Category Archives: In the kitchen

STYLISH ALTERNATIVE TO PLASTIC STRAWS

It’s a must-do but is so easy to forget: always refuse plastic drink straws. If you’re unaware of the environmental impact caused by the trillions of single-use plastic drink straws that are discarded after one use and if you have missed the fantastic campaigns such as One Less Straw and others, then please have a look at the links below. A fun and stylish alternative are straws made from metal, bamboo, paper, glass or even silicone. They are easy to take with you when out and about with friends or on holiday. You can have a selection at home to show off your non-plastic credentials. The ones I bought (from local Stroud Valleys Project shop) are stainless steel and come with a dinky little brush for cleaning. I see that they are also available on Amazon from about £5 for 4 straws. Have a great summer everyone!

More Info:

  • Plastic Pollution Coalition – 500 million plastic straws per day are discarded in the US alone
  • One Less Straw – a campaign started in 2009 by a couple of kids. It’s been going round the world and is a sizable non-profit organisation now. On their website are resources and information. If you are brave enough to watch it, have a look at the video about a giant sea turtle having an entire plastic straw removed from its body through the nostril by some brave rescuers. You will never use a plastic straw ever again!
  • Dive Planit – on why plastic straws seriously suck
  • Be Straw Free campaign
  • Netivist campaign

ONE YEAR – ONE BAG OF PLASTIC

We have just reached our first anniversary of creating a plastic-free household. During the past year we concentrated mainly on unpackaged food, cleaning materials, toiletries and plastic-free clothing. We have collected every scrap of plastic packaging that we have accidentally, or otherwise, brought into the house. This has amounted to roughly one large bagful of plastic packaging from medical supplies, items that we bought which had hidden plastic packaging inside, presents that were given to us, and also from items that seemed unavoidable. Considering that UK households produce an average of 56kg of plastic packaging waste a year, our one bag weighing no more than a couple of pounds represents a great achievement.

In reality, our single-use plastic footprint is much larger than the household figures measured by Defra and in our case, it is bigger than the single bagful collected over the course of a year. Much of our plastic waste is created outside the home, for example in the workplace, at school, in restaurants, at the petrol station, at the hairdressers, at the gym, and by pursuing hobbies and other pastimes that take us outside the home. In the supply chain of the goods I conscientiously buy ‘unpackaged’, there are unknown quantities of plastic packaging. We are not the only ones in the dark: at a recent talk given by Tesco on food waste, which I attended in Oxford, I learned that all of the large supermarket retailers “currently don’t understand or know enough” about the plastic packaging waste in their supply chains. This means that the plastic packaging that each of us is ultimately responsible for is not just in our bins at home.

Over this past year I have read report after report, attended events, talked to many people and the story is the same everywhere. Most people think there is too much plastic in their lives and that we should recycle more and develop new materials to replace plastic. However, few talk about the one solution that is surely staring us in the face. The one solution that could prevent further environmental crises and help restore local communities is ethical consumption. Ethical consumption means that you choose only what you need, what has been paid for fairly, what has been made to last, and what has been produced sustainably without hurting people, animals or the earth. I might not be a shining example of the perfect ethical consumer yet, but I am immensely interested in becoming one. It seems to be one of the few things in life that is actually within my power!

Read More:

  • Waste and Resource Statistics_2016 by the Department for Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • Plastics_Market_Situation_Report_2016  by UK based WRAP, the world leaders in helping organisations achieve greater resource efficiency. Between 2010 and 2015 in England alone, WRAP initiatives reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 million tonnes (Mt), which is equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Portugal.
  • How did I calculate 56kg of plastic packaging per UK household? I used the most up-to-date figures provided in the two reports above which are for 2014 (new data is collected every two years, so the data for 2016 should be available soon). I applied this to the total number of households in the UK in 2014 as provided by the Office for National Statistics.
  • Article on Ethical Consumerism by Tania Lewis first publishd in 2012

HOMEMADE HUMMUS (and a little spiel on food cans)

I am somewhat addicted to hummus. It’s great as a starter or party finger food with carrot, cucumber and celery sticks. I love it on toast with sliced tomatoes, a dribble of olive oil, salt and pepper. A perfect light lunch!

Homemade hummus tastes slightly different from shop-bought hummus in little plastic pots. To avoid single-use plastic packaging for the recipe below, your best option would be to source unpackaged dried chickpeas. Since this is difficult for the majority of us in the UK, the recipe is made with off-the-shelf chickpeas in cans. Nearly all food and drink cans are lined with a plastic coating but I cannot be certain that all chickpea cans are. Food cans in the UK are made from steel or aluminium from over 50% recycled material and are fully recyclable. The majority are lined with epoxy resins to prevent acidic food like tomatoes from reacting with the metal. A building block of epoxy resin is Bisphenol A (BPA) which is a controversial ingredient in plastic products. If we bear in mind the environmental impact of industrial packaging of any kind, unpackaged dried chickpeas would be the best option for the environment and well worth sourcing if you use them as regularly as I do. I am fortunate that I am able to buy unpackaged chickpeas, spices and olive oil.

I make hummus in a food processor and keep it in the fridge for a few days. You could choose all organic ingredients. Tahini (sesame seed paste in glass jars) is optional but really helps with that authentic hummus taste. I recommend using Tahini ‘light’ which is less intense.

  • 400g canned chickpeas, reserve a few for decoration
  • 6-8 tbsp of the water or brine from the can
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tbsp tahini (optional)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blend to a creamy purée. Add more lemon juice, garlic, cumin or salt to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, scatter with the reserved chickpeas and sprinkle with paprika. Enjoy!

An here is another very delicious hummus recipe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/hummus_80249

Further reading:

How cans are made in the UK today:
http://www.cannedfood.co.uk/how-cans-are-made-today/

About Bisphenol A:
http://www.bisphenol-a.org/human/epoxycan.html

Why does my tin can have a plastic liner and is it bad for me?
http://plasticisrubbish.com/2010/10/08/why-does-my-tin-can-have-a-plastic-liner-and-it-it-bad-for-me/

Unpackaged food:
Whole Food Market UK
Harvest Natual Food, Bath and Bristol
Totnes Zero Waste shop
Farmers markets, Asian food markets, healthfood shops

Packed lunch with homemade hummus and homegrown sprouts

CLEANING WITH A CLEAN CONSCIENCE

The producers of cleaning products, like the producers of toiletries and cosmetics, cash in on our unquestioned belief that we need a hundred different products to do the job properly. The Ethical Consumer Research Association says that we spend about £1billion a year in the UK on cleaning products, with supermarket shelves and kitchen cupboards dominated by products from multinational giants. The majority of products are packaged in plastic and put a burden on the environment in many ways (chemicals, palm oil, animal testing, plastic waste). I decided to go back to basics and try a simpler way of cleaning.

I found that most of the time these four basic ingredients suffice:  vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and citric acid or lemons. With just these few simple items you can clean, scour, descale and odorise your toilets, bath tubs, tiles, ovens, work surfaces, sinks, windows, shower doors, mirrors and more. They are all available to buy in shops, indoor markets or online – although it took me a while to source bicarbonate of soda in sufficient quantity and packaged in paper bags. The citric acid reacts with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda to produce a satisfying fizz and you should be careful with skin and breathing it in. But all of these ingredients are used in food production too which I find reassuring.

I have replaced plastic sponges and brushes with natural loofahs and coconut fibre scouring pads and I still have many e-cloths from my days before I ‘saw the light’ which will be replaced by cotton cloths over time.

For doing the laundry and for washing the dishes I refill the same plastic bottles at one of three local refill stations for Ecover, Ecoleaf and Bio-D. Refills are cheap and help save on buying new plastic bottles. You could just as easily use glass bottles. For now, I want to make my plastic bottles last for as long as possible before I relegate them to the recycling bin. Bio-D is an independent company that make all their products in the UK from naturally derived or plant-based ingredients. Bio-D is available in every Oxfam shop and also supermarkets and health food shops. If refilling is not an option for you, try switching to washing powder in cardboard boxes or paper bags. I also recommend concentrated organic cleaning products which can be diluted with water and can dramatically reduce the number of plastic bottles you need to buy.

I’d like to encourage you to have look at what is in your cupboard and start switching to a simpler, cheaper and healthier way of cleaning. Start with vinegar and water for your windows and mirrors and see how easy and efficient it is. Oh, and stop buying wet toilet wipes or any kind of wet wipes straight away. They are made of plastic, clog up our sewage systems, cannot be recycled and ultimately end up as microplastic!

More information and where to buy:

ZERO PLASTIC TOILET PAPER & KITCHEN TOWEL

The bog blog! If you already buy recycled toilet paper and simply want to avoid plastic packaging, there are easy alternatives. If you also want to avoid the plastic contained in recycled paper, it becomes a little more difficult. It all depends on your level of commitment to the cause and on weighing up the pros and cons:

1) Recycled paper with compostable packaging

Pros: Suma’s Ecoleaf toilet paper & kitchen towel products are made in the UK with 100% recycled paper from a blend of consumer waste and offcuts from manufacturers’ waste. The100% compostable wrap is sustainable, renewable, non-polluting, non-toxic and unbleached. So far so good.

Cons: Paper collected for recycling includes many items such as thermal receipts and magazines that contain a nasty type of plastic called BPA. There is much written about this on US websites. If you want to avoid contact with BPA and are worried about flushing plastic chemicals down the loo and ultimately into the oceans, don’t buy recycled paper products.

2) Plant- based paper in compostable packaging

Pros: Greencane paper products are made from 70% recycled sugarcane and bamboo fibre and 30% certified wood pulp. Packaging is 100% compostable including the see-through cellophane. The whole lot is sustainably sourced and is free of inks, fragrances and plastic. I like this product very much (see picture).

Cons: Greencane paper was developed by a couple from New Zealand, is produced in China and is therefore shipped a long way. It’s probably more expensive compared to the other options.

3) Homemade toilet cloths

Pros: You may think I’m kidding but just search for fabric toilet cloth on the internet and you will find that a lot of families do this. Made from old fabric, disposed of in separate bins and then carefully laundered – no packaging, no carbon footprint.

Cons: I could probably come up with something, but fabric toilet cloth brigade I salute you! Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with Greencane paper for now.

Where to buy:

Read more:

Francesca Chalk red coffeee cup hand screen print

TEA BAGS ARE MADE FROM PAPER – AREN’T THEY?

I have always assumed that tea bags are made from paper and that the only plastic is found in the packaging. Not so. The majority of tea bags used in the UK (55 billion a year) are made by adding acrylic polymer emulsions to the plant based materials that the bags are made of and then applying a very thin layer of polypropylene to help heat-seal bags and sachets. I checked this by writing to PG Tips, Tetley’s, Typhoo, Twinings, Taylors and Clipper, all of whom replied with detailed information. You may not like the idea of potentially drinking plastic particles in your tea but also consider that this plastic material falls apart as the tea bag degrades and ends up in the soil and ultimately in the sea. This explains why I keep having to pick’ tea bag skeletons’ off my veggie patch! The damn things just won’t compost and now I know why.

I also contacted Bristol based PUKKA, an eco-friendly company who don’t use plastic in their tea bag production and use vegetable inks on their boxes which are not wrapped in a final outer layer of plastic. However, even Pukka use a polyethylene lamination in the production of the sachets. I was also really pleased to read that Pigtea‘s temple tea bags are made from corn starch rather than nylon.

Our solution at home is to buy loose tea leaves in large paper bags directly from the local health food shop, at the Whole Foods Market, tea shops and indoor markets. We keep the tea leaves in traditional tins and it takes only marginally longer to brew a ‘real’ cuppa than using a tea bag. What’s the rush anyway?

READ MORE:

The Guardian
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jul/02/teabags-biodegradeable

The Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/7865706/Tear-your-tea-bags-before-composting-watchdog-says.html

Great blog entry from Treading My own Path:

The Scandalous Plastic in Tea Bags – Who Knew?

 

WHY IS PASTA PACKAGED IN PLASTIC?

I don’t understand why pasta is packaged in plastic. It’s not like it is going to go off, is it? And it’s not like we need to know what dried pasta looks like. In Italy and many other European countries pasta is mainly packaged in cardboard. In Bremen I have recently discovered a shop where pasta is sold loose from large containers. I wrote to Carluccio’s recently, hoping that their beautiful pasta is packaged in cellophane. A lady called Paola Pignataro replied: “The majority of our pasta packets are made of polypropylene, resin code PP5, therefore recyclable depending on local council policies.” She didn’t mention why they use plastic in the first place. Our council doesn’t allow that type of plastic in the recycling box and it would not surprise me if the majority of it is not recycled in the UK as a whole.

Once we ran out of pasta following our family’s non-plastic pledge in May 2016 we struggled to find an alternative. When we came across the Barilla range of pasta on our summer holiday in France this summer we quickly loaded up our car boot. Pasta is now a special treat at our house which is probably better for our waistline!

RE-LEARNING HOW TO SHOP

One of the more challenging aspects of supermarket shopping the zero plastic way is buying cheese, meat and fish (vegans, you may wish to skip this section). Husband Pete is much better at this than I am. He will cheerily challenge whoever happens to be serving him behind the counter to use tongs for picking up produce and to wrap it in waxed paper instead of plastic bags, or to use the boxes we bring along. I myself, on the other hand, become all apologetic and give up far too easily if met with any resistance. I break out in a sweat as I watch them struggle trying to squeeze oversized slices of cheese into the box. Often the wrapping paper is not quite big enough or just keeps popping open and everything just takes so much longer and a long queue starts forming behind me… Awkward!

I much prefer shopping at local shops such as the bakery, the butcher, green grocer or the health food shop. For a start you can get good local produce but also the owners and shop assistants get to know you and are generally more flexible. Take Over Farm Market, for example, who have a stall at the Stroud farmers market as well as a well-stocked shop on the other side of Gloucester. This family-run business produce their own veggies, fruit and farm meat. They also sell loose frozen peas & fruit, fresh quiches, pies, cheese and all sorts of other goodies. Rob, the butcher at Over Farm is always happy to put produce into the boxes we bring along and just slaps a label on the lid (see pic). He has actually signed up to my blog – hello Rob!

For my local friends, here is a list of shops I use most regularly for basic items:

  • Kendrick Street Deli for ham, cheese and even salads in non-plastic tubs
  • Sunshine and Hobbs for bread, cakes, rolls
  • Merrywalks’ veg & fruit stall
  • Farmers market for olive oil refills, eggs, bread, veggies, local honey
  • Jollies for a great range of veg & fruit, local meat and bread (expensive)
  • Stroud Valley Project for cleaning liquid refills
  • Sunshine for plastic free toilet paper, shampoo soap bars and shaving soap bars

The link between food miles and plastic is obvious: local produce on the whole does not need to be wrapped in plastic because it doesn’t need to be transported and kept on shelves or in fridges for months on end. Good for us, the local economy and the planet.

ABEEGO WRAP INSTEAD OF CLING FILM

Imagine a material for wrapping food that is made entirely from natural materials and is washable, re-useable, multi-purpose and smells deliciously of beeswax… If you have never come across Abeego, do check out the lovely couple who invented it and the beautiful Abeego website. Widely available in the UK and worldwide, I have seen it in farm shops, kitchen shops, health food shops, even gift shops, as well as online. You can buy small, medium and large sheets to wrap around anything except raw meat. It keeps food fresh naturally and is great for wrapping bread and cheese for example, or for covering left-overs in the fridge. The sheets are pliable but fairly stiff from the beeswax so they stay in place where you’ve folded them. They are water repelling and don’t seem to take on the smell of the food. I adore this wrap because it is natural, beautiful and so practical. It is a bit of an investment if you’re used to buying cling film. Mine have lasted really well since I bought them a few months ago and I can’t see any use for cling film now. I think this is another great win for living without plastic!

Where to buy Abeego in the UK: http://www.asliceofgreen.co.uk/food-wraps-and-bags/

DISHWASHING WITHOUT PLASTIC

Here is an ingenious alternative to plastic washing-up brushes, the ubiquitous yellow sponge, green scourers and metal scrubbing pads. I give you Michael’s Original washing-up pads and scourers for kitchens and bathrooms, made from the loofah plant, or the Safix scrub pad made from natural coconut fibre. 100% compostable, non-toxic, hygienic, effective and long-lasting. Only a click away on Amazon for a multipack of five wrapped in cardboard. I can buy them from The Green Shop at Bisley or the Stroud Valleys Project Shop in Stroud. We have used them for several months and husband Pete is delighted: “These are tougher than the yellow plastic sponges and plastic brushes, they do a better job, they don’t gunge up and they last so much longer.”  The coconut scourer is tough but doesn’t scratch pots and pans. The loofah is soft and squeaky when wet and is brilliant for cleaning dishes, cutlery and glass. I’m happy too, because Pete is doing the dishes!

Yellow kitchen sponges with the green or white scouring pads are made from petroleum and are 0% biodegradeable. They shed microplastic into the water as they deteriorate and at best they last a few weeks. Basically they are a complete nightmare for the environment and everyone uses them. I still have some lurking under the sink because we used to buy them in spades. I look at them suspiciously now that I have my new loofah-friend – not quite sure what to do with them… If I’d known how easy it is to find an alternative, I would have surely switched years ago.

Why not give them a try: http://www.greenbrands.co.uk/michaelsoriginals.html – they don’t cost the Earth!

NB: also available as bathroom scourers:

Michael’s Bathroom Scourer