My 100 Things Challenge

I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed this week. It started with the washing. But it’s been a busy week too. I’ve had meetings, I’m currently participating in a course, I’m working with a couple of organisations on two different projects, I’m presenting next week on sustainable transport, all on top of all the regular stuff I need to do and all the things I want to do. I like to fill my time, get involved and keep busy, but then sometimes I stop and look at everything I’m planning to do, and I get that ‘whoah!‘ feeling where I don’t even know where to start.

And if my schedule is feeling cluttered, so is the physical place of my life, my tiny flat. I think, maybe, that when one aspect of your life is busy or cluttered you look for solace in the other parts. Well there’s no solace in the tiny flat! I talked a bit on Monday about how slowly I’ve been accumulating clothes, but it’s not just clothes. Yesterday we picked up our new sofa. It’s not actually new, but a bargain find from the Salvation Army charity shop, and we’d needed a new sofa since we sold the old one. (The old one had to go as it took up half the flat, literally, which I hadn’t realised when I bid on it on eBay because I didn’t actually bother to check the dimensions.) The new sofa allows us to seat people whilst leaving enough space in the tiny flat to fit in some storage so we no longer need to keep piles of things on the floor. Since losing the old sofa we got also got a set of drawers to put all the stuff in. Which is great…

Except the piles of stuff are still sitting around the place, or shoved in the drawers. They’ve not been sorted. I have that uneasy feeling that comes with not being entirely sure where any of your stuff is.

And the other thing that makes me uneasy, is this word ‘need’. We ‘needed’ the sofa. We ‘needed’ the drawers. We ‘needed’ the glass pyrex storage containers that I bought last week because we don’t have enough food storage. I feel like I’ve been spending like crazy and accumulating stuff, and when I look around the flat and in the cupboards I see too much stuff. It’s so easy to justify everything, to think it will make your life better, or easier. But all that stuff needs sorting, and tidying, and cleaning, and finding again when I’ve tidied it away and don’t remember where away actually is. And for all the new stuff that I ‘need’, there’s plenty of stuff that is no longer useful.

I love the idea of simplicity, but I am a natural hoarder. It’s a constant battle. I want to believe that those things will become useful again. Something has to tip me over the edge and push me into action. Well this week, that has happened. So whilst I’m still in the moment I’ve made a pledge. I’m going to get rid of 100 things.

I have no idea which 100 things. I have no idea if that’s a lot, or once I get started I’ll be able to get rid of 300 things. (Wouldn’t that be nice?!) All that stuff in the kitchen cupboards that I haven’t used since we moved in? That’s going. The clothes I haven’t worn since arriving in Australia? Out. The stuff in the bottom of the boxes that never got entirely emptied when we moved in? It’s not staying.

I’m going to give myself a month. And I’m putting it out here in a public forum because it should motivate me to actually go through with it! I’m hopeful that less clutter will mean a more positive environment, less stress, fewer chores (more time!) and more freedom.

Remember the film Fight Club? My friend and I were obsessed with it in school, particularly because of all the great quotes (there are many). Even now, I can remember many of them. I wanted to finish with one because I think it’s so true. It’s another reason to de-clutter your life.

“The things you own end up owning you.”

The weekend and the washing

laundryjpgI had a really great weekend. Friday night sushi and a rare trip to the theatre with my boyfriend (Death of a Salesman by the Black Swan State Theatre Company), a Saturday afternoon afternoon trip to Fremantle then dinner with friends on Saturday night, and lunch with family on Sunday afternoon. Busy, fantastic company, amazing food, loads of fun. Read more

Homemade Hummus and Tzatziki (2 Simple DIY Recipes)

Homemade dips are delicious, plastic free, don’t contain a list of additives as long as your arm and are made with real ingredients, not bulked out with cheap ‘fillers’. What’s not to love?!

If you’re reading this and thinking, oh but I don’t have time for all that fiddly stuff, I want to try to convince you otherwise. There’s so many that you can make that are ready in minutes! Sure, if you want to try to recreate anything with the words ‘slow-roasted’ or ‘honey-glazed’ or ‘aged’ it’s probably not going to be a quick process, but there’s so many others that just involve combining a few ingredients and – ta-da!

Two of my favourites to make are hummus and tzatziki, because the recipes are so simple, cost next to nothing to make and taste fantastic. Hummus is a middle-eastern dip made from chickpeas and tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds). It’s dairy free and suitable for vegans, and tahini is a great vegan source of calcium. Tzatziki is a Greek dip made with yoghurt, cucumber and mint.

Hummus

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I only buy dried chickpeas which are much cheaper and save wasteful packaging. I buy 1kg at a time, soak them overnight and boil for 1-1/2 hours. This makes a ridiculous amount of chickpeas but they freeze amazingly well, so I separate into a few containers and freeze what I don’t need.

This makes a shedload – just under 1 litre.

Ingredients:

650g cooked chickpeas (approx 400g dried chickpeas)
200g unhulled tahini paste
2 cloves garlic, crushed
40ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 2.5 tbsp)
5 tbsp water

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Method:

Put the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice and crushed garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add water until the mixture is a soft paste. You don’t want it to be runny.

Serving suggestions: if you want to be fancy, you can top the hummus with some whole chickpeas, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle on some sesame seeds or season with spices (try ground cumin, cumin seeds, paprika or cayenne pepper).

This can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.

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Tzatziki

This makes about 500g

275g strained (Greek) yoghurt – if you want to make your own see instructions here)
1 English cucumber or 1 1/2 lebonese cucumbers
1tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
large handful chopped mint (6 – 8 tbsp)
2 tbsp dill (optional)

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Method:

Cut the cucumber into segments and remove the seeds (if your cucumbers don’t have very many seeds you can skip this step but mine had LOADS of seeds).

Grate the cucumber. If you have a food processor it will be superfast but if not then a normal grater is fine.

Put the cucumber in a clean dry tea towel, and squeeze tightly over the sink to drain the excess water.

Stir the cucumber into the yoghurt. Add the lemon juice and zest and chopped herbs and mix to combine.

This will keep in the fridge for at least 2 days.

NB: Don’t let any of the steps be a dealbreaker – if you don’t have Greek yoghurt and don’t want to strain it then you can use normal yoghurt; it will just make the dip much more runny. If you don’t want to strain the cucumber, the extra water will just make the dip a bit more watery. When I’m feeling lazy I just chop some mint, squeeze a bit of lemon juice, grate some cucumber and add to normal yoghurt.

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How to Make Cashew Nut Milk (A Recipe)

Cashew nut milk is a non-dairy alternative to cow’s (or other animal) milks. Of course it’s not a milk as such, but a blend of cashew nuts and water that has a similar consistency to milk and can be used as a dairy milk replacement in some instances.

It’s got a completely different molecular make-up to dairy milk and won’t respond in the same way to heating, but it’s a great replacement for cold milk.  As I’ve said before though, I’m not a vegan, so what am I doing making cashew nut milk anyway?

Well, I’m passionate about real food. And when that comes to dairy milk, this means non-homogenised, full fat milk with A2 proteins that comes from grass-fed cows, preferably organic or biodynamic. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about you should probably read this post, which explains the terms and also the health implications in a little more detail).

This milk can be hard to find – in Australia you won’t find it in your local supermarket – and is much more expensive than the mass-produced stuff. Consequently, I buy less than I used to.  Coupled with the fact that I’m quite curious about food anyway, this means I have become more open to alternatives.

Before I stopped buying plastic I used to keep a carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for emergencies. However those cartons contain plastic and aren’t recyclable, so I don’t buy them any more. Now I keep a jar of cashew nuts in the cupboard instead.

Raw cashew nuts are minimally processed and highly nutritious. They contain 80% unsaturated fat which is predominantly oleic acid and also linoleic acid, an omega-6. Cashews also contain a number of vitamins and minerals including iron, phosphorus and calcium. (Have a look here for complete nutritional information).

My main uses for cashew milk are as an ingredient in smoothies, a dairy replacement for muesli and in some dessert recipes, and as an emergency in case we ever run out of cow’s milk, or it sneakily goes off. (Because it only ever goes off when ALL the shops are shut.) You can add cashew milk to tea and coffee (and it won’t curdle), but I prefer dairy milk for that.

How to make cashew nut milk

This recipe makes 750ml milk. You will need a jug-style blender for best results.

Ingredients:
1 cup raw cashew nut pieces (125g), soaked in water for a few hours or overnight
3 cups water (750ml)

Method:

Drain and rinse the soaked cashews.

Put cashews in blender with 1 cup water.

Blend until smooth. Add remaining 2 cups water to the jug and blend briefly to combine. And that’s it! No need to strain.

You can use immediately or store in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for up to 5 days.

Tips:

  • The higher the quality of your blender, the better the results.
  • The longer you blend the milk, the smoother it will be, but the heat from the friction of the blades will gradually cause the milk to warm up. If the nuts are heated too much they may go rancid.
  • Use chilled water if possible, and chill the soaking cashews to help prevent the milk warming too much whilst blending.
  • My blender is made of glass and I find it also helps to chill the jug in the fridge before using.
  • I have tried making this is a food processor and it works okay if you have nothing else, but you will get a much smoother result with a jug blender.
  • If you store your milk in the fridge, remember to shake before using.

If you need more convincing, I’ll be posting some recipes that use cashew milk on the blog in the coming weeks so stay tuned!

Recycled sculpture: the Castaways sculpture awards at Rockingham

This weekend I went to Rockingham for the last day of the Castaways Sculpture Awards 2013. The exhibition runs for 9 days on the Rockingham foreshore and aims to raise the profile of recycling and environmental sustainability through art. All exhibits must have a recycled component. Read more

Modern Milk

I wanted to write this post because I’m passionate about real food. In the last year I’ve been on a mission to cut processed food out of my diet. When I think about what processed food is, images of sugary, salty and nutritionally-devoid ‘junk’ that is overpackaged in bright plastic spring to my mind. But it’s not just the sugary snacks that are over-processed. When you visit the milk aisle in the shop, there’s dozens of different products with a variety of claims, and it’s difficult to know what they all mean and whether they’re actually good for us.

Modern Milk

The majority of dairy milk comes from cows. Records show people in central Europe started dairy farming and developed lactose tolerance 7,500 years ago (see here), so humans have been drinking cow’s milk for a pretty long time. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the milk probably hasn’t changed much since then. I mean, it still looks the same. But actually, modern farming practices have changed the nature of milk significantly, and not for the better.

So what’s changed?

Pasteurization vs Raw

Pasteurization of milk was first demonstrated in 1886 as a way of extending the shelf-life of milk. Milk is an excellent medium for pathogens, meaning they can multiply quickly, and cause spoilage. Pasteurization is a heat treatment: milk is forced through pipes warmed on the outside by hot water so the milk is heated to 72ºC for 15 seconds. This process reduces pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and moulds that may be present in the raw milk.

Before pasteurization, milk was consumed raw. If raw milk is consumed when fresh from healthy cows the health risks are much smaller. Raw milk became a big health issue after industrialisation. Intensive farming conditions mean cows are more likely to contract and harbour disease and also spread it amongst other cattle. Lengthy supply chains mean milk is not consumed soon after milking, giving pathogens a chance to multiply and cause illness when the milk is finally consumed. Pasteurization doesn’t create clean milk, it cleans dirty milk.

The pasteurization of milk means that as well as killing any pathogenic bacteria, the heat treatment also kills beneficial bacteria. Heat also damages vitamins, nutrients and denatures proteins. For example, raw milk contains vitamin C but this is destroyed by pasteurization. Because of its enhanced nutrition raw milk is becoming more popular (although it is illegal to drink it in certain countries including Australia) but there are still risks.

UHT (Long-Life)

UHT means ultra-heat treated, and this means the milk has been heated to 138ºC for at least 2 seconds. This extra treatment means the milk can be stored at room temperature in a sealed container, and will have a shelf-life of 6-9 months. However the higher temperatures mean some of the sugars are burned and UHT milk has a different flavour to regular pasteurized milk. It also means more of the nutrients and vitamins have been destroyed.

Homogenised vs Non-Homogenised

If left to stand, cows’ milk naturally separates. The high-fat cream rises to the top, and the low-fat milk is left underneath, leaving two distinct layers. (If you shake the container, they will mix together again.)

Homogenised milk doesn’t do this; instead the fat molecules are distributed evenly throughout the milk. In order to achieve this, the milk is mechanically forced through a fine filter at high pressure (4000 psi) which destoys the flat globule cell wall and forces the fat into tiny molecules that remain suspended.

Milk is homogenised so that it creates a uniform product, because supermarkets like to stock identical standardised products. It also makes milk look whiter. It saves us the “hassle” of giving it a shake when we take it out the fridge. Oh, and it increases shelf life slightly, so shops can keep it on their shelves for longer – up to 11 days.

So it’s good for the retailers – but what about our health? Well, homogenisation of milk has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease. Milk contains an enzyme called xanthine oxidase (XO) that can generate free radicals. In non-homogenised milk, XO is mostly free-floating which means it can be digested by gastric acids and enzymes. However, when milk is homogenised the new artificially-created micro fat molecules encapsulate the XO, meaning when it passes through the digestive system it has a protective ‘coating’ and is not broken down.

The health implications and safety of homogenised milk has been a research topic since the 1960s, particularly in relation to XO.  Research suggests that the XO in homogenised milk is absorbed into the bloodstream where it causes damage to arterial cell walls. The body’s response is to ‘repair’ the damage by depositing plaque  – which causes heart disease. Whilst it has been demonstrated that XO is present in diseased arterial tissue, and that XO causes tissue damage, critics argue the evidence that this source of XO is homogenised milk is inconclusive.

A1 and A2 proteins

The protein in milk is made up of casein proteins and whey proteins. One of the major proteins, beta-casein (or β-casein), has two variants which are called A1 and A2. A2 beta-casein is recognised as the original variant, whereas A1 is a mutation that happened later. In dairy milking cows, Guernsey cows have the highest A2 levels with over 90%, Jersey cows also have a higher proportion of A2, and Holstein (the white cows with black spots that are the most common milking variety in Australia, USA and UK) and Friesian have around half A1 and half A2.

There is scientific research that suggests that consumption of beta-casein A1 milk may be a risk factor for a number of diseases including type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease and arteriosclerosis (here and here).

When milk is digested, a peptide called BCM7 is created. A1 milk generates 4 times the levels of BCM7 than A2 milk. BCM7 affects receptors in the nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and is believed to be an important factor in the build-up of plaque in the arteries (summary here).

Full-fat, semi-skimmed, 1% and skimmed (fat-free)

Milk naturally contains about 4% fat. You can by this natural full fat or ‘whole’ milk in the shops; you can also buy other types with reduced fat content or skimmed/fat free milk which contains less than 0.5% fat.

The fat in milk is called butterfat. The viamins A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble and are found in the buttermilk. To make reduced-fat milk, you need to remove the fat, and this also removes the vitamins. Some companies add synthetic vitamins back in, particularly A and D. Vitamin D2 is a synthetic vitamin added to milk, but it is not as effective as natural vitamin D (this American Journal of Clinical Nutrition paper claims it should not be used as a supplement). And as it’s fat-soluble, it is questionable whether the body can absorb it from fat-free milk.

Full-fat milk moves through the body more slowly, and people with lactose-intolerance are less sensitive to full fat milk than to skimmed milk (here).

To keep the texture of skimmed milk, which does not contain fat, skimmed milk powder is usually added back in. It will not necessarily tell you so on the label either! Skimmed milk powder has its own health concerns – see below.

It’s worth remembering that whole fat milk is not actually that high in fat. It has a 4% fat content, so is 96% fat free.

Powdered Milk

Powdered milk is made by evaporating the water from milk using heat, after homogenisation. The most common method is spray drying, where the milk is sprayed into a chamber with circulating hot air. The water evaporates and the powdered milk is collected.

This heat in this process can cause the cholesterol in milk to oxidise. Oxidised cholesterol triggers the formation of plaque in the arteries and can lead to heart disease.

Grass-fed vs Corn-fed

Cows are designed to eat grass and hay. They have four stomachs to help them digest it! They’re not designed to eat corn and soy-based feeds. Cows have trouble digesting corn, which leads to health problems including bloating, acidosis, diarrhea, ulcers, liver disease, and weakens their immune system.

Grazing cows on grass requires a lot more space and produces less milk than confining them to small spaces and feeding them corn and soy, which is why farmers who put profits above animal welfare choose the latter. But to combat the health problems this creates, cows fed corn are also routinely fed antibiotics.

More milk equals more profits, but the quality is reduced. Grass-fed cows produce milk with higher vitamin, omega-3 and omega-6 content, and don’t need routine antibiotics to stay healthy.

Organic

Organically produced milk means the farmers must adhere to strict guidelines and standards that encourage sustainable practices. There are number of different certification schemes and different schemes will have different standards. Whilst they vary the principles include a focus on good animal husbandry, cattle being allowed to graze on grass for at least some of their diet and the routine use of antibiotics is not permitted. Any feed that is given to the cattle must also be organic. Organic milk is more expensive because of the extra costs involved, and average milk yields are often a third less than in intensive production. However,the mineral and vitamin content is higher, animal welfare is much higher and the quality is considered better.

So what can I do?

milkjpgThe closer that the milk you buy is to its natural state, the better it is for you, and the better it tastes. All of these processes aren’t designed to improve things for us as consumers; they’re designed to make things easier for the supermarkets and to increase their profits.

However it’s really hard to find a product that ticks ALL the boxes! The milk I buy is pasteurised, non-homogenised and full cream. I would prefer to buy organic, but as I can’t buy organic milk locally, I buy from a small local dairy that uses Guernsey cows that are grass-fed. Being classified as organic literally means you’ve got the certificate, but there are plenty of small dairies that farm with the same principles and ideals, but haven’t been certified for reasons of cost (it can be expensive) or time (it is often neccessary to wait several years before land can officially be classed as organic).

As a bonus, the milk I buy comes in glass bottles that can be returned for re-use. Plastic-free!

Choosing to buy from  small-scale (and organic) dairy farmers means you can support a sustainable industry and not line the pockets of a massive supermarket chain. These farmers can charge a premium for their milk, and you get a far better product too. I promise you that if you make the switch you will be able to taste the difference!

Getting sick…and eating myself better

Getting sick is your body’s way of telling you that you’re doing too much and you need to slow down and take it easy. Of course I know this, but every time I feel like a cold/flu virus is coming on, I decide that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it, carry on at full speed with the things I normally do, and hope it goes away.

This never ends well. My body’s response is, well if you’re not going to slow down after I’ve given out the warning signs, then I’m going to force you to stay in bed by making you too sick to get up.

You’d think I’d learn, but oh, no. And so it goes that on Monday I started feeling unwell but decided to push through, and by Tuesday night I was in bed by 7.30m. And so today, when I have a million things I need/want to do, I’m forced to spend the morning in bed. I don’t like sitting around and doing nothing, I like to be going at 100 miles an hour all the time, so if I’m overdoing things I only find out about it when I’m forced to stop. If only I’d heeded the warning signs!

So now I’m accepting defeat and am trying to do my best to make myself better again. It would have been far better if I’d done this at the start, but still.

Echinacea

I don’t take many (actually I don’t take any) supplements but I do take echinacea when I’m sick, having been recommended it by my regular GP over 10 years ago. There are many studies that show it is effective in reducing cold symptoms and I do feel that once I start taking it, the recovery process seems to speed up. And if it seems to work, I’ll continue to take it!

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Fresh fruit juice and smoothies

Having recently had my enthusiasm for juicing and smoothie-making revived, these two gadgets are getting a pretty good workout at the moment. Since I started with the daily green smoothie for breakfast I thought I’d never get ill again. (Although I didn’t have one on Saturday morning – could that be the reason for all this?) The great thing about smoothies and juices is that in addition to the fluids that you’re always told you’re supposed to have when you’re ill, you getting all the nutrients, minerals, vitamins and enzymes from the vegetables and fruit that you’re blending or juicing too. If you’re making juice you really need to use organic where possible, because otherwise you’re just squeezing a load of pesticides in there too.

Superfood Salads

The other thing I think it’s really important to do is eat loads of nutritious foods. This is difficult when all you can be bothered to do is make toast, but your body will get better faster if it’s getting more vitamins and nutrients. Hot buttered toast may be one of the ultimate comfort foods, but it ain’t exactly packed with nutrition. And just looking at a colourful meal packed full of vegetables makes me feel better!

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Quinoa salad with beetroot, sweet potato, flaxseed oil, broccoli, cucumber, chickpeas and almonds. Yum!

Rest

Okay, okay, so I’m still writing the blog, which isn’t exactly total rest, but I’m sitting in bed, and for me sitting still at all is a pretty big achievement. Resting gives your body the chance to use all those nutrients and boosts your immune system, so it can fight off the infection. Of course the temptation will be, as soon as I start to feel marginally better, to get up again and try to do all those things that are just waiting to be done. Hopefully I can take my own advice and stay still long enough to recover properly. Fingers crossed!

The power of nanna-technology

You’ve probably heard of nanotechnology. Well this post has absolutely nothing to do with that. I’m talking about nanna-technology.

Our tiny flat is leaky. In winter it leaks warmth. Australian houses just aren’t built to stay warm in the cold months, they leak warmth, letting the heat out (but letting it all in during the summer, when everyone is trying to keep cool). In our tiny flat, there are gaps between the door frame and the wall where you can see straight through to the outside. I’m not talking about the gap between the door and the door frame, although of course there’s a gap there too, but a gap between the actual door frame and the wall. Crazy. There’s also a space of about an inch under the front door, and another at the balcony door. The windows are single glazed. Even when they’re closed I can feel the cold air breezing in. And the window in the bathroom actually has a three-inch gap where there is no glass at all.

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I’m not joking either! The gap at the bottom of the door is big enough for me to put my whole hand underneath, right up to my knuckles! And these gaps mean cold air coming in.

All this means that in winter inside the flat it can get quite cold. You may think of Australia as sunny and warm (I thought that before I came here), but in Perth in winter 2012 the minimum temperature averaged 6.7°C at night, and some temperatures were below zero (statistics here).

We rent our flat. We can’t just replace the door frame, install double-glazing or add roof insulation to make the place warmer. Even if we didn’t rent, these things can be expensive to install. But if we don’t do something, we’re going to spend a fortune trying to heat the place, and the heat is just going to escape outside through all the gaps.

So this brings me back to nanna-technology. If you’re suffering from the same problem as me, don’t just admit defeat and crank up the heating. Ask yourself, what would Nanna do?

You don’t always need to spend money to find solutions. Don’t let expensive solutions that you can’t afford be a reason not to do anything. Just try to find solutions with what you have. After all, if your house is drafty you’ll spend a fortune in electricity or gas trying to heat the place up by burning fossil fuels.

To help plug the gaps under the doors, I’ve made two draft excluders using some spare towels and a few elastic bands. They may not look catalogue-perfect, but as long as they’re doing their job and I’m not cold, I don’t care!

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Just looking at these guys makes me feel warmer!

Last winter was my first winter in Perth, and I wasn’t prepared for the cold or the drafty-ness.  This year, I say bring it on.

Cover Image: Bales of Recyclables, Walter Parenteau via Flickr

Plastic is rubbish: why waste valuable resources on single-use throwaway items?

I don’t like plastic. I avoid buying it and I talk a lot about plastic-free living on the blog, so I thought it might be useful to provide some background information on plastic, and some of the reasons why I decided to give it up in the first place. There’s so many reasons why plastic is bad (for our health, for the environment, for our sanity) and I’m not going to talk about them all now. I’ll stick to just one – waste.

Plastic is made from non-renewable fossil fuels, either oil or natural gas. It doesn’t just come from the magic ‘plastic factory’. And the problem with this is that once the non-renewable fossil fuels run out, we don’t have any more. But it’s not even the running out that matters. The problems will begin when production hits its maximum rate, because after this oil prices will increase and production of oil-based industries (transport, agriculture, production) will begin to decline, and continue to do so. And if you think that’s way in the future, think again. It’s happening now. Some people think it may have already happened (in 2006). Have you noticed the prices of fuel at the petrol pumps seem to be on an ever-upward spiral?

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This graph shows the discovery of oil deposits and oil production over time. I found it on Wikipedia but if you search the internet for ‘oil production’ images you’ll find hundreds of similar graphs.

There are, of course, people who claim that peak oil (which is what it’s called, by the way – the point of maximum production) will never happen, or at least for a long long time. But whether they’re wrong or right isn’t the point. Both sides agree that oil and fossil fuels in general are a valuable resource that we rely on to keep civilization going. In fact, we are completely dependent on them.

So if oil is such a valuable commodity, why are we using it to make cheap, single-use, disposable and throwaway items?

There’s no doubt that plastic can be useful, for example in healthcare, medicine and construction. The problem is that it’s become totally ubiquitous and is used for everything – and a lot of these uses are completely unnecessary and a waste of a valuable resource.

The other important thing to remember is that every little bit of plastic ever produced since that first piece is still around. This stuff doesn’t decompose, instead it creates huge amounts of landfill – or worse, makes its way to the oceans where it’s unwittingly ingested by unsuspecting sea life.

So why not cut down the amount of rubbish we sent to landfill and save the fossil fuels for the stuff that we actually need like fuel? Why not stop using fossil fuels so wastefully to make disposable items that we’re just gonna throw away?

But what about plastic recycling?

Plastic recycling is a bit of a con. It makes us feel better about our consumption, because we can put our empty plastic containers in the recycling bin and feel that they will be magically transformed into new plastic containers. But that isn’t what happens. Plastic isn’t technically recycled, it’s downcycled. This means it’s made into a product with inferior quality or functionality. Secondly, not all plastic is equal, and different plastics are processed differently. For some types it is very difficult to make back into useful products. Thirdly, just because plastic has the potential to be recycled, it doesn’t mean that your local council actually recycles it. What happens to your plastic depends on the number on the bottom, written inside what is thought of, ironically, as the recycling arrow.

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Some of the numbers you find on the bottom of plastic containers, which tell us what type of plastic the container is made of and whether/how it will be recycled.

There are 7 types of plastic, which are numbered 1 – 7, and not all are commonly recycled. (Technically 1 – 6 are different specific types, whereas 7 is a collection called ‘other’.) It’s easy to assume that if there’s a recycling arrow on the bottom of a container then it will be recycled, but actually only types 1 and 2 are commonly recycled. My local council collects types 1,2, 3 and 5. Any other type of plastic collected in my area is heading to landfill. You can check with your local authority to find out which types they will recycle.

Think it’s not too much of an issue? Here’s some figures for you.

  • In the USA in 2010, 31 million tons of plastic waste was generated and only 8% of plastic was recycled. Source: US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Just under half of this plastic (14 million tons) was food containers and food packaging. Source: US Environmental Protection Agency
  • In Australia in 2007, almost 4 billion lightweight single use plastic bags were used. Almost 3 billion of these came from supermarkets. Source: Australian Government
  • In Australia in 2002, 50-80 million of these bags became litter in the environment. Source: Australian Government
  • The amount of petroleum used to make a single plastic bag could drive a car 11 metres. Source: Australian Government
  • In the UK, 3 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated every year. 11% of household waste is plastic, and 40% of this is plastic drinks bottles. Source: University of Cambridge
  • In the UK in 2005, 414,000 tonnes of plastic waste was recycled (around 20% of total plastic waste). Of this, 324,000 tonnes of plastic was exported to China, over 8000km away, for recycling. Source: WRAP UK

So a large part of this plastic problem comes from food and drink packaging, which has been driven by our desire for ‘convenience’ and made us into a ‘throwaway society’. But it doesn’t need to be like this – a lot of this packaging is avoidable, and with very little effort. Whilst I don’t want to list of all the things you can do (it would triple the size of this post! – so I’ll save it for another time), most of the solutions are really quite simple. Taking your own bags to the supermarket reduces the need for disposable plastic bags; using tap water (you can treat it with a water filter to remove the chemicals) and carrying a water bottle from home stops the need to buy bottled water; and buying your fruit and vegetables loose rather than prepackaged in cellophane wrap and polystyrene trays cuts out heaps of wasteful and unnecessary packaging. And just refusing to buy things that are ridiculously over-packaged.

Let’s face it. Plastic is rubbish.

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Cover Image: Bales of Recyclables, Walter Parenteau via Flickr

Sustainability and ceramic cups at the Mosman Park EcoFair

This Saturday my boyfriend and I went to the Mosman Park EcoFair, which was just a few suburbs over from where we live. The fair takes place in the beautiful grounds of St Luke’s Church and community garden, and was a mix of stalls selling organic and fairtrade food, traders selling eco goods, seedlings, vintage clothing and all things green, and some great demonstrations and workshops. Combined with the perfect weather and fantastic atmosphere it was a really fun afternoon out.

I saw a great ‘Food Theatre’ workshop run by Chris Ferreira from The Forever Project and Hannah Sfornica from A Foodly Affair which combined sustainable (and water-wise) gardening with cooking and talked about the importance of good soil, the importance of organic and locally sourced food, how what you eat is made from what you put in the soil and your body is fueled from what you eat. Sustainability and real food, two of my favourite subjects! Hannah made the most amazing raw pumpkin soup for the audience to try. Both Hannah and Chris are fantastic presenters, and Hannah is both an inspiration and a wealth of knowledge and practical advice regarding ‘mindful’ eating, as she likes to call it. I would thoroughly recommend attending the workshops they run if you’re in the Perth area.

But my absolute favourite thing about the fair was that there was no disposable single-use plastic – no plastic bags, no takeaway cups, no plastic straws, no plastic water bottles and no plastic throwaway plates. And this was achieved in such a simple way – by having a washing-up station! All of the food stalls used ceramic plates and mugs, provided by the Church or sourced from various op shops, which were happily washed up by a team of dedicated Western Earth Carers volunteers.

It’s such an obvious concept really, doing the washing up, and the people who volunteered seemed to be having a great time in the sunshine, chatting to everyone that passed by and doing an awesome job of raising awareness of single-use plastic, and how easy it is to avoid with just a little bit of thought and effort.

And the result of their efforts was fantastic. The organizers were told they would need 20 bins for the size and length of the event (with over 65 stalls plus other activities over 6 hours) but instead, for the whole day, the waste that was generated filled just three recycling bins and one landfill bin. Result!