The plastic bag war

The number of times I have juggled an armload of groceries to my car or stuffed items into my handbag and pockets is more a representation of my personal organisation than anything else. However, I refuse to accept plastic shopping bags, so I must live with the consequences of forgetting my reusable bags or doing an impromptu food shop on my way home with no spare bags in the car.

The first time I ever stuffed my pockets, a handbag and loaded the rest of my groceries straight back into the trolley was, believe it or not, at least 7 years before I gave up on plastic bags.

I was travelling in France with my boyfriend at the time and, while I can find no evidence that there was a plastic bag ban there in effect before 2016, for whatever reason, the supermarket we were shopping at had no plastic bags available. This event was well before I had even begun to think about my personal impact on the environment (and only a few months after becoming vegetarian), so my reaction to having to carry all my shopping without a bag was vastly different to how I react these days. I remember being quite miffed at the situation. Nevertheless, that day taught me that it is possible to shop without plastic bags.

Although I have just discovered that the majority of the ‘green’ bags you can purchase at the supermarket can be recycled in the REDcycle soft plastics program (see my last post for more info if you missed it!), when the commercial green bags I already have reach the end of their natural life span and get turned into furniture, I will use home-made cloth bags. For any handy sewers (that’s a funny homograph!) out there, I will be sure to post the instructions/pattern that I end up using, when I get up to making them.

So, there are a few things to mention when it comes to eliminating plastic bags from your regular food shop. I won’t be considering the ‘extra strong’ reuse-me-many-times plastic bags available at Coles and Woolworths (is that still called Safeway in the Eastern States?), as I don’t see it as much of an improvement as ultimately they won’t last as long as alternatives and end up causing problems in landfill anyway (though hopefully you are now going to recycle them instead).

Many people are already using the branded ‘green’ bags I mentioned earlier, and if that’s you, I encourage you to continue to do so until they are too broken to safely carry your goods. I have a mixture of these and cloth bags currently. I think the ideal way to buy groceries would be using string bags or home-made cloth bags (made from fabrics with natural fibres), as they are sure to last the longest and will break down most efficiently when they reach the end of their life span.  If this seems too tricky, especially if you walk to the supermarket, why not get a wheelie trolley? (I always wanted one!) Or, if you have cardboard boxes that would be about the right size, why not take them? Sure, you may get a few funny looks, but this will just mean more people will take notice and think about your motivations for what you’re doing.

Another thing I always do now is whenever someone offers me a plastic bag (or starts to put things in before I have even had a chance to brandish my alternative – this happens mostly in fashion stores) is make a comment other than just saying ‘no thanks’. It’s never rude, and even when someone forgets that I’ve just said to them ‘I’ll put that in my handbag/this bag please,’ I’m not rude. I simply say something like, ‘no bag, thanks. I don’t like using plastic bags.’

Usually, I get a neutral response (let’s face it, people working in retail have a lot of customers in one day), and some cashiers even say ‘well done,’ or something positive.

I think it’s just a little bonus to get someone else thinking about plastic bags. Who knows, maybe some of the people I’ve commented to have since changed their own habits?

The last thing (and probably the toughest challenge) I want to talk about when it comes to shopping plastic bag free is the fresh fruit and veg.

How nostalgic it is to think back to childhood when I would be so keen to get those little bags off the reel just for the joy of separating them at their perforated edges… and more recently, as an adult, the frustration of not being able to open the damned things in order to heap in my string beans, or whatever.

For items like sweet potatoes, pumpkins, garlic cloves and ginger knobs that are fairly tidy and that I usually only buy in ones or twos, I tend to leave them loose. Everything else goes in a bag – just not the ones the supermarket provide.

The best solution if you are handy with a sewing machine would be to make some mesh bags yourself. You may even be able to repurpose old netting or lace curtains to make them even more environmentally sound. Sew them into a pouch and attach some ribbon or fabric to tie them closed. Alternatively, there are a number of mesh produce bags available on the market now, and these work really well and are not that expensive. I think I paid about $20 for a pack of 12 Onya brand reusable produce bags and I’ve not yet needed to use them all in one shop. You’ll probably know how many you are likely to need.

The one disclaimer I need to make when it comes to using reusable produce bags is to be careful about then storing your items in the fridge. Please don’t use these bags to store your things in the fridge the way you may have done with the plastic bags. They are great for carrying but not as good for keeping things fresh. I only had to wash rotten string bean out of my bag once before finding an alternative method of storing my food once I got it home! (If you’re interested, my chosen method at the moment is the ‘Swag Bag’: a padded cloth bag that you dampen before filling with your veggies and putting it in the crisper.)

So, I hope you’ve found some new ideas to avoid plastic bags when shopping. Remember: try not to be embarrassed if you find yourself stuffing your pockets and handbag or reloading everything loose back into your trolley. The more people who see you doing it, the more likely you are to influence a positive change in someone else’s behaviour!

 

Live better.

The “Aha” moment that immediately halved my waste to landfill: recycling soft plastics

Recycling soft plastics. It’s not difficult, for many people it is not time-consuming, and it makes a huge difference to your personal or household waste to landfill.

Shortly after moving into my first non-sharehouse home, I discovered that my local supermarket collected soft plastics for recycling.

It was a moment that completely changed the way I deal with waste in my home.

This is going back four years now, and maybe I was late to the party then; I honestly have no idea how long the REDcycle program had been running already, but I feel it’s gained a lot of ground in the last 4 years so many of you are probably already recycling your soft plastics. Feel free to read on anyway! I learned a little more about what happens to it and how best to prepare the soft plastics for recycling by researching for this post, so you may find out something new.

However, if you are still putting glad wrap, snap lock bags, plastic bags, chip packets, frozen vegetable bags, bread bags, chocolate bar or icecream wrappers, bubble wrap, dry pet food bags, potting mix or compost bags, pasta or rice bags or similar items in your landfill, and you live in Australia, please, PLEASE go to http://www.redcycle.net.au/where-to-redcycle/ to find your nearest soft plastics drop off location.

I don’t need to tell you what a huge difference it makes to eliminate these items from what goes to landfill.

What’s more, the soft plastics recycled by the REDcycle program end up being turned into furniture! And it all happens in Australia.

Because of the sheer amount of space that soft plastics take up, since recycling mine, I have reduced the amount of waste I send to landfill by more than half. Most weeks we don’t even need to put the landfill bin out for collection because there simply isn’t enough in there to fill it.

While it may seem like a hassle – and I have to admit, when I get lazy and my laundry is suddenly filled with bags of soft plastics, I sometimes bemoan my choice to do the right thing! – ultimately it is such a big win for the environment with such a small inconvenience to individuals, that it is hard to make excuses about this one if you live somewhere near a drop off location.

Smaller pieces of soft plastics can be collected inside a larger one – say your dog’s dryfood bag or an empty bag of potting mix, and then you can take this bag to the drop off location (usually a Coles or Woolworths and for some of you maybe even your normal supermarket), pop it in the bin and continue on with your day. REDcycle even specifically asks you not to wash out your soft plastics, so it’s pretty easy. Just empty as much product from it as you can and put it in dry. You can even recycle those really large bits of plastic that new furniture comes wrapped in. They just ask you to cut it to A3-sized pieces first.

Visit http://www.redcycle.net.au/ to read more about what can and cannot be recycled through this program, to see examples of the furniture produced from Australia’s recycled soft plastics and to find your nearest drop off location. There are currently 630 locations across Australia and they are expanding all the time so if there’s none near you yet, why not write to them to suggest expanding into your area!

This one small change will make a huge reduction in your household’s contributions to landfill. Just another easy step to living better!

Deodorant: going natural without the stink

 

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Some of us are blessed with a distinct lack of BO. Others, like me, seem cursed with it.

Today’s post will talk you through how to switch to a natural deodorant – without the worry that you will end up stinking out the car, bus, classroom, office or house.

Sorry if this is TMI for those of you who actually know me in person… but I have personally struggled with BO for a number of years. I would lace myself in deodorant and still find some days where I felt so self-conscious about my BO that I would have to keep my arms locked by my sides. Not to mention the effect it had on my clothes. Some of you may know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, consider yourself lucky.

Whether or not you have a BO issue, people are becoming increasingly concerned about some of the ingredients in commercial deodorants, as well as the impact that antiperspirants may be having on our bodies’ normal functions.

It won’t come as a shock that sweating is a normal and useful function of your body. So why are we obsessed with stopping it? Some people may be embarrassed by sweat patches (fair enough, it’s not a great look, I’ll agree), but for many it’s more the smell that accompanies the sweat that is the primary concern.

I had both concerns, and went so far as to order this insanely chemical-filled deodorant that promised no sweat just to wear at my wedding. (Yes, it worked, sort of, but the list of ingredients on that thing was downright scary.)

The primary function of sweat is to regulate the body’s temperature, but it is also one of the ways that the body can release toxins.

After the wedding, I decided to switch to natural deodorants and used a home-made recipe. I felt way better about the ingredients I was putting on my skin, as well as the lack of packaging. However, I still had issues with BO and concluded that the natural deodorant just was not enough to combat my smelly armpits.

Then one morning, quite by accident, I received an email newsletter from Hello Charlie (great online store, especially for kids’ stuff) about the ‘armpit detox’.

It has changed my life.

Maybe not so dramatically as I just put it, but I did the armpit detox 6 months ago, have had two top-ups and not a single day of BO since. We are now hitting peak summer and I am still odour-free and have not used a commercial deodorant since June. If you have any concerns about BO, please, please try the armpit detox.

So, what causes BO? It’s not the sweat itself that smells bad. BO actually results from bacteria that live on the skin breaking down the proteins found in sweat into acids. So – the key to reducing BO is actually to reduce the number of odour-producing bacteria that inhabit the armpits.

Obviously, the first step is to keep your armpits clean by washing them regularly. At this stage on my journey I’m still using commercial body washes and soaps but will gradually transition to home-made ones so keep an eye out for those posts later on. Some websites suggest that keeping your armpits de-haired also helps with controlling the environment, as it allows sweat to evaporate faster and thus the bacteria have less time to produce odours. But I’m not interested in advocating either way on the hair-removal issue. That’s a personal choice for each individual.

So – back to the armpit detox. It requires a 20-minute per day commitment for 7 days. It’s very easy, and the ingredients will cost you about $20.

There are two ingredients: Bentonite clay (I got mine from a health-food shop) and apple cider vinegar (from the supermarket if you don’t already use it for salad dressings or hair rinses).

 


DIY armpit detox

Mix about 3/4 tablespoon of bentonite clay with enough apple cider vinegar to make a paste that will spread and stay on your armpits. Then spread it on your armpits and leave it for 15 minutes. Finally, just like a facial mask, wash it off with warm water (or, like me, just hop in the shower and wash as normal).


 

Check out the full article on Hello Charlie if you want more information or an even lazier option (you can buy a pre-made armpit detox product): http://blog.hellocharlie.com.au/detox-your-armpits-so-natural-deodorant-will-work-for-you/

The proportions I suggest are different from those in this article – purely because on my first attempt I diligently measured out the proportions and found the resultant paste crumbled off my skin onto the floor and then I had a big clean up job. So I preferred a slightly wetter paste that stayed on much better and worked a treat.

After doing this once a day for 7 days, I reverted back to my natural deodorant.

I have had only 2 days of slight BO since this (as compared with almost every day, and some days that were really bad, before doing the detox). Both days I did a once-off detox again as a refresher and have been odour-free for over 6 months.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

I do think though, not that there’s much scientific evidence that I am aware of, that this needs to be paired with a natural deodorant. The above-linked article suggests that the commercial antiperspirant deodorants muck up the microbiome of bacteria living in our armpits and cause an imbalance in favour of the odour-producing bacteria. Personally, I don’t really want to go back down the commercial deodorant route just to test this out, but it seems logical to me.

So you may also want a recipe for the natural deodorant that I use. It originally came from a site called The Prairie Homestead (link: http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/12/diy-coconut-oil-deodorant.html).

Note this recipe is easier on a hot day, as your coconut oil will already be melted and therefore really easy to measure out and mix in. If your coconut oil is solidified, you will need to melt it first – try soaking the jar in hot water.


DIY natural deodorant:

Mix 1/4 cup bicarbonate of soda, 1/4 cup tapioca/arrowroot flour and 4 tablespoons of cornflour (make sure it’s actually corn, not wheat) in a bowl.

Add 1/3 cup coconut oil and mix.

If desired, add 5-10 drops of essential oils. Choices popular for their odour-reducing properties include peppermint, tea-tree and lemongrass, though I choose mine for the fragrance they give off. (I am currently getting through a batch with ylang ylang, bergamot and rose geranium. It smells divine and I even had a compliment from a friend about how good I smelt when I wasn’t wearing perfume.)

Pour or spoon (depending on the consistency) your deodorant into a jar or jars. Don’t over-fill containers as they will leak out the top. I had too much for the containers in my last batch and had the leftover in a small, uncovered dish sitting on my bathroom counter for a couple of weeks. It was fine.

To apply, use clean fingers to wipe the deodorant over your armpits and then wash your hands after. Easy peasy!

Notes:

1 – you can experiment with the consistency of the deodorant by adjusting the amount of coconut oil or bicarbonate of soda you add.

2 – be careful with essential oils as in high concentrations they can irritate the skin. Don’t add more than 10 drops for this quantity of deodorant and if you aren’t sure about your reaction to a certain oil, you should dilute some in a carrier oil (even plain olive oil is fine) and test it on the inside of your wrist for a few days to check that your skin won’t react to it.

3 – Depending on the weather, the coconut oil will alter how liquid or powdery the deodorant is. I’ve found the product is just as effective when it is more powdery, but it is easier to apply when it’s a little melted. If it gets really hot, it’s possible the deodorant will separate out and need re-mixing.


 

I can’t recommend these highly enough, whether you have issues with BO or are just concerned about the long-term effects of ingredients in commercial deodorants. Or maybe, you are primarily concerned with the packaging of commercial deodorants. Regardless of your motivation to try this out, it’s a small commitment time wise, and will save you lots of money in the long run.

Let me know if you decide to try out the armpit detox and the natural deodorant!

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Kitchen scraps – a wasted opportunity

Today’s post is all about food waste.

While there are many ideals when it comes to dealing with food waste, and I will discuss some of them, there are also a couple of very easy things you can do instead of putting your kitchen scraps into landfill.

Did you know that even degradable and compostable items like paper and food cause issues in landfill? The environment in landfill lacks air, which is the key ingredient to items breaking down. So while you may imagine that you are doing no harm sending your food waste to landfill because it’s organic and breaks down anyway, the lack of air means that the plant matter actually generates methane gas when it decays – which you will probably know is one of the greenhouse gases.

So, what can you do? The simplest, easiest, and first step that I suggest is you take advantage of your local council’s green waste collection.

Fortunately, for those of you who, like me, live in metropolitan South Australia, your council most likely has a kitchen waste system that is very easy to adapt to.

Our local council, for example, simply requires its residents to register for the food scrap recycling service to receive free cornstarch bags to keep kitchen scraps in until they are ready to go into the green bin. They can also purchase a bench-top or under-the-cupboard bin for $5 to help in the process.

My husband and I began disposing of our food scraps in this way 4 years or so ago, and it is so easy. We probably empty the food scrap bin every 2-3 days so even in summer it rarely has a chance to get stinky. If you are particularly concerned about odours, you can also freeze your scraps in a dedicated container until the bin collection day. This is particularly relevant for those with meat scraps as they will rot in the bin!

ALL food scraps can go into this bin, as well as some other things you may be surprised by, such as pet poo (but not the plastic bags you may be collecting it in!)

When the green waste is collected, it is converted into compost.

But, why let someone else benefit from your wonderful food scraps?

There are a couple of ‘more ideal’ solutions than simply having your council’s waste service convert your food waste into compost.

Firstly, for the super-keen, why not try making stock out of your scraps? Vegetable peelings, trimmed off ends, leaves, stalks etc can make great vegetable stock that you can store in the fridge or freezer. For any meat eaters, of course you can do the same with offcuts of meat or bones (and presumably fish as well, though I’ve never tried to make fish or meat stock!). Any waste remaining after this can still go into the kerbside green waste bin.

Another alternative is to make your own compost. You don’t have to go as far as making a worm farm (though it’s certainly on my list for the future), but you can generate your own compost fairly easily and with a very low startup cost, especially if you are prepared to DIY. Do some research to find out which method is best for you.

Some items shouldn’t go into worm farms or compost heaps (particularly meat and dairy), and for those, there is still the green waste bin.

So there you have it. It is so easy to reduce the amount of methane your waste produces, just with a very small change to your habits in the kitchen.

According to “1 Million Women”, if 10% of Australians compost their food waste rather than send it to landfill, that will prevent 450 million kg of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere.*

Not in SA? Have different opportunities or options where you live? Jump online and research what to do with food scraps in your local area. Comment below if you have any information that can help others in the same location!

 

*Much as I have tried, I can’t find the original post they made about this, and found this statistic on a post by Biome Eco Stores (a highly recommended website for any low- or zero-waste supplies you might need!)… so I don’t know about the time frame of this amount of greenhouse gases – one year? one lifetime? Anyway, even if that’s over a lifetime, I think it’s significant enough to bother making a difference. I hope you agree.

Remember, small changes, bit-by-bit, can ultimately make a big difference.

Live better.

My first step: eliminating meat

Home-made fresh gnocchi
Becoming vegetarian gave me a greater appreciation for and understanding of flavours, and made me the foodie that I am today.

Despite the risk of putting off some readers (at this early stage, too! Am I crazy? Probably), I do feel that sharing my first step towards living more ethically is the best place to start this journey with you. Rest assured, non-vegetarians, that the aim of this post is a personal share. I’m not (yet, at least) trying to convince you to make a drastic change to your diet.

I took my first step towards living better at the tender age of 19, when I decided to become ‘vegaquarian’ (I didn’t know about the existence of a ‘pescetarian’ diet!).

I had always been picky with meats – but not in the way you might think. I refused, for example, to eat turkey because I thought they were weird to look at, had never eaten rabbit, had grudgingly tried kangaroo once but was not keen to have it again, and had always, since childhood, refused to eat anything that had even a drop of blood still visible. It drove my parents mad.

Despite this, I had always taken eating meat for granted, and considered it part of a normal lifestyle, until I began studying philosophy at Uni, and took a subject called ‘How Should I Live?’. While the majority of the readings were about Kant’s Universal Morality, or Utilitarianism, or whether there was such a thing as true Altruism when people gain personal satisfaction from their altruistic deeds, there was one chapter of my textbook that explained that the established moral theories about how people ‘should’ live dealt exclusively with how humans should behave towards each other, while not one mentioned how humans should treat animals. It followed, therefore (reasoned my text), that one could be an incredibly moral person, according to these theories, yet be cruel to animals. The chapter also detailed some of the living conditions of animals bred for meat and that was enough to convince me. I told my mother that day I was becoming vegetarian. She had, unfortunately, already defrosted chicken for dinner that night and told me it was fine for me to become vegetarian but I would have to wait until I’d moved out and was cooking for myself. Fearing a blow-up, I agreed, but couldn’t stomach the chicken she’d prepared. Once I’d made the decision, it tasted like rubber in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow it. (Unfortunately, since I have worked hard to not be a hoarder, I no longer have the textbook I referred to, so I can’t give you the reference to that reading. If anyone comes across it, please let me know via the ‘contact’ page.)

Turns out I learnt to cook a lot earlier than I would have if I hadn’t made that decision – my mother refused to cook two meals so for the first 6 months I cooked a separate meal for myself. Eventually, mum got sick of us eating different things and started to prepare vegetarian meals for all of us (though I still helped her cook most nights).

While I have eaten fish on and off for the last 11 years, and have not yet managed to give up other animal products (though I have replaced cow’s milk with soy or almond for the last 6 years and my husband is building a chicken coop in order for us to have our own eggs), I know that just cutting out meat from my diet has made a huge difference to my personal impact on the environment. While one person’s habits may not be enough to shock the meat industry into refining their practices, I have at least spent the last 11 years feeling ethically comfortable with my diet choice. I don’t let people tell me I’m not making a difference so I may as well eat meat, or, conversely, that I’m not making enough of a difference so I should cut out all animal products. I am doing something, and something is always better than nothing. What’s more, because this choice works for me, it is something I can stick with. And something for 11 years is far better than everything for three months followed by nothing for three years.

We can all take small steps, bit by bit, to improve the way we treat ourselves, our bodies, and our environment. It’s about living better, and not living ‘right’. 

A final note:

My goal in sharing this part of my personal journey with you, as I said, is not to convince you to become pescetarian, vegetarian or vegan. Some of you may already be, some of you may be on the way to being, and some of you may be staunchly against the idea. This is one reason why I haven’t included statistics or gruesome descriptions of the inner workings of the industries in question. What I will suggest to all my readers is that you revisit your motivation for making small changes to your lifestyle. Are you motivated by a concern for the environment, or for the health of you and your family? Then, do your own research on how consumption of animal products affects that primary concern of yours. You are far more likely to stick with any changes you decide to make if they come from a genuine desire to change something.

 

Living better – not living right

It seems as though today there are too many barriers to living ‘right’. Modern society just does not make it easy to do the right thing. How often have you, for example, checked ingredients to be sure that what you are buying is gelatine-free, only to find palm oil listed? (For the vegetarians.)

There are so many battles to fight, and so many attitudes that need to shift if society as a whole supports a more ethical way of living. But until then, each individual can play their part. And it doesn’t have to be difficult.

While some people reading this may already be way ahead of me on the staircase to a more ethical lifestyle, others may be feeling overwhelmed by the number of issues, for example: reducing your water or energy usage, reducing your waste, avoiding harsh chemicals in cleaning or beauty products, reducing or eliminating your intake of animal products… all of which ultimately reduce your personal carbon footprint. But how can you tackle all of these? There simply doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day!

Though some of you may disagree, I strongly believe (and advise) that it is – for most people – unachievable, and perhaps even foolish, to try to do everything at once.

What is the point, for example, of ridding your house of plastic, before any items you have already purchased have reached the end of their lifespan?

So, I propose we all start the same way: with one step. Make one change at a time, and leave as much time as you need in between steps to make sure that each change can stick. If you try for too many things in one go, I see it ending in one of two ways: it is too exhausting and you give up, or you alienate your loved ones with your zealousness. If you make one small change at a time, and make it as easy as possible for your loved ones to fall in step with you, chances are in the long term, it will stick, and those you are encouraging on your journey with you will understand, appreciate and support your reasons for engaging in a more ethical lifestyle.

I’ve decided to start this blog to share my personal journey towards a more ethical lifestyle. While some of the steps I will write about I took long ago, I know there are many more that I wish to take. I hope that you will find my words a source of support, encouragement, perhaps inspiration at times and hopefully appreciate the healthy dose of reality every now and then.

I will tag each post so that you can search previous posts for particular categories, for example, at your stage in your journey you may be looking at ways to reduce waste (#towardszerowaste) or natural, home-made cleaning products (#cleaningproducts). Or, you may like to look at things room by room (#bathroom).

Whatever stage you are on – whether at the beginning or somewhere along the way – I encourage you to keep foremost in your mind your reasons for beginning and continuing on this journey. If things feel too hard, take a moment – or perhaps a day or two – to think carefully about why it mattered to you so much that you tried to enact a change in the first place. Was your motivation about our planet’s health? Were you concerned about the health of you and your family? Were you bothered by the harsh realities of the meat and animal product industries?

Whatever your reasons, if you feel like giving up, think back to your primary motivation. I hope this will give you the strength to try again – maybe with smaller steps.

We all need to do our bit to ensure a healthy future for our world. Start living better today!