The eco-mundane, plastic free dishwashing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here is some fascinating information for you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1938, DuPont Corporation began manufacturing nylon bristle brushes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SUST Product Review #1: Ethique

Here I am doing my first SUST product review.  Exciting times!  I don’t know how many of you are aware that there are some companies out there making solid shampoo bars, bodywash alternatives and even deodorant.  Ethique just happens to be the first I have been able to sample myself.

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The packaging is 100% biodegradable.  I didn’t think of taking a photo before I started using these products, but this gives you some idea what I am talking about.

Have a look at Ethique’s website and see what you think.  Ethique state that they are plastic free and their packaging is fully compostable.  They are cruelty free (not tested on animals), sustainable, and locally made in Christchurch NZ.  They are B corp. certified and a Climate Friendly Business.

I love that the packaging included no plastic at all.  It was so refreshing not to have to put a whole lot of plastic out for recycling or to landfill.  Not even the postal packaging was plastic.  It also came complete with a neat little card stating that I had saved the equivalent of two plastic bottles!

The body sampler pack was particularly neat and nifty.  One of these (or one of their other sampler packs) would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present.

Here is a rundown of the products I have sampled.

The Lime and Ginger bodywash bar is wonderful to use.  It smells fresh and leaves me feeling clean.  It is lasting really well and it’s not just me using it, the kids like it too.  In contrast, the Lime and ginger body polish is lovely to use, however it is clearly not going to last anything like as long as they claim.  After only two uses the sample block is shrinking away.  The other bodywash samples are lasting much longer.

The Glow Lavender and Vanilla deodorant is INCREDIBLE.  I have never used a product this effective. After a morning application I had no BO problems at all.  I know because I kept incredulously sniffing my armpits every hour or so expecting to have to reapply.   At bed time I could still clearly smell the deodorant much the same as when first applied.  I couldn’t detect any BO at all.  I‘ve been using it for weeks now with no problems.  I certainly won’t bother with the products in regular supermarkets ever again!

The In Your Face cleanser is another winner!  It is lasting well, it smells divine (think raspberry sherbet) and leaves my face feeling incredible.

My husband is trialing the suave shampoo and shaving block.  So far he says it is very good, equivalent to mainstream shaving products he has used, but is bit expensive.  It works nicely as a shampoo, and works well for shaving.  It seems to double as bodywash perfectly adequately (which is a bonus when traveling).  Recently overseas for work, he only needed to take one solid bar instead of three plastic bottles!

I was sceptical of the solid shampoo idea, but it really is effective.  I like a good lather that leaves my hair squeaky clean.  I also have a sensitive scalp that is prone to irritation.  I am pretty attached to my favourite shampoo, so the Damage Control shampoo bar had a lot to live up too.  I was very excited to try it.  I rubbed it on my head as per the instructions, massaged it in a bit and hey presto!  Bubbles and lather everywhere.  The smell reminded me of oddfellow mints.  The only thing I noticed is that the bar gets slippery very quickly so I have dropped it a couple of times leading to some very flat corners.  I’m now careful to put it up high on the shower caddy away from splashes and shift it to the window sill where it can dry out between washes.

Coconut and lime butter block is the only thing I haven’t sampled personally.  I can’t stand the smell of coconut on me.  A strange personal foible I know, but I don’t like coconut to eat or to wear!  I was dubious that everything would smell like coconut, but in fact the butter block is the only one I didn’t like.  Everything else smells fantastic.  I got my 14 year old daughter to try it out instead and she loves it!

I have atopic syndrome which leads to skin rashes for much of the year.  At its worst I am totally miserable.  I have a lot of trouble finding beauty products that don’t make it worse or set it off.  So far the Ethique products I have trialed have been OK. After years of bland smelling hypo-allergenic products it is unbelievably nice to use such lovely smelling things.  Every shower is bliss!

Using solid bars rather than liquid products seems to require a bit of a shift in how you do things.  For example, the bars don’t like staying wet.  The deodorant got a bit damp and moist when left in out in the steamy bathroom so I keep it in the bedroom instead.  The shampoo needs to dry out between uses, so I put it on the bathroom window sill.  All in all, the only things that need a big change are our buying habits and a few minor alterations to where you keep your products.

Why is this brand so exciting?  For me it is because these products tick so many boxes for us on our ethical and sustainable journey.

Some of Ethique’s products are expensive, but with the exception of the body polish bar (as mentioned) they all seem to be lasting well.  I am not yet certain if they will live up to the promise to outlast a liquid equivalent.  I don’t have reliable usage data to compare to.  However, so far the deodorant, and bodywash are performing very well and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they do outlast my usual products.  At $9.50 for the lime and ginger bodywash, I think this is great value because it is considerably cheaper than the $14 I have been paying for my usual brand.

The shampoo, seems to be going well for me too.  The shampoo bar cost $22 which is the same as a bottle of the only stuff I have been able to find that doesn’t irritate my scalp.  I would happily use either.  I think I still prefer my old brand for scent though!

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This photo gives you an idea how the products are going after five weeks of use.

Ethique have several charities to which they direct a portion of their profits (WSPA, International Animal Rescue, The Orangutan Project and HUHA).  They also sponsor an orangutan and a slow loris).  Disappointingly, they do not appear to be helping any of New Zealand’s iconic native species that teeter on the brink.  I would love to see them sponsoring a few predator traps or adopting a yellow eyed penguin.  For a New Zealand company I feel this is a glaring omission.

A testament to the success of Ethique’s products is that they are often out of stock on their website.  It is well worth a look if you are interested in plastic free locally made beauty products.

SUST Blog #1 – Beginnings

Hi!  My name is Katie, and this is my first ever blog post.  It is both exciting and daunting.  I am a Kiwi, born and bred here in the land of the long white cloud.  I am a Mum to three amazing human beings.  The SUST blog is a way for me to try and make a positive change in this world of ours.

How did I get interested in this ethical eco plastic free stuff?  Why does it gnaw away at me?  Why do I feel unable to walk past that piece of plastic blowing along the street?  Why do I feel distressed in the supermarket when I look at the bright colourful aisles where practically every item is wrapped in plastic?  When I am shopping for clothing how can I avoid clothing that is not ethically made?  These questions eat away at me.

This journey started for me when my children began to take notice of the world around them.  Naturally it started at ground level. Most parents will be familiar with this stage.  It is the stage when every pebble, stick, flower, leaf, feather, and acorn must be picked up and taken home.  Everywhere we walked we accumulated these natural treasures.  But also they noticed every plastic bottle lid, empty takeaway box, coke can, and broken pen as well. I would explain that some things were treasures and some things were rubbish. As they got a little older, they wanted to put the rubbish where it belonged (in the rubbish bin) and asked why other people didn’t put their own rubbish in the bin.  Every parent understands how conversations with kids in the “why?” phase can tangle your brain in logic knots (even those without children have heard about it).  I struggled to explain so they understood.  They insisted we had to do something about it ourselves.  And they were right.  We do have to do something about it ourselves.  Single use, throw away plastic is something we all have a responsibility to do something about.

My children were the reason my eyes were opened.  They changed the way I viewed the world.  They changed it permanently.

I decided to try becoming a more ethical house for the season of lent.  I resolved (prompted by my children’s desire for urgent action) to make more ethical shopping choices and try doing without plastic packaging for a month.  I had a few reusable shopping bags that I already used at Pack N Save. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard it would be.

On the first day of being an ethical and more plastic free house, I rocked up to our local New World with my reusable shopping bag.  Just a quick trip to get a few things for the kid’s lunches and the evening meal.  I stood in that shop and my eyes were opened even further.  There were virtually no Fair Trade options for the things on my shopping list.  I had forgotten about the produce bags for fruit and vegetables. Then I began looking at the plastic.  Just about everything I wanted to buy was either plastic or wrapped in it!

With a rising sense of desperation, I purchased fruit and vegetables loose, without any bags.  I chose a couple of Fair Trade items. I got bread in a paper bag from the in-store bakery.  I chose glass bottles of pasta sauce.  I got pretzel’s, almonds and raisin’s from the bulk bin and put them in paper bags from the bakery section.  Then I was stuck, and reluctantly I put a few ordinary items in my basket.  At the checkout I nearly forgot my reusable shopping bag but remembered at the last minute.  Afterwards I went home and struggled with my conscience.

I had never in my wildest dreams imagined how challenging it would be to become less dependent on packaging.  I was shocked to see for the first time how few alternatives there are to plastic products.  I was deeply troubled to see how few items are branded Fair Trade.  I began to think about the future my children would be inheriting.

My 7 year old daughter is in love with birds.  She is particularly smitten with New Zealand’s unique and wonderful birds.  Her favourite is the Kaka.  She begged for a stoat trap for her 6th birthday to protect a breeding colony of Kaka in the Coromandel and was thrilled to be sent a photo of the first flat stoat that it caught.  She is bothered by the sea birds that die each day with tummies full of plastic instead of fish. She wants to save them all.  I want to help her.

I have been keen to support Fair Trade products for a long time. But when my 14 year old daughter volunteered to help find an ethical brand to go in our church newsletter each week, I began to realise that there are choices out there.  It’s just so hard to find them in the Mall or at the supermarket.

My 4 year old son asked me to put a rubbish bag in my handbag.   He wants to be able to pick up the rubbish left to blow in the streets at eye level for little people like him, walking home from kindy.  So far I’ve kept forgetting….. but tonight I put a plastic supermarket bag from our dwindling supply in my handbag.

SUST is designed to help us all to change the way we do things by making choices easy.  My goal is to try and help people to move toward the goal of leaving a feather light footprint on this planet and our society.  This blog is a way for me to try and make a difference, not for me but for my children, and my children’s children.  I want them to know I cared.  This blog is a journey, and I don’t know where it will take me.  This is the beginning…….  Watch this space.

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