#SaturdaySwitch part 3 – the magical bottomless laundry basket

There is a German fairy tale I remember reading at school about a family with a magic porridge pot which produces endless porridge. One day, the mother (of course…) forgets to tell it to stop cooking, and it overflows endlessly until the whole town is full of porridge. I can’t remember what happens at the end but the it’s probably a happy ending involving an elf or fairy of some sort. And hopefully someone gives the mother some wine and helps her clean the house up.

So I think in most households with small people, the laundry basket feels a bit like this – if you blink, it’s overflowing again and you lose any semblance of control. I can’t imagine how people cope once multiple school uniforms, football kits and all that are in the mix. Although by then the food-related mess may have reduced a bit, I hope…?

We’ve been using these laundry tablets from Aldi for absolutely ages, because they’re cheap, basically, and they get the job done. The blurb says to use 2 tablets per wash, which I actually didn’t realise and have always used only one, so the cost per wash is 4.9p.

BUT the tablets come wrapped in these little bastards:

Possibly the most annoying bits of plastic known to man, and very hard to clean and dry for the ecobrick. So I have just switched to a big 2.6kg carton, which eliminates 18 of these plastic sachets. Or reduces the demand for them, at least, by me not buying them. I think works out cheaper if you don’t use the advised dosage of 85ml or 65g (which based on previous experience with tablets is more than you need). So by using 50ml or 42g (I totally don’t understand this conversion rate – I thought it was like for like with liquid and solids but apparently not!), I make it 4.8p per wash. So not dramatically cheaper, but a lot less annoying plastic rubbish.

I bought a four pack of these snazzy measuring scoops in different sizes too (NB I bought these before the beginning of “no buy July” – more on this tomorrow). My husband is using one for his porridge at work, and has stopped using the expensive sachets of oats with the little measuring line for milk. I will work out the plastic and money saving on this in my copious spare time – but the magnificent Jack Monroe has done her own version here at 3p per portion, vs. Asda’s own brand at 7.9p per portion.

So the washing powder seemed like a nice straightforward Saturday Switch. But then I read something which suggested that the packaging of laundry boxes isn’t recylable, as it’s coated in plastic to protect the powder from moisture and humidity. So is that true, or is this true?

I am going to tweet Aldi to see if they can offer some reassurance on this… will keep you posted.

Then there are the many various “eco” brands of laundry out there on the market, some of which come in plastic packaging. What constitutes cruelty-free, or even vegan? What causes the least pollution? Is there any way to make a further switch that’s still cost-effective, as well as also being effective on stubborn pesto stains?

I feel like each question I ask generates about another 100 questions and this is going to be a LONG journey. I know you’re all rooting for me – say hi in the comments or on Twitter, especially if I don’t know you in real life! Who are my mystery readers in Finland, Sweden, South Korea, Kenya and Qatar? I would love to know!

P.S. Sorry for the hiatus in posting this week, been on holiday to Center Parcs. Watch this space this week for Center Parcs’ plastic sins, my everyday activism ideas, “No Buy July” and maybe some other things, depending on the length of a certain small person’s naps…

No Glasto FOMO

Glastonbury 2019 is coming to a close today, and I’ve got no FOMO at all. Seriously, none. Maybe a tiny bit for the amazing food and the Green Fields vibes – but the crowds and the chaos and the long drops, no thanks.

I’ve been twice, in 2015 and 2016, performing with Shakti Sings choir, directed at that time by my amazing friend Susie Ro Prater (clip of our singing from 2015 here). The first year was great – sunny weather, hardly any mud and I was in the first flushes of blossoming love with my now husband. The second year was SO awful in comparison. Terrible weather and horrendous mud. We arrived on the Tuesday night and honestly by Thursday I’d had enough. Then the EU referendum happened. I will never forget sitting in the Greenpeace cafe at 7am watching Glastonbury slowly waking up to the news, a result which most people at the festival were shocked and saddened by.

So now, with a toddler in tow, I don’t think anything could persuade me to go. I know some people take small babies and tots to big festivals – they must be a lot cooler and more relaxed as parents than me, I can’t imagine anything less fun.

I always found the litter hugely depressing too, so I was interested to read about the pledge from Emily Eavis towards a greener festival. The true spirit of Glastonbury to me has always been radical, and the drive towards sustainability and living in harmony with the environment should indeed remain central to the Glastonbury ethos. Two thirds of the 23,500 tons of waste generated by UK festivals annually is estimated to end up in landfill and clearly this needs to change.

So the Glastonbury team have banned the sale of single use plastic bottles on the site, and installed taps for water bottle refills instead. The jury seems to be out so far on the actual impact of this though – I’ve seen a lot of photos like this one, showing loads of rubbish littering the site as it has done in previous years.

Photo credit to Stephen Roberts, via Glasto Goers Facebook group.

A lot of this litter seems to be food packaging and drinks cups, all of which is supposed to be compostable at this year’s festival, but I wonder if there’s some mileage in introducing reusable cups and crockery, as other festivals plan have already done or plan to introduce. Kendall Calling has a scheme where festival-goers get a small amount of money back when they return their coffee cup for reuse and Greenbelt introduced reusable cups at their bars in 2016. In all honesty I think mandating it is probably the only answer, to change behaviours consistently.

The other big festival waste problem is people leaving tents behind – this petition addresses this issue with tent manufacturers, asking them to stop selling “festival tents”, which implies single use, and to brand these differently to encourage care and reuse.

So I think my Glastonbury days are over, and our future lies at smaller, more family-friendly festivals such as Beautiful Days and Fire in the Mountain. Maybe I will feel a small pang watching my all-time favourine band The Cure on TV tonight when they’re headlining the Pyramid stage. But when I go to the fridge to get some lovely cold wine, use my nice clean toilet and finally go to sleep in my nice comfy bed, the feeling will be pure JOMO (JOY of missing out).

The Great Deodorant Experiment

I’ve decided that each time something runs out, I’m going to attempt to replace it with a zero-waste or plastic-free alternative. Or consider whether it actually needs replacing at all, or whether whatever it is can be sourced second-hand. Sorry, obtained. “Sourced” is a bit of an overused word at the moment, in my humble opinion. Like “curated”.

So my plastic-packaged roll on deodorant ran out last week. (I usually have two on the go, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom, so I’m not stinky, don’t worry). The packaging can go into our local Terracycle collection – there is some skepticism about Terracyle, but they do promise to never landfill or incinerate any of the waste that they collect and have a variety of programmes, so until further research convinces me otherwise, I’m a fan.

I’ve decided to try a natural deodorant – I’m not at all sure I believe the Daily Mail type stuff about the chemicals in deodorants causing cancer, but this is on my ever-expanding list of things to read up more about. Critically, though, this product is “zero waste” – the packaging is 100% biodegradable cardboard, which I think means it can be composted. The truly zero-waste method, of course, would be to make your own, like this, but I think that perhaps my life is too short and also, the boy only naps once a day and there’s a limit to how much CBeebies can be permitted, even in the name of planet-saving.

So the plastic-free option is of course staggeringly expensive (£7) in comparison to a plastic roll on from a recognised brand, which costs between £1 and £2 depending on brand, shop and any ongoing offers.

However, the product information promises great things in terms of longevity:

” Don’t be put off by the size (40ml), these bad boys are small but MIGHTY! One little tube should keep you going for a few months. If you look more closely at your plastic deodorant you’ll find most of its size is its packaging, a bit like those ‘big’ bags of crisps that are only half full!! “

So I have roped in a wiling friend to participate in an experiment to test out the cost-effectiveness of this choice. On the day I start using my 40ml tea tree oil and lemongrass natural deodorant, she will start using a new 50ml roll-on (this one, if you’re interested), and we will see which one runs out first! Will the natural one last 7 times as long as the plastic-packaged one? Only time will tell…

Thank goodness for friends who humour me.

Just another angry voice? Some thoughts about originality, social media and “the climate bandwagon”

Over the last few days, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been absolutely buzzing with people talking about the #WarOnPlastic. This buzz has crystalized some thoughts for me about what I see as the point of this blog, and also about the social media response to the climate crisis.

First up – this blog is not original thought! I don’t want to purport to be thinking up brilliant solutions that no one else has thought about. We all know that climate change is serious, plastic pollution is terrible and we should do something about it.* Anyone can do a bit of research on free range eggs and bamboo toothbrushes.

Maybe I might help someone out with an idea they hadn’t thought about which helps them make a change, or inspire someone with a new perspective, or I might actually think of something super radical which no one has thought about before. Or maybe no one will ever read this and I’m just howling into the void, but at least I’m documenting our own journey trying to make the world a better place.

Either way, I’m not super special, or super “woke” –  I’m just another angry voice. And if there’s one thing that Extinction Rebellion taught me, it’s that we need more angry voices.

What I’m finding a bit weird though, and anyone who knows me personally will not be surprised at my need to have a rant about this, is people being so bloody smug about it on social media.**

In the last couple of days I’ve seen:

  • Someone being completely demolished on a well-known parenting forum (I know, I shouldn’t read it… but it is useful sometimes!) for describing themselves as a “relaxed vegan”. The context was that they had accidentally fed their “militantly vegan” friend something with fish oil in, which is not cool of course. But the subsequent abuse she got for not being a full card-carrying vegan every single day was brutal.
  • Incredulous people on Twitter berating the lady in the first episode of The War on Plastic for her miniature multi-wrapped cheeses. Yes, they’re terrible for plastic pollution, but I bet practically everyone has got some unaddressed equivalent in their house (for us, it’s micro rice and Little Yeo yoghurts… to be continued). She made a small change in response to someone explaining to her the impact of her shopping habits, and every little helps, surely?
  • Absolutely tons of smugness regarding the baby wipes issue – it’s bloody brilliant that loads of people have given them up already. But actually, I didn’t know they contained plastic either and I feel super bad about still using them (pretty sparingly now), even though I would never in a million years flush them. I’m going to try an alternative solution from tomorrow… watch this space.

The whole thing sort of reminds me of being 13 and having to suddenly stop liking a band because they’d got too popular and “sold out”. Or at least crowing about how I’ve liked them for ages and I know the bassist’s middle name and the drummer’s star sign, so I’m MUCH cooler than you. I decided when I was about 14 and three quarters that life was too short for this crap, and if I liked some music I would carry on liking it, even if they suddenly sold loads of records. And actually, it’s great if people start to like your favourite musicians – they start to get more recognition and make more money and have more choices, which is ace.

On that note, check out Tankus the Henge, Emily Barker, Wychek and Jacob & Drinkwater if you feel inspired to. (Cripes, I’m so cool).

So if you think being vegan is great, and you’ve already been vegan for 20 years because you believe it’s important to consume less animal products to help protect the planet, you should be STOKED that it’s now so trendy. Please share all your vegan recipes with your part-time/relaxed vegan pals.

If you’ve already achieved zero waste nirvana, that’s also awesome – please share you wisdom with the newly enthused.

I’m pretty stoked too to be on the climate bandwagon. We’re all at different stages on this journey, and it’s a mega important journey. So let’s all be nice to each other.

And if anyone has a brand of bamboo toothbrushes they’d like to recommend, please get in touch!

* Actually, I think we probably don’t all know this. The echo chamber of my social media contacts all know this and want to do something about this. But any trip to a park at the end of a sunny day will prove that litter is still a massive problem. I walked past a fly-tipped sofa and some dumped building waste on my street yesterday. Not everyone “gets it”, and I suppose the next level challenge is seeking to understand that and work towards changing it. Climate change denial is a whole other picnic.

** NOT my friends, I hasten to add. Mostly people in the zero waste and eco living Facebook groups I’ve joined, and also a bunch of random Twitter commenters.

The challenge of plastic vegetables…

No, I’m not talking about tripping over a plastic aubergine on the living room floor, or breaking up toddler fights over the play kitchen at playgroup. Although that’s an everyday challenge I face too.

There’s been palpable shock-waves on social media from people who watched the first episode of BBC’s The War on Plastic last week, presented by Anita Rani and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, particularly in relation to the truth about what’s happening to some of our kerbside recycling. A recycling bag from Essex finding its way into the Malaysian jungle is a staggeringly shocking thing.

We’re always been avid recyclers and I still believe there’s a place for recycling, with an improved understanding of the end-to-end process and taking full responsibility for our own waste. Exporting it to developing countries who don’t even have their own kerbside recycling (I had a reference for this in relation to Malaysia somewhere and now I can’t find it – when I do, I will post it!) is definitely not the answer. We can no longer be smugly assured that our yoghurt pots aren’t in fact ending up in the ocean.

Until we have some assurance about the destination of our recycling (post coming on this soon where I will be badgering Greenwich Council with FOI requests to find out the destinations of what I diligently put in my blue bin), I think more and more people are coming to the conclusion that our priority must be to reduce. This is hard work for us well-trained 21st century consumers, programmed as we are to buy more and more stuff and expect ready-chopped mangoes to be available all year round.

So I’m setting us a challenge at home to reduce, reduce, reduce and I will be posting more about this over the next few weeks.

We are very lucky to have an amazing green grocer nearby, and I have managed an almost plastic-free shop today:

My son gets particularly excited, bellowing “bananananash” across the shop and insisting on paying himself with the “beep beep”. So it’s pretty fun for all concerned. But I am at home all week and can take my time and shop most days for fresh produce. It’s more expensive than shrink-wrapped supermarket veg, and we can afford it mainly because we hardly eat any meat now. Some of it has still travelled a long way (no bananananash grown in Kent, as far as I know) and we definitely can’t afford to only buy organic.

So none of this stuff is simple. Shopping locally doesn’t feel that radical to me, and isn’t possible for everyone, but it’s enabling us to reduce our plastic waste massively.

It’s #meatfreeMonday tonight, so if you’re super lucky, I might share a photo of my lentil ragu later. No Instagram though, promise. Never going to happen.