How to Make DIY Coconut Milk from Scratch (A Recipe)

DIY coconut milk is one of the things I tried very early on in my plastic-free journey. I started making it in 2013, got tired of making it a few months after that and decided not to bother cooking coconut milk dishes.

Then my local bulk store started selling coconut milk powder, and that was my go-to.

Hence the recipe never made it onto my blog. But I decided I wanted to retry making coconut yoghurt (the recipe for coconut yoghurt did make it onto the blog, although it’s been tweaked since then) without using the tins. My zero waste journey has rather progressed since 2013, after all!

Plus whilst the coconut milk powder is pretty good, it’s not the same as coconut cream. And it is something we can DIY.

The coconut milk we buy in cans is made from the flesh and juice of young coconuts. Most of us don’t have access to young coconuts to make our own, but we can make something almost as good using dried (mature) coconut and water. I prefer to use shredded coconut (I look for the untoasted, unsweetened version). Desiccated coconut will work too.

You’ll need a blender. (Only attempt to use coconut flakes if you have a top-of-the-range blender.)

In Australia, canned coconut milk is coconut and water. Canned coconut cream is just coconut with less water. Literally. Check the back of the cans next time you’re in the store. Coconut cream is 80% coconut, 20% water; coconut milk is 60% coconut, 40% water. If you do buy cans, choose the coconut cream (it’s usually the same price) and add your own water from the tap. No need to import extra water from overseas.

In the UK, coconut milk is around 50% water. Coconut cream in the UK is often really thick – it’s not that high in coconut either (less than 70%), it’s just full of gums and stabilizers to thicken it.

Did I mention those cans are usually lined with plastic, too?

Get yourself some shredded or desiccated coconut, and try making your own.

Ingredients:

  • 300g shredded coconut
  • 1 litre boiling water (and then another litre)

The amounts don’t really matter, more coconut will give you more cream. If you don’t have access to a bulk store and the bagged coconut is 200g, use that – it will be fine.

First Press: Coconut Cream

Boil the water in a kettle, pour over the coconut, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. (If your blender has a glass or metal jug, you can do this step in your blender; if not you may prefer to use a glass bowl or saucepan instead.)

Blend the coconut and hot water until combined.

Strain the mix into a glass jug using cheesecloth or a clean tea towel to separate the pulp. Squeeze the cloth to ensure all the moisture is removed – you will want to allow the mix to cool slightly before you do this (or wear gloves!). Once you’ve strained every drop out of the pulp, pour the coconut milk into a glass jar, screw on the lid, and set aside.

Second Press: Coconut Milk

Now place the coconut pulp back into the blender, and add another litre of boiling water. Leave to sit for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. The second batch will be thinner.

(If you want to squeeze every drop of goodness out of your shredded or desiccated coconut, you can repeat with a third litre of water.)

Place the jars in the fridge.

Once in the fridge, the solids will separate from the liquid. The first jar will have a thick, solid coconut cream layer. The second jar will have a much thinner coconut cream layer. (The third jar, if you did a third press, probably won’t have any coconut cream).

If you’d like to use the coconut cream, you can scoop off using a spoon. Alternatively, if you prefer coconut milk, you can warm the jar and shake to recombine, or empty the entire jar contents into a pan and gently warm the cream with the liquid to recombine when you’re ready to use.

The second batch is great for adding to smoothies instead of water, for cooking grains (quinoa, white rice or millet will absorb the coconut flavour), or adding to soups or dahl. It’s not as rich as coconut milk, but there is definitely some coconut flavour.

Coconut cream and coconut milk keep for up to a week in the fridge, an can be frozen.

You’ll also be left with a bowlful of pulp. This tastes a little like desiccated coconut, but with less flavour (you squeezed that out)! You can freeze this, or dry it out in the oven on a low heat for an hour or so. (Don’t put it in the pantry as is, because it contains moisture and will go mouldy.) Alternatively it will keep in the fridge in a container for a few days.

Add the pulp to porridge, smoothies or even curries to add some flavour and fibre. You can also bake with it: you can sub a small amount of desiccated coconut (up to half) for leftover pulp in baking recipes, or use in veggie burgers/patties. There are plenty of options!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you DIY coconut milk? Do you DIY any other milk, and if so how do you like to use up the leftover pulp? I’ll share my leftover pulp recipes another day, but if you have any great ones you’d like to share, I’d love to hear in the comments! Anything else to add? Let me know in the space below!

Microbeads: Hidden Plastics in Cosmetics (+ What We Can Do About It)

I thought microbeads were old news. We discovered a few years ago that chemical companies were putting little plastic beads in our toiletries and cosmetics, we got mad about it, we signed petitions and applied pressure to our various governments and microbeads were banned. Job done, right?

Apparently not.

I’ve put together a guide to microbeads and the state of play in 2019, and what you can do to spot them and avoid them.

What are Microbeads?

Microbeads are tiny solid plastic particles, measuring 1mm in diameter or less. They are deliberately added to cleaning products, skincare products and cosmetics to give exfoliating properties, create ‘gloss’ and as fillers to bulk out products.

They are a type of microplastic, a more general term given to tiny plastic particles less than 5mm in diameter.

Many of these microbead-containing products are designed to be rinsed off, meaning this plastic is designed to go down the drain. However, the small size of the beads means they are mostly not captured by water treatment plants, and end up in rivers, seas and oceans.

Once in the water, microbeads pose a threat to wildlife, who ingest the plastic particles. This builds as bigger fish eat smaller fish and so accumulate more plastic. If the plastic alone wasn’t enough concern, plastic actually binds to chemicals in the ocean (including POPs – meaning Persistent Organic Pollutants, or chemicals resistant to environmental degradation). As the plastic accumulates in the food chain, so do these POPs.

Remember who is top of the food chain? Humans (well, the ones that eat fish).

Aren’t Microbeads Banned?

There are some bans on microbeads in place but the exact rules vary, along with what’s banned and what’s not. Most bans actually apply to ‘rinse-off cosmetics’ only (South Korea ban all microbeads in cosmetics, and Canada have banned all microbeads smaller than 5mm).

Source: beatthemicrobead.org

You’ll spot that Australia doesn’t have a ban on microbeads in place. Instead the government opted for a voluntary agreement from industry to phase out microbeads. Accord Australia have been coordinating the phase out with their initiative BeadRecede.

Research in 2018 that looked at 4,400 products across 148 stores found that 94% of products available in Australia were microbead-free. That means 6% were not.

No microbeads were found in shampoos, conditioners, body wash or hand cleaners. The products that still contained microbeads? The top 5 were:

  • Foundation/blush
  • Skin cream/moisturiser
  • Eye make-up
  • Lip make-up
  • Facial scrubs.

What’s interesting to me about this list is that 4 of these product groups are not rinse-off. Which makes me wonder even with countries that have a microbead ban in place, if these products are still making their way to store shelves, into our homes and flushing down the drain?

How can we find out if there are microbeads in the products we buy?

How to Identify Microbeads

What would you guess the number of ingredients that are classed as microplastics to be? 10? 50? 100? The number seems to be growing all the time: it was estimated at 325 when the Australian data mentioned above was collected in 2018, but current estimates are that there are more than 500 microplastic ingredients widely used in cosmetics and personal care products.

500 different ingredients!

If you’d like to know whether any product you’re using contain microbeads, and what ingredients actually count as microbeads, the absolute best resource I’ve found is beatthemicrobead.org.

If you’d like to know the names of all these ingredients to check the products you have at home, Beat The Microbead have put together a ‘red list’ of known microplastic ingredients. (There’s also an ‘orange list’ of suspected ingredients, where there is not yet enough information.)

Among the most common microplastics ingredients are:

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
  • Nylon (PA)
  • Polyurethane
  • Acrylates copolymer.

Alternatively, they also have a search function on their website where you can search products in their database. Not to mention, there’s an app available on both Apple and Android.

Switching to Microbead-Free Products

If we find out (or suspect) that there are microbeads in our products, here’s three things we can do.

Simplify

When I went plastic-free, faced with the prospect of finding a plastic-free alternative for the bazillion products in my bathroom, I asked myself whether I actually needed all of these products I was buying. It turned out that many of them weren’t really necessary, just things I purchased because I liked the packaging or had seen an advertisement (no doubt promising some miracle).

You might find the same thing. You might decide that you actually don’t need that product at all.

Find Microplastic Free Alternatives

Beat the Microbead has a list of companies guaranteed to not use microbeads on their website. These are mostly big brand who use plastic and other single-use packaging, but they are a start.

Also, look for small and local producers. There are plenty of excellent small businesses making safe products, and hopefully you can track down something in your area. If you’re looking for make-up (which can be a bit harder to find), two brands I recommend are Dirty Hippie Cosmetics (Australia) and CleanFaced Cosmetics (USA).

Make Your Own Beauty Products

If you really want to know what’s going into your products, the best way to know for sure is to make your own. Body scrubs (one of the products still found to contain microbeads in the research) are easy to make from scratch by mixing something abrasive (sugar, salt, coffee grounds, ground oats, ground rice) into some oil.

Find more DIY scrub recipe ideas here.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing’. Deciding to make one product rather than buying the pre-packaged microbead-containing alternative is a great first step.

Plastics in cosmetics is a design error that is slowly getting the attention it deserves. If you want to be sure you’re not unwittingly taking part in this hidden form of plastic pollution, audit your current bathroom, beauty and cleaning products. Check the ingredients, and if you find any products that contain suspicious ingredients, make it a priority to track down a suitable swap or solution.

For every irresponsible brand there is another doing good. Let’s give them our money where we can, rather than funding businesses that pollute. Our choice and actions matter.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you live in a country that’s banned microbeads? Do you know which products are banned and which are not? Have you ever done an audit of the things you buy to look for microbeads? Are you going to do it now? Any good microplastic-free brands you’d like to recommend? Any other thoughts? Please share in the comments below!

How to Compost ‘On The Go’

Having a compost bin (or worm farm) at home is great, and I’d thoroughly recommend it as a place to put all your food scraps, peels, bad bits and other things you might like to compost rather than put in the general waste bin. But we tend to eat food when we’re out and about too, and we all go on day trips and holidays… so what do we do about food waste then?

Whilst it isn’t as easy as stepping outside the back door and opening up a compost bin, there are still things we can do to ensure we’re still composting whilst on the move.

How to Compost on Day Trips

I always carry my reusable coffee cup in my handbag: it is most used not for takeaway coffee but for food waste scraps. Apple cores, pips and peels, the occasional teabag, a dirty napkin or anything else I might be left with when out gets stashed in here until I get home.

I’d recommend a glass, ceramic or metal coffee cup (or other container) for this. Plastic tends to absorb the flavours of whatever it’s holding, and coffee that’s flavoured with yesterday’s banana peel isn’t great. If you do use plastic, wash throroughly and leave overnight filled with water and a spoonful of sodium bicarbonate to try to lift any stufbborn smells.

If I ever wrote a ‘ten things I use my KeepCup for’ post, carrying around bits of compost would be number 1 (leftovers would be number 2, and actually, takeaway coffee would probably be number 10).

If I take snacks from home, I’m always conscious of any ‘waste’ they might create. Take a banana, I’ll be left with the peel; take an apple and there will be a (smaller) core; take grapes and I’ll be left with a couple of pips. I think about where I’m going and if I want to be carrying around these things before choosing.

If I go on a picnic, It’s pretty easy because I take my food in reusable containers, so I can simply use my containers for scraps.

How to Compost on Longer Trips and Holidays

If I’m going somewhere far from home, the absolute first thing I do is check ShareWaste, the free compost networking service. It’s one of my favourite resources. I see if anyone has a compost bin in the areas I’m travelling to.

I’ll also do an online search for local community gardens, as these often have compost bins.

Sometimes it’s a yes, but often it’s a no. In which case, these are my options.

In an ideal world, I’ll take my food scraps home with me. If I’m away for several days they will start to get a bit stinky, so I either store in the freezer (if there is a freezer) or fridge, which helps slow down any decomposition.

Ideally I’d have a cool box (Esky) for the trip home. Failing that, any container that can seal tightly will work. You won’t want to be spending time in a car with decomposing food waste smells, promise.

If you don’t have the luxury of a car, you’re camping or for other reasons can’t refrigerate or transport food scraps home, your options are more limited.

Does the local council have a food scraps collection service?

Councils are increasingly offering doorstop food waste collection services, and compost those scraps. It’s worth checking if this service is offered where you’re staying.

Could you bury the food scraps?

Ideally, food scraps need to be buried 25cm (10 inches) deep and covered with soil to deter pests. Burying is more practical in the countryside or bush than in the city. If there are signs specifically telling you not to do it, then don’t do it.

What about local parks?

Parks are not there to accommodate our personal food waste, although burying a single apple core deep in a planter box is a little different to dumping a week’s worth of trash on the lawn in Central Park. It’s not ideal, and it’s not really recommended.

As tempting as it is to take food waste to public places, remember that if everyone did this, it would turn into a garbage heap pretty quickly. Food will attract wildlife, and even if you bury it, you might be inadvertently adding pests or invasive species to the area (those fruit pips might sprout trees that are not welcome).

When you’re out of options…

Try to reduce food waste wherever we can. I try to make choices to reduce food scraps. If I need to cook, I’ll often choose vegetables like broccoli and mushrooms, where the whole thing can be eaten, and be less likely to choose foods like mango and pineapple that have huge amounts of skin and or a big stone to deal with, just to keep my waste to a minimum.

I don’t want to put my food scraps in the general waste bin, but if I really don’t have any other options, that’s what I do. I remind myself that it’s not my fault: governments, councils and businesses need to recognise food scraps both for the resource they are (nutrients) and the burden they are if not composted properly (methane emissions).

They need to make it easier for people to do the right thing.

When I say easier, I’m not meaning that we should appease people’s ‘apparent laziness’. I mean this: when I visited Exmouth in 2017, some of my food scraps travelled 1,248km home with me because there was no composting anywhere on the route. Sharewaste now has a few additions on their map, and it’s currently a ‘mere’ 835km from Exmouth to the closest compost bin.

Most people aren’t going to do this.

So whilst I encourage you to set up a compost bin at home, try to plan ahead, bring a container, think about the waste you might create it and attempt to avoid it, and look for local services that might be able to help, I also want to remind you that sometimes, trying to do what’s right feels like (or is) an uphill battle.

It isn’t always accessible or practical. That’s not our fault. Do what you can, celebrate your successes, don’t feel bad if you can’t make it work, and resolve to keep on trying.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce food waste? Any tips to add? Any situations you particularly struggle with? Any questions about composting? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Declutter for the Planet (Yes, That’s a Thing)

This week (on July 29th) was Earth Overshoot Day. What this means is that July 29th is the day on which we’ve officially used up all of the resources the planet can naturally regenerate in a year. Another way of saying it, is that we use almost twice as many resources as is sustainable – half of what we use is basically being taken from future generations.

Something to tell the grandkids! Oh…wait…

The Global Footprint Network, who are behind all the research, break it down a little further, detailing the Overshoot Day for each country (meaning, on what day would we use up all the earth’s resources if everyone in the world lived like the people of that country). As you can imagine, Australia, Canada, the US and the UK all fare pretty badly here (the dates are, in order: March 31st, March 18th, March 15th and May 17th).

They also have a little calculator that gives us an idea of what our individual footprint is – how many earths do we need to sustain our current lifestyle?

I gave it a go. It was an interesting exercise, but I don’t actually want to talk about results and how planets we each use (or not). Anything that asks us to self-report our behaviour tends to be overestimated – after all, we like to think the best of ourselves!

What was noticeable to me were the questions that weren’t asked.

There were questions on meat consumption, food miles, food packaging. There were questions on housing and energy use. Of course, there were questions on car driving and flying.

But the glaringly obvious thing missing in my mind were the questions about consuming, shopping and ‘stuff’. Those things have an impact too. Take clothing. The UN estimates that the global fashion industry contributes 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

(I understand that calculators need to simplify, but still.)

There were no questions about how often we shop, what things we buy, what kinds of businesses we buy from, how the things we buy are delivered (do we buy the from local stores or get them air freighted from different continents?), whether we actually use these things once we own them, and what we do with them when we are done.

If you’ve bought anything ever, and you’re feeling like you should probably get ready to defend your purchasing choices, I just want to say – me too! I’ve bought things too! This is not that post.

Sure, our shopping choices are important. But for me, what’s equally as important is what we do with these things once we buy them. I sometimes think that we forget that our ‘stuff’ is resources. We can put those resources to good use, either ourselves or by giving them to someone else that will use them… or we can leave them languish in a cupboard.

When I think about my footprint, I’m always drawn to the things I own, and whether me owning them is really the best use of that ‘stuff’. I think that letting go of things we no longer use is the opposite of waste. In fact, the idea of Earth Overshoot Day was something I wrote about in my book Less Stuff and one of my personal motivations for decluttering.

I’m not talking about decluttering as overloading the charity shop with stuff they probably won’t be able to sell. I’m not talking about decluttering as clearing space so there’s room to go buy more stuff.

I’m talking about decluttering as de-owning.

I don’t need to own more clothes and shoes than there are days of the year. I don’t need to own every trinket I consider beautiful, or every piece of art I admire. I don’t need to own every single gadget that’s cleverly designed.

I don’t need to own every single thing I might ever need to use just one time.

What I need and what you need will be completely different. But we can both ask ourselves: do I really need this, am I actually going to use it, or can I put it back out into the world and let someone else benefit? Is there a better use for these resources than gathering dust in my cupboards?

Decluttering is as simple as taking a single item, realising that we just don’t use it enough to justify keeping it, and setting about finding somebody who does need it, and will use it.

If you think the ‘finding somebody who does need it’ part sounds hard, it is much simpler than you think, especially with the internet. Think online classifieds, online auction sites, online marketplace platforms, and Buy Nothing groups. For more details, here are six ideas to get you started.

The best thing about sharing stuff is that it is accessible to everybody. We can’t say that about a lot of sustainable choices. Rather than feeling bad because our sole local grocery store wraps everything in plastic, or because we can’t afford solar panels (or we rent), or because we have to drive a car to work because there is no public transport option, we can look at where we have the opportunity to create change and make a difference.

And yes, what you do does make a difference.

When it comes to stuff, I think most of us buy things with good intentions. But the way we use them doesn’t always pan out the way we expect. We can make the most of our bad decisions by ensuring that the things we don’t need don’t go to waste.

And in doing so, we help someone else out, keep resources in circulation and stop new things being made. The best thing of all? It’s easy to do, and you can start taking action today.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you heard of Earth Overshoot Day? What steps do you take to share resources? How do you feel about decluttering? How have your feelings changed over time? Any other thoughts to add? Please share below!

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