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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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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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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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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.