Essential Oils

Essential oils have gone from being an obscure aspect of botany to an all round marketing  ‘good thing’.  Almost every product you buy from washing powder to shampoo trumpets that they contain essential oils. So much better, so much greener. As such they have been embraced by the environmental movement as the fragrance for your home made products, a staple in  your medicine chest and the relaxant in your bath.

I have been using them for years thinkin that they are a so eco friendly. But are they really? And are they even oils?

What Are Essential Oils?

They are not actually oils because they do not contain fatty acids.
They are in fact terpenes
Terpenes organic compounds produced by plants (and occasionally insects).
Terpenes are made up of isoprene units, each consisting of five carbon atoms attached to eight hydrogen atoms (C5H8)
They are often strong-smelling.
So essential oils are the strong smelling terepenes found in plants and insects.


Terepenes (along with phenolics nitrogen-containing compounds ) are called secondary metabolites.
Secondary metabolites are chemicals produced by plants for which no role has yet been found in growth, photosynthesis, reproduction, or other “primary” functions. These chemicals are extremely diverse; many thousands have been identified in several major classes. Each plant family, genus, and species produces a characteristic mix of these chemicals, and they can sometimes be used as taxonomic characters in classifying plants. Humans use some of these compounds as medicines, flavorings, or recreational drugs. 

Just so you know – search for terepenes and you get a lot of information about marijuana

They are often characteristic of particular species, are sometimes only produced under particular environmental conditions and for different reasons. The lemon tree for examples produces a pungent oil to repel insects while the rose creates pungent oil to attract them.

N.B. Fragrance oil and essential oil are NOT the same thing. Fragrance” or “fragrance oil” or “perfume” often refers to synthetic scents.

 Medical Qualities

Some essential oils appear to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Others may help speed up healing. However while many claims are made about the potency of essentail oils there is not enough scientific evidence to back them up. Generally it seems to be accepted that they do some limited good though should not be relied on to cure any serious complaints or used to swab down an operating theatre.

While they might not be hugely effective they dont do much harm either. Secondary metabolites are broken down relatively easily so are unlikely to accumulate in large quantities in the environment.

Growing the Oil

Though figures vary you can safely say it takes a lot of plants to produce a small amount of oil..

For one pound of essential oil you will need
50-60 pounds of eucalyptus
200 -250 lbs of lavender Sources include Bulgaria, England, France, USSR, Yugoslavia, Australia, USA, Canada, South Africa, Tanzania, Italy and Spain2 2,000 lbs of cypress
5,000 to 10,000 pounds of rose blossoms to produce one pound of essential oil. Primary cultivation sites for one company include: France, Tasmania, Spain, Italy, England, and China.

Extracting the Oil

Terpenes are usually extracted from plants by steam distillation or chemical extraction.

Environmental Concerns

No matter how they are grown essential oils take up a lot of agricultural land
Growing single species for harvest results in a monoculture style of farming.
Plus all the other demands of farming, – water, fuel, fertilisers organic or not.
It is a lot of input for a very small harvest of what is basically a luxury product.
Add to that the fuel needed to extract the oils “If steam distillation is used temperatures above two hundred degrees applied anywhere from 2-24 hours to extract various oils. ”
If chemical solvents are used which are more effective and so require less plant material, but in turn pose issues of toxicity for people and the environment. 
Some oils are harvested from the wild from threatened species.
Cropwatch, a non-profit that keeps tabs on the natural aromatics industry, maintains a list of wild species threatened including rosewood, sandalwood, amyris, thyme, cedarwood, jatamansi, gentian, wormwood and cinnamon,

Should You Use Them…

Personally all of which makes me wary of using essentail oils. I do love the smell but I don’t like the idea that so many resources go into making one tiny bottle of luxury scent.
If you are going to use essentail oils please use them sparingly and buy from a company that is clear about how they grow and harvest their oils.

Take a look at Pravera or Yorkshire Lavender

How To Use Them…

Read more about the oils we use and what for, HERE.


See a full range of homemade #plasticfree personal care products here 
And find out how to make lots more stuff HERE
Find all plastic free personal care products here…


An introduction to some of the stuff you need to make the above


Natural fibres for brushes

Natural fibre brushes come in many sizes – you can get everything from big bristly brushes for sweeping yards to cute scrubbers for your nails. They  can be used for sweeping, brushing, scrubbing and scouring.

If you don’t know your Piassava from your Pasodoble read the following:

Bassine is a coarse leaf fiber from palmyra palms. It is inexpensive and durable. It is used to make stiff sweeping brushes often used outdoors.

Natural Coco Fibre (COIR)  comes from the husk of the Coconut tree. It is softer than bassine so more liable to crush and splay. Makes a good soft sweeping brush.

Black Coco Fibre (DYED COCO) is coloured natural coco and has exactly the same properties.

Flagged Black Fibre is specially treated dyed coco fibre where the ends have been flagged or split. It sweeps better than plain coco fibre.

Bahia Piassava (BASS) is a stiff fibre harvested from trees. It is water resilient and doesnt distort. It comes from Bahia in Brazil.

Arenga (GUMATI ) Arenga fiber is harvested from the Arenga Pinnata Palm in Indonesia. Arenga is softer and finer than Bahia Paissava. It is very hard wearing and resilient

Tampico Fibre is from the lecheguilla plant (Agaves Sisalana, Agave Foreyodes) grown in Mexico. Good wearing and reasonable sweeping qualities, but is liable to crush. It is also very water absorbent, and non-electrostatic, so that the brushes remain dust free. The natural colour varies from green to yellowish-white although the fibre can also be black or brown as well as grey. The material is used extensively for making yard brooms, panel brushes, deck brushes, nail brushes and bath brushes.

Cereal root is the root of a species of grass, zacaton plant, which grows on the high plateaux of Mexico. The roots of the Zacaton are cut from the plant, washed clean from soil and transported to a preparation factory. Cereal root is a tought, elastic and water-resistant material which is used for vegetable brushes and washing-up brushes.

Union mixture is a mixture of white fibre and bassine. It´s a strong and water-resistant mixture which is used for vegetable brushes, deck brushes and scrubbing brushes

With thanks to Ravibrush  and  irishantverk for the above information

Plastic Alert

Synthetic Fibres in plastic brushes are made from 

  • Polypropylen (PPN) PPN
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Flagged PVC/PPN

Easy enough to spot when they are used alone but sometimes they are mixed with natural fibres. Do check carefully. Ask if any of the above have been used or look carefully at the bristles. Here is an scrub brush

Find reviews of natural fibre sweeping brushes here

  • Coir is a coarse, short fibre extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, that can be used for other things including
  • Coconut pan scrub

Read about other natural fibres and yarn here



Natural fabrics

The more I sew the more I realise all fabrics are not the same – even if they go under the same name! The following are my ongoing notes on the subject. I have a lot to learn!


Lawn is a very fine cotton though as with everything in life it seems you can get different grades of fabric that have, predictably, slightly different qualities. The Ebay lawn I used to make my wrap around top creases far more than the Thai lawn from Japan I used to make the back packers bloomers. I am not complaining about the Ebay lawn. It is still good and at that price, a real bargain. But if you don’t like ironing but do mind looking crumpled than it might be better to try and source a higher grade fabric.

I though I had when I bought some grey lawn from the Button Box in Huddersfield to make the Choir Boy Top. This is more like a muslin more crumply than the Japanese lawn but nots as creased at the Ebay stuff.

Printed Cotton





Natural V Synthetic fabric

In April I am going to be trawling through my wardrobe, ( such as it is). here is some background information to get you in the mood.

What’s in your  Fabric


60% of fibres used today are synthetic and most of them are are petroleum derived, plastic in fact.

The most common are:

Acrylic fibre resembles wool and so is used to replace that natural fibre.
Nylon is used as a silk substitute. It is a very fine and strong fibre so can be used to make ladies tights.
Polyester is one of the most popular man-made fibres. It is the same  Polyethylene terephthalat, (frequently shortened to PET or PETE and was formerly called PETP or PET-P), that is used to make bottles and a lot of other plastic stuff.

Natural Fibres

The next big player in the textile market is cotton. Then in much smaller amounts wool and silk.

Regenerated Fibres

The base material is cellulose that can be obtained from a range of sources including wood, paper, cotton fiber, or  bamboo. It is then converted through a chemical process into a fiber. One such in bamboo. Most bamboo fabric  is made using  chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide  combined with multi-phase bleaching. Both sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide have been linked to serious health problems. Others are looking extremely promising and are biodegradable. But I don’t really know enough about them and more research needs to be done. They make up a small percentage of the market so for now I am going to discount them!

You can find more detailed facts and figures about synthetic and natural fibres here

Why Choose Natural Fibres

Natural sounds so lovely and clean but it can be low down and very dirty. Cotton comes with its own nasty a gender. A quarter of the total worldwide pesticide use occurs in cotton farming, hundreds or farmers get poisoned and it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. Greedy and dirty!Read more…

Wool isn’t much better “The top three pesticides used on sheep are moderately toxic to humans but they are moderately to highly toxic to fish and amphibians, such as frogs, and they are suspected endocrine disruptors. Some of these pesticides are also highly water soluble which means that they can easily be carried from the sheep dip application site by rain or irrigation water runoff into our streams and rivers and contaminate our groundwater.” From Organic Clothing blog

However there are equally nasty chemicals used in making synthetic fibres. For example when making polyester, “Antimony is leached from the fibers during the high temperature dyeing process which is then expelled with the waste water. If not properly cleaned this results in a hazardous water pollutant.  Acrylonitrile used to make acrylic fibres is classed by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen (Group B1).

A main ingredient of Nylon  is “the chemical adipic acid. Producing the acid was once the largest source of industrial nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas. Efficient pollution controls have reduced adipic acid emissions 61 percent between 1990 and 2006, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the chemical still accounts for 5-8 percent of global human-caused emissions of N2O.” read more

Plastic Fabric Pollution 

Synthetic sock survives ocean voyage

Moreover synthetic fibres have the same qualities as plastic. The problems with a polyester sock are the same as with a PET bottle. Though you get more wear out of a sock eventually it gets thrown away and because it is now non-biodegradable rubbish it needs to be special disposed of. Which is expensive and not always effective. Often cheap clothes and fabrics are not properly disposed of and go on to pollute the environment in the same way a bottle may. Plus all the other problems attendant with plastic products (you can read more about the problems with plastic here).

Micro Pollution

And it’s not just end of life disposal that is difficult, synthetic fabrics pollute through out their life time. Everytime they are washed they shed thousands of non biodegradable micro plastic fibres that wash down the drains and into the oceans where they are now affecting the ecosystem, (see micro plastics for more)

The energy used (and the CO2 emitted) to create 1 ton of spun fiber is much higher for synthetics than for hemp or cotton. 

My Choice

So, while acknowledging that natural fabrics have a major environmental impact I feel they are a better option for the following reasons

You can see the contents of my wardrobe here



Natural Fibres & Bristles

A  guide to natural and biodegradable fibres that are safe to compost and can be  washed without shedding tiny plastic microfibres that go on to pollute the sea.

What Are Fibres & Bristles

Fibres are thin strands that can be spun to form one continuous thread that can be used a rope or thread or if fine enough woven into cloth. They can also be stiff and hard and used in brushes.

Bristles are short stiff animal hairs or feathers. However the word bristle is often used to describe the stiff vegetable fibres used in brushes.

Plant derived fibres/bristles include everything from the finest cotton to the hairiest thickest coconut coir rope to the stiffest bassine

Animal derived fibres/bristles range from fine silk to boar bristle hair brushes.


These natural fibres can be used for sweeping, brushing, scrubbing and scouring.

Sweeping brushes can be made from a whole range of natural fibres including

Animal Derived Bristles

Boars hair is used for hairbrushes. But almost every other animal hair, feather or bristle can be used for something it seems.

Camel Hair Brushes
Feather Brushes
Goat Hair Brushes
Hog / China Bristle Brushes
Horse Hair Brushes
Ox Hair Brushes
Pony Hair Brushes
Red Sable Brushes
Sabeline Brushes
Squirrel Hair Brushes

Natural Fibres For Industry

Copied from Natural Fibres

Abaca -Once a favoured source of rope, abaca shows promise as an energy-saving replacement for glass fibres in automobiles

Coir -A coarse, short fibre extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, coir is found in ropes, mattresses, brushes, geotextiles and automobile seats

Jute -The strong threads made from jute fibre are used worldwide in sackcloth – and help sustain the livelihoods of millions of small farmers

Sisal -Too coarse for clothing, sisal is replacing glass fibres in composite materials used to make cars and furniture

Natural Fibres For Fabrics

Plant Derived includes cotton, animal derived is stuff like silk and wool.

Read more about fibres for fabrics here and why I prefer natural fabric over synthetic, (and not just the obvious reasons!)



Things to consider when choosing glass packaging as oppose to plasticglass featured

What is glass 

  • Glass is made from sand, soda ash and limestone baked at temperatures of over 1500oC (~2730oF).
  • It requires a lot of energy to make.
  • Sand mining and soda ash manufacturing can be problematic.
  • It is heavy to transport.
  • It is the latter that makes glass environmentally challenging

Carbon costs of glass compared to plastic

a PET (a thermoplastic polymer resin) jar versus a glass one uses twice as much abiotic material (minerals and fossil fuel) to produce and 17 times more water (predominantly from cooling power plants) and produces five times the greenhouse gas emissions. Lucy Seigal writing in the Guardian

But start transporting glass and the figures change

Some calculate this could be as much as 2 tonnes of CO2, per 1 tonne of glass, when transport of such a heavy product is factored in. All this gives glass an Embodied Energy of about 12.7 MJ/kg. (By comparison aluminum is 170 (!!), cement 5.6 and kiln dried sawn softwood 3.4). Treehugger

A PET jar shipped 1,000km in lieu of a glass jar saves 19g of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).Lucy Seigal writing in the Guardian

The weight of three main packaging choices for beverages have big impact on truckload size and thus fuel use.

“For a 335 ml container, the aluminum can is the featherweight at 11 g. The middleweight PET bottle weighs 24 g, while the heavyweight champ of the drink container world, the glass bottle, weighs a comparatively colossal 200 g.

The additional 176-plus grams holds a sizable environmental punch, as fewer bottles can be loaded onto trucks due to weight limits, meaning more trips, and a heavier load uses more fuel. In a German study, researchers calculate that a recycled glass bottle could be the cause of 20 per cent more greenhouse gas than a virgin aluminum can due to its added weight on a cross-country truck journey.


Glass can be recycled indefinitely and into the same product over and over again. Glass lemonade bottles can be made into glass lemonade bottles.

Every tonne of glass saves 225 kg of carbon dioxide.

Plastics degrade during the recycling process. They cannot be made into like for like products (though that is changing), but they can be made into other things. P.E.T. bottles can become fleeces for example.

Reuse milk featured

Glass containers can be easily reused.  Sadly this rarely happens and there are limitations. This is from a W.R.A.P. report on the subject.

LCA studies show that the level of benefits refillables have over single use systems is dependent on a number of key factors, e.g. capture rates, transport distances and recycling rates. This stresses the need to view refillables on a case-by-case basis and not simply to promote the wholesale use of refillables irrespective of circumstance.

End User Issues

Glass is also heavy for the shopper. It can be hard work lugging all those jars home. Heavier products are more difficult to manipulate. The elderly and infirm can find glass jars and bottles too bulky to manipulate safely.

Plastic is much lighter and easier to grasp. Glass is slippery.

And of course when it does slip from your trembling hands it can smash in nasty sharp potentially dangerous pieces.

But glass is inert. It does not leach chemicals whereas plastic does. Some consider this to be a potential health hazard.

Many claim that food tastes better when stored in glass. Possibly because there are no leaching chemicals.


Plastic disposable items can easily end up as litter. Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade this is litter with a lifespan of centuries. Plastic waste is damaging the environment and is now a huge ecological threat. 


The general consensus seems to be that glass is environmentally better than plastic but only if it doesn’t have to travel too far.

Glass is ideal for bottle reuse schemes such as milk deliveries. You can find one here…




Vinegar is great. You can use it for all kinds of things and is almost plastic free to buy.

Vinegar is made by converting ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid – the main ingredient in vinegar.

Vinegar is typically a 4-8% solution of acetic acid; the rest is water.This makes it a moderately strong acid.

Read about pH of acids and alkaline here.

It can be made from any any alcohol – wine vinegar is made from wine (!), apple vinegar from cider, malt vinegar from beer and white vinegar from moonshine as far as I can tell!

Vinegars can be made at home.

Live Vinegar 

Most vinegars are sold processed and filtered but you can buy live vinegar.

  • This still contains the mother Mother of vinegar a cloudy monstrous swamp  of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose. This is created during the fermentation process of alcohol into vinegar
  • The ‘mother’ is alive and is made up from bacteria, enzymes and living nutrients.
  • The presence of the mother shows that the vinegar has not been processed or filtered.
  • It is the mother that gives vinegar all its claimed health benefits.
  • You can also use it to make more vinegar

Apple Vinegar

  • is good as a  hair conditioner and skin toner
  • It can also be used for cleaning
  • And almost everything else.
  • It can be  made at home!
  • Tescos do an apple vinegar in a glass bottle with a metal screwtop lid. Apart from the little plasticised disc in the lid they are as plastic free as you can get.

Find out more about apple vinegar here including where to buy the good stuff

White vinegar

White vinegar is made 

  • can be used for cleaning and pickling
  • It is  made from either acetic acid produced in a laboratory or from grain-based ethanol (alcohol)
  • It is clear
  • It can be bought cheaply in large glass bottles at most supermarkets. However they will have  either a plastic lid or a metal lid lined with plastic.  It is a plastic price worth paying for this versatile product.

Malt Vinegar

  • is for pickles, chutneys and chips.
  • Malt vinegar is made from beer which is allowed to ferment until bacteria turn it into vinegar.
  • It has has a deep brown colour.
  • It can be bought cheaply in large glass bottles at most supermarkets. However they will have  either a plastic lid or a metal lid lined with plastic.  It is a plastic price worth paying for this versatile product.



Vinegar is a mild disinfectant. It will kill some microbes but not all. You can read more here.


Vinegar is an acid so good at cleaning inorganic soils and alkaline stains and grime but NOT grease and fats.

 Examples of alkaline grime is hard water, mineral buildup, soaps scum (acid attacking an alkaline).

Vinegar can be used to clean all manner of things – you can find a big list here

Clear dirt off PCs and peripherals with equal parts white vinegar and water on a cloth damp not dripping

Other Stuff

  • Erase ballpoint-pen marks
  • Burnish your scissors
  • Clean your window blinds
  • Clean your piano keys
  • Get rid of water rings on furniture
  • Restore your rugs
  • Remove carpet stains
  • Brighten up brickwork
  • Revitalize wood paneling
  • Wipe off wax or polish buildup
  • Revitalize leather furniture
  • Conceal scratches in wood furniture
  • Remove candle wax

Antiseptics & Disinfectants

This post talks about

This is an area where you want to do your own research and decide what level of protection you need. I do not use antiseptic or disinfectants because I don’t do surgery on my kitchen table or have a low immune system. I keep stuff clean and it seems to work. BUT this is a subject about which I know little. This is my understanding of it. I strongly advise you to do your own research.
Here goes…..


The world is full of microbes – micro-organisms – or germs.
“Microbes are single-cell organisms so tiny that millions can fit into the eye of a needle. They are the oldest form of life on earth. Microbe fossils date back more than 3.5 billion years to a time when the Earth was covered with oceans that regularly reached the boiling point, hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Without microbes, we couldn’t eat or breathe.Without us, they’d probably be just fine.”
Which is maybe why we seem determined to wipe them out.  Microbes are everywhere. Inside you outside you swarming all over that keyboard you just touched to type in that fantastically appreciative comment.

They can be divided into four main groups – bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
Some are good such as the composting microbes, some are bad such as the pneumonia germs, some  just bumble about doing what ever it is they do in their teeny tiny world.
“By and large, the vast majority of the microbes on this planet are not those that make us sick. We have only scratched the surface to what microbes are out there, and more of them are harmless or even beneficial to us,” Says a scientist.

Kill THEM!!!!!!

But still we want them dead. And here’s how.

Antiseptics & Disinfectants

What are they and now are they different

  • Antiseptics are antimicrobial substances that slow or stop the growth of micro-organisms (germs)
  • They are used on living tissues and cells on external surfaces of the body and help prevent infections. Though they are antiseptics they are often called skin disinfectants,
  • Antibiotics  destroy micro-organisms inside the body, NHS website says…Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections, such as the common cold, flu, most coughs and sore throats.
  • Disinfectants  destroy microorganisms which infect nonliving objects.

You would use an antiseptic to clean your hands, a disinfectant to clean your breadboard and an antibiotic to kill pneumonia
Wikkipedia tells us  that Some antiseptics are true germicides, capable of destroying microbes (bacteriocidal), while others are bacteriostatic and only prevent or inhibit their growth.
Antibacterials are antiseptics that have the proven ability to act against bacteria.
Antiseptics are not antibiotics.

Using Antiseptics and Disinfectants

This is not meant as advice I am just relating my personal choices. I never use disinfectants or antiseptics. I clean with  soap and bicarbonate ( which is mildly antiseptic but not as good as vinegar).

Most Common Uses

Disinfecting The Home

Food preparation, kitchens and bathrooms are the obvious places for disinfectants. You don’t want bad germs in your food.
I do the obvious things like wash my hands before eating and after I have touched anything dirty. I keep cooked and uncooked food separate. I don’t eat raw meat. I store food in clean conditions. I wash the chopping board if I have used it for meat before I use it for anything else. I have two boards that I use when preparing food. I clean fruit and veg before eating.
For all of this I use soap and hot water. soap and a good scrub.  I don’t think think that anything else is necessary. ,
Also disinfectants kill all microbes, the good the bad the stuff we don’t know what it does yet. Which is unessecary and possibly harmful. There are arguments that living in a sterile atmosphere lowers resistance to infection as the body has not built up any resistance.
Clean not sterile is my mantra.

We need to talk about vinegar…..

Commercial disinfectants are extremely effective. Green alternatives are billed as kinder less harmful. They are certainly less harmful to the microbes because they don’t work as well.

Vinegar & Essentail Oils
Vinegar is the much touted disinfectant of choice for the plastic free.
It is about 5% acetic acid. It’s the acid that kills bacteria and viruses, most probably by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties. It is  good but not as effective as common commercial disinfectants.
Vinegar will not kill  salmonella, “which can transfer from raw meat to chopping boards and onto other foods to give us food poisoning.”
Ammonia, baking soda, vinegar, Borax, “are not registered with EPA and should not be used for disinfecting because they are ineffective against S. aureus.

Undiluted vinegar and ammonia are effective against S.Typhi and E.coli 53, 332, 333.
Neat vinegar also kills flue virus.

Hydrogen peroxide can also be used
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer. It can kill salmonella.
Research published by the Journal of Food and Science in 2003 showed effective results of using hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate apples and melons that were infected with strains of E.coli.
Essentail Oils – there is even less evidence for  efface of essential oils and they take a lot of resources to produce.

Cleaning A Wound

For a long time hydrogen peroxide was used as an antiseptic on open wounds and grazes. Now many recommend against it saying it also kills off healthy tissue and beneficial bacteria. In short using any antiseptics on an open wound is an area of medical controversy.

“In clinical practice, antiseptics are broadly used for both intact skin and wounds, although concerns are raised based upon their effect on human cells and wound healing. Opinions are conflicting. Some authors strongly disapprove the use of antiseptics in open wounds.[6-8] On the other hand, others believe antiseptics have a role in wound care, and their use may favor wound healing clinically.[9,10]

Web MD claim that  cool running water “is the best treatments for common wounds, and that you should rinse the wound for at least five minutes to remove it of debris, dirt, or anything else that may be in there. The water will clean the wound out well enough for your body to take over without harming the still living tissue around the wound.

I don’t get many wounds and when I do, I don’t use antiseptics. Most cuts and scrapes seems to clear up with out infection – even when travelling in some of the dirtier places. Again, not a recommendation just an observation.

Skin Disinfectants ( Antiseptics)

Removing bacteria from the skin is done to prevent the spread of disease. The area of skin you need to keep cleanest is your hand which carry microbes from place to place  by touch.


The easiest way to disinfect the skin is to wash with soap and water. But don’t bother with anti bacterial soaps. “Washing your hands is extremely important for preventing the spread of infectious illness, especially at critical points like after using the toilet, changing the baby, or handling raw foods. But consumers can’t assume that antibacterial soaps are better for this than other soaps.”

Soap doesn’t kill bacteria but removes it .

“harmless and harmful microbes stick to the oil your hands naturally produce, and, absent removal, willingly hitch a ride until they reach their ultimate destination (inside of you or somebody else) where they can in some cases wreak havoc…. [washing hands]… for at least 20 or more seconds at a time, is a highly effective way of removing bacteria despite the fact that the bacteria doesn’t die, but is simply flushed away when you rinse (or wiped off on a towel).”


If you have no soap and water or that is not appropriate you can try alcohol. Both ethanol or ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol can be used as antisceptics and have similar effects. However ethanol or ethyl alcohol is the stuff that makes you drunk isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol (also known as rubbing alchohol or surgical spirit) is made from propene derived from fossil fuels and water. You can read more about it here

If you want a petroleum free product use ethyl alcohol.

ethyl alcohol.

Can be used as a skin disinfectant. It effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and kills most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses on the hands and skin.

It is commonly used as skin antiseptics, often in the form of wipes Wise geek

It is

  • effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi,
  • kills most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses on the hands and skin
  • is commonly used as skin antiseptics, often in the form of wipes or gels, and for disinfecting surfaces
  • Its main  main effect on microorganisms seems to be to coagulate essential proteins, rendering them ineffective, and causing cell death or inhibiting reproduction.
  • It may also have a dehydrating effect and may interfere with the functioning of cell membranes. Wise geek

Mouth  & Mouthwashes

Now this I do use. I have a troublesome wisdom tooth that occasionally flares up. I can keep it at bay with a rigorous tooth cleaning regime. When it is bad I use a salt mouthwash. And I have used hydrogen peroxide which seems to work.

Sodium chloride (salt) solution can be used  as a mildly antiseptic mouthwash.

Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mouth gargle The Merck Manuals recommended diluting the 3% hydrogen peroxide 50 percent with water, but suggest it as a rinse and part of a treatment for trench mouth, for example.  The FDA has approved 3% solutions of hydrogen peroxide for use as a mouthwash.  Most sources said to use it only for a short time, however, such as part of a treatment of a mouth infection.  A report from Well-Connected (written or edited by physicians at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital) recommended against extended use, saying that overuse may actually damage cells and soften tooth surfaces. We were not able to find any authoritative information about hydrogen peroxide and canker sores.

Hydrogen peroxide may be amongst the better options.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer. It can kill salmonella.

Research published by the Journal of Food and Science in 2003 showed effective results of using hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate apples and melons that were infected with strains of E.coli.

You can use of hydrogen peroxide is to bleach hair. The concentrations are between 3% and 6%.

It can be used to clean blood stains out of clothes and brighten colours but do be careful it doesnt actually leave bleach marks.






Palm Oil

While I was in Malaysia I got to see some orangutangs. Most of them were in the rehabilitation center which is basically a safari park, a bit of preserved jungle.  I was also  lucky enough to see one in what was left of the  wild outside – along  with some big nose monkeys. When I say wild, I mean a tiny strip of jungle left straggling along the river bank. The rest of the area, that had once been wild and wonderful rain forest, was now covered with palm oil plantations. Acre upon bloody rolling acre of palm trees. The only reason we got to see so much wild life was that it had been pushed right up to the river by  farmers encroaching on their habitat. Those monkeys had no where to go and no where to hide.

Palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. Both countries have cut down hundreds of acres of rainforest to make way for huge mono crop farms. While Malaysia appears to be finally taking a more considered approach Indonesia is still tearing down trees and destroying ancient peat land at a frightening rate.

“The average annual rate of forest loss in Indonesia was 498,000 hectare (ha)  (FAO, 2010) from 2000 to 2010 or the equivalent of over 55 rugby fields per hour.

The expanding palm oil industry has been a key driver of this deforestation.  In the decade to 2010, Indonesian plantation area nearly doubled to close to 8.0 million ha and is expected to near 13 million ha by 2020 (PWC, 2012).”

Indiginous people have  been expelled from their land and the loss of habitat has obviously resulted in a  reduction in wildlife some of which, like the orangutang,  is now endangered. This has caused international concern and calls by many for palm oil to be boycotted,  So much so that in  2004, an industry group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed to work with the palm oil industry to help mitigate some of the worst impacts and rehabilitate the palm oil brand.

The World Wildlife Foundation has approved the  RSPO efforts  in “providing assurance that valuable tropical forests have not been cleared, and social safeguards have been met during the oil’s production” of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

What’s Palm Oil Used For?

Almost everything from food to cosmetics. You can see a big list here.

How Do I Know?

That’s not so easy. Many products that use palm oil don’t clearly label the fact. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names.

The WWF lists includes the following:

INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat,  Palm Fruit Oil,  Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

And here are some more

  • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
  • PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
  • PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
  • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palmate
  • Palmolein
  • Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate (NOTE: Vitamin A Palmitate is a very common ingredient in breakfast cereals and we have confirmed 100% of the samples we’ve investigated to be derived from palm oil)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (names with palmitate at the end are usually derived from palm oil, but as in the case of Vitamin A Palmitate, very rarely a company will use a different vegetable oil)

*Disclaimer: Through research we’ve found that Vitamin A Palmitate can be derived from any combination of vegetable oil such as olive, coconut, canola and/or palm oil. Though in all the cases we’ve documented, companies use palm oil to make derivatives like Vitamin A Palmitate, it can be tricky to know for sure.

Join The Plastic Boycott & Go Palm Oil Free

Being plastic free means our palm oil consumption is cut to  a minimum because we

  • eat little processed food as processed food is usually plastic packed food.
  • cook from scratch and the only oil we use is olive oil or sunflower seed.
  • make most of our own cosmetic and cleaning products. We know what goes into them and that is the tiny amount of palm oil in a cosmetic emulsifier. Really we are talk maybe 25g And is certified sustainable.
  • clean using bicarb and palm oil free soap
  • using butter not margarine
  • don’t shampoo

When we do buy we try to buy palm oil free using this great data base of palm oil free products for guidance.

You can read why Lush stopped using palm oil in their cosmetics here.


The palm oil industry provides a lot of work. While a boycott might help some it will of course impact on others. A meaningful dialogue and alternative work opportunities need to be developed.


Paper versus plastic versus reusables

So if I don’t want to use plastic bags then would I suggest using paper as an alternative? Well actually no I wouldn’t.

Cutting down trees to make disposable paper products is very bad for the environment

Converting hard wood into paper bags is difficult work and results in more pollution than making a plastic bag.

Heres are some statistics are quoted on Wikipedia 

  •  Pulp mills contribute to air, water and landpollution. Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35 percent by weight of municipal solid waste (before recycling).[1] Even paper recyclingcan be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking.[2]
  • Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.[5]
  • Worldwide, the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for four percent of all the world’s energy use. The pulp and paper industry uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.[6]

That’s not to say that plastic is a clean product but most sources agree it takes less resources to produce a plastic bag than a paper bag.

It also takes less resources to transport them. Paper is much heavier than plastic, more bulky and more expensive to move.

It is often argued that plastic bags are more likely to be reused usually as bin liners or as dog poop bags. If recycled bags were not available, users would have to buy plastic bin liners and poop bags new.  Which means f course that plastic bags are still being used but in a  less sustainable way.

But not all plastic bags are reused as bin liners and not everyone has a dog. Many bags are used once and then discarded.If all plastic bags were recycled say their advocates they would beat paper bags hands down. But  they are not. Most end up in landfill some end up as litter. Not all paper bags are recyled either but if they are dropped as litter they quickly biodegrade. Plastic bags do not and accumulate in the environment with serious consequences.

Indicator of Environmental Impact

Plastic bag
HDPE lightweight

Paper bag 

 Consumption of nonrenewable primary energy



 Consumption of water



 Climate change (emission of greenhouse gases)



 Acid rain (atmospheric acidification)



 Air quality (ground level ozone formation)



 Eutrophication of water bodies *



 Solid waste production



 Risk of litter



The Scottish Report (2005)

But while paper is more environmentally damaging, plastic pollution is reaching unacceptable levels and has to be tackled.

We have to stop using plastic to make disposable bags. We have to find sustainable alternatives.

Reusables Rather Than Disposables

For all the above I would be cautious about suggesting paper disposables as an alternative to plastic disposables.

My solution would be  to replace all disposables with reusables whenever possible.

Where disposables are offered they should be biodegradable and certified compostable so if they do end up as litter they will cause no damage to environment. I believe the current end problems of plastic pollution are greater than the initial problems of paper production pollution.

I would suggest

Bag Tax

However it is a very close call and the problems of paper pollution are big and not to be ignored. Nor would I like to see compostable plastic used to excess.

I would see all disposable packaging reduced as much as possible. Products should be sold loose and all onward packaging should have a clean up tax  attached i.e. All bags and packaging have to be paid for.

People bringing their own bags and packaging would obviously not have to pay

Reusable versus plastic bag case study….

The Environment Agency a UK government body has done a Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags Report SC030148 Read the report your self right here. It claims you would have use a cotton bag 393 times before its environmental impact equalled that of plastic bags.

Here are their maths….

It takes less resources to make one plastic bag then it does to make a reusable cotton bag.
pollution featured featured

Therefore a cotton bag has to be used 131 times before it equals a plastic bag.

If the plastic bags are then reused twice (so they are used 3 times in total) the cotton bag has to be used 393 times before it equals the environmental impact of the 131 polythene bags used 3 times each.

If the plastic bag is reused as a bin liner ( which is what most people do with them) then it is 327 times.

Do your cotton bags fall apart after 393 uses? Fall apart so badly they cannot be repaired? Mine don’t.

I have fair-trade organic string bags which I bought back in 2006 when I started my boycott. I am still using them and the cotton produce bags I bought at the same time 6 years later  ( and still now in 2015 come to that) .

Here are my maths….

Say I use one string bag 3 times a week. That would be for the weekly supermarket shop, the trips to the local butchers and green grocers, town on a Saturday to get library books and bits and bobs, carrying cabbages from the allotment, carrying cushions and all the other gubbins you use a bag for.

So say I use one string bag a very conservative 3 times a week over 52 weeks, (and the bag does go away with us and has been all round the world ),  I will use that bag at least 156 times a year in total

Over 6 years  I will have used that bag 936 times. My cotton bag is already 3 times greener than the plastic alternative and is good for many years yet. Actually it is even greener. You can get so much more in a string bag then a plastic bag. My string bag is worth at least 1 1/2  plastic bags for capacity.

When my bag does fall apart I will reuse it as a net to grow beans up then eventually compost it in my own compost bin.


If I didn’t have a reusable bag I would have to have used 312 plastic bags 3 times each in that time.

That’s 312 bags in the trash to be disposed of. They will most likely be landfilled or incinerated. Some of them might have blown off the truck during transportation. Wind blown refuse is a documented cause of litter.

Because we spend a lot of time abroad, some of them would have gone into bins in isolated villages in remote parts of the world – places that lack a waste collection service. Those bins would have been emptied into the river.

Produce bags…

As for produce bags; does any one reuse a produce bag 3 times – I don’t think so. Once as a dog poop bag maybe. But even if you do my cotton bags still win hands down.

Some Alternatives 




Plastic? Rubber? Just plain weird? Used for everything  from ice-cube trays to adult toys to cake tins it certainly gets around. So what is silicone??

Silicon is a natural chemical element. Silicone polymers are derived from silicon and so silicone is a  man-made product derived from silicon a natural element.
Silicon the natural chemical element, is generally found in solid crystalline form like sand.
Silicone, the product, may be a liquid lubricant, a semi-solid adhesive or a rubber-like plastic polymer

Liquid silicone is often used as a lubricant.
An example of a thicker form of rubberized silicone  would waterproof sealant used in bathrooms and window fitting.
Solid silicone rubber – is used for everything from cake baking cases to internal sanitary protection.

Silicone Rubber
Silicone rubber a manmade product  derived from natural products – silicon and rubber. It is made by curing or vulcanizing natural rubber. Silicon is injected into the long hydrocarbon chains of natural rubber under high heat and pressure. The result is silicone rubber.
Silicone rubber is a  silicon polymer with rubberized qualities.
It was  first produced under the chemical name of polydimethlysiloxane.
Silicone rubber is heat resistant so can be used to make cookware including oven mitts, tongs, pot holders and pan handles.
Silicone rubber also possesses non-stick qualities, so it can be formed into flexible cookware such as muffin and cake pans.

Silicone Generally
All silicone is inert, it does not react with other elements or compounds.
There are (as yet) no known health hazards of silicone.
Silicone is not biodegradable,  but it can be recycled easily – where facilities exist.
Silicone comes in two grades, food and medical grade silicone.

Do I boycott silicone?

Silicone, is  a man-made polymer which does not biodegrade, and so has to specially disposed of. Like other plastics  I try to avoid using it. Like other plastics, there are some silicone products I use,  because they help me reduce the amount of plastic, throw-away trash I would otherwise create.
silicone products I use or at least think might be useful

silicone products I use or at least think might be useful 

unbreakable reusable cups
I am not a paper cup – a pottery cup with reusable silicone lid.
plastic free menstruation silicone mooncups

Check out other synthetic polymers and plastics right here


Waterproof fabric

Make your own oilskin using white spirit also known and mineral spirits in the U.S and linseed oil.

White Spirit is also known as mineral turpentine, turpentine substitute, petroleum spirits, solvent naphtha (petroleum), varsol, Stoddard solvent,[4][5] or, generically, “paint thinner“, is a petroleum-derived clear liquid used as a common organic solvent in painting and decorating.”

“Owing to the volatility and low bioavailability of its constituents, white spirit, although it is moderately toxic to aquatic organisms, is unlikely to present significant hazards to the environment. It should not however, be purposely poured down the sink or freshwater drain.”

Thanks Wikipedia

2.2 Environmental levels and human exposure There are few data on white spirit in air, water or soil. Monitoring at a site contaminated with spilt white spirit (Stoddard solvent) revealed soil levels of up to 3600 mg/kg and deep soil water levels of up to 500 mg/litre. Biodegradation led to a 90% reduction in soil concentration over a 4-month period following remediation.

Next you need to mix some simple chemicals. You will need one quart of mineral spirits (You are not wanting mineral oil. Mineral oil will not work), which is available as paint thinner at Lowes, Home Depot or any paint store. You will also need a quart of boiled linseed oil. It is available at the same place. If you go to Sherin Williams or Porter paints you can get tarp and chemicals at the same stop.

Mix the mineral spirits and linseed oil 50/50. Shake it up good. You need the combination of chemicals. The linseed oil waterproofs the fabric and the mineral spirits allow the oil to dry. If you use straight linseed oil the fabric will never dry and will remain oily and sticky forever. (At this point you can also add pigmint if you want color in the tarp.)

Hang your prepared tarp from a clothesline or the back yard fince and paint it with the solution. Make sure it is saturated well. Leave the tarp hanging untill it dries. With the 50/50 mixture it will take about 48 hours. It will take the smell about a week to disperse.

Thanks Wilderness Safari