Zero Waste Fairy’s Thoughtful Gift Guide

I created the below (not only) Christmas gift guide last year to help you give greener gifts to your family and friends. As we are getting closer to the big day, it’s relevant again…so, in the spirit of the 5Rs, you are more than welcome to reuse it again!

Happy (conscious) shopping, making or just giving!

P.S. If you are based in Dublin, Ireland and would like some more inspiration about how to waste less this festive season, pop in to the Zero Waste Christmas Festival that is happening on Saturday the 9th of December in the St. Andrew’s Resource Centre on Pearse Street. There will be workshops, a swap shop with a dedicated Christmas jumper rail, bulk and unpackaged food and non-food products, ZW essentials, natural cleaning products and more!

I will be preparing some edible treats if that’s your gift of choice at my workshop at 12noon. You are welcome to join me and sample away!

[Entry to the Festival is free but a workshop pass is needed to attend any number of workshops on the day. Buy tickets and see more info here.]

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A late (autumn) post…

Hi! I am back. I mean, not that I ever left but blogging was pushed aside by many other things – some eco-related, some less so 🙂 Let’s just say that a new post is overdue.

As we sailed through the busy summer months, my favourite season came again – Autumn! I love autumn. I love all of its stages. The first cautious September days with their fresh mornings that signal the summer might be over. The mid-September Indian Summer days that say maybe not quite yet! Blackberries everywhere you look and beautiful tree colours. And the moment when I realise that the gradual transformation is complete and the season has definitely changed.

Most of all I like the autumn air. Is it just me or is it much cleaner than in any other season? How every smell is somehow magnified. Maybe it’s just because the smell of fallen leaves and bonfires remind me of my childhood. Or maybe because it travels better in colder temperatures…let’s leave it to mystery.

As the days get colder, I start looking for the scarves and gloves I put away in March. The clocks go backwards and the dark nights slowly set in so that all I want do is cuddle up with a book and a mug of tea. One day there are pumpkins everywhere and then as soon as Hallowe’en is over, they are replaced almost overnight by Christmas decorations. Is that still autumn or is that winter already? I can never decide.

Autumn, being a time for nature to wrap up an go into hibernation, patiently resting through the cold months, is (for me) just the opposite for the mind – I can feel ideas brewing and awakening. While not distracted by all the fun to be had outdoors, I can focus on thoughts, plans, intentions, solutions. It really is a magical time.   

Is it just a nice coincidence then (at least in Ireland and the UK), that autumn is full of environmental drives? The first week in September is the Zero Waste Week, the last week in September is the National Recycling Week, October is the National Reuse Month. Worldwide, November is  the World Vegan Month, Black Friday was re-dubbed as ‘Buy-Nothing-Day’ and on and on. To be honest, who cares if  it’s a coincidence or not. The main thing is that these initiatives are getting more to the forefront of people’s minds and making mainstream news.

Before I go back to more regular updates, here a few snaps from some interesting events over the last couple of months.

Honey Celebration

I got my first hive share from Brookfield Farm back in 2016 and since I agree with what Ailbhe, the owner and chief beekeeper, wants to achieve, I sponsored another one this year. As a part of it, I got to go to the Honey Celebration back in August. It was one wet day but as they say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Here is what was waiting for us in Nenagh…

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Zero Waste Festival

Following the success of the inaugural Zero Waste Festival on June 25th, the September edition took place during the Zero Waste Week and it comprised of 7 days full of events, markets, swap-shops and overall ZW merriment. This time around, I was happy to become a member of the organisers’ team which was a lot of fun! And guess what…there will be another festive festival soon

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Reuse Month Festival

The first Reuse Month Festival took place in a repurposed old fire station in Rathmines in October. It was a chilly day but a fun one!

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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.

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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Hallowe’en & Co.

With Hallowe’en around the corner, the ‘holiday season’ is starting. Ireland, and Europe in general, might not be as wild as across the ocean but it does mark the beginning of the consumerism season. Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Many of these festive days lost their original meaning (or were artificially created) and became an excuse to buy. Buy and consume more and more stuff. It’s a matter of choice though!

Take Hallowe’en, for example. Did you know that the practices of Hallowe’en mostly come from Celtic paganism in the British Isles, and the feast of Samhain, the new year? They believed it was the time when ghosts and spirits came out to haunt and the Celts would appease the spirits by giving them treats. The feast was celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and parts of Britain.

In Slovakia, until some years ago when the American version of this holiday wrestled its way in, this time of year was solely dedicated to remembering those who left us with November 1st  being All Saints Day and with All Souls’ Day the following day. Instead of scary costumes and parties, people went to cemeteries to light a candle for their dearly departed. It was (and I hope still is) a time for family visits, crisp evenings walks on beautifully lit graveyards with a quiet atmosphere of self-reflection.

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Candle-lit cemetery in Slovakia (source: Dnes24.sk)

The Slovakian take on things and also not having small children makes me slightly oblivious to the commercial part of Hallowe’en. I prefer the ‘autumnal-harvest-following’ atmosphere of this time of the year and preparing oneself for winter.

Since there is also a 3-day weekend around Hallowe’en in Ireland, we are often not at home for the day but if we are, I prefer to keep it low-key and low-waste. Here are my few tips you might find useful.

Decorations

  • Reuse the ones from last year or the year before, I guarantee you they will be still perfectly fine (I mean, if you stored them well) and nobody will notice the repetition. No need to buy more plasticky junk than we already have.
  • Go natural. Carve the pumpkin (roast the seeds, make a pie from the flesh and compost the jack-o after the holiday), put small decorative pumpkins on your window sill and eat them after Hallowe’en, use colourful leaves, acorns and chestnuts as a table decoration. Let your mind loose and use everyday objects to make decorations.
  • Make seasonal decorations with your kids – you spent some quality time together and won’t need to queue to pay in the supermarket for the unimaginative ‘Made in China’ junk.
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Go natural with decorations…(Source: pexels.com)

Costumes

  • Rent rather than buy if you have to.
  • Better still, make your own. Last year, we were invited to accompany my boyfriend’s nephews for their trick-and-treating at the last minute. I put together a costume which wasn’t bad – perhaps not the most exciting one but did the job – a pirate! A stripy t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms, a scarf, bandana, homemade eyepatch and a borrowed foam sabre (or you can easily make one from cardboard) – add a bit of ‘arrgh’ and there you are!
  • You could also be a ninja – black pants, black t-shirt with a black dressing gown back to front, a face mask made from another black t-shirt and you’re all set.
  • Or, if you have a little bit more time and some leftover white paint, you can always try to create a skeleton costume – just paint the bones onto a black t-shirt and leggings. Or, if you want to use up a t-shirt one more time before cutting it to rags, cut out the ‘bones’ and wear an opposite colour t-shirt underneath (black on white or white on black).
  • Homemade costumes are fun, original and can be totally zero waste…Internet is a great place to look for some inspiration!

Treats

  • This is a tougher one. You can be the unpopular lady/guy who offers some easy peelers or other fruit but since we all know that (almost all) kids really want the sweet stuff, you might want to skip this one.
  • You could also try some homemade cookies, buns or other bite-size treats but unless you know your neighbours, well, these might end up in the bin regardless.
  • One more option that might work is to get small glass jars (from yogurts) and fill them with nuts and chocolate/yogurt-covered raisins or sweets bought in bulk (in the cinema or the Pick&Mix section in Tesco for example).
  • If you think these will still raise suspicion, you might need to give up and buy conventional wrapped candy. If so, go for the biggest bag available!

But hey, if you still think that Hallowe’en will just create unnecessary waste and belly aches from all the sweets, there is always an option to skip it completely. Go somewhere nice for the weekend, go for an adventure or just turn off the lights, unhook the bell, make some popcorn and watch telly. And don’t mind the Grinch comments, it’s not like you’re missing your only chance to take part – it will all happen again next year – and every year for the rest of your life! 🙂

Raise the bar a bit more

Last week, I wrote about how I switched to a simpler body-cleaning regime. This not only saved some plastic bottles from ending up in landfill (or at best at the recycling factory) but also saved me time and money. Here are some more suggestions on how to green your beauty routine.

Lotions

I read about some people who stopped using all types of lotions and moisturisers and their skin recovered to the point where the natural oils are enough and they don’t have a need for any creams and lotions. I do get it as my boyfriend has never used any lotions and his skin is perfectly happy. I do think, however, that girls’ skin has a different structure which can benefit from lotion and let’s be honest, the cosmetics ads have this down – it feels pretty damn good, to massage a blob of nice smelly stuff into your skin after a shower! In the future, I might consider trying to go without any lotions but for now, I keep at it…

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My hand cream and moisturiser

 I have some The Handmade Soap Company body lotion I bought last year but even though it smells and moisturises really nicely, it is packed in a plastic bottle which I’d rather avoid once I use this one up. I got two ‘massage cubes’ from Ponio which look like a really promising replacement. (I spoke about Ponio in my previous post.) These cubes are solid blends of shea and cocoa butters that will melt once warmed up in your hands. They can be used as a lotion for your face, body and all limbs. Basically, imagine slathering some chocolate over your body. Yep. That good.

The Burt’s Bees hand cream I got recently as a gift and I am happy that it’s in a metal tube which is recyclable. A little goes a long way here and it’s made from natural ingredients. I tend to have dry skin which is sensitive to too much water, so having a good hand cream is important. To be perfectly honest though, I am not too mad on the smell. Maybe I am weird. But I do find it a bit overpowering. Once I use this one up (or find someone to give it to?!), I will experiment with other alternatives and making my own hand cream concoction…if I don’t decide to go without in the meantime!

With winter coming soon, a lip balm is also essential, even though I found out that when properly hydrated from inside my lips get chapped much less. I got an artisan beeswax balm in my hive-share pack from the Brookfield Farm earlier this year. It’s packed in the cutest little tin and smells amazing. Hopefully it will work too!

Tools – brushes, razors & co.

The two worst landfill offenders from the bathroom are toothbrushes and disposable razors.

There are a lot of problems with plastic toothbrushes and this infographic says it all…

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The best solution to date are toothbrushes made from a sustainable resource like bamboo. Bamboo happened to be the fastest growing plant on earth. It also contains naturally-occurring antimicrobial agents hence there is no need for using fertilizers or pesticides during its cultivation. It’s a tree so the toothbrush handle is biodegradable. As for the bristles, Nylon 4 (a synthetic polymer) is believed to be biodegradable in about 3-4 months in an active compost. There are brushes with Nylon 4 infused with bamboo fibre which are also said to be compostable. Other sources say that the only option for the bristles to be natural and biodegradable is boar hair which is a questionable source. I suppose the the next best thing is a plant-based material that can be recycled. There are a good few companies that produce bamboo toothbrushes so it comes down to what is available where you live. I got some WooBamboo toothbrushes some time back as they were the only brand I could find to be sold close to Ireland (in the UK) so the transportation costs would be minimised. What I didn’t like about these brushes was that they were single-packed in a PET blister with a cardboard back. They actually answer the question why plastic packaging on their website. I mean I do get their point but still, the next time, I will buy ones that are packed in compostable packaging, probably from Brush with Bamboo.  

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The tools. 

Statistics say that, in the United States alone, 2 billion disposable razors are thrown out every year. Now, that’s a lot.

Thankfully, there are alternatives. You can either go total badass and master the use of a straight razor but if you, like me, prefer not to bleed to death every time you shave, a ‘closed-combed reusable razor’ is a much better option. The blades are from metal which is recyclable, however, you would need to find a local recycler who accepts them. They do exist though so have a look around your area… (Mental note: look for one around Dublin!) Once you buy the handle though this will, with proper care, last you a lifetime, may I say. I actually got mine at my parents’ house, which my grandma bought for my grandpa years ago but he never got to use it. That’s why mine has added emotional value for me as I always remember him when looking at it!

The collection of tools is completed by a nail clipper, scissors, tweezers (have these for ages) and a pumice stone I got last year in an amazing shop in Belgium last year. Seriously, if you ever close to any Dille & Kamille shop, do pay them a visit. It’s like in heaven.

To complete the full list, I need to add a hair brush, plastic but very durable, a blow-drying-brush which I got about 5 years ago in Barcelona (memories!) and a small hairdryer. I got it as a gift for travelling but it’s so small and handy it became my ‘main one’. Even though since I swapped to the solid shampoo bar, I don’t even need to blow dry my hair as it actually looks respectable just air-dried. In my case having short hair means also much less maintenance…happy days.

In summary, I have to say immodestly that I am pretty happy with myself and the fact that I eliminated almost two thirds of cosmetics products once I used and swapped the ones I was using for better and greener alternatives.

Did you take the plunge and tackle your beauty routine? What was the easiest and the hardest?  Let me know in the comments!

Raise the bar

Before I embarked on my Zero Waste journey, my cosmetics arsenal would have included on average 20 beauty products and I’m not counting the likes of samples, hotel souvenirs and free-with-purchase miniatures that were mostly collecting dust in my bathroom anyway. My beauty routine involved lotions, tonics, creams, gels, pastes, mousses, sprays and more lotions. All to make me feel cleaner, softer and, as advertised, possibly even younger!

The catch is that all conventional beauty products have a few basic flaws. Firstly, from the plastic-free and zero-waste point of view, they all come in plastic bottles (with the exception of some more luxury creams that come in glass)…but mostly, cheap plastic is the go-to packaging. Secondly, the conventional cosmetic products contain some rather questionable ingredients that may negatively affect our health, like petroleum-based ethoxylated surfactants, optical brighteners and so on. There are numerous articles pro and contra synthetic ingredients in personal care cosmetics but I like the simple method of determining if I should get a product or not – if I can’t pronounce the ingredients on the back of the bottle, it’s probably not worth it!

This video from The Story of Stuff may be a bit outdated as there has been progress in raising awareness about the issue but still, European laws are (thankfully) still much more strict and protect consumers.

There is a great project called Skin Deep of the US Environmental Working Group (EWG) (http://www.ewg.org/skindeep) that contains a database of the vast majority of chemicals and their safety ratings. So, if you are unsure about an ingredient in your shampoo/conditioner/moisturiser, you can easily find about its properties.

Myself, in the pursuit of a simpler solution, eager to find alternatives and equipped with Bea Johnson’s book, I gradually made a switch to fewer products which are versatile and also nicely natural.

 

Facial routine

The main part of my plan was to reduce the number of products used daily. Using the first ‘R’ – refuse – I simply stopped using face cleansing lotion, toner or serums. Pure water and a bit of bar soap do the cleaning job perfectly (surprise!). I swapped my well-known-brand moisturiser for a local Irish product that uses only natural ingredients and, most importantly, does a great job and smells even better. I am not only feeding my skin the best food but also supporting a small local business (Bia Beauty) which is a nice bonus. The moisturiser is packed in a glass jar and I’m planning to contact them to see if I could send them my empty containers to be refilled and sent back packaging-free… Even if not, the containers are recyclable or would make a great candleholders 🙂 I experimented a bit with my own moisturiser concoction but it was still a bit too rough for my face so I’ll leave it to professionals!

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Beauty regime streamlined somewhat…

Dental routine

Toothpaste is something I still have to persuade myself to make at home. I tried a few versions with clay and baking soda but haven’t been impressed yet. In the meantime, I picked a natural brand with no petroleum-based ingredients in it and it’s doing pretty well. Yes, it is packaged in plastic but at least it’s recyclable… I saw a video recently about the ingredients in toothpastes – it’s interesting to watch! Especially when you know that a mixture of baking soda and coconut oil can (allegedly :)) do the same thing…

I swapped the alcohol-laden conventional mouthwash for a much simpler homemade version. This might need to be made more often as the essential oils used in it change the taste slightly with time but, since it takes all 2 minutes to mix together, I really don’t mind. Find the recipe here.

Hair-care routine

The change I was most happy with was swapping a traditional liquid shampoo for a solid shampoo bar. I tried one that was soap-based along with some Dr. Organic conditioner (instead of the apple cider vinegar rinse which I still find a bit messy in the bathroom) and it was ok but I wasn’t blown away. My hair was a bit dull and without any volume. I then found shampoo bars that were not soap-based (they contain other plant-based surfactants than soap) and didn’t need any acidic rinse. They were made by a small Slovakian company called Ponio which makes small batches of homemade soap bars, shampoo bars, solid deodorants and ‘massage cubes’. All their products are packed in minimal paper/cardboard packaging and they have great customer service. I ordered some products when I was visiting my parents in Slovakia to minimise unnecessary transport costs! The shampoo bars (I got Sugar Peony and Orient Chai ones) smell amazing and last me a good while which is always a plus.

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Solid shampoo bar from Ponio

Shower routine

From the same folks at Ponio, I also got the Shea Mild Soap which is an unscented soap that lasts ages and effortlessly replaced my shower gel, face cleanser and shaving foam all at once. Streamlining where and when you can. Love it.

Anti-sweat routine

Another item on my cosmetics shelf is a deodorant. I tried a few natural brands like Alverde or Green People which don’t contain any aluminium salts and parabens (some researchers linked these to cancer, some not but sure why risk it !) or alcohol and some of these deodorants are packed in glass. Once I use them up though, I’d like to try making my own with coconut oil, soda and essential oils. (Goals!)

Next week, I will continue with some more tips and tricks for a streamlined beauty regime!