zero waste vs zero food miles

Once upon a time all our needs were met locally.  We collected wood for a fire, grew and raised our own food, made our own clothes us using whatever fabric was local to us from hemp to cotton to wool.  There are some people who, admirably, manage to do this today, but for most of us it is essential to engage in transactions with third parties to feed and clothe and entertain ourselves and our families.

I have long been involved in both the Slow Food and Local Food movements.  I was a founder member of The Durham Local Food Network and believe passionately in supporting local producers, not just of food but of as many other consumables as possible.  However how can I reconcile that with a zero waste lifestyle.  You would have thought it would be easy, surely the two go together.  But they don’t.

Bea Johnson, who genuinely does live the closest to a zero waste lifestyle as anyone I have come across in this journey purchases almost all her food from Whole Foods.  This is because she is able to take her own containers (thus no unnecessary plastic or even paper bags for anything from bread to meat) and she can purchase loose goods from pasta to biscuits from the bulk bins.  Well therein lies the first problem.  However, lovely Whole Foods is, it is essentially an upmarket supermarket (and has prices to match).  There is little local about purchasing my oats at Whole Foods even if I could get to one.

So the other option?  Durham Food Co-op buys in bulk from a large range of local producers and the balance from Infinity Foods (a co-operative wholesaler of organic and non-organic foods); Durham Farmers’ Market  has an excellent selection of local produce; I have access to a good local greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and cheese merchant.  The problem?  Most of the food I buy will come prepackaged.  I don’t have the option, other than for the vegetables, to use my own containers.

Last year I read about Plastic Free July, unfortunately I heard about it rather late so when I attempted to go plastic free for a week I didn’t have the ongoing tips and support and fell quickly by the wayside.  I have signed up for Plastic Free July for this year and am giving myself three months to prepare.  I am going to need it.  Plastic free is very hard to achieve.  The easiest way to go plastic free is to start making as much as possible from scratch.  I make my own soft cheese, yoghurt, dog food and dog treats, granola, jams, jellies, wine and cider vinegars, pickles etc.  I have asked for a canner for Mothering Sunday with a view to canning our own home grown vegetables.  But there is only so much I can do myself and I don’t work full time so I have the time to do all this.

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So do I go package (and predominantly plastic) free or do I go local?  I know in my heart I will go local.  But that will mean compromise.  What is more important to you.  Zero waste or zero food miles?

food wrap and parrots

EDIT!!!!

I have been advised that due to the low flash point of beeswax (ie. the fumes produced become exceptionally flammable and could cause a fire) it should always be melted in a bain marie (ie. in a bowl over boiling water).   As beeswax also has a very low melting point (approx 62 degrees) this should  not take long.

I suspect that dipping the cloth in the liquid wax would result in a cloth with far thicker wax covering than required or even useful.  So I am going to experiment with melting the wax and brushing it on. Will feedback later.

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Forgive me if this post is full of typos but this

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has been on my right shoulder for much of this afternoon.  And whilst we now get on quite well and she no longer tries to give me multiple ear piercings, she does still have rather sharp claws and I am wearing a sleeveless top and my right shoulder is rather sore.  Also she is moulting and so is intent on removing her loose bits of feathers.  She does not seem to have appreciated that I am not a bird, I do not have feathers and I do not need the feathers I don’t have to be removed…..

Today has been a busy kitchen day.  I think  a month away has given me aga homesickness.  So today I made, yoghurt, granola, kimchi (for the first time), granola bars, yoghurt cake and bread.  But the most exciting aga experiment did not involve food, but this.

P1000525Beeswax.

At the Artisan Fair at Byron Bay on Friday evening last week I came across a lady selling waxed cotton food wraps.  This appealed to me on several fronts.  First, no plastic, second the food can breath and third it is a lot prettier than cling and fling 😉  What appealed to me less was the price.  So I had a go at making my own.

First cut your cotton.  Taking the modern connotation of the word organic out of the equation for the moment, cotton is an organic substance, polyester is not.   Linen or hemp would probably work just as well, but I happen to have a lot of cotton oddments lying around so I used cotton.

Place on a baking tray.  Use an old one, you are not going to be cooking with it again.

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Sprinkle granules (or grated) beeswax over the cotton and place in the oven.  I used the aga on Bake but about 180 would be about right.  Do keep an eye on it.  The wax melts fast and you don’t want it to burn.  It’s not as if you are making a souffle, opening the door is not going to cause a culinary disaster.

Once melted brush the wax evenly over the fabric (again using a brush that isn’t going to be used to spread beaten egg over your prized apple pie).

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Hang up to dry.  I put ours outside.  It is a windy day.  They were dry in seconds.

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Wrap up your food.

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You will have noticed that the baking tray is quite small.  I wanted some bigger clothes.  So this time I just sprinkled the wax, folded and sprinkled again (a bit like making puff pastry!).  The wax melts through all the layers.

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It worked just fine.  So now I have sizes for cheese, for small bowl and for large bowls.

I had intended to read the paper now, but the parrot seems to have eaten it

presents and plastic

So it is the 2nd of September.  That means two things.  I need to make sure I have my mother’s birthday present (tick) and we are day two into the month of no (or at least as little as possible) plastic.

Mother’s present was quite easy.  As I don’t think she reads my blog I can tell you she should be enjoying a rather nice lunch with my stepfather in a rather nice restaurant in London.  No plastic was involved in the purchase, preparation or sending of said present and I sincerely hope that there is no plastic involved in the serving of her present either.  Though unfortunately I cannnot vouch for the kitchen in which it will be prepared.

As for the September challenge.  We have hardly done any shopping and have already failed.

Sunday newspapers – the supplements come in a pre-sealed plastic bag.  I imagine it makes the assembly easier, however I remember Sunday newspapers as a child and there was no plastic bag then.  My father gets the LA Times which is vast and there is no plastic there either.  Letter to Sunday Times on its way.

Quayside market.  Wonderful produce from local producer.  One beauty of a swede.

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Gorgeous selection of onions.

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Beautiful variety of tomatoes.

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But I had failed to bring any small cloth or paper bags for the tomatoes and they were put in plastic.  Have now added one cloth and three paper bags to the little parachute silk Onya bag that lives in my handbag.

Then absolute  massive fail whilst my back was turned.  The Boss as a bit of a sock thing.  He likes them brightly coloured and not necessarily matching.  He bought a set of three pairs of very attractive stripey socks and….. let the stallholder put them in a solitary plastic bag all of their own.  I had THREE Onya bags they could have gone in.  He has promised to be more vigilant in the future.

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Today I have purchased some wine (glass bottles that will be used for homemade wine), fruit juice (cartons that will be used as firelighters) and carrots (bought loose). All brought home in one of my plastic free hessian bags.

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On all occasions I refused a receipt.  Nobody seemed too surprised or fussed.  So I wonder, would shops which issue receipts automatically consider having a no receipt option on their till at the buyer’s risk?

Tonight I will do the menu plan for next week and write out my weekly shopping list.  I will have to plan very carefully.  I suspect what we eat will be dictated by where I can buy the necessary ingredients without incurring the input of plastic.  Fortunately the hens are still laying so we will always have the egg option.  Although as I was planning on using up the last of the asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce tonight they had better get laying!

 

panic

I don’t do regrets.  I can’t see the point in looking back and getting upset about something that has already been and gone.  Today I am going to make an exception.

Why on earth did I go public about trying to go plastic free.  The more observant readers will notice the introduction of a new word.  Yup “trying”  because as the 1st September fast approaches I am starting to panic that it is all going to go belly up pretty fast.  There is so much plastic around us.

The project is not helped by the fact that I have three teenage daughters.  Three perfectly formed modern consumers who like stuff.  Not masses of stuff to be fair and they are discriminating about on what they spend their money.  But much of the stuff they like tends to come with plastic: toiletries, Haribou tangfastic; soft plastic bread for toast; cotton wool pads; fresh strawberries in plastic punnets.

They already think I am bonkers, the mention of the plastic free month was met with  much eye rolling, sighing and pleas to be a bit more normal.  They are fairly well resigned to the fact that all jams and jellies for example are homemade, but still look longingly at the jars of pap on the shop shelves.  I did suggest (as a joke) that we made our own Nutella (which as a plastic lid by the way), you would have thought I was suggesting they eat raw tripe for a month!

But I cannot put all the blame on them.  I have spent this month looking at everything I buy and how much plastic is involved.  Oh boy, there is so much and some is going to be very hard to avoid.

One area that I am really struggling with is cleaners and toiletries.  Not buying them, I can do that quite easily and make my own instead.  But the ingredients I need to make them come in plastic bottles!  Vinegar, surgical spirit, rosewater, witch hazel, beeswax, glycerine, oils.  They all come in plastic bottles.  I have to buy in bulk because I use so much so I have to buy over the internet and nobody is going to send glass bottles through the post if they can avoid it.  I’m wondering if I can send them back but I suspect the answer will be “no it’s too much fuss”.  Grrr

first steps

I’ve had a tremendous response to my announcement about going plastic free.  Thank you very much.  However, it is rather daunting, perhaps I should have kept quiet and then my failures (I am not so naïve as to think there will be none) will not be so public.  So striking whilst the iron is hot, here is update number one.

 

  • Plastic chopping boards have been put away.  We still have two wooden ones so they were surplus to requirements anyway.
  • I cannot find any dog, cat, poultry, parrot or fish food that doesn’t come packaged in plastic.  I will have a word with our feed supplier.  We are good customers so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
  • Toiletry containers.  I make my own toner with rosewater and witch hazel and store that in metal bottles, but the bulk rosewater and witch hazel comes in plastic …….  I’ve got quite enough moisturiser and oil for the moment and will use them up but can see this might be problematic.
  • cleaning products.  I tend to use bicarb, vinegar and essential oils for most house cleaning and have bought metal trigger spray cannisters for the bathrooms.  I am experimenting with soapnuts.  I have plenty of washing up liquid and dishwasher powder for the moment.  When it needs replacing I can get loose dishwasher powder in cardboard.  Washing up liquid  will be more of a challenge.  Back to bicarb?
  • Food.  A whole post on its own I think!
  • Cd and dvd.  I got rid of the cases years ago and store them in specialist folders to reduce space.  New music and films can be downloaded.
  • I rarely take a plastic bag as I have always had  my own and have two onya bags that live in my handbag for emergencies.  However, the rest of the family is not so observant.
  • Freezer bags and Tupperware.  I know that you can freeze in glass but it will take time to build up a suitable collection of containers.  We use our freezer a lot.  We buy whole sheep, we have a large orchard and fruit garden  I freeze tons of fruit.  I often bulk cook and place additional meals in the freezer.  I make stock with every carcass …..
  • Medicine bottles.  I noted that Bea Johnson conceded that their medicine cupboard was the one area where she had not managed to avoid all packaging so I don’t feel quite so bad.
  • Diary cartons.  The milkman won’t deliver to us as we are too far out but he will deliver to the castle and I can pick up from there.  I can easily go back to making my own yoghurt and soft cheese.  That leaves cream/crème fraiche.
  • My pencil case is leather but the girls have to have clear pencil cases for their exams.  Short of having a glass box I am not sure how to avoid plastic here.
  • Junk mail.  I admire anyone who has managed to get their junk mail reduced, I am fighting an endless battle, one step forward two steps back.
  • I have been wanting a new watering can for the garden and the house for a long time so now I can get one!  Garden hose is more of a problem and essential for our garden especially the vegetable beds.
  • Clothes pegs.  Easily replaced.
  • Washing machine balls.  Hmm, they are supposed to be ecologically sound in that they help the washing with less powder so a conundrum.  Have switched to soapnuts and think they could probably do with the help.
  • Tumble drier balls.  With a family of five living in the back of beyond with 3 dogs, 5 cats, chickens, geese and a small lake we have a lot of dirty clothes.  In the winter even with the Aga and the overhead airer I need to tumble dry to keep up.  The balls are supposed to reduce the amount of drying required.  Second conundrum
  • Kitchen sink plug – simple buy a metal washing up bowl – if I can find one….
  • Fermenting bin.  This isn’t my area of expertise, can you use metal bins?
  • packaging.  A parcel came today wrapped in bubble wrap.  Normally I would keep it to reuse, it seems pointless to throw it away and I will need to wrap parcels at Christmas?
  • Packing tape.  Apparently non plastic does exist, I just have to find it.
  • Folders.  Plastic does last longer than cardboard.  Research required.
  • Meat baster.  I did have a glass one once.
  • Shower cap?  Help here please.
  • Husband has metal razor, I see no reason why I can’t.

 

|I’m exhausted already!

 

 

plastic free

Inspired by nzecochick, who along with thousands of people in New Zealand, Australia and an increasing number of other countries, went plastic free in July.  I decided I would attempt to do the same in September.

I have given myself August to start planning and preparing.  This is an arbitrary and incomplete list of the plastic already in our house.

  1. pet food sacks
  2. toiletry containers
  3. cleaning product containers
  4. food wrapping
  5. toothbrushes
  6. hairbrushes
  7. food storage containers
  8. cd cases
  9. dvd cases
  10. bags
  11. freezer bags
  12. bin bags
  13. medicine bottles
  14. dairy cartons
  15. pencil cases
  16. junk mail/catalogue covers
  17. watering cans
  18. clothes pegs
  19. washing maching balls
  20. tumble drier balls
  21. chopping board
  22. kitchen sink plug
  23. fermenting bin
  24. parcel packaging
  25. wrapping tape
  26. folders
  27. meat baster
  28. shower cap
  29. razor
  30. clothes packaging (multibuy underwear, shirts etc)

I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist.  Suddenly it didn’t seem so easy after all.  Also with three teenage daughters and a husband who thinks that one can go too far and I am approaching that point, I am going to be flying solo.

Fortunately the plastic free movement is live and kicking.  There is a vast array of blogs and information sites on the internet:

Yesterday I walked around the house and looked at what I could change immediately.

  • stainless steel water bottles
  • enamel picnic ware
  • stainless steel straws
  • replace travel mugs (ours are falling apart)
  • bamboo  picnic cutlery
  • stainless steel lunchboxes
  • wooden chopping boards
  • clothes pegs
  • make own yoghurt
  • make own toiletries and cleaning products
  • use stainless steel containers for toiletries and cleaning products
  • download music
  • use DVD library and Netflix
  • cut up a loofah for a pan scrubber

Also I have discovered that there is a Food Weigh House in Gateshead and in Newcastle so I may just be able to buy bulk without packaging after all.  My wonderful butcher thinks I am bonkers but is happy to let me use my own containers and now I just have to have the same conversation with my very friendly fishmonger.  Fortunately the greengrocers are already quite happy for me to tip everything willy nilly into my bags.

Plastic free kitchen storage is going to be a problem.  I need big storage containers for flours, nuts, rice, etc.  I have found some good deals for 2 and 3 litre kilner jars but they are just too (1cm to be precise) tall for my pantry shelves.  I may be able to move some stuff around but this is going to be a more complex issue than just buying new jars.  If anyone knows of any wide & flatter glass storage containers, at least 2l in size please let me know.

So that’s the tip of the iceberg sorted.  Now for the rest.  What plastic can you exclude in September?

refill

The holiday is approaching.  We are going to Turkey, Kalkan to be precise and I am making headway into the preparations.  I have e-visas, e-tickets and the hotel and car were booked online.  So far so good.

Yesterday I hit Boots for the suncream etc.

  • Suncream
  • Aftersun
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Insect repellant
  • Prescription refills
  • Antihistamine cream
  • Eurax for prickly heat.
  • plastic
  • plastic
  • plastic
  • metal
  • cardboard and blister pack
  • metal
  • metal

Not one of those was refillable.  The Body Shop used to offer refills.  When I was at school in Brighton we used to go to the very first Body Shop, it was in a back street in Kemp Town I think.  The labels were handwritten and every bottle was refillable.  Now that is no more and it seems we don’t have an appetite for reusing our own containers.

Most of us of a certain age remember collecting the pop bottles to take back to the corner shop in return for a handful of pennies which we then spent on garish gobstoppers, flying saucers and blackjacks.  We all had a milkman who picked up our empty milk bottles (and used to take me on rides on his wagon and let me feed his horse carrots).  Gone in many places now.

Why do we let it happen?  Why do we not fight back?  If you know of a company or shop who refills bottles (from milk to wine to shampoo, whatever.  One which will let you use your own containers.  Let me know.  It doesn’t matter where in the world you are.  I’ll add them to a list here on the blog.  It would be good if it were a list that “grew and grew like Topsy”.  But it will only go if we vote with our feet and our wallets.