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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Purple cauliflowers and a water pistol!

Since finishing my year of eco challenges, I still haven't stepped foot in a supermarket and when I did my food shopping the other day I found two quite unexpected things at my local grocers - purple cauliflowers and a water pistol! I've never seen either of these things there before and in the spirit of adventure I brought one of the cauliflowers home with me.

I had told my local grocer about being interviewed on the radio (find out more here) and he listened to it in the shop. When I got to the bit about not using toilet paper (find out more here and here)  he thought it was hilarious and rushed out and bought a water pistol.  I explained that I no longer use water pistols, but it did make me laugh!

The cauliflower tasted just like cauliflower strangely enough and the kids thought it was great. It definitely made a colourful addition to our dinner!

I don't think I would have found these things in the supermarket somehow and I'm still a big fan of local shopping!

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Monday, 13 October 2014

Corn picking fun!

Going to meet a group of strangers can sometimes be a bit unnerving, but there is something about volunteering that breaks the ice. Everyone has something to do and a common purpose. Ever since I heard about the gleaning network some time ago, I have wanted to go and help, but I wasn't able to because I had my 4 year old at home.  He has started school now though and a couple of weeks ago I set off to join a group of strangers in a field to pick some corn!

The gleaning network is made up of volunteers who go to farms at the end of the season and glean fruit and veg which would otherwise go to waste on the fields.  The fruit and veg is then redistributed to charities.

The reasons why food would go to waste on farms are varied, but the farmer on the farm we went to a couple of weeks ago explained that supermarkets have specialist software which processes all kinds of information about customers and environmental factors and it gives them a very good idea of how much fruit or veg to order from the farmers to stop them from over ordering. Unfortunately the farmers don't know what the supermarkets will order when they are sowing their crops and have to do a bit of guesswork.

There were over 20 volunteers joining in the corn picking fun the other day and between us we managed to save a staggering 2.5 tonnes of sweetcorn (approx), which is 31,250 portions of sweetcorn!  The corn got donated via the London and Brighton branches of Fareshare, Community Food Enterprises and Food For All to various charities.

It was a fun day.  I really enjoyed all the fresh air and found corn picking quite relaxing. People were friendly and we sat down to a communal lunch having all brought something to share.  I learned a few things about picking corn, like exactly how to break the stalk so that some of the outer leaves of the corn come off.  The trick is to not take too many of the leaves off as once they come off the corn starts to dry out.  We were encouraged to try the sweetcorn raw and it tasted delicious.

I took some sweetcorn home with me for myself and gave several away. I was going to put some on my foodsharing group (read more here), but never quite got that far as I managed to give quite a few away on the school run!  At home that evening we enjoyed some seriously yummy corn on the cob (very well earned I think) and I also cooked some more corn on the cob, which I cut off the cob and froze for later use.  We had some of the frozen corn last night and it was still incredibly tasty.  I will definitely be doing that again next year when corn is in season!

If you are interested in finding out more about the gleaning network or want to volunteer to help them, then get in touch by either emailing (Sussex gleaning) or (UK gleaning) or filling out this online form here.

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Spreading the word!

I've never been on the radio before, not even on a phone in.  So on my way to BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey yesterday I was feeling pretty nervous. I was going in to talk about My Year of Eco Challenges, which recently came to an end (read more here) and I had a 20 minute morning slot with Danny Pike.

I asked around on Twitter and in real life for tips on how to survive a radio interview and had various suggestions - imagine it going well, gargle with salt water before hand, don't look up the listening figures...

These suggestions really helped as well as lots of lovely supportive comments from friends and family.  Another thing that helped me put it into perspective was the knowledge that I wasn't the important thing about this radio interview. The reasons I did the challenges and getting that message across was the important thing. Before I went in I went over and over the facts and the figures about why I did my challenges.  

Things like

  • Families throw away an average of £60 worth of food a month and food thrown into landfill gives off methane - a greenhouse gas.  Couple that with the fact that food bank usage has trebled in recent years and it makes absolutely no sense to throw food away.
  • Fast fashion has seen shorter and shorter turnarounds from clothing being designed to being on the shop floor. The pressure to meet short deadlines has compromised workers safety with reports of workers being locked in factories until they finish their work.  In April 2013 the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh collapsed and many workers died in this disaster.  
  • According to this Guardian article here the 'Sumatran Rainforests will mostly disappear within 20 years' and part of the reason for this is toilet paper.  I also did a bit of reading up on whether some brands of toilet paper where more sustainable than others and whether FSC certified ones were ok.  There is a very interesting article here which questions the reliability of the FSC certification and points out there are various different versions of it.  Things can be 100% FSC certified or they might say FSC mix, which means that not all of the product is FSC only some of it. There is another category as well - FSC recycled.  
On air, I pretty much forgot to impart any of these facts, except the one about the rainforests disappearing - retrospectively I was kicking myself quite a bit for this :). 

It was really interesting the kinds of questions I was being asked by Danny and then afterwards what people calling in had to say. One of the questions Danny asked of me and later of a caller was something along the lines of that doesn't someone building a new coal fired power station on the other side of the world make all the effort I have gone to fairly pointless? I said that I feel really strongly that I am responsible for my actions regardless of what else is going on in the world.  If I had my chance again I would have expanded on this.  
  • Basically I think that creating, buying, chucking and even recycling items which are not renewable, sustainable,  biodegradable and /or the disposal of can be toxic to humans, animals and the environment is fundamentally wrong.
  • If we were talking about any other issue where most would agree the behaviour is fundamentally wrong for example bullying or rape or murder, they and/ or the system they are a part of would try to put a stop to these negative behaviours.  So why aren't we doing this when it comes to the environment and why do people think it is ok to use the argument - well everyone else is doing it so why shouldn't I? The reason is that our culture and systems are actually all geared up to encourage these destructive activities - things need to change drastically!!!
  • Individuals do make a difference and we can choose to make things better or we can choose to make things worse. If I want to I could choose to leave a significant legacy of rubbish and pollution behind me. For example lets say I consumed 1 plastic bottle of milk every week over the course of my lifetime and I lived for 80 years and all those bottles went into landfill. I would leave behind me 4160 milk bottles and they would still be there hundreds of years later. According to this website here it takes plastic bottles 450 years to biodegrade! Just one more plastic bottle a week and my legacy would be 8320 plastic bottles hanging around for 450 years.. One less plastic bottle a week and I would leave 0 plastic bottles behind for 0 years.
  • By changing my habits, the benefits haven't just been to the environment. I have gained massively - all the savings I made meant I didn't have to keep working. Many of the changes I have made have improved my health and happiness. As far as I'm concerned it is a win win situation!
  • There is a chance that we are not all doomed.  I want to take that chance and grasp it with both hands, I want a future for my children, in fact one of my greatest wishes in life is to one day meet my great grand children and I want my great grandchildren get to meet their great grandchildren..  I think the best way to inspire other people to help me achieve that future is by making the changes that we all need to make myself.  If someone can argue to themselves that there is no point making an effort because no-one else is, then they can equally argue to themselves that they had better make an effort because they can see other people around them doing it!
Other points Danny kept coming back to were - didn't that take too much time and effort ?  Well if given the choice between doing the easy but fundamentally wrong thing and the slightly more effort right thing what would you do? Plus not everything I did took more time and effort, in fact some things were easier e.g. I found clothes swapping a much easier way to gain new clothes than trawling the shops for hours and trying on lots of clothes.

Danny was intrigued by the amount of money I had saved and earned from being eco-friendly and thrifty and felt it was a reasonable salary - he asked me if I felt the money I saved was a good enough argument for other people doing the same.  My answer to this is that everyone's financial circumstances are different and individuals would save different amounts of money on things depending on what they usually spend on them in the first place. I can only say what I have saved, which I have detailed here.

If you want to have a listen click here. It is only available for the next 6 days, so you'll have to be quick!! If you have any feedback or questions about it, please let me know.  I would love to hear what you think so I can know what to do better next time (if there is a next time :) )

One thing I took away from the interview apart from wishing I had said various different things slightly differently, was that they take pictures of you if you go into a radio studio - I wasn't expecting that and wasn't prepared (hence the terrible photo!!!)

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The end of My Year of Eco Challenges!!!

My Year of Eco Challenges has come to an end!!!  It's been an amazing year, full of adventures, changed habits and money saved. I've pushed myself to the limits in some ways and still have so much more to do in others.

My year would not have been what it was without the support of my family and friends both real and virtual, so I want to say a big thank you to all of you!! In particular I want to say thank you so much to:

  • my husband for encouraging, questioning and surviving My Year of Eco Challenges - I couldn't have done it without you!
  • my kids who have happily joined in with many of my challenges (although often without realising - they don't know any different!)
  • everyone who sponsored me on the DoNation site and managed to win me (i.e. my husband) a years supply of icecream (read more here)!
  • all my Twitter friends for all the great chats/ tips and support on Twitter  particularly during my slow fashion month and in the run up to and during Plastic Free July and Zero Waste Week 
  • everyone who joined in my slow fashion challenge 
  • everyone who wrote about me and my challenges throughout the year - I really appreciated it!
  • all those who supported me in real life, 
  • my readers and the people who leave comments - it is great to know I'm not just writing to myself :)
So I bet you are wondering where I am at with all my challenges now.  Which ones I will stick with and which ones I will ditch at the first opportunity?? Well here's a little summary of whats going on:

Just to recap, in case you missed it, each month from September 2013 to September 2014 I set myself a new challenge and in the order I set them and how they went they were as follows (click on the titles to go the original blog post about each challenge):

1. No shampoo for a year - I suffered through a lot of greasy hair to start with, but washing with olive oil soap seems to be doing the trick now!  I will carry on using olive oil soap and have no current plans to return to shampoo.

2. No supermarkets for 11 months. This has become a way of life and I much prefer local shopping to supermarket shopping.  That said I'm not promising to stay away from supermarkets all the time.  I may pop into one occasionally in future.

3. Buying nothing new or secondhand for myself for 10 months (within certain rules listed on my blog) - I have stuck to this.  It has been easy most of the time - I have done clothes swaps when I needed new clothes, made do with things I have, continued to use things that look less than perfect after having been repaired.  I can't lie though - I am looking forward to buying some new things now my year has ended, mainly to replace things that are falling apart. I'm not in a great rush though and I don't plan to buy anything unless I think I really need it...

4. Giving something away each day for 9 months - I haven't given something specific each day, it has become more of an attitude - I look for opportunities to give and it isn't always things, it is also my time e.g. picking up litter, releasing a book into the wild via, helping people out with lifts when they need them (e.g. school pick ups), giving away food via my foodsharing group, giving notepads, pens and scarves to homeless people and volunteering. I really like giving when I can and I definitely plan to keep going with this indefinitely.

5. Doing the rubbish diet (just for one month) - This inspired me to buy a compost bin which composts all food waste including cooked foods, fish and meat and I am so happy I can divert the majority of my food waste from landfill.

6. No toilet paper (for one month). It was good while it lasted, but I couldn't hack it long term. This is something that is in the back of my mind though and I can imagine I will have another attempt at avoiding toilet paper again at some point in the future... 

7. Starting a food sharing revolution in my local area. Food bank usage has tripled in recent years, the average family throws away around £60 worth of food a month and food in landfill gives off methane a greenhouse gas - it makes no sense to me to throw food away down the street from someone who might desperately need it! I have around 40 members in my foodsharing group and have given and received food and drink and veg seeds via it. I have also set up a bulk buying group via it to buy organic free range eggs from a local farm - they sell 30 eggs for £3.50 (in the supermarket it is around £2 for 6 organic free range eggs). I have been working to advertise it, but more work is needed and this is ongoing!  

8. Mend 5 things at least and prepare for Plastic Free July (lasted one month) - I did the mending part and mended more than 5 things! This was a one month challenge, but I will continue to mend things when they need mending!

9. Slow fashion challenge (lasted one month) - I set myself the  challenge to create something in fashion from things I already had - I made a dungarees dress out of a skirt, a pair of jeans and a pair of my kids worn out dungarees.  I also challenged other people to join me in slowing down fashion throughout the month and gave them a range of challenges to choose from. This also got republished in the Guardian - see here.  I would like to do this again next year at the same time - it was great to have other bloggers join in and to see if this is something that could grow further...

10. Plastic Free July (lasted one month) I attempted to go plastic free for July - I gave up trying to be fully plastic free part way through as it was just too hard! To go fully plastic free you need to give up teabags (most contain plastic), jars - lids contain plastic, tins and cans - they are plastic lined, wrappers that contain plastic layers, glass bottles with plastic pourers or plastic in their lids....  I have done a lot in the name of going plastic free though which I have gone into detail about here.  For the time being I am as single use plastic free as I am comfortable going, but I will keep making changes where I can and I will give Plastic Free July another go next year!

11. A month off blogging, Twitter and blog related Facebook - I mostly stayed away from twitter and blog related stuff, not entirely, but I had a good break from the blog.  I was meant to reduce my smartphone usage, but I didn't do too well with that!

12. Zero Waste Week In my last challenge of the year, I pledged to throw nothing away for the first week of September! I At the end of the week I didn't quite I managed to fit most of the rubbish I had generated during the week into an icecream tub – see here: here

At the beginning of the year I didn't have a particular plan for which challenges I would take on, I just decided month by month. Over the year though two main goals have shone through - one of which was to reduce the rubbish my household sends to landfill and the other of which was to reduce what we put in our recycling bins.  There have been other reasons for doing the challenges I did as well, both from an environmental and a monetary perspective and there have been many benefits along the way.  At the end of the year I can say that:

  • We have seriously reduced our rubbish and recycling and in the last six weeks my household has only filled about 1 black bag with rubbish.  It takes two black bags to fill up our wheely bin so at that rate we will only need to put it out to be emptied about once every three months!!! The frequency at which we have to put our recycling bins out has massively reduced too especially since we started getting milk in reusable glass bottles from the milk man, have been buying dried goods in bulk and having been making food from unpackaged (or limited packaging) raw ingredients wherever possible.  
  • As far as money saved goes, doing the challenges has definitely contributed to the over £11,000 worth of yearly savings I have made which I have gone into detail about here).
I'm now at an interesting time in my life - my younger son has started school full time and I have no kids at home and no job...  It's time to decide what I will do next.

So what should I do next?? What do you guys think - any suggestions???

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