Reflections on a not-so-zero-waste Valentine’s Day

I always have these great ideas to write posts which are relevant to something current, so I can ride the hashtag wave and go viral, then I don’t manage to write them in time for the actual day and it feels a bit naff. But anyway, I’m going to post this a few days late and hope that someone out there still finds it interesting.

Disclaimer: I was not trying to have a zero waste Valentine’s Day. I have had one full night’s sleep in the last 16 days so I’m not really trying very hard at anything much at the moment. This is a just some reflections on what we did, what some other people seem to do and what we could do better next year.

Clearly the most low carbon impact to do would be nothing. Have a bowl of locally sourced turnip soup, stay in with the heating turned off and play Scrabble by candle-light, then definitely do NOT conceive a child (carbon footprint of babies… God, I’m procrastinating SO much on writing about this). For the perfect Instagrammable “zero waste” gifts, you could choose organic underwear or a hand-engraved vintage fork for £12. Less easily Instagrammable options include chocolates (vegan and plastic-free, obvs) or booze (in glass of course). Other things I’ve seen people write about are wrapping presents in old maps or fabric, donating to a charity in place of buying a gift (I do actually quite like this one), the usual eco-friendly suggestions like soap bars, natural loofahs, natural beard shampoo (!), or home made edibles wrapped in tissue paper. “Experience” gifts like going to a concert or a stately home don’t have a “stuff” impact, but they will have some carbon footprint in terms of travel.

Of course, all of these are better than plastic-wrapped crap or polyester teddies from Clinton’s that you don’t want or need. It’s hard to strike the balance between having a bit of romance and treating your partner, and buying stuff that you don’t need – and that means anything, even organic beard oil if they don’t want it or organic underwear if they don’t need it (the carbon and water footprint of organic cotton is actually still pretty awful).

I would absolutely NEVER be up for going out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, even without any childcare considerations – I’ve got no desire to be crammed in with loads of other couples, eating from an over-priced set menu surrounded by naff decorations. In previous years I’ve cooked special food, and my plan this year was to try out Jack Monroe’s mushroom, lentil and ale pie (37p per portion, #FrugalFebruary), but as noted above, I’m tired. So I used my Christmas Marks & Spencer gift card (thanks Mum!) to get us some ready-cook deliciousness (and booze). And this is what was left…

In the strictest zero waste definition (nothing going to landfill), this is zero waste because our black bin waste goes for incineration, but I totally get that I’m being facetious in my interpretation there. Actually everything went in the recycling except the cork (compost), the plastic films from the Camembert and the spinach (ecobrick) and the black plastic from the Camembert (I thought our council actually accepted black plastic for recycling, but I’ve recently learnt that they don’t). Present-wise, my husband bought me some tulips (plastic wrapper in the bin, eco footprint of cut flowers very bad), and I bought him two books about Brexit that I want to read (who said romance was dead…) and some beers. And we did give each other cards, and we also will go for a curry tomorrow night when my mum is here to babysit (again, thanks, Mum).

Is the waste from the ready-cook meal any worse than the ingredients for a home-cooked meal would have been? Probably not, unless I went on a major mission to get loose mushrooms and plastic-free lentils. What’s the ecological and climate impact of new books? (I don’t want to know, I am closing my eyes on this one for as long as I can, I just can’t bear it…) Also I know that meals at restaurants have a higher carbon footprint per head than meals cooked at home, but again I haven’t researched this properly.

So we did a pretty crap job really, but we had a nice time (we watched Best Home Cook – which I love, Claudia Winkelman is brilliant and Mary Berry is magnificent – and went to bed at 10pm, in case anyone’s interested).

Realistically, what would we do differently next year? Possibly re-use the same cards and write a new message. I quite like this idea. Possibly have more energy to buy local, plastic-free food and cook from scratch – but the I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like much of a treat for me, as chief cook and bottle-washer. (Actual my husband is chief bottle-washer, but anyway). No more flowers? Not sure about this but it’s not exactly a regular thing here. I think we probably won’t buy wrapping paper again for any adult presents (we have 4973 gift bags in a cupboard).

I think it’s about deciding what’s important to you as a couple. I know some people despise the consumerist nature of Valentines’ Day (or Hallmark Day, as some call it), whereas some people really want to be pampered and like to be shown love through gifts and special celebrations. We like eating and watching TV, so I suspect that’s what we will continue to do to mark any and all special occasions for the next decade or so. And I will try to find some plastic-free lentils soon.

Meanwhile, this is the best Valentine’s card I’ve EVER had. (And I have limited interest in discussing zero waste toddler crafts in this context right now, although I suspect the time will come!)

Where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing

Gosh, it’s nearly two weeks since I last posted. Sorry, people. I am a very good example of how NOT to maximise the success of a viral post… (this is the ragey post I wrote at the beginning of October which got retweeted a lot and nearly 1000 views – seems it resonated with a lot of people who are fed up of mothers and women in general being judged for every single thing they do).

Anyway… since we last met, dear reader, my very limited spare writing time has been taken up by some freelance work for the NHS, writing and rewriting a few business cases. I am enjoying it a lot – it’s not exactly got me hankering for the old days of 50+ hour weeks in a front-line operational job, but it’s good to get the brain cells whirring again (and earn some actual money, of course, which is always nice). So if you follow me on social media (Twitter or Facebook – no Instagram, ever), you’d have known there was a blog hiatus on the horizon, sorry if you missed it. I’ve also got another super secret writing thing going on, but it’s super secret and staying that way. Literally not one single human that I know in real life knows about it, so there.

I’m finding it a bit frustrating at the moment, to be honest, having so little time for writing. But it seems I can’t simultaneously do paid work, unpaid work, have a clean house and sleep, let alone keep a toddler alive and fed (and feed a husband too, of course). So something has to give at the moment, and it’s the clean house and the unpaid stuff, of course.

I have been plugging away at the eco switches in the background. I’ve been to SWOP today for Faith in Nature shampoo and conditioner. I confess I’ve given up on shampoo bars for now – fed up of looking like a scarecrow. I could have persevered but I didn’t want to spend tons of money on different bars to see what worked for me. I feel that refills is the next best thing – although it has occurred to me today to tweet SWOP to ask them what happens to the 5L bottles they get from their supplier and whether they’re sent back and refilled. I maintain that there’s no such thing as truly zero waste, I don’t think…

And dishwashing! The obsession continues. I took the plunge and switched to Splosh dishwasher tablets, and I’m really happy with them. They come in this snazzy little tub:

The tablets are covered in a water-soluble film, which looks a bit like plastic but definitely isn’t, and they are cruelty free. They came in a box padded with a bunch of things that looked alarmingly like styrofoam, but this apparently is a starch-based packing peanut, which is biodegradable.

I also bought hand wash, washing up liquid, kitchen and bathroom cleaner refills, to use in bottles I’ve kept, and refillable Splosh laundry liquid. I’m happy with the laundry liquid but it seems to be disappearing pretty fast, so I’m considering halving the amount I’m using per wash to see if it’s still effective, as I would with the dosage recommendations for powder or tablets.

My Splosh account tells me I’ve already saved 19 bottles. I was a bit concerned about the refill pouches, but the blurb on the website is convincing – the combined effort of using very concentrated products and pouches reduces plastic use by 90%, and the pouches can be returned for reprocessing with only a 2.5% waste rate from this process (they call this “zero waste”, but of course it’s not… but it’s miles better than new bottles every time, made out of virgin plastic then plunged into the over-burdened recycling system to end up goodness knows where). Splosh say that their customers have saved 257,511 plastic bottles from going into the waste system this year, and they’re aiming for one million next year.

I’m pretty happy with the Splosh switch. Nothing’s perfect, of course, except living in a cave and eschewing all modernity (tempting sometimes!) But it felt like the right choice, after quite a bit of research.

Next switch – not sure. Check out Tortoise Happy‘s blog if you want some inspiration while waiting for my next post. She’s doing well in her challenge to make 12 eco-switches before the end of the year.

There’s loads I want to write about – XR, climate change and feminism, eco-anxiety, Christmas… Anyone want to sponsor this blog so I can spend more time on it? (*wishes for fairy godmother*

Until next time – keep on truckin’.

(Here’s the Splosh refills all neat in the cupboard like a row of books).