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Friday, 21 November 2014

Upcycled dish cloths!

During my decluttering sessions for the Minimalism Game (read more here) I came across some white towels that we used when the kids were babies.  I was about to donate them to charity when I decided that actually they would make really good dish cloths if I chopped them up.

Cleaning cloths/ dish cloths are worked hard in my house. I use them all the time as I rarely use kitchen roll and I never use wet wipes. I store them in what used to be a plastic bag dispenser, just behind my sink and after use I hang them to dry on a little clothes airer I have in the kitchen while I am saving them up to put in the wash (I dry them between washes as otherwise they start to get mouldy and smelly).

I have been thinking about replacing my dish cloths for months.  I was considering knitting some but that's as far as I got - the knitting needles didn't come out the cupboard :).  In the mean time lots of my dish cloths have become rags and it really is time to replace them (or at least downgrade some of them to use for the messiest jobs).  So I was quite excited about being able to make my own from something I already had at no cost to us!

Here's how I did it:
  1. I folded the towel lengthwise into 3,  I didn't measure it or anything just folded it over the best I could.  
  2. I then cut down the creases giving myself 3 lengths of towel.  
  3. Keeping the lengths of towel on top of each other I folded them in half and cut down the creases resulting in 6 pieces of towel.
  4. Keeping three layers of towel together I again folded them in half and cut down the creases, resulting in 12 squares of towel.
  5. I then repeated the process with the other towel
  6. To make sure the edges don't fray I zig zag stitched around the edges
  7. I saved the few off cuts I had in a little tub to take for fabric recycling when I next go.
That was it - very simple! I had two towels so I ended up with 24 new cleaning cloths.  Cutting out the cloths only took about 10 minutes, but sewing the edges took a bit a bit longer - around two hours. I think it was two hours and 10 minutes really well spent though.  I avoided the shops and didn't spend any money. I enjoyed doing a bit of sewing, I even got a bit creative and did a bit of freestyle sewing adding a heart to one of the cloths and I made really good use of something I already had.  

The edges aren't perfect as you can see from the pictures but it really doesn't matter and I have found using the cloths really satisfying in a way that it really wouldn't be if I had gone to a shop and bought them!

I haven't actually got rid of any of the old dish cloths yet, but I plan to have a sort through and put the ones in the worst states either in fabric recycling or if they are 100% cotton, I will chop them up and put them on the compost heap.

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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Why You are in the Pocket of Big Recycling

I don't usually publish guest posts on my blog, but I found this one really interesting.  I have the mantra 'reduce, reuse, recycle' (in that order) at the back of my mind, but I generally think in terms of the options available to me i.e. what I can do at home. This article got me thinking about what is going on outside of my home and how the government/ local councils seem pretty focused on recycling. 

Why You are in the Pocket of Big Recycling

Since the 1980s, recycling has been the figurehead of the environmental movement. Politicians keen to court the green vote have championed recycling as a kind of cure-all solution to ‘the environment’, but in our willingness to do the right thing ecologically, have we been taken in by ‘Big Recycling’?  

In the waste reduction hierarchy, which was first introduced by the European Union in 1975 and updated as recently as 2008, reuse is a flatly better option than recycling, and for good reason.

Over the last few years, studies by the Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP) have definitively demonstrated that reusing is both more financially and environmentally prudent than recycling.

So why does recycling continue to be viewed as the best way to be eco-friendly?

The Big Business of Recycling

In an article for Forbes, Amy Westervelt outlines a number of reasons why recycling continues to dominate the environmental movement.

She shows how attitudes to recycling have been manipulated to encourage overconsumption despite having real inefficiencies.

In this way, we can see how recycling has become motivated by money while potentially causing more environmental harm than good.

Recycling Encourages Overconsumption

In her article, Amy claims recycling has: “given the manufacturers of disposable items a way to essentially market overconsumption as environmentalism.”

Fundamentally the idea has been sold to people that it is okay to consume tons of disposable items as long as they recycle them.

Recycling is Motivated by the Economy Rather than Environmental Issues

Furthermore, she explores how recycling has become a “commodity business”.

One example typifies this completely: a few years ago demand for recycled paper declined which resulted in a price drop, but as a result, recyclers warehoused a great deal of cardboard in the hope the prices would rise.

In certain instances where storage became an issue, much of this cardboard was eventually landfilled.

Not All Recyclable Items Are Recycled

Items actually being recycled depends on a number of factors: consumers must actually dispose of the items properly, a collection system must be in place, and the recycling must be deemed to be financially justified.

Westervelt focuses on PVC and bioplastic as case studies. Both of these are indeed recyclable but are not commonly recycled.  When PVC is recycled the resultant material has colour problems and is therefore not marketable. Also, polylactic acid, which is the most common bioplastic, will contaminate the recycling stream and there isn’t enough of it to financially justify recycling it separately. As a result, it is disposed of as waste.

Some Recyclable Materials Cause Harmful Emissions When Recycled

While recycling some materials undoubtedly lowers greenhouse gas emissions, there are others which emit dangerous particles during the recycling process.

In the Forbes article, Westervelt focuses on the environmentally damaging recyclers of glass, plastic and metal. In particular she cited Oakland, USA, where recyclers were named among the city’s top polluters.

Reuse as an Alternative

What is Reuse?

Reuse means passing on an item to be used again in its current form only if it is still in working order or can be restored to working order.

Manufacturing new products, even recycling old products, is a massive drain on the planet's limited resources and pollutes our environment.

Combined with this is the financial expense of disposing waste in landfills, recycling items, and making new items. Reuse is by far and away the most environmentally and economically friendly solution.

Stigma of Reuse

For many, while reuse is on the rise due to austerity, there remains a distinct stigma associated with reusing second hand items as Jane Stephenson, chief executive of Resource Future, asserts in an article in MRW Magazine.

Reuse and the Circular Economy

According to WRAP, a circular economy is: an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

Rufus Hirsch from clearance company Clearance Solutions, frequently deals with clients that need full-scale home removals. “The kind of items that we clear ranges from living room furniture to a kitchen sink” he says, “but thanks to our networks like London Community Resource Network, we can find a new home for almost anything.”

The LondonCommunity Resource Network is responsible for the London Re-use Network which collects and repairs unwanted or broken furniture, appliances and household items. The repaired items are then either sold or donated to community groups, schools and homes. 

Environmental Benefits of Reuse

In 2009, WRAP published Meeting the UK Climate Challenge: The Contribution of Resource Efficiency. This found that increasing reuse could reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions by an average 4 million tonnes CO2 eq per year between 2009 and 2020.

In 2011, WRAP published Benefits of Reuse Case Study: Office Furniture which found that around 200,000 desks are reused in the UK every year. This is approximately 14% of desks that reach the end of their life cycle each year.

In this example, the practice of reusing avoided 3,600 tonnes CO2-eq that year.

Economic Benefits of Reuse

In a Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) study published in 2011, it was found that only 14% of office desks and chairs that reach the end of their life cycle in the UK each year are reused. The rest go to landfills, energy recovery and recycling plants.

A large amount of these items could be reused. If these reusable desks were, in fact, reused and not dumped or recycled, both the financial benefits to businesses and the environmental benefits would be enormous.
Financial Benefits of Reusing for Business

Businesses that reuse as much as possible will have to make fewer waste disposal trips. They will also have less need for raw materials. In the long run, small changes could help to save a substantial amount of money.

Depending on the business, money can be saved through reusing: refillable toner and ink cartridges, wasted printer paper, durable utensils, crockery and tableware (as opposed to disposable styrofoam and plastic equivalents).

Even if these options aren’t available, similar cost-effective results can be achieved with the resource saving Industrial Symbiosis plan.

In this practice, businesses can create collaborative networks where waste is moved free of charge. It works on the premise that the waste of one business is a fundamental aspect of another.

Reuse Encourages Job Creation and Opportunities

In a report from Friends of the Earth called “More jobs, less waste”, favourable statistics suggested that turning waste into a commodity can help the environment and encourage new business plans and job opportunities.

Indeed, if a 70% recycling rate were achieved by 2025 in the UK, nearly 19,000 additional jobs would be created as a result. And most of these additional jobs would be in the reuse and remanufacturing sectors.

If more businesses made strong efforts to reuse rather than recycle, we could witness the rise of a new form of industry based on the utilisation of waste resources for other purposes.

In a recent example of this kind of collaborative enterprise, the waste heat produced by a glass manufacturing plant was used to stimulate food production in a greenhouse. This agreement not only saved vast CO2 emissions, it also saved a lot of money for both companies.

The bottom line on recycling and reuse

While they’re both better options than discarding, recycling seems to have taken centre-stage over its more environmentally friendly counterpart: reusing.

The increased awareness of our responsibility for the environment has been influenced in part by councils insisting on separate collections for different kinds of waste. For example, in Thurrock recycling bags will not be collected if certain types have been mixed.

With this kind of public push that associates the idea of recycling with helping the environment, the feeling of contributing to a worthy cause can become blinding in everyday aspects of life.

Instead of promoting a focus on using sustainable materials that can be reused again and again, we’re still facing products with far too much unnecessary packaging and being encouraged to think that it’s okay because we know how to recycle the plastic.

Buying coffee in a cardboard cup that proudly announces its 100% compostable and recycled history should not be worthy of a well deserved slap on the back. Especially not when the recycling plants that make such drinking containers are actually responsible for C02 emissions that rival industrial power plants. 

Reuse doesn’t always come with the satisfaction of posting items into clearly delineated bin slots or bags because it requires a little bit more effort. But that effort can prevent resources from needlessly entering the waste stream when they could be put to good use.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored guest post

Monday, 17 November 2014

I've lost count...

I'm on day 17 of the Minimalism Game (read more here) and I'm really starting to see the benefits.  I had a good clear out of one of my kitchen cupboards recently and it was so satisfying.  It was overflowing with things I have been saving for recycling and things that I hardly ever use.  Now it only contains things I actually need and they are all much more accessible than they used to be.  Aside from my kitchen cupboard I also had boxes of bits (mainly odd bits or broken bits of toys) that have been sitting around for ages waiting to be sorted out and they are now gone - hooray!

I've lost count of exactly how many things have left the building, but I can work out a rough estimate.

Thanks to the person who pointed out in the comments on this post that you can recycle WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) at the dump, I was reminded that the dump is not the dump these days - it is a recycling centre where you can recycle all kinds of things. I took a trip there the other day and got rid of:
  • 6 bags of garden waste (these have been sitting around waiting to go for quite some time)
  • 1 large bag of fabric waste i.e. old stained or worn out clothes - lets say there were around 30 items in there.
  • An electric toothbrush and a shaver
  • Approx 4 frying pans, 2 biscuit tin boxes and 3 odd bits of metal (one was a stand for a milk frother, but I don't need the stand and it has been clogging up my cupboard for too long).
  • Around 6 cardboard boxes
I was able to recycle all of these at the recycling centre in the relevant bins i.e. metal recycling, fabric recycling, electrical waste, garden waste and paper/ cardboard recycling.   Not only that, the people there were really really helpful and took all the heavy stuff off me and tipped it in the large skips for me, which really made my day.

This all adds up to around 53 things.

I then took 3 bags full of plastic bags to the supermarket. They have a plastic bag recycling bin in the foyer. 

I went to the charity shop and took some clothes, some crayons (my kids no longer use them), some toys and I'm sure there was more but I can't remember what else - lets say around 40 things (if we count all the crayons :) ).

So now we are up to 96.

I had a clear out of kids books and gave 42 books to my kids school.  We still have loads of books and they will hardly be missed.  I also gave the school a bag of toys - including the bag that came to around 11 things

Now we are up to 149 things.

I had already got rid of 70 things before this so that adds up to 219 things.

I also threw away some stuff.

  • random bits of plastic and broken plastic toys from the boxes I mentioned earlier.  
  • leftover bits of kitchen gadgets that had long gone e.g. plastic bases and lids that don't fit anything.  
  • a large plastic empty cling film container that had been in the cupboard for ages as we used to refill it, but we don't use clingfilm any more (read more here)
  • some plastic trays and bowls that I had put in the cupboard because I didn't want to throw them away but actually we never use them and they were taking up too much space in my cupboard.  
  • Some broken pencils.  I did read that pencil shavings can be composted, but I didn't like the idea of putting the outer plastic looking layer of the pencil in the compost bin and I thought about putting them in the wood recycling bin at the dump but there were quite specific rules about what you can put in there and I don't think they wanted pencils.
This added up to approximately 20 things.

So my running total is now 239 things (ish)!

I still have to get rid of another 226 things by the end of the month.  I have managed to get rid of just over half the stuff by just over half way through.  Not too bad, but I am now going to have to work a bit harder to find more stuff to get rid of.  Luckily for me I haven't even been in my garage or loft yet and I have a few more cupboards that could do with thinning out!

Things I have learned so far:

  1. Everything that leaves my house does so with a sigh of relief.  I find it hard to part with things sometimes, often not because I want to hold on to them, but more because I feel I should upcycle them or fix them or reuse them or I might find them useful at some point. The thing is that this can be a bit of a burden sometimes. They make me feel bad that I haven't done something inspired with them whenever I look at them.  Plus they clutter up my house and sometimes mean that I can't quite shut a cupboard or drawer properly because there isn't really room for them in there. In the past I have overstuffed drawers (especially in my kids rooms) to the point where it ruins the drawer - now that is just ridiculous to ruin the furniture because we have too much stuff. Letting go of things actually feels really good and I am really enjoying the more streamlined areas where I have had a good declutter.
  2. My local council recycles more than I thought! I have been perusing my local council website for information about recycling and have been pleasantly surprised to find that they have started providing local recycling points for things they didn't used to recycle.  They haven't really advertised this though and if I hadn't have looked at the website I never would have known.  Also as I said earlier the dump isn't the dump - it is a recycling centre.
So actually getting rid of stuff helps to increase the lifespan of my cupboard and drawers so they don't get overfilled. It is more of an enjoyable experience to use cupboards which only contain things I need and not a whole load of other stuff I haven't used in years and everything that has been recycled or given away is now being put to better use than they were by me!  This is a great challenge and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! 

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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cross county thinking...

It is day 8 of the Minimalism Game (read more here) and I have not followed the rules at all, but I did say I wasn't going to. I have got rid of some stuff and I have been brave about chucking things in the bin more so than usual.  I have even replaced some of the really very knackered stuff around my house with new stuff and repurposed or chucked the old stuff e.g. my dish drainer - I'm ashamed to admit that I actually did a home exchange with it there and it is also rusted through and looking horrendous - it went in the bin (should it have gone in metal recycling?  It was covered in white plastic...).  I don't know how many years we had it, but I honestly can't remember the last time I bought one, we must have had it for years and years. I have also given some stuff away to a friend - some nappies we no longer need, a bath mitt and a kids rocking chair that my kids have grown out of.

I have made a large pile of stuff to go one way or another and it is waiting to be dispersed. 

They fall into the following categories:

  1. To be recycled at the dump - an old electric toothbrush and razor and some bags of garden waste and some old frying pans
  2. To be recycled at the supermarket - they recycle plastic bags and have fabric recycling bins in the car park (although fabric can also be recycled at the dump). Although I do most of my shopping plastic bag free, plastic bags still find their way into our home...
  3. To be sold - I have a long list of things to be sold and need to get around to listing them for sale!
  4. To be given away - I am hosting a clothes swap party next week and might try to give a few other bits and pieces away then. Otherwise it will be a trip to the charity shop or listing on Freecycle/ Freegle.
One of the things in my big pile of things to go is bag of jar lids.  My local council doesn't recycle them and I was planning on putting them in the metal recycling at the tip, but I'm not really sure if they are the right place for them. I have another idea though, my parents live in a different county to me and this morning I quizzed my mum about what they can recycle where they live.  Turns out they can recycle jar lids.  Usefully they can also recycle other things I can't recycle i.e. plastic containers, so I will now be saving those things for when I visit my parents and will recycle them there!

So far the following has left my home: one broken weighing scales, a dish drainer, a kids rocking chair, lots of nappies and swim nappies, a bath mitt, 3 broken glasses, a broken glass water bottle (they have been sitting on my kitchen window ledge for ages), some old plastic containers (before I found out I can recycle them at my parents - I chucked them in the bin), a broken toy and 5 egg trays, 10 random bits including a sticker and broken bits of toys, a clay tealight holder that my youngest made at nursery (it was a bit broken and crumbling to bits..) and about 10 items of makeup which were at least 10 years old.

In total so far I have got rid of around 70 things (if you count each nappy individually, which I didn't but 70 sounds good), so I am ahead of schedule - woohoo!  I only have another 390 things to go!!

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