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.  Reusable produce 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 hand sanitiser instead of water.  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.

Penguins, Paua and Plastic – New Zealand’s Plastic Problem

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One of the bags of plastic rubbish that we filled on the wild, windswept beach on Mana Island.  Collectively our plastic consumption is a huge problem that needs urgent action.

I don’t know about you but I am on a journey to a more sustainable and plastic free future.  Encouraged by my kids I started to look around me and I was dismayed at the plastic I found.  We are hearing much more about the problem of plastic these days.  People are talking about banning plastic carry bags, cafes are opting for biodegradable coffee cups, the Queen has decided to ban plastic drinking straws on her estates.  We hear regularly about the effects of plastic in the ocean, and we keep hearing about the great plastic island floating in the Pacific. Children are learning about it at school through things like Enviro Schools, and parents are encouraged to pack plastic free/packaging free lunchboxes. At the same time we (as a country) are grappling with how to recycle the plastic we consume – particularly now that China has decided not to continue taking all our recycling.

We kiwi’s get through a lot of plastic each year.  Take single use plastic carry bags as an example. Did you know that it is estimated that we get through a staggering 1.29 billion single use plastic bags every year?  New World and Countdown have both announced that they are going plastic bag free.  Pak’n Save already charges for bags.  Our local New World has started stocking reusable produce bags recently.  But this is really only the very beginning, because plastic is everywhere.  Supermarket bags are only the tip of the iceberg.

When I say plastic is everywhere, I mean everywhere.  When I started this journey to reduce my plastic consumption over a year ago, I knew there was a lot of plastic coming into our house each time I went grocery shopping, but I underestimated just how hard it would be to avoid it, even for a short time.  I challenge you to take a minute next time you are in the supermarket and wander up and down the aisles looking for things that are completely plastic free.  It’s hard, even things where plastic packaging is completely unjustified are swathed in it.  The cucumbers are in plastic wrap.  Lettuces and spring onions come in plastic bags.  At the bulk bins there are plastic zip-lock bags.    We put our produce into single use plastic produce bags.  Even glass jars with metal lids are likely to contain a plastic lid lining or seal of some kind.  Tins are often lined with plastic.  Toothpaste may come in a cardboard box, but it is still in a plastic tube with a plastic lid.  Many cardboard packets contain hidden plastic trays or bags.  The list just goes on and on. Fruit comes in plastic bags or hard plastic punnets.  I emailed Yummy to ask if the stickers on their fruit are biodegradable. They replied that they are not.

Actually the plastic problem affects much more than the supermarket bought items coming into you home.  Clothing is also often made from synthetic fabrics that lose plastic microfibers into our rivers and oceans every time you wash them.   Oceanic plastic pollution is beginning to affect the food chain too.  Many of the fish we eat have consumed plastic. It affects fish in New Zealand waters. Studies have even found it in dried fish.   Alarmingly, zooplankton have been filmed eating plastic micro fibers.  Next time you look at your plastic dish brush and decide it is looking worse for wear with broken bristles.  Have you ever thought where the fragments of those broken plastic bristles have gone?  The answer is straight down the drain and anything fine enough to pass the treatment plant, goes straight into our waterways and ultimately the ocean.   Try a plastic free alternative next time you replace your dish brush.

Often plastic is used for no obvious reason, for example, the other day I purchased some free range chicken at my local New World.  It came in a plastic tray, and was covered with plastic cling film.  Air tight and water tight, there was no chance of stray meat juice escaping from this packaging.  When I got it home I was frustrated to discover that once the cling film was removed there was another heat sealed plastic film covering the tray.  It was perfectly intact, airtight and leak proof.  Why two layers of plastic?  Here’s another example.    Earlier this year I bought a pack of two erasers. They came on a cardboard backing enclosed in plastic like batteries do.  Inside were two individually plastic-wrapped erasers.  I have no clue why erasers have to be double packed in two separate plastic layers.  Perhaps it should also have come with a plastic sticker on the package saying “sealed for your protection”!  Things like this (and non-biodegradable stickers of fruit) make me really angry.  We just don’t need this kind of plastic packaging, but it is very hard to avoid.   I don’t think many people are thinking about the sea or the food chain when they become unwitting consumers of plastic as they feed their families. For most people the plastic problem is out of sight – out of mind. Some times you need a jolt to bring you up short and help you to face reality.  For us that jolt was Mana Island.

Last month we were privileged to be able to take our two youngest children on a Kiwi Conservation Club trip to Mana Island.  This science reserve is not open to the public, you have to be a volunteer or work on the Island to visit.  It was a really wonderful trip.  There were about 17 enthusiastic kids and about 15 parents all heading out on the boat to learn and contribute our time and energy.  Our work for the morning was a beach clean-up.  Looking at the beach when we arrived I saw lots of paua shells, sea weed, driftwood, and the grey rounded beach stones and sand that you expect on beaches around Wellington.  I didn’t see any obvious sign of litter or plastic.  It just looked like a wild, windswept, empty, clean beach – but I wasn’t looking closely.  We walked back to the ranger station with DOC Rangers Otis and Caitlin who pointed out penguin tunnels and tracks criss-crossing the vegetation.  Then the group was divided into older and younger kids and the older kids went off to track down takahe inland with the Rangers.

The younger kids broke into two groups with two huge sacks each.  One group headed south, and our group headed north.  I was a bit skeptical about how much we would find on that beach, since it seemed pretty pristine when we arrived.  I wondered how long it would take the children to tire of this activity and start to complain.  Picking things up is not usually an activity that kids are enthusiastic about.  Ask any teacher or parent, and they will tell you that picking up anything causes all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t have to do it!

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Our group beginning the beach clean-up.

But these kids embraced this beach cleaning activity with enthusiasm and gusto.  The parents were just as keen.   We all wandered along the beach eyes down scanning the stones and paua shells for signs of plastic.  It took a few minutes for me to spot my first piece of plastic – a yogurt pottle caught under a bit of driftwood.  It was white and I almost mistook it for a sun-bleached shell.  Then, suddenly everyone seemed to be finding things.  The kids made friends while they searched, imaginatively using sticks as ‘plastic detectors’. The sacks rapidly filled with a huge assortment of plastic.  Chocolate bar wrappers, old shoes, a dolls leg, fishing line, sunglasses, plastic rope, water bottles, pump bottle lids, milk bottle lids, soft drink bottles, water bottles, ice-cream containers, margarine containers, meat trays, cigarette lighters, felt pens, plant pots, straws, McDonalds ice-cream sundae cups, single use takeaway sauce containers, cable ties, plastic farm animals, plastic strapping, bubble wrap, cling film, a toothpaste tube, fragments of plastic so brittle it broke apart in your fingers, and so many yogurt pots I lost count.  We found a huge piece of plastic about a meter across that was branded with the name Talley’s.  This long list is only a fraction of what we found.  Nameless bits of plastic that couldn’t be identified were everywhere.  This plastic litter was concealed between beach stones, under driftwood, and caught under low beach scrub where the wind and waves had tossed it.  Those penguin tracks we saw when we arrived often contained windblown plastic flotsam and jetsam.  I have never been so ashamed of my plastic consumption as I was on that beach.  After just one hour we had filled our sacks full to the brim with plastic.  If it is hard for us (who know what plastic is) to spot plastic on what seems to be an ordinary beach, how can we expect birds and fish to avoid it?

It was an eye opener.  My kids enjoyed every minute of it.  It felt good to be picking it up, like we were undoing just a little bit of the damage we have caused with our plastic consumption. My bird crazy 7 year old said wistfully that she wished we could have walked around the whole Island and “cleaned all of the beach”, not just a little section. My 5 year old son insists that we pick up the plastic he sees on the way home from school each day.  In a 15 minute walk from my house to the school I can easily pick up a supermarket bag of plastic rubbish.  I do this regularly.  On Mana Island the rubbish floated there, but around our towns it gets there because people drop it, sometimes within sight of a rubbish bin.

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The final rubbish collection. Far more than I dreamed we would find.  If we can collect this on a small section of beach in a little over an hour, imagine how big the plastic problem really is.

I am so frustrated by needless plastic packaging. I have very little say over whether I get it or not, most of the time it is close to impossible to find an alternative in the mainstream shops.  I’m also frustrated by how hard it is to find plastic-free alternatives to things like toothbrushes when I’m in the supermarket.

We have to do something!  We have to do it fast too.  Our clothes, our shoes, our food, our kids toys, our bags, our dish brushes, our straws, actually our whole lives are now enveloped in plastic.  But you can make changes.  Repair, reuse, reduce, recycle.  Say no to plastic.  If every one of you who read this blog contacted a company who is using needless single use plastic and let them know you aren’t happy, or contacted a company to ask if they have considered an alternative to plastic packaging, then together we could let these companies know that we want change.  They won’t change unless you and I – the customers – demand it. Every action (no matter how small) has real power to effect change.   Look for alternatives, let companies know you want change, and for the sake of our environment, pick up any plastic you see, before it ends up on a beach like the one on Mana Island.

 

Tread Lightly – Shoes with a small footprint

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Steps on the ethical footwear journey.  Allbirds merino shoes on the left, Po-Zu Fairtrade sneakers on the right.

How often do you think about shoes?  Shoes are often overlooked when it comes to ethical clothing choices.  Unfortunately they are not readily recycled at the end of their life and so they usually end up in the landfill.  Many shoes that are available (and affordable) are made from non-biodegradable materials that will linger for many years (perhaps even thousands or tens of thousands of years), leaching toxic chemicals into the environment as they decompose.  What’s more we’ve all heard the horror stories of the treatment of workers in shoe factories around the impoverished “developing world”.  How can we ask those workers to care about the environment when they can’t even afford to care for themselves and their families?

It turns out that ethical footwear is pretty expensive and hard to find when you are in a hurry to replace a much loved shoe that’s fallen to bits.  We humans have been making shoes a long time.  People were making sage brush sandals ~10,000 years ago in Oregon!  Leather has been used to make shoes for 5500 years.  Things have certainly changed a fair bit in the shoe department.  This is particularly true since the rise of plastics and synthetic materials.

Several years ago we began to wonder how ethical our shoes were.  At the time our eldest was heavily influenced by her peers and wanted a pair of Nikes.  We had seen articles in the news about the treatment of Nike workers.  I was reluctant to purchase Nikes because I didn’t want to support a company that didn’t value human rights.  Our daughter was horrified when we found a few age appropriate videos on YouTube for her.  She wanted nothing to do with Nike.  We opted for  Mizunos  which are a more ethical alternative, and she was happy with them instead of the ever popular Nikes. Given the time pressure, the price we could afford and what was locally available in a hurry we think it was a good compromise.  Even better, it sparked a lot of discussion around the dinner table about what brands were ethical and what ones weren’t.  That was the beginning of the shoe journey.

What is the environmental impact of the shoes you wear?  How often do you stop to consider it?  Many people I have talked to seem to think that the only environmental impact of their shoes comes at the end of their life, but in actual fact that is only part of the impact.   In general, sports shoes for example comprise dozens of mostly synthetic materials.  A single sports shoe can contain 65 discrete parts that require 360 processing steps for assembly.  Using life cycle assessment methodology the carbon footprint for a typical pair of running shoes made from synthetic materials is estimated to be approximately 14kg CO2-equivalent.  The bulk of carbon emissions for a shoe is found in processing materials, and the manufacturing process.  Unlike many other consumables they are not energy intensive to use or maintain (which is the opposite of electronics for example).

If your shoes are made in New Zealand then the electricity used to power the manufacturing process is largely renewable.  But if it comes from China then coal is the dominant source of electricity and is also likely used to produce steam for other processes in the factory as well.  China is making strides in adopting greener energy alternatives but the majority of its electricity is still from unsustainable and polluting forms of power generation. This is an important consideration when trying to purchase ethical footwear, and it is one that is not easy to assess when you are in the shoe shop!

There are practical steps you can take, like buying quality shoes that have a longer lifespan, and only buying what you actually need.  You can repair your shoes too, I wrote a blog about repairing  jandals with a soldering iron.  Ultimately however, they wear out and you are likely to be left with a bulky piece of synthetic foam, imitation leather and vinyl, or a plastic sole to bury somewhere for the next 10,000 years.

When considering leather, there is more  than meets the eye.  Obviously leather is not an option if you are particularly bothered by animal welfare.  If you are comfortable using leather products, then you might want to consider where your leather is manufactured, under what laws, and if it is tanned using chromium or vegetable tanning processes.

NZ has a large leather industry (something I never knew anything about).  Workers are covered by our labour laws and there are environmental controls in place.  Overseas it is often a very different story.  The leather industry in places such as China, Bangladesh and India for example, is hazardous to both the environment and the people who work in the factories.  Leather is often produced in areas without strong environmental protection laws.  The primary cause of environmental damages from the leather industry is from the dumping of waste products (both solid and liquid) that contain chromium and other hazardous compounds.

While I understand why some people choose to avoid leather (or any animal products) out of concern for animal welfare, I am very wary of a so called “animal friendly” shoes that are instead made from synthetic materials and plastic soles.  It is all very well to refuse to use animal products, opting instead for a product that is impossible to recycle, will be consigned to landfill to leach toxins into the environment, and cause harm to the very animals you are trying to help.  They can’t drink from contaminated waterways, and they can’t eat fragmented remains of plastic shoes as they float in the ocean.  If you are concerned about animal welfare then you need to look more widely than whether or not the product came from an animal.  Instead you also need to consider the impacts of the production of synthetic alternatives on the environment and wildlife as well.

The following list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will provide a starting point for you to make a step in the direction of more sustainable and ethical footwear choices.

McKinleys

We have been buying McKinleys for our kids for years.  All three have had them and all of them have been unable to wear them out.  In fact, our eldest (long ago) hit on the bright idea to try scuffing holes in them so we would buy her a new pair.  She tried for a long time but gave up in the end because she was able to make them look worn, but not wear them out.

They come in two main styles for children (although they do a separate range of black school shoes and sandals). Style one is a pull on boot with an elastic gusset.  The second is an old style T-bar sandal.

Pros:

  • Available in a rainbow of colours, (red, blue, orange, bronze, green, pink…..etc).
  • Modest range of styles for adults.
  • Made in Dunedin NZ, under NZ labour laws protecting workers rights.
  • The leather for McKinley’s is sourced from Tasman Leather, a New Zealand owned tannery in Whanganui, using New Zealand hides, subject to NZ environmental and animal welfare protections.
  • Our kids shoes are usually $89-$99 but the last pair cost $65 because they were the last in a discontinued colour line.
  • Very durable.

Cons:

  • Soles are PVC or nitrile rubber, which is the only area of concern for me.
  • Our only issue so far has been that the buckles on a couple of shoes have not lasted. Both were able to be cheaply mended by the local shoe repairer.

Etiko

My husband decided to try these after becoming frustrated with cheap Warehouse shoes.  He is very hard on shoes, and so any shoe is in for a battering if he is wearing them.

Pros:

  • Amazingly comfortable casual shoes to wear.
  • Looked fantastic.
  • They are 100% biodegradable and sustainable
  • The sole was much better quality than equivalent Warehouse casuals.

Cons:

  • These shoes were terribly short lived. They had torn across back between sole and upper after only 3 months, of regular wear, which was very disappointing. The quality of the manufacturing seemed to let these shoes down.

Allbirds

My husband and I both have pairs of Allbirds.  We initially thought these looked like a great ethical choice but subsequent research has shown that there are issues with these shoes in terms of their soles and part of the lining of the upper. We were excited by the idea of a wool shoe.

Pros:

  • Super warm and comfy.
  • Ethical B-corp manufacturing.
  • Sustainable insole and part of upper.
  • Reasonable price.
  • They last better than you would expect a woollen shoe to last.
  • Fine for flat unchallenging surfaces.
  • They are definitely machine washable.

Cons:

  • Very slippery on some wet surfaces.
  • Undisclosed nylon in upper.
  • Soles are standard EVA and non-biodegradable.
  • My husband’s Allbirds haven’t held their shape. They now resemble booties! Mine are still fine despite a lot of wear.
  • The upper lacks enough support. Because the upper is stretchy my feet slide forward walking downhill and it’s actually downright weird on unevenly sloped surfaces and my feet slide sideways over the edge of the sole on steep terrain.
  • Not suitable as a running shoe despite advertising.

Po-Zu

My husband decided to try out this brand after seeing international reviews.  He got a semi casual pair for work.

Pros:

  • Vegan and chrome free leather options available.
  • 100% biodegradable, sustainable.
  • Fair trade.
  • Beautiful manufacturing quality.
  • After several months of regular wear they look barely used.
  • Warm and comfortable.
  • Good looking.

Cons:

  • Higher price, not available in NZ so difficult to get correct sizing.

 

Brooks

My husband decided to try these after his last running shoes wore out. This brand is the only proper sports shoe with ethical credentials that we could find.

Pros:

  • Huge commitment from company to living wages,
  • Ethical supply chain management
  • Real commitment to improving their environmental standards.
  • Biodegradable soles which make up the bulk of shoe.
  • Recycled content in upper.

Cons:

  • Shoes are still petro-chemical based and the upper is not biodegradable or recyclable.

I am choosing to make my choices count.  I support buying local NZ made where possible.  I always check the label to see where the shoes are made.  No matter how nice, if it is made in China for example I won’t buy it (unless it has exceptional accreditations to help me make an informed choice). I try to consider the end of life of the shoe too.  I don’t want something that is going to end up in landfill.  If it can be composted or recycled then that is a huge plus for me. I acknowledge how hard it can be to make these choices when you are urgently trying to replace your children’s shoes, but every choice you make has a flow on effect.  Even avoiding cheap synthetic shoes from China is a good place to start.

I believe we can transform the world with our choices.  Even making the effort to avoid a pair of shoes that is not ethically made in favour of a shoe with better ethical standards is a step in the right direction.

Grandma’s tips to save the world!

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Wholesome plastic free goodness!  The cheese dish my grandparents used every day to store their cheese and a preserving jar full of ‘stretched’ butter,  served on the folding tray that Grandpa made.

Our family is on a bit of a journey to try and make more environmentally friendly and socially responsible choices.  One of the big things we are trying to do is to reduce our plastic consumption.  These days plastic is absolutely everywhere. I think we have all got so used to plastic that we are blinded to how much of it there is.  Seventy or eighty years ago things were very different.  My Grandma brought up her family in the 1940’s and 50’s.  Mum remembers when her father brought home their first plastic cups.  He threw them all on the kitchen floor to see what reaction he would get when they bounced instead of shattered.  Plastic was ‘new-fangled’ and Grandma didn’t have much of it, yet she managed just fine without the plastic we have become accustomed to.  So what were her tricks?

Tips from my Grandma’s kitchen!

Use a container.  Grandma had tins and jars.  A container and a lid removes the need for cling film or zip lock bags.  Choose to reuse a yogurt container and lid or ice-cream container rather than put them out straight away with the recycling.  Label with a vivid!  Or use a glass jar with a screw on lid.

Put a plate over the top of a bowl, or use two plates.  Put food on one plate and cover with another, brilliant!  Food stored this way is stackable.

You can use a tea towel or a piece of fabric and a large rubber band.  Fabric used in this way can be washed and reused.  Food covered this way breathes so you don’t end up with damp or slimy food.  Cheese used to go hard when stored this way (but remained usable), nowadays cheese in plastic goes slimy or mouldy.

Cellophane, a rubber band and a jam jar works well too.  In fact at craft fairs you can find homemade jams and chutneys with cellophane lids that are airtight!

Grandma didn’t have plastic straws around the house. Instead, occasionally as a treat they had waxed paper straws.  My mum remembers these from when she was a little girl.  They were seen as a treat.  We now have a supply of paper straws in our kitchen.  A more recent alternative to paper straws is re-usable metal straws. We have a few of these and we love them.

Lunch paper can be used to wrap sandwiches.  Grandma used grease-proof paper to wrap sandwiches. My Mum wrapped my school lunches with lunch paper.  It worked fine then and it’s still fine now.  Used lunch paper can go in the backyard compost heap at the end of its life.

My Grandparents had a large vegetable garden and grew a lot of their own fruit. I don’t know if it fed them completely or if they had to supplement it but it was just how people did things back then.  Vegetables and fruit these days often come pre-packaged with moulded plastic trays and plastic bags, or even shrink wrap.  If you grow your own vegetables and fruit, then they don’t come in plastic packaging. Just pick fresh from the garden. Not everyone has the room for a vegetable garden (we certainly don’t), but you would be surprised how much you can grow in fish bins and pots.

In Grandma’s day they didn’t use plastic bin liners.  In our house we have abandoned bin liners altogether.  Every couple of weeks, we simply wash the bins out with hot soapy water.  If you can’t face life without a bin liner, then choose eco-brands that are compostable.

There were no plastic supermarket bags in grandma’s day.  Baskets, paper bags and reusable bags must have been the norm.  Most people are catching on to reusable carry bags, and increasingly you can get re-usable produce and bulk bin bags.  I have a little collection and very rarely need to use the plastic bags supplied in the supermarket.

Dish brushes and cleaning clothes weren’t made from plastic in Grandma’s kitchen in the 1940’s.  In a previous blog I talked about using alternatives to plastic dish brushes.  This is a surprisingly easy switch to make.

Think mindfully about food.  In my Grandma’s day, she didn’t have a fridge.  Instead she had a food safe to keep food cool and protected from flies.  I suspect that she was more aware of how fast food would perish and used food quickly before it began to spoil.  She made smaller amounts of food so she didn’t have to worry about storing the left overs.  This is a great way to reduce food waste.

Try ‘stretching’ butter.  My Grandma brought up her family during WW2 and wartime rationing.  She never bought spreadable butter in a plastic container.  I have now stopped buying margarine or spreadable butter products because they come in plastic.  A wonderful friend of mine gave me a WW2 era recipe for ‘stretching’ butter while rationing was still in place.  So simple and effective, I wish I had known about this earlier.  Here is the recipe to make 500g of butter into 1kg of stretched butter.

You need: 500g of butter at room temperature, 1 cup cooking oil (whatever type you prefer), and one cup water.

Simple whiz up the butter in a food processor (or with a hand held mixer), till whitish and pale, then add the oil and water half a cup at a time and mix until blended.  Scrape it into a container with a lid and pop it in the fridge.  If you want to stretch the butter further you can add 1.5 cups of water and 1.5 cups of oil.  I prefer the mixture to be slightly firmer and not to melt quickly so I use less oil and water.  I was told that this ‘stretched’ butter is fine for baking but I haven’t actually tried it.  However it does taste great on freshly baked bread, and you never need to deal with a greasy plastic container again!

There are other things you can do too.

You can try to avoid convenience foods.  This is hard to do and believe me I still struggle with this one.  But more and more I am considering my purchases and choosing to avoid buying things that come in disposable plastic packaging.  Or better still try making your own convenience foods; muffins, crackers, bread or biscuits taste better if they are home made.

Tinfoil can be used in almost exactly the same way as cling film AND it can be recycled!  One person I have spoken too prefers cling film because she can see what’s in a container.  An easy way around that issue is to have a permanent marker and simply write on the tinfoil. While it is energy intensive to manufacture it is reusable (if you take care of it) and recyclable.  Used tinfoil isn’t clogging up our oceans.

Beeswax wraps might not have been around in the 1940’s but they are an option these days.  They’ve become increasingly popular in the last few years. Check out my blog on these nifty alternatives to cling film.

My Grandma and Grandpa didn’t buy anything they didn’t need, and they didn’t throw out anything they could use.  They grew up in the depression and lived through WW2, times were tough.  They saved string to reuse, they saved wrapping paper to reuse, and Grandpa apparently straightened old nails to reuse.  I think my grandparents would be stunned to see how people take plastic for granted.  Thinking about Grandma’s kitchen I can’t work out why we even need it.  If she could manage to bring up a family without plastic during a war, I am certain I can do it today. Challenge yourself to make a few small changes and you will be surprised how easy it is.

Get SUST with beeswax wraps! Ditch cling film and change the world!

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Cling film annihilation kit ready for action.

Cling film has been a staple feature of just about every kitchen for years.  It’s so quick, so convenient, so useful, so effective.  What would we do without it?  A hundred years ago in my great grandma’s kitchen they had never heard of it and it would be years before it arrived to make life in the kitchen easier.   My great grandma managed just fine without it so why can’t I?  Challenged by this fact I finally abandoned cling film (Glad Wrap) in my kitchen about a year ago.  There are so many alternatives, that replacing it was surprisingly easy.  Most recently I tried and liked some beeswax wraps, so I decided to try making my own.  So here is one way to replace cling film and all you need to know to make your own beeswax wraps.

I researched the history of cling film and was startled to discover it was invented back in the 1930’s. But I don’t think it arrived in household kitchens till the 1950’s.   Sadly our concern about it is a much more recent thing.  As a result the environment and the animals we share this planet with are drowning in an accumulation of forgotten plastic, including cling film.

Cling film is one of those things you use, throw away and never think about again.  What happens when it’s finished with?  It is often seen blowing around school playgrounds.  I’ve fished it out of the Hutt River and I picked up shreds of it on a beach in the Coromandel this year.  Last time I visited the rubbish dump I saw it caught in the bushes lining the road to the dump.  I’ve read about how it has been found in the stomach contents of dead albatross chicks and how sea turtles think it is jelly fish.   Adult sea birds often mistake floating plastic for fish and they feed it to their chicks not realising that it isn’t fish.  A tummy full of fish helps a chick to grow, but a tummy full of plastic is a death warrant.  We are hearing much more these days about the problems associated with single use plastic and how devastating it is for our oceans.  I read with increasing alarm and shame that we are heading for a future where there will be will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

There are many ways to replace single use plastics in your kitchen. I’ll be looking at this more in my next blog post.

Make your own beeswax wraps!                      

Beeswax wraps.  These have become increasingly popular in the last few years, but according to good old google, people have been waxing fabric since ancient times.  The benefit of beeswax wraps are that they are made from simple “good” ingredients.  These nifty wraps mimic most of the properties of cling film and are compostable.  Even better, an old beeswax wrap can be cut into strips and made into fire starters (you can even buy wrap off-cuts for this purpose).

Because I was trying to find alternatives to single use plastic, I was very curious to give them a whirl.  Last October I decided to get a couple of small Munch beeswax wraps and see what I thought of them.  I was pleasantly surprised.  They smell wonderful, and they really do seem to work well.  Unfortunately they are expensive (at least initially) and I wasn’t able to afford any larger ones.  I had some difficulty getting them to stay properly on the cut end of a cucumber, but a rubber band sorted that out.  They stay on most bowls alright.  Sometimes they need to be pressed on again with warm hands after a day or so.  I’ve had no problems washing them, and they make a packed lunch a visual treat!

I really wanted to get a couple of larger ones since we often need to cover larger containers but the expense put me off.  Then I discovered Pure Nature.

This amazing company sells everything you need (except the fabric) to make your own.  This is where I purchased the beeswax, pine rosin, and jojoba oil to make mine.  It’s pretty good value since I will get another 4 batches of wraps out of the bag of pine rosin, and another two batches of wraps out of the bottle of jojoba oil. The 100gms of beeswax was used up on one batch of wraps.  Making my own was a cheaper option for me than buying ready-made wraps.  I ended up with 5 large (30x30cm), 2 medium (20x20cm), and 2 small (15x15cm) sized wraps.  I love being creative so making my own was great fun, and really simple.

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Cutting the fabric to size.

Here’s how to make your own.

You’ll need to get some cotton fabric or dig into your fabric stash if you have one.  Natural fabrics (cotton or hemp) are best (but not wool).  I pre-washed my fabric and then cut to size with pinking shears.

You’ll need an old pot and an old bowl (to use as a double boiler), tin foil, a paint brush (a thicker one so you can brush the mixture on quickly), and a set of scales.

Ingredients: 20g pine rosin, 3 tablespoons jojoba oil, and 100g beeswax.  Jojoba oil is used for its anti-microbial properties.  Pine rosin is used to achieve a slightly tacky texture and helps the wrap to more closely mimic the properties of cling film.

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Wrap making in action.  Brushing the mixture on with a brush.
  1. Cut fabric to size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  3. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the pine rosin.
  4. Put beeswax, crushed rosin and jojoba oil in the bowl.
  5. Melt together over double boiler. Stir to mix.
  6. Put a sheet of tin foil on a baking tray and lay a fabric square on it.
  7. Brush beeswax onto the fabric quickly, making sure to cover evenly and try to avoid pools. It will start to set very quickly.
  8. Place tray in oven for 3 minutes to allow the fabric to absorb the beeswax.
  9. Remove and check that there are no bare spots and that the wax is evenly distributed.
  10. Hang to dry.
  11. Start using.
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The finished product!  Nine new beeswax wraps.

Wash with cool soapy water and hang to dry.  Avoid heat, and don’t use to wrap raw meats or fish.

Simple and fun.

The question I keep asking myself regarding single use plastic like cling film is whether I really need it. Is a moment of perceived convenience worth the cost to our environment and the animals that share it with us?  We throw it away when we finish with it, but where is away?  As David Attenborough says “There is no ‘away’ because plastic is so permanent and indestructible.  When you cast it in the ocean…it does not go away”.  It doesn’t go ‘away’ when it ends up in the landfill either.  I feel the weight of that plastic like a burden.  But each time I use one beeswax wrap I know I am making a small but significant difference, and it is worth it for my children’s future.

Get more mileage out of your jandals with a soldering iron!

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Repaired jandal after successfully discovering the art of jandal soldering!

Kiwis love their jandals.  It wouldn’t be summer without them. Everyone knows the classic Kiwi BBQ;  beer, cricket and jandals. What trip to the beach would be complete without a pair of jandals?  The only footwear for summer!  Us kiwis love our jandals so much that some die-hard fans will wear them everywhere, even tramping through the Himalayas (true story).  Every jandal lover dreads the day the jandal finally gives its last gasp.

With all jandals comes the inevitable frustration when they unexpectedly wear out.  We have all heard of the bread bag tag hack to stop the knobby bit pulling through the sole after a ‘blow out’.  A brilliant bit of ingenuity.  But what happens when the knob comes off altogether?  It’s always been the end of the jandal.  No bread bag tag can fix that!  Almost invariably the break happens at the most inconvenient moment.  You know what I mean, in the middle of the road causing an embarrassing stumble or halfway through a game of backyard cricket causing you to miss an easy catch. The last time it happened to me I was halfway through the walk to school on a baking hot afternoon to collect my kids!

In January we had to buy a new pair of jandals for Miss 14 after the knobby bit parted company with the rest of her jandal strap in Taihape at the start of our summer holiday. We hurriedly searched out a new pair and she was happy again.  A fortnight ago the knobby bit came adrift during an energetic game of poison pole at Youth Group.  Not only was she infuriated to lose the game (she’s very competitive), she was pretty disappointed as the new jandal had lasted barely a month and it wasn’t a budget brand either.

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One broken jandal looking sorry for itself before jandal soldering was attempted.

My husband had watched vinyl layers at work welding the vinyl seams in a hospital fit out.  He got to thinking about the problem.  He got a bee in his bonnet that there must be a way to fix the jandals.  So after some thought he decided to try welding the knobby bit back on to the broken strap with a soldering iron.

First he made sure it was clean and dry with no dirt or sand adhering to the broken surfaces.

Then he simply made sure the soldering iron was hot enough to melt the strap, and carefully melted both bits at the same time before pressing the pieces together and holding till the repair cooled.

After a bit of wrestling to get the newly reattached knobby bit back through the hole in the sole, hey presto! One fixed jandal ready to go again.  He actually repaired both pairs of Miss 14’s jandals so now she has two trusty pairs of jandals again.

More than a week later the repairs seem to be doing just fine.  It looks like they have plenty of flip flop life in them.

Everywhere you go these days you hear the mantra reduce, reuse, recycle.  There is one thing missing from that list and it is an important one.  Repair.  Repairing broken things is something we have forgotten about in today’s consumer society.  If something breaks you are encouraged to just throw it away and go and enjoy some retail therapy as you buy another one.  In order to be truly sustainable, repairing and fixing is a skill we all need to rediscover.

Of course eventually every jandal will bite the dust permanently and no amount of repair with a bread bag tag or a soldering iron will restore it to its former glory.  When that day finally comes, I’ve found an awesome brand to try out.

Subs is a flip-flop company from New Zealand. Their aim is to prevent and reduce plastic waste by transforming it into high-performance, recycled plastic flip-flops. At the end of their life they can be recycled into new pairs of Subs.

Subs are made of recycled plastic sourced from beach clean-ups & recycling, and they pledge to remove ½ a kg of debris from our ocean ecosystems for every pair sold.

We are just waiting until someone’s jandals finally can’t be fixed so we can try them out and see what they are like.  Seems like it might be a long wait now we have discovered the art of jandal soldering!

Until then, in our house the mantra is “reduce, reuse, recycle, and repair”!

Kid’s backpacks – a burden of responsibility.

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Two very happy children and two ethical backpacks. Cotopaxi bag on the left, and Recycledbag.co backpack on the right.

We have just started a new school year.  The summer holidays are over.  It is back to school with all the fun of buying stationary and the grind of making school lunches.  This year we have had to buy school bags too.  Making an ethical choice in the back to school madness is an interesting journey.

My children are the best part of my life.  They bring so much joy and fun.  When it was just my husband and me on our own we thought about the future, but I don’t think we really felt how important it was until we held our children in our arms and watched them sleep at night.  My children focused me firmly on their future not mine.  My point of perception stretched from the immediate – to far in the future when my children and potentially grandchildren might be struggling to understand why we thought and acted as we do right now in 2018.  There are many paths to this realisation, and not all of them require kids, (that’s just been my personal experience).  But all of them permanently alter your perception of what is truly important.

The people making cheap school backpacks in sweatshops probably feel exactly the same about their children and the future they will inherit, but they are dis-empowered from taking any action because their labour is cheap and there are few laws to protect them.

I don’t want my children to have products that exploit another person.  I’m really bothered by the idea that my child might be wearing a school bag manufactured by workers in a factory who may not able to provide for, or even spend proper time with their own children.  My children feel the same way.

The more I have looked into ethical and eco choices the more aware they are of the reality of what goes on to make their things.  As a result my children are equally bothered by plastic waste, and they are horrified by the idea of people slaving away in factories for a pittance to make the things we end up buying.  They can’t believe (with their childish innocence) that this isn’t easy to fix.  “Why don’t people just say they don’t want plastic”?  “Why don’t people just stop buying things if they are made in sweat shops?  And “why don’t we just ask for the workers to be paid more”?  Why indeed?

In the past we have always been in a rush at the last minute and ended up buying what we could easily get hold of in the local shops.  However, these bags are usually made in China, are most often cheap, and clearly not well made.  These are the bags you usually find in the “back to school” sales.   I’ve never seen an ethical alternative.  The best you can hope for is to buy a bag that is designed to be more durable so it will be a while before it ends up in the landfill.

My little man has just started school.  He wanted an ethical back pack to replace his tiny kindy bag.  Fair enough we thought, he is going to have to fit more in his bag now than lunch and an emergency change of undies.  My 7 year old needed a replacement bag.  She was particularly keen on fair trade backpacks.   And so the search began.

It’s hard to find an affordable fair trade backpack in the local mall, so we didn’t even look.  We simply turned to good old Google.  We found a few option, some Fairtrade, some made from recycled materials.  They are a bit more expensive, but mostly they seem to be made to last. When it comes to ethical choices I think Vivienne Westwood summed it up nicely when she said “Buy less, choose well, make it last.”  This is exactly what we are trying to do.

Mister 5 initially chose a backpack from Patagonia.  He was really excited.  But although we had been impressed by Patagonia’s environmental and social responsibility claims we were sorely disappointed.  They do have outlets in NZ but they don’t necessarily stock the full Patagonia range and they don’t stock this little backpack.  We decided to try buying online from the US but they refused to ship to NZ under any circumstances.  They wouldn’t even ship to a US address if it was coming to NZ.  I don’t know how ethical they really are if a customer in NZ wants to buy an ethical product from them but they won’t allow that to happen.  I am really disappointed and I won’t be buying from them in future not even from their NZ outlets.  A truly ethical company needs to ensure that any person wanting to make an ethical choice is empowered to do so no matter what country they are from.

Following this disappointment my little man considered his options with us and decided to choose a backpack from Recycled bags.co which we purchased through an online shop called The Spotted Door  that specialises in recycled products.  Recycled bags.co is an Australian company making sustainable eco-friendly products from recycled fish feed and cement bags.  Their mission is to bring economic empowerment and a sustainable income to artisans in Cambodia where many people live below the poverty line on less than $1.25 a day.  Mister 5 is particularly anxious to stop plastic ending up in landfill so he was thrilled with this recycled bag.  He also instantly fell in love with the little elephant on the back. All in all, this bag was a super choice.  It has a couple of pockets, two on the outside and one on the inside.  It is the perfect size for him.  He insisted on wearing it for the first time on a family tramp to celebrate Waitangi Day.

Miss 7 looked at a number of options before settling on a Backpack from US company Cotopaxi.  She chose this neat little number in purple and it arrived the same day as Mister 5’s arrived.  It was like Christmas again in our house!  Cotopaxi products are guaranteed to last 61 years – the average lifespan of a person living in the developing world. If something goes wrong they will repair or replace the product, which might be a bit hard for NZ customers but I really like the intention behind it.   Cotopaxi is a public benefit corporation which means it is focused on public good rather than just pure profit.  Each year Cotopaxi provides targeted grants to non-profits, and this can include volunteering at local farms or helping install irrigation pumps in Myanmar. Cotopaxi are committed to helping eradicate poverty. They are also B Corp certified .  And it came with a photograph of the person who made the bag and a handwritten note.

Cost wise the Recycledbag.co pack we got for Mister 5 ended up being $75.00 NZD including postage.  The Cotopaxi pack was $65.00 NZD including postage.  Although much more expensive than a $15 cheapie from the Warehouse or some other budget place, our kids have helped to change the world!  These bags are designed to last, and in the case of Cotopaxi that guarantee should take Miss 7 through to when she is 68 years old!  It is a good sized bag for someone who is 7 years old, but it is still perfectly wearable for me so she should be able to get excellent mileage out of it.  It is designed and intended to last most of her life!

During our search we did find one Kathmandu backpack made from recycled bottles, but it was far too big for a kid’s school bag, and a bit pricey for us too.  But if you are interested it is worth taking a look.

So there is our ethical school bag journey.  We are very happy with the bags our kids chose and so are they.  They are proving a talking point with lots of people, who had no idea there were ethical bag choices out there.  I think it was all worth it.