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.
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?
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.