Eating what we overlook

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I am really excited to have recently had a bit of an epiphany about what we class and edible and why.  I think, like many  people, I have become overly reliant on what is in the shops to guide my fresh food choices.  If it isn’t in the shop then (while I might be aware of it) I might not remember it or think of it when I am trying to choose fresh produce for my family.  If it isn’t there in the shop then I can’t buy it.  I think we are so blinded regarding what we can actually eat that we have can no longer see the possibilities.  For example I tend to forget that many flowers can be eaten and added to salads etc.  Take pineapple sage.  It is super pretty and attracts bees into the garden (and my 9 year old who likes to suck the nectar out of them), but I had never considered how they might be added to a salad to add flavour and a splash of brilliant red colour.

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Nasturtium capers!  I never realised that you could eat the leaves the flowers AND the seeds of these amazing plants.  All the more reason to plant some in your garden. 

I was looking for a relish recipe in one of my favorite recipe books and I noticed that you can pickle nasturtium seeds and use them like capers.  I was immediately curious and decided that a lockdown activity would be to pickle some.  I picked a jar of green nasturtium seeds and following a combination of several recipes I successfully pickled them. They have been maturing in the fridge since the lockdown and are now ready to open and try.   A friend told me they are crisp and crunchy and a bit spicy.  I can’t wait to crack them open the next time we make homemade pizza.

As New Zealand headed into the covid19 pandemic people suddenly started thinking about being more self sufficient as a way of making sure they could feed their families if things got really tough.  Seedlings and seeds were suddenly in demand.  One thing that didn’t occur to so many people is that the food we see and take for granted in the produce aisle is only a very small sample of the produce that is actually out there.  There are so many things that you can eat that you can’t buy in a supermarket or even at a green grocer (if you are lucky enough to have one local to you).  Perhaps an even bigger issue here is that the produce we see is often not the only part of the plant you can eat.

This latter point has come as a bit of a revelation to me as I considered during lockdown how I could provide for my family as we headed into winter AND tried to avoid unnecessary trips to the shop for produce that spoils quickly and can’t be stored in bulk.  This thought process has continued for me as we emerged from lockdown.  There are a lot of things that might be growing in your garden (flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables and even “weeds”) unnoticed and unappreciated.  Just because you only buy a broccoli head doesn’t mean that is the only edible part of the plant.  When you buy a couple of beetroot tubers, shorn of their leaves and glad-wrapped onto a plastic tray it is easy to forget that the leaves are edible too.  A whole edible part of the plant has been removed and as a result we tend to forget about it and we are unable to make use of those parts in our cooking.  This has caused me to begin looking at the plants in my garden and the produce we eat differently.  I am surprised how much we waste because we forget that it can be eaten!  I hope to inspire you to look differently at your garden and the plants we consume.  So here is some food for thought.

  • People usually grow radishes for the root, but did you also know that you can also eat the green radish seed pods? Pick some to try with a salad.   That isn’t the end either because radish seeds can be used as a spicy sprouting seed, and as a micro-green.
  • Peas can be grown as a winter crop (although ours are off to a slow start) and everyone is familiar with peas in pods and shelling them into bowls.  But did you know that you know that you can also use peas shoots as a salad green, and you can eat the flowers?
  • Nasturtium flowers can be eaten, but so can leaves shoots and seeds (as caper pickles).  I have always loved nasturtiums.  I love the riot of flowers cascading out over paths and climbing over the top of boulders and tree stumps.  The flowers are so bright and vivid that I almost feel they hurt my eyes and are so bright they can’t be actually real.  I always find I am drawn the the intensity of the flowers, and so I always have them in my garden.  I have known for years that you can eat the flowers and I sometime dress up a salad by adding some.  But I didn’t know until this year that you can also eat the young leaves and the seeds as well.  We used the leaves in salad sandwiches during lockdown while we waited for our lettuce seedlings to get big enough to harvest from, and we loved them.
  • Beetroot is another plant that we often forget is about more than the root.  The young leaves can be used as a salad green as well and the leaves in general can be used like silverbeet. So often we think of beetroot as just coming in a tin but it is easy and rewarding to grow (providing you cover them to protect them from hungry birds).
  • When people pick celery they usually discard the leaves.  But celery leaves can be used to flavour soup stocks, and can be chopped into salads as well.  Personally I always use celery leaves when I am making soup stock.
  • Pumpkin is another versatile vegetable that has many more possibilities that the big ripe orange fruit we tend to think of.  For example pumpkin leaves are edible and can be used to wrap food for steaming.  The young shoots and leaves can apparently be steamed and eaten like silverbeet.  Small baby pumpkins can be used like courgettes.  The flowers can be added to salads and the seeds can be saved for next year.
  • Broccoli is an incredible plant with so many possibilities that you won’t see in the supermarket produce aisle.  Broccoli leaves can be used in both salads and stir fries, and they can be used like cabbage.  Broccoli is much more that just the delicious flower heads we usually consume.  If one of your plants goes to seed, you can sprout the seeds and eat them (and you can collect and save the seed for next year).  Even the flowers themselves can be used in salads.  So many more possibilities than you might think!
  • I only learned recently that the leafy green tops of carrots can also be eaten.  According to my investigations they are nutritious and taste of carrots with a parsley overtone.   I gather that they are rather coarse so might benefit from being finely chopped if you are adding them to salads raw.  I think they sound perfect for adding to soups and soup stocks.  The leaves are apparently a rich source of vitamin c (containing more than the root).  Who knew that?  All those years of discarding the tops!  I am going to try this the next time I make soup.
  • I have heard of growing mustard before (as micro-greens) but I hadn’t realised that the mature plant can be eaten as well.  You can eat them as sprouts, micro-greens, and as leafy greens for salads and sandwiches.  Apparently the stems (before they get woody) can be eaten and taste a bit like spicy asparagus.  You can eat the flowers, and finally the seeds can be made into your own whole grain mustard.  You can bet I am going to explore this vegetable further.  I have just planted some out into the garden .  I am watching and waiting impatiently for the seedlings to grow a bit bigger before I start plucking leaves off to taste.
  • Even some things we usually class as weeds can be eaten e.g. dandelion and plantain leaves.  I have to admit that this is an area that I am not very knowledgeable about yet.  I just hadn’t really stopped to think that I might have food plants growing all over the place but that I have been overlooking.

I think my grandparents knew a thing or two about growing produce and surviving through tough times.  They lived through the great depression and two world wars and they raised a family awhile living a more frugal and self sufficient lifestyle.  They always had a variety of well maintained fruit and nut trees, and a productive vegetable garden.  As the years have gone by it seems that many of the subsequent generations have lost a lot of the knowledge our grandparents took for granted.  Growing your own produce and preserving the surplus was normal for them.  They saved seed, bottled, dried, preserved, and pickled away happily while producing a lot of the produce they needed for their growing family.  The art of growing vegetables and fruit has been lost as consumerism has driven a change in how we shop and provide for our families.  Important knowledge (like how much of a plant is edible) has increasingly been lost as well, and the way we buy food in supermarkets limits what you can actually get.

Discovering that nasturtium seeds could be preserved and that the leaves taste amazing in salads and sandwiches was the beginning of a revelation.  I had been blind to how much edible green produce was sitting in my garden.  I didn’t need to worry about how we would provide fresh produce during lockdown, because we had an abundant supply of things we had never considered just sitting in our garden.   For me this feels like the start of an exciting new stage in my gardening journey.  I really hope I inspire you to look again at what you have in your garden.  It is easy to be blinded by what is laid out in the produce aisle, but what they don’t provide is even more exciting.  Don’t be afraid to try something new or to put in a vegetable patch.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Ideas for isolation – more recipes for scarcity

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Hearty homemade soup and overnight bread.  An easy way to stretch your resources and produce simple nourishing food your family will love.  A great way to avoid food wastage and make do with less.

Around the world people are grappling with a new world view.  After nearly 5 weeks in lockdown we in New Zealand are about to emerge slightly from the extreme rules of the level 4 restrictions.  We have learned (and I mean my family personally, but hopefully all of us collectively as well), that things look different from inside our “bubbles”.  Our bubbles have provided an odd sense of perspective that perhaps our busy lives have been lacking.  An enforced slowing of the normally frenetic pace of life.  Things that seemed important (getting to the shops after school, fitting in play dates, birthday parties, and sports practices, buying cloths, or take away coffee), don’t seem as pressing when you are looking at the world from the (hopefully) safe confines of your bubble.  A collective purpose to protect the vulnerable members of our families and communities is more than enough reason to sacrifice our freedom temporarily.   Perhaps you (like us) have had time to discover the joys of being with your kids, having time to play lego, enjoy board games and family jigsaws, have movie nights and snuggle longer  in the mornings.  

This new world of bubbles is definitely not easy, and homeschooling kids is mind bending.  I have taken to educating by stealth – hoping they won’t notice they are learning and studying until they look back later.  Add to that, working from home and it can feel exhausting.  That’s because momentous change is exhausting.  So I reckon its import that we go easy on ourselves and just do what we can.  There is no point in comparing yourself to anyone else.  Their  situation is not the same as yours.

Covid-19 has ushered in a desire in many people to be more self-sufficient and to rediscover the joy of cooking.   Going forward, the traditional ways to feed our families may not be as reliable or easy to access.  As the coronavirus spread, so too did the panic buying – toilet paper, pasta, flour, yeast and even seedlings and seeds.  Obviously people were suddenly visualising a future where greater self-sufficiency might give them greater security.

Because of the abundance of time on our hands, it seems many New Zealanders have suddenly turned to the idea of a home garden.  I think this is a hugely positive step for the population to be taking.  Every person who has pots or a tiny patch of garden can start producing nutritious fresh produce to supplement their families diet.  If you have enough space then you can actually grow pretty much everything you need to eat.  I encourage everybody to take the time to start growing food.  It is good for the soul and good for the body. 

I know that one of the things I have found hardest in lockdown is the need to cook mindfully.  By that I mean rationing butter and other ingredients to make sure they last as long as possible so that our trips to the supermarket are infrequent.   Also making things from scratch takes a bit more planning and time than I have often had in pre-corona times.  Everyone seems at least to be enjoying the meals coming from my kitchen so that is a blessing.

One of our go to dishes for the winter months is a good hearty soup.  I call it elbow soup because the amounts that I put in are estimated by the “feel in my elbow”.  No soup is ever the same twice because I very rarely have the same set of ingredients to hand.  My Grandma used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and throw all her leftovers into it.  She was a renowned soup maker.  She taught my Mum, and Mum taught me.  Now I am teaching my three kids.  This has turned out to be one of our easiest lockdown lunches.  It is flexible and works with whatever I have handy.  What I love about soup is that it gives us the opportunity to change our perception of useless or inedible by turning disparate scraps into a rich new creation.

Every soup I make starts with good stock.  I do buy dried stock powder, but wherever I possibly can, I always make my own.  Vegetable, or chicken stock is my go to soup starter, but you can also use beef stock.  Soup stock is something you can make yourself, it doesn’t need to come in individual plastic containers or in a plastic jar.  A simple way to make a healthy meal for your family also has the added benefit of using food scraps that would otherwise go to waste, and saving you a trip to the shop and potentially the environmental impact of plastic packaging.  I hope you find these recipes simple and useful during the strange times we are living through.

Homemade soup stock:

Next time you have a roast chicken (or any chicken actually), save the bones and boil them up.  Boiling the bones is where the flavour and goodness comes from.  We always boil up the remains of a roast and I will usually get two boilings off one chicken frame.  The first is more meaty than the second boiling and so I tend to add more veges and herbs to the second boiling to bulk it up a bit.  I create a bouquet garni, which consists of a sprig of rosemary, thyme, oregano, half a teaspoon of black pepper corns and maybe a bay leaf.  Sometimes I add parsley, but I am not traditional about this, I just add what I have to hand and what I think will add a nice flavour.  You are supposed to tie them into a muslin bag or tie them together in a bunch, but I just throw them in the pot with the bones (or vegetables) and strain the lot through a sieve when the stock is finished.  I also throw in a roughly chopped clove of garlic and and a slice or two of onion.  Sometimes I put in carrot peelings, celery leaves, and mushroom stalks.  All these things add to the flavour but you can just go with the basic herbs and pepper together with garlic and onion.  Cover the bones with water and bring to the boil before reducing the heat and simmering slowly until the liquid has reduced by about half (or until the flavour is good).  Sieve the stock into a clean container with a lid (discard the bones and bits or if you are going to boil them a second time start over adding fresh herbs and veges etc and repeat), allow to cool and then freeze it.  If you are using the stock immediately to make a soup, then decant it into a large pot and progress with the soup. 

I make vegetable stock by throwing into the pot everything as before (except the bones obviously).  I add more garlic, onion and celery (You can use celery leaves in stock).  Then I add anything that is a vegetable that I have to hand.  Odd bits of pumpkin, celery,  potato and carrot peelings and ends, mushroom stalks etc and boil up as for chicken stock.  

My “elbow”soup recipe:

Once you have your soup stock (instant stock powder or cubes is fine if you haven’t got a homemade stock) you are ready to begin your soup.  I always cast about the bottom of the vegetable bin for old mushrooms, slightly wizened looking carrots (with a bit of life), bits of limp looking cauliflower or broccoli.  In short anything that might be a little past its best that might otherwise be discarded. I put those in first, Chopping into 1cm chunks if I intend to end up with a chunky soup, and throwing in bigger chunks if I intend to mouli, sieve or blend it.  Then I cast around in the fridge for any leftovers and throw those in.  I use leftover rice, stir fry, pasta, pasta bake, spaghetti bolognaise, sausages or chicken.

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I usually put in some or all of the following:

  • tomatoes, (however many feels right to me – but usually between 2 and 8 depending on size and availability.  If I have a half used tin of tomatoes or pasata sauce I will put that in too.
  • a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.  If I lack garlic I have sometimes used garlic salt.
  • one or two medium potatoes or left over mashed potato
  • bits of bacon (I am always sparing with the bacon and I use it for flavour rather than bulk).
  • a sausage or two.  I either cook them up especially for the soup or use any that are left over from previous meals.  Simply slice them and add.  Frankfurters are good too.
  • a carrot, grated or sliced
  • frozen corn if I have any
  • left over baked beans
  • pearl barley, red or brown lentils
  • left over porridge or a handful of porridge/rolled oats
  • sour cream
  • smoked paprika
  • a teaspoon of mixed herbs
  • some fresh ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • celery
  • spring onions,
  • pumpkin or kumara
  • pasta or rice (leftovers get used first to save wastage).
  • chives
  • parsley
  • mushrooms
  • a nice fresh courgette but I don’t use too much and always add near the end of cooking so they retain their colour and flavour.

Once I have finished adding the ingredients, I bring it to the boil stirring to make sure nothing sticks and then I reduce the heat and let it simmer on a low heat for as long as I can stirring every now and again.  I find the longer the better for flavour development. Add extra water if it is getting too thick.  If  the soup is to be moulied check things like lentils are soft and tender and that harder ingredients like carrot and potato are soft. Then I mouli the lot.  Sometimes we like to have noodles in our soup so I add cooked pasta after I have moulied it.  Sometimes I moulie the soup pasta and all.

Taste the soup and adjust the flavours to your taste.  My Mum always says soup tastes better if left overnight but soup isn’t safe in our house for long and so we very rarely have soup left to sample next day!

Overnight bread:

To go with your amazing soup you could try making your own bread.  During lock down, getting hold of flour and yeast has been more difficult that usual.  We have enough but are trying to make our supply stretch for as long as possible.  I was also concerned about friends and family trying to make their flour and yeast stretch the distance so I did some looking and found a recipe for overnight bread.  It is the simplest bread I have made yet.  No knead, no fuss, just simple and delicious.

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You need a casserole dish with a lid ( the deeper the better) or a dutch oven.  If you don’t have something with a lid use a deep oven dish and cover with tin foil instead.  You will also need baking paper.  I have found that I can reuse my baking paper several times before it reaches the end of its life.  

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour (standard white flour nothing fancy)
  • half a teaspoon of active yeast (granules) or one teaspoon of Surebake.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of water.   I have used both luke warm water and straight cold water from the tap.   I think the warm water is better if it is a really cold night but both work fine

Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl.  It makes a very sticky dough much wetter than my usual dough.  Sometimes when I am mixing it it seems a bit drier than usual so I add a little bit of extra water (say a tablespoon or two) in little dribbles until all the dry flour is mixed in.

Then cover with a plate and leave on your bench overnight.  I leave mine for between 8 to 12 hours, and on occasion even 24 hours.  It is very forgiving and so far I haven’t noticed any difference in the finished bread.  

Next day after 8 (or more) hours scrape the dough out onto some baking paper that you have sprinkled liberally with flour, and using floured fingers or a spatula shape it into a roughly circular shape.  This doesn’t have to be perfect, just rough. 

Leave for 30 mins to rest.  While the dough is resting, turn your oven on to 220°C and put your casserole or dutch oven or oven dish into the oven to pre-heat. 

When the rest period is over, use a serrated knife to cut a rough cross into the top of the dough, remove the preheated casserole from the oven (carefully because it is super hot) lift the bread dough on the baking paper and drop the whole lot into the casserole, cover with the lid, and place in the oven for 30 mins.

After thirty minutes carefully (it will be VERY hot) remove the lid and return the bread to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and lift out of the casserole using the baking paper and place on a wire rack to cool.

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Finished!  It just needs to be lifted out to cool on a wire rack.  It smells incredibly good.

It will make a very crusty and super yummy loaf to go with your soup, or to simply enjoy with stretched butterI have no idea how well it keeps because it never lasts our family of 5 for more than one meal!  I do note that it is easier to cut when it is cooled a bit. 

I hope these recipes are helpful and inspire you to try making your own soup and bread.  Let your kids try making their own bread and soup for the family.  This is a skill they will definitely be grateful to have when they are flatting in the future.  In the mean time, look after yourselves, stay safe, and be kind.

Kia kaha (stay strong), this too shall pass.

One more step on the plastic free journey – bamboo cotton buds.

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A sweet solution to one part of the single use plastic problem. Plastic free cotton buds. On the left, Go Bamboo brand and on the right, The humble co.

Plastic pollution in the ocean is largely invisible.  The water looks blue and the waves sparkle in the sunlight, but beneath the surface there are microplastics, and they are being ingested by the fish that end up on our plates.  There is also larger plastic rubbish washing up on beaches, and being ingested by our precious bird species, which leads to the starvation of chicks and adults.  Although it is usually invisible, every breaking wave on the shore is carrying a burden of plastic pollution!  We have to take steps to change our consumer choices and reduce our consumption of plastic.

Plastic pollution is a huge problem for our generation to grapple with.  Plastic can seem like the simple solution to so many problems.  For decades we have been seduced by how cheap it is, how light weight it is, how durable it is, how easy to replace, and now it is  found everywhere.  The problem of plastic pollution is now a problem so overwhelming that it is often very hard to find plastic free alternatives to anything.  Worse still we have become blind to single use plastics, seeing them as convenient and necessary.   Happily there are a growing number of companies that provide sustainable alternatives to plastic items we usually just take for granted (or at least I did until a few years ago).  I became concerned with the state of our climate, our environment, our water, and the future that we are leaving for our children to face.  Greta Thurnburg is right when she says that we should be ashamed of the future we are leaving for our children to clean up.  I have been bothered by that thought since before Greta began her school strike.  It is what motivated me to begin to make small changes as often as I can to look after this precious planet.

Cotton buds are common in many houses, they live in bathrooms and make-up bags everywhere.  They are intended to be discarded after use (who wants to reuse a cotton bud?)   Almost all of them are plastic these days, but when I was a kid the stems were made from rolled paper (like some lolly pop sticks still are).  Somewhere between my childhood and today, they switched to plastic.  Suddenly they couldn’t go in the kindling box, or the compost anymore.   I remember my Mum and I discussing it and being frustrated that we just had to throw them in the rubbish.  Three years ago, I began looking seriously into alternatives for plastic products and I came across bamboo cotton buds.  Our family switched as soon as we needed to buy new cotton buds, and we have never regretted it.  The switch was not hard at all.  The first ones we found were Go Bamboo cotton buds.  They are 100% biodegradable and the box is unbleached cardboard so that it can be composted.

Then in January this year I found that The Humble co. makes cotton buds too.  These are also 100% biodegradable, and the packaging is made from recycled cardboard.  These cotton buds are pink tipped if you prefer colourful cotton buds.  There is no good reason that I can think of not to make the switch to bamboo cotton buds.  If cost is a concern just consider the cost to the environment instead.  The image of a seahorse holding on to a cotton bud is not a pretty picture, and I am not about to let my cotton buds get into the ocean or contribute to the growing plastic pollution problem.  I want my kids to see that as a family we can make a positive impact rather than a negative one.  Every action (no matter how small) has real power to effect change.   Reduce, reuse, re-purpose, repair, recycle.  As soon as you find an alternative to plastic that is sustainable, switch to it.  Let your purchasing power speak for you.

Miss 9 is a member of her schools enviro group.  The school has been working towards its EnviroSchools Green-Gold award.  In a couple of weeks the judges are coming to see if the school as done enough to achieve this goal.  My daughter is passionate about the environment and I am stunned at her drive and determination.  If she can walk the walk at school with her friends, I am determined we will do the same at home.  She is refusing to use shampoo in plastic bottles because she knows how big the plastic problem is.  Instead she has been using my Ethique shampoo bars on the sly.  Even telling her that the Ecostore shampoo that we buy comes in sugar plastic bottles from a renewable source doesn’t dissuade her from her desire to avoid using products in plastic.  She finds this really hard at times when popular toys she is keen on turn out to be plastic, but most of the time she sticks to her guns and prefers to avoid it.  Honestly – if a nine year old girl can make tough decisions to avoid plastic, then so can the rest of us.  Start with choosing plastic free cotton buds next time you need some, a plastic free dish brush or plastic free clothes pegs.  We owe it to our children to do something now.

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.

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.