A day in the life of an aspirational zero-waster

I wake up in the morning and shuffle to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. While squirting my ‘compromise’ toothpaste (it’s all natural but it’s still in a plastic tube) on my bamboo toothbrush I consider if I’m maybe ready to try that homemade toothpaste with coconut oil. Well, the last one I bought at a farmers’ market had bentonite clay in it which is really just ‘white mud’. Let’s just say that didn’t work.

I put on my cycling gear and head to the fridge to take out the food for the day prepared last night. Overnight oats, some leftovers for lunch, another jar with snacks – nuts, seeds and dried banana chips I managed to buy in bulk. Sometimes, when I’m packing the salad, the thought of that jar weighing possibly twice as much as those leaves crosses my mind, but it’s quickly followed by the ‘more exercise for me so’ thought.

After-work jars...

My daily jars 🙂 – including the Friday’s ‘used loose tea for compost’ jar

I kiss my other half goodbye and hop on the bike. As I am approaching the cars stuck in the bottleneck leading to the city centre, I am silently judging them from my high-horse, ehm, saddle…as they sit in their gas-guzzling pollution-puffing machines. I smile at my efficiency but frown at all the smoke I have to sniff in order to be green. Go cyclists!

I take a shower (which could be shorter but the hot water feels so gooood), innerly praising my employer for providing the facilities. As I am using my shampoo bar on my hair I’m thinking about the possibility of going no-(sham)poo or just water washing. But then again, could I handle smelling like vinaigrette? I put on the store-bought deodorant which I can’t wait to use up because I want to have a go at the homemade stuff. A mental note creeps in: get arrowroot powder for the recipe.

Fresh as a daisy after the morning workout (streamlining does work – commuting on the bike means no need to go the boring gym – yay!), I make myself a cup of tea. I’m feeling smug praising my decision to stop drinking coffee all those years ago. It was long before ZW and it started as an experiment but it seems to have taken hold. The tea is loose, a great maté blend from the tea shop where you can fill your own tin. It’s funny how it’s easier to get luxury items without packaging, like tea and nuts, but looking for a few lentils in bulk can be a nightmare. I wish there was a proper bulk shop around but I’m happy with the bulk options I found so far (and they seem to be growing!). After steeping the tea, I put the leaves into a jar and I explain to my curious colleague that at the end of the week, I bring the jar home to empty it in my compost bin. I wish my company had compost bins. They’re doing well to have recycling bins in, it’s a start. Perhaps, if I put my mind to it, I can make them change theirs.

As the days continues, I go about my work. From time to time I think how great it would be to work for a properly green company, one that works in the sustainability industry. Immediately afterwards I think that working on my own green venture would be even better. One can dream. Or plan 🙂 While snacking on my nuts from a jar, I occasionally check the local Zero Waste Facebook page. Sometimes I comment and think back about the beginnings of my ZW journey…how much I learned and how much I changed my habits since! Figuring out what worked and what didn’t was the fun part! And it still is.

For lunch, I have my no-food-waste-in-my-house leftover provision. After I’m finished, I casually check the canteen’s general  bin for any recyclables. Most of the days, there are some. As I’m washing them, I think about what would make others actually give a crap and at least recycle. Then I think back to those days when I had a ready-made salad packed in a plastic bowl for lunch, a plastic bottle of orange juice and a packet of crisps or a Kit-Kat for mine. Thankfully, those days are gone. I put the recyclables where they belong and think that if there was a deposit system for plastic bottles, it would be much easier to get people to change. I just can’t grasp how all the plastic bottles get used for about 30 minutes and then get dumped. Sigh.

After lunch, rain or shine, a short walk is in order to clear the head and get some (reasonably) fresh air. I walk along the canal and pass a lunch food market with lovely smells from all the different  kitchens. Instead of looking at their menus, however, I look around at the amount of polystyrene trays and plastic cutlery left behind. They are in a bin in the best case, near the bin or, in the worst case, on the footpath. For about the fifth time that day, I cannot help thinking if my own ZW efforts can change anything. All the plastic I avoid and all the rubbish I don’t throw away will still be created somewhere. I feel a bit down but then I realise it doesn’t matter what other people are doing right now. As long as I keep doing my bit, there is a chance I can spread my way of thinking. Then I remember that activism is the best way to change things so I decide that I will send a message to the market organisers to see if they could maybe provide more bins or compostable food containers. Or, even better, to encourage customers to bring their own lunchboxes. Bit by bit, starfish by starfish.  

I finish up my work, gather all the empty jars from the day and rattling like a bottle bank I hop on my bike. As I am cycling and thinking what culinary marvel I will try to create for dinner (the veggie box arrived yesterday so I have lots of fresh produce to play with), I make a list in my head of things to do…water the raised bed with some semi-decent gardening attempts, change the beer traps for slugs who love the aforementioned attempts, buy some baking soda, trying to find that Redecker dish brush online and find out who could crochet some dishcloths for me…I am flying on the bike (reasonably restricted by the jars’ clanking) but have to, yet again, stop behind a puffing bus at the lights. Ah well, ups and downs, ups and downs.

It’s strange to think that just a couple of years back, none of these thoughts crossed my mind in an average day. I guess this is what happens when you find a cause that you really want to get behind. But I do sometimes wish I didn’t have to think about these things so much and living sustainably was the norm. Until then, I’ll happily do it all again tomorrow.

Dandelioney

It’s something I kept hearing about when I was a child but we never actually made it at home. Probably because we lived four doors up from a beekeeper who always supplied us with amazing local honey. I am talking about ‘dandelion honey’, another Spring treat that’s quite satisfying to make!

It’s a very simple, 4-ingredient recipe – water, lemons or oranges, sugar and dandelion flowers.

Recipe

  • 450 dandelion flowers
  • 1.5kg sugar (white or brown)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 1.5 l water

Step 1 – Collecting

Since it’s best to collect the flowers and steep them without washing (the pollen strengthens the flavour), I picked them early in the morning after a night of rain and before the doggies could get to them. I guess since the extract is boiled afterwards, it’s pretty safe to use them without washing. A little piece of advice: the collected dandelion heads will stain your hands and your bag so use one that can get dirty and perhaps a pair of gloves.

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There were enough dandelions for me and the bees…

 

Collecting

It was about half a bag of dandelion heads…

Step 2 – Steeping

Cover the dandelions and sliced lemons/oranges with 1.5l of cold water. Bring to the boil, simmer shortly, turn off the heat and leave to macerate for 24 hours.

Steeping

A pretty mix

After macerating

After 24 hours…

Step 3 – Cooking

Strain the mixture through a very fine sieve/muslin cloth/nut milk bag/tea towel or whatever you can find and squeeze out all the liquid.

Straining

Squeeeeeze!

Add 1.5kg of sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer uncovered on low heat for about 1.5 hours or more, if you think it’s too watery but the mixture will thicken when cooling so don’t be too stressed!

Cooking

Add sugar and simmer.

Step 4 – Preserving

Prepare the jars by washing in hot water and sterilising them. (Put them in a cold oven and set the temperature to 100C/212 F, when the temperature is reached, leave them in for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven but keep the jars warm until you need them.)

Jars

Ready to be sterilised.

The above recipe makes about 1.5l of syrup (5 smaller jars and 2 Bonne Maman jam jars :)).

Pour the syrup into warm jars, close tightly, turn upside down, cover with a blanket or towel and leave to cool. Done!

Ready

The colour!

The consistency and colour of the finished product are very much like that of proper honey and even the taste and smell are very similar.

This honey contains significant goodies – trace elements and vitamins such as calcium, magnesium, iron, sodium, phosphorus, silicon, vitamins A, B and C and the antioxidant lutein. Who knew…

Another good thing about this homemade sweetener is that the only waste I created was the paper bag from sugar.

As a bonus, even though I am not an expert, it looks like a valid vegan honey replacement if you happen to be looking for one.

I cannot wait for our Sunday pancakes and putting it to the test in some oaty flapjacks! What would you use it for?

Where the wild things grow…

My favourite season may be autumn but who wouldn’t love spring? When almost suddenly, after a long grey period, there are colours all around. Greening trees, yellow daffodils, blue hyacinths. The smells of spring are even more enticing. Freshly cut grass, blossoming gorse bushes and fresh crisp mornings with a promise of a sunny day.

Walks and runs are becoming more interesting, there are suddenly things going on…plants, animals, everything is waking up. One of the ultimate spring signs for me is a little green plant with a distinctive smell and taste. Wild garlic. Called ‘bear’s garlic’ in Slovakian, this plant with dark green leaves at first and beautiful white flowers later on, is bursting with flavour and is the first dose of natural vitamins available after the winter hibernation.

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Spring harvest

Wild garlic is very popular in Slovakia, growing happily in woods and creeks, free for all. Sure, the climate in Ireland is similar and it’s even more humid – it must be everywhere here as well, me thinks. So I went into to the woods, searching high and low but no luck, I am afraid. Well, that was last year…

This year, I had a better idea and asked people who  actually might know. (All hail Facebook!) I was right and the power of community demonstrated itself once again. Lovely people identified a couple of spots in and around Dublin (Phoenix Park next the the American Embassy and the Knocksinna Wood in Enniskerry, to be precise) and they were really spot on. Being a very happy bunny, I picked enough leaves to eat raw and make some pesto from the rest.

The Allium Ursinum plant can be invasive so if there is a place it likes, it can overgrow there really fast. I still made sure though I only took as little as I needed and didn’t damage any other plants. You know, like a sensible human being.

The raw leaves can be added to a green salad or used as a garnish for savory meals. My favourite use is simple though – on top of an open sandwich of sourdough bread and butter. A version with spreadable cheese works very well too.

The collected leaves will last for a few days in the fridge, in an airtight container. You can also pick them leaving longer stems and store them in a bouquet in a glass of water in the fridge.

They can be also frozen I hear but I haven’t tried that yet so cannot vow they won’t turn into a gooey mess when defrosted. I will try it though because any way to reminisce about Spring when there is a winter storm behind the window is very appealing.

What I did try, and with a decent level of success may I say, was making a few jars of wild garlic pesto. There are a good few recipes online, I picked the Donal Skehan one and adapted it a little.

As with any pesto, it’s a combination of a green part, a cheesy part, a nutty part and an oily part. These are mixed together with some basic seasoning to a consistency you like.

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Ingredients

My recipe

200g wild garlic leaves (washed and stringy stems removed)

120g parmesan

100g nuts (mixture of pine & pistachio)

300ml ‘pure’ olive oil (the normal one)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt

Pepper

Put all the ingredients into a blender/mixer and mix together. Loosen with some more oil if you want. Pour into sterilised jars and cover with olive oil to create a seal.

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Wash it…

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Dry it…

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Put it all in a blender…

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Pour it all in sterilised jars.

The above made about 3 cups of finished product, so you can half it if you prefer. Also, this batch was too much for my blender to handle at once so I made it in two batches.

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And voila…

It lasts in the fridge between one week and one year, apparently. Well, go figure. I’d say if you pour a bit of olive oil on top to recreate the seal, it will last for a good while. There is no chance of that happening to my batch because I like it so much I put it in and on everything. And I mean *everything*…on a piece of bread with cheese or a hard boiled egg, stirred into a creamy veggie soup, on a savoy cabbage roll, on scrambled eggs and mixed with brie and gnocchi or pasta. Let’s just say I may be making another batch soon…as I cannot wait to try out more recipes to use the leaves I found online.

A word of caution to wrap it up though – it is quite a pungent condiment so I advise you to keep a toothbrush closeby…:)

 

Lisbon Treat

Have you ever blinked twice and two moths were gone? That’s how I feel. It’s March already and a new post is long overdue. So here it is!

One of the most pleasant things to happen so far in 2017 was a recent trip to Lisbon, Portugal. I have to say, going to a sunny place in February while living in Ireland, is a brilliant idea. Even if it’s for a few days, getting away from this cold grey weather  feels luxurious. It also shows that following the advice of ‘less stuff, more experiences’ from my gift guide is totally worth it!

On top of that, I tried to make it a valid sustainable trip and here’s my rundown.

The upsides

Accommodation

Thanks to booking.com I chose an ‘eco’ hotel for our stay. It wasn’t necessarily my preference but it did have the second best customer rating and offered a good deal so why not! Hotel Neya Lisboa market themselves as a sustainable hotel in the heart of Lisbon and they deliver on that promise. Room design using mostly natural light, no single-use toiletries, towel/sheet washing on request only, low-pressure water taps and recycling receptacles in the bin. Very little waste in the breakfast buffet also – almost no single packaging and they claim all unused food is distributed daily to a local charity.  

Transport

Lisbon is very accessible. We were close enough to the city centre, not quite walkable but the public transport system in the capital was clean, frequent and reliable. Despite it being recommended in every single guide, we didn’t take the historical trams, they were pretty cute though! We did take the occasional taxi – lazy Sunday mood and all. But the best part was the bikes hired in the hotel for free. We spent an afternoon exploring the city like pros… (Note: Lisbon is a properly hilly city. Also, there is a fair amount of not-so-cyclable steps in the old city.)

Shopping & Eating

There weren’t many big supermarkets in the area we stayed in but a few small independent shops which were great for getting loose produce, basically any fruit and veg you can think of. They had the basic groceries and even though these were mostly packaged, there were olives and pickled fava beans (I think) to be had and also unpackaged local cheese. They insisted on a plastic bag but I was quicker with my Frusack and used it instead.

We also visited the famous ‘Thieves’ Market’ Feira da Ladra. I can promise you if you were looking for any odd, random and peculiar thing, this is where you would go. Have a look yourself…

There were lots of famous Portugese pastelerias and basically any cafe you go to sells a variety of pastries and cakes – anything a pastry-lover could wish for. I’d love to include some pics but the food was always gone before I could take out the camera!

We had no problem getting tap water in the restaurant. Only once did I get a plastic bottle. In comparison to that, all the juice bottles were made of glass. Lesson learned, juicy refreshments consumed.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit to the local bulk store, Maria Granel. I found it through this handy website. Coming from a city with no package-free shops, I came excited and equipped. I brought a few cotton bags and even some jars as I planned to stock up on spices. Let’s just say that once you become aware of the obscene amount of packaging in a normal shop, walking through all the bulk bins is very soothing. So I stocked up! On lentils, spices and snacks. Because, why not. The lovely girl in the shop kindly helped me with the Portuguese names and also let me take some pictures. Have a look!

The downsides

Travel

Since we live on an island and ferries to the continent take ages and aren’t very cheap, we flew to Portugal. I offset our carbon footprint which cost €6 for both of us. It’s less than a pint each and I felt better.

Refuse system

The one thing I found lacking were the organic waste bins. I loved them in Barcelona and even though I’ve seen glass banks in Lisbon and bins for paper, plastic and metal, there were none for organic waste. I was reluctant to throw out our organic waste (mostly fruit ends) in a general bin. I was going to ask the restaurant staff to put it in their organic bin but somehow I felt they might not bother and it would end up in a general bin anyway. I was probably wrong but I ended up bringing it back home. Yes, I realise I might be slightly weird.

Plastic

The only other ‘downside’ was the constant presence of plastic bags in all shops and kiosks. I really liked the compostable bags we came across in supermarkets in Sicily and would love to see more of them in other countries. Portugal is a coastal country and I am sure they are aware of plastic ocean pollution. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time until they either ban them, tax them or make them biodegradable.

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All in all, it was a nice couple of  days spent in a country where no one seemed to be too rushed or under stress but instead smiled and enjoyed the life.

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Christmas & Co.

Christmas is once again around the corner. Christmas means love, joy and amazing smells. But it can also be a bit stressful time if you feel under pressure because of conventional gift-giving tendencies. If you struggle to find or receive a gift that would be aligned with your values, let the Zero Waste Fairy help you.

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Barcelona unwrapped

Shortly after returning from Sicily, the travel bug bit us again…so  we spent the Hallowe’en weekend in Barcelona.

I just love this city. There is no better way of putting it. My best friend lived there for a couple of years so I had the privilege of going to visit often and felt little bit less like a tourist. My friend moved out though and I haven’t been there for a while. I almost forgot how magical it can be! Lovely weather, the beach, great people and ambience, Spanish food and drink, do I have to go on? Well, let’s just say that I (and my boyfriend as well) really enjoyed it.

This time around I also looked for the sustainable side of the city and their approach to greener living. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, I never really realised how active people living in Barcelona are. I took a walk from the hotel we stayed in to the city centre alongside the beach and the amount of people participating in some kind of sporting activity was surprising! Rollerskates, bikes, skateboards, snakeboards were everywhere – people jogging, running, swimming, playing volleyball, hacky sack, football…you name it! A resounding ‘Yes’ to spending time outdoors doing stuff!

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Bikes were particularly notable. They were everywhere and it was also possible to rent at lots of locations. In addition to the red & white Barcelona city bikes, there were a lot of touristy hourly rental places. The prices were reasonable and even though we didn’t try any, it’s definitely a great way to get to know a new city!

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Barcelona ‘bicis’ (and a rollerskating dude)

We were there for only a couple of days but I got the feeling that making greener choices and living with less waste would not be that difficult there. Take food shopping for example. One of the places I always go to in Barcelona is the main food market on La Rambla called La Boqueria. It’s basically  bulk shopper heaven. Yes, it might be a bit more expensive (a smallish bag of mixed nuts cost me about €8) and you still see quite a lot of plastic packaging and yes, you do have to plough through tourists and locals. But, it’s worth it. If nothing else then just for the spectacle.

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Plastic cups and straws anyone? :(((

I’ll let the pictures tell the stories…and mention only one of mine – La Boqueria was the place where I first tasted fresh figs years ago -and fell in love! That sweet slightly crunchy taste and freshness. Therefore, every time I’m there, I get a few as a tradition. This time, I asked if I could take only the fruit without the plastic box which I said they can reuse. The lady totally got it and said it was great I had my own bag…because otherwise it’s ‘plastic, plastic everywhere’ as she said. I like to think that I made her consider some alternatives for her stand if only for a second. Well…

So, here it is..

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It was the Hallowe’en weekend after all…

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Appetizer anyone?

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Beautiful wild mushrooms…

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…more mushrooms…

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…and even more. You guessed right, I do like mushrooms.

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‘Tomato-pears’…?

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I can smell snack.

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Yep, there it is. 

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Carnivores also can find their stuff…

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My boyfriend’s favourite.

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They were as tasty as they look.

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A picture of the figs, fuzzy from excitement 🙂

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But yes, plastic…

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…plastic everywhere.

Spanish cuisine is one of my favourites. Even if you are looking for a small bite, you can easily find a gem…we were looking for something small to tide us over till dinner once and randomly walked into a lovely brunch place called Petit Pot. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, I also got a smoothie and actually remembered to ask for no straw and the napkins and paper place mats they provided were from recycled paper. An added bonus! I didn’t use the napkin as I brought my own but couldn’t really avoid the placemat. But, since it was plain brown paper, it can be composted and I will keep believing that it actually was.

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Petit Pot’s delights

Another zero-waste friendly food effort was well prepared by the hotel we stayed in. The breakfast buffet boasted glas bottles for water, juices, milk, glass yogurt and condiment pots, all the bread unpackaged with minimal use of single-portion foods with filled jars and bowls instead. Oh and they had a juicer so that you could prepare your own juice. I’m not mentioning it because it was zero waste but just because it was pretty damn good. These little things made the breakfasts extra tasty!

When it comes to recycling and finding the appropriate bin in public, it’s a totally different story to my Sicilian experience. Huge recycling bins are everywhere and people actually use them. Glass, paper/cardboards, metal, organics. Also, check out the handy tin smasher and recycling stops at the metro stations.

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As a goodbye, I would like to share a picture I took on Barceloneta of what I wouldn’t mind my future looking like. Distant future that is!

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Have a great weekend (long, if you are in the US) and watch out for my next post which will be about  gifting! Yes, the season is upon us.

On the road…to Sicily

With the November cold creeping in, it’s nice to remember the (late) summer trips that we made in October…it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago we were enjoying the sun and swimming in the sea!

First we went on a family trip to Sicily…I tried to keep as zero waste as possible but when you go somewhere for a short period of time, you might not get the chance to find all the alternatives you’d like. Also, being a part of a large group calls for some compromises…but I did my best and touched on how to be a zero waste Sicilian!

Here are a few pictures from our trip showing my attempts…

Sicily (and Italy in general) is famous for its cuisine and we opted for an apartment accommodation so that we could eat out in local eateries, enjoying local food and not international hotel cuisine. It turned out to be a good call!! I was pleasantly surprised when ordering beverages for a large group (we were 10 adults and 3 kiddies), as they offered a bulk bottle rather than a lot of small ones. As a bonus, these often are glass bottles!

We didn’t eat out every night and sometimes cooked our own meals in the apartment. The traditional base of Italian cuisine, bread and pasta, were easy enough to find packageless or in recyclable packaging. Pasta in cardboard boxes, ready-made tomato sauces in glass jars, lovely fresh bread and pastries in paper bags. It was a bit more difficult with meat as the few times we tried, the meat counter was closed. Oh, you lazy siesta culture!! Fruit and veg were also pretty easy to find in bulk in small stalls throughout the village and the owners were happy for me to use my own cloth bags.

What I saw for the first time and was really impressed with was a glass ‘cork’ in a wine bottle. When the owner of the shop told me it was from glass, I first thought I hadn’t understood. But I actually had! Of course, I took it home not only as a souvenir but as a lovely wine bottle topper! (Mental note: the local wine Nero D’Avola is pretty tasty.)

During the trip, I found the Sicilian ‘relationship with waste’ quite peculiar. First of all, there weren’t many recycling bins around. I know it was a small village but still, it had all the other infrastructure so I would expect at least some responsible public waste services. Instead, I saw a lot (and I mean a lot) of waste bags hanging from balconies. Yes, you read it right (see the pics below if you don’t believe me!).

Now, I am not entirely sure what it’s all about because I didn’t ask (people nor google) but my wild guess is that they hang it out so that it doesn’t smell inside…but then I cannot guess if these will be collected by a someone to dispose of or the residents will take them somewhere next time they’re out. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Despite the fact that the supermarkets replaced normal plastic bags with the biodegradable sort (yay!), I again didn’t see many organic bins. There were a few though and I did use them for our apartment food waste even though it meant going for a walk :)). I also made the point of bringing the recyclables with us when we went for a trip and found some recycling bins (probably belonging to some residents but hey, it wasn’t much!) and sorted the carton, glass and plastic packaging which we couldn’t avoid.

What also struck me was that despite the country and scenery being so picturesque, the public effort against littering was very lukewarm. During a walk on top of a cliff, I couldn’t believe the rubbish that hemmed the footpath. I mean, it’s not really a very touristy place but still. Pick it up and put it in a bin!!

But it wasn’t all bad! There were a few more green things to be seen. Even in the small village of Balestrate, you could rent a bike – an electric one which is understandable with all the hills – but the user guide was only in Italian so I couldn’t tell you the deal…They looked nice though!

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On the right track…

In Palermo, on a short stretch of a road, we passed at least 3 libraries or used book shops which were cool. Also, a book about veganism had a prominent place in one of the bookshop windows!

Upcycling seemed to be getting a bit of traction here and there…

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Make and mend. 

I guess it’s about someone starting a debate…leading by example and not being afraid to change things. I am already looking forward to going back in a couple of years to see if it has changed…because the potential is there.

Next week, I’ll tell you about a trip that followed this one…to Barcelona!