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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Virtual De-clutter

Whenever I have a period of being particularly busy away from my desk I always come back to  a mountain of email.  I expect that's not unusual.  It is just part of life these days.

Much as I try to keep on top of my emails by deleting them when they are dealt with or filing them if I need to keep them, I regularly end up with well over a thousand emails in my In Box.  Each one of those emails has a carbon footprint.  Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad Are Bananas - The Carbon Footprint of Everything, estimates the carbon footprint of a spam email to be 0.3g (that's slightly more than two pints of tap water).  A proper email (because you spend longer at your computer dealing with it) he calculates as having a carbon footprint of 4g and an email with a 'long and tiresome' attachment can be up to 50g (about two thirds of a banana).  Today after an interlude of being mostly off-line for a couple of weeks, I find I have 2941 emails in my In Box.

So today I've made a decision.  As I try to have a cull of email, each time I find an email that I would normally delete without reading, I will open it (unless it seems like a virus!!) and click on the 'unsubscribe' link.

Clearing out email that is no longer needed has several advantages.

Firstly, it is easier to find that email you do need to find when you have less of it for you or your computer to search through.

Secondly, all that email is taking up disk space on your computer.  So many computers are clogged up with unnecessary emails, poor quality photos and old documents you are never going to open again.  The more clogged up your computer is, the slower it becomes.

Thirdly -well maybe this is just me - it makes you feel better when your computer is nice and neat and organised.

I find an easy way to clear out my In Box is to sort it by recipient and then often you can delete a whole  group of emails in one go.

So here goes, I'm off to unsubscribe from a few newsletters I never read, to tidy up a few loose ends of work and have a good virtual de-clutter.  I know I'll feel cleaner and greener as a result and no doubt save a few bananas-worth of CO2 in the process.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The plastic challenge two months in

We are now two months in to our plastic challenge and I think we can now say that we are getting in to the swing of things.

There are some things, that I don't think we can avoid, but even with such things we are finding ways to lessen the plastic packaging just by doing things slightly differently.

At the end of January, I had to buy more cat food and so returning to Countrywide to purchase their own make cat food again, I found them out of stock of the 2.5kg bags, but they did have 10kg bags.  I checked the ingredients against the photo I had taken on my phone and found them to be the same, but first I had to solve the problem of how to store this much larger quantity for a much longer time.  Countrywide couldn't help with that, but Poundstretcher sell a 'Pet Pantry' at a cost of £14.99 which seems to do the trick.  Even with the expense of the pet pantry it was a lot cheaper buying it in bulk. I'm hoping the pet pantry keeps the food fresh for long enough.

Smarty is checking out the new cat food
One of the most annoying things we're finding is that some shops charge more for unpackaged veg than for packed veg.  That seems totally wrong, to me. We haven't really been monitoring the price differences up to now, just getting annoyed by them.  But, I'm planning to monitor them carefully from now on to build up an accurate picture of who is doing this, when and where.

Today's challenge is a fundraising event in our village - the cricket club quiz - which involves bulk buying beer and wine and we usually serve various low budget salty snacks at each table.  The snacks will look a little different this year as we'll be serving Bombay mix, peanuts, giant corn and Japanese rice crackers all of which I've bought in  bulk in my own containers at Whole Foods Market on my way past earlier this week.  We were worried that the beer would be a plastic problem.  At Booker, we compared the price of crates of cans of beer which are wrapped in plastic with the crates of bottled beer wrapped in cardboard and the price of the cans was much cheaper.  We looked at the possibility of barrels of beer but we don't have enough people drinking it to warrant a barrel of bitter plus a barrel of lager plus a barrel of cider and once these are started, my understanding is that they have limited shelf life. On the other hand, we always just keep any left over cans to sell at the next event.  However, we checked out Sainsbury's and found that their cardboard wrapped cans were on a par with the plastic wrapped crates at Booker so we managed to purchase everything plastic free.

We've been asked to provide dips and crudités for Junior Daughter and at first she seemed reluctant for me to do this with her or for her 'because of the whole plastic thing', but I persuaded her that home made dips would be a lot nicer than shop bought dips and she agreed.  I wanted to buy a cucumber and some celery along with peppers and carrots, but as we were timing our trip into town to pick up glasses for the Quiz night (you can borrow glasses from Waitrose free of charge) I didn't manage to get to the market in time.  Waitrose and Saisnbury's only had wrapped celery and wrapped cucumber, so I took the decision to just buy peppers and carrots.  I pointed out that these were always the favourites anyway, so Junior Daughter didn't seem to mind.

All in all our plastic purchases are minimal, but we have still generated lots of plastic packaging from things we already had in the house.

Two months worth of plastic packaging

Never-the-less, it certainly makes a mountain of difference.  I'm pretty sure I used to put out this much plastic every week.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The plastic challenge - week three

This week's shop was pretty successful.  I bought quite a bit of meat including some for my grandmother.  She decided she wanted hers in a container rather than in a plastic bag - it's catching on.  Fortunately our local butcher is extremely supportive and is more than happy to fill up my own containers.

We went shopping on Saturday for some more vegetables, and the one thing we didn't come back with (aside from peas of course) was a cauliflower.  We were in Waitrose and all the cauliflowers are in a plastic bag.  We know that it is the same in Sainsbury's.  The last cauliflower I bought was in Whole Foods Market where they are not in plastic bags.  We could maybe have found one at the market, unpackaged but we decided we would do without as we had bought sprouts in one of our own Onya Weigh bags.

The one bit of plastic we came back with this week was a tub of Philadelphia cheese.  I've decided this purchase is exempt from my plastic challenge as I buy it for making cheesecake or tiramisu which is a good way of using up leftover/stale cake.  We had half a chocolate log in the fridge which had really been there long enough so it got mashed up into the base for tiramisu and soaked in Tia Maria and strong coffee.  Then I whipped up the Philadelphia with some icing sugar and spread that on top and covered it in grated chocolate. It is now all eaten up as pudding after Sunday lunch.

Making tiramisu out of the leftover chocolate log
There was some extra chocolate sauce left over from the chocolate log, and so I turned this into a fridge cake.  This was another plastic challenge as I have up to now made my fridge cake by lining a loaf tin with cling film.  This was easily overcome though, by using a pork pie tin which has a loose bottom, lined round the edge with some Bake-o-glide.  It worked really well and was easier than the cling film method.

My new method for making fridge cake

So why do I consider the Philadelphia cheese packaging to be ok?  Well, it is most certainly reusable in our house.  I always keep the empty pots, wash them out and reuse them for example for snacks like peanuts and raisins or grated carrot and celery sticks which I take when I am working away from home and Junior Daughter takes to school.  There is no other plastic packaging other than the tub itself.

Mid week I decided I needed to buy my cat food as they say you should introduce new cat food gradually.  I did buy the Countrywide brand and the cats like it. So again more plastic, but at least it is in a useful bag.

Here's the Pitt Purchased plastic tally to date:

2 toothpaste tubes with lids
2 plastic bubbles from the battery packaging

In addition, but with plans to make use of the plastic:

1 tub with lid from Philadelphia cheese
1 bag from cat food washed out, dried and back in use.

I have also pulled out of my plastic store a small plastic bag when I've needed one. It was from apples. I'll be keeping this and no doubt reusing it again, because apples from now on will only be purchased loose.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The plastic-free challenge - we can no longer buy The Guardian

Mr Pitt's Parmesan Bites with Chilli and Rosemary

So, after feeling the glow of success last Saturday, we went out on a mission to acquire more good quality plastic tubs to continue our naked shopping.  Senior Daughter is also keen to join in even while living away, so we will be needing lots more re-fillable pots to manage our mission.

We also needed butter, cheese, toothpaste and some small round batteries for our kitchen scales.

The butter we buy is wrapped in paper, so there's no change there at this stage as although our aim is to reduce single use anything, we are at the moment concentrating on plastic.  We headed to the market with a suitable cheese sized plastic tub to see if there was a cheese stall.  No luck there, so we decided to give Waitrose a try.  We did come away with a chunk of cheese in our plastic container but the young lady who served us looked a little perplexed and it took some explaining that we didn't want any plastic packaging in the box with it.  She used a sheet of plastic to hold the cheese while she cut it and to transfer it to our box.  I think she then threw away that sheet of plastic. However, if we hadn't taken our own container, not only would the cheese have remained wrapped in the sheet of plastic, it would have been placed inside another plastic bag, so at least we are saving on waste if not entirely.

The toothpaste, however, was our first failure.  Dental hygiene is a big worry for people and I had done a little Internet research about alternatives to toothpaste in plastic tubes.  I occasionally use LUSH toothy tabs, which I really like and I always use these when travelling.  As I understand it they are basically toothpaste in solid form.  They are packaged in recycled cardboard, which itself is recyclable.  I have probably been using them on and off for about a year, but unless I use them consistently and completely ditch the tube toothpaste then I won't really know if I pass the dental check.  So, I've decided to try to be more consistent on my use of the toothy tabs.  I realised that one thing that stops me is that I haven't been keeping them in the bathroom for fear they will get wet.  So my plan is to find a small jar to keep them in, so they stay dry and are always to hand.  Old habits die hard, they do say, and sure enough I find myself reaching for the toothpaste tube more often than not.

The batteries for the scales were another fail! They had a small plastic bubble to keep them in place on a piece of card.  However, we do want to get our scales back into use and return the ones we had to hastily borrow from my Dad on Christmas Eve, when ours packed up.

The next challenge, I think is going to be cat food.  We did a bit of research, to see if we could find a local bulk buy place where we could fill our own container, but no joy.  We looked at brands like Go-Cat that come in a cardboard box, but the meat content is around 3.8% rather than 38% like our current brand.  My thought so far is to switch to the Countrywide own brand which comes in a no-nonsense clear plastic bag, which would be recyclable, or washable and reusable if opened carefully.  It seems to have largely the same ingredients as the current cat food.  I've got a couple of days to make a decision. In the meantime, I would be grateful for any suggestions.

I'm also on the lookout for somewhere to buy frozen peas in my own container. So far, we have just done without, but we are missing our peas :(

Last but not least - we realised we can no longer buy The Guardian at the weekend as it comes wrapped in plastic. NO OTHER NEWSPAPER on the shelf in Waitrose had a plastic wrapper so why does The Guardian feel it is necessary?  I'm sad about that, but I'm sure the unread sections of the stash of Guardian's we already have will keep us going for a while.

To date the 2015 Pitt purchased plastic tally is this:

2 toothpaste tubes with lids
2 plastic bubbles from the battery packaging.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Scrapping the single use plastic packaging

Can it be done? What will life be like without single-use plastic?

I thought I was going to lose junior daughter and Mr Pitt on day one. New Year's Day in the Pitt household is traditionally a day for chilling out and eating snacks.  Junior Daughter had friends staying for New Year and so when she took them home Mr Pitt instructed her to buy snacks. Please remember the plastic free bit, I urged and received back a 'don't worry, Mum'.
Soon I get a phone call asking what she could buy. Maybe tubs of nuts, was my suggestion. But she couldn't see anything in a reusable tub. Then I cracked and said that I couldn't think of anything and I wasn't going to be eating them anyway. (Not true!)
A few minutes later I get a text:
"There is 100 per cent nothing I can buy."
I wasn't sure what to expect. But she did indeed come back with nothing. I raided the snacks cupboard and pulled out a few unfinished packs of crisps and found a tub of Yorkshire Crisps from a hamper I had been given for Christmas. I thought it was bound to have a plastic inner. But No. The tub is on its third use now full of roasted peanuts from Whole Foods Market. It has already transported sugar from SESI Oxford to the fairly heavy glass storage jar I use. Mr Pitt also came to the rescue with a yummy tortilla - a Spanish tapas dish he made from fried potatoes, onion, marjoram and thyme, fried up then transferred to a quiche dish, covered with beaten egg and then grilled.  So we had a lovely film and snacks evening after all.

The snack attack issue was solved on my trip to SESI Oxford. When I stocked up with dry goods like flour and sugar, I bought peanuts and raisins in my own Onya Weigh bags. JD is taking these to school daily in a Philadelphia cheese tub. Then in Whole Foods Market I filled my Yorkshire Crisps tub with salted peanuts and bought dried salted broad beans, giant salted corn and Taiwanese Chilli Rice Crackers in my own containers. Today we will make a batch of mini cheese biscuits and some banana bread.

So far we have still been producing plastic from using up stocks, but we've managed to do all our shopping totally naked. So, off to a good start.

Using up the stocks.  This is the plastic we have generated in a week.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Happy New Year!

If you've read my blog before, you might know that I love a New Year's Challenge.  In 2013 I did a year of Swishing which changed my attitude to shopping completely. This year I pledged to buy no  new books (except as birthday presents).  I've managed far more trips to the library and got pretty organised about ordering books for collection - a great service that libraries provide.  I've also given away 10 books each month - well - at least up until November.   When I finish this blog post I'm going to select my final 10 books for 2014 and then contemplate whether I can possibly carry this on into 2015.

But even if I do carry on the book challenge, I always like to have a new challenge too.  And next year will be, without doubt, the toughest yet…

A year without single use plastic.

This is not something I've just dreamt up today… oh no.  I, or rather we - the Pitt family - have been contemplating it for a while now.  I think it was around October time that I first suggested the challenge to Mr Pitt.  He was tucking in to a packet of crisps at the time.  "Can't be done!" was the initial reaction.  But then gradually came more and more comments like "We won't be buying anymore of these, then."  Soon after that came Mr Pitt's home-made potato peel crisps.

We've been doing our bit for naked shopping for a while now, so we are well practiced at buying fruit and veg packaging free and in recent months I've discovered options for buying a whole range of goods packaging free.  You can read more about this in previous blog posts.

A fairly typical Pitt shop.

So why are we doing it?
Firstly, we have been a 'Zero-Waste' household for quite a while now.  It is many years since we had a rubbish bin in the house and because of that we always think of our 'rubbish' not as 'rubbish' but as 'resources' and as such we put what ever it is we have finished using into the appropriate place to be reused or recycled.  We don't just 'throw away'.

But, over the years that I've been researching waste management and recycling for my books, and talks as well as my own family life, I've started to look more carefully at what I do and at what businesses and organisations do in terms of waste.

As I see it now, there are two schools of thought about Zero-waste.  There's firstly the 'Zero-waste to land-fill' school of thought and that's what we've managed to achieve for many years now.  But how?  Well, there has for a long time been very little in Oxfordshire that doesn't get collected for recycling.  The local council here even collect quite a lot of 'flyaway plastic' as long as it is clean and bagged up so that it doesn't fly away to pollute the countryside when they are collecting.

But there're still a few things that aren't recyclable - and guess what - these are all mainly plastic or plastic based packaging items.  We have generally tried to avoid such items, but when we have had them, we have disposed of them by using them to light our wood burning stove and wood-fuelled cooker.  Plastic is much better than paper at this task, doesn't stink like firelighters, but I don't know the full extent of the pollution it may be causing in the atmosphere.

The second school of thought is not just Zero-waste to landfill, but Zero waste at all. And that's where I want to be a year from now.  I'm not wanting to demonise plastic completely, but it is responsible for a great deal of pollution on our lovely planet.  Our oceans are full of the stuff and it is high time we did something about it.  So I've taken a good look at what we consume, how we consume it and how we pass it on to its next purpose - whether that  is to be reused, recycled, composted or burnt by us or by the local council at its new energy from waste plant.  My conclusion is that to move from Zero-to landfill (we are 99.99% there) to being Zero Waste, it is the single use plastic that we have to say goodbye to.

Home-made potato crisps

Home-made butternut squash crisps

Dry goods you can buy in your own containers at SESI, Oxford

Weighing out dried mango at SESI

My packaging free dry goods will come from SESI.  It is easy
 to buy and store enough for three months.

Now why do I think it is going to be so hard?

Our lives are so full of plastic.  It is everywhere we turn.  In the last couple of months I've been really taking note about how much stuff we have that came here by means of plastic packaging.  We use plastic all day, every day it seems.  If we wanted to say that from the 1st of January to 31st December 2015 I would use nothing that involved plastic a whole lot of stuff would go to waste - and we don't do WASTE.

So what can we do to achieve our plastic free - zero waste lifestyle?

These are the Pitt family rules for our plastic free 2015:
1. Buy nothing new that has any plastic in it or around it.
2. Collect and weigh all recyclable plastic that arises from purchases already made in order to raise awareness of the plastic in our lives.  We will recycle or keep this plastic for reuse.
3. Collect and weigh all non-recyclable plastic that arises from purchases already made.  We will accumulate this and photograph it and hopefully see it diminish month by month.

A selection of oils and vinegars I can buy in my own containers
I will hopefully be keeping you posted of our progress as we gradually eradicate single use plastic from our lives.  If not then I'll be sharing a moan or two.

Locally made washing up liquid.
  I'll take my own bottles to refill.

Can we do it?  How long will it take to be single-use plastic free?

One month?
Six months?
A whole year?

We'll see.  Bring on the 2015 challenge. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Swishing Update

Junior daughter went to school today wearing her lovely jacket she swapped on    That got me in the mood to write about my clothes purchasing habits this year.

In 2013, I set myself the challenge of not buying any new clothes for a year.  In August that year I wrote an update about what it felt like, what I'd bought and what I thought I'd saved. I finished the article declaring that 'eight months in and swishing has become a lifestyle choice I love'.  By the end of the year I had acquired quite a few new clothes - probably more than ever before - but I'd spent less than £100.

Nearly a year later, I've taken a look back at how my Swishing challenge has affected my buying habits longer term.

Firstly, I'd say, I have hardly spent any time in clothes shops.  The 'clothing outlet' I've spent most time in this year is probably The Blue Cross charity shop in my nearest town as they have a habit of putting really nice outfits in their window that lure me in.  I have asked a few times to try on the fab outfit but have been, so far, unsuccessful in finding one that fits.  On one visit, though the dress that got me in there was too big, I did find a nice green t-shirt at the grand sum of £3.50.

Other than that, I've made just three more purchases and I think I made those purchases very much with the thought about how the clothes and the sellers are impacting on the planet.

My first purchase, early in the year, was a 'buy my own' birthday present from my grandmother.  I chose this lovely tunic from Pre:Loved run by Jackie.  Jackie sells a combination of secondhand (pre-loved) and new clothing clothes from her shop in Towcester, but she will also post out items to customers who contact her via her Facebook page.

My second purchase of the year was a pair of bamboo leggings.  The more I learn about sustainable living, the more picky I get about everything I buy.  I have previously bought bamboo clothing because  it is a fast growing crop that has a much lower water footprint than cotton, and it produces a lovely soft fabric.  In researching the ethics of bamboo clothing I found that there's a 'standard' for organic bamboo just like there is for organic cotton, the Global Organic Textile Standard.  So that's what I was looking for - GOT organic bamboo leggings.  In my search, I found these thermal bamboo leggings.  I'm not quite sure what happened about the organic bit, but the leggings are proving to be fab.  Since taking to my bicycle this year as my main mode of transport I am finding that leggings are the most convenient winter clothing for getting about by bike and it is certainly helping that they really are very warm.

My third and final purchase this year is this wonderful jumper hand made by the Woolly Pedlar, Sue Reed, from reclaimed materials.

Sue turns unwanted knitwear into funky clothes, soft furnishings and accessories.  Much of the knitwear Sue uses has been rescued before going to landfill. It may have been ‘ragged’ by charity shops or wholesale textile merchants, because of felting or holes. These can be cut around and used in patchwork designs. Sue also buys top quality second hand jumpers and uses these for the bodices of jumpers and sweatercoats. She makes sure there's no waste from her designs as she passes on any scraps that she doesn't use herself for crafts such a proggy matting, which is a 'time honoured north-east tradition'. Sue chooses to work with wool as it is a totally natural product, totally renewable, biodegradable and has excellent insulation properties.  She says:  "Each new creation is very much a ‘serendipity’ moment, with each design depending on what jumpers I have been able to find. No two items are ever the same."

I find, as we near the end of the year, I've spent around £120 pounds on clothing and I'm confident I'll have lots of wear from these items.  I'm also pleased that two out of my four purchases have have been supporting two wonderful women, who are creating sustainable businesses in the textile industry.  This has also opened my eyes to the fact that I can and will raise my standards in terms of what I buy.  From now on I want to support the hand-made, the ethical, the reclaimed.  That's my way forward in clothing.