How to green your kitchen, part 1

Brilliant ideas often come while drinking wine with my friends, and this one is no exception. Thanks B, you know who you are and you’re a total legend.

Welcome to “Green your kitchen”. Not cleaning, but “greening”. The Organised Mum‘s method of cleaning involves starting in one corner of the room, and moving clockwise around it, to retain focus and make sure everything gets done. (I know, I’m namedropping this a lot at the moment but I honestly think it’s brilliant, and it gives you all a rest from me bashing on about my other hero, Jack Monroe.) So I thought, let’s do it with “greening” instead of cleaning. Over a series of posts (probably quite a lot), I’m going to work my way around my kitchen and assess what progress I’ve made in terms of becoming more eco-friendly, and what next steps there are to take. You may wish to join me on this method and think about your own kitchen… If it feels like a useful approach, we’ll follow this with greening your bathroom, bedroom, etc… The possibilities are endless.

Here’s a couple of photos of my kitchen (it does NOT always look like this, I just cleaned it while the small one is snoozing. We can have a chat about the copious amounts of plastic garden toys which I’ve edited out another time… under “greening your garden”, maybe).

My personal premise as always with this stuff is that it’s a gradual process to having a more sustainably eco-friendly home and lifestyle – some people have been working through this stuff for years, others are just getting started. I’m not sure where I “fit” on that continuum, but the one thing I firmly believe is that the “rid your house of all plastic, immediately” ideology is utter bollocks. I stand firmly by the principle that if you have it, you should use it up. There was a very suspicious element of the War on Plastic documentary where a couple had got rid of all the plastic in their bathroom very quickly and spent lots of money on Pinterest-worthy “zero waste” bathroom stuff. Did they just chuck it all away, unused? My view is that unless is’s obviously super evil stuff that shouldn’t be going down the drain – like cosmetics with microbeads in – it should be used up before disposing of the packaging as best we can. I think we should be respecting the virgin materials that this stuff is made from and make more eco-friendly decisions on an item-by-item basis, as things run out.

So here are some riveting pictures of my cleaning cupboards under the sink (big gap is where the compost caddy lives). These used to be be pretty full, but I’m making a conscious effort to use stuff up and replace with a reduced stock of more eco-friendly options.

There’s a few things I will absolutely not use up, that I’m in the process of giving away, via the Buy Nothing group and Olio. Fabric softener I no longer use – I don’t like the artificial smell and personally view it as unnecessary chemicals. I’ve given away some stainless steel cleaner which I bought when I lived somewhere with a stainless steel hob. Still going begging is some “fabric freshener” from Waitrose, I have no idea why I’ve got this, and some Febreze – anyone want them?

I’ve still got some super evil ant killer (I know, but they were in the cupboards… I couldn’t bear it!) and drain cleaner, and some weird stuff that’s supposed to neutralise the smell of cat poo and wee from when the Fluffbeast had some bladder problems and was peeing behind the TV. Some carpet cleaner which is necessary for cat and toddler puke. Plus mould and mildew remover. I’m sure there are alternative eco versions of all of these, but I haven’t looked into it yet. The small plastic water bottles have got distilled water in for my steam mop – I think if I just used our super-hard tap water, my steam mop would scale up and die. My amazing mum brings the water form their tumble-drier for me and we reuse the bottles. I’ve still got some evil plastic washing up sponges left, since swapping to Euroscrubbys we are using these up for fun jobs like scrubbing the barbecue and the highchair every now and again. They’re destined for incineration via our general waste anyway, so they might as well be used first (although they probably also leach microplastics when rinsed? It’s a minefield).

I’ve dumped my trusty Mr Sheen – this was a long-term relationship and I’m still grieving, but it was for the best. Replacing chemical spray from a hard-to-recycle can with damp dusting is a pretty easy switch really, and damp dusting is better for allergy sufferers too, as it traps all the dust into the cloth rather than wafting it around the room (thanks for this one, Gem).

I’m getting into the habit of keeping used dishcloths and tea towels separate, to add to hotter washes. In due course I’m going to look into getting a guppy bag to wash non-cotton stuff – to reduce microplastics leaching into the water course. I’m slightly on the fence about this, as I’m not sure what to do with the residue – so more research required.

Now the exciting bit… I’ve got a stash of empty spray bottles that I’ve saved up to take to my local zero waste shop and fill up with vegan, biodegradable, plastic free cleaning materials. (I will have a rant some time about the phrase “zero waste” and how misleading it is, but not now, as this is a good news story.)

Thus far, I’ve got window and glass cleaner and the multi-surface cleaner made by Sesi, the latter of which can be quite significantly diluted so will last a long time. It was nowhere near as expensive as I expected it to be, and it’s an easy bus ride form home, or about a mile walk away from somewhere I go every week, so I won’t be driving there and undoing my otherwise good work (maybe I’m going to rant about this some time too).

I’m also getting hold of a bulk-sized bottle of white vinegar soon (again via the Buy Nothing gang, it’s a quite remarkable project really), so I will have a crack at making my own cleaning stuff in due course.

I’m a fair bit away from a plastic and chemical-free cleaning arsenal, but I feel like progress has been made since I started really actively thinking about this stuff – around April, I think.

So, I hope that wasn’t too boring. This is the journey, folks. It’s not always glamorous or sexy but it can be radical to rethink every purchase decision you make, every item in your home, and choose to do it better.

Back to school – no shiny new pencil cases here #BuyNothing

I remember the back to school feeling SO well. I actually was a huge geek and loved school, so I never had that sense of dread some people talk about. I also love autumn and the air becoming nice and crisp and cool again (I am not a fan of heatwaves – so, y’know, let’s try and fix climate change, people). Even in the *many* years since leaving education, I get a bit of a “turning over a new leaf” feeling at the beginning of the new academic year, and September resolutions have been made (and broken) over several years.

Anyway… I’m basically reminiscing here about stationery and how much I love it (thanks to my old friend @momorgan for pointing out my mortifying series of spelling mistakes in this post, now edited). The new school year was ALL about stationery. We got new exercise books for each subject at school, even if last year’s weren’t full. I always used to have a new pencil case, and sometimes a new fountain pen. Also often a new rucksack at the start of each school year – mainly because the previous year’s one had been poor quality and the strap had broken under the groaning weight of library books, cookery ingredients and maths homework.

But I’ve still got my Miffy pencil case from 1993. Which makes me think… I probably didn’t need a new one every year, did I? But the consumer machine teaches us that we Need All The New Stuff Every Year. The kids deserve a treat, their friends will all have new stuff, they don’t like Paw Patrol anymore. And the Back to School concept can also be used to sell stuff to adults – there’s a whole marketing strategy here. Buy a gym membership or get a new hairdo to celebrate the kids having gone back to school, buy a new laptop to get that “shiny pencil case feeling”, even though you’re 48 and you don’t like Paw Patrol either.

I keep coming back, over and over again, to the realisation that one of the only ways to turn the tide on climate change and plastic pollution is to stop buying stuff, to stop generating demand for the production of new things and the carbon footprint generated by their manufacture, and the pollution caused by their eventual disposal. So I have launched, with a new local friend of mine, a South East London branch of the Buy Nothing Project (it’s originally an American concept – we do not use their acronym!) Have a read – it’s an interesting concept – a hyper-local gift economy enabling people to give, share and ask for things they need, where members of the community can get to know each other and commit “myriad random acts of kindness”. Sounds great, yes? It is. It’s also a bit of a mind shift for people used to a “first come first served” model like that used in Freecycle and most Facebook selling groups. We are building momentum though and it’s amazing seeing gifts being given, needs being met and friendships developing.

We’ve done a “Back to school” event over the weekend and seen people sharing uniform, stationery, rucksacks and of course pencil cases. All of this is preventing us from having to buy new, reducing our environmental impact and building relationships in our community.

So… to finish off. I’m feeling bloody depressed about Brexit right now, and the state of democracy in this country – it feels like all I see is division everywhere. I’m oscillating from feeling powerless and trying not to think about it, to wanting to go and chain myself to something and finding ways to rage against the machine. But actually the EU is less important than planet as a whole, and we mustn’t lose sight of that. And I think there are ways we can radically shift our mindset about consumption and possessions, while also increasing social cohesion and a sense of belonging in our communities, which we clearly sorely need at the moment.

If you are interested in setting up a Buy Nothing group, give me a shout and I will send you the info. At the very least, check out Freecyle and second hand sites before you hit the shops, next time you need to buy something. Even a pencil case. I’m not giving you my Miffy one though.

#SaturdaySwitch – lists, and also some amazing bloggers

Aaaaaah. Stationery. Mmmmmmm. My heart rate increases a little bit when I go into a branch of Paperchase. My pupils dilate when I walk down the stationery aisle in Sainsbury’s. I want it ALL. All the notebooks, all the nice brightly-coloured rollerball pens. Want, want, want. All, all, all. Covet, covet, covet.

And I love lists. I love crossing jobs off to do lists. I love having an amazingly complete and perfect and colour-coded to do list of all the things I have to do, ever. I love categorising lists. I’ve also been known to have a list of all the lists (to be fair, I was turning my life upside down and moving to London with no job and nowhere to live, so I think you can forgive me a few lists in pink pen to give me an illusion of control).

But paper is of course made of trees. And trees are amazing and my instinctive feeling is that it’s pretty obviously better not to chop them down. There is of course a circular argument that many trees are grown specifically to make paper, so if there was less demand for paper then those trees would not exist, and their carbon absorption benefit would be lost. But equally, even sustainable growth of trees for paper-marking has an environmental impact. Of course paper can be recycled, and 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared to making it from raw materials. But of course, as always, it’s complicated, and there is a footprint to the recycling process. So the first steps, again as always, are to reduce and reuse.

So I’m working on the Buy Nothing project this week (more on this soon – it’s going to save the world, I tell you). There’s a ton of stuff to do, and my co-creator has shared the Wunderlist app with me – so I’m giving up my personal paper-based to do list… Can I also give up my shopping list, weekly meal plan and other random ramblings that I keep in my nice green notepad? We shall see…

Meanwhile, the totally incredible Gemma Bray at The Organised Mum has just released an app of her awesome system of organising household jobs. So if you’re into this sort of thing – and following her plan has been a sanity saver for me – then do check it out. It will save you the need to write any housework lists, ever again.

And just because I love to plug other awesome bloggers who’ve had a really positive impact on my life, and because I have an enormous girl crush on her, I want to tell you that Jack Monroe has just released a new book of vegan recipes, for pre-order to arrive on Boxing Day. Perfect for the post Christmas health kick and/or Veganuary. We’ll chat about the concept of Veganish again some time…

Second-hand September – or buy nothing, ever again?

I posted about No Buy July a while ago. We made a pretty good stab at it, and I was intending to carry it into August. But it’s amazing how quickly old habits return. When we got back from camping, I was feeling a bit down to be honest – I had found the trip pretty hard going, then been really ill when we got home with a stomach bug, which I thought at one point might be Lyme disease from a tick bite (dramatic, moi?), so I’d trooped off to the local Emergency Department on the advice of 111 to wait four hours to be given antibiotics (there’s a whole other blog to be written about the world views of an ex-NHS manager on the state of the public sector today, butI’m not going to be writing it any time soon).

Within a couple of days of getting home, I’d bought chocolate, which is not allowed in our house except in dire emergencies, otherwise we binge eat. I also bought two new tops from Asda, which were super cheap – I have done no direct research on this, but I expect Asda are pretty low down the list when it comes to disastrous fast fashion. And I bought some reallllly lush pyjamas from Marks and Spencer. I LOVE nice pyjamas. So I succumbed to this learned habit that all us good capitalist citizens have been trained to obey – when you feel blue, buy something new. And/or eat some sugar.

There were big posters all over Marks and Spencer about sustainably sourced cotton, and their corporate website says that they have achieved their target of 100% sustainably sourced cotton in March 2019, and are aiming to increase the proportion of Fairtrade, organic and recycled sources to 25% by 2025. I haven’t read all the information about what this actually means, but it’s gone a little way towards assuaging my guilt, particularly given the enormous amount of baby clothes I’ve bought from M&S over the past two years.

Anyway, sustainable or not, my view is still that it’s better to buy as little new as possible. I’ve got over my antipathy to eBay and started buying and selling stuff on there – the root of the antipathy is basically that I thought it was a huge load of hassle to upload items for sale, and that to buy stuff you had to invest huge amounts of time in watching bids, but actually it can be done much more simply, and you can buy pretty much anything. I’ve bought an OS map, some leggings for me (which I thought might be a bit ick but were totally fine), and some clothes for the ever-growing small one, plus some books and an amazing Melissa and Doug latch board, which he loves.

Oxfam are running a Second Hand September campaign, asking people to pledge to buy no new clothes in September and highlighting the environmental impact of fast fashion. 11 million items of clothing go to landfill every week, just in the UK. This terrifies me. I have a bunch of other interesting references and articles about fast fashion to share sometime when I’ve got the concentration span for a more analytical post, but for now, here’s some rambling reflections.

There must be enough clothes in the world for everyone, for a really long time. When you expand your brain and think about what would happen if we just stopped manufacturing clothes and bought or gifted second-hand only, it’s kind of mind-blowing. What would the economic impact be? What would happen to everyone whose jobs depend on making and selling new clothes? But what would happen within our communities if we shared, gifted, traded used clothing as a matter of course? What would happen if Saturday shopping centre trips to buy new clothes wasn’t a hobby anymore? What would people do instead? It’s mega.

Anyway, maybe take the Oxfam pledge for September and see how you feel. Maybe join the Extinction Rebellion fashion boycott. Check out eBay, Facebook marketplace and selling groups, car boot sales, or charity shops if you’re not dragging a toddler around with you. Weirdly, the small one likes markets and supermarkets but he HATES charity shops. I get three minutes browsing time, max.

I’m writing it here now to make it real – I’m not buying anything new for me or the small one, for the rest of the year. And I’m going to have a crack at second-hand Christmas too…

Meanwhile (and this is the reason for the posting hiatus, alongside a non-napping small person cutting some teeth), I’m working with a new local friend to launch a local Buy Nothing Project group. It’s ridiculously exciting but also a bit scary. More soon.