Backyard Conservation – making a difference in your own corner of the world.

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A NZ dotteral, one of those rare species that we share our country with.  This little bird was blissfully unaware that the person photographing it is one of those who has endangered it.  This little bird has no voice to beg for a future unless I (and my fellow humans) speak for it.

Conservation and restoration is vital to our survival as a species.  It’s important because we inhabit this world together with a myriad of creatures both large and tiny.  The way we lead our lives, dispose of our waste, decide what to purchase, and even what pets we own has an impact on the species’ with which we share New Zealand and the world.  They have no voice unless we choose to advocate for them.  No chance unless we value them, and no future if we don’t take action.  

New Zealand is rather special in that it was the last large habitable land mass in the world to be colonised by humans.  It is also the most recent large landmass to experience an extinction event.  New Zealand was the last ‘primeval’ wilderness on the planet, and as such it was utterly unique.  The extinction event in NZ occurred as a result of the arrival of humans, first Maori and then the subsequent arrival of European explorers and settlers.  Often I think we tend to view the extinction events associated with the arrival of humans in NZ as being in the past (done and dusted years ago), but in reality we are living right in the middle of it.  It isn’t over. We just don’t notice it happening and that is the real tragedy. We just don’t notice until it is too late!

Maori brought the pacific rat or kiore.   Then Europeans brought mice, norway rats, ship rats, black rats, stoats, weasels, ferrets,  catspossums, hedgehogs and more.    New Zealand’s native fauna evolved for millions of years in isolation. An enchanted archipelago of islands where birds and insects filled almost every niche that mammals would have occupied elsewhere.  We even have a ground foraging bat!  It was like nowhere else in the world.  If we don’t do something to stop the extinctions, and halt the decline of our threatened and unique species, then all we will have are animals that can be found elsewhere.  We will no longer be unique.

But it was not only the introduction of predators that decimated our native flora and fauna.  Maori began clearing the land through the use of fire, and the clearances intensified after the arrival of European settlers.  The signature of these two waves of land clearance show up in pollen and charcoal records from around NZ.  In some places the bands of charcoal are still visible in soil profiles today.

The clearances were unimaginable in scale.  Most of NZ is now denuded and bare of its native forests and ecosystems. What remains is still threatened in most places.   Against the saws and the fires of clearance our majestic forests stood no chance.  Now as you drive around NZ you drive through kilometers of rural landscapes, green grassy paddocks and hills dotted with sheep and cows and pine forestry.  But those same grassy fields should have towering trees covering them, filled with kokako, huia, and piopio. Sometimes when I look at the fields around me I feel heart sick at what we have lost.

A little over a year ago we managed to buy our first home.  Two acres of rural bliss, with a handful of pet sheep and some chickens to keep us busy.  One thing we decided to do is to replant parts of the property in locally rare native plants in order to create a seed source. We located some amazing local native plant nurseries that specialise in the specific plants for our particular part of the world.  Then we just started planting as often as we could afford to buy the plants.

We fenced off small areas at the edges of our paddocks to create windbreaks and shelter for our sheep.  These areas are being replanted with natives. Not everything has survived, we estimate that we have had a 20% loss rate among the things we have planted.  This loss rate is largely attributed to the damaged soil resulting from more than a hundred years of being farmed. The plants are in puggy degraded soils completely unlike the rich soils that would have been here 200 years ago and there is no shelter.  It is hard work getting anything established in that.

I recently planted a selection of native plants with my 9 year old daughter and 6 year old son.  We turned over the sods and shook the soil from the clumps of grass roots, and I found myself feeling excited as I watched the hands of my children placing native trees into the soil.  It felt good to work together to put things back the way they should be, even if it is only a tiny area.

Some things we can put back, like the plants I planted with my children.  But some things are gone for good.  There are no huia now, no matter what I plant, they are gone for good.  There are no kakapo here anymore and no kiwi either.  I might not get huia, kakapo or kiwi back by planting a seed source, but I will get, more geckos, skinks, wetas, tui, bellbirds, fantails and kereru.  It is worth all the effort just to get them.

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Evergreen buckthorn is an invasive weed that we have on our property.  It is fast growing and seedlings are coming up everywhere.  It quickly over shadows other plants.  I have been working hard to remove them from our garden beds.  This is one days worth of weeding out.

We depend on plants and vegetation for our environment so we need to plant intelligently.  At various times and for various reasons, exotic plants have been introduced to New Zealand.  Unfortunately many of them were unwise choices.  Invasive plant species such as gorse, ivy, old mans beard, pampas, sycamores, evergreen buckthorn, elaegnus and many more are a huge problem.  Invasive weeds destroy our native plant communities and ecosystems.  In light of this, another way that we are trying to make a difference in our little slice of heaven, is to systematically weed out any noxious weeds that we find.  We have a LOT of ivy to eradicate, and also a lot of evergreen buckthorn.  Given how prolific both buckthorn and ivy are with their seeding I imagine this is going to be an ongoing occupation for many years.   If you are keen to “do your bit” then familiarise yourself with the noxious weeds in your area and remove them from your property.

Consider bees (both native and introduced) when you plant your garden.  Put in some flowers for them, or plant manuka!  New Zealand has 28 species of native bees.  Our bees don’t produce honey or live in hives, but they do provide a critical but overlooked role in pollinating native plant species such as kanuka, manuka and pohutukawa. Throwing a few native plant species in your garden will help our little native bees.

I have always been passionate about NZ.  It is the only home I have ever had and the only place I would ever call my turangawaewae (place to stand).  I am a part of this place, it is a part of me.  I feel much the same about protecting our native flora and fauna and land as I do about protecting my children.  

Don Merton is one of my personal heroes, and I remember watching the Wild South TV series back in the 1980’s.  I was enthralled by the story of the Black Robins and how Don Merton was able to help rescue the species from just 5 individuals.  Here is a short video where he talks about saving the black robins.   He summed up the value of our native birds in this superb quote:

“They are our national monuments. They are our Tower of London, our Arc de Triomphe, our pyramids. We don’t have this ancient architecture that we can be proud of and swoon over in wonder, but what we do have is something that is far, far older than that. No one else has kiwi, no one else has kakapo. They have been around for millions of years, if not thousands of millions of years. And once they are gone, they are gone forever. And it’s up to us to make sure they never die out“.

He was talking about birds but it applies equally to insects, reptiles, amphibians, plants and our unique ecosystems.  In NZ we are teaching our children about the value of our native species and how to care for them and our environment But how often do we as New Zealanders actually model those behaviors at home?  We claim to want our children to value conservation efforts and protect our environment, but how do we show it?

Conservation can seem daunting when you step back and look at the scale of the problem. But doing your bit doesn’t have to be huge or onerous, it can be as little as reconsidering what shrubs you plant or taking the time to trap rats.  Here are some ideas to get you started.  One or two steps are all that you need to do to begin to make a real difference in your own backyard.

Ways to help NZ native species in your own back yard:

  • Weta motels
  • Lizard lounges and gardens
  • Consider the food sources in your garden and consider a nectar feeder to attract tui, bell birds and wax eyes.
  • Predator resistant compost heaps
  • Predator resistant rubbish bins
  • Removal of invasive weed species
  • Planting native food and shelter plants.
  • Sponsorship of an endangered species
  • Purchase of a humane predator trap e.g.  Goodnature traps – a humane, simple, and effective way to manage pest species in your back yard and around your property.
  • Careful management of pet cats and dogs. Keep track of your pets.
  • Go out into nature and teach yourself and your tamariki to value the things that are hidden in plain sight.  Taking time to go out and see the amazing animals and plants we share NZ (and our world) with.  Visit places like Pukaka Mt Bruce, Zelandia, Nga Manu, Hinewai, Orokonui Ecosanctury or just take the time to go on a day walk or and overnight tramp in our national parks and reserves.  It is easy to overlook the beauty that is all around us if we spend our lives with our eyes on a screen or cooped up inside.
  • Create your own mini native sanctuary in your backyard.
  • If you own a farm consider planting native shelter, fencing your waterways, creating native forest corridors to allow birds and insects etc to move from one place to another.  Perhaps you could consider it a “tithe” for nature.  Consider doing the same thing no mater what the size of your property.
  • Consider gifting trees as gifts for family and friends. Trees That Count is a great option.

Although native species might not have evolved to withstand mammalian predators, and the impacts of humans on their environment, the fact remains that they are the best and most perfectly adapted species for NZ’s unique environment.  A humbling thought is that kiwi have been in NZ longer than humans have exisited! Many NZ species have withstood millennia of climate changes in the past and they are still here. We should not write them off as failures simply because they cannot withstand introduced predators and landscape destruction.  We don’t have any more right to exist than our native species do. In fact they have been here in NZ longer than humans so perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that they have more right to exist here than we do.

De-extinction is no substitute for conservation.  At the moment there is no way back. We can’t (yet) bring back what we have lost.  Even if we can one day bring a species back it will always have limitations. It would be better not to find ourselves needing de-extinction in the first place.

We humans want quality of life, we seek happiness. Part of what makes us happy is variety and interest and beauty.  If we allow species to be lost, then the world will be less interesting and permanently dulled.  Unknown possibilities will be lost.  Every time we think we have exhausted the options from nature, we discover another valuable commodity that is derived from a species we could have over looked.  For example spider venom may be able to treat nervous system disorders. 

Our species and our whole way of life depends on the other species we inhabit this earth with. If we don’t value them, then I don’t see how we value ourselves or our own future as a species.

Eco-glitter update – more plastic free razzle dazzle.

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My two super cute, teeny tiny bottles of biodegradable eco-glitter from Three Mamas.

A few months ago, I posted what has become a very popular blog post on DIY alternatives to conventional plastic glitter.  The fact that conventional glitters are made from plastic is a fact that has escaped a lot of people.  I don’t think glitter has ever seemed anything other than innocuous, crafty, and fun.  It is rather sad then, that a microplastic menace is lurking in schools, kindergartens, and home craft cupboards everywhere.  Increasingly, the general public are getting the message that microplastics and plastic pollution is a huge problem.  Now we just need alternatives and sustainable options to chose instead.

Since I started making alternatives to glitter for my kids to use, I have talked to lots of people about it.  I have now had the thumbs up on my DIY glitters from the kids at our church sunday school (where we used them to construct a sign pointing the way to the kids corner), and from one of the teachers at school. My own kids love the homemade sustainable alternatives, and they really haven’t missed the sparkly kind very much.

I have now discovered fully biodegradable eco-glitter thanks to my dear husband, who noticed it and decided to surprise me.  Three Mamas eco-glitter looks like conventional glitter but instead of a plastic base, it’s made from non-GMO Eucalyptus cellulose, from a renewable source, and it is biodegradable.  Now we can have fun making our own, but still have a source of sparkly glitter for those special things that just need some extra pizzazz.  This glitter comes in both fine and chunky sizes and it comes in a large variety of colours.  Possibly the cutest part of this glitter is that you can get it in teeny tiny glass bottles with tiny corks.  I am a sucker for tiny things and and these push all the right buttons with me.  Miss 9 is pretty captivated with them as well, because they look like fairy wish jars.

Three Mamas eco-glitter is vegan, and safe for use in cosmetics. It takes about 6 months to break down in compost or marine water. Their website has a number of positive reviews.   So all in all a great discovery.

Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns. Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size .    These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation in our food chain.

The problem of microplastics is a huge one, and one that we are only now beginning to grapple with.  The impacts and consequences are far-reaching and long lasting, and the true effects of marine organisms and even ourselves won’t be known for decades.  I know that craft and cosmetic glitter can seem a bit insignificant in the greater scheme of things, but we all have to start somewhere, and ditching plastic glitter is as good a place as any to begin.  Little steps conquer big mountains.  Each person that starts questioning and thinking about issues such as plastic pollution is one part of the solution.   Why not show your children that there is a better way?  Help them to be part of the change.

Sustainable Clothes Pegs – SUST

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A few of my sustainable pegs.  Bamboo spring pegs from Go Bamboo, a single “dolly peg” left over from a craft activity, and my brand new Munch brand stainless steel pegs.

Have you ever considered clothes pegs? They are clever little things, so simple and so useful.  But how sustainable are they?  Clothes pegs are almost entirely made from plastic and are practically all manufactured in China.  I have picked up pegs in some pretty strange places; footpaths, roads, car parks, playgrounds.  But the most disturbing places I have picked them up is on beaches half buried in the sand. And I am talking about relatively isolated beaches.  We even found them on Mana Island during a beach clean-up.  This prompted me to start thinking about sustainable alternatives, and trying to find locally made pegs if I could.

I remember the day it occurred to me to wonder if my old broken plastic pegs could actually be recycled.   I looked at the gravel under my clothesline and noticed the fragments of ancient looking plastic pegs.  Some had simply been dropped and then stepped on.  Some had suffered plastic fatigue and had broken mid-use leaving my clothes hanging oddly, or in a sad heap on the ground below the line.  Others had served me well and probably date back to around 15 years ago, but had become pitted with age, faded, and brittle with extended exposure to the sun.  As I gathered the remnants of my expired pegs I found myself wondering if they should go in the rubbish or the recycling.  I turned to trusty Google and began researching, and then started firing off emails.

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Some of the broken remains of pegs that have reached the end of their lives…..all headed for landfill.

It turns out that while some plastic clothes pegs start out as technically recyclable plastic, extended exposure to UV damages them so that they are no longer recyclable.  I discovered this interesting fact when I tracked down the manufacturer of Sunshine Pegs.  I fired off my questions about how recyclable they are and they responded promptly to explain the effects of UV.

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Bright, colourful and practical. A few of my plastic pegs. On the far left are five NZ made Sunshine pegs.

Clothes pegs are a surprisingly recent invention.  The earliest references to clothes pegs date from around the early 19th century.  Prior to that date washing was apparently draped over a line or hung out over bushes to dry.  This might have been OK in England, but it wouldn’t work at all here in Wellington (the windiest city in the world) on what we would class as a slightly breezy day!  In my grandma’s day back in the 1940’s with a young family, pegs were wooden (and no doubt made right here in New Zealand too).  In fact my grandma managed to make do without plastic at all with three children during WW2 rationing.  Although times have changed and life is different today, I find her example inspirational.  The up-shot is that although plastic pegs are ubiquitous and convenient they are not sustainable and there are alternatives.   Here are just a few that I have found.

Sunshine pegs – NZ made, but not recyclable at end of life.

These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Although technically recyclable when the product is new, this isn’t the case after prolonged exposure to UV.  Since pegs do most of their work outside on sunny hot days, they aren’t really a recyclable product. They are going to end up in landfill or washed down stormwater drains at the end of their lives.    I have a supply of them, and they are great, but only while they are not UV damaged and consequently brittle.  If you want to continue with plastic pegs, at least make sure that they are made locally. 

Go Bamboo pegs – Made in China, biodegradable

These bamboo pegs were my first exploration into the world of sustainable alternatives to plastic pegs.  Priced reasonably at $7 for 20 pegs and packaged in compostable boxes,  these pegs were made for Wellingtons famous winds!  They have an incredibly strong grip. I like them, and would happily have more of them.  They don’t stain or mark clothing.  However on the downside, their grip is so strong that they can be a bit fiddly to get on and off in a hurry (such as a sudden rain shower) and my Mum who has a bit of arthritis finds them nearly impossible to operate.

Go Bamboo make a lot of claims to be sustainable and to have good conditions for their factory workers, but they don’t back any of this up with accreditations such as fairtrade.  This bothers me, but so far I haven’t found an alternative brand with accreditations and so until I do I will continue to use them.  Basically they are asking me to trust that they are being 100% honest about what they are claiming, but an accreditation would make this a much easier decision.

Munch stainless steel pegs = Made in China

These are my newest acquisition.  My darling husband spotted them and got some for me to try.  Not a cheap option at $27 for a bag of 20 pegs, but I have to say so far they are worth it.  They are strong, easy to operate and don’t mark clothing.  They have handled some pretty mean winds and my washing has stayed firmly on the line.  I have no issues with these pegs.  I love them.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, I did stumble across some New Zealand made pegs made from recycled plastic.  They look good, and I am keen to sample them.  A google search turns up several pegs that are made in New Zealand from recycled plastic.  I think this would be a good option if you remain keen on plastic pegs.  Although exposure to UV means they will not be recyclable at the end of their “working life”.

I am unsure which is best actually, sustainable pegs that have to be shipped here contributing to GHG emissions, or plastic pegs made here in New Zealand but that can’t be recycled, thus contributing to landfill and the rising problem of micro-plastics and plastic pollution.  It is a tough one.  In the end I have opted for imported sustainable pegs so that I am no longer contributing old pegs to the plastic problem in our landfills and on our beaches.  I am hopeful that they will prove durable and will outlast the plastic pegs.  But as soon as someone starts making sustainable plastic free pegs right here in New Zealand, I will ditch the imports and buy New Zealand made again.

It may seem like an insignificant step to make towards a more sustainable future, but I think it is worth while.  Plastic pegs are not designed to last for long.  They are designed to be expendable and easily replaceable.  They must contribute a fair bit of plastic over the full life of an average family.  I don’t ever want one of my old pegs to end up inside an albatross chick instead of fish, and I don’t ever want my old pegs washing out to sea to end up polluting a beautiful beach somewhere.  New Zealand has so many native seabirds that this is a real concern for me.  If my pegs are made from wood or metal, that will never be a problem.  I challenge you to make a sustainable change in your laundry to remove another source of plastic, and wherever possible choose to buy local over imports if you can.  Together our consumer choices can make a difference, even if it seems insignificant.  Those discarded bits of plastic don’t seem very important to us, but it matters a huge amount to the albatross chick that gets a peg instead of fish.

Ethical Clothing – choices for a better future!

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Some of our ethical clothing choices, from left: hand knitted red top, pom pom hat knitted by my mum, a vest top (with pockets) knitted by my aunt, one of my amazing second hand merino cardigans, second hand red soccer shorts, a tee-shirt that supports the Genetic Rescue Foundation, my favourite  Tumbleweed Tee’s tee-shirt, and an awesome Etiko tee-shirt.

What if the person who made your shoes was a young boy who wants desperately to go to school?  How would you feel if that was your son? How would you feel if the person who made your tee-shirt was unable to afford to send their children to school? What if the manufacture of your clothing helped to destroy a habitat? These are questions that prey on my mind and are now shaping my purchasing decisions.  Our collective clothing choices have power.  Ethical clothing is not just good for the workers and the environment, it is good for your soul.

There are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to ethical clothing.  I want to give you a taste of what is actually out there because a lot of people seem surprised that there are actually reasonable options to consider.  It matters a lot to me who made my clothes. I want them to have fulfilled and happy lives and I want them to be safe and healthy and educated.  In New Zealand we have labour laws designed to protect our workers as well as laws protecting our environment, which is why I think many of us take it for granted that other countries have similar laws. Because we don’t have clothing factories with horrific conditions here in New Zealand it is a largely invisible problem. Only a small proportion of clothing is actually made here.  Most of our apparel and clothing is made overseas and is shipped here (which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions because New Zealand is so geographically isolated).  Most of our clothing comes from places like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mexico, Turkey, China and Indonesia – all of which have big problems with sweatshops, and poor environmental protection.  Given recent world events, it is also pertinent to consider how a country treats its migrants

Another closely related issue is that of “fast fashion”. Cheap clothing that is designed to be discarded seasonally as the fashions change.  Fast fashion is not made to last and the fabrics and manufacturing are often poor quality.  Fast fashion is hurting the factory workers and the environment, and most of it ends up in landfills.  This happens because we have collectively bought into the lie that we need to look fashionable, and that buying more and more clothes will somehow make us happy and fulfilled.

Every January when we pack up for 3 weeks away from home in a caravan,  I find I really don’t need most of my clothes.  If I can manage for three weeks in the summer with just one tiny drawer of clothing, then I have far more clothes than I actually need. To be honest I feel pressured to regularly vary what I wear. I feel pressure not to re-wear the same clothes every few days.  Now that I am aware of this I try to constantly consider what I have and why I need to buy something else.  I do find it hard and I’m far from perfect, but I am making an effort.  I am trying to buy new items of clothing only if I am replacing an item that is worn out. I have begun downsizing my wardrobe, but I do still find it hard to overcome the desire to have new things.  I am lucky that I have zero desire to shop in big malls. In fact I can’t think of anything worse. I dislike the pressure to impulse buy, and I really struggle not to see things I would like but don’t need.  It makes it much easier for me to stay away from malls and clothing shops.  I prefer to source my new clothing online from places like Tumbleweed Tees that don’t have shops in malls. I guess I am trying to become a mindful shopper.  

The good news is that there are options out there and not all of them are horrifically priced.  It is now easier than it used to be to research the ethical credentials of clothing brands, and there are useful guides out there to help you make informed decisions.  For example the Tearfund Ethical Clothing Guide is a great place to start.  It is updated annually so is always current.    Fair trade and organic clothing is something that I aspire to own and  I am determined to consider the origin of my clothing choices every time I purchase.  I buy to support causes.  I buy to last.  I also buy second hand.  I repair rather than discard.  Today I want to share some of the places you can find fair trade ethical clothing. I urge you to become part of the rising tide of people who consider where their clothing comes from, who made it and what its environmental impact is. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Kathmandu has good transparency, and now stocks fair trade items such as these mens and womens tee-shirts. I will be keeping my eyes open for these next time I am in a Kathmandu store.

The Paper Rain Project is a local New Zealand company producing high quality creative and sustainable products.  Their tee-shirts are 100% organic, fairly traded and locally printed using environmentally aware printing methods.  More recently they have partnered with other brands and now stock a range of sustainable, socially responsible products.  I love their tee-shirt designs and can’t wait to get one next time I need a tee-shirt. Well worth a look.

Humanity  is another New Zealand brand that is committed to sourcing and manufacturing long-lasting sustainable products as part of a circular economy.  I stumbled across their website recently and was pleased with the prices of its tee-shirts, which are not unreasonable. I share it here because I am impressed by what I see and the ethic behind the brand.  I look forward to shopping here in the future.

Freedom Kids  sells fun ethical, gender neutral clothing for kids in all colours and for everybody.  They operate out of the Wairarapa and offer ethical kids clothing. Perhaps not as affordable as I would like it to be, this company still offers options that are hard to come by elsewhere.

Tumbleweed Tees are a small New Zealand business that designs and screen prints its own tee-shirts and other items.  They donate $5 from every adult tee-shirt sold to a conservation group. Some of their designs are specifically linked with particular conservation groups/causes for example the Kea Conservation Trust.  I love the designs so much that although my shag tee-shirt (seen in the picture at the top of this blog) is now very old and worn out, I still can’t bring myself to throw it away, the design is too beautiful.  This is probably my favorite tee-shirt brand simply because they are New Zealand owned and completely unique.  I love that I am supporting conservation with every purchase, and the designs are fabulous. I urge you to check them out for yourself.

Thunderpants are a small, ethical, family owned and operated company, based in the Wairarapa. They make a range of underwear and other items that are made in New Zealand from certified fair trade organic cotton.  I have heard good things about them, and so I am thrilled to be able to trial some.  It’s early days yet, but so far they are super comfortable and seem very well made.  As a bonus they were posted out in a paper mail bag and their branded packaging is fully compostable.  

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Miss 16’s eye-catching Etiko tee-shirt.

Etiko, whose motto is wear no evil, sell a large range of mens and womens shoes, apparel and bags, all of which is certified Fairtrade, Organic, and B Corp.  My husband tried out some of their shoes with mixed results, but my 16 year old daughter has an awesome tee-shirt emblazoned with the words “This tee-shirt freed a slave”, that she grew out of before she wore it out.  They are well worth a look.

SaveMart is a large retailer of quality second hand clothing.  Our family recently visited and discovered some amazing bargains.   I paid $15 for a couple of cardigans in perfect condition.  I got new jeans ($4) and a merino thermal top ($5) for Miss 8, and new jeans ($4) and $3 soccer shorts for Mr 6.  Miss 16 got a brand new (high quality brand) raincoat for $15 and a MacPak puffer jacket for $30.  Shopping second hand is an affordable and environmentally responsible choice as it prevents clothing items from ending up in the landfill and it is easy on your wallet. Often you can find real gems like my daughter’s puffer jacket, or a pair of kids pajamas for $1.   Second hand clothing is awesome.  Try packaging up your old clothes if they are in good condition and hand them on to someone else.  This is a great option particularly when it comes to kids clothing, they grow out of it so fast!

 

Another option that is often overlooked are hand knitted clothes.  There was clothing before polar fleece people!  I know it is not so common these days to knit your own, many people don’t even know how to.  However you don’t have to look far to find someone who can knit.  An aunt, grandma, or one of the retired ladies at church or in a local craft group will often have incredible knitting skills.  There are quite a few knitters that have helped to clothe my children. My Awesome Auntie can unravel an old jersey, roll the unraveled wool into balls, and then re-knit it into an amazing kids jersey.  I am in awe of her skills, because she can knit at speed and watch TV at the same time! My Mum keeps my kids heads warm with a lovely succession of pompom hats and she makes jerseys for them too. The mother of one of my oldest school friends has also knitted lovely things for my kids.  We treasure these clothes because of the effort and love that goes into them. Perhaps there are knitters who would knit for you and your family. Maybe you could supply the wool.  If you are crafty like me try learning to knit and you might be surprised how much easier it is once you get started.  

Personally, I want my everyday comfy clothes to be as ethically sourced as possible.  But that doesn’t always have to mean finding a company or brand that is ethically certified. It can be as simple as visiting a few second hand shops or even organising a clothing swap between friends or family.  Why not be part of the change?

Look for ethical brands.

Source quality.

Buy less.

Repair.

Easy homemade bread – packaging free straight from the oven.

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The irresistible finished product.  Hot fresh bread, ‘stretched’ butter and a homemade beeswax wrap, no plastic in sight.

If you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption, then you will have noticed that bread these days is virtually always packaged in plastic with a plastic bread bag tag.  Not only that but it is nothing like homemade bread.   Whenever I can I like to make my own bread.  I don’t own a bread maker, I make it by hand, the old fashioned way, or I use the food processor to start the dough and then finish it by hand.  My Mum used to make bread the old fashioned way through much of my childhood and I vividly recall the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house.  There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that is irresistible and wholesome. It’s a skill we seem to have lost and I think it is time more of us rediscovered it.

Every time you rush down to the shop to get some bread you use petrol (which we all know is unsustainable) and then you have to dispose of the plastic bags and tags.  The supermarket bread we are familiar with is a relatively new product (the machinery necessary to make it was introduced in 1961). This new bread-making process uses less flour, and is made possible by the addition of various additives that are not used in home baking.  Some people suggest that the process is partially responsible for the increase of gluten and wheat intolerance.  There are less vitamins and minerals in supermarket bread and in general it is widely known that cheap $1 loaves are actually incredibly poor nutritionally.  In today’s day and age, people have less and less time to do things despite technology constantly coming up with labour saving devices.  In reality with a bit of forward planning, and by that I mean don’t start making bread half an hour before you have to take the kids to their swimming lesson, you can actually make your own bread.

I don’t really understand why more people don’t make their own bread.  You don’t need a bread maker to make it easy, because it is simple to make without one.  Many people have said to me that they wish they had time to make bread themselves, as if it is a time consuming, complicated and arduous activity.  My response is always “give it a go, your will be surprised how easy it is”.

So here are my tips and recipe for simple homemade bread.  I plan for it to take roughly an hour and a half from start to finish.

You will need:

  • A loaf tin (if you are making a loaf of bread) or a baking tray if you are going to make bread rolls.  Actually if you don’t have a loaf tin you can just shape it into a loaf shape and bake it on a tray.
  • Baking paper if you are making rolls so they don’t stick to the tray.  Alternatively you can grease the tray with butter and then lightly dust it with flour.
  • Something to mix up the liquid in.  I use a 500ml pyrex jug because it has measurements on the side, but you can use a bowl.
  • A food processor with a dough blade or dough hook, or a large sized mixing bowl.
  • A clear space on your bench for kneading the bread dough.

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 3/4 cups of flour. I usually use mostly white flour but often substitute a cup of plain flour for a cup of wholemeal.
  • half a table spoon of sugar (white or raw)
  • half a tablespoon of salt
  • one rounded tablespoon of Surebake yeast
  • a good sized knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil (olive or sesame oil works well)
  • 100 mls boiling water
  • 200 mls cold water

Preheat your oven to 50°C

Mix together the 200mls of cold water and 100mls boiling water to make warm (blood temperature) water.  Add the 1 tablespoon of surebake yeast, stir together.  Put the knob of butter or table spoon of oil in the water and set aside.

Method One – for using a food processor:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the food processor  (fitted with dough blade or dough hook) and pulse briefly to mix a little.

Turn on the food processor and add the yeast mixture giving it a quick stir with a fork first to make sure the yeast is mixed properly and not stuck to the bottom.  After a short time the mixture should form a dough ball.  If the mixture seems dry and after a while is still not really forming a dough ball, add a teaspoon or two of warm water and shift the mixture around a bit with a fork before replacing the lid and turning on again.

Method two – mixing by hand:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl, mix briefly with a wooden spoon.  Make a well in the center of the flour.

Pour the yeast mixture (making sure to give it a stir first) into the well in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or fork until it gets sticky and the dough starts to form.  When it gets hard to mix with the wooden spoon, turn out onto a floured surface (bench, table top) and form the dough up by hand until it is a firm ball.

Kneading:

Once you have got your dough ball your are ready to knead the bread.  I don’t know what the technique for kneading is supposed to be but I push it around, fold it back onto itself, stretch it out a bit and fold it back down using the heals of my hands.  You need to put some weight behind it, really use your upper body.  I am sure there are youtube videos that will be able to demonstrate techniques if you are uncertain. My recipe books say that you should knead for 7 minutes, but I never knead for that long.  I usually knead vigorously for roughly 4-5 minutes until the dough is silky and springs back when pressed lightly.  Kneading like this is strangely calming and I actually enjoy it.

Once you have finished kneading, the dough needs a short rest period.  Oil a bowl and put the dough in it making sure that the oil covers the surface of the dough to avoid it drying out too much during the rest period.  Then put the bowl in the preheated oven (50°C) and leave it for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the dough from the oven, and turn out onto the bench (it doesn’t need to be floured this time) shape it roughly into a roll that will fit your loaf tin.  Put it into the tin and push down into the corners.  Return the loaf tin and bread dough to the oven (still at 50°C) and leave it for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is starting to rise up above the level of the tin.  At that point raise the temperature of the oven to 180°C and put the timer on for 25 minutes.  After twenty minutes check if it is looking cooked.  It should be a warm deep golden brown when it is done.  When it is cooked it will pull away from the corners and edges of the tin a little bit and it should sound hollow if tapped on the top.

If it isn’t cooked properly put it in for another few minutes.  When it is cooked turn out onto a wire rack.  If the bottom looks a little pale and underdone, put it back in the tin and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Once you are satisfied it is cooked, leave it to cool on the wire rack and when it is cooled a little get a sharp knife and cut a slice!  Perfect with butter melting over it. Or you could try the ‘stretched butter’ recipe.

If you want to make bread rolls, then following the rest period you will need to divide the dough up into 16 equal sized pieces and shape them into rolls.  Place them on your prepared oven tray so they are spaced out evenly and put into the warm oven to rise at 50°C until doubled in size, I usually wait around 20 mins.  Then raise the oven temperature to 180°C and cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

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Homemade oven fresh bread, and a jar of ‘stretched butter’ covered with one of my homemade beeswax wraps.

So there you have it, easy homemade bread with no plastic bags!

This recipe is very forgiving, and it works brilliantly with variations.  Here are some ideas; add a couple of tablespoons of kibbled grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.  Try replacing the butter with a tablespoon of sesame oil and adding sesame seeds.  You can add rolled oats (1/4 cup), and you can substitute a cup of wholemeal flour if you prefer.  Try adding a couple of teaspoons of mixed herbs for a more savory bread.  You can brush the top of the bread with milk and sprinkle cheese, sesame seeds or some rock salt on top.

If you want to make your own pizza bases use the plain white flour and add a teaspoon or two of mixed herbs.  Knead as usual, but omit the rest of the steps.  Instead divide into 3 or 4 equal sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface until it is 3mm thick and then put onto a floured baking tray, add your toppings and cook each pizza at 250°C or 8 mins or until perfectly cooked.

It’s so easy and rewarding to make your own bread.  I really recommend it.  Best of luck with your bread baking.

DIY alteratives to non-biodegradable wet wipes.

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Homemade wet wipes, all ready to go.  Inexpensive, simple, and easy to make at home.  

 

Wet wipes are widely considered to be essential for any new parent to carry everywhere but most are non-biodegradable, contain plastic fibers, come in plastic packaging, and  can contain various things that can upset a sensitive skin.  Marketed as quick, easy and convenient, wet wipes are a multi million dollar industry that is anything but convenient for our environment.   Did you know that you can make your own?  Quick and super easy to do, here is all you need to know have a go at making your own.  They are inexpensive and you can be certain of what you are putting in.  This latter point is essential if you or your children are like me and suffer from contact allergies and atopic eczema.

Most wet wipes are unable to be flushed down a toilet, and must be disposed of in the rubbish.  I’ve seen them blowing around at the dump, and I have seen them spilling out of rubbish bins in public toilets.  Many people flush them anyway, and then they contribute to the formation of “fatbergs” which block drains and cause headaches for local authorities. While technically “disposable”, in reality discarded wet wipes don’t just magically disappear when they are disposed of.  They persist in sewers, drains and rubbish dumps for far far longer than any of us really want to think about.  Wet wipes are an increasingly serious environmental concern, both here in New Zealand and around the world.  Watercare in Auckland is now spending $1 million a year on removing fatbergs and blockages from the network.  In an article in 2015, The Guardian labelled them the biggest villain of the year.  They are ending up in rivers and waterways and they are making their way into the ocean where they contribute to the growing plastic catastrophe affecting ocean wildlife.  A walk on a beach is increasingly a first hand opportunity to see the effects of our plastic addiction.  For most people, wet wipes are an invisible contributor because once disposed of they are out of sight, out of mind.

A few years ago, as a Mum with two small children, I made my own baby wipes.  At the time finances were tight.  With my daughter I used organic wet wipes for traveling (when I could occasionally afford to get them) or baby sized re-usable cotton washcloths around the home.  When I had my son 2.5 years later, I was given a recipe to make your own wet wipes.  Initially dubious, I gave it a go and was instantly converted.  I used them everywhere and took them everywhere by packing a smaller quantity into a smaller container for the nappy bag.  I never had any problem with them, and it must have saved me a LOT of money over the years I used them. A huge bonus for me was that I could choose what I added to them.  Some brands of wet wipes cause me huge problems with my skin condition.  Making my own completely eliminated this problem.

A few generations ago, wet wipes didn’t exist.  My Grandma didn’t use them for her children or struggle to keep them clean without them.  She managed fine, just like everyone bringing up kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  I find a lot of inspiration from thinking about how my grandparents managed without plastic.   So many plastic things are sold to us as essential and necessary, but if they weren’t necessary and indispensable  70 years ago, are they really needed today?

Wet wipes come in plastic packaging which is currently not really possible to recycle, they are made from non-biodegradable materials, they are bad for our environment.  The good news is that despite what the wet wipe companies would like us to think, we can do without them.  You can actually make your own.

Here’s how to make DIY wet wipes.

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First, you will need to get a roll of paper towels.  They will need to be the super heavy duty variety, or they won’t work as well.

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Second, using your chopping board and a sharp knife, cut your roll of paper towels in half.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just use your eye-o-meter.

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Third, in a jug mix 350mls of warm water, a couple of squirts of your body wash or baby wash, and a few drops of oil (I use sweet almond oil).  If you want to you can also add a  few drops of New Zealand Manuka oil.  Manuka oil would be a great option given it’s clinically proven antimicrobial and antiviral properties – a good idea for anything to do with personal hygiene

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Forth, you will need a container with a leak proof lid that is big enough to fit your half roll of paper towels.  Put your half roll into the container.  Yes I have used a plastic container, but I already had it in my cupboard and it is reusable over a long period of time.

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Fifth, pour the water into the middle of the paper towel roll.  Put the lid on and leave for a couple of minutes.  Then tip it upside down and leave for another couple of minutes.

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Sixth, open the container and remove the paper towel roll, find the end and away you go.  Home made wet wipes ready to use.

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If you find that the paper towels are a little bit dry (it depends on what brand you use how much they absorb) just add small amounts of warm water until they are the desired dampness.

Cheap, easy, and effective, and fully biodegradable, they are perfect to replace the expensive shop bought ones.  They work for tiny bottoms, and they are perfect for camping, where handwashing and face washing are a little walk from the campsite.  The only caveat is that in warmer weather they can develop mold if not used fairly quickly.  Please note that in spite of being fully biodegradable they are a thicker grade of paper and still shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet because they can cause problems.  Depending on what they are used for you can just compost them – for example if you are just wiping sticky fingers and messy mouths.

Another tip to replace shop bought wet wipes is to simply get a decent supply of small washcloths or facecloths and use those instead.  This latter idea is particularly effective at home.  I have a large box of baby sized soft cotton washcloths left over from when the kids were babies.  I boil them with a small amount of ecostore soaker every now and again to freshen them up.  I don’t know why people have forgotten about good old fashioned fabric cloths.  They are such a wonderful solution to every kind of sticky kiddie mess and they are fully reusable.  Simply run under the tap, squeeze out and clean up the messy hands, then drop in the washing machine.

Reusable washcloths and homemade wet wipes are another simple way to make a difference.  One more step towards leaving a feather light impact on the environment for future generations.  Why not give it a go and see how easy it is for yourself?

Taking the battle of the bag to the produce aisle!

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Plastic free produce. My favorite Rethink string bag (it’s like the Tardis – it looks small but the inside is huge). Cucumber without shrink wrapping.  Fruit and vegetables in Rethink produce bags.  Please note the irritating non-biodegradable sticker on the mandarin, I still can’t manage a  totally plastic free shop, but I do my best to avoid it.

It’s that time of the year again when resolutions are big and good intentions abound.  A New Year and people are encouraged to break bad habits, make lifestyle changes and follow through on promises to change for the better.  Why not make a simple change to reduce your plastic consumption?  Ban the bag has become a strong movement over the last few years and one that seems to finally be getting some support from the general public as reusable bags become commonly available.  Reusable bags are now the norm for many people heading to the supermarket.  I am thrilled to see the change because single use plastic is a slow moving disaster in which we are drowning without being aware of it.  It is everywhere including isolated beaches.  We take it for granted that everything has to come in plastic these days.  We have bought into the idea that everything must be sealed for your protection.  Hygiene is impossible, we are told, without cardboard boxes being sealed in plastic wrap. Our fruit and veges need to be plastic wrapped we are told to prolong the shelf life.  It wasn’t always like this.  My Grandma and Grandpa managed without plastic, and they didn’t wring their hands and wail that they didn’t have supermarket bags to use as bin liners.  There is a future without plastic – just like there was a past without plastic.

Plastic single use supermarket bags are on the out, and boot liners are gone from Mitre10, but single use produce and bulk bin bags are still a problem.  When I began this journey I tried to go plastic free for lent. I figured that going without plastic packaging would be hard but I never imagined that it would be impossible to achieve at the shops I was habitually using.  I was struck the first time I walked into the supermarket (full of good intentions) just how big the plastic problem is.  I walked in to the fruit and vegetable aisle and was immediately confronted with a sea of plastic trays containing pumpkin and cabbage halves sealed with cling film, spring onions in plastic sheathes, apples in plastic bags, lettuces in plastic bags, tomatoes and strawberries in plastic punnets, and it just goes on and on.  Even the loose fruit had plastic stickers on each individual piece, and the only way to get some home was to either take them loose or put them in single use plastic produce bags.  The bulk bins were the same.  There were no alternatives available and everyone was happily using and consuming the plastic without a second thought.

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Rethink bulk bin bags in action.

I was deeply confronted by our plastic dependence as a result of that attempt at a plastic free lent.  So much so that I researched and went shopping for alternatives.  I found them at Commonsense Organics, but they are available online, and many different shops.  I purchased several sets of Rethink organic cotton reusable produce bags and a set of reusable bulk bin bags.  I was impressed with the rethink brand because they are biodegradable.  I didn’t want to replace single use plastic produce bags with reusable plastic netting bags. For me the organic cotton seemed like a better option. I also found some produce bags made from old net curtains at a local farmers market and they have been great too.  Obviously you could even make your own.  I have saved a variety of bags including a Soap Nuts bag, and a fabric rice  bag.  I have also been given a few.  I use them every shop with no trouble.  Printed sticky labels can be easily wrapped around the drawstrings.  I can’t recommend them enough.  They can also be used as delicate bags when you do your laundry.  I have had a large number of curious people approach me to ask where I got them from.  These people do want alternatives and they are far from alone.

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Examples from my collection.  Clockwise from top right; fabric rice bag with zipper; cherries in a re-purposed Soap Nut bag; a nylon mesh bag that I was gifted; one of the handmade bags I got from the farmers market; Rethink bulk bin bag; Rethink produce bag.

I think the problem is that most people just don’t know about the alternatives.  Some people will comment and criticize the plastic bag ban by saying that it doesn’t go far enough, or that it is pointless because there are still plastic wrapped cucumbers and plastic produce bags.  I don’t take that view however, I think big change of any kind is hard and that is why people resist it.  But it isn’t so hard to make small changes.  If you don’t want a plastic wrapped cucumber, you don’t have to buy it.  You can buy an unwrapped short cucumber instead, or you can grow your own.  If you don’t want to use plastic produce and bulk bin bags, rejoice!   There is good news.  There are alternatives and they are easy to use.  If you are frustrated by the endless sea of plastic packaging start making active choices to avoid it where possible, and if it is unavoidable take five minutes to write to the shop or manufacturer and tell them you would prefer an alternative.

I did exactly that at my local New World.  After I found reusable produce bags I was concerned that they are not really a visible option for people, or at least, not as visible as reusable shopping bags which are now found everywhere. I wrote to New World and suggested that they should consider stocking reusable produce bags in the produce aisle.  I told them about Rethink bags and a few other brands I had come across.  I told them that I had tried to avoid plastic packaging and found it hard to know where to begin.  The email took five minutes to write.  I have to admit that I didn’t expect much to come of it.  But a few days later I got an email reply.  They were thrilled to hear from me.  They had not heard of rethink or other brands of reusable produce bags, and thanked me for bringing them to their attention.  Better still, they said they thought it was a brilliant idea and told me to watch the produce aisle because after hearing from me they had ordered them and were planning a stand of them!  I was thrilled to say the least.  A month later, a new display popped up with various sizes of reusable produce bags and also string carry bags.  One 5 minute email made a difference in my local supermarket.  One small but significant change and as a result it is easier for people to opt for an alternative to single use plastic produce bags.

So this New Year why not get some reusable produce bags and make a step on the journey to reduce your plastic consumption.

Make your Christmas a cracker! – DIY Christmas crackers.

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Everything you need to make your own Christmas crackers.  Wrapping paper (from last year), re-purposed toilet rolls, TradeAid Christmas string, chocolate treats, little magnetic bookmarks and embroidery thread as gifts, cracker snaps, and finally handwritten jokes and quotes.

It’s Christmas time again.  Another year is growing old.  School has finished for my kids and they are tired and ready for the summer holiday.  If only the weather would dry out and feel a bit more festive.  Last year I wrote a blog about ethical ideas for Christmas.  This year I thought I would encourage people to get creative and try ditching the bought crackers full of cheap plastic trinkets.  Let’s be honest, the rubbish in commercial crackers is almost immediately forgotten. The plastic trinkets end up in the rubbish sack when the dinner table is cleared after Christmas dinner, or a few days later they go up the vacuum cleaner.  If you really want them, why not make them?  Or get your kids to make them for you.  It is actually really easy.

It is so easy to consume things we don’t really need.  We are told that buying will make us happy, but actually love makes us happy, love is what makes us feel safe and secure.  Love is something you can’t buy.  My husband was recently in California again for work.  He was saddened to see signs everywhere saying things like “give a toy, give joy” and “Toys bring happiness”.  Those billboards couldn’t be more wrong if they tried.  Toy’s and things don’t bring happiness, LOVE brings happiness and joy.  Sacrificial love, not love of things.  Christmas is really about love, and it always has been.  The first Christmas in a stable long ago was about love.  It is time to reconnect a bit with the real reason for the season.  It is hard to that when it’s all been so commercialised.

If we truly care for the environment then we will think carefully about what we choose to buy even at Christmas.  Cheap crackers with rubbish inside that are instantly thrown away are not something that the planet needs.  In light of this our family hasn’t bought crackers for years.  Some years we haven’t had any at all – and I promise you Christmas wasn’t ruined because they were missing.  Some years I have made them, and the response is worth the effort.  People really enjoy something when they can see the effort and love you put into it.

If you or your kids are looking for a little extra something to do in the last few days before Christmas, why not give it a go.  You can even do it without snaps.

First, save a few toilet rolls.

Second; google some actually funny jokes and write them on slips of paper.  Or if you prefer, search up some inspiring quotes to help get people motivated for the coming year.  You could even personalise it further and write a nice little note to the recipient about what makes them special in your eyes.

Third; find some nice little treats small enough to fit inside a toilet roll, chocolate coins, minties, fruit bursts, liquor chocolates etc.

If you are keen on little presents then find or make a little gift for each cracker.  Usually I have chosen little Christmas decorations or small cookie cutters etc.  Other ideas are pencil sharpeners, or home baking.

Forth; if you want crackers that crack, then you will need to find the snaps.  I got mine from Pete’s Emporium in Petone, but I have seen them for sale in all sorts of places and if you are desperate a google search should help you to locate them.

Fifth; get wrapping – use reused Christmas wrap from last year or make your own from large pieces of paper. Or if you are brave newspaper! Use salvaged ribbon to tie the ends.

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The finished cracker!  Looks better than a bought one and it is made with love, it couldn’t be better.

Bingo – your Christmas crackers are done.  It can be fiddly but it is fun and actually it doesn’t take too long.  If you turn the TV off for an hour one evening you can easily make them with the family helping around the table.  You can even personalise them so everyone gets something they actually want!

I don’t know why crackers are only ever seen at Christmas…. why not make them for a family birthday to add some fun to the birthday dinner table, or New Year even?  The possibilities are endless.

That first Christmas 2000 years ago was about love, but it was also about family, and relationships.  Those are things that you can’t buy either.  It is so easy to get caught up in the commercialisation and to feel pressured to spend and buy.  But for us, our experience has always been that the best Christmas’ are nothing to do with what you get given, the best ones are always about being with others and showing them that you love them.

Excessive business and rushing in our lives and societies seems to drive us to consume more stuff.  When you consciously step back from that business and choose to slow down a bit, it seems like you have more time to think about what you really need, what other people need and perhaps most importantly, what the environment really needs.

Recycled paper, ribbon, and re-purposed toilet rolls.  Small treats, home baking and hand-written jokes, it really is worth the effort and it isn’t bad for the environment or your wallet.  It is one small way to show your family that you love them, and to care for the planet at the same time.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone.

Plastic free razzle dazzle – DIY eco-glitter

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DIY eco-glitter that you can make at home.  It’s biodegradable, compostable, and easy.  Clockwise from top: dyed cous cous, dyed eggshells prior to crushing, eggshell glitter, beautiful coloured rice.  Center: dyed penne pasta.

Over the time I have been writing this blog, one of the themes that has emerged is a strong desire to reduce the amount of plastic packaging that we use. I want to become more sustainable, taking care of the world I live in leaving a ‘feather light” footprint on the Earth.  That whole concept – to leave a feather light footprint – is so much harder to achieve than it looks in popular glossy magazine articles.  Hard, but I firmly believe that it is achievable – one step at a time.  Today’s step towards a more sustainable future involves mircoplastic.  In particular, craft glitter (but body glitter and make up glitters are equally problematic).

Microplastic contamination of the oceans is one of the world’s most pressing environmental concerns.  Microplastics are defined as small particles of plastic that are 100nm to 5mm in size .    These microplastic particles are small enough to be ingested by many organisms and as a result there are concerns about bioaccumulation in our food chain.  There are two ways microplastics are formed.  Firstly, they can be formed from the breakdown of larger plastic debris in the environment. Secondly, they can be pre-made, such as the microbeads that were in common consumer products such as toothpaste and facial scrubs before they were banned in 2018 in New Zealand.

The term microplastic is commonly associated with the microbeads in cosmetics and toiletries. Of course there is more than one type of microplastic causing problems.  Fibres from synthetic fabrics can get into the water from our washing machines, other types of plastic break down into micro-plastics once they are discarded.  We saw this first hand when our family visited Mana Island earlier this year.  We participated in a beach clean-up where we were astonished at the amount of plastic that you could pick up in one hour, but we were also dismayed to find fragile pieces of plastic that broke into ever smaller fragments at the lightest touch.  This is a problem we are going to have to grapple with here in New Zealand too, because microplastics are being found around our coasts.

This is not just an environmental problem but also a health problem for us because these microplastics make their way into soils and waterways and from there into the ocean and ultimately into the food chain.  Microplastic has now been found in humans for the first time.   I don’t know about you but this causes me a lot of concern.

Did you know that glitter is actually plastic?  Yep that’s right, that wonderful craft item we all take for granted.  A must-have item in any home with kids and found everywhere at Christmas.  Once you know that glitter is plastic it is alarming when you consider how it is used at kindergartens, playcentres, day care, or schools.   Kids (and adults) throw this stuff around at every opportunity.  It gets into hair (and eyes), stuck to skin, all over tables, chairs, and floors where it leaves a sparkly evidence of the activity you have just been doing.  After the glitter is finished with, the tables get wiped down with a wet cloth that is rinsed in the sink and the glitter on the floor gets walked inside and outside (and everywhere in between) until it is vacuumed or mopped up.

It’s a similar story at home.  My kids love art and craft.  All three of them have been art and craft crazy since they were tiny.  We’ve had our share of glitter and I have dealt with a fair number of unexpected glitter bombs!  The most memorable glitter bomb occurred when I came back after a quick trip to the toilet to find my toddler had managed to spread glitter all over himself, the chair, the table, the floor, the window sill, and the kitchen bench behind him where it was adorning the loaf of freshly baked bread that was cooling on the bench.  There were glittery footprints all around the kitchen and lounge. When he moved he appeared to be enveloped in a sparkling cloud, and he looked like a tiny Elton John.  It was interesting trying to clean up after that.

A couple of years ago, I realised that glitter is, in fact, almost always plastic and therefore non-biodegradable.  We haven’t bought any new glitter since.  Having discovered the truth about glitter I was then confronted with what to use as an alternative.  I had to come up with something to provide the razzle, dazzle, glitz and glam to the endless array of craft productions in our house.  To begin with, I steered my kids into environmentally friendly (and cheaper) alternatives.  We picked up acorn shells, autumn leaves, feathers, and even sand.  We used flower petals too.  We had a lot of fun, but it isn’t quite the same as glitter.

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Gorgeous eggshell eco-glitter before and after crushing.  Want finer glitter?  Just smack it harder!

What did people use before glitter?  I pondered this question for a while and then asked my mum who trained to be a kindy teacher in the 1950’s, “what on earth did you do before there was glitter?”   Back then glitter was really expensive and was usually made from powdered glass. She suggested using dyed crushed up eggshells.  Brilliant!  I tried it, the kids loved it, and they could also be involved in the manufacturing process from beginning to end.  We saved eggshells for weeks, and then we washed and dried them.  I boiled water, added food colouring and a teaspoon of white vinegar (to set the colour) and added eggshells.  I left them to sit in the hot dye till they looked nice and bright.  Then we took them out and left them to dry in the sun on a paper towel.  Magic! Bright and vibrant, the kids were instantly attracted to them.  Once they had dried, the kids had a fabulous time crushing them up in their fingers on a tray.  The end result was as fine or as coarse as you want to make it.  The kids used it instead of glitter without any complaints.  To my eyes it actually made for brighter pictures because glitter can appear dark if the light isn’t catching it but the coloured eggshells look bright from every angle.

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Penne for your thoughts…… is this bright enough for you?

Another technique is to dye rice, different shaped pasta, or couscous using a small amount of hand sanitiser and food colouring.  This process is interesting because there are so many pasta shapes out there.  You can even get alphabet pasta and dye that.

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Glitterbugs beware, coloured cou cous is very hard to resist.

I wanted to see how successful dying pasta and rice would actually be, and so I set about dying small amounts of rice and pasta using hand sanitizer and food colouring.  The results were lovely and bright.  I left the coloured rice and pasta on plates to dry overnight.  Next morning I showed my efforts to my 5 and a half year old son and 8 year old daughter as they ate breakfast.  I asked what they thought of it and they were very impressed.  So much so that I later caught my little boy setting up for a full-on craft extravaganza at the table with paper, glue, and glitter alternatives all set out ready for action.  He was super keen to get started, before I had even had a chance to photograph the glitter alternatives for this blog post!  I think that is an indication of how bright and enticing the finished product is.  All three of my kids are really keen on these alternatives to craft glitter.  It has all been a huge success.  The whole process is great, from preparing them to using them, and it is a learning experience as well.

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Fabulous vividly coloured rice is so tempting to creative little artists. So simple to make and fully biodegradable in your household compost heap.

Here in New Zealand we have a word – Kaitiaki.  It means guardians.  That is how we should all see ourselves, as guardians of our land and the creatures we share it with. Today I showed my kids that we don’t need plastic glitter.  It is just one step, but it is a step in the right direction.  Why not give it a try.  Kick the glitter habit and try plastic free craft fun.

SUST – New Horizons

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A new horizon – the view from our home. Full of promise and possibility.

It’s been a few months since I last posted a blog.  I now find myself in a new place in my life, and there are new and exciting possibilities. I guess life kind of got away from me.  One phase of my life drew to a close, and a new one opened up.  We bought our first home!  I still can’t believe it’s true even as I write it.  It has been a hectic few months as we went through the process of buying it, and then packing up, moving, unpacking and settling into our new life.  We have left the suburbs behind and are now living on a two acre block of land in the country, surrounded by fields. It gets properly dark at night, there are no more street lights to keep me awake.  I can see the stars.  No more damp rental properties with flooding issues and difficult landlords, no more trying to grow food in containers and pots.  We are now living the dream and loving it.

A big thing about why this move feels so right for me is because most of my adult life I have been trying to capture a style of living that was almost impossible to achieve in a rental property in the suburbs.  We now have the freedom to explore new ideas in ways we never could before. We are creating a large vegetable garden and so I will be able to explore things like permaculture, and organic gardening.  I have always loved gardening and I am really excited by the idea of trying to become self-sufficient and grow as much of our own food as possible.  I am also deriving much joy from having space to make a cottage garden such as I have always dreamed of.

We weren’t allowed pets in our last rental property, and this bothered us a lot.  Caring for animals and pets is incredibly valuable to help teach children empathy and also how to value the animals we share the earth with.  Finally, after nearly six years our kids have pets to care for. We own chickens again, and are reveling in the joy of fresh laid eggs every day, and the fun of getting to know our chooks personalities and quirks. We have two tiny baby chicks to watch grow.   We have six sheep in total, four Gotland ewes and two bottle fed pet lambs donated to the kids by our lovely neighbours.  We had two of the sheep shorn last week and we now have the fleece to prepare and use.   Learning how to wrangle sheep has been both challenging and fun! I know not everyone can live on two acres like we are – and not everyone has time or space for gardening, but you can always do what you can.  A herb garden in pots is a great way to start if you are pressed for space and time!  Kids love getting involved, in fact our kids love it so much we had to buy kid sized garden forks and spades.

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Gardening with the kids!  The array of kid sized garden tools we got so the kids could help out.

I have lots to share in future blogs, and I have lots of ideas on the go again so watch this space!   I have been researching micro-plastics and I have an interesting blog in progress on that.  I have a number of products to review that we have trialed as a family, from straws, to shaving products and deodorant.  We are exploring solar electricity options.  I have a success to share where I convinced a supermarket to stock a sustainable product, and I will be able to share our learning as we embrace organic gardening.

I have had time to adjust to our new life and now I am gearing up to get back to blogging again.  I see new horizons and I can’t wait.

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Poppies in the sun.  Gardening helps me get space to think.  I have been thinking about blogs again….. so watch this space.