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.

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?

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.

The eco-mundane, plastic free dishwashing!

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Sustainable alternatives to plastic in your kitchen.  From Left: Dishy bottle brush, Wet-it! kitchen cloth, Eco Max dish brush, and Ecostore dish brush.

A year ago I began the task of “de-plasticking” my kitchen.  This is something I’d wanted to do for a long time but hadn’t known where to begin because there is so much plastic in my kitchen.  In the end I started by getting an Ecostore dish brush to replace the bright plastic one that had finally worn out.

Look around the average kitchen and you will be amazed how much plastic you can find. Most measuring cups are plastic, most kitchen cleaning cloths and sponges are synthetic.  There is plastic cling film, there will be a plastic dish brush and more than likely a plastic pot scourer.  Bottle brushes are plastic, there are plastic storage containers, (Tupperware Sistema and more). Many pantry items are wrapped in plastic or come in plastic bottles or containers.  Even cucumbers are wrapped in plastic these days!  There are often nylon cooking tools, maybe even plastic mixing bowls.  And this is only the beginning.  There are so many other plastic items you can add to that list!  What’s important to keep in mind is that any little pieces of these things make their way down the drain and into our oceans.

Now that I look around my kitchen with my eyes opened to the global plastic problem I am horrified and guilt struck that I opted to buy these things in the first place.  I did choose quality plastic products most of the time, which are lasting and haven’t had to be thrown away.  The most environmentally friendly thing I can do is to use them carefully and stretch out their lives to the maximum before putting them out to recycle if I can.  I have opted to not replace any plastic utensil or tool in my kitchen unless it has reached the very end of its life. Thus the first thing I replaced was my red plastic dish brush. I moved it into the laundry to become an all-purpose scrubber for showers, buckets, and garden tools.  In another year or two it will end up in the landfill because it isn’t deemed recyclable.

I chose to replace it with an Ecostore dish brush with a handle and replaceable brush head.  I first ran into these when I worked at the Ministry for the Environment where all the staff kitchens had one.  I was skeptical of how well they would work, but was pleasantly surprised.  Now all these years later, I decided to get one and I was ridiculously pleased with it.  At my husband’s suggestion I oiled it with cooking oil to prevent cracking and started using it.  Interestingly we all found it to be more effective on most cooking remnants that the plastic equivalent.  The softer bristles are more densely packed and do a much better job.  Where it falls down is when something is burned on (of course that hardly ever happens in my kitchen!) or dried on.  The softer bristles don’t do so well then.  I have a much tougher natural bristle potato scrubbing brush that seems to do well for that.  All in all it works fine and lasts OK.

The one problem I’ve had with it is that the handle and the head keep coming apart now after a year of use.  It seems that the ferrule is not strong enough to prevent the brush head rotating or falling out.

I have found this very frustrating.  I am not sure if it is a design flaw or if it is peculiar to this one dish brush.  I have new Ecostore dish brush and handle now, so I’ll be able to see how it performs compared to its predecessor.  I also have an Eco Max dish brush purchased at Commonsense Organics.  This one is made of coconut fibre and seems to be practical.  It doesn’t look to me like it will be prone to coming apart.

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The not so useful Eco Max bottle brushes (left), my old faithful but slightly irritating Ecostore  dish brush with the rotating head (center), an old Ecostore dish head (nearly ready for composting) and my amazing Potato brush!

I have also tried to replace my ancient plastic bottle brush.  This has been more challenging so far.  We bought an Eco Max bottle brush that is made of wire and coconut fibre, but it is much too large to go into most of our bottles.  The more flexible handle is both useful and problematic.  Being able to bend the handle has its uses for odd shaped bottles and hard to reach corners.  But, apply any pressure and the handle bends and any stubborn muck remains hard to remove.  We bought a smaller one in the same brand but it is still too big for most bottles and is considerably shorter so doesn’t reach the bottom of taller bottles and vases.  I really wanted this to work out, but really I don’t think having 3 different sized bottle brushes to cater for all possible bottles makes much sense.  The only thing I would say that they are an OK-ish substitute for dish brushes when the regular one has gone walkabout.  I wouldn’t recommend this brand for bottle brushes unfortunately.

Luckily I recently found a Dishy bottle brush.  Unlike the Eco Max bottle brushes this one isn’t vegan, but it is all natural, biodegradable and contains no plastic. This has been a success as it fits in all bottles in the same way my manky old plastic one did. I love it.

So if you are looking for an alternative to your supermarket bought plastic dish brush, or bottle brush, rejoice!  There are alternatives out there and you can find ones that work perfectly well.  Next time you need to replace your unsustainable plastic dish brush, try a sustainable biodegradable alternative.  They are not hard to find.  I have seen them at Commonsence Organics, Palmers Garden Centre, Moore Wilsons, and online.  They are a great way to start reducing plastic in your kitchen.

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Compostable alternatives to synthetic kitchen cloths.  Top: Wet-it brand (in cute caravan print).  Bottom: The Green Collective brand cloths after two months in my kitchen.  They don’t look too shabby do they?

I have also been slowly replacing my synthetic yellow fluffy supermarket bought kitchen cloths.  I liked them because they hold a lot of fluid and are easy to rinse.  But I don’t like the fact that they are synthetic.  That bothered me a lot.  A few months back we found The Green Collective sustainable kitchen cloths.  They retail for about $8.99 online and I think that is what we paid for them at Moore Wilsons.  They come in lots of snazzy designs and colours.  They are made from 100% natural and renewable materials – cellulose blended with cotton. They are super absorbent and can be composted at the end of their lives.  Mine are lasting much better than I expected.  No real sign of wear and tear even after 2 months.  They are machine washable and I have had no trouble reviving them with Ecostore stain remover in an overnight soak.  I am very happy with them.  Another brand we found a week or two back is Wet-it! which we spotted in Commonsense Organics for $5.

A good friend of mine has another approach.  She cuts up old cotton tee-shirts and uses them as kitchen cloths and cleaning rags.  This is what I grew up with as my Mum used old tee-shirts for kitchen cloths and general purpose cleaning rags.  There is nothing wrong with this approach either, and it certainly is moneysaving.  Old tee-shirts repurposed into cleaning cloths can be composted when they are more hole than rag provided they are cotton (or other biodegradable fibre).  In my laundry I have several of these old tee-shirt cloths for household cleaning jobs.

So there you have it.  A few easy ideas to start reducing the plastic in your kitchen this New Year!  There is never going to be a better time to make a resolution to reduce your household plastic consumption.  Why not commit to reducing plastic in your house in 2018?  It is not hard and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  We owe it to the environment to give it a go and we owe it to our children to change our habits now that we know how big the plastic problem is!

 

Something to sink your teeth into…..Bamboo toothbrushes and more!

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A selection of the bamboo toothbrushes we have tried.  No complaints at all.

Today I am writing about toothbrushes.  Something we all take completely for granted as an essential item these days.  Apparently 3.6 billion toothbrushes are produced each year (worldwide), almost all of them plastic. Most of those toothbrushes end up in landfill, but many are washing up on beaches. Each toothbrush lasts between 1 and 3 months and is then discarded.  In the course of an average 75 year lifespan you can use and discard between 300-900 toothbrushes (depending on how frequently you replace them).  In our household of five we go through at least 20 toothbrushes a year.  These figures are astonishing.  Recycling options are starting to become available but many people are unaware of this.  I didn’t realise that toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes can be recycled until I noticed a collection point for them at kindergarten.

In researching this post I became curious about the history of the toothbrush that we take so much for granted these days.   When did toothbrushes and tooth brushing become common?

Here is some fascinating information for you.

The Egyptians were making something called “tooth powder” as far back as 5000 years BC.  It apparently consisted of ash from ox hooves, myrrh, eggshell fragments and pumice.  It was likely applied with a finger as there is no record of a tool.

The earliest known actual “device” for cleaning teeth comes from ancient Babylonia between 3500 and 3000 BC, and was called a “chew stick”.  A chew stick is basically just that, a chewed stick with a frayed end that was used to clean teeth.  Different types of aromatic twig were used, presumably to freshen the breath.  Sometimes one end was sharpened into a toothpick.  Chew sticks are still used in parts of Africa today.

The Chinese used chew sticks as well, and it also seems that they developed the earliest actual “brush” around 619-907AD during the Tang Dynasty.  They used boar bristles (!) attached to a bamboo stick or bone.  Writings from 1223 describe monks using horse hairs in a bone handle to clean their teeth.  Chinese toothbrushes were introduced to Europe by travellers and became popular in the 17th century.

One of the earliest accounts of an actual “toothbrush” is found in the autobiography of an Oxford antiquarian (person who studies, collects or sells antiques) called Anthony Wood. He writes that in 1690 he paid a J. Barrett for a toothbrush.

In 1780, William Addis of Clerkenwald, England decided to produce a more modern toothbrush (while he was imprisoned for starting a riot).  He used a bone, drilled some holes, tied bristles (obtained from a guard) into tufts and glued them in the holes!  On his release he began manufacturing his toothbrushes and became wealthy doing it.  He left the business to his son when he died and the business continues to manufacture toothbrushes today (Wisdom Brushes).

Europeans loved the toothbrush and it became the height of fashion to own one during the 1800’s.  During the 1900s, bone handles began to be replaced by celluloid handles.

During WW1 the War Department began enforcing hygiene orders to combat a number of problems caused by men living in close proximity.  A soldier was expected to brush his teeth daily.  By the end of the war daily brushing had become a habit.

In 1938, DuPont Corporation began manufacturing nylon bristle brushes.

The toothbrush we are familiar with became common somewhere between the end of WW2 and today.  I couldn’t find out exactly when the majority of toothbrushes came to have plastic handles, but by the turn of the 21st century moulded plastic handles are the norm.

And that brings us to today’s problem of plastic toothbrushes and the impact they have on the environment.

In the supermarket today you can buy any number of brightly coloured plastic toothbrushes.  Each brand claims to have its own unique attribute essential to dental hygiene, from angled bristles, gum massagers, tongue cleaners, ergonomic handles, electric toothbrushes, vibrating toothbrushes and goodness knows what else.  But all of them are plastic.

I found a plastic toothbrush in the seaweed at the beach earlier this year.  I saw one in the gutter recently.  They don’t all end up at the dump.  Once discarded it is out of sight out of mind.  Yet it will take hundreds of years for them to degrade.  They are here for the long haul whether we like it or not.

That toothbrush in the sand got me wondering.  Surely there must have been something before plastic and if so perhaps there could be alternatives available now.  I sat myself down and googled it.  Guess what?  There are alternatives out there.  Bamboo toothbrushes!   To find an alternative to the plastic status quo you’ll need to visit somewhere like Commonsense Organics, or shop online.  I decided to trial some and see what I thought.  I got bamboo toothbrushes for the family in several different brands.  After a full 6 weeks of using them I can honestly say that they are reasonably priced and perfectly functional.

All the bamboo brushes that I have come across come with soft bristles. This is because (although some people like firmer bristles) soft bristles are recommended by dentists because they don’t damage gums.  All the brands of bamboo brush I have come across make both adult and children’s sizes.

I’ve been using The Humble Brush and I really like it.  It is the only brush that seems to also be socially responsible as well as environmentally friendly (at least as far as I can tell).  Every purchase goes to fund projects for children in need through the Humble Smile Foundation.  My brush was purchased from Commonsense Organics, but they are also available online.

My kids (aged 7 and 4) have been enthusiastically using Mama Bear brushes.  They both love them and are very excited to have ditched another plastic product.  The handles are round and this seemed to be easy to grasp and manipulate.  To be honest I think it is easier for little hands to use these than the bulky plastic junior brushes we were buying.  I am not sure why the handles of the plastic brushes have to be so chunky, but these bamboo brushes seem to be easier all round.  We purchased these online from the Cruelty Free Shop.

My 14 year old daughter tried out the Environmental Toothbrush  (also purchased online from the Cruelty Free Shop) and really likes it.  She prefers the handle to the plastic brushes she was using.  Usually very hard on her toothbrushes, this one has lasted the same length of time or perhaps slightly longer than her old plastic ones.  I think she was taking more care of it because she liked it so much!

My husband has just started using a Go Bamboo toothbrush tonight after finally putting his old plastic one out for recycling (yes you can recycle plastic toothbrushes).  He seemed pretty happy with it.  Another friend of mine has been using this brand for a week or two since I gave it to her to help with a “rubbish free week” challenge.  She is also very positive about it, particularly the soft bristles. These brushes were purchased at Commonsense Organics.

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An up-cycled toothbrush in it’s new life as a plant label.  I found it easy pulling out the bristles with pliers.

Because they still have nylon bristles you have to either pull out the bristles with pliers or break off the head and dispose of the bristles in the rubbish before composting the handle.  I am perfectly happy to do either in order to reduce the amount of plastic I send to landfill each year.  I have decided to up-cycle the bamboo (once it is de-bristled) by using them as plant labels when I grow seeds for our garden.  You can write on the handles with ballpoint or vivid just fine.

So all in all I can’t imagine ever going back to plastic toothbrushes.  The bamboo alternatives are brilliant.  As far as I am concerned I will continue to reduce plastic by sourcing bamboo toothbrushes for my family.

So there you are.  All you need to know about bamboo toothbrushes.  I encourage you to give them a go.