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.

IMG_5095 2
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!

Processed with VSCO with fn16 preset
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!

 

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.
IMG_6012
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