Monday, 23 May 2016

When is wasting stuff a good thing?

Trying to go zero waste is a great challenge to take on and a brilliant direction to head towards, but in real life actually creating absolutely zero waste is not achievable and I don't think it is always desirable. In some circumstances waste can be a good thing. For example:

  1. Let your kids waste food. It might seem like a waste in the short term if every time you offer them a carrot they throw it across the room, or just play with it instead of eating it, but kids need to be offered a new food a number of times before they will get to know and love it. It might not work with every food type (or every child), but the wider variety of food you can get your kids to eat the better. Aside from the health benefits it means that they are more likely to be able to take advantage of the food that is in season, cheaper and needs using up the most at any particular time. 
  2. Try new foods yourself. There are foods that I really didn't like as a child that now I am an adult I quite like. Also every so often I come across a food I have never tried before and I give it a go.  You will have the same advantages as above if you can broaden your range of food choices.
  3. Let your children get creative! Most of your kids artwork and other creations might end up straight in the recycling, compost or even in the bin, but if your children want to make up recipes, design models or teach themselves how to knit for example they will learn far more quickly from their mistakes than they will from closely guided successes.
  4. Make mistakes! There is something very powerful about learning to do things for yourself as you can control the process, ingredients, the packaging, where you get the parts from and so on. Making mistakes is part and parcel of this learning process though and there will most likely be things going in the bin before you get the hang of it. For example it took me several attempts before I mastered the art of making yoghurt but now that I have I make it all the time and instead of chucking hundreds and hundreds of yoghurt pots in the bin I don't put any in the bin.
  5. Use paper to communicate if needed! These days there are so many ways to communicate, that going paperless can make a lot of sense. However if you have got an important message to spread it might be that paper is the best way to do it. Not everyone is glued to a screen and even if they are it might be hard to get your message to the exact people you need to. For example in my neighbourhood there is a hedgehog monitoring project and I found out about it through the local newsletter. Some people would have just put the newsletter straight in the recycling, but enough people have joined in with the project and found out about other local info to make it worth while!
Don't be afraid to waste stuff if needed, sometimes it is the only way to learn, discover new things and communicate good ideas. There are always ways to limit the waste while you are doing it, but don't let worries about waste hold you back!

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Thursday, 19 May 2016

How to avoid these 10 zero waste fails

My household is not a zero waste household by any stretch of the imagination, but it is most definitely a reduced waste one as we have strived to throw away less and less over time. It doesn't always go to plan though and I've put together a list of how to avoid these easy to make zero waste fails!
  1. Food left in the oven accidentally overnight. Sometimes I put bread dough in a warm oven to leave it to rise or I leave food in it after I have finished cooking to keep it warm but then for whatever reason it gets forgotten about and left in there overnight. It is so frustrating because it is such a waste of food and money! Nowadays if I leave food in the oven after I've cooked it I set the timer so it will beep and remind me to take the food out of the oven.
  2. Freezer door problems. Freezer doors don't beep like fridge doors do when they haven't been shut properly. Sometimes something obstructs a freezer door from closing and it can get left open by accident. Always make sure there are no obstructions that could prevent the freezer door from shutting properly (a particular problem for us was things being stored in the freezer door space). If you are likely to forget stick a sign on the freezer to make sure you will do it!
  3. Putting leftovers in the fridge and then not getting around to eating them in time. I have found most of the time it is far better to freeze leftovers straight away because then you can use them again at your leisure. 
  4. Eating stuff because you don't want it to go to waste. I'm a firm believer that if I don't need it or want it, then eating it is just as much of a waste as putting it in the compost. I try to avoid making too much by weighing out things like rice and pasta. I try to avoid serving too much, by not putting all of it on plates straight away, so if there are leftovers they are less likely to be scraped off the plates. If there is leftover food on the plate though I put it in the compost bin or sometimes (depending how much of it there is) I put it in a container for the next day.
  5. Putting things in the recycling that probably shouldn't go in there. I feel better about putting something in the recycling than in the bin, but it is really important to follow the rules about recycling. This is because otherwise it can contaminate a batch and means that the whole batch needs to be chucked away - a massive waste and so upsetting if you have gone the extra mile to recycle! Play it safe by following these recycling rules:
    1. Follow your councils rules! Only put the stuff in the recycling that the council says you can and make sure you put things in the right places - this means using the right bins for the right things e.g. separating out the different types of waste as per your councils instructions. For ages I thought I was following the rules by putting batteries in a separate bag, but I put them in with my paper and card recycling, when I was meant to leave them on top of the bin. I really hope it didn't cause any problems!
    2. Make sure it is clean! Before you put it in the recycling wash out jars and tins and avoid putting paper and cardboard that has any food remains on it in there.
    3. Double check that it is what you think it is! What seems like paper and card actually may have thin layers of plastic in it and often wrapping paper can't be recycled especially if it is covered in glitter.
  6. Composting stuff that shouldn't be composted. Only natural fibres are biodegradable and can be put on your compost heap - synthetic fibres should be sent to landfill. This means that if there is a possibility your dryer lint, the contents of your hoover or a holey piece of fabric might contain synthetic fibres then it is best to throw them away. On the other hand if you know that they only contain natural fibres, you can put them on your compost heap. Getting to know what fabrics your carpet, clothes and soft furnishings are made of will help with this!
  7. Trying to do it all at once and feeling overwhelmed. At times I have found some zero waste activities completely out of my comfort zone. I think the best way to approach being zero waste is to take it one step at a time and if something seems like too much at any point stop doing it. Do the easy things first, congratulate yourself on your successes and come back to the things that seem tricky another time. It is important not to get too overwhelmed as otherwise it is much more likely that you will feel like quitting altogether.
  8. Rushing out and buying the kit. Before you start buying reusable bottles, bamboo toothbrushes and reusable lunch boxes, spend some time reading a few reviews. I prefer to go for plastic free options, but glass breaks and metal dents and if they don't last that long it isn't really a zero waste option in the end. You have to find the material that is right for you! Biodegradable brushes may have non-biodegrable bristles and if something says BPA free, but still contains plastic, it doesn't mean it is necessarily safe to use. Also take a look around your own home to see what you can make use of already before rushing out and buying something new. 
  9. I forgot! It is so easy to forget to take your bags to the shops, to forget to say no straw please, to forget to take a reusable mug with you and so on. With the reusable bag problem there are various solutions - leave them everywhere you might need one and replace them when you are done. You could do the same with the mugs and the straws. Also I mainly shop in local shops and I have made such a big deal about using my own bags I would actually feel embarrassed to buy stuff from them without them now. 
  10. They forgot! You asked for no bag or no straw but you got given one anyway. Visual prompts help - I sometimes take my kids plastic straws that they got from parties (but rarely use) and show them to the waiter or waitress when I ask for no straws please (it helps to remind me too!).
What are your zero waste fails? Have any of these things happened to you? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments below!

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Monday, 16 May 2016

What a shock and a plan of action!

I decided to go on a spontaneous litter pick recently in my local area after finding someone had shoved a large empty plastic bottle in my hedge and although it did a good job of inspiring me I was pretty unimpressed about finding it there. I couldn't understand why someone would think it was ok to do that!

At first glance the roads in my area look neat and tidy and normally I don't really notice litter. I looked a bit closer and I soon found an empty plastic bag, which I picked up and within around 15 minutes had filled it up to the brim. I was really shocked and surprised at how much rubbish I had found.

Have you ever been on a litter pick in your local area or near where you work? I challenge you to go on one today - I reckon you too will be shocked at the amount of rubbish you find!

If you are wondering why you should bother, I have a few reasons for you:
  1. Rubbish can kill animals - either because they mistake it for food and fill their bellies with it or because they get caught up in it. 
  2. Plastic rubbish can't biodegrade. Instead it degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, gets into our land, our waterways, our food and eventually back to us.
  3. It looks unsightly - who wants to look at a street full of rubbish?
Rubbish littering the streets is quite frankly rubbish and after your litter pick there are a few more quick easy actions you can take to reduce litter further in your area:
  1. Don't drop litter! This is pretty obvious and I can't imagine anyone who reads this blog would intentionally but it is easy to drop it by accident. Light rubbish can fall or get blown out of bins, pockets, cars or bags without anyone noticing - try to secure your rubbish so it doesn't fly away!
  2. If you notice any problem areas phone your local council and tell them. They may come out and clear an area that is particularly bad or consider installing rubbish bins (if there aren't any already).  I did this after my walk mentioning the lack of bins and the council said they will send someone to have a look, but am now wondering if bins cause more problems than they solve because the litter isn't secured like it is in residential bins.
  3. Challenge anyone you see littering (in a nice way and if you feel it is safe to do so) - they might think twice about doing it again if they think they will get questioned or possibly even fined. 
  4. Get into the habit of noticing litter, reporting hot spots and picking up it as you go about your daily life.
Making a positive change like this to your local area won't take a lot of time and effort and can have a big impact even if there is just one of you doing it, so get ready, set, litter pick!

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Friday, 13 May 2016

The papers say I don't use toilet paper, shampoo and toothpaste!

Hi there and if you have come to my blog from one of the newspaper articles published recently - welcome! I wrote this article when I named the Inspirational Saver of the Year and they did a press release about it and I was in all the papers online.

I was in The Daily MailThe Mirror, and the Mirror again, Money AOLThe SunThe ExpressThe ArgusThe Daily StarThe Daily Star again and apparently the Metro (offline) too. I was also on Juice FM, BBC Radio Hereford and BBC Radio Shropshire.

More recently I am a finalist in the MAD Blog Award and I have been in the papers again - the Mirror,  the Mail,  the Argus and on a Danish website here. I was also on BBC Sussex on Monday.  If you have a few seconds to spare I would really appreciate it if you vote for my blog Eco Thrifty Living to win in the Thrifty category here. I felt it would be useful to republish this article to clear up any misunderstandings! 

If you have been reading the articles about me, you probably imagine that I don't use toilet paper, shampoo or toothpaste and neither does the rest of my family either. Well actually I do use all three of those and so do the rest of my family.

  • I (and I alone) spent one month not using toilet paper because I felt it was very wasteful and not good for the planet and wanted to see if I could live without it! I decided after that month that for the time being the answer to that question was no I couldn't!
  • I (and I alone) tried cleaning my teeth with bicarbonate of soda for a couple of months. My teeth felt very clean, but I had to have a filling at the end of the two months and worried that it might have been because of the bicarb, I stopped using it. I have no conclusive evidence that, it was the reason for the filling though!
  • My husband has always used shampoo, my kids don't have shampoo on their hair (they have great hair and have no need for it) and I have experimented with going without it on and off over the last few years.

The main reason I tried these swaps was because of their impact on the environment (not to save money) and the dubious ingredients in some of them. I have spent time trying to concentrate my efforts on going plastic free and zero waste and these for me were the tricky ones, the ones I have tried giving up but I haven't found something that works for me yet. If you are interested you can read about the many ways I have tried to reduce plastic in my life here.

I have managed to save money in lots of ways though, ways that have given me a better quality, healthier and happier way of life and they are all listed here

An example of that is wearing secondhand clothes. Some people might think that shopping in charity shops for clothes is fine when it is 'just for fun' but not when you can't afford to buy new clothes and that labelling that eco is just poncy. Well actually buying clothes in charity shops is better than buying new ones because:

  1. New clothes are filled with chemicals like dyes, antibacterial agents, anti wrinkle chemicals and so on. The reason they recommend washing new clothes before you let babies wear them is to get rid of some of these harmful chemicals before they come in contact with their skin. Why stop at babies, should the rest of us be subjecting our skin to these chemicals? Second hand clothes in contrast have been worn and washed a few times and have less of these chemicals left hanging around.
  2. Manufacturing new clothes means growing cotton, which is water and pesticide intensive and the people growing the cotton work for little pay in dangerous conditions. Or it means creating synthetic fibres which come from fossil fuels and when you wash them send out plastic fibres into our waterways and ulitmately contribute towards the problems of plastic in our oceans.
  3. When the fabrics are treated i.e. dyed or stone washed or whatever else is done to them, water is used and polluted by these chemicals. The workers again often work in unsafe conditions and for little pay.
  4. Workers suffer yet again when the fabrics are manufactured into garments. With the rise of fast fashion, some workers have been forced to work in buildings that are unsafe for long hours to meet short deadlines - read a little about the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh if you don't know what I'm talking about.
  5. We have overflowing wardrobes in this country. New clothes are so cheap in some places that actually they can make charity shops look expensive! Lots of clothes go unworn though and either languish in the back of wardrobes or end up in landfill because they haven't been made to last. Instead of spending money on cheap new poor quality clothes, I would much prefer to buy better quality secondhand ones and at the same time give money to charity!
Fuelling the fast fashion industry is terrible for the environment, supports companies that pay workers very little money and expect them to work in poor conditions and actually may be directly damaging to our health due to the chemicals added to new clothes.

Although I was advised to never read the comments on the articles published recently, I just couldn't help myself! A lot of the comments are aimed at the misleading titles of the articles, which don't make sense in isolation anyway, but some were valid. Someone said that I was a middle class woman living like a poor person (or words to that effect) and someone said that they didn't like the eco tag attached to what I am doing as it is just what people who don't have much money have to do anyway. Other comments pointed out that I shouldn't have been spending £11,000 a year on that stuff anyway.

When I started this blog I was in a pretty unhappy situation. I wanted to leave my job and be a stay at home mum, but I felt trapped. I had a steady job and there was a recession going on. If I quit my job without another job to go to there was no guarantee that I would get another one if I needed it. Although my husband also worked going from two salaries to one was quite scary as we had relied on our two salaries before having two kids and even more so afterwards. It wasn't a very sensible idea to quit.  So I didn't I stayed at work for a year more than I would have liked while I worked out ways to spend a lot less money than I was previously. I was so delighted when I realised that not only could I save myself bucket loads of money but the ways I was saving the money was better for me and better for the environment (like buying secondhand clothes). 

It is so easy to feel trapped in a job because you need the money, but by being eco-friendly and thrifty some people may find they don't need as much money as they thought they did. For those who are already living as frugally as possible on tight budgets, it is worthwhile knowing that it is better for your health and the environment to buy secondhand clothes than cheap new ones or to use inexpensive homemade cleaning products than cheap toxic ones.

To address the £11,000 a years worth of savings - some things I would have spent money on and some things I wouldn't have. For example I probably would never have spent over £1000 on books a year, my kids and I would probably just have read less books - my figure was based on what I would be spending on books if I bought the amount of books we currently borrow from the library. Swapping things, buying them secondhand, borrowing them and getting them for free on sites like Freecycle mean I now have access to more stuff like clothes and books and things in general than I did when I bought them new. I am living a more abundant life now than I was when I was earning money!

Thanks for taking the time to read this and please feel free to come back and visit again!