Plastic Free July – Tips and Tricks

So, we’ve just reached the end of the first week of Plastic Free July, and for those of you who are using this as an opportunity to begin your low waste journey allow me to give you a few helpful tips to get on your way.

1.      Shop loose

This may be a bit of a no brainer, trying to shop for groceries without excess packaging but it’s finding these unpackaged groceries that may be the hard part. However, food loose shops are popping up all over the place and a quick google search should allow you to find one relatively close by, many of these food loose shops also work as part of a charity which adds an extra bonus.

For those of you who don’t want to spend the time trawling the internet for your closest shop then why not try these:

Zero waste near me – this is an ingenious website which allows you to input your locations and gives you a list of local low waste shops from bulk buy shops to farm stores.

Waitrose – You may have seen in the news, but Waitrose has become the first large scale supermarket to offer a zero packaging option. Check out your local Waitrose to see if they have a refill station.

2.      Don’t throw out your old plastic

It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but zero waste living can actually be fairly plastic heavy. I myself have plastic Tupperware that I’ve had for years which I have no intention of throwing away any time soon. The important thing is to steer clear of the single use plastics such as packaging. The plastic tupperwares and other tubs and boxes are actually super helpful when it comes to shopping low waste as you can take them to refill shops and bulk shops to fill up. Now there is the zero-waste aesthetic of pretty glass mason jars and I do use these but there’s no need to purge your cupboards of plastic tubs when they can still be useful. In fact, throwing away useful plastic items simply because they are plastic just adds to the pollution problem.

3.      Share with friends

One of the big parts of zero waste living that people often forget is community. There is a massive community of zero wasters out their who are very willing to share their knowledge and experience with you. As well as that why not try and get into the habit of asking your friends and family if they have something that you can borrow if you need it. Most of use will simply go out and buy something if a need for it arises even if we only plan on using it once but buying new should be a last resort. If you have a formal event coming up and need to dress up for it, firstly check out your closet to see if you already have something appropriate and if not ask around, most of the time there will be someone you know who has exactly what you need.

4.      Don’t go overboard

Now its great to be enthusiastic but the zero-waste lifestyle is a journey and not one that you will be able to complete in a month so start small. Make a few small steps this month that will set you up on the low waste journey. Promise to yourself that you will stop buying coffee in throwaway cups, maybe invest in a reusable one. Try preparing your food in bulk, or the night before so that you’re not tempted to buy a heavily packaged sandwich for lunch. And most importantly don’t go throwing money at it until you are more sure of what you need, a lot of the things that we need for a zero waste lifestyle are actually already in our homes and as the old adage goes less is definitely more.

 

All in all any steps you take towards living lower waste this month will help towards a healthier and more sustainable future. But this is a marathon and not a sprint, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you need a quick rest of find yourself stumbling a little.

Respect in the wake of Summer

As we move further into the summer and people are starting to spend more time outside among nature I thought I’d impart a few tips and tricks on how you can help improve your local environment.

1. Feed the Bees

As the weather turns warmer, we should start seeing more of our cute buzzy friends floating about, however the mornings are still cool and a suddenly cold day can badly effect the health and stamina of bumblebees. Keep an eye out for any little ladies that seem sluggish or who are wandering around on the floor, it could be that they’re hungry and tired. Even if you find what looks like a dead bee give her a gentle push to see if she’s simply exhausted, if you can find a leaf and pop her on a flower. The best flowers for a tired bee are tube/cup shaped ones which give them an easy place to sit and rest whilst they fill up on pollen. If you’re near home or can’t find a flower then try to give them a small piece of fruit or a teaspoon of sugar water, this should give them enough energy to get on their way.

Top tip: Sugar water should be given as a last resort as it is the human equivalent of junk food. It will give a bee enough energy to get home but its highly addictive and honey made from sugar water has little to no nutritional value for larvae.

2. Don’t feed the ducks (at least don’t feed them bread)

Going to feed the ducks was always a childhood favourite of mine, it also served as a good way to get rid of stale bread. Unfortunately, this is one of the worse things to feed birds, not just ducks. Bread has almost no nutritional benefit and instead fills a birds stomach, reducing the space for beneficial food. This is especially dangerous during the winter when other food is scarce and birds need to bulk up to keep warm, another dangerous time period is in he spring when ducks and other water birds have young with them. Feeding young ducklings bread can actually lead to them starving to death, because they feel full and therefore don’t eat food with actually nutritional benefit.

Top tip: Try taking some baby carrots, seeds, sweetcorn and other vegetables that give a nice crunch the next time that you want to feed the ducks. These are much healthier and a lot more fun for young ducklings to eat.

3. Take nothing but photos leave nothing but footprints

Many of you will have heard this adage and as we hear more and more about the amount of plastic and rubbish that has made its way into the environment I feel as though its more important than ever.

What this saying means is if you take something into an environment that doesn’t belong there, food, packaging etc. it is your job to take them back out again. In the simplest terms, don’t litter.

The take nothing but photos part of this saying is slightly more of a grey area, this part really means don’t take anything that will disturb then environment that you’ve visited or harm the environment that you are taking it to. A pretty autumn leaf, a nice pebble from the beach, these things are not going to cause any negative impact. Taking seeds from a plant into a non-native environment, uprooting a whole plant, taking a pretty birds egg, these things can cause quite a bit of damage to the delicate ecosystems where they naturally exist. This is one of the main reasons why customs are so strict on bringing biological material into different countries, a quick google on invasive species will show you how quickly foreign plants and animals can destroy a well-balanced ecosystem.

Final Thoughts

The biggest take home for this post is respect. When you are out and about in nature, respect it. Take time to look out for wildlife that may need your help and keep your distance from other things that shouldn’t be disturbed. Remember that you are a guest in these places that you visit, so give it the same level of respect that you would a loved ones house.

Let Your Hobbies be Hobbies

Whilst I will be back to writing more environmental based posts, product reviews and the like I wanted to take this time to write about something that i’ve been thinking about for a while. Almost a follow on from my last post about allowing yourself to just relax and do nothing. I wanted to talk about our societies current obsession with monetising hobbies. Now I do subscribe to the ‘if you’re good at something then never do it for free’ to some extent, namely if you are doing something all the time and you are given the opportunity to make some money with it then why not?

The thing that I have issue with however is the idea that doing something you enjoy is only worth it if you can make money from it, and by extension it’s only worth doing if you are really good at it. I know that i’m not the only person who has given up on something because I wasn’t ‘good’ at it, even things that I really enjoyed. And those things that I am good at, I have felt like I should be trying to make money with it, or what’s the point of continuing to do it?

This, I believe, is indicative of how out current society only places emphasis on doing things that can be made profitable. Do you enjoy crafts? Well then you should be selling them. Do you like art? Then you should be taking commissions. And if the thing you enjoy is not marketable then why are you doing it? Why are you doing something just because you enjoy it? Why are you not being more productive? It’s these kind of insidious beliefs that can stop us from continuing or even starting something that we really enjoy.

I’ve felt this similar pressure with writing this blog, I want to do a good job and I want to spread useful information and opinions to those of you who want to live a lower waste life. But the pressure to try and do it so often and make money off of it has sucked some of the fun out of it and has led me to posting some posts that I wasn’t 100% happy with. I want to keep up some semblance of an upload schedule with this blog, and I have more posts planned out but i’m going to be spending more time ensuring that i’m enjoying writing these, and that they’re up to a good enough standard before I post them. If some time in the future this blog becomes popular enough to become a source of income for me then great, but that’s not going to be my main focus.

Instead i’m going to let my hobbies continue to be hobbies, something that I do to unwind, something that makes me happy, something that I don’t have to be perfect at.

Switch Off and Do Nothing

Earlier this week I was sent home from work with a severe migraine, an unfortunate side effect of spending 7+ hours a day staring at a computer screen. I initially welcomed the day off as it meant that I wouldn’t have to sit for hours on end inputing pointless data for companies that I really couldn’t care less about. But my mood quickly shifted when I realised that, due to the fact that my brain was currently trying to escape through my eyeballs, my day was going to be just as unproductive and boring as it would have been had I stayed at work.

Usually a sick day can be spent watching TV, reading or possibly catching up on researching/ writing for this blog. However I was forced to spend Wednesday curled up in a dark room, trying to find a position where I wouldn’t feel like my head was about to explode. And it occurred to me as I lay there, in pain and bored out of my mind, that I couldn’t really remember a recent time where I was voluntarily doing nothing. That’s because as a society we’ve been told that we have to be doing something productive 24/7 or else we’re lazy, wasting our lives etc. I felt like a failure, like I was cheating something because I was just lying around, even despite the fact that I couldn’t feel half of my face, of even see out of one of my eyes.

And what’s more we’re so bombarded with stimuli that any time away from that, where we’re just alone with our thoughts, feels totally alien. And this is where i’m going to talk about phones and social media again (cue groans). Because as I was lying there, knowing that any light, especially light from a screen would make my migraine much worse, I kept checking my phone. It was for no reason as well because, like I said before, as soon as I picked it up the light from the screen would send a sharp stab of pain to the back of my eyes and i’d have to put it back down again. You’d think that after the first couple of times of doing this i’d learn and leave the phone checking for another day, but I didn’t. It was like I was having withdrawal symptoms, my brain needed the short-term hit that it gets from checking social media, or playing mindless apps, it was no longer accustomed to just ‘being’.

I’m not going to act like phones or social media are inherently bad, and i’ve talked about this before. My phone allows me to do so many things, I can talk to my friends and family, I have apps that help me with learning new languages, and my social media is where I promote this blog (not very well but you know, I give it a go). But the problem with being able to do anything means that we’re constantly doing everything, and it’s burning us out. How many of you use your phone whilst watching TV? Most of you i’m sure. It’s changing how we interact, or don’t interact, with each other and the world around us. We no longer take in as much because we’re filling our time with other, much less meaningful things.

The take away from this, possibly meandering, post is this. Try doing just one thing. This is something that i’m trying to do better at from now on myself. If you sit down to watch a show or a movie with your family, leave your phone in another room and just focus on what’s happening. If you’re reading, writing, tidying up, don’t have a Youtube video playing in the background distracting you. If you’re having a conversation with friends, leave your phone in your pocket/bag. I can’t tell you how long it sometimes takes me to write one of these things because i’m constantly being distracted by the ‘background noise’ of some show or another that I’ve put on, but I can tell you that due to those distractions i’ve put out work that i’m not really very pleased with because I couldn’t get it any better with everything else that was going on around me.

And every once in a while, do nothing. Allow yourself that time to sit and just be, with no goals or deadlines or guilt. Because you won’t really be doing nothing, you’ll be relaxing, thinking, recharging, escaping.

In the end, my sick day wasn’t really a write off like I thought. I planned this post, I thought of ideas for future posts, I developed more ideas for the novel that i’m writing, and most importantly I got better. I finally listened to my body and gave it the rest of the day free of screens and stimuli, and the next day I woke up with a clear head, ready for the next few months before another tiny creature finds its way inside my brain with a pick-axe to teach me a lesson.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Wastemas

It’s the season of giving, and by giving I mean needlessly consuming and spending, which let’s be honest is what Christmas has become. I’m not trying to be a party pooper, and seriously whichever holidays you celebrate I hope you have a great time, but try and remember what is important this time of year (and all other times of the year). Supporting each other, being with loved ones and helping those less fortunate.

There are plenty of ways in which you can still enjoy the holidays and reduce waste/ not buy into the consumerism culture.

  1. Think honestly about what it is that you need/want this holiday season.

I had real trouble finding things to ask for this year when my family members wanted to know what I want as a present, and that’s because i’ve rewired my thinking. Practicing mindful living has made me take stock of what is important materialistically in my life, and the answer is not a lot honestly. I live very comfortably as I am now, I don’t need new clothes, I don’t care about the latest gadgets anymore, so what is there to ask for?

How about asking friends and family to donate the money that they would normally spend on you to a charity? If you still want something to open then many charities provide ‘gifts’ this time of year. For example Friends of the Earth are giving out ‘Christmas Bee Saver Kits’ with a minimum donation of £12.

2. Think about gifts beyond what you can buy

  • Many people show their love through well thought out gifts that they know their family and friends will enjoy, and i’m not saying that we should stop that, but there are more ways of providing gifts than spending money on fancy new items.
  • Provide experiences – things such as experience days, trips, lessons etc – one of my most memorable gifts was when my nan bought me a ‘walk with hawks’ which allowed me to spend the day learning about and watching various birds of prey with a group of other enthusiasts.
  • Provide your time – why not gift your loved one with the promise of your time, whether it be the promise of helping them move/decorate, going out to the cinema together, having lunch. If you have children then why not create a little coupon book with things such as ‘a day of play’, or ‘mum cooks with me’ etc (I don’t know what kids like).
  • Make your gift – Some of my most treasured possessions are gifts that were handmade, for example the quilt that one of my best friends made for me for my 18th birthday, or the story that the same friend wrote for me one year. Don’t worry if you are not super creative, just putting the thought and time into making your gift will make it all the more meaningful.
  • Re-gift or buy second hand – Re-gifting gets a bad wrap (unintentional pun), but as long as your not giving it back to the person who originally gave it to you then I don’t see what the problem is. If you think that someone else will get more enjoyment and use out of something than you, and as long as it’s in a decent condition why not re-gift it? Also, look in charity and thrift shops for your gifts before buying new, you could find something extraordinary and you’ll be helping a good cause while you’re at it.
  • If you buy, buy local – Finally, buying new gifts should be a last resort in my opinion, but if you’re going to buy new then patronise your local businesses before you give your money to giant multinational corporations. The quality of the gift will often be higher because they have more to lose from shoddy workmanship, and the conditions in which the product is created will often be better because things are normally locally sourced and not from sweatshops.

3. Use this time to think of others

Why not donate your time/money/unneeded items to those less fortunate this holiday season? If you can’t do all three that’s fine but look for things to help out with.

  • Time – volunteer at a soup kitchen, help hand out blankets and food to the homeless, invite a lonely older person to your house for Christmas dinner (there are charities that will put you in touch with people who want that, don’t just pick up a random pensioner off the street). There are plenty of foundations that you can join that really need the extra help (all year round but especially during the cold months).
  • Money – make a donation to a charity, give money to the next homeless person you see (or if you don’t want to give them money then buy them a hot meal). But be vigilant about which charities you support, the Salvation Army will be making the rounds again this holiday season however I will personally never donate to them due to their harmful, anti-LGBT rhetoric and archaic values.
  • Unneeded items – many charities offer donation boxes for the homeless and the poor all around the world, why not check your cupboards for unneeded canned goods, toiletries (seriously sanitary towels etc are a godsend for these things), and even children toys. This is a great time to teach your kids about giving to those less fortunate and about how fortunate they themselves are. My old school used to do a christmas shoebox exchange where each child filled a box with old toys etc which were sent off to children in the third world.

How you can help:

Here are some links to various charities with advice on how you can help out this holiday season.

Money:

  • Friends of the Earth and their ‘Bee Saver pack’ – giving you the tools to help save the bees
  • KidsOut and their ‘Giving Tree’ – helping children who have escaped domestic violence
  • Unicef and their ‘Inspired Gifts’ – providing lifesaving supplies to children and communities around the world
  • Savethechildren and their ‘Virtual gifts’ – life changing gifts for children in third world countries
  • Refuge and their ‘Christmas gifts’ – give a christmas present to a woman or child that has escaped domestic violence
  • WWF and their ‘adopt an animal’ – protect an endangered animal and get a cuddly toy
  • Centrepoints and their ‘More than a gift’ – buy a homeless person christmas dinner, a gift, or a bed for the night
  • Impact and their ‘gift tokens’ – help restore a persons health and improve their life through medical funding

Time:

  • Crisis at christmas – volunteer to help run one of Crisis’ homeless centres, from cooking to counselling there is plenty that you can do
  • Age UK’s ‘telephone befrienders’ – Age UK are looking for people to have a 30 minute chat with a lonely older person once a week. Seriously just 30 minutes a week.

Unneeded items:

  • Local foodbanks – you can find out what is needed at your local food bank and help take part in the ‘reverse advent calender’ where you donate an item of food everyday in the run up to christmas.