Plastic Free Technology…Impossible (?)

So, although we are trying to live a plastic free life at times it feels too hard. When it comes to technology I really think this is the case as, as a long term lifestyle, it feels like it is impossible to go completely plastic free. Although, it is only November and in theory we could go back to our “Normal” life come 1st January 2017 next year we have already started to talk through the things we are wanting to have back (a later blog post will explore this) but also the fact that most changes are ones we want to continue to make because we can. Now that’s not to say we won’t still slip up, as we do know, but we hope to continue past our year of trying to live a plastic-free life to make it a more permanent lifestyle; yet when it comes to technology we can’t see how.

As part of a Christmas-come bit of our budget, I am about to replace an 8 year laptop with a second hand Macbook (I will be getting it to use from Christmas). There are lots of reasons why I could say I need this – I have started in my role to need to project regularly and my old laptop just isn’t up to it easily but need and want are often things so close together it is often hard to distinguish between the two. Could my old laptop cope in church projection- yes if it could always be plugged in and given a good amount of warm-up time. So, being truthfully honest this “upgrade” is hedging closer to a want than a need by this definition.

Yet, technology does change so quickly that without updating you can easily end up on the back-foot. However, the downfall to it all is that all technology has plastic in it – no matter how limited that might be; it just does. So what does someone do? I know with phones there are options out there like the Fairphone (https://www.fairphone.com/en/) a potentially good investment for android users who at some point want to upgrade (and in theory never upgrade again), yet as an apple user (and I hear the moans already) my current plan is to hold out as long as possible with my relatively new apple phone and then when it really goes buy second hand.

My husband and I have lifestyles and jobs that do require some technology beyond a basic phone, for instance we both have laptops which we do various work/outside of work hobbies on. This kind of technology will always at some point need upgrading or at best fixing.

apple

For now, buying second hand has been a decision for me as at least it isn’t brand new plastic, with Apple being the current choice as they tend to last longer (I am hoping this turns out to be true) and it links into our apple iphones. I know I have enough friends who will cry out in disappointment to our final large link up to the “Big A” and I hear that too – they aren’t a particularly ethical company in other ways and they are the dominant company which has another moral implication to it too. Sometimes it feels like life has so many compromises it is overwhelming.

So, I wondered what other non-plastic people were doing about technology? What those who don’t aim to be plastic-free but are trying to reduce their global impact do? Any thoughts helpful. It’s an area of trying to live plastic-free I find most trying. Technology is intrinsically linked to development (for better or worse) and I wonder how easy opting out of it is for anyone; particularly those who use technology for work. Thoughts, anyone?

Cleaning a Shower Drain the Plastic-Free Way

So, since we have moved we have gone from a bathroom with a bath and a shower overhead to just a stand-up shower. Never before have we had any drainage problems but 5 months into being here our drains started to rebel (largely because one of this house’s two occupants has long hair). So we needed a plastic-free solution that worked in clearing our drains.

It took me a while to land on the right solution to clear our drains effectively. I spent a time mixing bi-carb and vinegar solution. Just bi-carb and each time to no avail. We ended up just stood in our own water as we showered which although not exactly awful isn’t exactly ideal when your aim is to enjoy the shower. I want to add at this point it wasn’t a “time issue” either. One of us takes around 5 minutes to shower, the other can be a fair bit longer but we both ended up with pool of “gradually getting cold water” a.k.a. The pool of doom.

In the end google provided the answer and it is rather simple (and we came rather close).

To do this effectively you will need:

1 kettle (and a tap)

Bi-carb (¾  cups worth)

Apple Cider Vinegar ( 1 cups worth)

Firstly pour boiling water down your plug hole. We used half a kettle’s worth but basically the more the merrier.

Then add in all of your bi-carb. It should start to fizz.

Leave for around 3-5 minutes.

Then pour down the Apple Cider Vinegar. Again it should fizz but possibly froth more (or so we found). Leave for 3 minutes

Then pour the rest of your boiling/v hot water.

 

image4-4

This did actually work for us (to a great relief). If it doesn’t the first time I would recommend a second go (as I suspect it depends on how big the blockage it). If not having chatted to someone else who tries to go green on cleaning products it might be worth trying to release the blockage with a wire coat hanger (but be careful when doing this as I haven’t tried it and you will need to be carefully not to damage your drain).

Anyone else found a helpful plug unblocker solution that is plastic free?

Ice-cream

So, this blog has been long in the making and I apologise for the infrequency of blogs. Life has been busy but I did make ICECREAM without any 2016 bought throw-away plastic a few weeks back. And it was good.

So, the first things to know is that I do own an ice-cream maker. I have for a while now – it was an engagement present from my Auntie and Uncle. I understand though that you can make ice-cream from scratch without one, it just makes it a whole lot easier to have one.

I basically did this method:

Heat Milk (from a glass bottle) – I used 1.5 pints

¾ cup of sugar (in paper)

Then I added some cocoa powder (ours is left-over Bournville we are still using up, but you can buy cocoa online easily without plastic on it). As my husband loves chocolate icecream.

(Note I didn’t add cream – this would have been lovely to do as it would have made it thicker but so far we haven’t found plastic free cream).

Once everything had been dissolved I add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil – for some reason I thought this might emulate cream (it didn’t and I wouldn’t bother doing it in the future).

Then

We left it to cool covered for around 2-3 hours and then popped it in our pre-chilled ice-cream bowl. This bowl was then put back into the ice cream machine and we left  it do its thing (it has a set time so no thinking required).

The result was ice cream which tasted rather like the milk lollipops we had as kids because they are made of pretty similar stuff – no added cream does make the ice cream more ‘ice’ than ‘cream’ (funny that) but is still pretty tasty.

First photo shows it after it has been frozen in our fridge for a couple of days. The second image is us eating it :) 

Anyone who knows of where to get source cream without plastic please do let us know as we are kind keen to try adding it in to taste the difference. One thought adding in a couple of dollops of homemade yogurt might make it taste slightly ‘creamier’ too. However, we have stopped making ours as we couldn’t get through it in time and it was getting runnier.

All in all though not bad.

If making Ice cream is too much for you – and we totally get this, there are ice-creams out there (of sorts) that come in cardboard. We rather like the cornettos from the co-op (though other brands are available) .

 

Confession – Imposter Syndrome

So this one is a confession blog. Later in the week there will be a positive one on Ice Cream (I promise) but this one has to get written. Mainly because it proves that even with the best will in the world we will all get it wrong – including me. I have been very inspired by the number of friends altering their lifestyles – those changing toothbrushes, or noticing how much plastic packaging is around. What’s even more touching is they relate it to me and Steve having a go at giving up plastic that has inspired them to change their buying habits too.

In college this week (I study at a theological college in Manchester called Luther King House) we talked amongst other things in chapel about Imposter Syndrome. It’s a simple idea really and almost what it says on the tin. We all experience Imposter Syndrome, I would guess, at various points in our lives. An easy example would be starting a new job and fearing someone realising that you “can’t do the job” and might get “found out”. This last week I have felt like an imposter when it comes to giving up plastic because despite still not buying plastic in the staples and day-to-day living, I have accidentally bought a whole load of (and this is the worst bit) single-use plastic.

It all started just through simple lack of thought. Steve and I have been married for over a year now and we decided now was the time to get on putting up our wedding photos. Now it is not the photos I have that much of an issue (partly because I actually don’t know if photos have plastic in them – I suspect so but would love it if anyone out there knows) but the frames. Steve and i “ummed” and “rrrd” for ages about how to share our photos – through canvas or frames and in the end we went for frames and I then bought a set of them off Ebay without thinking.

The frames themselves I had presumed were wood are plastic. The “glass” is indeed not glass but plastic. But worst of all I never even considered that it would come wrapped in layers of bubble wrap (which we intend to reuse now) and lots of thin layers of (unclear if recyclable) plastic. It is an epic fail.

The weird thing is I just never considered it. I never thought about the fact the price was a “bargain”. It probably wouldn’t be if it had been made of wood and glass. I never even stopped to consider delivery might involve plastic (partly I suspect because we have really stopped buying lots of stuff off the internet and was out of habit). I guess it just proves how easy it is to forget in moments of tiredness/excitement/”braindeadidness”.

Now I am left with this to dispose of (thinking of maybe sticking it in the recycling bin just in case it can be recycled).

img_3931-1

The photos looks great but I am sad that although they are everything that we wanted looks wise the impact of us having them on our wall will be felt for generations after us from the throwaway single use plastic that it came wrapped in and eventually from the currently non-recyclable plastic the frames are made from. It made me think how easy it is to get it wrong.

image1-24
I also wanted to offer this blog out there to all my friends who have expressed over the last few months “guilt”. They feel “guilty” because they aren’t doing it to the same ‘nth’ degree as me – although all those who have said they feel “guilty” are the ones trying to make positive lifestyle changes. I want to say look I get it wrong too and I feel guilty BUT the whole point is to keep trying. I don’t intend to give up on reducing my plastic use because I have made this (pretty massive) error.  Furthermore, I am being mindful to only look at the photos and have good feeling as they recollecting a great day in my life so far. Guilt doesn’t help us get better in our lifestyles. Positive mindfulness might – all of which you great folks are trying to do in your own ways. So thank you to all those “guilty” friends out there for making positive steps forward. Each step makes a difference. Let us continue our travels together.

Homemade yogurt – a success!

So, this blog post really must first acknowledge this other blog post as it is where I first learnt how to make yogurt without the need of a yogurt maker!

This is the blog post I used: http://trinaholden.com/easiest-yogurt-recipe-ever/

What’s great is it seemed foolproof. I have met several people who have made their own yogurt – some using flasks, other yogurt machines. My concern was two fold. Firstly, I didn’t trust myself somehow – I was worried that without a yogurt machine I might make myself ill. Secondly that I would end up buying a yogurt maker which would mean buying plastic. This would not have been bad (as I would be reusing the plastic at least) but not ideal with our aim to be as plastic free as possible. This blog made it possible and second batch in I am happy.

For our first patch I had to buy a live yogurt. I chose a fairly thick yogurt. Fage Total is the brand I used. This did involve buying plastic but it was necessary for the first batch. We are now re-using the packaging as our indoor compost bin before we take it outside to our “real” compost bin, so it has not ended up being recycled but reused for now.

I then followed the instructions pretty similarly. One difference was that I did was and sterilise the glass kilner jar in the oven (probably not needed as she says because the milk is so hot but I want to be extra careful). I then heated the milk on the stove (actually a little too much on the first batch as it boiled over but weirdly still worked! So if this happens to you go for it as it seems to not be a problem).

Next after pouring the very very hot milk into the kilner jar I waited for it to cool. For one pint (or just under having lost some for boiling over) this did not take very long – maybe 5 minutes (I placed it in cold water each time). The last batch was made with 1.5 pints and took around 10-15 minutes for it too cool to “touching temperature” which is when you add in the old “live” yogurt.

For the first batch of 1 pint I added in around 3 tablespoons of bought yogurt into it, folding gently. For the second batch of 1.5 pints I added in around ⅕ – ¼ of the kilner jar into it pouring it in. The second batch is definitely thinner but still recognisably Greek Yogurt. I am hoping to never have to buy Greek Yogurt again but may have to “top” the thickness up it appears as I learnt in a conversation with my new supervisor this morning (who makes his own yoghurt). We shall see and I will let you know if and when this happens.

I was most worried about just leaving it in “hottest tap water” for 8 hours. Worried because it seemed too simple. I needn’t have worried it has worked both time, although I think as the original blogger notes it only works if you have a large enough amount of yogurt (and I would add) in a wide enough jar. I am using a 1 litre kilner jar wherever it comes up to and this seems to be working. I am thrilled it has worked and just really hope to continue this as a form of breakfast/ snack, all of course coming from milkman brought glass milk.

For the visual learners this is a picture story of what I did:

 

  1. Glass Jar is cleaned. 2. Milk boiled. 3. Milk cooled, yogurt added lid closed and placed in “hottest tap water”. 4. Yogurt – been in the fridge overnight and stirred together. 5. Eaten for breakfast with bit of jam (if you add more of this in it becomes a flavoured yogurt) and oats.

Growing Veg – starts here…

Today is a good day. Today I accidentally discovered I had grown some potatoes. Before I left for my 5 weeks away I had planted in pots various different vegetables. Today was the day I finally put these plants out of pots and into the soil.

 

Yesterday I started the process by digging up a patch of our lawn. For me this is something I have wanted to do for a long time but I have been kinda daunted. Partially because we have inherited a real gardeners garden – it is a gorgeous typical English countryside cottage garden which as a non gardener is a dream but also feels quite a responsibility. Tomorrow I plan to tackle the weeds which have grown so fast (despite Steve doing his best) in the last five week. I have also been daunted because this garden has a beautiful lawn that was kept well for us by the church whilst no-one lived here. But finally, yesterday, having arrived home from my travels I decided it was now the time. I needed a veg patch.

It was undeniably a work out. I went to bed exhausted but feeling excited about finally planting out the beetroot, beans, cauliflower and onions today. (Big thanks to my parents for keeping the beans and beetroot going whilst I was away). And as you can see in the image below I did it – I planted them all into my small plot of soil.

image1-37
The wool is supposed to stop slugs…I have not gone mad!

I then went back round and looked at the plants in pots that seem to have failed. I was making a mental note about re-using the soil for starting off new plants next week when I suddenly thought I had two potato plants before I left that were doing well, they hadn’t flowered yet but they were growing strong. So, I started to dig through the pots and discovered these:

image2 (17).JPG

Now these are not a patch on our friend Tom’s potatoes but for plants grown out of one pot I am pretty pleased. As you can see one potato has gone off (live and learn) but we have a handful of small potatoes which will do nicely in a salad. It’s a small haul but a beginning. Part of going non plastic will be greatly made easier the more food we can grow ourselves. It all has to start somewhere and I am honestly pretty thrilled to begin with these few potatoes. Hopefully in a few weeks we may have a few more home grown vegetables…maybe one day even enough to share out.

The Netherlands – An Attempt at Plastic Free…but *warning* it contains plastic

I am nearly at the end of my 5 week away placement as part of my ministry training. The last two of these weeks has been spent in the Netherlands based in The Hague area but in fact travelling to a fair few places. Unlike in Germany I have eaten out more and indeed bought more food out too (whilst also being on the receiving end of lots of Surinamese home-cooked hospitality, although this has often been transported away in plastic). I feel I have had a more realistic exposure as to how easy it is to live here without plastic in terms of food shopping/drinking and have to say that overall I think it is as hard as it is living in the U.K. (maybe even harder, but this maybe because I don’t know the right places). In addition, I have to confess, there are times when I have had to buy food in plastic either because I haven’t known enough of the plans in advance to organise a plastic-free lunch or occasionally because I have wanted to try a delicacy that is typical of the Netherlands that is wrapped in plastic and have gone for it. And there was the odd chocolate too…

However, I can see that if you wanted to you could largely do well in the Netherlands if you lived here more permanently and planned ahead. In this sense it is very like the U.K. You just can’t as easily pick up food plastic free on the go as it feels like you could have in Germany (or for me in the U.K.). Here in the Netherlands it is all about planning ahead. That being said there are some things the Netherlands are doing better in than in some areas of the U.K.

Fresh Fruit and Veg

The markets throughout the Netherlands are a good source of non-plastic food (so long as you take a bag with you like in the U.K. – there is a plastic bag charge here too (yey!) ). I went round markets in The Hague and Rotterdam and can honestly say that there seems to be a greater variety of food available at these markets that is plastic free than the ones in Sheffield or Derby (maybe not other places in the U.K. though). I was particularly impressed with the choices of fruit that was plastic free (unlike in the supermarkets here which is basically coated in the stuff). I was also impressed to find in a random little shop in Amsterdam (in a tourist area too) blackberries and raspberries that were packaged in a way that was plastic free – the first I have ever seen other than ones picked straight off the fields.

image7.JPG
Found in Amsterdam

 

Nuts and Spices

In Rotterdam market you could also do better at buying things like nuts and spices which you could purchase by weight and weren’t pre-wrapped in plastic. I really love this and really wish this was in the places I was living. We love our spices and nuts in the Maxwell house as both are just so useful for cooking with nuts being a helpful thing to nibble on so you don’t get hangry (we’ve all been there). I am going to see when I get back home over the next few weeks if I can find a similar stall somewhere in Derby as I suspect there must be I have just not found it yet!

 

Drinking

One area that was actually relatively easy to do plastic free was grab a drink as a lot of the places I visited in the Netherlands (from small cafes by beaches to supermarkets in cities) offered water in glass although it was a bit more expensive. There was also milk in glass to grab which I loved and would like to see more of in the U.K. Like in Germany, recycling glass bottles and plastic was an option – with the nearest supermarket in Zoetermeer paying you for your recycling of these goods.

image6

 

Furthermore in Gouda I spotted these bad boys…

image4 (3)
Love the proud caption by shop owner :) 

 

This was a little independent shop but I have yet to see a shop in the U.K. with such a large selection of plastic free bottles at what looked like reasonable prices. This is the first offline choice of plastic free containers I have seen which seems to suggest in this area, at least in Gouda that the Netherlands is ahead!

Inside the Government

My placement here led me at one point to be inside a government building for a meeting. In the meeting room was this rather exciting machine:

image11

Again it seems to suggest that  in this area the Netherlands are striving forward with this being a “standard” bin throughout the conference rooms in the area we were in. It maybe a case of we were in the right building for this kind of level of recycling but I suspect not. The cups put out for us, although disposable, were already made of recyclable cardboard. Furthermore, the bin suggests they will also be recycled again. The only thing better would be to use porcelain cups but this is a good step forward.  I know in the U.K. I have seen some bins in Universities and cities which separate trash to a similar level but never in a political setting that I have noticed (I will willingly be proved wrong on this one).

Eating Out

Generally eating on the go is a plastic nightmare in the Netherlands – grabbing a plastic free sandwich feels nearly impossible. However, sitting down eating out is similar to the U.K. Hard to regulate exactly how much plastic is used to make your meal but you are highly unlikely to end up with plastic on your table (in the Netherlands knives and forks generally came wrapped in paper or a napkin). This is a photo though of me and the lovely lady, Lucille, who has been hosting me eating out at a place that made pasta from scratch (which was stored in paper bags) – so here at least it was plastic free in terms of the pasta!

image3 (11)

Snacks

So, as I mentioned at the start, snacking plastic free has at times been challenging. Below is just one example of when it has been a case of choosing to try the local cuisine totally took over (and I may have had a few!). This is a ginger cake which both my supervisor and host have introduced me to as being classically “Netherlands”.

image5 (3)

 

Overall I would love to shop in the Netherlands for fruit and veg as here they are definitely ahead of the U.K. in terms of variety – it would make our food choices more interesting at home if we had access to as much fruit and veg as is possible to buy on markets here. Being in the Netherlands has exposed me to both Dutch and Surinamese foods, some of which I hope to emulate when I get home. So watch this space to see if I can find the plastic free ingredients –  Fingers crossed!!