Know your enemy

If you want to combat any enemy, first you have to know what you are dealing with. So when I wanted to scale down the waste our household produced, I went routing through the bins. Literally.

What I found was probably very similar to what you would in any western-world household. Most of it was packaging – for food, drinks or cosmetics. Then there were recyclable items like PET bottles, cardboard, magazines and papers, tins, glass bottles and organic waste.


Looks familiar?

I used to live in an apartment block where there were recycling bins but there was no option to separate organic waste. You can imagine the look (and smell) of the bins whenever they missed a collection. So I was very happy when we moved to a house where we could pick our waste collection company – and I picked one that collected food waste separately. Score!

That was even before I embarked on the Zero Waste journey so now I am pretty used to separation of green and other waste. With that sorted, there were the recyclables and the ‘general waste’ to plough through.

Soda Stream

Soda Stream & Aloe Vera King Mango

Recycling is great but refusing, reducing and reusing is still better. We try to cut down on buying stuff in general even though it comes in a recyclable packaging. One of the very first alternatives we adopted was switching from buying sparkling water in plastic bottles to the Soda Stream system. The gas cylinders are reusable and you even get a discount when you bring your old cylinder to the store. This had significantly helped reduce the recyclables because sparkling water is popular in our little household! An added bonus is that we don’t have to carry all the heavy bottles from the shop!

We also learned to love our tap water which (filtered) tastes great! This, in combination with reusable stainless steel bottles, cuts down another big batch of plastic waste! Oh and as for all the cokes, 7-ups and other sugary soft drinks full of god-knows-what, we just stop buying them. The only soft drink we buy in a PET bottle is a natural mango aloe vera juice.

Mango Fizz

“Mango Fizz”

“Mango Fizz” – the juice diluted with ⅔ of sparkling water – is my boyfriend’s beverage of choice :). You might argue that that’s also creating waste but I am trying to find a sustainable balance for our life that will work on a long-term basis and compromises are part of that!

So in this way, I went through all the recyclables and consciously divided them into two simple categories and courses of action: avoidable – stop buying – and non-avoidable (yet) – buy (much) less.

When I moved over to the ‘general waste’ pile, that’s where it got a bit tricky. Mostly because about 85% of it was packaging. A modern western life really seems to have an obsession in packing everything. Some of this might be necessary for transport but there is a lot of double or triple layers of ‘protective’ paper or plastic that is far from necessary. Take a simple pack of sliced ham or cheese. Not only are those 6 slices packed in a plastic box but they are separated from each other by a piece of plastic film. That’s such a waste! But sadly, it seems to be the norm.

Lettuce in a bag

Sadly, this is the norm…

The easiest thing is to buy less processed packaged food …you’d think. But here in Ireland it is quite challenging to buy even the ingredients for home cooking without layers of the wasteful packaging. Fruit and vegetables, which are perfectly fine in their own peels and outer layers of leaves, are often thrown into a plastic bag – just so that it’s easier to stick the label with a barcode on them.

It also depends where I want to buy my food. Farmers’ markets are great altogether but if there are none at a convenient distance from where I live or work, I will hardly visit them regularly. Burn the petrol in a car just to get some fruit and veg does not add up for me. There is one market nearby but it only opens one day for two hours. I went there a few times but it’s more of a baked-goods-and-preserves type of market – things I like making myself so don’t want to buy them. But I made a resolution to visit more often – especially during the summer when there will be, hopefully, more fresh produce to be bought. 

I really want to support my local small fruit & veg shop but they pack everything – 6 apples on a polystyrene tray wrapped in cling film and sold to you in a plastic bag. I had a chat with them about selling loose produce but it hasn’t stuck for now. If I am really in need, I buy a pack of apples in there, don’t take the plastic bag and bring the polystyrene tray back. Then the only waste is the bit of cling film. As I said, compromises.

There are no bulk bin sections in the supermarkets here or dedicated bulk stores like in other European cities and America. Shopping for things with no packaging (or with the least packaging possible) can be challenging…and it does take a bit of planning to not make shopping a chore. But it’s totally worth it.

Next week, I tell you more about my other shopping solutions!

About green thumbs

After we came back from sunny Estonia, I travelled home to attend a certain life jubilee party for my Dad. It was great to see all the family (and I mean really all of them) but also to spend some days in the haven of my parents’ house.

They live at the edge of a small town and their house borders a meadow with a forest. My old room has a beautiful view and every time I am in there, I feel very connected to nature. The view changes by season and I can definitely say that the autumn is my favourite. But, the upcoming shades of green did give me a ‘spring’ in my step after the grey winter.

My parents have a vegetable garden, not because it’s cool or trendy but because growing their own food was always part of their life. As a child, I learned all about the seasons in the garden. From a seed to a fruit-bearing plant to its decay. A circle of life.


The garden in Spring

The preparation starts in the cold of winter. Seeds are planted, nourished and sprouting. In Spring, the little seedlings are replanted in individual pots and moved to the greenhouse before they arrive to their final destinations. My Dad plants the tomatoes and peppers seedlings into yogurt pots, yep, the perfectly-sized vessels for the job. He is also a master of reusing – he uses the same yogurt pots for 14 years now! Every year, they are filled with fresh hummus and little seedlings grow to strength in them, then the pots are cleaned and stored until the next year. Each of the pots has a list of its ‘babies’ written on it – Slava 2013, Tornado 2014, Sant Pierre 2015, Cour di Blue 2016…



Reusing at its finest…same pots for 14 years

In the polytunnel, little lettuce seedlings have already found a home and are bringing their first harvest. Little red baubles of radishes peaking their heads from the soil waiting for to be eaten. Peppery and crunchy, they are amazing in a salad, on a sandwich or just like that, eaten there and then. From the seed to the mouth in two months. Ok, maybe a little longer than a trip to the groceries to pick a pack of them but the flavour is incomparable!




I think I caught those green thumbs of my parents. I love seeing things grow and I started collecting yogurt pots 🙂 Back in March, I planted a few tomato and pepper seeds in two little trays and they sprouted! I was so happy! Encouraged by that, I got some pea seeds and planted them outside in our little garden patch we dug out last year. I was told that they don’t mind cold – a very important feature for anything grown in Ireland 🙂 It worked! They sprouted and little pea shoots are forming now and doing their own thing. You should see the smug smile on my face…Definitely encouraged and eager, I have re-planted my tomato & pepper seedlings into my own yogurt pots just so that they can grow to strength and eventually replace the peas in the soil. Have I mentioned how satisfying is to watch things grow?


In a couple of months, these will be covered with red strawberry jewels…


I know that I have a long way to go to be anywhere close to a self-sufficient farmer but hey – you have to start somewhere! Compared to years of experience my parents have, I know very little – for example, did you know that potatoes should be planted at a ‘lady’s foot’ distance? Or that tomatoes and peppers should not be planted near each other? There is so much to learn…but I think that until I move into a house with a huge garden, I’ll be fine. You can be too – try growing a few herbs on your windowsill or a strawberry plant in a hanging basket on your patio…even if they won’t bear any fruit, they are lovely to look at!!

Did you start on your own urban garden? Let me know how are you getting on…leave a comment below!    

About more than one use

In my last blog, I talked about how we live in a disposable world.

With the surge in plastic in the last 50 years, a lot of durable things got replaced by single-use items that cost very little and are much handier. I mean, I totally get it. Instead of washing up a pile of plates and glasses after a party, you can just sweep them into the bin and you’re done. Instead of sitting down and waiting for your coffee to cool, you can just have it on the go in a smart paper cup. If you get hungry or thirsty, it’s dead easy to buy a bottle of water and a pre-packed sandwich. Convenient and easy. There is a little catch though.

This catch is that although we think that we are throwing these things away, there is no ‘away’. They all end up back where they came from – around us. In the form of waste piling up in landfills. Recycling helps, but still, I am pretty sure the best way forward is to avoid throwing things out at all as much as we can. That’s the principle of Zero Waste after all!

You might think that avoiding one paper cup won’t save the world and I agree. On the other hand – ideas spreading by chain reaction is a well-documented and totally real thing!! You might just give it a go and in the meantime inspire enough people to actually make a difference…I definitely think it’s possible…:)

Getting myself to use less single-use items was easier than I thought. Yes, it might have taken me some time, but with some planning it definitely wasn’t impossible! Instead of getting plastic-wrapped lunch in the shop every day, I just had to start bringing my own lunch in, complete with a stainless steel bottle and an apple bought in the fruit bulk aisle.

It is really not hard but, I warn you in advance, preparing your own food may mean some extra work. You might spend some time cooking batches of legumes, chopping veggies, assembling your creations and polishing apples but – it’s so worth it and it feels great! And yes, there will be days when you just won’t have that time. Yesterday, for instance, I had to either buy my lunch in a nearby shop or be hungry. Disclaimer: I am not very nice with low blood sugar. So, a sandwich wrapped in a foil-lined paper for me. Not cool, I know. But I have my limitations. Packed lunch today though 🙂

One thing that really gets on my nerves are the pesky half-litre plastic bottles for drinks. You buy it, drink it in less than half an hour and then throw it away. OK, in some cases, you can reuse it once or twice. But it always ends up in the bin. Oh and if it’s not a sweet fizzy drink but healthy water, you should realise that it’s basically just tap water. Filtered, perhaps, but basically tap water. It took me some time to get used to bringing a proper bottle with me everywhere (I usually realised that I forgot it as soon as I got the bus) – but I got there.

In two specific places it saves me a good bit of money. The cinema and the airport. Over-priced drinks are second nature for these two. If I travel anywhere, I take my stainless steel bottle (empty through security control) and the then either fill it in the bathrooms or just ask in one of the airport cafes. I’ve done this many times and I always felt like I outsmarted the system :))

Take for example plastic straws. I won’t say much but if you still use them and you haven’t seen the video below, watch it and you will stop. (Warning: it’s not a pretty sight). I am a responsible adult and can consume my drink directly from a glass. Really.

It can become fun to look around you and see if there are any more ‘quick fixes’. I don’t drink coffee but if you do, you could try bringing a travel mug to the coffee shop next time. Equip yourself with some confidence, like you do this aaaaall the time and ask them to pour your brew into the Garfield travel mug. Yes, that one that is sitting at the back of your press and it’s just waiting for his star to shine! I guarantee you one of every two staff will say ‘no problem’, and the other one will look at you quizzically and then say ‘ok, no problem’. Be a trend-setter. Be creative. It’s fun!

Can you think of anything else that you can do or have already averted or swapped in your daily life? Leave a comment below!

About stuff

We live in a world of disposable stuff. There is no denying that. A world, where everything can be replaced so easily that it’s not even worth considering alternatives. Or so it seems.

It’s not only the disposability we get used to. It’s also the constant availability. We are led to believe that once we have enough money we can buy whatever we always wanted – and maybe we can – a bigger car, a bigger house, the newest phone. It’s easy to get trapped in the vicious circle – working long and hard to earn money to buy things which we are told that are cool to own but then hardly having time to enjoy them because we spend so much time in work…This is how we can so easily become enslaved to stuff.

The guys from The Story of Stuff made a great video about where it all comes from and where it all ends up when it’s thrown out. It is pretty eye-opening and if you ask me, I think this should be a compulsory watch for primary school kids and onward. Especially for people living in developed countries. In the video, for the first time I came across terms like planned and perceived obsolescence – when things are built to break and when last season’s shoes are nothing like this season’s – and it all started to make sense.

(See for yourself if you want!)

After I thought about everything in the video, I looked at myself. At my habits, and also my possessions. And there was more than enough to look at! I realised that I was no different. I owned a lot of things, neatly accumulated over the years. Some of them, I used regularly and some never. They just waited in the closet, the drawer, the press. I thought I knew everything I had. And oh boy, was I wrong. I forgot about so much stuff that I’d bought for this or that, used once (or never!) and then put away! I am talking about everything – clothes, cosmetics, cans of food in my kitchen cabinets. I am sure I have more notebooks than I can use up in my lifetime along with the heap of pens I can write in them with!

Too much stuff

I remember when I moved about 2 years ago, I was amazed how much stuff I owned. I might have briefly thought about how can one person have so many things after a few years (since I came to Ireland with just necessities) but that was about it. I very quickly switched from amazement to putting it all neatly away. Once all the contents of the boxes had settled in their new home, all was well again.

It wasn’t until later, after much reading, watching and thinking, that I went on a crusade to downsize my possessions. I promised myself that next time I am moving, it will be only with half of the stuff (or less, if I am lucky :))

There are many great ‘schools of thoughts’ that talk about decluttering and freeing up space in life – minimalism, konmari method, tiny homes – it’s up to you to find the one that suits you. In my opinion, they all have some valid points and good thinking and definitely can help to make you feel less obliged to own stuff.

A good starting point for me was to think about what I want my life to be shaped by – experiences or stuff. Experiences won by a long way. So I decided to go through all my possessions and declutter. Room by room. Simplifying my life. One drawer at a time.

It takes time and it’s rather a journey than a destination. But I am fine with that.

Are you ready to start yours?