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! 🙂

Zero Waste Week!

Originally, I planned to share with you my first attempt at a zero-waste-festival-trip. But, since this week is International Zero Waste Week, this of course takes preference 🙂

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What is it?

It is a campaign raising awareness of the environmental impact of waste and empowering participants to reduce waste. It was launched in 2008 and the campaign is conducted almost exclusively online via their website, newsletters and social media. Like with Plastic-Free July, the idea quickly spread from its origins in the UK across the world. It might not be as strong as PFJ yet but it’s definitely an international affair! Anybody can join, doesn’t matter if it’s an individual, community group, company or school – the more the merrier! If you fancy it, you can still do it on zerowasteweek.co.uk.

Themed effort

Every year there is a theme for Zero Waste Week. This year it’s “Use it up!”, focussing on food waste. If you partake, you get a daily email with lots of tips and tricks on how to minimise food waste and be creative with your leftovers, ehm, I mean, future ingredients 🙂 So far, the spotlight has been on salad, bananas, bread and cucumbers – the most wasted foods in Britain according to the ZWW survey.

Their website is full of easy ideas and delicious recipes for tackling food waste. Check them all out here.

My top 3

Buy the right amount

This specifically applies to fresh produce like fruit and veg. The cauliflower or broccoli looks so tempting at the farmers market stall but if I don’t have a specific plan, it might end up sad in the compost bin after lurking in the fridge for about 2 weeks. Even if I do have a specific plan for this or that, something comes up (usually dining out – yay!) and I have to abandon my plan. But I still try my best to use it all up – usually disguised in a curry or stew where the wonky veg is suitably perfect. 

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Wonky veg cauliflower curry!

Shop in your cupboards/freezer

I make a lot of food from scratch and I always make bigger amounts to save time. Thankfully, we don’t mind eating the same thing three days in a row 🙂 Sometimes though, I freeze half of the food ‘for emergencies’, which are usually office lunches or hangover days… I often cook pancakes (Sunday brunch essentials) and freeze half of batch so the next time it’s a quick and tasty meal with no mess. Or naan bread. Or lasagne. Or pies. I think you can freeze pretty much any cooked (or assembled ready to be cooked) food, more than the obvious soups and stews. If you are using a recipe, it often says something about its suitability for freezing. So, if  you have a freezer full of goodies, don’t store them there for a year, take an evening off and declare an emergency 🙂 

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Japanese night anyone?

Cupboards are a funny thing. Even if large and spacious, they have hidden corners where you can find some real, ehm, treasures? The Zero Waste Week campaign prompted me to do yet another audit of what’s in mine and what could/should be used up. The highlights were a sushi making set (including brand new unopened bamboo sushi rolling mats), a can of okra, a sad half-bag of short-grain brown rice and a tub of malt drink bought (in pre-ZW days) for a Jamie Oliver recipe which I made. Once. Oh and about 6 tins of various granulated Indian  teas. I thought I was better than this.

 

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Tea-drinking season is approaching…

 

Even though some of the above offenders might have passed their ‘due date’, I often think that these are, especially in case of dry or canned goods, very safe estimates. When stored properly (no sunlight, extreme temperatures or bugs), they are fine even after a good while. So, my pledge is to use it all up leaving the cupboards in a better shape than I found them. 

Plan your meals

I consider myself to be quite organised but not to the point of having a meal plan ready on Sunday evening for the week ahead. After all, there are only 2 people in our household so it’s not completely necessary.

I do, however, like to think a bit ahead about what we’re gonna eat so that I can minimise my shopping trips. One trip on Saturday usually does the trick with maybe one or two stops for the perishable items during the week. On Saturday though, before going to the shop, I have a good look in the fridge/pantry to see if there is anything that needs to be used up and included in the meal prep 🙂

There are days though when I just don’t have the time to plan (we all do!) so I always keep eggs in my pantry as an omelette is my go-to meal! Quick, easy, versatile. Done.

 

If you think about it, wasting food is wasting money. Unless you’re super rich and don’t care, you don’t like wasting money. According to research, the average householder wastes €40 of food per month which could be, if you ask me, spent on other fun things!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be clever about the food one eats. As always, apply common sense. Don’t buy what you cannot use in time and use up everything before you go to buy some more!

Here’s to the Zero Waste Week 2016!

Zero Waste House Move…

The best way to move towards a Zero Waste life is literally ‘to move’. Ideally, to a much smaller house than your present one. But in my opinion, unless you live in a tent, I don’t think a ZW house move is possible. Maybe, just maybe, if you already are a hardcore zero waster, you can do it. The rest of us, unfortunately, will definitely face some unplanned rubbish.

A good thing about this is that moving house is an amazing opportunity to think about, see and physically become aware of all your possessions (and I mean ALL). This leads to a natural second step – reducing them!

It’s seeing all the stuff that you have somehow collected over all the years of your adult life stuffed into numerous boxes, crates and bags that does it. The sheer fact that you have to transport them from one place to another makes you wish you had so much less.

In my case, we moved about a year into my ZW journey which helped because a good portion of my stuff was already donated, given away to friends or repurposed. To my surprise though, I still own a lot.

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Not proud of this much…

It’s up to you to decide what’s ‘a lot’ and ‘enough’. Lindsay from treadingmyownpath.com said it perfectly: “Minimalism, decluttering and finding our “enough” has nothing to do with going without, or holding back. It is about finding our “enough”.”

For each of us, this means something different. In some people’s eyes, I have a lot of glass jars. But, they are essential for me and I use them a lot. My boyfriend has a lot of books and they are essential for him. In comparison to other people, we might not have enough clothes or not enough bottles in the bathroom. We have a good range of gardening equipment but no TV. It’s all about personal preferences.

Sorting

When you know what’s important for you and what is not, start sorting. I am not gonna lie, this is a tedious and time-consuming job. You have to go through all your things in a true KonMari fashion and question the effect on your life of every single thing you own. Yes, it might take aaages. But, if you can do it, you will be rewarded with a clutter-free home.

Changing hands

You hit another dilemma – on one hand, you do want to reduce the amount of stuff you own but on the other, you don’t want to create waste!? It’s not sustainable to throw things out just to own less!

So, once you have your ‘give away’ pile ready, start looking in your social circle. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours. Functional things in good order might just find a new home…the Star Wars cushions, random kitchen accessories you never used and three sets of placemats….they all have hope.

Use the power of internet – post an ad online on local sites (Donedeal.ie and Adverts.ie are a godsend!). If you have brand new things that don’t fit, duplicate items or decent working electronics, they might even generate a little bit of cash!

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Teddies that found their new home…:)

I had a bunch of teddy bears that made their way into my home one by one but weren’t happy as nobody played with them. With a little bit of time spent internet exploring, I found a teddy bear hospital who took them and they will be a part of an annual charity event for to help people with MS. I was really happy with that I can tell you!!

Ask in your local charity shop what type of things they accept (the answer in my case was: pretty much anything except furniture) and bring the rest there.

Back in the cycle

If you have items that didn’t make it into any of the above categories, see if you can reuse them (old clothes as rugs, old pillowcases to be sewn into produce bags, etc.).

It’s inevitable though that you still end up with some stuff, hopefully suitable for the recycling bank – small electronics and broken cables, broken glass – and for the curbside recycling – the takeout containers from when you were too tired to cook and all the jars were still boxed up :).

Last resort

After all this (and I did do my best), we still created waste – from broken things that were, let’s be honest, never going to be repaired, things that were just not suitable for a charity shop or a second hand exchange (worn shoes, etc.), things and materials that couldn’t be recycled because they were too small, plastic wrap, dust bunnies (or rather elephants), it all piled up. I am dedicated to Zero Waste but there was a line between it and retaining my sanity by making the move as quick and smooth as possible. The compromises!

The good news is, we did manage to avoid some of the usual wastefulness associated with moving. I got the packing boxes second-hand from a shopping centre and will try to pass them on to someone in need (internet should take care of this). All the cleaning that had to be done in the house was successfully completed with the well-known combo of vinegar and baking soda, no bleach or other nasties needed. We organised the stuff properly to minimise the car runs (ok, more or less…).

Lessons learned

What did I learn for the next time?

  1. Organise the stuff you’re moving properly – content of boxes clearly marked, screws of disassembled furniture securely stored!, etc. – it will save you a lot of time when unpacking.
  2. Deep cleaning your new house will make you feel instantly better. Especially when you only need 2 ingredients and hot water. Don’t forget the appliances – your washing machine, fan extract and dishwasher will thank you.
  3. Opt for paperless billing and opt out of promotional emails when first contacting your new energy providers – it will cut the junk mail. Speaking of which, get a ‘No Junk Mail’ sign for the door if there isn’t one yet!
  4. Be ruthless with your possessions – find a new home for anything you haven’t used in a year. Seriously.
  5. Make new friends – find a charity shop in your new neighbourhood and talk to the butcher showing him your glass jar 🙂
  6. Don’t get too upset when you create waste, moving itself is stressful enough. Do your best and bin the rest.

Don’t forget, a new house is a new start, so it’s onward and upward now!

Free yourself from plastic

With the month of July in full swing, you might have heard about an initiative called Plastic Free July. It’s a simple idea developed in 2011 in Australia which has since spread around the world. It aims to raise awareness of the amount of plastic in our lives by encouraging people to eliminate the use of single-use plastic during July each year. Anyone can sign up – individuals or organisations.

Check out their website and perhaps you might give it a go!

The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during the month of July. “Single-use” includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging…basically anything that’s intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, you can try the TOP 4 challenge (plastic bags, bottles, takeaway coffee cups & straws).

If you think about it, all of the TOP 4 plastics are easily avoidable. I have put together a few tips that might help you with the challenge.

1. Avoid plastic bags … bring your own

Reusable totes are prettier and sturdier than the flimsy single-use plastic bags and they are totally convenient to carry in your handbag for all cases. Pick one that folds into a little packet and off you go! 

Reusable bags

Handy to keep in your handbag! (Photo: designmom.com)

Tip: They can also be used as an emergency seat cover, picnic cloth or umbrella. Boom.

2. Avoid plastic bottles … bring your own

Getting used to bringing your own reusable bottle (stainless steel, BPA-free plastic, glass) will solve a few problems at once. If you get thirsty or need some water to wash your hands, you don’t have to find a shop first and waste money on overpriced plastic bottle of water. Also, if you are out and can’t finish your drink, you have a handy container to pour your leftover drink into.

Reusable water bottles

Cool water bottle anyone? (Photo: flaska.eu)

Tip: A full bottle of wine fits nicely in a 750ml stainless steel bottle without raising any suspicion – you know, when you’re going to a festival and are low on cash or to a children’s party you’d like to make more interesting.

3. Avoid takeaway coffee cups … bring your own

Not only are the paper cups you get with your takeaway coffee lined with plastic, which makes them harder to recycle, the cups and the lids actually very rarely end up in a recycling bin. Choosing to bring your own makes so much more sense! Remembering your travel mug in the morning before you leave the house might need a few post-its on the door/mirror/steering wheel of your car but it’s definitely worth it.

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If I drank coffee, this would be my go-to cup! (Photo: hellogreen.com.au)

Tip: They are also much more spill-proof than the paper cups and can carry all sorts of liquids if needed – or foods for that matter! On top of that, you might even get financially rewarded for your efforts!

4. Avoid straws … bring your own or simply say no

Depending on where you live, your drinks might usually be served with a straw. In Ireland  it’s thankfully not as common in general and applies mostly for bars. Fast-food chains also give you the option to take the straw yourself. (Hint: Don’t.)

Tip: You could invest in nice reusable bamboo, metal or glass straws (I would question their durability – at least in my clumsy case!). Or, simply ask staff not to put any straw in your drink – consume it like a responsible adult with your mouth and gravity. I haven’t used a straw for a good while now and I am not missing it at all!

Plastic straws

Not cool, people, not cool!

Bringing your own reusable straw can spark a discussion and raise awareness – educate people and enjoy the quizzical looks!

Once you have successfully avoided the TOP 4, you might want to take things further and continue with #5.

5. Avoid plastic packaging – buy in bulk or in recyclable packaging

The majority of plastic in a typical household comes from food packaging. If you have the option, buy in bulk or packageless directly from producers (farmers’ markets and all that jazz!). If not available, choose recyclable packaging that you can reuse first before recycling (cardboard or paper).

Because ‘on-the-go’ foods are the biggest culprit in this plastic saga, think ahead and prepare you brekkie, lunch and snacks at home and bring them along. Leftovers from dinner make a great work lunch, overnight porridge takes about 2 minutes to prepare and homemade trail mixes have a much better mixture of goodies than those overpriced teensy packs.

The unavoidable side-effect is that you WILL start eating healthier and soon enough you will cook like a boss.

It is only fair that I weigh the pros and cons before advising you to do this. So, here they are:

CONS

  • You will need to be organised. Some of us are naturals, some less so.
  • You will need a bigger handbag/rucksack. Carrying all your BYOs takes up some space alright.
  • You might be looked at quizzically/with surprise/disbelief. Be a trendsetter and embrace it.

PROS

  • You save money. Skipping all the impulse buys ranging from a pack of raisins to a far-too-expensive fancy sandwich with rose petals will be kind on your wallet.
  • You will feel better. Physically because you’ll eat better and mentally because your actions WILL make a difference. Maybe only one more turtle will not get a straw stuck in her little nose. But that’s huge.
  • You will become an eco-warrior. That’s a synonym for a hero, a better person and a responsible citizen of the planet Earth in my book.

Is that enough for you to consider joining the movement this July? Remember, you can join any day, even if it’s  just for a day. The Earth will thank you.

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Ups and downs

Switching to a simpler life came with one added bonus – I can engage my creative skills in making things myself. Being made from simple ingredients, they are better for me – and I get the satisfaction of making something with my own paws.

However, as with everything, there are successes and failures. I want to share my experience with homemade potions to encourage you to try something new (and not be discouraged if something doesn’t work)!!

Laundry

As mentioned in my last post, a homemade laundry gel is not only very easy to make but also much cheaper in comparison to store-bought products. I gave it a chance after an experiment with soap nuts which did not work for me at all. I bought a kilo of them when I started looking for an alternative to conventional laundry products. I closely followed the instructions on the nice textile bag. All was well until after a full 40 degree cycle, the clothes came out just simply wet. No feel or smell of cleanliness or freshness. I also probably didn’t fasten the little bag with the nuts properly so they ended up spread all over the wash. I was not impressed! Quickly after this, I decided to look elsewhere. In true zero waste fashion, I thought I would use the nuts for some second-degree laundry (rugs, mats, etc.) but never actually came around to do that. So, if anyone wants to give them a chance, I will happily send them my bag for free!! Maybe you can have better results than me. (Conclusion: Laundry gel – YES, soap nuts – NO)

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Soap nuts vs laundry gel…

 

Kitchen

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Buying in bulk 🙂

As we have a dishwasher, I searched for a recipe for homemade dishwasher tablets. After some internet research and entering the world of opinions on Borax I, luckily, found a recipe that consisted of washing soda (soda crystals), baking soda, salt and citric acid. Simple enough ingredients and simple enough instructions. Basically, mix it all together. Well…. The first batch was great. Consistency was fine, cleaning power decent as well. So I went ahead and bought a bulk pack (a 5kg tub) of citric acid. Hmm. Perhaps a slightly rushed decision. Every batch after the first one just didn’t cut it. The mixture either turned to liquid (this apparently happens in humid conditions – Ireland, duh!), turned to stone (citric acid reacting with the sodas apparently) or didn’t really wash the dishes properly (when the citric acid was added right before the wash). So, after a few trials and errors, I reluctantly went back to shop-bought tablets. I chose the Ecover brand which is supposed to be not damaging to the environment but every tablet is still wrapped in plastic. Not ideal. However, I haven’t given up on this one yet. Especially when looking at that full citric acid tub 🙂 I will try again. Perhaps the drier summer climate will help the result. (Conclusion: Dishwasher tables – MAYBE)

One more nature-friendly swap for your dishes is to change the shop-bought rinse for vinegar. I tried out red wine, white wine, malt and apple cider vinegars. They all worked perfectly and are all cheaper than the original rinse. (Conclusion: Vinegar rinse – YES)

Personal hygiene

I am not a big fan of mouthwash but here and there I like to use it. I don’t like, however, the alcohol-laden Listerine and similar products, so I searched for a natural one. The internet proved to be full of ideas and recipes which were pretty easy with simple and easily found ingredients. I followed the recipe from DIY Natural. Water, baking soda, a few drops of essential oil and you’re done. You can add some xylitol if you don’t like the salty taste of baking soda 🙂 [Recipe I use: Mix together 1/2 cup filtered water, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp xylitol, 2 drops of tea tree oil, 4 drops of peppermint oil]. You might need to mix the concoction more often than you buy a bottle of Listerine (big batches are not really wanted as the oils blend and the mouthwash changes taste slightly) but it literally takes 2 minutes and I am fine with that. (Conclusion: Mouthwash – YES)

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Some time back, I came across an article on Treehugger about natural body scrubs and said to myself that I am going to try them out! I picked the last one with sea salt and oil. I used some sea salt that I bought in bulk (well, bulk-ish – a 2kg tub), olive oil from the kitchen and added some dried lavender from my garden. I mixed everything in a nice little Kilner jar and put it in the bathroom. But, boy oh boy, what a mess trying to use it! Maybe I am just fussy but it just didn’t work for me. The oil was everywhere and most of it was soaked in my towel rather than by my body. Not to mention the bathtub was all oily and slippery after use. I suppose if you use very hot water for your shower (which I don’t), it wouldn’t be as bad. Either way, I was happy when I finally finished the jar. I still like a good scrub though so might try the dry one – no added oil – less mess guaranteed. (Conclusion: Oil scrub – NO).

At the local market, a girl was selling homemade cosmetic products and I was curious to try her natural clay toothpaste. I tried it twice. The second time just to reassure myself that this is not for me. I am not sure if it was the weird texture or the extra salty taste. Simply put, it was just yuck. But then again, that’s just me – my friend used it and loved it!! I happily traded her Waleda toothpaste for my clay one. Until I find something else acceptable to brush my teeth with (pure baking soda sounds like a very unlikely candidate for me), I will keep using the Kingfisher natural toothpaste. Smooth and refreshing. I like. (Conclusion: Clay toothpaste – NO)

Cleaning

If you haven’t tried it yet, the internet-praised cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar is, in fact, true. I was a bit sceptical at the beginning as it did seem a bit odd just to scrub the bathroom with some white powder and spray what is basically a sour water but it does work. The child in me also loves the fizzing when you mix those two together 🙂 There are dozens of uses for this combo but I mostly use them to get the bathroom to a spotless condition. Including that pesky black mould that is an organic part of an (c)old house in a humid country. (Conclusion: soda and vinegar – YES)

There are many more but these are just a few examples of fun stuff you can try to make yourself ! Homemade soaps, lotions, shampoos…all you need is an open mind and maybe a bit of patience 🙂

 

Incredible bulk

Shopping in bulk and without packaging greatly reduces the amount of waste produced by any household. That is a fact. But what do you do when there aren’t many options for buying food from bulk bins into your own containers?

The Zero Waste trend of dry goods sold unpackaged has not really reached Ireland yet. The things I can buy loose or unpackaged in Dublin may be few but I can at least try!

Bread & pastry

This one is probably the easiest. Aside from packaged sliced pan which is not really my type of bread anyway, it’s pretty easy to pick up some lovely bread, baguettes and pastries into your own bag. Just have to remember to bring it with me!

Fruit and veg

The supermarkets are a hit-and-miss here. You can find loose apples, lemons, potatoes and the lot but they vacuum-pack the broccoli and I can never find celery or lettuce without a plastic bag in a supermarket. I compromise on those – lettuce is essential in our house!

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Strawberries in a bag 🙂

I don’t have a good farmers’ market nearby so I have to rely on the supermarkets and my local Fresh – a fruit and veg store where, as I mentioned last week, they package almost everything. They recently changed owner though so I might talk to them to see if they would loosen up a bit and sell the produce as is. The other day I bought some strawberries there (which they pack themselves in the shop), put them in my cotton bag and returned the box for their reuse…sorted.   

Meat

We do eat meat and when I want some free-range or organic stuff, I’ve found it’s best to go to a good butcher shop. Flemings just around the corner from our house is one of them. One day I went in, armed with my empty glass jar and asked for some chicken. At first, I got the classical confused look but I duly explained why…We ended up chatting about how this not only prevents waste but how the meat keeps better in glass than plastic! Since then, I‘ve barely bought any packaged meat – maybe just a whole chicken or a piece that is too big for my jar. They pack the meat in aluminium trays so at least I can reuse them for roasting and then recycle. I also used some of them for planting seeds – and reuse them each year.

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The infamous meat jar

Encouraged with this success, I tried to bring my jar into two other butcher shops and they happily obliged! In one of them I am officially known as the ‘Lady with the Jar’. Happy days.

Nuts & dried fruits

The one type of dry goods that is available in bulk in supermarkets are nuts. Lidl started selling these some time last year. The selection might be limited (roasted almonds, salted cashew and salted pistachios) but hey, it’s something. The only thing that baffles me is that the bulk stuff is more expensive than the packaged stuff. That’s nuts.

Nuts, dried fruits and sweets in bulk are also sold at some markets and country fairs. I just remembered that when my supply of dried apricots finished. I might do some research to see if there any on a weekly basis that I could replenish from regularly…and perhaps pick up some more natural sweets 🙂

Sweets

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Cinema’s pick & mix

When we go to the cinema, we get easily tempted (and seduced) by their pick & mix sweets selection. They have paper bags for it but the last time, I remembered to bring my own little cotton bag and used it – it even brought a smile to the cashier’s face! Refined sugar crush all the way!!

The above selection is not what it could be but, actually, it’s not that bad. It also depends on the type of diet you are on. It’s definitely easier for a vegan but we are not there yet. We cut almost all processed food but do buy the occasional pack of biscuits or crisps. We also eat dairy and despite my efforts, I couldn’t find any milk sold in a glass bottle. Our favourite cheese (Dubliner) is also only sold in plastic bags. I tried to switch to another type of cheddar but it just didn’t work. Compromise it is then!

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If packaged stuff is the only option, I always do two things. First – ask if I really need it. Second – if I do, check if there is a recyclable packaging option. There are often feasible alternatives to plastic, be it cardboard, paper, glass or metal. Then buying ‘in bulk’ means to buy the biggest package of the thing there is. I buy the biggest pack of the cheese, a 240-tea bags pack of tea rather than the 40-tea bags one. The idea here is to cut down on the amount of packaging if I can’t avoid it. Other examples from our house are buying the whole leg of ham (free range serrano ham from Spain no less) or toying with the idea of buying a 20kg bag of rice from an Indian shop. It might mean a bit of research before I buy something but once I know, the next time it’s easy!

 

All that said, it makes me thinking that opening a bulk shop here in Dublin might not be a bad business idea!!! 😉

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.

Full-bins

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!