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Helen McGonigal

Helen McGonigal is a happily married, mum of three from County Durham. She’s a writer, author of ‘Mummy Makes Milk’ and literacy workshop consultant. Helen blogs at Spot of Earth, where she writes about her passions which include education, parenting, the environment, cooking and children’s literature, among other things. The family’s zero waste journey kind of crept up on them!

As a family, we try to live as waste and plastic free as possible. This involves buying locally where possible from independent butchers, where we can use our own containers, and greengrocers, where most of the produce is loose. We also minimise plastic in the bathroom. We try to reuse any plastic that comes into the house as much as possible before it is disposed of.

I spread the word through my blog. I have also just added a plastic free assembly to my literacy workshop service, because I feel passionately that children can carry this message forward and make bigger changes.

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L is for …

Liverpool
Lincoln
London

Loose Foods?

Anyone who lives in the U.K.  knows how hard it is to buy staple food like rice, pasta or cocoa loose and unpackaged. Do you know how long it took me to track down some plastic free cocoa? But I did.

To save you the stress of cocoa free nights,  I am putting, together a list of stores that sell loose products (of the type that normally come packaged), that allow you to use your own (plastic free), packaging to take it home in.
Just to reiterate… these shops do provide bags – plastic ones. You will need to take your own plastic-free /reusable bags & packaging. Find out where to get them, here.

Liverpool

Many thanks to Vicky for this….”I have been trying to reduce my plastic use, and struggling to find places local to where I live, on the Wirral. I have managed to find a weigh & save shop in Wallasey, it goes by the name Cake Creations, 216 Liscard Rd, Wallasey CH44 5TN
It would be great if you could list this on your site as I really struggled to find it. The lady is lovely and weighs my own jars first, notes the weight then lets me fill them and weighs again. They have a range of cereals, lentils, nuts, dried fruit, sugars, spices, there really is quite a lot. “
This is a “weigh & save shop” – you can read more about them here.

Lincoln

Gaia Wholefoods in Lincoln
Central Market
Lincoln, Lincolnshire

07891 370197
Nicola, the proprietor sells whole food that she bags up but is willing to weigh out into your own containers if you give her enough notice.
Thanks to Not Quite A Vegan for that

London

London & Environs Loose Foods

More

You can find out  how to shop plastic free, here 
Other loose food outlets here.
More plastic free products over at the A to Z

Help Me

Please add any shops you know of in the comments below and I will incorporate them into the post.
Links to reviews and blogs particularly welcome. Don’t have a blog? Love guest posts…

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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.eucalyptus oil featured

I have been using them for years safe in the knowledge 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 – 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. Ah ha!

So essential oils are the strong smelling terepenes found in plants and insects.

Terpenes

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

 

Burning plastic in the home

Some feel my worrying about plastic in the home is taking it too far?  Disposables? Yes, they can see I might have a point. But nylon carpet, foam-filled pillows and  polyester drapes…. what could possibly go wrong?

Well good taste aside…. you know how we were talking about hydrocarbons containing a lot of energy? Well all that energy means they burn hot. And that plastic is made from hydrocarbons. You got it. Plastic is a fuel too. So much so  that it actually has a higher BTU than coal. Great for waste to energy incinerators not so good for house fires.

For generations, firefighters’ had, “on average, 17 minutes to get anyone inside out of the building before they succumbed to smoke inhalation.” Because of modern fast burning synthetic furnishings that time is down to 4 minutes. Natural fibres and fillings do not burn as fast.

You can find lots more scary stats here plus a spooky burning chair that shows just how quickly you can be overcome.

Please people make sure your smoke alarm is working and maybe pay a bit more for cotton curtains and a wool rug.

Found this very interesting table on fumes released by burning. Hers an example…

Upholstery • Nylon Polybrominated diphenyl ethers Hydrogen chloride Hydrochloric acid Hydrogen cyanide Dioxins Possible carcinogen; poison by ingestion. Highly corrosive irritant to eyes, skin and mucous membranes; mildly toxic by inhalation. Corrosive; mildly toxic by inhalation; when heated to decomposition emits toxic fumes of chlorides. Asphyxiant; deadly human and experimental poison by all routes. Carcinogen; a deadly experimental poison by ingestion, skin contact and intraperitoneal routes. Immobile in contaminated soil and may be retained for years. No Yes Yes Yes Yes

https://denr.sd.gov/des/wm/sw/documents/OpenBurningChemicalList.pdf

And this

Burning a small sample of a synthetic fibre yarn is a handy way of identifying the material. Hold the specimen in a clean flame. While the specimen is in the flame, observe its reaction and the nature of the smoke. Remove the specimen from the flame and observe its reaction and smoke. Then extinguish the flame by blowing. After the specimen has cooled, observe the residue.

https://www.tensiontech.com/tools-guides/burning-characteristics

And this on toxic fibres and fabrics

https://fashionbi.com/newspaper/the-health-risks-of-toxic-fibers-and-fabrics

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Plastic Costs A Lot

According to some “the environmental cost, including carbon pollution released during production [of plastic], is staggering. At $40 billion a year, …. it’s more than the annual profits of the plastics industry.”

Acoording to the UNEP Report 2014

It finds that the overall natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector each year is US$75 billion – financial impacts resulting from issues such as pollution of the marine environment or air pollution caused by incinerating plastic.

The report says that over 30 per cent of the natural capital costs of plastic are due to greenhouse gas emissions from raw material extraction and processing. However, it notes that marine pollution is the largest downstream cost, and that the figure of US$13 billion is likely a significant underestimate.

Concern is growing over the threat that widespread plastic waste poses to marine life, with conservative estimates of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems standing at US$13 billion each year, according to two reports released on the opening day of the first United Nations Environment Assembly.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation claims, in their report on plastic,  that

“Assessing global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, the report finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities, valued conservatively by UNEP at $40 billion.[1] Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget.[2]

New economic study shows marine debris costs California residents millions of dollars

Thanks to Fabiano of www.globalgarbage.org for keeping us well informed ….

AUGUST 12, 2014 — Marine debris has many impacts on the ocean, wildlife, and coastal communities. A NOAA Marine Debris Program economic study released today shows that it can also have considerable economic costs to residents who use their local beaches.

The study found that Orange County, California residents lose millions of dollars each year avoiding littered, local beaches in favor of choosing cleaner beaches that are farther away and may cost more to reach. Reducing marine debris even by 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County could save residents roughly $32 million during three months in the summer.

In order to better understand the economic cost of marine debris on coastal communities, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and Industrial Economics, Inc. (IEc) designed a study that examines how marine debris influences people’s decisions to go to the beach and what it may cost them. We selected Orange County as a study location because beach recreation is an important part of the local culture and residents have a wide variety of beaches from which to choose, some of which are likely to have high levels of marine debris.

http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/MarineDebrisEconomicStudy.pdf
http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/MarineDebrisEconomicStudy.pdf

The World Bank

estimates the yearly global cost of dealing with waste is more than $200 billion and predicts annual waste will exceed 11 million tons per day by 2100 if current trends continue. From the true cost of our waste

Local authorities, industry and coastal communities spend approximately £14 million a year to clean up beach litter in England and Wales alone (Environment Agency, 2004).
Annually the UK and maritime leisure industry is worth up to £11 billion.

Harbour authorities also have to pay to keep navigation channels free of litter – a survey of 42 harbour authorities reported that £26,100 is spent per year in some ports to clear fouled propellers and remove debris from the water

Some estimates put the cost of marine litter to the fishing industry at over £23 million a year (Environment Agency, 2002).

How much energy?

“Our previous work had suggested that bottled water production was an energy-intensive process, but we were surprised to see that the energy equivalent of nearly 17 million barrels of oil are required to produce the PET bottles alone,” Cooley told PhysOrg.com.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news156506896.html#jCp

Act Now

Let’s stop using plastic to make everlasting litter. And rather then wait for governments to act or the clean up bill get even bigger I invite you to join me in a plastic boycott. You can find loads of plastic free alternatives listed here on my blog.

 

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Cleaning Products – Chemical – Buy or make

For cleaning products I use a combination of bought and what I have in the cupboard in conjunction with a bloody good scrub… i.e. both  chemical and manual cleaning.

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Chemical Cleaning uses the power of chemicals in a solution to remove soils. Soils in this case refers to stains. If you want to know, you can read how alkaline dissolve fat and  why vinegar works here.

If not just be aware that

  • Organic soils are usually best moved using alkaline cleaners.
  • Inorganic soils prefer and acid cleaner.

 

Buy Or Make Chemical Cleaners

Buy plastic free

The easiest way to get plastic free cleaning product is to buy Ecover refill liquids. Yes the original bottle is plastic but you get to reuse it. Mine are still going strong years into the project.

If you cant get those, this company sells concentrated liquids through the post. You refill your existing bottles and water down yourself. They come in plastic, but it represents a massive reduction.

Make your own

Or you could consider making your own cleaning products. It easy, can save you money and certainly cuts down on the amount of chemicals and colorings that you find in commercial products. With a small palette of ingredients you can clean just about anything.

When I say make I actually mean use neat or add water. It really is that easy. There are loads of complicated recipes on the internet using a mixture of ingredients. I have tried them but could see no discernable difference. Either other people have very dirty houses or I have very low standards.

Are they as good? Well it depends what you are using already. If you use green cleaners then yes they are and half the price. If you are using Cilit Bang all bets are off.

So while they might not work as well as Cilit Bang in extreme grime scenarios, for general cleaning they are fine.

And all of them smell better with none of that weird choking chemical smell or overwhelming perfumes you get with the cheaper commercial products

After a lot of experimentation I find I can mange with

  • Soapused in conjunction with a good scrubber cuts through most dirt. Alkaline
  • Bicarbonate Of Soda  for scouring and deoderizing. It can also be used to wash your hair and clean your teeth. Alkaline
  • Vinegar  dilute and use as a wipe. Also use as a conditioner for hair. Acid

Other people reccomend Washing Soda and Borax. I have tried both of these but find them to make little or no difference.

Scrub

Honestly I find the best way to clean is to use a mildly abrasive range of cloths and scouring pads

How to clean….

Hard plastic such as baths and toilet seats – Soap and a luffa or rough cloth

Tiles and porcelain – Bicarb on a cloth or luffa

Mildly Abrasive Paste – general cleaning

Add enough liquid soap to bicarbonate of soda make a paste

Wipe for windows and greasy surfaces

1/4-1/2 teaspoon liquid detergent/ soap

3 tablespoons vinegar

2 cups water

Shake & Vac

Bicarb  sprinkled on, left for a while then hoovered up.

More 

You can find lots more uses, details of where to buy and information about the product listed here.

 

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Pancakes & Pancake day

To make plastic free pancakes in a plastic free non stick pan …
you will need:
Eggs in a cardboard box. (If you buy them from Queensgate Market Huddersfield you can reuse the box and get a discount.)
Milk in a glass bottle from a milk man. Find one here
Flour in a paper bag
Unpackaged lemons bought in a cotton produce bag
Sugar in a paper bag
Butter in paper

Plastic free frying pan

Make

Make your batter. The BBC cookery website have a great range of recipes and
exciting pancake related information.

Heat the plastic free frying pan
Add a knob of butter
Swirl in the batter
Flip
Serve with lemon juice and sugar

More

Here is some exciting pancake related information.

Check out the plastic free cookbook here

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U.K. water bottle refill schemes

Bristol Water Refill

"Refill Bristol is a practical campaign to make Bristol a city in which refilling your water bottle becomes a cultural ...
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Selfridges Water Refill

Selfridges are setting out to tackle plastic pollution in the ocean by "removing all single-use plastic water bottles from our ...
Read More

Give Me Tap – water bottle, water refill & water aid

We are a social enterprise committed to improving water accessibility in the UK, Africa and the World through our reusable ...
Read More

Bath, Love Tap Water Refill Scheme

A new water refill scheme based in Bath. The following has been taken from their website... Two local women want to ...
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Water Abroad

We sterilize our own water using a Steripen …. but when a bottle refill service is offered we will use that instead. Find refill places here…

Of course water in many countries the water is actually safe to drink – you can find out where here.

And here are a list of places you can refill your bottle abroad

Water Bottles

Check out which water bottle here

Water Bottle Bans

Links to interesting projects that are tackling the problems of bottled water

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Sponge Cloth Biodegradable

Oh joy – just sourced some plastic free sponge cloths. I love these things. Sponge cloths are  extremely porous and great for wiping up water. Plus they dry really quickly. I love my cotton dish cloth – but it can get a bit whiffy in damp weather. Especially living in the van when it doesn’t  ever really dry out.

But up until now sponge cloths have been made from synthetic fibres and packed in plastic.

Not these from If You Care. They are made from 70% Cellulose and 30% unbleached non-GMO cotton. Cellulose and cotton are both biodegradable so when you are done they can go straight on the compost heap.

Better still the packaging is made from  100% compostable PLA-biopolymer derived from corn starch. Tis is  fully compostable plastic. On the pack it says that this is certified compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and compostable in commercial composting facilities. Just to let you know I compost a wide range of PLA products in my own compost bin.

They are machine washable up to 300 times.

You can buy them online from Big Green Smile

If You Care do a lot of great kitchen products packed in cardboard packaging, including natural greaseproof paper.

 

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Inhalers Homemade

Seems you can buy refillable inhalers. You soak the cotton wick in essential oils of your choice, put in the inhaler and sniff away.

If you live in the States you can buy these rather nice ones in glass and aluminium from Amazon.com  3.5 inches x .75 inches, outer shell is aluminum.

If you live in the U.K. you have to make do with these ugly plastic ones from Ebay. Yes, I know, plastic – but reusable rather than disposable.

More

To clear stuffed noses try Eucalyptus oil

Eucaplyptus Oil

Find more #plasticfree personal care products here

 

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Kettle

People are always asking about plastic free kettles. There is one very easy answer – get a stove top kettle. That’s it. Spend a bit more and you can get one that doesn’t have a plastic handle. Spend a lot more and you get a kettle you will be handing on to your kids. I am saving up for this one.

Shropshire Made Traditional Kettle

  • Hand spun body and lid with durable hard anodised finish.
    Precision cast spout for perfect pouring.
    The base of kettle is very thick 1/4 inch (6mm) aluminium, we machine grind this flat to ensure rapid boiling on range hobs.
    Hand turned British oak handle & knob.
    Lovingly hand made in Britain.

A stove top kettle for use on range stoves, electric, gas, ceramic and halogen hobs. The perfect companion for country cottages, retro conversions, Victorian kitchens, Edwardian homes, glamping and garden cooking (it complements Netherton Foundry garden hob).

Comes in two sizes and  the packaging is cardboard.

Cheaper Kettles

The downside is they are over a hundred quid. You might want to look at some of the cheaper options below. The cheaper kettles often have plastic handles. Very cheap kettles often warp with time. You need a good heavy bottom!

Amazon Catalogue

Here are some links to products sold on Amazon. Amazon is a very dirty word at the moment and I thought long and hard before I did it. Heres why I went ahead…..

.

Grunwerg Cafe Ole Stainless Steel Stove Top Whistling Kettle 3L HTK-3
Grunwerg Cafe Ole Stainless Steel Stove Top…
£11.82
Wesco Classic Line Stainless Steel 2 Litre Stove Top Kettle, Black Garden Trading Enamel Stove Kettle - Flint Yoshikawa 1 Litre Stainless Steel Fons Drip Stove Kettle
Wesco Classic Line Stainless Steel 2 Litre …
£49.99
Garden Trading Enamel Stove Kettle – Flint
£31.50
Yoshikawa 1 Litre Stainless Steel Fons Drip…
£74.99
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Tiffin Tin

There is some fantastic street food in China but they serve it in polystyrene (styrofoam) trays. So you will need to carry your own tiffin tin Dont worry if you forgot to pack one, the Chinese love tiffin tins. We got this beauty in a small supermarket. It has a screw on lid so is very secure and even a handle which made boiling water in our yurt easier. Rather it made making the tea with the boiling water so much easier.

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This post is my contribution to Zero Waste Week (‪#ZerowasteWeek) the brainchild of Rae Straus (also featured in our P-f U.K. directory). Each day, for 7 days, we will feature a tip to help you eat, drink and – ermmm – excrete in the most sustainable and rubbish free- way, backpacking kind of way. Each post will appear up on our advent calender of trash free tips. See them there.