Why Thermos Flasks and other glass vacuum flasks are not Zero Waste!

I’m publishing this post as a warning to all that purchasing a Thermos brand or other brand flask, with a glass vacuum liner is just about the WORST choice you can make when trying to live a Zero Waste lifestyle. They are promoted as an alternative to buying drinks out and will potentially save you money.

I grew up with my parents taking them everywhere – in fact they still do! It always used to be the case that you could buy a new glass liner, if yours ever broke. I chose a glass lined one because they are known to keep drinks hotter for much, much longer than metal walled flasks and I thought I would be able to replace the parts as needed. But be warned- not any more! You have to buy a whole new flask – you cannot buy a replacement branded or otherwise, not anywhere! This means your entire plastic flask has to go in the bin. Let me tell you that I am completely horrified at this state of affairs. I hope that Thermos gets bombarded with complaints which forces them to bring back the replacement parts.

IMG_5684So, you can expect to be shelling out for the entire cost of a new flask every time yours breaks and having to live with the knowledge that you are adding non-recyclable plastic to the World’s landfill sites. I wonder just how many perfectly good flask shells are sitting in the bin, for want of a glass liner. Honestly, the thought makes me feel slightly sick!

I’d love to hear if anyone knows of a truly Zero Waste flask – one that you only have to buy once!

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Reusable cloth nappies

I’m always aiming to be zero waste, and had thoroughly researched cloth nappies on the internet from probably my whole pregnancy! About 5 months before my baby was born, I spotted a cloth nappy bundle on my local Facebook selling group. It was the works – nappies, covers, liners and boosters for £45. In the few days it took me to arrange a time to meet up with the seller, she was so desperate to sell them as she was moving house – she’d dropped the price to £25! It turned out they were brand new, she’d bought them from another lady who’d never used them. Then she’d been gifted a year’s supply of disposables and never used them. I couldn’t believe my luck! All in all I got:

4 small Motherease Airflow wraps in white (RRP £12.99 ea)

4 medium Motherease Airflow wraps in white (RRP £12.99 ea)

4 large Motherease Airflow wraps (RRP £13.99 ea)

10 Motherease snap-in booster pads in natural (RRP £2.50 ea)

14 Motherease one size cloth nappies in natural (RRP £10.99 ea)

4 rolls of paper liners (RRP £7.99 ea)

TOTAL Price new £370.70

So, I’ll be saving money against disposables in no time at all! I also picked up a Tots Bots lockable nappy bucket (RRP £12.99) and 2 mesh bags (RRP £8.99), plus about 10 white Tots Bots Bamboozle nappies (RRP around £15 ea, which we haven’t even tried yet!) off eBay for 50p and got another on Freecycle. I use one for nappies and cloth wipes and one for disposables.

I did write in this post about how the cloth nappies weren’t working for us all in the first 6 months until weaning started. Motherease are meant to be one size, but you have to fold them over initially. This makes them incredibly bulky and my baby is very slim. They were absolutely huge on him in the first few months – really looking quite ridiculous on him. Looks aside, he couldn’t seem to bend his legs properly and every time we tried them, he wouldn’t sleep. We couldn’t cope with no sleep and it wasn’t doing him any good, so we stuck with disposables regrettably. I cringed every time I had to look at the plastic piling up in our bin. We had to request a larger bin 😦 It was a very hot summer here in the UK and he seemed to overheat in these bulky nappies, which I’m sure was a contributing factor too. All that aside, I can safely say that I wouldn’t have fancied having to scrape all that liquid newborn poo off them either.

Basically, we started using them at about 7 months; prompted by the terrible smell coming from the so-called ‘Pampers Pure’ disposables. They smelt like pine disinfectant straight out of the packet and worse once my LO had wee’d in them!!! When he got a combination fungal and eczema infection all over the nappy area, I decided it was time to try the cloth again and we haven’t looked back! We do still use one disposable every night, as it’s not recommended to put them in cloth at night, whilst they’re still having a night feed. So this may change in the future – although he seems to be a heavy wetter, so I think it’s going to take a lot of boosting.

I actually love the cloth now, they’re so easy to wash and require no rinse cycle at all. I just follow Motherease’s own instructions and wash them on a 60 degree ‘hygiene’ wash in my Miele machine. They come out perfect every time and I sometimes tumble dry them in the winter, to get them dry in time. We also live in a very hard water area, so I think if I didn’t tumble dry them sometimes they’d end up like cardboard, as the towels do. Although, I’ve just bought a heated airer which is pretty miserly on the old electricity, so I’m hoping this will possibly eliminate tumble dryer use.

14 nappies could last up to 3 days, but once they’re wet – 2 days worth is about all I can fit in one cycle in my machine. So we basically wash every 2 days. The wraps dry almost instantly. They come up perfectly every time; I wash using a spray stain remover where needed, Fairy Non-Bio (because it suits us and eco detergents are NOT recommended), 50ml white vinegar as a fabric softener and 1 tbsp soap crystals as a water softener and stain remover in wash.

We’ll have to see where this cloth nappy journey takes us over the next year or so!

More Musings on the Story of Stuff – Branding & Marketing

As I said yesterday, I’m currently reading this book:

Today, in the chapter on distribution I struck upon something horrifying. I guess I sort of knew this already, but seeing it in black and white is even more shocking. I’m sure we all know that most companies out there don’t actually make the stuff they sell, but they buy it in and have unknown manufacturers make it for them. We’ve seen this so much in the clothing industry where brands like H&M and Primark have clothes made up in India and take no responsibility for the working practices of those in their supply chain. This is all part of these companies plans to cut costs, basically by abdicating responsibility.

This efficiency driven, cost-cutting is pervasive. Companies don’t make the stuff they sell, they simply brand it. Apple don’t make computers, but they sure as heck have created a brand that people crave. H&M don’t make clothes, Nike doesn’t make trainers. They all simply buy the garments and items from producers, or the parts to assemble them and often not even from the same factory, but from multiple producers. It’s quite possible that one factory churns out the exact same product for multiple retailers.

So really, let’s face it – it’s often not the item we are buying, but we’ve been sold on the brand. The founder of Nike even admitted that the company once saw themselves as production oriented, but that they now understand their most important function is to market the product. So guess where they put all their money? Advertising. And often this advertising isn’t even for a specific product, it’s all about the image they want to associate with their brand. Nike aren’t selling your trainers, they are selling you a fashion statement that in this climate will probably be outdated in a mere 2 weeks!

Biomimicry

I’m currently reading this book: The Story of Stuff. How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health – and a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard.

I’m ashamed to say that I picked it up in a charity shop about 4 years ago, started to read it, stopped and then it went back on the shelf for years! Let’s just say it’s quite heavy going and American-centric, but there are a lot of relevant points to anyone, living anywhere in the world.

Today, I was interested to learn of the concept of ‘biomimicry‘. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that term used and described in this particular way before. But I wanted to make a note of it for future reference. Biomimicry is apparently a trend in modern design, in which designs are influenced by nature.

There is even an organisation called the Biomimicry Institute which has noticed that “nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Biomimicry experts have identified the following list of core principles in how nature functions:

  1. runs on sunlight and uses only the energy it needs
  2. uses a water-based chemistry
  3. fits form to function
  4. recycles everything
  5. rewards cooperation
  6. banks on diversity
  7. demands local expertise
  8. curbs excesses from within
  9. taps the power of limits

So, the art and science of biomimicry takes these principles and figures out how to make human technologies, infrastructure, and products that adhere to them as well.

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Some examples given in the book, are that the peacock’s brilliant feathers are not created through pigment, but through shape. They have many layers that allow light to bounce off them in different ways, which translate as colour to the naked eye. I had to Google this a bit further, it’s known as ‘structural colouration’ and was first discovered by Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton (2 English scientists). It describes microscopically structured surfaces, fine enough to interfere with invisible light (sometimes in combination with pigments). So, peacock feathers are actually pigmented brown, as you can see when you turn them over. But it’s their microscopic structure that makes them reflect blue, green and turquoise light and they are often iridescent. Butterflies also use this ‘technique’. Perhaps this could avoid the need for toxic dyes to be created, if we could harness a similar technique?

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Mother of pearl is created in cold, salt water – a substance twice as strong as ceramic. Perhaps we could eliminate the use of fossil fuels, in heating kilns to make ceramics? Maybe we could learn to extract metals from cold water?

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The threads that hold a mussel shell to a rock naturally dissolve after 2 years. Perhaps we could study this and learn to create compostable packaging? (I think this one is starting to occur, approx 10 years after the book was written).

I’m not a product designer, but I did once study art. I think it’s fascinating to look at the natural world more closely, even if I was just doing it for beauty’s sake. I would have no idea how to create the intricacies of a leaf, for example, with veins running through it to carry water and nutrients, or cells that contained chlorophyll and knew how to grow, and goodness else knows whatever else goes on in there! But I bet there are scientists who could begin to work on these dilemmas. Perhaps artists could work with scientists to create truly beautiful, functional designs that remained harmless to us and our planet?

It seems to me that there is more to being a designer than just knowing about technology, or engineering, or science. Everything in the natural world seems to hold some innate beauty within it too. I can’t help but come back to the Christian ideas of intelligent design or things being created by someone far cleverer than us. Perhaps the plants and animals haven’t found out what works by trial and error over time? Perhaps they were designed that way from the outset? By someone who already knew the delicate balance of the earth’s chemistry and systems? It’s an interesting thought isn’t it?

TK Maxx Zero Waste Finds!

I stop into TK Maxx every now and again; I like a good rummage. I have found all manner of Zero Waste items here. My top tip is to look here for Dr Bronner’s Castile soap – they frequently have both liquid and bar formats. If you’re on a budget, you will find them much cheaper than your local whole foods store. They also often have bar soaps either in tins or wrapped in paper, it just depends how picky about your ingredients you are.

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I recently wrote about how I found these WONDERFUL solid beeswax body lotions in TK Maxx. Actually, I’m gutted I’m about to come to the end of my supply and I haven’t seen them since. Post in the comments if you find any!

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This week I found a lovely scrubbing brush for doing the dishes, made from solid wood and natural bristles. I bought my e-cloths here, although I now realise they’re not as perfect a cleaning solution, as I once thought due to the plastic microfibres released when washing. But they were vastly cheaper than other places.

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I also have some great glass Pyrex dishes with lids, that can go straight from the freezer to the oven or microwave as they are thermal shock resistant. It also means I no longer freeze a lot of things in plastic.

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I also found this wonderful Pyrex baking sheet in TK Maxx. No nasty silicone coatings and best of all, it goes straight in the dishwasher and comes out looking like new! It is slightly heavier than your standard baking trays and you do need to take care putting it in, and out of the oven.

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I frequently see Kilner and other glass storage jars in here. They often have eco-makeup brushes too. They always seem to have cardboard boxes containing sets of essential oils, packaged in glass.

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They also frequently have glass water bottles and always have metal water bottles in stock. I have seen Klean Kanteen’s in here, really cheap! I got my metal one there for about £4, I think. I’ve had it for years and I will likely go back there to get a glass one eventually.

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Oh and I always get my TEK hairbrushes here, for about 1/4 of the RRP. These are solid wood brushes with either wooden or natural bristles. They are amazing and packaged only in cardboard!

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Do you have any great TK Maxx zero waste finds to share? Please share by posting in the comments 🙂 Other people have told me you can also buy bamboo socks here, in cardboard packaging and loofahs which are useful for cleaning your home and your body.

The Rough Guide To Ethical Living

Today I want to recommend to you a book I discovered recently in a charity shop; The Rough Guide to Ethical Living. This book covers climate change, sweatshops, fair-trade, ethical investment, organic food, finances and more. Pretty much every issue you could face in life.

You know, life can sometimes seem like a moral minefield – particularly when you start to pay attention to ethics, zero waste, fair trade or green principles. It’s so hard to know which products or companies we should support and those we would be better avoiding. Also, there are so many claims out there today, despite advertising standards some can be dubious. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all.

If you would like some help to decide which ethical claims can you can trust then the Rough Guide to Ethical Living cuts through the ‘greenwash’ to answer your questions. This guide literally looks at all the problems and ethical options. It’s a relatively compact tome, but it covers all the main issues. Where there is more information available, it points you to relevant, trustworthy websites where you can find out more.

It’s particularly aimed at UK readers and recommends websites, books and magazines. It also includes tips on reducing your carbon footprint at home and on the road. I would consider this book to be an essential handbook for responsible consumers and it’s very easy to read. It’s definitely one that I plan to keep on my bookshelf for reference.

According to the blurb, there are a couple of other Rough Guides out there; The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping and The Rough Guide to Climate Change. I’m going to add these to my reading list!