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Reflecting on a less wasteful year

This has been an odd year. For the first half of it, we were living in a thatched cottage in a Northamptonshire village. For the second half, we have lived in a thatched cottage in an Oxfordshire village. The two villages are so vastly different that I have a vague sense of disconnection – as if the two halves of the year have been lived by different people (the fact that the second half of the year has been six months of a persistent, but low-grade depression has been a contributing factor, of course).

But one thing has definitely been a constant: my exploration of ways to live a more ecofriendly life has spanned the year. And it is something I hope to continue improving. Here are some of the small changes I’ve made:

  • Ditching the clingfilm. I have made waxed fabric wraps – some with pine resin, and some without – to replace clingfilm in our kitchen.
  • Reducing waste – thanks to the excellent kerbside collection services provided by our local council, we have been able to make a dramatic reduction to our non-recyclable waste. Recently, we didn’t put our bin out on non-recyclable collection day, because it was empty. That was a first, and it gave me such a buzz.
  • Ditching the cotton pads. I made reusable fabric replacements for the cosmetic pads that formed part of my daily skin care routine. I also learned a valuable lesson about them: tie them into a sock for washing, and don’t put them in the tumbledrier – they are small enough to get caught in filters and stuff.
  • Making my own self-care products. I haven’t bought deodorant, body lotion or salve (the sort you use for minor abrasions/scalds) in ages. I’ve made my own. I am using up the stock of lotions and potions I have in my dressing table, and then I plan to replace those with ones I’ve made myself, too. I’m not yet brave enough to try making my own shampoos or body washes, because Mr Namasi has a tricky skin, and I don’t really want to subject him to failed experiments.
  • Growing food. I am a pretty useless gardener, but there is a community garden in our village, which I joined as soon as we moved here. This has given me access to company, new skills and freshly grown vegetables.

    Making more preserves
  • Making (more) preserves. This is not a new skill. I’ve made pickles, jams and so forth before, but somehow being in a country village has reawakened that side of me. And the sense of well-being I get when I open the larder cupboard to see a fully stacked top shelf is palpable.
  • Shopping differently. There is a buying group in our village that buys from a wholesaler of ethical products (foods and non-foods) with reduced packaging and so forth. I joined the group, and then found myself in the role of admin as the previous incumbent is moving away. We order every second month, and therefore tend to buy in larger quantities. The delivery is made as part of a set route, which has a positive impact on our collective carbon footprint.
  • Less stuff. This year, Mr Namasi and I opted not to exchange Christmas gifts. We also asked our sons not to give us anything. We had to downsize considerably when we moved here, and we still have more stuff than we need. We have decided to focus more on shared experiences. So we will explore the countryside and visit various places of interest.

Looking ahead to 2019, I’ve decided to really test myself. I’m going to see if I can get through the whole year without buying anything new. Of course, this doesn’t apply to food and other essential consumables. I am already a regular user Facebook marketplace, Freecycle, Vinted and online spaces of that ilk. I am also a regular visitor to charity shops. For 2019, I’m going to see if I can limit myself to those spaces. These are my options:

  • Make it myself. I have the skills to make a wide variety of things from furniture to clothing.
  • Repair what I have. I have the skills to repair many things myself. There is also a repair cafe in Wantage, where I can take any small appliances that break down, to see if they can be repaired.
  • Buy secondhand. Charity shops, Facebook marketplace, and any number of other spaces exist for this purpose.
  • Borrow from friends. So often, when we have an event to attend, it involves buying a posh frock that might only see one wearing before being relegated to the back of a wardrobe. Perhaps my friends and I can do the occasional swap shop thing to get more life out of a fairly expensive purchase. This applies to hats and evening bags/clutches/purses (choose your word) too.
  • Do without.
No more manis

One other thing I’ve decided to give up on – and hear me out on this one – is professional pedicures and manicures. The manicure thing isn’t going to be a biggie. My hands are too busy for prettying up, so I tend only to have a manicure once every couple or years or so, for a special occasion. The pedicure thing…. that’s a different matter altogether. I can’t abide unkempt feet, so I have always taken good care of mine. Every Sunday night, while Mr Namasi plays ice hockey, my ritual has been a soak in the tub, with a facemask, followed by a DIY pedi. Since I developed polymyalgia rheumatica earlier this year, I have been unable to twist my hips and knees enough to take proper care of my feet, and so I have treated myself to (more or less) monthly pedicures to supplement the limited work I can do on them. But my conscience has been bothering me terribly. You see, manicures and pedicures involve vast quantities of cotton pads and – for some inexplicable reason – clingfilm. I also have concerns about the various products used. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve it, but I am going to have to step back up to the plate on my foot care routine.

I hope that this time next year, I will be able to reflect back on a 2019 that has been even less wasteful than 2018. Are you in? Shall we hold each other to account come year-end?

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DIY body lotion

Since I have the ingredients to hand at the moment, I’m exploring a variety of first aid and personal care products. I have already had a go at:

  • deodorant, which I’m wearing as we speak, and which is proving at least as effective as any commercial products I’ve used in the past. Of course, only extended use will reveal whether my skin copes with it.
  • pine resin salve, which I have several occasions to use since making it. I’m pretty happy with its effectiveness as a salve, and my skin has shown no negative reactions. But then, I’m not allergic to pine sap!

Yesterday, I tried making some body lotion. I have found it increasingly difficult to source body lotions. Because of my long-term use of corticosteroids for a chronic condition, my skin is parchment thin in places, which has bearing on the sort of body lotions I choose. For the most part, I find that the cheaper ones are pretty useless. Some of the more expensive options are richer – perhaps they are less diluted during the production process?

Finding effective lotions that are also cruelty-free makes for an even greater challenge. Whole food shops, particularly those that are independently owned, will often have a variety of cruelty-free personal care products (see my post script for a short note about how to identify cruelty-free products), and of course, there is always Lush and The Body Shop.

I explored a few different recipes, trying to find something that could be made with fairly readily available ingredients. This is what I settled on (see note below about where I got my ingredients):

6 ingredients
  • 125ml jojoba oil (you can substitute any other liquid oil, such as almond, avocado, olive…)
  • 60ml coconut oil
  • 60ml beeswax
  • 30ml shea butter
  • (optional) few drops of essential oils – I chose bergamot, because it’s my favourite, and added a few drops of peppermint just for fun

Place all the oils, apart from the essential oils, into a bain marie/double boiler and heat gently until they have all melted, stirring occasionally to combine them. Remove from heat and add the essential oils. you won’t need more than about 15 drops, but this bit is entirely up to you. And for goodness’ sake, don’t use an oil you’re allergic to, or that you can’t stand the smell of! Pour into a tin or a jar (if you’re using a glass jar, you might want to warm it up first, to prevent cracking).

My initial reaction is that the lotion leaves quite a greasy residue on the skin at first, so I might tweak the recipe a bit. One thing I definitely would add is 30ml (or perhaps even more of vitamin E oil), but I didn’t have any to hand at the time.

Where did I get my ingredients?

  • Jojoba oil – local whole foods shop
  • coconut oil – CostCo, but almost any supermarket will have this
  • beeswax – this lot came from LiveMoor, but I’m exploring options with a local beekeeper
  • shea butter – CostCo
  • essential oils – local whole foods shop or Essential Oils Online

PS: a quick note about identifying cruelty-free products.

When China opened up to imported products, many companies couldn’t resist the lure of an additional one billion potential new customers. The Chinese government stipulated that all products had to have undergone animal trials before being allowed to be sold within the country. A number of companies which had previously had a strongly stated cruelty-free position, changed their stance in order to access the new market. This includes some of the front-runners within the ‘no animal testing’ space.

I won’t bore you with the details of some hair-splitting, semantic pretzel conversations I have had with representatives of some of those companies. What I will say is this: if it matters to you whether the products you use are cruelty-free, please don’t just assume that the products you buy fit that bill, even if they did in the past. There are smart phone apps that you can download to help you check on the spot whether a product is cruelty-free.

The one I have is called Cruelty-cutter. I scan the bar code of the product with my phone’s camera, and the app searches the database for information about the product. If the product is not on the database, I can submit details of the product for it to be researched and added.

For a bit of perspective: I spent an hour in my nearest Boots, checking the shampoos for sale there with the Cruelty-cutter app. I found not one single shampoo that was certified cruelty free. To be fair, a significant percentage of the products weren’t on the database, so their animal testing status was unknown. Everything was either ‘not cruelty free’ or ‘status unknown’. I gave up and went to Lush, which was a bit more out of my way but where I was spoilt for choice.

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DIY deodorant

Finding deodorant can be tricky if you don’t want to use aerosols, or aluminium, or products tested on animals or any of the other myriad issues that we’re slowly learning are detrimental to us and/or the planet. I’m not going to pretend that suitable products don’t exist. They absolutely do. But I thought I’d experiment with making my own deodorant at home.

Of course, Pinterest is always your friend in these cases, and I explored a few recipes, and found some that use relatively everyday ingredients. The result is a cream you rub in. It’s easily absorbed and doesn’t leave a greasy residue, but I’m not sure what it would be like to use it on hairy armpits.

Ingredients

You will need:

  • 65ml (5 tablespoons) arrowroot or cornflour/maizena
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) bicarbonate of soda (affectionately known as bicarb) – or baking soda if you’re American (it’s the same thing)
  • 90ml shea butter
  • 50 drops of tea tree oil (or other essential oil of your choice)

Let’s just unpack a bit about those ingredients. As you can see from the picture, I bought my arrow root and bicarb at Waitrose. This is just because I happened to be there. You can get these products pretty much anywhere – probably even your little corner shop. And, of course, you will use these in your cooking and baking, so you’re not making a special purchase, only for the leftovers to languish in your pantry cupboard until underverse come (you get a geeky handclap if you can name the source of that reference).

Tea tree oil probably won’t be available from your local supermarket. I bought mine from my nearest health/whole foods shop. You might find it from a pharmacy, too. You don’t have to use tea tree oil – pretty much any essential oil will do, if you’re only after a fragrance for your deodorant. But I opted to use tea tree oil, because, well, not to put to fine a point on it, I SWEAT. I was always inclined to knock the ‘horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow’ thing into a cocked hat, and now I have a pretty physical job and am post menopausal. I sweat like a bloody horse, okay? Sorry if that’s TMI, but it’s relevant. If you don’t see the connection, tea tree oil is antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, insecticidal, and fungicidal. I also rather like the smell.

Shea butter is probably the least readily available product on this list. You can buy it online, of course, but you might feel that some of large online buying sites (koff koff, Amazon) have a bit of an ethical/moral question mark over them, and prefer to buy elsewhere. Oddly enough, I found mine at CostCo, of all places. It’s organic, fair trade approved, and comes in a twinpack (2x150ml). The tubs are metal, which is both reusable and recyclable.

I have no pictures of the process, this time, but it’s pretty straightforward. Yield is approximately 200ml.

  • Either chop the shea butter up into small pieces, or melt it gently in the microwave or a bain marie/double boiler, then place into a bowl. Use a bigger bowl than you think you will need. If you have a choice, go with deep and narrow, rather than wide and shallow.
  • Add the two powdered ingredients and blend – you can decide whether you want to do this with a fork or a handmixer. This may take a while. Be patient. You’ll get there.
  • Add the essential oil. Blend again.
  • Transfer into a container that seals, like a glass jar or a tin with a screw top lid. Make sure to scrape out the very last bit to get full value for your money and effort.

You can apply it with your fingers or a make-up sponge. Rub it in until it is completely absorbed. It goes further than you would expect.

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Pine resin salve

Pine resin salve

It’s been far too long since I did any making of the sort that I could share here. Which is not to say I’ve been idle. Far from it. I have been tending the largest garden I’ve ever had in my life, and loving it. This is not, of course, any guarantee that the garden will thrive. I am not known for green fingers!

But today I did a bit of making I thought I’d share with you.

I made some pine resin salve, using just three ingredients: pine resin (you’ll be astonished to learn), jojoba oil, and beeswax.

Three ingredients
I sliced my finger

Before we go any further, I should probably explain what pine resin salve does, so that you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s worth making some. Oddly enough, I had just made this batch, when I needed to use some of it on myself. I was busy with another make, when I sliced my finger on a very sharp metal edge. See the photo taken just this very minute, which was quite tricky with a ‘proper’ (non smart phone) camera and my left hand!

Pine resin is naturally antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. So the salve can be used to treat minor grazes and cuts. As well as preventing infection and reducing inflammation, the stickiness of the pine resin also helps keep a wound closed. Some people swear by it as a treatment for eczema.

Caveat: some people are allergic to pine resin. In case it needs to be said: such people should not use this salve.

The proportions are:

  • 60ml pine resin
  • 125ml jojoba oil
  • 30g beeswax
Pine resin

Pine resin doesn’t tend to arrive in conveniently usable form. It tends to be large crystals.

You can use it like this if you like, but it’s harder to measure out by volume that way, and it takes aaaaaaaages to melt.

Much more usable

So I recommend that you crush it first. Pour a quantity out onto a sheet of baking parchment or waxed paper or newspaper or something. If you have waxed cloth wraps, these could serve, too. Fold the paper/cloth over the resin crystals and then whack them repeatedly with a rolling pin or a hammer or other blunt instrument.

The result is a far more usable product.

Bees wax

 

You can buy beeswax in pellet form, but it’s more expensive. So I buy the sticks and grate it myself. I have a dedicated wax grater for this purpose, so I don’t have to go through the faff of cleaning it before using it for food again. It’s not that I’m particularly extravagant. It’s just that our old hand grater broke, and when I replaced it, I kept the old one for crafts. I also have a dedicated fork for stirring wax-based concoctions. This is one that must have been left behind by a barbecue guest at some point, and remained unclaimed.

 

Kit:

I am reliably informed that the main piece of kit you need to use for this is called a bain-marie in the UK. I know it as a double boiler, and when I went shopping for one in Swindon, was appalled that I tell people who worked in specialist cookware shops was a double boiler was. To me, a bain marie is a whole different thing used for keeping food warm when catering. Hey ho. If you don’t have one – whatever you call it – you can use a bowl over a saucepan, or a smaller saucepan over a larger one. If you’re feeling extravagant, you can buy the top pan bit separately… as long as you call it by a name that the shop assistant recognises! Do not, under any circumstances apply direct heat to the sap – it’s highly flammable!

You will also need containers for the finished product. You’ll need something that won’t melt, like glass, ceramic or metal. To give you an idea of yield: using this recipe, I filled 15 small (lipsalve sized) tins – roughly 10g of salve in each.

Melt the resin in the oil

Fill the bottom pan of your double boiler/bain marie with enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the upper pan, and bring it to a boil. Pour the oil into the upper pan and place it on top of the lower pan. Add your pine resin and stir occasionally until it has melted. This might take a while, and it will go through a stage of sticking in a gloopy mass to your fork (or whatever you’re using to stir).  If your resin had bits of bark in it, you might want to strain it through a piece of muslin once it has melted.

Once the resin has melted, add the wax. If you want a softer salve, you can choose to reduce the amount of wax by as much as half. Stir until the wax melts. This should happen very quickly.

Then you’re ready to pour your salve into containers. If you’re using glass jars, I suggest you preheat them first, to avoid cracking the glass. Leave to cool, and hey presto.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t fancy going through all that faff, but you’d still like some pine resin salve. As luck would have it, I just happen to have tins of it for sale at £2.50 each. Let me know!