Andrew Marr’s Megacities & Global Waste

I’ve been meaning to watch Andrew Marr’s Megacities since it was first shown on TV in 2011. Yes, I’m a bit slow of the mark here! My Uncle actually recommended it to me, as he found it so fascinating. It is truly absorbing content – Andrew explains how now the majority of the world’s population live in cities and not in the countryside. This is only set to increase as time goes on and he discusses the global challenges we face as a human race because of this. I was really interested to see that he covers the problem of waste.

He highlighted how in Dhaka, Bangladesh the poorest people pick over the rubbish tips for anything that they can sell on. As in so many other places, the city just cannot cope with the amount of waste being produced.

He also covered the problem of waste in Mexico City which was just horrific! The canals that were designed to take the run off from the rainy season, are literally thick with rubbish – mostly plastic waste, dead animals but sometimes they even find dead bodies :S As Andrew himself puts it;

  “The modern mania for throwing things away reaches its inevitable consequence here, clogged and festering. Almost everything gets thrown in here.”

The boat that he was lowered into the ‘water’ in is instantly becalmed, as the waste has solidified. They actually have to send a diver into to clear the filters – he risks life and limb. On this particular occasion he finds a tree is blocking the system and is able to remove it.

I always find documentaries like this to be really eye-opening and I particularly enjoyed this 3-part series. It’s as relevant today as it was 5 years ago and it doesn’t feel like the world is collectively doing anything significant to help tackle these issues.

Novel ways in which people try to offload their clutter onto you!

I thought I’d share this as much for your amusement as anything, but it may help us all in our war against clutter!

We recently visited some relatives, who in the twilight of their years are downsizing to smaller accommodation to make life easier. Now, this isn’t the first time this has happened to some of our relatives and that process usually involves us refusing dozens of items that they think we ‘might find useful’. What is novel on this occasion, is the way in which the stuff was foisted upon us.

They tried and failed to offload dozens of items on us, as we politely refused each and every offer of things we didn’t need- mugs, saucepans and so on. However, they had enough time during which we sat chatting to wrap us some ‘forgotten’ Christmas gifts! Yes, really- wrapped and tagged!!! How can you refuse a gift that is being proffered? In our culture, it would be extremely rude and besides- we didn’t know what was inside until we got home & unwrapped it. Upon opening it, we discovered items of still dirty crockery and chocolates past their sell-by date! LOL I guess they really couldn’t face any more trips to the charity shop which is where we had to send these items instead. We have since found out that other relatives were endlessly refusing items- even fur coats!

I couldn’t help feeling we had had one pulled on us! I guess I was annoyed, that after we had politely refused they still made the decision for us. Have you encountered any ‘dirty tricks’ to get you to accept items into your home? Has anyone ever tried this on you?

This is NOT a Minimalist Wardrobe!

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OK, I’m going to share with you my dirty little secret. I’m a clothes addict- there I said it, but I’m trying to break my addiction. As you can see from these pictures- I can no longer fit anything else in my wardrobe. I’ve got clothes on top of clothes on top of clothes, on some hangers. I realise that I probably only wear 1/4- 1/2 of my wardrobe regularly and I acknowledge how silly that is. I have boxes full of clothes that need to find new homes and I also have drawers containing yet more clothing. I’m too embarrassed to share it all in one sitting- although I probably should!

I recently pulled down a suitcase full of old clothes from the loft. I have increased a few sizes in recent years due to some health problems and then, shrunk again a little- although never back to my original size. I kept just my favourite items of clothing and gave the rest away via Freecycle in 2012. However, I had to acknowledge that I was never going to shrink back into many of these items. Although I have put a few back into circulation and it’s great- new clothing for free! It feels new, after so many years being stashed out of sight! However, some are just too small or are not something I’m going to wear now at my age.

As usual, I’d prefer to re-coup some cash if at all possible and so I’ve begun the process of eBaying them. I’ve sold 10 items so far, so it’s very slow progress. I know I’m going to have to donate a whole load to charity! I’ve sold 1 pair of shoes, 2 skirts, 2 dresses, 4 bras and 1 pair of trousers. But I probably have 50 items to go! It is sobering to look at all this clothing, to see how little some of it has been worn, to think about what I was thinking when I bought it and to see so much waste. I think it’s going to take me some time to unpick more of the psychological side- the thought process that allows me to keep on buying. I know I’m a sucker for seeing a fabric I like and picking up that item. But obviously my shopping is based on want and not need. That is something I need to rectify.

I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to start to tackle this area of my life. I’ve avoided it mostly since starting to minimise in 2012, but it’s a milestone that I’ve reached the point where I feel able to start.

Now it’s time for confession: What’s your area of weakness? Do you plan to tackle it sometime?

Glass containers

I’ve been keeping an eye out for glass containers, to use as an alternative to plastic. I found these fabulous retro Electrolux ones in a charity shop. From my research, I believe they would have originally been used in a caravan fridge,, many years ago. This makes them ideal for storing items in the fridge- the long one is perfect for bacon and the smaller one for cold meats. I wouldn’t risk putting vintage glass in the freezer, or any glass that isn’t certified as suitable. You don’t need broken glass shards around food that you were going to eat! I took a couple of different shots, so you can see them from different angles- there are just 2 of them.

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For freezing, I came across these Pyrex dishes with rubber & plastic lids (yes, there is a small amount of plastic in them, but it won’t come into contact with the contents. They are specially designed to go straight from freezer to microwave or oven. They work brilliantly and have a special vent in the lid, which you can raise if you are going to microwave something. I bought all 4 that they had in the shop and they cost around £20 for the lot- good old TK Maxx!

The plus points are that these should last a lifetime, they can be endlessly washed and re-used. They won’t stain like plastic can and we won’t be getting horrible chemicals leaching into our food.

It’s the little things…

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Sometimes the little things in life make all the difference. We have stopped used shower gel in our house and switched to solid, bar soaps. No more single-use, plastic containers for us! Dr Bronner’s seem to be very popular amongst Zero Waste and plastic-free bloggers and I was lucky enough to find my local TK Maxx often seems to have them in, for £1 less than Amazon or my local health food store sells them for. We tried the Dr Bronner Org Green Tea Soap Bar 140g one first and it seems to do a nice job, so I picked these up when I saw them. The Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Bar Soap Made with Organic Ingredients 140 g is my favourite! Should keep us going for a good while! They are wrapped in 100% recycled paper which I will also recycle.

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Whilst stopping by one of my favourite Zero Waste/ Minimalist/ Plastic Free blogs- Treading My Own Path by Lindsay. http://treadingmyownpath.com/2015/04/08/can-you-be-zero-waste-and-a-minimalist/

I discovered in the comments that people will actually pay money for old toilet rolls on eBay. I had to verify this, but it is indeed true! Now if you know me, you’ll know this is my perfect combination- making money and being zero waste at the same time. So from here on in, we are saving all our toilet rolls in a cardboard box- to be sold on eBay once we accumulate enough. They seem to sell in batches of 25 or 50. You could get around £10 for a box of 50. As a crafter myself, I know there have been times when I’ve wished I had lots of a certain item for a project- so I can really see how this meets a need. I might start saving my old lightbulbs for the same reason. And if anyone has a stack of broadsheet newspapers they’d donate to me- I can put them to good use!

I’d love to here of any other zero waste hacks like this that people know of!

Building a compost heap

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There are lots of relatively small and simple ways you can move towards zero waste. We stopped being lazy and bought a Kilner 2 Litre Kitchen Composter, Silver for the kitchen and built a compost bin for the garden. We aim to use the compost on our flowers and plants. At a previous property, we had a food waste bin but our local council don’t offer that service. We needed to stop perfectly good organic matter from going to landfill.

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We made it from old pallets, as some builders were doing work at the end of my brother’s garden. We just asked and they were happy for us to have as many as we liked. This took 4 pallets, we used the offcuts to build a lid by securing it with an old piece of wooden batten we had taken out of our house.

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So here is the start of our compost heap!

I took the idea partly from copying what my brother had done and from a book called The Complete Tightwad Gazette. I simply used large bolts instead of wire coat hangers because my brother offered them to me free!

Zero Waste Frustrations

Currently it feels like I’m being thwarted at every turn! I had a list of things I wanted to change, after finishing reading Bea Johnson’s book- Zero Waste Home. First on the list was to switch to milk in glass bottles, as we currently get through 2x 4 pint bottles a week on average and milk bottles make up a significant part of our waste.

I discovered that we would be able to get a milkman to deliver these. I looked into it all, decided we would pay the extra to have Organic milk delivered and was all set to make the change. For some reason, I decided to do a quick internet search on the subject and the first thing that came up- was that this supplier is shutting down its bottling plant due to lack of demand. Now I’m not surprised, unless you’re a zero waster, or just simply prefer the taste of milk from a glass bottle or non-homogenised milk, with the cream on top- then you’re unlikely to be buying milk the old-fashioned way! Customer comments revealed a dissatisfaction with this move, but some customers had already been switched and everyone would be within 2 years.

It seems like a waste of time making the change, if it is not sustainable- although potentially it could make a limited impact over the short-term (if our area hasn’t already been switched). I will, of course, write to the supplier explaining my predicament and encouraging them to change their plans. But they cite less than 4% of customer opting to buy their milk in glass bottles as unsustainable, who frankly can blame them? There do seem to be other suppliers that may supply milk in glass bottles direct to supermarkets, but I can’t locate that product anywhere locally. There aren’t any private dairies either, supplying milk in glass bottles.

OK, maybe I can’t make that change. But I was all set to buy loose tea instead of tea bags. But guess what, they all seem to come in plasticised foil packets, or cardboard boxes with plastic foil inside- doubly wasteful! Is the change worth it? Tea bags come in a cardboard box only (at least for the brand I buy), this seems better than opting into plastic products.

Now I know Bea says that this will take time, but it seems like our choices in the UK are much more limited than in the USA. I think that possibly the health and hygiene rules are much stricter and they will claim that the extra packaging protects us from health risks.

If anyone can help me out with sustainable options, please get in touch!

New directions for a new year

I was browsing my local library catalogue over the Christmas break and in searching terms around minimalism and simple living, this book came up- Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson.

Well, I have to say I’ve been devouring its contents and it has set me up with a new direction to take my minimalism in from 2015 onwards. Now I’ve read it, it makes absolute sense to me that a minimalist home should also be the kind of home that is looking into sustainable alternatives. Well, the whole book rang so many bells for me- it was fantastic! But it is quite clearly going to take some time to implement- just another another stage on my journey. But that’s good because I think the most sustainable changes are the ones that occur slowly, over time and are adopted into our lifestyle, habits and routines.

I hope to see multiple benefits from this venture, less products cluttering up my cupboards, more money in my pocket from not spending out on disposable items like kitchen roll, toilet roll, feminine hygiene products and cleaning products. (I’m not saying I will be adopting all of her examples, certainly not at first, but maybe over time). And of course, environmental benefits and not least health benefits. The last one is the one that intrigues me the most actually, as numerous followers of the Zero Waste Lifestyle claim that it has helped their Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As a sufferer of this awful condition and having tried to many treatments, lifestyle changes and more that promised the earth and delivered very little, if this does prove to be true- it could literally be revolutionary. Well, anything’s worth a shot in my book! I would have done it anyway, because I firmly believe we should be saving the environment.

I already wanted to decrease my reliance on the supermarkets and shop more locally. I grew some of my own vegetables last summer, with mixed levels of success because they were outdoors. So, having just acquired a greenhouse from a friend, I’m all set to become more self-sufficient over the next year!

So, this is what I’m starting to move towards- a zero waste, sustainable home. It’s going to happen gradually, as I use up the products I have and replace them with better alternatives. I have identified swapping from using antibacterial surface cleanser, toilet cleaners, rim blocks and Cif cream cleaner- to using bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, as something I will be adopting early on. I found that my local chemist stocks medium sized cardboard boxes of bicarb for £1. I’m currently having a dilemma about where to buy white vinegar, as smaller bottles are available in glass, but larger plastic bottles are cheaper and not so environmentally sound! I’m going to stop buying kitchen roll and move to cloths. However, I’d like to use natural cloths and a lot of zero waste blogs are advocating the use of micro fibre which is made from petroleum and is therefore, a manmade fibre.

I will blog more about the details of the changes I am going to be making, otherwise you mind will be boggled if I put it all in one post! I’m excited to make this journey and I hope that some of you all join me in making small changes. I would love to hear where you buy your bulk goods, sans packaging because this is an area I’m struggling to find suppliers for. But I will keep investigating- it’s still early days.

Focussing the Mind

We are moving house again, yes- I know I’ve mentioned this before! I have realised how we need that goal, the deadline of moving day, that little bit of pressure in order to focus the mind and really minimise our belongings. Maybe it’s the thought of boxing up all your belongings again? Maybe it’s the thought of the cost of paying someone to move all that stuff that you don’t really need? Maybe you realise that some of this stuff really doesn’t have any value and needs to go? Maybe you realise that you’ve not used this stuff in years, or ever? Maybe it’s time to let it go to someone who will use it? Whatever the motivation, it gives that much needed impetus that gets you further towards your goal.

Once again, I was deluded and genuinely didn’t think there was anything left that could go. But I’ve found myself letting go of all sorts, here’s a short list:

  1. Computer cables
  2. Webcam
  3. Mouse
  4. Craft magazines
  5. Craft supplies
  6. Pen torch
  7. Old wifi router
  8. Wooden storage box
  9. Bookmarks
  10. Set of drawers
  11. Clothing
  12. Garden & household tools
  13. DIY equipment
  14. Computer programmes

Maybe those will give you some starting points? It still sickens me to think how much stuff we still have left and how much we were harbouring. The world would be a very different place if we hadn’t invested in all those wasted resources, in so many ways. I don’t think that we- in the developed world, ever really stop to consider just HOW MUCH we really do have. Maybe you’ll take a moment to stop and ponder this today.

How often do you eat out?

I was chatting to my mum recently and for some reason we got to talking about her childhood. She mentioned that, for her family (she was born in the late forties) it was a rarity to go out for a meal. It would happen about once a year and it was a big event! Even then, they wouldn’t go anywhere fancy- it would just be a canteen, for some fairly simple, yet tasty food. Now, they were a family of 5 on a very modest income. The only reason they ate chicken, was because they had a chicken farm and they killed the chickens for the table, at the end of their life. Must have been tough old meat! It may have been different if you were higher class.

Somehow it’s become more ‘the norm’ to go out for meals regularly in our society, no matter what class you are. I wonder if this is so much of a good thing? I mean, it’s easily £25- £40 for a couple to go out, for what is often a very standard kind of meal. If you want anything special/ tastier/ fancier then you’re talking upwards of £60 at least. Of course, that all depends on what you eat, drink, when, where and so on.

But I am convinced many people would be so much better off if they just cooked simple meals, from scratch for themselves at home. If they would just get rid of the takeaways, fast food, ready meals and take out coffees, they would be so much happier, inside and out! What if we went back to eating out just once a year? It would become something very special.