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.

Sustainable Clothes Pegs – SUST

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A few of my sustainable pegs.  Bamboo spring pegs from Go Bamboo, a single “dolly peg” left over from a craft activity, and my brand new Munch brand stainless steel pegs.

Have you ever considered clothes pegs? They are clever little things, so simple and so useful.  But how sustainable are they?  Clothes pegs are almost entirely made from plastic and are practically all manufactured in China.  I have picked up pegs in some pretty strange places; footpaths, roads, car parks, playgrounds.  But the most disturbing places I have picked them up is on beaches half buried in the sand. And I am talking about relatively isolated beaches.  We even found them on Mana Island during a beach clean-up.  This prompted me to start thinking about sustainable alternatives, and trying to find locally made pegs if I could.

I remember the day it occurred to me to wonder if my old broken plastic pegs could actually be recycled.   I looked at the gravel under my clothesline and noticed the fragments of ancient looking plastic pegs.  Some had simply been dropped and then stepped on.  Some had suffered plastic fatigue and had broken mid-use leaving my clothes hanging oddly, or in a sad heap on the ground below the line.  Others had served me well and probably date back to around 15 years ago, but had become pitted with age, faded, and brittle with extended exposure to the sun.  As I gathered the remnants of my expired pegs I found myself wondering if they should go in the rubbish or the recycling.  I turned to trusty Google and began researching, and then started firing off emails.

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Some of the broken remains of pegs that have reached the end of their lives…..all headed for landfill.

It turns out that while some plastic clothes pegs start out as technically recyclable plastic, extended exposure to UV damages them so that they are no longer recyclable.  I discovered this interesting fact when I tracked down the manufacturer of Sunshine Pegs.  I fired off my questions about how recyclable they are and they responded promptly to explain the effects of UV.

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Bright, colourful and practical. A few of my plastic pegs. On the far left are five NZ made Sunshine pegs.

Clothes pegs are a surprisingly recent invention.  The earliest references to clothes pegs date from around the early 19th century.  Prior to that date washing was apparently draped over a line or hung out over bushes to dry.  This might have been OK in England, but it wouldn’t work at all here in Wellington (the windiest city in the world) on what we would class as a slightly breezy day!  In my grandma’s day back in the 1940’s with a young family, pegs were wooden (and no doubt made right here in New Zealand too).  In fact my grandma managed to make do without plastic at all with three children during WW2 rationing.  Although times have changed and life is different today, I find her example inspirational.  The up-shot is that although plastic pegs are ubiquitous and convenient they are not sustainable and there are alternatives.   Here are just a few that I have found.

Sunshine pegs – NZ made, but not recyclable at end of life.

These bright, colourful, plastic spring pegs are made in New Zealand, so don’t require shipping to our shores with all the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Although technically recyclable when the product is new, this isn’t the case after prolonged exposure to UV.  Since pegs do most of their work outside on sunny hot days, they aren’t really a recyclable product. They are going to end up in landfill or washed down stormwater drains at the end of their lives.    I have a supply of them, and they are great, but only while they are not UV damaged and consequently brittle.  If you want to continue with plastic pegs, at least make sure that they are made locally. 

Go Bamboo pegs – Made in China, biodegradable

These bamboo pegs were my first exploration into the world of sustainable alternatives to plastic pegs.  Priced reasonably at $7 for 20 pegs and packaged in compostable boxes,  these pegs were made for Wellingtons famous winds!  They have an incredibly strong grip. I like them, and would happily have more of them.  They don’t stain or mark clothing.  However on the downside, their grip is so strong that they can be a bit fiddly to get on and off in a hurry (such as a sudden rain shower) and my Mum who has a bit of arthritis finds them nearly impossible to operate.

Go Bamboo make a lot of claims to be sustainable and to have good conditions for their factory workers, but they don’t back any of this up with accreditations such as fairtrade.  This bothers me, but so far I haven’t found an alternative brand with accreditations and so until I do I will continue to use them.  Basically they are asking me to trust that they are being 100% honest about what they are claiming, but an accreditation would make this a much easier decision.

Munch stainless steel pegs = Made in China

These are my newest acquisition.  My darling husband spotted them and got some for me to try.  Not a cheap option at $27 for a bag of 20 pegs, but I have to say so far they are worth it.  They are strong, easy to operate and don’t mark clothing.  They have handled some pretty mean winds and my washing has stayed firmly on the line.  I have no issues with these pegs.  I love them.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, I did stumble across some New Zealand made pegs made from recycled plastic.  They look good, and I am keen to sample them.  A google search turns up several pegs that are made in New Zealand from recycled plastic.  I think this would be a good option if you remain keen on plastic pegs.  Although exposure to UV means they will not be recyclable at the end of their “working life”.

I am unsure which is best actually, sustainable pegs that have to be shipped here contributing to GHG emissions, or plastic pegs made here in New Zealand but that can’t be recycled, thus contributing to landfill and the rising problem of micro-plastics and plastic pollution.  It is a tough one.  In the end I have opted for imported sustainable pegs so that I am no longer contributing old pegs to the plastic problem in our landfills and on our beaches.  I am hopeful that they will prove durable and will outlast the plastic pegs.  But as soon as someone starts making sustainable plastic free pegs right here in New Zealand, I will ditch the imports and buy New Zealand made again.

It may seem like an insignificant step to make towards a more sustainable future, but I think it is worth while.  Plastic pegs are not designed to last for long.  They are designed to be expendable and easily replaceable.  They must contribute a fair bit of plastic over the full life of an average family.  I don’t ever want one of my old pegs to end up inside an albatross chick instead of fish, and I don’t ever want my old pegs washing out to sea to end up polluting a beautiful beach somewhere.  New Zealand has so many native seabirds that this is a real concern for me.  If my pegs are made from wood or metal, that will never be a problem.  I challenge you to make a sustainable change in your laundry to remove another source of plastic, and wherever possible choose to buy local over imports if you can.  Together our consumer choices can make a difference, even if it seems insignificant.  Those discarded bits of plastic don’t seem very important to us, but it matters a huge amount to the albatross chick that gets a peg instead of fish.

Easy homemade bread – packaging free straight from the oven.

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The irresistible finished product.  Hot fresh bread, ‘stretched’ butter and a homemade beeswax wrap, no plastic in sight.

If you are trying to reduce your plastic consumption, then you will have noticed that bread these days is virtually always packaged in plastic with a plastic bread bag tag.  Not only that but it is nothing like homemade bread.   Whenever I can I like to make my own bread.  I don’t own a bread maker, I make it by hand, the old fashioned way, or I use the food processor to start the dough and then finish it by hand.  My Mum used to make bread the old fashioned way through much of my childhood and I vividly recall the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house.  There is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that is irresistible and wholesome. It’s a skill we seem to have lost and I think it is time more of us rediscovered it.

Every time you rush down to the shop to get some bread you use petrol (which we all know is unsustainable) and then you have to dispose of the plastic bags and tags.  The supermarket bread we are familiar with is a relatively new product (the machinery necessary to make it was introduced in 1961). This new bread-making process uses less flour, and is made possible by the addition of various additives that are not used in home baking.  Some people suggest that the process is partially responsible for the increase of gluten and wheat intolerance.  There are less vitamins and minerals in supermarket bread and in general it is widely known that cheap $1 loaves are actually incredibly poor nutritionally.  In today’s day and age, people have less and less time to do things despite technology constantly coming up with labour saving devices.  In reality with a bit of forward planning, and by that I mean don’t start making bread half an hour before you have to take the kids to their swimming lesson, you can actually make your own bread.

I don’t really understand why more people don’t make their own bread.  You don’t need a bread maker to make it easy, because it is simple to make without one.  Many people have said to me that they wish they had time to make bread themselves, as if it is a time consuming, complicated and arduous activity.  My response is always “give it a go, your will be surprised how easy it is”.

So here are my tips and recipe for simple homemade bread.  I plan for it to take roughly an hour and a half from start to finish.

You will need:

  • A loaf tin (if you are making a loaf of bread) or a baking tray if you are going to make bread rolls.  Actually if you don’t have a loaf tin you can just shape it into a loaf shape and bake it on a tray.
  • Baking paper if you are making rolls so they don’t stick to the tray.  Alternatively you can grease the tray with butter and then lightly dust it with flour.
  • Something to mix up the liquid in.  I use a 500ml pyrex jug because it has measurements on the side, but you can use a bowl.
  • A food processor with a dough blade or dough hook, or a large sized mixing bowl.
  • A clear space on your bench for kneading the bread dough.

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 3/4 cups of flour. I usually use mostly white flour but often substitute a cup of plain flour for a cup of wholemeal.
  • half a table spoon of sugar (white or raw)
  • half a tablespoon of salt
  • one rounded tablespoon of Surebake yeast
  • a good sized knob of butter or a tablespoon of oil (olive or sesame oil works well)
  • 100 mls boiling water
  • 200 mls cold water

Preheat your oven to 50°C

Mix together the 200mls of cold water and 100mls boiling water to make warm (blood temperature) water.  Add the 1 tablespoon of surebake yeast, stir together.  Put the knob of butter or table spoon of oil in the water and set aside.

Method One – for using a food processor:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar into the food processor  (fitted with dough blade or dough hook) and pulse briefly to mix a little.

Turn on the food processor and add the yeast mixture giving it a quick stir with a fork first to make sure the yeast is mixed properly and not stuck to the bottom.  After a short time the mixture should form a dough ball.  If the mixture seems dry and after a while is still not really forming a dough ball, add a teaspoon or two of warm water and shift the mixture around a bit with a fork before replacing the lid and turning on again.

Method two – mixing by hand:

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl, mix briefly with a wooden spoon.  Make a well in the center of the flour.

Pour the yeast mixture (making sure to give it a stir first) into the well in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or fork until it gets sticky and the dough starts to form.  When it gets hard to mix with the wooden spoon, turn out onto a floured surface (bench, table top) and form the dough up by hand until it is a firm ball.

Kneading:

Once you have got your dough ball your are ready to knead the bread.  I don’t know what the technique for kneading is supposed to be but I push it around, fold it back onto itself, stretch it out a bit and fold it back down using the heals of my hands.  You need to put some weight behind it, really use your upper body.  I am sure there are youtube videos that will be able to demonstrate techniques if you are uncertain. My recipe books say that you should knead for 7 minutes, but I never knead for that long.  I usually knead vigorously for roughly 4-5 minutes until the dough is silky and springs back when pressed lightly.  Kneading like this is strangely calming and I actually enjoy it.

Once you have finished kneading, the dough needs a short rest period.  Oil a bowl and put the dough in it making sure that the oil covers the surface of the dough to avoid it drying out too much during the rest period.  Then put the bowl in the preheated oven (50°C) and leave it for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes remove the dough from the oven, and turn out onto the bench (it doesn’t need to be floured this time) shape it roughly into a roll that will fit your loaf tin.  Put it into the tin and push down into the corners.  Return the loaf tin and bread dough to the oven (still at 50°C) and leave it for 20-25 minutes or until the dough is starting to rise up above the level of the tin.  At that point raise the temperature of the oven to 180°C and put the timer on for 25 minutes.  After twenty minutes check if it is looking cooked.  It should be a warm deep golden brown when it is done.  When it is cooked it will pull away from the corners and edges of the tin a little bit and it should sound hollow if tapped on the top.

If it isn’t cooked properly put it in for another few minutes.  When it is cooked turn out onto a wire rack.  If the bottom looks a little pale and underdone, put it back in the tin and pop it back in the oven for a few more minutes.

Once you are satisfied it is cooked, leave it to cool on the wire rack and when it is cooled a little get a sharp knife and cut a slice!  Perfect with butter melting over it. Or you could try the ‘stretched butter’ recipe.

If you want to make bread rolls, then following the rest period you will need to divide the dough up into 16 equal sized pieces and shape them into rolls.  Place them on your prepared oven tray so they are spaced out evenly and put into the warm oven to rise at 50°C until doubled in size, I usually wait around 20 mins.  Then raise the oven temperature to 180°C and cook for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

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Homemade oven fresh bread, and a jar of ‘stretched butter’ covered with one of my homemade beeswax wraps.

So there you have it, easy homemade bread with no plastic bags!

This recipe is very forgiving, and it works brilliantly with variations.  Here are some ideas; add a couple of tablespoons of kibbled grains, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds.  Try replacing the butter with a tablespoon of sesame oil and adding sesame seeds.  You can add rolled oats (1/4 cup), and you can substitute a cup of wholemeal flour if you prefer.  Try adding a couple of teaspoons of mixed herbs for a more savory bread.  You can brush the top of the bread with milk and sprinkle cheese, sesame seeds or some rock salt on top.

If you want to make your own pizza bases use the plain white flour and add a teaspoon or two of mixed herbs.  Knead as usual, but omit the rest of the steps.  Instead divide into 3 or 4 equal sized pieces. Roll out on a floured surface until it is 3mm thick and then put onto a floured baking tray, add your toppings and cook each pizza at 250°C or 8 mins or until perfectly cooked.

It’s so easy and rewarding to make your own bread.  I really recommend it.  Best of luck with your bread baking.

DIY alteratives to non-biodegradable wet wipes.

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Homemade wet wipes, all ready to go.  Inexpensive, simple, and easy to make at home.  

 

Wet wipes are widely considered to be essential for any new parent to carry everywhere but most are non-biodegradable, contain plastic fibers, come in plastic packaging, and  can contain various things that can upset a sensitive skin.  Marketed as quick, easy and convenient, wet wipes are a multi million dollar industry that is anything but convenient for our environment.   Did you know that you can make your own?  Quick and super easy to do, here is all you need to know have a go at making your own.  They are inexpensive and you can be certain of what you are putting in.  This latter point is essential if you or your children are like me and suffer from contact allergies and atopic eczema.

Most wet wipes are unable to be flushed down a toilet, and must be disposed of in the rubbish.  I’ve seen them blowing around at the dump, and I have seen them spilling out of rubbish bins in public toilets.  Many people flush them anyway, and then they contribute to the formation of “fatbergs” which block drains and cause headaches for local authorities. While technically “disposable”, in reality discarded wet wipes don’t just magically disappear when they are disposed of.  They persist in sewers, drains and rubbish dumps for far far longer than any of us really want to think about.  Wet wipes are an increasingly serious environmental concern, both here in New Zealand and around the world.  Watercare in Auckland is now spending $1 million a year on removing fatbergs and blockages from the network.  In an article in 2015, The Guardian labelled them the biggest villain of the year.  They are ending up in rivers and waterways and they are making their way into the ocean where they contribute to the growing plastic catastrophe affecting ocean wildlife.  A walk on a beach is increasingly a first hand opportunity to see the effects of our plastic addiction.  For most people, wet wipes are an invisible contributor because once disposed of they are out of sight, out of mind.

A few years ago, as a Mum with two small children, I made my own baby wipes.  At the time finances were tight.  With my daughter I used organic wet wipes for traveling (when I could occasionally afford to get them) or baby sized re-usable cotton washcloths around the home.  When I had my son 2.5 years later, I was given a recipe to make your own wet wipes.  Initially dubious, I gave it a go and was instantly converted.  I used them everywhere and took them everywhere by packing a smaller quantity into a smaller container for the nappy bag.  I never had any problem with them, and it must have saved me a LOT of money over the years I used them. A huge bonus for me was that I could choose what I added to them.  Some brands of wet wipes cause me huge problems with my skin condition.  Making my own completely eliminated this problem.

A few generations ago, wet wipes didn’t exist.  My Grandma didn’t use them for her children or struggle to keep them clean without them.  She managed fine, just like everyone bringing up kids in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  I find a lot of inspiration from thinking about how my grandparents managed without plastic.   So many plastic things are sold to us as essential and necessary, but if they weren’t necessary and indispensable  70 years ago, are they really needed today?

Wet wipes come in plastic packaging which is currently not really possible to recycle, they are made from non-biodegradable materials, they are bad for our environment.  The good news is that despite what the wet wipe companies would like us to think, we can do without them.  You can actually make your own.

Here’s how to make DIY wet wipes.

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First, you will need to get a roll of paper towels.  They will need to be the super heavy duty variety, or they won’t work as well.

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Second, using your chopping board and a sharp knife, cut your roll of paper towels in half.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just use your eye-o-meter.

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Third, in a jug mix 350mls of warm water, a couple of squirts of your body wash or baby wash, and a few drops of oil (I use sweet almond oil).  If you want to you can also add a  few drops of New Zealand Manuka oil.  Manuka oil would be a great option given it’s clinically proven antimicrobial and antiviral properties – a good idea for anything to do with personal hygiene

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Forth, you will need a container with a leak proof lid that is big enough to fit your half roll of paper towels.  Put your half roll into the container.  Yes I have used a plastic container, but I already had it in my cupboard and it is reusable over a long period of time.

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Fifth, pour the water into the middle of the paper towel roll.  Put the lid on and leave for a couple of minutes.  Then tip it upside down and leave for another couple of minutes.

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Sixth, open the container and remove the paper towel roll, find the end and away you go.  Home made wet wipes ready to use.

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If you find that the paper towels are a little bit dry (it depends on what brand you use how much they absorb) just add small amounts of warm water until they are the desired dampness.

Cheap, easy, and effective, and fully biodegradable, they are perfect to replace the expensive shop bought ones.  They work for tiny bottoms, and they are perfect for camping, where handwashing and face washing are a little walk from the campsite.  The only caveat is that in warmer weather they can develop mold if not used fairly quickly.  Please note that in spite of being fully biodegradable they are a thicker grade of paper and still shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet because they can cause problems.  Depending on what they are used for you can just compost them – for example if you are just wiping sticky fingers and messy mouths.

Another tip to replace shop bought wet wipes is to simply get a decent supply of small washcloths or facecloths and use those instead.  This latter idea is particularly effective at home.  I have a large box of baby sized soft cotton washcloths left over from when the kids were babies.  I boil them with a small amount of ecostore soaker every now and again to freshen them up.  I don’t know why people have forgotten about good old fashioned fabric cloths.  They are such a wonderful solution to every kind of sticky kiddie mess and they are fully reusable.  Simply run under the tap, squeeze out and clean up the messy hands, then drop in the washing machine.

Reusable washcloths and homemade wet wipes are another simple way to make a difference.  One more step towards leaving a feather light impact on the environment for future generations.  Why not give it a go and see how easy it is for yourself?

Taking the battle of the bag to the produce aisle!

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Plastic free produce. My favorite Rethink string bag (it’s like the Tardis – it looks small but the inside is huge). Cucumber without shrink wrapping.  Fruit and vegetables in Rethink produce bags.  Please note the irritating non-biodegradable sticker on the mandarin, I still can’t manage a  totally plastic free shop, but I do my best to avoid it.

It’s that time of the year again when resolutions are big and good intentions abound.  A New Year and people are encouraged to break bad habits, make lifestyle changes and follow through on promises to change for the better.  Why not make a simple change to reduce your plastic consumption?  Ban the bag has become a strong movement over the last few years and one that seems to finally be getting some support from the general public as reusable bags become commonly available.  Reusable bags are now the norm for many people heading to the supermarket.  I am thrilled to see the change because single use plastic is a slow moving disaster in which we are drowning without being aware of it.  It is everywhere including isolated beaches.  We take it for granted that everything has to come in plastic these days.  We have bought into the idea that everything must be sealed for your protection.  Hygiene is impossible, we are told, without cardboard boxes being sealed in plastic wrap. Our fruit and veges need to be plastic wrapped we are told to prolong the shelf life.  It wasn’t always like this.  My Grandma and Grandpa managed without plastic, and they didn’t wring their hands and wail that they didn’t have supermarket bags to use as bin liners.  There is a future without plastic – just like there was a past without plastic.

Plastic single use supermarket bags are on the out, and boot liners are gone from Mitre10, but single use produce and bulk bin bags are still a problem.  When I began this journey I tried to go plastic free for lent. I figured that going without plastic packaging would be hard but I never imagined that it would be impossible to achieve at the shops I was habitually using.  I was struck the first time I walked into the supermarket (full of good intentions) just how big the plastic problem is.  I walked in to the fruit and vegetable aisle and was immediately confronted with a sea of plastic trays containing pumpkin and cabbage halves sealed with cling film, spring onions in plastic sheathes, apples in plastic bags, lettuces in plastic bags, tomatoes and strawberries in plastic punnets, and it just goes on and on.  Even the loose fruit had plastic stickers on each individual piece, and the only way to get some home was to either take them loose or put them in single use plastic produce bags.  The bulk bins were the same.  There were no alternatives available and everyone was happily using and consuming the plastic without a second thought.

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Rethink bulk bin bags in action.

I was deeply confronted by our plastic dependence as a result of that attempt at a plastic free lent.  So much so that I researched and went shopping for alternatives.  I found them at Commonsense Organics, but they are available online, and many different shops.  I purchased several sets of Rethink organic cotton reusable produce bags and a set of reusable bulk bin bags.  I was impressed with the rethink brand because they are biodegradable.  I didn’t want to replace single use plastic produce bags with reusable plastic netting bags. For me the organic cotton seemed like a better option. I also found some produce bags made from old net curtains at a local farmers market and they have been great too.  Obviously you could even make your own.  I have saved a variety of bags including a Soap Nuts bag, and a fabric rice  bag.  I have also been given a few.  I use them every shop with no trouble.  Printed sticky labels can be easily wrapped around the drawstrings.  I can’t recommend them enough.  They can also be used as delicate bags when you do your laundry.  I have had a large number of curious people approach me to ask where I got them from.  These people do want alternatives and they are far from alone.

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Examples from my collection.  Clockwise from top right; fabric rice bag with zipper; cherries in a re-purposed Soap Nut bag; a nylon mesh bag that I was gifted; one of the handmade bags I got from the farmers market; Rethink bulk bin bag; Rethink produce bag.

I think the problem is that most people just don’t know about the alternatives.  Some people will comment and criticize the plastic bag ban by saying that it doesn’t go far enough, or that it is pointless because there are still plastic wrapped cucumbers and plastic produce bags.  I don’t take that view however, I think big change of any kind is hard and that is why people resist it.  But it isn’t so hard to make small changes.  If you don’t want a plastic wrapped cucumber, you don’t have to buy it.  You can buy an unwrapped short cucumber instead, or you can grow your own.  If you don’t want to use plastic produce and bulk bin bags, rejoice!   There is good news.  There are alternatives and they are easy to use.  If you are frustrated by the endless sea of plastic packaging start making active choices to avoid it where possible, and if it is unavoidable take five minutes to write to the shop or manufacturer and tell them you would prefer an alternative.

I did exactly that at my local New World.  After I found reusable produce bags I was concerned that they are not really a visible option for people, or at least, not as visible as reusable shopping bags which are now found everywhere. I wrote to New World and suggested that they should consider stocking reusable produce bags in the produce aisle.  I told them about Rethink bags and a few other brands I had come across.  I told them that I had tried to avoid plastic packaging and found it hard to know where to begin.  The email took five minutes to write.  I have to admit that I didn’t expect much to come of it.  But a few days later I got an email reply.  They were thrilled to hear from me.  They had not heard of rethink or other brands of reusable produce bags, and thanked me for bringing them to their attention.  Better still, they said they thought it was a brilliant idea and told me to watch the produce aisle because after hearing from me they had ordered them and were planning a stand of them!  I was thrilled to say the least.  A month later, a new display popped up with various sizes of reusable produce bags and also string carry bags.  One 5 minute email made a difference in my local supermarket.  One small but significant change and as a result it is easier for people to opt for an alternative to single use plastic produce bags.

So this New Year why not get some reusable produce bags and make a step on the journey to reduce your plastic consumption.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our group beginning the beach clean-up.

But these kids embraced this beach cleaning activity with enthusiasm and gusto.  The parents were just as keen.   We all wandered along the beach eyes down scanning the stones and paua shells for signs of plastic.  It took a few minutes for me to spot my first piece of plastic – a yogurt pottle caught under a bit of driftwood.  It was white and I almost mistook it for a sun-bleached shell.  Then, suddenly everyone seemed to be finding things.  The kids made friends while they searched, imaginatively using sticks as ‘plastic detectors’. The sacks rapidly filled with a huge assortment of plastic.  Chocolate bar wrappers, old shoes, a dolls leg, fishing line, sunglasses, plastic rope, water bottles, pump bottle lids, milk bottle lids, soft drink bottles, 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.

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

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

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

 

Grandma’s tips to save the world!

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

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

Tips from my Grandma’s kitchen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are other things you can do too.

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

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

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

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

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

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Cling film annihilation kit ready for action.

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

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

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

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

Make your own beeswax wraps!                      

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

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

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

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

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Cutting the fabric to size.

Here’s how to make your own.

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

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

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

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

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

Simple and fun.

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

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!