taking sufficient food to school in her own containers to avoid all the pre-packed plastic covered food available in the canteen.

5. Having a plentiful supply of peanuts, Japenese rice crackers, giant corn, and Bombay Mix all purchased in our own containers from either SESI or Whole Foods Market.

6. Cooking from scratch from fresh ingredients rather than buying pre-packed ready meals - but we have been doing this for years so that's just a habit we already have.

Conclusion?  We could try harder but not a bad effort, dare I suggest?

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Virtual De-clutter

Whenever I have a period of being particularly busy away from my desk I always come back to  a mountain of email.  I expect that's not unusual.  It is just part of life these days.

Much as I try to keep on top of my emails by deleting them when they are dealt with or filing them if I need to keep them, I regularly end up with well over a thousand emails in my In Box.  Each one of those emails has a carbon footprint.  Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad Are Bananas - The Carbon Footprint of Everything, estimates the carbon footprint of a spam email to be 0.3g (that's slightly more than two pints of tap water).  A proper email (because you spend longer at your computer dealing with it) he calculates as having a carbon footprint of 4g and an email with a 'long and tiresome' attachment can be up to 50g (about two thirds of a banana).  Today after an interlude of being mostly off-line for a couple of weeks, I find I have 2941 emails in my In Box.

So today I've made a decision.  As I try to have a cull of email, each time I find an email that I would normally delete without reading, I will open it (unless it seems like a virus!!) and click on the 'unsubscribe' link.

Clearing out email that is no longer needed has several advantages.

Firstly, it is easier to find that email you do need to find when you have less of it for you or your computer to search through.

Secondly, all that email is taking up disk space on your computer.  So many computers are clogged up with unnecessary emails, poor quality photos and old documents you are never going to open again.  The more clogged up your computer is, the slower it becomes.

Thirdly -well maybe this is just me - it makes you feel better when your computer is nice and neat and organised.

I find an easy way to clear out my In Box is to sort it by recipient and then often you can delete a whole  group of emails in one go.

So here goes, I'm off to unsubscribe from a few newsletters I never read, to tidy up a few loose ends of work and have a good virtual de-clutter.  I know I'll feel cleaner and greener as a result and no doubt save a few bananas-worth of CO2 in the process.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The plastic challenge two months in

We are now two months in to our plastic challenge and I think we can now say that we are getting in to the swing of things.

There are some things, that I don't think we can avoid, but even with such things we are finding ways to lessen the plastic packaging just by doing things slightly differently.

At the end of January, I had to buy more cat food and so returning to Countrywide to purchase their own make cat food again, I found them out of stock of the 2.5kg bags, but they did have 10kg bags.  I checked the ingredients against the photo I had taken on my phone and found them to be the same, but first I had to solve the problem of how to store this much larger quantity for a much longer time.  Countrywide couldn't help with that, but Poundstretcher sell a 'Pet Pantry' at a cost of £14.99 which seems to do the trick.  Even with the expense of the pet pantry it was a lot cheaper buying it in bulk. I'm hoping the pet pantry keeps the food fresh for long enough.

Smarty is checking out the new cat food
One of the most annoying things we're finding is that some shops charge more for unpackaged veg than for packed veg.  That seems totally wrong, to me. We haven't really been monitoring the price differences up to now, just getting annoyed by them.  But, I'm planning to monitor them carefully from now on to build up an accurate picture of who is doing this, when and where.

Today's challenge is a fundraising event in our village - the cricket club quiz - which involves bulk buying beer and wine and we usually serve various low budget salty snacks at each table.  The snacks will look a little different this year as we'll be serving Bombay mix, peanuts, giant corn and Japanese rice crackers all of which I've bought in  bulk in my own containers at Whole Foods Market on my way past earlier this week.  We were worried that the beer would be a plastic problem.  At Booker, we compared the price of crates of cans of beer which are wrapped in plastic with the crates of bottled beer wrapped in cardboard and the price of the cans was much cheaper.  We looked at the possibility of barrels of beer but we don't have enough people drinking it to warrant a barrel of bitter plus a barrel of lager plus a barrel of cider and once these are started, my understanding is that they have limited shelf life. On the other hand, we always just keep any left over cans to sell at the next event.  However, we checked out Sainsbury's and found that their cardboard wrapped cans were on a par with the plastic wrapped crates at Booker so we managed to purchase everything plastic free.

We've been asked to provide dips and crudités for Junior Daughter and at first she seemed reluctant for me to do this with her or for her 'because of the whole plastic thing', but I persuaded her that home made dips would be a lot nicer than shop bought dips and she agreed.  I wanted to buy a cucumber and some celery along with peppers and carrots, but as we were timing our trip into town to pick up glasses for the Quiz night (you can borrow glasses from Waitrose free of charge) I didn't manage to get to the market in time.  Waitrose and Saisnbury's only had wrapped celery and wrapped cucumber, so I took the decision to just buy peppers and carrots.  I pointed out that these were always the favourites anyway, so Junior Daughter didn't seem to mind.

All in all our plastic purchases are minimal, but we have still generated lots of plastic packaging from things we already had in the house.

Two months worth of plastic packaging

Never-the-less, it certainly makes a mountain of difference.  I'm pretty sure I used to put out this much plastic every week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The plastic challenge - week three

This week's shop was pretty successful.  I bought quite a bit of meat including some for my grandmother.  She decided she wanted hers in a container rather than in a plastic bag - it's catching on.  Fortunately our local butcher is extremely supportive and is more than happy to fill up my own containers.

We went shopping on Saturday for some more vegetables, and the one thing we didn't come back with (aside from peas of course) was a cauliflower.  We were in Waitrose and all the cauliflowers are in a plastic bag.  We know that it is the same in Sainsbury's.  The last cauliflower I bought was in Whole Foods Market where they are not in plastic bags.  We could maybe have found one at the market, unpackaged but we decided we would do without as we had bought sprouts in one of our own Onya Weigh bags.

The one bit of plastic we came back with this week was a tub of Philadelphia cheese.  I've decided this purchase is exempt from my plastic challenge as I buy it for making cheesecake or tiramisu which is a good way of using up leftover/stale cake.  We had half a chocolate log in the fridge which had really been there long enough so it got mashed up into the base for tiramisu and soaked in Tia Maria and strong coffee.  Then I whipped up the Philadelphia with some icing sugar and spread that on top and covered it in grated chocolate. It is now all eaten up as pudding after Sunday lunch.

Making tiramisu out of the leftover chocolate log
There was some extra chocolate sauce left over from the chocolate log, and so I turned this into a fridge cake.  This was another plastic challenge as I have up to now made my fridge cake by lining a loaf tin with cling film.  This was easily overcome though, by using a pork pie tin which has a loose bottom, lined round the edge with some Bake-o-glide.  It worked really well and was easier than the cling film method.

My new method for making fridge cake

So why do I consider the Philadelphia cheese packaging to be ok?  Well, it is most certainly reusable in our house.  I always keep the empty pots, wash them out and reuse them for example for snacks like peanuts and raisins or grated carrot and celery sticks which I take when I am working away from home and Junior Daughter takes to school.  There is no other plastic packaging other than the tub itself.

Mid week I decided I needed to buy my cat food as they say you should introduce new cat food gradually.  I did buy the Countrywide brand and the cats like it. So again more plastic, but at least it is in a useful bag.

Here's the Pitt Purchased plastic tally to date:

2 toothpaste tubes with lids
2 plastic bubbles from the battery packaging

In addition, but with plans to make use of the plastic:

1 tub with lid from Philadelphia cheese
1 bag from cat food washed out, dried and back in use.

I have also pulled out of my plastic store a small plastic bag when I've needed one. It was from apples. I'll be keeping this and no doubt reusing it again, because apples from now on will only be purchased loose.