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Looking ahead to 2019

Do you make new year’s resolutions? At what point do you decide what they’re going to be?

I imagine that if you make them up on the fly on new year’s day – when you’re feeling bloated and uncomfortable after all the eating of the preceding month or so, and possibly hungover from the night before – swearing off booze and being determined to eat more healthily are likely to top the list. Aaaand, of course, the chances of breaking those resolutions within the month are that much higher.

I’m not much of a one for resolutions. I prefer to set goals, and new year’s day is as good a time as any.

I’m toying with the idea of doing something fairly major next year, and I don’t want to enter into it lightly, so I’m thinking about it quite carefully to decide whether it is an achievable goal.

I’m considering a fast of sorts. A few years ago, I decided to challenge my serious shoe habit and go on a year’s ‘shoe fast’. In the end, the fast went on for 18 months for a variety of reasons. But the fact is that I managed it. This time around, I’m thinking of swearing off new things altogether. Obviously I will continue to buy toiletries, food and the essentials – although, even there, I have been trying for some time to make more and buy less, and to buy sustainable, ethical products – but I’m thinking of things like clothes, shoes, jewellery, phones, appliances, furniture, bed linen, etc. I wonder if I could go a whole year without buying anything new. If I can’t find it pre-owned or make it myself, I go without.

For the most part, I’m fairly confident. But there are a few things I have to consider.

  1. Most significantly, purchases for the home don’t just affect me. I share my home with Mr Namasi. And he would have to be on board with the idea of nothing new for a year. If he wants a new sofa, my goal of only buying pre-owned items might be at risk, but I can’t strongarm him into abiding by goals he didn’t set and had no say in. This is what project managers call a ‘dependency’.
  2. Some items I’m confident I can make or repair. Others I’m not so sure of. For example, I have never made a bra. The very thought of it makes me nervous. If I were a neat little B cup, I could just choose to do without. If I were younger, I might not need a great deal of support. I am neither of those things. I am middle aged with a GG cup (and no, I’m not ‘bragging’, don’t even go there – there is absolutely no advantage and several disadvantages to having a disproportionately large bust), which means I practically need something designed by a structural engineer. I’ve also never made jeans, and don’t have a great deal of confidence in my ability to make a pair that would be robust, comfortable and flattering. I’m an odd shape. Could I do it?
  3. Some things are unforeseen. What if the year pitches me a curveball? I can make clothes if my body changes. If my prescription changes, I will consider new glasses essential and therefore exempt from the moratorium. But there might be other changes I can’t even imagine at this point. I might have to revisit things if for example I lose all my hair and have to decide whether or not a wig constitutes an essential item.

Generally speaking, I’m a seat-of-the-pants kind of person. But when you’re setting goals, if you are to be true to them, you really do need to think things through. I mean, otherwise there’s no point in setting the goals in the first place. You know what they say: a goal without a plan is just a wish.

I’ll let you know whether I pluck up the courage to go through with this one as my goal for 2019.

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Christmas gift suggestions

On my Karyn’s [re]Kreations Facebook page, I’m doing a series of gift suggestions. I thought it might be worth posting a collation of them here. You will quickly discern a common thread: an unapologetic emphasis on the renewable, sustainable, eco-friendly and global-village-considerate. I have also tried to be considerate of a range of budgets.

I should mention that none of these links are sponsored. In fact, none of these businesses even know I’m writing this post. So all recommendations are my own.

Here goes:

  • A bee saver kit from somewhere like Friends of the Earth. You’ve heard all the dire warnings of the trouble we’ll be in if the bees disappear. And you probably know that bee populations are declining alarmingly. So – even if you share my phobia of pointy insects – let’s do our bit for the pollinators.
  • A stainless steel insulated drink bottle. An alternative to bottled water and the plastic it usually comes in. Chilly’s does a great one.
  • A cooking kit. Not one you’ve bought from a supermarket, but one you’ve assembled yourself. Something as simple as brownie ingredients in a reusable jar, or something utterly hip, consisting of the tears of a mermaid’s uncle, exotic spices from the Land of the Lost Metaphor and truffles harvested at 9 minutes after midnight on a day not ending in Y. You could be precise and measure out the ingredients to the last picagram, or supply a box of this, a bottle of that and a tube of the other. Don’t forget to include the instructions.

    4Ocean original bracelet
  • A bracelet from 4Ocean, made out of plastic removed from the sea. This is definitely an ‘accept no substitutes’ situation. 4Ocean isn’t a company that sells bracelets. It is an organisation that cleans the ocean. The bracelets are a fundraising by-product. Every bracelet sold represents a pound (450g-ish) of plastic removed from our oceans. So a bracelet that looks like this one, but has been made by a company (or even an independent Artisan) that makes jewellery isn’t the same thing by a long shot. The UK supplier is here, and the USA supplier here.
  • A place at a half or full day workshop. This will take a fairly generous budget for the most part. They are of the order of the gift that keeps on giving: the fishing lesson, rather than the fish from the old adage. Something like welding, wet felting, silversmithing or blacksmithing. Or perhaps a master class in singing or dance or worship leading might be a better fit for your loved one.
  • An eco-friendly bird feeder from somewhere like Ethical Superstore. These are such a win-win item. The birds are fed, especially through the lean winter months, and your loved one has the pleasure of seeing the birds come into their garden.
  • A bamboo phone stand/holder from somewhere like Protect the Planet. I know. Some of you are wondering why anyone would need such a thing. Most of my knitting/crochet patterns and cooking/baking recipes are online, accessed via my phone. Every time I want to see what the next step is, I need to pick the phone up to look at it. If my hands are covered in marinade, or bread dough, this is less than ideal. A phone stand is simple genius at its best. And bamboo is highly sustainable.
  • Craft/artisan food and drink items. Gin is enjoying unprecedented popularity at the moment (in the UK, at any rate), and you can scarcely turn around without encountering entire walls of varieties. They seem to come flavoured with every imaginable herb, spice and fruit. Craft beers are also popular, and local microbreweries are enjoying strong support. Since moving away from Wellingborough, we have missed Hart Family Brewers, but Mr Namasi has manfully set about tasting all the nearby offerings in the Vale to find a local replacement. Such a trooper. Artisan cheeses are another option, and will keep long enough if you buy a whole cheese with a protective coating of some sort. Farm shops (such as Three Trees and Saddleback) are usually a great place to find these items. I’d also like to give a shout out to a local business in the Vale of the White Horse called Bloomfields Fine Food. Not only do they stock all these items – and more besides – but they display a map showing where their suppliers are based and most of their items have a shelf edge ticket which includes the food miles of the product.
  • Membership of English Heritage, National Trust or Woodland Trust. Obviously, if you don’t live in the UK, you’d need to explore equivalents in your part of the world. Your loved one gets what amounts to a season ticket to visit various sites, while the funds go towards maintaining these valuable spaces. We thoroughly enjoyed our family membership of English Heritage when we lived in Kent and the children were little. It took us 6 visits to Dover Castle to see everything we wanted to see there, which would have been prohibitively expensive without our membership cards. When we moved to Milton Keynes in 2002, and then Northamptonshire in 2008, we found there were too few places within easy reach to make it worthwhile being members, so we allowed it to lapse. This year, as soon as I knew we were moving to Oxfordshire, which abounds in English Heritage sites, I took out annual couples’ membership for us to mark the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary.
  • Following on from the previous point, as one friend suggested, an annual pass to Blenheim Palace or membership of Kew Gardens or The London Wetland Centre for someone with a special interest in history or plants or birds or photography… For example, I have a notion of visiting Kew Gardens several times throughout the year, and taking photos of the same trees each time to capture the seasonal dance – and those trees’ steps in that dance.
  • A keyring made from a recycled circuit board. Protect the Planet has some cute ones. Dumped computers are a very real problem, particularly in developing countries, where richer countries pay for the privilege of dumping their electronic waste. There are entire communities which – quite literally – live on these dumps, and are exposed to all manner of hazardous waste as CRTs and the like are subjected to the elements.
  • A custom starter pack for a more ecofriendly/sustainable daily lifestyle. You could buy one from somewhere like The Wise House, or you could make your own, including plastic-free items like beeswax wraps and handmade bath puffs.
  • A loose leaf tea gift set from somewhere like Wearth for the tea aficionado in your life, or a starter pack for the person who is an aficionado-in-waiting.
  • Upcycled cufflinks made out of colouring pencils, or a fire hose, or a Jackson Pollock-esque painted canvas. If your budget is a little bigger, perhaps a fire hose wallet?

I’m going to stop there, because although I’m not out of ideas, I realise that I have provided links to several sites where you may get wonderfully sidetracked and find your own inspiration. But I can’t end without suggesting the sort of gift your loved one will never even see. I’m talking about things like toilet-twinning and the donation of a goat, chicken, beehive or cow to a needy family. Within my circle of friends are many people who would love such a gift, and in fact one who proudly displays a picture of her twinned toilet in her own guest bathroom. Not everyone needs something that benefits them directly.

I hope I’ve inspired you. Please feel free to share your own ideas and suggestions, or stories of your loved ones’ reactions to their lovingly chosen non-tat Christmas gifts.

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Why I’m not getting gifts this Christmas

A few days ago, Mr Namasi and I sent this message to our sons:

Dad and I don’t want you to buy gifts for us, please. It will be our great pleasure to have you home for Christmas and to be able to feed and spoil you for that time time. That will be enough for us. We’re not even buying each other gifts this year, choosing instead to do some nice things together.

They have enough expenses. Now that our sons have left the nest, seeing them is beyond any of the gifts their limited budgets could stretch to. One of our sons became a student this academic year, at the age of 25. The other recently had a car accident in which his little car was totalled. That’s one part of it.

Another part is the stuff. We moved twice in a year. The first time, we shed possessions as part of the normal moving process. Then we promptly became the repository of masses of furniture as first one and then the other son moved in with us temporarily, bringing all their furniture, and then moved out into furnished places, leaving their possessions behind. The second time we moved house, we downsized significantly and shed yet more stuff. We still have more than we have space for, even after a fairly successful yard sale in the summer, and an ongoing relationship with Facebook Marketplace, local ‘for sale’ sites, Freecycle and the like.

We have reached the stage in our lives when it’s hard to choose gifts for us. Particularly if you’re on a tight budget. I mean, I’d love to attend one of Emma Mitchell’s (aka Silver Pebble) workshops, but they come with a price tag beyond the reach of pretty much everyone buying gifts for me. So the fallback tends to be gimmick gifts which raise a laugh when they are opened, and add to the general merriment of the occasion. What’s lovely about these is that they show how well a person knows you. What’s less lovely is that they tend to end up in landfill once you get past the guilt of throwing away something given to you as a gift.

Yet another part is the wrapping. Around this time of year, we begin to see articles about the environmental impact of Christmas wrapping. We are reminded to do the scrunch test, to see whether wrapping paper is recyclable.

But that doesn’t really help with the packaging the gifts come in: the boxes and plastic and tissue paper and and and.

So many aspects of Christmas can be… is unseemly the word I’m looking for? The shops become a deeply stressful place to be. The foods that no-one enjoys are served up because it’s traditional. People spend money they can ill afford on gifts for people they scarcely know. Vast quantities of alcohol are consumed to alleviate the stress of the whole business. Masses of packaging is included in the next few kerbside garbage collections.

And it needn’t be like that. Why not leave out the food no-one likes, and replace it with something you do like? Make it part of your family’s unique Christmas tapestry. Support independent shops or local makers, artisans and crafters when choosing your gifts. Explore alternative ways of wrapping gifts that don’t have a massive environmental impact.

Consider intangible gifts: indoor skydiving, a spa treatment, a tank driving experience, membership of English Heritage/National Trust.

So many posts have been written on this subject, I feel as I would just be reinventing the wheel to go on. So I’ll steer you towards this post which contains several workable suggestions.

And I’ll end with this little reminder:

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Litter picking part deux

33 bags of litter

I recently posted about a litter pick on one of the roads leading to our village. The response to that was good enough for us to take another run at it. Since the second event differed fairly significantly from the first, I thought I’d write about it, in case it should prove useful to anyone considering organising a local litter pick themselves.

Last time, the local contractor provided us with a box of grabbers, gloves enough for everyone, litter bags and hi vis waistcoats. I assumed that this would be the case for round two as well. It wasn’t.

When we arrived to collect the kit, nothing had been set aside for us. In spite of an exchange of emails confirming everything, no record had been made anywhere that we were coming. Fortunately, because we were a small group, they were able to rustle up enough grabbers for us, and we were given more than enough bags. But that was it. No gloves and no hi vis. The gloves weren’t the end of the world: most people have gardening gloves. But the lack of hi vis was a distinct worry. The road we were working has no pavements. In fact, on one side of the road, there isn’t really even a verge to speak of. Since there is also a blind bend, there was no question of sending people out there without making them as visible as possible to oncoming traffic.

I posted a few frantic messages in various social media spaces and was able to beg and borrow enough hi vis waistcoats to go round.

In March, the spring foliage was only just starting to come in, and the litter was much more visible and accessible. This time around, the foliage was much denser, making it more difficult both to see and to retrieve the litter. You would think that that would mean we collected less, wouldn’t you? Not so.

Last time, we had a team of about six people, and we collected 15 refuse bags of litter in two hours, over a distance of less than half a mile. This time, we had a team of 10, and we collected 33 bags of litter in two hours within the same sort of distance.

We found fewer unusual items on this outing, but the prize probably goes to the heavy tractor tyre, filled with sludge, which had to be dragged up out of a deep ditch. There was also a pile of about 8 black bin bags filled with builders’ rubble – dumped about 100m further along in the same ditch – which we were unable to retrieve. We’ve reported both the tyre and the builders’ rubble to the local contractor, and we hope that they will be collected soon.

Last time, the day was cool and overcast. This time, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the mercury was cheerfully high. So hats, sun screen and a water supply were definitely needed.

The most common items retrieved were plastic bottles, drink cans, food wrappers and glass bottles.

Lessons learned, hints and tips

  1. Place your booking for the litter picking kit with your local provider. Find out if there’s a formal process you can go through to make sure that you don’t fall between the cracks.
  2. Order enough kit for everyone. Even those who tell you they have their own grabbers. They probably have one of those doohickeys designed for picking up things about the house. They really aren’t strong enough to drag a recalcitrant, half-buried soda can from the undergrowth.
  3. Make sure you know what you’re getting from the contractor. If gloves and hi vis gear aren’t included, ask around: many people have their own and may be willing to lend theirs to you. Don’t shrug off the hi vis gear. It’s absolutely vital that your team is as visible as possible – especially on country lanes with no pavements.
  4. If you’re working country lanes, it’s better to work during the months when the foliage is sparse. The litter is more visible and easier to retrieve. Also, you’re less likely to disturb the home of a small animal which might have young. In the warmer months, when the plant growth is more dense, it’s perhaps better to stick to working residential roads and public spaces.
  5. It’s best if your team works in pairs or small groups, especially if you’re working country lanes. Two people are more visible to passing traffic than one. And if one person gets hurt or stuck, it’s good to have someone on hand to help out. Also, if you find larger items (like tractor tyres or TV sets), it might take more than one person to retrieve it.
  6. Have your team tie their filled bags off and leave them by the side of the road, then collect them all up at the end. If people have to drag filled bags to a central point as they fill them, it means they have less time to actually pick up the litter. It’s also more exhausting. It follows from this that the litter pickers should carry enough spare bags with them that they don’t need to come back for more each time they fill one.
  7. Advise people to wear hats, sunglasses or protective eyewear, and sunscreen. Of course, if they choose not to, that’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t hurt to take along some sun screen for people to use, just in case. When it comes to hi vis, though, I would put my foot down if you’re working country lanes: if you’re not prepared to wear it, I’m not prepared to let you take part.
  8. Provide water – and put someone in charge of distributing it up and down the line of workers.
  9. Take along some kind of cream to treat nettle stings. I didn’t do this, and I wish I had.
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The singles’ club…for socks

Today I’m talking about – of all things – odd socks. The good thing about textiles is that they are highly recyclable. Old jeans and jackets can be used to make bags, or re-cover chairs. Odd socks, not so much. Old textile products can be ground up to make insulation and wadding, so there is that option. But let’s see what else we can do with them.

The Singles’ Club

A permanent feature in the Romeis household is The Singles’ Club. This little basin is the repository for socks which inexplicably emerge from the laundry without their mates. When it starts to get a little full, someone (usually me – it’s my favourite chore) will go through it and perform a mass wedding ceremony, as long lost partners are reunited.

When the children were little, I used to make up stories about the socks as I paired them up. Sometimes socks would look as if they belonged together, when they didn’t. And sometimes I would find that I was inadvertently trying to match up one of Mommy’s white sports socks with one belonging to one of the boys. All of this would get woven into the narrative. If Mr Namasi was in earshot, there might be a carefully ribald joke or two that would – in the manner of children’s theatre since time out of mind – sail right over the head of the youngsters and occasionally (if Mommy was very witty) cause coffee to mysteriously emerge from Daddy’s nose.

Inevitably, some of the socks are never reunited with their partners. And what do we do with those?

If your family is anything like mine, wearing mismatched socks is an option. I know one young lady who just slings all her socks into a drawer and wears the first two that come to hand each day. But I find wearing socks of different thicknesses irritating, so I don’t do that. That said, a black sock with red heel and toe can safely be worn with a black sock with yellow heel and toe from the same 3-pack. No-one is going to see the heels and toes, after all. A yellow googly-eye sock can happily be worn with a pink googly-eye sock from the same pack. The socks are daft to begin with. Wearing different coloured ones is somehow within the bounds of acceptable eccentricity – even with a suit, if you do it with aplomb.

Sock doll

But it’s the socks that just can’t even be ‘mismatched up’ that are the problem. So here are some uses:

  • If they’re made from natural fibres, you could use them to buff your shoes. This works particularly well if you stuff one sock with a few others.
  • Adopting the same approach of popping a few socks inside another one, will give you a great defogger for the inside of the car windscreen. Once again, it’s best to go with natural fibres here, or you’ll just end up smearing the condensation around inside of wiping it away.
  • They also make great duster-gloves. Just pop one on your hand and wipe down the various surfaces that need dusting.
  • Any sock, natural fibres or not, can be used to protect shoes when packing.
  • Pop a bar of soap inside a sock and tie it to your outside tap for washing your hands when working outdoors. Just remember to cover it when it rains, and you should probably bring it indoors in the rainy season.
  • Socks make great covers for golf club heads.
  • Or how about a pair of kneepads for your crawling infant?
  • I have a friend who makes a nifty hair bun using socks. I never acquired the skill when my hair was longer, but then I have never been able to ‘hair’ very well. Here’s a link for those with more skill than me in this area.
  • If you have a very small dog and a large sock, you can make a jacket for your pooch with little hassle.
  • Then, of course, there are the myriad sock dolls and puppets to be found on Pinterest. I’ve had a go at a few of these myself, and they are rather cute. The one shown here is one I made.
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Re-using that plastic: bottle caps

Let me start this post with a reminder that the overall idea is to reduce the amount of plastic we use. That will inevitably reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate. The ideal is a zero plastic lifestyle.

It surprises me that I actually have to point this out, but reaction to previous posts in the series makes it clear that I do: none of the ideas shared in this series about reusing plastic are meant to encourage readers to go out and buy products in order to get their hands on the plastic items needed. Quite the contrary. If you decide you’d like to build a greenhouse out of 2 litre pop bottles, I can almost guarantee that you won’t need to buy a single bottle of pop yourself. Put a call out on your local Facebook group. Send an email out to your friends and family. Go door to door down your street, and chances are you’ll have enough bottles to build a double storey house… although I wouldn’t recommend it.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the intended subject of this post: the reuse of plastic bottle caps. This is the last in this series. From next week, I’ll be looking at something other than plastic for a while.

The real bummer with plastic caps is that they are less widely recycled than the bottles they seal. Please check to see whether your local recycling service recycles PP (pop bottle caps) and HDPE (sometimes used for milk/fruit juice). If they don’t, you’ll need to separate them out from your trash. If you sling a bottle-with-cap into the recycling in an area where the caps are not recycled, there is a good chance that this will be seen as ‘mixed plastic’ and will be removed. At that point, landfill is a very real possibility.  If your local recycling centre doesn’t recycle this kind of plastic, there are some charities that do. Do a quick Internet search to see if there are any such services in your area.

So, what are we going to do with the little blighters?

Bottle top floor tiles

Some of the projects I shared in my post about reusing pop bottles, include the lids, so I won’t repeat those. But do have a quick (re)read to see whether there’s anything there for you. Other ideas include:

I have also seen ideas for Christmas decorations, and even jewellery. And, if you’re anything like me, each new thing you see will foster ideas of your own. What I love about this era is how much people are willing to share their skills and ideas. There’s a generosity among creative people that warms the cockles of my heart.

Until next time.

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Reusing that plastic: fizzy drink bottles

Fortunately, the plastic used to make fizzy drinks bottles (PET) is widely recycled. But we are trying to reduce our output, so this post will focus on alternative uses for them. And they are legion!

Sadly, bottle caps (PP) are less widely recycled. Many of the projects shared here include the caps, and I will look at some separate uses for them in a separate post.

Lighting

In places without an electricity mains supply, drinks bottles have been used to provide indoor lighting, using the principle of refraction. In my native South Africa, this technique has made an enormous difference to children in informal housing settlements, struggling to complete homework by the light of a kerosene lamp (which is both unhealthy and dangerous). Obviously, in a wealthy country like the UK, the call for this lighting method isn’t particularly great. It also helps to have some sunlight to refract, and we know that there are times of the year when that is in short supply here. However, if you’re an outdoorsy, roughing-it type, you might find it useful. So here‘s how to make your own.

As a variation on the theme, simply strapping a headlamp to a drink bottle filled with water will create an instant lantern. As long as you remember to point the light inward towards the bottle, of course, so that it can be refracted! This works very well with milk bottles (HDPE) too.

Based on this concept, the ‘Liter of Light‘ project has transformed lives in some of the poorest parts of the world, as well as those hit by natural disaster.

Gardening

The humble plastic bottle can also be pressed into service in your garden. They can be used for wall gardening (see picture), hydroponicscloches, and seedling propagation. They can be pressed into service to keep the slugs away from your veggies, the wasps away from the outdoor living space, and the mozzies away from your blood. Do, however, bear in mind that traps for ‘baddie’ insects might also kill some of the good guys, so do weigh up the pros and cons before installing them willy-nilly.

They can even be used to build greenhouses (or summerhouses).

You can use them to make bird feeders for both seed eaters and nectar drinkers (and probably insectivores, if you put your mind to it).

You can make a sprinkler and a bird shower. I’m not sure whether those two belong in the gardening section, to be honest. Pets and children are just as likely to enjoy them!

Air conditioning

Like the lighting solution, this one might not have as much application to the UK as to some hotter climes. But feast your eyes on this brilliant use of recycled plastic bottles, a board, and the laws of thermodynamics, to make an air conditioner that uses no electricity.

Crafting activities

Madonna and child – reclaimed materials (and polyfilla)

This is a rather miscellaneous list of craft activities which involve plastic bottles:

As you may know, plastic bottles formed part of the Madonna and child figures (see picture) made during the workshop I conducted in December. I have also seen extremely complex and sophisticated fairy villages made using plastic bottles as a base.

It seems, from the practical and functional to the whimsical and purely decorative, there is a use for these bottles.

Until next time.

 

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Reusing that plastic: plarn

Someone (several someones, actually) recently drew my attention to a video on FB, showing how to fuse several layers of plastic shopping bags together with an iron. The video then went on to demonstrate how that fused material could be used to make several different types of bags, including a durable shopping bag.

The comments on the post were chiefly of the “so I just spent x minutes of my life learning how to use x hours of my life turning a bag into a bag” ilk. I’m never sure whether to cry or roll my eyes when I read reactions like that. I want to shout “You’re missing the point!!!!!

I would like to point out that the primary goal of this series of posts is to reduce the amount of plastic we throw away (and let me just take this opportunity to say – yet again – that there is no such place as ‘away’).  Re-using that plastic to make something useful and durable, is the means by which we work towards that goal. There’s no single idea that’s going to suit everyone. I’m just presenting a few that might prove helpful. Obviously, there is no point making something so useless, impractical or ugly that it will wind up in the trash anyway.

Today I’m going to talk about turning those dreadful shopping bags into ‘plarn’ – a sort of plastic ‘yarn’ that can be used for knitting or crochet. And I don’t mean the thick, reusable ‘bag for life’ things. I mean the ones that we comparatively recently began to pay 5p for in the UK. Drive down any of the highways, byways and country lanes in the UK (and we’re not alone in this) for evidence of the problem these bags present. They’re snagged in the hedgerows, they’re floating in puddles, they’re flying on gusts of wind, they’re dotted about countryside.

So… to the en-yarn-ifying. There are so many existing videos and instructions on this front, that I’m going to draw on those, rather than reinventing the wheel. This video clip will do as well as any other, because it has the added bonus of linking to a pattern to crochet a carrier. Here’s a flat text-and-sketch post describing the same process.

Other methods include cutting bags into continuous spirals instead, but the above method makes for a more robust end product.

And I totally get that going to all that trouble to make a bag when you already had a bag to begin with, does seem a little like overkill. So here’s an astonishing thought: don’t make a bag. Make something else. You will not believe how many ideas and suggestions are already out there!

  • Make a bedroll for a homeless person to put their sleeping bag on (or for yourself to take camping)

    Plarn bedrolls
  • Or a mat on which to store muddy boots.
  • Or a cover for the back seat of the car for when Fido has taken an impromptu swim at Salcey Forest (and by ‘Fido’, I might mean Jessie, my very own, beloved half-Akita who leaps into any body of water without provocation).
  • Make some placemats
  • Or an outdoor plant hanger thingy
  • Make an organiser to hang behind the front seat of the car, where you can keep the essentials
  • In fact, here’s an entire directory of patterns using ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn), and…
  • Here’s a website dedicated to its use

Until next time.

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Plastic and you (and me)

You have almost certainly heard of the proliferation of plastic pollution that is slowly suffocating the planet. Especially if you watched the final episode of the BBC’s Blue Planet II, narrated by the one and only David Attenborough.

When plastic was first invented, the fact that it was virtually indestructible was a major plus. Now that we’re unable to get rid of the stuff, and we’re finding it in remote locations, and in the gizzards of animals who live far away from human habitations, we’re a little less convinced. The problem is, it’s so damned convenient… in the short term, at any rate.

I’ve seen a few threads lately, where people have been happy to report that they put all their plastic into the recycling, so their consciences are clear. And, of course, they should be. Sadly, the authorities taking care of that recycling have not always been entirely transparent or above board in their disposal techniques. Part of that is because the volume of plastic we’re generating is just too great to be coped with. Especially since China has decided they’re no longer going to be the dumping ground for the world’s garbage.

So now what? What can I do? I’m only one person!

You’re absolutely right, of course. And, as coincidence would have it, so am I. In fact, everybody is only one person. And what you can do is no less than what anyone else can do. Here is a list of some measures you can introduce to reduce the amount of plastic waste you generate.

  1. Take your own bags when you go shopping. Those plastic shopping bags are an absolute scourge! And don’t use those really flimsy plastic bags provided for fruit and veg (they just rip, anyway!). If the supermarket has a weigh-your-own option, just stick the label to one of the pears/potatoes/whatever. Or weigh the loose items, pop them into a reusable bag, and hand the printed label(s) to the cashier. If they don’t have such an option, the cashier is perfectly capable of weighing loose items.
  2. Switch to nappies/diapers that are plastic-free, and ideally reusable. There is a growing supply of these, and you’ll save money in the long run. The volume of disposable nappies being thrown away is a major contributing factor in plastic waste, particularly in the USA.
  3. Carry a reusable bottle with you – preferably not a plastic one – and refill it, rather than buying bottled water. This, of course, only works if you’re somewhere where the water quality can be trusted. You can also use your refillable container instead of the dreadful little plastic cups in waiting rooms up and down the land (particularly the NHS – what up with that?)
  4. Take your own container when you go to a restaurant, if you’re likely to take your leftovers home with you. If your restaurant refuses to play ball, take your future business elsewhere, but chances are they’ll have no problem with it.
  5. Stop using straws. If possible, go without altogether. But if you absolutely have to have a straw, it is possible to buy reusable ones. I will grant you that they’re not cheap. I will also acknowledge that it isn’t always easy to get bars and restaurants on board with this one. I recently asked for my drink to be served without a straw, but it arrived with one anyway.
  6. Rethink the way you pack your lunch. Reusable containers are the way forward.
  7. Lobby your government and your supermarket to do something about excess plastic packaging on foods, or shop somewhere that doesn’t pre-package everything up the wazoo. Some customers have resorted to removing the plastic packaging and leaving it at the store. The good news is that this approach makes the supermarket take ownership of the amount of plastic they’re generating. The bad news is that they’re likely to dispose of it in the cheapest way possible, which is unlikely to be to the benefit of the environment.
  8. Take your own cup to the coffee shop if you’re ordering your coffee to go. Yes, I know that most coffee places use paper cups, but those lids are plastic. You might even get a discount for taking your own cup. If your current coffee place doesn’t offer a discount, take your business somewhere that does – the little independents are usually pretty switched on.
  9. Switch to detergents and household cleaning products that come with a refillable option. This a growing trend, so check your locality to see if there are any outlets near you that will allow you to take and refill your own containers, charging by weight for what you take.
  10. If there is a choice between a plastic bottle and a carton, take the carton. If there is an option for a glass container, take that. This applies to all sorts of products, including food and drink.
  11. Use matches instead of plastic lighters. Or get a refillable metal lighter.
  12. Steer clear of plastic cutlery. I know that’s not always possible when you grab a meal on the fly from the roadside services. But perhaps you could get into the habit of keeping a metal spork in your car, and one in your desk drawer.
  13. Avoid microbeads. Don’t assume that it’s just beauty products that contain them, either. Some of the heavy duty hand cleaning products used in workshops and by gardeners contain microbeads too. Check the label for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) and nylon. There are alternative products available, and you can even make your own – Pinterest is your friend!
  14. Consider making your own household cleaning products. Once again, Pinterest is your friend. It’s less complicated than you might expect.
  15. Re-use your plastic items. Over the next while, I’ll be posting a few ideas and suggestions for crafty items you can make, using reclaimed plastic. Watch this space.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive. It’s also not always possible to do all these things. But let’s have a crack at it.

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The joys and woes of Freecycling

I love Freecycling, it has to be said. I am an active member of a few of my local groups. I have ‘won’ quite a few items, and supplied just as many in my turn. I have had less luck with my own ‘items wanted’ posts, sadly, but them’s the breaks.

This post is about my experiences: the ups and the downs.

If you have something that still has life in it, but is of no further use to, Freecycling is a great way to make sure it doesn’t wind up in a landfill, but goes on to become part of someone else’s story.

When you advertise an item free of charge to anyone who is prepared to come and collect it, most of the time, you will be deluged with responses. Some sites (like Freegle) ask responders to say why they want and item and what they plan to do with it. They ask advertisers to give a little time for responses to come in, and to choose someone based on…merit? Not sure that’s the right word, but you get my drift.

Most of the time, though, you will offer the item to the first person to ask for it. This can mean that, in the rush to be the first responder, people may forgo pleasantries. Responses can amount to the word ‘yes’ followed by a phone number. I make a conscious effort to be polite and friendly. After all, this person is offering to give me something for nothing. The least I can do is be pleasant about it. This has stood me in good stead on at least one occasion: one advertiser found my response such a refreshing change that he now contacts me first to see if I want an item before he places the ad.

Once you have notified the person who is to have your item, you will of course, supply your address and agree a date and time for pickup. Mostly, people are accommodating and reasonable. But occasionally one will, well… ‘take the piss’ is the expression that springs most readily to mind. They might ask you to hold the item for several weeks. In those cases, I usually move on to the next person. I don’t have the space to provide warehousing.

The most negative aspect of Freecycling is the incidence of no-shows. There is a tendency to undervalue things that come for free, and – often enough to drive some people away from the practice – people simply don’t pitch. The worst case was when I had scheduled three pickups back to back on a Saturday afternoon and none of them showed. To be fair, one of them did contact me to reschedule. On another occasion, the person failed to show, so I scheduled a pickup with the next responder who also failed to show. It can be like that.

It can also be a bit hit and miss from the other side, too. The items that people give away are sometimes not worth keeping, but that’s a chance you take. I recently went to collect an item that the advertiser referred to as ‘solid’. I wrote a bit about that recently. But there are some finds out there, too. Not necessarily always valuable in monetary terms, but potentially useful as a part of your story for a while.

Another place I tend to hang out is the reuse shop attached to our local recycling depot. I picked up a workbench there for £3. Possibly the best £3 I ever spent! If that thing collapsed tomorrow, it would owe me a thing. I use it every day. Every. Day!

So may I encourage you to get involved? Yes, there will be some negative experiences, but it’s got to be worth it, right? For the craic? For the community? The planet?