Ecohack 6 – Op shopping.

I love op shopping, and I have become something of an expert.  Op shops, short for opportunity shops are variously called charity stores or thrift stores depending on where you live.  I’ve been going to the Salvos (Salvation Army), Vinnies, (St Vincent de Paul), Lifeline and The Smith Family stores for decades! When I travel, I always visit the local charity stores.

I even created a blog The Op-Shop Queen back in 2011.  It was based on giving op shops reviews and buying a complete outfit, not including shoes, for less than $20. It’s archived and no longer accessible although I may resurrect it.Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 10.16.06

Why Op Shops?

I earn enough to buy new stuff but don’t for several reasons,

  1. I’d rather spend that money on other stuff.
  2. I like the challenge of building a wardrobe from the quirky pieces you can find.
  3. The quality is often better. I’d rather pay $10 for a second-hand designer brand than $2 on a piece of crap made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions. Mind you the designer brand may also have been made in Bangladesh under dubious labour conditions, but it is likely to be better quality material and hence last longer.
  4. The feel-good feeling it gives me for keeping clothes out of the waste stream and doing my bit for the environment.
  5. It fits in with my buy-nothing-new-unless-there-is-no-other-way philosophy.

Keeping clothes out of the waste stream.

There are plenty of stats about the impact discarded clothes have on our waste stream. Fast fashion which is fuelled in part by social media, is an ugly trend where people wear an item once and throw it away. The desire to be seen in something new for every insta-moment is a real thing for many consumers.

Me? I have never really been into fashion. Ooops back up a bit there! I did wear shoulder pads and peplums back in the 80s, and I am conscious of not looking like an utterly uncoordinated bag lady. These days I try to go for a classy, elegant, timeless look that will withstand the “what colour is on trend this week” trend. If you keep things long enough, they’ll cycle back around anyway.

Keeping clothes for longer means that energy and resources used in making them is saved. We should be aiming for more wears per item.

 

Picking up a bargain.

I buy everything from op shops. Clothes, kitchenware, shoes, towels, stationery, books, magazines, storage containers, toys for my grandson. If I need something I go there first. My best buy to date is an evening dress which was brand new, with tags and still in the shops (i.e. it was still in season). The labelled price was over $900, I got it for $100. I even bought my Iains from op shops!

I am lucky my home town of Wollongong has several substantial op shops which are clean and bright.

You never know what you might find! A year or so after I got divorced, I went into my favourite op shop to find many of the items from my own kitchen on sale! The items that had been part of his split. I was a bit peeved that a lovely fruit bowl which was a wedding gift was there for $10! (I knew it was mine because of a unique sticker on the bottom). I decided not to buy it back.

Op shopping is now on trend!

Op shopping is becoming so popular that it is getting harder to get bargains. The charities who run them obviously want to make money, and I have noticed there has been a rise in prices. Back in the old days, designer brands were on the racks cheek by jowl with the Kmart stuff. Now, most stores have these items in their own section with much higher prices. I guess getting an Armani cashmere jumper at $30 is still a bargain.

I used to hide the fact that my clothes were from op shops. When someone asked me where I bought that fabulous dress or whatever, I’d say “Oh just a little place in Wollongong.” Now I reply “from my special shop” which my colleagues know means the op shop!

Decluttering trends and the time made available for decluttering by the COVID lockdowns have meant that many op shops are packed to the rafters with items discarded by others. Now’s a good time to start op shop if you’re not into it already!

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That entire outfit not including shoes, socks and undies was less than $10

My tips for op-shopping.

  1. Remember that the clothes are there for a reason. The previous owner did not want them anymore. This could be because they are slaves to fashion, have put on or lost weight, gotten older and the thigh-high split skirt is no longer part of their look, or they died. The items could be damaged or stained. There could be buttons missing. CHECK them out carefully. Turn the items inside out and have a look for moth holes, rips, broken zips, missing buttons, stains. I need to improve on this front.
  2. The clothes are checked by the staff before being put on the racks, but they are not washed. There may be stained items. Make a decision if you think the stain will be treatable, otherwise leave it on the shelf.
  3. If it is missing buttons or is ripped is the item worth fixing? If it’s a beautiful item that suits you, maybe you could replace all the buttons, or put a cute patch over the rip. There are some good books about mending available.
  4. Try it on!! This is my biggest downfall. I too often buy things without trying them on, and they end up back in my own donations bag when I find they don’t fit or look terrible.  And while yes, I haven’t wasted much money and I have not contributed to the waste stream, it is still a waste.
  5. Be adventurous, try different colours and styles.
  6. Don’t be tempted to buy more than you need because it is cheap, and ‘environmentally friendly.’ Overconsumption is still overconsumption whether it’s brand new or second hand. You still have to find a place to store all that shit when you bring it home! Buying things just in case is still a waste.
  7. Challenge your family to do op shop gift-giving, where all presents have to be either homemade or second hand. Use scarves or other fabric found at op-shops to wrap your gifts. There are usually plenty of used-once gift bags available too.
  8. If you are a super bargain hunter op shops often have colour coded tags and these may attract a discount. Look out for signs in the store. Eg “all green tag items 50% off today” or “all pink tags only $2”. Some shops like the Salvos, have bargain days on Mondays and Tuesday where all items under $15 are only $2 and other items are 50% off. Since I work full time I can only get along to those days in the school holidays.
  9. Remember to take your own unwanted and no longer needed items to the op shop when you’ve finished with them. But don’t take your junk. Op shops have to pay to get rid of any unwearable, unusable items dumped at their doorsteps. This reduces their profitability and how many people they can help. It’s not the tip, so please dispose of real rubbish thoughtfully.

Plans for the future

I have written a post before about my inability to travel light! I have had an idea on how to solve this problem. Next time I travel, I am only going to take two changes of clothes and buy everything else from local op shops as I need it. This, of course, will depend on IF I travel internationally again. Who knows!

Don’t be scared, op shops are no longer smelly dank places where only the homeless people hang out! The car park is full of Lexus and Range Rovers and people snapping up bargains while doing their bit for our planet! 

 

Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head.

Cheapskate travel in Sydney!

I recently took a day trip from sunny Wollongong (best place on Earth!) to the big smoke of Sydney to check out the Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head. There is nothing quite like being a tourist in your own patch. You speak the language, know the lingo, and you don’t have to exchange any money. And you don’t have to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards!

Middle Head 1
Verdigris – metal meets elements

I am living a Year of Zero and have given myself a strict travel budget to follow. It’s pretty close to zero! I factored in an allowance for some short local experiences to stop me from going completely crazy.  This expedition was cheap!  If you travel on a Sunday, your public transport fares will max out at $2.80, and if you bring your own food, you don’t need to spend anything else all while enjoying million-dollar harbour views. I went on a Friday, but still, the daily cap is just over $16.

It was an easy half-day excursion which I rounded off by heading over to another lovely harbour location – Cockatoo Island for the (free)  Sydney Biennale exhibition. I’ll write a separate post about that.

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One of the metal rails used to slide the cannon.

New “Old” Stuff in Australia.

While Australia may be the continent with the oldest human culture on Earth, it’s not big on castles, paleolithic excavation sites or massive cathedrals. The oldest building in Sydney, Elizabeth Farm, is only 227 years old. The oldest (non-indigenous) structure in Australia is a stone fort built by shipwreck survivors from the Batavia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 near the (now) town of Geraldton.

Prior to European settlement, Middle Head was home to the Borogegal People, the Traditional Custodians of Headland Park.  I acknowledge and thank them for their continuing care of the land that is, was, and always will be theirs.

While our indigenous culture is rich and old, our European culture is only a pup in global terms. None-the-less there are still some interesting things to see for those with an interest in history. The Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head near Mosman are just such a place.

The first fortifications on the site were built in 1801 and the larger battery positions were constructed in 1871.

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Middle Head is, well in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and is a very good defensive point to prevent ships coming into the Harbour itself. In addition to the concrete fortifications, there are some old army barracks from the 1940s, most of which are currently empty, and crying out for gentrification.

The Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks rent out the Officers Quarters as holiday lettings. (Currently $400 – 600 for 2 bedrooms with  a total of 4 beds)

How to get to the  Fortifications at Middle Head:

  • From Taronga Zoo: Catch a ferry from Circular Key to Taronga Zoo and then walk along the headlands. Rather than cutting across to Balmoral Beach as shown in the map, walk downhill near HMAS Penguin on Middle Head Road or Chowder Bay Road. After you have finished at the fortifications, you can continue on to Balmoral Beach for lunch and coffee and then catch a number 245 bus back to Wynyard Station. The is a handy bus stop at the corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade. Be on the shop side of the road. The walk is about 8 km all up. Also, see Wild Walks for good directions.
  • Directly from Wynyard Station: If you don’t want such a long walk, catch the No. 244 bus from Stand A in Carrington Street, and get off at the stop just past HMAS Penguin. Then walk around to Balmoral Beach. It’s a relatively easy walk of about 1.5 km on a paved surface. Catch the No 245 bus back to Wynyard Station from the southern corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade.

Word of Caution: Check the timetables before you go to make sure you don’t get stuck! The TripView App or the NSW Transport webpage will help here. Google Maps also has info about timetables.

Food, Water and Toilets!

If you decide not to bring your own food, there are two cafes (Middle Head Cafe and Burnt Orange). There are more places to eat at Balmoral Beach. The Bathers’ Pavilion is pretty swanky and definitely beyond my budget. (Set menu $110 pp!)  However, Balmoral Beach is a great place for a picnic, so I’d pack a healthy and more frugal lunch box if you are also keen on saving some money.

I went on this little excursion while some COVID restrictions were still in place and chose only to get a takeaway cup of tea. Things were still a bit awkward as you needed to book ahead, and there was reduced capacity, so it was hard to just rock up and expect service at the cafes. There are some fish and chip places which are not dine-in.

There are toilets at the entrance to the Middle Head Park just past the boom gates and at the building near the round-a-bout as you get off the bus. There are several sets of toilets along the Esplanade at  Balmoral Beach

There are water fountains on Balmoral Beach, or fill up at the taps at the loos.

PS: The Old Chooks made a comeback and travelled with me. Don’t tell Iain he’ll be furious he was left at home on the shelf!

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Ecohack 5 – Reducing plastic use

Reducing my environmental impact

Is plastic use a problem for you too? I am trying hard to reduce my environmental impact. In a previous post, I quoted a research paper that showed a tiered approach to reducing your impact. From those activities that have a big impact, like ditching the car or having only one child, down to things that while helpful, have a fairly small individual impact. Having said that, if every individual on the planet did that small thing, like switching to a mostly plant-based diet, the impact would be huge!

Roasted Beetroot Salad
Eating a plant-based diet makes an impact!

 

High Impact Decisions

In my thirties, I made a high impact decision to have only one child based on environmental impacts. At the time, back in the 1990s, it was a bold decision that copped flack from my peers and my (ex)partner.  It came about when I did a subject as part of my teaching degree about the environment.  We went on an excursion to a property on the Georges River near Lugano in Sydney. The owner, an old fellow called Ted, had some ramshackle displays made from recycled bibs & bobs and warned us of the dangers of climate change. I was deeply affected and feared the world my child would inhabit.  He was definitely ahead of his time. Most of my classmates thought he was a looney. I don’t remember his last name and the interwebs are so far silent, on his activities. Nonetheless, the information changed my life.

Plastic is everywhere!

As to moderate and low impact actions, I am consuming less, wasting less and travelling less. [Although travelling less seems like cheating as there is no way to travel far at the moment!] I buy second hand whenever I can.

Despite all these good intentions, I am thwarted by plastic!  Plastic use is my big downfall,  an epic fail. On July 1 when I decided to give Plastic-free July a try, I came home from the shops with 4 bits of plastic wrapping my food! My garbage/recycling bin is still full of plastic stuff.

I don’t know the origin of this quote, but it sums things up pretty well

“It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it into plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon when you’re done with it.”

 

Epic Plastic Fails

Plastic Fail number 1: I wear contact lenses. I use daily disposable lenses because I had serious issues with adhesions from the longer-term ones. As a result, every day, I end binning the two little plastic wells and the foil lids.  I have tried to think of ways to recycle them or at least repurpose them but have yet to come up with an idea. It seems like I am not the only one worried about this waste. There are collect and return systems in the US but I don’t think they are in action in Australia. They could make little paint pots?

Solution: I could wear glasses, a money-saving option. I could get laser surgery on my eyes, an expensive option. Wearing contacts is pure vanity, although I did try multifocal lenses a few years back, they made me nauseous and dizzy. Perhaps it’s time to try again.

Plastic Fail number 2: Plastic containers. Everything comes wrapped or packaged in plastic! Milk, dishwashing liquid, shampoo, soap etc etc etc. On the food front; berries, cherry tomatoes, bread are a few examples. Nearly every damn thing is in plastic!

Solutions: I have switched to making as much of my own food as I can with the time I have available. This reduces some of the packaging. I buy my veggies loose, and use fabric produce and shopping bags. But you can’t buy some things without plastic. I guess the choice is not to buy them all.

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I am getting pretty good at making my own bread!

I could try solid shampoo bars and buy other liquid products from the bulk store and re-use the containers. That’s on the agenda as a new zero-waste bulk grocery store has opened up near my home. The Port Grocer advertises itself as “affordable”. Let’s hope so.

I recently tried to buy milk in glass bottles. I could only find one shop about 15 km away, and the milk was literally twice as much as the regular milk!

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Glass bottles for milk would be great!

Sigh! Whatever happened to the milkman and the return of the empties at the end of the driveway? Whatever happened to home-delivered bread in wax paper wrapping which was then used to wrap the sandwiches?

Modern, fast, wasteful life! That’s what happened!

 

Eco-hacks – Episode 4: Meal Planning

Meal planning saves money and resources.

You well may ask, how is meal planning an eco-hack? Meal planning reduces your global environmental footprint AND saves you money because if you do it properly, it will reduce food waste.

If food waste was a country it would be the third biggest emitter after the US and China.

FAO 2013

It is an oft-quoted stat that Australian families waste approximately 20% of the food they buy. Put another way, one in every five bags of groceries you lug into the house could end up in the bin!

It’s not just a waste of money (the average family wastes $1036 p.a!!!)  but also a waste of valuable resources. Apart from the food itself, there is wasted energy in materials in the growing, processing (even lightly processed foods), transportation through the various stages. Next, you have to get to the shops and back,  cart the food home, store it and cook it.

The BIG issue apart from the economic waste, is the contribution that rotting food adds to greenhouse emissions. Unless you live in a place where you can compost ALL your food scraps, or are lucky enough to live in a council area that does FOGO, it’s likely your food waste will end up fermenting away underground in a landfill site. This anaerobic fermentation leads to the production of methane gas which is right up there in terms of greenhouse gases. You can calculate how many kilograms of methane gas you are contributing from food waste at this site.

It makes good economic and ecological sense to reduce food waste.

This graphic from the Sustainable Table gives some facts about food waste. Lack of planning is the most significant cause of food waste.

Why I plan my meals.

Meal planning is one of my happy places! Sad, I know, but apart from the joy I get from being organised and being able to draw up lovely lists, it genuinely makes my life easier. I like cooking, I love trying complicated recipes, and I am very committed to eating a healthy, mostly plant-based diet.

While I have always planned my meals in some shape or form, I have upped my game considerably over the last two or three years.  The fact that it contributes to reducing waste is a bonus.

I  was originally spurred on to be more proactive about meal planning for four reasons:

  1. To reduce decision fatigue. What to cook for dinner is a vexed question even in a household of one! Coming home after a day of work and thinking what the f$%# to cook for dinner was a drag, despite my love of cooking! It also makes shopping easier. More on this later.
  2. To ensure I eat properly. After my divorce, there was a time when I survived on potato wedges and wine. (Oh and BBQ sauce!) I couldn’t be bothered cooking, and my nutrition was suffering. Meal planning helped drag me out of that hole by giving me something concrete to concentrate on. That, and the blood test result that showed my liver was starting to revolt!
  3. To save money. By planning my meals, I only buy what I need and don’t have mystery ingredients in the fridge getting slimier and slimier! I make sure I use up what I have before I buy more and I use a shopping list.
  4. To save time. These days I only cook a couple of days a week and make sure I cook at least four servings each time. One for the current meal, one to take for lunch the next day and two for the freezer. I use the frozen meals for the remainder of the week. I usually try and put a week between the time I cook it and when I eat it, so I am not eating the same thing every day. This meant that I have had to buy some more freezable food containers, but these have come from the op shop. (BTW flatter, skinnier containers freeze quicker and allow you to play better freezer-Tetrus)

How I plan my meals.

Now that I am on a money-saving kick, I have changed my planning a little. In the past, I planned the meals and then went shopping. Now, I do it the other way around. I go to the fruit market and look at what is in season and cheap and buy that. I’ll then build the week’s plan around these foods.

For instance this week, pumpkin, parsnips and beetroot were super cheap, so I bought those as well as the usual staples of tomatoes, onions, leafy greens etc. Then, I come home and use either the recipes I have stored in my head or sites like Delicious, Yummly and others to come up with recipes.

This week, the beetroot got turned into beetroot risotto and a warm beetroot and lentil salad. The parsnips will get turned into parsnip mash, some of which will be frozen and some parsnip chips and the pumpkin was turned into pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins and three meals worth of pumpkin gnocchi.

Spreadsheets, of course!

You will not be surprised to know that I have some meal planning spreadsheets! Several! Feel free to copy and adapt as you like.

  1. A general weekly guideline: this is the blueprint or skeleton from which I start. I don’t stick to it rigidly, in that I will only eat lentils on Tuesdays but rather that within the week I make sure I have at least one lentil-based meal. This is a static document. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.56.33
  2. A weekly meal plan overview: On this sheet, I consider things like
    1. what’s already in the freezer,
    2. what food I need to use up  (Priority ingredients)
    3. if I have any social/work things on where I will be eating out.Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.55
  3. A blank weekly plan: The final level. Here, I write the actual meals I have decided on and what recipes I’ll be using. If there is a web-based recipe, I copy the URL and add it to a note on Google Keep, so it’s easy to re-find. Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 08.55.41
  4. I use an app called My Shopping List on my phone. I am sure there are plenty of others, but this one works for me.

It takes me about half an hour to plan out the meals, and I think it’s 30 minutes well spent with a cup of tea and my iPad!

From a logistics point of view, I think a larger freezer is a must for successful meal planning and reducing food waste. However, be careful it does not become a morgue full of forgotten food! Label your items with the contents and date.

Thankfully, my Council has just announced that it is introducing FOGO from November. Even with a concerted effort not to waste food I still generate more peelings etc than my worm farm can cope with.

My contribution to reducing climate crisis may not be much, but every little bit counts!

 

 

 

 

Ecohacks – Episode 3 – Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are pieces of cotton fabric which have been soaked in melted beeswax. When the beeswax hardens, the fabric becomes water-resistant. The wraps function to replace plastic film in most, but not all situations. This helps reduce the amount of single-use plastic you use. It won’t save you much money, but you can feel good about making the swap and reducing your impact on the planet.

How to use the wraps.

Because the wax melts at a low temperature you can use the heat of your hands to mould it around the object you are wrapping.

You can not use the wraps for food that is:

  • Very wet or sloppy – they are water-resistant not waterproof.
  • Likely to leak. They do not form a very close seal with the edge of a bowl or plate so you can not create a leak-proof barrier.
  • Intended to be stored for a long time. The barrier is not perfect, bread for example will dry out after a few days.
  • Hot – the wax will melt.

Beeswax wraps are perfect for

  • Wrapping the sandwich which you make in the morning for your work lunch.
  • Covering a plate or bowl of food in the fridge for a day or two.
  • Wrapping up some crackers or popcorn.
  • Wrapping up things like muffins and bread rolls.

Do it yourself Beeswax wraps.

Beeswax wraps are super easy to make in your own kitchen and there are lots of YouTube videos to show you how.

Essentially the process is

  1. Pre-wash and iron the fabric before you start. This will remove any sizing or other chemicals that are lingering on the surface.
  2. Cut your fabric to size using pinking shears. I find a good mix of sizes is 25 x 25 cm, 30 x 30 cm and 35 x 45 cm.
  3. Preheat the oven to about 80 – 100ºC. If you can set it at 70ºC that would be better. The wax melts at around 60ºC. If the oven is too hot you will burn the wax.
  4. Line a deep baking tray with baking paper or foil (keep this to re-use)
  5. Lay the fabric in the tray and sprinkle with wax pellets. Approximately 1 pellet per 2 cm².  Another guide is about 15 g of wax for a 25 x 25 cm square.
  6. If the fabric does not fit in the tray, you can fold it over and sandwich the wax in between the folds.
  7. Place in the oven and keep a close watch. It takes about 2 – 3 minutes for the pellets to melt.
  8. When the wax melts, take the tray out and use a brush to spread the wax evenly.
  9. Pick up the fabric carefully by the corners and let it drip into the tray for a few seconds.
  10. Lay it down somewhere to cool and set. Repeat.

A few tips for your DIY:

  • Use lighter colours rather than dark colours. The folds in the fabric turn the wax white and you get ugly lines in your wraps.
denin wax wrap
This is a wrap I made with dark blue denim. Not recommended! Still works but it looks gross!
  • Use lightweight fabric like lawn or gingham. Denim is too thick and soaks up too much wax making them uneconomical. Do not use synthetics.
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This is made with organic cotton. The lines might still be there but you can’t see them.
  • Use pinking shears to cut your fabric. This, in combination with the wax, will stop them from fraying.
  • If you are going to make lots of wraps,  buy a 1 kg bucket of wax pellets, don’t buy the block. The block is cheaper and yes, you can grate it, but it takes ages and is very tedious. I buy mine from Australian Wholesale Oils or Happy Flame.
  • The organic wax is yellow and will change the colour of your fabric. The refined wax is cheaper and whiter.
  • Put a big sheet on the floor to catch the drips of wax. Believe me, you’ll be grateful you did. The wax is hard to clean up.
  • Put a towel or another sheet on your workbench to catch crumbs of wax.
  • Buy a silicone pastry brush to help you spread out the melted wax.
  • Some recipes use pine rosin. I don’t. The pine rosin makes the wraps stickier but some sites say the pine rosin is carcinogenic. It is also expensive and hard to get.
  • Make a big batch and give as gifts.  You’ll get a bit of a production line going.
  • If you want to earn extra eco-warrior points, use pre-loved fabric. The material used for men’s shirts is a perfect weight. I have also bought old serviettes and used them. They are already pre-cut and hemmed.
  • To care for your wraps, wipe down with warm soapy water. You should not wash them.
  • Some recipes also call for jojoba oil. I bought some and used it but to be frank couldn’t tell the difference.
  • I have also tried using the iron to melt the wax. I sandwiched the fabric and wax between sheets of baking paper. It worked OK, but made a bit of a mess! It was however very quick! If you have an old iron and a spare ironing board cover it’s worth a try.

I have been using beeswax wraps for 3 IMG_6009years. I have made lots, with the intention of selling them.

I have discovered that after a few months of use, the wax wears off. I have re-waxed these ones to rejuvenate them rather than making new ones. If they are really past their best you can compost them. Vegans can make wraps using soy wax, but I have never tried that.

 

 

 

PS if you don’t want to make your own, you can buy some of mine! Most of the wraps I have seen at markets are very ‘girly’. I have used more gender-neutral colours and patterns. I call them KingBee wraps. Cute hey! You can leave a comment or click on the contact page to arrange to order.

 

KingBee2

Eco-hacks- Episode 2 – Toilet paper trade-off

Category: Reducing single-use items.

It seems like another lifetime ago, but in March 2020 things went wonky in the supermarket aisles. The shelves were empty; denuded of basics like rice and pasta. If you had canned soup on your shopping list? Think again, there was none available! The lack of food staples was nothing compared to the hullabaloo happening away from the fridges and freezers, away from the breakfast cereal and flour.

Over in the paper goods aisle, there was some really serious shit going down.  People were panic-buying toilet paper in preparation for self-isolation. They were fighting over the last eight pack. Enraged shoppers were swearing at the cashiers. Rumours were fueling rushes on shops. “Coles at Figtree has toilet paper! Quick! Too late!”

The world went genuinely crazy! Over toilet paper? Yes, over toilet paper.

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Empty shelves: Woolworth’s Figtree March 22nd 2020

NOT ME! I was sitting pretty, because, in January, ignorant of the impending doom of Corona, I had bought a year’s supply of toilet paper (and paper towels, toothpaste and all those non-perishable, non-food type things) as I intended on only going to the fresh food market. I planned to stay out of Woollies for the year and save some money. I had made my estimates, done my calculations and bought in bulk. It was all part of my big Year of Zero. My plan to cut back, par down and save money.

Worth its weight in gold?

Bazinga!

I had a goldmine in my linen press! I decided not to cash in. In fact, I went the other way and thought “well how can I make what I have last even longer”? I was spurred on by an article in the Guardian about reusable “toilet paper” or rather, washable wipes that can be reused and potentially eliminate toilet paper from your shopping list and our environment.

Ever resourceful, I got a large towel from the op shop and used my overlocker (serger) to cut it into small strips about 12  x 8cm. From one $2 bath towel I got 66 little tiny towels. I bought a small flip-top bin with a well-sealed lid for $8 and I’m set. That ten measly bucks sets me up for the next five years! (or until I need to replace them)

I will still use some toilet paper because I am not gutsy enough to use the tiny towels for faeces, only urine. (Thank god I hear my friends sigh!) The used wipes get tossed in the little bin, and I wash them with non-clothes items like towels or sheets and hang them in the bright UV-laden Australian sun to dry. It turns out these small reusable towels are called “family cloths” and are big business on Etsy! Family cloths sounds a bit ooky to me, so I’m sticking with tiny towels.

I’ve used two double-length rolls of paper in the last six months. I hasten to add that my bathroom habits are… umm… shall we say, healthy and regular, so I’m not under-using my stash.

On top of the financial benefits, there are loads of eco-warrior princess points to be won here. Toilet paper typically comes packed in plastic, uses high-quality virgin paper and water in its manufacture. Although it breaks down quickly in the sewerage system it is still a single-use product that is chucked out. Sewage treatment is a significant drain on our community’s coffers and not one we can scrimp on if we are to keep safe and healthy.

Toilet paper is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it takes just one virus to bring us to our knees and create chaos.  I wonder how many people have got a truckload of unopened paper in their garage?

Toilet Paper Hoarder?
It turns out this buyer also bought the stash before COVID. Incorrectly ordering 48 boxes instead of 48 rolls. Image from Courtesy US NEWS and Report.

The history of toilet paper

This sort of crisis gets you (well me anyway) thinking about what did people do in the olden days before the invention of snowy white toilet paper?

Sticks and stones as it turns out. Snow, seashells, wooden scrapers, communal sponges on sticks, flat rocks, leaves, moss, lambswool and fingers have all been or are still used as cleaning/drying implements after the business is done.

Ewww,  if the thought of washing a little tiny towel grossed you out, think of those alternatives!

Toilet paper, as we know it is a relatively recent invention. The first commercially produced toilet paper landed in the grocery store in 1857.

If you’re interested, these websites have some interesting stories on the history and commercial development of toilet paper.

https://www.history.com/news/toilet-paper-hygiene-ancient-rome-china

http://www.wonderbarry.com/TP%20Site/index.html

So how much will I save?

Back in January, I calculated that I was buying a four-pack of double length toilet paper every month. So I figured I’d need 48 rolls for the whole year. I paid about $6-7 a pack. So my upfront expenditure was about $90 tops for the year. My current rate of use sees me using 6 rolls over the year, let’s say $10. Over 5 years I’ll save ~ $400. (Maybe)

It’s not really about the money; it’s about reducing my footprint. In terms of eco-princess brownie points, this is right up there! I’m doing my bit to save trees, water and electricity and come the second wave I’ll be doing fine!

Toilet paper cartoon
A hot commodity?

Yuck factor?

The title of the Guardian article referenced above refers to the ‘yuck factor’ of reusable solutions to cleaning or drying ourselves after we have been to the toilet.

Now, for you fellows out there here is a bit of private women’s business. We use toilet paper every time we wee. All things going well, it’s really just a little dab to wipe a few drips. For this little bit of liquid I have known some women to use more than ten sheets! What a waste!  Why have we become so separated from our bodily functions?

Personally, I am still not ready to go commando and use the wipes for faeces as well. I am not done analysing the reasons why as I was a cloth nappy mum and it’s not the poo that worries me…just my poo I guess. I have also proven my poo-brave face by doing voluntary faecal analysis to see what bugs I have in my gut and for a bowel scan. Maybe I’ll get there but I won’t tell anyone.

Anyways, if using your own reusable wipes is a step too far, at least switch to a more eco-friendly option. Seek out paper made with at least some unbleached, recycled paper in paper wrapping. Bidets are also a very good alternative if you have access to one. The water used in the bidet is a fraction of that used in the manufacture of paper and the washing of tiny towels.

Check out “Who gives a crap” a socially responsible company who makes good toilet paper and gives back to the community. It’s not white and snowy but then neither is your bum!


PS: Visiting friends and family? Don’t worry; the guest bathroom is stocked with the real deal!

 

Eco-hacks – Episode 1: A decent cup of tea.

Today I am launching a  new and possibly short-lived series about eco-hacks for the Sunday Post! Coming up with two extended posts a week is hard! So I am trying to reduce some decision fatigue, ensure my posts are as high a quality as I can, and still post frequently. Quick, themed tidbits are the way to go!

Hence,  the  Eco-hacks Series!  This is the little something I am adding to my daily routine to help reduce my global impact, which is part of my Year of Zero project. Not meant to be earth-shattering news, but, hey, every little bit counts!

Category: Reducing single-use items.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE! I have switched from using single-use tea-bags to loose-leaf tea. The tea leaves themselves are still single-use but the packaging and bag part are now banished.

Benefits of loose leaf tea:

1.  Nicer tea! I have been splashing out and buying some nice Earl Grey tea through A Decent Cup Of Tea. I managed to get a Bodum in cup diffuser from the op shop for $3 and I already had a teapot. So I am actually enjoying the tea more than teabag tea. I also get to use the cute little tea cosy I made. I also like putting the milk in the cup first, which I can with tea leaf tea.

2. Less waste. Even though theoretically the tea bags are compostable, there is still the energy and waste that must go into their manufacture. I dump the used leaves into my worm farm or on the garden. The worms seem to like the tea leaves. I wonder if they are getting a bit high on the caffeine?

 

Eco Hacks: Use Tea posts and diffuers to make a better cup of tea.
My current tea making tools!

Cons of loose leaf tea:

1. It takes more time to make a cup of tea. Not so much a problem at home but at work, yes.  I have taken a small teapot to work and have been brewing a pot of tea in the morning. I also have to toss the leaves in the bin and this gets a bit messy.

2. Not so travel friendly: Tea bags are great to keep in your handbag for when you are visiting people who don’t have Earl Grey tea (my fav).

3. More cost? Marginally. I don’t know exactly how many cups of tea I’m getting out of the 100g packs I am buying so I can not compare accurately.

  • 200 g of tea is lasting me about 3 months. Which pans out to be about $12 a month.
  • 100 tea bags were lasting about a month at $10 – 11 a box.

So there’s not much in it really and not worth worrying about.


SIDE NOTE: There is a great deal of ritual and rule-making around tea making. In my opinion to make a decent cup of tea:

  • The water must be BOILING, like rolling boiling, not just hot.
  • Fresh tea – don’t let it linger in your cupboard for too long
  • You absolutely cannot make a good cup of tea in the microwave so don’t even try! Get a kettle! Or a jug as we call them in Australia.
  • Use glass or ceramic teapots and cups
  • Leave it to brew for at least 3 minutes and use a tea cosy to keep it warm.
  • Milk, if you use it, goes in first.

Stay tuned for more eco-hacks in the coming weeks.

Have you got any favourite eco-hacks you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Year of Zero – Half Yearly Review

Time for the half-yearly review already??? It’s hard to believe that I am halfway through my Year of Zero. 2020 has, so far, been a very challenging year for the planet and its peoples.  After fires and floods, we faced disease and now there are riots and civil unrest brought about by racism. What’s next? A second wave? An economic downturn for certain, after that who knows!

When I published my first quarter review back in March, the Coronavirus had just hit Australia and we were entering a period of lock-downs. Now, three months later things are returning to normal, or the new normal some of us are hoping for.

I have not been as focused on my savings goals as I would like to have been these last few months. There have been some legitimate distractions. I haven’t strayed too far, but I do feel like I have lost some traction.

Some of the slide has come about because I was not prepared (or able) to go from place to place to do my grocery shopping. I just wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible which meant reverting to shopping in one place and that one place was Woollies. I had been trying to avoid Woolworths in favour of using smaller more independent outlets.

Despite this lack of focus, I have saved money simply because it was not possible to go anywhere anyway! So here is my self-report in the declared categories for the three months from April – June.

The itemised half-yearly review:

1. No overseas travel

Nope! None! I couldn’t if I had wanted to! Given the current ban on travel, I might not be travelling next year either!

Score: 10/10

2. No extended travel within Australia

Once again, easily achieved! The furthest I have been from my home in the last three months is 90 km into Sydney to drop my Grandson off, 3 times. Otherwise, I have stayed in sunny Wollongong. I was booked to go on a cruise to nowhere to celebrate a friend’s 50th, but I pulled out due to work commitments and then it was cancelled anyway.

Score 10/10

3. No new stuff.

I haven’t done so well in this area. I bought several items which did not fit into the categories I had set myself. (Essential, secondhand and only replacing broken or worn out items)

I bought some brand new items. (GASP!!)

  • Firstly, a plastic bread slicing guide. Apart from the fact that it was a lot more expensive than I thought it would be, it seemed like a reasonable purchase.  I have been doing lots of iso-baking (as has the rest of the world) but I can’t cut bread to save myself. I guess I could have just practised cutting the bread more carefully.
  • I designed a souvenir coffee mug, just for the fun of it.
  • A new book – on reducing kitchen waste
  • I paid for some custom made key rings to use as gifts.
  • And of course, I bought a few NEW things for my Grandson! (eg Lego)
coffee cup
You have to admit that’s pretty funny!

The items that did fit in the restricted category were,

  • A replacement iron after my old one shorted out the electricity. I had to call an electrician but thankfully I was able to re-set it myself after about an hour of unplugging everything and plugging it all back in one item at a time.
  • Some winter clothes to make up for the things I got rid of as part of another massive wardrobe cull.
  • A replacement phone case and screen protector,
  • Expensive socks,
  • A new booster seat for my grandson, he’s outgrown the old one and I need to keep him safe.
  • Fabric to make tea cosies.

Score: 4/10

4. Reduction in Expenditure on Groceries

This is the area that took the biggest hit. Returning to Woolies and the inability to use cash* meant that I did not keep such a tight reign on grocery expenditure. I went over my budget 4 out of 8 fortnights in this time period. On the other hand, for almost a full month, I was living out of my pantry and freezer and only bought a few fresh items. Perhaps with the swings and roundabouts, I broke even.

Score 5/10 

* most retailers were insisting on contactless payments.

5. Side Hustle Happenings

Not much happened here. The photography business, OCE generated no income and no apparent interest. I did sell a few of my postcards and A (single) tea cosy through Etsy but taking into account the cost of materials, I am still running at a loss there. The courses I had scheduled for the local Community College were cancelled. I pitched a few story ideas but had no luck. To be perfectly honest I don’t think this side of things will get off the ground till I am done with the day job.

Score: 5/10

6. Only sign up for free courses

I did for a free TAFE NSW course and completed it in a couple of days. I also signed up for three more courses through Future Learn. I finished 2 of them. One on Disaster Preparation was not relevant to Australian conditions so I didn’t bother completing it. The nutrition course was disappointing as it was quite outdated and I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know. The third course on science writing was good but again not something I hadn’t already covered in a paid course a few years ago.

I did pay for an online gym membership BUT this was because I could not go to the gym. My gym provided a 60-day free trial to Les Mills on Demand, in lieu of access and after this expired, I paid for another 30 days as they were still not open. (They reopened on the 22nd June).  I have actually made a net gain here. ($40 so don’t get too excited!) The online classes were good and I enjoyed them, but being at the actual gym is better.

Score 10/10

7. Sell some of my stuff

Not possible. COVID restrictions meant you could not do this sort of stuff. I did sell one of the kombucha kits to someone at work.

Score: 1/10

8. Concentrate on free activities

This was easy!!! I couldn’t do much else! My trivia buddies and I tried a few virtual quiz nights, but everything else was cancelled. I did splurge on hiring and/or buying movies for the Hugh Grant Film Festival.  In total this was around $60 and I am counting these as experiences.

Score 7/10

9. Rewrite my 60 for 60 goal

My 60 for 60 list is a work in progress. I did do a big jigsaw. That’s one more ‘free’ item ticked off. When I look through the list now, many items seem irrelevant. Perhaps it’s time to admit the list was ill-conceived and start a new one altogether?

Score: 0/10

10. Zero-waste-eco-warrior

No new wins and no losses to report. I am doing OK here. I am continuing to reduce the amount of packaged food I buy and I am making more things from scratch. I have got better at bread making and have abandoned the automated breadmaker for fully hand prepared bread which tastes good! I have found an excellent recipe for focaccia. My freezer is well stocked with baked goods. I have been literally clearing out my fridge before I go shopping again and have only had to toss some food scraps that would not fit in the worm farm. I have switched tea bag tea for loose leaf tea.

My zero-waste kit did not get a work out as I did not eat anywhere that required them. I took lunch to work every day, ate at home every night up until 4 June when I went on my first ‘going out adventure’ to the pub!

Score: 6/10

11. Year of Zero Booze

By the time this is published it will be 184 days since I have had any alcohol. This has become a no effort resolution. I have switched kombucha for herbal tea as the weather has cooled down, and since I have not been out, its been easy to avoid social situations where drinking is the norm. I have genuinely enjoyed a few zero alcohol beers. A friend gave me some zero alcohol wine, which they had bought accidentally. It seems a waste of calories. I’d rather do without.

Score: 10/10 

So once again my total score on the very arbitrary scale is 67%. I didn’t even try to manufacture that! It just happened!

I am on track to make my year-end savings target but only just!  In previous years, travel has been by far my biggest expense and this is where I’ll make my biggest savings.  The remaining items are just tinkering around the edges, but still, with diligence, the savings will add up to few thousand dollars over the year.

Goals for next quarter.

  1. To return to a more focused approach to grocery shopping, once everything is reopened.
  2. Buy NOTHING that does not fit the criteria.
  3. Sell a few items. I have an idea, that may be too challenging, to raise $1000 in a month by selling some “stuff”. I’ll think about it….I will make it an action step and first make an inventory of sell-able items and get them onto the local buy-swap-sell site.
  4. Do the side hustle thing! Really really!
  5. Win the lottery!

 

The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen – Book Review

As my Year of Zero approaches it’s halfway point, I must confess that I have bought a book! Yes, a brand new one! Not even second hand! It’s a bit of a Catch 22 really. I said I was not going to buy anything new but then this book will help me with one of my other goals, which is to be more of an eco-warrior princess. The book The Less Waste No Fuss Kitchen, by Lindsay Miles was published this month by Hardie Grant. It is a common-sense, no-nonsense guide on how to cut down  or maybe even eliminate kitchen waste. (depending on how warrior-like you choose to be!)

I have been following Lindsay’s blog, Treading My Own Path, for a few months now and I found her advice there very sound and helpful, so thought the book would be a good way to help  keep me on track to achieve my “be less wasteful” goals.

Lindsay approaches the less waste issue with a huge dollop of realism. She is not into naming and shaming. She sets out her philosophy in her introduction:

“ [the] purpose [of this book] is to give you ideas and tools to make changes and feel positive about the things you can do and not guilty about the things you can’t do”.

Less Fuss No WasteThe 223-page softcover book is full of practical ideas. It is divided into five chapters. There are lovely pastel illustrations throughout and plenty of charts and tables to make things easy to understand.

Part 1 gives a recount of our modern industrial food system and why it is no longer sustainable. (If it ever was) Supermarkets are full of abundant and relatively cheap food which is available all year round. Fruits like cherries which were once only available at Christmas time are now shipped in thousands of kilometres from the Northern Hemisphere. Hardly sustainable! While there is a lot of food, our choices are limited to those species ‘selected’ for their high yields, durability and size not unfortunately for their flavour.

The next three chapters look at separate categories where the consumer can take planet-positive actions.

Part 2 looks at how to reduce or remove packaging and plastic, Part 3 introduces carbon-friendly food choices and finally, Part 4 shows how you can reduce your food waste by careful storage, and using as much of your food as possible. This incidentally will save you money as well.

The final section Part 5: Getting started in your (less waste no fuss) kitchen, gives the reader ideas on how to plan meals, how to avoid single-use items and simple recipes for things you can make yourself.

Lindsay does not suggest that you start with an all or nothing approach but rather tackle what you feel most comfortable with first. That may be as simple as remembering to take your own bags to the supermarket or buying from a bulk food store. As you master one thing you can move on to include something a little more robust like reducing your intake of animal foods or buying only plastic-free produce from the farmer’s market.

Lindsay categorises potential actions by ”fuss level” from Fuss Level + to Fuss Level +++.

For instance, if you want to concentrate on reducing plastic packaging, a Fuss + option would be to “Take a stand: pick one grocery item that only comes packaged in plastic and stop buying it altogether.” The Fuss +++ version would be to make the item, like crackers for example, from scratch.

It’s an easy, enjoyable read that I’d recommend dipping in and out of as often as you like. It’s a reference book rather than a novel. Keep it handy in your kitchen. Lindsay’s writing style is unpretentious, friendly and encouraging.

My goal is to make more from scratch and reduce the amount of food I throw out. To this end, I am planning my meals more carefully, sticking to a list and buying what I can in bulk. I’ll definitely be trying out some of Lindsay’s cracker recipes! My biggest stumbling block is reducing the amount of plastic packaging I have, even though I am making a conscious effort to reduce it. It’s everywhere! My next action will be to try a home delivered fruit and vegetable box. This should reduce my packaging a bit.

Go to Lindsay’s website to see where you can order your copy.