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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associatedgreenhouse 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.
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.
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.
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 Projectis 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 Kidssells 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.
My brand new Thunderpants knickers!
Compostable packaging with no plastic in sight.
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.
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!
‘My Mums lovingly hand knitted pom pom hats.
The mother of one of my oldest friends knitted this gorgeous top for my son.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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, clothes pegs, 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.
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.