You must be living under a rock if you’re still blissfully unaware of the damage that plastics, chemicals and needless waste are doing to our planet. I am not, however, going to sit here with my collection of scented candles and our car sitting outside (albeit off the road awaiting repairs) and claim to be some kind of Green Goddess, because nothing puts one off a cause faster than a hypocrite.
I have, however, been making small steps over the past years to not just recycle and compost; but to reduce my consumption in the first place – though I will confess right now that I do have an almost overwhelming desire for books and crafting and arts materials.
Some of you will remember the wonderful “Self Sufficient-ish” website and forum, and Dave and Andy Hamilton’s companion book , The Self Sufficient-ish Bible. A staggering ten years since publication, it is still my go-to read for all things eco AND practical and forum members are amongst some of my best friends, so it has been a really important and integral part of my life since our kids were wee.
We do, however, all have a tendency to slide back into bad habits and this year, motivated by a marvellous BBC Radio 4 series also called ‘New Year Solutions’ I decided to get my act together and haul my backside out of the rut I feel I’ve got stuck in. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a keen walker (and user of public transport) and I love pottering in the kitchen and cooking from scratch, growing my own vegetables and making do and mending wherever I can. I haven’t been on an aeroplane since 2006 and I would consider our lifestyle to be rather more eco-friendly and waste-conscious than many people of our demographic; but I wanted to see what else I could do and, tellingly, how easy, cheap and practical it is to swap.
It was a glimpse of the bathroom that really shocked me, and the sheer amount of plastics and chemicals contained in one ridiculously small space.
One of my first experiments, last year, was to invest in the materials needed to make bubble bath, shower gel etc. It’s basically Castille soap and vegetable glycerine mixed with water and essential oils. It doesn’t, however, contain any chemical surfactants so you get, essentially, bubble-free bubble bath after the first few minutes. It does, however make a very nice shower gel, as long as you can train your brain away from the idea planted by clever marketeers years ago that foam and lather = clean.
I bought glass screw-top bottles for mine, these wouldn’t be practical in some situations where they might get dropped and smash and, really, when I worked out the cost of buying the ingredients and containers and compared it to your supermarket own brand bubble-bath and shower gel, which can be bought for pennies, it wasn’t the most practical or cheap swap. It does have the benefit of containing far less in the way of chemicals than shop bought, of course, as well as you having the ability to add essential oils to suit you and if you refill a bottle with the mix you are reducing your plastic.
I had heard about shampoo bars and, once I had my hair chopped off, I invested in one – a lovely smelling mint and coconut one I found on eBay for about £4.00 and, having read some rather unimpressed reviews of shampoo bars in general, I tried it without expecting much. Well, well. 10/10 on my newly short hair, would recommend. I can see how it might feel tacky on longer hair than mine (currently in a chin length bob) which is a common complaint; but in terms of waste, these bars will last much longer than your average bottle of shampoo (the manufacturer stated around five times longer) and the only plastic was the wrap around the bar – the item shipped wrapped in cardboard and brown paper instead of a jiffybag.
A throwback to my 80s teenage years this one – Cider vinegar rinse instead of conditioner: 6/10 (because even if you only use a few mls of vinegar you can’t help but think you stink like a bag of chips. The smell goes when your hair is properly dry, and it makes your hair lovely and shiny but someone might mistake you for a rissole if you go out with damp hair and dollop some ketchup on you.)
Coconut Oil as a night moisturiser, hand moisturiser, eye make-up remover: YES! 8/10, a bit heavy for anything other than night use but very good indeed for budging waterproof mascara. My coconut oil remains solid because our house is Baltic, and it comes in a glass jar. Win.
What about one of these crystal pendant alum salt thing instead of deodorant, then? Surely not!?
What a surprise! 11/10. No plastic at all, the crystal chunk will last over a year. Being in that delightful time of life known as peri-menopause, my body produces all kind of weird and wonderful sweaty smells my twelve year old son would be proud of. Whilst this isn’t an anti-perspirant, I am absolutely pong free, no niffy whiffs here! A wee bit pricy at first glance at £5.49 (eBay again) if you are, like me, a roll-on user; but it looks as though you’d certainly get your money’s worth if you’re able to give up your more expensive aerosols, though I do understand that if you’re used to spraying yourself from head to toe in smelly stuff, a quick slick of a wet crystal in your (clean) pits might not seem enough and, as I said, it doesn’t prevent the actual sweating. Again, big up to Mother Nature Goodies for zero plastics in their wrapping and packaging.
Bamboo Toothbrush: Medium bristles a bit hard in comparison to a plastic one; but toothbrush is nice and light. I am a sucker for oral hygiene marketing, and I can’t help believing all the hype that an angled head, varied bristle lengths and weird bobbly bits of plastic will drastically improve my oral health, even though my hygienist has told me that’s basically just crap.
The toothbrush was very cheap, less than £1.00 and again came in a completely plastic free packaging. I’m going to give it a go, but I’ll be interested to see there are any changes to my oral health when I next see my dentist. 6/10, need convincing.
“Truthpaste” vegan toothpaste made from clay, myrrh, wintergreen and a host of other ingredients straight from the bowels of hell. I’m sorry, lovely people at Truthpaste, but your product is f%*&ing disgusting, it feels like you’ve fallen face first in cement. Slightly minty tasting, if you can get past the ‘refreshing’ sensation of a gobful of crushed brick. It did leave my teeth feeling nice though, but I can’t help feeling it’s sloughing away my remaining enamel whilst earth-kindly depriving me of any flouride (we don’t have it in our water up here) 2/10 and I’m happy to give it another go, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t be too abrasive for everyday use.
Making my own soap: I’ve been buying melt-and-pour organic SLS free soap base and adding ingredients to create custom soaps, my favourite is my honey and oatmeal with a wee bit of sweet almond oil. The oatmeal had all floated to the top of the mix but hey, that’s OK because I now have one soap side that’s smooth and the other than is a very gentle exfoliant. It doesn’t make your skin feel as though your jowls have been trapped in a lift door. I’d like to say it makes me feel 16 again but, by Christ, we can’t have miracles at what works out at 50p or so a bar. I wrap mine in greaseproof paper and then pop them in an airtight tub or Kilner jar to save them degrading over time. So simple to make, and would make fabulous gifts. There are tons of soap recipes on Pinterest.
And so….down to the kitchen…….
I’ve been wanting to try beeswax foodwraps for ages, but I confess that I was always put off by the pack prices – a lot of money for something I would be buying blind without trying first. I then discovered that my friend Avril has been experimenting with wraps and she gave me a pack to try out. I was so impressed I am helping her sell them, so if you’d like to try them do let me know. Great on jars and bowls, and I’ve written up a guide on how to use them and how to ‘refresh’ them after you’ve been using them a few months. I am still trying to perfect the origami required to make sandwich envelopes though.
They are £12.50 inc. postage and packing and the pleasure of having me handle your order, and come in three sizes – 20 x 20cm, 25 x 25cm and 30 x 30cm.
Swapping to Indian Soapnuts instead of washing powder – to be honest, these were the things I thought might be the turkey of the show. However, I was very pleasantly surprised once I got past the fact they don’t foam much (those damned marketeers again!) . Everything has come out beautifully, although white shirts etc will probably need an occasional brighten with Vanish/Oxy whatever (if you have a revolting tween as I do with white school shirts). Soapnuts have no smell or softening factors so it is advised to add essential oil to the conditioner drawer but of course that doesn’t soften. Vinegar softens and, again, it doesn’t smell at all once it’s dry but we don’t usually use softener anyway. At £9.00 per kilo (just 6 shells will last around 5 washes at 30 degrees) inc P&P this will be much, much cheaper than powder and I love the idea that I’m not flushing washing powder out into the world. 9/10. They lose a point because they came in a plastic bag.
These are just a couple of things I’ve looked into – on the whole I’ve found the changes fairly reasonably priced (though I was given the wraps as a gift) and, on the whole, just as practical and straightforward as the items I’ve swapped out – there’s certainly very little that is more time-consuming. The only real disappointment is non-bubbling bubble-bath (and who doesn’t love a bubble bath?), and the unfortunate texture and taste of the toothpaste, which I might yet learn to love.
Join me next time, dear reader, when I moan about chest infections, the KonMari method and the state of our raised bed.