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!

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!

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!

Bee aware

Share from Pixlr(1)Summer usually means holidays, relaxation, sun, sand and sea….all things nice. Even if you live in a country where the classic four seasons don’t really happen, summer is the time when all outdoor things are much more pleasant. The rain stops for a couple of days or even weeks, temperatures are reasonable and with a bit of sunshine, there is even a bit of ‘hot’ air around here and there. This might not last long, every year I forget how short the Irish summer is…at the beginning of June everybody jokes that the week of sunshine is all we’ll get. A month and a half later you realise that was actually ‘it’. There might be an Indian summer coming in September (please and thank you!) but despite the warmth, the air is different, with a leafy aroma – a hint of what’s to come. That is my favourite time of the year, even though I am sad that the real summer is gone.

A reliable cure for the Irish pseudo-summer is a holiday abroad. This year, as we were busy with moving house and all, we chose to go for a relaxing week to Slovakia. I went back to my childhood school holidays times, with hot air, scorching sun and evening thunderstorms from the heat. You may have seen the highlights of this trip from my zero waste perspective on my Instagram. As you might remember, my parents have a big vegetable garden and this is now abundant with produce. You name it, it’s probably there. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, beans, corn, poppies, grapes and more. It’s amazing to see what loving gardener’s hands and favourable climate can achieve in a few months. When I was there in April, the ground was bare and the seedlings were just getting ready in the greenhouse. But it’s all go now. My Mam regularly preserves the produce and makes it into pickles, compotes, purees, frozen goodies and dehydrated snacks. It was a totally aspirational trip and I came back relaxed and encouraged to make and create. The climate might be different but the principle stays the same. Grow it, harvest it and use it up to the last bit.

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The garden in summer

When I think about the change in their garden in a mere couple of months, I am fascinated by the power of nature. How everything works perfectly, how all the pieces create a flawless puzzle together, how a little seed can, in time, turn into a tall plant heavy with fruit. How nature organised everything conveniently to its benefit. I am amazed by its design and how people sometimes take it for granted even though they really shouldn’t. I do my best to get back closer to nature, even though I’m in an urban setting. It happens sometimes in an unexpected way.  

Some time back, I came across a small artisan food producers from Brookfield Farm in Co. Tipperary here in Ireland. They had a stall with their honey and beeswax produce. Beside the delicious honey, they were selling bee hive shares. I really liked the idea, being a part of something so nice and beneficial as keeping bees even if you don’t have the resources to do it yourself. (I am not sure how our neighbours would take to swarming insects out in our backyard…). Therefore, I was so happy when I got one of these hive shares as a present for my recent birthday!

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Brookfield bees

On top of receiving a certificate and some sample hive goodies and being kept informed about all updates about your hive and seasonal farm happenings, you are invited to attend a Honey Celebration – a harvest festival where you can visit your hive and meet your beekeeper (and collect your honey). So, the Sunday before last I did just that.

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Beekeeping paraphernalia!

After some initial car trouble which wasn’t the best start and being late as a result, I eventually arrived to the beautiful Brookfield Farm in the middle of Irish countryside. A lovely welcome in the form of a typical ‘cuppa’ and a piece of cake followed by an interesting introduction into the life of bees. During the afternoon we were shown the apple orchard and farm where they have the best conditions for their work – Ailbhe, the beekeeper and farm owner, has sown about 11 acres of wildflowers just for the bees. A special mixture of seeds for bees blended with winter barley which makes bird feed in the winter. Amazing. I love the fact that there are farmers that are not all about profit but about giving something back to the nature.

Along with the bees, there are also organic pastures for sheep and lamb on the farm. They have a great space for roaming and they seemed pretty happy about it 🙂 We saw some magic well :), a fully-grown mini-forest with its own ecosystem, some bee boxes and bat boxes – wooden structures encouraging animals to move in and make a new home for themselves, contributing to the natural balance on the farm.

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Bee Hotel

The farm borders the beautiful lake Lough Derg and I am sure it must be fun to dip in it at the height of summer (it cannot be colder than the Irish Sea :)) Any other time, you could take a boat and try out your fishing skills, the lake is full of fishies! Oh and at least one swan 🙂

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Mystic Lough Derg

After the interesting farm tour (a mental note though, bring wellies next time), all hive-share owners received their honey. But it was a tough year for the bees. Ireland has 98 native bee species and one third of these species are known to be in decline. It is caused by a combination of factors like habitat loss, declining quality of habitat, general decline in wildflowers within the landscape, pests and disease, pesticides and climate change. Therefore it’s so important to help the bees to do their job.

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Honey from my hive share…

The Department of Environment in Ireland actually took the time and calculated that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy, just in case you were wondering about the cold hard cash. But it’s not about money, it’s about the fact that without bees, there would be no pollination and there would be no food. You can fill in the rest. 

We can all help by doing our bit. We can plant a few more bee-attractive flowers, build a bee hotel or support sustainable beekeepers who look after the bees not just for the profit. Who’s with me??

 

 

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.

movingboxes

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!

teddybears

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.

KeepCup

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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