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.

#PlasticBandWagon part 3 – get rid of all your Tupperware?

Please note – this is NOT my Tupperware drawer. This is a borrowed image from this very funny article after a Google image search of “messy Tupperware drawer”, because all my Tupperware is stored very neatly with (almost) no missing lids.

So I’m seeing lots of stuff in my social media echo chamber about how to “rid your house of plastic”, “go plastic free” and lots of “plastic is rubbish!” posts. Like I’ve said in my previous post about plastic toys, I don’t think that plastic itself is rubbish, I think it’s pretty useful. Disposal of single-use plastic is a massive problem, of course, but I think that the plastic that we already have – whether given to us, bought in former times when we didn’t think about this stuff, or just durable, useful stuff which will last a long time – should be looked after, used and reused until it’s no longer usable, then disposed of as responsibly as possible. We should respect it for the energy and virgin materials we took from the planet to create it. I find the whole “plastic is evil” mantra to be very simplistic and usually a bit smug – but hey, I love your hand-knitted hemp and bamboo hammock, well done, you’re a much better human than me.

Plus, I bloody love Tupperware. Tidy, useful, stackable Tupperware. So imagine my horror when my good friend and blog follower Anne sent me a link to this: “Save your money and save the planet! I absolutely need to replace my entire Tupperware cabinet with these!”

Further quotation from the product page:

“Made with 100% Platinum silicone. Because you’re worth it. Traditional plastic containers are petroleum based and can contain harmful chemicals. These toxins can leach into your food especially when heating or microwaving. That’s why pure silicone is best for your health. No BPA, no lead, no PVC, no Phthalates.”

Surprise, surprise, 60% off at the moment #WarOnPlastic #PlasticFreeJuly. Wonder if L’Oréal know that they’ve nicked their slogan…?

Silicone seems to be the anti-plastic material being advertised most aggressively at the moment – not biodegradable, but recyclable “where facilities exist”. RecycleNow has no information on silicone recycling, and a fairly thorough Google of “silicone recycling in London” reaped no rewards… so these will probably last forever too.

So, is Tupperware (or any other brand of plastic food storage system) actually dangerous and should we all be going out a replacing it with other materials?

There are plenty of articles out there like this one, which could very feasibly terrify us all into chucking out our plastic boxes and replacing with silicone/bamboo/glass/whatever, anything to prevent “structural damage to your brain” and “changes in gender-specific behaviour and abnormal sexual behaviour” – NB no definition of these given. There’s also a helpful reference to a Daily Mail article. And who is Dr Mercola exactly – does he have some sort of doctoral qualification in chemical engineering or toxicology? No.

Alternatively, there’s some nice evidence-based science from actual scientists at Cancer Research UK and Harvard Health Publishing – my summary take from these articles is that microwave-safe plastic containers are safe, but heating food in lots of other kinds of plastic probably isn’t a great idea. This is also a really useful , although maybe slightly alarmist article on the different types of plastic and the ones to avoid. All my food boxes are plastic #5, so I’m certainly not worried about using them for storage.

Am I convinced about the heat issue from microwaving or dish washing? There’s so much out there, but the science-based stuff (more here and here) suggests it’s probably ok if you avoid BPA and stick to microwave-safe containers – but then there’s doubt cast on cans! It’s endless… This article is also really good and warrants further reading, as there’s a lot I don’t understand in it about plastic science.

Anyway, there is endless reading to be done and it’s very difficult to analyse the research unless you’re a chemical engineer. So my conclusions are:

  • I’m going to keep using my Tupperware for storage, but try to avoid microwaving in it (I don’t do this much anyway) or using in the dishwasher.
  • I’m not going to buy some dubious silicone cling-film replacement, which by many reports and reviews isn’t that good anyway, made by companies who are cashing in on the #WarOnPlastic like it’s some kind of fad. And I’m going to keep on exposing and getting cross about green-washing bullsh*t like this, because it distracts us from the real issues at stake. Buying yet more stuff will not save the planet.
  • I’m going to keep encouraging people to reuse and respect their existing plastic possessions, rather than succumbing to this weird demonisation of useful, durable stuff which we already possess.
  • I’m going to keep working on eliminating single-use plastic from our lives, but with an understanding that I can’t do it all at once.
  • Here endeth the lesson.

Back soon with updates from the Council about #smokegate, arguing with strangers on the internet about paper bags, and overcoming my eBay antipathy.

Everyday activism – does pester power work? #MyCenterParcsFeedback

Magnificent giant redwoods at Center Parcs, Longleat

Pester power is a thing, right? Children are manipulated by the media and advertising into wanting something, then pressurise their parents endlessly to get it, and they eventually give in. I seem to remember this being the reason you often can’t buy chocolate at supermarket tills anymore. I can’t imagine many toddlers tantrumming over batteries and ibuprofen these days.

The last episode of the BBC documentary War on Plastic invited viewers to “pester” retailers by returning unwanted plastic packaging to the supermarkets, and post on social media with the #OurPlasticFeedback tag. I’ve seen a lot of this shared on Twitter in the last week, with mainly the same generic responses from the supermarkets about what they’re doing to reduce plastic waste. Most worryingly is all the promises to make more of it recyclable – when we know that the UK recycling system is overwhelmed and dysfunctional, with large amounts of waste being sent to landfill anyway due to contamination or inappropriate items being put in the recycling, or sent overseas with no audit trail of whether it is actually recycled, burnt or put in landfill.

There’s a real feeling for me that none of the actions needed are happening fast enough, and we as consumers can’t do much about it – the sheer scale of the problem requires corporations to make the high-impact changes.

But a bit of pestering feels quite good, so I think we should keep at it, and highlight things as we come across them to put pressure on companies to get better at this stuff and be accountable for their environmental impact.

So anyway, we went to Center Parcs at Longleat last week with the small one and some members of the grandparental team. It was brilliant, we all had an amazing time – lovely site with some awesome trees, a lot of “splish splash” and we even managed a couple of date nights, with free babysitting. Thanks Grandad and Granny!

But this upset me a lot, especially as you all know I am obsessed with dishwashing.

One disposable washing up sponge per lodge for each stay x approx 800 lodges x 6 Center Parcs villages in the UK (not even thinking about the villages in Europe) x 97% occupancy over 52 weeks = something like 242,112 sponges used per year, ending up in landfill or incinerated. Not to mention the horrible thought that each dishcloth (made of grim microfibre polyester stuff) and tea towel might also be thrown away after each stay. So I’ve written to them and tweeted them to see if they have any plans to switch to reusable options. (Also heaped a ton of praise on the staff members we encountered, all of whom, without exception, were excellent).

I’ve also been hassling Greenwich Council about a local air pollution issue and their lack of action to address it, in writing and copied to my local MP and councillors. What has particularly irritated me is the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency and requests on Twitter for people to pledge to have a bonfire free summer for Clean Air Day, while ignoring local issues which flout air quality laws.

#greenwashing

Essentially, this whole climate situation is making me feel quite anxious and a bit angry that it’s so hard to make the right choices in the face of companies who won’t make changes quickly enough, for fear of impacting their bottom line. And it’s made me feel a bit better and a bit more in control to start complaining about stuff. I highly recommend it. I’m not convinced it will make any difference, but it’s got to be worth a try, right?

#plasticbandwagon cont. – Motherhood, Consumption and Guilt

The minute you have a baby, or even considerably beforehand in some cases (NCT “newsletter”, I’m looking at YOU), people start trying to sell you stuff. Bounty reps come into your room when you’ve barely finished giving birth to pressure you into buying their newborn photo bundle, meanwhile harvesting your contact information to begin an email campaign convincing you of all the essential stuff you have to buy to keep your child alive. They are subcontracted by HMRC to distribute the Child Benefit form, so you end up giving them your details without really realising what’s going on (it’s possible to manage this differently, apparently, but honestly, when you’ve just given birth, are you going to argue?)

I could write a LOT about motherhood and guilt, and the way societal pressures and judgments push us into polarising mothers by their parenting choices (breast/bottle, puree/baby-led weaning, go back to work or stay at home etc. etc. etc.) You’re a bad mother if you don’t have the right pushchair and snazzy changing bag, you absolutely NEED all this stuff to give your child the best start in life. But you’re also now a bad mother if you buy too much stuff – in fact, it’s probably ALL your fault, especially if the stuff is plastic. Because plastic is in fact evil. As are most mothers.

So I wanted to talk about plastic toys. Here’s an actual plastic bandwagon.

It’s noisy and annoying and my son loves it. Fortunately, it lives at Grandma and Grandad’s house. And it also came from a car boot sale and cost 50p (thanks Grandad for “sourcing”).

There’s a fair amount of snobbery about children’s toys – articles like this would make most ordinary parents feel pretty guilty, judged and lazy, to be honest. Or just confused. (“Why buy plastic tea sets when they can play with real freebies?” Uh, because they will break them and the bits will be sharp and I won’t have a mug to drink my coffee out of and then I will die?) I asked for advice about toys for my son on Facebook once, and received the helpful comment – “whatever you do, don’t fill your house with plastic”.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s anything intrinsically wrong with plastic toys – I don’t think they’re actually toxic if made in the EU (shock, horror), and I don’t think they create gormless kids with no imagination. I do think too many toys causes overwhelm and lack of focus, but that could be toys of any material.

I read something on Twitter a few days ago which struck gold :

Plastic is, admittedly, a perfect material for sturdy, easily cleaned toys. I think the key thing with toys is to buy good quality ones, pass them around your friends and/or use charities. Are toy libraries still a thing?

Tweeted by @curlyheather28 on 24th June, retweeted by my new blogger pal @happy_tortoise

Beautiful sanded-down Scandi wooden toys are of course lovely, but they’re pretty expensive and also made of trees. Surely the best toy out there in terms of the environment is one that already exists.

So I did a quick toy audit at home – not including random household items which have become toys – a milk pan, an old remote control, a tea strainer and some old bangles of mine, among other things – because my son has an imagination all of his own, thanks, the breakdown goes like this:

21% wooden toys, bought new. 8% wooden toys, given as gifts. 8% wooden toys, second hand.

21% plastic toys, bought new. 13 % plastic toys, given as gifts. 29% plastic toys, second hand.

So 37% second hand – car boot sales, hand-me-downs and Facebook marketplace mainly. I would be aiming to increase that ratio as time goes on and reduce what we’re buying new, but I’m not going to lose any more sleep about plastic.

So enough on the guilt about plastic toys, folks. Obviously crap disposable Happy Meal toys that end up discarded very quickly are bad news (petition made famous by the War on Plastic TV programme is here). But durable toys passed on between families or shared within a brilliant community resource like the Charlton Toy Library should be celebrated as pre-loved, not demonised as bad parenting.

Here endeth the rant.

(Just wait until I post about the singing plastic dumper truck. Really)

#SaturdaySwitch part 2 – yog yog

Yoghurt is a staple of ours and has been since early on in the weaning process. It’s usually very popular and has sometimes been the only thing eaten in times of teething and illness. Sometimes it gets quite messy, and I have tons of funny photos of my boy covered in yoghurt, which would make great headers for this blog – but when he’s 18 he might object to me having shared them publicly, so this stock photo will have to do.

We made a lot of purchase decisions out of convenience/exhaustion in the early days, especially during the brief and hideous period of time when I was working four days a week on the other side of London and we literally couldn’t cope with our lives. So we just got used to buying multi-packs of baby yoghurt, as that’s what we’ve always done. And what a no-brainer of a switch this has turned out to be. Here’s the maths:

Little Yeo – 4 x 90g pot yoghurt, creates 36g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.40, or 2 packs for £2 (permanently on offer in Asda) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 27.7p

Petit Filous – 6 x 47g pot yoghurt, creates 24g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.40, or 2 packs for £2 (same offer as above, also £1 in Co-op) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 35.5p

Yeo Valley – 1 x 450g pot yoghurt, creates 13g empty plastic packaging. Costs: £1.50, or 2 packs for £2 (same again from Asda, also £1 in Co-op for any flavour) – cost of yoghurt per 100g = 22p

A slight downside of course is having to serve a portion of the big tub in a bowl, but there’s less washing up of annoying plastic for recycling and the ecobrick, with the added bonus that I get to eat some too. Sometime I even get fed it. “Mummy want yog yog?” Definitely no photos of that being shared any time soon.

I can’t quite fathom how to work out the savings per week on this, but it’s definitely cheaper and worth it for the plastic saving alone. Someone did suggest having a go at making my own yoghurt, which is a thought indeed – although I fear that these kinds of missions (similar to DIY deodorant) would have a detrimental impact on the amount of CBeebies viewing that goes on in this house. Maybe we’ll do it together one day as messy play… do I get extra smug mummy points for that? Anyone want to come over and help?

Here’s some photos of weighed plastic to prove I did this properly (NB the outer packaging of the big pot of Yeo Valley is cardboard so should go into the recycling separately).

#SaturdaySwitch part 1

Welcome to Saturday Switch! (It’s got its own hashtag and everything).

My Dad just told me that my last post was too long, with unnecessary footnotes, and to remember that I’m not writing an MBA dissertation, so I will keep this brief.

Saturday switch is going to be an easy (ish) switch that we’ve made to a more eco-friendly product, which will also be a long-term cost saving.

These plastic scourers are bad news for the environment, essentially made of petroleum and 0% biodegradable, also leaking microplastics into the water. So cheap and so effective, but so toxic (also wrapped in non-recyclable plastic film).

We’ve replaced with a double pack of EuroScrubbys, which are made of cotton, are machine-washable and long-lasting and compostable when they reach the end of their lives. They’re very effective – not great on glasses, so we might add a loofah sponge to the washing up armoury in due course.

Admittedly we bought them on Amazon and they came wrapped in plastic, so not perfect – some better options here and alternative ideas here, I didn’t really research this fully enough before making the purchase.

Costings:

Two EcoScrubbys = £7.95, so £3.96 each.

Sainsbury’s non-scratch sponge scourers £1.00 for 6, 17p each.

Asda Smart Price scourers (cheapest I can find) 40p for 8, 5p each.

So assuming you’re using the cheapest plastic-based scourers and you change them once a week, the break-even point would be around 18 months. If you’re using the higher end products (also assuming weekly change), the break-even point would be just under six months.

So not actually a brilliant financial saving after all, but an ocean saver and a plastic free choice. Any thoughts?

Stinky little bottom – or, #plasticbandwagon poos.*

A vast array of poo-related songs have been created in our house over the past two years, plus many re-writes of well-known songs with bum-related lyrics. A personal favourite of mine is the tune of Jingle Bells with the words “stinky bum, stinky bum, very stinky bum, oh what fun it is to do a great big stinky poo…” etc. And one of my all-time greatest parenting memories so far is singing alternative stinky bottom lyrics in harmony to the Thula Mama song ( a Zulu lullaby) with one of my very beloved mum friends.**

Anyway. I’m a bit late to the party on the whole sustainable/eco nappy thing. I always intended to go for reusable nappies (or “cloth bums”, as some people insist on calling them). But the truth is that I found the first few weeks and months of parenting so incredibly tough, for a variety of reasons, that I never managed it. I’m sure it’s not all that complicated to get a system set up for the reusable ones, but it just felt overwhelming to me and I could never quite get my head around it. If we have small person #2 (should we?), I am determined to crack it, although I do have some qualms about the impact of the additional laundry – yet more to be thought about here. I’m not sure it’s worth the financial outlay to make the change now for small person #1, especially as I think we’re quite close to potty training (what larks await us…!).

We did try out biodegradable nappies, but they cost a fortune, and leaked. We tried biodegradable nappy bags, but they also cost a fortune and seemed pointless if the nappy therein isn’t biodegradable.

We use Waterwipes, which are chemical free, and never flush them, but of course we now know that they contain plastic (80% polyester and 20% viscose, according to Friends of the Earth – this article looks like the final word on the subject of wet wipes, I haven’t read every word but will do eventually and maybe do a follow-up post if there’s anything interesting to say).

I’ve sort of justified it to myself on this by acknowledging that our black bin waste doesn’t end up in landfill. Our borough incinerates non-recyclable waste at an energy recovery facility. So this statement that I keep seeing that every single disposable nappy ever used is now in landfill isn’t actually true. But even so, no matter how clean these facilities purport to be, clearly they will have some negative environmental impact.

So anyway, enough excuses, let’s cut to the chase.

I did a wipe-free pooey nappy change yesterday and no one died. I used the front of the nappy to get rid of the worst (always do this anyway), then loo roll for the rest, then a damp flannel for final wipe and dry flannel for drying. The main hassle factor for me is having to do this on the floor in the bathroom to be near the loo, rather than upstairs on the changing table which I still use as my knees are still knackered post-pregnancy. But I think it’s probably worth the pain, so I’m up for making this a long-term switch and using up the Waterwipes stash while out and about. I think we will also save up for some Cheeky Wipes, for this purpose and also for post-meal carnage clear-up.

So I guess this very long post is aiming to show that these decisions at a household level are not totally straightforward, despite the #WaronPlastic rhetoric. But I think I’ve made the decision for us to ditch the wipes, and I’m seeing lots of other people making it too, which can only be a good thing for the planet.

(And it’s probably cheaper in the long run too, I will do the maths on this at some point, just for fun),

*John B, Blandwagon Poos – it’s so funny you might wet yourself, although you have to be pretty rad and cool to like drum n bass.

Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics - 40 x 50 Cm Art Print/Poster

**Thula Mama is the brain-child of Helen Yeomans, a franchise of singing groups for mums with their pre-walking babies, running all over the UK and beyond. Lush acapella harmonies, coffee and cake – kept me sane in the early days for sure. Spotify playlist here, YouTube video here (just made me cry a little bit). Also CDs available, highly recommended for long car journeys, as well as the 3am shift.

P.S. I’m on Twitter, @TheEverydayRad1. I’m a bit lonely. If you want to see photos of my cabbage pasta and lentil ragu, and other random stuff I share, follow me!